2016Eclectic Cake: 2016

Thursday, 4 August 2016

Race Report: Vitality British 10k

WHAT: 10k road race
WHERE: Piccadilly, London
WHEN: 10th July 2016

From nowhere, my eyes filled with tears. Well, not nowhere, someone had said “you can do it, Sonia!” as their friend ran past and waved like crazy. That was enough to set me off.

Embarrassed, I quickly wiped my face… again (a few kilometres back, a steel band had danced around as they kept rhythm for the runners bouncing past which, of course, made me weep) and wondered if it was obvious that this was a case of “hayfever" rather than the slight mental instability I almost knew it was.

All along the British 10k course, I was given reason to get emotional. I’d arrived late and snuggled in with a later wave, mostly standing next to first-time and charity runners who’d made my lip wobble before we’d even shuffled to the start, after reading the dedications pinned to their backs.

It didn’t really take me by surprise. Big races – hell, even the small ones – make me so emotional. When you’re training, running feels like this lone activity in which you and the occasional friend partake. In a race, you’re suddenly surrounded by thousands of people doing the same thing that you also love doing. Some doing it fast, some doing it for the longest amount of time so far in their lives but all of them somehow in it together. 

I initially cringed at the multiple switchbacks of this city race. Necessary, when you’re squeezing so many sets of trainers through the streets of London but potentially an energy sucker. Very quickly, I realised this was a brilliant thing! You could keep tabs on the people you started with, checking that these strangers I’d adopted into “team running” were doing OK.

It meant I could be a tourist in my own city – admiring the famous landmarks we ran past twice from different angles and taking advantage of the new viewpoint from the middle of a driver-less road.

Most brilliantly, the switchbacks meant that I could spot familiar faces. I may have started the race alone but I certainly wasn’t running solo. It was always a little boost to see a friend on the other side of the barriers waving back just as crazily as I was waving towards them.

As I said, we (the 12,000 of us) were a team and so that’s how we ran. So of course, when I caught up with two friends I’d already waved to, struggling in the muggy warmth with undertrained legs, I joined them – running the last couple of kilometres when they could, walking when they had to. Until we got a glorious glimpse of the finish arch.

Suddenly heavy legs became fresh. The pace quickened and we started to sprint – a race within a race! I looked back at two tired grimaces-turned beaming, medal-ed smiles. I swallowed yet more tears… That was “hayfever” too.

You can pre-register for the 2017 race now!

DISCLAIMER: Vitality kindly gave me a place to race for free

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Speedo – Fuelling Fast

Psychology is a funny thing. You could have done all the training in the world, be performing at your absolute best and already have wins under your belt but if you don’t feel fast, you’re not likely to be your fastest.

That’s why Speedo have spent the last four years working with 330 top athletes across 26 countries to create a race suit that actually makes the wearer feel faster. The olympic swimmers who line up in Rio wearing the Speedo Fastskin LZR X, will look and feel fast and hopefully the times on the board will reflect that.

credit: Speedo

Tiny details have been added to offer performance gains. The one-way stretch fabric offers optimum compression but the vertical stretch needed for full movement; the seams on the side of the legs follow the muscles and encourage them to hold the correct position in the water; the women’s suit has extra panels in the body to help turn on the core muscles.

credit: Speedo

There’s no underestimation in having the psychological edge. The suits have coloured fabric for the first time. This changes the property of the material and adds an incredibly complicated process to the manufacturing of the suits but finally having a fashion element makes the swimmer feel individual from the starting line.

To further fuel fast, every suit used in the olympics has an individual motivational message sewn into it. So when the suit is being put on, the athlete will already be thinking fast.

credit: Speedo

There is nothing fast about putting on a second aquatic skin. 

I was measured up by the expert who fits all the Speedo athletes but 15-minutes into trying to pull the thing on over my hips, I wondered whether they were having me on. It took over 30-minutes and two sets of hands to haul my ass into a suit, then I was told that actually, if I was racing, I’d be in a suit two sizes smaller!

credit: Speedo

Once in, I started to walk differently. My core was switched on and ready to work. I’ve never stood taller. In the water, I felt like a mini torpedo but there was only one sure way to test it – a race.

We lined up in our teams and, after a 5-second diving lesson from 2012 Olympic medalist, Michael Jamieson, I splashed out our third of four legs. Either MJ is a great teacher or the suit really worked its magic because that was my best dive and best sprint.

credit: Speedo

Of course, as a recreational swimmer, I’m unlikely to spend 30-minutes contorting into a suit that can’t compensate for my not-so-perfect technique. (I’m pretty sure none of my friends would be willing to help dress me, either!) Good news, then. The technology of Speedo’s race suit will filter down to their other suits.

The brand’s mission is to inspire people to swim, from the elite to infants. All the advances they’ve made for the development of the Fastskin LZR X can be translated into fitness swimwear. Where quicker drying suits create less drag for athletes, it makes getting out of the pool more comfortable for fitness swimmers. Where flat straps help with aerodynamics and marginal gain for the elite, the recreational swimmer will feel more comfort. Soon, we’ll all be feeling faster in the water.

credit: Speedo

For now, I’m looking forward to seeing how fast our GB athletes feel in Rio!

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

My New Run Club... Seriously!

It’s taken four years of running, two different towns and a lot of Facebook stalking but I’ve finally found a local run club that suits me! They only run on trails, they like a social pace and they always have snacks. Oh…and they’re a canicross group…and I don’t own a dog.

The first thing I did when we decided Welwyn Garden City was the town for us, was to find local running groups. There’s a club right on my doorstep and they even embrace the trails! 

I did the appropriate amount of internet stalking – about a year of looking at pictures of their sessions, going to the same races to see how accepting they are of slower runners, deciding if their club colours complimented my eyes… Then they blew it.

“If you don’t join the club within two days, we’ll delete you from the Facebook group.”


This meant they were throwing out over 100 people who were interested in running, almost certainly local, just a little shy or short of time to take the plunge just yet. All potential future members! After weeks of talking about how to increase numbers at the club, this was clearly a frustrated last resort but it did make me think they’d most likely be unaccepting of the timid newbie to, what now felt like, a serious, no messing around club. 

My search continued…

And then I met a group of Hertfordshire-based canicross runners at a #neverstoplondon trail run event. They added me on Facebook immediately and are so accepting, they don’t mind I’ve never owned a furry friend, they’re just happy to have more people to run with.

As the members of the group are spread out across the county and half of them can’t run very far on pavement because it makes their paws sore, they’re a fountain of knowledge when it comes to trails. Through them, I’ve discovered new places to get lost as well as new local races.

You know when you’ve found a supportive lot when they’re willing to offer you kit to borrow. Next time I run with them, they’re going to lend me a harness and a lead…oh yeah…and a dog!

Monday, 18 July 2016

Race Report: Midsummer Race Series, Hatfield House

WHAT: 5-mile run
WHERE: Hatfield House, Hertfordshire
WHEN: 7th July 2015

Eventually, three miles into the five-mile race, I found a reason for that feeling of familiarity. I’d been here before! The back gates of Hatfield House hadn’t been open when I went on my previous little adventure in this area, so I settled for getting lost in the surrounding fields, hunting for the entrance. I never found it but I did find some nice trails. And this is where I found myself now.

As the sun was starting to lower, the small crowd gathered for the first leg of the Midsummer Series was turned around from optimistically facing downhill to the uphill start and we were off. I started absolute last (with my new canicross friends*) assuming that’s also where I’d finish. All faith in my running had been long lost and I’d already made room for photos on my phone, preempting tactical stops that would double as rest to catch my breath.

Ahead, the small field was made up of club vests, charity shirts and even fancy dress. I’ve learned to never judge a runner by their costume and automatically assumed everyone was far faster than me. After all, why would anyone spend a sunny, summer weekday evening racing rather than in a beer garden?!

“Because running is awesome!”

I laughed at myself, as the initial jerk on my lungs had calmed down and my legs started to spin past some of the slower runners. This wasn’t about beating others, though, this was about chasing down some confidence in my running.

My lazy body hadn’t been pushed for a long while. I’ve enjoyed a laid back take on trail running – run a bit, take a picture, run a bit, have some food – whilst being acutely aware that any fitness I gained last year was melting as quickly as the mini cheeses I insist on taking on every run.

Three miles in, not only did the venue send me ripples of déja vu but the feeling of racing began to feel familiar. That fire in your belly and lungs; constantly flicking the little devil off your shoulder every time he insists you stop; that grin as you drop the guy who just can’t accept you’re faster than him and speeds up to try and overtake you; hunting down and beating the guy dressed as a caveman against whom you’ve invented a personal vendetta… The wobble of your legs after they’ve sprinted the last few metres to the finish line to leach out every last drop of every you have on the course.

This little local race, simple and small as it was, made running feel fun and familiar once again. What a wonderful way to earn a midweek banana! 

* More about this soon…

Monday, 27 June 2016

Race Report: Love Welwyn Garden City 10k

WHAT: 10k road race
WHERE: Stanborough Park, Welwyn Garden City, Hertfordshire
WHEN: 14th February 2016

It disappeared. Nothing happened in particular, no traumatising events, but the love I had for running just didn't seem to be there any more. I was in between trail marathons, with only a month to go to the next and every step felt forced and difficult, stops every 15 minutes seemed necessary and any sign of speed was inexistent.

I booked the Love Welwyn Garden City 10k race just to check I could still even run that far without stopping. Race day competitiveness and discipline would hopefully see if I was capable. Although I wouldn't be gunning for a time, the only aim was to not stop and hopefully rediscover a love for running.

Being just over a mile from my front door, the race at least was easy to fall for. My travel time is normally at least an hour to a race and I've certainly never run to a start line before. I smugly rolled out of bed with enough time to digest my oats before opening the door, rather than eating porridge from a pot held between my legs whilst I try to keep my eyes open long enough to follow the sat nav.

All the smug disappeared from my face as soon as the race started. My low confidence had me shuffle to the very back of the pack but I still found myself running uncomfortably fast to not be left behind. The good thing about a local race? The DNF walk of shame wouldn't be as long.

Mercifully, bottlenecks on the pavements slowed everyone down and gave me a chance to relax and catch my breath (nerves had me almost holding onto it – no wonder I was struggling). Laughing at my own ridiculousness seemed to be the icebreaker I needed. Running has never been serious for me, it's my hobby, the thing I choose to do with my free time. If I wasn't enjoying it, this was the time to give up and go home. That moment of amusement seemed to do the trick... I kept running.

And eventually, I found my stride. I had no watch to tell me my splits or to tell me my pace was dipping. I just ran however felt good, and it all felt good! That tug on my heart, the happy glow... With each kilometre, I was falling back in love, not wanting to stop until about 30-seconds before the end – which I guess is expected in a race.

So I achieved the second part of my aim for the race. What about the first? To not stop? Well, 50-percent isn't bad, is it? Whilst I know I could have continued running, the Instagrammer in me just couldn't run past a car whose number plate provided me with my own personal cheer sign!

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Class Review: Best's Bootcamp

Trail and ultra running has made me lazy. It's fine to walk when it gets too steep, regular pictures are a must and if you go too fast, you'll miss the view. It comes at no surprise that I'm a much slower runner than when I pounded pavement.

How do I remedy that? Essentially, by doing all the things I usually avoid. Running faster, hitting the treadmill for some vomit-inducing intervals and using gym equipment to keep my base strong. I've been playing too long. If I want to improve, I need to visit the pain cave more often.

In this case, that cave was situated between Embankment and Charring Cross stations and looked pretty unthreatening. Best's Bootcamp lure you in with their ever-changing live DJ, Kiel's toiletries and smoothie bar but once you're faced with one of their treadmills, they only mean business.

As the new kid on a whole block of treadmill HIIT studios, Best's has the opportunity to improve upon an existing formula and they've taken full advantage - using the latest and greatest treadmills that even boast a downhill function, fully padded workout boxes that prevent any shin-to-edge injuries and an 'trainer cam' which gives you a 360 degree view of the instructors and allows you to view exercise demos from anywhere in the room. They've done everything they can to help get you comfortable with getting uncomfortable.

The hour-long workout, as expected was glute-shakingly tough and sweaty. A familiar combination of treadmill sprints in between reps of strength exercises, overseen by hawk-eyed support trainers made sure we were suitably tired. It's the type of class you love to hate (except the downward treadmill sprints, where I had to restrain from holding my arms out like an aeroplane) until the moment you're finished. By then all is forgiven. You stop internally throwing abuse at the instructor and your death stares become subdued.

Being rewarded with a post-workout smoothie further helped to win me over to this slightly darker, disco lit side. At £20 a session, it's far dearer than a casually paced explore outside but as a proven formula, it's sure to provide results.
DISCLAIMER: Best's Bootcamp invited me to a free pre-launch event to try the studio.

Tuesday, 29 March 2016

New Feets of Recovery

I admit I'm not particularly tall but my feet are still far away enough to forget about. I look at them now and again, mostly when something is falling off or needs popping. They are the most disgusting part of my body but probably the part I ask the most of. 

When I climb, they get squished into tight, curvy shoes and forced to teeter on tiny lumps on a wall. Then they're made to pound the ground for hours, whilst soaking up puddle water and being coated with mud as I run. And yet they rarely get any love... maybe a going over with the foot file and the occasional toenail trim (when there are nails left to tend).

After miles (both horizontal and vertical) of abuse, it's time to care for my feet. Thankfully, it turns out I don't have to get very close (my nose wouldn't allow it after first removing my climbing shoes anyway), thanks to my new OOFOS. A recovery shoe that cradles your arches and absorbs shock, to allow your feet to prepare for whatever you force them to do next.

They passed the first test with flying colours (well, my favourite shade of green, anyway). After returning from my latest trail marathon, there were four things I went to for recovery.

1) A cold beer in a nice warm shower – yes, shower beer is the way forward.

2) My old faithful compression tights.

3) Any food I could get my face into.

And then there were the OOFOS. After digging out my only pair of toe socks (it's a little cold to walk around the house in sandals), I slid on my shoes and geared myself to walk al the way down two flights of stairs to where all the food was hiding. I'd expected it to hurt but the cushioning made the walk more manageable. Obviously my legs were still aching but the sandals seemed to help rock me into movement. 

Just as the beer soothed my soul and the tights hugged my legs, the OOFOS massaged my feet with every step I took. I actually found myself walking more whilst recovering, which I think stopped me from suffering much from stiffness.

I think my recovery essentials list just become a little longer and my feet a little happier.

DISCLAIMER: I was kindly sent a pair of OOFOS shoes for free

Sunday, 27 March 2016

Race Report: Trailscape South

WHAT: Trail Marathon
WHERE: Ashurst, East Sussex
WHEN: 23rd January 2016

We've all experienced it. That little niggling voice that appears mid-race, telling us to stop running. "It's too hard." "You're probably last." "Maybe fall and try to break your leg, so you don't have to carry on." The best defence against this negativity is to fill your head with a stronger, positive voice. Part-way through the Trailscape South marathon, this voice came from Kasia.

I'd signed up for the full distance in a haze of post-race endorphins after running my first official marathon. I then promptly forgot. A reminder two weeks before race day gave me little time to prepare. This race was not going to be easy. Even less so because the course was covered in a thick slick of sticky mud. The type where only five-minutes into the race, you can reasonably forget the real colour of your shoes.

I did have a plan B (secretly plan A). As the marathon was made up of two loops, there was an option to drop out half way and be crowned a half-marathoner. This sounded like a good option to my undertrained legs – get all the praise for starting a marathon but avoid rotting in a ditch somewhere after becoming exhausted and presumed dead by the race organisers.

Surprisingly, it was my watch that gave out before I did, barely clocking 5-miles before packing up. Although this meant I wouldn't be staring at my watch, wishing the miles away, I also wouldn't be able to track my progression. I was completely winging this race, with no idea if it would pay off. In fact I assumed it wouldn't.

I quickly sought safety in numbers, chatting to whoever I got close to. Eventually, my pace seemed to match that of a woman who looked pretty strong and comfortable. If all else failed, I'd hop on her back and she'd be able to carry me to the finish, even just to the half way point – I was struggling with the idea of just completing the half. The problem was, we were running at the same pace but ten-metres apart. She was so close yet so far. Until this woman, who I assumed was a running machine, stopped. She turned around and signalled that she was finding it tough too. Who was going to carry me now?! 

As soon as I caught up with Kasia, it was clear that I wasn't the only one finding the sticky, energy-sucking mud a challenge. We continued forwards (sideways in the worst mud slicks) and chatted. We talked about anything and everything. All the whos, whats and whens. The whys and why nots. 

Somehow we had passed the half-way mark almost without realising. I paused with my get out of jail free card behind me and the sign pointing to the start of the second loop in front. Really?! Was I going to try and do this? Kasia looked certain I was. So we continued to chat for the second loop, taking turns to banish any negative little voices that crept into our heads. If I hadn't have found my teammate, I probably would have had tried to hitch a ride on the only road our trail route crossed.

We crossed the finish line hand in hand. Stronger together. And with another piece of the Trailscape puzzle completed.

DISCLAIMER: I am a Trailscape ambassador and gratefully race for free.

Tuesday, 5 January 2016

Race Report: Trailscape, East

WHAT: Trail marathon
WHERE: Cuxton, Kent
WHEN: 5th December 2015

As I headed against the traffic for my second lap, like a salmon in the shadow of a bear claw, I felt defeated. 

My first official marathon had started well. Running the first lap with a friend had made the tough hills, 30mph winds and sticky, slidey mud fun. But running in towards the half-way check point, where I’d drop off my company, I realised that doing another lap on my own with quickly tiring legs would be a little more challenging.

Credit: Trailscape

Most of the other marathoners had already headed out for the second lap, I’d passed a lot of them on the out and back. I was far behind and my head had begun to drop. Now I could see the 10k and half-marathon about-to-be finishers headed towards me, I had to use every bone in my body to   not turn round and join them.

Credit: Trailscape

“You’ve got this, you look so strong!”

Really?! I looked around to check there hadn’t been a case of mistaken identity. There was no one else to be seen silly enough to do the full marathon. Maybe I was doing better than I thought… Whether it was true or not, another compliment on my strength and a power-up from an enthusiastic high-five and I was no longer cursing the race directors for the double-lapped route. I was feeling far more positive, if a little teary from all the kind support I’d received.

Ever the completer, rather than a competer, I spent the next 14-ish miles (Trailscape races are measured in ‘trail miles’, so the marathon was a tad longer than the normal 26.2) admiring the views, snacking on the perfect mix of jelly babies and mini pretzels, and chatting to the marshals for longer than I should. 

By the time I was well on my way back to race HQ, I was almost reluctant to finish. Flitting between  dancing and weeping my way along the remainder of the course, I was proud to be finishing my first official marathon but a little sad the adventure was over. After all, I hadn’t exactly made it easy on myself. I’d chosen a fairly brutal event for my debut, there was a really real chance of not finishing.

Picking up my pace to overtake the only other runner I’d seen on my entire second lap, I rounded the corner and readied myself for the cheers from the crowd as I finished…only most were long gone by the time I finally emerged from the trails.

I didn’t mind, it was wishful indulgence. I’d already had my fair share of support, right when I really needed it and I’m so grateful.

There are two more races in the Trailscape race series, you can sign up for them here.