Strength In Depth – just what is fitness racing?

At the beginning of November (yes, I know I’m late!) I was invited by European Fitness League to get an understanding of their flagship event “Strength in Depth”. I literally had ZERO idea what to expect, so I was keen to see how what I described to my mum as “competitive tyre flipping” shaped up.

I met with Harry, Managing Director, for a behind the scenes look at what was going on. This basically meant I got to understand the practicalities and logistics behind an event like this, as well as sneaking down “competitor-only” corridors, meeting some of the event and media crew and basically getting an all-access pass.

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The Format

I was there on Day 1 of the Finals weekend. Teams had been competing in qualifiers for a good few months beforehand, culminating in the end event for the top 40 over the period. As a team, you basically divide and conquer the numerous events over the weekend. There are various rules about which combination you can compete in, but basically, not everyone is good at everything, and this is the opportunity for each individual to play to their strengths. There’s a live leaderboard on display as teams go through the rounds – which means it is super easy to find out how you (and your competition!) are getting on.

The Events

At first, I couldn’t quite work out what was going on or where we were in the schedule – but was directed out to the outdoor spectator balcony where you could see people starting to get ready for event #2 – the Spartan Race. I’ve heard rumours of huffing and puffing about the amount of running that was needed for this event, but it says something when the teams start in reverse qualifying order and the first-placed still managed to take a couple of minutes off second!

The whole team has to complete the event, which led to some impressive shows of sportsmanship– carrying team members round, giving a helping hand over obstacles, leaving no man (or woman) behind. There were a couple of the expected mishaps (the usual rolled ankles on landing) but the fact that the guys got 40 teams off at 2 minute intervals timed to the second is a huge credit to the organisation skills of this event.

Next up, they moved back inside. There was a lot of waiting around as a spectator, because as you can imagine, getting 40 teams around the muddy course – and then through showers – is quite a feat. However, they were already setting up for event 3, and passed the time with a demonstration from two Rio medal winning rowers and then Crossfit Kids. This was frankly terrifying and inspiring in equal measures (mainly because they can do proper pull ups and lots of functional moves that I can’t). I was also able to peruse the stands (lots of supps, stash and foam rollers) and contemplate getting my hair braided. Oh, and watch some of the Wales Australia game on TV.

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Events 3 and 4 took place concurrently, with 3 in the main hall and 4 being a pool-based event (who knew swimming would be involved?!)

I mainly watched Event 3 – which was a mind boggling displaying of skipping skills, lifting and some VERY strong bar muscle ups…which I can only dream of. And things like 50 toes to bar…where I can do about 5 before I get tired. It worked well having a male team, a female team AND a mixed team that all had to get through it (a sub-team doesn’t start until the previous has finished their workout, which means maximum support and pressure to get it done within the rules so you can move on)

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For full details of each of the events that took place when I was there – click here

The Teams

Teams HAVE to have 7 male and 5 female, plus one from each gender has to be over 40, which means it really promotes a blend of abilities, ages and genders, which you need when you start to understand the varied activities that the teams have to participate in. People had travelled from overseas and all around the UK – which shows what a pinnacle event this has become.

The team spirit works well across a lot of the events i.e. if you need to get 15 bar muscle ups, you can work out between you who is going to deliver what rather than expecting each individual to have the same ability. Big cheering teams are very much the centrepoint of this competition, with lots of supporting children and families!

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The Venue

As a Loughborough girl, I have a slight inbuilt hatred for Bath, but you can’t deny what fabulous facilities they have! There is tons of space, both indoor and outdoor, and it is set up well for a multi-sport event, without having to make people traipse between venues all day. The warm-up area was particularly impressive, with enough space for all the competitors to have their own little corner and adequate space to warm up with a range of equipment.

Also note – the café is pretty top notch if you are looking for a decently balanced meal.

The Experience

As a first time spectator of this kind of event, I was wowed. Any sense you have of weightlifting events being individual is quickly thrown out of the window and there are some true tales of battle to get there. It’s also incredibly inspiring to see what people are able to do with their bodies…I left late afternoon and, I have to say…I actually went to the gym that evening! There’s something about watching people throwing their bodies around that makes you feel like you need to get training.

Strength in Depth ISN’T just for Crossfit fanatics – in fact, they aren’t affiliated, although a vast proportion of athletes and teams will come from a Crossfit background, because it’s the type of thing they are used to. It’s a real show of determination, team spirit and an absolute bucketload of pure physical ability which can’t help but get you thinking….could I do that?

A big thanks to European Fitness League for inviting me down and providing me with some of their fabulous imagery!

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2016, where did you go?!?

So, the end of December is typically time to look back at the year, what has happened, what ridiculous resolutions or goals I will set myself for 2017 etc etc. Rather than going at it month by month…I’m going to dip around a bit between sports just to confuse you all!

TLDR – fewer miles, more PBs, less frantic exercising because I felt I had to, more rest days, few niggles, still don’t like swimming, must go cycling more.

Swimming

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Swimming was basically a necessary evil this year. I did the Henley Swim Club to Pub in July and that is basically the only reason I did any swim training at all. However, I did it in just over 30 minutes, dropping 4 off my time at Hever 9 months previously. They gave me a beer 10 seconds after I exited the water and that was brilliant.  I did quite a lot of open water practice with my boyfriend (we also ate a lot of cake) and can safely say, my confidence has improved massively, as has my breathing and ability to not have to stop and tread water. I’m probably going to enter at least one swim and one triathlon this year, so it makes sense to keep it on my agenda. But I don’t think it will ever be “the one”

There is a lot of talk about doing the Henley Marathon next summer in the office, but quite frankly, I think 14km is probably a bit too far when I don’t even really like swimming that much. I swam in a lake in the Pyrenees where I survived some super weedy patches (I basically didn’t bother with the swimming area and just hopped in, leaving some bemused looking fishermen…but it got a good photo). A year previously, I would never have even considered doing this – and the weeds would have probably drowned me in panic (and don’t even mention what creatures probably lived in there)

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Cycling

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No real big rides this year at all actually. To be brutally honest with myself, 90% of my bike miles were commuting, which isn’t great. But this was partially planned when I realised that to do my marathon training justice, I needed to drop back on the extra miles I was putting in my legs elsewhere. I tailed off my commuting at the end of 2015, and there was a noticeable change – I PB’d at pretty much every distance –  as well as jumping up around 100 places in my usual Surrey XC league standings. So as much as I hate to admit it, cycling all the time and a “running + cross-training = OK” formula doesn’t always work.

A few noticeable exceptions – my trip to Brighton in November and an un-Garminned 2k stretch as part of the RBC V Series but to be quite honest, A VERY BORING YEAR ON THE BIKE. Must do better. Must do more MTB.

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Running

I look back to 2012 and 2013 and wonder WTF I was doing with 180 mile months. This year I managed to run a much more consistent pattern over the first 4 months of the year, and as you can see, there have been no zero miles months so far this year.

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This year was a year for PBs and most of them came just from a byproduct of more miles.  I started with the Winter Run in April – which, unfortunately as a non UKA licensed course, doesn’t quite count…but it was a 10k PB anyway (41:32), especially in horrendous rain and being the day after a cross-country mudbath at Parliament Hill.

Another PB came about at the Watford Half the following weekend which was totally unexpected. If you’ve run Watford, you will know it ain’t flat. I think my half PB is currently pretty soft, and to be perfectly honest, the last time I trained for a half itself that wasn’t during a marathon block was Maidenhead in 2012…which is flat. In an ideal world, I reckon I should be running around a 1:31/1:32. So maybe one for this year.

I would love to say that VLM was dreamy, but it wasn’t. It was a cold hard slog for the last 6 miles, and the reason for that is well…I never really did much over 20. So I don’t know what I expected. But, I broke the magical 3.30, got another GFA & BQ and all in all, happy days.

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Had a week off and then decided to just “see how it went” at a local 5 miler the following Bank Holiday weekend, and it went swimmingly.  I placed 2nd at my first duathlon of the season…and 1st at my second. I won a 2 mile ran in Battersea Park (and I won a mango!) and my team placed 3rd ladies in the 3 x 1 mile relay. We won the cross country league. I spent 4 days running and napping by the pool in the Pyrenees (altitude training and cheese for the win)

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I ran along the beach on the Basque coast. We came 2nd in the Great Team Relay (I got to finish in the Olympic Stadium) I ran up the Madeloc…again. I got another trophy for a 2nd place in a 10k trail race. I ran over the Millau Bridge in May with my parents & uncles. It was spectacular (and breezy as anything!)

I did a few more parkruns – and was 1st woman 4 times out of 4 at Colchester #humblebrag. Tooting Common became an easy “1 mile run to the start line” option. I amassed many, many contributions to the “ugly running photos” album.

I took a bit of a break from running in November because of a niggly Achilles – I’m still not 100% “in the zone” but I’m getting there. More rest days, more chill out time, more sleep and a few more reality checks from the important people in my life have contributed to a bit more balance and mental stability…and I’ve learnt a lot about myself, my attitude and what my body and mind respond best to. I understand why people say peak years come during your 30s – a solid base and appreciation of training, focus and what makes you tick only come with time, so don’t rush it.

…and all the other stuff

I got back down to City Strongman classes at The Foundry (which, if you haven’t been to, you need to) I played in 2 7s tournaments this summer, getting tries AND scoring a conversion (highlight of the year). I practised line-outs in the back garden.

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I went skiing twice. I’ve been back playing netball – and we won our league. I’ve been doing a hell of a lot more lifting and I don’t know the last time I went to a class at the gym or used a treadmill, spin bike or cross-trainer. I realised I like hanging upside down on rings and ropes. I feel pretty happy in my body right now (well, not after 7 days of solid Christmas eating and wine) but this year has finally seen me settle down in myself and relax a bit more. I know what my happy weight is and where it is easy to maintain it without setting restrictions. My clothes still fit me. I’m still breaking belt loops on jeans because they aren’t designed for quads and glutes that match my waist size. I’ve bought 3 pairs of trainers and I don’t want to count how many pairs of leggings and new tops I acquired without throwing anything out :/

I don’t know what 2017 is going to bring and I haven’t really set my goals yet. I’ve got a rough idea, but I would prefer to see how January goes before making any big claims. But you’ll hear about them…

And with that, over and out 2016! Have a good one!!

 

London to Brighton bike ride

A few weeks ago, I had a day off.  And, like any normal person would, I chose to cycle down to Brighton (cue eye roll) so I thought I would tell you lovely people aaaaaallllll about it.

The route

I pretty much followed the route that the official BHF ride takes – which I found on Bikely by Googling it. It practically goes past my front door so I cut a couple of miles off #winningbeforeievenstarted

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It is nice basically once you are out of zone 6!  And fairly quiet really until you get to Brighton, bar a busy fast stretch round where you cross the M25. If anyone tells you it is flat, it is not. Just FYI, just because you are cycling “down to the coast” does not mean you are cycling downhill, but in general, it is nothing horrendous.

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Couple to point out if you like to know what you are getting yourself in for.

  • How Lane, Chipstead. Here, I got caught up by a man on an electric bike who said “I wish I was as fit as you”. Note, at this point, I was practically cycling backwards so I don’t really think I was giving off a great impression of the benefits of cycling up hills.
  • Church Hill, Nutfield – that’s the little spike at 15 miles!
  • Turners Hill. Less of a spike but just a long, continual drag (aka about 7 miles of drag!)
  • And the final one, Ditchling Beacon. It’s actually not *that* bad if you had fresh legs, and probably would be easier if it didn’t come 45 miles into the ride. It is also very windy at the top, but, you know once you are there, you can see the sea and it is basically all downhill.

Navigation

I did not use any GPS. My iPhone has diabolical battery life (it’s over 2 years old, which we all know is the turning point) so I didn’t want to risk relying on it, and I haven’t got a bike computer, just my trusty 920XT, which is great for telling you how far you’ve gone, but less so if it’s in the right direction.

So, I WROTE IT ON A PIECE OF PAPER. I know, daring! Actually, it’s not really that hard a route – there is lots of “keep going along the road for ages until you hit a t-junction” and I just used Google maps every so often when I thought I had missed a turning. And I didn’t miss any.

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Food and nutrition

I realised I should probably take some snacks with me rather than just rely on breakfast getting me through. And like the true pro I am, I took a cereal bar and 4 gels taken from my “gel supply”. Point here is that lots of things in my “gel supply” are probably (definitely) out of date, lots of them have been race freebies and lots of them I know I don’t like the taste of but I keep them anyway.

  • I like Go ahead cereal bars (but not as much as the yoghurt coated Eat Natural ones)
  • Putting a gel that you thought was just an empty wrapper in your back pocket is risky
  • I had a REALLY gross French apple flavoured gel (can’t remember where I acquired it), it was bleurgh so never again.
  • I can actually only handle two gels in a period of about 3 hours because the taste is just too sickly
  • I should probably put more than one bottle holder on this bike because I definitely ran out of water

Kit

I decided to ride the Liv, mainly because it won’t get much use during the winter (because white winter bikes are not a good idea) plus, it’s lighter and a stiffer frame. This is the furthest I’ve ridden on it and I have to admit I was a bit worried about the long distance on an aero frame when I’m not reeeeeally used to it…but it was super comfy!

Wore some bog standard full length Shimano tights, my NEW SHOES (also Liv, colour scheme matches my bike – may have been on purpose), overshoes, Canterbury base layer, jersey (from Lidl and still going strong), buff, headband and Sealskinz gloves. I took a jacket with me if I needed it, but it was generally not too windy, nor too cold, which was a relief because it would have been a misery. Unfortunately i have no “outfit of the day” photo, mainly because I was so wrapped up you could only really see my eyes, plus, I just couldn’t be bothered.

Safety, niceness of roads & traffic

It is relatively traffic free once you get out of London (and obviously, it picks up again when you get into Brighton). Yes, lots of country lanes, but wasn’t harassed by many 60mph+ drivers which is great. The roads typically were in pretty good condition (I can imagine having a regular charity bike ride on this route helps with this) and it is always a good change to get away from traffic and traffic lights and loads of other cyclists.

On the negative side, if you get into trouble (in my case, this would be something more than a puncture) you would be a long, lonely walk from any train stations. Which isn’t ideal. When I rang my dad on Brighton beach to tell him I had arrived, his first instinct was that he was going to have to come and pick me up!

Have to say,  one of the best things was the cycle lane when I picked up the A270 through Brighton – mainly because at bus stops, they took the cycle lane behind the bus stop (i.e. the bus stop is on its own little island) rather than it spitting you back out into traffic whenever there is a bus in the way. London take note! (although don’t think there is enough space)

Post-ride recovery

I wish I had a great story about having fish and chips on Brighton beach but…I didn’t. I sat down,  rang my dad and boyfriend, cycled to the station, got paranoid about locking up my bike with only one lock, bought my ticket and went to M&S whilst ice-skating my way round in my cycling shoes (not quite yet used to cleats that aren’t recessed like MTB ones)

I bought apple juice, a cheese & onion sandwich, chocolate flapjack (my favourite) and chocolate milk (which I didn’t even drink until I was in bed that evening)

I got back to Clapham J, cycled (slowly) back to mine and had a bath. I was then so tired that I bought a pizza, and drank 2 small (large) glasses of red (maybe in the bath and/or in bed) and watched rubbish tv all evening before falling asleep at about 9pm. #trainlikeanathlete

Now I’ve ticked that off the list, my next thought is to do the offroad route...which looks incredible (75 miles of fun)

Ever cycled down to Brighton?

Where should I aim for next?

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10 things that unnecessarily annoy me at the gym

Yes, I know gyms are inclusive and anyone is allowed to do what they want, wear what they want and enjoy their workout sessions doing their own thang, but there are certain things that really wind me up. So here is a short and sweet list (note, about 10 things on the list and, I’m not actually being that sweet about anyone or anything, don’t say I didn’t warn you)

  • Anyone who is wearing a vest  WITH A HOOD. I mean, when was this ever cool. Literally never is the answer so please don’t do it again.
  • Anyone who spends more time looking in the mirror than they do actually doing any work. Or sitting on their phone. There is ‘using a phone for looking at your workouts’ and then there is ‘you could just do that in your living room don’t take up my space’. Same with ‘using the mirror to check form’ and ‘I think I am absolutely bangin’, don’t you agree?’
  • Floppy fringes. There was a guy yesterday who literally spent the entire time swishing his hair around.I don’t even know how he could see anything. Wear a flipping headband if it’s getting in your face.Or get a hair cut.  GAH. (Sub-point here…girls who exercise with their hair down. How do you even do that?!)
  • People who put the treadmills on really high inclines and then hold onto the handrails the.whole.time. You are literally doing half the work you think you are doing.
  • Facial expressions. I mean, I know people can’t really help what they look like when at the gym, but sometimes people should just calm it down. No-one needs to see you gurn (but now I’ve noticed I can’t stop looking)
  • People who cheat. Yes, I mean you who is on the leg press with his mate “spotting” (aka pushing) and also pushing your thighs with your hands. NO THAT DOES NOT COUNT as 200KG. You are as bad as people holding onto the handrails of a treadmill. Do it properly. You’re only kidding yourself (eyeroll)
  • Ladies only sections. Basically, I know I’m toeing the line here, people will disagree and this (and gender-specific races) merits its own post, but if I was suddenly not allowed in a specific section of the gym that was always quieter than the rest, I’d probably kick off. Also, why can’t we have the ladies only section full of squat racks and benches so we can use them to our hearts content, rather than just treadmill after treadmill. Riddle me that.
  • Really low gym ceilings. Basically, at Virgin Active at Barbican there is nowhere you can do box jumps because you are in danger of hitting your head. Sort it out. Oh, whilst I’m on it, those Grid classes that basically take up the only free floor space there really is in the gym and use about 15 kettlebells and all the TRXs. I get that the class needs to take place, but everyone is trying to work out at 7.30am and I can’t wait 30 minutes please thank you.
  • People who have really bad form but think they don’t. I’m all for giving things a go, getting some help and braving things like weights for the first time – everyone has to start somewhere and no one is perfect. But what really bugs me is people who think they are super pro, are doing things appallingly (ridiculously swinging your arms during bicep curls is cheating, duh) and it’s like nah bro calm down. (Note, these people would also probably refer to themselves as ‘bro; so it is totally legit for me to do so)
  • People who bring their entire makeup kit and have time to put hair extensions in after working out in the morning. I mean I literally blow dry the sweat out of my hair and do my make up in about 2 minutes. It’s less that these people irritate me, more that they just make me realise I am really not putting much effort into life.

I would like to open this up – what’s your personal gym bugbear?

(Note – I am not a mean person in real life, just intolerant xoxo)

REVIEW: The Castle Centre – Everyone Active

The good people at Everyone Active have recently taken over the running of several local authority leisure centres in London, including The Castle Centre, Marshal Street Leisure Centre, Seymour Sports Centre and Porchester Centre & Spa. We’re pretty fond of their mission: to encourage more people to participate in 30 minutes of moderate physical activity, five times a week, and were totally delighted when they asked us to come and check out their newly renovated centres and their facilities.

The Castle Centre is handily located a 10min cycle from my office and on my way home, so I had literally no excuse not to go for a snoop around, and by jingo am I glad I did. I hadn’t been to The Castle Centre before the renovation, but I have no doubt that it has entirely transformed since reopening – the way it is designed means it is full of light and absorbs a huge number of people without it feeling overcrowded, which is handy if you are heading in during the post-work crush.

As you approach the centre, the thing that strikes you immediately is the super-cool, fluorescent sign that sits, human-height, in the floor-to-ceiling window on the first floor, above the front door. It’s the first glimpse of the vibe I think they’re going for in their gym. It’s erring towards a Gym-boxy sort of funkiness, but without being enormously overpriced and full of meatheads. Head up to the first floor and you’ll find the brilliantly kitted out gym – all the cardio and free weights you could ask for an resistance machines for everything, including muscles I didn’t even know I had. My only criticism of the resistance machines is that they aren’t truly weighted, rather you set the resistance by pushing a button that taughtens the cable which you have to push or pull against – so how are you supposed to know how much you’re lifting? Equally though, everything is well maintained and pristinely clean and tidy.

This leisure centre is truly inclusive and appealing to everyone, as evidenced by the packed, shriek-filled swimming pool during family friendly swimming times. This also makes for a chilled out gym – there’s people of all different shapes, sizes, levels of fitness and sporting interests. Sure, there are occasionally a couple of blokes gurning in the mirror whilst lifting with questionable form, but there’s nothing of the uber-lad about this place. I felt just as comfortable swinging a kettle about on a mat as I would have done in the privacy of my own bedroom.

As well as a fab gym, there is a good-sized spinning studio, thought the number and selection of spinning classes is a tad limited currently, with only two pre-work sessions a week currently. Being so close to the City, it seems a shame they don’t take advantage of the current wellbeing trend and offer more lunchtime sessions. Next door to the cycling studio is the large general studio where they have piles of equipment including boxing gloves,pads and bags; assorted dumbells, kettlebells and medicine balls; mats; steps and exercise balls. It’s a fitness class fan’s sweetshop. Which leads me to my main criticism of the Centre.

On seeing the plethora of kettlebells in the studio, I was intrigued. I love a good kettlebelling, me. So, on my way out I stopped at the reception desk to ask for their guidance on what classes I could book in order to use them. Unfortunately, I was met with a look of beffudlement. In fact, when I probed them on the Group Exercise more broadly, they weren’t able to give me much detail on any of the classes and couldn’t tell me what any of them entailed, other than that a step is used in Step. This was a problem I found when attending the Body Conditioning class, which you can read about here – though it has to be said, the class itself was enjoyable. In an attempt to be all things to all people, I think Everyone Active has written some seriously generic copy in their class descriptions, which is pretty unhelpful.

In all, I think the facilities at the Castle Centre easily rival the likes of Virgin Active and LA Fitness but the classes and their availability have got a bit of a way to go. If you live or work in that neck of the woods, give it a whirl.

 

A winter workout rut? Not here!

It’s flipping freezing. It’s also flipping dark. No one wants to go out, beds are comfy and warm, the heating is on and I’m not going to lie, I’m far more tempted by beef bourguignon, potatoes and a glass of red wine (lol, bottle) than I am dragging myself around Tooting Common for a tempo run. But I get out and do it anyway (most of the time)

So here are some tips on how to stay active when it’s less than desirable outside. Some of these are practical and some are safety-related. Some relate to running, some are general exercise.

Stay safe

Even more relevant now following the sad news from Aldershot this week, which really made me think. It could have been any of us. Running outside in the dark = potential dangers, even if you’re on the pavement and think you’re safe. Don’t take risks down unlit alleyways in dodgy estates, don’t wear your headphones, watch out for things laying in wait to trip you up and stick to places where there are more lights and people. I know this isn’t always the case – but your tripping over danger/dodgy person danger ratio will probably flex depending on where you live, so adjust accordingly. Wear high viz, run towards oncoming traffic if you have no pavement option – basically don’t take risks. Unfortunately, some things are out of our control, but make sure that you change the things you can.

Time it right

Pick your poison. Are you a morning or an evening exerciser? I tend to find at this point in the year, it’s much harder to go out again in the evening once it’s dark so I tend to pick the mornings. This means I’ve set my heating to come on earlier and I don’t often leave the house when it’s light, but it is worth it knowing that I can get home and crash after a long day.

To combat this – I do try and run at lunchtime. Or gym at 3pm (it’s super quiet!). Luckily, I work somewhere where this is possible. More sleep, more light, more motivation – and a safer run in the daytime.

Make it social

Pick a team sport. My current thing is Monday night netball – and when I complain  about the cold with other people, it’s more bearable. If you aren’t a team sport person, pick a workout buddy or sign up for a class that you can’t cancel. Also, a 2 mile run to netball is a good warmup AND means you add another run to the week.

 

Prepare prepare prepare

This is the case for any time of day, any time of year – get everything ready so you have no excuses. Lay out all your clothes. Make your lunch. Get all your layers ready. Always have a raincoat in your bag for when it starts raining and you’ve got to cycle home…also take spare socks. I also go to work in my running stuff (again, #perks) so it forces me to feel like I wore it for a purpose.

Prepare for after

Don’t go swimming and then come out and catch pneumonia. Have enough layers for before and after (i.e. don’t stay in sweaty kit too long), grab a hot drink, make your boyfriend run a bath for you in preparation…

Food is key – I HATE going out to buy food if I’ve already been for a run and have come back. Make life easy for yourself – come back, eat dinner, shower, bed. WIN.

Dress for the weather

Layers, gloves, hats, scarves, everything. Being under or overdressed can make a significant different to your enjoyment, and I would always err on the over-dressed side. You can always take layers off, you can’t add them when you’re 10km from home!

Keep it simple

Sometimes it’s harder to train in the cold. It takes longer to warm up, it’s icy, you are mentally checked out and back home in bed already…so don’t push it every time, don’t stress if you miss one workout and don’t take risks just to fit it in. A warm up becomes more and more important when your body temperature is going to be lower – don’t skip it and risk an injury.

Enjoy it!

There is something exceptionally exciting about running outside in the cold, running in the snow, feeling the cold air filling your lungs. The scenery can be great at this time of year – think crisp frosts, autumn leaves and clear sunny wintery skies. (Or rain, dark, cold and miserable, but lets not focus on that). Then you are free to snuggle up in something cosy for the rest of the day and truly feel you deserved it!

Anything we’ve missed?

Who said South London isn't pretty? #run #running #tooting #morning #redsky

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London marathon ballot…also known as ‘why does everyone think London is the only marathon?’

Ahhh it’s that time of year again when everyone is impatiently waiting for their ballot result – whether it’s a magazine and compensation in form of a top that EVERYONE knows is because you didn’t get in…or this year it appears they are resorting to just sending emails.

I’ve run London 3 times (here and here are the most recent recaps) and I’ve got my place for 2017 sorted (except I think I’m going to defer)  And something I often hear is  “Oh you must have been really lucky to get a place in the ballot 1/2/3/4 times”.

Nope. I didn’t get into the ballot. I have NEVER got a place in the ballot. I entered the ballot once for the 2012 race. I didn’t get in. I didn’t then sit around for 10 years, entering again and again and complaining about not getting in whilst being not so secretly jealous about those who are running. When I didn’t get in, I entered another marathon (Paris), managed to run a Good for Age time and therefore could get into London automatically, avoiding the ballot. And then repeated this process.

I just DON’T understand why London seems to be the be all and end all, the defining moment, the one event that everyone seems to see (well I mean I do get this, the media hype is a big player) but people – moreso in the non running community – need to understand that any marathon is as good as any other.  “Is the Paris marathon the same distance as the London one?” Why yes, a marathon is a marathon is a marathon. YOU’RE RUNNING A FREAKING MARATHON, THIS IS GOOD ENOUGH IN ITSELF.

If you’re complaining about not making it in, ask yourself a question – what do you really want from this race? Why is London such a big deal? Is it really? There are plenty of other big city marathons with great support and a great course. They might not be as iconic, but they are still doing the job of being a marathon. There are also plenty of nice non-city marathons…

Also, while we are on it – why does the marathon seem to be the defining race length? Do it justice. A sub 20 5k is equally (if not moreso) impressive than a 4 hour marathon. Or a 3.30 marathon as I can do that but not sub 20.  Get better at running shorter, build your experience and THEN try the marathon – attempting it too early is pretty much going to fail and you’ll enjoy it a lot more as a seasoned runner.

And if you do really want to do it, put some effort in and get a place based on your ability (see above – get better at shorter distances, build your speed and stamina and then take it up a notch) I am sure MANY will disagree, but I actually don’t think running 3.45 or under is that unachievable for a lot of women in the senior age bracket. It is definitely harder for men – 3.05 takes some significant training, even with some genetic advantage (hmmm) but 3.45 is hardly the New York extremes for automatic entry. Or join a club, do your time and volunteering, then try and get a club place. Plus, you’ve then got a club full of experienced people to help you with your training…

I mean, I’m not slamming London by any means – it’s a great course, the atmosphere and supporters are amazing, there’s something spine-tingling about being on that start line, but don’t put all your eggs in one basket. You’re probably thinking “well why have you done London multiple times and continue to enter…?” Which is a fair question! I didn’t have much intention to do another marathon after Paris…but thought I may as well take up the opportunity to give London a go as I just had to fill in a form, have my time validated and pay some money.

However London is also VERY convenient for me. I don’t need a hotel, I don’t need to pay ridiculous travel costs, I know where I’m going, I can practice on the route, I know loads of people running and I know loads of people supporting. I’ve literally just become lazy about marathonning.

If you want to understand all the numbers, some solutions and general goings on of the ballot, take a look at this article by Dan here.

And for all of you who have been lucky to get a place – treasure it and don’t waste it. Rocking up on the start line with zero training and doing a poor job of it is unfair on those who would have embraced it, put in the hours and done a fabulous event justice. So take pride in your bib.

Thoughts? Alternative ballot ideas? Better-marathons-than-London suggestions? Better-distances-than-marathon suggestions?

#YourGoTri – The time Kate was finally convinced to try Triathlon

It’s been a super summer of sport and between the Olympics, the Paralympics and the Brownlee’s demonstration of sporting brotherly love at the Triathlon World Series in Mexico a couple of weeks ago, “triathlon” hasn’t been far from anyone’s lips.

brownlee_bros

The Brownlee Brothers (courtesy of mirror.co.uk)

If you’ve been reading or following us for a while, you’ll know that it is Katie F, not me, who is the triathlete of the pair of us. I hate running with a burning passion, and despite being a reasonable cyclist and a not-terrible swimmer, the running alone has always been enough to put me off even considering doing a triathlon. So when British Triathlon contacted us to say that they were running a campaign called #YourGoTri to encourage new people into the sport by pointing out how easy it is to factor all three disciplines into your weekly fitness routine, Katie gave me a look that said “now you really don’t have an excuse”.

I guess now I really don’t. Continue reading

Altitude training in the Pyrenees

So I wrote last week about being stuck in a rut and how I was hoping that a little trip away with my running crew might do the trick.

We decided over a post parkrun brunch a few months ago that we should follow in the footsteps of Mo, Paula et al and give altitude training a go where the best of them train – Font Romeu in the French Pyrenees.

We flew to Toulouse, rented cars and headed up to an airbnb in Saillagouse, a few miles away from Font Romeu. By the time we arrived it was gone 2am, so we quickly shotgunned beds and headed to sleep.

The house we rented had the most AMAZING shutters on every window. Meaning that, despite the long drive, I woke at 9.30 thinking that it was still the middle of the night! We wandered down to the boulangerie to explore the village, returning with armfuls of almond pain au chocolats and begun the bread binge…(a repetitive feature of the trip) and headed down to the pool…and stayed there.


In the afternoon, we finally dragged ourselves off  the piles of outdoor cushions and drove up past Mont Louis, stopping at a parking spot just off the main road (by the déchèterie if you want the precise location) and headed out onto the trails. People aimed for a variety of distances – we had spotted an 8k loop but we never really found it, instead ending up with an out and back through forest, across fields and along track, totally about 6 miles, hitting the dizzying heights of 1800m altitude.


Bang on 6 miles with an average pace of 9.04. Wrapped it up with a few planks and stretchning, before heading back to chicken and roasted vegetables. And obviously bread.

On the subject of altitude – I don’t think it made a huge amount of difference in terms of feeling impossible. Things felt marginally harder – mainly I noticed my breathing feeling a bit more laboured, but that was only when we had got to pretty much 1800m and we were still going on a steady uphill. Fingers crossed I’ve now got 1000000 extra red blood cells without the use of EPO and I will smash a 1 minute parkrun PB at the weekend….I WISH!

By the end of the day, we were ready to crash, and again, I slept brilliantly with the help of the shutters!  We ran to Spain on Saturday morning – well, sort of Spain. Llívia is a Spanish exclave, made so by a technicality in a decree years and years ago with regards to what was handed over to the French.But did a few faster miles out and then a tiny bit of a push for 5 and 6 (made a lot harder by the fact the route there was all downhill and the route back was all uphill…)

capture

In the afternoon we headed up to Lac de Matemale for a mixture of activities. It’s about a 5 mile loop (10k if you ‘add a bit extra’) all the way round, but I wasn’t in the mood for a run, so walked for a bit and then decided to brave a swim across the edge.Apparently there is a supervised swimming area somewhere but I chose to take a gamble. NOTE – I’m not advising just throwing yourself in a lake. The girls were walking round the lake pretty close by and I stuck to a distance out from the shore that was safe. Advice-giving over.

I mean I basically only swam about 250m but that did the job – cleared my head, got me over my fear of weeds (aka avoided getting tangled up) and got me back in the water properly for the first time in six weeks.

On Sunday, we drove (about 5 minutes) up to Vedrignans, with the aim of doing a LOT of climbing . Unfortunately, after about 2 miles, I knew my niggly calf wasn’t going to cut i so I headed down again, varying my route to meander through a field of hay bales and through the sleepy town of Err before looping back up to the car, leaving the rest of the guys to do their thang and go up up and up! Which they did. With various experiences such as gorse bushes, cows and galloping horses. But all came back alive.


On Monday, I headed off with the rest of the group, but to be honest, I fancied a run by myself. I wasn’t sure how my calf would hold out and I was quite happy to have a bit of a potter and explore a few unknown routes with only my own thoughts for company.

And what lovely places I found! Took a guess at a route, which went up and up (as I expected), but got to a point where I thought I should probably turn round…however when I got back the others were still out, so I totally would have had the time to add on a few extra 000ms to my climb over about 2k! The trails were dead quiet which was just what I wanted. I think my quads have just about recovered from the somewhat technical descent…I don’t really think I noticed any impact of altitude on this run, despite the climb – but that’s probably because the climb was hard enough as it is so I was expecting to go slowly and have to take walking breaks!

In the afternoon we finally took a trip up to Font Romeu itself to see the hallowed training grounds of the elite. But no track session for me this time. The town was surprisingly quiet, the French children being back at school and the majority of the holidaymakers having gone home.


Unfortunately we then had to hotfoot it back to Toulouse airport where our flight was delayed….Ever been in an airport that is practically shutting down around you? And the food is awful? Yep that was us.

All in all, it was a great few days. It made me realise how much I love getting out onto the trails – and how much I needed a few days to reset my brain, recharge my batteries and get my mojo back. (I mean I haven’t been for a run since, but it’s only been a couple of days right?) We’re already planning 2017!

Ever been training at altitude or on a running holiday?

*Photo credits mainly Katie K, Ellie & Alice W

Footnote – key things I learnt from my holiday:

  • Not to feel guilty about not doing anything on holiday
  • I drink more than other runners (or at least, I want to)
  • Runners eat an insane amount of bread
  • Own brand chocolate spread is actually really good. Especially on a spoon.
  • Driving a French car is fine once you’ve stopped trying to change gear with the door handle
  • I really like bread. But mainly French bread.
  • Mountains are fun to run up. But more fun to run down
  • Having all day to run, eat, read and sleep is dreamy and I must do it more often!
  • Foam rolling is good for you (ugh)
  • I LOVE like running again

I’m stuck in a rut…