Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Viks Picks : June 2016

June. It's meant to be summer, but we've been yo-yoing between storms and blazing sunshine. I'm not totally giving up on stodgy food yet but I'm embracing fresher flavours, bright colours and forest running. I think my choices this month reflect that.

  1. I've not dipped into any cook books this month but I have been playing around with some frugal, healthy meals including this cauliflower cous cous. Blitzed, sautéed cauliflower with some "yellow stickered" red pepper, spring onions, apricots, sultanas and sundried tomatoes... made a huge batch which was a great portable meal for the week.
  2. It's summer race season again which means midges, mosquitoes and other biting insects. I've been experimenting with using citronella oil as a natural insect repellent, rather than the usual bug sprays which smell awful and often irritate me as much as the insects. A couple of drops on hems (not directly onto skin) is all that's needed to keep them at bay. It smells strong though so don't overdo it!
  3. My snack of choice this month have been Tribe bars. There are three flavours, all of which I really like. An emergency breakfast or a snack between classes, they feel as though they're doing me good, not just filling a gap.
  4. I was lucky enough to get to try some Hoka shoes recently and also swiped myself a visor. It's got a sweat absorbing lining on the front and is just firm enough with the elastic to stay in place. It's seen me through sun and rain on races and will be replacing my trusty cotton cap that I usually wear in the rain. Unfortunately these don't appear to be for sale, which is a real shame as I'd highly recommend it. However I know that Crew Room do similar and they have been highly rated too.
  5. Lastly, this month, I'm bigging up the latest Brooks Glycerins. I was a Ghost girl through and through for the longest time then took a chance on some bright blue Glycerins, which I adored. I had to bin them earlier this year so when I saw these bright little beauties and realised I could get 50% off the price with my Vitality policy, it was a no brainer. They are super bouncy, light and GOR-geous!

Have you treated yourself to any new trainers lately? Any sale bargains? What's your tried and tested mozzy repellent?

Monday, 27 June 2016

Event Review : Forest Five

It's rare that I get nervous before races these days, yet all day I had butterflies in anticipation. The distance wasn't new to me, nor was the event (having run it a couple of times a few years back). What was new to me was running as part of a club. I'd joined Bracknell Forest Runners back in April but with only one social run under my belt and a brand new, unworn club t-shirt, I'd never really known what it felt like to be part of something so much bigger. Would I be shunned because I'd not been to track night? Would I feel as though I'd done the club colours justice?

The Forest Five is Bracknell Forest Runners' own event, open to all, of course, but I'd say it was pretty much the highlight of the race calendar for the club. It's a five mile run around Swinley Forest, always on a Wednesday night in June. So of course I had all day to get nervous. Thankfully I had work to keep me occupied. Normally I have PT clients on a Wednesday night but as it was a quieter evening and I knew so many people also taking part, I rescheduled appointments just so that I could run. And it was well worth the effort.
Club photo, pre-race
By 6:30pm I was on site, number pinned to my t-shirt, citronella oil strategically dabbed on hems and trainers. Hellos and hugs were dealt out to the myriad of people I discovered I knew running, including my RunFitUK girls, Ellie and Ian of Barnes Fitness, members of Box Bell Fit and of course, fellow club members. It was a warm, dry evening, the bugs were out in full force and there was a huge turn out. All set to be a great event.
I believe there was some sort of pre-race briefing but I couldn't hear it above the babble in the crowd. The starting horn was audible, though, just... The route had changed somewhat since I last ran, with the start in a different place and a long gentle uphill drag for the first few hundred meters. It was all pretty cramped to start off, but as ever, the field spread out eventually, with only minimal jostling around puddles, tree roots and muddy bits. There were plenty of (encouraging) marshals and no opportunities to take a wrong turn. A pretty, varied and fun course.
The surface underfoot varied from gravelly, hard packed trail, sand, undulating and downright hilly in places. There was The Hill, which actually seemed smaller than I remember from previous years, and of course where there's up, there's down and downhill I'm good at so I was able to pick up a few places there. I hadn't *intended* to race, but my legs felt good and I felt duty bound to stay ahead of as many of my RunFit girls as possible. What made a huge difference was the support. I started to realise that being part of a club is a bit magical. Those shouts of "come on Bracknell" suddenly applied to me! That was me they were cheering on. Other club runners gave words of encouragement as they passed me or I passed them and I endeavoured to do the same. One guy kept overtaking me, then I'd overtake him... I didn't beat him to the finish but it was great trying to push each other a little more.
The roar coming in to the finish was just fantastic and I made sure that I gave as good as I got when I finally caught my breath enough to shout others over the line. In previous years there was no medal given out, nor a goody bag, just water, a banana or mars bar and possibly some sort of memento. Times have changed, however, and this year there was a bespoke, eco-friendly wooden medal on offer, each one slightly different and one that I'm just as proud of as the super shiny, beasts of medals from the likes of Cakeathon. There was also a goody bag containing the obligatory water and mars bar, but also foot soak salts and granola - useful stuff!
It was one of the most enjoyable races I've done in ages. The support, the camaraderie, that atmosphere... it's a greta distance to race and the location is just brilliant. I'm a long-time fan of mid-week, evening races anyway and having this on my doorstep... well I feel very lucky. The icing on the cake was a course PB with a Garmin reading of 46:09!

Thank you to everyone who made the event possible, to everyone who shouted encouragement at me and especially to Dean for taking some great photos and making me run quicker. I'll get my own back soon enough.

Friday, 24 June 2016

Love Active Life, Vitality & A Reader Deal!

Today I'm going to talk about something very grown up... Insurance, specifically life and health insurance. Yawn! But wait, don't go yet! I promise you this is going to be interesting and fun. Yes I did just say that I'd make insurance fun. Well actually I can't claim to be doing that myself but health and life insurance have become a great deal more interesting since the introduction of Vitality

Vitality have been around for a lot longer that you may realise, starting in 2007 as a joint venture between Discovery and Prudential. The general premise is that you get rewarded for staying fit and healthy. The fitter and healthier you are, the lower the chances of you having to claim on the insurance and so everyone is a winner.
I heard about Vitality a few years back but paid it little or no attention; I'm not sure I realised all the benefits. I've held life and health insurance ever since I got my mortgage, ensuring that I would be able to cover the bills if something happened that meant I was unable to work. Since becoming self employed this is even more crucial, dull as the idea may be. Pay as much as you can into a pension, save whatever you can, have insurance - all lessons that my father drummed into me as I started working life, and so far it's stood me in good stead. 

As time went by I started to hear more about Vitality and the rewards on offer. I decided to get a quote to see if it was worth me changing insurers and decided to get in touch with Jenny at Love Active Life, the Run Mummy Run contact for Vitality. Jenny is an absolute star. She walked me through the whole process, ensuring I wasn't going to be taking on a policy that wasn't right for me or one that would leave me worse off, and arranged everything for me. It took a little to-ing and fro-ing over the phone and email but it gave me full confidence in the final quotation. 

I managed to save money by switching from two policies I held, to just the single Vitality policy that covered me to the same degree. Not only that but I get the following benefits by earning points from staying active and taking positive steps towards looking after my health:
  • 50% off the Virgin Active monthly membership price
  • 50% off a Garmin device
  • 50% off a pair of trainers each year from Sweatshop
  • 50% cash back on a bike from Evans
  • Up to 50% cash back from Lloyds pharmacy
  • Up to 40% off British Airways Economy European flights
  • Up to 50 % off Eurostar
  • 75% off Champneys spa breaks
  • Monthly iTunes rewards
  • Weekly Starbucks and cinema tickets (dependent upon activity level) 
There are plenty of other rewards I've not mentioned and it's up to you how many you make use of. Vitality also encourage you to understand your health by doing an online health assessment (5 minutes), fitness test (3 minute step test), and a 15 minute health check at a local pharmacy.

So far I've made use of the 50% discount for a new Garmin device and applied for my cash back card for Lloyds. The Garmin helps me to track my activity thus earning points which in turn have earned me a weekly cinema ticket and Starbucks drink, helping me to take time out from work that can seep into every available waking hour! In July I'm taking myself off for 3 nights at Champneys (all meals and 3 treatments included) for some rest and relaxation. Well that's the theory anyway, I may end up doing all the classes! 
Nifty info graphic showing how much I could save per year.

I've just taken advantage of the Virgin Active offer too. I only need to go to one yoga class a week to be no worse off than paying for them separately, then there's the pool, sauna and steam room plus a host of other classes that I would like to try. Holding a Vitality policy has also prompted me to book a dental appointment that I've been putting off for a year or so.

I've been harping on about how great Vitality is to just about everyone I know who is remotely active because I just think it's a great product. You're incentivised to look after yourself and it can enable you to do things you otherwise wouldn't. For me that's a weekly cinema trip, a mini break and a new Garmin, things I wouldn't be able to afford without the rewards. Getting set up in the members area was really straightforward, as was linking in the relevant devices to track my activity. And of course Jenny was on hand to help every step of the way.
I'm delighted to now be in partnership with Love Active Life, helping to spread the word, and as an extra bonus for my readers, you'll get an extra £40 towards either a new device or pair of trainers when you contact Jenny at Love Active Life ( quoting VRPT and take out a policy. This policy may not be suitable for everyone but there's nothing to lose by investigating. 

You can also follow Love Active Life on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Shorter Distances, Strawberries and Small Fry

Ah the return of the shorter distance events and some proper rest time! I find it lost impossible to keep free time in my diary and can't imagine not taking part in races throughout the year, even though every year I try and put a limit on how many I enter.

I took things much easier this week though and my legs thanked me for it. Ok it was the third weekend in a row where I was racing but this time it was "only" a 10k. The hilly Polesden Lacey 10k was super fun and enjoyable despite the rain because I was with friends and family.
Rachel and me prior to running the Polesden Lacey 10k and smashing some targets.
I visited Virgin Active three times last week for yoga, a TRX class and a swim. It was my first yoga class with Andrew, a softly spoken, bearded gentle soul whose style I enjoyed very much. His classes will be a regular feature of my week, although an hour feels so short after getting used to 90 minute classes. The TRX class was just a 20 minute short, sharp workout on the gym floor. Just five of us in the class which consisted of three upper, lower and core exercises. I was complimented on my form, which was reassuring seeing as I teach it from time to time! I threw a few kettle bells around beforehand, 32kg deadlifts and 24kg swings... feeling strong again. My standard 1km swim had more flow to it and I rewarded myself with 5 minutes in the jacuzzi afterwards.

My favourite class of the week last week was kids class on Tuesday at Box Bell Fit. Love these girls and boys. It's usually exhausting, like herding cats, but you can't fault their enthusiasm and it's so rewarding seeing them getting more competent and finding exercise fun. My team lost at tug of war though.
On Wednesday I took part in the Bracknell Forest Runners' Forest Five race for the first time in about three years and the first time in my BFR kit. It was a fantastic turn out and I spent so much time talking to people I knew. I had butterflies leading up to the event, which was most unlike me, but put it down to feeling like part of something big. In summary, I had a good run of it, and there will be the customary write up soon. I've since had a week off of racing but of course I have more races and some new challenges in the pipeline, and they're not insignificant! I need to start focussing on cycling for a while and then work on my open water swimming.
Not your usual bling
Aside form work and training I've been cooking. It's strawberry season and the allotment is overflowing with the things. I'm getting kilos of them every couple of days, along with gooseberries and yet more rhubarb so I've been cooking up a storm. I was particularly impressed with a simple strawberry jam I made and am thinking of making a strawberry and rhubarb version soon. But the piece de resistance was my rhubarb and strawberry crumble... new speciality. Not clean, not especially healthy (although no added sugar) but damned delicious.
This week's training summary:
Saturday: Rest day
Sunday: Polesden Lacey 10k
Monday: Yoga
Tuesday: Rest day
Wednesday: TRX class, Forest Five
Thursday: Metafit, 1km Swim
Friday: Rest day

Any other suggestions for using up strawberries? Perhaps something healthier? Part of a running club? How did you feel running in club colours for the first time?

Monday, 20 June 2016

Mental Health : Talking Therapies

Not so long ago I felt as thought I was drowning. Things felt overwhelming, for no particular reason. I wanted to shut myself away and not have to deal with life. It was an effort to make myself go to work, despite loving what I do. It was even harder to train. I was tired, bodily tired. Little things became a big deal. I couldn't pinpoint what was the root cause, which meant I struggled to know what to do.

What I did do was to resort to some methods I've found useful in the past. I made myself get out the door for at least a walk every day because I know how beneficial exercise and daylight is to mental health and general well being. Yoga became increasingly important to me. I found myself adjusting my goals on almost every effort. I went for blood tests to check my iron and B12 weren't low again. I took to journalling more, making myself talk to people, sending a brain dump to a friend I knew would understand.

I lurked on a couple of support groups for people with anxiety and depression and was plagued with this feeling that everyone else's problems were bigger than mine, that I was a fraud for being there, that I wasn't deserving enough. When I was finally brave and posted my first message, full of these anxieties, I was blown away by the welcome. I didn't realise until that moment just how much I'd been holding on to.

The biggest step I took was to refer myself to Talking Therapies. Talking Therapies is a friendly and approachable service that helps people with problems such as depression, anxiety, phobias, panic, stress and OCD. That help could be in the form of an online course, guided self-help or a stress control groups. In some cases they can even provide counselling. And it's all for free on the NHS. 

My first contact over the phone with my therapist, Emma, involved a chat about how I was feeling, what had been going on in my life and what sort of therapy might be best for me. It was decided that the online Cognitive Behavioural Therapy or CBT would be most appropriate. I could dip in and out, use the online journalling facility and have phone calls every couple of weeks with Emma. Although Emma was not providing a counselling service, I was able to talk to her a little about things, get stuff off my mind, and she listened, was supportive, but always guided me towards finding my own solutions. Whenever I've suffered what I would term a socially acceptable moment of hardship, like a death in the family, people have been quick to offer their time and ears "any time" but it's so hard to believe that you can take that offer up. You don't want to worry your friends and family. Sometimes it's easier to open up to a stranger.

The CBT course felt very common-sensical and I was highly dubious as to how it would help. But I persevered, dipped in and out, went back and forth over it, worked through some of the Thoughts Feelings and Behaviours cycles for myself and did find it useful in understanding why I was feeling the way I was. It didn't provide solutions in itself but understanding is the first step to figuring out how to fix things. A holiday, more sleep, a bit more breathing space between new projects at work; small changes that helped a great deal.

Mental health is a hard thing to talk about. I'm not looking for sympathy. I'm not trying to be all woe-is-me, but I've been comforted and inspired by others who have been remarkably honest and open about their own issues on blogs and so all I hope is that sharing my experience will do the same. Mental health is just like physical health. Sometimes its good and sometimes it's not and you don't always have full control over it. What you can do is learn how best to manage it.

Now I've been discharged from Talking Therapies (after just 4 of the maximum of 6 review calls with Emma) I'm focussing on maintaining my wellbeing; understanding my triggers, learning to spot them and put measures in place to avoid them in the first place. It's likely I'll get relapses but hopefully I'll be able to cope with them and they won't be as bad. Staying active, making time for myself, not saying yes to everything, getting enough sleep... all of these are things I need to be better at.

I would recommend Talking Therapies to anyone suffering from low mood, anxiety or depression. It's hard to be brave and ask for help, but once you do you realise that you're certainly not alone.

Friday, 17 June 2016

Event Review : Polesden Lacey 10k

One of the things I really wanted to do this year was to race at a National Trust property. I've been a member of the NT for years and admire the work they do. Heck I've even been on working holidays with them (although making cider and learning to surf and turf didn't really feel like "work"). The grounds of the properties they own and the swathes of countryside are stunning and it just seemed like a lovely thing to do, given the opportunity.

My friend and RunFitter, Rachel, took part in the Polesden Lacey 10k last year and hearing her description of the event, even with mention of the huge hill, was enough to get me signed up. Polesden Lacey is a National Trust property with a beautiful 1400 acre estate with stunning views across the Surrey Hills. It was owned from 1906 by the famous Edwardian hostess, Mrs Greville, who entertained royalty, politicians and the cream of society. The route takes in the grounds and some of the woodland walks that surround the house. The 10k only cost £18 which gets you a fine medal, chip timing and chocolate at the end of the race. There is also a 2k fun run for those who don't want to tackle the whole thing.
It was a grey and drizzly sort of morning as we set out to make the hour drive to the event. As we stepped out of the car I regretted my choice of attire; vest, shorts, thin long sleeved top. The wind bit through and I could feel the rain seeping through to my skin. A brisk walk to the shelter of registration tent to collect my number and then to the woods near the start line to eat a picnic breakfast. Overnight oats for me and mum, sausage sandwich for dad.
On the way we stopped at the Hoka tent to eye up the brightly coloured trainers. The guy there said that I could try a pair of trainers for the race so ignoring the rule of "no new things on race day" I promptly ditched my beaten up old Salomons and laced my feet into a bright new pair of hokas. After breakfast when I found Rachel and the rest of the Tool Station Posse (as we now call ourselves at RunFit) it didn't take much to persuade Rachel to try a pair too. So kitted out in fresh kicks and snazzy visors to keep the rain out of our faces we huddled into the crowd on the start line, bracing ourselves for "the hill".
It wasn't a huge event, around 400 people and so there wasn't too much jostling at the start. The route quickly lead out of the main grounds and into the woods. The terrain became progressively gravelly, then muddy, first down hill then up hill. For a mile. I am not ashamed to admit I broke and walked. My legs weren't fully recovered from the previous week's marathons and I'm not strong at hills at the best of times. Spirits refused to be dampened by the rain, although the trees offered respite from the down pour, and soon we were tackling another, shorter uphill through meadows back towards the property. The steps up and through the pagoda must have been someone's idea of a joke but the views before we turned into a dense wooded area were stunning, even in the rain. My legs found a sprint finish, thanks to the cheers from parents and friends.
Soaked to the skin and a time of 1:03:35 could have left me feeling deflated but instead I felt a sense of achievement and wellbeing. It was a joy to cheer Rachel over the line as she finished in a time 12 minutes faster than the year before. Well done! Medals and chocolate bars collected, hugs all round and tags snipped from our now not so new-looking trainers. Regrettably we did have to return the shoes but the consolation was that our own trainers were nice and dry!
So without further ado it was a quick dry and change and to the cafe where we partook of tea, cake and other various lunch items. If the sun had been out we would have stayed for a picnic and made a day of it, but alas, t'was not to be. We will be back though, to visit the property and to race again no doubt. We're also talking of trying a night run at another NT property in the autumn.

My thoughts? The marshals were all cheery and genuinely helpful, the organisation good, too few toilets but an excellent medal. The rout, although slightly challenging was not beyond most and very picturesque. Having the fun run was a great way to make it more of a family day out and an extra marque for shelter (mainly for spectators) would have been nice. I'm adding it to the list of "would do again" races.

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Less Training, More Self Preservation

My clients are getting used to me grimacing every time I demonstrate a leg exercise. With Cakeathon on Bank Holiday Monday and the Stour Valley Marathon the Sunday after, my legs seem to be permanently sore!

In the days between events I'd foam rollered like never before, stretched a LOT and even got the most painful sports massage I've ever had. I survived thanks to copious amounts of compression wear and actually making myself take part in warm ups and stretching throughout the week did help, I'm sure of it. I wasn't able to get booked in to yoga last week but I did make use of my new Virgin Active membership to try a Pilates class. It helped. That and a gentle swim, followed by a jacuzzi, sauna and steam (well why not).
Amazing Stour Valley Marathon bling! 
I didn't run at all last week apart from the marathon and for once I didn't miss it or feel guilty. Even when I was marshalling for the Dinton Pastures 10k on Thursday night, although given the size of the ice cream I had (which was effectively dinner) I probably should have done! Dinton is always fun. I know a good proportion of the participants these days and it's always a good atmosphere. It was a dry but hot evening with blessedly few insects around. The water station didn't stand a chance and the ice cream van did a roaring trade!
As a bit of a treat to myself I ordered a new pair of trainers. I had to ditch my bright blue Brooks Glycerines earlier in the year and went back to my Ghosts which are tried tested, but frankly a little boring in the colour department. This year's Glycerines are squint-inducingly bright which is really all the excuse I needed. That and a 50% off deal for sweatshop.
They've not been taken out for a test run yet, I'm waiting until the weather dries up and I'm not running trail. I think a gentle saunter later this week may be on the cards. I'm not out of the silly season for races yet, still two more to do before a break, but it's all shorter distance now thank goodness. You can have too much of a good thing...

My activity diary, or lack of it, last week reads like this:
Saturday: Rest day
Sunday: Stour Valley Marathon
Monday: Rest day
Tuesday: Pilates
Wednesday: Long walk around Virginia Water
Thursday: 1km Swim
Friday: Rest day

Swayed by bright kit? In the throes of too many races following overly enthusiastic race booking earlier in the year? Share your latest!

Monday, 13 June 2016

Event Review : Stour Valley Marathon

It's 6am on a Sunday. I'm awake, cup of coffee on the go and somehow in my running gear (have you any idea how difficult it is to get into lycra before 7am?). I have an hour and a half drive ahead of me, but I've allowed for two hours, to get me to Nayland which is on the Essex / Suffolk border about 10 minutes from Colchester. All this because I read a race report last year that made me want to run a marathon through the countryside.

The Stour Valley Marathon is a trail marathon through Constable Country following parts of the Stour Valley Path, Essex Way and St Edmund Way. It measures slightly short of 27 miles on Garmin devices and so could be classed as an ultra. It certainly would if you got lost, which is a real possibility as the course isn't marked. Instead participants are given a narrative route or can choose to download a GPS track for their Garmin devices. As my Garmin isn't fancy enough to handle that I was to be following the narrative version, not unlike that which I followed for Gatliff, my first ultra.
Parking and registration was a breeze and so I milled around with a cup of tea, wondering how quickly I'd need to lose the long sleeves and how my legs would react today, it being less than a week since my last marathon. There were only around 200 participants, so a small field, but many from the local running clubs. The advantage of being local is that you can try the route before hand, something that I appreciated not too far into the run. We started fairly promptly at 9am, heading out of the village and towards the first stile (thankfully there weren't as many as Gatliff). The first couple of miles were a bit bottle-necky as you might imagine, but we soon spread out. The plus side to this was that after the first mile I was roasting my my long sleeves and someone very kindly offered to hold my race vest while I peeled it off. Temperature was a big issue that day, rising quickly throughout the morning to hit around 25 degrees in the afternoon. The event has a seven hour time limit and as a slower runner I knew I'd need a lot of that time, so was running during the hottest part of the day. Beautiful, but hard going.
Pretty but no shade
As we wound through some enclosed footpaths I started to lose the people in front and had a mild panic about the instructions. As I stumbled through some undergrowth near a church thinking to myself "surely this isn't right" I glanced sideways to find a fellow runner taking a comfort break. Apologising profusely I stumbled on but as happens on events like this she caught me up and we started chatting, running together with another lady for at least half of the event. Being a local she was able to keep me on the (not very) straight and (very) narrow path, pointing out the footpath signs we should be following as well as views I shouldn't forget to look at.
A view. At the top of a hill. I didn't appreciate it as much as I should have.
Challenges on the course included the aforementioned stiles, footbridges, kissing gates, brambles, stinging nettles (how I came away unscathed from that I don't know) and rabbit holes you could lose a leg down. In addition there were crops to avoid trampling, ploughed fields that necessitated leaping from furrow to furrow as if on the moon, and hills. Oh the hills. In fairness there weren't that many but I took my ultra strategy of walking them all very seriously. Oh and cows, quite a lot of cows, with young, and a field with a bull in it. Mostly they moved out of the way but one seemed intent on guarding the gate I was trying to get to. I was never good at vaulting at school and I didn't have a sprint in my legs at that point so was glad it stood its ground rather than charging me.
I checked in with my parents at each check point, sending a quick text message home. They weren't with me today but amused themselves and cheered me up by sending me videos and pictures. Unfortunately I had barely any signal most of the time so didn't get them until afterwards but I appreciated them all the same.
Helpful photo from mum
There were four check points in total with an additional two water drops towards the end of the course. The checkpoints were attended by wonderful volunteers who plied us with lemon and orange squash, tortilla chips, biscuits, jelly babies, nuts and jaffa cakes. I had my own water and gels but wasn't going to turn down lemon squash or jaffa cakes, even the melty ones at CP4!
A local lady was standing outside her house, somewhere around mile 15 I think, with plates of orange wedges and chic chip cookies whilst some other kind souls had left a huge bowl of jelly babies outside for runners to help themselves to.
Looking at the scenery, deciphering and following the instructions and avoiding rabbit holes served as good distractions, stopping me from thinking too much about the distance I had left to go. In fairness I don't think it was until the last 6 miles that I started to get a bit fed up with it all, which sort of coincided with a mile stretch of very sloppy, muddy footpath that I just couldn't run on. That was hard going. But I was still managing to jog and my knee and hip flexors weren't painful, which had been my main concern. The between event massage, skins shorts and CEP calf sleeves clearly helped.
The hilarious tan lines you get when wearing shorts and calf sleeves.
The last two miles were the hardest. I wasn't tired as such, just weary, hot, achey, and in need of a lot of wet wipes to get rid of the grime and sweat build up. Oh yes it's all very glamorous this running malarkey. My Garmin also died around that point (I hadn't charged it fully) and so I wasn't able to check how far I had left to go. I started to recognise landmarks as I neared Nayland again. There were more spectators cheering and being very encouraging. I turned the corner back to the village hall and the finish line. Most people had already finished and were lazing on the grass with cold drinks, picnics and friends and families and on any other day I would probably have joined them but I'd had enough sun so after collecting my ridiculously huge meal (unexpected) I headed inside to find food and fluids. A huge spread was laid on for free for the runners and volunteers including sausage baguettes, salads, scones and cider. I nigh on inhaled my plateful! While I thought I was struggling in the last few miles it seems I was actually helping others. I was approached by a woman about 5 minutes after finishing who said she'd been following my blue socks for the last 5 miles as she couldn't focus on her instructions any more. I'm mighty glad I didn't get lost!
Post race meal. Cider was saved for later.
Once fed, semi clean and in fresh clothes I started the two hour drive back to my parents'. Tired, happy, sun tanned. I reckon I finished in around six hours, which isn't great but it's not dreadful. I had always intended to approach this as an experience, which it certainly was, and so finish time is somewhat irrelevant, especially in that heat.
Huge bling
Would I recommend it? Yes. Would I do it again? Maybe - although I'm sure there are others out there that would be just as cool to do rather than running the same route again. For £28 you really can't go wrong with this event. Small, friendly, special. Entries for 2017 should open in August...

Wednesday, 8 June 2016

Learning the Differences Between Boxercise and Boxing

Teeth are important. I've still got all of mine and I'd like it to remain that way, especially since I had so much work done on them in my teens (jaws broken and re-set, wired together for weeks, that sort of thing). And so I will no longer be taking part in the UWCB match on June 25th. This was not an easy decision to make but it is the sensible one. Let me rewind a bit...

I started my training with UWCB at the beginning of May. I'd only ever done Boxercise before which doesn't include much in the way of defence and no contact apart from between gloves and pads, so this was going to be new ground for me. I was really excited. The first session I went to was actually the second of the free training sessions we were given in return for taking part. There were two a week, Thursdays at 8:30pm and Saturdays at 8:30am and I was determined to make them all. The first Saturday saw us outside on the astro turf pitch. We started with a warm up along the lines of what I do with my RunFit group, but longer, then were put through some HIIT training including lots of press ups, burpees, twinkle toes, tuck jumps and air punches. Only three lots of three minutes but we were sweating buckets by the end. It wasn't easy but I held my own. Cardio I can do.
Then we were paired up to practice our stance, moves and jab punches. Remembering to keep my guard up was hard work, and I felt as though I was tripping over my feet the whole time. Another side effect of Boxercise was getting into a rhythm. It's all very well punching to a beat in a cardio class but no one's going to come at you in a choreographed fashion in the ring so that was another habit that needed breaking.
Our Saturday and midweek sessions were taken by different instructors although the format remained the same. I much preferred the midweek tutor as he was less "blokey" and managed to give us a "beasting" without resorting to picking on people. The Thursday night sessions also felt more educational and I felt able to ask questions without feeling daft. I started to get a bit more comfortable with faux-hitting my partner (although we were both still apologising to each other) as we learnt hooks and upper cuts as well as how to slip, roll and block without hitting ourselves in the face.

I started to see a bit of a change in my figure. I felt fitter and more confident in myself but I was still nervous about fight night. Chatting to the other girls in the group helped, finding out what their motivations were. After a couple of sessions I think we were all sizing each other up, figuring out who we'd like to be paired with. We would get no say in that, our opponent would be chosen by the coaching team. Of course there were far more guys than girls in the group but there was a definite split between those who wanted to test themselves and those who just wanted to hit stuff.
 Every week someone would ask the question "when will we start sparring?" and after three weeks the answer came "next week - so make sure you have your mouth guards". I had been given one in my starter pack but it was too big. I couldn't wear it without gagging. One of the other girls told me that they were inexpensive from Sports Direct so I bought one, only to discover that none seemed to be suitable for use with braces. I've got a fixed brace on the back of my upper front six teeth. It's there for life. So what to do? I couldn't spar without a mouth guard and a standard one wouldn't do. There was one online specialist who claimed theirs were suitable but failed to reply to my query about front versus back braces. The other option was a specially made one from the dentist at £180 and a week wait *after* the appointment to have the cast made. Although technically affordable, it was ultimately a question of time. At best it was a loss of two weeks training, giving me another two weeks before stepping in the ring. Not enough, in my opinion.
So I threw in the towel. I didn't really want to but it was the sensible option. I was really enjoying the training. I was enjoying seeing my fitness level go up in a different way and learning new skills. The thought of getting in the ring was somewhat exhilarating but it wasn't the be all and end all. Good news for my parents who were all for me getting another motorbike rather than fight (a sentiment not expressed lightly). My housemate has just started kickboxing so maybe that's something I could try instead, although I miss the goal element of training. So for now, boxing is put to one side. For now.

Last week's training was as follows:
Saturday: parkrun
Sunday: Rest day
Monday: Marathon
Tuesday: Rest day
Wednesday: 1km swim
Thursday: 3 mile run
Friday: Rest day

Any suggestions of a replacement activity? Something not requiring a mouth guard but involving similar fitness elements?

Monday, 6 June 2016

Inactivity as Harmful as Smoking?

I'm currently studying for a qualification in Fitness Coaching for Older Adults, as well as helping to provide more opportunities for the older population to get active in the Bracknell Forest area, so the area of study around the Wellderly population is of real interest to me. I've been heartened to see the difference that taking up exercise can make, at any stage in life, and regrettably I've also seen what can happen when a person doesn't stay active.

Part of the issue is that many people feel daunted by the idea of taking up physical activity, especially in later life. But it isn't about punishing gym sessions, uncoordinated zumba classes or "nifty fifties" sessions. Building more activity into day to day living is ideal, walking the dog a bit further, swimming, cycling, walking with friends, anything that is enjoyable.

Recommendations are that we do 150 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity per week. That's 30 minutes on five days and that could be in bouts of as little as 10 minutes at a time, yet 2 out of 3 adults in the UK fail to achieve this. And so researchers are starting to refer to the harm caused by inactivity rather than promote the benefits of staying active.
The burden on health care brought about my physical inactivity is huge. It is estimated that inactivity is responsible for almost as many deaths per year as smoking. Shock tactics, perhaps, but it starts to bring the message home.

Exercise doesn't only help with weight loss but can help improve mood, strengthen bones, manage insomnia and compliment treatment for a whole host of medical conditions such as COPD, diabetes, asthma and arthritis.

It's never too late, or indeed too early, to start building more activity into your life. Your health and well being should be a top priority (although even I don't always make it so). Making the time and finding something you enjoy doing is possible for all of us.

What's one thing you can do differently this week that can help you achieve your activity target and achieve a healthier lifestyle?

Saturday, 4 June 2016

Event Review : Cakeathon

I'm a big fan of running, a bigger and of bling and am almost convinced that I'm genetically wired so as to be incapable of refusing cake. So the perfect event for me was of course something called Cakeathon!

Organised by Saxons Vikings and Normans, Cakeathon is a time challenge event; participants have 6 hours in which to complete as many laps of the course as they wish. You only need to complete one to qualify as a finisher, making it ideal for all ability levels but giving scope for more serious runners to compete against themselves. On completion of each lap your lap card is punched and you decide whether to continue. If you've had enough you just ring the Bell of Doom to receive your medal and goody bag. SVN events are renowned for their bijou events, amazing goody bags and awesome medals. Seriously, I've never seen anything like them before, and this was no exception. In addition, as this is CAKE-athon after all, there was a substantial amount of cake on hand over and above the usual aid station.

Set in what used to be known as Foulmead Country Park in Deal, Kent, the lap on this occasion was 4.37 miles, so each loop burned around 400 calories. A modest sized bit of cake per lap! Participants were encouraged to bring their own cake creations. There were prizes for the best cakes of the day, in the categories of:
1) Best cake
2) Best cake featuring marzipan
3) Best marzipan creation
4) Best cookie/brownie
5) Best vegan cake/creation
Vegan Turkish Delight cake. My favourite!
I rocked up around 8:30 for the 9am start. It's a small event in terms of allowed numbers so there was no trouble collecting my number and working out what was going on. Race briefing was amusing and informative. Amongst the regular Joes we had people running their 50th, 99th, 100th and 200th marathons that day! We started a fraction after 9am. It all felt very chilled out and relaxed. The first lap felt like the longest as I wasn't really sure what to expect but I soon settled into things. Run a lap, get my card punched, pause for squash, cake and cheese straws, set off again.
The course was stunning and traffic free (although not public free) all on gravel surface with a few "slopes", which I chose to treat as hills (i.e. walking up them). There were lovely woods to run by, ponds, grasslands and wet lands. It was pretty windy in the middle section of the course and I deliberated for ages over whether to ditch the base layer. In the end I didn't. I wasn't uncomfortably hot and I cooled down quickly after each lap. I didn't spot an awful lot of wildlife other than birds but I did hear a cuckoo on every lap. Although for once, you could wear headphones on the course and I had mine with me, I didn't feel the need to plug in. I was kept distracted enough by the course and also by greeting other runners on the out and back part of the course. By far one of the friendliest races I've ever done, "well done" was the catchphrase of the day, and sincerely meant.
My parents arrived to support me as I came in from my second lap. It was a joy to see them and my end of lap routine now included a chat with them. In the 45 minutes or so I was out on the course they   have a cooked breakfast at the visitor centre, chatted with the event team and supped cups of tea. After a couple of laps they discovered a half way point they could as get to so I was greeted part way round as well.
Dad napping. Was I taking that long?
I'd set out with the intention of attempting 7 laps, and achieving ultra marathon distance but my hip flexor started to ached and after my 6th lap I decided I probably couldn't run another and wasn't prepared to walk so I rang the bell. Better to finish on a high and besides 6 laps was marathon distance and I was delighted with that. Five hours 22 minutes on the course (including stops). Not bad. I'd only managed a couple of slices of cake as I just couldn't face it after a while but I did leave with several pieces in a takeaway container!
My ankles pre-clean down
We retired to the visitor centre for tea, warmth and, in my case, a bit of a clean up. Pretty dusty out on the course! As well as cake I got a super special finishers medal, custom made and designed, not a generic one, plus a goody bag containing actual goodies, not a bunch of adverts. Best of all, nothing healthy! Chocolate, crisps, cola... that sort of thing. 
It was a really enjoyable day out. I talked to people who ran 10k, half marathons, full marathons and every thing in between (and over). I am already eying up other SVN events to do and my mum was so impressed by the medal she was actually moved to say she would do it next year (maybe just the one lap). Highly recommended.

Have you done an SVN event? How do you feel about lapped events or time challenges?