Shoes for land and sea

Monday, July 30, 2018

Welsh coast from above
This year I have been so lucky to spend time outdoors on various adventures.  Packing for these sorts of trips can be difficult as you don't want to pack too much but you also want to have the kit that you need.  When Keen contacted me about their new Terradora Ethos hiking trainers, I was super excited to try them out.  As you may have read previously, I am very familiar with the US brand Keen.  I have had a pair of their Newport sandals (or something similar) for years and wore them a lot in Thailand (every beach trip and even when snorkeling to protect my feet from sharp shells).  The only thing about them is that they are very bulky and make my feet look very large compared to my dainty ankles. 

Keen Terradora Ethos
The Ethos are designed to be a versatile shoe you can wear on the trail but also through water.  They are very light with a sleek design and I love the purple colour.  I wore them on a few dog walks on Wanstead Flats before taking them to Love Trails Festival.  They were instantly comfortable to walk in at camp.  The cut outs on the side allow for a cool breeze but unfortunately the occasional pebble.  The secure-fit laces make it quick to put them on or take off as I popped into my tent.

The water crossing
At Love Trails, I took them out for a 10k trail run and didn't experience any Achilles pain.  Whenever I switch shoes, I usually experience some discomfort. I think it may be due to a change in the height of the heel but haven't tried to confirm that yet but looking at the shoe stats.  Also, we had a high water crossing on the route.  When everyone else was faffing taking off their shoes and socks, I smugly went straight in and out on the other side.  Running in the wet Ethos didn't pose a problem at all.  In fact, it was really nice to have the cool water on my feet while the temperature approached 30 degrees.

I also took my Ethos on another camping trip to Wales the following weekend.  This time, we stayed at a proper campsite with indoor showers.  I wore my Ethos in the shower and around camp to give my feet a rest from my heavy trail shoes. Even though they were wet in my bag for the long drive home, they didn't stink when I unpacked them late that night.

With the flattering slim design of the Ethos, I think they will be replacing my old Keen sandals on upcoming trips. The are a little more "dressy" if I paired them with jeans while travelling and won't take up as much room in my suitcase. I can also wear them over multiple types of terrain, apart from snow!  I found out they are also very durable as our local fox chewed mine overnight  while they dried in my garden.  No more drying outside!  Lesson learned.

Do you have shoes that are versatile for adventures and travelling?

Thanks to Keen for the complimentary pair of shoes.  All opinions (and urban foxes) are honest and my own.

Feeling the love of running with Love Trails Festival

Friday, July 27, 2018

This summer, nearly 1000 runners of all shapes, sizes and abilities descended upon the Gower Peninsula in Wales for three days of running, sunshine, beers, and music at the aptly named Love Trails Festival (LTF).  I had wanted to go last year, but there were a few other things going on at the same time, such as Spitfire Scramble.  This year also had conflicting races but I made LFT a priority and I am so glad I did.  Here is why:

Yes, I realize this crazy British heatwave is an anomaly but the weather was gorgeous! Sunshine very day, a light breeze, and cool evenings make me a very happy girl.  I was so happy topping up my vitamin D under factor 50 sunscreen.

Sunshine and sheep

When I was little, my family would go camping at least once a year in the state park.  My husband and I never go around to it while dating in Michigan, nor since we moved to London.  This camp sight had port a Loos and limited showers (I took 1 shower in 3 days but hey, everyone was sweating).  It was relaxing to be outside.  My new sleeping mat from Decathlon (Forclaz 400) is amazing.  It self inflates pretty quickly (once you open the valve) and just needs a few puffs to get it to the correct firmness.  I slept in leggings and my Polartec Alpha hoody and was snug as a bug in a rug in my Decathlon sleeping bag.

The tent is Quecha Arpenaz 3 Fresh & Black from Decathlon.  I had to pitch in the dark b I had already practiced once in my garden.  I didn't realize it but the Fresh & Black feature keeps the majority of the light out, manning I didn't wake up when the sun started to shine.  Instead, I work up when Project Awesome started whopping their way through camp.

I kept camp food simple and light.  Each morning, I had bagel with peanut butter and Fuel protein porridge pot for lunch.  Dinner and drinks were from one of the six or so the festival vendors.

Running along the beach #winning

Just look at these views. I ran through the woods, along the coast, on a beach, over salt marshes, and literally through a creek.  You don't get that in London (which is also why it seemed much harder than it should).

Welsh coast #lush

I was lucky enough to lead a few 3-5k organized runs which was amazing way to meet lots of people.  I was with my blogger friends Becs (The Style Dynamo) and Bethan (A Pretty Place to Play) plus their partners, whom I have known for years but don't see as often as I would like.  We met through running years ago, stay connected through blogging yet are always busy because we live in London.  We could actually just hang out and catch up in a leisurely way.  If we had met in London, I have a feeling it Would have been incredibly rushed.

Me and Becs

Things I would do differently for next year:

  • Hire a car or bring less stuff.  Carrying a 90L bag, 38L bag, tent and camping chair all over London and on public transport was terrible. Glamping is very attractive to me at this point.  With a big enough group, the cost can be effective.  I would also leave my camping chair at home as I barely used it.  Perhaps if the ground had been wet, I would have used it more.
Yes, I know this photo is blurry but you get the idea about how much stuff I carry
  • Attend more talks.  There was so much going on, I couldn't be at three places at once.  Hopefully next year, the program will have a bit more detail about what the talks are on so I can be inspired to move more.
Chilling at Camp Fire Stage
  • Try more shoes.  Salomon had tons of tester shoes you could take out for a spin.  I also did so on the last day and in hind site, should have tried as many as possible.  I am always nervous about investing in new running shoes because of the expense, especially if it turns out I don't like them.  I am a big fan of Salomon trail shoes and should really give the road shoes a try.
I did try the Suunto watches a few times
  • Take loo roll.  Unfortunately there was a shortage of this on Saturday night.  It was a rookie camping/festival mistake not to keep some tissues on me at all times.  Lesson learned.
  • Pack coffee for camp. Not for me but since I have a small stove to boil water, it would be nice for others.  Coffee was a good 15 minute walk away at the main festival area and always had a queue first thing in the morning.
So are you in?  Early bird tickets are now on sale for £109/pp.  The LTF will be 4-9 July 2019.  See you there?  Or if you are up for an adventure, there are also sister events in Chamonix and Falkland Islands planned.

Amazing drumming for the Beer Relay

5 tips on how to cope with the heat when running

Friday, July 13, 2018

Can you believe the heatwave we have been having in England?  It has been a real treat to have so much sunshine, but I will say it is impacting my marathon training plan and the quality of sleep I am getting.  I thought I would give you a training update and a few of my tips on how to cope with the heat.

Training update
I am on week eight of my marathon training plan in preparation for Marathon du Medoc and more importantly NYC marathon.  The runs up until now have been endurance building.  Saturday I was meant to do a 90 minute progressive run where every 30 minutes I increase my pace.  In an ideal world, I would have left the house just before 8am, got 60 minutes of solid running in before parkrun and finished with a big effort and new course PB. However, I slept much later than my alarm because the hot weather is making it very hard to sleep. We have an oscillating fan but Friday night it was just blowing hot air around the room.  I don't sleep soundly on a good day so the combination of worse sleep and increased mileage is making me feel exhausted when I get up.  I read a quote the other day that said the snooze button is the ultimate form of procrastination.  It is so true.  I am going to see if I can turn off the option to have snooze on my phone alarm as a way to get me out of bed once and for all.

But I digress.  On Saturday, I did 20 minute slow pace (10 min/mile) before parkrun with my Opsrey running vest. I didn't wear it during parkrun and took a different approach in terms of effort.  I started off in the front and run just under threshold for the entire route.  My average pace was 8:30/mile which is very speedy for me.  I did have to take my top off towards the end of the 2nd lap because the sun was intense even though it was only 9:15am.  I was the 4th female finisher and 2nd in my age group.  This demonstrated to me that my hard work is paying off and I am indeed becoming speedier, as well as more confident in my abilities. 

I need to work on my tummy tan
Last week I also managed a 200 meter and 400 meter PB at track.  I joined group 3 and hung on for dear life.  This is another testament to running and strengthening work I have been doing.  Here is a brief summary.

Sports massages
Taking advice from Charlie at the Runner Beans, I have been scheduling regular sports massages at Function 360*.  In the past, I only had sports massages when my periformis had acted up.  Hopefully, this  preventative work will help keep my leg muscles in tip top form.  Ben has also been working on my crunchy back to loosing up the musculature keeping me upright.  He worked on it on Wednesday and taped it up as a reminder for me to stand up straight. Camping outside this weekend will hopefully not make my back any worse.

Ben is also giving me new bum strengthening routines every six to eight weeks.  Now that I have a training plan to follow, there isn't as much time to commit to this.  After working on my back, he said I am to focus on core work only until I see him again. Up until now, I have gone to the gym Monday nights after spinning for leg curls and hip ad/abductors.  At home, I use my fitness bands for clams, squats and hip extentions.  These are tried and true and seem to be paying up with my newfound speed.
Hip extensions in my messy dining room

Stretching is something I do after every exercise session, be it track, spinning, or run commute.  I start with downward dog, move into pigeon pose, then child's pose.  Then I foam roll my calves.  Hamstring stretch next, then butterfly.  I will also roll my feet over a spikey ball to loosen my fascia.  All of these stretches should help reduce the risk of a repeat Achilles issue and/or periformis pain.

The thing I haven't been doing, and 100% should be, are eccentric heel raises.  These are so important to stretch and strengthen my Achilles.  This weekend at Love Trails Festival, I will probably be kicking myself for not doing them these past eight weeks. I find the uneven terrain while trail running really set off the discomfort.

And now the bit you have been waiting for......

How to cope with the heat

1.  Get up early or go to bed late.  Yes, I know this isn't ideal but if your work is flexible it is a good way to get the miles in without too much disruption.  Don't forget to embrace napping when following this tip or break up your runs into smaller distances for a morning and an evening run.

2.  Cross train.  I ended up doing abdominal work when I couldn't finish my progressive run last weekend.  You could also try swimming or using cardio equipment at the air-conditioned gym (elliptical, indoor bike, treadmill) to continue to build endurance.  Pay As You Gym offers reasonable drop-in rates or monthly memberships if you just need to get by until the autumn weather kicks in.

3.  Slow it down.  Marathon training is really about time on your feet.  Slow down your training runs and don't worry too much about your pace.  If you are sticking to your training plan the best you can, you shouldn't get too far behind.  Don't forget that race day might be really hot too, in which case you will also have to let go of your dreams for a PB.  Try to stay on the shady side of the road for a noticeable temperature difference.

4.  Stay hydrated.  When you are not out on a training run, don't forget to keep drinking water.  You can also start adding a wee bit more salt to your foods to keep your electrolytes in balance.  Or continue to drink nuun or Lucazade to replace the lost salts.  Remember your urine should be nearly clear when you are properly hydrated.

5.  Dress for the weather.  Choose technical fabrics that are breathable and moisture-wicking.  Cotton is not always the best to wear in the heat.  I found myself removing my top to reveal my sports bra on a few runs this month. It isn't something I normally do but I was really struggling in the heat.  Wearing a light baseball hat or visor will also keep some of the sun off of your face.

What I am doing differently from your marathon training? Leave a comment below and let me know.

*If you would like to work with the team at Function 360, I highly recommend them.  Their staff's skill set is diverse so you just need to go to one clinic to receive many services (corrective exercise, massage, dry needling, physiotherapy, etc).  Use code #F360MM15 for a 15% discount and let me know how you get on.

Night of two PBs

Why I am packing merino wool for Love Trail Festival

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

I know what you are thinking.  #woolinsummer? Am I crazy?  I assure you, I am not.  In previous blog posts, I have waxed lyrical about the benefits of merino wool.  I wear merino socks all year round and merino base layers in the winter.  When we went to New Zealand a few years ago, we visited the Ice Breaker outlet four times and stocked up on cycling gear, socks, running tops, and base layers. 

Icebreaker recently contacted me about their Cool-lite(TM) range. It helps make their clothes more comfortable and breathable in hot and humid temps (exactly what we have been experiencing in London).  Aside from the other benefits of merino (no smell build up and moisture wicking), Cool-lite(TM) also is made from sustainably-sourced eucalyptus.  Nearly 100% of the solvent used to make up one of the components of Cool-lite(TM) is recycled too.  Sounds good to me!

This long heatwave has given me ample opportunity to put Cool-lite(TM) to the test.  I wore the Cool-Lite(TM) Sphere Short Sleeve Low Crewe Cook Reflected shirt (130g for those that know their base layers) a few days when we had some time scheduled outdoors with dog walks and meeting friends in the park.  The short sleeves, rather than a vest, were nice as it prevented my shoulders from burning.  My husband didn't report any smell issues by the third day of wear. Although I was warm in the direct sunlight, it wasn't unbearably hot in my t-shirt.  The sizing of the shirt seems a little big. I usually wear a medium in shirts (large if it is a womens cut).  The shirt I am wearing is a medium and felt a bit roomy.  On the other hand, maybe all of my calorie counting is paying off!  If you decide to order one, you might want to double check the sizing guide first.

Based on this trial run, my Icebreaker shirt is already packing in my duffle bag for Love Trails Festival this weekend.  It will be perfect for wearing around camp in between runs.  It will dry fast on my clothes line and shouldn't smell too bad by the time I get back to London.  I am also bringing:
  • Camping clothes lines to dry out wet gear
  • Swim suit for run/swim
  • Sunscreen
  • Bagels and peanut butter for easy portable snack
  • Luchodillitos for energy on a run
  • Headlamp to pitch tent in the dark
  • Mermaid bunting to hang on the outside of my tent to make it easier to find
  • Kindle for reading and writing
  • Spiky ball for massaging
  • Sunglasses
  • Reusable water bottle
  • Quick drying towel for swimming and 3 min showers
  • Flip flops for camp
  • Antihistamines and nasal spray
  • Solar charger power pack
  • Cash and card for food and drink vendors (fingers crossed they stock Diet Coke)

I have never been to Love Trails (or any kind of festival, really) and would appreciate any and all advice you have about what to pack and what to leave at home.  I am hoping my packing list for a 24 hour relay race will be a good starting point.  The tricky thing will be carrying everything on the Tube to get on the coach to the festival site in Wales.  Hopefully my 90L duffel bag from Kilimanjaro can hold everything, including my tent and sleeping bag.  We shall soon see.

Thanks to Icebreaker for gifting me this shirt for review.  All opinions are honest and my own.

Using Polartec Alpha to stay warm when camping

Friday, July 6, 2018

First outdoor campout in the UK was with Adventure Queens along North Downs Way

I am fairly certain my body struggles to regulate its temperature.  When I get cold, I tend to stay that way.  Sleeping as a child, I would have 10-15 blankets on my bed.  To this day, I always sleep with socks on and religiously wear merino wool during the winter.  On the flip side, such as this Wednesday, London was so hot I couldn't cool down on my midday run.  I was so desperate to cool off I took my shirt off and ran in my sports bra.

Staying warm was one of my big concerns for Kilimanjaro.  We climbed on the cusp of the rainy season which meant the weather would be unpredictable and probably wet.  I religiously use an electric blanket in the winter back home and wasn't confident a hot water bottle would be sufficient on the mountain.  Luckily, the good people at Polartec sent me the Norrona Lofoten Alpha Raw zip made with Polartec Alpha to test out.  The hoodie is bright orange, which is very handy when I need to find in a dark tent.  It also makes me easy to spot at a busy campsite.  It has a insulating hood, integrated hand gaiters, and warming pockets.  It is also very light and packs down small in a vacuum bag when travelling.

How I slept during my Kilimanjaro trek

With my luggage weight on Kili limited to 15 kg, I wanted to test out the hoodie before my trip.  In January, I joined the Adventure Queens for an overnight wild campout along the North Downs Way.  I chose to bring my two person tent rather than sleep outside under the stars.  It was due to rain a bit that weekend and being mid-winter, the temperatures were already low.  I packed the hoodie in my rucksack and put it on once the sun started to set.  The cold damp was starting to creep into my bones as we sat around the campfire telling stories and roasting marshmallows.  I ended up sleeping in the hoodie and stayed fairly warm overnight.  As I emerged from my tent the next morning, I found the air to be crisp so kept all of my upper layers but swapped my thermal tights for jeans.

Post-breakfast hike with new friends
After breakfast, we broke into groups and too a very low-key hike through the local woods.  There were a few hills which took some effort due to mud and warmed me right up.  I had to tie the hoody around my waist to prevent overheating in my two other layers.

Along the way to the top of Kilimanjaro with the hoodie under my rain jacket

The Lofoten Alpha Raw zip passed the test for me after this campout and made it onto my packing list for Kilimanjaro.  I used the same approach on Kili as I did on the January camp out, sleeping in the hoody every night but also used it as one of my eight layers on summit night. The guides recommended seven layers but I get cold so I added an extra.  It turned out that seven would have been the correct number!  We summited at 8:30am and were so hot by the time we got to the top.  I stripped most of my layers off at that point and carried them down in my rucksack.  If I had a choice, I would always choose to be a little bit warm over a little bit cold so I didn't mind carrying the extra weight.

At the top with eight layers on top and four on the bottom

The Polartec Alpha fabric was originally designed for U.S Special Forces to be used in both dynamic and static situations.  It is extremely breathable, lightweight, and dries fast.  This means you don't need to stop mid-activity and add or remove layers.  It washes well and the hoodie didn't leave fuzz everywhere even though the texture is fluffy.

Polartec Alpha is a fabric I will be sure to lookout for in the future when I am investing in new pieces for future outdoor adventures.  Being lightweight, packable and versatile for layering makes it a good staple to keep in your rucksack.

How do you keep warm on your outdoor adventures?  Leave a comment below and let me know.

How to be a good run club leader

Monday, July 2, 2018

One of the things I love about London is how people pour their heart and soul into their community.  Whether their passion is cycling, singing, the environment, their local neighborhood, rescued animals, or bee keeping, you can find your tribe somewhere within the M25.  Experts come together to teach the novice.  The group may host an open day event in the hopes to spark.the interests of others.  These hobbies offer a commonality that might not be found at work or at home.  A release.  A kinship.

I was lucky when I moved to London from the USA to find a Glee-esque show choir with Starling Arts.  Much like my drama club friends from high school, I knew I could burst into song at any time with my choir mates without any strange looks.  Starlings tend to love theatre, sing-a-long cinema showings, and Pitch Perfect.  Coming from all walks of life, we had a love of singing (not as much with dancing)  that we bonded over every Tuesday night in Pimlico.

Starling Arts' FORTE at our summer fete

Unfortunately, when I moved out to North London to be closer to work, I would get home very late on a work night after choir.  When we moved to East London, my commute was super long and the dog needed to be let out.  I am still sad that I don't go to choir anymore (because of #tracktuesday).  Many of my choir mates are still rehearsing with Starling Arts and I keep tabs on them via Facebook.  I am proud to see the founders, Anna and Emily, have built a successful company and made Starling Arts their full-time gigs.

Whole Foods/Boutique Sport run club from Piccadilly Circus

My other passion, aside from theatre, is- you guessed it- sport.  When I started my blog in 2012, I didn't think I would ever be able to run a marathon.  Over the years, my love for running has slowly developed due to the people I have met through the sport.   Now I hate missing #tracktuesday with Advent Running and most of my holidays have a race on the itinerary.  I have also become a Leader in Running Fitness with England Athletics, followed by Coach In Running Fitness, due to this inspiring and supportive community.  Both of these certifications mean I am qualified to lead run clubs, amongst other things.  I have been invited to many one-off run events for brand launches and attended ones put on by running stores.  This month, I am volunteering to be one of the run leaders at the Love Trails Festival.  Being a run leader is not as easy as it looks so here are my top five tips on how to be a fantastic run club leader.

1.  Stay with the last runner.  No one wants to be the last person to cross the finish line.  Slower runners (and remember each person percieves 'slow' differently) might be nervous when attending run clubs that they will be judged for their pace and get left behind.  Even worse, they might be worried they will get lost if they fall too far behind the group.  A good run club leader will realize the workout is for other people and not worry about the pace.  Staying with the last runner gives them confidence and makes sure that no one is lost along the way.

2.  Review the safety rules before you head out and follow them.   When I lead a run clun, my rules are to always stay on pavement; be aware of pedestrians, cyclists and cars in the road, especially at junctions;  follow the green man rather than blindly crossing the road because someone else did.  I make sure I do the same to follow a good example. I have also beenknown to use my "mom arm" once in a while to keep people from running out into the road.

Whole Foods/Boutique Sport run club from Kensington

3.  Encourage everyone to cheer each other on. This is probable the American in me, but I always encourage runners in the group (good job, well done, keep going!) and ask others to do the same.  I can't be everywhere at once and it is also a good way to break the ice.  My runs end in mandatory high fives too, which are typically followed by a smile.

4.  If you don't have many leaders, try to keep the group together with fartleks or exercises at stop lights.  It is difficult to predict how many runners will turn up at a run club.  At a miniumum, I prefer two leaders, one for the front and one for the back (see tip #1).  The person in front can confidently lead the way (which can be challenging in London where the streets tend to wind) while the other leader makes sure no one is left behind.  However, if there is only one of you, ask the faster runners to either stop at specific junctions to meet up or have them run back to you as fast as they can when they can't see you any more to regroup.  If you want them to stop at a light, they can do squats, burpees or star jumps (jumping jacks) until you catch up.

5.  Introduce yourself every week. Ask new people if they have any injuries you need to know about.  This is important, espcially if you are not wearing a uniform to distinguish yourself from the other runners.  You can ask who is new, but some people might be too self-consicous to raise their hand.  A good practice is to ask everyone who has injuries and then offer to speak to them privately about it.  Learning names is hard for me, but if I can learn a few a week, I know people will appreiciate it.

If you have things your love or hate about run club leaders, leave a comment below and let me know.  It would be interesting to hear what you think is important.

Track Tuesday Group 4, that I often pace with Advent Running