Monday, 25 September 2017

Event Review: Tolkien Run 2017

"That's not Smaug, it's a Balrog!" came the gleeful cry from my friend Cathy as we ran along the sea wall. It wasn't yet 9am and my knowledge of Hobbits and other mythical beings was being put to the test. We were a couple of miles into The Tolkien Run, a vaguely Tolkien themed 6-hour time challenge put on by the ever-wonderful Saxons Vikings and Normans and admiring the fancy dress outfits of the few brave enough to don them. You may remember SVN from my attempt at Cakeathon earlier in the year. They specialise in time challenge events, ridiculously fantastic medals and excellent goody bags. Cathy had pointed this one out to me and Dean and we were rather taken with the idea and so that's how we ended up in Samphire Hoe at 8:30am on a Wednesday morning with a plan to run a marathon.
Representing Bracknell Forest Runners on location
We're not quite sure why this was on a Wednesday but certainly plenty of people had taken the day off work to take part in the event. Samphire Hoe boasts plenty of very cheap parking (£2 all day!) and some lovely views. SVN don't send out numbers in advance but it's always a pretty slick process to collect them, along with our punch cards for keeping track of our laps, on the day. The field is kept relatively small so there's very little crowding and everyone's friendly and jolly. I'm starting to recognise people at the events now, which is always lovely. Samphire Hoe also benefits from a cafe, proper loos (no queues this day) and a centre that we can duck into if it's wet with a covered outdoor area that serves as the food and drink station. None of this energy gel and sports drink malarky, it's cakes, biscuits, crisps and nuts galore, all washed down with squash or water, and while there wasn't as much cake as at Cakeathon, no one went hungry!
The goody bag!
The route was a 3.75m out and back course, which you repeat as many times as you wish or are able to in the 6 hours. This was to be Cathy's first marathon attempt so we had our sights set on 7 laps. I haven't been putting in the distance recently so I hoped to keep her company but was happy to see what the day brought and just do as much as I could. The course starts on track across the fields, drops down to a path by the railway track (bonus points for spotting Eurostar), down a hill and out along the sea wall, almost to the end, then around a cone to retrace your steps.
We three started out together at a nice steady pace. Dean soon started pulling away from us to go at his comfortable pace which is slightly quicker than ours, leaving Cathy and I to natter to each other and other runners whilst enjoying the first few laps. It was a warm day so arm warmers quickly came off and we crossed fingers that the sun wouldn't beat down too hard on us. At the end of each lap we took a few minutes to have something to eat and drink before setting off on the next. Travis, SVN organiser, would talk to Cathy at these moments about how she would have no trouble with the distance. After all, you can do a half marathon, lap I've won't be a problem, and no one stops at six laps so there! We started to take bets on when we'd meet Dean on the course and played some games of I Spy to relieve the tedium of the sea wall. Such was the tedium of the sea wall that it only took us one lap to exhaust I Spy so we started on some word association games instead, which started tapping into our deep seated desire for food.

The first three laps went by quite quickly, lap four marked a long half marathon and by lap five we'd settled into a run-walk strategy using corners, cones and hills as our markers. We were smiling at the same people, giving out encouragement, chatting about the Mega Marathon t-shirts and generally having quite a lot of fun. SVN write everyone's names on their numbers so it's really easy to make it personal. By the end of the event you feel as though you've made a whole bunch of new friends! At the end of lap five we met up with Dean who had waited for us to catch up so we could run the last two laps together. Even though we knew that some people had already called it a day, it didn't feel any less busy out on the course, which was nice. We stuck to the run walk strategy and carried on with the word association games. The wind started to pick up and gave us a very unfair headwind on the downhill. Our legs were sore but lap six was duly ticked off. This was it!

Lap seven commenced! There was no question that we were going to complete a marathon now. The wind was stronger but was at our back along the outward leg of the sea wall so we ran the whole length of it. We got chatting to a chap running with a backpack who we'd not noticed at the start of the day. Apparently he couldn't get the morning off to take part but had decided to come out and join us unofficially for a training run and to offer encouragement - superstar! The headwind back along the sea wall reduced us to a walk but finally we turned the corner, trudged up the hill one last time and jogged just about all the way back to the start. Done and with 10 minutes to spare! We were all delighted with our efforts. If we'd felt so inclined we could have gone for the ultra distance, the rule being that you have to start your final lap before 6 hours is up, but enough was enough. Cathy earned her "first marathon badge" for her medal ribbon and we all walked away with glow in the dark, Gates of Morir medals as big as our faces!
We hugged, changed, ate, hugged some more, took some photos, ate some more and eventually piled back into the car to go home, tired but happy and with a mid-week marathon under our belts. We certainly wouldn't have done it without the expert organisation and encouragement of the SVN tram and all the other competitors. At £39.95 I think the events are excellent value for money and I cannot wait to sign up for another.
Munching on hot buttery crumpets
Are you a Mega Marathoner? Have you ever done a mid-week marathon? Any votes on which SVN event I should try next?

Monday, 18 September 2017

I Always Feel Like Somebody's Watching Me

It's been two weeks since I started my new training plan that Ellie has designed for me and I'm loving it! It still never ceases to amaze me, just how much difference it makes being accountable to someone. It's also great not to have to think too much about what to do in my sessions, just the occasionally bit of route planning, and trying to figure out where I'm going to find a hill that takes 2 minutes to run up!

I'm building a fitness base for my events next year, upping mileage for the honeymoon marathon and working on my swim and cycling techniques. Ellie is using Training Peaks to deliver my training plan, which I've used before and get on well with. I've linked it to my Garmin Connect account so whenever I sync my Garmin to my phone, it uploads them to Vitality, Strava and Training Peaks - no fuss. I get an email every day with the current day's session and the next day's, so I'm not constantly logging in to see what's next. I'm also getting in the habit of leaving post workout comments about how it felt, what was good/bad/different. 
My first session in the week is a swim session that Ellie sets out for me. This is new for me as whenever I go to the pool I usually just swim for distance so trying to alter my speeds and do drills alone has felt odd, not least because I didn't feel as though I *could* swim at different speeds! So I squeeze that in before work and do a second swim session on a Friday evening with the tri club. The Friday sessions are coached so I get more feedback and can chat with other swimmers about the session, whether that be whinging or joking. I could have gone to these before but I always made the excuse that it was too late in the evening or I was going out, or we had the kids... any number of things. So even though Ellie doesn't set the session I still have to prove I went, so I go. Guilt - it's a powerful thing.
New swim suit for new season
Tuesdays and Wednesdays are run days. It's an Ellie-set on Tuesday, working on hills or pace at the moment, and running club track session on Wednesdays, another session I would make excuses not to go to. It turns out I can get there in time after work, know plenty of people and Dean meets me there so again, no more excuses. Track is both wonderful and horrible. In my first week I was put into Group A (I was expecting Group B) which is the sub-24 minute 5k group... i.e. MUCH faster than my PB (at the moment - maybe this training will change that). This was supposedly so that coach could see how I ran on my own (Groups B & C were working in pairs) and in fairness the set was such that I wasn't able to compare myself to others very much although I did find my fast pace wasn't my quicker than some people's slow pace. I felt as though I'd disappointed coach but I know it's all for the greater good. I nailed the stretching though!

Tuesdays are a bit of a double run/triple training day at the moment as I lead my Fit2Run group on some trail runs in the evening which I can't weave my training into, leaving me more tired that I should be for track. I'm also doing a SUPfit class in the morning, which I LOVE and ticks the box for cross training/strength and conditioning, but it's only for a couple more weeks. If my Tuesday run training doesn't involve a hill I can do it before SUPfit, which gets it out of the way nice and early and I get to run around the lake which is so lovely.
Post run, pre SUPfit!
Thursday are rest days and I try very hard to take the advice. It's a quite work day too so I can properly chill out. The weekend is hosting my longer training sessions for cycling, running or brick (cycling followed by running). This was a bit of a disaster in my first week. I was due to cycling for an hour and run for 30 minutes on Saturday and between teaching in the morning, our pre-wedding photos and an evening out with friends I barely had enough time to fit it in. Then when I did get to it, I felt as though I was running on empty, getting slower and slower on the bike, with shaky legs and feeling sick so I abandoned after 40 minutes on the bike and went home to be fed tea and biscuits by Dean. The only reason for it I can think of is that I was full of nerves for the photo shoot and the adrenalin left me feeling washed out.
One of my faves from our photo shoot
The week ends with a long run on Sunday. If we don't have the children in tow then I'm trying to do this with Dean for some moral support and company, but I've no qualms about heading out on my own when I have to. This week I'm actually swapping my track session and long run around as I'm doing the Tolkien run on Wednesday so I'll replicate track on my own on Sunday. I've also got what looks to be a rather long/tiring swim set today which will certainly earn me my breakfast! Feels good to have structure again and I'm feeling better for it already!


Monday, 11 September 2017

Berkshire Fitness Scene : SUPfit

Stand Up Paddleboarding, or SUP, has become rather popular in recent years and it's not uncommon to find local lakes offering paddle boarding sessions as well as swimming or water skiing. I first tried SUP back in 2015 but despite enjoying it, made little effort to go back to it. However, my increased interest in lake swimming this year led me to discover that Dinton Pastures were running SUPfit courses throughout the summer.
SUPfit combines paddle boarding with yoga moves, stretching and strengthening exercises. The classes last an hour and a half and improve your balance, strength and all-round fitness. Moves that you wouldn't think twice about on dry land suddenly become rather more challenging on the water. I'm two weeks into a five week course (shortened from 6 weeks due to the time of year) and am really enjoying it. At 9:30am on a Tuesday morning, I join the instructor and rest of the class to paddle out onto the lake and do a work out. The boards are quite wide and fairly stable but it feels very exposed standing on them. I've been given extra guidance on how to paddle efficiently, which is a workout in itself with the wind and the weed!

We're working on a strength and stretching programme which combines some yoga moves with other exercises like squats and lunges (which are SO hard on the board) and quite a lot of planks! It's not what I would call strenuous, but I certainly feel like I've moved well afterwards. Plus being out on the lake with the swans, herons and ducks is really lovely; it's difficult not to have a sense of well being after that. One of the most challenging things about the workout is not drifting away from the group on the board as every move affects the board and we aren't always able to tether to something.
You don't need to have any SUP experience to take part in the classes, nor do you need to be proficient at yoga. You don't need any special kit either; I wear clothes that I would do a gym class in, but with bare feet and a long sleeved layer if it's breezy. I'm yet to fall in but I'm sure I will before the end of the five weeks. My course is the last to run this season but I really hope they bring it back next year. With pre-work, morning and evening classes there's a time to suit most people and although it could be seen as gimmicky, it certainly compliments my other training at the moment.

Have you done SUP or a class on SUP boards? What other water based exercise classes have you come across?

Monday, 4 September 2017

Mindful Chef

On August Bank Holiday Saturday, Dean, Mum and I spent the day at The Big Feastival, a food and music festival on Alex James' (he of Blur fame) farm in Oxfordshire. Mum and I went last year and enjoyed it so much that we got early bird tickets for this year and we're hoping to go for two days in 2018. It's a family-friendly event where you can attend cookery classes, watch top chefs in action, listen to great bands and DJs, buy from local producers and sample all sorts of delicious goodies.
Amongst the producers showing off their wares were Mindful Chef, a health-focused food box company set up by school friends Giles, Myles and Rob and funded by Sir Andy Murray and Victoria Pendleton CBE. They've been around since 2015 and have shipped over 500,000 healthy recipes from small farms in Devon where they grew up. Their USP is reducing your intake of refined carbs, so their boxes and recipes will never contain pasta, bread or white rice - instead all their recipes are based on innovative uses of fresh vegetables.
I was initially drawn to their stall because they were giving out free samples of two vegetarian recipes, a chilli and a smoky lentil and mushroom dish. Both were outstanding and I must confess to having more than one sample during the course of the day. We grabbed a few recipe cards and resolved to head back a bit later to sign up.

One of the smaller tents in the foodie area was hosting some Table Sessions, where some of the top chefs and producers put on some tasters, talks and demos, and I was delighted to see that Mindful Chef was doing one. We managed to get a spot near the demo counter for Myles' engaging talk about their origins whilst Giles whipped up one of their recipes. They claim that every recipe in their food boxes has 10 ingredients or fewer and should take no more than 30 minutes to prepare - the time element of that was certainly proven at the Table Session!
Myles, me and Giles
During the Table Session, Dean had snuck off to sign us up for a box containing two vegetarian meals for two, taking advantage of their 25% off two boxes plus free cookbook deal, which Myles and Giles and they very kindly signed after the demo. The book has sections about gut health, eating for training, stress and sleep as well as a stack of enticing recipes and I'm really looking forward to getting stuck in to it!

Myles and Giles came across as really nice chaps, very engaging, passionate about what they do and with a genuine interest in helping people to have a healthier diet. I found out that Giles used to be a Personal Trainer and we talked about the virtues of different PT and Nutrition courses. We also met Louisa, their chef who develops all the recipes and walked away with yet more recipe cards.
There are lots of different meal box solutions around these days, from vegetable boxes, to spice packs and boxes containing all the ingredients you need to cook a meal for 2, 3 or 4 people. I've tried several in the past and they all have their merits. So what appealed about this one, apart from the delicious samples and the offer? Being able to talk to the producers definitely played a part. Finding out that there is a PT/Nutritionist approach to the recipes is also a draw. Half of their recipes are vegan and there appears to be a much bigger selection than many other companies, where I would come across the same meals too often for my liking. They are not the cheapest around, and certainly not as cheap as buying the ingredients yourself, but there's no temptation to impulse shop and there certainly won't be any food waste. It'll be perfect for when I'm working or training late and Dean is on dinner duty!

Keep your eyes pealed for a post in the next couple of weeks where we'll let you know how we get on with the boxes and a Mindful Chef competition.

Have you tried meal boxes? Which ones and what did you think of them? Do you think they are an indulgence or have they saved you money?