Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Event Review : Gloanna 2014

When you take part in as many events as I seem to it's nice to come across something a little different. Indeed that tends to be how I decide whether or not to enter things these days... is it a bit special? Gloanna is an event that falls into that category, for me. I took part last year with Anita and enjoyed it so much that I decided to enter again this year, this time with my mum.
Pre-run selfie
For the uninitiated, Gloanna is an event held in Battersea Park that consists of an untimed 5k run preceeded by a shot of prosecco, followed by a 45 minute yoga class, more prosecco, a sushi brunch, a massage if you're lucky enough to get a slot and rounded off with a goody bag to take away. They now have events in London and New York and this year have Sweaty Betty on board as a sponsor (or as my dad refers to them, "Frizzy Lizzy"... I prefer "Perspiring Elizabeth"). It's not cheap, at £41 for early bird with one glass of prosecco or £43 for two (if you were a very late entry you'd be paying £68/70 for the privilege), but I was swayed by the "experience" factor. As some folks on twitter pointed out, with parkrun and various free yoga sessions available in London you could buy a full bottle of prosecco, go hang out with your besties and save a stack load... but that's not the point for me.

Mum and I arrived at the park in good time and managed to avoid the worst of the rain. Bag drop was straightforward (lovely to see Bangs there helping out) and we had time to have a nose around before a very fun warm up and the start of our wave. Shot of prosecco knocked back and we were off! It was a joy to run without worrying about time and to run with my mum in an environment where she felt comfortable. We chatted to a few girls on the way round (I was persuading them to try a triathlon), danced through bubbles and got high fives from the police constables present. I wish I'd carried my phone to take pictures.
After the run we were handed some Vita Coco and had time to grab our yoga mats for the class which was mildly challenging but perfect for stretching out. I think we ended up having two helpings of Whey Hey and snaffled a couple of extra Bounce balls and Vita Coco's each as well as our lunch and prosecco. Basically we had a really lovely morning and some quality mother/daughter time. We didn't feel rushed at any point and felt really relaxed by the time we set off for home, apart from the moment when I realised I'd left my yoga mat against a tree and had to sprint back for it.

Lovely as our morning was, there are still things about the event that could do with being ironed out. During registration not only could you choose your start time (choice of three rather than two this year) but also choose one or two glasses of fizz and which level of yoga class you wanted to take part in. Only the start time was confirmed in the pre-event information and I'd completely forgotten about the other choices. As such when it came to claiming the fizz we couldn't remember whether we'd paid for one or two glasses. We were kindly given two anyway but that could perhaps have been resolved with a different wristband, or tokens included in the race pack. Apparently you could buy more prosecco on the day as well but we weren't made aware of this at the time and in any case we were rather put off by the very fierce girl behind the prosecco bar who reprimanded us for taking things at the wrong time.
Again with the yoga, I couldn't remember what level I'd signed up to but I didn't see any information on the day about different levels, the tents weren't labelled and we didn't know what time the classes started. We weren't allowed to collect our goody bags until we were about to leave but it wasn't explained to us why... turns out they take your wristband so you're unable to collect brunch or bags after that point.

But lots of plus points too! The DJ was very good and the food was lovely. There was lots of free Whey Hey protein icecream (I fancy having a try at creating something similar at home), Vita Coco coconut water (the new Latte one is LUSH) and Bounce Balls to be had. The goody bags were lovely and contained an event specific very in a choice of colours and sizes, a water bottle and pair of socks in a lovely bag all courtesy of Sweaty Betty. I did note that the price tags had been left on things so it did feel as though we got our money's worth.

I would still be tempted to do this again next year, despite the flaws I felt existed, and think it would be a great event for beginner runners to build confidence... if they can afford it.

Monday, 21 July 2014

MyVitamins Supplements on Trial

As a general rule of thumb, you shouldn’t need to supplement your diet with minerals or vitamins if it’s healthy and balanced but sometimes things go a bit squiffy and we need a helping hand. As a vegetarian I take iron and omega 3 supplements to help meet my body’s requirements and prevent severe energy level lows. As a runner I take glucosamine to help protect my joints (although I’m not sure if this effective). As a desk worker I take vitamin D to supplement my body’s own production. And as someone with a bit of a broken system I take high doses of B12 in order to persuade my body to actually absorb the stuff.

So I nigh on rattle but I have learnt how horrible life is without proper amounts of any of these vitamins and minerals. I get the majority of my vitamin supplements from HealthSpan, who deliver high quality and good value products in containers that slide neatly through your letter box, but was contacted by MyVitamins to ask if I’d be interested in trying their supplements. I was, and as they happen to stock flaxseed oil (a vegetarian source of omega 3), B12 and glucosamine it seemed a good opportunity to see how they compared to those I currently take.

Initial impression of the MyVitamins website was that, as a vegetarian, it wasn’t easy to find all the supplements that were appropriate. Although each item states whether or not it is vegetarian friendly, a search doesn’t bring them all up, unlike HealthSpan’s site.

I was rather impressed with the smart, neat, resealable foil pouches that the products arrived in, which slipped easily through the letterbox. But I was less impressed that although the flaxseed oil itself is vegetarian, the capsules it’s contained in, aren’t… something that I hadn’t noticed in the information on the site (it was there, I just didn’t see it). This meant I couldn’t take it. I wonder about the logic behind that… The B12 and glucosamine were fine though and I have now been taking them for two weeks.
The B12 is actually a higher dose than those that I’d been taking (Swanson brand from Amazon) but I’ve noticed no ill effects. In fact I have noticed no discernable difference in how I felt when taking the supplements from MyVitamins as opposed to my regular ones. So they’re comparable on packaging and have slipped up slightly on the not-so-veggie-friendly flaxseed oil but how do they compare on price? Here’s a handy dandy chart to answer that question. 
Cost per dose
 £    6.00
 £                0.02
 £    3.49
 £                0.12
 £    8.99
 £                0.10
 £    7.45
 £                0.05
 £    5.29
 £                0.09
 £  11.99
 £                0.07
Flaxseed Oil
 £    9.95
 £                0.08
Flaxseed Oil
 £    2.79
 £                0.09
Flaxseed Oil
 £    4.99
 £                0.06

In summary even on the biggest quantities of B12 and glucosamine they are more expensive than HealthSpan and Swanson but not by a huge amount however large quantities of flaxseed oil capsules are cheaper from MyVitamins if you’re not adhering to a vegetarian diet.

In my opinion MyVitamins provide good quality products in great packaging but HealthSpan come out on top as their site is more user-friendly and they supply a truly vegetarian source of omega  3.

Thank you to MyVitamins for providing me with the supplements free of charge for testing and review.

Friday, 18 July 2014

New Challenges, New Training Plan

This week marked the start of a new training plan for me. I’ve kept myself ticking over since January, easing myself back into the mileage after taking steps to rectify the iron and vitamin deficiencies I was diagnosed with, but despite taking part in quite a number of races I can’t say I’d really trained for any of them.
This is all about to change. I’ve got some big and exciting challenges on the horizon and to not prepare for them would be sheer folly. If you visit the site rather than reading posts via RSS you can probably already guess which events these challenges are, from the “My Next Events” listing over on the right hand side but for avoidance of doubt they are:
  1. Equinox24 – a 24 hour team endurance event (one place still available on my team if anyone's interested)
  2. Gatliff Ultramarathon – a 50km event in Kent
  3. Tough Guy – pure hell from the sounds of things
  4. Brighton Marathon
With the exception of Brighton marathon, these are all new events and challenges for me. I have taken part in Tough Mudder but Tough Guy looks even more hideous and testing. Which begs the question… why??
If you follow this blog you may remember that my aunt passed away in the Spring after a relatively short battle against cancer. She gave me so much encouragement for the London Marathon in particular that I felt compelled to include a marathon in my challenge list, in tribute. During the final weeks of her life she was able to stay in the comfort of her own home thanks to the wonderful Devon-based charity, Hospiscare, which gives high-quality care and dedicated support to people who are terminally ill, free of charge. Not only did they support her directly with regular visits and provision of little things like shaped cushions to make her more comfortable but also offered support to my cousin who took time out from his job to care for his mum.

I saw what a difference Hospiscare made and that is why I’m choosing to raise money for them via these challenges so that they can continue to provide their services to those who need them 24/7. They need around £4.5 million a year to do this spend 88p out of every £1 donated on patient care. I’m hoping to raise at least £1,000 which could go towards some of the services below.
              £499 funds a 24 hour stay in the Hospice which can help control a complex condition.
              £40 will pay for a complimentary therapy session to help patients feel relaxed or a soothing assisted bath.
              £100 enables a patient to visit to one of their day hospices to share experiences and receive expert care and advice.
              £50 will fund a supportive care visit at home
              £12 supplies the daily oxygen that their patients need
              £5 buys medical supplies like dressing and syringes

My current training plan encompasses the first two events on the list. I will be drawing up my training plan for Tough Guy a little further down the line. I’m hoping to practice what I studied in terms of training and nutrition but despite having done some reading around, this is still uncharted territory and any pointers are welcome. I intend to blog about my training progress for these events in much the same way I did for five events I tackled in 2013. I found it really helpful and motivating to be accountable and see the progress I was making. I hope, also, that it will make interesting reading for you as I go back to trying to fit training around the day job and studies.

This week's training was as follows:
Monday: 5 miles at lunch
Tuesday: 4 miles including hill running
Wednesday: 4 miles with Amy after work
Thursday: Kettlebells pre-work
Friday: REST DAY!

This weekend I'll be taking part in Gloanna on Saturday (5km run followed by yoga) with my mum and attempting a long run of 16 miles on Sunday planned before refuelling with a picnic at Kew Gardens to the sounds of Chas & Dave and Bill Bailey :)

If you would to support me and Hospiscare by making a donation you can do so here or via the widget at the top of the blog. If you would like to support me with words of encouragement you can do so in the comment box below :)

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

RMR Retreat

I'm running behind a golf buggy with around 40 other women. In my head I hear the Benny Hill music I pull myself over a series of small hills on legs that haven't really woken up yet. It's Sunday morning at The Belfry Golf course and we're all on running retreat organised by Run Mummy Run group.

You're probably thinking "I didn't know she had kids". I don't. That would have been a helluva secret to have kept from you all! But you don't have to be a mum to be a part of this incredibly supportive group, just a female who enjoys running. The vast majority of members are mums but there are at least 3 or 4  of us out of the 70 or so who have descended on The Belfry for the annual retreat who are childless. Last year I attended the social in London and it's wonderful to see many familiar faces as well as getting to make new friends. Striking up conversation with others on the retreat proves remarkably easy as we all have at least one thing in common, and none of us would be here if we didn't, on some level, want to meet people. Name tags with our home town on might have been a nice touch as it's remarkably difficult to remember 70 names!

The weekend, for me, starts in a Travelodge near Tamworth where I share a room with two of the younger members of the group, Hayley and Bryony. There are 6 of us staying the night so that we can take part in a nearby parkrun on Saturday morning. We find a lovely independent Italian restaurant in Tamworth for dinner... well half of us do... the other half get a bit lost and turn up half an hour later. Dinner is well deserved and well received by then and we roll out the door feeling stuffed but happy.
Gathering at parkrun (credit )
The RMR group has nigh on taken over Kingsbury Water parkrun on Saturday morning. I'm sorry I don't live closer because it's a beautiful one-lap course around two lakes and I would love to do it more often. The line up is a sea of pink and black RMR tops and a more supportive environment I've yet to encounter. I try to save some energy for what I know is in store later in the day but my enthusiasm gets the better of me. Not a PB but a run I'm very happy with.

Arriving at the rather plush Belfry, I've never felt more aware of the fact I've just run a very hot and sweaty 5km. We can't check into our rooms until after lunch so I do some damage limitation with a clean top and a few deoderant wipes. Shortly Leanne and Cassie welcome us to the weekend proper and ensure we know what's in store. First up - Intervals! We're split into two teams, Bolt and Farah. I'm in group Bolt and as such am the first to tackle the session that Cassie, founder of RunFitUK, has designed. It's actually brilliant fun; she does a fantastic job of designing something that every one can do regardless of ability whilst somehow giving us opportunity to natter. We're encouraged to work hard without feeling as though we're being beasted and after some partner assisted stretching we feel we've really earned our lunch!

Whilst team Farah have their turn the rest of us find some lunch and explore the grounds. There's a lot to explore as it's a fair rabbit warren of a hotel. I actually get lost on my way back from our very comfortable room but do manage to find the spa on site which quite a few of us use over the course of the weekend.

We've been given exclusive use of a function room for the weekend which is where all the talks, workshops and dining takes place starting with a stretching workshop run by Cassie. Again it's got something for everyone, from beginners to fledgling PTs and demonstrates her great depth of knowledge. Sweatshop talk to us about the importance of shoes and bras and give us lots of individual advice after - invaluable stuff! Our last speaker is Sarah from InspireUni. She talks about the importance of positive stories, attitudes and strategies in being successful in all walks of life. It's interesting stuff but as we're sitting on the floor, mostly still in running kit, a slightly shorter talk might have been received even better.
Stretching workshop (credit @RunFitUK)
Now we get into the proper girly part of the weekend.... shopping, drinks, frocks and dancing! Sharpened elbows at the ready, the intervals session has put us in good stead for rushing to the front of the queue to buy RMR clothing including the famous socks and foam rollers. Finally I get to shower and put on a nice dress ready for dinner. Everyone has made a real effort. It's clear we don't get many opportunities to get dressed up these days and it's noticable how little of the conversation touches on the subject of children. Dinner is a buffet affair and I will confess to having a "healthy" second helping (I skip dessert though). In the background, photos that Technology Titan Tim, Cassie's hubby, has taken of us throughout the day circulate on a screen. We know there's also footage of the intervals sessions taken with a heli-cam but we don't get to see that yet. Dinner and drinks are of course to be followed by dancing but with the good intentions of the Sunday morning run in my mind and a quickly tiring body I skip the Bel Air night club (I hope they played Will Smith) and am soundly asleep by 11pm.
A fun frock
The Fresh Prince was not in residence
And I do make it to the morning run. In order we can run on the course we have to be up early and escorted by the health and fitness manager who's driving the golf buggy with a go-pro camera attached to the back. Four miles later we've surprised a few elderly golfers and earned a slap up breakfast. It's a shame that this marks the end of the weekend. We check out, say out goodbyes, get a lovely goody bag to take away but I'm home by lunchtime. I miss it the instant I close the front door even though I'm overwhelmed with positivity, the feeling I could do anything and pride at having been a part of it all.

As a direct result of the weekend I've connected with half a dozen people on various forms of social media and signed up for my Leadership in Running Fitness course with Run England. There are meeting dates in the diary and lots of interest in microadventures... I may have a new crew! I get the chance to go to another social event I will jump at the chance. I'd even be happy to get involved in some organisation to help one happen. Maybe I'll see you there.

Monday, 14 July 2014

Halo Headbands and Dinton Pastures 10k

In case it's escaped you or the weather hasn't been so favourable in your part of the world, it's been hot. Damn hot! Real hot! Hottest things is my shorts. I could cook things in it... to quote Good Morning Vietnam. Even on Thursday evening last week after an overcast day it was in the twenties. I refer to that evening in particular because that was the evening that Anita and I ran Dinton 10k. It's the only one of the series we're doing this year and were hoping to treat it as our PB attempt. In all honesty we hadn't really trained for it. I've been putting together a bigger training plan for events further down the line and just hadn't given this the attention I could have. I think we were just hoping we'd just be fitter than when we ran Yateley last month, which wasn't an unfair assumption to make but it's taught me I need to build more targeted runs into my routine if I'm really going to improve.
Pre race selfies
The organisers moved the registration and start lines this year to give us better facilities and more space to spread out. We could make use of the cafe and use the walk past the enviable children's play area as a warm up. I'm not sure of the reason for the move but it did allow us more room to jostle and broke up what used to be a rather tedious last mile (which the 10k'ers do twice as it's a lapped course). It's a very pretty run with a much smaller entrance pool than Yateley and that's probably why I keep on coming back to it.

We set off fast... too fast really. Anita stuck with me for the first 3km but it was clear she wasn't having a good time of things and after some wandering dogs (LEADS, people, LEADS) and a twisted sign resulted in us taking a wrong turn she dropped back while I tried to push on. My middle two miles were slow but I managed to push in the final half a lap and snuck in under 59 minutes. Not brilliant, not what I'd hoped for and certainly not what I felt I'd earned but it'll do, especially given the wrong turn. If I'd gone out a tad slower I might have been able to maintain a 9:10 average rather than a 9:30. Anita came in about 3 minutes later and I made sure I cheered her over the line as loudly as I could. 

There are masses of events going on at Dinton Pastures. There was a triathlon on Saturday but there are still aquathlon, duathlon and uber swim events coming up. I'm seriously considering both the aquathlon and duathlon!

You'll notice I'm sporting a rather snazzy looking visor in the pictures. Now I sweat easily when exercising at the best of times. Throw some twenty five degree plus heat into the mix and my face is a veritable waterfall. Joy. So I guess I'm a good candidate for putting Halo headwear to the test. At it's most basic, the Halo range are a selection of sweatbands, designed to keep sweat out of your eyes regardless of the activity. They come in the guise of a veritable rainbow of bands, visors, bandanas and so on. I've been trying out the Halo II headband (£12.95) and the visor band (£24.95)The one size fits all bands made from non-elasticated wicking material are meant to stay in place and direct sweat away from the eyes using their "Sweatblock seal" which "sits against the forehead, just above the brow line, and redirects sweat to the sides of the head". Let's see about that...

Post parkrun. I make no apology for the state I'm in.
First up, the Halo II band. I put this to the test on a parkrun and also during some metafit classes and I was reasonably impressed. Despite my having a fairly small head it stayed in place and although I was wiping sweat from the bottom half of my face, I wasn't wiping around my eyes at all. 

I didn't find that the visor band performed quite as well, possibly due to it feeling a little looser than the headband and therefore needing to sit a bit higher on my brow but over a number of  hot, sunny, afternoon runs it did a marvelous job of keeping sun and hair out of my face. Both bands were so comfy that I forgot I was wearing them. If you have short hair like me, you may spend some time adjusting the band purely to get your hair to look slightly less ridiculous but otherwise these look smart and certainly do what they were designed for. I would have happily paid the going rate for the headband, based on it's performance, but probably not the visorband.
Disclaimer: Halo very kindly sent me products for free in return for a review but as ever, all opinions are my own.

Friday, 11 July 2014

Microadventuring along the Ridgeway

After my sort-of-failed attempt at a solstice microadventure, I was keen to have another go before the summer was out. I had a couple of camping trips in the diary, plus a hiking weekend but nothing in a bivvy bag and certainly nothing that made the most of the "5-9". So it was with with huge enthusiasm that I accepted the invitation to join Anna McNuff on not one but two midweek microadventures as part of her mission to complete one in each of 7 counties in 7 weeks.

First up, Hertfordshire. Five of us met at Tring station, although none of us actually travelled by train. I arrived first, followed by Anna with two more intrepid explorers, Rachel and David, and finally Mark. The weather report had predicted fine weather so the initial meet-in-a-pub plan was swiftly altered to the picnic-on-the-hill plan. We set off each with a rucksack and a carrier bag of food, enough to feed us twice over, following the Ridgeway to the Ivanhoe Beacon. A picnic spot was found, beers were cracked and pimms decanted into a variety of mugs. We ooh'ed and aah'ed at the dense orange sunset.

Lit by Anna's Torch Of A Thousand Suns (TM) we headed back down the trail, dodging cows with teddy bear-like fur, to a patch of trees under which we found a clearing in which to bed down for the night. Nettles trampled and sleeping bags unfurled we settled down for the night. How much sleep we actually got is open to debate. I was intensely aware of the noise my sleeping bag made as I tossed and turned. The wildlife was vocal.
On solstice night I'd been put off sleeping out by the fear I'd be too cold. No such fear now. The night was remarkably warm and my sleeping bag so cosy I was comfortable in t-shirt and pants. And socks. I never said it was sexy. Fleece and baselayer were relegated to the rucksack in easy reach.

I admitted defeat and woke at around 5:30am to the sound of birdsong and the discovery that the sun was already up and shining brightly through the leaves of the tree we sheltered under. Anna and Rachel were already awake, Anna with an excited gleam in her eye. I watched insects dance in the light and deer bound through a field some way away. It was utterly glorious and I felt refreshed despite the hour and a night of broken sleep.
Ridgeway take 2
The next week it was back to the Ridgeway, this time Princes Risborough in Buckinghamshire, somewhere I’d never heard of before. An initial group of about a dozen became just seven; Anna, repeat offender Mark, Charlotte, Katie, James and Paddy.
Picnic spot and adventure hat
Once again we met at the station but this time train ridiculousness meant I was the only one who drove. Showers threatened and I will confess to never having checked a weather report so often during a single day. We got some drizzle early on but it soon cleared to reveal some gorgeous views as we climbed approximately a thousand* steps up the Ridgeway. A clearing complete with log bench overlooking the town proved the perfect picnic spot and the sight of a charred patch of grass was all Paddy needed to dive off to find firewood. Twenty minutes later and with the aid of a jet boil we had a proper campfire fire going.
It was a much cooler evening that the week before but the fire warmed us all evening while we chatted and sang songs. We tried toasting Percy pigs and flapjacks, drank beers and coffee, and followed the crushing defeat of Brazil in the World Cup.
A better hashtag you'll never see #microadventure
At about 11pm and after far too many chocolate mini rolls, Anna led us to the camping spot she’d recced earlier, in the woods under the canopy of the trees. Despite the hour it was still possible to see the lightness of the sky through the leaves. The coffee coursing through my veins and the pitter-patter of rain drops being shaken from the leaves by the breeze gave the illusion that I didn’t sleep much but at 5:30 I was woken by Anna’s alarm. It took a bit longer for me to emerge from the cocoon of my sleeping bag to a misty morning. A stumble down the Ridgeway and along the back of the semi’s led us back into civilisation. The gentle roar of the A roads grew louder and all too soon I was once again in the office, showered, changed and with a Waitrose for coffee in front of me, too excited to concentrate on anything I was meant to be doing.
Packing up our camping spot the morning after the night before.
Beats staying in with a pizza and a DVD any night of the week.

*I may be exaggerating somewhat

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Kit Review: Dumbbells

Since I've passed my PT assessment (yes, still chuffed about that), I've been thinking more about building up a core of kit and practicing my programming and coaching on willing friends so the opportunity to review some dumbbells from the vast array stocked by Savage Strength was timely!

I chose two types of dumbbells; a pair of 5kg York Fitness Legacy dumbbells and a pair of 2kg Tufftech rubber hex dumbbells. I already have a set of adjustable dumbbells that I got from freecycle some years ago which serve me pretty well so I was interested to see how the new additions to the family stack up. Having provided two delivery men with a bit of a work out, the kit arrived in good nick, decent time and well packaged. No flimsy boxes threatening to buckle and drop a weight on your toes here.
Tufftech (L) and York Fitness Legacy (R) dumbbells
The Tufftech dumbbells have rubberised hexagonal ends and a texturised metal bar. They feel comfortable in the hand, well made and don't roll off when you put them down. They may not look pretty but the benefit of the Tufftech dumbbells to me is that as someone who occasionally throws a bunch of kit in the boot of the car to use at alternative locations, I know they won't roll and clunk about in the boot of my car. The York Fitness Legacy dumbbells look like they mean business. They're made completely of metal and feel slightly less comfortable in the hand. The ends have a flattened part to stop them rolling around but it's not terribly pronounced. 

I put both pairs to the test with a few basic exercises. The lighter dumbbells are especially good for exercises such as the lateral raise where you're using the smaller muscles.
Grasp dumbbells in front of thighs with elbows slightly bent. Bend over slightly with hips and knees bent slightly. Raise upper arms to sides until elbows are shoulder height. Maintain elbows' height above or equal to wrists. Lower and repeat.
The flattened edges and weight of the York Fitness Legacy dumbbells make them ideal for exercises such as the press up shoulder row where stability is key. Assume a pushup position with a dumbbell in each hand. Engage your core and row the dumbbell in your right hand to the side of your chest, bending your arm as you pull it upward. Pause then lower the dumbbell. Repeat with your left arm.

You can get basic dumbbells pretty easily these days, even in some of the larger supermarkets, but it's definitely worth taking a look at the range offered by Savage Strength as they are pretty competitive on price and sell single dumbbells as well as pairs and sets.

The 5kg York Fitness Legacy dumbbells were £26.65 for the pair and the 2kg Tufftech rubber hex dumbbells were £7.97 at the time of writing. 

Disclaimer: I was asked to write a review in return for being allowed to keep the items but all opinions are my own.