May 2015Eclectic Cake: May 2015

Sunday, 31 May 2015

Class Review: Anti-Gravity Yoga

From the name, it was already clear this was no ordinary class. And, with a climbing wall, live DJ and a glass floor that looked down onto a swimming pool, The Third Space was certainly no ordinary venue, either.

Despite being called anti-gravity yoga, the class involved very little 'om' and plenty of weightiness. Whilst there were some poses and stretching involved, it's an active class that challenges your core and upper body strength as you try to keep yourself from crashing out of the sling – the warm-up alone had my arms shaking.

We started by hanging in different ways from our slings, which were suspended from a rig. Each variation woke up a different set of muscles and had us more and more wrapped up in the fabric. It's a credit to our instructor that I didn't tie myself in knots but the tiny three-person class helped to make sure we had help when we started to look a bit lost.

The most complicated part was getting into the sling. We followed our instructor in opening up the surprisingly long fabric and pulling it around ourselves, until we had enough tension (and trust) to flip upside-down. Slightly disorientated, I was surprised to find myself in a comfortable hammock – lying down in a cocoon of fabric. The key was to follow each instruction and to have enough confidence in the equipment and in yourself to throw your body around without hitting the floor beneath (although there was at least a yoga mat underneath each of us).

The rest of the class was a mixture of muscle-burning conditioning exercises and aerial stunts, each one using the sling to hold, support, stretch or challenge you. Enough of these sessions and you’ll be running away with Zippo's!

Unfortunately, after just one class, I’m not sure I have a circus-ready act but I’m pretty keen to get an aerial sling installed in my garden for practice.

Monday, 25 May 2015

Take Two

This morning, after letting my vat of peanut butter and banana porridge settle, I grabbed my shoes for a long run. As with most of my solo outings, I hadn't planned a route or a distance, I just wanted to be out for a couple of hours to see what I could do. Only 30 minutes in, though, it all felt like a bit of a struggle and I wasn't having fun, so I turned around and headed home.

I found a new playground

I wasn't giving up, though, and I was still determined to get a longer run done today, I just needed a different mindset. Perhaps I'd piled on too much pressure with the possibility of an impressive distance, maybe I was tired from an already quite active weekend, maybe I was worried my shins would begin to throb again, maybe it just wasn't my day...but I felt that taking a moment to gather myself and start a fresh would help.

Taking on stinging nettles, thistles and thorns in shorts was not a good idea

After a drink, stretch, a face-full of getbuzzing flapjack and a change of shoes, I stepped out the front door again and ran in the opposite direction as I had earlier, travelling at a deliberately slower pace.

Just changing a few things and taking the time for a breather did wonders for my mood. After my reset, I was more comfortable and much happier, managing to enjoy getting lost and finding new local trails. I stopped waiting for the pang of injury pain and didn't even notice when my watch's battery ran out, my focus was on exploring new places and, on the occasion, not getting hit by flying golf balls.
A bit of agility training included on my run

Taking that pause meant I ran for over three hours all together, much longer than I'd predicted. I have no idea how far I ran but that doesn't matter. I discovered that my trail-running playground is even bigger than I thought and that a fresh start works wonders.

Thursday, 21 May 2015

Radcliffe's Great Runners

I've gained so much from running. The benefits aren't just physical, though, I'm more self confident, have way more friends and travel far more than I did before I found a decent use for trainers.

And I'm not alone. It turns out running legends like Paula Radcliffe feel the same way. In fact, the world-record holder is so sure of the benefits of running, that she's working to encourage more women to take up the sport. She started with a group of six women, a mixture of experienced runners and complete newbies, who all completed the Great Manchester Run earlier this month. 

"It was great to see how they grew in confidence throughout the process and how, when they finished, they were so overcome by how they were able to [finish the race]. And they've made friends amongst each other because they've shared that bond, they've shared that journey. They're already planning the next run."

Not happy with just conquering Manchester, Paula is now encouraging a group of London women who are all training for the Morrisons Great Newham London Run'Radcliffe's Great Runners' will take on the 10k race, which loops around the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, in the hope to inspire more women to sign up and even out the race-entry gender split (it's currently at 46:54). That would be, in the words of Paula "really special". 

Even more special is that every runner will get to finish in the iconic Olympic Stadium. I did the race (under a different name) in 2013 and the atmosphere and emotion as soon as you approach the track, is indescribable! With such an amazing sports venue, it seems nuts that Newham is one of the most inactive London boroughs. Hopefully this event in July will help to change that. 

"There are very few sports where you can stand at the start with 35,000 other people and have the same experience. You come out of that thinking "yep, we all did that together"...

Running is such a simple sport, all you need is a pair of trainers and off you go...! But it's better with friends. So sign up your non-running, newly-running or always-running friends and join Pherenice, Paula B, Donna, Devkee, Meera, Vicki and, of course, Paula to make this year's race an even 50:50.

The Morrisons Great Newham London Run takes place on Olympic Park on 19th July. To enter and to run in the former Olympic Stadium, visit

Monday, 18 May 2015

Instruction Manual

Everyone remembers their favourite teacher at school. They’re the ones that helped you finally understand equations, perfect your poems and showed you the path to your dream career. The ones who taught you lessons that weren’t scheduled, answered questions after the bell rang and didn't laugh at your dreams. 

Whilst it’s been a few years since I was last in education, I have had a lot of teachers during my quest to try every class in London, and it’s telling that I’ve returned to and raved about some but haven’t even felt the need to review others. A good instructor has such a big affect on a class, especially when you’re trying that particular activity for the first time.

Everyone is different and we’re all motivated by different things but there are certain qualities every good instructor should have...

1) Simplicity
Everyone who attends the same class needs to understand what to do, especially when potentially dangerous equipment is involved. All instructions should be simple and clear, so everyone has a chance to do their best in the session.

Victoria from Gymbox, the best spin instructor I've ever had, barely spoke to our class. The nature of a Bikes & Beats session, means she would've had to compete with the pounding music by screaming at us. Instead, she shouted the odd word during breaks in the music or used hand signals. Everyone managed to follow her with no confusion.

2) Enthusiasm
If the person teaching me at 7:30 in the morning can't get excited about what we're doing, I'm certainly going to struggle to enjoy the next hour in their class. Whilst you'll have to at least bring some motivation to each session, a good instructor will be able to give you that extra little boost of energy from shear love of the activity. Enthusiasm is infectious and you'll find yourself leaping out of bed far easier if the person you're meeting is looking forward to seeing you, too.

3) Awareness
Workout classes will more often than not have a mix of people that changes from week to week. Instructors should take note of everyone – their ability, experience, fitness levels, language barriers, disability, if there are any injuries – that steps through the studio doors.

I once went to a contortion class, where the instructor didn't say a word, he just pushed and pulled you about until you cried. For an intense class like that, I would've though checking for injuries (at least) would be required...?!

4) Supportiveness
Working out can be hard. You get tired and sore and sometimes you'll think about quitting. An instructor who is supportive and understands what they're making you do is hard, will never let you quit. But they won't scream at you or make you feel bad or humiliate you, they'll be supportive and get you through the hard bits.

The instructors at my absolute favourite bootcamp, Commando Active, know how to get a group through a hard session. They genuinely want you to succeed and achieve. Leading by example, they offer genuine motivation, which you later find repeated by members get others through difficult tasks. I've never met a more supportive group of people.

5) Creativity
Sometimes you get stuck. That might be plateauing with progress, not quite being able to master a move or forgetting form. The best instructors will know how to get you over these challenges and it's usually with a bit of creative thinking.

My brilliant flying trapeze instructor at the National Centre for Circus Arts always knows when it's time to try a new method to ace a trick. She's had me flying with my eyes closed, holding bean bags in-between my legs, reciting rhymes, wriggling on the floor...but once applied to the trick, these seemingly strange methods worked a treat to perfect my timing, keep my legs together, remember which way to twist and the movement needed to flip myself.

There are, of course, many other qualities that define a great instructor. What skills do you value most?

Saturday, 16 May 2015

Race Report: Hackney Half, 2015

WHAT: Half Marathon
WHERE: Hackney Marshes, London
WHEN: 10th May 2015

A race village sets the mood for the event. So with its festival-like middle-of-a-field setting, energetic music (both live and from the organisers’ record collection) and relaxed atmosphere, Vitality Hackney Half Marathon feels like a bit of a party – a celebration of running.

It seems the sun always shines in Hackney. Despite the earlier start time and date to avoid another heat fest like the one we unexpectedly suffered last year, it was another hot day. But I can’t imagine this race working in the rain. You’d lose the pre-race fuelling picnics, post-run snoozes on the grass and, crucially, there’d be less support.

Funnelling across the start line, we were waved off by cheering crowds, which didn’t really end. The course wiggles around Hackney, whose residents, shoppers and coffee drinkers were kind enough to offer their support (and even bottles of water in some cases) as we battled the baking sun. Each corner turned, brought more shouts and banner and music to power us throughout the miles.

I needed it. After a relaxed start, taking selfies with friends – how else will people on Instagram know I’m running a half marathon?! – I sped up and seemed to be able to hold on to a quick pace that might earn me a PB but was just comfortable enough to not kill me over the 13.1 miles.

I’d not been training towards a faster time. Had I planned running a PB, I probably wouldn’t have messed around at the start. But someone in the morning had planted a seed that had grown into possibility. My race maths is awful – I had to stop myself celebrating the half-way mark at mile 6, again! – but a quick guesstimation showed I could probably do it.

The final three miles in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park were happily unlike the switch-backs of doom from last year as the route continued to be interesting with plenty of corners and undulations, taking you down each path only once. But the lack of shade had melted my brain and I couldn’t work out how fast I had to run.

It was only as I heard the thump of the race village music again, that I could stare at my watch in disbelief, knowing I’d run faster than ever. Once again I staggered from the marshes slightly pink and frazzled but with a new PB and a hefty medal slung around my neck.

Pre-registration has opened for Run Hackney 2016. Sign up here.

Thank you to Run Hackney for my place.

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Race Report: Wings for Life World Run, 2015

WHAT: Run as far as you can before the 'finish line' car catches you
WHERE: Silverstone race track
WHEN: 3rd May 2015

"Don't set off too fast, pace yourself."

The advice from former Red Bull F1 driver, Mark Webber, which I should have taken – he did run 28km to my 17 last year, after all – but eleven kilometres later, it was quite clear I'd chosen to ignore this little nugget.

Despite the stiff creak of cold muscles at the start of the Wings for Life World Run, the thought of the 'finish line' car chasing me down, seemed enough to influence my speed. I was running fast, whizzing straight past Mr Webber and passing other runners as I ticked off the miles. But it was only after escaping the Silverstone race track onto surrounding country roads, when I realised I was on for a 10k PB!

In theory this was a great idea. The chaser car, this year driven by former F1 driver David Coulthard, had set off half an hour after the runners and was gradually gaining speed. As soon as it passed, your race was over. Speed was the key here. But, whilst focusing on collecting that 10k milestone, I'd forgotten one vital thing. In order to clock a decent distance before being caught, I'd have to keep running.

My pace maths is pretty shaky at the best of times, it's hopeless when trying to calculate my speed against that of an accelerating car. I had no idea how far I might end up running or how long I'd be on my feet but there was no way I could continue at the speed I'd been travelling.

From then on, my running was erratic. I struggled to settle into a steady rhythm and spent most of my time seeing the same people over again – being overtaken as I retired to almost walking up the continuous hills and running past them as I sprinting downhill to compensate for lost time. Only the 17k marker brought comfort – anything beyond this point would be a PB for this unique race.

All I'd heard for, what felt like, hours was music quietly humming in my ears and my own heavy panting. The commotion of the finish line procession was a hard shake back to the task at hand. It was either excitement or terror that drove my sprint finish, annoyingly metres short of a nice round 19k.

My sulk was short lived. Sat on the shuttle bus that took us back to the race village, it was hard not to soak up the giddy atmosphere of those pumped with endorphins from running and adrenaline from being chased by a car. Back at Silverstone, where giant screens showed the remaining runners in the other 34 global events, which had started at the same time as the UK race, it was even harder to not feel some pride in what we'd been just done.

Every penny of the entry fee for the World Run goes to spinal cord injury charity, Wings for LifeYou can pre-register for next year's race, here.

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Finding Fast: Nike Milers

The setting for the launch of Nike Milers was hidden in an underground car park, pumped full of music and slightly nervous anticipation but what wasn't a secret is the value of speed training.

For a while now, I've been focusing on running further. I'd completely forgotten the wheezy, iron taste of running so fast your lungs try to escape but it definitely has its place in training for endurance events. It teaches you the mental strength needed to keep going through pain, the experience to recover quickly and the knowledge that you can survive more than you thought possible. It also gets you used to running faster, so your race times are likely to shrink.

Nike want to help you find your fast with a new track club that will be sure to get you tearing round any course. The best way to start? See how fast you are now with a timed mile, then revisit it after a few weeks' training to see just how much you can smash off your time.

Before we tested our speed on the underground track, we were handed some inspiration and treated to interviews with legendary athletes Paula Radcliffe and Steve Cram, and superstars of the future from the GB athletics team, who practically strolled the mile curse in five minutes-something.

To psyche us up, we had a masterclass with a team GB sports psychologist, who took us through the visualisation skills, body language and positive talk of a winner. The secret? Focus on specific targets, go through your whole race strategy in your head, stand tall and know you're as prepared as can be.

To make sure our bodies were fully prepared, a pro athletics coach took us through a warm up that looked at the individual movements that help to make fast, faster. From single leg power, to arm drive, to head position, every part was woken up and introduced to the perfect position and movement.

Finally, we lined up to put everything we'd learnt to the test. With no distance markers and no pacers, my only option was to run hard, trying to leave some energy in the tank to make sure I finished. My heart thumped in my chest as I gasped for air, willing my legs to keep moving and for the end to appear. Whilst none of my mile felt comfortable, I was definitely more settled in the second lap of the looped course, as I started to accept the pain.

The professional tips obviously helped (along with the new Nike Air Zoom Vomero 10, which seem to rock your feet forward and ready you to sprint) – I ran my fastest ever mile! I can't wait to see how fast I can go with a few sessions at the track.

Join the Nike Milers every Wednesday at Mile End Park Stadium, 7–9pm. 
Sign up here.

Friday, 1 May 2015

Class Review: Poleography

During the last couple of years of becoming more and more active, I've got to know my body quite well. I know how to feed it, when it's tired, how to push it, its strengths, weaknesses, exactly what it's capable of and I know (and pretty much like) every part. So how come, when I try to make it dance, does this relationship suddenly break down?

Dancing is completely alien to me. I suddenly forget how to move my body and every limb feels awkward. So I attempted to trick it with a class that uses apparatus in the hope that climbing on a pole will provide enough distraction from having to dance. Poleography is a new choreographed fitness invention from Gymbox, where tricks on the pole are strung together with dance to create a full routine. 

Never having even touched a pole before, we started with the basic moves – essentially jumping onto it and sliding down in different ways. Each was pretty easy to do...until we were showed how to do them with style. Until this point, I'd been throwing myself at the pole and hoping I'd just stick to the thing*. A great soundtrack helped to sooth the embarrassment and once I'd worked out my left from my right, I was throwing my hips and arse around like the studio was my own bedroom.

In total, we probably only had a minute's worth of choreography to learn, so once we had gone through all the moves, we had time to practice it a few times. I needed to (it turns out my short term memory holds very little information at a time) but by the fifth run-through I'd pretty much got the gist with only a touch of freestyling.

Luckily, our brilliant instructor was all for us adding our own style and showed us some alternative tricks, even getting slightly carried away and spending almost an extra hour playing with new shapes. Needless to say, I came away from the class with a few black and blue souvenirs from trying to master climbing up the pole.

For more details on Poleography classes, have a look at the Gymbox site here.

* Besides obvious reasons, pole dancers wear very few clothes because they use their skin to stick to the pole and hold themselves in position.