June 2015Eclectic Cake: June 2015

Monday, 29 June 2015

Nikecourt Club

"Sorry!"

Once again I'd sent my tennis ball wayward and I had to apologise for almost hitting someone minding their own business on the court. Only this time that person was Roger Federer. Yes, THE Roger Federer – the seven-time Wimbledon-winning, Grand Slam wins record-smashing, world number 2 tennis great.


To make the situation even more ridiculous, the person waiting for me to finally get a ball to him was UK number 3, Kyle Edmund. I blame Nikecourt Club for letting me loose on these unsuspecting pros. It was the launch of their ten day tennis event, which aims to dispel preconceptions that the sport is a bit stuffy and elitist. With a bright pink and blue court, they've certainly done away with traditions.


Before we were unleashed on Kyle and Roger, coaches from the Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) equipped us with some racket skills in a masterclass. In my case, this mostly meant carrying mine whilst running after the balls I'd failed to hit. With a few drills and a lot of embarrassing misses, I did eventually hit some balls, there were a few strays but I at least got them over the net. I also got my first taste of Fast Tennis, a shorter, quicker game aimed at attracting new players to the sport.


After an hour of practice, it was time to put what we'd learned to the ultimate test. The court was warmed up with a quick rally between the two pros, then it was our turn to step in. Nervous, I thought I'd 'work my way up' from the UK number 3 to the world number 2 – not really an easy introduction. That's when I watched my serve, in slow motion, head towards Federer and narrowly miss his Wimbledon-ready legs.


Luckily, it was such a slow ball that stopped dead before it hit him and he was pretty cool guy – happily hitting balls to a stream of excitable amateurs, waiting when the ball didn't make it back over the net and taking an epic selfie with everyone.

Credit Nike and Roger Federer (!!!)

I obviously need a bit more practice, so it's great to hear the Nikecourt Club is open for the next week. Every session is free but places are going quickly, so book here now!

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Class Review: Buti Yoga at Gymbox

It's not unusual to need some preparation for a Gymbox class – usually a serious pep talk to force you into what you know will be a really tough class. In this case, though, the preparation was a little different.

credit Vesna Nikolic

Dripping paintbrushes in hand, we got to work covering our faces, arms, legs – any inch of skin that dared to be bare – in luminous paint. I felt a little sorry for our fellow Gymboxers at the new Westfield Stratford gym, we weren't exactly tidy with our decoration but we were reassured it was easy to clean. This was a necessary step. Little did we know at the time, we were applying war paint.

credit Vesna Nikolic

Buti Yoga is a mix of power yoga, plyometrics and tribal dance (the inspiration for the body paint). I somehow managed to only hear the words 'yoga' and 'paint' – how hard can that be? What a fool! This was a Gymbox class after all, and I'm yet to leave one not soaked in sweat.

credit Vesna Nikolic

The class did start off yoga-esque, gently setting intentions on our mats. After that, though, any poses were turbo-charged. Downward dogs became jumping planks and tree poses became endurance leg stretches. It was enough to melt the paint off my face but there were plenty of amazing tracks blaring to keep us going.

credit Vesna Nikolic

Seeing as it's pronounced 'booty', it seemed appropriate that throughout the class there was a lot of arse shaking. It didn't make the class any easier – side twerking in plank is pretty tricky – but it definitely made it fun. My lack of coordination meant I rolled the wrong way and shook out of time, I couldn't help but laugh at myself.

credit Vesna Nikolic

The laughs continued after the class, I travelled all the way home with bits of face paint all over my cheeks – it took me finally looking in my bathroom mirror to work out why I was given strange looks. Coupled with the core DOMS that followed that week, this was a class that kept on giving.

Sunday, 21 June 2015

Race Report: Nike Women's 10km London

WHAT: 10km run
WHERE: Victoria Park, London
WHEN: 21st June 2015


The run up to this year's Nike Women's 10km, although under a different name and time of day, was like its predecessors. Plenty of excitement, lots of support from the virtual and live run clubs and encouragement to get as many women running as possible. It was great to see so many crews recruiting all types of women – from friends to mums, lycra addicts to brand new runners – leading up to the event but I didn't really appreciate the value of a crew until race day.


I woke up late. These things happen. But no sooner had I announced I may not make the race in time, my phone began to beep with solutions of how to quicken my journey. It's thanks to my friends that I actually made it to the start! And although I arrived slightly flustered, I wasn't too late and the flurry of familiar faces that greeted me, calmed me down so I could remember the reason I was there and start to soak up the festival feel atmosphere.


Following the sea of orange shirts into my pen, I felt like I was part of something special. Yes, we all had our own little groups but we were running this together, all 10,000 of us. The fact that there are that many female runners (and many more) in London is pretty amazing.


Over 60% of the runners were doing their first 10k race, that's a massive number of new runners (or women pushing themselves to a new distance) in one place. Fingers crossed, this is just the first of many more races and challenges to come. All along the course were friends pacing and supporting their crews. Yelps of tired legs and doubt in being able to reach the finish, were met with shouts of encouragement, "you've got this"s, that pulled each runner through.


I ran with my friend, Kirsty, who doesn't realise what a brilliant runner she is. Far stronger than me, we set off fast – PB pace for me – yet she still worried she was doing it wrong or holding me back. She wanted me to pace her but had no idea I was clinging on to her for dear life, trying not to explode in a mess on the floor. If she wasn't there, I would probably have given up and walked.


There was no walking but a new PB was not meant to be. The heat had got to me and the rushed morning meant I wasn't properly prepared but that didn't matter. My friend completely smashed her goal of sub 55-minutes and, welling up with post-race pride, declared she'd like to do more. I got to sit with my Alex Monroe necklace proudly displayed round my neck, stuffing my face with nut butter on toast from Pip & Nut, whilst listening to crazy covers by a brass band and watching other finishers dance around, fuelled by free fizz and endorphins.


I think I won.

Thank you Nike for the race place and a brilliant day.

Race Report: Amba Hotels City of London Mile

WHAT: 1 mile run
WHERE: St. Pauls, London
WHEN: 14th June 2015


I’d run lots of miles leading up to the Amba Hotels City of London Mile but not many of them were singular. Plenty were hard but very few were fast and non of them singular. After a friend caught me scoffing a custard pastry 40 minutes before my race, it dawned on me that I wasn’t very prepared for this event.

I found out the mile was a tough and painful event, after a practice run in March but apparently that wasn’t enough to scare me into training for race day. You don’t run fast without running faster but, as my distance has increased for ultra training, I’ve inevitably got slower and very rarely alter my speed.


Ready...ish

On longer runs, it takes me a couple of miles to settle into a good pace but there's no time for adjustment with a mile race. BOOM! You're straight into it, so warming up and waking up your body is essential. But rather than joining other runners in bouncing up and down the road, I watched them. Feeling entirely underprepared and dreading the seven or so minutes that would follow the enormous bang of the start cannon, I hurried my bag to the drop and lined up with my wave.

I crossed the start with panic but relief that it would soon be over. After reaching a much-welcomed half way sign, I felt even more relief and I even managed a second or two of appreciation for the closed roads and view of St. Paul's Cathedral, poking out from in between city high-risers.

...And done!

A few metres out from the finish, my legs became competitive and forced me up a gear to pass the next closest runner. It didn't help my unsurprisingly slow result but it proved, with a bit of training, there was a hint of speed in me.

It turns out I wasn't the only unprepared party. Whilst the running of each wave was militant, the tricky matter of hundreds of people returning within a handful of minutes to collect their bags seems to have been overlooked. I appreciate this was run by volunteers and the event was completely free, so I hate to criticise it but they seemed to only devise a system when they realised they had an unhappy queue of finishers, causing chaos!

Runners of the future finishing the family mile

I waited an hour to eventually pick up my own bag. This did give me plenty of time to look around at the other runners, though. Nearly-nude club runners and nervous first-timers, chatty friends and excitable kids, the super speedy and gentle plodders... It was a completely accessible event, not just for the manageably short distance but for the completely free entry – truly a celebration of running.

Friday, 19 June 2015

If The Shoe Fits

My usual climbing routine was throwing on stretchy clothes with enough opacity that the colour of my pants stayed secret, shoving flapjack in my face as I rushed to the indoor centre and apologising to my friend for being late (again) whilst strapping on a pair of worryingly-warm hire shoes. This, my friend told me, had to change. 


But it wasn't my tardiness or obsessive knicker hiding he was worried about. If I was going to climb more, I'd need my own equipment. Borrowing stretched-out misshapen shoes just wasn't going to cut it, especially after being invited on an outdoor bouldering adventure in the Peak District – apparently, there are no hire booths in the crags. 

Faced with a wall full of shoes from laced to velcroed, flat slabbed to banana-shaped, I had no idea where to start! Luckily Tom, one of the experts at Ellis Brigham, was on hand to talk me through choosing my first pair.


Climbing shoes are pretty cosy on the toes. They need to be a snug fit, so your feet are as close to the rock as possible. At the same time, if your toes are cramped up, it'll be too painful to climb. Each pair of shoes I tried on in the Covent Garden store was tested on their mini climbing wall – edging my feet around the holds to test that every part of my foot was stable and comfortable in the shoe.


I tried on nine different pairs, some of them twice or even a third time with the very patient Tom before I finally chose the Boreal Women's Diabola, a 'do-it-all' shoe that is good both indoors and out – perfect for my first go at climbing outdoors.


We lugged mats and shoes to the first boulder, where I was introduced to a couple of pebbles. Apparently they were my foot and hand holds! Armed with Tom's advice to trust my feet, I cautiously placed one foot on the first pebble and pushed my weight onto it. Surprisingly, I stood up. More confident, I reached my hand to the second pebble. I pulled on it, my fingers awkwardly pinched and, again, somehow moved upwards.


I didn't finish the first route. It took a bit of encouragement for me to reach for the next invisible hold, at which point I slid down the granite and skinned my arms. It was really tough but being able to at least stand on a little pebble made me thankful for the perfectly-fitting shoes – it actually felt pretty secure as a hold. However, after failing to finish my first outdoor route, I was feeling really insecure. This level climb would be easy for me indoors but outdoors it felt almost impossible. I was starting to think I'd come all the way to the Peaks to sit around not being able to climb anything!


Luckily, I packed some really supportive friends who found a new route and bullied me up it. Again, there were challenges I'd not faced indoors before. For one the routes aren't marked, so there's a lot of trial and error in working out where to move next. Then there were a lot of sloped tops which could only be palmed at rather than grabbed – it was another case of trusting the little grip I did have, having confidence and just keep pushing myself upwards.


I finished my first route, using my knees and face for extra purchase on the boulder, then flopping myself over the top like a walrus. It was anything but elegant but I'd made it and finally my confidence was up again. By the end of the day, after a few hours of successful bouldering, I was being dragged away kicking and screaming by my friends whose feet were blistered and sore. Mine? Tired but perfectly intact.


For more expert tips on how to choose climbing shoes, visit Ellis Brigham's buying guide.

Thank you to Ellis Brigham for my perfectly-fitting first pair of climbing shoes.

Monday, 15 June 2015

Fight or Flight

It was late and getting dark. Whilst I was still plodding home from a late night in the office, everyone else seemed to already be at home. The streets were deserted and most of the cars were parked. I was in a post-work daze when, suddenly, something stroked the top of my head and right shoulder. 

My mind raced through the possibilities. Had someone been hiding in the bushes? Had Alexandra Palace got itself its own beast? Would I survive?!

Immediately, I went into ninja mode. Arms up, leg out, knee high but, and this is where my training is lacking, eyes closed.

Had they been open, I’d have known I was threatening to fight a low-hanging branch. Suddenly I was quite pleased there was no one to be seen, despite being quite impressed with my instincts. Saying that, had I been faced with more than an over-grown bush, I had no moves. I wouldn’t be fighting, more hoping that the attacker would be scared off by the possibility I may know Kung Fu.

This isn’t the only time my somewhat shaky fight or flight instincts have been called upon, it turns out I’m quite skittish. I’ve run away from doors closing unexpectedly, lunged at newly-popped toast and yelped at elevator bing bongs. All absolutely harmless, obviously. 

But what if that branch had been slightly more threatening? I’ve have been pretty easy to beat with my limbs hanging every which way and my eyes closed. Whether it’s learning what to do with my fists or knowing when to run, my instincts need training.


Luckily Gymbox, with its ridiculously long list of ever-changing classes, can teach me how to ‘Bitchbox’ my way out of any situation or use newly-flexed yogic hips to sprint away, wrestle someone to the ground or escape to the hills by bike, grapple like a Brazilian or dance from danger.


So watch out, low-hanging branches, loud noises and flying food, next time I’ll know what to do.

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Locally Lost

Let’s just say I’m thankful for Google Maps. If I can get lost on a marshalled 5k run, it will come as no surprise that I often have navigation issues on solo long runs. But I quite enjoy the sense of adventure that these outings bring. Running increasingly longer distances provides the opportunity to explore and, because I always get lost, the routes are very rarely the same, even if I am heading off from my own front door.


I’ll normally set aside a whole morning for my little adventures, especially if I’m somewhere new, not knowing how far or for how long I might be running. A quick glance at a map will usually do for a plan – I’ll at least know which direction to start running in, after that it’s all free styling. 


I always carry supplies with me – a lesson learnt over time. On my first run-exploration, I had nothing on me but my phone for what turned out to be an two-hour explore. Now, I take a few more supplies…


  • My Berghaus backpack. Big enough to carry anything I could possibly need but small enough to not weigh me down and made perfect with its easy access bottle holder.

  • Plenty of water in my trusty non-drip Nathan bottle. Hydration is important, especially when you don’t know when you might get back to base.

  • A Buff. Depending on the season, these useful accessories can protect you from the sun in summer or keep in valuable warmth in winter. My insect shield Buff, from kitshack.com, is also impregnated with insect repellent – perfect for running though the trails.

  • A running adventure calls for a mid-way picnic. My favourite fuel is a delicious GetBuzzing flapjack made of natural goodness and a pack of Honey Stinger organic energy chews for quick hits without the stickiness of gels.

  • To prevent any niggling sweaty seams from causing too much damage, I take a stick of Body Glide.

  • It’s important to bring a phone. Firstly to take pictures of newly discovered trails, secondly for the GPS to find your way home and finally to make the call when you realise you’re too far from home to run and need rescuing by car.

  • I take money with me, just in case I need to hop on a bus but on the off-chance I bump into an ice-cream van. An adventure is like a mini holiday, after all.


Thank you to Nathan for the water bottle, Honey Stinger and GetBuzzing for the fuel and kitshack.com for the Buff.

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

These Girls Can

If you've not seen the brilliantly inspiring #ThisGirlCan campaign, climb out from under your rock and have a look!

I've already gushed about it and why it's so important to women's sport, so I won't repeat myself but it's encouraging to see that things have been ramped up a gear, with their new app. Needless to say, when I was asked to get involved with the launch, I leaped at the chance.


The These Girls Can app, takes your own awesome sporting photos – from running to skateboarding, climbing to dancing, anything that gets you moving – and turns them into mini shareable posters in the style of the campaign, each with one of the memorable headlines from the original advert. You'll be able to share all your sporting achievements with pride.

The best pictures via the app will be chosen to inspire other girls in future digital poster sites across the country. Not only will you be inspiring your friends and family to get moving but thousands of women across the country will also see just what you can do. What could be more encouraging?

Visit the These Girls Can app via a mobile device, here.

Monday, 8 June 2015

Therapy


My mother-in-law died last week. There was no warning, no preparation. She was laughing with friends and then, suddenly, POW. Heart attack.

She never quite understood my love for running. “Why bother exercising if you don’t need to lose weight?” She waved me off to my first half marathon, instructing that I shouldn’t run too fast or try too hard and that I should probably walk as much as possible. She did at least understand that it makes me happy, even making sure our yearly Easter family holiday destinations were running-friendly.

Now she’s gone, I find myself needing to run more. Since the moment I declared myself a runner, I knew it had an effect on my mood and this past week it has become a bandaid for the wound of grief. Each outing offers a release for the sadness and shock and confusion and helplessness, none of which disappear but running lifts part of the weight.

Every solo trot gives me my own head space, away from the rest of the family. Since the news broke, I’ve been living with family, dutifully providing them with a constant supply of tea and cheese on toast. Getting out alone means I can concentrate on myself for a few hours and work through my own grief. Usually, as a rush of endorphins hits, so do the tears but I feel much better and stronger for it.

My plodding rhythm lets my mind wonder if it wants but also provides a focus for when things become too much – there’s no need to think of anything other than putting one foot in front of the other. There is, of course, the longer term focus of training for my first ultramarathon (if Heather had found out, she would have tried to have me committed for lunacy!) which reminds me that life does in deed go on.

We will get over the shock and grief of our loss eventually but for now, running is my therapy.

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

Help Run It

"If you love running, help others to run."


So far this year, I've run five races. That's five times I've rocked up to the race village, dropped my bag off, pinned my bib to my front and set off along a marked course before stumbling back over the finish line to be rewarded with medals, t-shirts, drinks, bananas and (sometimes) beer.

According to Join In, one volunteer creates the capacity to host 8.5 runners, so (with a bit of pigeon maths) 3,918 volunteers have been involved in my running this year. With at least eight more races planned and 42 previously run, I'm looking at writing a lot of thank you letters. It turns out running isn't the solo sport it initially seems – I've had a massive team behind me all along.


"Behind every runner is a volunteer."

Jo Pavey, recognises that volunteers have played a huge part in her career, especially in the early stages. Without those generous people, she may not have become the European Champion that she is today. But, as I proved above, it's not just elite runners who benefit. Local, grassroots clubs can only continue to exist, thanks to those who offer their time and in turn, this helps the community keep including people in sport.


Volunteers don't get the raw deal, though. Besides that warm fuzzy feeling you get by helping others, they're often rewarded with future race places or merchandise, some events even hand out bling for marshals. For others, it's just the excitement of being involved in something amazing.

Last year I volunteered to marshal at the Women's Tour, just wanting to be involved in bringing women's cycling to my town but I was lucky enough to have been chosen as a rider chaperone. I got to see them finish the stage, meet some of the top riders and sit with them post-race as they waited for routine drug testing.


If we want to continue to be able to race and, of course, grow sport and introduce more people to it, we need to make sure there are enough volunteers. Join In, is the nation's charity for local sports volunteering and this summer, the organisation is aiming to encourage even more people to help their local races or clubs to hold events, as well as increasing participation in running.


To learn more about the Run It campaign and volunteering, go to joininuk.org.

Monday, 1 June 2015

…Oh, But My Darling, What If You Fly?


Half-way up a boulder on my first outdoor climb, clutching onto tiny pebbles as my only holds, I admitted it.

“I’m scared!”

I’d started to push and pull myself up to the next move but then that all-too-familiar voice snuck in and told me I couldn’t – it was too difficult, I’d not done this before, I’d probably fall. I bailed on the move and slid down the rock to the safety of the ground mat, frustrated. I ended up on the floor anyway but I hadn’t fallen. I hadn’t failed. I’d decided to come down, it was my choice.

What had I achieved, though? Yes, all my limbs were intact, I didn’t get a face full of granite but I don’t know if I can complete that particular bouldering route. By wimping out, not taking a chance, I didn’t get to find out what I’m capable of if I really try. This could have been an occasion where I’d flown.

I will, of course, return to the Peaks and this particular route but I’ll have to sit with my frustration and self-disappointment for weeks. Playing it safe is not that satisfying. And I seem to be experienced in the 'almost' – the wanting to but not quite having the guts to go for something. I've pulled out of flying trapeze tricks, put off registering for big races, not really pushed myself for my true PBs, all just in case I fail.

So to avoid it again, my new favourite word is “yes”. I’ve been practising this weekend…I said “yes” to leaping off the highest jump whilst gorge walking and put aside any fear of falling from heights. I said “yes” to learning to ride a motorbike off-road, despite never riding one before. I said “yes” to a hilly mountain bike ride, even though I’ve struggled with cycling so much in the past.

Each time I was pleased I’d given it a go and each time I emerged, unharmed, with a massive smile on my face. If you never push yourself and try something that scares you, who knows what you might be missing out on.