Swim Lessons with Swimming Nature- Week 1

Monday, June 26, 2017

In my home state of New York, everyone has to pass the Red Cross level 5 swim lessons in order to graduate from high school. Every since I was little, I have always loved the water (maybe because I am an Aquarius?).  It just feels relaxing and soothing to me.  When my Achilles tendinitis began to persist in my late 20s, I decided to do triathlon to ease off the pressure on my joints.  I am an OK swimmer. I get around in open water or in the pool but can't do flip turns. I can breathe on both sides but always swallow lots of water.  My last summer in Michigan, I signed up for masters classes at the suggestion of a friend to help improve my technique.  Instead, I found myself suffering through the drills as I was the only non-competitive swimmer and hence the slowest.

The first few years we lived in London, we signed up for a few triathlons.  With these events in the diary, we spent one night a week at the local pool doing laps. I knew my technique still wasn't great but I was able to get quicker yet no more efficient.  I tried to find lessons for adults who wanted to improve but didn't have much luck.  Until now.

My chance finally came when Swimming Nature contacted me to try out four complimentary 30 minute lessons.  The lesson would be 1-on-1 tuition with one of their accredited instructors.  My coach is Sam and he and I will be meeting for the next 3 weeks in a follow up to last week's lesson.

First First Baker Street pool
I arrived a little early at Fitness First Baker Street to make sure I knew where I was going and in case I needed to fill in any paperwork. The front desk staff were very friendly and lent me a padlock as I didn't know I needed to bring one. I brought my own towel or could have hired one for £1.  The women's locker room is pretty big with lots of showers and lockers. The pool is 13 meters with 3 lanes. One lane is dedicated to lessons and the others are for members to use.  Sam and I shared the lane with another 1-2-1 lesson but it didn't really any impact us or our drills.

To start with, Sam had already watched me during my warm up laps across the pool, so he had me kick without using my arms to see my technique up close.  He said it looks like I have tight glutes because the range of motion from my hips isn't that great. I quickly let him know that I am a runner and that could be way the glutes are tight.  (Note: I now need yoga lessons).  He also observed that I don't pivot too much at my hips while most people would a bit more.

Homework #1 Kick like you mean it from the hips.

Next we worked on 8-10 kicks on my back, rolling onto my front for 8-10 kicks and then back to my back (without getting water up my nose)- all without using my arms.  I start sinking before I can get on my back again which doesn't always end well for my nose.

Homework #2 Practice this drill

Finally, we started to talk about arm positioning on the 'catch' of the front crawl, which is when  your hand first enters the water and then pulls you along. Of course, my technique of an S shape and "zip the dress" are old school. We worked a lot on proper arm positioning for the catch and started to build it into one stroke but ran out of time.

Homework #3 Work on my catch and follow through of the stroke.

This week we will add in breathing but I have a lot to work on between now and then. Sam said it was a good idea to meet every week but that I should try to practice at least once between sessions. The Olympic pool is near enough to home but between the Salomon Sunet Series and riding to Brighton, I ran out of time for a swim.

Have you ever taken swim lessons?  How did you fare?

Thanks to Swimming Nature for these lessons.  All opinions and experiences are honest and my own.

Active Travel: London, stay cool!

Friday, June 16, 2017

In the last few months, I have been lucky enough to try a few things in London that are perfect for hot summer days.  Whether you are visiting during summer vacation or local resident, check out these options to stay cool in sunny London.

Ice climb in Covent Garden
Ellis Brigham invited me down to their Covent Garden store in early May as part of the #HerOutdoors campaign. They are encouraging women to find the right kit for exploring the great outdoors.  We spoke to major active brands Keen and Osprey about what products they have to offer women specifically.  Read my review of the Keens boots here and Osprey bag here.

Strapped in but still need my spikes.
I was most excited to enter their frozen world at the back of the store to try ice climbing, Vertical Chill. This is something I had never done before and I thought I would be rubbish at it because I am not great at wall climbing. The store staff suited us up in long pants, jackets, boots, helmets, gloves, and spikes on our shoes. We had a safety chat once we enter the 3-story-high room with three walls covered in ice (the fourth is a large window).  The basics of ice climbing are to jam your toe spikes into the ice so your foot is perpendicular to the wall and wider than shoulder-width. Then you throw your pick deep into the ice above your head, shoulder-width apart. Finally, pull yourself into a standing position against the ice.  Simple, right?   I took the easy route to the top of the wall, falling off once or twice. I was belayed by a store employee and felt safe at all times.  When I got to the top, there is a cow bell to ring in victory.

Sessions start at £25 per person.  You can get more info and book in here.  Please follow the instructors' advice when ice climbing and not my novice summary above.  Safety first!

SUP and SUP Pilates with Wake Up Docklands

Side plank

A few summers ago, I was able to try SUP yoga and really enjoyed being on the water.  I have always wanted to live one hour from the mountains and one hour from the ocean, but London doesn't quite meet this criteria.  When I got an invite to try SUP Pilates here in town, I dove at the chance.  Wake Up Docklands (WUD) is located near Royal Victoria DLR station and underneath the Emirates Air Line. It opened in 2012 and offers a mechanical wakeboarding line with jumps and paddle board hire.  The taster session I attended was for bloggers and was divided into a 45 min SUP Pilates session with Ruth Tongue and a 45 min SUP introduction with Jason, owner of WUD. The boards were anchored  in shallow water during Pilates which meant you didn't have to worry about floating away.  Ruth was also on a board and tailored the class to our ability and comfort level on the water.  The boards are actually really sturdy and none of us fell in during Pilates.  The board adds an extra challenge to your workout because the instability of floating means your muscles have to work a bit harder.  You will get wet up to your knees wading to the board and from laying on the board itself after you stand up after wading out. We all wore activewear instead of swimsuits and it worked out.

Child's pose

We were treated to some delicious juice and energy ball from C Press between sessions to refuel. The weather was absolutely amazing and chilled out tunes were coming from the speakers on the deck that overlooks the water.  You didn't feel like you were in London but instead someplace warm and tropical.
Thank you Cold Press

For our intro SUP session, we all received life jackets and a paddle.  We could have wore wetsuits, but it was very warm out.  The lesson started on land, with a review of what the different parts of the paddle were called and how to paddle most efficiently.  We then mounted our boards and set off.   Initially, we stayed close to shore to figure out how to turn, brake, and avoid colliding with each other.  Once Jason was happy with our skills, we ventured a little further to an open area where we had more space to maneuver.  It was over here where I fell in as I tried to paddle more efficiently.  The good news is that I didn't loose my sunglasses.

Take a dip in the pool with Everyone Active

Most hotels in Europe won't have a pool like we would in the USA.  That doesn't mean you can't pack your swim trunks for a London vacation.  Everyone Active offers open swim sessions at many of their 140 UK locations. You do have to pay a small fee and need to bring your own towel.  Here are four London locations you should check out:

Seven Islands Leisure Centre recently reopened its pool after it underwent refurbishments as part of a £2 million investment in the facilities at the centre. The revamped 33m pool is now open for public swimming. All borough residents are now able to use the gym and swim for free* at Southwark Council leisure centres.  33 m pool is pretty long for London. Get those extra laps in.

Castle Centre swimming pool

The Castle Centre recently underwent a £20 million redevelopment, and now boasts two brand new swimming pools; a 25 metre six-lane pool and a learner pool with a moveable floor,  as well as a sauna and steam room. All borough residents are now able to use the gym and swim for free* at Southwark Council leisure centres.  The learner pool is a great place for small children.

Marshall Street Leisure Centre is situated in the heart of central London, off Oxford Street. This beautiful grade II listed centre has something for everyone, with a beautiful, fully restored pool with marble floors dating from the 1930s, as well as a spa where you can pamper yourself after a swim.  I think I am going to have to check this spa out.

Porchester plunge pool- lush!

The Porchester Centre
has recently undergone a £1.2million refurbishment and has two beautiful swimming pools and a lush spa. Visitors will experience in an oasis of calm with its traditional decor of green and white tiles and original features still intact from when the building was built in 1929.

What other suggestions do you have for people to stay healthy in London this summer?  Leave a comment below.

*T&C apply, see Everyone Active website for more details.

Are you ready and able to help?

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

What's in your first aid kit?
I have been first aid trained for most of my life.  It started when I was a teenager as a baby sitter certified by the Red Cross, and then as a camp counsellor in the summers.  The first year I learned to use an AED (automated external defibrillator) was 2001 at my first job after uni (that's college for you Americans). Since then, I have always tried to keep my certifications up to date, whether through work or as a fitness instructor.

A few weeks ago, I completed a three day 'first aid at work' course with St. John's Ambulance.  Over the years, I have heard stories from other course attendees how they saw an accident but didn't help.  I have also stopped to  help people looking ill on the Tube, while many other passengers walked on by.  My husband said British people don't want to impact on each other's civil liberties by asking if they need help.  Maybe it is cultural but as an American, we talk to strangers and we help.  Most people who owned pools where I lived growing up had at least CPR training (perhaps as a legal requirement?).  My dad was on ski patrol at the local resort, and I remember him studying for his exams in the basement with his colleagues.  He even helped a player on the boys varsity soccer game who suffered a neck injury during the playoffs.

Annie, are  you ok?
Count to 10, look and feel for breathing 

On my most recent course, the first aid instructor said after the Westminster Attack, first aid courses were held to instruct more Westminster staff on what to do in an emergency.  The media highlighted how MP Tobias Ellwood knew first aid and was able to help treat and triage victims.  On 22 May, 2017 in Manchester, a homeless man, Chris Parker, wrapped up victim wounds with tour merchandise.  You never know when first aid training will be useful.  Of course, the recent terrorist incidents are more severe than what you will usually come across in a situation requiring first aid. Hopefully these extreme incidents are few and far between, but then we had the attack at London Bridge and Borough Market.

The stories you hear during these three recent terror attacks of bravery and self-sacrifice.  Medically trained staff went to the incident sites or went into work to help treat the victims. I am by no means saying you should put yourself in danger of you find yourself in a similar situation.  The first step of administering first aid is to make sure the area is safe. By receiving first aid training, you rehearse the next steps to take depending on what situation you come across.  The repetitive nature of the training helps reinforce the correct protocol and will help you respond on auto-pilot should an emergency arise.

Would you know what to do if there was an incident at your work, in the gym, or on the playground that needed first aid? Do you carry a first aid kit with you on long cycle journeys or do you keep one in the boot of your car?

At a bare minimum, I encourage you to take CPR or one day first aid course to learn how to treat common injuries.  Another skill to learn is how to use an AED.  AEDs are becoming more common in public places in the UK (finally!) such as airports, malls, and sports facilities.  Although they do not require a certificate for use (as advised by the Resuscitation Council of the UK), you may feel more comfortable using it if you have a half day lesson.   Using CPR or an AED significantly increases the potential of survival for your causality.  According to the American Red Cross, for each minute you delay defibrillation on your casualty, the chances of their survival decreases by 10%.

Touch wood, I have yet to perform CPR or use an AED.  I have applied plasters (band-aids), wrapped cuts, and put people into a recovery position to prevent shock.  Once, I helped a cyclist who fell off his bike and dislocated his shoulder by putting his arm into a sling before police pulled over to help us as we waited for an ambulance to arrive.

If you are not yet first aid certified or took the course a long time ago, I urge you to sign up for a course.  Hopefully, you will not have to use your new skills anytime soon, but if you do, you can be confident that you are doing your best to help the people around you.

Bye bye bum bags?

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Pretty darn comfy, even in the heat
At a recent event at Ellis Brigham, I was chatting with the lovely folks at Osprey about running.  I explained how my new phone doesn't fit into the bum bag I usually use, which has made marathon training a bit of challenge.  For long runs, I need a small bottle of water, my Oyster card, fuel, keys, and my phone.  The phone allows me to listen to my Harry Potter audio books or My Dad Wrote a Porno podcasts.  Bum bags often make me feel like I need to use the bathroom too (I think this is because it repeatedly bounces on my lower back, encouraging my digestion system to go into overdrive).  

Soft mesh lining
The solution to  my bodily function woes seems to be the Osprey Duro 1.5 rucksack.  Of course, I was worried that I would get too hot running in this so I took it out on a few short runs during the brief London heatwave we have been experiencing.  On the first run, I wore a t-shirt because I was afraid the mesh lining would chafe my skin.  I  was pleasantly surprised that the bag was really comfortable to run in.  The adjustable chest straps helps make the bag unisex, so any shaped body can fit in.  It does feel a bit weird when I initially put it on at the start of a run because the 250 ml water pouches lay right over my breasts.  Maybe I need to adjust it somehow so the pouches rest more on the sides?  The straws have a bite valves and are bent at an angle to make them easier to reach while on the go.  There are pockets everywhere and half of these have zippers to keep important items tucked safely away.
Last week, I wore the pack to an Adidas Runners cruise interval session while wearing a vest top.  I knew it was going to be hot out and that I would need sips of water along the way.  The Duro allowed me to have water but keep me hands free.  The bag also held my phone, which I like to have for snapping photos on the runs, but hate carrying.  I barely noticed that I had the bag on.  It never once irritated my skin nor did I have to adjust it.  It was so helpful to have the water available every time I needed it with the high pollen count in the air.  I could also take a few photos of the group when we got to the park without too much faffing.  

Back side of the bag with more pockets.

The Duro 1.5 is going to be really handy when I start marathon training next week.  Chicago Marathon is 19 weeks away and will my 3rd Abbott World Marathon Major.  This bag will make my long runs much more bearable and I might use it during the race too.  One thing I learned during London Marathon was not to carry too much water because there were so many water stations.  I could have carried less weight, which would have made the run easier (I think?).  I am going to have to look more closely at the Chicago course and weather forecast before I decide though.  I have plenty of time to trial different combinations of kit and water before October.

Chafe-free equals victory
What do you carry with you during a marathon?  Have you found the less you carry, the faster you run?  Leave a comment below and let me know.

Race Review: BHF Tower of London run

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Forecast over London = rain!

The British Heart Foundation (BHF) Town of London jog has been on my bucket list since we moved to London. I mean, who wouldn't want to run in the old moat of the former Royal residency.  This year, I was finally organized enough to register.  Originally, I was supposed to run with work friends but I ended up being on a first aid course near home which mixed up arrival times.  Luckily, I ran into friends from Advent Running, making the race much more enjoyable for me as it was pouring with rain.  One km laps surrounded by brick really aren't that fun.

Race entry:  Register online for £20 (I think) plus there is an option to fundraise for BHF.  You can register on the day too if you aren't big on planning ahead.

Bogs to the left, baggage tent to the right. All in the moat!

Course and bogs:  As it says on the tin, you run around the Tower of London. I thought it would be literal but instead you do U-shaped laps.  You can run as much or as little as you want with suggested distances of 5 or 10 km.  The race isn't timed and you can start whenever you want within a three hour window. I saw many groups of people running together- work teams, rugby clubs, and families all taking part.  The course wasn't crowded but it was busy due to some people walking.  One water station as you turned around made it easy to rehydrate as needed.

There were a handful of port-a-loos near the bag drop off.  Luckily I didn't have to use them.  Because of the variable start time, there wasn't a huge line at any point from what I saw.

Advent Running unite! Photo courtesy of  Mel McKay

Atmosphere:  Even though it was pouring with rain, people were having fun.  Many were walking and several had signs on their back stating who they were running for.  Some 'fans' were even cheering from the pavement above.  I think for many people, it was their first race event and most seemed to have a personal connection to the charity.

Note the catapult

Bling/goody bags:  There wasn't a goody bag but I did snag a free five minute massage.  I was most excited out the race bling, which had potential to be epic, but instead it was pretty boring.  Each participant received a free red technical t-shirt, but again, these were generic.  I totally understand that BHF saves money by not customizing the freebies but I was still sad about the bling.  I would forgo a t-shirt for a really cool medal.

I am still in the moat.  5K done!

Tips if you decide to take part next time:  2018 will be the 40th year of this epic race.
If you are a seasoned runner, get a group of colleagues or neighbors together to take part.  Travel light so you don't need to check a bag unless you want to wait for a loooong time to collect it.  If you have a lust for #racebling, don't run this race for the bling as it is sadly a generic medal (but has a custom ribbon).  BHF gives extra shout-outs to folks who raise more than £500, so if you are committed to the cause, go for it!

Active Travel: Cape Town

Monday, May 22, 2017

Our bikes from iRide South Africa
On my recent trip to South Africa, I wanted to take advantage of the good weather and be outdoors and active as much as possible.   My running and cycling kit were the first things to go in my suitcase, followed by my swimsuit and sunscreen.  I knew it was going to be warm and sunny, but I didn't know the water was going to be so cold.  My hotel was a lovely walk along the promenade to the V&A Waterfront and I saw many other outdoor activities going on- paragliding, sea kayaking, scuba diving, speed boats, sail boats and surfing.  I also heard there was horseback riding in one of the nearby towns.  Although Cape Town wasn't expensive, doing all these extra curricular activities would had added up so I only chose a few. I need to go back to try the rest!

Part of the fun of traveling for me is seeing new places by foot or wheels.  My husband is more of a cyclist than I am but we were both keen to cycle while in Cape Town.  Last year, he hired a bike through iRide South Africa so we did the same for this trip.  The service was great as they dropped off and picked up the bikes at the flat where we were staying.  You could also hire helmets and shoes which leaves more room for other things.  One water bottle per bike was provided and we brought extras.  This was important as it was 26 degrees Celsius and more while we were in Cape Town.

We made it.

We are both comfortable cycling in a city (James more so than me because he cycle commutes every day) which was important as Cape Town doesn't have many bike lanes.  It took about 20 minutes to get into the fancier suburbs and passed everyone headed to work.  South Africa for the most part has wide shoulders on their roads for passing traffic which many of the cyclists we saw used.  We were headed south to Chapman's Peak, which included an 850 m climb in bright sunshine with HUGE winds.  I, of course, was nervous of needing the toilet along the way but made it through without incident.  It was great to get back on the bike (it had been since Fitbit Fifty) but I did feel bad for my husband as I am a very slow cyclist.  He is fantastic at climbing hills!  Slow and steady is how I aim to do it.  I get there in the end.

We had plenty of fuel and water with us because it was so hot in Cape Town.  I used additional saline drops in my water bottles to ensure I was hydrated, plus nuun and Powerade.  I had heat exhaustion once in Texas and it was not fun!

What a view!
When we did make it to the top, the view was amazing.  There were other cyclists there too and several cars pulled over.  Everyone was taking photos and looking out over the water.  We were told that over and down the peak there was a cafe, but I didn't want to climb up the hill twice.  We headed back down the way we came and stopped for a 2nd breakfast near the beach.  It was really lovely to be outside, in the sunshine, and see the ocean just across the road.  We made it back to the flat without any problems and relaxed the rest of the day.  James climbed to the top of Chapman's Peak again the next day and found a cafe on the other side of the hill.  I was due to run 13 miles for my marathon training and did that instead.

I found there were plenty of opportunities to run in Cape Town.  Although many books and websites said not to go out by yourself in Cape Town, I felt safe running along the Sea Point Promenade, as well as running from my hotel to the promenade.  There wasn't much shade along the path but the ocean breeze helped keep me cool.  You will definitely need sunscreen!

Adidas Runners Cape Town

Representing London
With marathon training in full swing, I ran most days but had to run very early in the morning or late in the evening because of the heat.  I managed to join Adidas Runners Cape Town for a run along the Promenade and through Greenpoint Park were we crossed paths with Park Run which had a large amount of people taking park (FYI- parkrun starts at 8am in Cape Town!).

The other running I was able to due was a trail run in Stellenbosch.  I was lucky enough to take part in a Dirtopia race on Valentine's Day.  A more detailed review will be up soon.  It was hard to find a comprehensive race calendar, but I think this was due to it being such a hot time of the year.  If you know of one for Cape Town or South Africa, please let me know!

Sea kayaking
I went out on two trips with Kaskazi Kayaks in Cape Town.  The only other time I have been sea kayaking was a on-off in Seward, Alaska, USA when I lived there for a summer.  For those that don't know, kayaking is a sport where you sit in a small boat close to the surface of the water and use a double-sided paddle to propel yourself.  Here are a few things I learned on my trip that you might find useful for your first sea kayaking trip.

All the gear ready for us

Do you need to be fit to sea kayak? Not necessarily, but you do need to be willing to dig in and paddle against the current and waves.  We were put into kayaks with others, so you can share the burden a bit.  Double kayaks are more stable too.  You will wear a life jacket during your trip but you may have to go a ways offshore to go around reefs or rocks under the water.  If you are afraid of the water or are not a confident swimmer, this might be unnerving.  Speak to your instructor before getting into your kayak to discuss your fears and what the trip will be like.  I love being on the water but a few people in my group were either scared to be on the water or didn't realize how much physical activity was involved.

If you want to see local wildlife, ask the company which time is the best to go out. I was told the early morning trips are when animals local to Cape Town are most active and picked the second trip of the day so I could sleep a bit.  We saw a fur seal and some dolphins during my second trip, which was pretty neat!

Everyone is ready to go. Photo by Kaskazi Kayaks

There were a few things I brought with me that were important for this kind of activity- sunscreen (my legs got very burned), bottle of water, sunglasses, hat, swimsuit bottoms (no matter what they say, you will get wet), and shoes for water sports (I wore my Keens sandals).  A towel and change of clothes will not go amiss either.  Basically, it is sunny in Cape Town and even brighter on the water.  You don't want to waste any days of your holiday with a sunburn, so protect your skin.

Just look at that view.  Photo by Kaskazi Kayaks.

I hope to one day return to Cape Town.  What would you recommend we put on our activity list for the next time?  We managed to squeeze in a short safari and cage diving, which I will post about soon.  But I know there is so much more to do and see.

#3PTsToParis- my next challenge

Monday, May 15, 2017

I am so excited to share with you my next big fitness challenge.  It started off as a plan to meet for social laps in the park (ending with cake) between a few fitness blogging friends and evolved into an international trip on two wheels.  For most of my crazy adventures (World Marathon Majors, cage diving with sharks) I end up participating alone.  Sharing this journey with close friends is going to be ace!  Plus it corporates several of  my favorite things- travel, exercise, exploring new cultures, and eating cake.

Elle, of Keep It SimpElle
Departing on 14 July, 2017, Sophie, Elle, and I will be cycling from London to Paris unsupported.  These ladies are also both personal trainers and fitness bloggers with a similar attitude towards health and fitness as me.  We all live very busy lives between working and training but super exited for this challenge.  

My husband will be joining us as the official #InstagramHusband of the trip.  He loves cycling and I am happy to be doing something he enjoys too.  His tolerance for running is limited to Parkrun so I know I will never see him train for a marathon with me.  We trained for Ride London together in the past but I know I slow him down (and I would slow him down for running too).  We have each completed Ride London three times but rode the course at our own pace.  Two years ago we rode to Brighton with some other blogging friends and it was a great day out.

In total, our ride to Paris will be 164 miles (265 km) over three days.  On Day 1, we ride from the Velodrome to New Haven where we hop the evening ferry to Dieppe.  After spending the night in a bike-friendly Dieppe hotel, we spend Day 2 cycling to Beauvais, which will be our longest leg at 65 miles.  Day 3 takes us right into Paris, ending under the Eiffel Tower for a ton of celebratory photos.  There is a courier service who will transport our bikes back to London while we celebrate in the evening with good wine, yummy cheese, and probably a hot shower.  Monday we have the day set aside to do some sightseeing before taking the Eurostar home in the evening.

Sophie, of The Fitology Way
How am I going to prepare?  I am continuing with Julia B Fit's home workout videos twice a week and aim to get out on the bike for a long ride on the weekends with James.  Gradually, I will increase the weight of my saddlebags on the weekend training rides. Monday nights, I teach spining and #tracktuesdays with Advent Running will also stay in my diary.  This ride will take me right into the start of Chicago Marathon training, which is perfect to avoid oversue injuries but keep my cardio fitness up. Win win!


I am confident I can make it to Paris based on my experience with the #FitbitFifty.  But this trip will require me to make my own way on open roads while carrying everything I need and probably change my own tire.  Travelling with friends under an extreme phsyical challenge should be interesting too.  Having this date in the diary is a great motivator too.  There is even  discussion if this trip goes well, we will plan a longer excursion in 2018.  

Fingers crossed, I hoping in the next few weeks there will be more opportunities for me to share with you that involve traveling and cycling.  Keep checking back for updates.

Have you ever ridden from London to Paris?  Leave your tips for us on what to pack in the comments below and watch for #3PTsToParis on social media as we make our final preparations.  If you are a brand that would like to support us on this epic adventure, please get in touch.