Mountains and Moire – A Review of Bump, Bike and Baby

BBB_Cover

Recently I was contacted on Twitter by Moire O’Sullivan, who asked me if I’d like a copy of her new book, Bump, Bike and Baby to review on my blog. The 300 page publication charts her journey from mountain race runner to mother of two and back again, and after a very quick Google of Moire I rushed to say yes. I’m an avid reader anyway and am always on the lookout for kick-ass women who inspire me to push myself just that little bit harder.

Spoiler alert – I’m going to go a bit fan-girly.

To give you a bit of info, Moire is a bonkers tough mountain runner and adventure racer. As she brought up her two VERY young children, she went and won Ireland’s National Adventure Race Series. Three times. And that’s an adventure race series – not just a single race. I repeat – THREE TIMES.

Adventure racing isn’t something I’ve ever given much thought to. Being from the Fens mountains are few and far between. My legs nearly went into shock after doing the Parliament Hill Cross Country run. But Moire does events that involve cycling, running up a blinking great mountain and then back down again. Then cycling some more. Then a bit more running. Ooh and let’s throw in kayaking and then a swift 2k sprint to the finish. She’s usually moving for about four hours. Just thinking about it makes my palms sweaty, but this is Moire’s life blood, and her passion is more than just a little infectious.

DAR 2016_Bike Mass Start

Her character comes across so strongly in this book and never wavers. Moire is unapologetically stubborn, determined and competitive. She is upfront about the fact that she was never especially maternal, and the desire to have children had mainly come from her husband Pete. As a result, she is completely committed to staying at the top of her racing game during and after pregnancy, whilst learning to become a mother to two boisterous and demanding boys. The book covers living in Cambodia, cycling with a 6 month bump, running with mastitis, Pete regularly having to travel with his work and hospital stays. Throw in Moire’s strict adherence to her training schedule and it’s a recipe that on paper shouldn’t work. But it does, and the resulting family dynamic is all kinds of wonderful. Plus they have a cute dog. What’s not to love?

Quest Glendalough Podium 2016

This is going to be one of those books that I can see myself recommending whenever anyone asks me about my favourite running books. Moire is a natural storyteller, and this is going to appeal to athletes and new parents alike. In the book she talks about thinking of her fellow mountain racers digging deep when things get tough, and I can see myself thinking of Moire’s mental toughness next time I find myself flagging on a run. She makes me want to be a better athlete.

Bump, Bike and Baby can be bought from Amazon amongst others, and you can follow Moire’s blog here. Thanks to Moire and Sandstone Press for asking me to be part of the Bump, Bike and Baby Blog Tour!

_Bump Bike and Baby Blog Tour

 

Spitfire Scramble 2017 – Saying Goodbye to my Comfort Zone

What would take you outside of your comfort zone? Wing walking? Swimming with sharks? Getting a hug off Donald Trump in your favourite white outfit?

Well for me, it’s camping. Yep, you heard that right. I am the sort of person who loves hot showers, clean toilets and my own bed. After a horrendous camping experience when I was 11 (freak Lauren out became everyone’s favourite activity on that trip), I had no inclination to do it again. EVER. My friend Lucy put it perfectly when she said “why would you choose to spend your free time living at a lower standard than you do normally?”. FYI that’s the clean version of what she actually said, but it summed up my feelings on the matter.

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My ever supportive friends and family.

So how exactly did I find myself camping in a field just outside Dagenham, losing punch-ups with poison-fanged insects and substituting showers with baby wipes? I honestly have no idea. I just know that in October last year my friend and all-round adventure-seeker Jen asked for runners to join her team of 8 people for the 24-hour Spitfire Scramble, and I put my name down. I’m assuming she caught me at a moment when both my caffeine and sugar levels had completely crashed and I was in the midst of some sort of hallucination where I thought I was Bear Grylls*. It’s the only thing I can think of.

But July flew round, and three days before we set off I realised I should probably order a sleeping bag, pillow and mat (I’m nailing this adulting malarkey). After a frustrating 2.5 drive from Cambridge, we were in a field on a Friday evening, and I was actually vaguely helping to pitch a tent whilst mildly panicking about what lay ahead. I also had to make the decision to take out my contact lenses and leave them out for the next 36 hours, reasoning that running slightly blind was preferable to an eye infection. That first night, I was so glad that I was in the company of Jen and Becky (later joined by Paula, Fiona, Ruth, Paul, Rachael and Chris, plus Rachael and Chris’ AMAZING dogs Yogi and Boo). They made me laugh non stop, sorted me out with food, and Becky gave me wine, which made her a demi-god in my eyes at that moment. I went to bed pretty early (party pooper), and actually managed a semi-decent 8.5 hours of sleep, only waking a couple of times when the temperature dipped.

The amazeballs Yogi and Boo. Boo ran 17 miles! 

On Saturday morning, Jen, Paul and Ruth made plans to go to Harrow Lodge parkrun just 2 miles down the road. Ruth and Paul had come camping with their incredibly cute 3 year old daughter Katie who wanted to be pushed around parkrun in her buggy, and if you met her you’d find it hard to say no to her too (especially when she talks about being a “hairy” princess and pronounces Essex “Eggets”). Then Jen checked the time of the 1st place woman the week before, and she had clocked 23:58. Obviously my competitive side kicked in instantly,  and knowing that even taking it easy I could do a 22 minute parkrun, I decided to go along. Of course, a SUPER speedy woman turned up and smashed it in 19:38, so I had to make do with 2nd place. It was a lovely course though, and a nice way to stretch my legs before the Spitfire Scramble got under way, and Ruth and I also took the opportunity to stuff our faces with a massive breakfast at the park cafe. I only got slightly worried when it started to rain…

When we got back to the campsite, our remaining team members John and Mel had arrived, and the 8 of us with our support team of Jen, Fiona and Becky were ready to go. With his trusty whiteboard in place Chris took charge of the running schedule, and my first 5.7 mile lap was due to start around 4:30pm.

Pretty sunset, tired and sweaty runner.

The way the Spitfire Scramble works is pretty simple. There are different categories, from solo runners up to a maximum of 8. We were obviously in the mixed 5-8 category, with 5 female and 3 male runners. We all had to estimate how quickly we would do our laps, and then the next runner in sequence went down to the changeover zone about 10 minutes before the next runner was due in. Initially I’d assumed we’d each do 3 laps, taking it nice and easy and coming in around the hour mark, with the chance that one or two of us might squeeze in a 4th lap.

MEGALOLZ.

It turned out pretty quickly that we were all being quite cagey with our estimates and were coming in quite a few minutes under (I estimated 55 minutes but came in at 44 for lap 1), so our runners’ schedule was continuously updated.  As I saw my next laps were scheduled for 10:15pm and 4:15am,  I felt myself starting to panic that I couldn’t even manage a second lap let alone a third, so I messaged my running friends Pete and Rach in a bit of a panic, but with the aid of some trusty GIFs they quickly talked some sense into me. I then saw that our three speedy speedsters John, Paul and Mel had all signed up for a double nighttime shift (just casually running 11.5 miles in the dead of night, no biggie) to ensure that their teammates could get as much rest as possible. So no way was I going to let them down.

Although my second lap was my slowest, it was also my most sociable. I teamed up with what turned out to be the Race Director of that morning’s parkrun, Mark, and when he stopped at 4 miles to get some water from his support crew, I then ran the final 1.7 miles with Shimpei from Guildford, who distracted me from the monster hill that loomed up just before mile 5. I also weirdly enjoyed the 4:30am lap, mainly because I got to watch the (only slightly blurry) sunrise.

When I got back from that lap around 5:15am, I saw that I had been put down for a 4th and final lap at around 9:45am. I cannot tell you how badly I didn’t want to run another lap. I’ll be honest, I hadn’t done any real training for this event. I’d told myself it would be 3 10ks spread over 24 hours, which seems weirdly manageable. Had I known I’d end up doing 26 miles in 26 hours, I would have bleeding well trained. As I got ready to snatch a couple of hours of sleep John assured me that they could cover me if I couldn’t do my 4th lap, which made me feel terrible when he’d already done a double and was down for a total of 5 laps. I went to sleep at around 6am, and told everyone I’d be up at 8am to see if I could manage my 4th lap, but I already knew I was going to do it.

To be honest, I don’t really remember much about that last lap. I’d had a total of around 5 hours of sleep (from around 12:30am-3:30am and 6am-8am), and I was definitely running on pure adrenalin. I thought I’d be lucky to come in under an hour, but I somehow managed 46 minutes, meaning all 4 of my laps had comfortably come in under 50 minutes. In total, our team managed 31 laps, and we came 5th out of 47 teams in our category. We all joined John as he crossed the line for the last time, and the medals we received were frankly awesome.  And then suddently it was all over. I was in complete awe of how quickly everyone managed to pack up their things, and we were on the road by 1pm and in contrast to our journey there were back in Cambridge in just over an hour.

Photo taken after lap1. Boo was the ultimate spirit lifter.

I can say without doubt that the Spitfire Scramble was the most mentally challenging event I’ve ever done, but also the one I’m most proud of. As for my thoughts on the actual event itself, the atmosphere is one of the best I’ve ever come across, with brilliant marshals and a lovely supportive atmosphere from all other runners. Although there were times at night when it felt like you were totally on your own, the event was well sign posted, Jen’s chest light was brilliant (you have to wear a light between 8pm and sunrise), and the mini glowsticks on the path were so useful. They had a water station halfway round the route which was manned throughout the 24 hours, and they had another self-serve one at the changeover area as well. The toilets were really well looked after and regularly cleaned, but you had to get a coach to be driven to a local school for showers, so we all decided wet wipes would be good enough for 36 hours! Needless to say that shower when I got home was the best one I have ever had. Ever ever. The medal is also an absolute BEAUT.

I think the only downside of the event is that they could have done with some more food trucks on site. They only had one, and people were queuing for up to half an hour just to get a coffee. A couple of extra hot drink vans might have been useful (I would have killed for Silver Oak Coffee and the Rural Coffee Project to have been there!), and all of our team agreed that an ice cream van would have been flipping awesome.

My recovery from the event was more intense than I expected. Although my legs felt fine, my back and left foot felt seriously fatigued, and I was mentally exhausted. I would say that I didn’t feel back to normal until the following Friday, and I pretty much ate whatever I could get my hands on for a good 5 or 6 days. The almond croissant market definitely saw a boost.

Would I do it again? If you’d asked me that last week it would have been an emphatic no, possibly accompanied by a headbutt. When Jen mentioned that some of the team were doing the Thunder Run just a week later I thought they were well and truly out of their trees (I still do to be honest). But as each day passes, a teeny tiny part of me is thinking “hmm….maybe…”. So ask me again in a couple of months. Maybe that sleeping bag will see the light of day again after all.

*Yes. To me 2 nights of camping is the equivalent of Bear Grylls living on an island for 60 days eating nothing but sand and raw fish and sleeping under a net of snakes whilst setting fire to himself. I’m a drama queen, ok?

 

 

 

 

A Weekend of Firsts – Yoga at Ethos and the Wings for Life World Run

Blimey – last weekend was a bit of a scorcher wasn’t it? Just the ticket for a yoga class on the third floor of a building in the centre of Cambridge with no air con on Saturday and an endurance run at midday on the Sunday. Wait, what?

Yes, that’s how I spent the hottest weekend of the year so far. So let’s start with Ethos shall we? Based in St Andrew’s House right near Drummer Street, Ethos is tucked away in what at first glance looks like little more than an unremarkable building made up of small offices. As you walk up the stairs though (my sister doesn’t do lifts!) you start to feel a hum of activity and our first introduction to Ethos was a couple of people who had clearly worked up a sweat stretching against a wall in the corridor in a way that meant we had to squeeze past them.

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The interior reception area of Ethos

The reason why Stacy and I had rocked up at Ethos was for a free Myofascial Release class courtesy of – you guessed it – Sweaty Betty. They were hosting a takeover of the studios, securing free spaces for their customers in around 20 classes across the weekend. As a “fan” of the foam roller (we have a love/hate relationship), I was intrigued at the idea of a class dedicated to serious muscle massage. After paying £1 to rent a mat each, we both got changed in the curtained off changing area (if you like your privacy this set up may not be for you), left our less valuable belongings on the shelves (ditto if you’re hot on security and like a proper locker) and headed into the class with Ellie and Hannah from SB.

When I saw some class members in very little clothing lying down in awkward positions with bean bags on their eyes, I did wonder what I had gotten myself into. But as soon as our instructor Mark got going I quickly relaxed into the class. And boy did I learn a lot. I got tips on how to better foam roll my calves (sit on your knees and tuck the foam roller under your thighs with it resting on your calves and then lean back as much as you can bear. Inch the roller down and repeat), how to ease my hips (once I had finally jammed my thumb in the right place) and how to use tennis balls to seriously massage my spine. I admit that resting my forehead on a tennis ball at the end felt more than a little weird and left me with a hard to explain mark on my face, but on the whole this was a brilliant class.

If I’m completely honest, I’m not sure if I really gelled with the vibe of Ethos as a whole. I think my personality is generally a bit too highly strung (I like my sports places to have proper changing rooms and showers and can be a bit OCD on hygiene stuff) but it’s clear to me what the main draw of Ethos is – and that’s the instructors. Mark was absolutely brilliant, cracking jokes all through the class and putting everyone at ease, but also showing that he really knew his stuff. He took the time to make sure everyone was getting the most from each move, correcting and advising where necessary. Stacy and I both left the class armed with tips, raving about Mark, and feeling lighter in the legs. Which would bode well for the Wings for Life World Run which I was due to do at midday the following day…….

Official runs make me nervous. Everyone knows this. Running in the heat makes me even MORE nervous. So you can imagine what a mess I was in when I arrived at Parker’s Piece on Sunday morning at around 10:30am, ready to register before the race started at midday. The car had told us it was already 27 degrees, so with 90 minutes to go there was plenty of time for it to get even hotter. I’m really fair, so I had slathered myself in factor 50 ALL OVER (you can never be too sure!) before getting dressed, but as I queued twice (once to sign a disclaimer, again to get my race number) I could feel myself already starting to get a bit too much sun.

After bumping into my friend Jen (another fan of the legend that is Alan Baldock), I quickly lost her again when I went to The Regal pub to pee (much more sensible than joining an enormous queue for the portaloos which are less than pleasant in that heat).  As I started to panic that I would have to face this behemoth of a run on my own, I found Miranda and Ros from Ely Runners sensibly sitting in the shade, and from then on in I stuck to the poor sods like glue. I would like to say now that I owe the pair of them a debt of gratitude, from Ros making me feel ok to be a nervous run pee-er, to the pair of them deciding that I was in fact 12 years old and deploying a running theme of jokes around the subject for the duration of the run. They didn’t even rip into me too much when I walked into a pole. Yup.

Wings For Life 1

All smiles at the start. Thanks to Nigel for the photo! 

As we settled halfway into the crowd waiting at the start line, the nerves began to give way to excitement. The feeling for this race is SO different to say a half marathon, where I always think about my PB and whether or not I’m going to beat it. With this run, you don’t really know how far you’re going to get, and any plans I had (a half marathon would have been lovely) went out the window once the mercury started edging 30 degrees. So it was a case of just start running, and see what happens.

Wings For Life 2

And that’s just what we did. Setting off and weaving through the city, going past the colleges and being cheered on by the frankly awesome folk of Cambridge, we headed up and out towards Girton, hitting Oakington and finally Cottenham. I cannot begin to thank the brilliant people of these villages who handed out sweets, drinks and who hosed us down with water. Oh the blessed relief of those hosepipes. It really was the best thing ever. And the WFL organisers did an absolutely bang up job of making sure the refreshment stations were regular. I grabbed water at every one, and finished the bottle nearly every time, pouring it on my legs (a brilliant tip from Miranda) and gulping huge mouthfuls. Normally if someone was to chuck a load of water at my back I would be somewhat annoyed at them but when Ros did it I could have kissed her. I swear my skin sizzled.

When we got to around the 13k mark, we adopted something of a run/walk strategy, taking maybe 20 – 30 seconds to catch our breath before setting off again (a strategy even the male winner, Steve Way, had to adopt towards the end of his incredible 63.75km run – read his race report, it’s brilliant). The heat really had started to push our resilience by this point, but when we hit Cottenham and saw Miranda and Ros’ other halves it gave us such a boost to keep going, and we made it out of the village and into the next stretch of quiet farmland. Wilburton was never realistically on the cards for us, but when we heard that the catcher car was in the distance, we did our utmost to hit the 11 mile mark, finally making 11.12 (17.89km) before a grinning David Coulthard passed us by, waving as he went.

Wings For Life 3

Helloooooo Cottenham!

Suddenly it was over, and we had something like a 10 minute walk to reach the buses that were waiting every 5k to take runners back to Parker’s Piece. It was such a lovely walk, mooching through the quiet countryside as we reflected on what we’d achieved and chatting to our fellow runners. But then sitting on that bus, waiting for it to leave, was probably the hottest we’d been all day – it was like a sauna with lots of people who had been sweating for a copious amount of time. Imagine that if you’re so inclined. But when it set off and the breeze started coming through the window it was utter bliss.

Back on Parker’s Piece we picked up our frankly awesome goodie bags (containing our medal, a high vis technical tee, microfibre towel, sweatband, pack of nuts and a beer token),  grabbed our beers and headed over to Trumpington Road to meet our ride home (my OH). We couldn’t stop raving about what a brilliant race it had been and mild sunburn aside (only patches on my arm where the factor 50 had been hosed off – worth it!), I think this was the funnest race I’ve ever done. So much so that I’ve already signed up for next year, which is so unlike me.

So if you’re looking for a race with a twist, this is the one for you. 100% of the entry fee goes to spinal cord research and the current early bird price is only £25, which I think is a brilliant price now that I’ve seen just how much effort goes into this run. So what are you waiting for? Go sign up. I’m sure it’ll be cooler next year……