Repeat, “do not leave it a month between ballet jam classes”, “do not leave it a month  ….”  Yes, four days later and I was still suffering from calf related DOMS and there’s not even an improvement in my ballet jam technique to show for it.  In fact, I seem to have got worse, co-ordination completely gone and balance – what’s that!  This was my third class and when I got home I decided to go for a run to try to circumvent the DOMS.  Didn’t work!  Wednesday saw me limping up and down stairs but by Thursday I was able to try a treadmill run without fearing that something would snap.   There was still a fair degree of discomfort on Friday and it was probably just as well there was a breakdown in communication about my sports massage appointment that morning.  I’m not sure that degree of discomfort is called for, especially when you have to pay for it.  Anyway, that’s rearranged for Tuesday and hopefully will not be quite as painful.

So the highlight of my week was Sunday afternoon which saw me and Lexi try out something new – Elliptigo!  When you live so close to the facilities of Cyclopark it seems a shame not to make use of them.  So rather than spend our time running past the railings and looking in, we ventured inside to be inducted into the art of not falling off a cross trainer on wheels.

Now the promotional video shows lots of happy beautiful people elliptigo-ing their way around sunny America.  Us, we had a very rainy November Sunday afternoon.  Just us, a children’s BMX party and two lone cyclists going round and round, and up and down in the pouring rain.

I’d been looking forward to giving it a go but having seen the weather forecast I was secretly hoping the session would be cancelled.  Forget all my Sakyong Mipham’s “embracing the elements” talk, it was cold and it was wet.  Unfortunately the cancellation didn’t come, just a phone call half an hour before to check we were still coming.  Were they hoping we’d cancel?  The other five “students” did.

If they can brave the rain, so can I

If they can brave the rain, so can I

In the morning I had volunteered at junior parkrun and so I came to the conclusion that if those children could brave the early morning elements on the river front (and I have to say all the volunteers were surprised at the number who turned up – 39 if anyone’s interested), I could probably cope with an hour traversing an exposed hilltop a few miles inland.

I had assumed riding an Elliptigo would literally be like riding a cross trainer that moved.  It was only when faced with the machine itself that I started to realise a degree of balance was going to be required, and ballet jam has proved I don’t have a lot of that.  Added to which I haven’t ridden a bike since I was in my tens – no, not my teens, the decade before that!  I’m not even sure I had a bike as a child although I think I must have done.  I still have a scar on the side of my thigh where I went a little too fast around the garden and came off as I went around a sharp corner.  Mentally scarred as well as physically!

Chris, our instructor, gave us the spiel about the bike’s mechanics and told us how to operate the brakes and gears.  Brakes I get the gist of but gears, what are they, when do you need them?  And then came the time when we had to be brave and give it a go.  We put our best foot forward – the left one – and after a few faulty starts managed to take both feet off the ground and move forward – well actually more swerve from side to side!

Stabilisers required!

Stabilisers required!

As I started to get the hang of it I had vague recollections of my parents realising, after the aforementioned bike incident, that they should have taught me how to use the brakes first.  And as I headed off into the distance towards the first bend I started to panic a bit but thankfully they were actually quite easy to master.

However, the first accident happened when I tried to look behind me to see where Lexi and Chris had got to.  That’s when I lost control and nearly ended up in the mud.  Fortunately they were both too busy to see and there was no one else to notice so I mentally picked myself up and got back on.

After cycling around a small circuit a few times, and once Chris seemed fairly confident that we’d got the hang of it, we left the nursery slopes (oops, wrong sport) and started to master hills – up and down.   And I discovered this is where you make use of the gears!

During our induction, Chris told us a lot of injured runners use elliptigo as an alternative means of exercise.  You travel without incurring any impact (unless you fall off of course) but you use more of your muscles than cycling.

In total we spent a good hour and a quarter cycling around the course and although I didn’t feel it stretched me cardio wise, my legs and upper body had certainly worked.  In the case of the latter, particularly when gripping the handles for dear life.  Dismounting gracefully is also another tricky procedure which we will need to work on.  And that’s the good news, both of us intend to go back, this week, and give it another go.  But hopefully this time it’ll be a bit drier.

During our loops around the park we got a good view of all the facilities available including the BMX track.  And guess what, we’re thinking of trying that at some point!


Time To Bring My Swimming Indoors

The time finally arrived this week, when I had to reluctantly pack away my wetsuit.  I decided it was probably best to retire from open water swimming until the spring weather arrives.  Although I managed a quick dip in the sea the previous week, nothing would persuade me to go for a swim at Holborough Lake last week – however much the sun was shining and the skies were blue.  I realized that when it becomes a chore and something to dread rather than being exciting and exhilarating, that is the time to call it quits and take my swimming indoors!

Lexi putting me to shame

Lexi putting me to shame

I’m more than happy to accompany my friend, Lexi, on her trips, even if only to hold her towel and make sure she can dress herself afterwards!  I kid you not.  If you do the “icy mile” swim, you have to take a “very good” friend with you to help you dress yourself afterwards because you are incapable of doing it yourself.  Much better that she can call on me rather than one of the male members of staff at the diving academy.  If they were a bit younger, well maybe …..

My plan is to use the next five or six months (probably the latter!) to improve my swimming technique so I’ll be much better, and hopefully faster, when it comes to re-launching myself into the chalk pit come May/June.  The aim would be to use my Saturday afternoon swimming session as an active recovery following Saturday morning’s parkrun.  I’ve discovered over recent months that this is a quiet time at the pool and I usually have the slow swim lane to myself.  Only problem is I now seem to be somewhere between the “slow” and “fast” swimmers!  I need a middle lane!

Today, instead of a treadmill run, I managed 40 lengths (1 kilometre) with a mixture of breast, back and front crawl and lots of spluttering in between.  It took me 35 minutes and then I retired to the warm spa bath for another 25 minutes!  I found a handy little web tool when I got back which informed me that I would have burned slightly more calories doing this session than I would have done doing the same length of time on the treadmill!  So that’s reassured me that swimming is not an easy option.

I need to refine my breathing technique though, particularly with front crawl.  I recall being told that you should come up for air on every third stroke but I find when I try this I end up exhausted and usually coughing and spluttering.  My technique is to do as many strokes as I can before coming up for air but I’m not totally convinced this is the most efficient method.  If anyone has any tips or advice, I would be most grateful.

I’m hoping that more regular swimming practice will help my running because:-

  • It will improve my aerobic fitness and stamina – always useful when running
  • It will strengthen my muscles, including those I don’t usually use for running
  • It will improve my flexibility and range of motion
  • It will stretch out any tight muscles

I’m also hoping that in strengthening the muscles in my ankles in a non impact way, it might help resolve some of the issues I’ve had with my left ankle.

Time will tell I suppose.  And although it is a bit boring swimming up and down counting the plasters on the pool floor, at least I don’t have to worry about duck poo!

Poo machines!

Poo machines!

A Bit of Nostalgia – A Day By the Seaside

Be warned, this has nothing whatsoever to do with running, just some more of my ramblings about a brief interlude in my running week.

Many years ago, and it scares me to say half a century ago, my elder brother and I spent some of our summer holidays in Camber Sands in East Sussex.  I remember trudging over the dunes to get to the beach, and the holiday camp where we progressed from caravan to chalet – thank goodness we didn’t start in the tents!  That site is now a Park Resorts and the tents seem to have disappeared, although that could have been something to do with the time of year of my most recent visit!

Park Resorts

Park Resorts

I’ve been back several times in the past decade and it always makes me feel very nostalgic probably because not that much has changed.  Pontins is still there – even then it was a place people looked down their noses at!  The Google satellite picture of the site reminds me very much of an aerial shot of a prison camp!  Perhaps a sign of the times is the advent of the wind farm several miles behind the coast line.  Now to some people a wind farm is anathema.  Me, I love wind turbines almost as much as I love Minions!

Sea Gem

Sea Gem

And so when I win the lottery, not only will I be buying a pied-à-terre in Fulham (see Burlexercise – Finding My Inner Showgirl for an explanation), I also want to buy a place on the beach in Camber.  Perhaps this one!  Some of you may recognise this as the house which appeared on Grand Designs several years back.  Well obviously the build cost the owners a “grand deal” because the house has now been sold and is available for rent – even for television and photo shoots.  Check out Sea Gem Camber if you’re interested.

Last week I went down to visit my friend Lexi who’d been staying down there for a few days.  Her rental house was actually right next door to Sea Gem, and although it wasn’t quite so “grand” it did have so much character.


Our little abode

Our little abode

I arrived in the early afternoon and once Lexi’s other friend, Denise, had arrived, we went for a brief dip in the sea before the tide moved out too far and darkness enveloped the beach.  It seems strange to say that even at the beginning of November, the sea wasn’t actually that cold.  Denise, left standing on the beach taking pictures, seemed to be suffering more than we were.  If I’d had a full size wetsuit rather than a “shortie”, I’d have been as happy as Larry.  It was only my lower legs and arms that started to suffer and cut short the swim.  But at least I can say I went for a dip in November in the English Channel.  Wouldn’t have thought I’d be saying that this time last year.

We weren’t the only people making the most of the weather and the beach either.  There were quite a few kite surfers out there, together with horse riders and dog walkers, and even a few more mad swimmers.

After our dip we warmed up with a bit of cocktail making.  A few weeks’ ago I had a White Cosmopolitan at the Cafe Royal in London so we accumulated the right ingredients to make our own.  I have to say they were very successful 😉  Inspired by our achievement, we had a go at inventing our own cocktail.  Obviously I can’t release details of our recipe until the patent for the “Camber Crab” has been granted!  Although the name could change before we go public!

I’m not sure whether it was the potency of the cocktails but while we were sitting indoors looking out into the darkness, I noticed some flashing torch lights in the distance.  The sporadic flashes went on for a little while and were at one point joined by more flashes further down the beach.  We speculated as to what they were all about, including at one point whether somebody was actually trying to send an SOS!  I have since decided that they were probably smugglers signalling to each other before bringing their booty ashore!  Or more probably just dog walkers using torches to make sure they didn’t get cut off by the tide!

Following our little cocktail club we trekked down the beach for dinner at the local hotel, The Gallivant – a three star hotel with a five star menu!  Despite the time of year the restaurant was still fairly busy for a Thursday night which must be testament to the quality of the food, all locally sourced including the Chapel Down wine which we sampled.

We walked back along the beach by the light of the full moon and we weren’t alone!  I noticed there was somebody else out on the beach that night.  Only problem is, I was the only one to see him hovering by the sea’s edge.  Lexi probably couldn’t see him because she had her sunglasses on (ostensibly to stop the sand blowing in her eyes – I’m not quite so sure!)  Not sure what Denise’s excuse was but if I was the only one to see him perhaps he was a werewolf brought out by the moon (and dressed in a parka!).  Despite his appearance I’m glad to say we managed to make it back to the cottage in one piece.

Anyway, all that sea air and possibly some of the alcohol, meant it wasn’t long before we all felt the need to retire for the night and listen to the wind howl around outside.  By early morning this was accompanied by heavy rain but, amazingly, only an hour or so later, Lexi and I were taking a brisk walk along the beach in brilliant sunshine (and the ever present wind).  The wind was so strong at this point we were in danger of being blown off the beach and into the road below.   It’s at times like this when you realise just how powerful water is and how impressive.  Is it because I’m a Piscean that I feel so at home by the water, whether it be the sea or a river or a puddle?

Lexi battling the elements (in sunglasses!)

Lexi battling the elements (in sunglasses!)

So having cleared away a few cobwebs it was time for us to head back home.  We have to go back again because we ran out of time to do yoga on the beach or go for a run along the sand.  That had been part of the original plan but we didn’t have enough time.  And I think yoga on the beach in that weather might have resulted in us being taken away for our own safety 😉


This Week I Ran A Marathon!

Ok, not all at once.  Believe me, if that had been the intention, I’m sure you’d have heard about it before now.  But this week I have run 42k albeit over five separate runs, including a 10k and 2 x 11ks, with both 11ks being treadmill runs.  There was a time, undoubtedly pre 2012, when a 10k treadmill run would have been a normal training run for me but it’s a long time since doing that sort of distance was a regular thing.  And although my times are quite a bit slower than in those heady days, I’m getting there.

Two things prompted this milestone (sorry, love a good pun!).  Firstly, while I was on the treadmill on Sunday, I had a passing thought that if I managed to do another 11k, that would mean I’d run two half marathons this week and that thought kept me going to the bitter end.  It took a little while for my brain to realise that meant I’d run a marathon – bit thick sometimes!  Yes, I know, technically a marathon is 42.195k but if I add on the extra 0.12k I did at parkrun on Saturday and the little extra jogging I did to get back home after my 10k run during the week, I’ve covered the distance!  Give the girl a break 😉

Proof my feet left the ground!

Proof my feet left the ground!

The second thing was another dose of DOMS (delayed onset muscles soreness for the uninitiated).  I had already exceeded my weekly running target before Sunday’s run and I should have been opting for a cross training/weights session.  But during a “photo shoot” for Lexi and Jones on Friday, I decided to go ape and try out the monkey bars in the children’s area of the local park.

It wasn’t long before we scared off the mother and child who had obviously planned a leisurely morning on the swings!  I don’t know what came over me.  I’ve never had the urge to try monkey bars before.  I’ve always assumed my arms wouldn’t hold me up and I’ve given it a miss.  Friday, I decided to give it a go!  Surprisingly, not only did I manage not to miss the first bar, I managed to reach the second before unceremoniously falling to the ground.  It was probably my King Louie the orangutan impression that scared off the mother and child.  Anyway, needless to say, my arms are now shot!  DOMS big time 😦

The eagle has landed!

The eagle has landed!

“Weekly running target” probably needs a bit of an explanation.  At the beginning of 2013, in my attempt to get running fit again, I set myself a goal to run 700 miles during the year after having read in Runners World about a runner who had set himself a target to run 1,000 miles.  I was realistic enough to set my sights a little lower but I did it.  So this year, the figure had to be increased – to 800 miles.

With some two months to go, how am I faring?  I was keeping up fairly well but somewhere along the line the weekly target suddenly seemed to jump up to 30k a week.  Yes, I know miles and kilometres are different but I’m now finding it easier to keep track of kilometres, partly because psychologically you feel you’ve run further – the kilometres clock up much quicker than miles!

So imagine my delight on Saturday morning when I suddenly realised there were still eight weeks until the end of the year!  In my calculations I’d been working on only having six weeks left to complete the outstanding distance.  This required further exploration and I discovered that back in April, my paper trail of my cumulative distance had jumped from Week 17 to Week 20.  I’m putting this down to my ageing eyesight combined with my adoption of the French style “7” when in my early teens.  I’d obviously thought my 17 was 19!  Anyway, the upshot of this is that the pressure is off ever so slightly and I’m feeling much more hopeful of achieving my goal, which is probably tantamount to encouraging an injury to come my way!

Assuming I do achieve my goal, what do I plan for 2015?  Do I go mad and say 900 or be a bit more realistic and settle for 850?  I’m not shirking.  I’m just taking into account that somewhere along the line I do have to earn a living as well and clients don’t really appreciate their trainers strategically leaning on walls/equipment/dogs/anything solid after they’ve done a long run!  Or surreptitiously trying to disguise their yawns for that matter!  Anyway, I have a couple of months to make my decision.

And just as a postscript to my blog post last week, “Tears But No Tantrums”, this Sunday saw the very first official Gravesend junior parkrun and as well as returning runners from the test event, we had newbies too.  In fact, in total we had 40 runners.   Considering it was still technically half term and the weather forecast was rubbish, this was amazing.  And the smiles on those faces when they come to cross the finish line are endearing.  They are so proud of themselves.  Some of the little ones do seem to lose their impetus within the final few yards of the finish line but they manage to get there eventually with some spectator prompting!  Here’s hoping the numbers continue to increase over the coming weeks.

BTW – any eagle eyed readers will have noticed a lack of continuity in the photos!  During my monkey bar escapades, I seem to loose my gloves mid swing!  That’s because after the first few attempts at the photos, I began to realise I’d have a better grip with just my sweaty hands!

Burlexercise – Finding My Inner Showgirl!

At the beginning of October, I mentioned in my blog post “A Taper Too Far?” that a friend (Lexi) and I had been working over the summer to get our new website “Lexi and Jones” off the ground and that I had attended a Burlexercise class in Fulham.  What follows is my report of that fun experience which was written for the November edition of “Lexi and Jones”.  Anyone interested in reading my two other articles – on exercising outdoors in the winter,  and soup – the links can be found at the end of this blog post.


509A3500_websharpAt the beginning of October I ventured up to London and across town to Fulham in search of my inner showgirl!

I’m not quite sure how this happened because I’m not exactly an extrovert.  It is perhaps because of this character trait that in the past when Lexi has asked me if I wanted to go to a burlesque dance lesson, I’ve always been very reluctant.  In fact, I’ve said no!  It’s not just my shy retiring nature that has stopped me from saying yes.  It’s also because of my complete lack of musicality, dance skills and co-ordination.

It was actually me who found the Burlexercise class on line and I’m not quite sure why the “exercise” part of the name made a difference and made me delve more deeply.  But I discovered the most convenient class for us to try would be in Fulham on a Thursday evening.

Unfortunately, because of childcare problems, I found myself attending on my own and never one to be late, I arrived at the dance studio on Lillie Road with plenty of time to spare.  This meant sitting in reception whilst young lithe ballet dancers sauntered passed me discussing entrechats, glissades and arabesques.  (Note, you may also find this terminology in Lexi’s account of our Ballet Jam class.  How was I to know that so soon I would also be attempting such steps!)  Anyway, back to shy retiring nervous me feeling very much out of her comfort zone, miles from home, wondering whether anyone would notice if she crept away quietly and made her way back across London and home to the depths of Kent.

No, that would be complete failure and how would I explain that away to Lexi!?  I am so very glad I did stick it out though.  Oh my goodness, what fun I had and it wasn’t long before I realised why the website recommends bringing water and a towel.  I don’t think I’ve ever sweated that much irrespective of how far I’ve run and in what heat!

Burlexercise was founded by Katie Hardwicke and Sarah-Lou Buckle, two fifths of the burlesque troupe “The Folly Mixtures”.  It was Sarah-Lou who took our class that evening and there were six of us “students” in total.  I think I was the only newbie that night, and it appeared that the class had been following the same routine for a few weeks so I was going to be on the back foot to start with (pardon the pun).  The remainder of the class would know what was coming whilst I would be completely clueless.  But that didn’t actually matter.

I do, however, like the idea that you spend a number of weeks going through the same routine.  It gives you a chance to perfect your moves so you can actually see progression in your skills.  Whether or not I would have got any better is another question but it’s nice to think there was that possibility.  The following week’s class would see them try a completely different routine.  Perhaps I should have gone back then so we would all have been on an equal footing!

(photos courtesy of Burlexercise)

(photos courtesy of Burlexercise)

The class started with a dance based warm up and cardio section.  This is where I performed at my worst.  There were times when I thought I’d managed to get the moves right but when I started to think about it, I lost the train again!  Trying to follow the girl in front and/or Sarah-Lou and work out which was my right and which was my left quite often went awry but as Sarah-Lou said before the class started, if you have to, “just shimmy”!  We were about 20 minutes in when I started to think “when are we going to start the resistance work?”  Fortunately, about a minute later!

The resistance work is performed using 2kg dumbbells attached to synthetic boas.  Feather boas would have been a bit unhygienic and impractical!  Now if you think 2kg dumbbells are a bit of a cop-out – wrong!  By the time we’d squatted, lunged, extended our triceps overhead and reverse flyed our lats, I was glad they were only 2kgs.  All upper and lower body muscles were worked and then we got to lie down!

Yeah, abs time!  So we planked, side planked, crunched and leg lowered to our little heart’s content and this section segued neatly into some very welcome stretching.  The last few minutes of the class were spent being taught a little burlesque style routine and then sadly, it was all over!

The whole class was accompanied by some great music.  The only piece I recognised was Madonna’s Hanky Panky but the selection was so motivating.  It was suggested to me recently that some of it might have been from the Great Gatsby soundtrack and as I write this, I’m listening to it on You-Tube.  They were right 🙂

Burlexercise are hoping to roll out their dance classes elsewhere and so are looking for keen dance/fitness instructors to get involved.  If that’s you or even someone you know, then please get in touch with them.  But if you’re in the vicinity of any of their classes, I would thoroughly recommend you give it a go.  No dance skills required!

If you need further encouragement, just take a look at the promotional video here.

In the meantime I need to come across a lot of money so I can buy a little pied-à-terre in Fulham and then I can go to the class every week!


Links to my November Lexi and Jones articles

Hibernate or Hibernot?

Soup – A Little Bowl of Heaven