Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Health | The first to Fell

think it is something of an endemic among runners that as soon as you finish one impossible challenge you feel the need to create a bigger one for yourself. I believe it is this that causes so many people to run marathons, ultras and tough mudder races. For me that shining beacon of slight nuttiness is fell running. I think there is something incredibly heroic and exciting in fell runners: individuals who seek out mountains and then run 10,20,30,40,50k races on them. There is something incredibly back-to-basics about the whole thing and I'm a sucker for good scenery.

So I found myself in the Lake District for a long weekend having taken the fast train to Oxenholme from London and then picked up our Eco-zip car we'd made our way in to the area around Wastwater and discovered that a fell race was taking place the very weekend we were there. On the Sunday morning of the race we awoke to exceptionally blue skies and blisteringly hot weather which, for those of you familiar with British mountains, is a rarity. That for me decided it - it was now or never.

Armed with my bum bag 

We arrived at the village pub to register thirty minutes before the race started to find other runners already warming up and bristling with excitement. The Middle Fell race is £7 to enter including a bowl of pasta at the end in the pub and takes in the ascent and descent of Middle Fell on a steep 10.6km route. If you are considering running a fell race be advised that there are rules you just adhere to or risk being disqualified: you will need the minimum safety kit and to carry it in a bumbag/small rucksack [Waterproof whole body cover (i.e. jacket and over-trousers), hat, gloves, map of the route, compass, whistle, emergency food (snack bar, jelly babies etc)]. The organisers do random kit checks and disqualify those that don't comply. You'll also need some decent shoes if you've never fell run before - I've got the Inov Trailroc 236 shoes that I was running in which made the downhill section marginally less terrifying.

It's a partially marked course with lots of very friendly bodies holding open gates and pointing encouragingly in the right direction. This race is however the the steepest in terms of climb you can get - not sure if that's a good thing for beginners but take comfort in the fact that even the real pros walk up sections - everyone at my paces was walking - albeit very quickly!

On the decent (image credit: Grand Day Out Photography)

The 10.6km, 518m ascent race starts in Nether Wasdale and after a long cross country flat section the ascent begins. It's hard going and pretty painful driving your legs repeatedly uphill and it's not as though I can comfort you in telling you it's not for long - it's quite far. At the top you are greeted by friendly guides (I was being shouted at 'Round the cairn, round the cairn!' as I accidentally tried to cheat and miss out a section of the race) and then you turn at the top of the mountain to see the phenomenal sweeping landscape of the Lake District open up in front of you. Unfortunately this is the point where you also have to fall down the mountain without falling down the mountain. This bit is definitely the most terrifying and as I'm running down I whisper to myself 'don't die, don't die, don't die'. Fell running it turns out is not for the faint hearted.

On the final long straight I overtake three runners. Later over bowls of hot pasta I tell someone I'm from Cambridge and this is my first fell race. He looks at me impressed: "I couldn't do all that flat running, much too difficult." Maybe challenges like these are subjective to our environment. I leave glowing with pride. When the results come in I find out I came 11 out of the 15 women who entered in a time of 1:25:43. And with that I'm thrilled: not only did I finish my first fell race: I didn't come last.

Ready to race

Friday, 24 April 2015

Health | Confessions of a Yogaphobe

I have spent years being rude and cynical about yoga. Years and years. Whenever someone mentions going to a yoga class my top lip will curl and I'll make some snidey comment about how breathing deeply and saying 'om' doesn't count as exercise.

That is until my first yoga class a month a go. Turns out: yoga is tough! I had signed up for my first ever yoga class thanks to the wonderful Get Fit 4 Free programme run by Sweaty Betty which gives you the chance to be taught by fantastic passionate fitness gurus in the Sweaty Betty stores - and all for free! I signed up for Vinyasa Yoga as I thought it might be an interesting thing to try and I thought it might help improve my flexibility ahead of going surfing in Los Angeles at the end of May. Boy oh boy was my first class a shock!

So here are some of the confessions I have after my first month of yoga:

1. I can't help but giggle during yoga: I'm just so bad that I find myself outside of my body laughing at myself. Turns out though...

2. No one judges your ability at yoga! It's not competitive, not even with yourself, it's just about finding the space to exist in your body: to stretch, flex, bend, poise and relax in to your muscles.

3. Yoga is harder if you're a runner. Sorry guys: think running is the be all and end all? Yoga's going to be a shock! As runners we've trained our muscles in very specific, somewhat narrow-minded, ways and yoga forces your body to have a 360 degree view - not great for us runners!

4. Yoga is relaxing and that's pretty enjoyable. I like the point at the end of yoga where my groaning and inflexible muscles are allowed to simply lay there. You might even get a little shoulder massage from your yoga teacher if you're lucky: and yes, that is also pretty nice.

5. I feel more zen after a yoga class. I don't quite think it's the 'om's or the empowering quotes read at the end (sorry still skeptical about those) but yoga forces you to look at every muscle in your body and will it to relax. To encourage it to loosen as you stretch yourself in every direction. In order to push your body further you have to focus on your breathing and the combination means I leave feeling calm and less likely to shout obscenities at taxi drivers trying to kill me on my commute home.

6. I like going to yoga. There. I said it. I like my weekly class, in fact, I love it! It's challenging and it flows in a different rhythms to the rest of my life and the rest of London. Since going to yoga I've also knocked 27 seconds off my pretty solid 5k time taking it below 24 minutes: a barrier I thought was impossible for my body. I'm not sure if it's the result of the yoga: but I'm pretty sure if nothing else the positive affirming spirit of yoga has helped.

So consider this yogaphobe reformed: I'm now a converted yogi. Try it before you laugh at it: it might surprise you.

Tree pose, Isle of Wight

Thursday, 9 April 2015

Baking | The Biscuiteers, Notting Hill

New job new area! A month a go I started a brand new job in Notting Hill working for a really cool arts venue. It's such a brilliant area - lively, creative, colourful and full of incredible bakeries! 

One of my favourite bakeries in Notting Hill is called The Biscuiteers. They make beautiful, unique iced biscuits and also offer afternoon tea and icing classes. But the total highlight of their shop for me is the wonderful 'icing cafe' they offer. It's essentially a chance for the 5 year old in you who loved colouring in to mess about with icing and make something beautiful and delicious.

The Biscuiteers icing cafe has to be my friend-date of choice in London. I visited with my fantastic foodie friend Sarah and in between laughing at each other's concentration and all the sugar I can't think of a better way to spend an afternoon. For £15 you are given three biscuits to decorate (your choice of all kinds of shapes and sizes) and a huge bowl of prepared for you icing tubes in different colours. You also get unlimited drinks while you are in the cafe - tea, hot chocolate with marshmallows, lattes - whatever you want! So highly caffeinated and sugar filled you set off on your challenge to ice your biscuits. I have great fun decorating my pirate ship, wedding cake and man and at the end they wrap my biscuits up carefully and post one of them for me.

After you've learnt how hard it is to ice the biscuits it's time to celebrate your victory with The Biscuiteers glorious afternoon tea. Served on beautiful candy striped crockery this simple offering is beautifully created even though it's slightly simpler than other afternoon teas available elsewhere in London. Cucumber and smoked salmon sandwiches served on white and brown bread respectfully. The cucumber is all laid in little diagonal lines making these simple little sandwiches quite delightful and I'm dragged back to childhood memories of posh birthday parties with buffet tables and lavishly decorated birthday cakes.

After the simple savoury element of the afternoon tea, the cakes are eye-wateringly pretty - little cupcakes with sprinkles and mini biscuits wings pressed in to the mound of buttercream icing; miniature Battenberg slices and an incredible array of the signature immaculately defrosted biscuits: Notting Hill's tube sign, union jacks and a telephone box are all on the menu. The colours really pop out of this afternoon offering and it feels like the ultimate London experience with the vivid pallet of red, white and blue British emblems. 

The Biscuiteers is definitely a fantastic way to spend an afternoon either devouring their Instagram worthy afternoon tea or trying your hand at some biscuit decorating. And the results are delicious: both aesthetically and literally!