Summer Round-Up

Arrrghhgh! Where has the summer gone?! I’m braving it and trying to keep the toes out for as long as I possibly can, but I felt decidedly chilly on this morning’s first-school-run-of-year-four (I know, year four!!). It really does seem like yesterday that I was picking Hector up from school with the whole, long, warm (?!) summer holidays ahead of us, and here we are in September. It was a lovely summer holiday, with lots of fun activities, many active…

Body Boarding in Dorset

Body Boarding in Dorset

Some less active…

Crumble-bound

Crumble-bound

Some that involved getting muddy…

In Deptford Creek

In Deptford Creek

And some that involved getting wet…

Royal Victoria Docks

Royal Victoria Docks

This last image shows the Royal Victoria Docks in East London. Some readers might know this from the London Triathlon – this is the same body of water that thousands of tri-hopefuls leap into each year. You can now go swimming here on a regular basis, so I thought I’d give it a try. The opening times are limited obviously, so I found myself setting my alarm for silly o’clock one Sunday morning, in an attempt to cycle over there, swim and get back in time to volunteer at Hilly Fields junior parkrun. Phew! It was, incidentally, the same weekend as the London Triathlon and some of the roads were closed and already being sped along by eager athletes, so I sort of got lost-ish on my way. It was ok though, because I found an equally bemused cyclist heading in the same direction. We chatted open-water as we pedalled and it turned out this chap was training to swim the channel. Yes, the channel. I bowed as much as you can bow whilst riding a bike. Needless to say, he was off in his speedos as soon as we got there, whereas I, in my usual nervous-numpty mode sat sadly on the side, unable to get in. You see, the steps that are usually there were not there, they had been removed because they were not safe. I was told it was ok though “…because it’s about twenty feet deep, so you can dive in”. To many swimmers this would be an invitation to splash, but I instantly froze at the thought of:

a) twenty feet deep

and

b) dive in

and gently swished my toes in the perfectly still, calm, golden sunrise water while others jumped in and swam off into the distance. A very kind coach came over and chatted to me, giving me some tips about what to do when I got in (roll onto my back, allow some water into my wetsuit). I knew I would be fine once I got in, but I was stuck. Eventually I gave myself a good old talking to and reminded myself that there was a kayaker lifeguard there to call out to if I really couldn’t do it. And shalumph, I plopped in and rolled onto my back. It was fine. I couldn’t have chosen a more beautiful morning for it and set off towards a big red buoy at a steady heads-out breaststroke. Numpty. I had decided that I would swim the 400 or so meters around and back to the pontoon and maybe go around again if I felt good. I did and I did. Maybe trying to do this kind of thing on a tight schedule is not a good idea and I should give myself more time. To get in.

Lots more open-water swimming was done on our camping trip to Dorset, some lovely sea swims after sandy runs along the beach at Studland. I am ok once I’m in the water, I just need to be able to ease myself in slowly. Maybe diving is the next challenge, but I’ll need to be pushed…anyone?

So, what’s next?

In three weeks I will be taking on the London Duathlon again. Remember last year when I pushed so hard (and neglected hydration and fuelling so much) that I threw up at the end? Well, this year I will be finishing with a smile on my face and hopefully not needing to lie down in a crumpled heap. The following week I will be stepping up to the Olympic distance triathlon at Hever Castle. I am properly nervous about this. Every time I read about it, it’s billed as being tough, with a ‘technical’ bike course and challenging trail run. But hey, the swim is in a beautiful lake (and river!) in the grounds of a stunner of a castle! Eek! There are events following these, but I’ll just get these two out of the way first shall I?! 😉

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Aldi Camping Gear

Yes, camping gear! Aldi never fail to amaze me with their range of random items nestling between the freezers and fresh fruit. We’re not usually so organised, but this year we have been prompted by some friends to get our summer holiday sorted early and have our little square of Dorset camp-site already cordoned off and some fine weather requested. You may remember our camping exploits of a couple of years ago, when our – not that very old – tent decided to leak. A lot. We had many a night spent holding tea-towels to the roof in an attempt to stop our bedding getting wet and spent a small fortune on waterproofing spray which did bugger all. Last year we’d had enough and went for a bit of ‘glamping’. It’s all very nice turning up to a ready-made bed and home-comforts such as a log-burner and a…kitchen and bathroom (yes!), but we do like to camp ‘proper’, so took receipt of a new and heavily waterproof tent the other week. It was perfect timing, then, to receive some camping gear to review and give our trip a little more comfort.

*For the sake of taking photos, I have used a small assistant, but the items are all adult size and generously proportioned ;)*

First of all is the self-inflating ground mat. We normally use our now quite old roll-up mats that are little more than a yoga mat, but this is really rather good. As it was new, it took a little while longer to inflate, but once it had, it went from this:

Flat

Flat

To this:

Comfy

Comfy

It’s pretty comfy and will certainly give you plenty of distance between you and the cold ground, so contributing to some night-time warmth.

My glamorous assistant also had a go in the sleeping bag (I say ‘had a go’, he did a great impression of a caterpillar up and down the hall and played a making-objects-disappear-then-reappear-through-the-hole-at-the-bottom game…). I also had a lie in the sleeping bag, because I stopped using a ‘mummy’ type sleeping bag a few years ago, finding them a little restrictive, but this one if very roomy and I felt quite able to spread out a bit in it.

Fake sleeping

Fake sleeping

There are some useful details that make it better than the mummy bags I’ve used previously: it’s big and the ‘hood’ area is wide and doesn’t pull your head down, there is a draw-string around your shoulders to pull it tighter for warmth, there is a little internal zip pocket for valuables and this nifty little foot-zip is great if you’re tall, or just want some space/air around your feet.

Toesies

Toesies

We also tried out a little light:

Bulbous

Bulbous

It’s just the right size to hang in the bedroom space, using the handy little clip and has different settings, including flashing. I did wonder for a while when this might come in useful and arrived at the verdict that it could be handy to find your tent when you pop to the loo in the dark 🙂 All of the items in the Aldi range are perfect for a family camping adventure and a great budget option for festival-goers, with tents costing as little as £19.99 for a hiking tent and £29.99 for a dome tent. A few of my friends are throwing themselves wholeheartedly into the 12/24 hour endurance relay events that are happening during the summer, so the items such as sleeping bags (£17.99), lights (£3.49) and inflatable mats (£13.99) are perfect for a one-off weekend away (in fact I’ve lent the sleeping bag to one such friend for this coming weekend!).

The next date for the camping range at Aldi is June 25th, so get down there with all your rugged, outdoorsy needs and stock up while you can. And they have nice chocolate too, for a campfire treat 😉

Project Fitartist

It’s back-to-school time. I feel blue. It’s been a fantastic summer, with long, fun days spent building miniature boats to sail down the river, picking blackberries for jams and crumbles, playing in sandpits, splashing in the sea on our North Devon camping adventure and riding our bikes to wherever we please. I like the freedom of not being tied to a school timetable, and it’s fun starting a day not knowing what lies ahead. This morning Hector hid what I think was excitement at going back to school as he whizzed along on his bike in his uniform, he caught up with friends in the playground and lined up with his new teacher, blowing kisses as he went (this all makes me happy, knowing that he has the confidence to go in without getting upset, a long way from when he started out!). I then caught up with other parents on a slow stroll home, back into the same old routine.

I knew that fitting in any kind of structured exercise would be challenging over the summer holiday, so I decided not get stressed about it, and just did what I could. I did have a couple of weeks at the beginning where I didn’t run at all, then Hector was booked in for a week of intensive swimming: half an hour each morning. I would drop him off at the pool-side then run to the gym upstairs, run fast on the treadmill for twenty minutes then back down to get into my swimming costume and spend a bit of time in the pool with Hector after his lesson. Our holiday was spent along the South Coast Path where I managed three runs during the week. I say runs, but it was more of a climb, then a pause to take in the stunning view, another climb then another view, perfect.

Now I am able to fit in some structure again, what shall I do? To get me straight back into it, I booked myself in to the RPM class at the gym this morning, I’ve no idea. It’s a spin-type class I guess, I’m imagining pumping music, high action, sweating, calorie-burning. We’ll see. I have also registered for a local 10k on October 13th, so I have about five weeks to get 10k fit again. I would really like to run it comfortably and enjoy it, so will aim to fit in some longer runs in the next few weeks. Any ideas? Any challenges? Any races I should aim for? I’m open to suggestions!

New Running Accessory Alert!

I’m not really one to add bulk to my run, preferring to leave the house with just my Garmin and, if I’m feeling particularly gadgety, my iPod Shuffle; I just don’t like having too many things to think about. I was rather taken with this new accessory though:

The Running Mat

The Running Mat

The Running Mat will be familiar to those of you who watch Dragon’s Den on the BBC – I stopped watching DD when the dragons started being unnecessarily cruel to the poor hopeful business people (and I also find it hard to watch things through my hands, some of those presentations are squirmingly uncomfortable). The makers of The Running Mat were not causing any squirming though, and were strong enough to persuade both of the sour-looking female Dragons to invest in their product – well done! But what’s it all about?

The Running Mat is a portable exercise mat with a wide strap to allow you to carry it easily even whilst running.

Rear-view

Rear-view

The mat sits around your waist, rather like a slightly bulkier fuel belt, and can easily be opened out when a bit of resistance work takes your fancy.

Ready for action

Ready for action

I can see how this could be an excellent addition to the equipment bag of a personal trainer, but it’s not something you would want to take on a longer run. I have been in the position of having to try to fit in my running and resistance training wherever I can during the long school holiday, and it’s certainly something I can take on a shorter speed session and then have the flexibility of doing some floor work in the park en route. We haven’t had much of a mud problem of late, but the parched grass can be mighty spiky! I think The Running Mat will come into its own as the weather gets wetter and colder, offering a barrier between you and the uninviting mud. My own testing of the mat took place on our camping holiday in Devon and I found it perfect for a post-coastal-path-trek stretch and even took it to the beach to sit on whilst warming up after a rather bracing swim 🙂

Cool – but slightly damp – camping

It’s that time of year again, where I find myself drooling over camping equipment and family tents. If you read my recent post about our very lovely friends’ very lovely wedding, you might remember that we had a less than comfortable camping experience that weekend. We only got our tent two summers ago and have probably only had it out in the open for a total of about two weeks, so were a bit shocked and very disappointed when it started letting in rain all over our clothes, bedding and nice wedding clothes. I know the rain was heavy, but it’s supposed to be a good quality all-season tent, so you expect to at least have one dry night away! We were pitching it in quite a cramped corner of the garden, so it might not have been as tightly stretched as it could be, but that’s no excuse for the water levels in the various plastic tubs we put under the biggest drips/waterfalls.

Getting it up

Of course, the weather following that weekend has been rubbish, so any attempts at drying it out in the garden have been interrupted by panicky shouting of: ‘Get the tent in! It’s raining again!’. Edward did have a go at drying out our bedding on a deflating air-bed (another camping disappointment!) the morning after the wedding, but I think that was just an excuse to have a lie-down.

Drying out

It’s very tempting to just go out and buy a replacement tent, and I’ve been having a good look at some nice 4 man tents on Craigdon Mountain Sports. I do like the Vangos, but might steer clear next time! This Outwell is rather lovely – we did look at Outwells when we were buying ours, but they seemed expensive, I suppose you should expect that when you get a special Outwell doormat included. Before we go out and invest hundreds of pounds in a new tent, I have been trying to win one on the Cool Camping Facebook page…we’ll see, I am feeling lucky! While I’m at it, I might as well waterproof myself a bit better, since any camping trip in the UK is bound to encounter rain at the moment. I do have a nice Berghaus, but I find it a bit warm in the summer (ha, summer!) and wondered if a North Face Jacket might offer more breathability. This women’s hooded jacket is rather nice, and would be cool out and about.

In the meantime, I might look into pitching our tent in the garden, spraying the hose on it (yes, the hose-pipe ban has been lifted, before you report me to Thames Water), and see where the offending floodgate is. Any thoughts on additional waterproofing options, or should we just give in to the lure of the Outwell?