Monday, 31 October 2016

Event Review : Samaritans Run (10k) 2016

For the past couple of years I've run the Samaritans 10k at Wellington College in Crowthorne. I'd resigned myself to not running it in 2016 as I tend not to do the same race very often, let alone three times. However, for 2016 the route was changed to Jennetts Park with the start at the Fujitsu office  due to ongoing building works at the college. This was enough to persuade me to run it for a third year, and as part of Bracknell Forest Runners.

It's a key race for the club, being a championship race for the 5k distance that takes place alongside the 10k. I'd signed up for the event before becoming part of the club and hadn't taken part in any other championship events so didn't feel the need to suddenly switch distance but I saw a huge number of fellow club runners on the day taking part in both distances and going on to a social afterwards.

Start time was a very civilised 10:30am for both distances with a warm up before hand. There was plenty of free parking and a few stands near the start including a tombola (I didn't win anything) and a cake stall (I purchased a custard danish - all in the name of charity of course).

We started on time, setting off on a one or two 5k loop of Jennets Park respectively. It's not an area I've explored much so it was fun to run around the housing estate, odd as that may sound, and the parkland. The benefit of running around a residential area is that there's a good level of support. The marshals were also fantastic, cheering and making sure no one got lost on the more windy sections of the course.
I enjoyed the main part of the course, with the exception of one short, sharp incline on both laps did not enjoy the zig zag section through the car park to the finish. But, I understand why it was there, it was just tedious. I gratefully accepted my medal (green ribbon for 5k, purple for 10k) and goody bag which contained a snickers, bounty, two protein brownies, banana, water, pedometer and water bottle.  Not bad at all for £16 entry (for early bird/club runners). It was a beautiful day so I stuck around for the prize giving and to chit chat. All were agreed that it was a roaring success but it still won't sway me to run it for a fourth time... unless the route changes again of course!
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Monday, 24 October 2016

Kit Review : Hoka One One

Way back in the spring, I took part in the Polesdon Lacy 10k. It was one of the many events this year that the brand Hoka One One were present at, offering the chance to explore their range of footwear and even try them out.

I know a few people who wear Hokas but I was always sceptical of them, wondering what the bog fuss was all about. So ignoring all advice about nothing new on race day I traded in my beaten up old Salomon trail shoes for a brand new pair of shiny and colourful Hoka Challenger ATR2's. These are one of the trail offerings from Hoka, designed to transition well from trail to road - perfect for me who has to run on road to get to most of my trail routes, and one of the reasons I loved my Salomons so much. It was updated for 2016 with a more supportive fit through the midfoot, and increased comfort across the top of the foot. I'm pretty broad across the mid foot so I was pleased to find that these shoes have a wide toe box. Despite that I had to go up a half size from my normal running shoe size. In regular shoes I'm a 7 and take an 8 in a trainer. My loan Hokas were an 8.5 and felt really great.
Before
After
The route for Polesdon Lacy was a mix of path and off-road, so a good test for the shoe. In addition it was pretty muddy underfoot so the 4mm lugs were put to the test. Over the 10k I didn't get one blister, didn't slip once, and got to the end with muddy trainers but dry feet. The only criticism I had was that the laces came undone once which meant I had to stop to retie. But frankly there are so many different lacing systems you can choose from now that it doesn't take much effort to swap laces over for something that suits better.
I also got to wear one of their branded visors, especially useful given it was a drizzly sort of day. I only wear caps or visors when it's raining, to stop the rain from getting in my face. The visor has a really nice wide elastic band which was just about small enough for me, and came in two colour ways, pink and green. I obviously went for green as I actively shy away from all things pink (purple is a different matter). Again it was really comfortable and I still use it on sunny or rainy runs to this day. I couldn't find these to buy, so I think they were just a promotional item, which is a shame as I would have paid money for another, but thankfully I was able to keep it.

Unfortunately I had to give the Hokas back at the end of the race, but at least I had relatively clean and dry shoes to go home in. I've yet to purchase a pair of the Challengers but they are certainly on my list for when I need some more trail shoes. At £100 they aren't going to break the bank and are certainly comparable to other shoes out there.
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Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Viks Picks : June 2016

June. It's meant to be summer, but we've been yo-yoing between storms and blazing sunshine. I'm not totally giving up on stodgy food yet but I'm embracing fresher flavours, bright colours and forest running. I think my choices this month reflect that.

  1. I've not dipped into any cook books this month but I have been playing around with some frugal, healthy meals including this cauliflower cous cous. Blitzed, sautéed cauliflower with some "yellow stickered" red pepper, spring onions, apricots, sultanas and sundried tomatoes... made a huge batch which was a great portable meal for the week.
  2. It's summer race season again which means midges, mosquitoes and other biting insects. I've been experimenting with using citronella oil as a natural insect repellent, rather than the usual bug sprays which smell awful and often irritate me as much as the insects. A couple of drops on hems (not directly onto skin) is all that's needed to keep them at bay. It smells strong though so don't overdo it!
  3. My snack of choice this month have been Tribe bars. There are three flavours, all of which I really like. An emergency breakfast or a snack between classes, they feel as though they're doing me good, not just filling a gap.
  4. I was lucky enough to get to try some Hoka shoes recently and also swiped myself a visor. It's got a sweat absorbing lining on the front and is just firm enough with the elastic to stay in place. It's seen me through sun and rain on races and will be replacing my trusty cotton cap that I usually wear in the rain. Unfortunately these don't appear to be for sale, which is a real shame as I'd highly recommend it. However I know that Crew Room do similar and they have been highly rated too.
  5. Lastly, this month, I'm bigging up the latest Brooks Glycerins. I was a Ghost girl through and through for the longest time then took a chance on some bright blue Glycerins, which I adored. I had to bin them earlier this year so when I saw these bright little beauties and realised I could get 50% off the price with my Vitality policy, it was a no brainer. They are super bouncy, light and GOR-geous!

Have you treated yourself to any new trainers lately? Any sale bargains? What's your tried and tested mozzy repellent?

Monday, 27 June 2016

Event Review : Forest Five

It's rare that I get nervous before races these days, yet all day I had butterflies in anticipation. The distance wasn't new to me, nor was the event (having run it a couple of times a few years back). What was new to me was running as part of a club. I'd joined Bracknell Forest Runners back in April but with only one social run under my belt and a brand new, unworn club t-shirt, I'd never really known what it felt like to be part of something so much bigger. Would I be shunned because I'd not been to track night? Would I feel as though I'd done the club colours justice?

The Forest Five is Bracknell Forest Runners' own event, open to all, of course, but I'd say it was pretty much the highlight of the race calendar for the club. It's a five mile run around Swinley Forest, always on a Wednesday night in June. So of course I had all day to get nervous. Thankfully I had work to keep me occupied. Normally I have PT clients on a Wednesday night but as it was a quieter evening and I knew so many people also taking part, I rescheduled appointments just so that I could run. And it was well worth the effort.
Club photo, pre-race
By 6:30pm I was on site, number pinned to my t-shirt, citronella oil strategically dabbed on hems and trainers. Hellos and hugs were dealt out to the myriad of people I discovered I knew running, including my RunFitUK girls, Ellie and Ian of Barnes Fitness, members of Box Bell Fit and of course, fellow club members. It was a warm, dry evening, the bugs were out in full force and there was a huge turn out. All set to be a great event.
I believe there was some sort of pre-race briefing but I couldn't hear it above the babble in the crowd. The starting horn was audible, though, just... The route had changed somewhat since I last ran, with the start in a different place and a long gentle uphill drag for the first few hundred meters. It was all pretty cramped to start off, but as ever, the field spread out eventually, with only minimal jostling around puddles, tree roots and muddy bits. There were plenty of (encouraging) marshals and no opportunities to take a wrong turn. A pretty, varied and fun course.
The surface underfoot varied from gravelly, hard packed trail, sand, undulating and downright hilly in places. There was The Hill, which actually seemed smaller than I remember from previous years, and of course where there's up, there's down and downhill I'm good at so I was able to pick up a few places there. I hadn't *intended* to race, but my legs felt good and I felt duty bound to stay ahead of as many of my RunFit girls as possible. What made a huge difference was the support. I started to realise that being part of a club is a bit magical. Those shouts of "come on Bracknell" suddenly applied to me! That was me they were cheering on. Other club runners gave words of encouragement as they passed me or I passed them and I endeavoured to do the same. One guy kept overtaking me, then I'd overtake him... I didn't beat him to the finish but it was great trying to push each other a little more.
The roar coming in to the finish was just fantastic and I made sure that I gave as good as I got when I finally caught my breath enough to shout others over the line. In previous years there was no medal given out, nor a goody bag, just water, a banana or mars bar and possibly some sort of memento. Times have changed, however, and this year there was a bespoke, eco-friendly wooden medal on offer, each one slightly different and one that I'm just as proud of as the super shiny, beasts of medals from the likes of Cakeathon. There was also a goody bag containing the obligatory water and mars bar, but also foot soak salts and granola - useful stuff!
It was one of the most enjoyable races I've done in ages. The support, the camaraderie, that atmosphere... it's a greta distance to race and the location is just brilliant. I'm a long-time fan of mid-week, evening races anyway and having this on my doorstep... well I feel very lucky. The icing on the cake was a course PB with a Garmin reading of 46:09!

Thank you to everyone who made the event possible, to everyone who shouted encouragement at me and especially to Dean for taking some great photos and making me run quicker. I'll get my own back soon enough.

Friday, 24 June 2016

Love Active Life, Vitality & A Reader Deal!

Today I'm going to talk about something very grown up... Insurance, specifically life and health insurance. Yawn! But wait, don't go yet! I promise you this is going to be interesting and fun. Yes I did just say that I'd make insurance fun. Well actually I can't claim to be doing that myself but health and life insurance have become a great deal more interesting since the introduction of Vitality

Vitality have been around for a lot longer that you may realise, starting in 2007 as a joint venture between Discovery and Prudential. The general premise is that you get rewarded for staying fit and healthy. The fitter and healthier you are, the lower the chances of you having to claim on the insurance and so everyone is a winner.
I heard about Vitality a few years back but paid it little or no attention; I'm not sure I realised all the benefits. I've held life and health insurance ever since I got my mortgage, ensuring that I would be able to cover the bills if something happened that meant I was unable to work. Since becoming self employed this is even more crucial, dull as the idea may be. Pay as much as you can into a pension, save whatever you can, have insurance - all lessons that my father drummed into me as I started working life, and so far it's stood me in good stead. 

As time went by I started to hear more about Vitality and the rewards on offer. I decided to get a quote to see if it was worth me changing insurers and decided to get in touch with Jenny at Love Active Life, the Run Mummy Run contact for Vitality. Jenny is an absolute star. She walked me through the whole process, ensuring I wasn't going to be taking on a policy that wasn't right for me or one that would leave me worse off, and arranged everything for me. It took a little to-ing and fro-ing over the phone and email but it gave me full confidence in the final quotation. 

I managed to save money by switching from two policies I held, to just the single Vitality policy that covered me to the same degree. Not only that but I get the following benefits by earning points from staying active and taking positive steps towards looking after my health:
  • 50% off the Virgin Active monthly membership price
  • 50% off a Garmin device
  • 50% off a pair of trainers each year from Sweatshop
  • 50% cash back on a bike from Evans
  • Up to 50% cash back from Lloyds pharmacy
  • Up to 40% off British Airways Economy European flights
  • Up to 50 % off Eurostar
  • 75% off Champneys spa breaks
  • Monthly iTunes rewards
  • Weekly Starbucks and cinema tickets (dependent upon activity level) 
There are plenty of other rewards I've not mentioned and it's up to you how many you make use of. Vitality also encourage you to understand your health by doing an online health assessment (5 minutes), fitness test (3 minute step test), and a 15 minute health check at a local pharmacy.

So far I've made use of the 50% discount for a new Garmin device and applied for my cash back card for Lloyds. The Garmin helps me to track my activity thus earning points which in turn have earned me a weekly cinema ticket and Starbucks drink, helping me to take time out from work that can seep into every available waking hour! In July I'm taking myself off for 3 nights at Champneys (all meals and 3 treatments included) for some rest and relaxation. Well that's the theory anyway, I may end up doing all the classes! 
Nifty info graphic showing how much I could save per year.

I've just taken advantage of the Virgin Active offer too. I only need to go to one yoga class a week to be no worse off than paying for them separately, then there's the pool, sauna and steam room plus a host of other classes that I would like to try. Holding a Vitality policy has also prompted me to book a dental appointment that I've been putting off for a year or so.

I've been harping on about how great Vitality is to just about everyone I know who is remotely active because I just think it's a great product. You're incentivised to look after yourself and it can enable you to do things you otherwise wouldn't. For me that's a weekly cinema trip, a mini break and a new Garmin, things I wouldn't be able to afford without the rewards. Getting set up in the members area was really straightforward, as was linking in the relevant devices to track my activity. And of course Jenny was on hand to help every step of the way.
I'm delighted to now be in partnership with Love Active Life, helping to spread the word, and as an extra bonus for my readers, you'll get an extra £40 towards either a new device or pair of trainers when you contact Jenny at Love Active Life (jenny@loveactivelife.co.uk) quoting VRPT and take out a policy. This policy may not be suitable for everyone but there's nothing to lose by investigating. 

You can also follow Love Active Life on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Shorter Distances, Strawberries and Small Fry

Ah the return of the shorter distance events and some proper rest time! I find it lost impossible to keep free time in my diary and can't imagine not taking part in races throughout the year, even though every year I try and put a limit on how many I enter.

I took things much easier this week though and my legs thanked me for it. Ok it was the third weekend in a row where I was racing but this time it was "only" a 10k. The hilly Polesden Lacey 10k was super fun and enjoyable despite the rain because I was with friends and family.
Rachel and me prior to running the Polesden Lacey 10k and smashing some targets.
I visited Virgin Active three times last week for yoga, a TRX class and a swim. It was my first yoga class with Andrew, a softly spoken, bearded gentle soul whose style I enjoyed very much. His classes will be a regular feature of my week, although an hour feels so short after getting used to 90 minute classes. The TRX class was just a 20 minute short, sharp workout on the gym floor. Just five of us in the class which consisted of three upper, lower and core exercises. I was complimented on my form, which was reassuring seeing as I teach it from time to time! I threw a few kettle bells around beforehand, 32kg deadlifts and 24kg swings... feeling strong again. My standard 1km swim had more flow to it and I rewarded myself with 5 minutes in the jacuzzi afterwards.

My favourite class of the week last week was kids class on Tuesday at Box Bell Fit. Love these girls and boys. It's usually exhausting, like herding cats, but you can't fault their enthusiasm and it's so rewarding seeing them getting more competent and finding exercise fun. My team lost at tug of war though.
On Wednesday I took part in the Bracknell Forest Runners' Forest Five race for the first time in about three years and the first time in my BFR kit. It was a fantastic turn out and I spent so much time talking to people I knew. I had butterflies leading up to the event, which was most unlike me, but put it down to feeling like part of something big. In summary, I had a good run of it, and there will be the customary write up soon. I've since had a week off of racing but of course I have more races and some new challenges in the pipeline, and they're not insignificant! I need to start focussing on cycling for a while and then work on my open water swimming.
Not your usual bling
Aside form work and training I've been cooking. It's strawberry season and the allotment is overflowing with the things. I'm getting kilos of them every couple of days, along with gooseberries and yet more rhubarb so I've been cooking up a storm. I was particularly impressed with a simple strawberry jam I made and am thinking of making a strawberry and rhubarb version soon. But the piece de resistance was my rhubarb and strawberry crumble... new speciality. Not clean, not especially healthy (although no added sugar) but damned delicious.
This week's training summary:
Saturday: Rest day
Sunday: Polesden Lacey 10k
Monday: Yoga
Tuesday: Rest day
Wednesday: TRX class, Forest Five
Thursday: Metafit, 1km Swim
Friday: Rest day

Any other suggestions for using up strawberries? Perhaps something healthier? Part of a running club? How did you feel running in club colours for the first time?

Monday, 20 June 2016

Mental Health : Talking Therapies

Not so long ago I felt as thought I was drowning. Things felt overwhelming, for no particular reason. I wanted to shut myself away and not have to deal with life. It was an effort to make myself go to work, despite loving what I do. It was even harder to train. I was tired, bodily tired. Little things became a big deal. I couldn't pinpoint what was the root cause, which meant I struggled to know what to do.

What I did do was to resort to some methods I've found useful in the past. I made myself get out the door for at least a walk every day because I know how beneficial exercise and daylight is to mental health and general well being. Yoga became increasingly important to me. I found myself adjusting my goals on almost every effort. I went for blood tests to check my iron and B12 weren't low again. I took to journalling more, making myself talk to people, sending a brain dump to a friend I knew would understand.

I lurked on a couple of support groups for people with anxiety and depression and was plagued with this feeling that everyone else's problems were bigger than mine, that I was a fraud for being there, that I wasn't deserving enough. When I was finally brave and posted my first message, full of these anxieties, I was blown away by the welcome. I didn't realise until that moment just how much I'd been holding on to.

The biggest step I took was to refer myself to Talking Therapies. Talking Therapies is a friendly and approachable service that helps people with problems such as depression, anxiety, phobias, panic, stress and OCD. That help could be in the form of an online course, guided self-help or a stress control groups. In some cases they can even provide counselling. And it's all for free on the NHS. 

My first contact over the phone with my therapist, Emma, involved a chat about how I was feeling, what had been going on in my life and what sort of therapy might be best for me. It was decided that the online Cognitive Behavioural Therapy or CBT would be most appropriate. I could dip in and out, use the online journalling facility and have phone calls every couple of weeks with Emma. Although Emma was not providing a counselling service, I was able to talk to her a little about things, get stuff off my mind, and she listened, was supportive, but always guided me towards finding my own solutions. Whenever I've suffered what I would term a socially acceptable moment of hardship, like a death in the family, people have been quick to offer their time and ears "any time" but it's so hard to believe that you can take that offer up. You don't want to worry your friends and family. Sometimes it's easier to open up to a stranger.

The CBT course felt very common-sensical and I was highly dubious as to how it would help. But I persevered, dipped in and out, went back and forth over it, worked through some of the Thoughts Feelings and Behaviours cycles for myself and did find it useful in understanding why I was feeling the way I was. It didn't provide solutions in itself but understanding is the first step to figuring out how to fix things. A holiday, more sleep, a bit more breathing space between new projects at work; small changes that helped a great deal.

Mental health is a hard thing to talk about. I'm not looking for sympathy. I'm not trying to be all woe-is-me, but I've been comforted and inspired by others who have been remarkably honest and open about their own issues on blogs and so all I hope is that sharing my experience will do the same. Mental health is just like physical health. Sometimes its good and sometimes it's not and you don't always have full control over it. What you can do is learn how best to manage it.

Now I've been discharged from Talking Therapies (after just 4 of the maximum of 6 review calls with Emma) I'm focussing on maintaining my wellbeing; understanding my triggers, learning to spot them and put measures in place to avoid them in the first place. It's likely I'll get relapses but hopefully I'll be able to cope with them and they won't be as bad. Staying active, making time for myself, not saying yes to everything, getting enough sleep... all of these are things I need to be better at.

I would recommend Talking Therapies to anyone suffering from low mood, anxiety or depression. It's hard to be brave and ask for help, but once you do you realise that you're certainly not alone.