Life Lately - The Speed Project, Training, Wedding Plans and Puppies

I’ve been really struggling with writers block lately. I thought I’d come back from my big American adventure and be chomping at the bit to write, and honestly that’s not really been the case and all I’ve wanted to do is sleep! But I don’t want those amazing experiences to slip through the net, so let’s have a catch up and chat about life lately!

The Speed Project

Where do you even begin telling the story of such an epic adventure? 8 women, 5 crew and 340 miles from LA to Las Vegas, it was emotional and crazy, euphoric and painful, a true feat of focus and determination on the part of every person in the team. We were on the move for 60 hours, ran through amazing scenery and shady-as towns, fought, hugged, joked and argued. We felt every emotion going, had every thought, chatted so much sh*t and ate a hell of a lot of bagels and flatbread. It was insane and I came away from it really struggling to process everything that had happened.

image: Kaye Ford

image: Kaye Ford

I guess the biggest thing for me during the race was injury. I’d only run 1.5 miles when my achilles became unbearably painful - hot tight pain that stopped me in my tracks and meant I was on the radio to the car calling in an injury. I WAS SO PISSED OFF. I felt weak and pathetic, a let down to myself and my team. Of course I would end up the weakest link, why on earth did I think I had any right to be taking part in something like this? The thoughts going through my mind were a case study in beating yourself out and I’m ashamed to say I was sulky for a good few hours until our rolfer Michael helped ease out my muscles. Sadly the relief didn’t last long and my next leg the pain was back, but the mindset wasn’t. Yes I was frustrated for a moment, but as quickly as it started the negative self-talk was gone and my mind was wholly focused on what I could do. I knew I could run a mile at a time, and for every mile I ran that was one less my team mates needed to run. I also knew I could walk the sections that were technically very hard to run, so my team mates could save their legs. So I flexed and changed the plan, not the goal, in all running close to 40 miles (we think, I didn’t actually keep count) jumping in and out of the car and pushing myself to my limit.

image: Kaye Ford

image: Kaye Ford

TSP was the hardest and most epic adventure, and I am sure as I process more of my thoughts I’ll share more about it here now. But for the time being, if you ever get the opportunity to take part just say yes.

Training and Injury

When I decided to carry on running despite my injury I knew I was taking a big risk and that I wouldn’t be running for awhile afterwards. This isn’t something I’d do normally, but in the circumstances I made an informed decision to go with it. Coupled with the strain to my achilles, and the impact this had on my calf and knee as other muscles worked to accommodate the injury, I also took a fall during TSP which left me with scrapes and bruises up my left side and impact injuries to my hip and knee. All in all I arrived in Las Vegas in a bit of a state.

image: Kaye Ford

image: Kaye Ford

After TSP Mike and I had had all sorts of plans to go trail running in Joshua Tree, but my injuries meant this was off the cards and instead I spent time walking, resting and wallowing in hot tubs! It was pretty wonderful, but it was also awesome to get back to getting a sweat on in LA at my first ever Soul Cycle class (I cannot wait until the London studio opens this summer!) and since I got home I’ve found indoor cycling has been great for keeping my fitness up without doing further damage to my ankle.

I’m working with sports therapists to strengthen up my ankle and to address asymmetry between my right leg and my left leg so that in 4-6 weeks I’ll be able to get back to running (very gradually, probably following couch to 5km).

image: Kaye Ford

image: Kaye Ford

Honestly I’m not too down about the injury. It isn’t comfortable, but I knew the risks I was taking during the TSP and for me it is a small price to pay for something that meant so much to me. Not that this is an approach I’d suggest anyone else take!

Wedding Plans

Wow this last month has been an emotional rollercoaster! First there was all the feelings before, during and after TSP and then Mike went and proposed while I was hanging out in a rock on Split Rock Trail in Joshua Tree!

image: Let Me Show You Love

image: Let Me Show You Love

I won’t lie, we’ve been discussing this for awhile, but it was still very exciting when he actually asked (well, once I’d got past the confusion of wondering i. why he was fumbling in his pocket and ii. why he was handing me a medal, I seriously thought one of the other girls had left it in the SUV and didn’t know why he was giving it to me now!).

image: Let Me Show You Love

image: Let Me Show You Love

Neither of us are particularly into the idea of a long engagement, so we’ve decided to get married in London on 26 October 2019. Although a couple of people have been shocked and asked how we can possibly plan a wedding in that time (especially one for 150 people), it’s actually been really straightforward and I’m planning to share some more on the process we went through soon. It’s also extremely cool that everything has come together the way it has as it means we can get married in our neighbourhood and have our reception at a venue we know and love.

You can read about how I bought my dress here.

PUPPIES!!

This is the other reason I’ve not been writing much or posting on Instagram this week - we adopted a puppy and he is a handful!

A Life Update - The Speed Project, Training, Wedding Plans and Puppies - A Pretty Place to Play, London Running and Fitness Blog

Loki is a 9 week old Brussels Griffon and he is the cutest thing I have ever been in the presence of. Teeny tiny weeny, so soft and generally against the idea of sleeping at night time. We love him a lot.

A puppy had been on the agenda for awhile, but we wanted to wait and decide which breed would be best for us and find a breeder who we really liked. A couple of weeks ago the stars aligned and we discovered Loki was looking for a forever home. After meeting him, both his parents and his amazing breeder Elena we knew he was the one and took the plunge. It’s a huge deal adopting a puppy and Loki has totally upended our lives (and destroyed our sleep patterns), but it feels right for us and I’m so glad he has come into our lives.

So that’s where we’re at right now. It’s insane, overwhelming and very emotional, but I wouldn’t change it! Now back to marvelling at Loki’s tiny paws and grumpy little face!






Gendered Resistance (in Indoor Cycling)

Should Instructors Give Different Levels of Resistance to Men and Women in Indoor Cycling Sessions - A Pretty Place to Play, London Running and Fitness Blog

Since I got injured I’ve become obsessed with indoor cycling. Right now nothing comes close the sweaty endorphin boost I get from pounding it out on a bike, plus it’s a really good way to keep my fitness up when running is off the cards.

Because I’m a woman on a budget, and I don’t always want to go an workout at work, I decided to start hitting the spin classes at my local gym - Brockwell Lido. For just over forty quid a month I can take as many classes as I want, and if I stick to my goal of three bike sessions a week I’ll definitely be getting my moneys worth considering how much classes as boutique studios like Psycle are (although I do love them so!). So last Monday I toddled off to the Lido to check out my first class(s - obviously I decided to hit a double).

Being totally straight I wasn’t expected classes even close to those I’ve taken part in at Psycle, Boom or Heartcore, after all the Lido is essentially a local leisure centre not a trendy studio, and the offering reminded me a lot of the Spinning classes I used to go to occasionally as a teenager. The instructor shouts out a resistance and an RPM and you do your best to keep up, no fancy choreography and no faffing about with upper body, it is all about the bike. What I wasn’t expecting was the instructor to should out one level of resistance for ‘the ladies’ and another for ‘the men’, calling out those who weren’t on track as he wandered around the studio.

Maybe I’ve been training alone for too long, or maybe I spend too much time in high end studios, but I honestly thought that this approach had died a death. While I’ve heard stories of ‘ladies weights’ I figured that type of thing was a one off, and that I wouldn’t experience sexism around performance in any gym I went to.

Now this isn’t about my capabilities or ego - if anything my current injury means I need less resistance rather than more - but it is about the messages we share with men and women about their capabilities as athletes (and in this context I’m using athlete to refer to anyone who moves, because Chevy Rough raised me right). It’s also as much an issue about men and masculinity as it is about women - reinforcing notions that as a man you should be able to achieve a particular level of athleticism based on your chromosomes, something we are gradually realising is deeply damaging. Similarly, it reinforces notions that women are inherently weaker than men, and therefore need to tone down their exertion, which again promotes damaging stereotypes. Yes, men and women do have physiological differences that can impact performance, but at the level of a sports centre cycling class this isn’t an element I think is particularly relevant.

Should Instructors Give Different Levels of Resistance to Men and Women in Indoor Cycling Sessions - A Pretty Place to Play, London Running and Fitness Blog

Leaving class the instructor’s directions played on my mind, and I decided to ask some of my friends who teach indoor cycling for their thoughts. Was this actually a relatively normal approach that I’d simply missed by riding in fancy studios? Was there a good reason for gendered resistence?

Honestly most people I spoke to (including other staff at the Lido) were really surprised that anyone still took this approach, although (and much to her credit!) Mollie did fess up and tell me that she thinks that she’s probably done similar when training people on Keiser bikes (where there’s a visual display of resistance, so similar to what I was riding during this class). Mollie commented that as an instructor it can be hard to know where everyone is at in terms of strength, and while you could give guidance based on the idea of beginner and advanced riders it is easy to cheat, and some people might identify more with directions based on gender. I can see where Mollie is coming from, but I’d argue that we need to take care around reproducing narratives - it’s like your Mum always says, just because so-and-so does something it doesn’t mean you have to as well. When it comes to gender ideology (and this scenario is a prime example) we need to be alive to challenging rhetoric and language if we want to promote change.

I was curious to know how this all worked from a training perspective, and Carly chatted me through the various approaches to coaching in a class setting. Reflecting on my experience she explained how the instructor I encountered may have slipped into assumptions around gender and performance - when teaching indoor cycling you can work on watts (power) and give an indication on what athletes should be aiming for, and her thesis is that the instructor may have interpreted this as related to the factual biological capacity of each gender. Which does make sense, although as I mentioned earlier in this post I don’t think is necessarily relevant when considering performance in the context of a leisure centre fitness class. But then maybe I’m underestimating my fellow Lido goers and my analysis is actually based on bias?

Carly told me that the approach used in my class wasn’t one she’d use herself as she’d worry about alienating women and making men feel ashamed if they weren’t able to reach the prescribed resistance, as well as bringing negative segregating language into an environment where she’s trying to make people feel good (God I love that woman). She also highlighted that performance is affected by a myriad of different issues, some of which can vary almost by day - take my leg injury for example - and really prescriptive instructions about things like power and resistance aren’t helpful if you take this into account. While the intention might be to encourage people to push themselves, this could really backfire. It’s a tricky balance.

Should Instructors Give Different Levels of Resistance to Men and Women in Indoor Cycling Sessions - A Pretty Place to Play, London Running and Fitness Blog

I can’t begin to imagine the challenges of teaching a group fitness class, but I do think community environments have a responsibility to be conscious of the impact of words and actions and that it’s important we reframe athletic efforts if we want to break down gender barriers in sport. Hell, we need to do this if we want to break down barriers that suggest you can only participate if you’re already fit or athletic.

What are your thoughts on this? Do we have a responsibility to be mindful of the effect of our approach on gender, or am I being a bit extra?

*images: Anna Rachel Photography for The Altitude Centre.

Buying My Wedding Dress at David's Bridal

I am not the type of girl who’s dreamed of her wedding dress since childhood. The idea of slipping on a fluffy white confection felt so alien to me and although I think other people look beautiful in their dresses, I just couldn’t fathom wearing one myself. I mean I feel like I’m playing dress up when I wear a suit, and I did that for years, so a big white dress was a very intimidating prospect!

Before I even started dress shopping I had to work really hard to manage my prejudices about wedding dresses, in my mind the vast majority were ugly, lacy, foofy and just not me! On top of that I was a bit stressed out because dresses seemed so expensive (like £1.5k as a starter for 10!) and the idea of stepping in a wedding dress shop terrified me. My first thought was to look for a dress on the high street because it would be more affordable and a more comfortable shopping experience, but honestly nothing I saw felt special enough or particularly ‘me’, so it was time to suck it up, bump up my budget and do some ‘proper’ wedding dress shopping.

Buying My Wedding Dress At David's Bridal - A Pretty Place to Play, London Running and Fitness Blog

Talking to people who’ve been there I quickly learnt the trick to wedding dress shopping is to go in with an open mind, try lots of styles out and take things from there. With all this in mind I started pulling together styles I took a liking to on Pinterest (you can follow my board here) and then looking at different designer look books to see if there was anything that I thought would work for me. Initially I dismissed David’s Bridal because I thought it might be a bit cheap and nasty, but when I vented my frustrations about dress shopping loads of people suggested I check it out, if only because there would be lots of different styles to try out - and everyone knows that when it comes to wedding dresses you end up loving something you never thought you’d go for!

I won’t lie. I was terrified of the experience at David’s Bridal. I thought it would be really impersonal, driven by stereotypes and that bell! How wrong was I! Arriving at the store in Westfield Stratford it was actually really reassuring that there were lots of other brides there, it really took the pressure off and seeing how nervous other women looked made me feel like I wasn’t alone in my nerves. After we signed in we were given some time to brows the racks (and racks!) of dresses. There’s no pomp and ceremony, you can touch all the samples, hold them up, feel the fabric and properly explore all the options. Although there’s lots to choose from and lots of brides/friends/family around the spacious studio doesn’t feel crowded, and it was really easy to look at all the dresses on offer without any pressure. The dresses themselves were absolutely beautiful - not at all cheap and nasty - and, much to my delight, actually prices within my original budget. I had a good feeling about this!

Buying My Wedding Dress At David's Bridal - A Pretty Place to Play, London Running and Fitness Blog

Once we’d had a look around my lovely consultant Maria took us off to find out more about the wedding, the venue, my style and everything else that would help her help me find a dress I loved. Maria had my number pretty quickly (I think the trainers I presented as my wedding shoes might’ve given the game away!) and really helped put me at ease, telling me all about her barefoot beach wedding, how she’s not into frou frou dresses either and generally reassuring I had the woman I needed on my side.

We started out with a few of the dresses I’d pulled, each time assessing how it looked and felt on and thinking about which elements to keep and what to avoid. Fish tail was out, so were sleeves and much to my surprise so were all the boho styles I thought I’d love! Gradually we chipped away, trying on lots of dresses until Maria pulled out a bit of a wild card. A style that it hadn’t crossed my mind to try, and which turned out to be absolutely perfect. I felt all fizzy and special when Maria helped me in to it, something I honestly didn’t expect to experience. I thought the whole ‘the one’ thing was rubbish when it came to wedding dresses, well it’s not. And I found mine, much to my surprise, in David’s Bridal!

(although I did refuse to ring the bell…not really my scene!)