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Thursday, 30 July 2015

Dambuster Triathlon Race Report: Smug Fast Triathletes. And Me.

I’d set my alarm for 6am. I hated early starts. Then I realised that transition actually closed at 6:15. Insane. Absolutely insane. Not only do triathlons run on a Saturday but they’re insanely early. Obviously for the type of buff slick athletic type people you see on the front of magazines. The sort that like to get up early and go for a 3km swim and then don’t even sit around looking smug, but go for a bike ride as well. And then probably a run. I’d have pushed them all in the hedge except I couldn’t catch them. Smug FAST triathletes. 

I’d sighed as I’d reset the alarm for 5am. 5a-bloody-m. Ridiculous. That’s practically red-eye flight time.  It’d be much nicer to start it about 9am. Give me time to have a cooked breakfast, get the bike in the car and rock up at transition. The lake might even have warmed up a bit. And not just because of triathletes peeing in it. 

Smug Fast Triathletes. Bet they're holding their pee in ready for the lake too ...
However I resigned myself to being partially asleep until at least the start of the run and got myself in zombie-mode to the start of the race. It was about 6am and already I could smell the portaloos. I made a mental note to look at doing something competitive that involved nice smells. Like competitive baking or flower arranging. And I bet THEY didn’t involve getting up with the sunrise. Or getting kicked in the face. Unless it was REALLY competitive flower arranging. Like at the Women’s Institute and there was a fight over who got the big red peonies. Or something. 

I found myself a nice catch-22 situation. I couldn’t go into transition unless I was wearing my number. But my number needed to be left on the bike ready to be put on for the cycle leg of the triathlon. But what if I thought of something urgent last minute? And my number was on the bike instead of me? I consoled myself by wandering in and out of transition multiple times like I was on an invisible retractable leash. 

I was sure I’d forgotten something. I couldn’t remember WHAT I’d forgotten but I was sure there was something. Oh yes. I’d forgotten I didn’t like ridiculously early starts and people in wetsuits at 6am. Screw you lot. I’m going back to bed. Or I would have done if it wouldn’t have taken me about the same amount of time to load everything back into the car as it would to actually do the race.   

Transition area. So nice and peaceful before all the triathletes started cluttering it up with bikes and kit ...
There was no baggage store and we were told over the tannoy to just leave bags ‘under the trees’ in the open area of the park. I guess with all the £5,000+ bikes here, the thieves weren’t terribly interested in the £3.50 I had in change in my purse. Or my £1.38 off Tesco voucher. Despite the possibility of a free KitKat.  

The portaloos got progressively worse and the stink radius was getting wider and wider. At this rate they’d be able to smell them in Oxford by the end of the race. Apparently nervous triathletes have even worse tummies than nervous runners. And waiting in the queue hoping for a half decent one was like Russian roulette but with poo-up-the-wall and half-used toilet paper tubes instead of bullets. At least with Russian roulette you had 5 chances of not getting shot, with these toilets your desperate wish was to relieve your own stomach and come out without someone else’s diarrhoea on you. It was like hoping for a lottery win.   

And just to add to the fun, let me set the scene. You’re wearing a trisuit that does up at the front, a wetsuit that does up at the back and a jumper over the top. And you’re trapped in a small plastic cube full of other people’s poo that smells like nothing on earth. I made it out stomach relieved but mentally traumatised and with a form of PTSD which means I will never be able to go near IKEA’s plastic wardrobes without flashbacks and trembling. 

The smell wasn’t the worst thing though. Oh no. The very worst thing was seeing the end of the long zip from my wetsuit trailing down the shit encrusted hole in the portaloo. I just about managed not to cry and throw up on myself as I hauled it back out of the loo just to realise the soap and water had run out. To top it all off there was no loo roll. Not even a half ripped up toilet roll tube. But on an unrelated note Tesco receipts are quite soft. 

I made a vow that day. If Krypten factor comes back on TV, I am going to enter and WIN that. After managing to survive this, being trapped at the other end of a zipwire above a bit of nice clean mud will hold no fears. I will win that and I will be victorious. Especially if there’s a challenge involving rubber suits and being trapped in a loo. 

Looking out across the lake, it was as smooth as grey glass. Calm and beautiful ... or it was until the first wave of male triathletes got in, started weeing and stirred up all the mud on the bottom. Apparently the water temperature of Rutland Water was about 16 degrees that morning but after 3 or 4 waves of male triathletes by the time I got in it would almost be body temperature and probably about 50% urine. There would be fish bobbing to the surface. And probably a slower swimmer or two. 

Thanks to Coach Mary’s open water session, I’d practised beach starts and had already ripped off the skin on my feet practising so wasn’t worried about that. There was no more skin to rip off. However, too scared to position myself at the front in the swim next to The Proper Triathletes, I’d gone a few rows back and ended up behind people tiptoeing into the water as though they were going for a Swan Lake style swim start.  Very graceful ladies. Now get a bloody move on. 

I started drafting as soon as possible which was good but the pack of swimmers split and I lost the faster pack. The gap looked too big to make up and I had to decide whether to break out on my own or sit back and draft a slightly too slow swimmer and save my energy. I decided drafting was the best plan for me as it avoided my usual open water race strategy of:

1. Go-Off-Like-A-Rocket
2. Windmill-My-Arms
3. Get-Smacked-In-The-Face
4. Drink-Lake-Water
5. Panic 

It worked. I didn’t end up in my usual panicked state, didn’t drink any urine-laced lake water OR get kicked in the face (was this a PROPER triathlon??) but I did end up with a slower time than I’d hoped for.  

Another reason I might have been slow could have been the amount of time I spent gurning at the camera instead of getting a bloody move on ...

As I headed out on the bike, Coach Mary, Loz and PhysioTerrorist Julie gave me a cheer and Coach Mary shouted that a friend, Jo had exited the water about a minute in front of me. “Go catch her!” 

I loved the ride. In fact, although cycling is one of my weakest disciplines (I have 3 weak triathlon disciplines), it’s the part of a triathlon I enjoy the most. After the claustrophobia of the water and the feeling of being in a dark enclosed body of water, being out on the bike is like open horizon freedom. The route was familiar and importantly I knew where the hills were. The big 3 hills of the Rutland Ripple felt smaller and not so daunting in the race and I was overtaking a lot of people here and could tell that I was picking off the faster swimmer, slower cyclist combinations. 

Hooray! Out of the pee-water!
I was really surprised to see people were walking, pushing their bikes, up the 2nd hill in the Ripple. It is a sharp hill and a nasty surprise if you hadn’t recced the course especially after just having to push up the1st big hill half a mile back. I didn’t have the heart to tell any of the walkers that there was another big hill coming up immediately after this one.

There was a good game of cat and mouse going on with 2 other lady cyclists near me and we were exchanging positions regularly and jockeying to be in front. I was stronger up the hills but they were stronger downhill and on the flats so it was good - ensuring I kept pushing on the flat sections. I wanted my speed to be over 18mph average even with the hilly course so it was good having them around, making sure I kept on it and didn’t slack off. We flew over the ripple and I thought we overtook Jo (who was out of the swim in front of me) just after the roundabout at about 10 miles which was a nice boost.  

 Most of the vehicles were fairly sensible and gave us plenty of space apart from a white van who boxed me in behind a man walking and pushing his bike up the hill. “C’mon shift!” I growled at the van as I didn’t want to lose my uphill momentum. Luckily White Van Man found a space to overtake and moved allowing me to go around the walker. 

Just past that bloody Range Rover
Just as we were coming into the entrance for Rutland Water I was overtaking a male cyclist and a Range Rover roared up from behind and decided to overtake us both on the wrong side of the road on a blind corner. This exemplary example of a Range Rover driver then decided to park in front of the barrier to chat to a marshal completely blocking the road and bringing me to a stop just before the race finish. The marshal appalled told him to “Move! Move!” and made him drive on while laughing at me bellowing at the driver “EXCUSE ME -MOOOOOVE!! (and having spotted the marshall and being aware of being DQ’d for improper conduct had added as an afterthought) “MOVE In a NICE way!!!” and waved me through to the end of the cycle section and transition.

At work I have, what I am reliably informed is called ‘Resting Bitch Face’. In other words I’ll be sitting down in my office, trying to work out the proper wording to use in a quotation and will unintentionally give whoever is in my line of sight a death stare. Apparently. I’m completely unaware of this as I’m thinking about pneumatic training and how much discount someone should get while apparently giving a colleague a Medusa.  

However, it appears on a triathlon run I have ’Happy Run Face’. Multiple people actually smiled at me and I actually got some waves from runners coming the other way. It was nice but I couldn’t quite understand it until I realised my ‘Oh-My-God-I-hate-Running-After-Swimming-and-Cycling’ grimace was being mistaken for a smile. And my flailing arms were being mistaken for cheerful little waves. Never mind. Better ‘Happy Run Face’ than ‘Resting Bitch Face’. I didn’t want to be responsible for someone’s DNF after they mistook my RBF for an actual attempt to deathstare them out of the race. 

Obviously before 'Happy Run Face' kicked in ...
The run was hard. It was warm and I wasn’t entirely sure exactly where we were running to. This always concerns me and I’m much faster on a route I know. I suspect I have a secret fear that the race directors will extend the course an extra 4 miles and I’ll not be able to complete it. It also wasn’t the ‘pancake flat’ run I’d been told it was and while not being mountainous there were several large bumps which my tired legs told me would be MUCH more fun to walk up. “Shut up legs”. However I did see Jo coming the other way on the run which was nice so gave her a massive high five – obviously DIDN’T overtake her on the bike then! – and exchanged a few words with some other runners. I even managed a gurn for the photographer. The out section took forever but as usual the back section felt about a third as long as the out. I even managed a decent sprint finish and a negative split. 

Oh my God I'm going to DIE. And throw up. And cry. 

I hit almost all of the targets I’d set myself for this triathlon but training on your own is very good for creating a mini ego bubble as you don’t get to compare yourself to anyone else. I go for a bike ride around my local route and think “Ooh I did 17mph on that ride – much better than when I started on the road bike 4 months ago! I am getting fast!” And then you enter a race like Dambuster and you realise that it’s only fast for you. People were flying past me like I was on my granny shopper with a basket and Yorkshire terrier on the front. I was over 18mph on the bike which I was very pleased with but I was the bottom half of the pack. My swim was good – for ME. But I was near the back. For the run I was top 10 in my age category ... but not overall and not even in the females. It gave me a wobble when I realised. Huh, I’m not particularly good after all.

This is good. 

What would be the point of taking up a sport and training for 6 months and being near the front? Not only would that devalue the work and effort of the ladies who have been doing this for years, but it wouldn’t be worth my effort either. It would like starting running and being able to do a 5k in 18 minutes. Where would be the challenge? 

So time to work a bit harder. I hit my goals, didn’t die and now I’ve got a brand new set of FASTER targets. *Shakes fist at Coach Mary*

Dambuster targets
Target Swim: 28 – 35
Actual Swim: 31:14

Target  Transition 1: 2 mins
Actual Transition 1: 2:04

Target Cycle: 1:19 – 1:30
Actual Cycle: 1:23:25

Target Transition 2: 2 mins
Actual Transition 2: 1:20

Target Run: 38 mins – 45 mins
 Actual Run: 45:11

Position overall     491 of 754
Position female     78 of 163
Position 35-39 female     15 of 23

Monday, 27 July 2015

14 Reasons To Take a 5yo to a 24hr Event: When Running An Ultra Isn’t Enough Stress

Running a 24hr event? Why not take your small child along to add additional challenges! Unable to find your bra? The 5 year old will be running around the field wearing it! Want to nap? No – it’s time to play ‘Tigers’ in the trees instead! Want some peace? Unlucky! You’ll have to negotiate peace between 2 warring 5 year olds because one fell out of the tree onto the other ‘on purpose’.  Who wants to JUST run long distance and camp in fields anyway?

1. You get to play games such as ‘Who Lost My Shoe And Why Is The Other One On The Wrong Foot’ and ‘Why Isn’t The Sun Shining, Mummy? Mummy? Mummy?’ and ‘Why Can’t I Play With The Stove? That’s Not FAIR!’ instead of having to eat your meals in the gaps between laps, toilet trips and sleeping.

2. You get to help them nap on your airbag AND sleeping bag by lying sideways on them both. Not using them, just stopping YOU using them.

3. You get to share all your snacks. They share the pick n mix, the chocolate, the flapjacks and the pudding. But you get to do the washing up all by yourself. 

4. You get to pretend to be a tiger instead of relaxing. You shouldn’t be relaxing at a running event anyway, right?

5. You get to arbitrate arguments between 5 year olds and should you ever need to talk down a suicide bomber standing next to a fireworks factory you will find it a piece of cake after this. “I’m sorry you have a sore bit because your friend fell out of the tree onto you. It was an accident and I’m sure she has sore bits from falling onto YOU. Let’s give you both some more of Mummy’s snacks. No you both have EXACTLY the same amount of snacks. And yes you’ve eaten ALL of them.”

6. You get to do an exciting game of ‘Find All Your Underwear Around The Camping Field’ because you let the 5 year olds play in the tent, they’ve tried all your clothes on and discarded your bras all around the campsite. 

Ooh! Is that my bra ... (This is an ACTUAL race pic from Endure 24)

7. Your map memory gets hugely improved due to having to find the quickest way to the portaloos after having to take them “urgently!” to the loo 509 times. “It’s ok Mummy. I don’t need to go any more now!” 

8. You get to test your middle-of-the-night-foot-sensitivity after your nighttime-dash-to-the-portaloos-wellies get filled with magnetic letters, grass, stones and tiny action figures. 

9. You get to attempt the flooding technique to cure your hayfever as grass gets in the tent, in your clothes, your sleeping bag and in your coffee. Everywhere. There is grass EVERYWHERE. Carried in on tiny size 10 feet. HOW DO SUCH TINY FEET CARRY SO MUCH GRASS??

10. You get to practise the no-sleep you’ve been meaning to try for your long distance ultra runs. But in a tent between laps. Camping 5 year olds do not sleep. Ever. 

11. Your night vision improves dramatically in a short space of time due to a previously fully charged head torch having a flat battery as someone has been playing ‘lighthouses’ with it. It’s amazing how quickly your eyes can adapt when you’re running in a dark wood full of strange noises at 2am and your headtorch fails. 

12. You get to improve your explaining skills as the 5 year old gets the good sleeping bag. And the old sleeping bag. And the warm blanket. And you have to roll yourself in coats to stay warm in a freezing cold tent in the middle of the night. And get evil looks when 5 year old tells people “I couldn't have my coat when it was cold last night because Mummy was wearing it.”

13. You get to practise your herding skills when they keep running off to find their friends who are approximately 2 fields and 500 tents away and you have to work out the best way to cut them off before they cross the road / get lost in a massive sea of tents / lock themselves in a portaloo. Sheepdogs? Pah.

14. You develop your upper body strength by working out a way to hold them above a race portaloo without letting any part of their body touch the seat, the walls or the floor. And then improve your washing skills as you attempt to find a way to get pee off your running kit.

She's happy when she's not tired, hungry or on fire ...

Reasons NOT to take 35 year old friend Loz to a 24 hour event:
1. She gets grumpy when she’s tired.
2. She gets grumpy when she’s hungry.
3. She sets herself on fire trying to light the stove, then attempts to kill everyone by flailing bits of burning Loz around and setting the stove on fire. 

Reasons TO take 35 year old friend Loz to a 24 hour event:
1. Entertainment.
Note: Do not allow to use stoves.

Team More Endure (Pic by Cath)

Thursday, 23 July 2015

Insect-Shield Buff: Does It Stop The Midges Getting In My (Imaginary) Beard?

The Kit Shack asked me whether I‘d like to review an insect-shield buff if they sent me one to test. I said yes please but if I got eaten to death by bugs because it didn't work it would go on my gravestone that it was ALL KIT SHACKS FAULT. *May have in fact ACTUALLY just said yes please I like free things but I'll give my honest opinion*

The picture on the Buff card was of a rugged looking man with a beard. I hoped Buff wouldn’t be too upset at a review by an average non-beardy girl. The man on the card looked as though insects wouldn’t worry him. He wouldn’t be flailing and running around in circles spoiling his cool ultra running image screeching “They’re in my beard! In my BEARDDD!!” I don’t do this either. (I don’t have a beard)

This Man Has a Beard. But No Buff.

However I do hate bugs. I’m not scared of them particularly – apart from those red damsel fly things that are basically teeth with wings – but I do dislike small, irritating, buzzing creatures that swarm me when I’m trying to have a nice quiet beer in a beer garden and try to drink my blood. It’s distracting. And they get in the beer. 

Buff AND Beard.

These sort of insects are a particular nuisance at Draycote Water, one of my favourite places to run. It’s peaceful, slightly undulating and with a lovely view across the reservoir of the sailing boats, ducks and mad-eyed runners. You have to dodge the occasional cyclist and some of the bird watchers can get bit twitchy if you scare off their specific duck with a particularly energetic snot rocket, but it tends to be a calm, peaceful place to run. Except for the midges. The midges. The MIDGES. They circle in swarms around the paths, making patterns in the evening air like the starlings preparing to migrate. It would probably be quite pretty if they kept off the paths and away from face level and stopped getting stuck in my teeth.  

So the idea of wearing a buff that doubles as an insect shield appealed to me. However, I was a little unsure on how it worked. Is it like a normal buff but I use it to cover my entire face, body, legs and feet to keep the bugs from biting me? Do I wave it around like fabric wielding ninja with floral nunchucks? Or do I spring it like a rubber band at the larger, more persistent bugs? I was relieved to hear I just wear it normally. It’s imbued with an insect-keep-away fragrance. And one that isn’t particularly noticeable to humans. 

Almost 100% effective at stopping face bugs ...
ACTUALLY 100% effective at stopping face bugs. Bit dangerous for running though. Or breathing.

I decided to test it out by using it at my tea drinking time at Cliff Lakes after my swim in the lake. I love Cliff Lakes. It’s peaceful, calm and serene ... and after about 8pm full of irritating midges. This would be the perfect place to test it. 

I decided as my blog is so sciencey and technical *cough* to test the buff out in 3 ways:

  1. Wearing the buff and see whether I can clear a Sarah shaped hole in the cloud of midges
  2. Dangling the buff near a cloud of midges to see what they do. Midge training. Like a flea circus …?
  3. Waving the buff at the midges to see what they’d do. See. PROPER science. 

Test 1: Wearing the buff and see whether I can clear a Sarah shaped hole in the cloud of midges
Yes, the midges did clear away although whether this was because of the buff or whether it was because they were a bit confused about this strange person sneaking up to them and sticking her head into the biggest swarm she could find. I decided that midges probably don’t get confused and that they tend to stick themselves to me rather than fly away so this is a big tick for the buff. Big tick. 

Test 2: Dangling the buff near a cloud of midges to see what they do. 
Basically I sneaked up on the midges and brandished the buff at them. yep. They flew away. Unsure whether it was because they were scared of the bright design I’d chosen or whether they didn’t like the insect shield. Decided that flies like flowers which are usually brightly coloured and midges like bright red juicy blood so it must have been the insect shield. Big tick.

Test 3. Waving the buff at the midges to see what they’d do.
This was my favourite one.  This was like midge training.. Like a flea circus. Basically I was using the buff as a small fluffy whip to herd midges. Should I ever become bored of doing an office job, I will be focusing all my energies on becoming a midge trainer. And I think this is the buff to help me do it. Big tick.

I’m pretty sure Cliff Lakes won’t be hiring me as a one-person-midge-removal-magician but it was fairly obvious that the midges didn’t like the buff (or me) and it did a good job of keeping them away from my face. And imaginary beard. 

  • Get to look like you’re a magical midge trainer who keeps them away with her colourful neck.
  • Buff is nice looking and I tend to wear buffs anyway so it[‘s not additional kit.
  • Will be brilliant for camping and for beer gardens.
  • I can stop doing my ‘Jeff-Goldblum-in-‘The-Fly’ impression every time I go for an evening run. I was coming back with so many midges stuck to me it looked likeI was partway through the special effects portion of the film. I could tell how long the run had been by counting the number of flies left behind in the shower. Now no longer a problem!
  • It stopped the midges getting in my beard.
  • 95% UV protection.
  • Seamless so no seams to chafe.
  • Odour resistant as it contains ‘polygiene’ which is silver salt from recycled silver. 
  • The insect shield lasts for up to 70 washes.

  • I'll have to see how effective it is after a few washes. 
  • I will need to find an alternative source of protein now though rather than just running around the lakes with my mouth open.    
  • Bit warm this time of year to be wearing a buff.
  • Will my legs be bitten to shreds as the buff is around my neck. Can buff produce some lovely insect shield socks for me for maximum de-bugging?
  • It gives me beard envy. 

I’ll certainly be taking it camping and on my trail runs and it is a must for midge training. Should you wish to purchase yourself one, then get yourself to Kit Shack here

For information on how to use your buff there's a video here: 

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Why Barry Shouldn't Chase Running People

Today was hill repeat day. I don’t mind hill repeats. I don’t LIKE them as such but I don’t mind them. I know they’re going to hurt but it’s only for a short time. Also I can see the top of the hill. I know where the rep ends. I HATE not knowing where the end of the rep is.

Thanks Chris! Source
I paused at the bottom of the hill, pressed start on the watch and started my sprint to the top. A small grey terrier, thoroughly overexcited by all of the running, bounded alongside me barking excitedly. He wasn’t getting under my feet and he wasn’t being threatening, just another short runner enjoying the hill. My kind of dog. Enthusiastic, liked running, liked hills. If he picked up his own poo he’d have been perfect. 

I reached the top of the hill and turned to start my recovery jog back down to the bottom. A loud voice carried across the park.

The little grey dog skidded to a halt. I carried on running.
“STOP!!!! NO YOU!”
Me? I looked over to where an elderly lady was marching over to me.
She looked at me sternly. “Yes YOU!”
“Barry! HERE!” Huh? 
The dog sheepishly shuffled over. 
The old lady looked at the dog then looked at me. Her eyebrows bristled at me. She looked cross.
She pointed at the dog, then pointed at me. 
“NO!” She shook her finger at me crossly. I backed up a step.
“NO! Barry! We do NOT chase people.” Emphasised with a finger point! “Even running people.” 

I resisted the urge to cower like Barry and shut down my automatic apology for being “running people” and leading Barry into bad ways.

She looked at me crossly and with one loud last “NO!” at Barry and a finger shake at me she turned around and went back to her bench.  Barry trailing at her ankles apologetically. 

I ran away. Barry didn’t follow.

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Riga Half Marathon Report: And the English Shall Triumph Over the Queue Jumpers

About 6 inches from my nose was a sign showing what appeared to be a man wearing a kite. And another picture of what looked like a deformed ear. I was sitting in cattle class on a budget flight and my face was pressed against headrest of seat in front. I tend to enjoy flying but I was in a seat so close to the one in front I couldn’t even cross my legs properly. And I’m only 5’4 . Well Almost 5’4. I wasn’t sure how people with extra leg inches – or nose inches - were coping.

Seriously ... what strange signs!! But NO donkeys 

I was also pondering the crash question. I’d read somewhere that you’re more likely to be killed by a donkey than in an aeroplane crash. I couldn’t help wondering how much this changed if, for example you were a donkey farmer you could fly with total impunity knowing you were far more likely to pass away under the hooves of everyone’s favourite seaside animal. However I on the other hand know no donkeys. But I do fly fairly regularly. This didn’t bode well for my chances of a safe landing. But I bet I’d have had more 30,000ft snacks than the donkey farmer. My life might end in flames and screaming, but I’d be winning at very small portions of jelly and strange pink sauces in bags. 

However, despite my concerns and plans to get to know some donkeys, there was a distinct lack of flames, screaming, oxygen masks and emergency slides. And I had collected my bag traversed security and was seated in a red taxi to the hotel all within about 45 minutes. Perfect.

Found a MASSIVE duck. It wouldn't fit in my hand luggage. 
I’d flown to Riga in Latvia to run their half marathon. I’d been assured it was flat, beautiful and friendly. Flights, accommodation and entry had all also cost me less than £200. Mini break with a nice run in the middle? I was in. 

The Powder Tower NOT Rapunzel's
Riga is beautiful. Historical and full of ancient buildings and cobbled streets, you can see the Freedom Monument from almost anywhere in the centre of the city and every corner you turn you come upon another beautiful building with an elaborate design and a colourful garden of tulips. 

A Chai Latte in a very special teahouse!
Did you know Riga is ‘Capital of the Decorated Christmas Tree’? That there was a disagreement between a merchant and a guild and his revenge was to erect a statue on his building roof of a cat defecating on the guild?That the Laima clock is the favourite place for young couples to meet and it is a common sight to see anxious young men there checking their watches and hoping they haven’t been stood up for their evening dates? 

The Laima Clock
That St Maurice is the patron saint of the Brotherhood of Blackheads, a historical military order of unmarried merchants in Latvia and whose image can be seen on the guild doors opposite the Madonna? That there is a medieval restaurant there whose doors are guarded by an armed knight and whose rooms stretch under the city in intricate linked cellars lighted only by candles? And where I was looked on scornfully when I asked for a Coca Cola (not medieval enough apparently) but where they serve cappuccinos. That the building that looks like Rapunzel’s Tower is an old building with 3 metre thick walls where the city used to store explosives but which now houses the War Museum which is free entry? And that there is a special geocache hidden in the park?

The cat on the roof ...

The beauty and interest of the city certainly made up for the cold temperatures and almost constant drizzle. In fact, the weather made me feel quite at home. 

Ready for the off!

Our hotel was so close to the start that I could have a leisurely breakfast, leave the hotel at 7:30, drop my bag, queue for the loos and be ready at the start of the race at 8:30am. Or this was the plan. It all worked like clockwork until the portaloo queue.

Don't forget your bin bag!
It looked so civilised. A line of 10 or so blue portaloos lined up like little Poo TARDISs. All with neat little queues in front of them. I’d even remembered extra loo roll. Things were going to PLAN. I queued up in front of the nearest at the back of the neat little queue and this is where things went wrong. Apparently only English people queue from the back. The rest of the continent queue from the middle. In other words, I stay at the back while the entire population of Latvia join the queue in front of me. Right. The rest of the world doesn’t GET queuing. I understand that. I don’t have to like it but I understand it. So at what point do we start the ‘“There’s a queue here” ... “Sorry I don’t speak English”/insert incomprehensible expression here’ conversation? I’d made the huffing noises and done the ‘I’m-Not-Happy-About-This’ face and it was almost time to break out the ‘Speak-Slowly-To-Foreigners-Who-Don’t-Understand-Queuing’ voice in my best Queen’s English. While completely ignoring the fact that *I* was the foreigner who didn’t understand the Latvian queuing system e.g. check for a non-Latvian then queuing in FRONT of them. I’d joined the queue 10 minutes ago and there were now more people in front of me than when I’d started. I held my ground – and crossed my legs – and slowly made my way forwards. Only 1 person from the front. And then the man in front of me who’d pushed in 8 minutes earlier waved at someone and invited HIS ENTIRE FAMILY to join the queue too. 3 of whom weren’t even running. 

I took a deep breath. Enough was enough. Time to break out the sharp elbows. The man - whose extended family appeared to be encouraging small children and ancient grannies to also join the queue in front of me – went into a vacant portaloo and as he did the one next door opened up.

I took another deep breath – ignoring the pine-fresh-and-shit fragrance – and strode forward pushing the queue jumpers and who appeared to be Mr Pushy’s mother-In-Law out of the way and grabbed the door. MINE. I took one quick look back before I went in. She was giving me a look as though I’d murdered one of the grandchildren in front of her and was muttering in Latvian about rude foreigners who jump the queues. 

Relieved to have sorted out the problem of queues and getting stuck behind pushy people, I made my way to my starting pen. Which is when I realised I had been put in the 2:30 – 3 hour pen behind the 4:30 marathoners. Sigh. 

Yes that IS a bottle of beer that holds about 3 litres ...  MINE!
But maybe today wasn’t a day for a PB or for rushing around. I was getting the chance to run 13 miles around a city I hadn’t visited before, to run on the cobbles and cross the river and the massive suspension bridge on foot. So I did. I high fived my friends over the barriers at the cross over points, I waved at all the supporters, gurned at the cameras and did a jumping high-five for the couples dressed in national dress in the lines up to the Freedom Monument. My pacing was all over the place, but it’s hard to keep even pacing when you have so much high-fiving and gurning to do. It was TOTALLY worth it. 

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Polar M400 Review: Can I Bin The Garmin Yet?

I was sent a Polar M400 to have a play with and review. I wasn't paid (not even in creme eggs) and I accepted on the proviso that I would be writing exactly what I thought. If I thought the watch was absolutely rubbish I would be saying so.

Photo Source

When I first received the Polar M400, I was underwhelmed. It was very nice looking but white. A BAD colour for me who tends to be running around covered in mud, cycling around covered in oil or swimming around covered in pond weed, gravel and duck poo. I felt the chances of a bright white watch staying bright white were very low.

Also as a result of all of the oil, mud and pondweed, I end up having about 3 showers a day ... and the watch is only water resistant to 30m. So I’d have to remove it for the swimming, the showers and try and keep it away from the duck poo. 

I also wouldn’t be able to wear my carefully chosen wristwatch as this activity tracker is in place of a watch. It’s not like a FitBit or Jawbone which hides as a bracelet or band, the Polar M400 is positioned very definitely on your wrist in prime position. In usual-wristwatch-stealing position. 

So why is it, that 3 months after receiving it, has it stayed so firmly on my wrist? My wristwatch ticking away to itself in a drawer, my previous activity bands given away. What differentiates this from the other activity trackers. And has it replaced my beloved Garmin?

The M400 is marketed as a ‘sports watch with GPS for urban and trail runners who want sporty design with advanced GPS and training features, along with loads of options to keep an eye on their activity.’ That’s a bit of a mouthful but the key word here is ‘activity’.

This watch is first and foremost an activity tracker. I know precisely how far and how fast I do my runs, but what I don’t know is how long I spend sitting when I’m working in the office and I don’t know how many steps I take when I’m spending a day cleaning the house, trying to get a grumpy 6 year old to go to school and trying to coax the cat down from the tree while simultaneously attempting to mow the lawn. This is what interested me … and what scared me when I checked my activity levels and realised that I spent over 10 hours of today sitting down … and that doesn’t include the time I was in bed sleeping. 

One of the best things about this watch is that the information is instantly available too. You press a button on the side and it synchronises with your smart phone. Within 30 seconds you have the information displayed on a dashboard with a clear visual representation which is colour coded so can immediately see how you spent your day. 

A screenshot from the Polar Flow smartphone app

The watch also tracks your sleep and breaks it down into restful and restless sleep. So you know those days when you get to bed early but still wake up feeling like hell? Well now you know why. And you can view how many times you woke by using the dashboard graphic. This could be a useful tool if you suffer from broken sleep. 

A screenshot from the Polar Flow App

Now the M400 hasn’t yet replaced my Garmin as I don’t feel that the level of data is the same. I like having fancy graphs, lots of data and being able to upload my runs to Strava. However due to both of my Garmins going wrong while I was on holiday I used my Polar for all my running. And you know what? It was brilliant. I didn’t have to wait until I got home to upload all my data - I could do it at the push of a button - so my heart rate zones, distance, elevation and pace were all instantly available on the Polar Flow app on my phone, even the map of my run and the type of running and the training benefit. 

A screenshot from the Polar Flow App

Normally I’d have to wait the week until I got back home and in range of the wifi and my laptop to upload my Garmin data  so this was a lovely benefit. I also suspect I’m not yet using the watch to it’s full capability as there are a full range of training options I’m not yet using such as the ‘Interval Trainer Guided Workouts’ and ‘Advanced Activity Analysis’. 

While it is only marketed as being 30m water resistant – which usually means it can survive only a mild rain shower, this one has survived several sea swims, plenty of jumps into a swimming pool and swims, showers and baths. This wasn’t as a result of a thorough review but purely because I am 

  1. forgetful (stupid)
  1. used to a wristwatch which is extremely bulletproof
  1. an idiot who needs to take better care of her things


  • The watch is smart looking with clean, sharp lines. I was very worried about wearing a watch with a white rubber strap but it doesn’t mark at all and wipes clean very easily. I got chain oil on it the other day which I thought would be the end of the nice white strap and the start of the grey dull strap, but the oil just wiped off easily leaving no trace. 
  • The screen has stayed resolutely unscratched despite my terrible habit of walking into walls, falling into brambles and smashing watch faces. It’s been running, climbing and cycling with me. And even come with me (unintentionally) on a few sea swims and pool swims. Even after 6 months it still looks brand new. 
  • Relieved to see there was a paper ‘Getting Started Guide’. This is a small thing but I hate hate hate when I get no instructions except a bit of paper telling me to ‘go online’. You do however need to go online to get everything set up and you’ll need a smartphone for the Flow app. It was VERY quick to get all this set up though. 
A screenshot from the Polar Flow App (ignore my dodgy spelling ...)
  • The strap felt lightweight and slimline compared to the thick chunkiness of my Garmin strap. The buckle was metal and solid and there were plenty of holes for adjustability. Despite my first fears, the strap ISN’T moulded … so if it breaks it can be replaced.
  • You can tailor the information using your own height, weight, gender etc to make the information more relevant to you and you choose your daily activity goal from 3 levels which takes into account your job and whether it’s sedentary and levels of sport. I’m easily flattered and when the Polar classed me as ‘Semi-Pro’ for doing  8 - 12 hrs of training a week I was most happy. I’m easily pleased.
  • Synchronises with My Fitness Pal which is handy for adding activities that you do even when you aren’t wearing the watch. It also adds the calories burned while exercising to My Fitness Pal so you don’t have to make any dodgy estimates - it’s all one for you. 

  • In the Polar Flow app it tells me what I need to do to hit my Daily Activity Goal through different activities: 59 mins group exercise, 3:17 mins gentle dancing, 7hr 27 mins washing up. Love this. I’d MUCH rather go to group exercise for an hour than wash up for 7 hours!
  • You can do fitness tests using the HR strap and a simple setting on the watch to measure your Resting Heart Rate (RHR). Quick and easy to do and a nice way to measure your fitness!
  • I really like the ‘time to move’ alert. If I sit still for longer than an hour I get beeped at a and a ‘Time to Move’ message beeps up on the screen of the watch. It can be frustrating when I’m sitting in a meeting and can’t do anything about it. But it makes me more mindful in the evening that I’d done nothing all day. And if I’m sitting at my desk doing reports then it makes me aware that a coffee and fresh eyes every hour will probably benefit my work too!
  • The battery life is EPIC. If you’re using it as a day to day activity tracker it lasts about 3 weeks, you’ll need to charge it every week if using the GPS too but it’s a standard mini usb sized charger so no panic if you forget it on holiday. Also it charges very quickly.


  • As mentioned about it is only marketed as water resistant to 30m. BUT it has been on sea swims, pool swims and into streams, baths and showers. I wouldn’t recommend you do this but there has been no screen fogging or problems with this. However it does still recognise my swimming as it pulls this data through from My Fitness Pal. 
  • Despite the watch picking up my activities from logs on My Fitness Pal (which pulls them through from Garmin), it doesn’t count these as going towards your daily activities so when I did a triathlon on Sunday which involved 32 miles and almost 3 hours of utter exhaustion, because I hadn’t been wearing the watch it told me I’d only hit 5% of my daily activity goal. It doesn’t estimate or pull through the data from the other apps … yet. I did attempt to counter this for a couple of days by wearing a Garmin on one wrist and the Polar on the other but after rightly being branded a #WatchWanker I stopped. 
  • The HR reading on the Polar and on the Garmin using the HR straps bizarrely give me 2 different readings (when wearing them at the same time) with about 5 BPM difference! No idea which one is correct …
  • The Polar Flow app does occasionally experience problems after an update … but it always seems to be sorted out quickly and new features seem to be getting added all the time with the option of ‘Social Feed’, ‘Speed & Pace Zones’ and ‘Assisted GPS’ being added to the latest update on the 9th July. 
  • I’d initially assumed that as this is a 24/7 activity tracking device, I would be able to just click start and go, but the GPS isn’t activated unless you start one of the sport modes. It tells me to ‘Stand still while it finds GPS’. Bossy watch. It also tells you the % of fix it has on the satellite which is a nice touch. I’m never entirely sure WHEN to restart my other GPS watches when searching for a satellite – have they just frozen? It also didn't reset the time abroad even when it had found the GPS for the run. It’s a small thing but would have been a nice touch.

And as I’m sitting writing thisI’m getting beeped at by the M400 telling me ‘It’s time to move’ as I’ve been sitting down for an hour. Well … who am I to argue with a smart wristwatch! Time to go …!