Friday, 24 March 2017

Event Review : Polar Night Half Marathon 2017

There's quite a back log of races to write about, and while some I may not, I wanted to share my experience of the Polar Night Half Marathon that I revisited back in January. You may recall I ran this last year with a couple of friends and at the time thought "great, that was fun, another tick" and toyed with the idea of the Midnight Sun Marathon but not the night one again.

Ha! What a fool was I? My friends signed up again almost immediately and eventually I was persuaded to go back out to Tromso too. And then Dean said he'd come and run too, as some partners were also coming out to Northern Norway, so that was that. Hotel was booked, flights sought, down jackets prised out of the wardrobe and ice grips left until the last minute to buy (and failed to turn up in time).
Landed in Norway!
The trip out was fine and we were delighted to get snowfall on our first night. There was already snow on the ground but it wasn't as thick as the year before and it was a little warmer, meaning conditions were slushier underfoot. Discussions were had about the merits of trail shoes against road shoes either with or without grips. As the race doesn't start until 3pm we had a morning to try out some options and ask the locals at the race pack pick up.
As last year, registration was busy but efficient. Timing chips were checked to be working, we were given a bottle of water and a race paper (in which two of my travelling partners made an appearance) and able to ask the burning questions. "If you want to get a time or win, wear spikes" was the advice of a local. I hadn't brought trail shoes so road shoes it was! There was no further snowfall and temperatures were verging on comfortable. Whilst I was at the "expo" I pawed again at the race t-shirts and other items. Everything in Norway seems expensive and if you ever thought a race vest was pricey in the UK you can imagine how much more it might be out there. Regardless, Dean bought us both a race t-shirt and an additional reflective beanie hat for me. Bless! They didn't half look smart and they were duly worn over base layers for the event.
His and hers t-shirts. Here, have a sick bucket...
On the start line once more I was looking forward to it all. Dean was nervous and excited and just a general bundle of fizziness. We set off, slowly at first as we got used to the ground underneath, and to be fair we didn't get an awful lot faster. Conditions were ok, slightly slippery, but calm in the residential areas that the route winds through at first. There was just as much support as last year, lots of marshals around and torches all along the way. As we came out of the residential area and beside the water towards the airport the winds started to whip the snow around us. My face started to feel red raw on one side and I gave up wiping my nose. A gel was consumed at 5 miles and half way was a very welcome sight. Dean was seeming strong but I was finding it all very hard going from mile 9 and eventually I had to call out to him to slow to a walk for a moment. I had the second of the gels I had with me and we walked for a while. Turns out he wasn't feeling too great either and we ran-walked a couple of miles, managing to jog the last mile (I can always run a mile, but stringing them together doesn't alway happen).
Post race with medal. 
Some of our group had done the 5k option and others in the half marathon had beaten us home so we got a nice cheer on the final straight. Hot squash and bananas were hoovered up, alongside several snickers bars (Dean) and we all retired to our hotel to defrost, clean up and rest in advance of a group dinner and drinks later. Olhallen, the brewery bar we enjoyed so much last year, was the go-to destination.
Fighting with the bear in Olhallen
With the race being on a Saturday we had a couple of days after to relax and sight see. We were fortunate enough to get the last few spots on a whale watching trip on the Sunday and took some time to meander around the town, on Monday, after the obligatory recovery run over the bridge to the Arctic Cathedral and back. And just to top everything off we saw the Northern Lights again whilst on the plane heading home.
Dressed for whale watching
Arty photo moment
A great time was had by all and despite the event being such hard work on this occasion, I thoroughly enjoyed it (in hindsight) and would absolutely do it again, although I think we've got our sights set on the Midnight Sun event for 2018! These events are well organised, not too huge, and a real novelty for those of us used to running in the UK. They're not cheap but it's a great excuse to travel and maybe fit in some other activities while you're there.

What's the most unusual event you've ever taken part in? Does night running or ice running appeal?

Friday, 17 March 2017

Event Review : Liphook sportive

Last year, inspired, coerced and influenced by Dean, I took part in my first sportive event. For the uninitiated a sportive is a cycling event, non-competitive, but with full organisation. I am not, and probably never will be a "cyclist", although I wish I were. As such I am not used to cycling any sort of distance and the thought of having some company, a planned route and a reward at the end seemed like a good idea, an achievable, not-too-scary sort of challenge.

There are a whole host of sportives to choose from, various terrain, distances, with or without medals and so on. I chose the Evans Cycles Road Sportive in Liphook. This took place in August around a very beautiful area in Hampshire. There were four distances to choose from, Fun (15mi), Short (30mi), Medium (60mi) and Long (90mi). Prices ranged from £7.50 up to £25 for fully marked routes and well stocked High5 feed stations along the way. No medal or goody bag at the end but refreshments were available.

I decided that 30mi was enough for me, paid my £20 and shoehorned my bike into the car on the day in question. It was easy enough to find the place and get registered. I was given a map of the routes and directed to the start line. This sportive had a very laid back feel and riders were being set off in waves all morning. I was fairly late to arrive and my start group was small with a mix of serious looking riders, leisure riders like myself and a few kiddies. I wobbled away from the start apprehensively but reassured that I had others to ride with who seemed to be of a similar speed. The first few miles were lovely, signs were evident and I was feeling safe on the quiet country roads. 

The short and fun route followed the same path for a while but there was a point at which they diverged, marked, I was assured, by clear signs. Alas they weren't as obvious as claimed and a small group of us were left consulting maps and scratching heads as it seemed we may have missed the turn. I wasn't sure I'd missed it and ploughed on, only to find myself back on familiar roads and back at the start all too soon. I'd completed the fun route and was't allowed back out to try my luck again, as I was told that the signage was being taken down and they couldn't be held responsible for my safety. I was gutted., but it wasn't really anyone's fault.

Deflated, I stuffed the bike back in the car, unwilling to try riding on unfamiliar roads to make up distance, and drove home where I stubbornly rode around the roads of Crowthorne until I'd made up the 30 miles. There was some small sense of satisfaction to be gained from that.

This year I've once again been persuaded to enter another sportive, as part of my triathlon training. This time I'm taking part in the New Forest Spring sportive organised by Wiggle. A 50 mile ride on a Sunday with a medal at the end sounds lovely and this time I'll be doing it with Dean and other friends. I'm anticipating a more positive experience although it will still be a heck of a challenge.

Although my experience of the Evans Cycles sportive wasn't the best I do still believe these to be excellent events for cyclists at any level. Just make sure you have and can read a back up map, just in case!

Have you ever taken part in a sportive? Ever had a mapping mishap?

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Event Review : NT Night Run

For as long as I've been aware of the National Trust, I think I've been involved in some way. In fact had I not become a PT, I would have ended up working for them but. I've been a supporter, a volunteer, a visitor and now I've been involved through sports.

Rather than keep their grounds pristine, the Trust have been opening them up to actually be used and enjoyed in a practical way. You may already be aware that a lot of properties are used in films, and maybe that some host the phenomenon that is parkrun. But this Spring many have also been hosting night runs. For £16.50 you can register to run 7km around the grounds, or pay £8 to run 2km. The two distances make it accessible for all and the profits go back into the properties. I chose to run at Osterley, it being one of the more local ones that I'd never visited.

The event started at 6:15pm on a Saturday evening so Dean and I rocked up at about 5:30pm to collect our race numbers and meet my parents who were once again there in cheerleading capacity. The race info had suggested that we wear bright clothing as well as the necessary head torch so there were crazy leggings and wacky head gear in abundance... at least between the four of us. It was cold a snowy night so we took shelter in the cafe with coffees and kit kats until fellow Bracknell Forest Runner and ex-RunFitter Rachel arrived with little Lola the dog, also ready to run.
There was a warm up before the start, and we were off promptly for the 7km. The 2km event started around five minutes later. We decided to take it easy and run at the speed of chat. It being dark, there wasn't a lot to look at but there were a few points on the course were things were a bit slippery and narrow so it wouldn't have been a PB sort of thing anyway. It was a three lap affair, one longer and two shorter, passing the finish each time so we could wave at our cheerleaders who seemed to be having a fine time near the disco. We took about 50 minutes to complete the course and were rewarded with a drawstring bag, some sweets, information about the Trust and a glow-in-the-dark medal.
Did you see this man? Did he give you a cheer?
The cafe had closed but there was a fine refreshment tent that we gave custom to. I had a great time and would absolutely do something like this again for fun. There were far fewer entrants than I anticipated, which I felt was a pity, and we were the only ones taking fancy dress seriously although that did mean we got lots of shout outs. Announcements could have been a little clearer and the lap/finish point organised a little better but the course was well marked and marshalled, there was plenty of parking, and ultimately it was a really fun event for a great cause. Some might consider it a little expensive for the distance, however it's just one of the more inventive ways for the Trust to raise funds to maintain and improve their properties so I don't begrudge it one bit and I hope to try some other events sometime.
Have you done parkrun at a National Trust property? Is it your "home" parkrun? Tried a night run or another activity? Let's hear about it!

Friday, 3 February 2017

Event Review : Sunset to Sunrise Ultra

I've got a lot of pending event reviews that I fully intend to publish in the next few weeks but I thought I'd start with this one as not only is it one of the more recent but it is also my engagement story, which I'd like to share with you in one of my more self-indulgent moments.

My partner, Dean, and I are both pretty active people and endurance athletes in our own right. He's an Ironman and I'm an ultra runner. And so, as we both have fairly pliable arms I'm signed up to a half ironman distance triathlon and he decided he wanted to run an ultra together. After looking around we settled on the Sunset to Sunrise challenge as one that fitted well into our schedule, allowed us some control over our distance and had the extra feature of being overnight, giving us the extra challenges of sleep-deprivation, cold and darkness.

The event was organised by How Hard Can It Be events... really the clue should have been in the name, and had options of 9 mile, 18 mile, half marathon, full marathon and ultra marathon distances on a 4.5 mile out and back course along a disused railway track near Telford. We roped my ever-supportive parents into driving us up there, on the promise of a B&B and a cheese and wine evening the next day. The B&B was just a 15 minute drive from the event start which meant that we could be left to our own devices in the dead of night but should we need picking up before sunrise, we wouldn't be waiting too long. We installed mum and dad at the B&B, and nipped over to the start to pick up our race numbers. It was a little... sparse... a couple of gazebos with a couple of tea urns, a porta loo (just the one) and some space to stash bags under cover. We felt mildly nervous but headed off to prepare, check kit and grab a bite to eat before the start at sunset which was at 4:20pm.
At the start
It was a small field of runners milling around at the start. We stashed our rather large kit bag, full of clothing and food and joined the "masses". Dean was a bit later joining us as he'd wandered off somewhere to chat to my dad... I suspected something was afoot. All distances started at the same time with strict instructions about checking in at each end of the course and having head torches with us at all times. Mum and dad waved us off then took themselves to a pub just a few hundred yards away. Good spirits all round and a gorgeous sunset to distract us in the first few miles.
The course was nigh on flat but with some puddles, pot holes and rather stoney areas. We had fields on one side and a river on the other but aside from that there were few distinguishing features. We reached the checkpoint, got ticked off the list, helped ourselves to some cake and did an about turn. Before long we were back at the start. First out-and-back done. A smidge over 9 miles completed. No worries. My parents were demonstrating their finest cheerleading, the only spectators present, and after being reassured that we were fine, went back to the pub for some dinner. We got updates during our second outing that there was a fire... lovely... we donned extra layers...
Dad taunting us with fireside relaxing
We'd hoped to cover 54 miles overnight, making it my longest ultra marathon to date, but we tried not to think about the big picture. The field had already thinned out a lot as we started the next out-and-back, many of the shorter distance runners already finished or at the other end of the course, so it was nice to have each other for company; we had agreed to run side by side for the whole event. No reflect on the company but it was during the second 9 miles that we started to identify, and name, some "landmarks" on the course. There was the concrete patch near HQ, areas of cold air coming off the river were the hedges were missing, a hi-viz "7" on a post that I called Len and a broken branch that I named Michelle for reasons too oblique to mention here. The old railway platform, a hub cap on a fence and various sizeable pot holes also gave us things to tick off as we ran ("Have we passed Len yet? Did we miss him?").
Fuelling up after 18.5 miles
That second 9 miles passed fairly uneventfully and as 8:30pm approached we found ourselves back at HQ for a second time, my parents returned from the sanctuary of the pub with applause and hugs. More layers were applied, pasties, snickers bars and jaffa cakes consumed. We were about to set off on what should have been our half-way lap, had things gone to plan. But of course they didn't. Mum and dad retired to the pub for dinner and off we went, chatting and happy for a couple of miles. Then, around mile 20, things started to twinge and ache. First Dean's knee, then my hip flexors. We slowed down a bit, mustered up smiles for the few runners we saw and each other and were grateful as the landmarks passed us by and we finally arrived at the checkpoint.

Upon being asked if we would be back we politely suggested that we probably wouldn't be and started our walk and limp back. Moving more slowly meant that we were colder. Every layer we had was now being worn and we were grateful that it was dry and still, even though we had cold, damp, fog to contend with. I started to worry that we were keeping my parents waiting. We'd agreed that they would wait to see us in one last time before heading back to the B&B for some rest and it was now getting close to midnight. Eventually we saw the lights of HQ, my folks still waving madly. We exchanged hugs, explained how we were faring and made the decision to call it a night. Although energy levels were fine, it would have been folly to limp out again so after 28.5 miles and 6h55 we collected our medals and some 9bars (sponsor of the event) and allowed ourselves to be ferried back to the B&B.
A bit broken but still smiling.
I had visions of sleeping on the floor but thankfully there was a lumpy sofa bed. We slept in compression tights, socks and jumpers that night; showers could wait until daylight. A cooked breakfast was demolished the next morning and a glass of bubbly enjoyed in the back of the car on the drive home. Those of you who were waiting for the proposal... don't worry, you haven't missed it. You may have expected it on the finish line of the event. That's when I hoped it would happen. In fact I think he may have asked if then was a good time but on the tiredness, pain and confusion we misunderstood each other. To be frank if he'd gone down on one knee then we may not have got him up again. My mum even whispered to me as we arrived home "so when's he going to ask you then?"
So we got home, feeling mildly fuzzy around the edges from fizz, had tea and some of the amazing banana bread cake that my mum had made, then set about getting cleaned up and unpacked. Dad was having a snooze, mum was getting changed and we were lounging in our room. And that's when it happened, amid the chit chat about the race, what we were going to do with the rest of the day, he got down on one knee in a very understated way and proposed. And I, of course, accepted, with a huge grin on my face. And that's how it happened folks! The ultra was, I think, a bit of a test for both of us; if we can get through that without falling out, seeing each other at our best and worst, then it bodes well for the future. We've many more races lined up for the year ahead and are even considering a honeymoon that includes a marathon. We've joked about my "something blue" being compression socks.
Double race bling
But that's enough about us. This is, after all, meant to be an event review. So. Was the event good? Yes, it was well organised although small and the crew were friendly. There were plenty of snacks and despite there only being one loo there were no queues. Having a ground sheet on which to put our bags would have been nice, rather than just the muddy ground, but we new it was a no-frills sort of thing. At £40 it may seem pricey but the crew are out there for over 15 hours so I'm not going to quibble about it. Would I do it again? Probably not, I've been there, done that and it wasn't interesting enough to draw me back although I would consider the daylight version.

Do you or would you race with your partner? Are there any honeymoon destination events (November/December time) that you'd recommend?

Monday, 30 January 2017

Vik's Picks : January 2017

It's that time again. The time when I share with you the things that have made a difference, I've been impressed by or that I just plain like in the past month.

  1. I got this fantastic Momentum 360 reflective Jacket by Mountain Warehouse for Christmas and have been using it in anger since I got back from Norway. It's all over reflective so is perfect for being seen at night, has vents, pockets and soft fabric around the neck and cuffs. It keeps out the wind and rain and has been equally useful on the bike as out on runs. As I recall it was very affordable too. No longer available on their site but can be found on eBay and similar jackets exist elsewhere.
  2. Whilst out in Norway I came upon local brand Kari Traa, sportswear made for women by women. I fell in love with these Louise tights which happened to be in the sale (along with some other items) and wish I could afford many more pieces. It's on a par with Sweaty Betty in terms of price and I love the fit and quality. The leggings are great for running, have useful pockets, a drawstring, vent and reflective pieces and come in many colours.
  3. I'm starting to use my bike more now I'm in training for triathlon and something I've been using (encouraged by Dean) is the Garmin Speed & Cadance sensor. It was easy to fit, synced up quickly with my vivo active watch and I'm sure will make me even more of a stats geek.
  4. Christmas and New Year excesses mean it's back to sensible eating with a vengeance now, but I still like a treat and need quick nutritious snacks after training. I'm currently loving these Kallo blueberry rice cakes with nut butter as a pick me up. Light on cals, big on taste and texture. Nuff said. 
  5. Winter training also means extra demands on the skin so I'm using Neal's Yard Frankincense hydrating cream every day. I've long been a fan of their products and I find the weight of this cream reassuring; it feels protective. It's non greasy, absorbs quickly and feels as though it's doing my skin the world of good. 
What have been the things getting you through January?

Monday, 23 January 2017

Surrey Fitness Scene : Gravity Fit

Those of you who have followed this blog for a while may remember that I started the "fitness scene" thread of posts in response to the vast number of posts I would see elsewhere about fun exercise classes and studios that seemed to be constantly unveiled in London. I've explored so many new types of exercise in the process and had huge amounts of fun. So last year when I heard about exercise classes that took place on trampolines I had to give it a try.

It all started with me taking my partner to Gravity Force, a trampoline park in Camberley, for his birthday (big kids at heart). We both had a whale of a time! We went on a weekday afternoon and virtually had the place to ourselves. It was while we were there that we saw Gravity Fit advertised. An hours class for £7.50. We booked before we left.

So on a Monday evening we turned up, a little apprehensive, me in my most supportive sports bra, ready to have some fun and break a sweat. The class reminded me a little of the Les Mills style of class, different routines set to music. We started with some warm up tracks and got familiar with the mix of yoga, tai chi, boxing and general aerobics. There were people of all shapes and sizes there but only one man, my partner - bless him. There was a fair amount of choreography involved but you were so focussed on your own movements that it mattered little if you were keeping up. We certainly felt as though we'd had a good workout, although in a very different way to the sorts of things we usually do. I didn't feel worked in the same way as if I'd been running, for example. And boy did we ache the next day!
Stretching after class
I've been to a general trampoline session before, and to rebound classes at the gym, but this was entirely different, partly because the trampolines were so much bigger. We've been to a few classes now and expect we'll drop in whenever we want a bit of a change. £7.50 for a class may seem expensive compared to regular gym classes but when you consider that a freestyle session costs £10 an hour, it's great value.

I was back at Gravity Force yesterday, taking my friend's 16 year-old for a freestyle session and we did eye up Gravity Fit again...

Friday, 20 January 2017

2017 Means Triathlon Training

My partner, Dean, is a triathlete. He's more than that, he's an Ironman. I've dabbled in triathlon before, having completed three sprint distances, and had vague plans to work up to something bigger in stages. However I have a very pliable arm and so it happened that I found myself agreeing to sign up for a half iron distance event.

After much searching (how far away is it? is it hilly? river or lake swim?) I plumped for the Cotswold 113 in June. A few friends are also signed up so I'll have moral support on the day from them as participants as well as from Dean in training and on the sidelines on the day. I won't lie, I'm a little daunted. I know I can do the 1.2 mile swim and half marathon run in their own right but the 56 miles of cycling and putting all the sections together is another matter.
Earning my cycling stripe
Christmas and New Year was a time of excess and so I've actually been looking forward to getting back into training, to have that extra push to get out of the door of a morning. It will also help me to get in better shape for my wedding (did I not mention I'm engaged? oh that's a story for another time).   Dean also happens to have signed up, on a bit of a whim, to Ironman Bolton in July. Apparently this will give him extra motivation to train with me. Actually we're very lucky in as much as we run at similar paces and so can go out and run together quite happily. Yes we are one of those annoying couples who train and race together.
At the start of the Dusk to Dawn ultra
I'm already a member of Bracknell Forest Runners and a former member of Thames Valley Triathletes so I've rejoined and Dean will be following suit. Monday nights will no longer be date night but swim night with TVT. The weekends will feature long runs together and some bike rides. I have consulted 220Triathon magazine and that together with my own experience, Dean's experience and a list of commitments has resulted in a basic training plan. Our conflicting hours of work will mean that the majority of my training will take place in the day time whereas his will be in the evenings, which is why we've deliberately planned to train together at least twice a week and to have one evening free for "date night". I'm under no illusion that it will be time consuming.

Of course a big event prompts kit purchases. I already have a bike that will suffice but I've invested in some new lycra, trainers, pull buoy and kick board while Dean has purchased a bike and some rollers so that we can train indoors from time to time.
Training = new kit!
It also means more event entries as part of the training. We're both taking part in the 5km Swimathon event this year, which is further than either of us need to swim for our events but a great motivator, and the Wiggle New Forest Spring Sportive (the next day!).

I'm so excited about what we've got ahead of us and I'm looking forward to writing a little bit about our adventure here.