Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Yorkshire Three Peaks Challenge

It's 5:30am on a Saturday morning and I'm remarkably awake having spent the last 6 hours sleeping fitfully in a B&B in Yorkshire. A six hour drive the evening before should have ensured a good night's sleep but I'm worrying about what the day has in store and Anita, four feet away in the other twin bed, is equally nervous. The reason? We're about the embark on the Yorkshire Three Peaks Challenge. Similar in nature to the national three peaks challenge, this involves traversing Ingleborough, Pent-y-Ghent and Whernside and returning to your start point to make up a 25 mile circular walk within twelve hours. The difference is that there is no driving between mountains and it's possible to see where you've been and where you're going at most points on the route. Anita set me this challenge on my birthday last year and we just managed to squeeze it in before my birthday this year. In fact it was only on Friday morning that Anita manages to get herself some suitable foot gear and a set of waterproofs. We've not done much of what you would call training and are relying mostly on our general fitness to get us through. Nothing like preparation!
About to set off on our latest challenge!
By 6am we're scoffing toast, grabbing packed lunches from the fridge and I'm worrying about whether we'll get parked at the meeting point (will we find it, will I need to pay for parking, do I have enough change?). We're about to embark on some proper type two fun.
Our fearless leader, Sam
We arrive at the meeting point by the Old Hill Inn at 6:30 (parking is easy and free), and join the 50 or so other people being assigned to numbered groups and getting issued with an arm band to help the leaders keep track of everyone. Our leader is the lovely Sam. He leads all sorts of outdoor challenges and pursuits and is confident that we'll all get round. It becomes clear that breaks will be in sort supply today and that there's a lot of walking between mountains. At 7am we set off for our first mountain, Ingleborough. Most people and groups seem to start with Pen-y-Ghent so we avoid the crowds, which is just as well as there are so many of us.
Windswept at the top of Ingleborough
By 8:10am we've completed the first mountain. The summit is cloudy so we don't get much of a view but spirits are high and we're all still very chatty. We're getting to know the other people in the group, home towns, backgrounds, motivations and so on. We have a mother-daughter and two father-son pairs as well as a husband wife duo and several people like ourselves who are doing it purely as a personal challenge. The youngest in our group is 12-year-old Tom who does remarkably well (his father is an ironman so he can't complain) and 16-year-old Alex seems to be made of springs, running ahead often and the first one of us to get anywhere.
The walk to Pen-Y-Ghent gives the legs a chance to stretch out but the group stitches out as well. I lose Anita when she makes a pit stop and am still without her by the end of our first 10 minute break in Horton-In-Ribblesdale. I'm assured that she's with the group behind us as we set off for peak number two. As we start to climb the wind is picking up . We've been warned that there's some strong winds coming in later and if we're not likely to be off the last mountain by 5pm then we may not be allowed to attempt it at all. There's a bit of scrambling and gusts that almost knock me off balance. My nose won't stop streaming and I've given up dabbing at it with tissue. I reach the summit without Anita still and am wracked with guilt as I have my photo taken.

From the top of Pen-Y-Ghent we can see a dark, ominous looking peak that we are told is our next and final target. It's not quite lunchtime and we've done two peaks... it feels oddly achievable at this point. We're encouraged to keep the pace up during the long trek to Whernside with the promise of another ten minute break, tea and cake. The support van is indeed a welcome sight! Tea and cake never tasted so good and I finally reunite, all be it briefly, with Anita, who catches up just as we're about to set off again. She sends me on with her blessing.
On our way to Whernside, past a rather famous viaduct
The wind hasn't let up and drizzle is now whipping across our faces too but there's still chatter and cheer. It feels as though the end is in sight, even though it's only 1:30 in the afternoon. On our way to Whernside we pass an impressive viaduct which I recognise from Harry Potter. It cheers me up no end, almost as much as the father-son teams are buoyed by the sight of a hotdog van in the car park opposite. My legs are aching but I'm distracted by the sight of Anita bounding up to meet me. She's nabbed a lift from the lunch stop in the support van, with some of those who have had to drop out for whatever reason, to meet me so that we can climb the last peak together. I'm thrilled to see her and relieved that she's not suffering with any blisters or severe discomfort. I've probably been more worried about her than myself!

If I ever needed her it's now. The ascent is long, blustery, wet and tiring. Where as on the previous peaks it was the steepness that tired me, on this one it's just the trudging that is wearing me down. Anita is a non-stop ray of sunshine as I retreat into my shell and concentrate on where my foot is going next. I keep reminding myself that this is type two fun, fun in hindsight and that there's no possibility of me not completing this unless I slip and injure myself. We finally reach the summit and I manage to smile for a photo before pronouncing that I just want to get off this god-forsaken mountain as quickly as possible. There's no view so nothing to hang around for plus at this point I'm afraid that if I do stop, I won't be ably to start again!
Triumphant on top of Whernside
That doesn't turn out to be very quickly as the descent makes up for the gradient we didn't have to deal with on the way up. The rain has made the stones slippery and fighting against the wind is tiring. Eventually we get to the bottom and I stave off tears of tiredness with chocolate and peanut butter. Now it's just a case of getting back to the pub, which we do 10 hours and 40 minutes after we left.
We did it, and we have the certificates to prove it!
We are tired, achey and red-faced from wind burn but thrilled that not only have we completed the challenge but that we've done it together. Knowing that if we head back to the B&B for a shower right away we're unlikely to leave again, we head straight to a pub we found the day before to get a hot meal. If the other diners and drinkers are put off by our appearance then they are far too polite to say anything but no one asks us what we've just done, only how quickly we managed it.
Pie and custard that my dad would be jealous of
It was a fantastic day and a great achievement. I've never felt the need to tackle the national three peaks challenge, although I have climbed them all individually, and completing the Yorkshire challenge has just cemented that opinion. In my mind this is just as much of a challenge as you're on your feet the whole time. It was well worth doing as part of a group and I would consider doing it again in the future, or something similar. I'd have loved to have stayed a few more days in the dales and explored more. I've not talked much about the landscape or the scenery but both are wild, glorious, varied, stunning, and certainly not to be underestimated!
A well deserved glass of fizz before passing out
We booked through this website and have to say the information prior to the event and organisation in general was excellent. We stayed at the ever-so friendly Dalesbridge which was around 10 minutes from the start point and does a mean cooked breakfast (with vegetarian option).

Monday, 18 August 2014

Berkshire Fitness Scene : Bokwa

It is a rare occasion I walk out of a class but that's exactly what happened when I attended my first, and likely only, Bokwa class. Bokwa is sort of the new Zumba, a group exercise class that has gained popularity in many countries of the world, having been conceived in LA by Paul Mavi. It's one of the classes I found at Reading Uni that I've not seen anywhere else so I thought it worthy of a mention here.

So what is it? Well in essence it's a group dance class. It claims not to rely on fancy choreography but on merely drawing letter and numbers with your feet while popular music plays at high volume. Anyone can do it! It's not for the super fit or coordinated! So the claims go. Now I love dancing, have a reasonable sense of rhythm and don't generally have any issues with learning basic choreography so this should have been a cinch.

I will admit, I had a bad experience. The instructor turned up 15 minutes late. It turns out she teaches another class immediately beforehand that means she physically can't get to the studio on time yet the Sport Centre don't make any allowances for this when scheduling. So she's always 15 minutes late. Of course I didn't stay long enough to find out if that means she runs over by 15 minutes or if everyone gets short changed.

So by the time she arrives I've managed to get myself into a "this had better be good" sort of mood, which I appreciate isn't really the best frame of mind to be in. Because she's short on time she doesn't find out if anyone is new to class (there are at least four of us) or explain the basic concept. As I'd gone into this blind it would have made a big difference to me.

I stand near the front so that I can clearly see what she's doing. Her foot work looks incredibly fancy although occasionally she makes it very simple. I try to follow her and the girl next to me but the switching back and forth makes it difficult. It's only after 10 minutes I realise she's demonstrating two levels and not a whole variety of different steps.

It should have been easy. The music was actually really great and she had a lot of energy but I just couldn't get it. In trying to mimic her footwork I ended up leading with the wrong leg, getting in a tangle and then missing the beat. In the end I just stopped and stood there, watching, trying to figure it out before starting again. I wasn't getting any sort of benefit from moving and I was demotivated. Either she didn't notice or she chose to ignore me, offering no encouragement, so I picked up my belongings and left. I may have flounced.

Now I really want to emphasise that this was my own experience and in theory, anyone should be capable of doing these classes. Once you got the hang of the basic steps you'd be able to put as much or as little energy and complexity in as you wanted and therefore get as much of a workout as you liked. An instructor can absolutely make or break a class but it's the kind of thing you only find out from experience.

Please don't let my experience deter you from trying new classes, or Bokwa specifically. It does seem like a lot of fun and I'm only sorry that it didn't click with me.

Have you had any bad first experiences with group classes?

Friday, 15 August 2014

Du Vin, Du Pain, Du Course à Pied

Just a flying visit from me today as I'm just back from France and shortly off on another adventure. Barely time to pick up fresh pants and I'm out the door again. Just enough time to give you a bit of a low down on what I've been up to in the last seven days.

My training looked a bit like this...
Saturday: 4 mile run with Crewroom
Sunday: Rest day
Monday: Intervals
Tuesday: 4 miles 
Wednesday: Rest day
Thursday: Rest day
Friday: Hill reps

There are more rest days in there than I'm comfortable with but as I was on holiday and two days were taken up with travelling and another planned session had to be scrapped because I'd stupidly left my trainers outside in the rain overnight, that's just how it had to play out. I still got some quality sessions in though and I'll be doing something very energetic this weekend so I'm not feeling too hard done by.
Tiny snail on very wet trainer... the only good thing about having accidentally left them out in the rain overnight.
This was a family holiday and as such there was a certain amount of falling in line with plans. I had no objections to this at all because most of these plans involved wine tasting. We brought quite a bit back with us too!
A large proportion of time was also spent sitting in the garden having aperitifs and rather long lazy meals, as is the French way. I ate FAR more than was good for me but every bite was delicious. I also drank far more than was usual or good for me but it was a bit of a one off.
Eating strawberries and ice-cream has never felt like a chore before.
But of course I did run. I ran along the river bank, alongside fields of sweetcorn and sunflowers, passing ponies and dodging the army of slugs that seem to migrate from one side of the path to the other every day. It was absolutely wonderful.
I'm a little concerned that I might have messed up my metabolism a bit as I don't seem to be able to tell when I'm full anymore, however I'm active, still in training and will be reverting to previous eating habits right now... well, ok, by the middle of next week... I suspect this weekend will be a bit of write off and there's a special occasion next Tuesday to take into account...

But that's all for now I'm afraid. There'll be lots to catch you up on next week so enjoy your weekend, whatever you're doing, and I'll catch you next week.

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Crew Room's New Range and Run Club

The great thing about Crewroom's Saturday morning run club is that it starts from their HQ on Putney Embankment. The bad thing about Crewroom's Saturday morning run club is that it starts from their HQ on Putney Embankment... It's good because it is a beautiful location; surrounded by rowing clubs and right on the bank of the Thames just a few steps from a well used path that is perfect for running and cycling.
Crewroom HQ
The view! Oh the view!
It's bad because HQ is also their shop and as such it contains all of their lovely kit, including the brand new Elements and Laser ranges, which is extremely hard to resist as several members of the group demonstrated, lining up purchases pre-run to pay for post-run.

When I arrive I meet Maria, Commercial Director, and get a tour during which I find founder Kate in the kitchen, hands covered in egg and in the middle of whipping up something for us all to tuck into later. Some weeks it might be sausages or brunch but this week it's a lemon drizzle cake. I'm also introduced to Vincent, Kate's year-old labradoodle, who accompanies us on the run but is denied cake.

Walking into HQ is a little like walking into a sweetshop. The kit just begs to be touched and tried on, murals on the walls encourage you to linger and look longer and the designer's station along one wall reminds you that this company is still small in size and very hands on. A cute coffee van is being manned by one of the newest designers and there's a sense of the company being like a family. Community is another key word for Crewroom; the run club is just one of the activities that appear on "Baz's Big Board" alongside pilates, boxercise and yoga, all free of charge.
Kate experiments with paper mache and window displays
As someone who can be a bit shy about getting involved in already-established groups, I was delighted to find everyone extremely welcoming and within minutes I felt part of something. There's no set time, distance or pace for the running. We quickly find at least one person to run with for 4, 6 or 10 miles at a pace to suit. I run with Kate and a very well behaved Vincent, which gives us a chance to chat more about all sorts of things including her ideas for fitting out the pop up shop that's opening later in the year. It's a beautiful day and I wonder how anyone gets any work done with the temptation of this on the doorstep.
Coffee van outside the shop - does a mean flat white
I've very kindly been gifted shorts and a vest from the new Elements range. I'm wearing them to club because it seems rude not to but I'd already put them through their paces on my 16 mile training run. The cuts are super comfortable, the designs and colours appealing and the detailing thoughtful. These are the only shorts I've ever seen with an inside pocket and elastic loop suitable for securing iPod or keys and a back pocket that comfortably holds an iPhone whilst still staying up. Even on a very long, hot run they don't chafe. It's just a little bit different, both appealing but also makes it hard to get into concessions because it breaks the mould a bit. There are masses of sports clothing companies in existence, with a new one popping up just about every week but Crewroom have been around for several years already and design with function and protection very much at the fore. It just happens that the colours and cuts are also gorgeous. I could wax lyrical about them all day, and that tends to only happen with companies whose products I really believe in and feel connected with.

But let's return to run club. Kate and I are first back to base, the scent of lemon cake wafting out to greet us as we grab a drink in-store and others drift back over the course of the next half hour or so. Generous slabs of cake are cut, distributed and consumed whilst we sit on the sun-soaked decking chatting over coffees and juice. Eventually we start to drift away, there is the rest of the day to get on with after all, but it is with reluctance. It's 45 minutes drive each way for me but I'm sad I can't make it next week. I vow to return on at least one other occasion and hopefully to try Stand Up Paddleboarding too.
Cutting of the cake

I will confess to trying on pieces from the Laser range whilst I was at HQ, stroking leggings and admiring jackets I can't justify buying... yet. I'm a fan and I really hope that they continue to go from strength to strength.

You can keep up to date with Crewroom and all their classes by following them on Facebook and twitter. Sign-up to their newsletter any time during August and you'll automatically be entered into a draw to win a bag of kit worth £200!

Monday, 11 August 2014

Training on Holiday

This week I'm in France visiting family. This coincides with week 5 of my ultra marathon training and as such my plan advises me that I should be running a total of 19 miles over 4 sessions. Some chance!

Generally speaking, unless you're on an activities focused holiday or have a lot of time to kill while your hosts are out at work (as I did in Chicago last year) you won't have or want to spend a lot of time on your work out. You're on holiday, you want to enjoy it, to sight-see and relax.
Sight-seeing on the run in Chicago
If you're just "ticking over" in terms of exercise, then you're probably not going to worry too much about fitting in specific workouts; a bit of holiday swimming and walking will see you right. But if you're going on holiday right in the middle of training plan then you might want to think about how you can maintain your fitness while you're away. If your plan has you down for a long run while you're away (luckily mine is scheduled for the weekend I'm back), you probably won't be able to fit it in. Rather than squeeze it in or try to make up the miles when you're home, just skip it. It's not realistic to try and make up miles, you might over load your body and end up with an injury. Better instead to schedule some quality sessions while you're away that will help other aspects of your fitness. All it takes a little preparation.

That said it can be a fantastic way to explore your temporary home and of course gives you ice cream credits!
The view from where I'll be staying
Set Expectations
Set your travelling companion's/host's expectations before you leave. Get them on side, explain what you want to achieve and why and they'll probably be really supportive.
Time & Frequency
Work out how much time you will realistically have to exercise. Perhaps you can get up a little earlier on a couple of days to work out before your plans for the day, or maybe you can make use of late afternoon in that odd period between day time activities and going out for dinner.
It'll make this lot taste even better.
Type & Quality
What sort of activities can you do? Does the hotel have a pool, gym or perhaps even classes? Is there a park nearby? Maybe there are some coastal trails. Decide what activities you can do and then how you can create a quality session.

What you can't achieve in terms of time or distance you can make up for with intensity. If there are hills nearby, great! You can do a great quality hill session to help put power in those legs. This will help you when you're back doing the long runs. You could do a sprints or pyramid session to help with pace if that's something you're working on. Both these sessions can be fairly short whilst remaining effective. A skipping rope takes up little room and combined with some high intensity strength sessions using your bodyweight or a dynaband can be really beneficial to your training regime. Strength is something that a lot of people fail to include enough of in their training plans and the same goes for stretching. Downloading a yoga workout to your phone or taking part in a hotel class could be really useful.
I'm looking forward to running past fields of sunflowers again
Photo credit OwnersDirect
Make a note of the sessions you plan to do. Write down your swim drills, hill or sprints session etc. That way you will know exactly what you are meant to be doing and can focus on the task. If you use music to help your workouts (such as the guided pyramid sessions from AudioFuel) make sure you have them on your music player of choice before you leave, and take a charger!

If you're headed out and about alone to do your workout, tell someone where you're going and when you expect to be back. Take some currency, the address of where you're staying and a phone, just in case.

Now you just need to pack your kit and you're set!
Ah le Loire Valley!
Ideally I need to complete one hill run, two 4 mile runs and one 7 mile run in the next five days. Realistically I'll only be able to manage 3 workouts so I'm intending to do one 4 miler, one intervals session and one hills (if I can find a hill) or HIIT session. I won't have the time to do a 7 mile run but I think this will be a reasonable alternative. I'll report back next week.

Have you gone or are you going away in the middle of a training plan? How are you handling it?

Friday, 8 August 2014

Running In The Family

This week's training:
Saturday: parkrun with mum plus running there = 5.5 miles
Sunday: 16 miles
Monday: Rest day
Tuesday: 13 mile bike ride
Wednesday: 4 mile run
Thursday: 4 miles, metafit, social swim & sauna
Friday: 8 miles (planned)

This week has been rather hectic but full of wonderful things. I'm trying to keep on top of work, blogging, training and the glut of courgettes I'm now getting from my allotment (fritters, salad, cake, chutney...), not to mention laundry and packing in advance of going to France for a few days on Sunday. I'm really looking forward to it!

Last weekend was exhausting but great. On Saturday I managed to persuade mum to do run parkrun with me. Running with my mum is one of my favourite things, right up there with breakfasts and books. Unfortunately we were a little late and got within sight of the start line just as the klaxon went so had some catching up to do. I made sure the tail runner knew we were part of the event as I passed her and one of the ladies mum knows, who was marshaling, brightened our day considerably with her encouragement. Fair play to mum, from a 30 second disadvantage she managed to overtake at least half a dozen people and came first in her age category!
My kind of re-fuelling :)
After lunch in the garden and a mid afternoon it was down to Canterbury for my cousin's wedding reception. It was a real old fashioned family affair but a late night. Mum and I shared a bottle of wine but then we both stopped drinking... we just didn't fancy any more! All the better for me as I had my long run on Sunday. After pleas on Facebook and twitter yielded no takers for running companions, even for part of my planned run, I was delighted that my dad agreed to meet me in the park at around my halfway point for an ice cream. What a joy! He even walked a lap of the park with me (my excuse - to give the ice cream time to go down a bit). All in all I managed 16 miles and enjoyed a lovely pasta lunch in the garden on my return before accompanying my mum to an 80th birthday party for a couple of hours. Eventually all the cake and running caught up with me and I had to flake out on the sofa for an hour before attempting my return journey.
Beautiful spiderweb I found in my garden
I've struggled to motivate myself to run in the mornings or at lunchtimes but early evening runs have been a joy in new kit and with the addition of some other activities it's been a lot of fun. The local bike shop hosts a ladies only ride once a week with a "no one left behind" policy which gave me the excuse to do my first proper ride on my new bike without having to think about a route or worry about being out there on my own. Three slightly nervous ladies took to the roads of Crowthorne led by the marvellous Catherine and returned 10 miles later full of smiles and confidence. I need to work on retaining my balance whilst signalling and I have to say I miss the suspension of my hybrid but I got a real sense of achievement from it and I'm only sad I have to miss a couple of weeks now.
Fig (homegrown), pecan and stilton salad... ah summer days!
Thursday night, although hectic, was one of the most fun evenings I've had in ages. I managed to squeeze in a "quick" 4 miles before dashing off to metafit then meeting Anita for a swim, sauna and catch up. We actually did some proper swimming, and by that I mean we swam a good number of lengths rather than just lazed around in the jacuzzi, although I will admit those lengths were all done in a manner that allowed us to gossip like old ladies! We did laze in the jacuzzi as well though, and the sauna and the steam room, then on the loungers before mochas and americanos in the bar. I always forget how much I enjoy swimming and now we don't live together I don't see Anita so much. I've talked her into trying metafit and she's talked me into some more social running after our respective holidays (I didn't take as much persuading as she did).
A blissful Friday treat of an almond croissant and home grown berries.
Other things making me happy this week include new lycra, the return of great British Bake Off, an early birthday present from a friend who knows me far too well and of course, food. An abundance of blackberries and a mis-spent lunch break has meant delicious apple and blackberry smoothies almost every morning and a productive allotment/garden equals a variety of fruit/veg-nut-cheese-and-leaf salads. There has also been cake. A balanced diet *IS* two salads a day plus cake and custard right?
An early birthday present. Deep joy right there.
So now just the small matter of my 8-miler tonight, a very cool Saturday and then it's all wine, cheese, sunshine and shrugging of shoulders. I've scheduled some posts for while I'm away which I hope you enjoy and I'll be back here in person next Friday. Have a fantastic weekend!

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Recipe : Rum & Raisin Dessert

Tucking into the Whey Hey samples at Gloanna recently got me thinking... I wonder if I can make my own protein-rich dessert? Turns out I can and it's pretty easy. Now I don't pretend to rival Whey Hey in any way shape or form with this but it was quick to make, very delicious and a slightly healthier alternative to ice cream.

May I present... Rum & Raisin Frozen Yogurt!

Mix 250g of greek yogurt (I went full fat) with three scoops of Rum 'n' Raisin Ice Cream flavour protein powder and a handful of raisins or sultanas. Then just pop it in the freezer for a few hours, stirring every hour or so to reduce the size of the ice particles.
You could use any flavour protein powder that takes your fancy. I've got some Mint Choc Brownie flavour which I reckon would be awesome with some chopped pecans, and a Jaffa Cake flavour which I'm itching to mix in with some chocolate orange chips I have hanging around. I'm a big fan of mixing in some frozen fruits, biscuit pieces or nuts to give it a bit of texture.

I found that it needed to be taken out of the freezer for a little while to defrost to a "scoopable" consistency but was worth the wait.
What I liked most about this is that I could make as little or as much as I wanted at a time. I often have ice cream sitting around in my freezer for ages because often, I only want a bit, but this allows me to just make a couple of servings at a time, and then ring the changes next time.
I've done the sums and compared my dessert with Carte D'or Rum & Raisin Ice cream. They're like for like on kcals but the frozen yogurt has way more protein and half the CHO and sugars. This will vary depending on the brand of protein powder you use and whether you choose to use low fat greek or natural yogurt. I'm sure you could get away with using just 2 scoops of protein powder, which would reduce the kcals even more.

Rum & Raisin Carte D'or Rum Raisin Protein Frozen Yogurt
Serving 100g 100g
kcals 200 200
Carbohydrate 24 12
Protein 3 20
Fat 8 8
Sat. Fats 5 6
Sugars 23 11

If you decide to give this a go, or have made something similar in the past, please let me know what your flavour combos were... I'm all up for inspiration!