Monday, 17 April 2017

Our Weekend Triathlon

This year Dean and I are training up for triathlons. Different triathlons. His is an Ironman in July, mine, a half iron distance in June. Along the way we're doing a number of events under the guise of training, but really we just quite like doing events. In all seriousness, the events are definitely helping me to gauge my progress along the way. And so it happened that the weekend of the 8th and 9th of April saw us covering all three disciplines in separate events. A sort of "Weekend Triathlon" if you will.

Saturday morning was a parkrun morning. We've not done a parkrun in ages so it was a bit of a change for us. Our local course had changed twice since we last went, and has become slower, so no chance of a PB. Given we actually (shock, horror) had a free morning, we decided to jog the two miles up to the start as well. For me, this was a sluggish, stress-ridden run followed by a very slow parkrun. The bottlenecks on the new course didn't even bother me that much! But with 5 miles under our belts we wandered home in the sunshine feeling virtuous.

Next on the agenda was Swimathon on Saturday afternoon. This was to be my third time taking part in Swimathon, having increased my distance on each occasion from 1.5km up to 5km this year; far further than I need to be able to swim for the triathlon and a challenge in it's own right but useful nonetheless for confidence building. I'd been on BBC Radio Berkshire (listen from 41:40) the day before having a bit of a chat about it and was somewhat nervous. It was to be the first time I'd ever swum the distance, having only gone up to 4000m in training. Dean had covered the distance before but not this year. Both of us had swimming lessons as adults and Swimathon is a great motivator for keeping up with our swimming and improving our technique, I cannot recommend it enough as a life skill. Our pool was Bracknell Leisure Centre. We duly arrived at 2:30(ish) for a 3pm start and were surprised to find the car park almost empty. Previous years had been much busier and more atmospheric with music and spectators. We took to our lane with two other swimmers and started our swim finishing just a little over 2 hours later. I can't fault the staff or the facilities, but it did feel a little lack luster this year, perhaps as it was a much longer time in the pool than before. Still, medals earned and confidence boosted.

Last but by no means least was the cycle. I'm not a cyclist. I've never considered myself as one nor found an affinity with the bike before. I envy those who go out and do long rides on Sundays... and suddenly here I was, off to do a long ride on a Sunday! I'd been encouraged to sign up to a Sportive as a way to ensure I didn't duck out of the cycling. I'd done a couple of short outdoor rides early in the year and since then, steadily built up time in the saddle on gym bikes. I'd tried rollers but not managed to progress past hanging on for dear life to the back of the dining chair, and I'd stubbornly ignored Dean's attempt to get me suing cleats by fitting clip in pedals on my bike so it was only the weekend before the event that I took the plunge and actually went out for a ride using them. And I didn't fall off - result!

So Sunday rolled around and we headed down to the New Forest with both bikes stuffed in the back of the car, enough snacks to feed a small army and my nerves jangling so loudly it was a struggle to hear the radio. And it wasn't just the clip in pedals that were making me nervous. When we'd signed up the standard distance was listed as 50 miles. Two weeks prior to the event I discover it's been increased to 66 miles. But that's only 16 miles more, I hear you cry. Ah yes, but I'd only managed to get up to 40 miles in training. An extra 10 miles on top of that is quite manageable in my head but a jump of 26 miles... something quite different.
Feeling like a plonker
The Wiggle New Forest Spring Sportive was a much larger event than I'd anticipated, but wonderfully well organised. No queues for loos, quick and easy registration, comprehensive briefing... and sunshine! We set off, quickly getting left behind my the bulk of our wave (waves of about 30 people were going every couple of minutes). The idea was just to ride, no expectations, no aims for speed, just get around and try to enjoy it. And I did for a while. The scenery was lovely, both out on the heathlands or through the villages. The way was really well marked (no getting lost like last time) and the first food station at 15 miles was soon in sight.
Scenery
Spoilt for choice
Refuelling
Onwards. It was a long way to the next food stop, and I'd underestimated how much fuel I'd need to take on. I started to flag, to tire, to get frustrated that things were so hard, that Dean was pulling away from me. Dean got a puncture after a few miles and I was grateful for the rest. The energy bar I inhaled didn't seem to help much and at around 37 miles, at the top of a hill, I sat down on the side of the road and started sobbing my heart out. It was too difficult, I was too tired, I'd phone the medical team for a rescue, it was stupid to think I could do this. The numbers were too big to comprehend. It was just. So. Much. Further. Dean tried to talk some sense into me and somehow got me back on my bike and pedalling.
There are tears behind those glasses
At the next food station I downed water, sat down, inhaled many many fig rolls and found solace in conversation with others who were also finding it hard. We got to 50 miles... this should have been the end! 16 miles to go! We walked up a particularly nasty hill, but somehow I managed to cycle the remaining hills. As the miles ticked off I found reserves. 10 miles to go! We stopped again and a pony tried to eat my saddle, helmet and energy bar. It made me giggle and put me in the right frame of mind for finishing.
Greedy pony





The last six miles were fine. As we pull back on to the estate we'd started from I could feel myself welling up. I told Dean to expect tears on the finish line. It had taken me over six hours but I managed to complete the bike ride. I was a big bag of emotions. I could do this. It was further than I'd have to cycle in the triathlon but of course I'd not just done a swim nor did I have to run a half marathon right away. We collected our medals, finishers t-shirts and snacks. Once I regained the use of my legs and had finished reassuring my mum on the phone that I was ok, I got us some ice creams and my word they were the best ice creams ever! The benefit of finishing so late was that we had plenty of space to laze around in for a while and could easily find the car. Every cloud!
Winnings!
That weekend has been a real turning point for me in my training. It was a lot of fun, but tiring. All the events were great and I'd especially recommend the Wiggle events. The process has helped me to consolidate what I've already done and identify what I still need to work on. I've since signed up for another sportive and put some club rides in the calendar. Lake swimming season is upon us as we've plans to go together when we can. I'm still nervous for the triathlon, especially as my running seems to be consistently sluggish at the moment, but I know I've got the strength to pull through.

Do you use events as part of your training plan?

Monday, 10 April 2017

Event Review : Reading Half Marathon

Thanks to Vitality I was fortunate enough to win a place in the Reading Half Marathon this year. I knew a lot of people who were running, it's a very popular event for the local running club, but I must confess that I hadn't felt moved to enter myself. But I also never say no to a free race entry! I've made no secret of having paced at events and as a couple of people asked if I'd be willing to pace them round Reading I thought it would be a great use of my place. Rachel and Cathy joined me on the starting line with Dean, also playing unofficial pacer, on a "breezy" Sunday morning.
We'd turned up nice and early to our pre-paid parking spot in the pink car park and wandered over to the start village to meet fellow club runners and to pay a visit to the Vitality tent to claim a Team Vitality shirt (which will be worn on other runs) and to take advantage of their dedicated bag drop, much smaller and easier to get to than the main one, although I heard no horror stories there. Let's get the important things out of the way... there were enough loos from what I could tell, including some in the parking areas, and there were an array of food trucks, merchandise stalls and massage areas. The start was well sign posted and we found the Orange start with relative ease.
The race was due to start at 10:30am, much later than I'm used to, due to a family run taking place beforehand. It had proved popular, judging by the number of people heading away from the stadium area as we were arriving, and made for a good atmosphere. I believe the front wave was set off promptly but it took around 20 minutes for the orange wave to reach the start line. Thank heavens for the body heat of strangers! In all seriousness, the start was managed well, with everyone managing to set off at their own pace with little jostling and weaving. There are thousands of entrants to the Reading half so managing the start line is crucial.

The four of us stayed in sight of each other for the first few miles, keeping to a 2h15 finishing pace. We sought out supporters in the crowd, enjoyed the bands and DJs on the route, and generally enjoyed ourselves. Dean caused a moment of chaos, concern and hilarity when he tripped over whilst running backwards to point out the lab he used to work in at the University... I don't think he'll be doing that again... and then it was into the town centre proper.

Cathy and Dean started to break away a little bit and we let them. Rachel was running a strong first half of the race but recovering from illness meant this had always been a "suck it and see" goal of 2h15 and we took a pragmatic approach of adjusting the goal in the second half. The support along the route never wavered, there were plenty of jelly babies on offer from kindly folk, the water stations always seemed to be just where you needed them (the squeezy pouches worked well) and soon we were heading down the dual carriageway towards the finish at the Madejski Stadium. I ran Reading some years ago and remembered this being long, tedious and dreary. Maybe it was because I had company this time, that I was stronger, but it didn't seem so bad. Rachel, trouper that she is, saw the signs counting down the meters to go and kicked it up a gear, reaching the finish line just 30 seconds outside of her PB - a fantastic achievement!
Well deserved medal for Rachel
The finish line was just as well organised as the start, with runners encouraged to flow through the first aider area to collect a foil blanket, goody bag, t-shirt and refreshments. It wasn't crowded, easy to find those we were looking out for and similarly easy to get our bags back form the Vitality tent. The walk back to the car seemed to take twice as long as it should have done and he only thing that put a bit of a dampener on the event, for me anyway, was how long it took to get out of the car park... 45 minutes! But all in all a great event and a fun day out.
Proudly sporting our finishers t-shirts and medals!
For your £35 entry fee you got a sized cotton finishers t-shirt and a goody bag including a mars bar, meridian bar, bottle of lucozade and bottle of water. The medal was heavy and had space for an iTab should you have felt inclined to record your time. Vitality seem to have gotten the organisation of their events spot on and although large, I would recommend them. Thank you to everyone involved in the day and congratulations to all finishers, whether you achieved your "A" goal or not.

Have you had a friend pace you before, paced for someone or used an official pacer? What was your experience?
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Friday, 7 April 2017

Life Lately... Mainly Triathlon Training!

There's been a dearth of what I would term "personal" posts on here lately. Quite a few race reviews as I try to clear the backlog of races I wanted to talk about last year and the odd Vik's Picks post but little else. That's not for lack of things to talk about, on the contrary there's been a heck of a lot going on and frankly when I've had some down time I've not felt like opening the laptop to write about it. Life's a bit all-or-nothing right now... with the emphasis on ALL!

This year is the year of the wedding and the year of my half iron distance triathlon amongst other things (see my side bar for full event listings). Since January I've already clocked up three official half marathons and a night run. I'm working on new classes and opportunities for my business, including gaining my CiRF (coaching) qualification and working on another older adults fitness course. I'm neck deep in decisions about gift lists, accessories, table decorations and guest lists, playing step-mum every other weekend and trying to fit in the odd social thing like an evening with Mary Berry or seeing The Mavericks play The Indigo at the O2. Add into that training that's ramping up and it's no wonder I feel a little like I'm burning the candle at both ends. A friend brought it home to me recently with a message informing my that I "looked f*cked" in an instagram photo not so long ago and that I should slow down.
Looking less than brilliant after 40 miles on the gym bike.
I've been increasing my swim distances for Swimathon 2017. I've previously done the 2.5km swim but this year I'm tackling the 5km distance. I've done 4km in training and frankly I'm counting on that to get me through. I've also been building up my cycling distances. I'm a reluctant cyclist, not yet au fait with cleats or rollers and a bit of a wuss when it comes to cycling outside. I'd signed up for the standard distance on the Wiggle Spring Sportive which was advertised at 50miles but now turns out to be 66miles. I'm up to 40miles on the gym bike with no more time to really push further before the event so am hoping that sheer will and determination will be enough (along with the support of Dean who is also taking part). So much for it being a bridge to my triathlon! Both the swim and the bike sections for the triathlon are shorter than these events so I'll be in a good place if I can maintain some of this fitness. 
Severe goggle marks after one of my longest swims.
The running is a different matter. Comfortable at half marathon distance I've not managed to hit my planned longer runs lately. When I'm pushed for time, it's the running that usually gets shelved. I *only* need to be able to run a half for the triathlon but we do have some longer distance events coming up which I want to be able to complete comfortably. I won't lie, I am getting a bit stressed out about it, but I have to be realistic. I'll be able to reduce time in the pool soon and so will have a little more time for running. It's been finding suitable blocks of time that's been the real struggle, especially ones that aren't on consecutive days.
Strength needs to feature, though it's often neglected.
On average I'm doing one swim (1.5-2hrs), one cycle (2hrs plus), and two runs a week (10k-ish and one longer)  with occasional yoga and mini strength workouts or HIIT sessions. I'm generally enjoying the training, and although I'm not seeing any changes in my body I know it's stronger and more resilient than it has been. Rest and relaxation are also part of training which is why on Thursday last week, instead of going out for a long run I took some time out. My body felt heavy and if I didn't rest I knew I may jeopardise my ability to train later. 
Yoga is part of my self-care regime.
Things don't really calm down after the triathlon... although I'll be able to drop the cycling and swimming if I so choose, I'll need to keep my long distance legs going for the honeymoon... he's only gone and signed us up for the Costa Rica marathon!! No excuse for not being in great shape on our wedding day though.

What's your "A" race or event this year? Are you suffering from training stress or taking it in your stride? 

Monday, 3 April 2017

Event Review : Oxford half

The second half of last year was a bit of a disaster in terms of training. I just didn't do enough. No excuses, I could have, but I didn't make it a priority. New relationship, building the business, getting to know the two new little people in my life... all these things were put over and above training runs, save for those I went on with my beloved, and so it was no surprise that the Vitality Oxford Half, that I'd planned as my sub-2-hour attempt, didn't go to plan.
Support crew
Billed as being a flat course, well organised, under the management of Vitality, and late in the season, Oxford seemed like the perfect half marathon attempt. It was a bright day, temperatures were good and I was feeling psyched up to give it a go. I'm not sure whether I believed I could get a sub-2hour but I thought I could have a crack at breaking my PB that has stood at 2:10 for years. My support crew of Dean and the children hurtled up the motorway to the park and ride that we'd pre-booked for £6. Hearts sank at the length of the queue to get on the bus but in fairness it moved pretty swiftly and we were soon making the walk through the town centre to the start pens. No need to go to the race village as I'd already got my race pack and left my bag with Dean.
On the start line
The start pens wound all around the city centre, hemmed in by old buildings and narrow streets. It was very picturesque. We were set off in waves according to time so I didn't start for several minutes after the gun went off but it all flowed fairly well. I do remember there being a bit of a bottleneck somewhere but I can't remember where so it really can't have been that bad. We started winding around the city with plenty of support on the side lines. As we ventured further out there were fewer people but rarely a stretch where there was no cheering. Several music acts were dotted along the route, something I always enjoy, and all in all it was very pleasant.
Medals on the start line
My legs felt good at this point and I had a good pace. I felt as though I could hang on to it and if I had, I'd have achieved my target. Dean and my parents were following me on the tracker and were rooting for me... but at about half way, despite taking my gel and staying hydrated, I started to slow. We were in the area with least support, a long out and back with some underpasses that felt like mountains to my suddenly heavy legs. I tried giving myself a stern talking to, picking up my heels, my knees, driving my arms, all the things I coach my runners to do, but to no avail... I just tried to keep moving as best I could. It was a little bit heartbreaking, not to be able to summon up any more speed but I knew I'd have to get to the finish line so left foot, right foot, the body followed. The pack hadn't really thinned out at all so I had plenty of people to wash my along and as we headed back towards the centre the support grew again.
Feeling shuffly at the end
I was run-walking in the last couple of miles and feeling pretty sorry for myself. Doing maths on my pace and time to see what could be salvaged. In the end I crossed the line in 2:11 which actually wasn't too shabby, but I know I could have had a more comfortable and quicker race had I put the training in that I had intended. Lesson learned.
Big smile after 13.1 miles... and a nice bit of bling to show for it
Over the finish line and goody bag in hand, medal around neck, I found Dean and the children for much needed hugs. They'd passed the time in the race village listening to Chico, playing and snacking. We'd worried that they'd get bored but they actually seemed to be pretty entertained and even enjoyed a bit of spectating - so a big tick for a family friendly event!

The £35 entry fee got me a t-shirt, snacks, drinks, the usual array of discount vouchers and a nice medal. We spent some time back at the race village for a picnic before finding the bus to return to the park and ride. It was all a pretty smooth operation and I would absolutely consider entering again. I don't say that too often but let's face it, there's unfinished business there now! All the Vitality events I've entered so far have been well organised, if on the large side, and I'd recommend them. As a company they promote healthy living for all the family and so are particularly good as an opportunity to get youngsters involved with some mini marathons and plenty of offers to encourage you to stay active.

Post race picnic
It's unlikely I'll attempt another half marathon PB this year as the focus is on triathlon and ultras (oh and a wedding) but 2018 might be the year... I'm starting to get people comment on how I look as though I should be faster and that there is fighting talk!

Have you taken part in a Vitality event? What are your best family-friendly event recommendations? Going for a PB attempt this year?

Friday, 31 March 2017

Vik's Picks : March 2017

This month my picks are very much geared towards looking after myself. I make no apology for the local links... these guys are part of my unofficial tried-and-tested rehab crew, but even if you're not, finding your own "team" is worth considering. As my own training ramps up I'm trying to make an extra special effort to give enough time to recovery and as we edge closer to many people's marathon dates it's quite relevant!

1. Torq energy gels have been fuelling me on some of my bike rides recently. I
ve chosen to try them on the bike rides rather than on runs on the basis that as I've not ventured out of the gym for cycling lately, if they do upset me I'm only a hop and a skip from some "facilities". Loving the dessert inspired flavours like raspberry ripple, apple crumble and rhubarb and custard!

2. Meridian Foods Coconut & Almond butter has also been fuelling me, but mainly post run or for breakfasts in over night oats, on bagels and rice cakes. I like the subtle hint of coconut and how spreadable it is. Doesn't seem to separate too much and is also an excellent addition to banana bread!

3. Well Being Treatments is the business name taken by the lovely Georgina who has been looking after Dean and I for months with sports massages. She's the only person who's managed to get Dean close to being able to touch his toes - how's that for magic? I firmly believe that massage shouldn't be a last resort but a regular part of your routine if you train for events.

4. Similarly I've been visiting Elgar Physio for some months now on a voyage of discovery to find out what's causing my niggly knee and what might fix it. Five minutes of backwards walking at least every other day seems to be doing the trick for the most part and again I think if you can find a physio that you get on with, you will better recover from and avoid injury. Matt doesn't claim to know everything and I like his down to earth approach fuelled by curiosity.

5. A little bit of self-care I can do at home is soaking those tired muscles. Adding Champneys Heavenly Days Relaxing Bubble Heaven to my bath has been a more regular treat in the last couple of months. I still use salts but when I'm highly strung after a hard session this helps to calm me. If you're a Vitality member you can get a discount on these products direct from Champneys but they are also available from Boots stores.

Friday, 24 March 2017

Event Review : Polar Night Half Marathon 2017

There's quite a back log of races to write about, and while some I may not, I wanted to share my experience of the Polar Night Half Marathon that I revisited back in January. You may recall I ran this last year with a couple of friends and at the time thought "great, that was fun, another tick" and toyed with the idea of the Midnight Sun Marathon but not the night one again.

Ha! What a fool was I? My friends signed up again almost immediately and eventually I was persuaded to go back out to Tromso too. And then Dean said he'd come and run too, as some partners were also coming out to Northern Norway, so that was that. Hotel was booked, flights sought, down jackets prised out of the wardrobe and ice grips left until the last minute to buy (and failed to turn up in time).
Landed in Norway!
The trip out was fine and we were delighted to get snowfall on our first night. There was already snow on the ground but it wasn't as thick as the year before and it was a little warmer, meaning conditions were slushier underfoot. Discussions were had about the merits of trail shoes against road shoes either with or without grips. As the race doesn't start until 3pm we had a morning to try out some options and ask the locals at the race pack pick up.
As last year, registration was busy but efficient. Timing chips were checked to be working, we were given a bottle of water and a race paper (in which two of my travelling partners made an appearance) and able to ask the burning questions. "If you want to get a time or win, wear spikes" was the advice of a local. I hadn't brought trail shoes so road shoes it was! There was no further snowfall and temperatures were verging on comfortable. Whilst I was at the "expo" I pawed again at the race t-shirts and other items. Everything in Norway seems expensive and if you ever thought a race vest was pricey in the UK you can imagine how much more it might be out there. Regardless, Dean bought us both a race t-shirt and an additional reflective beanie hat for me. Bless! They didn't half look smart and they were duly worn over base layers for the event.
His and hers t-shirts. Here, have a sick bucket...
On the start line once more I was looking forward to it all. Dean was nervous and excited and just a general bundle of fizziness. We set off, slowly at first as we got used to the ground underneath, and to be fair we didn't get an awful lot faster. Conditions were ok, slightly slippery, but calm in the residential areas that the route winds through at first. There was just as much support as last year, lots of marshals around and torches all along the way. As we came out of the residential area and beside the water towards the airport the winds started to whip the snow around us. My face started to feel red raw on one side and I gave up wiping my nose. A gel was consumed at 5 miles and half way was a very welcome sight. Dean was seeming strong but I was finding it all very hard going from mile 9 and eventually I had to call out to him to slow to a walk for a moment. I had the second of the gels I had with me and we walked for a while. Turns out he wasn't feeling too great either and we ran-walked a couple of miles, managing to jog the last mile (I can always run a mile, but stringing them together doesn't alway happen).
Post race with medal. 
Some of our group had done the 5k option and others in the half marathon had beaten us home so we got a nice cheer on the final straight. Hot squash and bananas were hoovered up, alongside several snickers bars (Dean) and we all retired to our hotel to defrost, clean up and rest in advance of a group dinner and drinks later. Olhallen, the brewery bar we enjoyed so much last year, was the go-to destination.
Fighting with the bear in Olhallen
With the race being on a Saturday we had a couple of days after to relax and sight see. We were fortunate enough to get the last few spots on a whale watching trip on the Sunday and took some time to meander around the town, on Monday, after the obligatory recovery run over the bridge to the Arctic Cathedral and back. And just to top everything off we saw the Northern Lights again whilst on the plane heading home.
Dressed for whale watching
Whale!
Arty photo moment
A great time was had by all and despite the event being such hard work on this occasion, I thoroughly enjoyed it (in hindsight) and would absolutely do it again, although I think we've got our sights set on the Midnight Sun event for 2018! These events are well organised, not too huge, and a real novelty for those of us used to running in the UK. They're not cheap but it's a great excuse to travel and maybe fit in some other activities while you're there.

What's the most unusual event you've ever taken part in? Does night running or ice running appeal?

Friday, 17 March 2017

Event Review : Liphook sportive

Last year, inspired, coerced and influenced by Dean, I took part in my first sportive event. For the uninitiated a sportive is a cycling event, non-competitive, but with full organisation. I am not, and probably never will be a "cyclist", although I wish I were. As such I am not used to cycling any sort of distance and the thought of having some company, a planned route and a reward at the end seemed like a good idea, an achievable, not-too-scary sort of challenge.

There are a whole host of sportives to choose from, various terrain, distances, with or without medals and so on. I chose the Evans Cycles Road Sportive in Liphook. This took place in August around a very beautiful area in Hampshire. There were four distances to choose from, Fun (15mi), Short (30mi), Medium (60mi) and Long (90mi). Prices ranged from £7.50 up to £25 for fully marked routes and well stocked High5 feed stations along the way. No medal or goody bag at the end but refreshments were available.

I decided that 30mi was enough for me, paid my £20 and shoehorned my bike into the car on the day in question. It was easy enough to find the place and get registered. I was given a map of the routes and directed to the start line. This sportive had a very laid back feel and riders were being set off in waves all morning. I was fairly late to arrive and my start group was small with a mix of serious looking riders, leisure riders like myself and a few kiddies. I wobbled away from the start apprehensively but reassured that I had others to ride with who seemed to be of a similar speed. The first few miles were lovely, signs were evident and I was feeling safe on the quiet country roads. 

The short and fun route followed the same path for a while but there was a point at which they diverged, marked, I was assured, by clear signs. Alas they weren't as obvious as claimed and a small group of us were left consulting maps and scratching heads as it seemed we may have missed the turn. I wasn't sure I'd missed it and ploughed on, only to find myself back on familiar roads and back at the start all too soon. I'd completed the fun route and was't allowed back out to try my luck again, as I was told that the signage was being taken down and they couldn't be held responsible for my safety. I was gutted., but it wasn't really anyone's fault.

Deflated, I stuffed the bike back in the car, unwilling to try riding on unfamiliar roads to make up distance, and drove home where I stubbornly rode around the roads of Crowthorne until I'd made up the 30 miles. There was some small sense of satisfaction to be gained from that.

This year I've once again been persuaded to enter another sportive, as part of my triathlon training. This time I'm taking part in the New Forest Spring sportive organised by Wiggle. A 50 mile ride on a Sunday with a medal at the end sounds lovely and this time I'll be doing it with Dean and other friends. I'm anticipating a more positive experience although it will still be a heck of a challenge.

Although my experience of the Evans Cycles sportive wasn't the best I do still believe these to be excellent events for cyclists at any level. Just make sure you have and can read a back up map, just in case!

Have you ever taken part in a sportive? Ever had a mapping mishap?

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Event Review : NT Night Run

For as long as I've been aware of the National Trust, I think I've been involved in some way. In fact had I not become a PT, I would have ended up working for them but. I've been a supporter, a volunteer, a visitor and now I've been involved through sports.

Rather than keep their grounds pristine, the Trust have been opening them up to actually be used and enjoyed in a practical way. You may already be aware that a lot of properties are used in films, and maybe that some host the phenomenon that is parkrun. But this Spring many have also been hosting night runs. For £16.50 you can register to run 7km around the grounds, or pay £8 to run 2km. The two distances make it accessible for all and the profits go back into the properties. I chose to run at Osterley, it being one of the more local ones that I'd never visited.

The event started at 6:15pm on a Saturday evening so Dean and I rocked up at about 5:30pm to collect our race numbers and meet my parents who were once again there in cheerleading capacity. The race info had suggested that we wear bright clothing as well as the necessary head torch so there were crazy leggings and wacky head gear in abundance... at least between the four of us. It was cold a snowy night so we took shelter in the cafe with coffees and kit kats until fellow Bracknell Forest Runner and ex-RunFitter Rachel arrived with little Lola the dog, also ready to run.
There was a warm up before the start, and we were off promptly for the 7km. The 2km event started around five minutes later. We decided to take it easy and run at the speed of chat. It being dark, there wasn't a lot to look at but there were a few points on the course were things were a bit slippery and narrow so it wouldn't have been a PB sort of thing anyway. It was a three lap affair, one longer and two shorter, passing the finish each time so we could wave at our cheerleaders who seemed to be having a fine time near the disco. We took about 50 minutes to complete the course and were rewarded with a drawstring bag, some sweets, information about the Trust and a glow-in-the-dark medal.
Did you see this man? Did he give you a cheer?
The cafe had closed but there was a fine refreshment tent that we gave custom to. I had a great time and would absolutely do something like this again for fun. There were far fewer entrants than I anticipated, which I felt was a pity, and we were the only ones taking fancy dress seriously although that did mean we got lots of shout outs. Announcements could have been a little clearer and the lap/finish point organised a little better but the course was well marked and marshalled, there was plenty of parking, and ultimately it was a really fun event for a great cause. Some might consider it a little expensive for the distance, however it's just one of the more inventive ways for the Trust to raise funds to maintain and improve their properties so I don't begrudge it one bit and I hope to try some other events sometime.
Finishers
Have you done parkrun at a National Trust property? Is it your "home" parkrun? Tried a night run or another activity? Let's hear about it!
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Friday, 3 February 2017

Event Review : Sunset to Sunrise Ultra

I've got a lot of pending event reviews that I fully intend to publish in the next few weeks but I thought I'd start with this one as not only is it one of the more recent but it is also my engagement story, which I'd like to share with you in one of my more self-indulgent moments.

My partner, Dean, and I are both pretty active people and endurance athletes in our own right. He's an Ironman and I'm an ultra runner. And so, as we both have fairly pliable arms I'm signed up to a half ironman distance triathlon and he decided he wanted to run an ultra together. After looking around we settled on the Sunset to Sunrise challenge as one that fitted well into our schedule, allowed us some control over our distance and had the extra feature of being overnight, giving us the extra challenges of sleep-deprivation, cold and darkness.

The event was organised by How Hard Can It Be events... really the clue should have been in the name, and had options of 9 mile, 18 mile, half marathon, full marathon and ultra marathon distances on a 4.5 mile out and back course along a disused railway track near Telford. We roped my ever-supportive parents into driving us up there, on the promise of a B&B and a cheese and wine evening the next day. The B&B was just a 15 minute drive from the event start which meant that we could be left to our own devices in the dead of night but should we need picking up before sunrise, we wouldn't be waiting too long. We installed mum and dad at the B&B, and nipped over to the start to pick up our race numbers. It was a little... sparse... a couple of gazebos with a couple of tea urns, a porta loo (just the one) and some space to stash bags under cover. We felt mildly nervous but headed off to prepare, check kit and grab a bite to eat before the start at sunset which was at 4:20pm.
At the start
It was a small field of runners milling around at the start. We stashed our rather large kit bag, full of clothing and food and joined the "masses". Dean was a bit later joining us as he'd wandered off somewhere to chat to my dad... I suspected something was afoot. All distances started at the same time with strict instructions about checking in at each end of the course and having head torches with us at all times. Mum and dad waved us off then took themselves to a pub just a few hundred yards away. Good spirits all round and a gorgeous sunset to distract us in the first few miles.
The course was nigh on flat but with some puddles, pot holes and rather stoney areas. We had fields on one side and a river on the other but aside from that there were few distinguishing features. We reached the checkpoint, got ticked off the list, helped ourselves to some cake and did an about turn. Before long we were back at the start. First out-and-back done. A smidge over 9 miles completed. No worries. My parents were demonstrating their finest cheerleading, the only spectators present, and after being reassured that we were fine, went back to the pub for some dinner. We got updates during our second outing that there was a fire... lovely... we donned extra layers...
Dad taunting us with fireside relaxing
We'd hoped to cover 54 miles overnight, making it my longest ultra marathon to date, but we tried not to think about the big picture. The field had already thinned out a lot as we started the next out-and-back, many of the shorter distance runners already finished or at the other end of the course, so it was nice to have each other for company; we had agreed to run side by side for the whole event. No reflect on the company but it was during the second 9 miles that we started to identify, and name, some "landmarks" on the course. There was the concrete patch near HQ, areas of cold air coming off the river were the hedges were missing, a hi-viz "7" on a post that I called Len and a broken branch that I named Michelle for reasons too oblique to mention here. The old railway platform, a hub cap on a fence and various sizeable pot holes also gave us things to tick off as we ran ("Have we passed Len yet? Did we miss him?").
Fuelling up after 18.5 miles
That second 9 miles passed fairly uneventfully and as 8:30pm approached we found ourselves back at HQ for a second time, my parents returned from the sanctuary of the pub with applause and hugs. More layers were applied, pasties, snickers bars and jaffa cakes consumed. We were about to set off on what should have been our half-way lap, had things gone to plan. But of course they didn't. Mum and dad retired to the pub for dinner and off we went, chatting and happy for a couple of miles. Then, around mile 20, things started to twinge and ache. First Dean's knee, then my hip flexors. We slowed down a bit, mustered up smiles for the few runners we saw and each other and were grateful as the landmarks passed us by and we finally arrived at the checkpoint.

Upon being asked if we would be back we politely suggested that we probably wouldn't be and started our walk and limp back. Moving more slowly meant that we were colder. Every layer we had was now being worn and we were grateful that it was dry and still, even though we had cold, damp, fog to contend with. I started to worry that we were keeping my parents waiting. We'd agreed that they would wait to see us in one last time before heading back to the B&B for some rest and it was now getting close to midnight. Eventually we saw the lights of HQ, my folks still waving madly. We exchanged hugs, explained how we were faring and made the decision to call it a night. Although energy levels were fine, it would have been folly to limp out again so after 28.5 miles and 6h55 we collected our medals and some 9bars (sponsor of the event) and allowed ourselves to be ferried back to the B&B.
A bit broken but still smiling.
I had visions of sleeping on the floor but thankfully there was a lumpy sofa bed. We slept in compression tights, socks and jumpers that night; showers could wait until daylight. A cooked breakfast was demolished the next morning and a glass of bubbly enjoyed in the back of the car on the drive home. Those of you who were waiting for the proposal... don't worry, you haven't missed it. You may have expected it on the finish line of the event. That's when I hoped it would happen. In fact I think he may have asked if then was a good time but on the tiredness, pain and confusion we misunderstood each other. To be frank if he'd gone down on one knee then we may not have got him up again. My mum even whispered to me as we arrived home "so when's he going to ask you then?"
So we got home, feeling mildly fuzzy around the edges from fizz, had tea and some of the amazing banana bread cake that my mum had made, then set about getting cleaned up and unpacked. Dad was having a snooze, mum was getting changed and we were lounging in our room. And that's when it happened, amid the chit chat about the race, what we were going to do with the rest of the day, he got down on one knee in a very understated way and proposed. And I, of course, accepted, with a huge grin on my face. And that's how it happened folks! The ultra was, I think, a bit of a test for both of us; if we can get through that without falling out, seeing each other at our best and worst, then it bodes well for the future. We've many more races lined up for the year ahead and are even considering a honeymoon that includes a marathon. We've joked about my "something blue" being compression socks.
Double race bling
But that's enough about us. This is, after all, meant to be an event review. So. Was the event good? Yes, it was well organised although small and the crew were friendly. There were plenty of snacks and despite there only being one loo there were no queues. Having a ground sheet on which to put our bags would have been nice, rather than just the muddy ground, but we new it was a no-frills sort of thing. At £40 it may seem pricey but the crew are out there for over 15 hours so I'm not going to quibble about it. Would I do it again? Probably not, I've been there, done that and it wasn't interesting enough to draw me back although I would consider the daylight version.

Do you or would you race with your partner? Are there any honeymoon destination events (November/December time) that you'd recommend?

Monday, 30 January 2017

Vik's Picks : January 2017

It's that time again. The time when I share with you the things that have made a difference, I've been impressed by or that I just plain like in the past month.


  1. I got this fantastic Momentum 360 reflective Jacket by Mountain Warehouse for Christmas and have been using it in anger since I got back from Norway. It's all over reflective so is perfect for being seen at night, has vents, pockets and soft fabric around the neck and cuffs. It keeps out the wind and rain and has been equally useful on the bike as out on runs. As I recall it was very affordable too. No longer available on their site but can be found on eBay and similar jackets exist elsewhere.
  2. Whilst out in Norway I came upon local brand Kari Traa, sportswear made for women by women. I fell in love with these Louise tights which happened to be in the sale (along with some other items) and wish I could afford many more pieces. It's on a par with Sweaty Betty in terms of price and I love the fit and quality. The leggings are great for running, have useful pockets, a drawstring, vent and reflective pieces and come in many colours.
  3. I'm starting to use my bike more now I'm in training for triathlon and something I've been using (encouraged by Dean) is the Garmin Speed & Cadance sensor. It was easy to fit, synced up quickly with my vivo active watch and I'm sure will make me even more of a stats geek.
  4. Christmas and New Year excesses mean it's back to sensible eating with a vengeance now, but I still like a treat and need quick nutritious snacks after training. I'm currently loving these Kallo blueberry rice cakes with nut butter as a pick me up. Light on cals, big on taste and texture. Nuff said. 
  5. Winter training also means extra demands on the skin so I'm using Neal's Yard Frankincense hydrating cream every day. I've long been a fan of their products and I find the weight of this cream reassuring; it feels protective. It's non greasy, absorbs quickly and feels as though it's doing my skin the world of good. 
What have been the things getting you through January?

Monday, 23 January 2017

Surrey Fitness Scene : Gravity Fit

Those of you who have followed this blog for a while may remember that I started the "fitness scene" thread of posts in response to the vast number of posts I would see elsewhere about fun exercise classes and studios that seemed to be constantly unveiled in London. I've explored so many new types of exercise in the process and had huge amounts of fun. So last year when I heard about exercise classes that took place on trampolines I had to give it a try.

It all started with me taking my partner to Gravity Force, a trampoline park in Camberley, for his birthday (big kids at heart). We both had a whale of a time! We went on a weekday afternoon and virtually had the place to ourselves. It was while we were there that we saw Gravity Fit advertised. An hours class for £7.50. We booked before we left.

So on a Monday evening we turned up, a little apprehensive, me in my most supportive sports bra, ready to have some fun and break a sweat. The class reminded me a little of the Les Mills style of class, different routines set to music. We started with some warm up tracks and got familiar with the mix of yoga, tai chi, boxing and general aerobics. There were people of all shapes and sizes there but only one man, my partner - bless him. There was a fair amount of choreography involved but you were so focussed on your own movements that it mattered little if you were keeping up. We certainly felt as though we'd had a good workout, although in a very different way to the sorts of things we usually do. I didn't feel worked in the same way as if I'd been running, for example. And boy did we ache the next day!
Stretching after class
I've been to a general trampoline session before, and to rebound classes at the gym, but this was entirely different, partly because the trampolines were so much bigger. We've been to a few classes now and expect we'll drop in whenever we want a bit of a change. £7.50 for a class may seem expensive compared to regular gym classes but when you consider that a freestyle session costs £10 an hour, it's great value.

I was back at Gravity Force yesterday, taking my friend's 16 year-old for a freestyle session and we did eye up Gravity Fit again...

Friday, 20 January 2017

2017 Means Triathlon Training

My partner, Dean, is a triathlete. He's more than that, he's an Ironman. I've dabbled in triathlon before, having completed three sprint distances, and had vague plans to work up to something bigger in stages. However I have a very pliable arm and so it happened that I found myself agreeing to sign up for a half iron distance event.

After much searching (how far away is it? is it hilly? river or lake swim?) I plumped for the Cotswold 113 in June. A few friends are also signed up so I'll have moral support on the day from them as participants as well as from Dean in training and on the sidelines on the day. I won't lie, I'm a little daunted. I know I can do the 1.2 mile swim and half marathon run in their own right but the 56 miles of cycling and putting all the sections together is another matter.
Earning my cycling stripe
Christmas and New Year was a time of excess and so I've actually been looking forward to getting back into training, to have that extra push to get out of the door of a morning. It will also help me to get in better shape for my wedding (did I not mention I'm engaged? oh that's a story for another time).   Dean also happens to have signed up, on a bit of a whim, to Ironman Bolton in July. Apparently this will give him extra motivation to train with me. Actually we're very lucky in as much as we run at similar paces and so can go out and run together quite happily. Yes we are one of those annoying couples who train and race together.
At the start of the Dusk to Dawn ultra
I'm already a member of Bracknell Forest Runners and a former member of Thames Valley Triathletes so I've rejoined and Dean will be following suit. Monday nights will no longer be date night but swim night with TVT. The weekends will feature long runs together and some bike rides. I have consulted 220Triathon magazine and that together with my own experience, Dean's experience and a list of commitments has resulted in a basic training plan. Our conflicting hours of work will mean that the majority of my training will take place in the day time whereas his will be in the evenings, which is why we've deliberately planned to train together at least twice a week and to have one evening free for "date night". I'm under no illusion that it will be time consuming.

Of course a big event prompts kit purchases. I already have a bike that will suffice but I've invested in some new lycra, trainers, pull buoy and kick board while Dean has purchased a bike and some rollers so that we can train indoors from time to time.
Training = new kit!
It also means more event entries as part of the training. We're both taking part in the 5km Swimathon event this year, which is further than either of us need to swim for our events but a great motivator, and the Wiggle New Forest Spring Sportive (the next day!).

I'm so excited about what we've got ahead of us and I'm looking forward to writing a little bit about our adventure here.

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Heart Health Benefits of Running

With one of the most common New Years Resolutions being to get fit it's no wonder that January sees a sharp increase in the number of people in the gym or pounding the streets. Running is simple to do (although not always any less daunting than other forms of exercise) and has a host of health benefits associated with it.

Amongst these are the benefits to lung capacity, mental well being, weight loss, improved strength and endurance. It also has huge benefits for the heart and I was recently signposted to this collection of articles which has a wealth of information about how running helps the heart. So if you needed any further encouragement, take a look.



Wednesday, 4 January 2017

Decoding Food Labels

As we head into New Years Resolutions I wanted to share this article with you from Fix.com about food and nutrition labels. As a tutor for Eat4Health, I regularly talk to people about food labels and how to decipher them because it's one thing trying to eat healthily but if you don't know what's really in the food you're picking up in the shop then it's really hard to make healthy choices.
Not only is it important to understand what's in your food but what we should be eating on a daily/weekly basis and how that fits with our government guidelines. It's a minefield! Bear in mind that food companies want to sell us their products and don't always have our best interests at heart. The traffic light system that we have in this country has gone some way to making it easier to make healthy choices but again don't feel that you can't pick up anything that has a "red" or "high" rating... it all depends on how often you're eating the food and how much of it.

So digest the article and good luck with making your food shop healthier in 2017!
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