Wednesday, 16 April 2014

She'd Fly Through the Air with the Greatest of Ease...

...that daring young girl on the flying trapeze!

Do people still dream about running away to join the circus? Did that fade away with our childhoods or is it still fuelled by things like Cirque du Soleil? I hope we still do and it’s not just me.

There must be a few of us because there are a handful of circus skills workshops you can do as an adult, one of which I did with Alex recently as part of my “34 things before 34” list.

The workshop took place above a music shop, in a “business park” in green and leafy Mill Hill at the end of the Northern Line (the long journey time providing me with some much sought after reading time). Unfortunately there was no bareback horse riding or acrobatics but we did get to try our hands at juggling, tight wire and static trapeze for about an hour apiece. In between activities we had the chance to gawk out of the window at muscle men performing power cleans outside in aid of a promo video. You’d have done the same. Don’t lie.
Muscle men. Love the weights you hate.
We started off with some games designed to warm up our muscles, minds and coordination then built up to some three-ball juggling. It’s quite amazing how the right teacher and learning steps makes all the difference. There was much hilarity as balls ended up all over the studio, and shrieks of delight as we started to manage a few rounds.
I never progressed past this point
Next up: the tight wire. It’s amazing how high up you feel when you’re standing only two foot off the floor on a wire cable. Balance is the name of the game here I felt a little too self-conscious to try the tight wire much. After a couple of turns the other 2 people in my trio weren’t that keen and I felt awkward carrying on. Also wobbling away in front of the whole group was daunting so if I got the chance to do it again I’d make the most of it.
Alex on the trapeze
Finally we got to the static trapeze. This was the thing I’d probably been looking forward to the most and it was indeed great fun. Only two moments of embarrassment: firstly a trapeze with a longer drop had to be brought down on account of my height and secondly actually getting up there in the first place was about the most graceless thing I’ve ever done. But once I’d hauled myself onto the bar the few simple balances and moves had me beaming from ear to ear.
Me, making a reasonable attempt at mermaid pose
The best part, for me, was coming away having learnt to juggle. I had a set of juggling balls for years but eventually sold them at a car boot as I never quite got the hang of it, something I’m deeply annoyed about now. I’d always wanted to be able to juggle and although I’m by no means proficient, it was made to seem straight forward and manageable by building up from simple coordination exercises.

As far as I can tell, there aren’t that many opportunities to take things further as an adult, which is a shame, although there are plenty of kid’s classes. If you are looking to do something similar, look at how the classes are run; you are likely to get more out of ones where the groups are split up and rotated through the activities. If I lived closer I'd definitely consider the adults aerial classes; you get to work with silks and hoops as well. In the meantime I'll be found bruising fruit in the kitchen as I hone my juggling skills and leave you with this ditty...

Monday, 14 April 2014

Berkshire Fitness Scene : Pole Fitness

If you ever thought that pole dancing was glamorous, you would be sorely mistaken. Sorely is a good choice of word actually. My foray into the world of Pole Fitness took me to a grimy, industrial gym, appropriately called Fitness Warehouse; a relatively new facility underneath a multi-storey car park, surrounded by greasy food establishments, pool halls and taxi firms and populated largely by burly men hefting weight around in stringer vests (not string vests… that would be even worse).
Car park turned gym
It’s a cheap and basic facility that serves a purpose. No fluffy towels here, but you will find a handful of classes such as Spin, Tae Bo, Thai Boxing, circuits and Pole Fitness. You may have seen me expressing nerves on twitter about the class and what to wear… shorts and a t-shirt or vest are fine but leggings are best avoided as you get better grip without. You can wear socks if you like (I did) but most girls were barefoot.

There can be up to 12 in the class but this evening we were 6. We shared four poles and because I was a newbie I got one all to myself – bonus! Our instructor, who was the spit of the girl from Flashdance, took us through a circuit style warm up and then talked the girls through level one and two moves in between showing me some basics. I was soon tackling basic and cross legged fireman, crescent moon, attitudes and a bunch more I can’t remember the names of. I became familiar with cup and baseball grips and was allowed to attempt flag poses, holding myself sideways on the pole.

My instructor... honest!
Although I was the novice the class catered for all levels. I spent a fair portion of the hour letting my arms recover while watching the experienced girls climb and perform more acrobatic poses. I felt quite bulky in comparison to the other girls, which is probably more a reflection of my lack of elegance on the pole rather than a comment on my weight. There is some emphasis on looking good on the pole, pointing toes, arching your back and sticking your bum out… years of being told to “tuck your tailbone under” meant that the latter was hard to get used to, but by the end I was throwing some reasonable shapes.
One of the more experienced girls warming up before class
If you’re planning to be showing your legs off in the warmer weather I wouldn’t recommend pole fitness. I had a bruise showing by the time I got home from class and more the next day, not to mention aching in places I didn’t know it was possible to ache (armpits… seriously). No doubt that this is hard work but more for your muscles than your CV capacity. Lean limbs and strength are likely to be your outcomes here.

Would I do it again? Well at £5 for an hours class it’s fun, affordable and challenges me in a different way but I don’t think it’s going to become a regular part of my regime.

Friday, 11 April 2014

Brighton Marathon - A Spectator's View

The weekend just gone was a weekend of many-a-marathon. Paris, Manchester, Brighton… I’ve read dozens of race reports and seen hundreds of post-race photos. There are a lot of happy, achy people in the running community right now. Amongst them is my friend Alex. She ran Brighton marathon last year and signed up to run this year at the expo before she’d even set foot on the course!


At one time she’d asked me if I’d enter as well but by that time the only places were charity places and I was adamant I wouldn’t run another marathon on a charity place, especially not so soon. But I did get involved. It’s her 30th birthday next week so as part of a double celebration OH and I headed down to a thankfully dry Brighton on Sunday morning to cheer her on and join 16 members of her family for a dinner in the evening.

Inventive signs along the route. My fave was "It probably seemed like a good idea 4 months ago"
Delayed trains put pay to us seeing her at mile 5 so we headed straight to the hotel where her family were staying at mile 13, dropped off a bag and made sure we were established at mile 14 for cheering duties. We enjoyed watching everyone else going past, picking out our favourite characters including a couple of Farnham Runners (old allegiances die hard). The event app was invaluable in estimating when she’d hit each marker. I did go a bit mad when I saw her, looking on good form. The course is rather long and thin which isn’t very spectator friendly and as such most of her family stayed at the hotel but we made it to mile 18, where she was in need of encouragement and chose to meet her at the end of the finishers funnel rather than watch her cross the line. The finish village was so crowded that we wouldn’t have had time to do both. Getting to the finish involved walking the last 2 miles of the course so we were able to cheer on our favourite characters again including a Farnham Runner, Tree, Juggling Kev, Shoe, Rhino and Toilet.
Spectators require sustenance. Mega £1 flapjack from a stall outside a hotel.
It was an absolute joy to see her at the end. She’d managed a PB and looked great! We opted to head back to the hotel along the top road, rather than fight our way through the village, but by doing so we’d inadvertently kidnapped her away from half a dozen family members, including her dad, who had come to meet her. Ooops! Thankfully we found them without too much bother.

A bottle of wine, shower and change of clothes later and Alex was bundled into a cab and delivered to a lovely tapas place half a mile up the road where we all proceeded to have a fantastic meal. I made her open her birthday present from me… a circus skills workshop this coming weekend… I hope she’s recovered enough!

Happy Alex with a well deserved glass of wine.
I think it was the first time I’d been to an event purely to cheer someone on. I thoroughly enjoyed the day and experiencing the race from a different point of view. It all seemed pretty well organised and a lot of fun. As we sat in the bar after the race, recounting the experience, I was overcome with a feeling of inspired euphoria and I asked her if she was considering signing up for next year as I would definitely run with her. The answer was a resounding NO. I’m mildly disappointed. And trying to fight the urge to enter for 2015…


Wednesday, 9 April 2014

A Non-Anniversary : Bolt Round The Holt 2014

On Monday morning my TimeHop app informed me that on April 7th 2013 I posted a weekly update here. The update included a few lines on how I'd been spotted at the Bolt Round The Holt race by a friend I'd made some years back on a National Trust working holiday. Exactly one year ago today I posted my review of the event. One year on and I'm writing another post about the race, only this time the friend is now my boyfriend and I'd been talked into running it again to celebrate our anniversary of "not meeting".
Once again my parents were on hand to offer support, this time to both of us. They're pros at this sort of things now. They turned up with chairs, sandwiches, a clapper and the most incredible banner. They step up camp just past the drinks station after the lap point, exactly where they were the year before, so we passed them five times each.
Dad supplementing his packed lunch with a bacon roll - essential spectator fuel!
I re-read my review from last year, and in terms of the event itself there's not a lot to add, except that the warm up took place on flat ground rather than in a ditch like last time, and the race village was a little more compact. Oh and no t-shirt this year. If you wanted one you had to buy one for a mere £3.

My personal experience of the race was quite different though. Although we were both entered in the race we didn't run together as we have done in some other races. I think there's an unwritten rule that anything up to 10k we run together, anything more and the speed difference is too great at the moment so we ran our own races. Last year I didn't seem to mind the laps too much, I was pretty much at peak fitness being just a couple of weeks away from my first marathon, and I was pain free. This year I knew what was coming, I wasn't anywhere near as prepared and I had a niggle or two. It all seemed so much harder, despite wearing my Bournemouth marathon finishers t-shirt to remind myself I've done more than this in the past.
Coming in to the finish. It was a lonely place by that time.
My strategy was to walk the hills and run as much of the rest as I could. Lap 1 was a brutal reminder of what was to come and I probably went out too quickly. At the end of Lap 2 I was declaring that I didn't want to do this any more. On Lap 3 I snapped at a marshal who thought I was on my last lap, covered my number when I passed the photographer and had a bit of a cry at the water station. I got a hug from my mum and got worried that I'd been so slow they'd miss Colin finishing. My mantra of "everything I pass now I only have to pass once more" did not work and things were starting to hurt. On Lap 4 I apologised to the marshal and felt a bit better about everything, especially when I crossed the line and got a big hug from Colin. He ran a really great race; his 5th race and 4th half marathon in 5 weekends. I was a whole 8 minutes slower than last year but I was just glad to finish. I've decided I don't like lapped courses.

Awesome banner or what?!
I miss being able to knock out a respectable half marathon without thinking about it but that's purely down to maintaining a good base level of fitness, which I've not done. Races like that help me to keep MdS aspirations in check and to remember that there's more to races than times. They are also about shared experiences, surroundings and influenced by everything else in your life at that time.

And talking of shared experiences and celebrations, there was fizz and cake all round when we got home!

Monday, 7 April 2014

There’s Nothing Like Running

As I’ve been exploring other types of workouts I’ve come to a realisation. Nothing makes me feel like I’ve worked harder than running does. No other type of exercise makes my heart pound, my muscles ache or my skin sweat in quite the same way. Sure, I work up a sweat when I do Urban Rebound or dance classes. The DOMS I get after a heavy weights session kill, my heart rate gets pretty high after a swim (or is that just because my breathing’s rubbish) and I get rather boisterous after Body Combat but running is something else to me. I can’t find the words for it.
When we were told to put every last bit of our energy into the end of a dance class the other week I puzzled… I had masses of energy left; I couldn’t possibly use it all. Sure I was sweating and I hadn’t been taking it easy but it wasn’t hard.

I love the feeling of DOMS after doing weights, and I don’t get that to the same degree after running but if running doesn’t feature in a work out I somehow feel like I’ve cheated or not worked out hard enough.

This has been further compounded by having started to appreciate the freedom of running without a Garmin on my wrist, with a friend by my side and appreciating being ABLE to run after having struggled for a while.

Running is my meditation. It is in my soul.

Friday, 4 April 2014

Proud to be an Ambassador for the Natural Whey Company

Today I want to introduce to you relative newcomers to the protein scene, the Natural Whey Company. The thing that makes them different, and the reason I like them, is that they only use natural ingredients in their products which contain no artificial flavours or colours with fructose being the only sugar. The philosophy is that people who care about getting great results from your workouts will care about what they're putting into their bodies too. They stock a small range of products (by comparison to some of the other big players out there) to target fitness and recovery or weight loss and wellbeing as well as just straight up protein. They have a lovely range of flavours that fall into two camps - fruity (mixed berries, banana split, blueberry muffin) or chocolaty (choc orange, choconut, mint chocolate).

I ordered myself a sample to try and got a sachet of Strawberry and Bramley Apple smoothie to try. I made it up with skimmed milk and found it to be delicious; a fruity and fresh tasting smoothie with a medium consistency i.e. not too thin and not as thick as the Pro-10 I wrote about not so long ago. A 30g serving made up with water is just 123kcals and provides 21.7g of protein. Their Natural Whey comes in at 134kcals and 24.5g protein per 35g when made with water.
I enjoyed it so much I applied to be an ambassador and I'm delighted to say I was accepted! This means I'll be enjoying and promoting their products from now on and can also offer you, my lovely readers, a 5% discount on anything you order from the shop by using the code VRNWC.
If you'd like to try before you buy you can order a free sample here.

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Event Review : Earley 10k UrbanX

You know me, always keen to try something a bit different. Which is exactly the philosophy behind Incurro, a race organiser who are passionate about encouraging, inspiring, motivating, challenging everyone to “Go on, give it a try” whether they are adults or kids, completing their first 2K or Triathlon. Many events can be quite pricey to enter which and there by exclude a lot of people so Incurro organise reasonably priced, family-friendly, community based events.

I was given one of their leaflets at Woodley parkrun, advertising an event called the Earley 10 UrbanX, a mixed terrain event around Earley, with a difference. This wasn't your usual road race or off-road event but the kind of event where you get to explore the local area, running up/down some of those gaps between streets that you drive past and wonder “where does that go”, along cycle tracks, behind large fences... and find out how un-flat it is!

So at 10am on Sunday 30th March, having managed to deal with the clocks changing, I found myself in Laurel Park in Earley about to experience the very first UrbanX event. In family-friendly style there was an under 16's 2.5k version at 9:30 which I watched with some enthusiasm, cheering on the little ones who looked so tired and generally being very impressed with them all. They all got a well-deserved goody bag complete with creme egg and medal.

Although the event had all the trappings of a well-organised event, chip timing, lots of marshals, bag-drop, changing facilities, refreshments in the form of bacon butties and so on, it was all very friendly and laid back. The route wound its way around the park and then out into Earley, across some roads, round the back of houses, doing exactly what it set out to do; take us on an adventure. The water stop at the halfway point was especially welcome on such a warm day, even more so as it dispensed sports capped bottles, and there were pockets of support all the way round. I completely lost my sense of direction but the route was incredibly well marked with signs, marshals, tape and spray painted footprints on the paths.

I wish I'd taken photos on the way round, or at all, in fact. It really was a great route and challenging; I only just made the hour mark. But once I'd got my breath back I thought what a great event it had been and wished there were more like that in other towns nearby. Every finisher got a medal and a goody bag containing a snickers and some leaflets and coupons for local businesses which I thought was a nice touch. For £15 it was definitely affordable and I will be keeping an eye out for some of their other events including triathlon!