Bowing out of Berlin

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

I hate quitting. But ask my mom or any of my friends, and they will tell you I have a habit of starting things but not finishing them (This is a personality fault I am aware of and have been working on). However, when I signed up to run two marathons on 2015, dropping out wasn't an option. I was running these for RODS Racing, a new challenge (as my furthest event had only ever been a half) to overcome the charity fatigue of my friends and family. Being petrified of pain and not finishing was a powerful motivator for sticking to my Prague training plan. And I succeeded in May- I was officially a marathoner. 

The plan was to have 1 month to move house and re-cooperate before starting a new training plan for Berlin. I selected a plan that was a little more intense (18 weeks instead of 24, running 6 days/week) as I didn't have as much time to train.  But that's the thing-

I never started training.

My new commute took away 3 hours of my day, which were key in my previous training plan. I no longer had time for three 20 minute dog walks a day plus running so my weight has been creeping up too. Which lead to a downward spiral of stress eating, guilt, and lack of sleep. No running whatsoever.

Awesome huh?

I know I am not perfect and deep down I knew I wouldn't be prepared for Berlin. I had only booked my accommodation, but not my flight. My RODS friends from Texas recently told me they were no longer able to come over to Germany and they were the reason I signed up to this particular race. I know about a handful of people going, but they are making it a holiday with their partners. James can't come because he has Rugby World Cup tickets. (The blessing in skipping Berlin is that I can now attend the Ireland v. Romania game too!)

I am really disappointed about Berlin but know this is the right decision for me at this point in my life. Unfortunately I cannot defer my entry or get a refund, so it is an expensive lesson. When I signed up last October, I didn't know we would be moving house so at the time it seemed doable (slightly crazy, but doable).  I could start training now and take my time to run it. However, I still can't magic the time into my schedule and I would probably finish in quite a lot of pain. It isn't worth it to me.  For now I am trying to get some running back into my routine by partial run commuting and keeping kit on hand at work for when I have a sudden burst of inspiration.

Have you ever had to drop out of a race you were looking forward (not due to injury)? How did you cope?

Summertime is a great time to try something new

Monday, July 27, 2015

Warm weather is pulling you out of the gym and into the fresh air. While running is by far the most accessible exercise method (you can run anytime, anywhere), why not try something new this summer?  I believe in doing what you love, so if you haven't found the exercise you love, it is time to get out there and try something different.

How about stand up paddle boarding (SUP)? There are London sites in Putney and Paddington Basis with Active360. If you live Brighton, try Brighton Kitesurf and SUP Academy or in Gower, Wales with SUP Gower. It is a fantastic full body workout and you won't mind if you accidentally take a dip.

Trampolining is way fun!  My nephews took me to an indoor trampoline park in my hometown at Christmas (review forthcoming).  Aside from feeling like I would wet my pants, I had an awesome time!  It is a tremendous workout for all ages.  You can also safely try some new moves in the foam pits.  Milton Keynes is home to Bounce Indoor Trampoline Park and Gravity Force is located in Surrey.

A few of my friends have been lucky enough to take part in trapeze lessons and enroll in circus school.  The National Centre for Circus Arts offers fitness classes that draw on circus technique.  Classes include: circus conditioning, doubles stability, flexability, handstand conditioning, hula fitness, and tumble.  There are a few different companies offering trapeze lessons, such as My Aerial Home in South London, and Circomedia in Bristol. So whether you like to 'clown around' or just want to fly in the air with the greatist of ease, these classes will be unlike anything you have tried before.

Perhaps you'd rather be closer to the ground?  Have you considered swing dancing with Swing Patrol?  This summer they have free events if you want to try it out before committing to a block of lessons.  Vintage fashions are optional, just be ready to move and have fun.

Finally, have you tried roller derby yet?  My friend, Tanya (aka Tan Genade) plays for the Bath roller derby team.  I see her photos on Facebook and it looks like so much fun (scary but fun).  Visit the UK Roller Derby Association to learn more about the sport and find your local team.  At least go and watch one of these amazing matches.  Definitely not for the faint-hearted.  And yes, boys can play too.

Still looking for inspiration?  SimplyHealth have a few other suggestions for top fitness trends you should try.  Go on and have a look.  Thanks in advance to SimplyHealth and Joe Blogs Network for the gift that will encourage me to stay fit this summer.

Have I missed anything that you tried this summer (or are hoping to) in a different part of the world? Leave a comment below and let me know what I am missing out on.

*Please note, I have not tried all of the suggested locations/companies and cannot be held liable for any mishaps.  

Magic Mike indoor cycling playlist- time to get hot and sweaty

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

I treated myself so a little guilty pleasure and saw Magic Mike XXL over the weekend (life is about balance, right?).  I love me some Joe Manganiello and this film did not disappoint in that department.  Many of you know I am a dancing fool, and loved the beats featured in both Magic Mikes.  

With that in mind, I have created a Magic Mike indoor cycling class mix.  It would also be entertaining on a tread mill or stationary bike, especially if you watch the videos.  

Pure Gym is having a dream gym playlist competition and I thought I would submit this list as I really need a FitBit to monitor my activity levels.  Let me know if you got sweaty listing to this playlist in the comment section below.  Happy cycling!

Jack and His Rifle -warmup

Ain't There Something Money Can't Buy- continue warming up and then into jumps

The Groove Line- jumps

It's Raining Men- stand during the chorus

Money- Sprints (high resistance & pedal fast 20 sec)

Sassy Sexy Wiggle- isolations, then hill climb

Pony- continue hill climb (increase intensity every 30 sec so you pedal slower and slower but are still working hard)

I Want It That Way- recover from hill (and SPOILER ALERT!)

Anywhere- isolations

Hot Stuff- stand during chorus

Closer- isolations (EXPLICIT LYRICS)

Gimme What You Got- jumps

Heaven- cool down

Race Review: Vitality British 10K

Friday, July 17, 2015

View of the start line
Last weekend, Vitality was kind enough to invite me to be part of their team for the 15th Anniversary Vitality British 10K.  This meant breakfast at The Guards and Calvary Club overlooking the start line, a primo view of the warm up, and starting with the elites (I don't think I have ever started so close to a start line).  It was wonderful to catch up with Beki over scrambled eggs. Although a full breakfast was available, I only had a small amount as I didn't want to get a stitch during the race.  We met a few other bloggers, as well as Vitality Ambassadors, at out table.

Beki and I had a ton of photos taken of us and enjoyed dancing on the balcony during the warm up.  it was awesome to have a bird's eye view of the crowd as they got more and more energized to start.

The male winner was Assefa Bekele with a time of 29.44 (note this is a bit longer than it takes me to run a 5K).  I asked Bekele if he was able to enjoy the sights even though he was running so fast.  He said he recognized a few from watching the London Marathon.  He also said he absolutely loved London and his first international victory outside his home country of Ethiopia.  Female winner was Alice Braham with a time of 36.48.  I nearly got a PB with 52:07.  Looks like I have a long ways to go!

Male winner Assefa Bekele on Westminster Bridge after the race.
Photo credit: Moyo Sports
Registration process & fees: Entry could be done online or via post.  Fee was £50 and included a tech t-shirt posted to you before the race, chip timing, text message with result within 90-120 min of finishing, medal, official program 2015, commemorative finishers certificate download, 20% off Central London attractions for runners and guests, and free online training from RunCoach.  

I really liked the design of the shirt which highlighted the London Eye and Big Ben.

Back of the tech T's

Location:   Start line was within walking distance of Hype Park tube station, but the bag drop was between Piccadilly Circus and The Mall.  Finish on Whitehall Rd near Downing Street.

Course & bogs: The course was kind of a clover shape that took you past several London icons, such as Regent's Street, The Strand, Trafalgar Square, Piccadilly Circus, Westminster Abbey, and Big Ben.  The streets were completely closed to traffic and wide enough for all 17,000+ runners (at least it was in the front where I started).

There weren't any port-a-loos along the way from what I saw.  The commemorative program listed alternative toilets to use before arriving. I only saw a few port-a-loos along the Mall before taking the steps up to Waterloo Place to reclaim bags.

Unfortunately, there wasn't a water station until 5K, even though I am sure I heard someone say there would be one at 3K.  From then on they were fairly frequent, including what seemed to be around 8K and 9K on Victoria Street.

Obligatory bling shot
Atmosphere: There were a lot of people along the course looking out for friends and family.  I always love to hear cheers as I run by.  Plenty of kids were out cheering too and asking for high 5's from the runners.

London is calm on a Sunday morning, especially without any traffic. It is a nice treat from the normal commotion you get in the city.

Bling/goody bags: After crossing the finish line, everyone was given a bottle of water.  You then had to walk a good 10 min from the finish line outside Downing Street back through Trafalgar Square to the baggage claim to pick up a medal, but there weren't any signs or marshals to guide you.  You got a medal when you picked up your bag or if you didn't have a bag, from a 'bling only' tent.  No goody bags or snacks were available.

Baggage claim
Luckily, my bag was at the Vitality tent.  The baggage area looked full to the brim with a lot of people waiting for their bags.  I give credit to the volunteers who were trying to be as efficient as possible.

Tips if you decide to take part next time: Add in a little bit of hill training as there are a few slight inclines that took me by surprise along the route.  I would also suggest to take this run as a fun one so you can really enjoy the sites of London (especially if you don't live/work in the city) and not worry about a PB.  There are many runners on the course so unless you are near the front, it might take you a while to reach the start line. 

Also, don't bring a black bag if you are going to use baggage check (this is true of any race).  Go for one that stands out as it will be easier for the volunteers to pick out from the sea of bags.  Pack a post-race recovery snack to have on the Tube ride home.

I was given a complimentary race entry by Vitality.  All opinions are honest and my own.  Vitality, the health and life insurance company that rewards people for being healthy, is the title sponsor of the Vitality British 10K London Run and is one of nine events in the Vitality Run Series.

Summer survival tips

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Summer is in full swing in London. It has been record-breaking heat only this week has we seen some rain to cool things off. The heat has made it hard for me to train when I get home from work. I also find I need an additional water bottle each day to stay cool. How else have I been surviving?

As I mentioned, it is too hot to run when I get home from work.  That means I am headed out after dinner.  It is a bit of a no-no to exercise so close to bedtime though.  Your endorphins will be flowing through your bloodstream, making it harder to relax for bed. I find taking a cool shower and having a cup of Higher Nature Performax Relax bedtime sachet helps relax me.   The taste is very subtle and the active ingredient, theanine, will calm you.  Magnesium is also a powerful relaxation aid. The ritual of having a hot drink is a big part of British culture and this routine will also let your body unwind.

We have also been making our own popsicles as an after-supper treat by mixing plain yogurt with a splash of orange juice and honey to taste.  You could also add in a few small pieces of fruit or freshly chopped mint.  Although it isn't quite as satisfying as Ben and Jerry's Phish Food, it is still refreshing and sweet.

Since we have yogurt in the fridge for the popsicles (I gave up a daily yogurt in my lunch after my first round of the #Whole30), i have used the leftovers for protein smoothies as a workout recovery drink instead of a shake.  This is something we did a lot in Michigan when we had more counter space to leave out the blender.  We have fallen out of practice in London as kitchen counter top is a valuable resource but I am hopeful the blender will be back in action as we organize our new kitchen.  

Here is the basic recipe for which you can make more of a treat by adding raw cocoa.

30g Higher Nature Fibre Vitality Shake (low GI and provides protein)
250ml plain yogurt
Handful of berries
1 frozen banana
Splash of orange juice to get desired consistency
Raw cocoa (optional)

This makes 2 servings.  The Higher Nature fiber is textured so you want to be sure to blend well (I tried with plain old milk in a protein shaker). Remember with a smoothie you want to take your time & enjoy it.  The blended fruits have released their nutrients all at once so you will not take long to digest it and might feel hungry again soon after. Finally, the protein will assist your muscles as they repair.

The last thing to do remember in this heat is to stay hydrated. Ideally you would be adding High5 Zero Electolyte tablets or nuun tablets with electrolytes to your water but these can be quite expensive.  Robinsons's now have a portable squash squeeze bottle (appropriately names SQUASH'D) that can easily fit in your bag or a desk drawer. Squirt some into your glass to add flavor as you re-hydrate without any added sugar.  Makes 20 servings so should last you a month.

How are you staying cool this summer without sacrificing your workout regime? Leave a comment below and let me know.

Higher Nature sent me complimentary samples of their products.  All opinions are honest and my own. 

Capturing the joy of ParkRun with my camera

Saturday, July 11, 2015

"Watch out for thorns and roots" 

Not the warning you want to hear first thing on a Saturday morning as you are about to embark on an unknown running route.  Today, I finally ran my first Park Run. The temperature was creeping up and I was a bit anxious not seeing any familiar faces around me.

Park Run is free weekly timed 5K event run solely by volunteers in the local community. All abilities and ages are welcome (dogs too).  The first Park Run took place in 2004 in Bushy Park, Teddington, UK and has since grown into a global mass participation event like no other.  Many of my fellow bloggers are regulars but I have never lived close enough to one to actually go.  That has changed since we moved to Forest Gate in May.  The Wanstead Flats Park Run is close enough for me to walk to so I no longer have an excuse to sleep in on Saturday morning (it is a 9am start).

Two weeks ago, I scouted out my local Park Run by taking photos of the runners. Photography is one of the volunteer jobs and I was happy to help.  My family prides itself on taking great photos and I used to shoot (with my camera, not a harpoon) whales when I worked on a whale watch in the summers. Using the tips I learned from the photography masterclass put on by Curry's, I wanted to do some experimenting but also get great photos of the runners in motion.  Our teacher (Paul, @PhotoCoachUK) had lots of great tips for action shots and I was really please with the results.  Have a look for #LightsCameraCurrys on Twitter to see all of the tips I shared, as well as some of the other attendees photos.

I started off in the woods, with the sun to my back.  I didn't like the background, so I ended up moving to the finish line.  The sun was shining towards me though, so I needed to position myself to avoid the subjects being backlit (when faces look dark/are shadowed because of the light source is behind the subject.  This is one of my pet peeves.).

Photo tips for Park Run and other athletic endeavors:

  • Play of depth of field.  Big number = little hole = big depth of field.  For example, f11 gives you a big depth of field (all runners will be focus no matter where they are in the pack), while f1.8 will has a small depth of field while the foreground and background will be blurry.
  • Achieve movement with 1/15 sec shutter speed and pan with the subject for a blurry background.
  • Alternatively use the 'bulb' setting (leaves shutter open for as along as you press the button) and let subject blur with background in focus.  You might need a tripod (or fence post) or remote control to avoid shaking the camera.
  • Get to know your camera by shooting the same scene on each ISO (which varies the sensitivity to the light. One of the most important features on a camera) to see how images change with different exposures. ISO needed will depend on the environment (shady, sunny, indoors, outdoors) and where your photos will end up (web, print, photo album).
  • Manual setting brings your soul back to photography', but leave the manual focus for filming videos
  • Anticipate what will happen next to get the money shot (for example, leaping over logs, coming out of the woods, racing the person next to you to the finish line, kids running up to their parents at the end).
  • Use people for scale. If there is a big open field, shoot from a ways off with the line of runners to show the openness of the area.

General photo tips from #PhotoCoachUK:
  • For faster uploads and processing, find an SD card with a 10 in the partial circle.  SanDisk is the preferred brand.
  • For portraits, focus on the eyes and follow the rule of 1/3s.
  • JPG quality will degrade every time you save the file.  Keep your original image safe by having other to edit.
  • Overexposure your photos for less post-production & more vibrancy
  • 'Nifty 50' lens is very versatile and affordable.
  • Literally shoot from the hip for fantastic candid shots and to see things at a different point of view. It will make the composition more interesting.
  • Use reflections (on water, windows, mirrors) and shadows as part of your composition.
  • Fill the frame so you don't need to crop the image.
  • Be brave. Be confident. (This is a good rule to follow on runs too!)
  • Women blink more than men, so take a few photos when you have a group of women (my suggestion is n+1 but it is hard to have people be patient for so long).
  • f8 is a good aperture to play with. You can shoot a street scene or get two people in focus.
  • Shoot in color and change to black and white by editing. Otherwise the image is missing a lot of information
  • RAW files are quite large and have a lot of detail. If you are not getting paid for your work, shoot as jpg and simply hand over the files.
Here are a few of my favorite photos from my Park Run. You can see the entire unedited album here with the camera setting for each photo (how fancy is that?). The wonderful thing about digital photography is that you can take 100s of photos while trying to capture the perfect shot. At Park Run, the runners will be whizzing by, so it will be challenging achieve perfect composition in each one.

This is 6 year old Oliver (adorable, eh? I wish I had my camera with me today as he was wearing a GPS watch that was almost as big as his head). Here, I have cropped my original photo of Oliver (where the frame was not 'filled') and used the rule of 1/3s to place him off-center, yet give him an open area to 'run' to.

f5.6, ISO 800,1/2000
I love photos where people are captured in the air.  This woman is flying.  I should have paid more attention while shooting and moved myself to get the man out of the background.  I do like the grass in the foreground, so I left that in when cropping.  Again, note the rule of 1/3s.

f6.3, ISO 1600, 1/4000
By the 2nd lap, the runners were getting used to me snapping away and some offered me a smile at the finish.  This final shot would have been great if I captured his entire shadow.  This is the original photo.

f6.3, ISO 1600, 1/4000

I should 'dodge and burn' the over-exposed sky, but I haven't learned how to do that yet (I do know how from my uni photography class, but only when printing my own black and white photos in a dark room).  Hopefully, Curry's, Joe Blogs, and @PhotoCoachUK will offer a PhotoShop master class soon.

I really enjoyed this #LightsCameraCurrys experience (thanks for letting me coming along, Curry's!) and hope to share my knowledge and abilities with the Park Run community this year.  Keep checking my Flickr account for more photos as I start becoming a Park Run regular.