Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Vik's Picks : March 2016

Nothing helps the motivation like a bit of new kit... or indeed cake! I may not have a Spring marathon in the pipeline like so many others, but I've had plenty of other challenges so it's no wonder both feature in my picks this month.

  1. I try my best not to make implies buys but when I saw these 2XU Compression tights on display at the Surrey Half Marathon I managed to at least wait until *after* I'd run the course to buy them. In my defence they were on special offer and in a really cool colour way so I treated myself. They are really comfy for both recovery and training runs (and don't fall down despite lack of drawstring) so two thumbs up here. 
  2. Continuing in my resolution to cook from a different cook book each month, this month I chose Delicious Days, a book I was given as a gift some time ago. I'd marked a number of recipes to try but my favourite so far has been the simplicity of the Blueberry, spinach, goats cheese and cous cous salad!
  3. Given the amount of swimming I was doing this month for Sport Relief it became clear I needed a second swimsuit that actually fitted! My Adidas one had worn out but I'd bought one from Speedo before so stuck with the tried and tested and sought out another Powerback Swimsuit in this funky pattern. I've felt very empowered in the pool! 
  4. Yoga is a really important part of my schedule but my work sometimes means I cat make it to class. Since my Yoogaia trial expired I started looking further afield for free class and have been really enjoying Bad Yogi's free yoga classes. The free sessions are only about 10-15 minutes long but perfect for tacking on to some sun salutations and addressing some trouble areas like hamstrings for runners.
  5. Finally, a few treats have been in order. I was lucky enough to win some Eat Dark Matters brownies a little while ago and was delighted when a box of six vegan Oreo brownies arrived through the post! They are suitably gooey and delicious, PLUS totally freezable! Perfect for keeping on hand to satisfy "swumger" and "runger". I am totally ordering some peanut butter ones next!
What's been your training treat of choice this month? Any new kit purchases in the run up to events?

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Berkshire Fitness Scene : Clubbercise

I'm still on the look out for new and interesting classes in the local area as I can't believe that London has all the fun. Clubbercise isn't necessarily that new but it's new to me and classes have only recently started in my immediately local area so I was delighted to have the chance to go along one Friday night and try it out.

"But what is Clubbercise?" I hear you cry... Well it's a dance-style aerobics class featuring easy-to-follow routines involving glow sticks to club set to dance music from the 90's to date, in a darkened room with disco lights. It's quite the experience. You don't need to be able to dance to take part, just about anyone can take part and because it's dark, if you do happen to make a mistake, it's unlikely to be noticed.

I arrived for my class quite early and saw a bit of what went in to setting up. I also got to have cuddles with a cat that had found it's way into the school hall. From the way it seemed completely unfazed by the class to the extent that it was rubbing around the instructor's legs on stage, I reckon it belonged to the school.
Cool for cats
Quite a crowd of ladies gathered for the class of all ages, abilities and in varying degrees of bright lycra. It was a really friendly atmosphere and it felt a bit like a girl's night out. Our instructor took to the stage and the music started. Instructors get some say in the music they select and it was gratifyingly 90's all the way; Can't Touch This, Ecuador... it was a real blast from the past and I found enough breath to sing along. The tracks roll into each other so you get very little rest, just two real pauses to get a drink and have a breather. The routines start with the very basic moves and build up in intensity so you can choose how much energy you want to give and how much you want to jump around. I went in all guns blazing I'm afraid, as I love this style of class and have a little bit of background in dance.
If you're expecting to learn a routine, then you would be a little disappointed. There are steps, but it's more along the lines of Zumba, where you pick it up as you go, following the instructor, rather than being given lots of verbal cues and having it broken down a lot. But go in with the right sort of expectation, a positive attitude and a willingness to have fun with it and you'll be just fine.

My local class cost £6 plus in initial extra investment of £4 for a pair of official multi-setting, battery operated glowsticks which are compulsory for the class. They'll last you around four 45 minute classes and replacement batteries are quite cheap so I didn't feel it was a big price to pay. I really enjoyed the class and although I know I won't be able to go every week, it's something I will make the effort to do when I can. It's completely different to training, lighthearted and FUN!
Have you tried a Clubbercise class? Got a favourite track? 

Monday, 21 March 2016

Event Review : Swimathon 2016

Spoiler alert.... I did it! I completed my 2.5km Swimathon for Sport Relief, all with front crawl, and if you don't mind I'm going to feel rather pleased with myself for a moment. January 2015 I could barely string six lengths of front crawl together and I certainly never thought I'd be able to tackle 100!

I'd signed up to to Swimathon as part of the Get Berkshire Active virtual Sport Relief / This Girl Can Team and enjoyed swapping training notes with Vicki and encouraging my other team mates in there disciplines. I was impressed with the pre-event organisation compared to the previous year. I received a pack through the post with information of what to expect in general and plenty of fundraising material. I'd chosen Bracknell Leisure Centre as my pool this year, having heard good things about it the previous year and having been rather unimpressed with the organisation at Carnival Pool. In the weeks leading up to the event I received an email from the pool asking me for some extra information about my pace, expected finishing time and whether I needed a lap counter, so that they could best plan the day to prevent over crowding. Then in the week beforehand I was emailed again to ask if I could start at 2pm rather than 12noon... not really! Neither was I sure that I could manage the 11am time but to their credit they were very accommodating and I promised I would arrive as early as I could.

I hadn't been feeling great in the lead up to the event, suddenly coming down with something that left me both congested and with a streaming nose around Thursday, but I took myself to Clubbercise on Friday evening instead of TVT swim training, had an early night and liberally sprinkled olbas oil around and about. I skipped running parkrun on Saturday morning in favour of marshalling, so was about as fresh as I could be. It was a landmark run for a few friends so there was cake and I did partake of some particularly sugary cheesecake which left me with the biggest sugar high I'd had in ages.
Pre-swim cheesecake... probably not the *best* choice.

On arrival I made my way to the changing rooms and was greeted by a very cheery girl who signed me on, checked if I needed a lap counter and gave me a swim cap. I was poolside by around 11:15am, shaking hands with Kathy, the organiser, and being introduced to me lap counter. There were six lanes of swimmers, a water/squash station and tables full of water bottles and medals, all labelled up  for finishers. Somewhat different to last year! I waited for the chap in my lane to finish his PB attempt and then set off. 
Getting ready to go poolside
I had the lane to myself for a while which helped me to set a good steady pace for the first 20 or 30 lengths. There were only ever three of us in my lane at any one time, and we were quite well matched for speed so I never felt rushed or frustrated with pace. The first half went fairly quickly, helped by the pop music coming over the speakers. At 50 lengths I stopped for a quick drink and a pause then ploughed on. 60, 72, 86 lengths... I was getting closer and my arms felt fine. I wasn't getting bored like I used to in training, probably because I was just getting on with things. I misheard my lap counter at one point and thought I had just ten lengths to go but it was more like 16... I'd sped up and was deflated when I realised I had more to do. But I got there, in 1:04:59! I could have swum quicker, I'm sure of it, but that was never the challenge for me, the distance was enough and I was so happy to have managed my challenge.
I thanked my lap counter profusely, shook hands with Kathy and thanked her again, collected my water bottle and medal and hit the showers.. The little handwritten tags on the bottle was a really sweet touch, and it was these little touches that made all the difference to the whole experience. Unfortunately I didn't see Vicki for her 5k swim(!) but I'm looking forward to hearing about it when I see her next. People were still arriving as I left, being greeted just as cheerily, and I was home in time for a (big & healthy) late lunch.
I had a great time at Swimathon this year and would recommend it as an event to anyone. There's a distance for all, no matter what your ability (there are team options) and it was only £12 to enter so very affordable too.

I want to thank Kirsty at Get Berkshire Active, Kathy at Bracknell Leisure centre and all the volunteers who helped to put the event on and made the day run so smoothly. And I'd like to congratulate everyone who completed a Sport Relief event at the weekend, whether it was a run, walk, cycle or swim, whatever the distance. You've challenged yourself and helped to raise money for a good cause. Please be suitably proud of yourself and stay active!

Friday, 18 March 2016

Swim, Said The Mama Fishy, Swim If You Can

When the clocks strike noon tomorrow I will be starting my Swimathon. I'm nervous, worried that I've not done enough preparation, that I'll make a fool of myself, that somehow I won't do "well", whatever that may mean.

It will, of course, be what it will be. I'm a strong enough swimmer to be able to do the distance and really the only thing that can go wrong is that I start to panic in the water. No one is relying on me, I haven't set myself a time target, people will be able to overtake me if need be and there are sides to hang on to if I really need the rest. I've done all the training I can do. Fitting in swims had been tricky and I know I've swum less than some of my fellow Swimathon ladies (even if they are doing longer distances) but I've done what I can without getting stressed out about it. Staying on top of my running during the past few weeks has been important too so they've needed equal priority.

My training during the week commencing March 7th was as follows:
Monday : 5 mile run & Boxercise
Tuesday : Rest day
Wednesday : Rest day
Thursday : Swimming (2000m ish) & Yoga
Friday : Swim training (1300m) with TVT
Saturday : 7 mile run
Sunday : Half Marathon

The water was cold in the pool on Friday night and I very nearly gave up on the session a couple of times, but was glad I stuck it out in the end, treating myself to a dip in the jacuzzi afterwards to warm up. Coach Lynn was quite complimentary again. Apparently my swimming is very "balanced" although I have no idea what that actually means. I quite often catch myself not using my legs much in front crawl which I suppose is no bad thing for triathlon training but I'm not sure it'll do me much good tomorrow.

This week my training has consisted of:
Monday : HIIT
Tuesday : 3 mile run
Wednesday : Boxing training & Yoga at home
Thursday : Swimming
Friday : Boxing training & Clubbercise

Looking back over this I suppose it's no wonder I've been feeling a little tired. Things haven't been as well planned out as they could have been but I'd promised to lead a 5-7 mile run on the Saturday when perhaps I shouldn't have, I really wanted to try Clubbercise, and although one more swim earlier in the week would have been great it just wasn't possible with my timetable. Yoga has been non-negotiable; it helps to preserve my sanity and headspace. I'd intended to run 6 miles on Tuesday but I was feeling bodily tired and although I got myself out of the door the heavy legs and sick feeling in my stomach made it too easy to call it quits early. I guess I needed to rest that day really. At least I made the decision to marshal instead of run parkrun on Saturday morning!

So this is it. let's see if this girl can!

Monday, 14 March 2016

Event Review : Surrey Half Marathon 2016

Another weekend, another half marathon! Or so it seems at the moment. This time it was the Surrey Half Marathon, an event I first ran back in 2014 but that I was tackling this time as a pacer for Race Pacing and Xempo. Some things haven't changed; it was still easy to park, there was a buff in the race pack, music on the course, plenty of spectators, bottles of water at the aid stations and a hefty medal at the end. But plenty was different, not least the course and the weather!

A chilly, overcast, 4 degrees sort of morning hung over me as I scoffed mocha overnight oats in the car which I'd parked a 5 minute walk from the race village. Upon arrival, I found the Xempo tent, collected my race pack, met my fellow 2h20 pacer (who I happened to know from Farnham Runners back in the day) and generally prepared myself for the race ahead.
A forest of flags
There were plenty of familiar faces at the start, a few greetings from people who knew of me as a pacer and lots of good lucks exchanged in the start area. A controlled and steady start saw us underway in good time and we soon settled into the pace I would try to maintain for 2 hours and 20 minutes. It was good to be on the move, warming up slightly but glad I'd worn a base layer under my t-shirt. The first few miles were quite uneventful, save for a band and a water station (no gels this year). We met a few undulations and before long we were heading into a long section where the faster runners were returning in the other direction. I tried to shout encouraging words to those on the other side of the course, waving at friends Nic and Hayley as they shot past. My group seemed in good spirits and I was really enjoying myself.
Somewhere around mile 5
There wasn't as much distance between my fellow pacer and I on this occasion, which I was thankful for as it meant that when mile markers started appearing much earlier or later than expected, we could check with each other that we were still on track. One of the latter markers was almost a full quarter mile out by my watch - this makes for very nervous pacers!!
Photo thanks to Stefan Klincewicz - mile 7
The uphills started to seem more uphill but where there is up there is also down, thankfully. The sun burnt through the clouds, I'd managed to shout and wave at my housemate and her friend who were doing their first half marathon (Anita on a sprained ankle), a brass band were playing Get Lucky, and all was right with the world. We cruised in to the finish with 2:19 on my watch and with a couple of new PBs to boot. Water, banana and Battle Oats in hand, medal weighing me down and rubbing against the already sore patches of skin on my neck from the backpack used to carry the flag, I went back to the Xempo stand to report back and collect my belongings, congratulating finishers as I went.

Pacing left me with a fuzzy feeling inside. It buoyed me, to know I can run steady, to know I have far more in my legs than the pace I ran and to have helped others achieve their goals. Another successful race, and one I would allow myself to be talked into again. I've no more pacing events in the diary for the time being but I really hope I get the chance to do it again because I've had such fun.

Did you run the Surrey Half? What was your experience? Did pacers help you at any other events over the weekend?

Friday, 11 March 2016

Recipe: Mellow Okra and Chickpeas

Although I have a wealth of recipe books and try to base my meals on what I have in the house already, there are times when the yellow sticker section of the supermarket comes up trumps and I find some gems that are too good to resist. The latest example of this was a pack of okra for 20p. I rarely see okra, let alone buy it, but I've had enough good dishes in Indian restaurants to know I enjoy it. 

I'd remembered seeing a recipe in Plenty that featured okra but in the end I made up my own version of a dish that was colourful, different and satisfying. It has elements of curry recipes I've made in the past but is far gentler. 

Mellow Okra and Chickpeas

  • 1 pack okra (~150g)
  • 1 red pepper
  • 400g chickpeas, drained
  • 400g chopped toms
  • 1 tbsp corriander seeds
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tbsp coconut oil
  • 80g quinoa, dry weight
  • Fresh coriander, chopped


  1. Melt the coconut oil in a large pan over a medium heat. Add the cumin and coriander seeds and cook for 1-2 minutes.
  2. Cut the stalks from the okra, trying not to cut so low as to expose the seeds, and slice the red pepper into strips. Add to the pan and cook for 5-6 minutes
  3. Add the tomatoes and chickpeas and simmer until the okra is tender and the chickpeas are warmed through, about 10 minutes.
  4. Meanwhile, cook the quinoa according to the instructions, this usually takes about 8-10 minutes.
  5. When cooked, drain the quinoa and alongside the okra and chickpea mix. Serve with fresh chopped coriander or a little sour cream or yogurt if you like.
Have you been inspired by any unusual reduced items at the supermarket?

Wednesday, 9 March 2016

Event Review : Leith Hill Half Marathon

About three years ago someone suggested the Knacker Cracker race up Box Hill to me as a "fun" way to start the New Year. That's when I first became aware of Trionium events. Two years ago my now-ex boyfriend decided he was going to run the Leith Hill Half Marathon that they also organise. I decided that I could support him *and* marshal at the same time. It was an amazing day out, cheering the runners up the hill and seeing just how hard Rob, the organiser, works behind the scenes to ensure everything goes smoothly and that runners and marshals alike are well looked after. As a marshal I was entitled to free entry into a future event, something Rob very kindly let me cash in two years later.

And that was how I found myself in Dorking last Sunday morning, in a school car park, eating a hot cross bun before registration. I'd had my usual race day breakfast but with an oh-so-civilised start time of 11am, I decided an early elevenses was in order too, particularly as I'd wanted to arrive early enough to watch the Wife Carrying race that precedes the half marathon every year. I'd not had the chance to watch this previously, having been dispatched to my marshal point but it was well worth getting there early for. The write up on the Trionium website is worth a read but participants from all over the world took part on the tough but short course, over hay bales and through water obstacles, one man with two "wives"!
Prizes for the wife carrying race.
So with a coffee inside me (provided free of charge) and last minute loo trip made (no queues!!) I joined the crowd on the start line to do something I'd never done prior to a race before, sing the national anthem! And then we were off. The courses is predominately trail, mostly up hill (1836m of ascent) on the way out and up to the top of Leith Hill where the Leith Hill Tower stands (a National Trust property, well worth a visit). I've walked up there before so knew roughly what I was in for. I'd also seen my ex, rather broken two years prior, having completed it in 2h19. Trionium are know for putting on "challenging" events and this was certainly going to be that. My aim was just to complete it and as I found myself in the last 4 or 5 people shortly after the start I prepared myself to be last. Well someone has to be.
Made of tough stuff.
There were a couple of lovely downhills near the start, which I used to gain a couple of places, realising with a sinking heart that I'd have to face these as uphills in the last two miles of the race later. The weather was cool but bright and the route quite pretty, through woodland with few places for spectators to gather. But with only around 250 entrants it soon felt quiet at the back. I played "leapfrog" for course places with a couple of guys and looked forward to seeing the marshals on route, all of whom were cheery. Although it was pretty much a straight track I worried that I'd missed a turn, especially when I'd not seen anyone for a while. But no sooner than I'd had the thought than there was a marshal or a bit of tape or a paint marking.
Not enjoying the hill at this moment in time.
I started to see the front runners coming back the other way as I reached the 4.75 mile mark, haring down the hill. Maybe it was the jaffa cakes I'd discovered on the water stations, or the knowledge that I was almost at the top but I caught myself starting to actually enjoy the event. The hill got steeper as I approached the turn around point but the views at the top are worth the climb. I'd used my walking time to take a few videos and snaps and I even managed a star jump or two for the photographer at the top.

I'm rubbish at uphill running. I don't train enough for it. But downhill is my forte. I've enough confidence to go quickly, not holding back too much, so the return leg was glorious. As I overtook one chap I'd been leapfrogging he referred to me as a tortoise, steady if not fast. I understood his point but he didn't catch me again. I felt free and happy, even when it started to sleet, making aeroplane arms on the steeper down hill sections and skipping around puddles. I gained a few more places in the last two miles, despite the uphill sections I'd been dreading. As I turned the corner in to the last downhill stretch to the finish line I noticed a familiar shape near the finish line... my mum! A total surprise, prompting me to whoop and sprint to the finish, overtaking one more chap in the process. My Garmin hadn't been fully charged and gave out in the last half mile so I was truly delighted to find out I'd achieved a time of 2:29:57, coming 217th out of 232! Not a patch on the female course record of 1:33:21 of course.
I reckon I could have taken 5 minutes off that if I'd not gaffed around with photos and jaffa cakes but I was never going for a time and in this case I'd rather feel buoyant than broken. I collected my goodies, gave mum a huge hug and we made our way back to the school hall to find the canteen.
Normal entry costs around £38 and includes a technical T-shirt with everyone's names on the back, a hefty medal, a pint glass and free cooked "breakfast". I'd rather that than a goody bag any day! There was a bit of a queue for food but the single chef was doing a fine line in poached eggs and there were even vegetarian sausages to be had so no complaints there.
Now that's what I call recovery food!
All in all a great event, and one that I'd recommend to anyone in search of a challenge. Brilliantly organised and I can't fault it.

Monday, 7 March 2016

Friday Night Swimming

Friday evening, the end of a long week. All I really wanted to do after finishing my work at the gym is to go home, have dinner and curl up in bed with a book. Especially as my 6:30pm cancelled at short notice so I have an hour to hang around before going to swim training. As I sit in the gym, all be it with a cup of tea, I feel the motivation ebbing away so I get in the car and drive over to Reading to  sit in the car park for half an hour and call my mum. I reason that the nearer I get to the pool, the more likely I am to do it.
It was only the third time I'd joined the Thames Valley Triathletes swim training session, and only the second in recent weeks. And I'm yet to get to the point where I stop trying to make excuses not to go; I swam last night, my arms ache, I’ll be late, they will have their maximum number of 15 already, I’ll make a fool of myself, I should have had a snack, my housemate will have used all the hot water by the time I get back and I'll have to have a cold shower (I dislike showering at the pool)… all ridiculous and unfounded.

But ultimately what gets me there, signed in and peeling the second ticket out of my booklet of swim session cards is the thought that it will be so much harder to swim the 2.5km for Sport Relief if I don’t go. I don’t want to fail and I know that great things happen at the edge of your comfort zone. I reassure myself that everyone was a beginner once. 
The pool is colder this week but the welcome is even warmer than before. I'm starting to recognise people, learn a few names, find my place in the pack. Lyn, our coach explains some terms on the warm up sheet for me (long dog?) and I find I'm not the only one who didn't know. My arms feel heavy after a 1750m swim the night before but somehow I get through everything, fighting the drowning feeling on the catch up drill. I'm the only one in my lane who seems happier with bilateral breathing than single side and I take huge comfort from Lyn telling me that I'm doing really well. When I get home I find hot water, a light dinner and notice the definition my arms are starting to develop. 

I only started my training 3 and a half weeks ago, swimming once or twice a week at the local pool to build up distance and the proportion of lengths I do with front crawl, and now attending the swim training sessions to improve my technique. This is in addition to my usual exercise regime of 2-3 runs, a yoga class and a HIIT or Boxing workout. It’s been hard work, and frustrating at times when the pool is busy, or I have to go late at night because of work, but I’m starting to feel as though I can do this; I’m not the slowest in the slow lane on club training nights and I’ve swum further in the pool in one session than ever before. I think I'm beginning to look forward to the Swimathon!

Friday, 4 March 2016

Recipe : Breakfast Quesadillas

What do you go for when you want a breakfast that tastes a bit naughty but is actually fairly good for you? Banana pancakes? A "carrot cake" smoothie? Maybe porridge with nutella? I've got a new one for you... breakfast quesadillas.

I love the traditional quesadillas and have made them myself for lunches or dinners before now but it's only recently I've tried them for breakfast. Sweet or savoury, it's all good and definitely feels like an indulgent breakfast. Here is my suggestion for a sweet version, but you can certainly play around with the fillings to your heart's content.

Sweet Breakfast Quesadilla


  • 1 wholegrain tortilla wrap
  • 2 tbs nut butter (I like crunchy peanut)
  • 1 small banana, sliced
  • Handful of blueberries
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp coconut oil

  1. Heat the coconut oil in a pan large enough to hold your tortilla wrap folded in half
  2. Spread the tortilla wrap with the nut butter and arrange the banana and blueberries onto one half of the wrap. Sprinkle with the cinnamon.
  3. Fold the rest of the wrap over and place in the pan. Cook on a medium heat for 5-6 minutes, until the underside is golden. Carefully flip over and cook on the other side for another 5-6 minutes until golden.
  4. Remove from the pan, cut in half and serve with a sprinkling of icing sugar, some greek yogurt and more fresh fruit as you see fit.

Another good combination is banana and strawberry with chocolate hazelnut butter!
Let me know what you think and of any other tasty fillings you come up with.