September 2015Eclectic Cake: September 2015

Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Adventuring the Alps

In bed, I rolled over to get away from the ticking. Why was my watch so loud?! ...My digital watch... I suddenly realised that audible ticking was my pulse dealing with the leg pump and altitude. My mind had finally switched off after what felt like hours replaying the incredible mountain scenery, GCSE French and the worry that I'd probably get left behind, now my body was keeping me up. It was safe to say that my first day in the Alps had blown my body and my mind.

Before we headed off I was fearful I'd not be able to keep up with the three mountain goat-like runners who I was travelling with, that they'd have to abandon me for being too slow, that I wouldn't be able to cope with the altitude and I'd ruin it for everyone. But it's the unknown that makes it an adventure, so I acknowledged my fears and carried on anyway.

The plan was to run the CCC route in reverse over three days – essentially, running from France to Italy whilst tackling thousands of metres of ascent. As soon as we started our journey, the altitude had an obvious effect on my breathing. Mountains are incredibly humbling. Despite being at peak ultra fitness, I'd never felt more unfit! As I started to slip behind, I realised chasing down the group was going to be harder than I thought, and that's before tackling in the steep, technical descents and equally tough ascents.

After catching up with the resting group (again), I was given some much needed mountain running tuition – embrace your inner John Wayne, imagine oranges under your pits and get used to being brave enough to just throw yourself downhill. I was then encouraged to the front to lead our small pack at my slow pace. No longer panicking about catching up (but still worrying about not being fast), I finally remembered to look up. 

My soul sang! I was in the most incredible playground, I just needed to remember to play. When I wasn't leading I'd quickly fall behind, only now my head and mood no longer dropped. I got used to bouncing along the trails (or hiking when the gradient got too steep or climbing ladders when the gradient got even steeper) on my own and it was really fun. I'd go for ages without seeing anything other than mountains and marmots and it felt like even more of an adventure.

A mid-distance run would easily take the best part of the day to complete in the brutal but beautiful environment, providing plenty of time to practice my new mountain skills. By the time we had to return back to reality, I was starting to feel more comfortable and I was falling in love with mountain trails. If I was in indoors at a refuge for too long, I'd peer out the window, just to check the mountains were still there. Looking out and seeing Mont Blanc from your bedroom window was surreal.

The quad DOMS on each morning was almost as spectacular as the alpine views. I've never felt so helpless at the top of a flight of stairs before but I wore the muscle soreness like a badge of honour. What doesn't kill you makes you stronger, they say. So after the hardest run of my life, the fact that I survived, meant I begrudgingly left the mountains a much stronger runner, hungry for more adventure.

Sunday, 27 September 2015

Flip-ping Storage

Phone, money, keys.

That's the usual pat down check before escaping home for a run. Except where does all that stuff go?! If I'm lucky, a pair of shorts will have enough pocket space for my phone, I might store an emergency fiver in my sock and a key can be safely squished in my sports bra. It's not ideal and it leaves me with little space for any extras I decide to pack like energy chews, not to mention an odd-shaped indentation on one boob!

Thankfully for all shop assistants who have ever begrudgingly accepted a soggy note in exchange for a bottle of chocolate milk, I now have a Flipbelt to stuff all my running essentials into. Unlike any running belt I've used before, this one is a continuous loop of storage. Openings are dotted along the belt, so you can access whatever you need, be that gels for quick refuelling or your iPod for an emergency track change.

The super stretchy fabric means you can stay minimalist without the contents of your Flipbelt jumping up and down every time you step but there's enough room if you feel nervous leaving the front door without enough provisions for a small army.

There's even a little loop for your keys, so there's no risk of them being fumbled out of your belt mid-run. To keep them extra safe, flip the belt (see what they did there!) round, so the openings are now on the inside so nothing can sneak out.

And this little accessory is as useful for other activities as I am willing to partake in them. I've worn it bouldering to hold my phone and locker key, it's been on a few cycles to keep money safe for emergency cake and it's even attended a gym class or two. Flip-ping (sorry) brilliant!

DISCLAIMER: My Flipbelt was gifted to test

Friday, 25 September 2015

Race Report: Bloomberg Square Mile Relay

WHAT: 10x1m relay
WHERE: City, London
WHEN: 17th September

My immediate reaction was to swear. I normally hold back on bad language to preserve its power but this seemed like a worthy occasion to unleash its full effect. I'd spent the best part of three months training my body to move slowly and reserve enough energy to travel for hours on end. Now, suddenly, I'd forced it round the Bloomberg Square Mile Relay as part of a team of ten and it hurt! 

I had, of course, felt the wheezing burn of running a single mile before – it hurt then, too. This one had an added element of stress, though. If you were slow, you were affecting the race result of nine other runners. When I met up with my teammates, not one mentioned they wanted to try and win (good job) or that they were aiming for a time but somehow the thought of short distances panic me.

It wasn't until I was fully hydrated and fed with complementary post-race treats that I realised the race was actually fun. After all, it was hard to stay grumpy surrounded by increasingly more merry runners whilst eating salted caramel peanut butter dessert.

The route wasn't dull by any means. We were sent winding round streets, up steps, down steps and round spiralling ramps. The quick changes in direction meant you couldn't go full pelt – the perfect excuse for a slower time. If you were gunning for speed, there was plenty of support along the mile to keep you going.

There was also plenty of competition. With over 100 teams, there was the odd shoulder budge for some space in the narrower parts of the course and some competitive handrail grabbing to fling round the course faster but this just helped to distract from the pain of running too fast.

So I apologies for my outburst. Next time (because I think there will be a next time) I'll try to embrace the speed...and maybe stick my elbows out a little wider.

Monday, 21 September 2015

Road Pounding

During my nine weeks of head-down, proper ultra training, I ran over 400 miles. I've literally come a long way, from half-marathoner to running my first 26.2 in training, from being scared of the distance to being excited about the adventure. During the last few months I've run through parks, along pavements, in woods, beside rivers, across country boarders, up and down mountains... 

Training was a surprising amount of fun but I've certainly taken a lot of pounding. Spending hours at a time slamming my feet into the ground, no matter how soft, can certainly take its toll. I luckily managed to keep injury at bay and, besides the odd black toenail, but keeping comfortable was so important.

Whilst my heart belongs in the trails, fitting in hungry evening runs after late working days often meant opting for closer pavement routes over a longer run to where the trees live. These were my hardest runs. These felt uncomfortable. Running on the road is so much faster but it's less scenic and not as much fun. It's where you get the gangs of mouthy teenagers hollering at you because you choose to run rather than drink on a park bench; it's where noisy cars speed by; it's where the only views are other people's living rooms.

Hoping to make these runs a little more bearable, ASICS sent me their range of Intersport exclusive shoes. Each uses their Gel technology to offer a comfortable ride. The Gel-Luminous gives stability and cushioning in the heel. The Gel-Indicate aims to eliminate irritation and blisters by reducing the stitching used in the upper. The Gel-Glorify is a lighter weight option with plenty of flexibility as well as the cushioning needed for a long run.

On paper, they sounded perfect.

In reality, though, they just didn't weren't...comfortable. I tried different sizes, different ways of lacing them up, I even blamed my socks for a while. As a neutral runner, I don't tend to find issues with many shoes – the fact that my stairs are decorated with all different types (including other ASICS shoes) is testament to that – but my feet just wouldn't make friends with this range. It's a shame, I was almost looking forward to enjoying pounding the road.

DISCLAIMER: I was gifted all three pairs of shoes by ASICS and Intersport for review

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

What kind of Olympian are you?

I truly believe there's a sport out there to suit everyone. If you don't like running, try swimming. Don't enjoy swimming? Try wrestling. Scared of wrestling? Give hockey a go... The options are endless. But stopping short of trying each and every sport, how do you work out which works for you?

To celebrate the Rio 2016 Olympic Games being only a year away, official partner Fitness First have created a tool that can identify the Olympic sports that suit you best. By identifying your strengths in areas such as power, strength and endurance, the tool matches your abilities to your perfect event.

And with 28 Olympic sports to choose from, you're bound to find something that appeals. Apparently my high endurance and weaker power is suited to playing football. The Sports Profiler tool seems to know its stuff. Having tried football earlier in the year, I know I quite enjoy it and wasn't terrible for a first-timer. But if I fancy trying something completely new, I would apparently also be suited to synchronised swimming (there were no questions on coordination or elegance) or in slalom canoeing.

With the result of your perfect sport, you can read more information about the event, top athletes in that sport and ways of getting involved. You can also grab a training plan that will help you get fit for your chosen sport and a free pass to a Fitness First gym of your choice.

Whether or not you decide to take up your suggested sport, the tool is a great way of demonstrating just how many activities there are to try and it will hopefully get more people interested in more sports ahead of Rio 2016.

You can find out what kind of Olympian you are, here.

Sunday, 13 September 2015

Race Report: Tiree Ultramarathon

WHAT: 35-mile ultramarathon
WHERE: the Isle of Tiree
WHEN: 6th September 2015

I ran past the last marshal crying big, chin-wobbling tears. He gave me a concerned look, I gave him a big, snotty grin. Believe it or not, this is what pure happiness looks like. I was aware I looked ridiculous but with only a mile to go to the finish of my first ultra, I just couldn't contain my emotions.

After weeks of hovering over the entry button, I finally clicked it and booked my place on the Tiree Ultramarathon back in October. Since then, I'd danced between excitement and fear but never more so than when our ferry arrived at the Inner Hebridean island. It suddenly felt very, very real. Before then, having only run a maximum of 26 miles in one go during training, the idea of running 35 miles around a Scottish island felt very abstract.

But I'd come too far to chicken out now. Besides the months of training, the cycle, coach journey, flight, drive and ferry to get to Tiree were a pretty big commitment. At the chilly beach start, it was hard to know whether my shivers were down to the cold or nerves. Either way, I was glad to hear the bagpipes that signalled the start of this island adventure.

I immediately relaxed. I was finally doing it – much easier than waiting around to get started. Within just the first few miles, we'd had a taster of everything this island would throw at us. The terrain, despite only really having one (but very steep) hill, was varied and challenging – hard-packed sand, soft dunes, rugged road, grassy fields, muddy bogs and rocky costal paths – plenty to keep a runner entertained.

Also preventing any hint of boredom were the people. The islanders welcomed us with open arms from the moment we arrived. Now they were spoiling us with jelly babies, pieces of orange, mini high-fives, beeps from their cars and shouts of encouragement. Farmers paused work to clap every runner, locals warned us of incoming weather and a banjo player serenaded us from the middle of a cow field. I've never felt so much love from a group of strangers. And that's before even mentioning the other runners. So many of them, like me, first-time ultra-attempters and so supportive of each other.

It surprised me that I needed their encouragement most during the stretches of road. Whilst a lot of the trail sections were made up of hare-holed bogs or fluffy sand which did their best to slow us right down, the road sections took you away from the playful surfaces and the beautiful island edges. The roads were completely runnable and it made me realise just how tired my legs were getting.

The final stretch of beach was accessed by a steep drop from the grassy bank. For the first time in over seven hours, I crouched down and suddenly realised just how hard my legs had been working. I'd run almost 34 miles, further than ever before and loved every part. My only goal (besides finishing) was to enjoy myself and I was so proud that it had been achieved. It meant I'd trained well, it meant I was getting stronger as a runner, it meant I had a determined head.

Just as I was replaying every mile of the race in my head, checking I'd really almost finished, I crossed signs written in the sand.


"Keep running!"

"Well done, Brian!"

"I don't know who Brian is but his friends are amazing" I thought as the tears began rolling down my face.

I hesitated just before I saw that last marshal. I only had to run up the sand bank, along the road and I'd be done. But I wasn't sure if I actually wanted to finish. Tiree had felt like such an adventure from the moment I started training and I'd had so much fun. And now running down the finishers' aisle that was decorated in colourful bunting would mean the whole journey would be over.

Eventually my competitiveness kicked in. I'd spent the last 18 miles re-overtaking the same handful of people. I was currently ahead but they were getting closer. I shook my head, wiped my salty face on my saltier arm and headed past the marshal and towards the 35th mile. This wasn't the end of an adventure, it's the beginning...