Category Archives: london

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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cabbage patch 10

When my sister booked a trip that came through London last weekend I immediately looked for a race for us to do. I conveniently forgot that small detail that she had just come from running the Budapest Marathon 30k the week before. Sorry legs!

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The Serpentine 10 mile Club Championship race was the Cabbage Patch 10, and seeing it’s route went along the river in Twickenham I figured it would be a nice 10 mile sightseeing route if nothing else.

I signed us all up for this popular race before it sold out and set out researching recipes for cabbage in case we won one of the trophies.

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It was easier than I expected to get to Twickenham for the Sunday 9:30am start (thank you 24-hour Victoria Line) and we made it in plenty of time to set up in the corner of the pub near the cucumber water (!!) while the rain poured down outside. A quick trip up to the nightclub to leave our bags and use one of the many toilets made available for us, we walked the 5 minutes to the holding street start line.

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The race isn’t on closed roads so it’s a bit of a mass hurry-up-and-wait start until the volunteers lead you out to the busy road to start. I thought of it more as a parade and cheerfully waved at everyone out on their Sunday drive.

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Having the sidewalk and 1 lane to run in for the first few miles was fine and it wasn’t too crowded where we were running. I saw lots of friendly faces from Serpentine and especially enjoyed the speed limit warning signs giving us the 🙂 when we were “only” running 7 miles per hour.

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We ran through the lovely suburbs of Teddington, through Hampton Wick, across the river to Kingston and then through Ham even running down the avenue I helped clear back in 2015!

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From there it was along the river past Richmond Park, across one more bridge and back Twickenham. I was pretty happy to be only 2 miles from the finish.

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There were tasty flapjacks at the water stations and just after mile 9 some kids were on the side of the path telling us, “this is about to be the best day of your life….” around the corner was the Fullers Beer team giving out shots of beer and full cans if we wanted to run with them.

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The last mile went by pretty quickly (the opposite of last week’s Oxford Half) and before I knew it we were on the home straight running down the bus lane into a park to the finish line.  A quick cheers with my sister before we turned around just in time to see Helen finish super strong with her can of beer safely stowed in her race vest. Alex was right behind her and with his can of beer already open!

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At the finish we dipped into the buckets of mars bars and grabbed finishers shirts (lots of sizes left but all male style & sizing).

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We walked back to the pub with our drinks while the sun came out and hung out in the sunny beer garden for a while waiting for the prize cabbage giving. Previous winner, Mo Farah, wasn’t entered this year but this year’s winners were just as fast and deserving of their cabbages.

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We found another sunny beer garden to grab post-race burgers and shandys (holding on to summer!) and finally made our way back to North London after a little siesta when we accidentally got on the long train back to Waterloo.

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The great race photographers (gotta love one who is ready for a jumping photo)  made their photos available for £3.95 after the race. The memes of mine have already started in a few WhatsApp groups…

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oxford half marathon

It’s the Higher Education league table you didn’t know you needed. Cambridge vs. Oxford: Who hosts the better half marathon? Running both this year, I consider myself highly educated and confident to present the following dissertation as an expert in the field.

The Oxford Half Marathon didn’t have the best start. Train tickets to Oxford aren’t cheap, so after getting a spot in the race from Brooks Running I quickly booked advance tickets for £6. The first train from London was scheduled to arrive at 9:12am which I took as perfect.

The race organisers then decided to put the race village (with bag drop) at a different location from the start. I had to make a choice a) jog to the start and run the race with a small pack and make it in time to get into my starting pen or, b) jog to the bag drop, hope it was still open and then jog to the race start joining the back of the starters. Because I was going for a time goal I wanted to be in the right pen and and hoped I’d find the promised 1:50 pacer (there wasn’t one, only 1:45 – race brochure lied) to stick with. I’m used to running with a big pack run commuting so my little race vest wasn’t a problem.

Another bummer of Oxford is you have to take a train from Paddington (Cambridge departs from the always convenient and now on the 24 hour Victoria line Finsbury Park). Paddington is close to nothing and impossible to get to without 3 tube changes. Luckily early on a Sunday morning, it’s a quick 40 minute cycle along the empty canal, which turned out to be one of my favourite parts of the day.

On the train with a few other time-confident runners who chose to ignore the race organisers warning of delayed trains. The one hour train ride was the perfect amount of time to eat, drink and use the toilet before arriving and jogging the 1 mile to the start as a warm up.

made it to the start!

made it to the start!

I made it into my pen with 2 whole minutes to spare, and then waited another few while the start was slightly delayed. Starting right in the city centre was beautiful and there were loads of people out cheering the runners on.

Right away I turned my watch off the pace screen. I knew I was going to have to push the pace to get to my goal, but for the first two miles I wanted to run at a sustainable effort and not start worrying about pace right away – that would make it a long long two hours. The first few miles felt fast but eventually I passed the two hour pacer (who was running very fast 8:45s to start) group and finally felt settled in to the effort pace. Being the first time I’ve raced in a while I got used to the “This is hard but I’ve got to keep going” feeling. I used a mental tip from my friend Laura to say to myself a few times, “You can slow down but you can’t stop”

I passed the 10k in 53:21, a bit fast but knowing I didn’t have the endurance base from consistent training this year I was happy for the bit of a time buffer in the second half.  I kept slowing down a little bit when it all got a bit too hard, and then pushing again when I felt OK (confession: or decided to pick someone off ahead of me!)

Just after 9 miles though after a long out and back that felt uphill both ways I didn’t need to look at my watch to know my pace had slipped down while my effort was still sky high. I think at that point I quietly accepted I wouldn’t get my goal but also felt OK (just the normal hard effort tired) so would keep pushing to the finish to see how close I could get to my goal.

The course went through lots of lovely neighbourhoods of Oxford and surrounding villages, and then the last 2 miles were through a park. The dirt path was welcome to my pavement weary feet, but it did get quite narrow and being a solid mid-pack runner this meant that it was almost impossible to push ahead even when I felt like it. The route snaked around the park too which, at this point in the race, you couldn’t help but feel like, “Ohmygod another cut back loop to here?”

I saw this guy at the end of the race. If I could have caught up to him I would have had some choice words about his interpretation of 400m

I saw this guy at the end of the race. If I could have caught up to him I would have had some choice words about his interpretation of 400m

Once out of the park it was half a mile to the finish but about 5 or 6 turns on to different streets. Again, since it’s been a while since I raced a race I forgot how badly you just want to see that finish line (no matter what your watch says). I had a few choice words for the 400m to go sign that was at least 800m from the finish (!!!) but made it to the finish without anything left for a sprint.

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After the finish we got our medals, race t-shirts, and a goody bag. All you can carry bananas and lucozade too. Wrapped in the foil cape I shuffled out past all the spectators and found a sunny patch to de-race and get some dry and warm clothes on. The goody bag had a wet wipe in it which was ace. I love actually useful items you need post-race.

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Suitably wet-wipped, my friend Katie took me to the most amazing brunch after at Malmaison. I almost want to keep it a secret for myself but I’ll just say that an all you can eat brunch buffet is EXACTLY what I needed before my train back to London. Cycle > Train > Run > Brunch > Train > Cycle and I was home with my legs up the wall by 4pm. It was a great half-marathon day trip from London if the organisers can figure out the train situation.

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So, even with an all-you-can-eat brunch right at the end trying to sway me, I have to say that Cambridge wins top spot in the 2016 Half Marathon League Table. Oxford Half was a great race and I don’t have anything bad to say about it at all. The only thing is that as another Vitality race it all seems a bit samey-same. The same branding, similar t shirt design, almost identical medals across the series. It just doesn’t entice me to go all the way to Oxford to run a race when it will be super similar to the Hackney Half in my neighborhood. Cambridge was a great race, great organisation, great course, massive unique medal, and overall just that much better.

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Brooks UK gave me entry to the Oxford Half Marathon, these leggings above and a sports bra to wear for the race. It was too warm for the leggings but I wore the sports bra and loved it so much bought a black version as soon as I got home.  

 

performance kitchen

A few Saturdays ago I woke up and began the epic journey from NE London to SW by bike. Not something I normally do on a Saturday but I was invited down to Clapham Studios to watch a morning of filming of Performance Kitchen. Only 2 stops (one for coffee and one for directions, Battersea roundabouts you are HUGE) later I made it to the kitchen studio.

David emailed me a month ago via twitter with a really nice invitation to come down and see the behind the scenes of their great project. I say great because it actually is a great idea. They film elite athletes cooking the food they actually make and eat for themselves during training. None of this “you should eat, you shouldn’t eat.” Nope. Just what actually gets made by athletes who are tired, hungry, and need their bodies to perform to the best of their ability.

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I arrived just as they were setting up the first guest, Katy Sexton MBE was setting up her kitchen. Katy was the first Brit to win a swimming world championship medal, so I was ready to take notes for my next pre swim race meal.

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Katy made a delicious pasta bake while chatting with the host about all things Olympics and training. What I liked most about her was that it was a really simple recipe. Pasta, chicke breasts, bacon, frozen corn & peas, and a can of chicken soup. It doesn’t have to be fancy macro this or spelty that.

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The filming was mostly continuous just taking a few breaks to get an instagram shot or two, and a bit of editing to avoid all that oven baking time. After the glamour shots of the food were done we got to dig in.

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Katy’s episode isn’t live yet, so I don’t want to give it all away, but you can check out the other videos on the Performance Kitchen YouTube channel in the meantime.

Performance Kitchen didn’t ask that I write or share anything about the day, they genuinely just invited me down to see what it was all about. I’m sharing about it because I think it’s a great resource in a sea of rubbish online nutritional advice. I also didn’t get any freebies save for a few (big!) scoops of Katy Sexton’s pasta bake. 

 

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.

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.