Monday, 27 April 2015

Getting Active in Bracknell Forest

My attention was recently drawn to an article in the Southwark News that suggests that the council will be charging personal trainers for using public parks. Although I can *sort* of see the logic behind it my over riding thought is that it's just one more barrier to getting people active.

I feel incredibly lucky to live in an area where the council takes such a great interest in public health and in encouraging people to get active. We have a huge range of facilities, both privately- and council-run and lots of green space. Of course it's one thing to have these facilities and quite another to ensure people are aware of them. I started to investigate the range of activities myself in my Berkshire Fitness Scene series, something I'd like to pick up again some time.

As a step towards raising awareness and encouraging people to get active, I've contributed to an article for Bracknell Forest Council touching on how it's never too late to get active and how it's key to find the right activity for you. Too many people have a misconception that exercise begins and ends in the gym. I even managed to get in a mention of RunFitUK! There's also input from the director of our brand new Bracknell parkrun.

The article does have a bias towards running but this is more due to editing and the coincidence that Bracknell parkrun is new to the scene. I'm delighted to be in discussion with BFC about a pilot scheme for encouraging those who are new to or hesitant about exercise and excited to be looking at different pathways through the scheme that aren't just running related. Early days but watch this space!
How do you rate the sports, recreational and keep fit activities in your area? What's your favourite, that little gem that you wish more people knew about? Do you feel that your council do enough to promote healthy living?

Friday, 24 April 2015

Stepping Back Into Training

It feels like a while since I did a proper Friday Update post (as I term these). Last week I wrote about feeling a little lost since Brighton but thankfully I avoided the worst of it by distracting myself with other exciting things. And that hasn't involved entering masses of other races!

One of those things was marshaling at the Fairoaks 5 & 10 in Chobham. Mum and dad even got involved this time out on the course and helping to direct people to parking beforehand. As ever it was lovely to see some familiar faces and everyone was in good spirits due to the fine weather. Just as well as the race had to restart because of horses on the course!!
Dad, enthusiastically directing people
I'm picking up my own training again now. I spent the week after Brighton feeling pretty good physically but just lacking in that zip and energy I'd had before and did little of anything that could be called training in that week; a 1.5 mile recovery jog around the lake, a swim session with the local tri club, an hour dog walk and trialing out the new metafit track in the safety of my own home, oh and swimathon. A week on, though, and I'm feeling fairly springy again, helped by the gorgeous weather we've been having.

I caught up with my coach and talked about my next phase of training and goals. Although I'd like to get a 10k PB this year most of my focus is on distance running and he seems to think the two are compatible which is good news. My first week of training has been very light and enjoyable compared with what I was doing; two runs totalling around 10.25 miles which included some anaerobic intervals. I had my regular swim lesson last night and got to play with pull buoys and paddles for the first time and I've a short intervals set later today.

It's looking unlikely that I'm going to hit 100 parkruns this year, due to other commitments, even though I'm already at 76, but I'll keep on trying and I'll be doing my first official Bracknell parkrun tomorrow morning.

My next event is Glow In The Park with my mum tomorrow, but it's a just-for-fun event so I'm looking to Endure24 as my next real race. I was meant to be taking on the Royal Berkshire 10k in May but I have a christening to attend and have yet to find a suitable alternative. Shinfield 10k was a possibility but it's on Bank Holiday Monday after a weekend of supporting Patrick in his 24 hour swim event. So I'm undecided. Time will tell.

Good luck to everyone running the London Marathon this weekend. Remember to appreciate your marshals and supporters and have fun!

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Event Review : Swimathon

At the beginning of the year I was struggling to complete six lengths of front crawl without getting really puffed out. On Saturday I took part in Swimathon and completed 1.5km of front crawl in 38 minutes.

Of course I didn't just jump from six to sixty lengths just like that. I have been taking some lessons at my local Council-run pool and even psyched myself up enough to attend a trial session with the local Tri Club (all be it the day before swimathon). I've had three different teachers and learnt loads, although there's still a long way to go. But more on that another time.

Swimathon took place between Friday 17th and Sunday 19th April in pools up and down the country as a fundraiser event for Marie Curie. The people behind swimathon twitter account were doing a wonderful job of responding to mentions, getting involved in conversations, encouraging, retweeting and generally singing the praises of all involved. So over the course of Friday and Saturday I got quite excited about it all. Unfortunately, the organisation I experienced was somewhat lacking.

My session wasn't until 5pm on Saturday, at the pool where I have my lessons. In the email correspondence prior to the event we were advised to arrive half an hour before your start time so at 4:30pm I duly arrived at the pool reception and asked what the arrangements were. "Swimathon? I think that's over" said the guy behind the desk. On stating I had been given a 5pm time he revised his answer to admit that yes ok maybe it was going on after the kids pool party had finished. I took a seat and waited. Thankfully a few other swimathon-ers arrived and we all sat twiddling our thumbs for a while.

The kids session wound up and the lanes were set out. A group of adults hovered nervously poolside as the lifeguard announced that we could all get in the pool now. What? Huh? But what about checking in and swim hats and lap counters? It seemed there was regular adult swimming as well as swimathon and the life guards knew nothing about it. Eventually a lovely lady in a purple t-shirt with a clipboard arrived and handed out swim caps to those of us who didn't have our own (I was wearing my Team Bear cap so no official cap for me), ordered the lifeguards to clear a lane for us and explained how it would work.
There were eight of us in the session, identified by different coloured swim caps, set off at 10 second intervals. It turned out that we all had a similar pace and we had plenty of space so it made for quite a relaxing swim. I just concentrated on controlling my breathing and putting into practice the things I'd been taught. I very quickly lost count of my lengths but lady-in-purple was keeping track of us all and was happy to give us updates if we asked. I made it 26 lengths and had a short pause... almost half way! Then suddenly I was up to 40-something. Another pause. Two lengths to go! I'd done it!

I clambered out, feeling a bit trembly with exhilaration, and got my rough time (no stopwatch). Lady-in-purple was all smiles and congratulations, she could see it meant a lot to me, and told me to pick up my medal from reception on the way out. I was thrilled.

Sure enough there was a medal waiting for me at reception although it happened to have 5k on it. It seemed those were the only medals they had, which I found surprising seeing as they must have known how many people they had doing each distance and have been sent the right number of medals. I just hope that they had enough to give to people who really did swim 5k. I also found out that the first people to finish had to wait while it was acknowledged that medals even existed!
Hiding the 5k written on the medal...
So although the swimathon event as a whole is a fantastic idea, a great fundraiser and a wonderful goal event for people of all levels, the particular session I attended was rather poorly organised and it spoilt the occasion a little. I would enter the event again in a heartbeat although probably at a different pool. If the staff had been properly briefed and the organisation a little slicker it would have been an even better event.

Even if I don't feel I properly earned the particular medal I was given, I'm still really chuffed that I completed my challenge even if I've no idea how my pace rates in the scheme of things. I'd like to give a special mention to Rach who was super-supportive and encouraged me to take this on in the first place. Thank you! Maybe next year I'll really earn a 5k medal.

Did you take part in swimathon? What distance did you do? How was your experience at your pool? What other swimming challenges are coming up in your calendars?

Monday, 20 April 2015

Getting Children Active : Dinton Kids Duathlon

The habits and values that children develop when they're young often stick with them well into adulthood if not for life. With that in mind it's important that these are good habits, like being kind, eating your vegetables and being active. Not all children are inclined to do sports of course, I know I certainly wasn't (maybe more on that another time), but the more fun it is, the more likely they are to keep it up.

Ellie and Ian at Barnes Fitness run a tri club for children and teenagers between the ages of 8 and 16, which emphasises fun whilst building their skills and confidence at triathlon disciplines. On Good Friday they held a Kids Duathlon at Dinton Pastures which I was delighted to be a part of. There were four races of different distances depending on the age of the participant.

RunBikeRun
Tristarts (Age 8) 400m800m200m
Tristar 1 (Age 9 – 10) 1.2km2km400m
Tristar 2 (Age 11 – 12)1.6km4km600m
Tristar 3 (Age 13 – 14)2km6km800m 

It was just like any other race I've been to; marshals, briefings, timing, photographer and every finisher got a fantastic goody bag. Bikes had to be racked, the rules about wearing your helmet when in contact with the bike and the mount/dismount lines were enforced. There was some rain but less than was forecast. All in all it was a great way to introduce youngsters to racing.
There was a real mix of abilities, just as there is in races I take part in. Some children had mountain bikes but there were several that looked significantly more impressive than my own. Some wore fairly regular clothes, leggings and t-shirts, but some were in tri suits. They jostled for position. I saw one or two in tears in transition after the first run and felt relieved when they came back from the bike  leg with dry eyes and determination to finish. It was a joy to see them all get over that finish line, especially the very last lad. Unfortunately, because families tended to leave after their child had finished, there weren't many spectators for the final race but he had every marshal on duty that day gathered at that finish line cheering him in.

I remember one eight year old asking lots of questions about the course before the briefing and demonstrating his knowledge of triathlon rules. He proudly announced that he was a Tristart but was moving up to Tristars after the summer; absolutely melted my heart.

I must confess that I don't know whether there are many of these sorts of children's events around but I'm pretty sure there should be more of them. As I acknowledged at the start, not every child likes sports and not every sporty child is competitive but the joy of these events is that it gives them an opportunity to try something out on their own terms and having fun with it.

And that's what the emphasis should be on. Fun. Of course teaching them the rules around competing is great but it still needs to be enjoyable. Parents, by all means encourage your child, but be mindful of how you do that. I heard of one girl announcing herself a "failure" because she didn't come first. How sad!
Barnes Fitness are putting on a kids triathlon at Dinton in June but other events around the country are popping up all the time. Start them young but keep it fun!

Friday, 17 April 2015

Dealing With Post Race Come Down

So that's it, my "A" race of the year done. I've had a week of rest (necessary since my hip flexors decided to cease up for a while) but am now super keen for the next adventure. I've got swimathon on the Saturday and Glow in the Park with my mum next weekend but no other serious events until June when I tackle Endure24 as part of a team.

After having had such a full and demanding training schedule for the last few months I'm feeling a little lost and have excess excitement and energy flying around with no outlet. This is normal but I continue to struggle with it. I'm used to having more events booked up than I have this year, to use as motivation. Where will I find it now?

I love taking part in events and the volume I've participated in in the past has been more a means of maintaining a level of fitness than anything else. There's certainly a place for those and they are important to remind me why I enjoy running and racing but without targeted training I won't improve.

But then again improvement isn't the be all and end all for me even if there have been occasions when I've had to give myself a stern talking to about my frustrations when I've failed to PB at a race I didn't train for. I'm still getting used to the idea of training with more purpose, to picking events I want to do well at and doing less races "because they look fun" or "have a shiny medal". There are so many events I would like to try just because they look fun, it's clear that this will always have to be part of my life but I need to make peace with what my priorities are. Do I want that new 10k PB, to achieve that ultra marathon, or am I going to be happy just "getting round" as many events as I can? Despite the investment of time that training for longer events requires, I still have a strong inclination towards those.

On asking "what next?" I've had various suggestions that include swimming, adventure races and maybe just a rest. The last one isn't going to happen. And I can't seem to shake the idea of MdS from my head.

What are your priorities when it comes to events? Do you like to improve or do you just like to take part? Can you happily have a mix of both?

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Event Review : Brighton Marathon 2015

Brighton. Home to brightly coloured sticks of rock, The Lanes and the pier. Also host to one of the most popular marathons in the UK and my "A" race for the year. I was inspired to enter after cheering Alex on at last year's event and I would recommend it to just about anybody. My parents and I made a weekend of it, heading down on Friday night and staying until Monday morning. This was partly influenced by the minimum nights rule put in place by the hotel I wanted to stay at but we'll overlook that. It made for a very relaxed weekend and the race was all the more enjoyable for that.

It's amazing what you can convince yourself is acceptable to eat in the days before a marathon. I'd been quite good until I hit Brighton. Smokey's and the Hobgoblin had a fine line in Mexican food and burgers respectively and there may have been a little over indulgence. But it's ok! I dozed it off on the beach before a restorative spritzer and some nachos... Hmmm.
Might have over-ordered...
Scaring away the gulls with my reflective legs.
We stayed at The Granville, conveniently located staggering distance from the finish line, around the halfway mark and close to the Brighton Center where the expo was held, which we visited on Saturday morning, shortly after it opened. There was no issue at all with collecting my race pack but the expo started to get crowded quite quickly. We managed to have a good look round, to record a message to be played at mile 23 and buy some kit before it all got too much, but only just. 
Because I don't have enough kit...
The morning of the marathon was a bit of a stunner and after a hearty breakfast of porridge and toast the stroll to the start area in Preston Park was most enjoyable. I'd packed my race vest with gels, nuun and a photo of me and my Aunt at the finish of the London Marathon. I'd penned some inspiring words on my hands and felt collected. The sense of calm was almost unnerving.
 
I don't think one person was certain of the way to the start and I now understand how sheep and fish feel... purposeful but with a hint of confusion and bewilderment. We arrived at the park just as the Brighton 10k started, which was great to watch. There was a fantastic atmosphere and every one was in good spirits, chatty and friendly. Baggage drop was a breeze but I did end up queueing for ages to use a loo. In the end I used the "mens cubicle" only to discover that loos nearer the start had no queue. Hey ho, new experiences and all that...
Three girls, one poncho
Ready for the off!
My "designated stuff holders"
As predicted, although the official race start was at 9:15 am, my wave didn't cross the line until around 9:30. I high-fived Jo Pavey as I crossed the line and settled in to the pack for a while as we looped the park before rolling down into the city centre. Sticking in the pack meant I didn't set off too quickly but it did get a little frustrating when I wanted to make use of gravity on the down hills. 

The route involves quite a few out-and-backs and on occasion I felt cheated when a turn around point actually turned out to be a turn but I didn't mind the double backs at all. I enjoyed seeing people running the other way, trying to pick out friends or familiar faces/vests. It also provided spectators plenty of opportunities to see their runners. The first half of the race is certainly the more enjoyable and scenic part, taking in the Pavilion and the Banksy.
All too soon I seemed to hit the half way mark, having seen my parents on the sidelines a few times. Now the hard work started. I tried very hard to maintain positive mental thoughts so although I knew it was just going to get harder from here on out, I tried to distract myself with the bands, the spectators, mental arithmetic around my pacing and milestones such as the 18 mile mark when we'd emerge from the sweltering town centre out onto the seafront again. A few messages and texts arrived from twitter and friends which lifted me no end. 
Photo by Crawley News
My hands are in the air like I just do not care...
And there were plenty of distractions on the route. Drum bands, rock bands, people playing music on stereos from bedroom windows, camper vans and tables loaded with cakes and drinks as spectators made a proper day of things, a guy blowing a conch and even the Queen and Prince Philip (looking slightly more cardboard-like around the face) handing out high-fives. Even on the stretch from miles 15 to 18, that I'd expected to be fairly bleak, there were plenty of enthusiastic spectators and with water stations roughly every 2 miles there was always something going on. Before the race I'm reliably informed there were processions of Harleys and Minis. I saw them lined up but I'd have loved to have seen them in procession.
I was ahead of my target pace by around 30 seconds per mile for a large portion of the race but I felt pretty strong so decided to keep it up as long as I could. Plus it felt good to have some minutes in the bank for later, just in case I unravelled. Mile 20 was an odd one. We were heading out towards the most remote part of the course and fatigue was starting to set in but I knew I only had six miles to go. I can run six miles. Another strategy... I know I can run one mile so whenever it felt as though it was getting hard I just thought about running the next mile, then the next one. Just one mile at a time. At mile 23 I met the big screen and the message my dad recorded for me played out. Cue flapping of the hands about the face as I fought back emotions. Head in the game Roberts, head in the game... just a parkrun to go!

Running along the seafront back towards the finish line was wonderful. I stopped to walk once or twice but quickly discovered it hurt less to run but even so my pace dropped and I was glad to have minutes in the bank. By mile 24 I knew that whatever happened I'd hit my time and that was a huge boost. The question was, how close would it be? Although I felt as though I had a big grin on my face the entire time, the official race photos tell a slightly different story. You'll notice none of them appear here...

It's downhill to the finish, pure bliss, but as soon as I crossed the line all the emotion came out. I'd come in 4 minutes under my target time in 4:41:19. I'd had the strongest race I can remember, raised a considerable amount of money for Hospiscare and run in memory of my Aunt. I pushed myself but still enjoyed it so much. The sunshine, the support both on the course and from afar... it was all just wonderful. And I learnt how to drink from a paper cup whilst running!
There's another, far more emotional photo in existence but I won't scare you with it.
Words of inspiration and strength
After a minute or two I managed to collect myself enough to gather up the contents of my goody bag (chocolate, bananas, protein drink, cotton finishers shirt, water) and find the baggage lorries. Collecting my belongings was easy as pie but fighting my way out of the Beach Village was another matter. I had to sit down a while (not knowing if I would actually be able to get up again) and fortify myself with a recovery shake before that battle. About half an hour later and I was reunited with my mum and a cheese sandwich (thanks mum), another 20 minutes and I'd shuffled my way back to the hotel and my dad who had champagne on ice. Dads are brill. 
And that was that. Celebratory drinks continued into the evening (bars will not give you a free drink on production of a medal, I tried), along with more Mexican food and great company. Aching legs made for a disturbed nights sleep and a rather painful Monday but I wouldn't have traded it for the world.
I won't be back to run Brighton Marathon next year, purely because I have other races on my wish list, but I'd highly recommend it. Far easier to get into than London, a mostly flat course, well organised and tremendous fun. The half marathon sounds attractive too!

I'd like to extend a huge THANK YOU to everyone who supported me in the run up to the marathon, and on the day, in particular my parents, Team Bear and my coach.

If you raced on Sunday I hope you had a great one, be it in Brighton or Paris or somewhere else. If you've got a race coming up... GOOD LUCK!

Monday, 13 April 2015

Compression Socks and Recovery

As I sit here recovering from the Brighton marathon I thought I'd share an article with you that was posted on the RunFitUK Facebook group a while ago relating to compression socks and recovery. RunFitUK has close ties with the Run Mummy Run group who are fairly well known, not only for their supportive nature but also the compression socks. 

Many's the time I've recognised a fellow member of the group by the socks, but I don't own any myself. Actually I do own a set of compression sleeves but I only wear them on rare occasions. However, the paper presents some very interesting findings around whether wearing compression socks for 48 hours after marathon running can improve functional recovery.

SPOILER ALERT! 

Significant improvement in functional recovery was found in the group who DID wear compression socks compared to the control group. So for those of us planning races only weeks apart (like I used to) the finding are very relevant. Now there's an excuse for buying some properly funky socks...
Image from Run Mummy Run
Do you wear compression socks or sleeves already? Do you feel the benefits?