March 2015Eclectic Cake: March 2015

Monday, 30 March 2015

Other People's Habits

Routine. It's the sequence of things we do every day – before every run, after every race and during every training session – that make us feel prepared and comfortable. We've spent hours formulating a way of life, those habits, that work and they'll very rarely change.

But what works for one person, won't necessarily work for another. We are individuals and we work in different ways. That’s what makes each of us interesting – variety is the spice of life and all that. I, for example, like to calm pre-race nerves by chatting to friends, whilst I’m sure others will banish chatter in favour of zone-finding silence. So who are we to judge if someone has been preparing for a big challenge in the right or wrong way?

There are, of course, failsafe ways to ensure success. Practice, rest and fuel. How each of these is done, though, is completely up to the individual. There is no definitive training bible that everyone should follow. Even the available training guides are just that – guides not rule books.

I like to take a relaxed view to training. Running is my hobby, so every time I go out, it should be fun. Otherwise what’s the point?! I don’t chase numbers on the clock but am ecstatic to see new faster times when they happen. Most of my runs are social and they’ll be as muddy as possible. This is what works for me for now, so why change it?

As some people prepare for the biggest race of their lives, let's remember to be kind to them. There's no need to question the number of miles they've reached or the speed at which they were done. It's not necessary to ask how often they've blasted round a track or summited hills. Only they know if they're ready.

So let's be supportive. Accept other people's habits and wish them the best of luck (and save them a post-marathon beer to celebrate their amazing achievement).

Saturday, 28 March 2015

The Ultimate Social Run

Forget pace calculators, I predict my race times by looking at the elite times and roughly doubling them. Without even training for a marathon, I know from Denis Kimetto's recent world record of 2:02:57, I'd take longer than 4 hours if I were to run one. That's a long, lonely wait if he were to wait for me to finish.

That's the problem with long distances. It's brilliant to have a whole group of friends at the same event but if they're of differing abilities, someone's going to be waiting around after smashing a few speed limits and someone else will start to get quite lonely out on the course as they desperately try to finish before everyone gets fed up and leaves.

But over a mile? I'd only be about 3 minutes behind first place and the slowest person would roll in with barely enough time for me to recover. An average walker could finish the course in around 15 minutes, that's not long to wait around even if you're a speedster.

It's the ultimate social distance.

Finish times aside, the small distance is one anyone can tackle. Our primary school cross-country course was a mile and I'm pretty sure my non-active friends could give it a whirl, even with no training. The young, old, elite or unfit could all attempt a mile run.

Saying that, if you want to test yourself over the distance, be prepared for a pretty unpleasant few minutes. Not quite a sprint but certainly fast, running a mile will make you feel like your legs will fall off and your lungs will explode. At least, that's how I felt at the launch of the Amba Hotels City of London Mile, where I tested out the distance. Running's a funny thing, though. Despite the ear ache and slight feeling of nausea, my mind started to plot how to shave off a few valuable seconds.

The race on Sunday 14th June will see runners of all ability take on the distance in the heart of London next to some of the most iconic parts of the city. With race waves for the elite, club runners, new runners, wheelchair racers and kids, everyone can take part. What's more, it's absolutely free, which leaves very few excuses to not enter.

Join me and register for the Amba Hotels City of London Mile, here.

Friday, 27 March 2015

Fit for Everyone

We live in exciting times. More and more women are taking the leap and adding activity to their daily lives, the #ThisGirlCan campaign still seems to be gaining momentum and wearing lycra in public seems to be increasingly acceptable.

This doesn't stop some women still feeling a little self-conscious when they pull on their gym gear, though. In fact, appearance is one of the main reasons why some choose to abandon sport altogether. It's a hard barrier to cross – a vast majority of women consider taking up exercise to feel better about themselves but they need that initial confidence to start.

Luckily one activewear brand has recognised the need to cover up the lumps and bumps we'd rather keep to ourselves. Founded in Canada, Lija strives to create fashionable clothing that makes women feel confident and with their new Spring/Summer collection, they've done exactly that.

Whilst following the season's trends for layering colourful, floral patterns, each piece also helps the wearer to feel comfortable. Items include confidence-boosting tactics meant to suit any female body shape. Keep the bits you'd rather not show under wraps with cuts that skim the body rather than being tight and clingy. Some pieces have a loose and relaxed fit, making them comfortable for workouts as much as a casual brunch.

That's not to say the Lija collection is made up of baggy t-shirts and sweat pants. Even the loose-fit items are fitted to create a flattering silhouette. This is far from a case of 'pinking and shrinking', as seems to be the norm for a great deal of female sportswear. This is made-to-measure women's clothing.

So whether you fancy trying your hand at yoga, running, tennis or even golf, you're sure to feel confident.

View the full SS15 Lija collection, here or browse House of Fraser.

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Runderwear to the Rescue

I once wore a cotton pyjama top for a fancy dress half marathon in summer. Half way round, I swore never again. Within a few miles, this seemingly light t-shirt had got so heavy with sweat, it felt like it was dragging me down whilst preventing any air from getting through to provide any relief. I was hot and uncomfortable. I've never been so thankful for technical running clothes.

Why then, if fabric has such an effect on your run or workout, do we ignore one small but very important piece of kit?

Underwear is important, as Katie warned me before my first half marathon. It needs to be comfortable, especially for long runs, after all, it's going to be protecting a very delicate area as you move. I spent ages deciding which pants I'd wear but the pair I finally chose were every day cotton pants from M&S. Perfect for pacing round the shops but running over 13 miles? I guessed they'd just have to do.

The thing is, you don't often see knickers specifically for running. I wasn't even aware they existed. I'd heard ultra runners go commando and our London Marathon "smile if you're not wearing underwear" cheer sign was certainly popular, so I figured pants were out of the picture when it comes to running long.

That is until I met Runderwear, a cheeky brand hoping to save us from chafe and sore undercarriages with, you guessed it, actual real running underwear. Their sweat wicking, seamless and breathable pants are designed to make the "uncomfortable, comfortable". And boy do they work!

No more unpleasant peeling off of post-run knickers. No more wincing in the shower as you discover new chafe marks. No more excavation required for underwear that doesn't stay put. And, for the fashion conscious, no more miss-matched underwear (they also sell a crop-top).

With over 60 miles worth of testing in sun, rain and hail, I'm clearing out my knicker drawer and filling it with Runderwear.

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

How to Make Your Husband Run

A couple that sweats together, stays together.

Or so the sickly sweet, his-and-hers coordinated lycra-wearing couples on Instagram would have you believe. But fearing that my reluctant-to-run husband and I may fall foul of this fortune (and knowing it would be great to share something I'm really passionate about with the person I love the most), I've been trying to convince Andrew to run with me.

It's not that he can't run – he plays baseball and has even run races with me in the past – he just doesn't understand why anyone would choose to do it when they're not earning a hunk of metal or running away from a serial killer. So I set out to try and convince him that running for no real reason can be fun and somehow it worked! This is how I did it...

1. Be Enthusiastic
Most runs are naturally brilliant. You probably already struggle to stifle pre-run glee and post-run joy, so no problem there. But every once in a while you'll have a bad day and find it hard to kick yourself out the door. It's these occasions that you'll need to keep quiet. A reluctant runner will never be convinced to get out there if they see you having to drag yourself out for a slog around the block. Keep up the excitement about running and they'll start to feed off your enthusiasm.

2. Bribe them with Kit
Who could turn down a shiny new pair of trainers?! SportsShoes, the price-matching online provider of all things running, kindly helped me bribe Andrew with a pair of Asics GT-1000 V2 shoes. They look great (and are apparently very comfortable with enough support to help his supination) but they're just on the right side of the trainers-that-should-only-be-worn-for-sport category. Of course, any piece of kit will serve the same purpose, so long as it's running specific.

You could also try rewarding your partner after each time they join you for a run. Stopping short of treating them like a pup in training, you could strike a deal where each run equals a big fat slice of cake and a bucket of tea or making it your turn to do the dishes.

3. Make it Easy
If your boyfriend, girlfriend, husband or wife hasn't really run since chasing down the 243, any sort of distance will sound a bit intimidating. Keep any proposed runs time rather than distance based, perhaps suggesting a 20 minute trot instead of planning a route based on kilometres.

I also make it clear that walking is absolutely allowed – we're not going out for a serious run, it's meant to be enjoyable. We've been walking from our house (so the neighbours don't see), running a bit once we get round the corner, walking to catch breath, then running again.

4. Find Distractions
My husband reckons plodding pavement is boring. Agreed. So when I take my husband out for a run, I make sure we go somewhere interesting. Choose somewhere pretty, where the views will distract your partner from the effort of running. If that's not an option, make sure you trot along at conversation pace, so your run feels more like a moving chat.

The most successful distraction I've used seems to be continually taking moving selfies. My husband thinks I'm nuts – galloping in front of him with my arm in the air, waving my phone around in an attempt to capture us running together – but by the time I've finally got a good picture, we've run a kilometre and he's none the wiser.

5. Add Some Friendly Competition
We're not a hugely competitive couple but if one of us throws down a challenge, the other is likely to take it on. Our return journey includes a steep but very short hill. I jokingly suggested racing up it and my husband was up it like a shot! And this was after turning back because he just couldn't run any further.

After beating me to the summit (his legs are twice as long as mine!) his confidence grew, along with his taste for competition. He decided on a sprint finish to our door. Admittedly, he started a little too early and I flew past him to claim victory but the fact that he'd suggested running fast is a complete win.

Do you have any tips to get your partner running?

Saturday, 21 March 2015

How London Taught Me To Run

Over three years ago, bribed with a post-run trip to the pub, I – nervous, super self conscious and convinced the group I was with would leave me behind – took my first running steps in London. It took only a few more to know I’d been wasting my miles by running the same suburban route over and over.

Taking a rest opposite the Houses of Parliament

I guess it was fear that had held me to routine. The city seemed so big and busy, and I certainly didn't want to be spotted shuffling along, red-faced and struggling for breath. And I would definitely get lost…How on earth would I get home if I got lost?! I was, of course, fine. Better than fine, in fact. That first run opened my eyes to a whole world I'd not seen on my sad little loop and it’s thanks to this community that my running has gone from strength to strength.

It turns out, London was the perfect place to learn to run.

Running the Mall

No matter where you wonder, you’ll see runners whizzing along London’s streets, parks, pavements and trails. There are hundreds, probably thousands of these laced-up, fluro, urban  plodders. And the more you look for them, the more you’ll see, so becoming just one more barely turned heads. Fellow runners who did notice me, no matter my ability, simply applauded my efforts with a smile or knowing head nod. 

The track at Paddington Recreation Grounds

There was the matter of the millions of other people who grace the streets but, despite wearing enough reflective gear to power a lighthouse, too-busy-to-notice commuters and map-wielding tourists didn’t even see me, providing I managed to dodge out of their way. No one was looking at my first few attempts and I was so glad. 

The view from Parliament Hill, Hampstead Heath

Any newcomer would be fooled into thinking that running is a solo sport but I’ve never felt so much a member of a team as I have whilst running. An enthusiastic bunch, runners welcome anyone who appreciates their pursuits. The proof is in the ever-growing list of city running clubs. No matter if you’re fast or slow, experienced or new, serious, silly, male, female, younger, older, geeky, cool, North, South, East or West, there’s a group for you. London’s running groups are as diverse as the people who live and work here.

Northala Fields, Northolt

In my first few months of city running, I waddled with a whole host of different groups. It gave me the chance to see why others run and learn what type of runner I was (chatty and not very time-conscious but easily encouraged to go long, if you were wondering). Connecting with like-minded people, means you make friends and then make friends with their friends, until you have a whole network of runners to support, encourage and lead you astray. Three years later, you’ll be planning ‘holidays’ together that involve running, eating and very little else.

Hyde Park in the morning

It’s not just the groups that offer variety, London’s running terrain is surprisingly diverse. Stick to central London, and you have miles of fast, firm pavement to enjoy. Wonder into one of the Royal Parks and you’ll be welcomed with gravely trails and endless green. Feeling fast and you can hunt out one of the many tracks. Escape to the edges and you’ll even find a few muddy trails and hills to climb. I’m now an absolute trail convert, who would’ve thought I’d find out in one of the busiest cities in the world. Discovering each surface within such a small space was a great introduction to different types of running without having to travel too far. And if you do find yourself out of juice, simply hop on the tube – you’re never too far from home.

The London Eye at night

London is beautiful. I feel very lucky to be able to regularly run here and often find myself being a tourist – deliberately getting lost and always looking up – take a different turn and you’ll immediately be met with something you’ve never seen before. This endless source of distraction is great for learning to run further. Count icons not miles and you’ll soon find you’ve covered more ground than you thought possible. Plus, the bragging photos will look amazing!

Find out more about running in London with the Runner's Guide.

Thursday, 19 March 2015

No Excuses: Jamie Andrew

As someone who is new to bouldering, I've thought of many an excuse to not go higher or try harder routes. Likewise, I've heard many more excuses from friends who refuse to try climbing at all. The list of reasons usually run from fear to lack of strength, all of which are understandable. They are all also possible to overcome. But what if something bigger is standing in your way? What if a physical disability looks like it may make climbing impossible? Well, as Mountaineer Jamie Andrew has proved, you can overcome that, too.

Passionate about life in the mountains, Jamie was climbing in the Alps when he was unexpectedly caught in a storm. He was finally rescued after 4 days in the freezing cold but had lost his climbing partner and his hands and feet to frostbite. Refusing to accept that this was the end of his climbing career, just a couple of years later, Jamie was back in Chamonix climbing again. He kindly agreed to answer a few questions.

1. After losing your hands and feet to frostbite in a 7-day storm, you were handed a pretty valid excuse to never climb again, what made you decide to start again?
I have always been passionate about climbing. It's what makes me the person I am. I knew as I lay in my hospital bed that if I could, I would climb again.

2. What's the thing that motivates you the most?
Achieving successes, whether they be big successes, or small ones.  Setting a goal, working hard, and then reaching that goal, is a huge motivator.

3. You have an appetite for the seemingly impossible, please tell us a few of the challenges you've completed.
I've climbed many mountains around the world, including Kilimanjaro as part of an all disabled team, run several marathons, one Iron Man (one is enough!), sailed across the North Sea with an all amputee crew, mountain marathons, skied, got my kids to do their homework before dinner.

4. You helped organise Scotland's first paraclimb competition, which encouraged people with a whole range of disabilities to try climbing, how do you go about motivating and inspiring others to push their boundaries?
Mostly I lead by example. I figure if that people see that I can climb, even without hands and feet, then they might believe that they can climb too. And of course they can!

5. Everyone has their bad days, how do you talk yourself out of the dark moments?
I have my friends and family, my wife Anna. Everyone needs the support and security of those closest to them to see them through the hard times.

6. You're keen to throw out all misconceptions and prove the only limitations are set by yourself, is there anything you're scared of?
Heights, small spaces, the dark, spiders, deep water, failure. The same things as everybody really. But I know that if I confront those fears that in reality they are never as bad as I expect. Taking that leap of faith is what I have learned to do and hope to encourage others to do also.

7. What new challenges are you setting your sights on?
I am hoping to climb the Matterhorn. It is the most iconic of alpine mountains. This year is the 150th anniversary of its first ascent and it still commands a lot of respect from mountaineers to this day.

8. What's the worst excuse you've heard?
I can't.

Read more about Jamie's inspirational story and future challenges hereDiscover more inspiring stories and some motivation during No Excuses month on the Gymbox blog.

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Class Review: Speedflex

The best workouts are those you can do in good company. Sometimes I find myself booking a class just to meet up with a friend for a natter. But sometimes who you can take is limited, especially if your fitness or strength levels don't quite match – you probably couldn't bring your returning-to-gentle-exercise mum to the same class your hardcore CrossFit-nuts friend swears by.

Enter Speedflex, a studio that offers workouts based around a resistance machine that only gives what it takes. Give it hell with powerful guns and it'll pile on the resistance. If you're only just discovering you even have the muscles to move the machine, it will resist to match your efforts. Ultimately, you could have Mr. Universe on one side, granny on the other, and they'll both be working proportionally as hard as each other.

How could you tell? During each class, everyone wears a heart rate monitor that tracks your efforts during the class. This data is linked to screens in the studio, which display the percentage you're working at. The idea isn't to compete (although I'm sure some have) but to try and work your body at different rates for a certain length of time throughout the class. The harder you work, of course, the more rewards you'll reap.

This place is all about the numbers. Before your first Speedflex class, you'll be taken through an induction where you get a taster of the machines but also have things like your muscle mass, fat percentage and even your state of hydration measured. After a few weeks of training, you can have this all measured again and look at black and white results.

And you certainly will be seeing results, Speedflex works you hard. The classes use a circuit system, where you'll work for short sharp bursts on each exercise, working every inch of your body. Before you know it, in a 45 minutes class, you've done countless reps of at least 12 different drills.

It's the type of workout that would have you aching for days afterwards. Sure enough, the next day I hesitated before inevitably stiffly rolling out of bed...but there wasn't a sore muscle to be had. Because the machines offer no impact and carefully administer the correct resistance, you will apparently never ache after a session. I definitely won't miss walking like a penguin the day after a good sweat.

Bring your mum, gran and fitness-mad friends, your induction and first class is free. For more information on Speedflex, click here.

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Race Report: Vitality North London Half Marathon

WHAT: Half Marathon
WHERE: Allianz Park, North London
WHEN: 15th March 2015

When asked what motivates him, double Olympic gold medalist Mo Farah said he uses the memory of London 2012 and the incredible noise of the stadium to pull him through when things get really tough. As the official ambassador for the North London Half Marathon, Mo started us off on our own journey through not one but two stadiums. The course led from Allianz Park to Wembley and back – stadium to stadium. And whilst the noise wouldn't quite compare to that on Super Saturday, the thought was just as motivating.

One big half-way marker

I lined up at the race start slightly flustered. The short journey to Allianz Park, home of Saracen's rugby, had turned into a frenzied fight for parking (despite allocating a space) and I'd spent most of my race build up wondering the race village looking for bag check. As an inaugural race, the facilities and volunteers were great but there seemed to be an air of confusion of chaos.

Eventually calmed by seeing some familiar faces, conversation turned to race strategy. I planned to just run – after injury and sporadic training, I wasn't expecting anything too exciting. That was until a friend planted a seed.

Warming up at Allianz Park

She suggested that, actually, I would run faster than I predicted. Faster, even, than I'd ever before run a half marathon! I dismissed her comment as over-generous encouragement but as soon as we got going, my legs seemed strong and fast. She waved me off and I happily carried on trotting, still with no plan for time or desire to chase numbers.

Admittedly, there wasn't much in the way of views on the back roads of North London and support was pretty limited but I'd plugged a party in my ears and I was having fun. Yes, I was the one waving my arms around, singing and aero-planing down the hills.

Pitch-side at Wembley

As a runner who's happiest on the trails, what induced moans in most, further fuelled my delight. It appears that North London is quite hilly, which gave this otherwise less than spectacular route some interest. The lumps and bumps came fairly regularly and I thrived, chugging up and flying down everything the course threw at me.

Being an out and back course, I looked forward to revisiting my favourite hills but I'm sure those that had to drag themselves up slowly, started to dread them. Happily for them, there was the very large slice of motivation in the form of running through Wembley Stadium. The tunnel housed an amazing crash of steel drums, before we emerged on the side of the pitch to a gaggle of supporters and big screens showing fellow runners.

A big thank you to all the brilliant marshals and volunteers

Sucking in extra energy from seeing this iconic landmark, everything from now on was homeward bound, back towards Allianz Park. I was feeling strong until the last few miles brought waves of tiredness but North London had woken up and the number of supporters had grown just enough to keep me going in between their cheers and high-fives.

The first time I've seen a half-marathon clock pre-two hours!

The roar of duel-carriageway traffic constantly fooled me into thinking we were approaching the stadium far earlier than we did but the thought of the welcome we'd receive drove me forwards. With just a few metres to go, I glanced towards the clock. With the biggest smile, I crossed the line with a brand new PB, over 7 minutes faster than my last!

Meeting Mo Farah!

Mo was right, that stadium atmosphere is really motivating.

You can now pre-register for the North London Half Marathon 2016 here or, if you can't wait that long, have a look at the other races in the Vitality Run Series here.

Sunday, 15 March 2015

Dear Mum...

...Today, more than any other day, we celebrate all that our mums have done for us. And you, as any good parent, have done a huge amount for me. I've had a good education, holidays, endless support and companionship. But there's one thing you didn't provide – the enthusiasm or encouragement to discover sport.

It's something I eventually found on my own and thank goodness! Sport has, at the risk of sounding over the top, changed my life. Besides ensuring I stay healthy, it's made a confident, sociable, ambitious woman out of this once hesitant wall flower. I'm no doubt happier than ever before, have more friends and have a general smug glow of wellbeing, both physical and mental.

I'm not angry that you didn't introduce me to sport or that you prevented me from trying new activities. If I'd have got involved earlier, who knows what I would've been capable of? But let's not dwell on the past, what I've got from participating has absolutely been worth the wait.

What gets me, is that you never really saw the value of taking part in physical activity, for you, sport was something you had to endure at school – miserable netball, cold cross-country. This means that you've never experienced the insane highs of physical achievement. You're not aware of the profound effect of regular exercise on your mental health. Like mother, like daughter. If you'd have discovered sport, no doubt, you would've become more confident and more accepting of yourself, too.

That's not to say it's too late. I've spent the last couple of years proving there's an activity out there for everyone, there will definitely be one for you. Whilst I don't think you'll enjoy baring all in a swimming pool or feeling the burn in your chest on a run or learning to ride a bike for the first time...

Instead, let's hike up one of those beautiful Devon hills you live in between. It might feel tough, I know you don't like inclines, but trust me, what you'll gain from the experience will be the best gift you'll ever receive!

Happy Mothers' Day

J x

Friday, 13 March 2015

Class Review: Break Your Selfie

It didn't happen unless it's on Instagram.

It's a solid part of the modern day fitness class 'cool down'. Grab some water, wipe off the sweat, slide your makeup back into place, then take a selfie. How else will the social stratosphere know you've been working out?! Of course, your snaps show your best features from a flattering angle with re-preened hair. It's real, just a slightly less beetroot-red reality.

You're about to share a picture of yourself with the world, of course you want to look your best. But what if your best is before the clean up? That moment when you're covered in hard work's sweat, when your mind is still blown from what you've just achieved, when you could burst from the rush of well-earned endorphins. That is something beautiful.

It's something that Reebok are encouraging with their #BreakYourSelfie campaign. People aren't perfectly put-together, especially when they're pushing themselves to be stronger and fitter. Red-faced and sweaty, clothes soaked, tired and probably still gurning from your efforts...It doesn't make for your usual flawless selfie but it's real. More human.

To make sure your selfies are well and truly 'broken', Gymbox have devised a class that will make sure your makeup melts and your hair rebels. The Break Your Selfie class is hard. Probably the toughest class I've ever attempted!

Imagine doing two press-ups, two hand-foot touches in a press-up position, a tuck jump, two squats and two backward leg pushes. This is one rep. Do this ten times, then move onto the next ridiculous combination. There were three different exercises, each was done for 10–15 reps, three times!

That was just a third of the class.

The crazy combination of moves were designed to hit every single inch of your body (and work your memory, too). Our instructors kept us continuously moving, resting only to take progressive selfies and rehydrate after sweating out of your eyeballs! If you're a little nervous about posting such an honest selfie straight after your workout, don't worry, you'll be experiencing so much post-sweat delirium that you won't think twice about sharing.

If you fancy giving the class a go, look up your nearest Gymbox class. Browse through the beauty of the broken selfies or add your own, tagging #BreakYourSelfie. 

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Power Dressing

Before each and every time I run or workout, I'll take the time to pick out the perfect outfit. I probably take more time deciding which clothes I want to wear for sweating in than I do for a night out. It's not just because 80% of my wardrobe is sporty lycra or that my inner designer has taken over, and I'm not trying to delay going out. I think wearing the right kit truly impacts your performance.

Top and leggings from Helly Hansen's Spring/Summer 2015 collection

Of course, the right materials, cut and support are really important. Running with bouncing boobs or chafing capris would be enough to cut any run short. But the time I spend picking out my outfits is about more than technical cloth or even fashion. And it's certainly not about anyone else. I take the time to match the colours and details of my sports bra with my top with my leggings with my socks with my shoes, for myself.

Top and leggings from Helly Hansen's Spring/Summer 2015 collection

It sounds trivial but I feel more confident when I know I'm wearing clothes that look and feel good. I'm more relaxed and less self-conscious, so all my efforts go into putting one foot in front of the other. It's like power dressing, only with compression tights instead of shoulder pads...

To celebrate fashion week at The Running Bug, they're asking you to share a picture of you in your favourite fitness kit for the chance to win £500 worth of Helly Hansen running kit. For some inspiration, view the gallery here.

To enter the competition, just tag @therunningbug and use #HHcatwalk when you post your photo or you can upload your pictures directly to the wall, here.

A Life Lesson from Weightlifting

I'm probably stronger than I've ever been before. After three years of flying trapeze, complimented by running, yoga classes and bouldering sessions, I'm really feeling the benefits of my hard work. Suddenly, I seem to be pulling and pushing up with relative ease and my body is accepting the hard (and sometimes unusual) challenges that are thrown at it. Seeing what I'm capable of is becoming a bit of a hobby and it's quite exciting.

So why would I not join CrossFit City Road for my first try at weightlifting and expect to ace it?!

Housed in the Old Street branch of Gymbox, the club offers classic CrossFit classes and  gymnastic-based sessions as well as the barbell class I tried. As expected, the two instructors and handful of committed regulars who gathered for a Friday evening class were pretty hardcore – there were muscles popping out everywhere and very limited faffing (in fact, the only messing around was from me wondering around not knowing where to grab equipment).

Reassuringly, though, they seemed equally friendly and welcomed me into the class, offering mirroring faces of pain as we were taken through our intense warm-up. It turns out weightlifters need flexible hips and my runners’ legs are pretty stiff but I didn’t get stuck in any bendy positions, so it was time to grab a barbell from the stand.

*S**t! I can’t lift the bar!*

I’d always assumed the heavy bit was the black disk at each end but the bar is quite hefty on its own. I quickly realised I was going to struggle in this class. I finally managed to haul the bar up out of its stand and thump it onto the floor. Already feeling slightly defeated, I grabbed the bar and battled it into position for my first lifts. It felt completely alien to me and the idea of sending a heavy metal object flying towards my head for a 'clean' seemed suicidal!

You can tell a good instructor by a few key points. Do they know what’s happening in the class, you know, what’s really happening? Can they identify when someone isn’t quite coping? And are they able to re-motivate that person and find a way of making the class more manageable? The guys from CrossFit City Road get a big tick for all the above. They found me a lighter bar, got me practising each little section of the lift, made me relax and kindly reminded me that I was a beginner.

Again, I was completely new at this!

Why did I expect to just waltz in and be great at something I’d never tried?! Weightlifting is like nothing I’ve ever done before and requires a lot of technique to get right. Angrily arguing the bar into position with a tense body was definitely not the recipe for success. Armed with a better attitude, I tried again. 

Weirdly, as soon as I was more open to failure, I seemed to succeed. I guess I was less worried about doing it right and more motivated to just give it a try and enjoy myself. Soon I was 'cleaning' and 'jerking' without wingeing and even lifting the heavier bar. The instructors were on hand to help tweak and improve my technique until I was performing fairly convincing lifts. 

All too soon, the class was over. Despite the jelly arms and legs, I really wanted to carry on. I'm excited to go back with my beginner head firmly screwed on.

If you fancy giving weightlifting or CrossFit a go, CrossFit City Road offer a free trial class. Sign up here.

Monday, 9 March 2015

Fast, Free and Heart-Friendly

Three of the most common excuses to not exercise are:
1) Not having enough time
2) Not being able to afford gym membership
3) Finding it boring

So, in support of British Heart Foundation, are encouraging Britain to fit in just 10 minutes of fun exercise that can be done for free in your living room. That small amount of time spent being active will contribute to your cardiovascular health. And a healthy heart means a long and healthy life.

To improve your heart health, it's important to raise your heart rate during your workout, so doing something fairly intense over this short amount of time will do the trick. Keeping your workouts fun, means you'll actually look forward to doing them and you'll be more likely to exercise regularly. Using items from around the house as your 'gym equipment' means you can start right now and there's no need to buy expensive contraptions or commit to a gym.

But what to do in those 10 minutes? Below is my living room workout. It's fun, free and slightly silly but it got my heart pumping and really worked my core and upper body, so I'd call that a success!

Roxanne Warm-Up (3 minutes, 18 seconds + 20 seconds rest)
Use this one track by Sting and you'll have a fail safe warm-up to get you ready for anything. Press play and get ready. Every time you hear "Roxanne", do a press-up (either a full press-up or resting on your knees for an easier alternative). Each time you hear the words "red light", do a squat thrust (with your hands on the floor, jump your feet in towards your hands, then back out to a press-up position).

It'll ease you in nicely but come the end of the first chorus, your arms will be shaking and you'll start to feel your heart rate climb. Go all the way to the fade at the end and you'll have earned a 20 second rest.

Tin Can Balances (2 minutes + 2 x 20 seconds rest)
Anything that makes you wobble will get your core working. The wobblier the better, so try placing a tin can on the floor and balancing on one leg in front of it. Lean forwards, swinging your lifted leg behind you to help your balance, and pick up the can from the floor. Slowly come back up, still on one leg and raise the can above your head. Put the can in your other hand and slowly bend back down to place it back on the floor and stand back up.

Repeat this ten times on one side. Take 20 seconds to shake out, then do the same on the other leg. Rest for another 20 seconds.

Sock Slides (2 minutes + 2 x 20 seconds rest)
Who remembers sliding around in their socks on a newly polished floor as a kid? Get nostalgic during this section of the workout by getting your fluffiest, slippiest socks. Put one under each of your feet as you take a press-up position. Set the clock and get that heart pumping, whilst doing sliding runs for a minute.

After your 20 second rest, get back into position for another minute of sliding. This time, one at a time, slide your leg out to the side and back in again. Rest for 20 seconds, before getting ready for the last part of the workout.

Floating Burpees (1 minute)
Burpees are a notoriously nasty exercise, so let's make them a little more fun by adding a simple motivator. Grab a plastic bag and throw it in the air. Drop down and do one burpee before the bag drops to the floor. Grab it mid-air and go again until the minute is over. It will stop you pausing at the bottom and a few stray bags will even get you giggling.

There we have it. A fast and free workout that's a little bit ridiculous but completely heart-friendly and fun. Let me know if you give it a go and if you have any living room workout tips.