Archive for the 'Review' Category

01
Mar
14

aerial adventure

They say that you should try and not pass on your fears and shortcomings to your offspring. It would appear that I have been successful in this as my eldest (12yr old) son requested that, for a birthday treat, he would like to try a High Ropes Adventure. I am, ahem, “not good with heights” and my palms started sweating at the mere mention of it but I calmed myself enough to log on to Activity Superstore and order a “High Ropes Adventure for Two“… I just had to convince my wife to do it with him now…

Much grovelling later, and Mrs Eatingtrees and SonNumberOne had booked their afternoon for Half Term. It was all very easy and they even managed to change the date at late notice due to us not fully checking our calendar for planned half term events.

So, the day came and , after a briefing session, they were on their way up the ladders to the first level. Once clipped on to the safety wiring, they were off, navigating the high wires and series of suspended planks that was their route through the skies. My palms were now pouring just watching them and, once the circuit of the first level had been completed, my wife called it a day and joined the rest of the sensible people on the ground.

My son, wanted to go up to the second level, so we watched from the ground as he traversed more obstacles even further from the floor. I was reduced to pacing up and down at this point. Pacing up and down and checking my emails on my phone. In fact looking anywhere but up – where my son was making his way towards the grand finale…

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The end of the course is a 10 metre freefall – the harness is clipped to a rope attached to a fan and you basically, and there is no subtle way to phrase this, hurl yourself off of a platform and plummet to the floor. Obviously, this is a completely safe “freefall” and science would back up the claim that a giant air brake is a pretty dependable system. Still, it is hard for a parent scared of heights to watch his first born throw himself from a platform 10 metres up.

My son was breathless with exhilaration when he met up with me afterwards, he had enjoyed the day and immediately asked if he could come back again to tackle the higher 30 metre freefall next time. He can, but I may not be able to take it all again!

The day was booked through Activity Superstore – they have a whole range of gift experiences for kids and adults, you can browse them HERE.

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09
Oct
13

saturday morning segway

It’s a Saturday morning and I am standing, along with 9 others, in the grounds of a swish hotel, next to a table covered in boxes of protective equipment and helmets. We are waiting to be briefed for our Segway Rally. Soon there is a high pitched hum of of electrical motors and our instructor emerges from the woods on his Segway followed by 10 smiling attendees from the group before us – all motoring along on the odd 2-wheeled vehicles. They all look remarkably at home on the machines and I assume they must be an advanced group…

I had seen footage of Segways before – most famously of George W. Bush falling off of one – and the image I had in my head of a Segway was of a fragile looking white plastic contraption – a little like an upright Sinclair C5. These however were VERY different – solid, sturdy and with plenty of room to stand and large, chunky off-road tyres. They looked substantial. And reassuring.

Within minutes, we are kitted out with pads and helmets and are undergoing a safety briefing – the correct way to mount and dismount the Segway, how to turn and, most importantly, how to stop. Then we are led to a small course marked out with cones and allowed to practice manoeuvering.

Mounting the Segway for the first time is an unusual experience. The Segway is controlled by shifting your weight so stepping onto it is initially a precarious job – you attempt to gain your balance and as you shift your weight the Segway begins to move back and forth. A little disconcerting but it only takes a few seconds to acclimatise. Steering is performed not by turning the handlebar but by pushing it sideways. As the wheels move independently, a push fully to one side makes one wheel go forward and one backwards effectively allowing you to pirouette on the spot. This is what makes the Segway so manoeuverable. After we have all had a chance to get acquainted with our Segways, we tentatively follow our instructor out into the woods where we are shown a course marked out through the trees. This is out track and we are now turned loose to ride round it. Everyone takes it easy for the first few laps but confidence and speed comes surprisingly quickly. Our instructors watch from the middle of the track to ensure no-one gets into difficulty and soon everyone is making their way round the track at their own pace.

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There is something exhilarating about twisting and turning through a forest on a near silent machine. Anyone who has ridden a mountain bike will relate to the experience but unlike a mountain bike, you are not the power source. The steering becomes intuitive very quickly and is like one of those dreams where you are flying – you think about going in one direction and you just go there. This must be how Harry Potter feels whilst playing Quidditch on his broomstick.

After about 40 minutes, and just as I am beginning to physically tire a little, our instructor tells us we have one more lap before heading back. Soon we are all following him out of the woods, single file, back to where we were briefed an hour ago. The difference is this time, to the people waiting for their session to start, we look like the advanced group – effortlessly gliding across the terrain on the funny little electric vehicles.

Once we had removed our padding and helmets, everyone was talking about how much fun they had. Un-scientifically, I took a quick straw poll and asked everyone I could how many would do it again – everyone I spoke to said they would. It is a brilliant, fun activity that can be done with a bunch of friends or booked as an experience for a special occasion. No-one can get too competitive and it would make a great “team-building” activity for a business – far better than the hackneyed attempts at trying to construct a bridge or build a raft. I really enjoyed it – far more than I expected – and will definitely be doing it again.

This and other gift Experience Days can be booked through Activity Superstore.

29
May
13

hatfield broad oak 10k race review

 

Bank Holiday Monday and an unusually warm and sunny morning. Hatfield Broad Oak is a few miles from Stansted Airport but the sleepy, villagey feel and the lack of plane noise makes this feel more rural. The race is timed to coincide with the local Flower Show so there are stalls in the church grounds, a hog roast outside the pub and what seems like the entire occupancy of the village out on the streets to enjoy the sunshine and the events.

 

Runners mingle with locals prior to the race, the race HQ is buzzing and with 5 minutes to go, everyone gets themselves to the start. Bang on time the race starts and we are off through the village, the streets lined on both sides with cheering crowds filling the pavements. The village is soon left behind and the field thins out as we make our way along country roads and through the beautiful Essex countryside. The course for the first 4k is mostly flat with a few gentle undulations. Just before 5k, the route heads back towards the village and dips down. We see the front runners coming back the other way and then veer right and head off up a long slow incline between kilometres 6 and 7. So we know what lies ahead of us…

 

A water stop at 5km and then we too are on the route back out of the village and up the slope. It is tougher than it appears, partly because it is now very warm and partly because it is what the have been referring to in the Giro D’Italia as a “false flat” – it is a continual gentle upward slope which flattens out periodically before slowly, almost imperceptibly rising upwards again. At about 8km, I am gritting my teeth and hoping that the end will come soon. I start mentally ticking off the distance… 2kms to go, 1500 metres to go…

 

At 9km, the course plays it’s nastiest trick of all and suddenly steepens. This is made worse by signs at 200m intervals telling you that it is 800m to go, then 600m to go. But those 200m increments seem to be very slow in coming. With 200m to go, you still cannot see the finish and it is only with 100m left that you reach the brow of the hill, see the crowd and the finish and have a 100m sprint on wobbly legs to the line.

 

Orange slices and water after the finish line and then a slow queue for the (admittedly very nice) red race technical t-shirt and to have timing chips removed.

Post race, I bought myself a slice of home made cake from inside race HQ before accompanying SonNumberOne and SonNumberTwo on the free kids Fun Run. A mile run around the village on streets closed to traffic.

Al in all a very nice day. A great, friendly event, a scenic route and good support from the locals who all came out to cheer us on

 

16
Mar
13

jack wolfskin vapor trail xt jacket review

I’d started to fret: I needed kit for my forthcoming cycling trip across Holland & Belgium en route to the Maas Half Marathon. It all had to be functional, lightweight and easily stowed when not in use. Top of the list was a jacket – the first and last line of defence between myself and whatever the Dutch and Belgian weather could throw at me. I’d read a few reviews of different jackets and was searching for something lightweight, waterproof and windproof that packed down small enough to stuff in a rucksack pocket. The Jack Wolfskin Vapor Trail XT looked like just the ticket…

I have had the jacket for the past few weeks and had the opportunity to try it out in a number of situations. English weather being what it is, the jacket has been used in fog, drizzle, heavy rain, sleet, snow and wind. Whilst running and also on the bike it has performed admirably. The Jack Wolfskin website claims that it is waterproof, windproof and remarkably lightweight and I would agree with all 3. I am always dubious of claims that fabrics can keep rain out but breathe enough to keep you dry inside but even on a breezy 17k run where I worked up a real sweat, it kept the moisture from my skin and the wind out – avoiding that chilly, clammy feeling you get with some outer layers. The jacket is well designed with velcro closures at the cuffs and drawstrings at the waist, neck and hood ensuring that drips and draughts are kept out. On the bike, it is long enough at the back to not expose any flesh to the elements, ensuring both warmth and dignity are kept intact. If adjusted correctly, the hood fits snugly around the face and the built in peak keeps the rain from your eyes. There is one internal mesh chest pocket which doubles as a carrying bag – roll the jacket up and flip it into the pocket and then stuff it into a rucksack pocket or hang it from a belt loop. I was initially confused by the lack of additional pockets at hip level (stopping to use my phone, I was fumbling about for somewhere to put my gloves – ending up looking like someone “doing the locomotion”) but this is a small criticism of an otherwise excellent jacket. In fact it is this minimal, essential approach to the design that makes the jacket so functional and, at only 290g, lightweight.

VAPOR-TRAIL-XT-JACKET-MEN-1104451-4034_1_Front

I went for the “leaf green” which is bright enough to be easily visible without being hi-viz and has reflective detailing on chest, shoulder, cuffs etc. to add that extra bit of visibility after dark. There are other darker colours (blue and charcoal grey) that are less ostentatious for everyday wear. But for me, the jacket needs to be purely functional – it must keep me visible, dry and comfortable for 400kms of Benelux landscape and, going on the performance of the last few weeks, I am confident that Vapor Trail XT will go above and beyond the call of duty.

18
Sep
12

Xero Shoes

Here’s something a little different this week. Rather than bore you with yet another blog about my Marathon training (the taper begins this week so only 24kms were run on Sunday, thanks for asking…), I thought I might try out a pair of Xero Shoes which are now available in the UK through Born Barefoot.

Anyone who has read Born To Run (which, by now, is probably quite a lot of you), will be aware of the Tarahumara tribe in Mexico who run in homemade sandals consisting of a sole and a cord that fastens the sole to the foot. They cover enormous distances and “running related injuries” are practically unheard of. The Xero Shoes are a modern day take on those sandals and the kit I ordered contained a pair of pre-cut soles, some cord and a metal punch.

There is something inexplicably exciting about assembling your own shoes and once you have the kit, it is just a case of logging on to www.invisibleshoe.com, watching the instructional videos and then creating your own footwear from the kit of parts. The videos are easy to follow and have many different tying and customisation options once you have the basic construction complete. I opted for a “slip-on” style which allows, once the cord has been adjusted, the sandals to be put on and taken off with no additional tying.

They are more comfortable than you imagine they are going to be too… I have now done a couple of short runs with them and, once the initial adjustments regarding the “lacing” have been done, they stay on remarkably well. It is an odd sensation as you run – the sole affords some protection from the ground but the feel of the breeze over your feet makes you realise how much shoes shelter your feet from the world around them. For me, they are perfect to take on holiday somewhere hot – they take up virtually no space in a bag and it means you could get out and run (virtually) barefoot without your feet getting too hot or the soles of your feet roasting on hot tarmac.

The kits are available with either a 4mm sole (the ones that I have) or with a slightly thicker 6mm sole. Normal running shoes are designed to be changed after about 500 miles – Xero Shoes are guaranteed not to wear out for an astonishing 5000 miles which means they should last 10 times longer.And they cost about a quarter of the price of a normal running shoe.

Born Barefoot are also stockists of Vibram Five Fingers (I have been eyeing up a very nice pair of Vibram Spyridon Ls for after I complete the Berlin Marathon and I can start running sensible distances again) and next day delivery on the Vibrams is free.

14
Jun
12

up & running – running shoes and much more

With my first marathon looming large on the horizon, I have spent more time than usual searching through websites for cheap running shoes and clothes feverishly looking for any bits of kit or advice that will help me get through 26.2 miles. The Up & Running website has been a great find… I had visited their store in Watford before and spent a long time chatting with the staff – umming and aahing over a particular piece of kit… so I was impressed to see that the website extends this personal, friendly approach online. Obviously there is a large running shoe section and in addition to the standard “shop by brand” option, there are easy to navigate drop down menus that allows you to choose your gender and then specify the type of shoe by either type of running (trail, road, fell etc.) or by characteristics of shoe (motion control, neutral etc.). Both of these allow you to get straight to the type of shoe you need very quickly. As well as running shoes, there are sections for clothing and accessories including hydration systems and nutrition… pretty much everything a runner could need. All easy to use and intuitive. What sets the site apart from many others is that it is clear that the stores and the website are staffed by knowledgeable individuals who are actually runners themselves. The site not only contains all the usual functions you’d expect from a running retailers website, it also has a couple of sections aimed at advising and helping the customer. Firstly, there is a blog section where store staff have written about their experiences whilst training and racing. It not only gives a good insight into the kind of running the staff do themselves but also allows the customer to interact, ask advice and get tailored replies. The Advice section is also a very useful addition – it attempts to answer queries on a number of specific subjects: What to do if injured, what Essential Kit a runner needs, advice on stretching. Each subject is explained by a member of the Up & Running staff and offers clear guidance and in some cases recommendations on specific pieces of kit. If your particular query is not answered in any of the existing categories, the site allows you to get in touch with one of the Up & Running employees who will aim to help you with your specific request. There are even downloadable guides and training schedules.

There are over 30 Up & Running stores across the UK and what makes them so successful is that they combine the best of both worlds – the accessibility of a chain of shops with local specialist knowledge and attention to the customer that you would find in an independent. The website is an extension of this – like having a local running shop with experienced staff at your fingertips.

23
May
12

Vivobarefoot Training Session

Imagine being given a computer and, having no experience, you teach yourself how to work it. You use it as best you can until someone upgrades your software and shows you how to use it. Properly.

This is what I felt like after attending a training session at the Vivobarefoot store in Covent Garden yesterday. Beforehand I wasn’t sure what to expect or what I’d be asked to do. I arrived at the store with my running kit and a bottle of water and was met by Natalia, my trainer for the session, who took me through to a glass roofed room at the rear of the store. We chatted about the type of running I currently do, how long I’ve been running, how far I run and whether I get any injuries, before she asked me to step onto the treadmill so she could film how I run at the moment. I’ve been using “minimal” footwear for a couple of years now so hoped that I’d have good running form, landing beautifully on my forefoot with easy, relaxed strides.

A quick look at the resulting video and I am disappointed – it shows me lumbering along, a kind of controlled stagger and not at all like the fleet-footed image of my running style that I had in my head. I have stiff hips, I lean forward too far and lead with my head… but before I have a chance to despair, I’m quickly told that it can all be fixed.

I’m taken to a pressure sensitive mat to check my stance – to see if I favour one foot more than the other or concentrate all my weight on one part of the foot. I’m then asked to run across the mat so I can see how my feet land and where the weight is distributed.

And so I am shown a series of stretches that I can do for ankles, hips, toes. I am instructed how to squat, properly, with feet flat on the floor and a weighted bar held above my head to ensure correct posture. It’s all quite gentle stuff and my trainer explains the stretches and then subtley corrects me when I do them wrong.

Then it’s back onto the treadmill. I’m asked to jump, with both feet, like I’m skipping and then continue running, take smaller steps, look forward, keep my head up. Then my trainer places a small digital metronome on the arm of the treadmill, it’s emitting a series of fast, tinny bleeps. I am asked to time my paces with the bleeps. It all feels strange…so different to how I usually run and yet… easy. Like gently running on the spot. This too is filmed – it is to be the sequel, the “after” sequence compared to the disaster movie of the “before”.

Before (left) / After (right)

Before (left) / After (right)

I leave the treadmill to watch the footage, side by side with the footage from the start of the session. It’s been less than an hour but Natalia has managed to take my clumsy running style and sculpt it into something neater, tidier and way more efficient. I am pleasantly surprised as I thought it would take far longer to make such a change. Natalia patiently answers the many questions I have and I leave the store feeling positive. I am more aware of how I move but more importantly, aware of how I should move. I’ve learned that a barefoot running technique is more than just buying some new shoes and avoiding a heel strike. Most of all I’ve learned that, with the correct instruction, changing your running style for the better is easier, and more enjoyable, than you think.

I did my training session at the Covent Garden store:

Vivobarefoot Experience Store
64 Neal Street
Covent Garden
WC2H 9PA

t: 02073795959
e: 64nealst@vivobarefoot.com

One to One training sessions are chargeable and need to be booked in advance. However, if you are curious, the store offer free breakfast clinics which happen twice a month and a Running club every Tuesday (also free of charge which anyone can attend – shod or unshod). For more information, contact the store or log on to: http://www.vivobarefoot.com/uk/




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