FitBits - fitness for fun and wellbeing: September 2017

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Thursday, 14 September 2017

Coed y Brenin women's weekend - Temtiwr


I started writing this post tucked up in my van, wrapped in a blanket, wearing two jumpers, pjs and slipper boots, with a single measure of red wine in a tiny bottle by my side.

The sun had set and the rain was hammering down, as it had been all day. All weekend in fact. It always sounds worse when it's hammering on the roof three feet over your head, but I find it strangely comforting.

I had the best adventure at Coed y Brenin last weekend - for so many reasons. It was the first ever Temtiwr women's mountain bike weekend at the trail centre (named after one of the trails), organised jointly by Welsh Cycling and Beics Brenin, Infinite Exposures, Natural Resources Wales and HSBC Breeze.



If you're a regular reader of this blog, or follower of my Instagram, Twitter or Facebook page, you'll know I'm happiest when on two wheels, and this weekend was a weekend just for me. I was so excited about it ever since I signed up - a road trip to Wales all by myself, (the furthest I've ever driven alone, #thisgirlcan), the chance to ride with other actual real women (what a treat!), and time in the van to write as much as I like.

Bliss.

Incidentally, not much writing got done, hence why I'm finishing this now, wrapped in another blanket, on the sofa, two kittens going batshit crazy around me, as they do whenever I need to concentrate.

I've only been to Coed y Brenin once before - last summer when me and Chris did our tour of the trail centres over the Bank Holiday. It was my first trip back to the trails since breaking my collarbone and wrist, and we crammed in four trail centres over six days so didn't have much time to really explore.

For the Temtiwr women's weekend us girls outnumbered the boys - taking on the torrential, neverending rain with gusto - and it was wicked.


DAY 1: yoga, ride & film night




Kicking off the weekend: a challenging, blissful and brilliant yoga class from Polly at Mountain Yoga Breaks.

In true Tess style, even though I drove up the day before so I *wouldn't* have to rush about in the morning to get there on time, I ended up sprinting from my parking space (helpfully the furthest away from the building for no real reason other than I was too scared to park in front of real humans) and bursting in to register with two minutes to spare.

I'm actually very good at rushing to yoga. I rush to and from floatation too. It's not the best way to get zenned up. Something to work on, anyway...


I didn't know what to expect from this class as it was mixed abilities and we hadn't practiced together, but it was one of those yoga classes where your muscles shake and you break a sweat, and your body laughs at you for trying seemingly simple manoeuvres (all of the shoulder poses, I'm looking at you).

The kind of practice where downward dog becomes recovery and savasanah feels like the best-earned two-minute lie down of your life.


We did sun salutations and warrior pose facing floor-to-ceiling windows that looked out to a rain-drenched Coed y Brenin forest. It was just as perfect as it sounds.


For the love of the ride 

After lunch we got into groups and headed out on a social ride. This one wasn't guided or led, but a chance to just do what we were all there for and ride our bikes.

The Coed y Brenin team talked us through each trail and what to expect so everyone could pick to match their ability. A few of the girls hadn't been there before so it was especially helpful for them.

I kind of had it in my head that I'd ride MBR at some point over the weekend (Chris has ridden this with the kayak club and reckons now we've done W2 at Afan I'd be ok) but after hearing that there are some drops where you can't see the landing I lost my bottle and opted for easier red Cyflym Coch (aka Red Fox), which I'd done before.

It's a good little red trail, this one. The easiest red of the lot, but it's got it all - technical climbs, fast, flowy descents, rock gardens, water features, berms, a few small drops and obstacles. A very Tess-friendly, fun-fuelled trail.

There's always another day for MBR.



I hooked up with new buddy Pippa, who happened to be camping at the same campsite as me. We chatted as we rode, swapping stories of how we got into mountain biking and cycling in general.

Nearly everyone we came across was female - it really was great to see so many women out on the trails! Something I've never experienced before.

After the ride it was time for our pre-ordered food (and beer) which I promptly wolfed down before taking a photo but promise it was good.



Then the film. If you've not seen this yet, and you're into mountain biking, I urge you to watch it now! More than a few times during that hour a tear threatened to trickle down my cheek as we heard from the legends of the sport - the badass riders who were there at the beginning, and the mighty Martyn Ashton and Tracy Moseley about what cycling meant to them.

Incidentally, T-Mo was sat just a few rows behind me as we had the pleasure of her company for the whole weekend!

The film encapsulated everything I love about riding my bike and you could sense everyone in the room felt the same.

"My greatest days' riding was yet to come" - Martyn Ashton, on getting back on the bike after being paralysed. 
I headed back to the campsite excited, inspired and full of joy from an awesome first day at Temtiwr.

 

DAY 2: workshops, coaching and rainy rides



The rain tried even harder to keep us down for the second day, but we were having none of it. #thesegirlscan.

On the menu: our chosen workshops, coaching sessions and a guided ride - followed by a Q&A with downhill / enduro world champ and all-round badass T-Mo!

I chose the mtb leader workshop as I've been thinking about becoming a Breeze Champion and wanted to see what's involved in leading. Turns out you don't have to be a 'rad rider' to be a mtb leader - just have the passion and desire to encourage and support more people to ride their bikes (amongst other core skills which they can train you up like navigation, guiding, mechanical knowledge etc.)

Something to think about for the future definitely. Other workshop options included nutrition, trail side maintenance and bike set up.

A wheely good time

 
The subject of my intermediate coaching session was exactly what I wanted to learn - front and back wheel lifts. So often on the trail it's far more efficient if you're able to lift your wheels to hop, skip and jump over obstacles rather than pedal-pushing.

It's something I've never been able to do, and it's caught me out on many occasions - the ridiculously technical climb half way through W2 at Afan last month a prime example.

I found it really hard to get enough momentum to get over rocks and knackered myself out pretty quickly - also buggered my gearing up and got my chain caught which isn't ideal.

I have loads of GoPro footage from that trip to edit by the way, so stay tuned.

I can confirm that my new GORE® Element waterproof jacket is thankfully, very waterproof!

So I was pleased to finally be shown the secrets to manuals, bunny hops, wheel lifts and pumping. We also practiced track stands but I'm OK with those after Sean at Marmalade MTB showed me on one awesome Surrey Hills ride.

It absolutely hacked it down for the whole session but I loved every second of it and headed straight for the skills area to practice afterwards.

Putting skills to practice

A post shared by Tess Agnew (@fitbits_) on

After lunch it was time to put the new skills to practice for the ride.

I was grouped in a leadership ride where we looked at the best practice leadership skills that would be needed if we were to become Level 2 mtb leaders.

It was really interesting looking at everything through 'leadership lens' as our guide Steve called it. The ride is no longer just yours, but belongs to the people you're guiding, and you have to make sure you look after them first and foremost.


That means stopping at sections to discuss what's coming and how best to tackle it, getting in a good order so everyone gets a nice flow, riding hills two abreast and all together so you can have a chat and keep it all nice and social.

Definitely something I'll be thinking about as we head into 2018 - apparently there's not many female mtb leaders - something that needs rectifying!


Q&A with T-Mo!


After the ride we ended the day (and weekend) with a wicked Q&A with the ultimate Queen of the Mountains, Tracy Moseley. We talked about coming back from injury, how to get over the fear, how to get into racing, what events to enter and more.

I won't write any more about that in this post as I want to share some of her advice in a separate blog - especially the advice she gave me to get over my fear after my accident last year.

I love how she just casually hung out with us all weekend and even led one of the rides on the Sunday (the beginner's ride I think).


Once it was all over I gathered my rain-soaked things and bike and headed back to the van with a bigger sense of belonging than I ever thought possible. Mountain biking is definitely where my heart is right now - and cycling in general.

In a world that feels like it's sometimes dominated by male ego, it's good to know we've got our own community of badass women riders - that there are other girls riding - you just have to know where to look!

Not that riding with the boys is a bad thing of course, but I really hope events like this encourage more women and girls to get out on their bikes. Some may not think women-only events are necessary but for others they're vital for access into the sport, and a great way to make friends.

Besides, who else could we compare our pretty pink bikes and matching gloves with otherwise? ;)


Temtiwr was the first of hopefully many women's weekends at Coed y Brenin trail centre, jointly organised by Welsh Cycling, the trail centre and partners. To be kept up to date with the next events join the Facebook page and find out more about the trails and coaching on offer at beicsbrenin.co.uk.



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Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Cycle to Work Day 2017 - what I've learned on the longer commute


It's Cycle To Work Day!

I'll be heading out into 40+mph headwind for my 12 mile commute, which will probably be just as much fun as it sounds. I'm doing it anyway though - mainly because I'm stubborn - and also because I've made a promise to myself to really focus on improving my cycling fitness and strength this autumn and winter.

Not many better ways to embody Rule 5 than to swap this 'fair weather cyclist' skin I've been wearing for a battering from the wind Gods, is there?

EDIT: Just woke up and the it's 'just' 25mph headwinds til 10am. #bonus :) 

I've been cycling to work for all of my professional life. My current trusty steed is three years old this year and she's deffo done the miles. My typical 2-3 mile each-way ride to my previous few jobs has been replaced with a nice chunky 12 mile EW seaside commute to Worthing two or three times a week for one of my clients.

In June when I started my freelance adventure I was working in Worthing up to four times a week so got pretty used to the miles but now am back down to two so need to make sure I continue throughout the autumn and winter - even when it's horrendous wind like it will be today.

What doesn't kill you, and all that.

Cycling for wellbeing


Cycle To Work Day - in its fifth year - is an annual initiative from Cyclescheme and Halfords to encourage more people to ditch the car or train and take two wheels to work and feel the benefits of active commuting.

Increased workplace productivity, lower sick leave rates, improved wellbeing - and generally that post-ride buzz you get after a good sesh in. Even when my commute was only 15 mins (8 mins was my record if I *really* stepped on it), I loved getting my quick endorphin fix before hitting my desk all day.

And the ride home always clears my mind from the day's stresses, no matter how fast or far it is.

Recent research from Cyclescheme shows that cycling to work can have real workplace benefits, with 45% of the 10,276 surveyed employees who cycle experiencing less stress at work, and 45% citing improvements to mental wellbeing.

Getting to work on your bike can also mean less illness and fewer sick days, saving the economy an estimated £83 million each year, according to a publication from Cycling UK.

What's not to love?


Cycling for fitness


As well as mental health and wellbeing, cycling to work is also great for general fitness. I have to say that even though my previous commute was only 2-3 miles each way, I was doing it every day, and now as much as I love my 24 mile twice-weekly round-trip, I feel like I've definitely lost a bit of bike fitness. 

I guess not having an office to commute to for half of the week doesn't help - maybe it's time for me to 'commute' to my standing desk in the living room?!

Another recent survey, this time by Cycle Republic found 70% of respondents rode to get their heart beating, with 20% using it as their main mode of transport. 

I know I could tick all of the above as reasons for why I ride - what keeps you getting out on your bike?



Things I've learned on the longer
cycle commute... 

Perving on my new kit in i360's reflective glass :) 


4-day roadkill lifecycle  

It takes approximately four days of rush hour traffic to completely merge the body of a seagull (or squirrel, pigeon, INSERT ROADKILL HERE) into the tarmac. I know this because I've ridden past enough casualties enough times in one week to gauge :( (I'll save you the pictures).

I've been lucky enough to never see an animal actually get hit - they've always been very, very dead by the time my wheels have swooshed around-not-over them.

I think if I ever did see it happen I'd probably throw my bike to the kerb and risk my life to save the fucker, so probably a good job I haven't!

Side note: a pheasant legit flew directly into my van windscreen on my drive to Wales this weekend. The noise will haunt me forever, as will the wonder of whether it too merged into the road!


Cycle Lane Top Trumps: Brighton wins 




It's a fast, flat ride between Brighton and Worthing, taking in parts of the cycle paths on both seafronts. Brighton's is lovely and smooth, with clean lines and zero wear and tear, despite the motorway of cycle-traffic that rides its surface on a daily basis.

It's roomy enough to overtake, and a real pleasure to crank up the gears and go for it.

Worthing's seafront cycle path though. Nah mate. If I fancied a vibro plate workout I would've gone to the gym. Needs complete resurfacing and remarking, as well as widening, whilst they're at it.

Apparently the Department of Transport's recommended width for two-way cycle paths is 2.5m and this one comes up well short at 1.45m. This basically means overtaking has to happen on the adjacent (and extremely smooth) footpath, so lots of cyclists (me included), weave in and out of unsuspecting pedestrians, as they enjoy their flawless, silky-smooth footpath all to themselves.

Sort it aaaaat Worthing Council. 


Traffic sucks - but ride like you're driving and you'll be fine

I have to admit I do take great pleasure in cruising along almost empty sections of road whilst a mile-long tailback of cars and lorries queue for a roundabout and beyond on the other side. 

If I leave too late in the morning I get stuck with the traffic on my side too, and now the summer holidays are over the school run brigade will be back out in force so if you're nervous about traffic on the road, leave earlier and ride like you're driving.

That means stopping at lights, indicating when you want to turn, and generally not being a dick.

Read my tips to becoming a better road cyclist here.

Wouldn't it be nice if everyone just used their legs a bit more so we can all enjoy a bit more space?


I'm no pack horse

That bag is way more uncomfortable than it looks. Wearing bib shorts from Le Col and Kask helmet from Cycle Republic

When I started this longer commute I asked my lovely Twitter followers for pannier or cycling rucksack recommendations. I then promptly did sweet FA with the helpful suggestions that came flooding in, and still haven't bought anything. 

Which means the past few month have been spent wrestling my way to work with what feels like everything plus the kitchen sink on my back in a less than suitable rucksack. I either need one that's ergonomically fitted for cycling comfort, or to set panniers upon my trusty steed. 

And that means I basically need a new bike too, because I definitely cba to take the panniers off for long rides or races, that sounds like far too much faff to me.

So yeah. n+1, anyone?


Good kit makes you ride better

Feeling like a proper roadie in my Kask helmet and Le Col kit - first foray into bib shorts! 
Even better if it's matching ;) 

I've spent enough money on kit in the past to know that if you buy cheap, you buy twice. And spend half your ride adjusting everything or nursing chaffe marks afterwards. 

It's only in the last two years that I've really started to opt for better quality, technical fabrics that are purpose-built and good to last. 

This summer I've been lucky enough to test out some ace kit from Le Col, Kask and Chapaeu, and have bought some other staples like a solid waterproof jacket from Gore Bike Wear (very useful when it buckets it down in Wales!)

Feeling like a proper roadie in my Kask Mojito helmet

My first foray into bib shorts also happened on this longer commute, and whilst it's made me feel like a 'proper' cyclist, there's definitely a bit of a learning curve too (let's just say going to the loo in the winter must suck big time).  

But don't let that put you off - get on yer bike! Not just for Cycle to Work Day, but every day! 


For more information on Cycle to Work Day visit www.cycletoworkday.org

This post was written in collaboration with Cyclescheme and Cycle Republic - special thanks to Le Col and Cycle Republic for the ride-faster kit :)  


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Sunday, 3 September 2017

Life changes: benefits of becoming a freelancer


I haven't written my blog in over six weeks. Even by my standards of one or two posts a month (one a week if I'm really treating you), that's proper lame. Bad Tess.

It's not that I haven't been writing. That's literally all I've been doing - just not for myself.

If you follow me on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook you may have noticed the wave of joy I'm currently riding with the recent life changes I've made.

In June this year I did something I've been wanting to do for, oh I dunno, about five years. I worked my last day as a full time employee and finally went freelance. Walking out into the big wide world with no savings, no guarantee of a secure income, no real idea what I was doing or how I was going to do it.

Some call it scary. I call it motivating.

A good friend had told me time and time again over the months preceding my decision - to 'take the leap, and the net will appear.'
She was right. 


It's fear that kept me from taking the leap for so long. Fear of the unknown - not knowing where my next payslip would come from. I knew I had the skills to do the work (copywriting, digital marketing, social media), but would I be able to find it?

The truth is, it's literally the best decision I could have ever taken. Ironically, all the spare time I thought I'd have to spend on my blog definitely hasn't happened, as the lack of posting since mid-July demonstrates all too well.

Nor have many of the mid-morning fitness and lunchtime meditation classes I thought I'd be swanning about at in between deadlines. (I did manage a mid-morning float on Friday at The Float Spa though, and basically won hard at Friday).

Read my write up of the first time I tried floatation at The Float Spa here

But yeah, being freelance is pretty damn epic, for all of the reasons I wanted it to be, and more.


I'm doing stuff that I love 


As in writing. 

For many of my clients, I'm actually being paid to write, and just write. Nothing else. It means I can focus on doing what I love and do it well. The clients I'm working for respect my skills and experience, give me good time to complete projects, and appreciate the work I do. All of these things go a long, long way in getting the best out of someone. 

And of course they pay me too.

So I'm now officially a freelance writer. Finally. All I've ever wanted in my professional life is to get paid to write and only write.

This is literally my dream.


Some of the cool stuff I've worked on that's live already (lots more in the pipeline): 
The Body Coach Blog! -> A beginner's guide to starting your home fitness journey 
Bike Radar -> Cross training for cyclists 
Fresh Egg digital agency -> I wrote all the copy for their new website in line with new tonal values and brand guidelines, and am now working across their internal teams to ghost write their digital marketing blogs 



I'm more motivated


Not that I wasn't motivated before in previous jobs, I've always worked hard. But when you work for yourself, and are solely responsible for finding the work, building relationships and delivering on deadline, it gives a whole new dimension. 

Add to that the fact that I can pick and choose what I work on, so am interested and passionate about everything I'm doing, and suddenly it doesn't feel like work any more.

I'm more productive


I can move my working day around to suit when I'm most productive. 

If I want to go to early morning yoga and have a leisurely breakfast to start work at 10 instead of 9, I can. I make up the time if I need to. 

If I want to take a couple of hours off mid-morning for a much-needed float, have a long lunch with friends, or attend a midweek wedding, I can - I just start earlier. Often in my pyjamas, from the work den or standing desk, with tea and kittens for company.

I'm learning


This freelance lark is all new to me. Heading into month four now and whilst I'm busier than ever, with deadlines coming out of my ears, (not complaining, definitely not complaining), I've still got lots more to learn. 


Not just in how to actually make it as a freelancer, but how to make myself better. How to become a better writer, be more efficient, learn to say no a bit, when my RSI strikes (which atm is quite a lot but I'm learning to manage it, which is a positive). 


I have more energy


I no longer get the dreaded 3pm slump. Working for multiple clients on lots of different projects keeps my days varied and interesting. 

I'm eating better, and exercising more, but not training - instead getting active for health and wellbeing. Two or three days a week I enjoy a lovely 24mile round cycle to Worthing and back - a commute I've loved every second of, even when headwind strikes. 

I've met friends for mid-afternoon runs, been to morning yoga classes and gym sessions when I've needed a break from the screen. 


I'm free as a bird 


It's a glorious feeling, waking up knowing you can work from anywhere today. You make your own To Do list and tick it of wherever and whenever it suits you.

I split my time between home and various cafes most of the time, and occasionally treat myself to a couple of hours of work on the beach or up on the Downs. 

When you've got your office in your bag you really can work from anywhere, any time. 

I had a difficult 2016 and made a promise to myself this year to focus on my mental health and wellbeing. 

This is definitely the way to keep that promise. Living my best life. 

Have a nose at my portfolio if you fancy >> tessagnew.contently.com

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Have you learned anything about yourself since being self employed? I'd love to hear your thoughts...

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