FitBits - fitness for fun and wellbeing: June 2014


Sunday, 29 June 2014

Cheating on running with kayaking

Today I cheated on running, and I loved it. In fact it's not the first time I've cheated on running since the marathon - I'm having swimming lessons, have joined the gym for strength training and have been getting out on the road bike for some epic long rides over the past few weeks.

I don't want to get to November and have to start marathon training again having only ran over the summer - there's plenty of time for it to take over my life again. So for now, I'm rekindling my love affair with running whilst concentrating on two of my goals I set out at the beginning of the year.

Kayaking down the River Ouse with Martlet Kayak Club Brighton

Instead of joining the RunBrighton crew for the Sunday long run today, I joined a few of the guys from my Kayak Club (Martlet Kayak Club, if you're wondering) for my first trip down the gorgeous River Ouse.

It was a beautiful seven-ish mile/four hour round trip following the meandering river from Barcombe Mills to Isfield Weir and back, sharing the water with a bunch of chilled out swans, geese, a couple of ducks and about 100 of the most stunning bright blue dragon flies I've ever seen. The sun was out, the water calm, and I didn't capsize! I did lose my sunglasses though when I paddled through a low hanging tree and a branch smacked them off my head.

Kayaking the River Ouse with Martlet Kayak Club Brighton

Project water-bitch 

I'm still very much a beginner at kayaking, I'm constantly nervous when in the sea and sometimes have absolutely no control over the boat when coming back from the pier against the tide. The other week I had a full on panic attack in the middle of the sea when I couldn't get back, and a very patient and understanding club member let me have my paddy and then helped me pull myself back together to finally get back to shore.

Paddling in a still river is much different - and if I'm honest I totally prefer it. No rogue waves or strong currents to negotiate, it's a much calmer, chilled out experience and I wasn't scared once. I'm definitely not a white water nut like some of the others at the club - give me a serene Scottish loch or a still river any day.

I still have a lot to work on; with the swimming and kayaking, Project Water-Bitch is well under way. I need to practice my rolls as I haven't actually done it again since the pool sessions in February, and I think if I know I can still do it I'll feel a lot more confident in the sea. I need to work on going in a straight line a bit more - today the guys tied a first aid bag to the back of my boat to act as a rudder and keep me straight on the river. It really helped and as the day went on we kept shortening it to see if I was making improvements, which I think I was.

It's a weird love-hate thing I've got going with kayaking at the moment. When struggling to control the boat in the choppy sea I hate it, get all worked up and convince myself I can't do it, but then somehow manage to get back home and feel great for doing so.

It's a bit like a hard run - today was a lovely long run at a comfortable pace, nice and chilled, could've gone on forever, but still hard work on the upper body and core.

Kayaking on the River Ouse with Martlet Kayak Club Brighton

Kayaking in the sea for me at the moment is like an interval session. I don't quite like it, and I spend the day dreading it but once it's done, as long as I don't die, I bask in the aftermath.

And with a club full of friendly, understanding and experienced paddlers who are more than happy to let me have my paddies and show me how to improve, things can only get better!

Come & play

If you live in or near Brighton and want to start kayaking why not come down to the club one Tuesday or Thursday evening? We go out on the sea every week from about 5.30pm, in various groups of different abilities. Some people go off to the pier and back (having strops along the way), some play in the dump and try to surf the waves, and others go off in groups to have coaching sessions on rescues and paddling techniques.

Martlet Kayak Club, Brighton

Membership is £90 for the whole year and includes full access to all of the club kit, including boats, paddles, spray decks, buoyancy aids, kags and helmets. If you want to come and have a taster it's £12, which is taken off the cost of full membership if you decide to join. Visit the club website for more info or join the Facebook page for updates on trips and weekly sessions.

Even if you're scared like me, give it a go, you might just surprise yourself!

If you're not near Brighton and want to find your local canoe or kayak club, head over to spogo and enter your postcode to find your nearest club.

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Have you ever tried kayaking or are you thinking about starting? What other sports are you tempted to give a go?

Monday, 16 June 2014

Learning to swim: Part 2

<-- Learning to swim, Part 1                                              

Tonight, ladies and gentlemen, we have a breakthrough. I swam my first full length front crawl without stopping! After my lesson tonight (which was on butterfly and was loads of fun!) I braved the slow lane and decided that I wasn't getting out until I made it to the other side in one go.

It took a few attempts, most of them ruined by people ambling across my path or standing around having a chat, but in the end I did it, and let out an actual 'YESSSSS' to the pool when I touched the other side. Another swimmer noticed my grin and congratulated me.
'Practice. Just keep practicing and it gets easier', he said. 
I can totally see that now.

Building confidence 

I didn't realise I've only been swimming since 19th May. That's just under a month. In that time I've had four lessons, each on different strokes and with varying levels of flapping/spluttering/water up nose/success that went a bit like this:

  1. Front crawl - lots of coughing and spluttering whilst flapping up and down about 10 metres of the pool 
  2. Backstroke - this one was fine, I can do backstroke forever (ish)
  3. Breaststroke - *how* does this work? I mean, really? How do you not sink?!
  4. Butterfly - Lots of fun, working on undulating dolphin drills and deep water entries (eek!)

The reason I started to learn to swim was mainly because me and Chris wanted to do a triathlon this year but also because I wanted to build my water confidence up for kayaking and give me something low impact to keep me fit that I can do alongside pounding pavements and trails.

Practice makes perfect

I honestly didn't realise when I signed up for lessons that it would be so hard. I've only been practicing front crawl as to be honest it's more than hard enough without having to factor in the other strokes and I'm on a bit of a deadline if we're gonna get a triathlon done this season.

Twice a week on top of my lessons I've been down at Prince Regents Swimming Pool in Brighton, dutifully practicing the drills we learnt in the first lesson, with elements from the others such as kick offs, glides and hand turns mixed in. I didn't make much progress until I started using my nose clip, which I didn't really wanna do but it's allowed me to stop worrying about water going up my nose and just get on with the task in hand.

I may have shot myself in the foot a bit as I can't do it without now, but I'll deal with that later.

Swimming bints 

I started using my nose clip around the same time that I discovered the 'Adult Only' swim in the shallow pool. Recommended by a friend (or fellow #swimmingbint as we like to call ourselves), the Adult Only time in the shallow pool means exactly that. Just adults, mostly learning to swim, some doing rehab and physio exercises without hundreds of kids splashing and playing around you.

Prince Regent swimming pool Brighton

Since doing this I've progressed massively, first doing just widths, which is basically a quarter of a full size length, then moving onto lengths, which is half of the full pool, so 12.5metres. Me and Nik have been practicing with pull buoys to get the arms and breathing sorted, as well as going solo to combine the arms, breathing and kicks. The lifeguard wouldn't let her have her flippers though, which we were quite upset about.

My stamina is the problem really. It's bloody hard work and my technique is very inefficient so I get out of breath, but of course I can't just breathe heavily like I do on a tough run - it's pretty difficult to breathe under water, so I've discovered.

It's getting better, man

Tonight I slowed it right down and eventually made it to the end. I think because I said to myself that I wasn't getting out until it was done, I had to push myself. I had a bit of a breather and then swam another length back again, although this one was a lot messier than the first, but I got there nonetheless.

So, it seems there are a few things that have helped me progress better with front crawl:
  1. Pulling out the nose clip. If it helps, who cares. 
  2. Practicing in the shallow pool - not having the pressure of making it a full length with other swimmers up your arse is *definitely* the way to go. 
  3. Slowing it right down - there's plenty of time for racing, just focus on the breathing and technique first. 
  4. Swimming with a friend who's also learning - we've been bouncing tips off each other, watching each other's technique, chatting for a little bit too long at the side when we can't be bothered. Pushing each other when we can. Working out with friends always wins. 
I *might* get in the big pool this Thursday to see if this whole proper length thing is a fluke or not. If I can do it I might even have a go at two in a row, but shhh don't jinx it... 

Are you learning to swim or are you a good swimmer already? How can I improve my stamina?

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Saturday, 14 June 2014

A naked Parkrun: chasing that buzz again

Stuff the Naked Bike Ride, this morning I did a naked Parkrun and fell back in love with running. No Garmin, no pressure, no worries. Just ran on feel and had no idea how I'd done until the text came through, and when it did (28.5mins), I wasn't disappointed or anxious or upset with my time, but pleasantly surprised.

Preston Park Parkrun, Brighton

The thing is, since the marathon, I've been avoiding running outside. It took me so long to recover and I spent far too long rewarding myself with cake and gin and basically anything I'd been refraining from during training that me and running just didn't get on any more.

Excuses, excuses

While Chris has been getting up every Saturday for Parkrun, even when hungover, clocking some proper amazing weekly times (20:39 PB so far!), I've been sitting at home finding excuses not to get back out there.

I've lost my barcodes. My knees are sore. I've gotta tidy the house. I'm too hungover. 

My promise to get back on the wagon after the marathon didn't last long and I must've ran outside only a handful of times since then, including a stop-start hilly Downs run with the Bosh Run crew and of course the amazing Heroes v Villains 10k race last month which was totally AWESOME 'cause I got to dress up and do the biggest quiff ever and ran with friends.

But apart from that and a few sweaty interval sessions on the treadmill, my mornings and evenings have been filled with cycling, lifting weights at the gym, kayaking and (trying to) swim, and I've really enjoyed not having the pressure of a marathon hanging over everything I tell my legs to do. 

That proper buzz

The thing is though, for me, *nothing* beats that runner's high. Out of all the things I've been doing recently, as much as I love boshing out 30mile midweek road rides and going heavy on the morning gym sessions, I really don't love anything as much as I love running, and today, I'm chuffed I broke my running drought. I'm back in the game, and it feels great. 

Nicola from WeDoRunRun made this pretty graphic :) 

My legs still work, I've not lost much running fitness since the marathon (apart from maybe distance, I'm not gonna go out and run 20miles tomorrow), and the fire in my belly that can only be ignited by putting one foot in front of the other in the wonky way that I do has been rekindled. 

Running, I'm back.

Do you have running breaks? What exercise gives you the best high? 


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Sunday, 1 June 2014

A Brecon Beacons adventure: walking gorges & riding mountains

If you ever go to the Brecon Beacons in South Wales you absolutely have to go gorge walking.

You also definitely have to go to Afan Forest Park and ride the beautiful (but hardcore) mountain bike trails, go camping in the rain, hang out with some free range chickens and ducks for a weekend, and drink lots of red wine.

Last month me and Chris spent a wonderful few days doing just that, and had the BEST time. We camped in a tiny little family-run campsite by a stream, at the end of a long, windy single-track road in a steep valley with cascading waterfalls the other side.

We didn't have time to go and explore these, but will definitely do so next time. We shared our camp with a few other people, some happy, free range chickens and ducks, and the owner's two (very large and friendly) doberman dogs. They were pretty much taller than me and Chris when stood up!

I just wanted to share some pictures from our amazing trip and also give a big thumbs up to the wonderful, secluded campsite if you're ever looking for places to go camping in South Wales or the Brecon Beacons.

Also wanted to give a shout out to the adventure company who took us gorge walking, as well as the beautiful Afan Forest Park where we rode some tough but rewarding mountain trails. If you're visiting the area you really do have to give these a go!


Cwmnanthir Brecon Beacons Camping
SA10 9LU

We wanted a small, quiet campsite that we could chill at after a hard day of activities, and we weren't disappointed. The campsite is run by a lovely Welsh family who welcome everyone into what is essentially their back garden to enjoy the beautiful countryside.

There was a fully equipped kitchen, toilet and shower, and near where we set up our tent there was a makeshift shelter which we hid under when it rained. (And it rained A LOT).

Camping South Wales Brecon Beacons

Gorge Walking

Hawk Adventures

Hawk Adventures is a great company who organises a whole host of wicked activities across the Brecon Beacons, from gorge walking and caving to kayaking, coasteering and mountaineering. You have to book in advance over the phone or online, and an instructor(s) meets you at your desired activity base, kits you up and takes you out...

Climbing over rocks, scrambling through/under/across waterfalls, hopping over stepping stones, wading through white water, crawling through caves and caverns and swimming through deep pools - our half day adventure was a truly amazing experience and allowed us to see the rivers from a completely different perspective.

Gorge walking Brecon Beacons South Wales

It's a bit pricey but so worth it (£65 for a half day or £85 for a full day which you can combine with another activity). We were gonna do caving in the afternoon but unfortunately there was no space left on that session. Booking in advance is essential so if you're gonna do it make sure you call up well in advance.

The instructor who took us gorge walking was great, really friendly and understanding of my fear in places. It took me about 5 solid minutes and several abandoned countdowns to pluck up the courage to jump backwards into a pool and swim to the other side. There was no other way of getting across so it had to be done, but I definitely took my time!

Gorge walking Brecon Beacon South Wales

Once I did it I realised it really wasn't that bad but as it was only falling backwards into the water from not a great height it's just getting over that initial fear. Saying that though, I just couldn't muster the guts to jump from about 15ft into the deep plunge pool at the end after crawling under a waterfall so had to go back the way we came.

Chris, of course, went for it and even did it twice to get a good photo!

gorge walking Brecon Beacons South Wales

We had such an amazing day doing this and despite my fear I really would recommend it to anyone. If we don't do things that scare or challenge us, what a boring life we'd lead!

Feel the fear, then do it anyway. That's my motto. (Unless the fear is all-encompassing at the top of a 15ft drop into a deep plunge pool, that is, in which case I'll leave it for now and work on that for later, thank you).

Visit Hawk Adventure's website for more info on the activities available.

Mountain biking

Afan Forest Park

This place is WICKED. For all you mountain-biking adrenaline junkies (and also relative newbies like us), spend a day riding the twisting, rocky, challenging trails here and you won't be disappointed. Chris has his own bike but I had to hire one from the visitor centre (for £20 or £25 for the day, I can't remember).

Afan Forest Park mountain biking trails

There are five world-class trails to choose from, starting with the beginner's loop which is a mix of tarmac road and wooded track. There's also a couple of training loops within this part too so you can get used to the bike and practice the berms.

We had a go on the easy trail and then tried the next one up which was the Blue Scar. This was a difficult route but noted as a great one for beginners to move onto intermediate level, and was probably the most fun I've ever had on a bike. EVER. We kind of knew it was gonna be good when we got to the top and the descent was called the 'Widow Maker'.

Afan Forest Park mountain biking - the Widow Maker

Childhood BMX Tess came out to play on this badboy - the first half was just climbing. A seemingly never-ending windy uphill climb, and was really hard work. But what goes up, must come down, right? And boy was it worth it. The descent was utterly terrifying in places but so exhilarating and actually totally doable if you take your time and be sensible with it.

If you've ever ridden a BMX round a track like I used to as a kid you'll be fine. It was such a great route we did it again (didn't have time to do any of the others as we'd already been riding for most of the day).

It's just a shame we didn't have more time to spend at the park, but we made a promise to come back another time and do some of the other trails. The park has its own campsite so you can spend a good few days perfecting your technique and smashing the trails.

We'll definitely be back for more! Edit: We did go back for more and did the Blue Scar again, Penhydd and Y Wall - this one was very technical and challenging and took us hours. It went on for miles and made Blue Scar and Penhydd seem like nothing! If you're new to the trails, Blue Scar is a good place to start.  

Visit the park's website for more info on the trails and other stuff available.

Do you have a thirst for adventure? Are you active on holiday or do you use the time to have a break from all that?

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