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Friday 20 October 2017

The Autumn Wolfrun: Unmentionable Stuff in My Hair & Why Fake Nails are an OCR MUST

So this Autumn I was to take part in The Wolf Run. I’d like to clarify that this doesn’t involve being chased by actual wolves … I’m not quite that desperate to improve my 10k PB. Yet. Or to end my days being savaged like the Mum out of Cujo. If I’m to end my days dribbling and crying, I’d to prefer it to be from copious amounts of alcohol and a really sad book, not a ravenous canine.

W.O.L.F actually stands for Woods, Obstacles, Lakes & Fields and the Wolf Run is designed to simulate some of the obstacles that you’d meet in the wild, running as a wolf. Although not all … I haven’t yet seen a wolf on a slide. Although should anyone have any handy YouTube clips …?

Registration was as slick as the Fonz’s hair. There were lots of extremely enthusiastic marshals available to help in the large tent and it was easy to pick up a waiver form and get it signed ready to collect my registration pack. Unfortunately my morning handwriting wasn't up to scratch so I did have to decipher what appeared to be particularly badly formed runes. I’m just not a morning person.

Luckily I’d not even had to drive myself as my husband had been put in the position of Chief Supporter. Which sounds very grand but basically involves standing in the (usually) cold, being berated for taking sub-par photos and being taxi. So not even a pint at the end. I probably should make him a badge or a hat or something. 

Pack picked up, number pinned on and portaloo visited and sharpie applied to my head branding me with my race number all done. I love having a bit of time before a race starts - not an awful lot worse than having to rush on race morning. As it was a warm morning I even got a bit of late-season sun basking done … and spotted one of my friends from work in LONDON who was marshalling the race. I can never get over what a small world the running one actually is. *Waves at Sophie*

Decided that pre-race relaxing just isn’t the same without needing a wee most of the way around the run and paid £2 for the privilege of some murky black water masquerading as coffee. I was quite happy with this until I spotted the sign on the stall next door offering coffee for £1 … gutted. I could have needed a wee TWICE as desperately while running as could have had TWO cups …

The Wolf Run is a sociable run, which puts a lot of emphasis on teamwork and at the start of each of the waves of their events, they run an extremely enthusiastic warmup. The comperes shout if you’re not trying hard enough and basically get everyone doing a 5 minute equivalent of HIIT. Mainly commando crawling, high knees and bear crawls which basically involved sticking your butt in the air and crawling. Like a cat getting it’s back scratched. But with more mud, grass and lycra.

I was exhausted before we started.

However, that didn’t mean I didn’t get caught up in the start line enthusiasm and was off like a shot like the rest of my fellow lunatics. Usually I’m pretty strict with my pacing. I know what distance I’m running, what pace I’m aiming for and where my heart rate should be. Wolf run pace? No idea. Whatever feels like a good idea at the time. And I’m not sure I HAVE a target heart rate for rope climbing, pond jumping or bog wading. Except for avoiding flatline I was happy to be moving forward.

I did discover an unexpected talent. Turns out I can climb ropes like a monkey. Not sure when I would be using this skill in the future now that I’ve grown out of primary school and gym classes but should I ever need to escape from something that can’t climb ropes (worms? hippos?) and there should be a rope handy … then I’m the girl who will be escaping THAT imaginary predator. 

However I was RUBBISH at the pipes. These were slick plastic pipes and I JUST fitted. There was no room to commando crawl or use my legs so I had to drag myself along with my arms and shoulders. It was hard work and I was exhausted at end. You remember that bit in Ace Ventura where he crawls out of the robot rhino’s arse? It was like that. And in case you haven’t seen the film, there’s a recommendation right there. It was how I imagine being born like … but without the drugs. And while wearing lycra.

I thoroughly enjoyed the submerged tunnels and discovered I had a rather unfair advantage. I like having nice nails but due to all the sports I do they need to be practically bulletproof and not chip so I go to a nail place where they make them as Wolverine-like as possible. My secret advantage was being able to dig my nails into the mud and muck at the bottom of the tunnel and drag myself along like a zombie but with better nails. It was surprisingly speedy and I overtook the lad I’d been leapfrogging with on the last few obstacles. He soon caught up again but I noticed that HIS nails weren’t wolverine-esque so should there be another muddy tunnel, bets were on me.

Ended up having a chatter and it turned out that only a few years previously, my new running buddy, Anton been a very overweight man. You’d never guess with the way he was running now but he’d turned his fitness around and was now smashing out obstacle runs like a pro! Inspiring stuff!

I’m obviously the perfect height … *cough*. Ok short. I’m short. And I did find that being vertically-challenged makes some of the obstacles tougher. There are some felled trees and while the lads with long legs and big strides made short work of these, it was almost faster for me to crawl underneath them than to go over them. However, I would have the last laugh as should I trip I wouldn’t have far to fall.

I do find the bog and pond wades tough work. While I enjoy doing these, I lose a lot of time in the field. On the lad, the water was around their knees and they could raise their feet out of the water. For me - the water was around my thighs. However, being lighter on the muddy bog sections if I could get enough speed up beforehand I could pretty much run across the top if the mud was solid enough. Not quite Legolas on the snow, more like Bog Monster in the Marsh but it gave me an advantage. 

There are quite a lot of jumps in the Wolf Run. Lots of fun and a bit of gamble especially as you never quite knew how deep they were! On one of the sections, I should have spotted the mischievous look on the marshal’s face before I leapt in … to 6 inches of muddy water. And promptly stuck fast in the thick mud at the bottom. I was loathe to leave my new and rather striking ASICS Gel Fuji Trabuco 5s in the bog so I struggled and wallowed until I could finally pull my feet free and drag myself out of the bog. 

I also learned a new trick. Seeing a few people early on in the race commando rolling under the cargo nets, I gave it a try. It was surprisingly fast and effective! Much quicker than clambering over or crawling under them however I wasn’t sure that the vertigo immediately afterwards took away from the benefit as I probably wasted time bouncing off the trees that I could have spent crawling and running. 

While the Wolf Run is totally not a race the marshals were telling me I was the 2nd placed lady in the event. At this stage of unfitness I was TOTALLY keeping that!

There’s an open water swim in the event which I was looking forward to after all the triathlon training of the last couple of years, however despite being confident in the water, I had completely underestimated quite how tough swimming in trainers and full running kit is. I did thoroughly enjoy it however and even did a bit of backstroke to get the benefit of the sunshine! Plus it washed off some of the more fragrant mud which appeared to have been kindly donated by some local cows with dreadfully runny tummies. 

While I enjoy ALL of the obstacles at the Wolf Run (even the giving-birth-simulating-pipes), the absolute highlight has to be the MASSIVE WATER SLIDE! I don’t know how long it is as I spend my whole time on it shouting “WHEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!”  but it does seem to reach from the top of a very long field all the way down to the bottom. At least 30 seconds of “WHEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!” anyway. It puts any park waterslide to shame. Plus as I was in the first wave there was no queue to get on it so I could leap up the steps and taking a run up to get a better launch at it! I was airborne for about the first 10 metres. TOTALLY worth it!

I’m not quite sure why I look quite so serious on it. Maybe I’m concentrating on “WHEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!” rather than weeeeeeeeeeeee after those cups of coffee. Or more likely calculating where my next snack is coming from.

After this section, it seemed only a very short run to the end. There were plenty more obstacles than I’ve mentioned (did I mention the Monkey Bars? The Nutcracker? The massive A-Frame Cargo nets?) but who am I to spoil the surprise for you? It would be like telling you the end of a good book, right?

Running up though the last half a mile, you can hear the crowd and the announcer and it adds an additional adrenaline boost. Your legs are tired, you’re covered in rather fragrant mud and there’s something unmentionable in your hair … but there’s something very special about The Wolf Run. You climb the last A-Frame, swinging your legs over the 25-odd foot high top bar and slide down the other side and run as fast as you can towards the inflatable finish arch you can just see the top of over the last hillock. You climb the last hillock … and there in front of you is a massive bog full of filthy mud.

So you do a star jump. As is perfectly normal at the end of a race, right?

Thanks Wolf Run. Loved it. I’ll be back.

The Wolf Run very kindly offered me a free spot if I wrote a blog about it. As usually I wrote exactly what I thought of it (lots of mud, lots of obstacles and cider!!) and I took no payment for this post.

The Wolf Run Part 1 - A (Long-Suffering) Supporters Tale

(This is written entirely by my husband ...)

It had just gone 8am and we were in the car ready to go. In MY car as Sarah's car battery had given up the ghost the weekend before.

Sarah started at 10am and we had a whole 25 minutes drive ahead of us. In my opinion, leaving 2 hours for this journey didn't make a whole lot of sense but then again opinions are like assholes; everyone has one.

We reached the site about at about 8.30am (before registration had even opened) and Sarah went straight to the portaloos. It had been a good while since Sarah's last running event and so she had clearly been missing the aroma of a temporary plastic toilet. Obviously one trip was not enough for her to get her fix as she visited 2 more times within the next hour. Next she would be jumping behind hedges, toilet paper in hand, just for nostalgic reasons.  

After registration Sarah took to preparing herself and her kit for the challenge ahead. This included using 6 safety pins to secure her number to her top and the acquirement of some out of date Cliff Bars (linked to toilet trips?).

Free food!!!

Now ready and armed with coffee we ensured enough 'before' pictures were taken. I am not known for my ability to take a good photo so have learned that I need to be taking at least ten shots in each pose to ensure a usable one is created.

One of the benefits of being onsite early is having the opportunity to observe the other runners. I love looking at competitors at events like the Wolf Run as there is such a wonderful diversity of people. From those that are typical runners (skinny, hungry looking, club vests ...), to the gym rats who have entered because they want to try something that's described as an 'extreme' event, through to the people who are nervously toeing the line for their first event and already dressed in the event's t-shirt. These kind of events are not judged on speed but on ability to complete and capacity to enjoy. 

One lady in particular stood out. Clearly in the 'runner' category and taking the event very seriously (stretching and stuff) with a very focused look on her face (or possibly needing a poo but not interested in visiting the portaloo). I though that if she isn't good she's going to look silly.

Eventually Sarah was called up for the official warm up and the start was at T minus 10 minutes. After a few minutes of shouting from the 'motivators' and some running and crawling around in circles: actually this was a more useful warm up than I make it sound but it was still making me dizzy. 

And then they were off.

Obviously I couldn't watch Sarah around the course but it was easy to imagine how she was running. Fake nonchalance with a big smile on her face. That is to say, pretending she wasn't competitive while picking off runner after runner and loving every minute of it. I sometimes wonder how far Sarah's drive would take her. Any given situation could turn into a example of a popular adult card game – 'Sarah against Humanity': “While running an obstacle course Sarah would...”.

While waiting for her I spied a couple of friends who were aiming for the title of Alpha Wolf – Marina and Aurian. As we caught up and talked about next years plans around running events Marina pulled a 'Sarah' by visiting the portaloos twice; she had obviously missed the aroma too.

Their starting wave was about 90 minutes after Sarah's kick off time and had suggested meeting up with Sarah after she had finished but before they started. Sarah had pooh-poohed this idea stating she would take closer to 2 hours to finish the course. Having completed the run a couple of years earlier in just over 1 hour she was fooling no one and we were keeping an eye out from the 60 minute mark. It was not long after his that the first lady came through to tackle the last obstacle and finish. It was the focused, fully prepared, possibly constipated lady we had seen before the the race had started, she definitely wasn't looking silly!

It was only about 5 minutes later than Sarah came into sight on the last straight. 2nd woman! As I said competitiveness masked by a pretence of blasé. She had picked up a running buddy and they had clearly been pushing each other in that friendly 'you're not going to beat me' kind of way. Sarah has always been fantastic at this – chatting to everyone and picking up buddies during every race she enters. (Sometimes she doesn't even drop them with a mile to go in pursuit of a good time or place!).

As the two of them climbed over the last obstacle it looked like that Sarah wasn't keen to fly off and beat her companion ... while at the same time not wanting to be beaten by a last minute sprint by her buddy. 

She cleverly overcame this by taking her time composing herself for the final leap into the watery mud that signified the end of the course ensuring the best race picture possible, not taking the inconsiderate 'win', while also maintaining her 'I could have beaten you if I wanted to' position. 

Having finished she made sure the finish line marshall received a muddy hug. Then having shown off the mud she was wearing to me, she made sure I also received a sopping wet hug.  

A pint of cider for her (I was taxi driver today!) and a few quick hugs for Aurian and Marina before they set off rounded off her event. And judging by her grin and the amount of mud she was wearing it had been a good one!

Thursday 12 October 2017

KARKOA: The bag that does 7,000 miles & ALL the snacks

As I was dashing to the gym the other day, juggling phone and kit, I received an email from Karkoa asking me if I'd review one of their sports and lifestyle bags. I have to admit, I thought “What relevance does a lifestyle bag have to me?”

Then I looked down at the bike shoes I was clutching in one hand and the Tesco carrier bag containing my towel, drinks bottle and hoody in my other hand and realised that actually a decent bag might really come in handy. So I shot them back an email saying “Yes please.”

But how do you test a bag ... apart from filling it up with kit?

It was a good time for a bag to arrive especially as I was back to being a student for 6 months again (training for a new job so I could avoid the instant noodle eating, partying until the wee hours and getting lots of piercings) as well as trying to juggle family life and triathlon training. This would involve long hours on a train at the mercy of Network Rail and London Underground during which I'd be carrying notebooks, textbooks, folders, snacks (Of COURSE – I haven't TOTALLY changed), gym and triathlon kit, towels, drinks bottles, uniform and assorted makeup, shoe polish, pens and tissues. Plus my usual assortment of painkillers, hayfever tablets, plasters, safety pins and crayons.

Just SOME of the detritus I carry around daily ... and this is BEFORE I've packed my A4 folders and laptop!

So the bag had a BIG job to do.

Luckily, although on the outside it appeared to be the size of a normal rucksack, inside it had positively TARDIS-like proportions. And just when I thought I'd investigated all the pockets ... there were more. And more. I love a good pocket and this had plenty of good pockets. 

One of the most handy was the small one at the very top which was just big enough for keys, phone and bank and travel cards. And because it was right at the top of the bag, it was in a position which would make it very awkward for anyone trying to stealthily undo it and take out the contents. Perfect for public transport. 

However, that was only my SECOND favourite pocket as my very favourite one was the snack bag. Yes – it comes with a snack bag. What can I say. It's like these bag-designers have me sussed. My only disappointment was that it didn't come pre-filled with snacks … but can't have it all, right? This bag came in extremely handy as anyone who knows me, knows I like my snacks but what I hadn't taken into consideration was that rush hour on the tube in London gets very hot … my chocolate melted and covered all my other food … but as it was in the snack bag, it stayed in here as it is waterproof.

I totally didn't STILL eat the snacks. Honest. *hic*

There's also a padded pocket for your laptop, plus room for the wires and cables and enough room for a large A4 folder in the main pocket. There's a roomy pocket on the front which the snack bag fits into, a laundry bag(!!) AND a waterproof pocket on the bottom of the bag for gym kit. Plus a circular side pocket for a drinks bottle.

And yes … ALL of this stuff fits in together. Which quite frankly is a minor miracle.

The bag is also a really good looking bag too. I'm not ALL about the aesthetics, for me if a piece of kit does the job that's the main thing but it was lovely to have something that did a good job AND looked great. Plus I had compliment after compliment about it.

However, what really matters is NOT what a piece of equipment looks like when it's brand new, but what it looks like when it's fully packed and has been used for a few months. I have a much loved piece of hand luggage (of a different brand) which I adored when I bought it, but which looks like a sack of potatoes when fully packed.

So I decided to put the Karkoa bag through its paces.

It has so far done:

  • 3,960 miles with Network Rail …
  • 2,288 on the tube …
  • Approximately 1000 miles in the boot of the car ...
  • Multiple gym visits where it's been shoved in a locker and filled with damp kit ...
  • 18 weeks on the floor of a classroom, under a desk, on the floor, in a locker ...
  • Several evenings under the tables in a bar and on one memorable evening in the middle of a dance floor being danced around where there wasn't a cloakroom but we WERE NOT MISSING THAT DANCE!
  • And even to my horror it had a cup of coffee knocked over and into it by a friend, who I've 
  • still not entirely forgiven ...

So how does it look after all of this?


I thought the bag was quite pricey at £65 ish for a rucksack / gym bag but after the abuse it's inadvertently taken by being my go-to bag for the last 6 months, it has come out the other side still looking marvellous. There's no damage at all to the exterior, the stitching has stayed perfect, the straps haven't worn in any way that I can see. The only thing I can see that this bag has travelled over 7,000 miles is that the writing on the snack bag has slightly worn away. And that's it.

Only area of apparent wear - ignore the chocolate stains *burp*

I'm not convinced that this sports bag will EVER wear out, in fact I suspect it may well outlive me the way it's looking at the moment, but if it does I wouldn't hesitate to buy another.

I'd like to find a downside to balance the review out a bit, but quite frankly the only one I can find is that the writing has rubbed off the snack bag. After 7,000 miles and quite a lot of snacks. Which is pretty bloody good.

This is a link to my exact bag here

And because I'm lovely here's a discount code if you wish to buy one that gives you 20% off the retail price: SARMYA20