Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Berkshire Fitness Scene : Insanity

The workout program known as Insanity has been available on DVD for a few years now and has become pretty popular. Based on high intensity intervals and billed as being able to get you a year's worth of results in 60 days, the workout combines cardio, plyometrics and core exercises in a 45 minute session. Now, for those of us who don't have the inclination or discipline to sweat all over our carpets at home, you can attend a group Insanity class! Insanity Berkshire is lead by the delightful Rob at three locations, once a week in the Berkshire area. I attended the first session in Wokingham to see what all the fuss was about.

Rob was already glowing from teaching a zumba class but was nothing but enthusiastic in welcoming everyone... and there were a LOT of us in this sports hall, men and women. In essence this is really just a glorified HIIT class on a large scale. You can work at different levels, to a degree, but you do only get out what you put in. I really have to admire Rob's ability to remember the sequence of exercises. You change exercise every 30 seconds or so, repeating groups of four in rounds and finishing each round with a "power exercise". It's fast paced and can either be fun or miserable. 
I worked fairly hard and was certainly more than glowing by the end of it. I loved Rob's attitude and enthusiasm. He moved around the class, made eye contact with people, grinned, encouraged and seemed to be having fun himself. When the instructor looks as though he's been sat under a shower at the end of a class, you kinda have faith in them. One memorable moment was when he went over to sit briefly with a lady who was taking a breather on a bench and got her to wave her arms from side to side so for a moment the class had a cheering party.
The only thing that I found a bit off putting was that with so many people getting so hot and sweaty I found the floor started to get a little slippery and I wasn't able to do press ups and planks so well as I started to slide. But overall I liked the pace of the class and Rob's style. I'm not sure that you'd see the benefit of the workouts very quickly unless you were able to do more than one a week and for the money you pay you could easily buy the DVDs but of course the value of each method depends on your preference. Although I enjoyed it, I prefer the more intimate style of some other classes I already attend and so probably won't make this a regular thing.
More than a little hot post-workout

Monday, 28 July 2014

An Interview with Crewroom : New Ranges and Future Plans

Kate Giles is a very busy lady. When I get her on the phone the founder of the sports clothing brand Crewroom is trying to finish off a cheese roll and some squash in a few moments between appointments. Woe betide anyone who got in her way in the canteen! The former top British rower started the company after she caught pneumonia on a particularly harsh training session and ended up in hospital with cracked ribs (from coughing). The experience inspired her to create best clothing to enable athletes to perform to the max, and protect them from the worst of the weather.

I already own a Crewroom running jacket from the Dolly Mix range (“Probably one of the last things I designed before the new design team stepped in and did a proper job“), which has stood up to the cold and winds of a Chicago Spring, and a Royal Parks Half marathon event t-shirt (Crewroom have supplied the t-shirts since the start in 2008) so I already know it’s good stuff. But two new lines, Laser and Elements, have just been released and that’s why I’m now talking to Kate.

We start by exchanging stories about how we both stare out of office windows wishing we were outside and how Kate was cheeky enough to be able to concoct customer emergencies get to the river on sunny days. These days the company is based in an old boat house down in Putney, allowing her to walk the dog and go running on the banks of the Thames whenever she gets the time.
Photo credit: Pandora's Thoughts Photography
"I’m focussing on being a London brand. We don’t have millions of pounds for a marketing budget so we want to focus on the area we’re in. A lot of brands focus on these great lakes and mountains but most of the time we work out in the city and that in itself has its own beauty. I like seeing the heron on the shopping trolley! You see these beautiful areas and behind it a graffiti-d wall.”

So what inspired the new collections?
The Laser range is a bit Southbank, overlaps designs, and uses our classic fabric, Vapour-X bamboo, but then the secondary one, the Elements range, incorporates a softness so we spent a lot of time slightly amending a few of our fabrics.
Some of the men's Laser range
Photo credit: Pandora's Thoughts Photography
I had this Italian cotton vest; it was rubbish at drying out but I loved the softness of that old school cotton. We wanted that on a very technical fabric. The tops are great in hot temperatures because they’re not too clingy. They’re soft and they have slight ruching in them so are very flattering.

Do you have favourite pieces from the new ranges?
I’m top to toe in my product now! The All Seasons leggings are fantastic. I’m not a compression person but the fabric kind of holds you in. It has that cottony feeling whilst being very very technical. I wear the Haze vest in the Elements range a lot and the long sleeve with the ruche backing because they’re really flattering.
Haze vest in the Elements range
Photo credit: Pandora's Thoughts Photography
And what’s the feedback been like so far?
We’ve always been a “chatting to customers” kind of shop and the feedback from them has been great. We portray ourselves as a very hard working brand and we do listen to the customer and by that we’re hopefully delivering a brand that people want. And I hope we’re doing that because I’m tired!
Items from the men's Elements range
Photo credit: Pandora's Thoughts Photography
Did you face any challenges in design?
Firstly it was “how do we want to look as Crewroom?” and I think we’ve nailed it with these two slightly separate ranges. The next one has been the shape of our customer which is still slightly changing. We know that by feedback from people coming in. Traditionally we’re from a rowing background, and the sizes are very different but all my friends have given up rowing and now we just go out for a run and a chat. So the women’s XL has to fit me, for example. It can’t be Italian sizing which is just wide. And even migrating our fabrics over has been a lot of hard work with the factory and it adds months into the production but we had to get it right at the front end.
Some of the ladies Laser range
Photo credit: Pandora's Thoughts Photography
You’re involved with lots of organisations. Tell me a bit about that.
Royal Parks gave me the confidence to go down our own retail route. That happened quite a few years ago and allowed us the time to come up with the carbonised bamboo fabric. Since then they’ve really helped us to grow. Our involvement with organisations like GB Canoeing and London Youth Games came from how we started the business and are good areas for us to promote our brand. We like people who like working with us. London Youth Games is an anomaly as we don’t do a lot of the sports in there but we like being part of it and I’m getting more and more interested in the generation of kids not really exercising and not going outdoors. The London Youth Games is somewhere where we could make a difference.

I hear you have a run club which I’m hoping to come and try out.
Yes, Saturday mornings at 9:30. It’s a real community thing, everyone from ultra-marathon runners to those building up to their first half marathon. It started about 6 months ago and has been growing by word of mouth.

We also let trainers use the facility after we close in the evening for them to hold classes. We don’t charge them which means that the trainers can charge a little less and any fee they charge goes straight to them. That’s also a bit of a feeder into the run club. We want to focus on getting more and more classes going like urban paddleboard.
Photo credit: Pandora's Thoughts Photography
That sounds fantastic! I understand you don’t row any more. Do you do any other sports instead?
When I gave up rowing I kind of set up the business right away; I didn’t really want to exercise at all. Then I decided I was getting far too heavy and wanted to get fit again. I always knew that running would be the best thing for me, then for some stupid reason I took up rugby for a bit. Then I went back to coaching rowing but I realised I wasn’t quite ready to give up the competitive side of things so I decided to actually play rugby for a couple of years properly. Then I managed to fracture and dislocate my elbow so that put paid to that! Now 4 years on from it’s quite a happy place to be, I just enjoy training and going running with my friends.
I don’t have the competitive element in sport anymore, I just enjoy it. And you can see that in the new ranges, not compromising on the fabrics but it’s relaxed a bit, in the fit.

Yes I think that’s great. Ok, you may not be competitive but are you taking part in any events?
I’m doing Brighton Colour Run in September and will probably do Spartan at the end of August with some friends, which will make me train.

It’s good to have a goal like that. What’s a typical day or week like for you? Do you have one?
It really varies. Normally I start a bit before 8. Get in here, open up, take the dog for a walk on the river. People drop in, we test stuff out. It’s hard work but you don’t realise because you enjoy it. I still work quite a lot with customers, not so much on the rowing side now, I have a good team behind me who look after the day to day stuff, but with Royal Parks, London Duathlon and so on where I need to keep a closer handle on what’s going on. Sometimes I do wonder what on earth I do with my day. Suddenly it’s 8 o’clock at night!

Enjoying what you do for a living is what so many of us aim for. So what next? What plans for the future?
It’s been getting the brand right and that’s going to take another good year making sure we have the right products. We’re working incredibly hard. We’re at expos most weekends talking to the customers and we’ll be testing out our first pop-up in September or October. The plan will be to start cautiously just because we’ve worked very very hard just to go back to square one by trying to over-expand too quickly. Then we’ll look to open up our first shopping exchange so people can actually see what we’re about. A lot of our stuff doesn’t fit in with retailers and you end up compromising on the basics.

You’re so busy! Do you ever get to take any time off?
I did have a holiday this year, but incorporated it with a Spartan race in Canada!
Photo credit: Pandora's Thoughts Photography
Hardly restful! And so I thanked Kate for her time and let her get a little bit more of a lunch break before her next appointment.

Do take a look at the new ranges; they’re really funky and I now appreciate just how much work goes into creating something so stylish and functional. I’ll be testing them out for myself and also to joining the Crewroom for run club on a Saturday morning so look out for my post on that in the next couple of weeks.

Catch up with Crewroom at the London Triathlon Expo 2014, Saturday 2nd & Sunday 3rd August at the ExCeL Centre, east London, where the team will be on stand 32 exhibiting their brand new ranges.

Friday, 25 July 2014

July's Adventures

Thanks to the nature of time we find ourselves, perhaps rather startled, almost at the end of July. Where the heck has that last month gone? It's been pretty awesome though. The highlights were:

  • Going on two microadventures (and I seem to have signed up for another next week)
  • Attending an audience with Caitlin Moran in aid of the launch of her new boo
  • Having a fine ole time at Blues on the Meadow with my parents and friends
  • Going to the RMR running retreat
  • Doing my First Aid training and having my place on a Leadership In Running Fitness course confirmed
  • Taking part in Gloanna with my mum
  • Seeing Bill Bailey at Kew Gardens 
  • and I leave for a weekend of camping straight after work tonight!

Festival time!
And yes I do have a job, I somehow manage to keep my house vaguely clean and as yet none of my allotment plants have pegged it! On top of all that I've been getting stuck into my training for my upcoming events including the ultra marathon. My training this week has looked a little like this

Saturday: 5km run and 1 hour yoga at Gloanna
Sunday: 14.5 mile run
Monday: 4 mile run
Tuesday: 3 miles of hill training
Wednesday: Rest day
Thursday: 4 mile run plus metafit
Friday: 5 mile run

The long run was meant to be 16 miles but in the name of sensibility, given the hot weather in the SE of England, I ran slow and not quite as long. I ran loops near my parent's house that I'd used last year in training. This meant that I could leave my nuun at home rather than carry it with me and also allowed me to change from shorts into capris when they started to chafe, although that did result in a bit of a Ross-and-leather-trousers moment.

My route included a lap of their local parkrun. I spotted an icecream van and promised myself a 99 if I got back that far, but I decided to cut it short just before. I also stopped in a pub for a glass of water, hopefully not offending anyone in the process. I found blackberries in hedges (my runs seem to be increasingly fuelled by foraged fruit) and spotted a father and son with matching mullets which totally made my day.

Despite the heat I've been really enjoying my runs. On Tuesday I did my hill running in a bit of forest I'd never been to before, just a mile and a half from my front door. In the eight years I've lived here I'd never been there - disgraceful! Looking forward to exploring it more in the coming months. I've been developing a rather cool graduated tan on my legs as my shorts have been getting shorter with the heat. Box Bell Fit, where I do most of my classes at the moment, is notoriously hot so I wore the coolest outfit I could think of on Thursday, which may also have been my brightest!
You won't miss me in the dark
I'd mentioned it over on twitter but I don't think I'd mentioned it here yet... I'm now the proud owner of a shiny new road bike! The bike I did my two-triathlons-in-a-weekend on last year is just about falling apart and I really want to do my more tris and a duathlon so when I saw a good deal on this little beauty I couldn't resist. It's not not range by any means but I can't wait to get some proper time on it. The local bike store does ride outs for all abilities every Tuesday so I'm going to try and get along to those, and also take advantage of the bike maintenance classes they have, given by a female technician. I feel I ought to name my bike but haven't come up with one yet. Suggestions welcome!
My new, yet-to-be-named bike
One last thing before I sign off for the weekend... I've entered the Big Blog Exchange 2014 and would dearly love your support. It's a unique project where 16 passionate bloggers get to swap blogs and countries with each other simultaneously for 10 days - and share their experience with the world. 14 are chosen by volume of votes, and there are two wildcard spots. The idea of possibly getting to do this excites me so much, I mean, what a fantastic adventure! What wonderful things I could write about! If I've not already garnered your support from twitter or Facebook then I'd really appreciate it if you would take a couple of seconds to vote for me here. Thank you so much!

Right, I'm off. Although I'm taking a tent for this weekend's camping I suspect I'll end up sleeping under the stars. What are your weekend plans? Whatever they are I hope it's a fab one.

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Event Review : Gloanna 2014

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 21 July 2014

MyVitamins Supplements on Trial

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, 18 July 2014

New Challenges, New Training Plan

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

RMR Retreat

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 14 July 2014

Halo Headbands and Dinton Pastures 10k

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, 11 July 2014

Microadventuring along the Ridgeway

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

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

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

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

*I may be exaggerating somewhat