July 2015Eclectic Cake: July 2015

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Glorious Mud

I never expected to win a triathlon but when I was consistently racking my bike dead last, it was obvious cycling and I didn’t get on. After leaving far too many races feeling sorry for myself, I quit multi-sport and sold my race bike. Besides my 1.2 mile cycle commute to the train station, I vowed to only travel by foot or motorised wheels.


And then a friend suggested we go on a mountain bike ride in the Brecon Beacons. She had the home advantage, she’d been learning to bomb up and down the hilly tracks on her new bike since she moved there a few months ago. I didn’t want to turn down the offer of adventure but I felt a little out of my depth. The last time we’d cycled together, I’d had a grump because I couldn’t keep up and scratched my legs to pieces by slipping off the pedals in the rain.


With a brave face and some encouragement, I loaded my squeaky mountain bike onto the truck and we headed for the hills. At least the Welsh scenery would be nice enough to distract me – the hills rolled on for miles. But that was the thing, I struggled enough on the flat, let alone forcing a bike up any incline. This time was different, though, thanks to the surprising addition of thick, sticky, glorious mud.

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I don’t mind getting dirty, it’s why I love trail running so much. So to have mud splashing up my legs and back and even on my face somehow made the uphill charge a little more enjoyable. My heart felt like it was trying to bust out of my chest but all I could think of was bombing down the other side to splash through more puddles. I was actually having fun!


There was no pressure of a race, no embarrassment from being last, just a ridiculous grin from the simplest of pleasures. Being playful, getting grubby and sharing the experience with friends seems to be the key to my cycling happiness. So now I vow to only travel by foot or motorised wheels…or mud.

Monday, 20 July 2015

Gorge-ous Walking

When two friends, who are possibly even more adventurous than me, said we were going for a walk when I next visited them in the Brecon Beacons, I knew there was more to it than just strapping on a pair of boots and unfolding the Ordnance Survey.


The outfits we were handed were suspiciously aquatic – wellies, wetsuit, helmet, a fleece base layer, a water-proof and a life jacket. Yep, this was not your regular ramble, we were going gorge walking. And we were very quickly introduced to what it was all about. We splashed our way along the chilly stream, boots and sleeves filling with water as we scrambled over rocks.


As we came to an opening, where the river got wider and deeper, it was clear we wouldn't be getting any drier. Our instructor showed us how to clamber onto a rock ledge and roll off into the pool of water. His small yelp warned us of the temperature. It was the type of cold that momentarily robs you of your breath but I managed to catch it in time to enjoy the carnage of my splash.


All three of us, now thoroughly soaked, continued to wade through the water, which seemed to be getting progressively deeper. First ankle-deep, then up to our armpits, then suddenly we were swimming (well, as close to swimming as was possible with a buoyancy aid and without losing your wellies when you kick your legs). And I couldn't help but notice that the rocky sides of the river had rapidly increased in height. Our mini tumble into the pool was just a taster of what was to come.


The first leap was only accessible by crawling through a waterfall. What looked quite gentle from a distance gave our helmeted heads a hammering as soon as we started along the ledge. It was a quick lesson in how strong water can be. So it wasn't surprising that the first in our group was a little nervous to jump off the ledge. Nose held, she cautiously stepped off, into the water and emerged with a grin.


The next jumps were, of course, higher than the last and each brought a bigger smile and occasional splutter, until we reached Loonies Leap, the largest of the lot. Even to someone supposedly not scared of heights, it seemed high. Knowing a hesitant stumble could cause a slip, I threw myself into the air. Most of the water flew up my nose but I happily bobbed out of the water, giddy to do it all again.

Friday, 17 July 2015

Support

I booked my first ultramarathon months ago, last year, in fact. And at the time I decided to not tell my husband, figuring he’d think it was a ridiculous idea and not approve. A while later, a friend let it slip and I was proved right. Yes, as a non-runner, he does think it’s a ridiculous idea. And no, he doesn’t approve, it’s a ridiculous idea! But that doesn’t mean he’s not supportive.


When we met, I wasn’t a runner. I played hockey and lacrosse but it barely took up my time, I wasn’t in love with those sports like I am with this one. So Andrew has seen me go from struggling to circle a field to running 15 miles on my own for a hotdog to, hopefully, running 35 miles round a Scottish island. I'd like to think he's proud of me and maybe a little impressed but he mainly thinks I'm nuts.

He just doesn't 'get' running. Despite trying it himself and even running a few races with me, he seems to be immune to the bug. And so all things running, besides "if you get a Mars Bar in your goodie bag, can I have it?" exchanges, are kept for friends that understand. I'm used to keeping quiet about distance, time, effort, black toenails, hills, fuel...I don't want to bore the poor man.

This time is different. With such a massive challenge in front of me, I'm scared and he can tell. No matter what it is, self-inflicted or not, if I'm scared or upset or nervous or sad, he's been there to offer his support. So last weekend, as I struggled to peel myself from our bed into my kit to run 16 miles, he put his on and offered to cycle alongside me.

I suddenly found the energy to leap from the bed and run out the door. Knowing he'd be there to talk to, encourage me through the hard miles, choose a direction when I got selection fatigue, as well as carry all my food, gave me the positivity to tell my body it could do it.

It was the most fun and fastest 16 miles I've ever run (granted this is only the third time I've run the distance). Despite him sitting out a few miles because I kept leading him along un-cycle-able paths, every time I passed my own personal aid station, I'd head off a little quicker.

With his support and promises to accompany me on more runs and treat me with lots of energy-filled food, I'm suddenly looking forward to ultra training!

Thursday, 16 July 2015

Class Review: Contortion at Gymbox

With its strong men pumping away at their iron and music pounding through the walls, feats of incredible cardio endurance and eccentric ring masters who conjure creative classes, entering a Gymbox always feels a little circus-like. But as I arrived at the Holborn branch for my first Contortion class, this vibe was stronger than ever.

We were the freaks that decided Thursday night was for working on our bodies, rather than seeking entertainment in the pub. And a collection of us were about to attempt the seemingly impossible and bend in new and peculiar ways. This was no yoga class, it was the greatest show in the gym!


"This is what we're aiming for by the end of the class", said the human pretzel, who was effortlessly folded in a back bend. Her forearms were placed on the ground, toes touching her fingers, back arched high and one leg elegantly pointed toward the ceiling.

I slowly looked upwards and tested my flex in my first contortion class by looking further towards the back wall. My neck had no more bend and it was clear that my back had none whatsoever. Our instructor was either being ambitious or was a miracle worker.

Spoiler: she was a bit of both.

With newly warmed joints, we set about opening up the parts of our desk-bound bodies that are seldom stretched. Lying on my shoulder with the bottom arm stuck out behind me, I was instructed to reach back with my other arm and clasp my hands together. The reality was more panicked fish on a boat deck, than tidy half 'T'. I was miles away! ...Until some magic from our instructor.


One small adjustment stopped me flailing on the floor and allowed my fingers to tickle each other. I was amazed at how much the body can move if only you know how. Similarly, in a partner back stretch I moved way past the point I'd expected to stop. Maybe I did have the ability to be bendy...

But before I could consider running away with the circus, we moved onto the main event. Our goal contortion, demonstrated at the beginning of the class, was broken up into stages. Each allowed the supple-ly-challenged to stop when needed and work on that particular part of the bend. Whilst the gymnasts had fun tying themselves in knots, I was happy to keep wiggling into my crab-doing-a-headstand position and collapse into a tangle before lifting myself once more.

I'm not quite ready to squeeze myself into a lunch box or attempt to lick my own elbow but I was amazed at how little I seemingly knew about my own body. There is far more potential in there, I just need someone willing to unlock it.

To give Contortion a whirl, see the Gymbox schedule here.

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Why I Love Climbing

Clung half way up a boulder, in the middle of nowhere, a stranger is cheering me upwards. I’ve never climbed outside before, let alone thought of a tiny pebble as suitable to hang off but right now this guy is telling me I’ve “got this”. 


He seems to be confident that my newly formed climbing muscles and ounce of technique are enough to top out. I’m not sure I believe him, so to prove his theory wrong, I continue to climb. What did I know?! 

With a bit of unconventional ‘face climbing’ and only a few yelps, of course, I finished the route. I was far stronger than I’d given myself credit for, luckily my cheerleader knew better. Perched on the very top, my confidence swelled and I wondered what else I could do.

You can blame most of my new-found fearlessness on the climbing community. I’ve never met a group of people more supportive than a cluster of boulderers. They ‘get’ that you’re a bit nervous but they know you’ll overcome that. And they really, truly want you to succeed – sharing buckets of chalk, knowledge and encouragement with anyone that will use it. They’ll offer help by talking you through each move, making sure you’re safe and with words of motivation, each time celebrating each little step of victory.


That’s the thing with bouldering. It’s challenging, both physically and mentally – whilst you test your strength and agility, your brain tries to solve how to tackle each wall-mounted puzzle. Climbing has made me a braver more confident person. I have more trust in my body, in the decisions I make and I’m excited at the thought of what else I might be capable. 

‘Can’t’ isn’t a word I use very often now, unless it’s proceeded with ‘yet’…

Post originally written for Hold Breaker

Thursday, 9 July 2015

Race Report: Runnymede Runners Relay

WHAT: 26.2 mile relay race
WHERE: Windsor Great Park
WHEN: 4th July 2015


Running is always better with friends. You get to have a chat, distract each other and soak up encouragement when you're finding it tough. So when I was invited to complete one of four teams for the Runnymede Runners relay, I of course said yes.

It was easy to spot our collection of runners, we were some of the only ones not in club shirts at the small race. That didn't mean we weren't a good team, though. Lead by the brilliant Steph, we were organised, always on time to greet our returning runner and cheer on our outgoing teammate, and our HQ was stocked with all the best food.


As runners came and went from alternate long and short laps, it was lovely to slowly bake in the heat of the mid-day sun, whilst admiring the views and chatting to friends new and old. But being the fifth runner of six, was dangerous. I'd almost forgotten why I was there, until I was given my five-minute warning. I turned down another carrot stick from the picnic, grabbed my trail shoes and lined up to grab the baton.

I set off straight into a headwind, trying to weigh up if it was better to be cooler with the wind or to move forward easier without it. The hills on the trail course sucked up any energy that the heat hadn't yet sucked from me. I was running as part of a team but, in reality, I was doing my 5-point-something mile loop on my own. It felt tough and serious (but very friendly and encouraging) club runners were continually overtaking me.


Giving up or walking wasn't an option. I may have been on the course on my own but there were people relying on me to come back. So I poured a cup of water on myself at the half-way aid station and followed the advice of my teammates to "look left and right".

The beauty of Windsor Great Park didn't disappoint, especially running across the road that leads up to the castle on one side and a spectacular monument on the other. That kept me going until I could hear my team cheering me in. It would be exaggerating to say I sprinted to hand over the baton but there was certainly more of a spring in my step.


I have no idea how long we took to run our marathons. I don't know if we were first, fifth or last. What I do know is that support is important and it came in bucket loads from this lovely bunch!

Monday, 6 July 2015

Class Review: Rebounce

It seems the trend for gym classes now is to pair two things that you wouldn't normally put together, set it to a great soundtrack and label it with a catchy name. If this is true, Rebounce – the joining of trampolining and dancing – is bang on trend.

The lights are down low but I can still make out my flailing figure in the studio mirror, bouncing on the mini trampoline to my own syncopated rhythm. I've just returned from a mid-class dash to the loo (it became clear that holding it in whilst bouncing would be an accident waiting to happen) and the class has already been taken through more choreography.


With no idea of what do to with my arms or where to land my feet, I join in the only way I know how with some freestyle moves. A sympathetic grin from our instructor tells me this is both common and encouraged, so I continue. All that matters is I'm still bouncing around enough to tire me out after the 45 minute class.

Despite the combination of two activities, Rebounce is a pretty simple concept. Bounce around, attempt to copy the moves and don't fall off! Anything else you manage is a bonus, so here are three tips on how to get the most out of the class.



1) Pee First

Don't bounce with a full bladder! If you have even a slight inkling that you may need the loo in the next hour, go. Ignore it and you'll either have to dash out and miss some of the instructions or you'll end up slipping on your own puddle.

2) Don't Look Down

Throwing your arms and legs around whilst on a trampoline, messes slightly with your landing placement. At the start of the class, I was a little worried I'd miss the bounce area and land in the springs or the hard floor, so I kept looking at my feet. This, it turns out, is where you start to travel around and really do run a risk of a painful dismount. Your body knows where your feet are, so look ahead and you'll be fine.

3) Don't Learn to Dance

The aim of the class is not to nail a dance routine. I may have done a mini fist pump when I finally got a combination right but I got more satisfaction and joy from jumping around with not a clue what to do. Not many classes give me the giggles. This, on top of the endorphin rush, made for one of the happiest classes I've been to!


For a free trial of Rebounce, book yourself in here.

Thursday, 2 July 2015

Herts Girls Can...Play Football

It's another football-filled summer but, for once, I'm pleased. The FIFA Women's World Cup is all over TV and papers, the 'Lionesses' are one of only a handful of English teams to make it to a quarter final and, hopefully, a whole generation of girls have been inspired to try the traditionally male-dominated sport.

credit Herts Girls Can

But it's not just young girls that have been inspired. On Sunday a group of women – of all ages and levels of fitness – lined up for our first taste of football with players and coaches of the Welwyn Garden Ladies FC. I'd have been intimidated to join a training session on my own but the brilliant Herts Girls Can group has taken the fear out of trying new sports with their fitness festival and organised sessions for newbies.

We warmed up with a bit of agility work on an obstacle course that looked like it was just missing a mini tunnel and see-saw before it was Crufts approved. To add a bit of urgency, we were split into teams, which automatically made the exercise super competitive. Little did we know, we'd be doing it again...and again...This was an introduction to how fit and agile you need to be to play football.

credit Herts Girls Can

It's no good running around a pitch without any ball skills and at that point I had absolutely none but a quick lesson in the hardest parts of my head, and a few misjudged head flings and I was header-ing the ball. When it came to a mini game of no-hands netball, I reverted back to being scared of the ball, lifting my arms and palming the ball away. Hand ball! But this is a reflex that will apparently fade with practise.

Kicking the ball seemed far more natural. I could even aim and fire in the same direction. That is, until I tried to run with it. My attempt at dribbling the ball looked a bit like Bambi juggling on ice but I was encouraged to try my new found skills (I use this term loosely) in a game anyway.

credit Herts Girls Can

As soon as I was passed the ball, I panicked. If it wasn't for my teammates screaming instructions, I probably would've kicked it straight back to them. As I got more and more confident, though, I started tackling the opposition, getting in the way of attempted goals (now I know why shin pads are necessary...ouch!) and even taking a shot at goal. It didn't go in but as far as I was concerned I was a football player.

credit Herts Girls Can

Rather than being annoyed that I never got to try this sport as a kid, I'm grateful that I'm getting the chance to try it now. And with women's football now in the media, excited to see how many girls are inspired to become champions of the future.

You can join in with the Herts Girls Can Fitness Festival here.