Improving My Mental Running Fitness

It’s no secret that my physical fitness has been improving. Since I started training with Alan back in April my 5k PB has dropped from around 22:40 to 20:19. But I’ve still continued to struggle with the mental side of pushing myself to a reasonably high level of running. Sometimes I think my legs go into shock, like they’ve gone from my sedate 15 year old self, and have jumped forward 18 years to find themselves suddenly halfway through a 10k. I swear I can sometimes hear them screaming “WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING?!”

So as you can imagine it was with some trepidation last Wednesday that I found myself heading back to Wandlebury with Alan and Stacy for the dreaded bench to bench session, aka the scene of my epic meltdown from a couple of months back. The weather was grey and the wind (the FLIPPING wind) had decided to hit its gusty peak at, ooh around 1pm, bang on time for our session. As we walked to the misery zone I did question the sanity of going to a large wood during some of the worst weather of the year that had FELLED TREES.

Beautiful Wandlebury photos courtesy of my talented friend theemiddlesis. I tried to take photos while I was there but the grey skies made it look miserable.

I needn’t have worried about the weather. The trees buffered us from the worst of it and what little did filter through was thankfully behind us. But I was nervous about my ability to complete the session, especially alongside a seasoned Wandlebury pro like Stacy. I nervously pointed out to her where I had sat in the mud and cried last time, and then just tried to focus on the logistics of what I had to do. Just 9 reps of around 200m up a rough, erratic incline. In total around 7 minutes of running. Easy peasy.

Of course it wasn’t easy. But I did it. Even better I managed to stay about the same distance behind Stacy – who is a ninja when it comes to consistent pacing – on every rep. I even went up on my toes on the slightly steeper sections, something that Alan is trying to encourage me to do thanks to some advice from up on high (!). I felt elated afterwards, and not even the utter DRENCHING I got on the cycle ride back to work could dampen (geddit?!) my spirits.

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This all set me in good stead ready for the Festive 5k in Ely this Sunday. By some fluke I was the winning woman last year, but I think the miserable weather put some strong runners off. This year I knew I could run it faster, but I had doubts that I would be able to hold on to the title. And it turns out the doubts were well founded. As soon as I saw Ruth Jones on the start line I knew she would storm it. She just had that look about her, and when she shot off at the start part of me felt a bit relieved. As lovely as it would have been to win again, it took some of the pressure off and allowed me to just enjoy the run.

My aim was to try and stay with my speedy friend Pete for as long as possible. He has a 5k PB of 19:40, so keeping him in my sights would mean a good time. He and I ended up in a cluster of 4 with two other female runners with Pete leading and me bringing up the rear. While I managed to catch up and lead all 4 of us down Lisle Lane to the 3k mark I knew I couldn’t sustain it and decided to let them get past me again and settle for keeping them all in my sights.

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They give you Santa hats, much needed in the cold weather!

The hill through Cherry Hill Park was a killer (Pete and I still can’t decide whether a hill is better at the beginning or the end of a race) and it took everything I had to make it to that finish, 4 seconds behind the 3rd place female and 9 seconds behind the 2nd. I came 10th overall out of 372 runners with a time of 20:37. I gave it absolutely everything I had, and finishing 15 seconds behind Pete is quite frankly insane for me. If he was 42 seconds off his PB, that means in the right conditions I could potentially just dip below the 20 minute mark. Flipping heck. Pete, can you pace me for every race please? Huge thanks to the Arthur Rank Hospice for arranging a fun and challenging race, which I know isn’t easy in a busy little city like Ely. Thanks also to all the drivers who stopped for us!

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Happy, chilly finishers

I was still a bit disappointed with my female placing on the day, but as Alan and my “always-been-wise-beyond-her-years” friend Lydia said, if I’ve given it everything, I can’t be disappointed. That was literally the best I could do, and I can’t ask for anything more than that.

Plus there’s always next year. Who knows how physically and mentally fit I could be by then?

Five Reasons Why I Will Always Love Zumba

I love to dance.

Back in the day I was a serious jazz hands kid (I know – shocker right)? I danced as a cat while someone sang Memory. I played Quasimodo, Orphan Annie and Old Martin from Royal Hunt of the Sun (I’m sorry I never spoke slowly enough Mr Sharpe. I’m still working on that). I took my Dance GCSE at 13, and the only A I got at A-Level was in Dance. At one point I was even seriously considering going to a theatre university until I realised I really wasn’t good enough for all that.

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Another Drama Queen

These days, I’ll dance when I’m feeding the cat. I’ll dance in the changing rooms at work when (I think) no one else is there. I’ll dance after any amount of Prosecco. And that is precisely why Zumba is part of my weekly workout regime. I just love it.

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Dancing after Prosecco

However, sometimes when I tell people in fitness that I regularly do Zumba as part of my weekly workout regime, you can see them desperately trying to stop their eyes from rolling back in their head. And I get it – dance based classes aren’t for everyone, and they sometimes struggle to see the benefits of it. But Zumba is the absolute bee’s knees for some people, including myself. And here are 5 reasons why:

It’s Accessible

Every Zumba class I’ve been to has been attended by people of all ages and all fitness levels. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been out of fitness for a while or if you run, swim, spin, lift weights and more in seven days. A good instructor (like my incredible instructor and friend Lucy) will make sure there are high and low impact versions of the various exercises so that it’s suitable for everyone. You work to your ability, not everyone else’s.

It’ll Improve Your Coordination

It may take a little while, especially if you’ve got two left feet, but the basic steps in Zumba tend to be repeated through the different routines so you’ll find you pick them up pretty quickly. Once you’ve got the merengue and the single, single, double nailed, there’ll be no stopping you.

It’s a Serious Calorie Burner

Have a quick search on Google and you’ll find no end of stories of people who have successfully lost a lot of weight and improved their fitness thanks to Zumba. Depending on your fitness level, you could burn anything from 400 to 1000 calories in a class.

It’s a Mood Enhancer

Research from the University of Derby has shown that a combination of exercise, social interaction and the concentration learning a new skill requires significantly boosted the mood of those suffering from depression. The uplifting atmosphere of a Zumba class coupled with upbeat music cannot fail to release those endorphins. And when your favourite routine comes on (Here to Stay (Electronic/Glitch Hop) or Feel This Moment for me) I defy you not to whoop and dance like you’re flipping Beyonce. This is the main reason I do Zumba. It never fails to put me in a brilliant mood.

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This is how I look doing Zumba

It’s a Social Hub

There are now so many people I can call friends thanks to Zumba. Off the top of my head there’s Lucy, Elaine, Niaz, Tamsin, Clare, Olga, Angela, Hannah, Julie, Sally, Kirsty, Viv, Nella, Iryna and probably loads of others (don’t be offended if you’re not here – it’s 11:30 at night. I still love you). It’s such a sociable class and I usually spend the whole hour laughing my head off, and not just because of some of Lucy’s descriptions of the moves – pumpy pumpy anyone?

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Zumba FRIENDS

There are loads of other reasons why dance based classes are a fun and valid fitness option, but these are the ones that came to mind first. And surely ANYTHING that gets people moving can only be a good thing.

This also seems the right blog post to do a shout out to Sweaty Betty’s recent Rave Dance class which I attended with TheeMiddleSis. I wish so much that this was something they could do every couple of months rather than an annual(ish) event, but basically it’s exactly as it sounds – a dance aerobics class with flipping GLOW STICKS for crying out loud! The free class was led by the ball of energy that is Jo Hopkins, and I vote that they make it a semi-regular thing! Just brilliant, brilliant fun.

Right – now who fancies a dance?

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Endorphin producing awesomeness

MDUK’s 2015 Cambridge Town and Gown 10k – My Review

Recently I’ve really been enjoying running 5ks. I think this is down to a mixture of knowing that I can beast myself but that it’ll all be over in around 21 minutes, and also the fact that I’ve been collecting PB after PB over this distance. That’s always good for a positive mindset.

But I know Alan wants me to do longer distances (secretly I think he wants me to do a marathon but I’m avoiding having that conversation wherever possible), so back on the 22nd June I signed up for Muscular Dystrophy UK‘s Cambridge Town and Gown 10k, which – if I went ahead with it – would make it the third time in a row that I had done this race.

Anyone who reads my blog with any regularity will know that my last 10k was a bit of a bust. I had a pretty nasty cold and so it was a stop and start affair that made me wang on about how much I HATED the 10k distance for a good few weeks afterwards. But an awful lot of my recent interval training with Ely Runners has been around the 10k mark, and Pete and I went on a 5.4 mile training run a couple of weeks ago which went really well. This all meant that I was actually feeling ok about the Town and Gown. Don’t get me wrong – the pre-race nerves were still fully present, but for once I didn’t have that anxiety dream about forgetting my race number that I pretty much always get. Plus Pete is always adamant that pre-race nerves are a good thing, and since he’s a speedy blighter I feel obliged to trust him on that one. I think my biggest concern was the fact that I’d be running it on my own, which is funny when I think about how I had always considered myself a lone runner until this year. Now I always have someone like Andy or Rich to run with at Ely Runners, and the last couple of big races I’ve done I’ve run with Elaine at her pace. I can’t keep up with Pete over such a long distance, so I knew I’d have to dig deep to push myself through this one on my own.

After some pretty shocking weather on Saturday, we were lucky to wake up to a cold but dry and bright Sunday morning, with the car thermometer putting the outside temperature at a brisk 5 degrees (making me doubt my choice of shorts over leggings). Ian and I picked up Pete and his wife Rach and the four of us headed into Cambridge to make sure Pete was there to pick up his race number before the registration cut off of 9:30am ready for the start of the race at 10am. While Pete and Rach headed to Midsummer Common I got to hang out with my sister, her partner Simon and my nephew Danny and niece Eloise for 40 minutes or so. The bonus of having a sister who lives near to the start of so many of the big races in Cambridge (and the provision of a non-Portaloo pit stop!) cannot be underestimated.

At about 9:20 I jogged to the start and caught up with Pete and Rach and after jogging around a bit more I finally plucked up the courage to give Rach my nice, warm Sweaty Betty top, before heading to the start line to begin the race with Pete.

I had absolutely zero intention of staying with Pete for anything longer than about 60 seconds, but by some miracle I stayed with him until around the 2k mark. We had blasted out the first mile in something ridiculous like 6:20, and when he peeled away by about 10 metres as we turned off Queen’s Road onto Silver Street I decided not to try and keep up with him. I know my limits pretty well, and I think if I’d tried to carry on matching him completing the 10k would have been difficult. But thanks to him I had gotten off to a cracking start.

Town and Gown 10k 2015Waving to Andrew at around the 3k mark.

I had already checked where the water stations were on the route, so I hadn’t taken my water bottle with me on the first 5k. But when I saw that they were handing out cups rather than small bottles or pouches I made the decision to grab my running bottle (I got a telling off for that later) from where I’d tucked it out of sight on the route. The thing is, sometimes I can’t drink a cup of tea on the sofa without choking on it, so trying to gulp from a cup of water mid run was not going to end well.

The second part of the 10k took us away from the city and out along the river, which is a lot quieter in terms of support but it’s flat and fast. The main issue is that it doubles back on itself, so the super fast runners come past you on their last 2k or so while you’re still fighting at the 6-7k mark. However, it was at this point that I saw Liz Fraser, a previous winner of the race, and I worked out that she could only have been a couple of minutes ahead of me. Naturally I assumed this meant that she was just having a bad race as opposed to my having a good one.

Unfortunately I started to get a stitch just before 8k, but luckily I got a handle on it fairly quickly, forcing my breathing to become more regular as it had become a bit erratic as I started to get tired. The final kilometre and a half was nothing short of agonising, but I kept trying to tell myself that it was only 4 more times around the track, just three more times around the track, chipping away the metres in my mind and telling myself “you got this, you got this.” When Alan appeared near the end and said to me “Come on, sprint finish! Kick! KICK”! I gave those last couple of hundred metres EVERYTHING I had. I can’t even begin to explain how agonising it was to find out that the big flags I had seen didn’t actually mark the finish line and that I actually had another 20+ metres to stagger to the end. After tweeting the organisers about this they explained it was a mix up with Sussex Sports Photography – the flags were theirs but as a runner in the final throes of a 10k you assume that any flags in the final few metres are the finish line. After having a great chat with Annie from MDUK on the phone earlier (how awesome that she took the time to do that?) she told me they’d make sure that any flags by any of their supporters wouldn’t be put in that position again.

When I crossed the (real) finish line and saw Pete looking at me slightly agog I knew I had achieved a decent time. I never in a million years imagined that a time like that was something I could do though. I didn’t dare believe it until I saw my speedy text with my official time. For the number crunchers amongst you, here’s a breakdown of the previous three Town and Gowns. The route changed for the better in 2014 – clearly cow dodging in 2013 was seriously slowing people down! – and that was also the year I ran it with Elaine who was storming her first ever 10k:

Year No. Runners Winning Male Winning Female My Time Time Behind My Overall Position No. Female Runners My Gender Position Gender Position % Pace Per Mile
2013 560 36:01 39:50 49:59 10:09 137 256 21 Top 8.2% 08:03
2014 778 33:42 37:30 50:53 13:23 287 329 47 Top 14.3% 08:11
2015 1279 32:25 36:56 42:40 5:44 144 619 16 Top 2.6% 06:52

So as you can see my improvement over the last couple of years has been a bit nuts, and this is in no small part thanks to Alan. But back to that rollocking he gave me. His words after I finished were “Well done, but if I ever see you running with a water bottle again…..” My reasons for doing so fell on deaf ears but this is something we need to work towards together. This is only the 2nd 10k I’ve run since he started coaching me, and I planned to run without it until I saw the water station. I need to build towards this, and I am someone who sweats a lot so I need to be able to take on some fluid on longer races. He said we’d chat about it when we next train, but since that’s going to be at Wandlebury – and we all know what happened last time I was there – perhaps we’d be better off leaving that chat until next week.

Regarding the actual race itself, I think it’s an utterly brilliant 10k and would recommend it to everyone. It’s without doubt my favourite 10k in my racing calendar (sorry NYE 10k – those exposed fens are just evil). It’s a serious PB course especially when the conditions are as perfect as they were yesterday – everyone I know who ran it got a PB – and the support in the city is brilliant. It’s really scenic too, and almost completely flat (although the little incline at about 8.5k is a sod). I would say they could do with more toilets as they don’t seemed to have increased the number despite having around 500 more participants this year, and the medals were a real step down from previous years (I personally don’t mind too much when it’s a brilliant race for charity, but I think it’s worth mentioning). And as for that Cool Dawn Recovery drink that came in the goodie bag – revolting doesn’t cover it.

wpid-img_20151026_221808.jpgIf you enjoyed reading this blog, please send a pound or two to the brilliant charity who turned Cambridge orange for a day. You can do so here.

Sometimes it’s OK to Walk (or Run) Away

Some of you may have realised that I have a tendency to overcommit myself. Whether it’s making cakes at 10pm, leading running groups for beginners, volunteering at parkrun, hosting cake clubs, learning Italian, attempting to add a couple of hundred words to my novel in the evening, blogging(!), making cards/cross stitches/bauble wreaths/arm knitted scarves (yes, really) for people and probably more that I can’t remember as my brain is in a permanent low state of frazzlement (yes that’s now a word). I often get asked how I do as much as I do and sometimes I don’t really know. I guess some weeks some of these things take a back seat to others and I try my best to prioritise whilst still – most importantly – finding time for my family and friends.

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Standard Monday evening

I like to help people and I’m awful at saying no regardless of circumstances. And I really hate to let people down once I’ve committed to something.  But mostly I think I have quite a bad case of FOMO. I like to sign up to things and say yes to things that interest me because what if they’re brilliant and I’m not there? So earlier this year I signed up to the Great Eastern Run which took place on Sunday. But I didn’t run it.

If you’ve ever done a big-ish run before you’ll know that you have to sign up for these things pretty far in advance. For example, the Cambridge Half is at the end of February but entries open next week. And we all know about the London Marathon timings thanks to a recent influx of status updates and tweets of joy or frustration from those trying to get a place. And having that amount of time can be a really good thing as it gives you the chance to formulate a cracking training plan. But on the flip side you always sign up to these things knowing you may get injured during training or come down ill a few days beforehand. Those are the breaks. But I wasn’t ill or injured. I simply wasn’t in the right mental state or indeed the best physical state to run 13 miles, and that wasn’t an easy thing to accept.

London Marathon Tweets

Marathon disappointments from some awesome Twitter types I follow

Now I know I can run 13 miles. I’ve done it a few times and although it’s not easy I’m physically fit enough to do it. But I want to do every race to the best of my ability, and so much of my training recently has been on interval and speedwork, leaving distance training to take a back seat. About 6 weeks ago I was starting to get nervous about the run, and I decided to talk to Alan to see what he thought I should do. But he raised the subject before I had the chance. He told me he didn’t think I should do it because I wasn’t quite in the right head space, which would make me more likely to have a bad run which would set me back mentally and also put me at risk of picking up an injury. Naturally my competitive instinct at that moment was to protest, to claim that of course I could do it. I thought I was letting myself down by backing out, not to mention my friend Elaine who had also signed up for it with the understanding that we’d be emotionally supporting each other to the finish line. But so much of the relationship between a runner and their coach is based on trust. If Alan gave me some advice and I then ignored it, then why should he bother? Plus can you imagine how insufferable he would be if I did get an injury? So we made a deal – give this one a miss with the aim to smash the Cambridge Half in February. And let’s face it – Alan has been right about an awful lot recently.

So this weekend I went seriously easy on myself and did very little. On Saturday evening Pete and I went for a speedy run around Ely in frankly gorgeous weather,  managing a chatty 5.4 miles in 40:30 which would put me in a comfortable 10k PB position. And then on Sunday morning I did Zumba with Elaine, laughing most of the way through the class at her antics before going to coffee with her where we put the world to rights for over and hour.

Scrolling through Facebook and Twitter later that day I did feel a pang of envy at those who had done the run, but I knew I had made the right decision. Sometimes you have to walk (or indeed run) away from something because it’s the right thing to do at that moment, even if the competitive part of you is yelling at you to just do it anyway and sod the consequences. Plus I have the Town & Gown 10k in two weeks, and after my run with Pete I’m now looking forward to it, feeling strong and confident that my chances of a good run are high.

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Sometimes I have to admit that my coach knows better than I do and that it’s OK to have an incredibly lazy weekend where you leave an indentation in the armchair because you’ve read 150 pages of your book and not moved for two hours except to reach for another chocolate. Sometimes you just need to do nothing.

And ok, so I did bake biscuits on Sunday afternoon, but they were easy ones, honest!

Let’s Have Another Chat About the Perception of Women in Sport

So today I heard something that properly got my hackles up. I know what you’re thinking – “it doesn’t really take much does it?” I have a bit of a reputation of being loud and opinionated (and probably not always right) about matters that affect women so sometimes I worry I come across a bit “crying wolf-y”. But my officemate Lucy was bothered by it, and she is generally pretty laid back about things like this so that gives you some idea of just how bad it was. When she told me what had happened our conversation went something like this:

Me: silence – mouth open in shock

Lucy: “I know.”

Me: silence – mouth open wider in shock

Lucy: “I know.”

Me: “What. The. Actual.”

Lucy: “I KNOW.”

So let me show you what happened. The Cambridge University Women’s Rugby Football Club (CUWRFC) appeared on Heart Cambridge Radio this morning to talk about the Rugby World Cup. So far so good. Getting these amazing women out there into the public view is a great thing. But then “Kev” happened. Listen to the opening of his brilliantly professional interview:

I know right? In case you couldn’t hear him clearly he starts by saying – STARTS BY SAYING – the following:

“You don’t look like what I thought you’d look like. You’re all like really attractive, sort of fit girls”.

I’m actually finding it hard to organise my thoughts as I type this. In what universe is this an acceptable way to start an interview about sport? Can you imagine him speaking to the men’s team this way? “Oooh you’re all quite thin with lovely straight noses! How unexpected!” Of course he would never do that. And therein lies the problem. No matter what women achieve in sport – they thrashed Oxford 47-0 in their last Varsity Match by the way – how about doing your research and opening with that “Kev”? – they will still be judged by their appearance and patronised by those who should know better.

This is just a smaller scale – but no less important – version of what the England Lionesses experienced on their return from the Football World Cup. Tweet in point:

Patronising Lionesses Tweet

This awful, AWFUL tweet rightfully caused an uproar online. The idea that our incredible female footballers – their performance was the second best by an England team following the 1966 win by the men’s side – should be defined by the roles they perform for others rather than by their own achievements was so patronising as to verge on hysterical. Some even questioned whether the tweet was a joke. I think Jo Liptrott, someone my alter ego has followed on Twitter for a while, put it perfectly when she said “”Maybe they go back to having actual jobs & lives which DON’T revolve around them being subservient to other people???”

But if the official governing body of a sport is coming out with this junk, then surely we can’t be surprised when the local media does the same? The problem goes so much higher than some misguided DJ on a local station.

While a little bit of me was frustrated that CUWRFC didn’t pull “Kev” up on his dreadful comment, it’s easy for me to think of something to say in reply outside of the stresses of live radio. One of the players can be heard shouting “strong, strong” over the nervous laughter of the others, but I would have loved them to say “I don’t see how our appearance is in any way related to our sporting achievements.” I suspect “Kev” would have been more than a little flustered with a response like that.

And these are the responses we need to keep coming back with. We need to continue ridiculing patronising tweets and comments and to keep pulling people up when they behave like this.

I tweeted Heart Cambridge Radio and “Kev” about this earlier but unsurprisingly I didn’t hear back from either of them, but I didn’t really expect to either. I just hope that the next time they get a team of such incredible sportspeople in the studio, they’ll start off by talking about their achievements and their sport, rather than their appearances.

Keeping it in the Family

An awesome thing happened today! For the first time ever, I trained with my big sister (National Masters 400m Champion if you will) Stacy. Although I obviously went through my athletics “phase” as a kid (i.e. an opportunity to hang out with my cooler older sister with the odd stumble over a hurdle or belly flop over a high jump bar thrown in), this was the first time we had trained together as fully-fledged grown ups (give or take). I was almost as excited as this girl:

Happy Jumping Athlete
So I turned up at the track today at 1:15pm, and the weather was gorgeous except for the wind that was going to be driving us back on the last 100 metres of each 300 metre lap we’d be doing. We would be doing 6 of these with a 4 minute break in between each one, which meant we had to push ourselves pretty hard but make sure we had enough in the tank to do 6 reps. Pacing myself over shorter sprint-type distances is still something I’m learning, but I like to think I’m improving.

After a fairly lengthy warm up (Alan never approves of rushing this) Stacy and I were set up to do staggered starts with Stacy setting off first and then my following when she hit the halfway mark. I’ve never seen Stacy run so close up before and it was fascinating. As a middle distance runner she’s much bouncier than me as she runs on her toes (as opposed to my mid/heel striking depending on how tired I am) and it made her look really powerful on the track. She also drives back her arms SO far which gives her her extreme power. Just look at the photo in this article for evidence of this.

Now as any regular reader of this blog will know, my self doubt has been a real problem with my running. There must be times when Alan wants to do this to me:

Get Happy

But having Stacy there seemed to change something in me. I tried to explain my thoughts to Alan about this and not sure I was very articulate, but I’ll try and do it here. I think if I’m running with someone who is a similar runner to me, I’ll try and compete with them and run at their pace rather than at mine, burning out too soon and generally having a miserable time of it. But with Stacy, I know that trying to run at her pace is a fool’s errand. She has been at the top of her game for years, and probably has enough titles and medals to build a small house. I’m never going to be able to run at her pace over these distances. So instead I just tried to run at MY best, rather than at someone else’s.

And it worked. Alan expected me to run 300m laps at 58 or 59 seconds, and instead I was coming in at 55 or 56 seconds compared to Stacy’s 51 or 52. What was brilliant was talking to Stacy in between laps, and seeing that even someone at her level finds these sessions tough. We talked about how we both find lap 4 the worst one, knowing that it’s near the end but not quite near enough to push through the pain barrier as we still have 2 more after that to get through. She also told me about “Louis’ Last Lap”, so named after someone she knows who always thinks of the second to last lap as the last one so that he can drive through it and imagine he’s finishing his laps. Because after all, however hard you’ve found the session, you can always get through the last lap. And I got through it by digging deep and coming in a fraction over 54 seconds. Who wants to take anything left in the tank home with them eh?

Listening to the banter between Stacy and Alan all the way through the session kept my spirits high, and having Alan tell me at the end that he thought it was the best I’d ever run was an incredible feeling. He told me I looked like the “real deal”, which has to be one of the best compliments I’ve ever received. I had managed to do all 6 laps without slipping into a mental funk and without losing seconds off my time. I enjoyed the session SO much. There’s just one problem – I’m going to want to keep running with Stacy, so I really hope she doesn’t plan to change her workout routine any time soon! I suppose there’s a risk of her becoming my new dummy(!), but I think she just inspires me to be the best athletic version of myself I can be. Roll on the next session.
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Body by Simone at Sweaty Betty Cambridge – My Review

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. I’m a HUGE fan of any movement that allows people to experience exercise for free, whether it’s the awesome parkrun and Parktennis events taking over green space all over the country (and beyond) or whether it’s Sweaty Betty, continuing to expand their #GetFit4Free campaign with new and innovative workouts.

I’ve been to a few of Sweaty Betty’s free classes over the last year or so. Most recently I’ve enjoyed Flow and Glow with Rachael and Fly, Flex, Flow with Jo, and I loved both, so when I saw that they were bringing in “Body by Simone” for a four week period I knew I’d have to skip a Tuesday Ely Runners session (sorry guys!) to give the class a go.

Simone in this context is Simone De La Rue, an LA based fitness guru with abs of actual steel if her photos are anything to go by. According to the SB website, the “Body by Simone” workout will make your heart rate soar, tone and strengthen your body and leave you feeling fabulously happy. Ultimately, it’s a dance cardio workout tailored to work the bum, legs, arms and abs with the aim to give you a body like a dancer.

Now I know it’s going to take more than a 50 minute workout to give me a dancer’s physique. I’d have to lay off the visits to Cherry Hill Chocolates in Ely for a start and we all know that’s not going to happen. But I can say that after one class, if you were to do this regularly enough, your body would reap the rewards.

The class itself took place at the Hidden Rooms in Cambridge, somewhere I’ve not been before and which were a bit too well hidden for me as I walked past the door a few times before someone gently pointed me in the right direction with a bemused smile on their face. Inside there are low ceilings (which may have caused some of the taller attendees some problems but which obviously didn’t impact on me in the slightest) and a very cool, only vaguely hipster-ish vibe to the whole place. Previous classes I’ve been too have been held outside or in the Sweaty Betty store, but because there were some large, dynamic movements in this class such as lateral lunges and star jumps, the store wouldn’t have worked, and as music is a key element to the class we needed somewhere inside to make sure we didn’t cause a public nuisance. So being just around the corner from the shop, The Hidden Rooms were ideal.

Around 15 of us had gathered for the class, and after a quick intro by our instructor Katie (who I recognised from the Cambridge store and from the many times I’ve spotted her power walking to the train station) we were led into a very dynamic warm up, which set the pace for the whole class. And I have to give out a shout out to the AMAZING music she was using. When did you last hear Ghetto Supastar by Pras for crying out loud?! Just. Awesome.

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The only kit required – a mat and some hand weights

Now I’ve never been the biggest fan of aerobics as I find it can be too “single-paced” for me. I like variety between high impact cardio, body weight movements and weights work, which meant that this class was a great fit for me. After a cardio song that involved pretending we had a ball in our hands (stick with me here, it makes perfect sense in the moment) we then went into weights work for the arms. Now I would normally scoff at 1.5kg weights (I do rows with 14kg dumbells at the moment), but after an entire song’s worth of tricep dips, flies, curls and more, it felt like I wouldn’t have been able to hold much more without sacrificing the quality of the movement. After another cardio track that involved a lot of squats and lunges, followed by another that involved lots of jumping, star jumps and deep squats to hit your palm on the floor (my personal favourite), we then did an abs section, which I think is the one I’m most likely to repeat regularly at home. I already have an ab workout that I do most evening (always to Naughty Boy’s La La La which my husband could not be more sick of) but this plank-focussed workout was a great alternative, incorporating mountain climbers and holding the plank position on our palms and then on our elbows. We then ended the class by combining three of the different cardio routines into one, so having a little bit of natural rhythm and the ability to follow dance-based moves will help, but isn’t essential.

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Myself and Katie, two very Sweaty Betties after the workout

All through the class our instructor Katie – who clearly had a dancer’s background as evidenced by her ridiculously elegant arm movements – was fun and full of energy, which is clearly standard protocol for SB staff and ambassadors. It’s not easy to teach to a class of mostly strangers (I suspect she’s not able to build up quite the same rapport in these situations as she can with people who attend the classes she teaches regularly outside of the #GetFit4Free movement) but she was relaxed which helped to put the class at ease. Plus she asked at the start if anyone had any injuries, which is always a massive plus sign for me.

I left the class feeling like I’d had a great workout, and most importantly that I had some elements that I could take home with me and do again in my own time. If you’re keen to try it yourself you can either access the workout online, or the last class with the Cambridge store will be happening next Tuesday and you should be able to book a spot here from Monday morning. I mean why wouldn’t you? It is free after all.

Unless of course you count the shorts that I bought in the sale. Those wily SB minxes. They know exactly what they’re doing.

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Wearing my new shorts that have all the colours

My Sporty Beauty Favourites

A couple of weeks ago I was lucky enough to be invited by TheeMiddleSis to a blogger event at L’Occitane Cambridge in partnership with beautiful accessories company Stella and Dot. It was brilliant to be able to meet some other bloggers from the area, but I did think that I wouldn’t really be able to blog about the event itself as it didn’t really align with my blogger “brand” (such as it is. Hi mum!).

But then I was preparing for a run with Ely Runners and I realised that there are actually some beauty items that as a runner / cyclist / general sporty type – with the constant exposure to the elements that I have to deal with day after day – I would be lost without. So here are my top 10 “sporty” (ish) beauty items.

Estee Lauder DayWear Moisturiser

First things first – my face moisturiser has to have SPF. This is something I won’t scrimp on under any circumstances, but luckily Estee Lauder’s DayWear Oil Free SPF25 moisturiser is spot on. Not only does it tick the usual box of reducing the first signs of ageing such as dullness and fine lines, but it also helps to create a barrier against pollutants which is ideal for city-centre cyclists, as well as offering their “best UVA defence”. From a user point of view it’s super light so sinks into the skin really quickly, and it has a fresh cucumber scent which is lovely first thing in the morning. Whether this will be enough to protect my skin against the elements in winter remains to be seen, but it’s been perfect for me this summer.

Body Moisturiser

With all the cycling and running I do the skin on my legs and arms is exposed to the elements a lot, which means attractively dry and sometimes even scaly skin. Delightful. I have never found a body moisturiser that I’ve been faithful to as there has always been something I didn’t like about it, whether it’s the smell or the fact that it takes an AGE to soak into the skin. Typically, the one I really fell for was one my mum brought back from the US for me, which means I can’t easily get my mitts on it in the UK. It’s by Bath and Body Works and it’s their Cashmere Glow Ultra Shea Body Cream. I loved everything about it, from the smell to the texture to its incredible ability to keep my skin hydrated for hours. But until they open a shop in the UK (please please please please please!) I need an alternative, so I was pretty impressed with the L’Occitane Almond Milk Concentrate samples I received at the blogger event. I’ve used them for three days now and my skin seems to be happier as a result so I’m planning to invest in a full size version. Whether or not I’ll like it enough to become loyal to it remains to be seen.

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Estee Lauder DayWear, £42  *  L’Occitane Milk Concentrate, £38

Insect Repellent

The first time I went running with Ely Runners I got attacked by what can only have been an invisible, poison-filled dinosaur. Or it was possibly a horsefly. Either way, my bite became infected and my ankle swelled up so much you couldn’t make out the ankle bone any more. This led to about 8 days of no running, an interaction with Louis de Bernieres where he charmingly informed me that Rupert Brooke died from an infected insect bite, and left me with a lovely scar to add to my already large collection on my right leg (I’m somewhat accident-prone). Needless to say I swiftly invested in some Ben’s Insect repellent which smells faintly of citrus and is only a little bit greasy, and I’ve been bite free on my evening runs ever since.

Suntan Lotion

This is an absolute no brainer. If you’re going to be out in the sun, whether it’s in summer or winter, you need to protect your skin. I never wear anything lower than SPF25 (my go-to is SPF30) because I have pasty Irish skin and burn ridiculously easily. However there is obviously a big problem with vitamin D deficiency in the sunlight-sparse UK at the moment, so you need to try and strike a balance between getting enough sunlight for your bones but not too much for your skin. Generally I don’t wear suntan lotion on my cycle into work in the morning when the sun is lower and I can get a bit of vitamin D goodness on my arms and parts of my back (I have a cracking racer back tan thanks to my obsession with Sweaty Betty Athlete Vests) but I slather it on before a running session. At the moment I’m favouring Ambre Solaire Clear Protect.

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Ben’s Insect Repellent, Approx £7  *  Ambre Solaire Clear Protect £7.50

Elemis Sp@Home Aching Muscle Super Soak

The name of this product pretty much tells you everything you need to know, but basically you dump three capfuls of this under running water for your bath, and the extracts of birch, juniper, clove, alpine lavender, wild thyme and blue chamomile, combined with sea salt, warm the muscles and recharge the body. As you can probably tell I copied and pasted that directly from their own description, but only because it explains how good it is far better than I ever could. If this is a little bit pricey for you Waitrose do a decent alternative as part of their SenSpa range.

Compeed

The ONLY thing to use on a post-race blister if you’re unlucky enough to get one (or more likely in may case, if you get one from wearing stupid heels on a night out and then have to run the next day).

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SenSpa Detox Muscle Soak, £5.95  *  Compeed, from £4.25

Batiste Dry Shampoo

Forget your Nike Flyknits or your TomTom watches. The best thing ever to happen to runners is dry shampoo. I get my hair dyed pink by Gemma at Salon 46 four times a year, and to protect the colour I have to wash it as little as I can socially get away with. Cue the miracle that is dry shampoo. When I’ve done a weights session, badminton or yoga I can spritz this on the roots and I’m good to go in a matter of seconds. Obviously if I’ve done an epic sprint or hill session I’m going to have to wash my hair properly, but dry shampoo means I can get away with washing it three times a week instead of six or seven. I usually pick a volume one because I have fine hair, but I’m a sucker for nice-smelling products so am partial to the cherry and oriental ones too.

Mama Mio Lucky Legs

I seriously love this stuff. Mama Mio are experts in pregnancy skincare, and I’m not sure I remember how I stumbled across this product but I’ve been hooked for some time. The cooling gel with energising oils and spearmint is meant to ease that heavy feeling (a third more blood in your circulation system when pregnant + water retention = leaden legs) so I find it AWESOME slathered on after a long run or hill session.

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Batiste Dry Shampoo, £3.99  *  Mama Mio Lucky Legs, £19.50

Lip Balm

I’m constantly fighting with my dry, chapped lips, and at the moment I’m obsessed with Maybelline’s Baby Lips. I love it when lip balms have a bit of colour to them, and the one I’m most taken with is Pink Shock from their Electro Range. I have about four of that colour chucked into different bags but of course I can never find one when I really need to.

Deodorant

Of any kind. Seriously, if I have to explain this one to you I don’t want to be friends with you.

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Maybelline Baby Lips, £2.99  *  Dove Invisible Dry, £2.30

Back on Track with the Coach – Literally

So last Thursday I was planning to drag myself down to the track for my first sprint session since Alan’s heart had done its little “cry for help” and given us all a stark reminder that regardless of how active you are, the fuel you take on board has got to be good too. Despite being in hospital Alan had been regularly texting me tips and training plans in between watching episodes of Emmerdale, so I knew I needed to do 300m sprints. I had brilliantly forgotten my Nike Sportswatch so it was going to be interesting measuring my times anyway, but I admit I was a bit taken aback when I got a text from Alan:

wpid-screenshot_2015-08-17-23-34-13-1.pngAlan then went quiet for an hour, so being the rational person I am (I once thought my mum had died when she didn’t answer the phone when in fact her phone line had gone down), I assumed texting me had taxed Alan so much he’d been carted back off to Papworth to have another stent put in. But then this happened:

wpid-screenshot_2015-08-17-23-35-23-1.pngFor those of you who know Alan, he’s a stubborn as anything, so if he’s decided he wants a coaching session, that’s what’s going to happen. But I have to admit that when I cycled into Wilberforce Road and saw him leaning against a steeplechase barrier, watching Goldie Sayers hurling javelins across the site in her last practice there before flying to Beijing for the IAAF World Championships, a big smile spread across my face. it was like he’d never been away. After a bear hug it was down to business as usual.

Sprinting sessions are never my favourite, as I’m simply not built for short bursts of extreme speeds, and five years of running long distances means my sprinting technique was non-existent before I met Alan. He told me he wanted me to aim for 62-63 seconds per 300m since I was at 65-66 the last time we did this (for context, the women’s record at this distance is 35.30 seconds, set by Ana Guevara in 2003), so it was a reasonable aim over such a short distance. So I did the first one in 56 seconds, leading Alan to say “Blimey girl, what’s got into you?”

While this might sound like a good thing, I knew I had gone off too fast. It’s like I forget I have to do it 7 more times. Sprints 2 and 3 were ok (58 seconds ish), but on sprint 4 (60 seconds) my quads were burning and I was gasping “I’ve lost it!” as I went over the line. Way to keep a positive mental attitude there Thomas.

It was raining so Alan and I spent my recovery under the Pavilion balcony in the dry, and he did that infuriating (but also fair) thing of tapping his head and saying “it’s all up here”. And although there was no denying that my legs hurt, a 4 minute recovery should be more than enough for me. I don’t have to try and beat myself (or anyone else for that matter) on every lap. The whole point of this training is consistency and pacing. Alan also decided that now was the time to tell me that if he collapsed, I had to spray the drug he had in his pocket under his tongue. So it’s a good job he didn’t keel over at the start of the session then.

So somehow, I managed to get a hold of myself. I think it was partly managing to control my head and partly wanting to do Alan proud after everything that had happened over the last fortnight, to show him how much I appreciated his schlepping out to see me 6 days after his operation (not that I had much choice in the matter). I managed to do the last lap exactly how I’d started – in 56 seconds. Boom. Alan told me it was the best I’d ever run, which has got to be one of the best compliments I’ve ever received.

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So all in all it was a fantastic session, and as we said goodbye to Goldie and wished her luck in Beijing, I felt like I’d left the last 2 weeks of stress pummeled into the track where it belongs. It felt flipping awesome. And then on Saturday I managed a new 5k PB at the Milton Parkrun:

wpid-screenshot_2015-08-18-11-54-24-1.pngAnd that’s what this is all about. Working hard and seeing the pay off. Come on sub-21.

Kevin Henry League vs. Parkrun – the Ups and Downs of the Good Old 5k

So after I decided to sign up for the Ely Runners it came as a bit of a shock to find out that their next league race would be just 10 days later. Having taken 5 years to decide to join a club it’s pretty clear that it’s not in my nature to rush into anything running-wise. But I also know from Pete that as a small club ER need as many runners as they can to take part in these races.

The Kevin Henry league is made up of 6 nearby clubs: ER, the Saffron Striders, Haverhill Running Club, the Newmarket Joggers, Cambridge & Coleridge and the Cambridge Tri Club. Between April and September, each club hosts a Thursday night 5k run which is open to anyone aged 14 and over. Previously, ER had been part of the league as a guest club, but in order to continue participating in the league, they had to host their own race, the first of which was last Thursday.

Anyone who knows Ely will know that there is nowhere suitable to run a 5k that doesn’t either involve roads or mind-numbing multiple laps that can be difficult to monitor in a race situation, so we headed out to Witchford to run 5k on the disused WWII airfield concrete tracks.

When I arrived (courtesy of Ely Runner Andy who gave me a lift), there was a real buzz in the air amongst club members. But that did little to settle my nerves. Now anyone who knows me (hello Andrew Caines!) knows I am a NIGHTMARE pre-race, and that I find myself standing on the start line wondering why on EARTH I continue to do this to myself. The fact that I didn’t manage to locate Emily who had my club vest until about 5 minutes before the start (how we had managed to miss each other neither of us could work out) meant that I was panicking that I would run only to be disqualified at the end.

But I was mostly worried that I would embarrass myself and disgrace my newly acquired vest. I really just didn’t want to let anyone down.

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As it turns out I didn’t embarrass myself, but I was disappointed with how much I struggled. The trouble with running on an airfield is that there is no shade on a hot summer evening, and the track itself was somewhat uneven with tractor tyres leaving behind large grooves in the ground. By 2.5k my throat was completely dry, a sensation that always makes me slightly panicky. By 4k, after failing to raise even a hint of a smile for Andrew and his waiting camera, I was seriously contemplating walking. But I kept telling myself that I couldn’t do that on my first ever run for the club, and when I saw the finish line flags I don’t think I have ever been so relieved and sprinted to the end. At least I still had that left in the tank.

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Andrew caught my better running side anyway. Love the sun flare.

I ended up finishing in 21:49, which is a decent improvement on the last hot summer evening run I did (Girton 5k in 22:08). I was also the 2nd Ely female finisher, which I’m really proud of. I just hope I can try and get a handle on my nerves and fear of the heat in time for C&C’s race on the 10th September, the final one of the season.

Also this seems like a good moment to say huge thanks to the Ely Runners who sacrificed their run to marshal at this brilliant event.

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Both feet off the ground! Proof I actually run!

And so on to Saturday morning’s Milton Parkrun, where I quite frankly thought I would struggle to even get going thanks to a restless week that had affected my sleep and stress levels. I teamed up with Pete and Rich from ER, and after a cool Friday I was hacked off that it was warm again. But Pete is excellent at talking me off the proverbial ledge and told me to give it a go because – horror of horrors – I might actually enjoy it.

And you know what? I really did. When Rich had told me he had run his best Parkrun 2 days after a KH league race I thought it must have been a fluke. But as I did the first 1k, I realised Rich was just in front of me. Knowing that he can be a bit of a speedster, I decided to see if I could try and keep him in sight. And by some miracle, I did.

Then at about 3k, another girl overtook me, but didn’t pull away. I decided to just sit on her shoulder and use her as a pacer, enjoying letting someone else almost control my speed so that I didn’t have to think about it too much. And the genius thing is, she was wearing headphones, so I don’t think she realised that I stuck to her the whole way round. At 400m from the finish I thought “it’s hers. I’m going to have to let her take this.” At 300m I thought “Hmm, she’s still not pulling away.” At about 150m I thought “screw this I’m going to give it a shot”, so I heard Alan’s voice booming in my ears to bring my arms back and knees up and I SPRINTED. At the end she came up to me and congratulated me, saying she just didn’t have enough left to keep up.

Waiting for those results was agonising. According to Rich’s watch, I had a shout at a PB (even though in the last Milton Parkrun I did I placed 51st, and this time I was 75th, there were a lot of speedy juniors). The results usually come through around 11:30, but by 12:30 I was losing my mind. Then a text from Pete came:

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I have never been more giddy. Looks like Rich was on to something! After a physically and emotionally draining KH 5k, everything just went right on Saturday morning. I ended up beating that girl by 4 seconds, and I was 1st in my age category. What an amazing sensation.

Now without making a HUGE deal about this because he will kill me if I do, there is a reason why I wanted to give my all to these two runs. My awesome and inspiring coach Alan had a heart attack last weekend, and I quite simply wanted to do him proud. Before you all worry, he’s doing fine and is back home after having a procedure in Papworth and a telling off by just about everyone who knows him to stop doing so blinking much. But it might be a little while (try telling him that) before he’s making me swear/cry/nearly vomit again, so in the meantime I’m going to keep working my arse off and keep making the “old bastard very happy” (his words, not mine).

And before I go, can we all take a moment to appreciate the size of my new running vest? Beats a 4 year old’s dinosaur gilet I suppose.

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