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?

 

 

 

 

Getting Ready to Rumble with Sweaty Betty

Any regular readers of this blog will know I’m a huge Sweaty Betty fan. It’s not unusual for me to basically be a walking billboard for the brand and I dread to think what percentage of my salary I’ve spent on their gear in the last 12 months.

So when Grazia magazine ran a competition to win a place at the launch of their latest #GetFit4Free campaign “Rumble” in London, of course I jumped at it. The spec for the class promised that “the 45-minute high-intensity calorie-burning workout combines shadow-boxing techniques, adrenaline-pumping cardio and core-sculpting conditioning”, which sounded like a pretty winning combination to me! I mean, just check out Sweaty Betty’s official video:

When I received the email saying I had won a place I was utterly giddy. That is until I realised that for a second weekend running there was a bus replacement service for the trains between Ely and Cambridge and engineering work happening on the London Liverpool Street line, which meant my relatively straightforward hop on the train had become a bus-train-tube scenario. I ummed and ahhed about whether or not I could face the hassle of the journey and decided it was just too good an opportunity to miss.

The journey was not without its stresses. An accident in Ely (where thankfully it seems everyone was ok) meant that we got stuck in the city and had to take a long detour to make our way to Cambridge. As the minutes ticked away it was looking less and less likely that I’d make my connecting train. The bus arrived with 90 seconds until the train was due to leave so I sprinted to the platform (NOT easy after an 8.2 mile half marathon training run that morning), and made it with about 5 seconds to go until they closed the doors. When I finally made it to London Liverpool St I used Google Maps on my phone to find my way to 1Rebel, triumphantly texting my other half to let him know I’d made it. Imagine my frustration when it turned out that there were TWO 1Rebel gyms about half a mile from each other, and of course I had gone to the wrong one. I then managed to get fantastically lost trying to find the other gym, meeting a sea of blank faces whenever I asked for directions and stressing out that I was going to fail to make the class at the last minute after a shocker of a journey. Finally a security guard in an office pointed me in the right direction and I arrived with 10 minutes to spare, out of breath and red-faced (a sign of things to come).

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The wrong 1Rebel

The words I would use to describe my first impression of 1Rebel are “urban hipster”. It was all exposed pipework and bricks, with glossy concrete floors and copper accents everywhere. However, it wasn’t remotely pretentious – just effortlessly cool and functional. I wish I could have had more time to look around, but I had to quickly get changed, get help with the lockers(!) and haul arse into their amazing boxing studio, filled with slimline boxing bags, nightclub lighting and an incredible sound system. And standing in the middle of it all, was our instructor for the next 45 minutes, Mila.

After jogging around the studio to warm up, Mila explained the structure of the class – we’d do a boxing section followed by a cardio section, repeated 3 times. We were taught a range of boxing combinations, including jabs, hooks and kicks, and other than the odd opportunity where I mis-timed my kicks and battered my shin, it was brilliant! The cardio sections involved star jumps, mountain climbers, burpees, press ups (why oh why did I decide to do an arms session the day before?!) and a killer abs section. My absolute favourite move was when we did side planks and kicked the bag with the top leg, although that may have been because I was just so grateful that I didn’t have to use my arms in that moment. Mila (the Machine) was a seriously hard task master, ploughing through the class with no breaks although I had to pause occasionally to use my sweat towel and have sips of water, neither of which were easy to do when wearing boxing gloves!

The 45 minutes absolutely flew by, and I had worked so incredibly hard. The endorphin rush was huge and at the end Mila talked about the mental health benefits of the class, discussing how good boxing is for relieving stress. I’m always so happy when people talk about that side of exercise, as all too often the focus is just on the physical benefits.

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Goody bag photo courtesy of Sweaty Betty’s Twitter account

After the class we were given an awesome goody bag, and I got to use 1Rebel’s great showers, all of which had fantastic quality shampoo, shower gels, cleansers and conditioners. They even had deodorants, hair straighteners and feminine hygiene products in the changing rooms, which made me think that 1Rebel have really thought about the whole customer experience when creating their gyms. They even had a flipping Smeg fridge for cold towels! Seriously, I need that in my life. How utterly BRILLIANT! On top of all of that their staff were really lovely and friendly too. If you’re lucky enough to live near a 1Rebel gym and are looking for a new place to work out they should be seriously considered.

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The right 1Rebel

I had such a brilliant time and if you get the opportunity to try this new class at your local Sweaty Betty boutique you should definitely sign up. The classes will be running every Tuesday from the 26th January to the 16th February. And best of all? They’re free of course!

Sweaty Betty – the epitome of fitness awesomeness. A huge thank you to them, Grazia and 1Rebel for making my 2 1/2 hour journey each way totally worth it.