Race review: Run To The Deep

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Run To The Deep was a last minute sign up.  There had been an email to the run club at work but I totally forgot about it.  The reminder email (with a photo of the octopus medal) was just the nudge I needed to register.  Put on by the British Science Association, who smartly hired The Race Organizer to execute the race, it was a lovely Friday evening run around Hyde Park.  The weather was perfect for running- just a bit cool with a slight breeze.  About 200 people came out, although the race could have allowed 500 runners to take part.

Race pack

Race entry and fees:  Registration was £25 through Eventbrite.  You could also register on the day.  Rather than mailing out the race packets, we had on hour before the race started where we coud collect our bibs at the start line.  I got there 30 minutes early so had time to say hi to some friends (a pleasant surpise to see them!) and warm up.

Limbering up

Course and bogs: The course was a 5 km loop through Hyde Park that you had to do twice.  It was really well marshalled with a person in high-vis at every turn cheering us on, as well as large bright signs.  There weren't any mile markers so I was glad I had my Fitbit on to help me keep track of  my distance.  The paths were open to the public but it wasn't too crowded. 

Park toilets, which normally cost 20p but for some reason were free that night, were right across from the start line and there was never a queue.  The water station was at the start line, rather than out mid-course, and sufficient in size for the weather, number of people and course length. 

If you have been living under a rock, you may not have heard about how much plastic rubbish ends up in the ocean.  The Run To The Deep organizers made a few simple decisons to help reduce the amount of plastic produced by the race.  The water cups were biodegradable and compostable.  The water itself was brought in in large carboys rather than small water bottles you would get at a store.

Group warm up

As I have mentioned, the race was in Hyde Park, London, after work on a Friday evening.  It was really easy to get to.  I actually took a bus over from Oxford Circus. I don't make it over there too often so it was nice to see a different part of London.  The park is the largest of the four Royal Parks, so it was fairly peaceful in terms of traffic noise and not very crowded with people.  I imagine if it was a wee bit warmer, the park would have been more crowded.  The course took us by the Serpentine too.

I had to stop and take a picture.  You don't see this on city runs very often.

Atmosphere:   With only 200 runners in a very large park, there wasn't much atmosphere in terms of cheering or running alongside other people.  One of the cool aspects of the race was the Run To The Deep app that used GPS to narrate your trip to the bottom of the ocean.  It was really strange to run a race that encouraged you to wear headphones, especially where there were so many scientists together in a semi-social setting (well, I went because I am a scientist but I am sure some people were not).  I opted to enjoy running in the park rather than listening to the app.  My friends who used the app said it was pretty cool so I need to download it asap and give it a try.

Race bling and goody bags: The race medal design was what convinced me to do the race.  There is an octopus on it and I am a marine biologist by training.  Therefore, it was a no-brainer.  Another eco-friednly choise was using a ribbon that was 100% cotton so it didn't contain any plastic.  Hurray!

The paper goody bags contained the medal, a banana (no wrapper!) and a collapsible stainless steel cup on a key chain (#genius).  That is going in my camping gear as I always carry a resusable water bottle with me anyways.

Goody bag and back of medal

Tips if you want to take part next time:  If you had been listening to the app, you would know how far you have gone along the route.  If you run without the app, I would suggest having a running app or watch to let you know the distance covered.  As I mentioned above, I was keeping tabs of my mile splits with my Fitbit so this wasn't an issue for me.  Make sure you bring a few 20p coins in case you have to use the loo.

Unfortunatelt, I am not sure they will have another Run To The Deep race next year, but I heard they did a solar system run last summer and want to do a series of four races altogether.  I highly recommend it if they do. #nerdsunite

Me and my bling

Active travel: Thailand

Monday, June 11, 2018

I have been lucky enough to visit seven countries in the last six months.  Holidays are a great time to explore an alternative side to the local culture and see how they stay active and healthy.  In Thailand, the sun was shining every day, which instantly made me feel a bit more cheery.  Although it was way too hot and humid to run, I was able to use a few hotel fitness rooms to complete my corrective exercise homework from Function360.  But I really wanted to spend time doing activities that I couldn't do at home (when in Rome and all that!) so I booked in for several unique Thai experiences.

Feeling tough and super sweaty

Muay Thai
The first was Muay Thai boxing, of course.  Via Trip Advisor and Google, I found Master Toddy's Muay Thai Academy which is Bangkok.  The location didn't seem too far from our hotel but the public transport and traffic in Bangkok is a bit nuts so I took a taxi there and back.  When I arrived, I was greeted by a gym member who was originally from America.  He asked me what my experience in Muay Thai was and if I spoke Thai.  I replied I have none with either.  My instructor's name was Korn, and my new friend told me Korn didn't speak much English.  I expected this and wasn't too worried. As long as I could copy the movements he made, I thought I would be able to learn the technique.  After changing into my workout clothes, I grabbed my water bottle and headed into the ring with Korn.

Perfecting those pesky front kicks

We started off with a warm up and stretching.  Korn could count to 10 in English which was really handy.  The lesson was private, which meant I always had a clear view of him and he was watching what I was doing.   After the warm up, we went through basic punching and kicking positions in slow motion and without pads.  Finally, he go out the long pieces of cloth, wrapped my hands and chose my gloves.  I was ready to fight.

Playing in the background was a recording of about 20 three minute rounds.  My guess is that there was about 60 seconds rest between bouts.  We started off by working on the basic punches and getting power into the pads Korn was holding.  Then we worked on the kicks and sorting out what my natural range of motion was. Once he was happy with the my technique, he designed various kicking and  punching combinations for me to complete during the bouts.  The gym was a large fenced in garage so the temperature and humidity was the same in the ring as it was outside.  I had brought 2L of water with me and made sure to take sips when I could.  Korn had to help a bit because the boxing gloves limited my ability to open and handle the bottle.

Korn and I in the ring

Front kicks were probably my worst skill as I just couldn't get any power behind them.  I was pretty good at a side kick though and my hook is killer.  The session was two hours long which was probably better suited for a couple or group.  Towards the end, Korn took me out of the ring and had me practice on punching bags in the workout area.  The humidity made them a little slick but I was able to work repeatedly on one move at a time.  I think I would have preferred to start with the bags and then build my way up to the rings. Although I have a certificate saying I now know the fundamental basics of Muay Thai, I didn't feel very confident after my lesson.   I am really glad I had my first lesson where Muay Thai originated though.  If you are interested in taking lessons, Master Toddy offers accomidation for those registere in his intensive training program.

Selfie while wearing my Subea mask

I am lucky enough to be able to called myself a marine biologist (yes I have seen the Sinfield episode). I spent as much time as I could in the water while in Thailand.  True, there are many places off over the world where you can snorkel, but rarely do we visit those places.  James and I did a full day snorkeling trip from Kkao Lak, and then I did a separate excursion to Coral Island on my own.  We snorkeled a few times at the Khao Lak hotel, and the bride and groom arranged a day-long boat trip with the wedding guests too.  My bum totally got sunburned and my hair was salty but my heart was oh-so-happy.   Using the Decathlon Subea face mask, it so easy to see everything around us and not have to worry about clearing the snorkel.  Our masks didn't fog up and were easy to fit without any leaks (James and I had different sizes).

These fish were everywhere and would swim right over to you.

My G-Eye 900 action camera accompanied me on every dive.  I took both photos and videos to help me remember what we saw.  There is so much video to go through! I am not very good with Latin names but could pick out general groups of fish (such as trigger, damsel, parrot, etc).  Sadly, the guides on our trips didn't know what any of the fish were so I couldn't ask them too many questions.  I was thrilled to see a puffer fish and some small cuttlefish.  Sadly, we didn't see any turtles in the wild but did visit a rescue and rehabilitation facility near Khao Lak.  If I go back, I will try to go when the sea turtle nest on the beach.  How cool would that be?

If you go to Thailand, bring your bathing suit, cover up, water shoes and lots of sunscreen.  Being on the water totally calms me.  You don't have to get in but something about being on a boat is so relaxing.  The fish come right over to you so you will see lots of different critters while you are in the shallow water.  Try not to step on the rocks and coral because you could injury yourself and the coral is very delicate.  I wore my Keen sandals the entire time, which were a bit heavy but really helpful when I got caught in a current and needed to swim to shore for a rest.

Parrotfish in the center.

Thai Massage
My brother-in-law's wife (now my sister-in-law?) invited me to a spa day with the bridal party.  I booked myself in for a Thai massage and honestly had no idea what to expect. Every massage I have ever had, you undress, lay flat on a table and are rubbbed with oil or lotion.  But for a Thai massage, you put on these pajama-like scrubs and have your feet washed before you start.  You then lay on a table and the fun begins.

All treatments start with a foot bath, even the manicures!

Thai massage combines pressing on the body (rather than rubbing) with yoga-like body positions. My massage did have some traditional massage movements, but also a lot of stretching, pulling and body movement. I tried to stay as relaxed as possible as the women bent me in all sorts of directions. I even had to sit up at the end while she stood behind me to crack my back somehow.

I was more bemused than anything by the end but also felt a little lighter and taller.  There were massage parlors everywhere in Thailand so if you want one, it isn't hard to find.  I even got a foot massage in the international terminal in the Bangkok airport before we left for home.  It was really peaceful and relaxing, which helped me sleep on the overnight flight back to London.

Bride-to-be and I had our treatments in the same room.  That was another first for me.

If you have been to Thailand, what other activities would you recomend?  Leave a comment below and let me know.

All the photos in this post were taken with my G-Eye 900.  Some were actual photos and the others are screenshots of videos.  Anyone have tips on how to make videos into photos?  I would greatly appreciate some advice.

Decathlon graciously gave me the Subea masks and G-Eye 900 to review.  All opinions are honest and my own.

Ride with me in your living room

Thursday, June 7, 2018

A few weeks ago, I was invited to a product launch by the Spanish brand, Bkool.  They manufacture three different types of turbo trainers for indoor cycle training and provide an online platform where you can select virtual rides to follow.  This year, they are focusing on folks who, for whatever reason, need to workout at home by adding an indoor cycling SMART bike to their product line. And it is awesome.

Let's talk about their online simulator first.  Here are some fun facts about Bkool and their platform.

  • As they train, riders can view a virtual race course, a specific route, or velodrome track session.
  • Some routes have a video if a member has submitted one to share.
  • There are over 60,000 users on the platform.
  • Bkool holds almost 40% of marketshare.
  • More than 3.5 million real routes are available so far and it is growing every day
If you have a Bkool product, it can monitor your activities through your profile to look for improved performance over time.

Now, let's discuss their new indoor cycling fitness bike.  Pretty, isn't it?

  • The bike links through an app on your phone to automatically adjust resistance based on your functional threhold power (FTP) test and what the class requires.
  • You can use your phone to the control ride and your laptop or tablet to better view the route.
  • The bike weighs only 45 kg, meaning it is easy to move around your home.
  • ANT+ and Bluetooth connections available
  • Provides magnetic resistance for a smooth, quiet ride.
  • Easy to assemble (or pay a bit more for home assembly)
  • Affordable price point

So far, the platform offers over 100 pre-recorded fitness classes.  During their time in London, Bkool were also looking for new instructors to record new fitness classes in English.  I am excited to announce that I was one of the successful applicants!  Next weekend, I am traveling to Bilao, Spain for a weekend of training and to visit the filming studio.  In July, I will head back to record eight to ten classes, each 30-45 minutes long.  I have about 30 classes ready to go but need to still upload them into the teleprompting software.  Me and technology sometimes don't get along, which is why I am relieved that we will cover this during our training. In addition, half of my music is with Apple and the other half is somewhere on my laptop.  This fantastic opportunity is a good motivator to sit down and organize everything into one place.

I am also looking forward to discovering new music that will suit the different types of workouts.  The right song can change a participant's outlook on the class.  When I went through my initial training nearly a decade ago (yikes!), the course leader warned against themed-rides.  She explained that if a person hates 80s music, they will mentally check out from the first note.  I can confirm this as my Monday night class hates my 80s mix.  I can see it on their faces.  Now, my rides have a variety genres to bring everyone together.  That is what I love about indoor cycling- choosing motivational music that makes exercise fun rather than a chore.  One of my personal mantras is 'If it's not fun, why do it?' When coaching new clients, and here on my blog, I aim to share new fitness concepts to help people discover something they love and want to do over and over again.  I am a firm believer that being active should be fun.

What songs makes you want to jump up and dance? Run faster? Go for a swim? Leave a comment below so I can check it out. I will let you know when my first class is available to view.

What to eat during a marathon

Monday, June 4, 2018

Today, I am starting the third week of marathon training for Marathon du Medoc.  This race is a bit low pressure as we will be sampling the wine of the region along the 26.2 mile route.  But I want to work towards a marathon PB, so I need to committ to the process.  I will be practicing drinking wine from Bordeaux at my local wine bar too, don't worry!

One of the most popular things runners talk about is what to eat when running.  As spring marathon season is out in full force, I thought I wouls share a few things that I have tried.  Leave a comment below if you have any other suggestions.

When Powerbar first came out back in the day, I remember my dad getting them for windsurfing.  They didn't taste that great back then and were really hard to chew. The first time I tried Gatorade at school, I got an upset stomach during a football (soccer) game.  Over the years, my race distances started to increase and I was a little weary about all the latest and greatest stuff I would need to try for a full marathon.  Following a training plan, I usually have three to four months to figure out a fuelling strategy.  It depends on what I anticipate the weather to be like during training and on the day of the race.  I also take into account what drinks and food (if any) will be available on the course.  My stomach is vey sensitive, so I am always looking for something easy to digest.

Energy Bits were the first thing I tried. I was completing my 2nd attempt at Whole30 and searching for a product that met the rules. These 'bits' are 100% spirulina algae and are vegan, paleo, caffeine-free, soy-free and gluten-free.  Spirulina is the richest source of protein in the world at 64%, and rich in vitamins, minerals, and electrolytes too. You swallow 30 before or during physical activity, and away you go!   I definitely notice my energy feels a bit off when I don’t take them before my longer runs.  As they only contain the algae, my stomach doesn’t have any problem digesting them on short or long runs.  I will take them before a fasted run to make sure I don't bonk. 

Over the last 3 years, I have stuck with nuun and Lucozade Sport Lite for electrolyte replacement.  Nuun is so simple to transport because you just need water and a tablet.  There are many different flavours and some even provide caffeine.  Unforuntaltely, nuun isn't easily available in the UK anymore which is a bummer.  Gatorade doesn’t bother my stomach any more but also isn’t available in the UK as it is an American product.  Luckily, we are able to get Lucozade from our home delivery grocery service.  I dilute the Lucozade Lite drink because it is a bit syrupy for me.

For a gel, I was looking for something that wasn't too sugary or heavy. My Protein had an amazing Blackcurrent gel that was mostly water so it was more like drinking juice rather than goo (note it is still sticky if it gets on your hands).  It also was available with caffeine as an ingrediant, which has been shown to improve athletic performance (new post with more info coming soon!) and added electrolytes to keep you hydrated.  My Protein stopped making my gel but have a similar Blackcurrent option that tastes a little different.  I need to try it a few more times on runs over 60 minutes to see if I can cope.

Gummy snacks, such as Haribos vs Clif Shot Bloks. Who can say which is better? I compared the nutritional values and the difference was negliable. Cliff Shot Bloks do have caffeine which is an added bonus and they are much easier to chew as you are breathing hard and your nose is stuffed up. However, they are also many times the price and a bit harder to find than Haribos when prepping last minute for a race. Both provide a shot of energy (sugar!) to your body quick, which is what you are really after.  Tailwind Nutrition is another easy way to get carbs quick.  It is a powder you add to your water, providing you with electrolytes and energy.  My friends use it for 100 mile races and don't eat any solid food during those events.  They just use Tailwind.  I have used it too and haven't had any tummy issues.

Real food is something I don't have much room for in my bum bag or hydration pack. I prefer flapjacks, fig rolls, or nuts with raisins as these are all salty and available in most small shops (always carry cash for fueling emergencies). If bananas didn't get schmooshed so easily, I would probably carry those too.  A few of my friends either make their own baby food or use Ella's Kitchen pouches, Try out a few different types of food on your long runs and see what your body tolerates.

Carbohydrate loading is probably the best part of marathon training.  Using Benjamin Rapoport’s endurance formula, I calculated that I needed 550g of carbs each day in the lead up to race day.  Unfortunately, the calculator is no longer available online, but you can read the paper it was based on here.  In the end I aimed for 500g/day for 7 days instead of 5.  I ate a lot of pizza, porridge, and potatoes. Although carb-loading sounds like it will be fun, 500g of filling food is really hard to do on a daily basis. I was also avoiding fibrous foods (like salad) to decrease my chances of runner's tummy on race day which seemed weird because usually I go for a colourful plate at each meal.

How did I fuel during my first marathon?

Carried 400ml water plus High 5 single tablets (husband used all the nuun!). Used 1/2 tablet and took 2 electrolyte cups at fuelling stations along the way.
Took water at every station and refilled 1 of my bottles at every station from miles 10 on
My Protein gels at miles 5,10,15, 20, 25
3 Shot Blocks at miles 7, 13, 18, 23

Amazingly, I never hit a wall. The only thing that failed me where my hips as they were filled with pain miles 20+. Eight marathons later, I now know how important strength training is, which is why I am working with Function360 to prepare my legs and hips for my next big race.  You can get your bum in shape too with 15% off their services with code #F360MM15.

If you have any fueling tips, I would love to hear them.  Leave a comment below.

Be Brave. Be Bold.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Let me let you in on a little secret.  I turn 40 next year.  I don't feel anywhere near this old, but I can't help to wonder if this milestone is influencing my need for extreme challenges lately.  It started with climbing Kilimanjaro, then skydiving, I signed up for a Ragnar Relay race in September, and who knows what else.  Long ago, I declared my 40th birthday party would be in Las Vegas but now I am thinkin Ibiza would be a bit closer.  Plus I have never been there.

Why am I starting to signup to things that scare me a little bit? Have I matured enough not to be afraid anymore?  Am I bold and brave, like my new vest top from Boudavida says?  What else do I want to accomplish in my life?

I thought now would be a good time to put together a list.  Not necessarily a bucket list but some things that I would like to do.  Once it is on paper, that is the first step of making it happen.  I put my wish out into the universe and hopefully it can begin to manifest.

There are two things that are definitely within my reach.  One is learning (sooner rather than later) to cycle in my cleats.  This keeps coming up again and again with me.  I don't feel like a proper cyclist, no matter how many places I have ridden to (Edinburgh, Paris, various 100 mile sportives).  I had some accidents while learning that shook me up though, and I don't know of I will ever excel at staying focused enough to clip and out when I should.  My mind tends to wander when I am on my bike.

Mountain biking is the other, and also seems pretty scary. I did one trail ride in the Adirondack Mountains once with my ex and all I kept thinking about was whether or not I would end up flying over the handle bars and hitting my sternum with a bike handle.  Gravel, rocks, trees, and sand are all dangerous obstacles to me when road cycling but make it fun for some when  mountain biking.  My husband has decided he wants to get into mountain biking, so now would be a good time for me to learn too.  Halfords recently released a beginner's guide to mountain biking which includes terminology, basic skills, and my favourite section, trail etiquette.  It also covers how to choose a bike, what gear you need, and suggests some trails in the UK to try.

I have found this post really helpful and now want to book in for a proper mountain biking lesson at the Velopark to develop my skills and gain confidence (Sunday mornings at 9am if you would like to join me).  These lessons could transfer across to my road cycling too and allow my to spend more time with my husband outdoors if we end up investing in mountain bikes (and another shed to store them in).  My Achilles don't like running on trails so much any more so I would love to find an activity to substitute it with.  Mountain biking just may be it.

What else do I want to do?  Some I have talked about before but as I was writing this post, a few more came to mind.
  • See Northern Lights
  • Cycle across Cuba
  • Go to Antarctica
  • Visit Galapagos Islands
  • Run Tokyo (2020) and Boston (2021) marathons
  • Run a race in very us state (5 down!?)
  • Ski in Japan (hopefully in 2020 after Tokyo Marathon)
  • Cycle London to Amsterdam
  • Hike in South America
  • Take my husband to Alaska
  • Apply for Space for Humanity (maybe)
  • Half Marathon du Sables  (this is also a maybe)
  • Attend a fitness retreat
  • Proper sky dive
  • Write my two e-books (weekend challenges and tips for Kili)

Don't forget that some of the above require hard work and discipline. You can't always sit back and wait for things to happen. You need to work toward your goals, whatever they might be.  I am sure there are many sports, tours, races, countries, etc I don't even know about that would appeal to me.  The key is to be open to new experiences when they come along. Being brave.  I have also found asking for opportunities can lead amazing memories, like Fitbit FiftyBeing bold.

This post was sponsored by Halfords.

Indoor skydiving makes my superhero dream come true

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Often times when I dream, I am able to fly or bounce really high.  I am taking this as a sign that flying should be my superhero power.  Teleporting would be a close second but I only think this when I am wide awake.  Other choices could be invincible, massive strength, running really fast, but for me flying would it.  I have never really considered sky diving as an activity because it is just too scary for me.  Jumping out of a plane, depending on parachutes, just seemed a bit risky, even if your first jump is tandem.

As you read last week, I recently made a trip out to Milton Keynes to ski at Snozone, an indoor snowsports facility.  While I was looking at a map how to get there, I noticed that next door was iFly, an indoor skydiving facility.  iFly is a worldwide company with three locations in the UK, who also operate wind tunnels all over the world.

What is indoor skydiving?
Indoor sky diving using a vertical wind tunnel to create the forces needed for you to be elevated off of the 'ground'.  The bottom of the tunnel wire mesh so the wind can travel through it yet provide a place to stand on.  It simulates what it would feel like should you be fall through the sky, but gives you peace of mind because you are never more than 2 stories up in the air.  The Milton Keynes tunnel is a wee bit smaller, but the other UK locations have the following stats:
  • Max air speed of 180 mph
  • Average flying height of 6 feet
  • Maximum flying height of 39 feet
  • Flight chamber diameter of 14 feet
My experience 
I booked in last minute as there was a cancellation. Of course, I was super excited. The facility often books up ahead of time so you need to do a bit of planning if you want to go.  iFly ask that you arrive an hour before your flight time to go through the safety process.  First, you need to read and sign a declaration saying you release iFly of liability and that you have never has a shoulder dislocation or injury. After I did this, I then checked in at the reception desk, where I was again asked if I had a previous shoulder injury or dislocation.  Thirty minutes before flight time, our instructor, Emma, gathered our small group of six flyers and took us into a separate room to watch a safety and instructional video.  The video showed us the three important hand signals we would be using in the wind tunnel (chin up, straighten your legs, and relax)) and stated that if you have had a shoulder injury or dis locational,you need to tell the instructor. (See the theme here?). Emma came back in and went through the hand signals again and asked if we had any questions. Half the group were young boys with their moms there to watch.  Then it was me and two men about my age.

Emma explained there would be an opportunity for two additional flight options while we are in the wind tunnel for additional cost. The first is spinning up to nearly the top of the tunnel with the instructor holding on to you.   This would be in your second fly if you successfully demonstrate control and listening skills in your first fly.  On a Saturday afternoon, this was £6.  The other option was an additional flight (one minute) in the tunnel for £12.  This is only available if there is time left at the end of the session and a pretty steep discount if instead you were to come.back for another visit.

After the video, we got suited up with goggles, helmet, and ear plugs.  We also got a jumpsuit.  Everything had to be locked up- rings, watches, earrings, so nothing could potentially fall off in the wind tunnel.  You are required to wear shoes that tie, like a trainer (sneaker).  I had my hiking boots on because of sledging next door which they said would be fine.  Guess they are worries that shoes might fall off during your experience.

Once we were suited and booted, we climbed a flight of stairs to the viewing platform.  There was a few benches and chairs for people who are with friends and family but not flying.  We saw the end of the session before us.  Before the group left, the instuctor had two minutes to literally fly all over the tunnel -spiralling down head first, swooping up at the last minute, hovering over the ground.  It looked like CGI- the moves he made and the quick changes.  It was amazing!

Finally, it was our turn.  As a beginner, you get 2 one minute flights.  The young boys went first and showed zero fear. At times, they struggled to understand that when Emma corrected one arm position, that meant they should do the same on the other side.  As they were small and light, Emma was able to easily move them around so mom could get a good photo and they could try staying afloat near to her.

Then it was my go.  I was able to float up well above Emma on my own.  I tried to listen as best I could to her feedback and smile for the official camera at the same time.  I did wish I had someone there to take photos of videos of me from the viewing platform but i knew i coukd buy the photos and videos that ifly take.  Each minute does seems like a long time, especially when your body is bent in a way it isn't used to and you are trying to stay relaxed as you go higher and higher.  I felt like Charlie after he drank the Fizzy Lifting Drink at the Wonka Chocolate Factory.

Of course, I opted to go the top for the bonus spin. It was really fast, which kinda made me dizzy.  We went up and down twice and I even drooled (hopefully just due to the force and not my old age).

The young boys each got an extra fly after mom's approved from across the viewing platform.  We were treated to Emma's flying performance at the end which was spectacular.  It really inspired me to develop this as an actual skill.  We were told before leaving the tunnel waiting area that we could purchase additional flight packages at a discount that day as a "returning flyer". I got a really good deal for my next visit which gives me six minutes of flight time.  It was emailed to me and expires in three months. I need to book in soon so I don't miss out!

We walked back down to the ground floor where we turned in our goggles, helmets and jumpsuits.  Emma quickly processed our personalalized certification.  You get rated on the essential manoeuvres to document how well you did in case you return.  Emma told me I was a natural when I started asking her about the physics of the flying- how to turn your hands to start spinning or using leg position to go up and down.  I observed her coaching the guy who was a returner, trying to figure some of these things out (the wind is way too loud to hear anything so  you mostly rely on hand signals and exaggerated movements).  I don't know if I am really a naturual or just able to follow instructions.  If I lived closer, I would consider making this a regular activity.  Milton Keynes is just a wee bit far from where I live in London though to train on a regular basis.

All of the iFly staff was super nice.  When booking in, I was on my phone on the train so I kept dropping in and out.  The team was incredibly patient.  Emma impressed me so much that I want to tell the manager.  The person at reception said to leave a review on Trip Advisor and mentioned her.  Of I did that, she would get a little treat at the end of the month.  So I did.

Be sure to tell the truth about previous injuries
The most important thing I would say is to disclose any shoulder injuries you have ever had to your instructor.  One of the guys in my group only told Emma about his shoulder dislocation at the age of 15 when we were turning in our equipment.  I am a health and safety nut, but I think the fact they ask 3-4 times would clue participants in that this is a big deal.

In short, I loved it so much I bought another jump.  If you are curious about skydiving and live in the UK, definitely check out iFly.  And ask for Emma.

Thank you to IFly for having me out to try their facility.  All opinions and stories of drooling are honest and my own.

The slopes are where my heart is

Friday, May 11, 2018

I'll admit I am pretty lucky to have spent many weekends at a local ski resort in Western New York with one chair lift.  My dad was on ski patrol which meant we were able to afford as much time on the slopes as homework and extracurricular activities would allow.  When I moved to Boston for university, it was so hard not being able to easily access good skiing.  I always had my skis with me just in case there was a bus trip to Maine, Vermont or New Hampshire.  The mountains of New England were nothing like the glacial hills of New York and much farther away.  Eventually, I made it out west to Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, and British Columbia.  As I travelled more, I soon came to realise that my skis and ability were better suited to icy slopes rather than knee deep powder.  I just haven't learned how to ski in fresh pow yet!  When we lived in Michigan, we got season tickets to Caberfae Peaks, which was nearly a two hour drive on snowy roads in my Subaru. But once we got there, I was overcome with general ennui.  Sure there were several chair lifts, but the runs were short compared to the Rocky Mountains.  I didn't care which slope we skied down as they were all nearly the same and over in a swift second.

Since moving to England, I have once again been jonesing for some snow. When we get a centimetre of snowfall in London, the city shuts down.  I have heard there is skiing up in Scotland but I haven't made it up there yet.  Our good friends have a chalet near Verbier, Switzerland which we have been lucky enough to visit three times over the years.  Many of the gang are school teachers or university lecturers which makes coordinating holiday dates tough.  In addition, many children have now joined our tribe which meant we had to rent an additional chalet this year.

Because we rarely go skiing and have a small flat, my skis ended up in the shed for a few years.  A week before we were due to go to Verbier this February, we pulled them out to find the skis were rusty and the bag covered in mould (God, how I loathe British weather!). My skis were a graduation gift for uni, so they are pretty old anyways but I was simply devastated to see them in that state.  Luckily, I knew Decathlon had a ski shop so I quickly booked them in for a wax, sharpen and tune up.  We also took my husband's snowboard in for a wax (although his board is stored under the bed and was in much better shape).

The process was pretty simple.  We called the Decathlon workshop, which also cares for bikes, and booked in our kit.  I think they have limited ski/snowboard staff or did that week because it was a few days before we needed to drop off our kit.  Due to our schedules, we asked if we could drop the kit off early and they said it wasn't a problem.  I picked the skis and board up a day before we were due to travel and they were transformed.  I felt such relief.  I also picked up a new ski bag while I was at the shop.  My old one was plain black canvas (also wet and gross) but the Decathlon one is a bright blue, has a light waterproof lining and wheels on one end.  It was so much easier to travel with.  I always stuff my ski gear around for skis for protection and will with this bag too as there isn't much padding.

Ready to board
I thought this trip to Verbier would be the end of my skiing days for 2018, but I was wrong.  Snozone is an indoor snowsport facility with three locations in the UK- Milton Keynes and Castleford both have artificial snow, while Skizone in Basingstoke and Castleford have a revolving astroturf carpet.  A few weekends ago, they had a big event for their SOS (Summer of Snow).  The day I went to Milton Keynes, it was over 20 degrees C outside.  After walking 30 minutes from the train station to the facility, being indoors was a nice treat.  Snozone Milton Keynes has equipment hire, a soft play zone for the kids, café and bar, large lounge with televisions, and of course, lots of real snow!

Cafe at Snozone Milton Keynes

My visit started off with 45 minutes of sledging (or sledding as we call it in America).  The group meets at the appointed time and are escorted to the bottom of the sledging slope by a member of the Snozone team.  All kids under 12 must wear helmets and are available to anyone else who wants to wear one.  I was the lone adult as it was families who had booked in.  The sledge is a one-seater with a stick you put between your legs, like a horn on a horseback riding saddle.  You have to walk up the hillw(hich is half of the indoor slope) and then use your hands to steer the sledge right or left.  To brake, you have to dig your heels into the snow.  I wasn't keen on this because snow kept going up my snow pants and I wanted to keep my socks dry for skiing later in the day.  I know for next time though to bring a change of leggings and socks.  I can't remember the last time I went sledging, so it was a lot of fun to let loose for a bit and enjoy the snow.

At the top of the slope
My next activity was skiing.  I was given a one hour timeslot with my slope pass, which included equipment hire, for just £30.  The slope pass prices vary depending on day of the week, school holidays, and how long a session you want.  Currently, an eight hour weekend adult pass is £37.49.   For £10 more, you can hire ski clothes such as a ski jacket or snow pants.  I was amazed at how affordable this is compared to ski resorts in Switzerland or USA.  There are memberships available too if you live nearby and think you'd like to get practice in over the summer.  My husband has been threatening to learn to ski for years and I am tempted to learn to snowboard.  Taking lessons at Snozone seems much more economical that hiring kit, paying for lessons, and also purchasing a lift ticket in Switzerland.  Plus, if we didn't like it as much as we thought we would, we could just go home.  Or sledging.

Always wear a helmet
The memberships offer additional discounts too slope off of slope sessions, café and shop purchases, children's parties, private lessons, and tune ups in their ski shop.  Crystal Ski has a desk in the Milton Keynes location where you can book a ski holiday and receive additional benefits as a member too.  I could see Snozone as an alternative stag, or hen-do for people who want something fun but doesn't break the bank.  The other thing that I think is pretty cool about Snozone is that they offer Disability Snowsports training.  Anyone with a sensory, cognitive, or physical impairment can come learn to ski or snowboard.  Their aim is to make snowsports inclusive and accessible for all.  That is something I can 100% get behind.

If you are used to the Rocky Mountains or Alps, Snozone will probably seem a bit small to you.  There is really only one run, but there are jumps and slide rails on which you can gain confidence for your tricks.  Or, as I suggested above, you can learn a new snowsport for your next holiday.  Everything you need, including lockers and showers, are available to you at the Milton Keynes location.  If you have a free day, I recommend checking it out.  I think I am going to organize a fitness blogger meet up there this summer because that group is always up to try something new.  Snowsports are a great fitness activity, burning lots of calories and working your core and cardiovascular system too.

Do you know how to ski or snowboard? Did you take lessons when you were little or are you a natural in the snow?

Thanks to Decathlon for coming to my rescue by offering complimentary ski shop service and providing my new ski bag with such short notice.  All views and opinions are own.  Even though I am a member of the Decathlon Blogger's Community, I can honestly say I love their affordable kit and ethos of #sportforall.

Thanks for Snozone for the complimentary visit to their Milton Keynes slope.  All opinions and wipe outs are honest and my own.