Monday, 29 February 2016

Viks Picks : February 2016

February has been cold and emotional and frankly I'm fairly glad to see the back of it. There have been a good share of nice things too, though, and certainly my picks this month have made it all more tolerable.

  1. This month I've been mostly cooking from Take One Veg. I love the simplicity of it and how it really highlights the vegetable. I've cooked roasted roots, made lettuce soup with left over salad, a sprout, lemon and cheddar salad and still have my eyes on a blueberry and goats cheese salad.
  2. It's so easy not to pay attention to your toes  in the winter months, just stuffing them into thick socks, or pounding the roads in training but I've been trying to remember they need looking after. This Burts Bees Foot Creme is my new favourite foot cream! It's thick, nourishing and smells divine. That and some new nail polish has made me feet feel loved.
  3. As a little extra motivation to get out and train I signed up to Bounts. Link up your apps and it'll reward you for your steps, runs and bike rides and with GPS location services you can also get rewarded for attending your leisure centre or yoga class. Premium membership gives you 3 times as many reward opportunities than the free account for less than £1 a month at the moment so you'll be on your way to useful rewards such as big brand coffee, restaurant, shop and cinema vouchers that much sooner. Use referal code vikkiroberts501 when you sign up and we'll both get rewarded with 100 points!
  4. I've got to thank to Elle for the chance to try Muscle Mousse as I won one of her competitions. I won a pack of the Strawberry flavour and I'm getting through it rather quickly. I've tried The  Protein Works' version but I prefer Muscle Mousse. It mixes with water so I can always make up a great tasting dessert even when I've no milk in the house, it mixes well so I never get lumps, and it sets to a lovely thick consistency. It's not cheap but I think I will invest in the peanut-choc caramel flavour next.
  5. My little treat of the month has been the stack of Superseeds Hazelnut Cocoa Kick from 9bar (another prize - thank you!). These are really delicious and although I don't find them filling enough for a breakfast on their own they're great with (and apparently in) a smoothie, crumbled onto yogurt and fruit and for a boost after a long race. Every bar they sell helps to provide solar lights to people in Africa, allowing kids to get their homework done, feel safer and generally experience a better quality of life, so I can feel doubly good about these bars.
What's been getting you through February?

Friday, 26 February 2016

Transforming Your Grocery Habits

Life seems to have a way of making me reassess my food buying and consumption habits every once in a while. Most recently it was the arrival of a housemate, necessitating the need to clear out kitchen cupboards and the fridge-freezer in order that she too could store food. I'm nice like that. But I digress...

I saw just how much I had in the kitchen cupboard; a huge range of lentils, flours, pasta, nut butters, preserves, dried fruit and nuts. There were a lot of oddments; things that I couldn't quite bring myself to use up so had a handful of cranberries here, a bit of couscous there and so on. Why?! There's no harm in using things up and in fact it's better to do so than just use the freezer as a stopping point on the way to the bin. I don't need 6 different types of grain on hand "just in case". So I reinvigorated my mission to use things up and even managed a whole week eating meals made only from what I already had in the cupboard, fridge and freezer. At the end of it, I realised I could do a second week, so I did.

I'm not the only one guilty of stoking up on too much food. Many of us over estimate what we will consume and ambitiously plan weeks in advance leading to eventually throwing out the excess. Something that surprised me in a recent report from the World Resources Institute was that about one third of all the food produced worldwide never makes it from production to plate. However, where it does, food waste is usually due to an overly prudent food industry, ambiguous food labelling, and over-cautious or ambitious consumers. Although written from an American viewpoint, there is still a wealth of good advice and tips in this article from

Some of the tips to reduce food waste at home include:

  • Taking cookery classes - learning how to make use of those random ingredients in the fridge
  • Track your grocery and eating habits for a month to help you understand where you can buy less and use more
  • Buy fresh more often - only buying bread, fruit and veg with the next 2-3 days in mind
  • Understand the true meaning of use by and best before dates, and how storage can affect these
  • Learn how best to store the fresh food you buy

Take a look at these info graphics for more insight.

Food Waste Prevention - Buy in Bulk

Food Waste Prevention - How Long Until Food Goes Bad

Do you think you could eat for a week from what's currently in your kitchen without buying anything else? 

Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Event Review : Hampton Court Half Marathon

We're often told, as runners, to "run your own race". But what about the occasions when it's actually your job NOT to run your own race, but to run someone else's race? I don't mean the slightly shady practice of taking someone else's race number and running as "Bob Smith" but to run at a particular pace. This is what I had signed up to do for Hampton Court Half Marathon last weekend. I'd no previous experience of pacing races and although I knew I was completely capable of running the distance in the time, the weight of responsibility weighted a little heavy on my shoulders.

There are actually two Hampton Court half marathons, the second being in a few weeks time (with a more sparkly medal, so I've been told). But I'd had my eye on either for a while so it was great to get the opportunity. Race morning arrived and as I'd been instructed to arrive by 7:30 for the 8:30 start time I was rather bleary eyed as I fell into my kit and into the car, granola soaking in a tupperware pot to be eaten on the shuttle bus from Sandown Park to Esher College.
I didn't feel very awake
The park and ride cost £6, fairly reasonable, and although I found the process straightforward, I could see that queues were starting to build to get into the car park and I heard that later arrivals didn't find it so smooth. It was just a short bus ride and walk to the start village, one side of which seemed dedicated to portaloos (there were queues later but they moved quite quickly).

I quickly found Rick from Race Pacing, putting up banners and collecting race numbers for us in one end of the baggage tent. Race Pacing and Xempo were the companies behind the pacers, providing us with our places, flags and support on the day. I met my fellow pacers, some new like me, others old hands. We went through all the usual pre-race prep of pinning on numbers, making sure we had our gels etc and also fitting our back packs and flags. We drew a few curious glances from people using the bag drop and after a briefing and group photo it was nice to get out and mingle.

There were two people pacing each time slot from 1h30 up to 2h30 completion times, with one of us instructed to be at the from to the wave and one at the back. This served multiple purposes. Firstly our flags helped people to see where they should be lining up at the start. Having us spaced out also helped to reduce crowding, as it's chip time that's important so those starting further back would still have a pacer to follow, rather than all bunching up around one person.
Henry VIII in attendance. I felt small!
It took what seemed like forever to start. The front runner were set off at around 8:30am but it took us, in the 2h20 section, almost half an hour to cross the start line. I understand why, as there were so many people and the course was fairly narrow, but it was slightly annoying. It did give me a chance to chat to those around me though. I got talking to a chap who was planning to run a half marathon a month this year, and lovely RunFitter Lou surprised me with a tap on the shoulder, having kept her entry very quiet! You can read about her experience here.

Once we were underway I started to relax a little. I'd made myself a pace band and was keeping a close eye on my Garmin to ensure I wasn't going off too quickly. The aim was to achieve an even pace for the whole event. I was the rear 2h20 runner and the front pacer had quite a crowd around her from the start. Things were a little more chilled out around me. There were some PB chasers but few people stuck by my side, drifting in and out of my range as they needed to.

It was a dry, slightly breezy and overcast day, perfect for running and everyone seemed in a good mood. There were plenty of marshals on the route, which was well signed. Cars were kept well out of our way and there were plenty of pockets of support. The pace felt good in my legs and thankfully the back pack was comfortable. One thing I learnt very quickly was that I needed to be more aware of street furniture like signs and bus stops, and low branches... I was effectively 3 feet taller than usual and it only takes a couple of sudden pulls on your pack as you misjudge a tree to make you more aware!

At around the half way mark I found Adam, a guy who'd been in touch on twitter to say I was his perfect pacer for the day. It was great to have a chat with him and find out a bit more about why he was running. What was even better was to find him at the end and congratulate him on a great run. I wish him all the best for London and his fund raising efforts. You can read more about Adam's cause and sponsor him here.
Adam after the race
The last few miles of the race felt quite hard despite finally passing the race's namesake. It wasn't particularly difficult terrain, but I think the steady pace, the extra nerves and having to go round the houses a bit to the finish took a toll. But we powered in to the last half mile, PB seekers alongside me, and crossed the finish line in 2h19m15. It was the most even race I've ever run and I absolutely loved it. I got a medal and goody bag and the satisfaction of knowing it was a job well done that had helped people achieve their goals.
Thoughts on the event organisation? Well the water stations could have been longer; even though they were well spaced out along the route I wasn't able to grab a drink until about mile 9 due to over crowding. Water was in cups, which I don't mind but I heard a lot of people wishing it were bottled water. A bit more clarity on the staggered start times would have been helpful and more clear signage back to the Park & Ride bus stop would have been useful. There was a bit of a queue for the bus but that really couldn't be helped. What was quite nice was that the queue was along the route and so I was able to cheer some people on, including Lou! The goody bag was pretty well stocked. Dolmio seem to be a key sponsor this year as a few people have commented on these meals being in their goody bags at other events, but all useful or tasty treats.
Goody bag contents
Would I run it again? Probably not, although I may try the other event, but I would certainly pace again. And in fact I am pacing again at the Surrey Half Marathon on March 13th, same pace at 2h20. If you're there, do come and say hello, regardless of how fast you're intending to run. I'd love to see you and wish you a strong run! All in all a great morning and experience.

Have you run with a pacer before? Have you run either of the Hampton Court half marathons? Did you run on Sunday and if so what did you think of the event, how did you get on and did you run with a pacer? I'd love to know.

Monday, 22 February 2016

Fitter than the average Brit?

Just a bit of fun for a Monday morning... Predator Nutrition have a survey on their website that aims to give you some indication of how fit you are compared to the average Brit. Of course it's not terribly scientific, but it's quite fun to see if your habits put you in good stead.

It's spattered with facts and information about the nation's food choices and exercise preferences and gives you a few tips at the end on how to boost your score even further. Apparently I'm 23% fitter than the average Brit and my area for improvement is my diet (no surprises there).

If you're finding that your resolve around your New Years Resolutions is fading, perhaps use this to give yourself a boost. Or just for fun.

Friday, 19 February 2016

Six Months Self-Employed : What Have I Learnt?

I can hardly believe that it's been a little over six months since I left my stable office job and took the plunge to become a fully self employed Personal Trainer. Gosh. Time has flown and I've learnt so much in that time; about the industry, the work, being self employed and myself. I've shared so much of my journey to this point on the blog I thought now might be a good time to share some of what has changed and what I've learnt in the past six months.

Location, location, location

The biggest change was not having to go into an office everyday. Of course I have other places of work that I go to regularly, like the gym, but I have surprised myself by missing the office a little. What I missed wasn't the place as such, but more the routine, the physical distinction between work and home life, and the buzz of having people around.

Initially I spent a lot of time sitting at home, and that was all very nice for a while but there was a lot around to distract me and it started to get a bit lonely. In order not to turn into a hermit I turned to my local coffee shops and libraries. These make excellent substitutes for offices, providing a place away from my DVD collection, with free wifi and hot drinks on hand. I get loads done and a few pounds for a coffee once or twice a week is an overhead I'm willing to accept. Sometimes I walk or cycle which makes it even better as I get a bit more exercise and it clears my head.
Coffee shop working. I am now hipster.

No woman is an island

I used to think I didn't really need people around me. I'm introverted by nature and thought I would adore the time alone when I first made the switch. How wrong! I made a resolution to see at least one fiend a wee, which helps me not to go stir crazy, and having a housemate for the last few weeks has made all the difference, just knowing there's another presence in the house even if we do pass like "fish in the night" as she said once.

I also really love the groups I work with. No mater how low I might feel, I head home of an evening full of happiness at having seen my clients, my classes and my run groups.
My RunFitUK group.
I've learnt that we all need people in our lives, not just for the social aspect but as a support network. I may be self employed but I'm not on my own. People have been and continue to be so generous with their time and advice and it's been great to be able to start giving back, talking to others looking to make similar moves, supporting other businesses and so on.

Changes in spending habits

Of course my financial situation has changed considerably. I'm not bringing in as much as I used to but I'm still able to cover all my outgoings. I've become much better at managing my finances whether that be accounts, invoicing, starting a personal pension and changing my spending habits. I buy less frivolous stuff but still go out for lunch occasionally. I use more petrol because I'm driving to and from multiples places of work, multiple times a day. While I can cycle to the gym, most days having to carry gym kit for classes I've got going on elsewhere directly after PT sessions means that's just not feasible.

I also plan my spending more, saving for things, staggering my race entries (and entering fewer) and making sure I'm not over spending on simple things like household bills.
I buy less lycra, but when I do it tends to be LOUD!

I'm an early bird and night owl

The format of my work day has changed dramatically. The nature of what I do means that early mornings and evenings are popular times to train and while I have few daytime clients or classes my day is usually broken into two halves. I'll often work from 6:30-9:30am and then again from 4-9pm. This means antisocial hours, strict bed times and changing my eating habits. Large lunches and small evening snacks are now the way forward. But I have time to train during the day and have learnt that I can manage early mornings without caffeine (all hail green and ginger teas).
Getting in some boxing practice after morning sessions

Admin... oh the admin!

I really wasn't prepared for just how much admin is involved in being a PT. Session planning, marketing, project meetings, event planning, managing course attendees, study, accounting... there always seems to be something that needs doing. Hence the frequent re-location to coffee shops to get my head down.

A Personal Trainer still needs to train

For something that on the face of it seems to be a physical job, I spend a lot of time sitting (see above). Even when I'm working, I'm rarely as active as my clients or class participants. I'll demo exercises but otherwise ensure they are safe and working hard. So I still need to work out myself. Although I have time to train during the day, it isn't always convenient; the pool might not be open for lane swimming, the classes I would like to go to are at times when I'm delivering my own sessions. I may only have enough time for a short run between sessions or no shower facilities. It's so easy to sit on the sofa and binge on Netflix but I try and make sure I'm active every day and be fit for my job and beyond.

Still learning

I may have finished my diploma but I am still learning all the time, both formally and informally. I took courses in Boxercise for Kids and KT Taping last year, for example. I have a Functional Training course next week and I'm hoping to take become a fully fledged Running Coach in the next 12 months. 

Even though I have been working in this industry for about a year I'm still a novice compared to many of those around me, so I'm constantly striving to be better. I'm learning where my strengths are in terms of client, class and collaboration types. I keep on reading and learning to avoid going stale, dedicating at least 5 hours a week to this.

I've also learnt that not all projects go the way you expect. I started a Monday Mile walking group last year but even though I had a few people come along occasionally it never really took off. I may look at starting it again in the Spring but it's ok to try things and then let them go.

I wonder how things will be different after the next six months and look forward to finding out. Ultimately I love what I do and I have no regrets about making the jump.

If you went self employed, did you have similar experiences? Any pearls of wisdom you wish you'd had at this point?

Wednesday, 17 February 2016

This Girl Can Swim for Sport Relief

A week ago today I took to the pool for the first time in, oooo, months! I didn't give myself time to think too much about it, heading there straight from teaching the early morning class at the gym and promising myself left over pancakes for breakfast if I didn't bottle out. Getting back in the pool after so long made me a bit apprehensive. What if I'd forgotten something vital, like goggles? What if the water was really cold? What if I got in the wrong lane and either held everyone up or had to keep hanging back? What if I'd forgotten everything I learnt when I took swimming lessons for front crawl this time last year and looked like an idiot? None of these things happened. The pool was warm, I managed a reasonable front crawl and found three pairs of goggles in my bag. And I got my pancakes for breakfast.

Swimming isn't something I tend to choose to do even though I generally really enjoy it when I get started; I need a purpose, a goal. So when Get Berkshire Active got in touch to say This Girl Can were teaming up with Sport Relief and encouraging ladies to challenge themselves, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to get back in the pool. Sport Relief are hosting runs, cycles and swims up and down the country and encouraging everyone to get involved and raise some money. You can do anything from a 1 mile walk to a 50 mile bike ride, so there really is something for everyone. I'll admit that my first choice would have been the 25 mile cycle at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park but logistics put pay to that idea. The 6 mile run didn't feel like a challenge so swimming it was. I took part in Swimathon last year and was delighted to be able to complete the 1.5km distance entirely with front crawl so what better challenge than to attempt the next distance - 2.5km!
Post Swimathon 2015
So how am I going to train for this? Well I started by committing myself to swim by buying a block of 10 sessions at my local pool. By prepaying I avoid thinking about the cost per session as a barrier. I've also signed up for a free session at a leisure centre a bit further away that has just been refurbished and finally I will be dusting off my Thames Valley Triathlon membership card and getting to as many of the training sessions as I can. I signed up last summer and have not been to one single session in any discipline since. Ooops!

I've planned out exactly when I'm going to go to the pool and put them as appointments in my diary. No excuses for forgetting, allocating the time to other things or putting it off because I can't be bothered to go home to get kit after work. Organisation, packing kit the night before and being accountable are key. I've swum 3 times in the past week and am feeling stronger each time.

I'll be attempting my swim on March 19th at midday and I will, of course, be writing a bit more about my training in the lead up to it, and letting you know how I get on afterwards.

If you fancy a challenge, why not head over to the Sport Relief events page and sign up for something yourself! Or perhaps you'd be kind enough to sponsor me for my efforts. Give me a little extra motivation for getting to the pool before breakfast. It's all for a great cause. Thank you.

Monday, 15 February 2016

Pace Matters

When you go out for a run, how often do you think about pacing? Probably not very often, for the majority of our runs, especially if we're not in training for a time goal. But it is worth thinking about and can be crucial to a successful race. Perhaps you've had a particular time goal in mind for an event, or just want it to be at the "speed of chat" and enjoyable. Have you ever felt as though you started too fast and not been able to complete your miles as you'd intended, or maybe you achieved those magical negative splits, where each mile is quicker than the last. All of these situations rely on pacing.

If you've ever followed a training plan then you may well have had an instruction to complete a run at a particular pace across the miles, or alternate between two different paces. While it may be tempting to disregard these notes and just cover the miles, teaching your body what it feels like to run at different speeds is important. Practicing running at faster speeds will of course help you to become a quicker runner, but will also help you to find that "kick" for the finish line, or to speed up to overtake or avoid a congested area. Practicing those slower speeds will help too; by running more slowly you'll be able to build your stamina and cover more ground, and to hold back at the start of a race rather than get carried away with the enthusiastic pace of the crowds.

When it comes to race days (and some parkrun days), if you're not comfortable in pacing yourself, or just don't want to look at your watch every few minutes, then pacers can really help. They will be easy to spot in large events as they typically carry a flag on their back, announcing the finish time they will aiming for, so as to be spotted by runners chasing that PB or goal. Stick with these guys and you'll be in with a good chance of hitting that time goal, although it may be at their choice of consistent pace, negative or positive splits!

You can sign up to be a pacer at Race Pacing, which is exactly what I did some months ago. Let them know what distances you like to run, at what pace, and what events you're available for and you may be invited to pace one of their events. A few weeks ago I received just such an email, asking if I would still be interested in pacing at the Hampton Court Half Marathon on February 21st. The answer was "yes"! Only after I'd replied did I really think about what was involved.
Photo from Race Pacing
Pacing isn't as straightforward as it may appear. It's one thing to run your own race at a pace, but quite another to be charged with getting other people around at the same pace (or slower). If you are running on your own you can adjust your goal, take a walking break, run as fast or as slow as you like  in sections, and if you finish in a quicker time then that's brilliant. If others are depending on you to pace them around then you need to be sure you won't be 5 minutes quicker or slower. Walking breaks are probably not ideal (even if you finish in time) as you'll upset the flow of pace. Will you have enough breath to encourage the runner around you? Are you comfortable running with a crowd? In an event with pacers for every 2 minute interval I once saw a pacer approach the finish line a full two minutes earlier than his allotted time (he'd even overtaken the pacer with allotted time two minutes ahead of him) and slow to a walk so as to cross the line "on time". His followers were nowhere to be seen, presumably not having been able to keep up.

So how can you train to pace an event? Firstly, add a couple of minutes on to the desired finishing time, to allow for some dodging and weaving during the event (how often do you complete a race having covered the exact distance? Then work out what the pace per mile/kilometer would need to be to complete the distance at a consistent speed. Now get out and practice! I've practiced running at pace or slightly faster than pace over increasing distances in the past few weeks, to get used to how it feels and reassure myself that I can achieve it. Sometimes this may feel uncomfortably slow but this is why we practice. Try and practice on similar sort of terrain and take into account that your pace uphill will be slower. You don't have to be consistent on the way uphill and downhill (that way burn out can lie) but ensure that your miles are relatively consistent, to give people the best chance of sticking with you. Pacing for an individual is a bit different and I may write about that on another occasion.

One of the most common mistakes people make with pacing is to set off too quickly so for everyone, here's a set you can do on your own to help practice increasing pace that I put my RunFitUK group through recently.

You'll need a lap that you can comfortably cover in a minute or less, a marker/cone and a timer. Set your timer for 2 minutes and start at a easy run, say about 50% of your max effort. Count the number of laps you complete and place the marker or cone at your finishing point. Return to the start point and take a minute or so to recover. Put another 2 minutes on the clock and start running again, this time a little quicker, say at 60% of your maximum effort. Your aim is to run further than you did before, so more laps, or getting past the cone on your last lap. Move your marker to your new finishing spot. Repeat this another 2-3 times, each time aiming to run a little faster and beat the cone. You'll soon know if you started too quickly!

I'm really looking forward to pacing the Hampton Court Half and share my experience. In the meantime, happy running!

Friday, 12 February 2016

'Tis the Season for Running

It's definitely the season for running! The weather's not really been on our side lately for outdoor running but hundreds, thousands of us, are out there week in, week out, getting the miles in. Lots of people are tackling 10km, half marathon and marathon training or just getting back into running and I've felt privileged to have been part of some of these journeys. Not only do I coach the RunFitUK sessions in Bracknell but also coach some clients individually on running fitness and have just started coaching a team from Bracknell Forest Council who are working towards the Bracknell Half Marathon in May.

Every week at RunFit, I look forward to hearing about that week's milestones, progress and achievements, and their plans for next events. I've seen some people progress through nerves for their first 5k to setting their sights on a 10k and half marathon PBs.

The way in which I approach sessions with my 1-2-1 clients varies depending on their goals. In some cases I pace them through some miles or set the some intervals to work through. I love getting the texts between sessions with feedback on how they've gotten on in other planned training runs. To see someone's confidence grow is just so rewarding.

While I am building up my own miles and fitness, I'm continually inspired by the enthusiasm and achievements of others. It keeps me going and I love coming up with sessions that will be fun but also challenging and useful for those I train. Recently, on a social run that included some of my RunFitters, I was asked if I'd set up some workshops for trail and hill running. So that's exactly what I'm setting out to do next. 

Someone mentioned recently that while there are lots of running groups and clubs around, very few of us know where to go to learn *how* to run. And that's what I try to help with in my RunFit and other sessions. Every week we look at a technique and I'm constantly giving key word prompts on form. Apparently these have come into my runners heads during races. I think a podcast was suggested once! And so focussing on hill and trail running fits within this scope really well and they'll be announced on the RunFitUK website in due course.

In the meantime do think about adding in some technique drills to your running, or finding someone who can help you with that. It can help you to be a more efficient runner as well as help to prevent injury.

Where you taught how to run? By whom? Is it something you think we need to do at all?

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Review : Grasp Liquid Chalk

Despite defining myself as a runner, it's not the only thing I do. I try to attain a balance of activities, adding in HIIT and boxing classes for variety, yoga for flexibility and relaxation and weight training for strength and injury prevention.

When it comes to weights I'll most often reach for a kettlebell. Box Bell Fit, where I work, specialises in kettlebell training so there a lot of them around and they're pretty versatile. Unless I'm simply holding the weight in, say, a sumo squat or lunge then I use chalk to improve my grip and reduce sweating. If I'm moving the weight around then I want to reduce the risk of it slipping out of my grip as I get hotter and sweatier (nice!).

You'll see in the photos below, some of our bells are heavily chalked for competition training, others less so. In classes people tend just to chalk their hands. It definitely makes a difference. We usually use powdered chalk but I heard about this liquid chalk from GRASP so thought I'd give it a try to see how it compares.
Liquid chalk, as the name suggests, comes in a liquid form but dries to a powdered finish. GRASP make three different colours of chalk, pink, green and blue, but they all dry to white, so it's just a matter of preference. I wear a lot of blue and it's in my business logo so I chose the electric blue chalk.
I wasn't sure how much to use so started with just a little and built up the layers until I got the coverage I wanted. Three seemed to be the magic number for me that day. It is fairly runny and takes a little while to dry but once applied it didn't budge. It stayed on my hands rather than rubbing off on my clothes or the bell and I didn't need to reapply during my workout. With powdered chalk I normally have to reapply a few times as it wears off, and end up with chalk marks all over my clothes!
I was happy with the grip it gave me and the wicking properties. No sweaty hands! And despite it's staying power on skin, it washed off easily with soap and water. For general weight training, be that with kettle, bar or dumbbells, I'd say this is a good option. It's clean, neat and has staying power. However I wouldn't recommend this for competition. It takes too long to dry and you can't apply it to a kettlebell as you can a powdered chalk. But definitely a good, fun addition to your kit bag.
Do you use chalk when you lift? What's your preferred type? 

Monday, 8 February 2016

Race Schedule for 2016

The mayhem of January has now passed and my thoughts have turned rather suddenly to what my event schedule and race goals might be for the year. As we entered 2016 I wasn't feeling very driven towards anything particular. I'd signed up to a handful or events in the latter part of 2015 and really thought little more about it.

But a week or so ago I received an email informing me that I'd been chosen to pace at the Hampton Court Half Marathon on February 21st. A small sense of panic kicked in. I'd run a respectable time in Tromso in January but had really only been ticking over since then, with few miles under my feet in the weeks to date. Now I knew I needed to get out and practice running at pace and satisfy myself that I could comfortably cover the distance as required. It's one thing running for yourself and quite another knowing people will be relying on you!

And so as I added Hampton Court into the diary I realised my race calendar here needed to be updated too. So here are my confirmed events for 2016 so far:

  • Hampton Court Half - I'll be taking part in this as a pacer and I'm VERY excited.
  • Leith Hill Half - I got free entry to this in return for marshalling two years ago. The first half is uphill and the second half downhill. An interesting challenge that I just want to complete.
  • Royal Berkshire 10k - I had to defer my entry to this from last year but am looking forward to running with friends. No time goal here. Yet.
  • Swimathon - Get Berkshire Active and This Girl Can are putting together a virtual team of ladies taking part in challenges for Sport Relief this year and I'm in! The 6 mile running distance doesn't feel like much of a challenge so I'll be taking part in swimathon for a second time but going up to the 2.5km distance - eek!
  • Polesden Lacy 10k - I'd love to run at a National Trust property and this "challenging" 10k looks to be extremely pretty. Planning to get round and then make a day of it with my parents.
  • Cakeathon - Running and cake. Both very dear to my heart. A lapped event over 6 hours with plenty of cake to fuel me. I'd like to achieve ultra distance.
  • Stour Valley Marathon - This got a great write up last year and I fancied doing something scenic. I've covered ultra marathon distance off-road and much of Medoc was on track but this will be a step further. Not time goal yet.

In addition to the confirmed events I've seen a others that I am interested in but haven't entered yet as I'm trying to stagger entry fees across the months. These are almost definitely going to happen:
Polesdon Lacy. Photo by National Trust
  • Chiltern Classic Sportive (short distance) - A true cycling event has been on my mind for a while. I rarely choose to go cycling so need something to force my hand. This looks to be a distance to challenge me without being scary, fairly local and far enough away in the calendar to allow for truing to happen. Will set me up nicely for the triathlon...
  • Thorpe Park Tri - I've enjoyed the triathlons I've done and feel I should step up the distance. A friend has signed up to do this and has persuaded me to do likewise. What a cool location!
  • Oxford Half - The one thing I would really love to do this year is get my half marathon time down to a sub-2 hour. It's going to take some work but the right course will help. Oxford was recommended as a flat course. Still waiting for entries to open but keen to do this.
So those are my plans and goals. And, as ever, I'll be updating you on my training and how I get on at each one. 

Are you doing any of these or have you done them in the past? Any advice or tips?

Friday, 5 February 2016

Waste Not : Asda Promotes Ugly Veg

In the aftermath of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's War on Waste program, I've not only been keeping an eye on my own habits but encouraging others to be less wasteful too. So it was a delight to read in The Times today that Asda has taken a step towards helping us to improve our habits and help farmers too.

A trial has been launched in 128 stores today, after the success of an earlier, smaller trial, of "wonky veg" boxes. The boxes, selling for £3.50, contain enough vegetables to feed a family for a week but rather than perfectly straight carrots and smooth spuds, you're more likely to find a much bigger range of sized vegetables, forked parsnips or curvy cucumbers, all still perfectly edible.

This is great news for farmers as they can still sell the produce to the supermarkets rather at a massively reduced rate for animal feed, or simply digging it back into the ground. Good news for us as consumers as we can pick up some budget friendly fruit and vegetables, eking out those pounds and pence a bit further and improving our diets in the process.

Other supermarkets are also starting to relax cosmetic standards for fruit and veg, but we all need to play our part. So next time you're out shopping, look to see if your supermarket is offering something similar, and if not, ask if they will.