Friday, 12 February 2016

'Tis the Season for Running

It's definitely the season for running! The weather's not really been on our side lately for outdoor running but hundreds, thousands of us, are out there week in, week out, getting the miles in. Lots of people are tackling 10km, half marathon and marathon training or just getting back into running and I've felt privileged to have been part of some of these journeys. Not only do I coach the RunFitUK sessions in Bracknell but also coach some clients individually on running fitness and have just started coaching a team from Bracknell Forest Council who are working towards the Bracknell Half Marathon in May.

Every week at RunFit, I look forward to hearing about that week's milestones, progress and achievements, and their plans for next events. I've seen some people progress through nerves for their first 5k to setting their sights on a 10k and half marathon PBs.

The way in which I approach sessions with my 1-2-1 clients varies depending on their goals. In some cases I pace them through some miles or set the some intervals to work through. I love getting the texts between sessions with feedback on how they've gotten on in other planned training runs. To see someone's confidence grow is just so rewarding.

While I am building up my own miles and fitness, I'm continually inspired by the enthusiasm and achievements of others. It keeps me going and I love coming up with sessions that will be fun but also challenging and useful for those I train. Recently, on a social run that included some of my RunFitters, I was asked if I'd set up some workshops for trail and hill running. So that's exactly what I'm setting out to do next. 

Someone mentioned recently that while there are lots of running groups and clubs around, very few of us know where to go to learn *how* to run. And that's what I try to help with in my RunFit and other sessions. Every week we look at a technique and I'm constantly giving key word prompts on form. Apparently these have come into my runners heads during races. I think a podcast was suggested once! And so focussing on hill and trail running fits within this scope really well and they'll be announced on the RunFitUK website in due course.

In the meantime do think about adding in some technique drills to your running, or finding someone who can help you with that. It can help you to be a more efficient runner as well as help to prevent injury.

Where you taught how to run? By whom? Is it something you think we need to do at all?

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Review : Grasp Liquid Chalk

Despite defining myself as a runner, it's not the only thing I do. I try to attain a balance of activities, adding in HIIT and boxing classes for variety, yoga for flexibility and relaxation and weight training for strength and injury prevention.

When it comes to weights I'll most often reach for a kettlebell. Box Bell Fit, where I work, specialises in kettlebell training so there a lot of them around and they're pretty versatile. Unless I'm simply holding the weight in, say, a sumo squat or lunge then I use chalk to improve my grip and reduce sweating. If I'm moving the weight around then I want to reduce the risk of it slipping out of my grip as I get hotter and sweatier (nice!).

You'll see in the photos below, some of our bells are heavily chalked for competition training, others less so. In classes people tend just to chalk their hands. It definitely makes a difference. We usually use powdered chalk but I heard about this liquid chalk from GRASP so thought I'd give it a try to see how it compares.
Liquid chalk, as the name suggests, comes in a liquid form but dries to a powdered finish. GRASP make three different colours of chalk, pink, green and blue, but they all dry to white, so it's just a matter of preference. I wear a lot of blue and it's in my business logo so I chose the electric blue chalk.
I wasn't sure how much to use so started with just a little and built up the layers until I got the coverage I wanted. Three seemed to be the magic number for me that day. It is fairly runny and takes a little while to dry but once applied it didn't budge. It stayed on my hands rather than rubbing off on my clothes or the bell and I didn't need to reapply during my workout. With powdered chalk I normally have to reapply a few times as it wears off, and end up with chalk marks all over my clothes!
I was happy with the grip it gave me and the wicking properties. No sweaty hands! And despite it's staying power on skin, it washed off easily with soap and water. For general weight training, be that with kettle, bar or dumbbells, I'd say this is a good option. It's clean, neat and has staying power. However I wouldn't recommend this for competition. It takes too long to dry and you can't apply it to a kettlebell as you can a powdered chalk. But definitely a good, fun addition to your kit bag.
Do you use chalk when you lift? What's your preferred type? 

Monday, 8 February 2016

Race Schedule for 2016

The mayhem of January has now passed and my thoughts have turned rather suddenly to what my event schedule and race goals might be for the year. As we entered 2016 I wasn't feeling very driven towards anything particular. I'd signed up to a handful or events in the latter part of 2015 and really thought little more about it.

But a week or so ago I received an email informing me that I'd been chosen to pace at the Hampton Court Half Marathon on February 21st. A small sense of panic kicked in. I'd run a respectable time in Tromso in January but had really only been ticking over since then, with few miles under my feet in the weeks to date. Now I knew I needed to get out and practice running at pace and satisfy myself that I could comfortably cover the distance as required. It's one thing running for yourself and quite another knowing people will be relying on you!

And so as I added Hampton Court into the diary I realised my race calendar here needed to be updated too. So here are my confirmed events for 2016 so far:

  • Hampton Court Half - I'll be taking part in this as a pacer and I'm VERY excited.
  • Leith Hill Half - I got free entry to this in return for marshalling two years ago. The first half is uphill and the second half downhill. An interesting challenge that I just want to complete.
  • Royal Berkshire 10k - I had to defer my entry to this from last year but am looking forward to running with friends. No time goal here. Yet.
  • Swimathon - Get Berkshire Active and This Girl Can are putting together a virtual team of ladies taking part in challenges for Sport Relief this year and I'm in! The 6 mile running distance doesn't feel like much of a challenge so I'll be taking part in swimathon for a second time but going up to the 2.5km distance - eek!
  • Polesden Lacy 10k - I'd love to run at a National Trust property and this "challenging" 10k looks to be extremely pretty. Planning to get round and then make a day of it with my parents.
  • Cakeathon - Running and cake. Both very dear to my heart. A lapped event over 6 hours with plenty of cake to fuel me. I'd like to achieve ultra distance.
  • Stour Valley Marathon - This got a great write up last year and I fancied doing something scenic. I've covered ultra marathon distance off-road and much of Medoc was on track but this will be a step further. Not time goal yet.

In addition to the confirmed events I've seen a others that I am interested in but haven't entered yet as I'm trying to stagger entry fees across the months. These are almost definitely going to happen:
Polesdon Lacy. Photo by National Trust
  • Chiltern Classic Sportive (short distance) - A true cycling event has been on my mind for a while. I rarely choose to go cycling so need something to force my hand. This looks to be a distance to challenge me without being scary, fairly local and far enough away in the calendar to allow for truing to happen. Will set me up nicely for the triathlon...
  • Thorpe Park Tri - I've enjoyed the triathlons I've done and feel I should step up the distance. A friend has signed up to do this and has persuaded me to do likewise. What a cool location!
  • Oxford Half - The one thing I would really love to do this year is get my half marathon time down to a sub-2 hour. It's going to take some work but the right course will help. Oxford was recommended as a flat course. Still waiting for entries to open but keen to do this.
So those are my plans and goals. And, as ever, I'll be updating you on my training and how I get on at each one. 

Are you doing any of these or have you done them in the past? Any advice or tips?

Friday, 5 February 2016

Waste Not : Asda Promotes Ugly Veg

In the aftermath of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's War on Waste program, I've not only been keeping an eye on my own habits but encouraging others to be less wasteful too. So it was a delight to read in The Times today that Asda has taken a step towards helping us to improve our habits and help farmers too.

A trial has been launched in 128 stores today, after the success of an earlier, smaller trial, of "wonky veg" boxes. The boxes, selling for £3.50, contain enough vegetables to feed a family for a week but rather than perfectly straight carrots and smooth spuds, you're more likely to find a much bigger range of sized vegetables, forked parsnips or curvy cucumbers, all still perfectly edible.

This is great news for farmers as they can still sell the produce to the supermarkets rather at a massively reduced rate for animal feed, or simply digging it back into the ground. Good news for us as consumers as we can pick up some budget friendly fruit and vegetables, eking out those pounds and pence a bit further and improving our diets in the process.

Other supermarkets are also starting to relax cosmetic standards for fruit and veg, but we all need to play our part. So next time you're out shopping, look to see if your supermarket is offering something similar, and if not, ask if they will.

Friday, 29 January 2016

Vik's Picks : January 2016

What with Christmas and the January sales there are no shortage of cool, nifty, trendy or useful items around at the moment. So it's been quite hard to choose my picks for this month but here goes!

  1. I don't go clothes shopping very much, at least not to physical shops, but a post-Christmas trip to Bluewater was made and I discovered the store Forever 21 and their line of activewear. I was pretty smitten, taking armfuls into the changing room, and settled on three pairs of leggings including this ombre pair. It's reasonably priced and was a good fit for me. 
  2. My recent foray into ice and snow running has necessitated the purchase of grips for my trainers. Some of my fellow runners used yak tracks but I plumped for these Due North everyday ice and snow grips which I was really pleased with. I found them for around £11 on eBay and they've stood up well to 3 days of walking and running on snow, ice and pavements.
  3. We all know about buffs but I didn't realise that they also did "normal" head gear like this snazzy bobble hat. This was a Christmas present and has already been worn a lot. It boasts a fleecy band on the inside to keep your ears extra toasty. Maybe a good one for swimmers!
  4. After the excess of cake and chocolate over Christmas, healthy snacks are FIRMLY back on the menu. Aldi are stocking these Kallo quinoa & seed multigrain cakes at the moment and one of these with some nut butter makes a very sustaining snack. My new go-to afternoon pick-me-up.
  5. The Body Coach, Joe Wicks, has had a lot of publicity recently and while, as a vegetarian, buying his book isn't worthwhile for me, his YouTube channel is great for some quick HIIT workouts to help you fit in some movement when you're pushed for time or just don't want to go outside. Thing that I really love about his videos is that he does them with you in real time, getting out of breath and working hard right alongside you. It's made it even easier for me to move my body every day.
Was there anything you got for Christmas or in the sales that you'd recommend to others?

Friday, 15 January 2016

January Goal : Moving Everyday

January is the month of good intentions, resolutions, projects and goals. We so often try to take on so much in the throes of our new found enthusiasm that we set ourselves up to fail early on and struggle to recover from the knock back.

I've set myself some resolutions, some projects I want to achieve through the year and some weekly/monthly goals. I'm as fallible as anyone when it comes to staying on track and feel as though I'm "ramping up" to some of my resolutions rather than diving in head first but one thing I felt compelled to include as a goal for January (and hopefully beyond) is moving my body every day. By that I mean doing something active, whether it be formal or informal exercise. So far this has included brisk walks, running, cycling to and from work, yoga and HIIT workouts in the privacy of my own home. I'm enjoying it and making a concerted effort to stick to it.
New Year parkrunning
As with everything, the smaller the step and the easier you can make it to achieve the goal, the more likely you are to stick to it and build the habit. I've not committed to doing a class everyday, not even something aerobic everyday, and many of these things are free as well! I've found the whole thing not only helping me to feel more energetic but also beneficial for my mental well being. Going out for a brisk walk at lunchtime helps to clear my mind and makes me more productive on my return.
Out on a chilly walk around the lake
Many of us are training for events or maybe just starting out in exercising in general but what ever your ability or circumstance I encourage you to join me in moving every day. Here are some cheap and easy ideas to get you started!
  • A brisk 20-30 minute walk, perhaps around a local park, or with a friend
  • parkrun. It's free, friendly and can be fun (unless you're trying to PB)
  • Try a new exercise class. Check out your local community centre for nearby classes. Many will have special offers on
  • Do a workout DVD. ALDI recently had some on offer but you can pick them up quite cheaply from many shops and online. Perhaps check out the charity shop.
  • If you're keen on running then just go out for a run. It doesn't have to be miles. If you're tight on time try an interval workout. 
  • Yoga or pilates are great for getting the body moving at low intensity. There are plenty of online videos and apps available to help you learn or to provide a routine. Yoogaia has a free 7-day trial of their pre-recorded classes at the moment.
  • HIIT workouts are also brilliant for doing at home, with next to no equipment or space. Again there are plenty of ideas online but I like The Body Coach's YouTube channel at the moment.
  • If you have a bike then cycling to the shops, to work, or your friend's house gets you moving without having to carve out too much extra time. 
  • Skipping is highly under-rated in my opinion. Ropes are very cheap to buy and you can get a great workout in a very short space of time. Check out my blog post from last year for ideas.
And all that's just for starters. We can all find 20 minutes in our day to move around and it's so important to do. Will you join me for the rest of the month, moving every day, and let me know how you get on? What was your favourite activity? 

Wednesday, 13 January 2016

Event Review : Polarnight Half Marathon

Running in the dark is not new to me. Neither is running in snowy conditions to some degree as I've tackled a few snowy training runs over the years and freezing temperatures in Chicago. What is new to me is the two of these being simultaneous... at 3pm in the afternoon.

Norway in December is a dark but magical place. There is precious little daylight, the air is cool, crisp and clear, and everyone knows how to drive in the snow. It's quite remarkable, to a Brit. I was in Tromso with friends to take part in the Polarnight Half Marathon; another race I'd been talked into but that I would do again in a heartbeat. It's a little known race over here it seems and while part of me would like to keep it that way by not writing about it, I have no grand ideas about the size of my readership and I have a real need to share this one. The idea of running in the dark and the snow, in minus temperatures, in the arctic circle prompted exclamations of "you're mad!" from most people I mentioned it to before the event. These same people, on seeing photos and hearing our endorphin-fuelled accounts of it, have since expressed jealousy and regret at not signing up themselves.
We arrived on Friday night, bundled up in down jackets, hats jammed over our ears and hands shoved deep into gloves. The short walk up the hill from the bus stop to the hotel proved problematic as I fell over twice in the space of ten minutes, bashing my knee quite hard. Immediately I was concerned that this would scupper my race but thankfully I was more shaken than injured. Race packs were collected the following morning and we wandered around the town, testing out our ice grips and doing a little sight seeing. Given the 3pm start, a race day breakfast seemed a little out of place so a pizza and pasta lunch was found instead.
Leaving the hotel at 2:30 still gave us ample time to walk to the start, make final kit adjustments and deal with the bag drop before the warm up at 2:45. Norwegians seem to be very calm and collected; everything felt very well organised and just as it should be. There was no queue for the toilets, bag drop was well manned and having somewhere warm and dry to hang out prior to the start was bliss. The warm up was great fun and we made sure to get a few photos in front of the Christmas tree in the square.
Milling around before the start
Pre-race selfie
Emotions quickly flipped from "OHMYGOD this is AMAZING!" to "OHMYGOD what are we DOING??" then suddenly we were running, with only a few hundred other people, down the high street and around the island. It started snowing. Big fluffy flakes that got in your eyes. The route was an out and back, through residential areas, along the main road around the island to the airport and back. It was well lit, marked with big candles and marshalled by some of the friendliest people I've met. Traffic was kept at bay and water stations were every 5km. We peered into houses as we passed and became confident on our grips. This was wonderful. This was bliss.
Taken at around midday
Th first half was straight forward. The route undulates but not horribly so. Shortly after the turning point we met a spirit-sapping icy head wind for a couple of miles. The snow had stopped for a while and the shouts from the marshals were ever more important. I'd been concerned about being warm enough but when out of the wind I was a little too warm. I wasn't brave enough to dispense with any layers though, not least because I didn't want to stop moving as I wasn't sure I'd start again. I'd had no great aims for this race. I was there for the experience and time be damned. I'd not trained very well and I was happy to get round, although 2h30 was at the back of my mind. I swear there's something in the air in Norway that makes running easier somehow. It's certainly drier, cleaner perhaps. Whatever it was, conditions, training, peer pressure... I somehow finished in 2h14, just 4 minutes off of my PB (not a great PB I know - I'm going to aim for a sub-2 this year now) and with the biggest grin on my face. After being given our medal and swathed in a foil blanket we found hot juice and cold bananas at the finish before shuffling off fairly quickly to the warmth of the bag drop area.
There was still a whole evening ahead of us so after getting warm, clean and dry, and kitted out with some lovely new souvenir socks, we headed out for beers and a hearty evening meal. We may also have gotten stuck into some Baileys, but I wouldn't believe every rumour... We spent the rest of our time out there exploring the town, drinking lots of coffee, eating cake and embarking on another little pre-breakfast run to make the most of the conditions. It was truly wonderful. And to top it all off, as we boarded the plane to fly back home we got a bit of a show from the Norther Lights!
On race day I wore:

  • Due North Snow & Ice grips
  • My usual Brooks Glycerine running trainers
  • X-socks thick walking socks
  • Kalenji thermal leggings
  • Finnisterre merino pants
  • Shock absorber bra
  • Howies thick merino base layer
  • Tech t-shirt
  • Crewroom running jacket
  • Buff
  • Ronhill beanie
  • Marks & Spencer thermal running gloves
I also wore a head torch (un-used) and my Ultimate Direction race pack with foil blanket, phone, lip balm, gels and extra merino buff. I didn't use any of it apart from one gel but I'm glad I had it.

We stayed at a basic but comfortable hotel, just a stones throw from the start line with free wifi and good breakfasts, for three nights and flew direct to Tromso from Gatwick, neither of which broke the bank. The entry fee for the half marathon was around £45 but there were 5k and 10k options too for a little less money, meaning that those who aren't feeling quite so brave can still share the experience. I can't fault this event, I loved it so much. It was so completely different to anything I've done before. There's already talk of going back although I'm also eyeing up the midnight sun event. Norway is not a cheap place for food and drink but you can eat well (even as a vegetarian) without breaking the bank. I'd happily recommend some places if you ever consider going out there.
Have you run in the snow or ice? Would you? Any other events like this that I should have a look at?