Monday, 30 June 2014

Nightswimming on a Friday night

Ah, another magnificent week is behind me and yet another lies ahead. Last week there was a little bit of local theatre, a meal out, a weekend visit from a friend and plenty of active pursuits. I've been almost bouncing off the walls with excess energy that I can't account for. 

On Tuesday I did a Turbobox class before work but so frustrated did my day make me that I felt the need to go for a run after work as well. I managed to fit in 4 miles before I had to get ready to go out which made all the difference. The next day I tried my very first kettlebells class. I've learnt how to teach them but never done a class myself. Once again, another class I enjoyed and want to make part of my regular routine not least because it was fun with some tag-team partner work. I'd agreed to meet Anita for a run straight afterwards and thought I'd got out of it when I saw she was still in day-clothes. No such luck! We churned out 5 miles that became less chatty the further we went, then continued our catch-up in the garden over nuun and plantain chips.

I've now tried all the classes I want to at Box Bell Fit and am really keen to keep going there. It's highly tempting to give up my gym membership and just go here instead. If I did two classes a week I'd pay more per month than I do for my gym membership and I'd have to pay extra for things like yoga/Body Balance. However I've only used my gym once in the last 6 weeks, max, so maybe it's a bit of a false economy. It's a hard one to make a decision about. Any thoughts?

The weekend was awesome. I got a new PB at Woodley parkrun and ran the Samaritans 10k, a race just a mile and a half from my front door, more on that another time. But it all started with a night swim at the Tri2O swim centre in Reading, lit by illuminated balloons and glow sticks - huzzah! I'd kept this a bit of a secret from my mum (sorry mum) as I was expecting to be going along alone and I hadn't actually swum since about October so I thought I'd spare her the worry and just show her the cool pictures afterwards (ta da!)
Kitted up and ready to go!
The event is known as the Full Moon (1500m, £15) or Half Moon (750m, £10) swim, and takes place in the lake. When I first heard about it the idea instantly appealed and it sat on my race wish list (yes I have one, don't you?) for aaaages before I decided to go for it. For your entrance fee you get some excellent organisation, a swim cap, your balloon, fistfuls of glowsticks, a chunky medal (personalised with your time after the event) and plenty of refreshments afterwards. The 200 places were all taken (160 full- and 40 half-mooners) so it was a great atmosphere as we all struggled into wetsuits (I was the only one in a surfing one... again) and tied balloons to our zips.
The gang
By happy coincidence I bumped into a work friend and her buddies so I hung out with them and her lovely hubby who was on bag watch and photo duty. After the briefing and "oggy oggy oggy" chants we were off, full mooners first, followed a few minutes later by us half mooners for a deep water start in 22.2 degree water!! We could have done without the wetsuits, and indeed a few people had. There were a few serious-minded swimmer but most of us just enjoyed it. I started off with a bit of front crawl but quickly reverted to my usual breast stroke. Stray balloons littered the banks of the lake and those still attached to swimmers started to glow more brightly against the twilight sky. I LOVED it and came out of the water with a big grin on my face. I always forget how much I enjoy swimming. Timings are still to be worked out but I'm not sure I care.

After the obligatory medal photos I got myself a tea and helped myself to a few jaffa cakes that I probably hadn't earned from a table groaning with platters of flapjacks and other delights. As I started my drive home (to R.E.M.'s Nightswimming - natch) I felt utterly content. I may have come last out of my little group of friends more determined than ever to get a proper swim wetsuit wetsuit and lessons for my front crawl next year but I had the best fun. What a way to spend a Friday night!
An undeserved jaffa cake

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Solstice Microadventure 2014

There's masses of countryside partially on my doorstep that I've never explored. Some of it's not even that wild or remote. Take the Devil's Punchbowl for example. I've driven past it many times but never stopped in (not in my adult life anyway) despite being a National Trust member. So I decided to use the summer solstice and encouragement from Al Humphreys and his new book Microadventure as an excuse to do some exploring. The plan was that a friend and I would meet up there, explore at least two of the trails around the area, find somewhere to sleep out overnight then do a bit more walking the next day, either before or after a hearty breakfast at the cafe. 

Unfortunately, on the day, my friend announced that he'd busted his knee on a recent holiday and it wasn't anywhere near capable of walking a few miles. So I decided to go it alone. I stuffed a bivvy bag, sleeping mat and sleeping bag liner in my rucksack along with water, toothbrush, jumper, buff, hip flask, snack and book and set off. Now I'm not a cyclist and I couldn't be faffed with a train so I drove there. Sorry. I know that's not really in the spirit of these things but that's the way it was. It was a gloriously warm evening, perfect for sauntering through forests. 

I learnt about the legend behind the name, the unknown Sailor who was murdered there, and the way in which the area used to be used. I dipped off of the beaten track to explore an area used for working with the wood. I paused to clamber on a fallen tree that stretched out into a field of cows (who seemed singularly unimpressed with my antics). Purple pokers of foxgloves were everywhere in swathes and bramble flowers promised of autumn blackberries to come. Huge, ancient trees looked as though they were straight out of a fairy tale. I was alternately enclosed in woodland and exposed to beautiful views. After I completed the two trails I'd planned to do I wandered back to a trig point I'd found where there was a view back over some of the nearby towns. A hot air balloon drifted lazily overhead as I spent some time contemplating life.

At around 9pm, despite having earmarked somewhere to sleep, I chickened out and drove home. I was tired but happy. I'd done something I wouldn't have ordinarily done with my evening and I felt as though I'd had an adventure of sorts at any rate. It was a pity that I wasn't able to try out a MiniMap to explore further but maybe another time. Once home I sat in the garden in my PJs and a huge jumper (it did occur to me to sleep there but I was worried about what the neighbours might think, it bang a front garden) with some of my mum's blackberry whisky watching the stars come out. I slept with the windows and blind open that night.

Fairy tale trees
Out on a limb! Haha! Sorry...
The next morning I made tea in a flask, packaged up some breakfast and took a stroll round to the lake. Established on my favourite bench I listened to the ducks dabbling in the water, watched the swan family glide around and tried to ignore the aeroplanes overhead. It was a lovely way to start the day and although I'd only spent about an hour there, by the time I got home I felt as though I'd been up half the day; refreshed, revived and at peace. 
Life is what you make of it. You don't need to be terribly adventurous or stray far from home to have a micro adventure. Something as simple as having your breakfast in the park has the power to change how you feel about your whole day. I encourage you to try it.

Monday, 23 June 2014

Life's What You Make It

I seem to have (re)discovered a real zest for life at the moment. A lot of good things are happening and there are plenty of opportunities to be made the most of. This isn't meant to be a brag, just a reflection of my excitable nature.

First off I'm absolutely psyched to announce that I passed my Level 3 Programming & Coaching assessment! That means I am qualified (on paper) to be a personal trainer. Now while I am thrilled, to have been told I passed, my bounciness was tempered by some of the very constructive feedback I got. The basics are there but there are still areas that I can improve on... as with all things. So as my friend Brendon was my "client", heard all the feedback and still wants to continue to work with me I get to practice all of these things and become a better PT. I still have 5 modules of my diploma to complete, the next of which is Nutrition for Sport & Exercise and starts today.

The night before my assessment, in order to take my mind off of things, I went to see Sean Conway giving a talk in Farnham. Sean is an "endurance adventurer" and you may know him for his LEJOG swim last year. I'm a bit of a fan and although I've followed his adventures, it was wonderful to hear him talk about them and to get to ask a few questions. He's running JOGLE in August/September and will be inviting people to join him so with any luck my trip to Cornwall in September will coincide with that. He's also planning to round off his "global triathlon" by running the length of Africa next year and there's talk of setting up an Adventure Academy in the future, which frankly sounds amazing.
Earlier in the week I'd been so enthused by my first metafit class that I decided I needed to make this a regular thing in my life. The only class I could fit in this week was a 6:30am one. Now I'm hopeless, absolutely hopeless, at running in the morning; however any other form of exercise seems to be entirely agreeable so with BoxBellFit being only 10 minutes away I decided this was a reasonable thing to attempt. This was helped by being childishly excited about a brand new pair of training shoes.
Anna greeted me by name (how does she do it?!) as soon as I walked in the door and handed my my brand new membership keyfob to scan in with. Soon 10 bleary-eyed and lycra-clad people stood around the edge of the training area and banging out squat jumps and burpees to some thumping dubstep. Never thought I'd class that as a great way to start the day but life's full of surprises. I'm still impressed with Anna's coaching. She just seems to instinctively know how much more you have to give and what to say to get it out of you. I almost like it when she corrects me because I know she's actually paying attention to what everyone's doing. By 7:45am I was sat at my desk, showered, in possession of a frothy coffee and breakfast with a huge smile and a buzzy feeling.
This felt like the breakfast of kings after class
That wasn't the only early morning adventure I had this week. Last year, much to my mother's dismay, I celebrated the summer solstice by doing a microadventure. This year I had planned to do another, this time with a friend. It didn't go quite to plan, as I'll explain in another post, but it did mean I got to have breakfast at my local lake on Sunday morning, which was really quite glorious.

To round the weekend off I took myself to watch my local team play cricket. By the end of the game I still wasn't sure of the rules, the score or, indeed, who was on my team, but it was a gloriously lazy way to enjoy a sunny Sunday afternoon. Cornetto and fancy lemonade optional.

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Recipe: Moroccan Spiced Hummus

Some time ago I went on an impromptu picnic and one of the party bought a Moroccan spiced hummus. It was divine. I’d been experimenting with making my own hummus so I snaffled the cardboard wrapper with the ingredients on as I was determined to try and recreate this one. I'm pretty pleased with the results.

This is pretty forgiving and you can adjust the spices according to your own taste but this is how I make it. I take a tub of it to work for lunch with carrots, peppers and pitta. If you really want to up the ante try it with pitta that’s been drizzled with oil and salt and pepper or paprika and grilled. Ooooooooo.
You will need:
1 tin (400g) chickpeas, drained
2-3 tbsp tahini
3-4 tbsp rapeseed oil (or similar)
1 tsp chilli powder
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tbsp runny honey
1/2 tsp salt
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 clove garlic

Put all the ingredients into a blender and whiz until well combined. Stop blitzing when it reaches your desired consistency; I know some people like it really smooth, others slightly chunky. If you need to add a little more oil or tahini to loosen it then do so and adjust the spices according to taste.

This will keep for a few days in the fridge and is great as a snack or a light lunch.

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Berkshire Fitness Scene : Metafit at Box Bell Fit

If I didn't have a gym membership (said membership is suffering from non-usage at the moment) I would train regularly at Box Bell Fit. Located in a barn on a farm on the outskirts of Wokingham, this outfit specialises in kettle bells, boxing and high intensity group training classes with side lines in personal training and sports massage. It's run by Anna, who I exchange many emails with before actually making it to a class. When I meet her I'm impressed by her muscle definition as much as by her friendly professionalism and the way in which she's cultivated an inclusive and warm environment in which to train. I decide within the first 5 minutes of being there that I want to come back, provided I enjoy the class I'm about to do.
The barn may not look like much from the outside but inside is a functional and unfussy training environment with lots of thoughtful features such as a bank of cubby holes for bags, comfy stool-style seating at a counter for chatting and enjoying refreshments from the kitchen and a small sofa area for chilling out. A keyring scan system replaces the usual card swipe and membership packages can be bought online. 

In order to partake in kettle bell or boxing-based classes it's usual to go through an induction, but I've not been able to attend any so I've turned up early to prove myself to Anna and fill out the necessary forms. As I've recently completed a kettle bells training course I'm deemed competent enough to forge the induction should I wish to try one of these classes and so I spend the rest of the time chatting to Anna, marvelling at how she remembers everyone's names and makes it feel like home.
The first class I'm trying out is a metafit class, a 30 minute high intensity training session that has attracted a large attendance despite the lure of football on the telly. Metafit was created by a former Royal Marine Commando and a national gymnast and combines traditional bodyweight exercises with the latest interval and Tabata techniques. There are a number of set workouts which Anna has had printed on banners and strung across the roof in the back third of the barn where we train. We get to choose, as a group, which workout we do. Anna makes sure that the newbies get to grips with all the moves we need to know during the warm up and gently corrects and encourages everyone throughout the class. 

The workout consists of four rounds. Each round has three exercises which you spend 20 seconds on apiece before having a short rest and repeating twice more. You work as hard as you are able to, it's not competitive, and frankly you're too busy cursing a burped by another name and wiping sweat out of your eyes to look at anyone else. This was one of only two classes that have worked me so hard even my knees sweated. 

Despite that I loved it. The concept is brilliant and I discover I really enjoy training like this but the environment and Anna's coaching contribute equally to my enjoyment. The next morning I sign up for a 10 class/3 month membership package, which works out at £5 a class. I'm keen to try out the Turbo Box and Kettlebell classes. Even when I'm suffering from DOMS three days later I don't regret my decision. 

Thursday, 12 June 2014

Here Comes Summer

Summer seems to have landed here in Berkshire. I know this not only because of the mild sunburn I acquired over the weekend but also because I heard Don Henley's Boys of Summer on the radio during the week. Although summer isn't my favourite season (that's Autumn and all it's Back To School glory) I can't deny I love the longer days, warmer weather and all the opportunities that affords me. I'm not very good in the cold. How I got through a winter of marathon training I'll never know. I'm a bit like a lizard... I need some warmth to get going.

The storms on Saturday morning cleared enough for me to take a trial gliding session early afternoon. This was something that had been on my "Things to do before my next birthday" list and I was a bit nervous. I've done a bit of flying before but gliding is essentially free-falling and therefore is on a similar risk level to sky-diving, in my mind. My instructor, Graham, briefed me on what all the levers and instruments did before supervising me strap into the parachute and getting us underway. There are two ways a glider can get into the sky, by winch launch (which looks pretty dramatic) or tow from a plane. We got towed up to 2,500 feet, unclipped and soared around in the sky for almost 20 minutes looking out over the Isle of Wight, Reading and beyond. And it was glorious. So quiet and serene. I was allowed to take control of the glider and take us through some turns to try and find the thermals we could see other gliders making use of. There are few things more beautiful than seeing a host of gliders circling lazily and elegantly upwards on a thermal. I was given a certificate and a £5 voucher to spend in the cafe where I sat with a slab of banana cake vowing to make use of my three months temporary membership to come back and try a winch launch.

The rest of the weekend offered some unexpectedly unplanned, a rare treat indeed, so I decided to take a trip back to Kent to visit my parents, or rather my mum in particular seeing as how I've just spent two weeks with my Dad in America. We spent a lot of time chatting and lazing in the sun with magazines and the Sunday supplements, moving only for a stroll around the park, to replenish our glasses of iced tea and eat a delicious meal on the patio. We were outside almost as long as light would allow and then a little longer to watch the International space station pass over. It was utter bliss and I managed to banish all feelings of guilt from inactivity.
Fantastic alfresco luncheon
Much as I love lazing around, it's against my nature to do so very often as I generally feel I should be "doing" something but I'm making more effort to get the balance right over the summer. Lunchtime runs with work buddies have made a reappearance on Mondays and Thursdays wherever possible and I'm still trying out a few different classes. I was meant to be trying a dance class on Tuesday but it got cancelled, leaving me at a bit of a loose end and loathe to spend a beautiful evening in the gym so I established myself and a book on a bench by the lake round the corner instead. One passerby commented that I had "the right idea" but otherwise I was undisturbed save for a pair of swans teaching their cygnets how to duck for food.
My view of the lake
It's also the start of the season of abundance on the allotment. I was gifted some strawberry plants last autumn and they're proving to be very fruitful... I've had about five punnets worth already, perfect with the last of my homemade balsamic ice cream! For the first time since I planted it 3 years ago I've had a good crop from my gooseberry bush and I'm looking forward to the promise of home grown spuds (blue and white varieties), tomatoes, carrots, blueberries, figs and assorted salad. There's nothing like homegrown food to encourage healthy and creative meal planning.
Flapjack, straight-from-the-plot strawberries and yogurt... my kind of breakfast
This summer I'm looking forward to alfresco meals, home made iced tea and lollies, adventures with friends, reading in the sun, evening runs in the forest and rocking the local running track in my shorts and croptop.

What signifies the start of summer to you? What are you looking forward to?

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Berkshire Fitness Scene : Hot Yoga

Hot Yoga has become a bit of a thing. Yoga itself seems to have surged in popularity lately, as a form of low-impact exercise that just about anyone can benefit from and hot yoga is also rising in popularity. Although I don't practice yoga regularly I enjoy it when I do and am still searching for the right class for me. When I found out about Studio 42, which offers a range of hot yoga and pilates classes I was keen to try it out.

The yoga classes are based around Hatha yoga postures performed in a studio heated to about 42 degrees. The heat encourages you to out sweat toxins but also means that your muscles will be warmer and you should be able to stretch further and much more safely than if you were in a "normal" temperature room performing Yoga. that said you'll probably need to take it easy on your first few classes until you get used to the heat; there;s no room for ego in hot yoga. The heat also boosts your metabolism so could help with weight loss. In any case after a class you will certainly lose weight just from water loss.

I decided to try a 90 minute Hot Yoga class. As I walked into the studio the warmth hit me right away. I'm much more comfortable in heat than cold and although many of the women were in capris and vests I was glad I'd opted for running shorts and a crop top. There were far more men there than I was expecting, my neighbour in just a pair of shorts, but yoga is a discipline that requires you to concentrate on your own actions so I didn't feel uncomfortable. My instructor was Lilli, a very toned blonde lady who urged me to take it at my own pace and rest whenever I needed to. The heat does take more out of you than you might realise.

We started with some exercises to get the muscles warmed up and then some sun salutations. We progressed through a whole host of postures, all of which I was familiar with but some of which were harder than usual if only for the fact that I was sweating so much it wasn't possible to maintain a secure grip on a leg or foot when needed. I'd taken a small hand towel with me as well as two bottles of water and was glad of it. There were moments when I got a little light headed but I rested and sipped water and picked up when I could. The 90 minutes passed quite quickly and I left feeling renewed, two inches taller, lighter and a little lightheaded. I really enjoyed the class because it challenged me and so I would definitely do it again.

As well as plain Hot Yoga Studio 42 also offers Hot Flow Yoga, Hot Pilates Conditioning and Hot Dynamic Yoga classes ranging from 45 to 90 minutes. You can read about the differences on their site. The classes cost £13 on a pay as you go basis which is more than I'd usually spend on any single class but there are good deals to be had by buying a membership. Students can also benefit from a 10% discount, something I didn't realise until after class. I'm kicking myself for not taking up their introductory offer of £35 for 30 days of unlimited classes... I might see if they'll let me pay the difference... You can also hire mats and grip towels for £1 each per class. As you don't have to book there are really no excuses for not dropping in and giving it a go.

Friday, 6 June 2014

Post Holiday Running Surprises

After two weeks of touring the Mississippi Delta, listening to lots of music, eating All The Food In America and not managing quite as much exercise as I'd hoped, I returned to the UK feeling sluggish, doughy and in need of fresh vegetables. Having the majority of meal times and locations dictated to me resulted in vast over eating and I drank more alcohol in those two weeks than probably the previous six months combined. Five days later and I'm already feeling more like myself although a craving for peanut butter ANYTHING lingers on.

What was worrying me most, post-holiday, was that on Wednesday evening I had the first of this year's Yateley 10k series in the calendar. I hadn't planned on doing any of them this year but made a concession as Anita wanted to run a couple of races together (we're doing Dinton Pastures in July). I was worried that I'd not be able to run the distance, certainly not comfortably, and that I'd let Anita down. We'd neither of us run 10k for a while though, and she'd slacked off the running altogether since I was away, citing lack of motivation without me - bless!

We decided that we'd just run for fun, not for time, we'd stick together, and use Dinton as our PB attempt next month. So under prepared, over fed and gadget-less we joined the start line under a sky filled with pitch black clouds. We hadn't been expecting rain so we just crossed our fingers and hoped. While there were reports of hail just a few miles away, and sightings of lightening, we only got showered on for the first 3-4k, which turned out to be mildly refreshing.
Anticipating heavy rains
The course doesn't change from year to year so we knew the bits we liked and the parts that were harder. We quickly settled into our grooves, Anita always slightly in front, me breathing through stitches and catching myself rounding my shoulders as I started to tire in the second half. We even managed some chat and I ran the final hill without stopping for the first time ever. Anita is always so encouraging. She'll tell me I'm doing great when I'm knackered and somehow it never sounds patronising coming from her. We run really well together even though I usually feel I'm holding her back a little.
Mnemonic numbers
Against all the odds we crossed the line in 58:33, a new PB for me and a lot faster than we thought we'd be, given we were running comfortably. It's given me a fresh burst of confidence after my holiday.
Pleased to be finished, and looking forward to a hot shower
Yateley does a number of things very well which is reflected in it's attendance records. Firstly, they have great marshaling and water stops, they will text you your times just minutes after you cross the line, and they always have fantastic medals. For me, it's also a good chance to spot familiar faces. I bumped into Susie Chan of my former running club, a MdS finisher and all round superstar. I saw Donald, an old chap in high waisted shorts who seems to enter every local race going and there was a good smattering of Farnham Runners and parkrunners I recognised.
Yateley comes up trumps with the medal again
I'm starting a new training plan in July when, sadly, I also lose Anita as a housemate. I've no doubt we'll still try to run together but I don't expect it will happen quite so often outside of the races we have planned. Until then though, I'm looking forward to trying out a few new classes such as Metafit and Hot Yoga, and maybe even getting back on the running track or out into the woods for some hill and trail running. I can't wait!

Are there some people you run especially well with? Are there people you can't stand running with?

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

My Short-lived Encounter with a Race Belt

Ever seen people wearing race belts? Do you use one yourself? I've often wondered how useful they really are, having seen them worn in various races and listed as essential kit items in triathlon race packs. I've made do for years with a neoprene waist pack. It's certainly nothing fancy but generally it's done the job. But I allowed myself to be seduced by the idea of owning one and so in my order from MilletSports.

Sorry about photo quality, but it does show the toggles and reflective logo.
This one by orca has four toggles at the front to attach your race number, has three loops for gels and is adjustable. The logo is also reflective, which is a nice touch. I decided to take it for a test run fully loaded (sans race bib) to see how I got on.
Fully loaded with gels
I'm always nervous about wearing anything around my hips or waist when I run. It's a rare occasion that they fit properly. I've even had issues with the workplay bags designed especially for women. Unfortunately this was no different. The weight of the gels caused it to bounce and twist when I wore it around my hips, with the gels ending up in front or around the back, meaning the race number would have moved to the side and I couldn't make it small enough to sit tightly on my waist. It was such a pain that I'd taken it off and stashed it in a bush before I got to the end of my road, least than a quarter of a mile in to my run, so that I could run in comfort. The gels stayed in place though!
So I'll probably use this purely to hold my race number in something like a duathlon, but I'll be going back to my basic waist pack which can carry more gels plus my phone, plasters, tissues etc for longer runs. At least I tried.

Do you use a race belt? Does it work for you?

DisclaimerMilletSports allowed me to choose products up to the value of £50 in return for a review on my site. All views are my own. The race belt was priced at £6.99 at the time of writing.

Monday, 2 June 2014

One Slow Step For A Man

Hullo! I'm back in the UK (just) after a fantastic holiday with my dad. 

We did a lot of walking, as we always do when we're anywhere together. On family holidays he will get restless, and while I was happy to sit in the sun with a book for a day or two, after a while I would get curious and restless too and join dad on these strolls, even if they were just up and down the beach. There were shells to find, shops to explore, restaurants to suss out. It's a brilliant way to explore and dad has a fantastic capacity for walking, despite his self-confessed dislike of any sort of exercise (he laughed long and hard when I suggested he might consider being my case study client) and predisposition to blisters and sunburn (sometimes both together... that holiday involved an ambulance).  

Before the holiday he had started to take himself off to the local park for a stroll a couple of times a week, sometimes with my mum, who would run a few circuits while he walked. In the week before we left, we had this exchange over text message while he was out on his walk and I just wanted to share it with you...

Dad: I'm here, but where are the rest?
Me: And you say you've no interest in activity... You'll be on that start line with a barcode soon
Dad: I'm going solo . . . . ah the loneliness of the short distance walker!
Me: On small step for man... followed by another...
Dad: . . . yes, another exploit in our pace exploration programme!