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Friday, 27 May 2016

Are The Running Awards & Strava Saving The Bloggers From a Hangover?

So suspecting neither of having read my blog, (in which snacks, poo and hedges feature
prominently ... although not at all at the same time) Strava and the Running Awards invited me to go along to the 2016 Running Awards for a Q&A with Tom and Martin of MarathonTalk and a run with Strava. 

Running I can do, being able to ask a sensible question had yet to be tested but behave myself at an awards do had yet to be proven. However, I accepted all 3 and prepared my best running kit, my most inquisitive questioning voice and my sparkliest dress. 

The Running Awards are typically held on the Friday before the London Marathon on the
Sunday. No-one is sure why but we suspect it is something to do with stopping all the bloggers who are running the marathon from drinking all the free fizzy, getting horrendous hangovers and spoiling their marathons PB attempts. In actual fact it is probably more to
do with the fact that all the brands are at the expo for the London Marathon. But this is the boring explanation so we're ignoring this one and believing in the altruism of the Running Awards instead. 


Liz Yelling!! Actually ... Liz quite Sedate.
After a mad dash around the London Marathon expo, meeting Stewart and going all fan girl over Liz Yelling who handled it beautifully and even signed my London Marathon race number for me, fellow bloggers, Loz and Helen offered me a lift to the hotel where I would be meeting the Strava team. 

The trip didn't go quite as planned due to roadworks, traffic and a labyrinthine road system but it wasn’t a disaster as I learned some interesting new swearwords from Helen (some of which I will try and insert into future blogs) and I was eventually dropped off on a roundabout in the middle of nowhere (outside hotel). However thanks to my trusty phone and amazing sense of direction (outside hotel), I managed to navigate myself through the scariest parts of London (full of hipsters leaving marketing jobs) and get myself to the hotel. I really do amaze myself sometimes.

After extricating myself from the hotel’s revolving door - which stopped revolving as soon as I entered it - I managed to make a graceful (stumbling) entrance into the lobby and was greeted by the lovely Strava team. They impressed me immediately by handing me a goodie bag (containing a gorgeous Tickr bluetooth heartrate sensor with a memory which works with Runkeeper and Nike+ and a maroon Strava Tracksmith top which is beautiful. I love a goody bag – it’s like being at a 5 year old’s birthday and winning at pass-the-parcel. Although with less pineapple and cheese on sticks.  *Writes memo to marketing department ... Dear Sir, I regret the lack of pineapple and cheese ...”*

The hotel was lovely and we were provided a room so we could changed ready for the run with Strava. Apparently bloggers getting changed in hotel lobbies lowers the tone and scares the proper paying guests. Laura of Lazy girl Running and I were sharing the room and we decided we definitely needed a coffee. However unlike my usual bargain race-hotel rooms, instead of a cup of coffee involving opening a mini coffee sachet and boiling the kettle, in this swanky hotel room we had to use The Most Complicated Coffee Machine Ever.  

With my prowess with technology (see how to build a turbo trainer) and my Master Builder skill at Lego, I immediately decided I had to be nowhere near The Most Complicated Coffee Machine Ever. Laura however was sucking her teeth and looking at it like a mechanic looks at a car that’s going to cost its owner a lot of money. However, within 3 minutes she had managed to persuade it to provide a steaming cup of coffee and hadn’t even incurred serious burns. I would totally trust her as a running coach. 

After a hot coffee and after finding the shower cap, robe and slippers we contemplated the rain pouring down the windows and wondered whether we could watch TV for half an hour instead while wearing all of the above but decided that it was time to go and brace ourselves against the torrential liquid British sunshine. 


Before our run ...!
Turning up in the hotel lobby, we found there were to be 8 of us in our running group including Dr Juliet McGratten, Jenni from UkRunChat, Laura of Lazy Girl Running, Richard Hayes who is Mohican Runner, Simon from Jographies.wordpress.com and 2 very athletic Strava hosts; David and Dan. And me. Disaster on Legs. 

The run was pitched at a sociable pace so in theory we could chat and run, but the weather had other ideas, attempting to blow our words away and dampen our hair and clothes. Richard Hayes was immediately concerned about his famous vertical hair and the effect the inclement weather would have – possibly a Mohican at a 45 degree angle wouldn’t have quite the same effect. 

After promising Mohican Runner we would lend him hair straighteners, hairspray and calming his concerns about his hairdo, we set out at a trot. It was nice to come to a hosted run but even better to chat to the other runners and find out what they were up to. Laura was telling us about an ultra in France which ended at the Eiffel Tower and sounded amazing. Richard was saying about how he used to weigh 20 stone – which seems impossible when you look at his athletic frame and his race times. 

Sharing adventures and being inspired by the stories of others is part of what I find so great about running. I love finding out the stories and motivations of the other runners. Why they do it, what made them start and what keeps them going.   


Check out this running form! Speedsters!
The run took us alongside the Thames and onto a mixture of bricks, trail and quiet roads. In the distance, a bulbous building like a glass bubble was visible next to the Thames. Apparently it housed the start of a path which runs under the river and comes out near Greenwich. We weren’t going this far today but I was determined to explore this at some point. It was a treat to run in London and see the landmarks I usually only see in pictures. We turned off the river path after about a mile and headed inland towards Greenwich Park. 

Apparently there was a good segment in the park so the lads took off after it and I trailed in their wake until Laura yelled “SARAH! Save your legs for London Marathon!” Gratefully seizing the excuse to slow down and trying not to look as though I was struggling to breathe, I slowly ran up the hill where we all stopped at the vantage point and admired the beautiful view over London. We even managed a group selfie without dropping the camera or a runner off the side of the hill. 

We trotted back to the hotel, full of chatter. The day was getting colder now and the rain heavier. Despite loving the chat I was looking forward to a hot shower and a leisurely chance to get into the sparkly dress. 

Arriving back at the hotel after the run, we were told we had 20 minutes to get ready for the Q&A and Running Awards. TWENTY MINUTES? I was covered in mud and smelled like river water and desperation. Our lovely Strava host relented (or possibly caught a whiff of me) and told us “Ok you can have 30”. So that’s 30 minutes to get out of wet run kit, have a shower and make self presentable. I could probably manage the first two ... 

I managed a quick change Superman would have been proud of. Shower and change into dress managed. Makeup not so much. I crossed my fingers and hoped that the awards do would be dim. I probably had lipstick on my ears and mascara on my hairline. I could always tell people I was going for the Picasso look. 




We went through Secret Tunnel (it actually had a code name: ‘Direct Walkway’ that’s how secret it was) into the O2 from the hotel and were handed a glass of bubbly and introduced to Tom Williams, Chief operating Officer at parkrun and Martin Yelling, running coach and MarathonTalk co presenter and Simon Klima from Strava. These three were going to be leading the Strava Q&A session and telling us why we should all be using it. 

I was an easy sale. I was already using Strava and have my local segments staked out. I live in fear of a faster runner spotting them, stealing them and forcing me to reclaim them using a segway, Garmin and my ‘I Am A Strava Wanker’ hat. 

If you’re not familiar with Strava, it’s basically a social network for people who run, bike or swim. Your activities upload to the site (mine go automatically from my GPS watch) and your friends can see them and comment on them and give you ‘kudos’ – similar to Facebook lilkes. It’s nice to have the positive encouragement and it’s interesting to see other people’s training. There are a few interesting little things with Strava though ... there are ‘segments’ dotted throughout the UK which are sections of road. The fastest runner along these gets a CR (course record) and the fastest cyclist gets a KOM or QOM (King or Queen of the mountain). It also tells you when you get a personal best and tracks your previous activities for you. 

However, I picked up a few things I didn’t know. Apparently ‘Strava’ means ‘To Strive’ in Swedish. I now know another useful Swedish word along with ‘sauna’ and ‘smorgasbord’.  So I can now try, eat and sweat should I find myself in that lovely country. Is ‘Segment’ the same?

Apparently the UK is Strava’s most successful country but worldwide there are 5.3 activities uploaded every second (probably half of these by those REALLY keen triathletes I follow – so smug!) and over 1 million photos every week! I know that Strava is a social network for athletes, but those stats astounded me – I had no idea it was that big. 

I’m all too familiar with the fear when I get a Strava notification, that cold feeling telling you that someone has stolen – I mean I’ve ‘lost’ - my CR or QOM on a particular section of road. But knowing that there are over 150,000 people joining Strava every week, I feel a little bit better knowing that I’m bound to lose a segment every now and then to all these people. Just keep away from my home segments, you FRBs. 


This is us doing our "Who's going to win??" faces ...
After our chat with Strava, we threw ourselves into the glitz of The Running Awards 2016. As usual, it was a lovely event dotted with familiar names including Julie Creffield of ‘Too Fat to Run’, Susie Chan, Ultra runner and Record holder and the inspiring Shaun, UKRunChat, Equinox 24 and Hope 24 among others. Personally I loved meeting the bloggers and hearing their stories but there were so many deserving nominations and winners.

I loved the networking, putting the faces to the names and to the photographs inside the book covers and to the twitter race photos. Hearing about new races and new adventures and best of all being able to talk about running for the WHOLE evening and knowing that everyone else there also loved it as much as me. 

Loz, H, Me and Laura


Favourite Charity
1st Cancer Research UK
2nd Alzheimer’s Society
3rd Macmillan Cancer Support

Blog
1st The Fat Girls Guide to Running
2nd She Who Dares Runs
3rd Lazy Girl Running

Community
1st Virtual Runner UK
2nd UKRunChat
3rd 

Magazine
1st Runner’s World
2nd Obstacle Race Magazine
3rd Women’s Running

Book
1st parkrun - Much More Than Just A Run In The Park
2nd Running Hot & Cold
3rd No Run Intended

App
1st Strava
2nd Garmin Connect
3rd Map My Run

Headphones
1st Yurbuds Inspire Pro Earphones
2nd Jabra Sport Pulse Wireless
3rd AfterShokz Bluez 2 Bluetooth Headphones

Nutrition Brand
1st SiS
2nd High5
3rd Clif Bar

Sports Drink
1st Lucozade Sport
2nd High5 ZERO
3rd Vita Coco Coconut

Well-Being Brand
1st Clif Bar
2nd Nakd
3rd High5

Wearable Tech
1st Garmin Forerunner 15
2nd Garmin Forerunner 10
3rd FitBit Charge HR

Wearable Tech Brand
1st Garmin
2nd TomTom
3rd Flipbelt

Men's Clothing
1st adidas
2nd Ronhill
3rd Nike

Women's Clothing
1st Nike
2nd Ronhill
3rd Karrimor

Men's Shoe
1st Brooks Adrenaline GTS
2nd adidas adizero Adios Boost
3rd ASICS Gel Nimbus

Women's Shoe
1st Brooks Adrenaline GTS
2nd Brooks Ghost
3rd ASICS GT

Trail Shoe
1st Salomon Speedcross
2nd Brooks Cascade
3rd adidas Kanadia

Shoe Brand
1st ASICS
2nd Brooks
3rd adidas

Women's SPorts Bra
1st Shock Absorber - Ultimate Run Bra
2nd Shock Absorber - Active Multi Sports Support
3rd M&S - High Impact Sports Bra

Accessory
1st Event Clip
2nd Dry Robe
3rd Flipbelt

Underwear and Socks
1st Hilly
2nd Underwear
3rd Under Armour

Independent Retailer
1st Run 4 it
2nd Run and Become
3rd Absolute Running

National Retailer
1st Sweatshop
2nd Up & Running
3rd Decathlon

Online Retailer
1st Wiggle
2nd SportsShoes.com
3rd Sweatshop

Customer Service
1st Run 4 it
2nd Sweatshop
3rd Up & Running

Marathon
1st Virgin Money London Marathon
2nd Brighton Marathon
3rd Baxters Loch Ness Marathon

Half Marathon
1st Ealing Half Marathon
2nd JCP Swansea Half Marathon
3rd Cardiff Half Marathon

10K
1st Southport Mad Dog Seaside 10k
2nd Admiral Swansea Bay 10K
3rd Glenlivet 10K

Charity Event
1st Race for Life
2nd Guy’s Urban Challenge
3rd Hope24

Endurance Race
1st Race to the Stones (Dixons Carphone)
2nd Equinox24
3rd Mizuno Endure24

Event Series
1st parkrun
2nd The Major Series
3rd Frostbite Trail Race Series

Fun Run
1st Rock & Roll Liverpool
2nd Dark Run 5K
3rd The Colour Run - London

International Event
1st Uganda Marathon
2nd SSE Airtricity Dublin Marathon
3rd BMW Berlin Marathon

New Event
1st Hope24
2nd Dorset Invader
3rd Scott Snowdonia Trail Marathon

Obstacle Race

1st Wolf Run - Winter Wolf
2nd Munificent 7
3rd Race for Life Pretty Muddy

Thursday, 26 May 2016

MedalDisplays Review: I HATE medals ... *cough*

I pretend I don’t do my races for the bling.

I’m a big fat liar. 

I don’t do anything with my medals when I’ve earned them OF COURSE. I just wear them for one ENTIRE day, showing everyone I meet my shiny bit on a string. I definitely DON’T then take multiple selfies with medal. All I do is hang it on the handle of the cabinet in the living room for a couple of weeks. Nonchalantly. And definitely make no reference whatsoever to it when I have visitors.

I just do that weird shifty eye and head nod thing towards the cabinet. Insistently. 

*Does head nod towards cabinet*



So when Medal Displays asked me if I’d review one of their medal hangers I obviously said no. *cough*. I may have shouted “yes!”. Loudly. As usual I said I’d like to review the product but I would say exactly what I thought. If it was bendy and a bit rubbish, I’d say. But if it was amazing, ran races for me and won medals FOR me, I’d say that to. (p.s. Medal Displays, if you can manage to make a medal hanger that does the ‘running races for me’ thing, can you put one on pre-order for me)

They sent me ‘Dream. Believe. Achieve. 



What’s different about this medal hanger?
  • Solid construction. I bought myself an acrylic one from another supplier from a running show but it didn’t even survive the trip home. Unfortunately what once was an inspiring slogan now now proudly proclaims ‘B_ood Sweat and Tears’. I don’t’ know what ‘bood’ is but I don’t think I’d want it on my run kit. However my ‘Dream. Believe Achieve’ hanger is of solid construction and being made from stainless steel 3mm thick, I don’t think I’m going to be losing letters any time soon.
  • Smart look. It’s made from brushed stainless steel so it looks smart and has a nice smooth look. 
  • Clear instructions. The instructions are on the pack so before you even open it, you know what to do which is a nice touch. They’ve also included the screws to fix the medal hanger to the wall.
  • Customer Service. The company seem very customer centric. The delivery confirmation included such touches as ‘handled with white gloves’ and I received a feedback request from them a couple of days after delivery. It gives the impression that this company really do want you to be pleased with their product. 
  • Well packed and signed for. They want you to get their product in tip top condition. 
  • Changed Your Mind? There’s a 110% refund if you don’t like your medal hanger. 
  • Shipping. Shipped within 24 hours which is great if you’re buying one as a gift. 
  • Price. £24.99 so not too pricey and looks more expensive than it is. 



What didn’t I like?
  • Size. I love the font and the shape of the hanger, but I felt that it was possibly a bit small and felt that maybe the letters could be a bit taller.
  • Drill. Although the instructions were clear and precise you need a drill to put it up on the wall. Maybe this is standard with medal hangers. I didn’t get to hang the last one (from a different supplier) as it didn’t make it home in one piece. I wasn’t sure what ‘B_ood’ was and didn’t want to advertise that was what my medals cost me. 


To be honest, I like to try and keep things even in reviews, but I’m struggling to find things I don’t like. It’s solid, came well packed and the company appear eager to help. I liked this a lot.

If you want one of your own you can order here: www.medaldisplays.co.uk




Monday, 9 May 2016

The Whole 30: WHERE'S THE CHEESE? HUH??

I'm trying to eat sensibly. That means no creme eggs.

I’m eating what I think I should be and adding in some healthy snacks such as fruit, some nuts and I'm trying to avoid too much mixing of ingredients and making things. I'm trying to keep it simple. 

I'm trying SO hard.

But ... I am great at allowing ONE thing in that seems harmless, such as those raw nut bars and then thinking “ …well fruit bars are ALMOST the same … And Mars bars have caramel in and that comes from sugar canes which are plants, right?” … Then it all goes to hell and I’m lying on the sofa surrounded by sweet wrappers and with chocolate smeared around my face. Just no.


This is ACTUAL cheese that's in my fridge right now.

I’m generally feeling good. No bloating. No excessive hunger. And I’m not missing chocolate or cows milk but my stomach has other ideas. It doesn’t mind the lack of pick n mix sweets. (My mouth does though) It’s not even that bothered about the dark chocolate. But it IS grumpy about the lack of cheese. And if I listen carefully I can actually hear my stomach shouting “Cheese!” GIVE ME CHEESE!” And shouldn’t I be listening to my body? Even if lack of cheese is bringing on auditory hallucinations?

I’m sure all the experts say “Listen to your body.” Mine wants cheese.

And didn’t I see a Mars bar around here somewhere?

Friday, 29 April 2016

Is an update still an update if it's late?

I had some exciting news. It turns out that I qualified to represent Great Britain at the European Championships in my age group in Austria in September. Understandably I was over the moon! My first year in triathlon and my first go at a middle distance event and I’d qualified to wear GB kit! I told everyone I could think of and considered getting it tattooed across my forehead (although did I get it tattooed the right way round so everyone could read it or backwards so I could read it in the mirror?) I chatted to some friends on twitter and we decided to book a chalet together and arrange our flights so we were all on the same one. Perfect. I’d panic about the trisuit ordering and how to get a bike into a bike box at a later date.

 

Then some terrible news. My beloved father-in-law - the man who got me into running passed away after running parkrun with myself, my husband and daughter. We were all with him (except my daughter) when he passed away but it was shock and a sadness and none of could believe it was quite real. People we know go into hospital to get better, not to die. Isn’t this how the world works? It can’t keep working, things can’t carry on as normal without Julian. He was a big part of it all. 

 

We carried on in that void between death and funeral. And in between I got an email confirming that I had been accepted to try for a Guinness World Record. And another email confirming I’d qualified to represent GB in Lisbon in a month’s time. It was completely unexpected. I’d submitted the record attempt not convinced they’d come back to me and I didn’t think I’d done well enough in the race to qualify. Completely mixed emotions and guilt for feeling excitement about it.

 

I’d missed a couple of long runs and my training had been a bit sporadic over 2 weeks while we went between hospital and homes but I was worrying about it more than I should. There are always bits missed in a marathon training cycle through injury or a cough or cold or sometimes it just doesn’t fit in life. Also a friend who had been training hard for her marathon pulled out at 8 miles due to injury. It was a sensible decision but still so disappointing as I’d been looking forward to celebrating her achievement. A family bike tour had to be cancelled. A skiing lesson I’d been planning. But worst of all was not knowing what to do for close family and not being able to phone up Julian and say “Guess what’s happened! My Guinness World Record Attempt has been agreed!” or “I’ve qualified for Lisbon!”. It’s the gaps that are left. The news you can’t share and the phone calls you can’t make. 

 

In the meantime, I had another lovely ‘high’ – the purchase (raiding savings) of a new carbon bike and 2 lows – Dad’s cancer has come back and he has an op scheduled and Mum needing to go in for a brain scan. Good news about the cancer is that it appears to be slow growing although we’ll have more news after the op and good news about the scan, a brain has been found and no serious problems were seen although mum can’t drive for 3 months. She suggested cycling to dad’s op but I queried how she was going to get dad there ... in a cart on the back possibly?

 

In the meantime, everything else is carrying on. London Marathon is getting closer – only 4 days away now. I need to pick up my number this week and the week after I have my first triathlon and competitive open water swim of the year. Things move on. So I have to as well.

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

The Swimmer: 4 Outdoor Swims in February Separated by Cake and a Half Marathon

So Liz and I had an adventure. 

A swimming adventure.
A running adventure.
A freezing-cold no-wetsuits-allowed adventure.
An adventure with cake and swans and rivers and lakes and lidos.

Liz and Me!
See that gorgeous looking bakery behind us ... that's where we all met up!
Our adventure was The Swimmer, a 13 mile run from North to South through central London which includes 4 outdoor swims. In February. You go for a (chilly) run, have a (chilly) dip, (chilly) run to the next location, have a (chilly) dip ... and so on until you reach the final (chilly) location. After which you get into the (hot) jacuzzi. 

The event happens on the 2nd Saturday of every month from autumn to spring, October to May and is inspired by the short story The Swimmer by John Cheever, which follows the progress of a man who attempts to swim home via his neighbours’ swimming pools. 

I wasn’t sure what to expect of The Swimmer and I certainly didn’t know what to pack. We were given the option to take a large bag which travels in a van and arrives at the 2nd, 3rd and 4th swims for you but you still had to carry your necessities and everything you’d need for the 1st swim. It seemed to be a fine line between trying to choose between what I would need and what I could carry on my back. I ditched the towel, having already decided to wear a trisuit (wetsuits NOT allowed) and determined I would layer up over my quick drying suit and try and dry out on the run. I also decided not to bother with a spare swimsuit or knickers and instead use the saved space for a REALLY big woolly hat and ski gloves. I saved the BIG bag for snacks and clothes to change into which didn’t involve lycra or waterproofing properties.   

The starting point was Gail’s Cafe near Hampstead Tube station. Liz and I had no idea where this cafe was and decided we’d wing it ... hoping we’d spot some obvious swimmers on the train (goggles around necks, webbed feet or gills) and our optimism paid off when we spotted some colourful running tights and a chap with a hooded top advertising some sort of ice swim. We struck up a conversation and arrived as a group at a brightly lit cafe stuffed with French cakes and ordered a hot coffee each.  

The group of people stuffed into the cafe at 7:30am was an eclectic bunch with characters ranging from experienced cold-water swimmers (including one brave chap who had swum at every event over the winter!) to runners wanting something different to their usual winter run training. And then there was me. Who enjoys swimming in (warm) lakes in the summer, while tucked snugly into a wetsuit and with a cup of coffee and biscuits waiting for me after I climbed out of the balmy waters. I suspected I might be in for a cold awakening.  However everyone was very friendly, welcoming and wanted to chat and share their swim stories. 

We eventually prised ourselves from the lovely warm cafe and wandered shivering out into the cold street for the start. It was very relaxed. After loading our big bags into the convenient van, loading our essential kit bags onto our backs and adjusting the swimsuits under our clothes - and hoping they didn’t chafe or rub – we set off at a gentle run pace through the prettier parts of Hampstead.

We soon came onto the heath proper, undulating trails and tree-shaded paths. It was cold, but gorgeous and early enough to only see the hardcore runners and the occasional dog walker. The run was short and we arrived at the Hampstead natural ponds within about ten minutes. These are 3 ponds of the 30 in the Hampstead Heath area dug in the 17th & 18th centuries as reservoirs and fed by the headwater springs of the River Fleet.

Yes .. it was still VERY early ...
Two of the three ponds are for single-sex bathing and we were to swim at the Men’s Ponds. To get to these you enter via the old fashioned open-air changing rooms. It felt very Victorian which added to the charm and the ladies were told to avert their eyes while moving through the men’s changing section. 

Not knowing what to expect of the swim, what to bring, I’d decided to wear a trisuit (basically a swimsuit with legs used for triathlon) and layer up over the top of it for the runs. So neoprene cap, trisuit and goggles ... and my waterproof camera on a strap on my head. Coming out of the wooden changing rooms, the pools lay in front of us, quiet and serene.  To get into the pools, you walked along a long wooden-planked boardwalk and descended into the quiet water via steps.

I was expecting a burning, freezing cold but this wasn’t what it was like. It was chill and greenly opaque but not painfully cold but I wasn’t sure how long it would take me to warm up to run. Could I run after a cold swim? I’d certainly find out. 

After my swim and wearing ALL the clothes.
I didn’t stay in for long. I’d had my dip and aware that it was early February and I had limited experience of cold water swimming, I clambered out using the steps and made my way up to the charming wooden changing rooms to layer up my clothes.  

It was a relaxed 1 mile run to the next swim at the Parliament Hill Lido. Having chatted to the others, they’d told me that this swim was the toughest as you hadn’t been running for long enough to warm up on the run from the swim at the pools. The lido was built low to the ground and as you ran towards it through the park, Parliament Hill was visible on the right, usually seen by a club runner with hundreds of cross country runners descending it with spikes churning the ground and breath huffing out into the chill air. The lido lay grey and regal in its 1930s style waiting for us all top come in and enter the cool blue water. It was built in 1938 and is open all year round. You can quite easily imagine bright 1930s and 40s posters of brightly capped swimmers splashing through the blue waters. It feels old-fashioned and lovely, the age of proper swimmers with floral caps and vintage swimsuits. The lido is Grade 2 listed and when it was built in 1938 it cost £34,000 – a great cost at that time for a lido. 


Guess where ...

I stepped from under the stone entryway and entered the lido via the swimming-pool-style steps. The coolness of the water took my breath away in a way the pond hadn’t. Maybe it looking similar to an indoor swimming pool had made me expect the warmth of a pool, but the clear blue waters were deceptively chill. I swam down to the 2nd set of steps in a slow crawl putting my face in the water. Swimming in an outdoor pool as an adult was new to me. It was strange swimming in cold waters as clear as these and the thick paint on the stone sides took me back to my childhood and swimming in the outdoor pool in Street with my sister while my Auntie and Uncle watched from the picnic blanket on the grass at the poolside. I remember those summer days at Street as always hot and the ice cream as the most delicious and the jerk of nostalgia was strong.

I made a beginners’ error after my swim and taking advantage of available showers, stepped briefly under the strong hot water before remembering that this was exactly what you shouldn’t do after an outdoor swim as apparently it brings the blood to your skin and can make you lightheaded. Not what you need when you still have 11 miles to run and 2 outdoors swims to go. I hastily turned the shower to cold and stood under it for a few minutes, bringing the coolness back to my chill skin. 

The dash for the bananas ...

I layered my clothes on top of my drying trisuit, buff on neck, gloves on hands and hat on head and went to join the other swimrunners at the front of the lido for a banana and a drink.

It was 5 miles to the next swim in the Serpentine and the group of runners spread out as people took advantage of the longer distance to chat and relax into their easy paces. We had a brief stop at Primrose Hill for photographs and I popped my video camera on to try to film some of the route as I ran. It was a lovely run, past London Zoo, past bemused early morning walkers and across some busy roads but people clapped as we passed, cars let us cross – except for the taxis of course – and small children stared as we zipped past them on our soft-soled running shoes.

Primrose Hill (Beautiful but VERY cold!)

We chatted as we ran. One lady was training for Brighton marathon and was on for her 4 hour goal ... having missed it by mere seconds last time, another swimrunner was an obstacle course racer – but wanted a change from the mud and furious paced runs today, others were speedy marathoners and dedicated ultrarunners. It was a real mix but the common thing was that everyone was friendly and welcoming. It really did seem true that the message on the website “If you’re nice, you’ll fit in” was true. 

We ran through Hyde Park, full of horse tracks and feeling not at all as if it were in Central London and crossed the river to arrive at The Serpentine, a 40 acre recreational lake which takes its name from the curving snakelike shape – despite having only one bend.  We were swimming at Lansbury’s Lido which was opened in 1930 and this morning was being patrolled only by swans, no swimmers.

The changing rooms weren’t open yet so the women braved the grassy banks decorated with winter twigs and green swan poo to get changed, while the men stood on the cold pavement to disrobe. Head down, removing layers and relieved again to be wearing my trisuit and not have to show my white winter skin to the cold rain, biting wind or occasional dog walker, I put on my neoprene swim hat, adjusted my goggles and went to brave The Serpentine. The water was cold and green and there were beady-eyed swans between me and where I wanted to get out. The water was cold but in February I should have expected this. The water had originally come from the River Westbourne and Tyburn Brook and then pumped from the Thames, but it now comes from three boreholes within Hyde Park rather than the Arctic Ocean … which is what it felt like. After avoiding an iceberg or two, I tried to get out but this wasn’t as easy as it looked. Avoiding the swans, I tried to climb the sides but they appeared to be coated in glass and grease and I slid backwards. My fellow swimmers were having the same problems. The swans were laughing. 

Finally extricating myself from the water, I layered up, caked up and got started on the final 6 miles to the Rockwell Lido. The swims were only part of the attraction of our swim-run adventure, the chat and the camaraderie between the runners, passing London Zoo, navigating the busy-ness of Knightsbridge and Clapham Common and the sharing of  stories were what made our mid-February pan-London journey.  

Powered by chatter and cake, we arrived at Brockwell Park and the Grade II listed lido came into sight. The Brockwell Lido looks very similar to Parliament Hill Lido and both had the same designers; Harry Rowbotham and TL Smithson. Brockwell Lido was built in 1937 to replace the bathing pond but closed in 1990 re-opening again in 1994 after a local campaign and is now open every day, all year round. 

I was looking forward to my final swim, sad that my mini-adventure was over but I’d heard rumours on the run. Interesting rumours about massive breakfasts and a hot tub. These sort of rumours are especially interesting to someone who had an early start, 4 cold - but enjoyable - swims and a 13 mile trot through London.

I stepped into the Brockwell Lido, carefully using the shiny silver steps and adjusting my swimming cap, feeling as though I was a 1930s lady in one of the posters stepping into the inviting blue waters of a lovely pool. It was quite a shock that the water wasn’t half as warm as it looked, but the naughty joy of swimming outdoors in February under a winter sky quite made up for that. 

And the rumours about the lido having a hot tub were quite true.


Fancy a go at the Swimmer? Open from Autumn to Spring, it’s £20 entry including, guided 13 mile run, 4 swims, cake and bananas. More info here: http://www.theswimmer.org 



Information from here: 
  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Highgate_Ponds 
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parliament_Hill_Lido 
  3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brockwell_Park_Lido
  4. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Serpentine
  5. http://www.theswimmer.org/faq.html 
  6. http://www.theswimmer.org