cheering not running

I’ve been cheering at a lot of races lately, and I love it. There’s always a little twinge of “oh I wish I was running” but I’ve found if you really commit to cheering on your friends and other runners you will enjoy the day as much as someone who ran!

Here are the top tips I’ve figured out to make for a great day out.

Plan ahead and make a sign

If the race is abroad I grab some flipchart paper that can fold up in my suitcase, if it’s closer to home it’s better to make a sturdy one that you can holds up better against the elements.

Plan your route

I have found it’s better to skip the start and pick 2/3 places to catch your friends along the route. The starts are often “runners only pens” and always crowded so you’re not going to get much value for your company. I’ll usually walk close to the start with my friends and then wish them luck as I go get a coffee on my way to the first cheer point.

I also take a photo of the route map on my phone so it’s easy to access (don’t count on having internet at busy races).

Share your plan

Runners have their own plan for the race but I like to let my friends know approximately where I’ll be along the route so they can look out if they need it.

Enjoy your day

Get a coffee, pack some snacks, get your own run in between cheer points, get your bike out, whatever you want to do for the day with a bit of planning you can have as much fun as the runners.

Camera ready

Everyone loves photos of themselves running. Even when they’re complaining about the “bad” ones, trust me. I always try to take a few photos of my friends running buy on my phone’s camera burst mode so I can send them the good ones. My friend Laura boasts that hers are always better than marathonphotos 😀

Be a minimalist

This tip is from my friend Katie. After a few great races cheering friends on we kept adding more things to bring. Props, signs, cameras, food, balloons, and cowbells, forgetting we still only had 2 arms to hold all these with. Now, if I’m bringing I sign I usually leave the cowbell at home, but it all depends on the event. At the London Marathon I was in the second row of spectators on a packed Embankment route. At Hackney Half I was the only person around for miles so had some room to spread out and be heard.

Well done!

Please. Cheer. Everyone. On. (this is where a cowbell comes in handy if your voice is tired) If you’re waiting for friends you can still send some smiles and well done, great running, keep it up, looking strong-s out to the runners passing you. It helps so much and selfishly you might get some thank-yous back, but it’s the ones who don’t react that sometimes need them the most and take it all in.

Clean up

At the London Marathon and Hackney Half I walked past the organised cheer stations of Run Dem Crew/London Brunch Club long after the race finished and there was confetti, posters, food packaging, etc. all over the streets. If you have time to organise a cheer station then you have time to organise a clean up after. Bring some bin bags and take 5 minutes to pick up a few things each. Litter is litter even if it made for a good instagram photo. If you are cheering yourself, bin your rubbish or pack it out.

I gotta pee

Pee before (while getting your coffee is a good time) and pee far away from the race. Please don’t use the portaloos on the race route. Obviously things come up (being pregnant I am much more sympathetic of this than before) but do your best to leave the toilets for the runners who, trust me, need them more than you.

The end

Like the start of the race, I tend to stay away from the finish lines. They’re always too busy and I like to think the runners enjoy my cheers a bit before the finish when there isn’t all the cheering and official race stuff to get them over the line.  Plan a place to meet after the race, if it’s a big race sometimes it’s just easier to meet at a local pub, or if it’s smaller you can probably find your runner lying on the grass metres from the bag tent.

After cheering the Hackney Half on Sunday I had to have my own jasyoga reset session & epsom salt recovery bath. I had a great day out, got my own exercise in and totally enjoyed being a part of all these runner’s great day.

English Cross Country Nationals 2017

This year I competed in the English National Cross Country Championships. It was the perfect race to end a great xc season on, and included a mini road trip to Nottingham with friends to add a bit more fun to the mud.

I caught the bus with my Serpentine team members from London and one service station stop and a few hours later we arrived at Wollaton Park which has a great history of hosting the Nationals.

I met up with Laura & Katie and we wandered around the park to find the excellent cotton race shirts (£12 or *top tip* 2/£12 if you waited until after the race!)  and our team tents.

The spikes for sale indicated the level of mud on the course, clearly it was going to be a minimum 12mm to get any sort of traction through the boggy bits.

As a club we made our way to the start tent and huddled together to keep warm in our vests while the Junior Boys race finished up their laps. The start was classic cross country. A wide start at the bottom of a hill with hundreds of women lined up in colourful vests ready to run full steam ahead.

After the big hill at the start there was a downhill and some flat track before the bogs started. We were warned of water features on the course, but I didn’t realise they’d be so deep and big. It was so fun charging through them and trusting (hopefully) your legs to land on something solid and keep you upright.

After the first bogs it was up a sharp hill to Wollaton Hall and a hairpin turn back down the hill. From here the course was mostly solid and flat so it was a good time to catch my breath and settle into a pace. I ran most of the behind a blind runner and her guide and it was so interesting to hear him describe the terrain the first lap and then how well she remembered it the second lap.

We went through a few more much stickier bogs near the end of the lap before starting up the start hill for another go. There was a lot of support all around the course which was great and you couldn’t help but smile for the cameras as you made your way through the mud.

The finish was up one of the hardest hills I’ve ever run up with large mole hills, tufts of earth and sludgy streams making it almost impossible to find any rhythym let alone solid places for each foot to land. Once up though it was all downhill to the finish and no matter what the race plan was at the beginning a cross country finish straight begs to be sprinted.

I found my friend Katie waiting at the finish and we cheered a few of her club members in before finding our way back to tents, warm jackets, and cake.

For the record I finished in 48:15 good enough for 673rd in the country.

Once the results came out for the English National Cross Country Championships no one did the math and figured out I was 3 months pregnant at the time of running it. In fact no one in the media has reported that I was pregnant for 8 out of the 9 cross country races I ran this season.

At the pub after the race I actually sat on this chair without looking behind me.

That’s because it’s often quite normal and OK for pregnant women to keep doing what they were doing before they got pregnant.

Don’t believe me? The Cut has some anecdotal research on it. Every GP, midwife, osteopath, medical professional I spoke to in my early days of pregnancy said to keep doing what I was comfortable doing in terms of exercise if anything changed come back to reassess. I’ve learned that every single day of pregnancy is different and the only mistake you can make is to plan ahead! By taking everything one day at a time and consulting with my PTs, coaches, and teachers I’ve been quite happy with (what seems to be a shocking revelation to most of the media thanks to Serena Williams) living my normal life while pregnant.

swimathon 2017

It’s not often I compare myself to Serena Williams, but I’ve got to say I felt a like her BFF when I heard her when I heard the news about her winning the Australian Open while pregnant. While not quite a major grand slam tournament, I had just squeezed into my swimsuit and completed the 1.5k Swimathon.

I was late to sign up for swimathon this year mostly because it wasn’t taking place at my favourite London Fields Lido due to construction closures. I couldn’t get excited about swimming laps in any old pool and was flying to Canada Friday evening anyway.

But, the Wednesday before swimathon saw me open an email with a last minute discount code, looking up pools that had an early Friday start time, and messaging my trusted swim buddy Josie “Last minute swimathon Friday morning at Kings Hall Pool in Hackney?”

Probably due to our late sign up, we didn’t receive any information about the event and only had the rough hours of the pool from the (poorly designed) swimathon website. Thinking we had a leisurely 4 hours to complete the 1.5k we planned to meet mid morning and Josie even took an unplanned walking tour of Hackney round and around the leisure centre. Being the first swim in a while for both of us we needed some extra time in general I forgot my 20p and Josie forgot her bra, but eventually we made it to the pool deck!

At the poolside we caught the swimathon staff cleaning up and they let us know we were 2 hours late to start. Oops. But being generally awesome swimmer people they took one look at us and said, “oh well, let’s get you ladies a lane.” We had to promise we’d count our own laps and not cheat while the organiser went out to get a croissant, but it was the perfect set up with Josie and I swimming American style (just me who calls it that?) up and down a side of our own lane.

I hadn’t been swimming much in the past few months so started feeling it after 500m, but kept going at my slow and steady pace with a few breaks to high five Josie when we met at the ends. With 100m to go my trusty 4 year old goggles finally broke down the middle after an especially strong push off (come on we all do it) with the end in sight. My hero Josie had already finished so she waded out and tossed me her goggles to finish the last few laps.

We finished, grabbed our medals from the box and let ourselves out.

Debriefing over PB toast at a cafe across the street we decided the Kings Hall pool was lovely, if only a bit warm and in need of a bit of TLC to really bring out its unique architecture. Swimathon is always a lovely event and even without being there for ours, the staff go above and beyond to make sure you have a good experience in the water.

Berlin half marathon

Last weekend I went to Berlin for a reason, to cheer on my friends running the Berlin Half and drink all the free Erdinger Weisbier Alkoholfrie I could get my hands on.

A few of us signed up for the race weekend away last fall but since then and now I’ve been running less and getting pregnant more so racing a half marathon came off my weekend to-do list.  Still, there is nothing better than a weekend in Berlin and cheering on friends in a great race so off to Berlin we all went.

Right before the trip Karkoa luggage sent me an email to see if I wanted one of their runners travel bags to try out in exchange for a review of it. I have a tried and tested pully bag that I can pack for a race weekend in my sleep and still have room for duty free chocolates at the end, so I checked if Alex wanted to test it out and he was keen. We got the Sport Bag 40 which was the perfect size for our 4 day trip.

Arriving in Berlin we saw the familiar green lines on the race route and started our trip with a sandwich from an all vegan food truck outside our hotel. We didn’t realise it was all vegan until we got to the front of the line but it was so good. I’ll happily be tricked out of meat anytime.

Then we made our way to the expo to pick up race packs and some beers.

My top tip would be to read every single instruction on every email the race sends you. They were pretty serious about everyone having their race pass and photo ID, even not letting one of our friends in until he could locate some ID. After our race bracelets were attached we were given our numbers, luggage bags, a gel , some shower soap, deodorant, and some waterproof kit wash and sent out to the expo for all our sample and neon euro kit needs.

Alex and I found our old friend Fraudolin Fink and then set up at the inexpo beer garden to wait for the others.

We discussed race/spectating strategies and bartered goodybag items (“I’ll trade you a gel and the deodorant for your protein infused post-run shower soap?”) After half the group went to watch the football and the rest of us to eat all the brauhaus specialities.

   

The next day we did some sightseeing around central Berlin. This was our third trip we knew what we wanted to see and since it was such a hot and sunny day we took advantage of all the open patios for much needed sitting and drinking.

More food and drinks as we met up for a great dinner at the amazing Meisterstueck.

Race morning we were up and out of the hotel and walking the racers to the start before finding our first cheer point at the Brandenburg Gate. Laura and I planned our own 3 mile spectating run to try to catch our friends at a few places before the finish line. The Berlin Half marathon is huge with 30,000ish runners and we did our best to cheer most of them on, especially the ones in British running club vests.

After Brandenburg Gate we headed to Potsdamer Platz to see our friend Katie flying past at the 17km mark and then hopped on the u-bahn to the finish near Alexanderplatz.

There were a lot of smiles at the finish line and with the weather still warm we rounded up a big group and headed to a beer garden for a recover metre of fresh beer.

Alex and I capped off the day with dinner at our favourite restaurant in Europe Henne. That potato salad is so so so good!

The next day we took it easy at the hotel and walked around to find one more great Berlin meal at BurgerAMT. Trust them and try the peanut sauce.

Fed and recovered it was a great weekend in Berlin with some running, all our friends, and as always the most food and drink possible.

(Photos: Thanks to Laura & Katie for their excellent selfie taking abilities)

Altura: made by women for women

When I was sent the A/W kit to test out from Alutra, one of the labels caught my eye,

“Made for Women by Women”

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I ripped the tag off but kept thinking about it, who are these women making cycling kit? I wanted to know more about them and their process for making kit for women. I don’t know about everyone, but before this I associated Alutra with those big bulky neon cycling jackets that 1 in every 5 commuters seems to wear. So, what’s changed now ?

Emma & Sophie from Alutra both kindly took some time out and answered my questions about being product designers for Altura.

Emma Robertson: Product Line Manager for Altura
Sophie Laliberte: Product Creation Manager for Altura

Cycling hasn’t been the most welcoming industry towards women in the past. How did you get into the cycling industry and what would you recommend for women wanting to break in as well?

Emma: While at university my direction was always sportswear and when I graduated I was looking for roles that allowed me to enter the sportswear industry. Fortunately a few months after graduating a cycling brand was recruiting and I got the job!! I really wanted to have a job that works with my lifestyle, we spend so much time at work, why not spend some of that on the bike too. I have now been working in the cycling industry for 5 years and love it so much. I think you should always be true to yourself if you have a passion for cycling what ever the discipline let people know, shout out about it on your Linked in page or cv that’s what I did.

Sophie: I have always been active and participated in various sports growing up. I studied fashion design and I always wanted to work in Fashion, for some reason I ended up working for a sports brand.
I was introduced to the cycling industry working with a cycling brand on the west coast of Canada many many moons ago. While working with the cycling brand in Canada I started to cycle with other people so I could have a better understanding of the product and how to evolve the collections.
You don’t need to be the best and the fastest (as I’m usually the last/slowest) but it is important to have an understanding of the sport and the product that you are creating.
Don’t be afraid, always try and never give up. Believe there is a place for you in the industry and you can make a difference.

Now that “shrink it and pink it” is firmly behind us (for the most part), what are you and Altura actually doing to provide technical cycling kit to the wide range of women out there? What kind of research, measurements, etc.?

Emma:We have female designers and developers that firstly do not want to “shrink it and pink it”, that’s the best part about our team, we want product for us. If we don’t want to wear it on our weekly ride, then we start again.

We also work with WGSN to ensure we are following global trends across Womens lifestyle/fitness not just the cycling industry, and have worked closely with Alvanon for our fit blocks and have fit mannequins. They have conducted extensive research across gender body types to determine an average fit form for their mannequins. We have custom made Alvanon Mannequins in the Product Creation Space to ensure that the fit is correct for the rider. We also conduct weekly fit sessions on various riders/ body shapes to ensure we are catering for various female riders.

Sophie: All of our colours in the range are bases on trends, we refer to the WGSN trend forecasts to understand the global trends. Yes the thinking of “shrink it and pink it” is not our philosophy, although if you find something pink in our range, it’s based on Colour Trend!

We work with specialists in the industry that provide global standard measurements that we use when developing all of our styles. We use universal fit Mannequins in the office, these provide standard body measurements . We also conduct fit sessions on real female riders to give feedback on comfort and technical points that a mannequin can’t provide.

What do you think is the next big advancement in women’s sport/fitness kit?

Emma: This is definitely the ‘Golden Ticket’, isn’t it? We have found that, what you describe as a ‘big advancement’, is generally stumbled upon during design and research stages. Sure we set out to achieve a goal, but often the direction changes along the way and we arrive at a more exciting and productive result. Take the development of our women’s cycling pads as an example. We knew that we needed a gender specific pad and, after researching women’s skeletal hip measurements and ischium pressure points, we developed our new Altura ProGel Pad and went into sampling. During test riding we found that we had done it wrong and had to go back to the drawing board because of pinching to female riders tender areas. The design team got together and we arrived at researching the design and shaping of sanitary pads – as we all felt this was the best example of comfort. Our new Altura ProGel Pad draws design cues from these and I can honestly say that it is the most comfortable pad that I’ve ever ridden. This an example of how small changes to a project can affect big change and advancement in design.

Sophie: Women are very educated on sports apparel. Women are influenced by a lot more elements then just the PERFORMANCE side of the product. Women want more from their apparel… they expect performance, but also want beauty. Women like to shop, it’s a lot more appealing for women to buy clothing then a wheel. Technical innovation comes with style these two factors are very important. The fit and fabric used on the product is key too, women want style, fit and function.

If Altura gave you unlimited budget and resources to work on women’s cycling kit what would you design?

Emma: This has never been a restriction for Altura – We always approach a project based on what is right for the rider and how we can improve their riding experience. So, we are already working on new and exciting projects for female riders that mirror the successes we are experiencing across our other riding categories. We have a great Product Creation Team of female riders who are all super passionate about what they do and are always bring new ideas to the table.
The 2018 season is going to be exciting for Altura.

Sophie: Umm, it’s coming soon, you will see in the future collection!

Huge thanks to Emma & Sophie at Altura for their time answering these questions. And I think we can all agree that the more women designing cycling kit for women the better!

altura A/W womens cycling kit review

Altura cycling sent me some of their A/W kit to test out on my daily commutes. 

When Altura Cycling sent me an email asking if I’d like to try out their AW range of kit. The first thing I did was check their website to check if there were any images of women on the landing page.

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Sadly there are none. There are pictures of women when you navigate to their women’s section but none on their home page including the instagram and twitter widgets when I checked.

It’s one of those little things that I like to logic test with brands. I don’t think there should be quotas, but I’d like to think that the people behind brands would think to put up images of women in their kit, especially on their homepage. Unfortunately, not much of the cycling industry passes this test.

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So, in a “you can’t influence change without being a part of it” mood I agreed to test out their new Women’s A/W kit and get a few images out there of women who cycle in quality made-for-women kit.

WOMEN’S SPORTIVE TEAM LONG SLEEVE JERSEY

My only caveat for the testing kit was, NO PINK, so they kindly sent me a selection of their black & blue kit.  This jersey wasn’t something I thought I needed for cycling (short sleeve jersey and a jacket is fine for commuting) but it’s the thing I’ve worn the most since the weather turned from the hot hot humid summer. It’s a really nice not-too-baggy-fit but still looks sleek on. It has a bit of a lined insulation inside but is still breathable when I work up a sweat passing other cyclists Amwell Hill 🙂 I have found it’s the perfect thing to wear with bib shorts (and fancy socks) autumn when it’s not raining. It also keeps to my most important rule – not too much faff. I know it will be inevitable, but I want to avoid wearing loads of layers when commuting as it’s only 30 minutes and the faff of changing in/out of so much kit every day is just annoying.

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WOMEN’S SYNCHRO WATERPROOF JACKET

I had been wearing my vintage (2 year old) pink Aldi jacket for cycling and didn’t see any need to upgrade, except to get away from the pink. This Altura jacket is a lovely shade of blue and so so so light. It’s like wearing a feather. When I get out on longer weekend cycles this will always be in my back pocket.  I love that when I’m wearing it the sleeves are long enough that there is no pull on my arms and the thick cuffs hold gloves well so there’s no wrist gap on chilly mornings. It’s a very slim fit so I can only wear it on cycling only days (ie. if I’m going to coach or run after work I wear a different jacket that can layer up)

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WOMEN’S SYNCHRO PROGEL BIBTIGHTS

Oh my god. These are lush. It hasn’t been especially cold so far, and I held onto shorts as long as I could, but as soon as I put these on I knew I was a bib tight convert. They are lined with soft fleecy fabric so it is like a warm, cuddly hug for your legs each morning. My only gripe is they’re just a bit too short for my long legs so I have to make sure my socks match.

Again, having a bib just makes life so much easier. There’s no “is my shirt riding up” worry (ahem, I’ve cycled behind enough men to know this is something they SHOULD be worrying about) and no wind gets in those little spaces between trousers & top. They’ve got reflecty-bits on them too so I feel safer now that it’s going to be dark for my commutes for what seems like forever more.

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THERMOCOOL LONG SLEEVE BASELAYER

At first I was like, who needs a base layer? And now I answer myself, “people who are cycle commuting when there is frost on the roads will really enjoy base layers” If I wake up and hear people scraping their windshields outside my window I know it’s base layer time. This one from Altura is really nice. It’s tight but not compression squeezy tight, fits under my bib tights nicely, and looks pretty cool and sleek when I’m wandering around my flat in a hungry daze post-commute. I wore it with the long sleeved jersey and jacket on the especially chilly days, but often just wear it under the jacket for normal London weather commutes.

So there you go. Hopefully, some honest, real reviews of kit I have now worn for 2 months commuting daily. It’s reasonably priced for what I think is pretty nice looking women’s cycling kit so chuck it on your Christmas list and hope that Santa is nice to us cyclists.

As mentioned above Altura sent me this section of their
autumn/winter cycling kit for free to test out and share on my blog. 

it’s cross country season!

I just realised I’ve run 3 cross country races this year and haven’t posted about them yet! Cross country is my favourite running season and one of the main reasons I love Serpentine Run Club, aka the best club in London.

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The first race of the season is always the opening race of the Met League. Out at Claybury the end of the Central Line, it’s usually warm, dry and sunny which is a nice way to ease into the wet, muddy, and cold reality of cross country in England.

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No matter what the weather though it’s always hard. There’s a whole different energy system needed for cross country running. It’s hard to explain but you have to run fast, steady, pick your feet up, turn your legs over, power up hills, fly downhills, and somehow balance the few times your feet touch the always uneven ground.

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At Claybury the women’s race ran a 1 small loop and then 2 big loops of the course and I did the classic “run faster than your mile PB” start around the small loop realising that I had to keep that up along the narrow trails or get trampled. At the start of the big loop the trail opened up so I could move to the side and slow down *a bit* (xc rule #3401 you can slow down but don’t stop) Not an ideal race strategy I tried to hold on for the next 5k. I felt like almost everyone passed me, especially on the sharp/steep hill in the forest, but did pass one woman on the last downhill and managed to hang on in front of her all the way to the uphill finish chute.

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There is no better drug than the feeling you get walking through that cross country finishing chute. It’s pure elation at being finished and exhausted.

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The next weekend was the North of the Thames /Liddiard Championship, so it was another suburban tube stop and trying to figure out who the other runners were and hope they were walking the right way to the field. A smaller race than the Met League, the Women’s race sped off at such a pace I again had about 10 steps before I realised I needed to be smarter about racing and let the field run on while I kept it steady.

There was a massive hill and an amazing single track section on the course so I just hung on trying not to look at my pace and picking up women in front of me to try to pass. I caught up to one woman eventually on a big hill and just ran beside her for a bit, she looked over and I had to say “sorry I’d go ahead but my legs wont go any faster.”

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Running past the start area to the cheers from the rest of the Serpie team (again, best club in London hands down) and into the finishing chute. They were giving out tshirts at this race, which is unheard of in cross country. There are no finishers medals or even timing slips. In fact you’re usually asked to leave the mud on the course and not even take that home.  They were your standard one-size-mens-cut shirt but a nice touch nonetheless. Since the women race before the men it turned out that they ran out of shirts to give to the last half of the men’s race. The irony of giving all their mens-one-size-fits-all finishers shirts to the women is not lost on me.

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Last Saturday was Met League race #2 in Stevenage. Stevenage has a reputation for bad weather, and this weekend wasn’t going to be any different. Wet, wet, and more wet made even the well drained Stevenage course pretty soggy.

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In my usual daze of not knowing where to go off the train, I luckily ran into my friend Claire running her first cross country race for her new club. We chanced the local busses and safely made it to the field with only a small detour around the local neighbourhoods. Our club was wearing black ribbons in memory of the Lucy & Stacey Aldershot, Farnham & District AC women who were killed by a drunk driver while out running last week.

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The course at Stevenage is pretty flat with a few sharp up & downhills so after a conservative start on the small lap I pushed the pace for the rest. The downhills were the best as it wasn’t too muddy so my spikes could do most of the work of keeping me upright. I passed 3-4 women each downhill only holding back on the one that went directly into a sharp left turn, not sure barrelling into the spectators would have been the right end to my race.

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A few women in front of me misjudged the finish line and slowed down with 300m to go, gaining a few more spots I took the last downhill at speed and ran right into the finishing chutes feeling super chuffed. I wasn’t so exhausted I couldn’t move another step, but was proud of how strong I ran the whole race.

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Post race we all layered back up before watching the men’s race, my legs weren’t as muddy as I would have liked but we’re getting there. Parliament Hill next week for the London Championships should be a nice mud introduction for the season.

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