trying is hard

In 10 days I’m running the Oxford Half marathon (a free entry from Brooks).

Brooks make good running shoes and cup holders.

Brooks make good running shoes and cup holders.

I think the race’s official hashtag puts it best, #OH!

I don’t think I’ve blogged about this yet, but if you follow me on Strava* you’ve seen that I’ve been training for this race. Training for a 1:49 half marathon. I still haven’t run a sub-1:50 half marathon and after 2 failed attempts in 2014 I picked some other goals to train for and left my half marathon PB at 1:52 and a bit.

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I wrote myself a 9 week training plan, my first training plan as an England Athletics coach (no better test subject than myself I guess), that focused on improving my pace from what I was running at that time, a comfortable 10:00min/mile, to 8:15 – 8:30min/miles. This is the goal and not a guarantee.

The many faces of a tough speed workout

The many faces of a tough speed workout

To run a 1:49 half marathon I have to maintain a 8:19min/mile pace for 13.1 miles. I think it’s important to get a lot of race-pace practice in during training, in tempo runs and in short bursts during long runs. When writing the training plan I worked that pace into the sessions and included some faster & shorter sessions to get my legs used to quick turnovers.

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I’ve learned a few things during these 9 weeks from having such a great training plan written by such a great coach (ahem).

  1. Setting a goal is easy, trying is hard. Trying to do some of the sessions and hit the paces set out for me has been hard. I started off thinking that I just couldn’t run that fast, but through the weeks I’ve realised that it’s just the trying that is hard. It’s hard to keep trying to push yourself and your efforts. Not to be all inspirational quote-y but if you are trying to achieve something it’s supposed to be hard.
  2. Running fast is hard, running easy is hard. I hear a lot of complaints about how hard it is to hit x-pace during a speed workout, but then the next day it’s OK to run easy efforts faster than planned “because it felt good”. HUH? Stick to the paces set out in your training plan to see the benefits of your training. Don’t run your race before the race! Trust the training! My easy run today is supposed to be around 9:45/10:00min/mile pace, I feel great and it’s sunny so it’s super tempting to cruise around the 3 miles in 8:00min/miles, but this isn’t the plan.
  3. Play the long game. I’ve loved the last 9 weeks of training getting back into speedier paces, and setting a time goal for this race helped that. But, I’m not expecting miracles, I haven’t focused on running since the Rome Marathon last April and know that consistency is key when it comes to getting faster or running further. I’m not going to turn off my training after this race (goal achieved or not) and have planned out some long-term goals that step up accordingly.

Looking back at my training I’m not sure I have done the work necessary to reach my time goal on race day. I’ve tried, and it’s been hard, but being realistic I know that it’s going to be a stretch to run a 1:49 half. I still want to go for it, if only to give myself a benchmark for the next training session. Even if I don’t reach my time goal for this race I think my legs and head have learned enough to count this as a successful training period.

*My strava account is private, if I don’t know you in real life you can’t see it, sorry. The creepo-weirdos on there have ruined it for everyone.

run and swim and repeat all weekend

It’s the summer of swimming.

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I can’t get enough. From my first dip in the chilly Kings Cross Pond back in May to yesterday swimming in all the ponds and lido on Hampstead Heath, I think I’ve jumped in almost all the available bodies of water in London this summer.

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On Saturday morning I joined 11 other members of my running club at the Serpentine Lido to compete in the annual Serpentine biathlon. Hosted by the Serpentine Swim Club it was started to bring the people in the two clubs together. Going for 33 years now (I could be the trophy!) at the beginning it was always won by the Swim Club, runners didn’t stand a chance in the water, but with the rise of triathlons more and more runners were able to at least float, and started winning the odd year.

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The race is a 2.1 mile clockwise lap of the Serpentine and then an 880yrd skins-no-wetsuit swim (2 laps of the members-area lido). There were a few people like me who had never done the event before, a few swimmers who hadn’t run since last year’s event, and even a speedy runner using this in his Kona training. Even at 8am the sun was out in full force so we were looking ahead to the swim.

With no transition to speak of I ran in my cozzie and shorts and kept a quick tempo pace on the run to try to stay ahead of (most of) the swimmers. Made it back to the lido, kicked off my shoes, grabed my cap and goggles, walked out on the dock and jumped in the water. The first 50 metres I think I was kicking like I was still running 8:00 min/miles. Oops. Exhausted I tried to calm down a bit for the rest of the swim. If you’ve swam on a sunny morning in the Serpentine you know it’s like trying to sight into the sun. So, I kept mostly a straight line and did extra long arms in case someone coming towards me came too close.

Winner of oldest finisher :)

Winner of oldest finisher🙂

Finishing as a respectable 3rd female (out of the 3 ladies competing, also coming second last in the entire field) I enjoyed the post race cuppa and jaffa cakes provided by the amazing Serps hospitality. The award ceremony quickly followed my exit with the Serpentine Run Club winning the team, male, and female trophies and a box of jaffa cakes to top it all off.

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Sunday saw a few of us meet up in the morning at Parliament Hill Lido for the Hampstead Heath Pondathon (now more professionally titled Duathlon, but I prefer it’s original incarnation). With £10 cash clutched in our hands ready to register we followed our trusty captain Helen who magically made it on the email list to register us in this mysterious event with no internet presence.

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It was a bit of a hurry-up-and-wait style start, but eventually we were lined up at the edge of the lido for the start in our wave 1. A quiet “go” and we were off to lots of cheers. A few seconds in I was already behind everyone else by a few lengths which would have been disheartening if it was the Olympics, but this is the PONDATHON. The only way to lose is to take it too seriously.

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3 laps of the Lido and we were out trying to slip trainers on to our soggy feet and run up the Heath toward the men’s pond. Being soaked head-to-toe running across the Heath reminded me of cross country Nationals, but then I realised I had my swim cap and goggles on, probably wont bring those come January.

Everyone and their dog gave us funny looks as we ran by. I can’t blame them. Shoes off, into the men’s pond and while doing a lap I was passed by a lot of the faster swimmers from wave 2. They might have been fast, but had no idea about swimming etiquette and swimming over someone during a pondathon is not the way to win. Out of the men’s pond and running up to the Ladies’ pond I was excited since it’s undisputed as the best pond on the Heath.

Jumping off the lovely new ladies’ pond deck and into the water was properly refreshing and the lap too short. Out again, soggy trainers back on and I said hi to all the runners on their way down to the ladies pond. The run to the mixed pond was the longest with all the hills of the heath incorporated into the route. Finally, down to the mixed pond dock and an enjoyable lap done (“Let me stay in and do it twice??” I asked the lifeguard) I found my shoes and had a little laugh at the guy standing there barefoot because “Someone took my shoes, this is going to cost me 3-4 minutes” HA. Poor guy, no world record pondathon for him.

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Downhill from the mixed pond to the athletics track and a quick 100m sprint to the finish to meet the rest of my speedy Dizzy Dolphins team. We quickly showered the pond gunk off and then set up picnic shop right by the awards ceremony and post-race food spread. Top marks for the patisseries and sausage rolls race organisers!

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The Dizzy Dolphins didn’t win any awards but we did have the most post-race food so it was a successful race for everyone.

Great Scottish Swim & Trip

Is there a more romantic Valentine’s Day present than jumping in a Scottish Loch and swimming for a mile?

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NOPE! Back in February I won two entries to a Great Swim event thanks to this fish face gif tweet. Looking at our schedules we decided to make a trip out of the Great Scottish Swim and spend 4 days in Scotland over the August bank holiday weekend.

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We arrived just as the sun was setting at our little Farmhouse B&B in Balloch and the last of the 10k swim finishers were getting out of the Loch. We met Josie down at the shores and she pointed out all the important parts of the course before we walked into town to find carbs (pasta with chips and a side of garlic bread anyone?) and beers for dinner.

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Our 1 mile wave started at 12:00 so we had a huge farmhouse breakfast and then went down to Loch Lomond Shores to watch for Josie & Katy finishing their earlier races.

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The sun started to break through the clouds just in time for our wave. The event was so well organised we were in the start pen for 11:30 with lots of time to get in the water to acclimatise (a brisk Scottish 14*C wasn’t quite the 20ish this southerner was used to) and do an awkward jazzercise style warmup.

I loved the land start to the race and even with a pretty narrow start most people had spread out so there was lots of room to find your pace. It feels kinda weird to talk about a “route” in a 1 mile lap but it was a nice out-and-back-and-a-bit which I liked as you could look at the different shores on each breath and let’s be honest, the scenery was worth a few extra seconds of race time.

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I slapped the finish gantry (Rio inspired) even though there was still about 20m to go to the beach exit. The exit was too shallow to swim but a bit too far to take many confident steps, but a lovely volunteer came out to help me up to the sandy beach.

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I swam for about 45 minutes and would have gone out to do another lap if Josie & Katy would have waited that long for a pint. After a quick change in the tents we parked ourselves on the patio of one of the shores pubs and toasted some Tennents shandys to a perfect day.

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After the swim we drove up the Loch to visit Balmaha and do a quick hike up to Conic Hill summit before another pub dinner.

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We were given cotton finisher race t shirts, WHICH ARE AWESOME! I’ve already worn this one more than any other 2016 race tshirt. Booo technical tshirts. Bring back cotton t-shirts!!!

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We spent the rest of our time in Scotland eating lunches by lochs, eating cake in scenic places, climbing up hills and finding shelter from the one brief rain storm in a re-purposed bothy.

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We snuck in one big hike on our last day before flying out of Glasgow at 5pm. We hiked up Ben Arthur in the Arrochar Alps.

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Scotland you were fantastic on both land and in water.

6 months of yoga

Earlier this year I moved. Same neighborhood, but now I’m closer to my favourite running route, the best sandwich shop in the UK, and a yoga studio that is across the street from good coffee & tasty burritos.  I started going to a few classes and really liked the vibe of the studio (literally just a room, no swishy reception, no expensive clothes on sale, just yoga mats in a room with the buses going by the giant window outside. It’s called More Yoga.

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A friend had to move away from North London and offered to sell me her unlimited yoga pass for the rest of the 6 months on her contract. The studio said it was fine, and it was such a good deal (she got in before the studio opened with a Founders Membership for £49.99/month) I couldn’t say no. So, there I was with 6 months to do as much yoga as I wanted.

It’s no secret I love yoga. I do some jasyoga meditation/yoga every day and do an Ashtanga class every Friday at lunch. I think the best part of yoga is the opportunity to move in different ways from your everyday movement. Taking the time to hold some poses, move sideways, upside down, and just be in your body rather than asking it to be doing something for you.

So, how much yoga did I do?

I averaged 2.7 classes per week in addition to my other yoga stuff. One of those was always a restorative/yin/meditation class, and the others were a range of yoga styles. I tried lots of new-to-me yoga classes (Forrest!) and found I got along with some teachers way more than others. Let’s just say I didn’t go back to the class where the teacher was militant about our pigeon poses. I went to one class that STARTED off with handstands and turned into a proper circus by the end. One class was full of American Football players from nearby Finsbury Park. I went to a challenging Asana flow class one week and couldn’t keep up on the first sun salutation, but afterwards found myself beaming and booking into that class every week.

I didn’t see this as a challenge but as a part of my life. Yoga every day was never going to work for me (even if it is a hashtag someone added the word damn to make it cool), nor was a rigid schedule. It wasn’t even about having a specific goal like stretching more or developing strength. Having unlimited access to a studio did allow me do more yoga than usual and I found myself checking the schedule if I had unexpected free time.  It didn’t hurt that I even learned you can order a burrito across the street from Street N4 before class and they’ll have it fresh and ready for you post class.

I’ve cancelled my membership for the end of this month even though I really enjoyed it. Yoga classes, pool & lake admissions, races & events all add up, and liking something doesn’t mean I have to do it all the time. I see a lot of people online trying to live up to an identity they’ve created rather than living their actual right now life. Everything has to be a big goal, a series of blogs, updates, highs and lows. I’m hoping that this can be a voice in the obsessive-wilderness of the internet that says just trying is OK. Doing something for a little while is OK. You don’t have to be the “most person to do the thing ever”. Writing a blog to talk about the yoga I’ve done might seem like just that that, but I still think there is value in sharing beyond bragging. I found a good studio, tried out how it felt to add more yoga classes to my lifestyle, and ended up feeling better for it overall.

real women in sport

I have only seen two truthful images of everyday women in sport in the media.

  1. The moment in the This Girl Can commercial where the swimmer adjusts her bathing suit over her butt. Nothing is more familiar to a woman in a swimsuit than this adjustment.thisgirlcan
  2. The photo of the sweaty neck on the cover of Eat Sweat Play by Anna Kessel. Everyone who has ever sweat knows the feeling of bits of hair sticking to your neck drenched in sweat.

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That’s not to say I haven’t seen images of professional women in sport in the media, but when it comes to real women doing real sport and exercise, these two images have nailed it.

I bought Eat Sweat Play after going to a talk by Anna Kessel at the Stoke Newington Literary Festival (I ran 10 miles to get there so had my own authentic sweaty neck to meet dress code) and after hearing Anna read the chapter about getting changed after gym class as a teenager I was hooked. The book does such a good job balancing speaking the truth about what it is like to be an active girl and woman and highlight how far we still have to go. Most importantly I think it points out that while it’s popular and trendy to be seen as active and #fitfam (ugh) on Instagram and in glossy magazines decked out in Net-A-Sporter high end kit, there is still a lot of less glamorous work to do to get all women comfortable sweating and playing.

Her chapter on periods is the best. YOU GUYS THERE IS ALMOST NO ACTUAL RESEARCH ON HOW SOMETHING THAT WOMEN EXPERIENCE EVERY 21 DAYS EFFECTS THEIR PHYSICAL PERFORMANCE IN SPORT. Like not even with elite athletes! I’m not a huge fan of the way sport tends to do things for elites then filters it down to the rest of the population, but wouldn’t UKA or British Cycling want to know a bit more what happens to their gold medal athletes bodies and how they can tailor the training to it? Forget marginal gains, we’d be talking menstruation gains!

To steal a great quote in the book from Caroline CriadoPerez, “Luckily I’m old enough and feminist enough to ignore the cat callers.” I feel the same way. The barriers to women doing sport bother me but I get more angry about their effect on women as a population rather than me, hence why my comebacks tend to include a lecture on misogyny and their male privilege (tough when you’re out of breath running the other direction…). I don’t think it’s fair for every woman to have to grow a thick skin if they want to be active and Anna does a great job dissecting what this actually means for the general population.

When I read a book I fold over the page when there is an especially awesome quote I think I’d like to go back to.  Eat Sweat Play has more than any other book I’ve read recently. Thanks Anna for writing it and thanks to the women out there eating, playing and sweating,

ride london 46

I have never said the number 46 more in my life than in the past 2 weeks. “Oh! Are you doing the 100 mile cycle?” “Nope, the 46” “There’s a 46? Why not 50?” “Not sure, only a 46”

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Ride London has put on the 100 mile sportive for a few years now, as with all big events it’s a ballot and as with all ballots I always enter *just to test my luck.* Keeping with tradition I always get the Hey Loser! magazine on my doorstep each year and don’t really think too much about it.

This year after my Hey Loser! magazine came they announced they’d be putting on a shorter 46 mile sportive on the same closed roads essentially missing out the Surrey Hills. My friend Emma, who has in the past also convinced me to enter the London Brighton Night Ride and London Duathlon, was keen so we entered the ballot for the 46. I say ballot but I think it was like the Paris marathon ballot in which everyone gets in, lucky us. Paying for a 46 mile sportive isn’t usually something I’d budget especially for, but being a part of the bigger event and the chance to cycle on closed roads convinced me it would be worth it.

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I found myself googling cycle superhighways to the ExCel centre on Friday after work trying to get to the expo to pick up my race pack. I was pretty grumpy about having to go all the way out east to pick up a race pack for a 46 mile sportive until my friend Helen suggested we make an evening out of it and after sampling the best free food the expo has on offer, jump in the water at the Royal Docks OWS for a few laps in the sun. Suddenly it was the perfect Friday night.

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Race morning saw my friend Emma and I furiously checking googlemaps and the unhelpful photo map on the Ride London website as to where our wave was to start. Ride London PLEASE create an interactive map for next year. Stratford is massive and no one wants to be cycling around in circles all morning. We ballparked it and cruised down the canal for 7 miles to our green start. Having to be “in” our pen an hour before our wave start was a bit hurry-up-and-wait but it was sunny so couldn’t complain.

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A lot of slow-stop-start-cycling lead us eventually into a start funnel. We had chose at sign up to start in Women’s Wave 1 which was awesome as we were surrounded by awesome women with the nicest bikes and coolest kit ever. The only disappointment was that Ride London didn’t mention it or even do anything to acknowledge it. At the start the announcer even said we were the Teach First charity wave and spent a few minutes congratulating the CEO for being at the start. BORING. A major opportunity to promote women’s cycling missed AGAIN (but who’s counting… just me).

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The riders at the front got to choose our start music and even though we were hoping for Katy Perry, We Will Rock You was chosen and it was actually awesome. The almost-all-male wave beside us was totally jealous. The first bit through East London was pretty fun. Getting to cycle fast (not like really fast, but fast for a city commuter like me) was great and Emma and I couldn’t stop smiling. The route followed big roads for cars so it was almost like seeing a new part of London. The novelty of no-cars didn’t wear off the whole time, it was glorious to cycle without worrying about who was coming up behind you, if they’d cut you off before the next parked car, would that parked car open it’s door, or sticking like glue to the left curb.

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We started just after 9 so there weren’t many people out as we cycled through Central London but the ones who were had cowbells and were really sweet cheering everyone on. Emma and I got a lot of “Yeah go girls!” cheers amid the sea of lycra’d men. Unfortunately, from the start we saw a lot of accidents. More than I expected to see, especially at the social end of the 46 mile event. Staying safe ourselves we kept chatting all the way as we headed out west trying to figure out where we were (Hammersmith Flyover? What? People who drive know so many different places in London!) The sun was out and we were keeping up a decent speed and really enjoying the riding. Out of nowhere we entered Richmond Park, which was beautiful as always. Again, with no cars it is literally the perfect place to be on a weekend. Sawyers Hill was lined with spectators doing their best TdF impressions (major kudos to the guy with the massive cow bell) to help us up the hill.

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A few miles after Richmond we pulled into the first Hub stop. It was so well organised with bike parking, lots of toilets and loads of water/electrolytes and FOOD! I had at least 3 fig rolls and 2 loafs of banana soreen (with a few extra in my pockets #justincase). Probably overeating for the final 20 miles but it was tasty… We slightly dawdled at the Hub enjoying the sun and a brief break for our bottoms since we weren’t in a hurry or close to the sweeper-van time. Back on our bikes we found our legs again and endured the uneven road through Thames Ditton (ugh) back through Kingston and then on the road back to London. The speedy Ride 100 riders were with us at this point and made for some exciting whizzzz-whizzzz peletons speeding by, we contemplated how long we’d be able to keep up with one but considering they were going at least double our pace we weren’t sure we even had the gears to make it possible. Most people were pretty good with the fast groups organised into peleton groups sticking to the right to pass and the rest of us on the left. The only problem came when fast solo riders who were not in a group for whatever reason (I could say so many things) were riding fast and weaving in/out of the slower riders. But, I always remember that these people are dicks in all aspects of their life, not just cycling.

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Riding over Putney Bridge and back along the Northbank into Central London was great. Emma and I had been chatting the whole time and couldn’t stop smiling. My legs were tired, and I was glad I wasn’t doing the 100 (not like I’d trained for it though). We decided the 46 was the best event for having fun but also pushing yourself more than you probably would. Plus. Closed Roads. I can’t say it enough. They just make cycling SO MUCH BETTER.

We turned into Trafalgar Square and down the mall (opposite way of the marathon!) and I managed some no-handed celebrating (no one passed me champagne though – Chris Froome is really lucky) before we cruised over the finish line.

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After collecting our goodybags and bag check we found some grass in St. James park and met our friends for a much needed lie down and picnic. I finally had my glass of prosecco (thanks Matt!) and a McDonalds cheeseburger. Recovery of champions!

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Overall I give 10/10 to Ride 46 for a great event. I’m not a competitive cyclist, nor do I want to be, and this event was the perfect balance of challenge and fun to get out and do a longer ride than I usually would have.

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kit review: Skins cycling bib shorts

*Edit! Guys the bib shorts are on sale now for £62.50! That’s a steal*

A few months ago Skins got in touch to ask if they could send me a piece of their kit. I’ve been a fan of Skins since buying their RY recovery tights for my first marathon (I think of the most important parts of the training plans first) 3 years ago. I’m not convinced on the science of compression kit, but damn it feels good to have a leg-hug after a long day.

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I noticed Skins make cycling kit now, and asked if I could try their women’s bib shorts for my commutes and training for Ride London 46. They said yes and sent them over that week agreeing to let me try them out for a few months before reviewing them. I had never worn bib shorts before for a few reasons, mostly because I hate carrying multiple outfits. On a normal day I cycle to work, either run or do a skip fit/yoga class at lunch, then after work maybe go to track to coach Serpentine Runners, or while the long summer nights are here go swimming at the reservoir. Oh yeah, and I have to remember clothes to work in too. Most days I wear a hybrid of kit that can do most of these activities and bib shorts are not the most flexible of pieces. Even when coaching track, I often do a lap or two of warm up with the runners and no one likes bike short chammy laps. No one.

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Embarrassing window selfie just to show the bib shorts length.

But, all my cycling friends swear by bibs and after one too many “ugh these tops are too short for my tall body” moments I figured why not try the body sausage-fit of a bib short.

Ok, enough about my kit hangups. The Skins bib shorts looked great out of the box with a giant green chamois, long legs, and nice thick (about 3″) rubber cuffs to avoid riding up. When I put them on they fit great which is never guaranteed when a piece of kit has shoulder straps & a crotch (us tall people know the true meaning of wedgie). The top of the bib was soft breathable but still provided enough coverage to wear solo with a sports bra around the house but probably not in public (but that’s just because of the velominati).

On the bike they are perfect. Finding bib shorts or a chamois that works is different for everyone and every bike, so I’m not sure how valuable this recommendation will be for most people, but damn, my undercarriage is so much happier on my daily commutes. I notice it when I have a mutli-use uniform day and don’t wear the bib shorts. The compresion-ness of them makes the inevitable sausage leg less than other bike shorts I’ve tried and in general keeps everything in that nice compression-hug I love so much.

Bib shorts in action!

Bib shorts in action!

So, all in all I give these a 10/10 as a reviewer who got them for free. I don’t see myself cycling enough to wear them out and need to buy a new pair, but if that does happen I would buy them with my own money. I always feel weird giving a review of kit I get for free since, duh, it was free so if it works I like it. Bike kit can get expensive and like I said above most people don’t need specialised kit like bib shorts, but if you are a woman and do, try these!

Me, with inevitable sausage-leg eating a cheeseburger post-Ride London 46. Best kit photo ever?

Me, with inevitable sausage-leg and helmet hair eating a cheeseburger post-Ride London 46. Best kit photo ever?