Sunday, 29 June 2014

Learning to run again

I don't normally mention specific brands on this blog (ironic given the title...) as I firmly believe that just because I like something doesn't mean everyone else will too - we all like different styles of shorts for example because we've all got different bums and thighs. However there are a few brands that I am pretty loyal towards, mainly because they make stuff that works for me. I like adidas because they make brightly coloured, comfy, reasonably priced technical clothes and also because they sponsor parkrun. I like Workplay bags because they fit my small frame and make running & cycle-commuting easier. I also get a lot of stuff from Sweaty Betty because it's stylish and functional and most importantly it fits me well. It is expensive, but I'm fortunate that I can afford it and as I wear sportswear on most days then to me it's worth spending the money.  Sweaty Betty run lots of free classes and collaborations with other fitness studios and have clearly worked hard to develop a community around the brand. A lot of the guest events are based around the London stores, but the Cambridge store also organises lots of events (including the hot yoga one I blogged about a few months ago) so I don't feel too left out being out in the sticks!

Sweaty Betty also run some good competitions and I recently entered a triathlon-themed competition on twitter. All you had to do was tweet why you wanted to win a training session with a triathlon coach - my entry was a photo collage & it won! 
Sweaty Betty sent me my prize of a triathlon outfit (which so far has been great) and put me in touch with Michelle Dillon, a former Olympic triathlete & now successful coach, to arrange the coaching session. 

The session was held in Bushy Park (home of the original parkrun) which is a beautiful large park in Teddington, South London. I took the day off work and had a relaxed morning pottering around Covent Garden before catching a train to Bushy. 

Michelle was lovely - she immediately put me at ease and was very friendly. We started out with me running along whilst she analysed my running style. She quickly identified what was inefficient about my natural style and gave me some tips to improve. Although it felt strange to try and run in a different way, I could tell that when I was getting it, it felt smoother and actually more natural. We then did some exercises to work on firing up my glutes - they were very similar to those I do in my Pilates class so it was reassuring to have two coaches/teachers saying the same thing! We then did a training session (2x90 secs, 4x60 secs, 4x30 secs, 4x15 secs with equal recoveries) with the focus on maintaining form. It may have been just Michelle's enthusiasm but I certainly felt like I was running faster and I can't wait to practice some more. Having a one to one coaching session was a real luxury - Michelle was completely focused on me which meant I got constant encouragement and reminders about my form. I felt like I learnt loads and I ended the session feeling really motivated and inspired. Sadly Bushy Park is just too far away for me to visit regularly but if you live in South London and are looking for a coach then I can highly recommend Michelle (Team Dillon Coaching) - her style is very positive and encouraging which really worked for me.

Thanks Michelle and Sweaty Betty for a brilliant prize. 

Sunday, 22 June 2014

100 parkruns later

Yesterday I ran my 100th parkrun, earning myself a place in the "100 club" and qualifying for a much coveted black parkrun Adidas tshirt. 
My 100th run was great fun - I ran round with my husband and some of my best parkrun buddies, one of whom had arrived early to decorate the course with balloons & bunting. They dressed me in a tiara, wand & massive 100 badge and tied a helium balloon to me - it was amazing! I got cheered the whole way round & it was an excellent example of why I love parkrun. Unfortunately I forgot my camera but I'm sure you can imagine! Thank you Michaela :-)
My first ever parkrun was on 25th June 2011 so I've run 100 events in almost exactly 3 years. My first one was all about completing the full 5K - I was nervous that I wouldn't make it, but the fact that parkrun is a run not a race really came into its own & I was cheered down the finish straight just as loudly as the front runners had been 15 minutes earlier. I completed that first one in 31.40. The first target was sub-30, then each minute after that was a new challenge. My PB is currently bang on 24 minutes and getting under it is proving tricky, but I remember when getting under 28 was just as tough. I've been paced round by excellent pacers (thank you Dr Dave, Sam and Rob) and been proud to lead my own pacing buses around a course I know so well. Sometimes when I run I push myself as hard as I can go, sometimes I run with my friends, sometimes I tail run, sometimes I just chill out by myself. 
Afterwards, however the run went, I'm always glad I got up for parkrun. 

I've volunteered 53 times, not because parkrun ask you to but because I love it - it's helped me become much more involved in the parkrun community and I enjoy it as much as running. It's also led to new opportunities - in a few weeks the Tour de France is coming to town and I'll be a Tour Maker, something that I'd have never thought of doing before I volunteered at parkrun. Without parkrun lots of things would be different. I wouldn't be a runner, which means I wouldn't have done a marathon - one of the things I'm most proud of. I wouldn't have joined a running club or have entered a triathlon. I wouldn't blog! I wouldn't know lots of people who I'm lucky to call my friends. I wouldn't have an easy way to balance the stresses of life and I probably wouldn't be as happy. 

Last week Paul Sinton Hewitt, founder of parkrun, was made a CBE. It was very well deserved. Thanks parkrun. 

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Trying a triathlon

I think it’s fairly common after a marathon to fancy trying something new. Despite having had a very positive first marathon experience, I’ve still not wanted to head straight back into a training cycle. I’m enjoying shorter runs but I’m also enjoying having time to do different sports and the temptation to do a triathlon has started to increase. Recently a local triathlon club advertised a “GoTri” mini triathlon event about 3 miles from my house (given that I live in a village that’s about as close as events get) and I signed up. 

It was a bit of a mixed experience but overall I’m definitely glad that I did it – I’ve summarised what I liked and didn’t like below.

Overall, the buzz I got from finishing and from the transition (particularly the post-swim transition – who knew I’d get such a kick out of that!) means that I’m almost certain that I will sign up for a proper triathlon. The event was useful for giving me a feel for that, but unfortunately it has put me off considering joining the triathlon club who put the event on – telling people off for being late, especially when they weren’t late according to the published start time, set a very negative tone and I don’t think it ever quite recovered from that. I was lucky in that a big group of supportive friends from parkrun and my twitter friend Katie were all there and that made it fun, but I can imagine that if you’d turned up on your own you might have felt a bit intimidated by the organisers. Giving out medals definitely helped regain them some favours though…

Monday, 9 June 2014

Running around Japan

I spent the last two weeks of May on holiday in Japan. Japan is somewhere my husband and I have always wanted to visit and this year we decided to take the plunge and go for it. We had a fantastic time and really fell in love with the country. We also managed to squeeze some running in, starting with a guided running tour of Tokyo for our first full day, aiming to shake off the jet lag and get a sense for this amazing city.

A quick google led us to the Tokyo Great Running Tours. The cycling tours arm of the company was well-established and had positive reviews on TripAdvisor, but the running section seemed to be new and as such we couldn't find much information about it.

The tour covered some of the main sites of Tokyo, including the Fish Market, the Kabuki Theatre and the Imperial Palace. Jogging through the middle of the enormous working fish market was quite surreal but nobody seemed to notice or mind! The pace was pretty tough for me -  definitely faster than I expected and it was also pretty warm, but the frequent stops to look at things meant that it was kind of like a 12km interval session, so once I decided to treat it like that rather than as a continuous run it was much more manageable.
Our guide was excellent - she worked in a bank during the week but led tours at the weekend and she was clearly doing it because she loved running. It made Neil and I wonder whether we could do something similar in Cambridge...

Tokyo initially seems like a very busy city that might not be great for running, but actually, running with a local meant we could head straight to the popular spots. We ran along the river and were
treated to lovely city views (and a photo stop gave me chance to recover!). One benefit of the
flexibility of running combined with being in a small group - just us and a Danish couple - was that
we could turn down any side street that looked interesting, or decide to stop off and look at a local

We eventually ended up at the Imperial Palace. You're not allowed to run in the grounds, but there is a path around the outside which is 5K long - you can guess where all the runners go! It reminded me a little bit of Central Park, with the leafy park area surrounded by sky scrapers.
All in all it was a great way to start our trip. We didn't actually end up doing much more running when we were in Japan, mainly because we spent our days walking round so much that our legs and 
feet were exhausted by the evening! We also hiked up a mountain and followed countless trails.
The Japanese are also big fans of the "sweat rag" which is basically a flannel specifically for mopping your brow. Check out my Hello Kitty version (much needed....)!
In lots of ways Japan is a runners' paradise - plenty of healthy food, beautiful scenery and natural hot springs. We particularly enjoyed treating our tired feet to the hot spring foot bath at an open air art gallery!

It you have ever felt like you might want to go to Japan then do so - you won't regret it. 

Sunday, 1 June 2014

Becoming a Tour Maker

I'm just coming to the end of over two weeks off work and although by now the post-holiday blues would normally be kicking in, I've instead been distracted by my Tour Makers training event today. 

The Tour de France is this year starting in England, the first time it has since 2007 (it often starts in different countries and the route is different each year). The first two stages are in Yorkshire and the third stage is Cambridge - my home city - to London. I love being involved with sporting events and in recent years have become increasingly interested in watching the Tour (due to my husband being an avid fan rather than me just jumping on the Bradley bandwagon!) so once the call for Tour volunteers went out I was quick to sign up. 

Today was the first of two face to face training events. It was held in the Copper Box arena at the Olympic Park which gave us an opportunity to visit the Park. We watched some Paralympic events here back in 2012 and then last year we ran the 'Back to the Stadium' run which mostly involved running through a building site. I was keen to see what the public park was like and I wasn't disappointed. It was a sunny morning and the park was gradually filling up with families, people sunbathing, cyclists and runners. 

Right from the very beginning I have been pro London 2012 (I backed the bid!) and although I know that some people have concerns about the vast amounts of money spent, I think the current park is clearly helping leave the legacy that was so talked about. I spent most of the time we were wandering wishing I either had my bike with me, or my swimming kit so that I could try out the Olympic pool!
A perk of being a Tour Maker was 2 for 1 entry to the Orbit. I wasn't particularly enthusiastic about going up as I don't really like the design of the Orbit but my husband was keen, so we paid our £15 (still pricey even with the deal!) and headed up in the lift. As it was a clear day, we were able to see right across London and actually I'm really glad we went up.

I'm not sure whether I'd recommend it at full price and the whole experience only took about 25 minutes - you get the lift up then walk down and there's no time limit so you could take longer - but if you're visiting the Park on a sunny day and like views then it probably is worth it as a one off. As we said, it's something we'd have done if we were visiting another city so it was nice to do it in our home capital aswell.
After a spot of brunch and a wander round more of the park, we arrived at the Copper Box. 
The event was more of an introduction to being a Tour Maker rather than a specific training session. The organisers were obviously keen to thank all of the volunteers and also to make us enthusiastic for the event itself. This meant we had lots of interesting guests - Perri Shakes Drayton chatted about how the Games Makers had contributed to London 2012 (and she encouraged us all to take lots of selfies!), Ian Stannard gave us a cyclist's perspective and several of the key organisers briefed us. We were also treated to a brilliantly funny live performance from Kate Fox, a comedian and poet who has written the official Tour poem, plus a live rendition of the (very good) official song, "The Road". 

All in all it was an excellent day and I'm really looking forward to being a Tour Maker. Is anyone else volunteering for a big event this summer?