1. Serial Reader: This app takes books that are out of copyright and chops them up into bite-sized chunks called “issues” (10-15 minutes reading time). It delivers one issue of your selected work to you every 24 hours. It’s been a great help to me in getting me to sit down and read full-length novels again. H/t to [personal profile] fred_mouse for bringing it to my attention. Since installing the app a few months ago, I have re-read most of the Sherlock Holmes mysteries (3-5 issues each), Northanger Abbey (30 issues), The Secret Garden (37 issues), The Importance of Being Earnest (9 issues) and Anne of the Island (32 issues). I’m in the middle of Moonfleet (32 issues), which is new to me, and also Anne’s House of Dreams (33 issues), which is a childhood favourite. I do most of my reading on the train or in the bath, and keeping up with 2-3 serials at once is perfect for those activities.

  2. Fitbit: The bloke got me a Fitbit Charge for UK Mother’s Day (back in March). Just to be clear that this was not foisted upon me, let me assure you all that I asked for it in advance. Exercise and weight stuff )

  3. Spotify: The bloke upgraded his Spotify account to the Family version so I could use and we could put it on the tablet for the kids. I don’t think I’m overstating matters when I say that this, combined with dropping a little cash on a decent pair of earbuds, has improved in my mental health. Over the past few years, I’d gotten out of the habit of listening to new music. Much as I love joking about being an aging rivethead with musical tastes stuck in 1994-2003 (which is still true of my preferences in EBM), I have missed the kick of finding a new song I really liked and listening it to death, seat-dancing to it on the train and memorising the lyrics. Amongst the things I’m currently obsessing over are the latest Goldfrapp album, MØ and the Suicide Squad soundtrack.

    Also, it was wonderful to be able to (almost) immediately download Ukrainian electro-folk band ONUKA’s entire oeuvre on the app in the middle of watching Eurovision. Learning to love Eurovision after moving to the UK is a whole entry in itself, but suffice to say it is now an annual ritual, involving cooking the food of the host country (Ukrainian flatbread and beetroot salad, thank you, the bloke!), drinking silly cocktails and shouting a lot in disagreement at the judging (Azerbaijan was robbed).

    In conclusion: Spotify! Brilliant! Yeah, yeah, I know I’m a decade late to the party. Whatevs. I still love my MP3 library, even if most of it is pre-2004.
Worcester 10k, pre-race
Pre-race appalled face.

On Sunday morning, as an early birthday present to myself (it's tomorrow), I ran the Worcester 10k. This may sound like a weird thing to give yourself as a birthday present, but I signed up in March as a "get fit enough to do this and you will feel good about yourself on your birthday" sort of thing. Despite many doubts - especially the preceding Saturday night - I'm happy to report that this worked out as planned.

Since we have two children under the age of three, getting up early enough for the race wasn't a problem. However, getting to Worcester turned out to be a bit of a 'mare. The drive down was fine. (We would have loved to have taken public transport but the Sunday train service from our little town of BFN is almost nonexistent and doesn't start until after 10 AM.) Most of the centre of town was blocked off because the race goes down the high street for a stretch, so finding an accessible car park was difficult. I ended up jumping out of the car at an intersection, after a small barney with the bloke, so that I could get to the race start in time. Annoyingly, it turned out that he was right to encourage me to get out and walk because it took him 45 minutes to park. I was as gracious about this as might be expected. :P

I trotted off to the start line and placed myself in the "55 mins to 1 hr 15 mins" corral after passing some extremely fit-looking people warming up. One of them might have been Jo Pavey, who won the women's race, but it was so foggy I couldn't say for certain. It was very cold and I was grateful for my fancy hooded long-sleeved running top with the thumb holes. I tried not to hack up my lungs onto the other runners milling about. Eventually I noticed that nearly everyone was wearing their bib number (with integrated chip timer) on the front. I'd carefully safety-pinned mine to my back. After asking around, I discovered that the instructions had actually specified that the number should be on the front. Er. Oops.

Being so far back, I didn't actually cross the start line until over a minute after the starting gun went. I had decided beforehand that I would not worry about my time and instead try to keep running (or jogging) for the entire race. I run 5k quite regularly and I know I can do it in 31 minutes without killing myself. This was running 5k...and then immediately running a second 5k. As the crowd thinned out, I slotted myself behind a runner who'd activated her phone app to speak her pace aloud, so I knew I was going at a maintainable speed, e.g. slower than I would for a 5k.

As I trotted past the 1k marker, thanking race marshals and cheering people as I went, I suddenly realised something unexpected was happening. I was having fun. Between the 2k and 3k markers, I high-fived a number of kids with their hands out, and also kissed the bloke and the babies, who were waiting near a traffic signal to cheer me. I exchanged desultory remarks with other runners.

Approaching the 5k marker, the fog began to lift and I enjoyed the spectacular view over the river. I also learnt from my pace-setter's app that I'd taken 36 minutes to run the first 5k. I still had plenty of gas in the tank, to my surprise and pleasure, so I decided to speed up a tiny bit. I passed her.

At 7.5k, I sped up a tiny bit more. At 8k, a little bit more. Lots of cheering, thanking the marshals, enjoying views from bridges and high fives along the way. Finally, at 800 metres from the finish, I saw a chap slow down to a walk. I trotted up next to him and said, "Come on! Run with me! We're almost there, you can do it." He smiled and said, "Right, I'm coming," and started up again slowly. We ran together briefly, and then I waved at him, wished him luck and sped up again.

The bloke and the babies had managed to make their way to a spot within 200 metres of the line, so I got a second big cheer from my fan club to spur me on to [the closest thing I could manage to] a sprint finish. My chip time was 1:07:20, putting me near, but not at, the bottom of the pile.

So yeah, I was really slow, but hey, I was ill and I had a baby nine months ago, and most importantly I enjoyed myself immensely. I'm counting this one as a win.

Worcester 10k, post-race
Me with my medal right after the race.

(PSA: Neither Google Photos nor LJ's scrapbook are playing nice with DW. For the moment, if you want to see the photos, please go to the LJ crosspost as that's the only place they seem to be showing up. Sod it, I've reverted to using Flickr. It should be visible everywhere now.)
Me and mah ladies

(from left to right: K, me, M, H)

This weekend, I ran the Cambridge 5k Race for Life, which raises funds for cancer research, with three of my lady friends.

A few months ago I posted to [community profile] runners asking how to keep a group together during a race. It turns out to be fairly simple to organise - ask who wishes to be in the group first! We ended up running as 3+1, with three of us paced similarly (running continuously) while the fourth ran alone (in intervals) partly from personal preference and partly from necessity due to injury.

We arrived at Parkers Piece, where the race began, about half an hour early. I left the house feeling rather self-conscious in my kitteh outfit. We rounded a corner onto a busy road and were faced with two angels, three fairies, a bunny and a chicken. My self-consciousness evaporated.

On reaching the green, we were blinded by pink. Thousands of girls and women in pink. Seven and a half thousand, according to the official tally. We marveled at matching mothers and daughters, at tutus, at feathered head-dresses. Then we tried to place ourselves in the correct corral for the start of the race. We opted for what we thought was the "runners" corral, but ended up going through in the first pulse of 1000 participants, amongst the "serious runners". This turned out to be a stroke of good luck, as due to the congestion we had to pretty much walk the first 500 metres.

The field opened out after that and my companions H & M and I took off. We started passing people. In fact, we spent most of the race passing people. At one point, M, who has a weak ankle, took a tumble to a chorus of "Ooohs". She rolled (hello, self-defense training) and was on her feet in the next instant, to a chorus of "Yaaaays". We threaded through the crowds as one kilometre after another melted away. Spectators cheered us on. I received many compliments on my costume. Each gave me a little extra burst of energy. We kept up our banter for almost 4k. Just before the marker, we saw H's husband and son. Her husband cheered. The baby snoozed obliviously.

As we rounded onto Jesus Green for the last 500 metres, we started going faster by unspoken agreement. There was more space, so we could push ourselves harder. Chatting stopped abruptly. H, who is the fastest, silently egged us on, incrementally increasing her pace until with fists raised and adrenaline pumping, we bounced across the finish, 31:24 after we'd started.

I figure we probably could have done it in under 30 minutes if it weren't for the early congestion and a couple of bottlenecks that slowed us down. For a first attempt at keeping a group together and for what was really a fun run (no timing chips involved), I feel pretty happy about the performance. It would have been impossible for us to train together as M normally lives across an ocean. K, the friend who did intervals, finished in just over 35 minutes. I'm also pleased because I never thought that running would be a form of exercise that I would enjoy quite so much. I don't have a "natural" runner's build, as you can see from the pictures under the cut, and I'll never be a placing competitor, but the fantastic atmosphere and energy of races is well worth the training.

Also, I was pleased because my kitty ears stayed on the whole way.

I've now done a 5k adventure race and a straight 5k. The next step up for me is a 10k in October!

+4 )

x-posted to [community profile] runners: Apologies to those for whom this is turning up twice.
I may have signed up to do another race. It's the 5k Race for Life in July.

I may have also decided that I want to do it in a silly outfit again. A silly pink outfit. The burning question is: Kitteh, or Pirate?

KittehPirate 1Pirate 2

Try to picture them paired with sensible running shoes, yeah?

Open to: Registered Users, detailed results viewable to: All, participants: 13

Which of these outfits should I wear for the next race?

View Answers

7 (53.8%)

Pirate 1
4 (30.8%)

Pirate 2
2 (15.4%)

nanila: me (me: ooh!)
( Mar. 17th, 2011 04:43 pm)
After 11 weeks of successfully going to the gym at least three times a week, I've decided that this must be working for me, even if it does require a 5:45 AM wake-up call at least twice a week. It may seem logical to some to suggest that I go in the evenings instead, but I have two reasons for not doing this. Firstly, it would mean I'd have to pay for a peak time membership, which is £20/month more expensive. Secondly, I'd have to forgo spending my evenings with the bloke. He's not awake from 6-7 AM most of the time, so we don't miss out on one another's company then. Much as I'd like not to have to rely on belonging to a gym to get regular exercise, I've faced up to the evidence of the past few years that having a routine and a fixed venue keeps me going, so I'm going to bite the bullet and sign up for a yearly contract.

I've even lost weight (about 3 kilos/7 pounds). That wasn't my goal, but it's a pleasant side effect.

I'm hoping this will turn into a habit I don't even notice I'm maintaining, although that's a bit of a challenge (see: 5:45 AM start).

Additional detail about gym habits: probably of interest only to other gym rats. )
ETA: I've decided to keep this as a rolling list of long-term goals.

I'm going to break my "New Year Resolutions must always be silly" rule this year, and actually put down some concrete goals for 2011 2012. I'm trying to break them down into bite-size, achievable steps so they get done. And I'm making this post sticky for two reasons: (a) I can easily update it as I achieve Things, and add new Things to Achieve and (b) so the goals, er, stick. *pause for collective groan*

Teal Deer version: Get UK driving license, exercise regularly, DIY, see friends more, travel. Hello, I am a middle-class cliche! )
The bloke & I had to drive to Royston from deepest darkest Norfolk this morning in order to participate in The Spartan Race, which was my very first competitive race. As we headed down the A603, we noted what wonderful weather we had for our race. It was pissing rain, about 13 Celsius/55 Fahrenheit and very windy. I immediately began regretting the very skimpy costume I had on underneath my zipped hoodie.

We drove up to find that although none of our friends had been able to make it to cheer us on, several hundred other people were there to run it. And they all seemed to be about 21 and extremely fit, whereas our last two weeks of training had mostly consisted of sitting around with my visiting relatives, drinking wine and eating chocolate. I started to regret the costume even more.

There was nothing for it, however. We handed in our waivers and picked up our race shirts and numbers. We jogged to the car to shed our outer layers and returned to the lineup for the 11:30 AM heat. A man came through, handing out Red Bulls. The bloke took one, but I didn't since I already needed to pee, probably because I was nervous. Other people in silly outfits materialized. None of them were women. I jogged up and down and hugged the bloke a lot, trying to ignore everyone else, mostly unsuccessfully.

On orders from the marshal, we let out a huge whoop and started. I tried to rein myself in so I didn't get too exhausted. The first 500 metres were largely obstacle-free. And then we hit the creek. "Get in there!" shouted a giant. We slid down the bank into thigh-deep water and sloshed along the muddy onrushing current for a hundred metres or so. Once we climbed out, we immediately entered the tunnel. This should have been the scariest part of the race for me. It was absolutely pitch-black, you had to crawl, and it was at least a hundred metres long. However, everyone was being extremely nice, calling back and forth to one another, keeping up the spirits of the people who were getting scared and letting everyone know when to stop if someone up ahead had slipped.

We unscrunched ourselves into the daylight and shook ourselves out as we ran toward the next obstacle, a hill of slippery gravel. It had to be surmounted with a running start. I slipped, but made it over with a skinned knee. Another stretch of running warmed us up again, just in time to reach the lake. And this, to my surprise, was where I balked.

I'm not afraid of swimming. I am, however, afraid of leaping feet-first into freezing murky water. The bloke coaxed me into a flying jump, and then I began to pull myself along the blessed guide rope they'd put in for people who are afraid of swimming. I started to hyperventilate. I couldn't get my legs to kick me along. With the bloke behind me and a chap in a canoe in front of me chivvying me along, I managed to drag myself the length of the swimming course, which fortunately was only about 50 metres long. The bloke pulled me onto the bank on the other side and I gasped and started to run again, cursing my soaking skirt.

The leap through fire seemed like a doddle after that horrific swim, as did the face-first crawl through the mud under canvas.

A short jog through the woods and we reached the next filthy crawl under barbed wire. I was grateful to be small at that point, as I had at least an inch of clearance from being snagged even when on my hands and knees. We had to climb over a net wall next. I nearly failed at this, but with a bit of a boost from one of the guys keeping pace with us, I managed to clear the top of the net, though I lost my paper number at that point.

A lady with a fire hose met us on the other side of the trees. Somehow she managed to soak me without making me any cleaner, or at least it seemed like that at the time. Two men passed us wielding sticks. One of them landed a good wallop on my backside. This was supposed to be encouraging. For some reason, it was. I noticed that some large, fit men were now passing us and realized that the 12:00 PM heat must have started a while ago. If the race had been a straight 5k, I would have been depressed, since I know I can run 5k in under half an hour. Clearly this was not a normal 5k, however.

The wind had picked up and was directly in our faces. The last kilometre and a half consisted mostly of hills and hurdles. If you couldn't surmount one of the pieces of army training equipment, you had to forfeit with pushups. I didn't know this in advance, but I have been doing the six-week 100 pushups course and it paid off, since I could only do about 75% of the challenges. Chinups: fail. Balance beam, hurdles and monkey bar crossings: win (yay for being an ex-gymnast).

Just before the finish line, two men wrapped in red tunics and wielding huge padded sticks awaited us. I charged at them, screeching with the last of my energy. They tripped me, but I didn't go down. I staggered toward the timekeepers, gasped out my number and turned around to see the bloke - who let me cross first, bless him - get thumped thoroughly by the padded sticks.

A Spartan lady handed us our medals and a bottle of water and we retreated, panting, to watch a few more people cross the line while we gradually became aware of the injuries sustained during the race: ripped hands, skinned knees, bruises. We patted each other the back and hobbled back to the car to take a few photos before peeling off our still-soaking clothes.

Post-race photos )

This race forced me to face most of my physical fears in quick succession. Like the outfit, the worst part wasn't the one I expected. (If I ever have to run a race in a skirt again, it's getting rolled up and pinned to the waistband before I start.) I didn't finish last in my heat, although I still don't know exactly what my time was. I'm proud that I did it, and that I managed to raise £245 for charity to boot by running it in a silly outfit.
You know when you're working out and suddenly your thong gets trapped in your cooch in a strange and painful position, but you're the only girl in the free weight area with about ten guys and therefore it's safe to assume that you're always being covertly watched, so there's no way you can get your hand down there to yank it out without being seen?

Yeah, I hate that too.
I went to my first street dance class last night, at Pineapple Dance Studios, in an attempt to find a new hobby.

I always considered myself a decent dancer. I have a sense of rhythm. I get my share of compliments when I dance free-form. While not a hard-core athlete, I've committed fair swaths of time in my life to gymnastics, ballet, capoeira, tai chi (Yang and Chen styles), rock-climbing and just plain working out (cardio and weight-bearing exercise). I'm rarely afraid to get on the floor at any nightclub, with the exception of Ruby Tuesday's, a hip-hop club here in London that a lot of breakdancers go to. This probably should have told me something.

I arrived about half an hour before the class was supposed to start and paid the £4 daily membership fee. (Before 5 pm, it's £2.) The number of people in the reception area and the changing rooms overwhelmed me at first. From what the instructor said later about her class schedule, I'd assume it's that way more or less all the time except during the day and on Monday evenings. I wandered around for a bit, peering into the studios to watch classes and felt slightly relieved, as it didn't seem that many of those were full. I didn't take into account, though, that those were intermediate and advanced level classes.

The instructor started the class by collecting the fee (£6), which took about five minutes because the class size was completely uncontrolled. There must have been fifty or sixty people packed into the 20'x15' room. There really wasn't enough space for that many "beginners," especially since the studio doesn't provide lockers. Everyone left their backpacks and coats lying around the edges of the studio, which reduced the usable area of the room even further. I admit, I resented the use of that amount of class time for collection of dues since it was only an hour long anyway. She whipped us through a five-minute warm-up and then taught us a four 8-count dance routine in forty minutes.

I put beginners in quotation marks earlier because, while forty minutes might be enough for people with a background in dance to learn so short a routine (and they did, which was intimidating to the actual beginners), it is not appropriate for the absolute beginner at all. I learned all the moves – I can still remember the entire routine – but I could not do them at the speed required to match the beat of even the slowest music that she used. She also confused the class more than once by telling us to start from one place in the routine and then actually demonstrating it from another. A significant percentage of students were falling over one another because of the lack of space and their inability to keep up. Although I was relieved to be more coordinated than that, it was still pretty frustrating.

If my inability to keep up weren't already humiliating enough, I felt, for the first time in my life, pretty goddamn ancient in this class. I was twice as old as the youngest of the attendees and probably a good five to ten years older than the majority. I don't want to let that deter me. Most people seem to guesstimate me at about five years younger than I am anyway.

I doubt I'd take the same class again. I might go back on a quieter night to try a different class, but overall I was not terribly impressed. It was expensive, it was much too crowded and it was badly paced (for me, anyway). My quest for a new hobby continues.