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Thursday 29 May 2014

Learning Circus Skills: Do not Wee on a Trapeze

Hen parties nowadays are definitely getting more interesting. No longer content with just a couple of hours in the pub with the hen in a silly outfit clutching a plastic willy, girls are realising that a hen do is an excuse to do something different, have a bit of fun and THEN end up in the pub with the hen brandishing her plastic willy.

With this in mind (and a stock of plastic willies) I received an invitation from my runner friend Angela’s maid-of-honour to attend her hen party. Our activity for the day? Circus Skills.

What I thought it was
Plate spinning. Maybe a go on a unicycle. Face painting? Clown walking? I wasn’t too sure about the other things but I reckoned I could definitely do the clown walking. Maybe there would also be custard pies to throw (read: eat).

The National Centre for Circus Arts (source)

Tucked away in Shoreditch, the National Centre for Circus Arts is housed in a red brick building which was built as an electricity generating station in 1896 but which had fallen into dereliction until it was restored in 1994. There was no sign of the previous disrepair and inside it was all glass walls, smart furniture and suspiciously lithe and graceful people. Through the window into the circus room, I could see a line of children climbing a ladder to a trapeze. Not a sign of a squeaky nose or oversized trousers to be seen. Gulp. Surely they wouldn’t expect me to do any of the hard stuff ... I had visions of trying to tame lions with a whip or get 50 clowns back into a very small car.

When everyone had arrived, there were 24 of us including the 8 hens and we were all herded into a sunny, airy room the size of a ballroom although hung with more ropes and hooks than a dungeon. I was reassured by a lack of gimp suits and handcuffs but slighted overwhelmed by the trapeze which looked VERY high.

My fears weren’t assuaged by a safety talk which included tales of earrings getting ripped out and shoulders dislocated. Cowed by the fear of being maimed for life, all jewellery was removed and previous injuries owned up to. Despite making us fear for our lives and bodies, the lady seemed very nice and capable - and normal! Although I was slightly disappointed that she hadn’t cartwheeled into the room.

We were told that before we did anything interesting, we would be warming up and were sent running around the room doing high knees, skipping and being made to run in circles. Well this might be the first and last thing of the day I can do. If there’s one thing I know I’m capable of, it’s running in circles. And skipping. The lads seemed to be getting into the circus act spirit though with the first examples of funny clown walks. Oh. Nope. False alarm – they were just trying to skip.

My coordination showed itself in my complete lack of and soon I was merrily throwing (one) ball from hand to hand. I’d like to say the others were supportive of my attempts but the empty space around me widened and widened until I was starring in my very own one-person one-ball act.

Nicola nailing juggling

When we’d mastered ball tossing, we were given the challenge of putting a ball on top of our head and walking around. I soon spotted the cheat in this, which was to squish the ball into a pancake shape onto the top of my head. Ta-da – I’m a whiz at this! I’m practically a juggling legend! However, one of the other hens, Fiona spotted my trick and gave me a quick nudge as I passed making me drop my head-ball and shattering my Amazing Head Ball Legend dreams.

After a quick attempt at throw-the-ball-high-in-the-air-spin-and-catch-it at which I was a COMPLETE failure at best and a dangerous spinning ball throwing machine at worst, we paired up and threw 2 balls between 2 people ... but only using our outside arms. Like a 3 legged race, but with arms. And balls. My partner and I soon managed to get the hang of throwing 2 balls ... then 3. It was a bit of a tricky one but Sarah H and I soon managed to get the knack of this and we graduated to juggling 3 balls using our OWN hands. And strangely, juggling 3 balls is easier than juggling 2.

Angela, the Hen was a whiz at the juggling and I suspected she’d had some crafty one-to-one lessons while the rest of us weren’t watching. We suggested she try with some flaming torches or a chainsaw or two, but she decided she didn’t want to break a nail only four weeks before her wedding, so she sensibly stuck to juggling balls.

Angela the Hen enthusiastically tossing balls around
Our next task was balancing peacock feathers on our fingers. This was actually quite challenging and a lot easier to do than the balancing-the-garden-rake trick Angela admitted to having tried in her garden. Also much less chance of broken windows, stabbed hens and gore. We progressed to balancing the feathers on our nose, chin and knees. Apparently the shorter the object the harder it is to balance. A tall peacock feather was easy, a spoon would be more difficult. And you were more at risk of getting a comical boink noise off your forehead with a spoon.

Things I learned:
  • Am not going to be a juggling legend, wowing crowds and small children with my amazing tricks.
  • Squishing balls works in most situations.
  • Juggling with 3 balls is easier than juggling with 2.
  • Peacocks are obviously better at balancing than I’d previously realised.
  • I have the hand eye coordination of a week old baby.

Tightrope Walking
The next skill to be learned was tightrope walking. This sounded exciting but following on from my juggling coordination, I didn’t have high hopes. Or even high-wire hopes. Although was reassured that my baby-giraffe style balancing skills didn’t put any pressure on me for mastering this skill in the hour we had.

A box of ballet shoes was produced and a quick un-ballet dancer-like scuffle for matching pairs ensued. We stood looking at the instructor expectantly but no tutus OR tiaras were handed out. Sulk.

Our first instruction was a good one. Apparently there was a trick to tightrope walking – don’t look at your feet, instead look at your destination, your feet will follow. We then were tasked with walking along the lines on the floor. Reassuringly I didn’t fall off the floor.

After our rousing success with managing to walk without falling over, knee height wires with pedestals at each end were produced. And the instruction was repeated - look at the pedestal not your feet.

Anneka gracefully demonstrating the need for broom handles in tightrope walking

Then some broom handles were brought out and handed to us. Huh? Is this like some Gladiator-style ‘Poke the hen off the wire with a broom’ game? Nope. One person walks on the tightrope with a person on either side of the wire holding up the broom handles for the tightrope walker to use for balance should they be required. Read: Cling on to.

After a couple of tries, the braver of our group graduated to one broom handle and then managed a few steps on the wire broom-less before being boinged off (yes that’s a word). We were also told to keep our hands and arms above shoulder height and held up as though we were casually surrendering. Like a cool cowboy.

Lara balancing on one leg on a tightrope!

Most of us managed a few steps, wobbling from side to side like wobbly things, but one of the hens must have been a tightrope walker in a previous life (or had a really exciting secret life) and was running up and down the wire – perfectly balanced, like a mouse. I watched with envy and determined to get onto eBay and buy myself a tightrope. And a couple of trees to string it between.


Things I Learned:
  • Even I can’t fall off the floor.
  • Keep your core tight and head up and look at your destination – not your feet.
  • Make sure you’re first to the ballet shoe box
  • Going faster doesn’t make it easier
  • Broom handles help with tightrope walking; as long as they’re being used for balance aids rather than to poke people off the wire with.

This looked terrifying. Or it did from floor level. And everyone knows things look higher when you’re looking down. It was going to be like staring down from the Eiffel Tower up there.

We were all strapped into belts similar to those you wear for climbing and we all waited while one victim was chosen. I mean of course a willing volunteer. Cough. We stood and watched as one person made a climb up what appeared to be a hugely tall ladder to a platform which I was prepared to swear under oath was at LEAST as high as 3 storey building. With a couple of double-decker buses stacked on top. And a giraffe on.

To use the trapeze, you inched your way out onto a platform held up by ropes, with one of your friends (hopefully a nice sensible trustworthy one) on the right as support and a professional who knew what they were doing on your left. You were clipped into the safety ropes by your safety belt and it was time. Time to grab the trapeze bar and swing out into empty space. Without screaming or wetting yourself in fear.

Pointy toes!

You’d think the hardest part would be the swinging out on the trapeze. You’re right. We were told to pretend to try and sit on the edge of the platform – you wouldn’t reach but the motion would send you on your way, weeing and squealing while holding onto the trapeze for dear life.

We were given instructions that had sounded so simple on the ground: Go into a ‘dish position’ at the furthest point of the swing and point your toes over the top of the far platform. Then while swinging back, bring your legs back, then move into a pike position at the drop end so you didn’t bump your back on the original platform.

Having a good swing.

Apparently and judging by the number of bumped bottoms and backs it WASN’T as simple as it sounded, but on the plus side I was getting a chance to watch and see how not to do it. Fear is a wonderful teacher. Unfortunately it is also a self preservation tool. We thought we may have had to prise one of the girls from the trapeze using a crowbar as she refused to let go and drop the 10ft onto the safety mat at the end of her turn. She wanted to get down by her stubborn fingers were sure she would die if they let go. Brain Vs Fingers. Luckily fatigue won and she hit the mat.

Then it was my turn.

Up on the platform, it wasn’t scary – it was exciting! And the exhilaration as you dropped from the platform and swung out into space was breathtaking. I managed my dish and the pike and kept my core as tight as possible ... and all too soon it was over.

I LOVED this. Far from being scared, it was by far my favourite part of the Circus Skills. I liked the discipline and the adrenaline when you dropped from the platform. For a brief moment I could pretend I was one of those graceful beautiful trapeze artists dressed in sequins and making the crowd gasp in awe.

Pointing toes!

I had 2 or 3 turns at the trapeze and my quads felt as sore as if I’d been running mountains by the end. Apparently should have been stretching from my feet rather than with my legs. But it was so worth it. Trapeze and a bit of pain? Yes please!

Things I learned:
  • Trapeze is terrifying, thrilling and amazing and a LOT harder than it looks.
  • It is a lot less like swinging on a swing than I’d expected.
  • Despite prior worrying, none of the hens actually did the weeing-while-trapezing. On a swinging trapeze this would be like a urine sprinkler system and this would definitely have made Angela revoke your invitation to her wedding.
  • I will ache for a WEEK after this.

Now unlike the other disciplines, this looked easy. It wasn’t. Mainly for 2 reasons: 1. I had to rely on my body strength. 2.Other people had to rely on my body strength. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m proud of my runner’s legs. I feed them good quality protein and they tend to behave and take me places (like finishing lines) reasonably quickly. However, I neglect the rest of my body including (slapped wrist) my core and upper body. As a result I’m a bit wibbly when asked to do anything other than run and I have spaghetti-like, T-rex style runner’s arms. This didn’t bode well for acrobatics.

The first thing we had to do was to balance each other while holding wrists and stand up and sit down using our backs and leaning in to each other. Easy right? Not for Mrs Wibbly. After dropping the poor hen on her bottom, I was relieved when we all had a group exercise and all 8 of us had to try and sit down and stand up using only our backs and legs and balancing against each. Great! I can rely on everyone else to be good at this and I’ll just coast. Guess who was the weak link that caused the whole thing to collapse? Yep. No hope.

Yep … weak link ...

I was hoping that my absolute lack of strength, coordination and my skill at dropping people on their bottoms would mean I could sit the rest of the group exercises out but no ... We were soon balancing each other on our knees, standing on each other and trying not to drop people from a variety of high positions.

Fiona and Angela demonstrating their acrobatics

A mixture of fear, being-dropped anxiety and the exertion made for sweaty hands and an extra bit of a gamble when you’re trusting your life and unbroken bones to a friend whose concern at dropping you is reflecting in the clamminess of her hands and therefore making it a bit more likely. There were a few tumbles and quite a bit of screaming, so the chalk was brought out for us to dab on our hands. This was it. We felt like proper acrobats now with our white palms. The fact we looked more like clowns than acrobats did nothing to quell our pride and we finished the session with a finale which involved the hen standing on several friends in triumph. A bit like Boadicea standing on vanquished enemies but with less blood. Although about the same amount of screaming.

Yes that is FEAR on my face.

Things I learned:
  • Acrobatics is brilliant if you like standing on your friends, chalk and falling off of people.
  • Only be my acrobatic partner if you like being dropped on your bottom, collapsing in a heap or being collapsed upon.
  • Don’t do acrobatics when there is a story in the paper that very morning of a troupe of acrobats who had all fallen down in a heap breaking bones.

A brilliant afternoon doing things I wouldn’t normally have the opportunity to do! The staff were all very professional, friendly and enthusiastic. Although all of the activities could be potentially quite dangerous (have you SEEN my juggling?) I had no concern over safety issues and felt that the activities were well supervised and fun! Only downside was that there wasn’t a cafe so it’s worth bringing a snack and a drink for the short break halfway through. I’d thoroughly recommend this for birthdays or hen parties or for anyone who wants to have a go at something a bit different! Several people had turned up on their own so you don’t necessarily have to get a group together if you want to have a go. There’s tightrope walking, trapeze, juggling and dropping your friends – acrobatics, I mean acrobatics! What’s not to like?

It cost us £69 per person or you can get discounts for groups of 6 or more. For more information click here

Wednesday 28 May 2014

Myprotein Review: Impact Whey Protein Powder & Ener:gel Product Review

Imagine you’re eating rhubarb and custard whipped pudding. Now imagine it without the guilty feelings. And the realisation that it’s actually doing you good.


My thoughts exactly.

Myprotein had contacted me and asked if I wanted to try some of their products. I’m always happy to try new running-related things, but as usual I said I would only write what I actually thought. I’m not going to say something is nice if I don’t like a product. I’d asked for their guidance on what to try as I’m a bit of a novice on the nutrition side of running. They said they’d send some running related things and that was that!

A week later a SACK - yes I’m NOT exaggerating – arrived of the ‘Rhubarb & Custard’ flavoured Impact Whey Protein powder, 6 orange favoured ener:gels and a drinks shaker arrived at my door in a big box. I love parcels ... but parcels containing running products are the very BEST sort of parcels.

I decided to give the powder a go first. This was the 'Impact Whey Protein'.
The instructions told me to add 150-250ml of water or milk into the shaker (the less liquid the thicker the shake will be) add a scoop of powder, give it a good shake and it’s done! I used milk for my shake rather than the water alternative.

I wasn’t too sure about the thought of Rhubarb & Custard favoured milkshake ... but it was delicious! And even better, it tasted like a TREAT rather than a ‘to be endured’ recovery drink which was something I’d found with protein drinks previously. The rhubarb flavour gave it a zing which was great and it wasn’t overly sweet. It does have quite a sour ‘rhubarby’ aftertaste and I liked this but if you’re not overly keen on sweet and sour things, it might not be for you.

There were no powdery lumps or thick bumps when it was mixed into a milkshake. The shaker helped and had a wire ball in the bottom that ensured an even mix but even when stirred in with a fork it wasn’t lumpy. This was important as I’d like to say that I’d take time to mix my milkshake with a whisk or the proper shaker every time ... but I really wouldn’t. I’m lazy. If I get in from a run and need to get some recovery food or drink then I will take the easy option.

One of my concerns was that I’d get bored of having milkshakes after every long run. I know that I need something for proper recovery after a hard run but I’d previously struggled to drink milkshakes afterwards. I find them quite rich and I wondered whether the novelty might wear off. My running coach at the time had recommended a particular brand (not Myprotein) so I had battled on with them but I hadn’t been too keen.

I was chatting to a friend about this and she innocently led me onto the start of a new addiction... protein powder mixed with yoghurt. It is like the Angel Delight whipped puddings I’d LOVED as a child ... but without the guilt! After my long runs, I get pudding ... and it’s good for me. There’s no downside.

However, even better things were on the horizon ... and when someone mentioned protein cakes, my ears pricked up. Cakes? However, protein in a cake didn’t sound like my idea of a taste sensation - it conjured up a vision of something bizarre like bacon cake. I’d heard of meatloaf and beefcake but wasn’t sure that these were what they had in mind!

I decided to experiment and used the protein powder as my secret ingredient!

Rhubarb & Custard Flavoured Cupcakes
  • 50g butter (room temperature)
  • 50g sugar
  • 50g self-raising gluten-free) flour
  • 1 egg
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • My not-so-secret ingredient: 1 scoop of rhubarb & custard protein powder.

These worked out really well and the rhubarb and custard flavour tasted amazing in the cupcakes. While I appreciate that this isn’t the best use of the protein powder, it was great to have a treat food that I could eat after workouts without feeling like I’d undone ALL of my hard work ...!

I’m thinking of adding it to porridge, pancakes and smoothies for a post-workout breakfast. I struggle with early morning exercise and knowing I’ve got a recovery food masquerading as a treat is going to cheer me up when I’m running through the rain of an English morning. I’m also thinking that the milkshake frozen into lollipops sounds like a perfect post-long run treat in the summer!

I was really impressed with the protein powder. To be honest, I wondered whether having a flavour like rhubarb & custard might be of limited use and whether I’d get bored of limitless milkshakes, but it’s been much more versatile than I’d expected and having it as a whippy pudding after a hard workout has become a treat. On the more serious side, it has been good knowing that I’m getting the proper nutrition for recovery after a run. I will be buying this in the future.


There are several reasons to use protein after a workout:
  • It provides the amino acids that are necessary to rebuild muscle tissue damaged during exercise.
  • It can improve muscle hydration by increasing the absorption of water from the intestines.
  • The amino acids in protein can also fire up your immune system, which would mean you would be more resistant to colds and other infections.


Myprotein say that the powder is suitable for everyone from athletes to recreational gym goers and can be used for a variety of different goals from recovery and muscle gain to fat loss. They suggest you use it post-training or throughout the day whenever you need a protein boost.

Benefits given by Myprotein:
  • Our most popular protein
  • Over 80% protein per serving
  • Excellent amino acid profile
  • Highest Biological Value of any protein
  • Ideal for building and repairing tissue
  • Great tasting and easy to mix
  • 19 flavours including Cookies & Cream, Rhubarb & Custard, Banoffee, Chocolate Orange, Chocolate peanut Butter in addition to the more traditional Chocolate, Strawberry, Summer Fruits and Vanilla flavoured options.

Available to order here


The gels were very similar in taste and texture to the citrus High5 gels I have used in long races. I trialled the Myprotein Ener:gels during the Yeovil Half Marathon in March to see how they held up against my usual choice of gels. Despite the unseasonably warm temperatures, I noticed no peaks or troughs in my performance and I had no stomach issues. They were tasty and easy to take and didn’t require water to wash them down. 

The packets were easy to open although appeared very slightly bulkier than my usual gels. The instructions were to take 2 – 3 sachets per hour during exercise which is pretty much what I did. I tend to take gels every 5km in a faster paced running race.

About mile 10 of Yeovil half marathon using Ener:gel

Myprotein describe ENER:GEL as a unique isotonic energy gel containing both Electrolytes and B Vitamins and containing over 21g of isotonic carbohydrates. They say the formula has been scientifically designed to help promote endurance levels during prolonged exercise through a combination of carbohydrates and electrolytes. The gels have been designed to be consumed either before or during endurance activities to help fuel exercise and improve overall performance.

The gels contain:
  • Carbohydrate blend for sustained energy
  • B Vitamins support energy production
  • Electrolytes to encourage hydration


This is how they describe themselves:

We're not one of those big, faceless sports supplements manufacturers trying to rip you off with over-hyped, over-priced rubbish.

As users/athletes ourselves we want products that work, which aren't full of rubbish and don't cost a fortune. Therefore we insist on using only 100% of the finest ingredients in all our bulk supplies and sports nutrition products, with independently conducted tests and verified Certificates of Analysis available for you to see on the majority of our products; we are totally committed to bringing you the very best supplements available from around the world today.

Want more information? The website is here.

As I’ve said at the start of the review, I haven’t accepted any money to try these products and this review is my unbiased opinion on the products sent to me.

Thursday 22 May 2014

The Runner-Truffle-Shuffle

I came in from a 4 mile run. I’d sprinted the last bit because a car kept stopping behind me and creeping along. He probably had engine problems. But I was scared he had unfulfilled-murderer problems and he’d chosen Girl-Runner-In-Neon-Socks to be his victim. So I sped up.

I got into the house and peeled off my icky run clothes. Wait. What was that noise? Slip Slap.

Yep. The combination of sweat and skin on my tummy had given me what I like to call ‘The Runner-Truffle-Shufffle’. Or possibly ‘The Ruffle’ for short.

Quite possibly the most awesome noise ever. Slip slap. Slip slap.

However it grossed the husband out and I got ordered into the shower. But now I have a new game for after I run. Slip slap.

Thursday 15 May 2014

Why I can't Wear Vibrams: This Little Piggy Went to the Sweetie Shop

I ordered myself a pair of VibramFiveFingers running shoes.  I’d always wanted to try them and had visions of being like Barefoot Ted – but with boobs. I’d be running everywhere in a flowing forefoot style in my awesome toe-shoes, my graceful running style the envy of all. And winning all the races too, of course.

I waited a whole suspense-filled week for the courier and when the box arrived, I tore off the wrappings and there they were. MY Vibrams. 

Not my Vibrams … sob.

This was going to be AWESOME.

It wasn't.

After 15 pain-filled minutes I got the first shoe on. There was NO way the second one was going on.

I cried inwardly as I came to the realisation I would never be a barefoot running legend ... due to an incurable problem.

Fat Toes.

Despite my feet looking normal (well normal for a runner) it appeared that my little piggies had not only had roast beef and been to the market, but had visited the deli, the chip shop AND McDonalds before wee-wee-weeing all the way home.

My forefoot-racing dreams shattered and the Vibrams sent back, I sulked for a day before consoling myself with the thought that if I had to have randomly fat anything, fat toes probably isn’t the worst thing to have. I could have been cursed with strangely bulgy earlobes or obese elbows. (Although those sound like fun - imagine earring shopping) At least my porky piggies can stay hidden until beach weather and even then, unleashed on the sand and the unsuspecting public they would be overshadowed by my toenails of many colours. Underneath my nail polish of many colours.

“This little piggy went to the sweetie shop ...”

Friday 9 May 2014

27 Running Rules: No Mucus on Fellow Runners & Winking Using your Arse

Running is easy, right? Right leg, left leg ... and repeat! NO! STOP THAT RIGHT NOW!! There are a set of rules – unwritten until now – that require careful adherence. Should you flout these rules, you will get leg-humped by a Rottweiler on your next run while being get chafed under the armpits by your new cotton t-shirt and having to fling your boobs over your shoulder. Read on ....

The Running Rules:

1. No Mucus on Fellow Runners!
Absolutely no snot rockets without checking that your mucus isn’t going to land on someone first. I can’t do these. And I am deeply envious of all those who can. But I still don’t want your bogies in my face. Check there isn’t someone running behind you before you expectorate. Otherwise bad things happen. Usually to the person behind you.

2 Poo Rule.
This is pretty self explanatory ... I hope. There isn’t much worse than getting to a crucial part of a race and needing to ‘go’. Unless it is actually ‘going’. Sort this out before the race starts. And just to be safe. Go twice.

3. Thou Shalt Not Break Thy Fellow Runner’s nose.
Absolutely no elbowing in races. I don’t care if you think you should be in front. Go around. This isn’t a triathlon!

4. Bottom Burps.
Farting is fine. Just ignore it. Or have an ‘inside giggle’ in your head. Yes, I still have the maturity of a 6 year old, yes I think farting is still pretty funny. But we all do it. And even more so when we run. Just think of it as being gas powered. Your very own Methane Motor. It’s almost like sponsorship by British Gas.

5. Don’t be a sad clown.
Don’t run with a full face of makeup. It’ll melt in the heat, run in your sweat and you’ll look the melty one off Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark. It’s not a good look and the race photographers will capture it and it will be on the internet FOREVER.


6. Strap the Girls Down.
Use a decent sports bra. You won’t regret investing in a decent bra. Or don’t. When you can swing your girls over your shoulder you’ll wish you had.

7. Budgeting for Blisters.
Don’t use cheap socks - life is too short for avoidable blisters. You forget how much they hurt until you get one at mile 3 and still have to finish the race. It’s the small miseries that can ruin an otherwise good day. And it really hurts to peel your sock off of a dried blister.

8. Toenails are for Wimps.
You WILL lose a toenail. I thought I was the exception to this rule. Now they’re falling like bodypart confetti. Keep the superglue handy. Or paint your skin where toenails should be. It fools no-one but it makes you feel better about your leprous feet.

9. Always Carry Loo Roll
It’s like some bizarre running initiation rite. At some point, you’ll realise that you crossed the line and that weeing in hedges while out for a run is now seen as normal. Just don’t stretch it to your neighbours rose bushes. They get funny about this. And call Neighbourhood Watch meetings and everything. Spoilsports.

10. Canine Crazy Beasts.
Dogs are mental crazy beasts. They may be usually well-trained and well-behaved animals – you may even own one yourself and love Spot with all your heart. But they see a runner and turn crazy. It’s like they forget you are 3 times their size and wearing running shoes. Maybe it’s the combination of neon and Deep Heat, but they can’t resist chasing a runner. Avoid them if you can ... and their owners who will be calling “Oh he’s just playing!” as their uncontrolled canine mauls you to death and trots off with your severed arm.

My elbow after tripping over a Canine Crazy Beast.  It was karma … story here 
11. Bin bags are the Biz
Get comfortable with looking like a bag lady. Everyone wears bin bags at the start of races. Its de rigueur you know. And when else can you walk around dressed like the inside of a wheelie bin? Embrace Trash Chic.

12. Neon not Ninja.
Runners need to be seen especially when running on the road. There are enough drivers who are completely oblivious to other road users – and this isn’t even counting the ones doing their makeup, checking Twitter or having a good scratch. For the purposes of being seen, neon is good. Runners dressed in black and camouflage like some bizarre running ninja don’t last long. It’s Darwinism but with cars and trainers.

13. Counselling with other Runners.
Don’t scare the normal people! You’ll discover that your significant other doesn’t want to hear about your sweat rash, PBs or rusty safety pins. Luckily, it’s perfectly fine to discuss negative splits, poo and manky toenails with other runners. We GET this.

14. Walking During Races is OK.
Don’t feel bad if you have to walk in a race. We’ve ALL been there. Just walk to one side. The rest of us are on for a PB you know.

15. Selfie Sin.
Do NOT stop in front of me in a race to take a selfie. I WILL cut you. Well... maybe make a cutting remark. If I can think of one by the end of the race. Just don’t, ok?

16. Perfecting the Zombie Runner Look
Race photographers are not your friends. They do NOT exist to capture your moment of glory crossing the race finishing line. They take photos for their own amusement and revel in every photo of a runner with an expression of pain, with poo running down his leg, crying at the humiliation. Get used to it. Your pictures will look crap. Except for 1 photo in every 150. Make sure you BUY this one as you’ll have to wait approximately another 25 races for another decent one. If by some fluke all your race pics look good ... you weren’t running hard enough. Or you’re this guy.

Ridiculously photogenic guy (photo by Will King. Source

17. Trainer Timing.
There is about a 50 mile slot when your new trainers will be worn in and comfortable enough for the marathon and after which they will butcher and eat your feet. You have to try and time it so your race falls in this period of time. Good luck with that. You can always superglue your toenails back on.

18. Blistering, Suppurating Pus.
Blisters are a fact of running-life. You will never be free from blisters. You will get the combinations of sock and trainer exactly right but every now and then one will pop up. Learn to deal with them and when to get help. Clear pus isn’t much to worry about but if it’s cloudy get yourself to the local chemist or doctor and be prepared to share your manky runner’s feet.

19. Trim those Toenails.
Unless you like the ends of your trainers covered in blood and your toes looking as though they’ve survived a slasher movie, then cut your toenails before a race. 2 days seems to be the magic time as if you cut them too short, there’s time for them to heal. Also paint your toenails violet. It stops you worrying about black toenails as you won’t be able to see what colour they’ve turned and when they fall off, it will be like a mini flaky parma-violet present.

20. Hairy Horror.
Long flowing hair looks cool in running magazine pictures. It doesn’t work in real life much as they’d like you to believe it. Think plastered-to-forehead, sweaty, hot and rat tails. Not good. Tie it up.

21. Technology is Your Friend ... until race day.
How reliable your Garmin has been up until race day will be a direct correlation to how unreliable it will be ON race day. Well-behaved GPS device? Be wary. It’s been luring you into a false sense of security. And if it has the opportunity, it will go wrong on race day. Learn what combinations of buttons make it ‘reset’. Preferably BEFORE the race day.

22. Bottoms up.
You will get holes in the back of your running shorts. Check for these BEFORE running. You don’t want to be winking at the person running behind you. Using your arse.

23. Run Junkie.
Marathons are addictive and you’re unlikely to stop at one. No idea why. They’re often painful, horrendous and miserable. See race pictures for proof. However, your first 26.2 will set off some sort of chain reaction which involves long periods of having no toenails and no social life.

24. NOT being able to eat all the food.
The cruellest running rule is that you will probably put on weight during marathon training. It’s unfair and just one more Sods Law to chalk up next to ‘manky feet’, ‘teetotalism’ and ‘addiction to energy gels’. Yes - you SHOULD be able to eat all the food. No – you can’t stop it. Put the crème eggs down.

25. Injured Soldier.
Injuries will happen. Whether you go down the dramatic route and fall down a mineshaft while out for a 35 mile training run or simply get a tight ITB from the weight of all your race medals, this WILL happen. Get yourself to a physio ASAP. Don’t run on it no matter how tempting. This almost NEVER works.

26. But it’s only ...
Your first short race after a marathon will probably be a PB. No-one knows why but it is probably something to do with your legs screaming “It’s only 6 miles! We don’t have to run another 20.2 after this!!! Wooo hooooooooo!!!”

And last but not least

27. Play the odds.
You don’t have to abide by all of these rules ... guidelines ... but it is worth keeping one or two in mind – especially before a race. A lot of running is about your training, your talent and your mindset, but you have to play the odds too ... For instance don’t go to an all-you-can –eat chilli night before a race, always carry loo roll when you run and don’t forget to wave at other runners. They might be the ones to pull you out of the ditch when you trip over your own shoelaces.

We run for all sorts of reasons; fitness, medals, PBs, run streak or simply for enjoyment. One reason is not better than any other and you might not agree with the other runner’s mindset but it’s their running and their reasons. A mile is a mile. 15 minute/miles or 5 minute/miles. And besides ... we all like a bit of bling or a hideous race photo for the mantelpiece.

What have I missed out? Any other rules (cough, guidelines!) that should be in this list?

This post is dedicated to Rach and Bear. Rach – who specifically asked what the Run Rules were for her first race and Bear who insists he’s not a runner. Although we all know he is.

Thursday 8 May 2014

Shoe Review: Salomon XA PRO 3D W - Run Mountains … but not in these shoes

I was obviously a very good girl in a previous life as Salomon sent me a pair of some of their lovely shoes to try out and see what I thought of them.

The shoes: Salomon XA PRO 3D W

Price: £100

The Hype from Salomon:
An all mountain running shoe designed for control, durability and protection.

“The iconic, proven adventure shoe has evolved for 2014. From the first step to 1,000 KM + you’ll notice an incredible fit, improved durability, and a grip that inspires confidence.”

The outer layer of the XA PRO 3D W is a quick drying breathable mesh and the shoe has a cover over the tongue to prevent mud and debris getting inside. There is a rubber toe cap and a mud guard in the form of protective material around the base of the shoe. The soles combine different hardness combinations in Contagrip®, Salomon's adventure running outsoles which are designed to help cover mixed terrain at high speeds. There are specifically placed forefoot flex grooves, self cleaning, multi-directional lugs, and defined toe off and braking lugs and Salomon say that these outsoles are “field tested, and race proven to dynamically tackle any terrain.”

The shoes have a low-cut profile for freedom of movement and have EndoFit™ which is an internal sleeve designed to hug the foot and improve feedback. Also a Sensifit™ system works to cradle the foot providing a precise and secure fit. They also have an Ortholite® foam sole which “creates a cooler, drier, healthier, better cushioned environment under the foot. It will not break down or lose effectiveness over time.”

Similar to the Speedcross 3, the XA PRO 3D W offers the Quicklace™ which is very thin, strong lace which makes it easy to take the shoes on and off. The lacing on these shoes is asymmetrical which Salomon say gives a customized fit and quick adjustment. The XA PRO 3D also have a lace pocket in the tongue of the shoe which “provides easy storage for the Quick Fit lacing system”.

But what did I think?
These are pretty shoes. I know that’s a girly thing to say but they are. If I wasn’t already married to my Salomon Speedcross 3, I’d have proposed on the spot. However, looks aren’t everything.

I put the running shoes on and laced up. I love the Quicklaces and having these on a shoe – particularly during a race – means I don’t have to worry about untied laces and a subsequent hospital visit. However, having laced up, the first thing that I noticed was that the pocket on the tongue where you tuck the ends of the laces is underneath the top lace. This doesn’t seem a big thing, but it means that you can’t tuck the ends of the Quicklace in – and negates the point of having the lace pocket. It seemed a silly design flaw as this works so well in the Speedcross 3. The tongue is attached to the sides of the inner shoe (to stop muck getting in) so you can’t pull it up any further to access the pocket. However, I wasn’t going to be fazed by not being able to tuck the shoelaces in. Shoelace pockets are not high up the ‘Must Have’ list on my running shoes.

The asymmetric lacing system which should be easy to adjust ... wasn’t and the position of the laces meant that I couldn’t lace them as tightly as I’d have liked. I compromised by leaving them looser for more comfort across my foot and risked the heel blisters instead.

The shoes felt solid and supportive on my feet. The Ortholite soles were firm and I felt confident that I’d be able to run on most surfaces without ending up with sore feet. Despite the looser lacing, my feet felt cradled in the inner support of EndoFit which links from the tongue and they felt secure. The shoes were heavier than I was used to, but the advantages of a solid shoe structure could be a benefit when hiking or running uneven or sharp surfaces.

Field Tests

I took these shoes out for a few different trips to give them a good testing. I had a few mid length runs out on trails and roads with these and took them out on several runs across fields and trails which included frosty grass and puddles and broken ice and water. The most recent trip out using the XA PRO 3D Ws  was a long hike over some steep hills and mountains and which included some running sections, some bogs, some rock climbing (for fun rather than testing purposes and because the rocks were there) and some long steep paths down the side of a mountain.

The first thing I noticed while wearing the XA PRO 3D W was the control. They didn’t feel intuitive or balanced and I could feel I was wearing them. That sounds silly but with most running shoes, you forget you are wearing them and get on with it. These felt additional to my feet. There was support and my feet felt protected but I found that it was easy to turn my ankle over in them as they just didn’t feel a part of my feet. They were my usual (Salomon) size, but they just didn’t seem to fit as well.

The shoes were brilliant on ice and melting snow. They had fantastic grip and even running across the sharp, broken ice, I couldn’t feel it under my soles. Likewise on smooth rocks and up the sides of the mountain and rocks – at no time did I slip or slide. The grip was fantastic and Contagrip®, Salomon's adventure running outsoles seemed to be living up to the hype.

Out on the trails, my toes and feet felt protected from the loose rocks and the fixed tongue kept the debris out, but these aren’t trail shoes – once the water got in, it didn’t want to come out again and I sloshed around with damp feet for a while. They didn’t pick up mud particularly on the sole and I hiked over some pretty boggy sections on the trails and when I finished the underneath of the shoes were reasonably clean. The “self cleaning, multi-directional lugs” had sounded too good to be true, but the shoes shook off the mud without problems.

Even my remaining toenails were surviving as the shoes were holding my feet securely and the solid toebox was taking the impact of my clumsiness when I knocked rocks and the EndoFit meant my toenails weren’t hitting the end of the shoes, even running down the mountains.

They sound great on paper. Self-cleaning soles, solid control and my feet held securely in one place. However, this doesn’t take account of just how uncomfortable they are to wear. The inner sleeve held my feet in position, but didn’t allow my foot to move with the shoe which made for uncomfortable positioning and a pulling feeling on the soles of my feet. Maybe they would be better if you had narrower feet but the asymmetrical positioning of the laces meant that these ended on the outside of the widest part of my foot and rubbed, giving me a bruised feeling there and the laces (unable to tuck into the lace pocket) flew around as I ran just adding more irritation to my uncomfortable feet.

They say these shoes will last for over 1,000km ... unfortunately after only 60km of mountains and trails and the resulting bruised toes and blisters, I’m not willing to test that.

I’m gutted. I’d liked my Salomon Speedcross shoes so much and I’d hoped that these would be similar, but they’re not.

  • Great looking shoes.
  • Solid soles which were great for broken surfaces.
  • Fantastic grip on ice, rocks, trails.
  • Quicklace System – no undone shoelaces and quick to put on and off.
  • Feet didn’t move within shoes even when descending mountains – can keep your toenails!
  • Self Cleaning Soles. (yes really)

  • The pocket for the Quicklaces was inaccessible meaning it was useless.
  • The Quicklaces fitted in an awkward place.
  • Different fit to the Speedcross 3 with which I get on so well. Maybe XA PRO 3D better for narrow feet?
  • Shoes didn’t have an intuitive fit.
  • I found them too heavy for comfortable running.
  • Feet felt sore and bruised after prolonged wear.

Fact sheet for XA PRO 3D:
Weight 410 (8.5)
WEIGHT                  3
STABILITY             5
DURABILITY          5

Available to buy from here