2017Eclectic Cake: 2017

Thursday, 4 May 2017

How to Love a Marathon (aka That Time I Ran London Marathon)


I force an awkward laugh in an attempt to disguise the ridiculous tears rolling down my face, as I watch 'inflatable flamingo man' waving crazily at the couple of strangers holding up mini versions of his wearable race companion. Only four miles in and I've already cried more times than I can count on my toes.
The important thing to note is that these were tears of pride, of joy, of being part of this surreal procession. Not the tears of misery I cried in my first road marathon. If I could keep this up, I'd be on for a PB. That is, have the personal best time of my life whilst running a marathon. Not your traditional measurement of success.

Photo: Tanya Raab

The London acceptance magazine landed on my doorstep the day after my marathon disaster. I was never meant to get a spot, it was a token first ballot application to say I'd at least tried. Now entered, there were just two goals in mind, 1) to have fun and 2) to feel strong again. The first goal was taken seriously, by only training when I felt like it and climbing A LOT. Not really the best way to fulfil goal number two.

Despite attempting self-sabotage, I crossed the start (in tears) feeling relaxed. The guilt of not training hard and the pressure of my hypothetical finish time I was constantly asked for were gone. My only job for the day was to move across 26.2 miles, collect a chunky medal and have a finish line beer. The pace band taped round my wrist, acted purely as a guide for when to put the brakes on excited ambition or to prepare for a long inning on the pavement.

London Marathon miles seemed shorter than training miles. Perhaps it was the number of distractions that prevented me from watching the distance tick off on my watch. My headphones remained tucked in my top for the whole race. Entertainment came from the roar of the crowd that lined almost every inch of the route, tearily singing along to cheesy classics blaring from pubs and zig-zagging to high-five cheering children.

My favourite marathon pastime, though, was to spot the bobbing unicorn balloon that had my friends attached to its string end. Every time I spotted them, it was like we hadn't seen each other in years! Hugs, screams, big over-the-top waves and then, before I set up camp to chat, a friendly reminder that I should keep running.

It couldn't all be plain sailing. As the half-way mark approached, I prepared myself for a mental struggle whilst running alongside a stream of runners who were already nine miles ahead. But that struggle never came. Actually, I was thankful to be on the other side of the fence, the speedsters looked miserable and I was having a ball. Party pace for the win!

"That's not pain you feel, it's love", said one marshall.

"Well, then love hurts", I wittily thought to myself a mile later, still feeling a fuzzy warmth of enjoyment instead of the burning ache of hard work.

Photo: Jessica Sumerling

Not every mile came easy. That's what my secret weapon, motivational Cheestring was saved for. At mile whatever, when my watch decided to go loopy and call a 3-something minute mile, I decided it was time. I let myself walk for the first time since 10:13am that morning, so I could enjoy a much needed savoury bite. Sanity restored, it was on to business and spotting friends dotted along the course who offered all the love and energy (and beer! – I will never run another marathon that doesn't have beer on the course) I could have asked for to get me to that finish line.

That last corner, the one I'd normally only see on TV, hit me. It was so loud, I almost covered my ears. There was no sprint left in my legs to leave them quickly, instead it seemed like I was moving in slow motion. That was ok, I was almost done, I wanted to soak this up to remember. When I finally allowed myself to finish, I grinned through one last set of tears. A proud personal best – 26.2 happy miles, my strongest all year.

Friday, 21 April 2017

How to Hate a Marathon

Three years ago, after watching friends fight their way through London Marathon training, I decided to never do one myself. Four marathons and two ultras in, I'll admit I may have to eat my words but the reasons behind my declaration still stand. I run for fun, I need to enjoy the process.

It turns out that both the training and race can be an amazing, positive experience. When I've got it right, I've had the best time. When I've got it wrong (and at Isle of Wight marathon, my first time going long on road, I got it epically wrong)...well, let's just say if I wasn't parked at the finish, I probably would have packed it in at mile 25.

With only a couple of days before I start the London Marathon, I've made a check list of all the things I learned not to do at my last marathon. This is everything you should do to hate a marathon.


Get caught up with other people's plans, feed off their hype and let FOMO sign you up for someone else's race.


Leave the fact that you won't be seeing the sea for 26 miles on an island run as a nasty surprise. Also, make sure you expect the race to have closed roads, when in fact you'll have cars whizzing past whilst you tuck into the roadside hedgerows, trying not to breathe in fumes.


A week before running a marathon, make sure your legs are already beaten up with a mountain race. Around 37k with 2,500m elevation gain should just about do it.


Ensure you are the only member of your party who can drive. Hire a car and make sure the journey is at least three and a half hours one way.


Roll up to the race and just 'see what happens'. Make sure you have no idea of the pace you should be running. If possible, follow people you came with and try to hang onto their pace.


When the going gets tough, make sure you have absolutely no reason to be there. With no motivation, it will be a real struggle to pull yourself out of the mental hole.


When motivation has run out and you've had enough, make sure you throw all your toys out the pram, threaten to walk the entire way and piss off the friends you had been running with.

Follow these top tips and you too will have a rotten time running 26.2 miles of hell!

Thursday, 23 February 2017

Blok Rocking

In a moment of courage, I spun on my heels, grabbed a pen and decidedly added up my score on tired, raw fingers. The goal was to take part in a proper climbing competition, yet I'd avoided one thing. Competing.

I'd got my first taste of competition a few months earlier at a casual wall event. I hated it. After struggling with injury, then a giant plateau in progress, I had already been psyching myself out for weeks in preparation, comparing my climbing with everyone else and noting just how much better than me they were. A competition was not the right environment for such delicate confidence. I handed my score card in that day too, no name and soggy from tears.

Being a stubborn creature though, my sights were still set on entering my first proper bouldering competition. This time, at Blokfest, I'd know to expect the pressure to not take too long on a problem and the guts it takes to try a route in front of a crowd impatiently waiting for their turn. I also knew to expect to climb almost nothing and to try and not get hung up on that fact. As with running, this was my first event, so an automatic PB was already in the bag.

To my delight the first four women's problems I found were simple traverses. Perfect for warming up, nothing too tricky and all nice and close to the ground, to keep my nerves settled. Flash, flash, flash, flash. 44 points. Already what I'd expected to get for the entire afternoon!

Credit: Jeremy Leong

Perhaps this pre-determined limit was in my head when I stepped up to the next route. It was a tricksy number with a few holds at the start to get your head scratching. I couldn't get off the start. I gave myself a second chance. Another failed attempt. Maybe I had reached my limit.

Head down, I walked away to watch the 'real' climbers tackle the rest of the 25 problems. Until I got the push from a friend to try another problem. His enthusiasm is always so infectious, there was no way to back out. To my surprise, I found myself at the top.

Maybe, just maybe, I was better than I was letting myself be?

From then on the determination to grab those 11 precious points for completing a route on the first attempt, saw me flash a string of harder problems. But the wish to see just what I was capable of if I allowed myself to try, saw me attempt way more. I may not have finished some of the routes I tried but each move made was a mini win. And that tricksy problem I mentioned? Re-attempted and ticked off.

With only 20-minutes of the competition left and no energy in the tank, I began to drag my worn-out arms home without submitting my score until that change of heart made me do otherwise. The excitement at seeing my name amongst 39 other badass women, no matter how far down the list, makes me so glad I did.

Credit: @clintyclimbing

Bring on the next competition!

Friday, 17 February 2017

The #2minuteproject

It takes 2 minutes, 17 seconds for my kettle to boil. When I'm working from home, I have three or four teas throughout the day. That's a potential 9 minutes, 8 seconds that I'm waiting around to fill my mug each day.

There's not a lot you can do in two minute bursts but you can still spend it well. Rather than checking my phone, I've been taking this valuable snippet of time to get a breath of fresh air and practice my handstands.

I have no agenda, no training plan, it's simply time in my working day where I can be playful and let my mind rest for a minute or two (and 17 seconds) to come back to my desk more focused and productive. And from doing it regularly, I've found that my handstands are improving. I can stay up for much longer, the shape is less banana-y and I'm relying on leaning against the wall far less.

That sounds like a double win for tea time multi-tasking!

It's got me thinking, this little nugget of time could be used for anything – foam rolling, squats, balance drills and, of course, being upside-down. Anything that can be accomplished in a short amount of time, that would benefit from regular attention to improve.

I challenge you to put your kettle boiling, microwaving or toasting time to good use in a #2minuteproject. Use the hashtag and @eclecticcake to let me know what your project of choice is and how you progress in each two minute session.

Time for a cuppa?

Sunday, 5 February 2017

The Jennest of Jens

I've written this opening paragraph so many times over the past month, without ever finishing it. This 'next post', the one that comes after such a long break felt hard because I just didn't know what to say anymore. 

Having stopped flying trapeze classes due to work, forcing myself through runs I didn't enjoy and twice being unable to climb for a while because of injury, I'd run out of positive things to say. "If you haven't got anything nice to say, don't say anything at all." And so I stayed quiet.

Now, with a new perspective, I'm ready to talk.

It's clear now that I'd fallen into the trappings of social media. Of course, I know as well as anyone, an Instagram feed only tells the best side of the story. This didn't stop me from comparing myself to others and feeling I should be far better – faster, running further, climbing harder – than I was.

Somewhere along the line, I forgot to be me. A friend put it in perspective. I should concentrate on being "the Jennest of Jens". Concentrate on being the best that I can be, not on how like someone else I can be.

Running was making me unhappy – it felt hard and there was no joy in dragging myself out to chase other people's miles. So I took a step back until I felt like lacing up again (it turns out when you dream about running, it's time to hit the trails).

I sulked for a week after my second climbing injury. Then I gave myself a good talking to. This was an opportunity to learn from my mistakes, to understand why I was getting injured and to prevent it in the future.

Both continue to be a work in progress.

I'm slowly feeling more like me and finding joy in movement again. I'm refusing to worry about pace or Strava segments, simply choosing to get out and run is enough of an achievement. Climbing is now more about embracing falling. It means I'm trying harder and not being intimidated by harder problems. Falling means progress!

It's falling, or rather failing, that I was scared of – being slower, running short, not sending every climbing route. Of course, trying to keep up with other people's achievements was always going to feel like failure.

Now I'm just trying to be the best I can be, the Jennest of Jens. So long as I keep trying I'm always going to succeed.