Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Recipe for the perfect fun run

Surely the term 'fun run' is a bit of a misnomer? Don't get me wrong I am wildly jealous when people talk about the runner's high (that rush of endorphins where pain and exhaustion give way to complete euphoria) but despite some serious training for the marathon last year, I think I am destined to plod along painfully slowly, swearing under my breath as mothers with prams, the elderly and even people on crutches lap me.

After a 14-month hiatus from activities which bore any resemblance to exercise following my marathon outing I recently decided to dust off my trainers and get my butt moving again.

While still in the process of deciding exactly what my next challenge would be, a friend of mine suggested Tough Mudder.

For those of you who haven't heard about it, Tough Mudder it is a 15mile military style assault course that is billed as one of the toughest endurance events out there. The obstacles which include crawling through claustrophobia-inducing underground tunnels, barbed wire, electrocution and being dunked in ice cold water, strike me as something that the writer of Fifty Shades of Grey might dream up if she decided to take up an alternative career as a fitness instructor.

Having decided Tough Mudder was absolutely not for me (and now seriously questioning the sanity of my friend), I was on the lookout for another less intense way to get a bit of exercise. That's when I stumbled across Colour Obstacle Rush. Colour runs are a dime a dozen these days but this event offered something a bit different, combining a standard 5k run not only with coloured powder, but also with inflatable obstacles and foam. The event which was founded in Finland last year quickly became the most popular obstacle run in Scandinavia and is rapidly taking the rest world by storm.

Last weekend I completed the Colour Obstacle Rush at Kempton Park Racecourse, just outside London. After collecting my pack I was ushered into the pre-race area which had an incredible party vibe as I was greeted by crowds of runners pogoing on the spot to classic dance anthems whilst simultaneously throwing sachets of coloured powder up in the air, creating multi-coloured plumes of dust.

After an equally upbeat warm-up it was soon time for the main run. Even if this is your very first run there really is no need to worry - no one cares if you finish first or last, the Colour Obstacle Rush is genuinely just about having fun.

And it definitely succeeds at that aim. Every once in a while when I was starting to get shin splints I would be perked up by the sight of another colour station or inflatable obstacle to conquer. Some of the colour stations simply involved being pelted with coloured powder, while others were a little more elaborate, for example entering a tent lit only by strobe lighting, and crawling under netting and through a giant spider web while being pelted by powder from above.

However the coloured powder is only part of the fun. Let's not forget the obstacles which include everything from inflatable columns and zorbs (which block your path as you try and make it through to the other side) to inflatable hurdles, to name but a few. The race ended with me climbing up a giant inflatable slide and sliding down the other side into a sea of foam before collecting my medal and another colour pouch just in time to join the after party. I looked like a rainbow had thrown up on me and my legs and feet were totally covered with foam but it had been a truly epic run and I really wished I could do another lap.

So what's the overal verdict? Well if you are super serious about exercise and athletic challenges this run probably isn't going to be for you. Amongst other things having to dodge the walkers and having to queue for obstacles will no doubt be a source of frustration. However if your idea of a great exercise regime means looking mildly ridiculous but having an absolute blast, you can't go wrong. So congrats to the Finns on their genius idea - in my view it has definitely earned the title of fun run.


Sunday, 14 June 2015

Ms.Adventures of a dancing queen

I have been thinking recently about the idea of everyone having a soundtrack to their life – the songs which catch you at those defining moments and help shape who you are. It probably says a lot about me that my earliest musical memory is of dancing around the living room to David Bowie and Mick Jagger’s 1985 version of ‘Dancing in the Street’. In case you haven’t seen the video or have deliberately wiped it from your consciousness, I have included it below -

This is surely one of the most brilliant/ridiculous dance sequences ever and has definitely defined my dancing ability for better or worse ever since. Despite not having any sense of rhythm or coordination I still remain as enthusiastic as ever about dancing and have been to lots of different classes across London.

Just last week I attended a one-off series of Regency Style dance classes where I learnt the dance that Mr Darcy and Elizabeth danced to in Pride and Prejudice, see video below. I was hoping to meet my very own Mr Darcy, unfortunately since the 19th Century Mr Darcy has morphed into a 90year women called Rita (*not real name) who kept wondering off mid-dance. Sigh!

Anyway back to modern day dance classes, here’s my round-up of just a few of the ones I have done across the city -   

Probably the best known of all of London’s dance studios I finally made my way down to Pineapple for a couple of classes earlier this month, signing up for a commercial dance class and a hip-hop dance class. Both classes started about 10mins late – not great when you are paying for an hour. Also be prepared to get very sweaty as it can get incredibly warm in the rooms.
The hip-hop class began truly bizarrely with the teacher entering the room and sitting by the door in silent meditation before leading an equally silent hip-hop style warm-up. I was convinced that he must be mute until he jumped onto the sound system and started busting out instructions to dance along to the new Snoop Dog track.  The routine involved a wee bit of popping and locking – looked great when he did it and just ridiculous when I tried to copy him. Also sadly he missed out the cupid shuffle (see video below - skip forward to 2mins10 onwards) which is something I have learnt of since by YouTubing hip-hop moves and is a move that I might actually add to my dance repertoire.

On the upside once I just let go and enjoyed the class in all its ridiculousness and free styled my own variations when I couldn’t keep up with the actual moves, I had a whole lot of fun. However when my friend went home and showed her hubbie the routine his response was “please never do that dance for me again!”, a sign perhaps that as much fun as it might be, what happens in Pineapple should probably stay in Pineapple!

Seen on Screen classes are all about fitness made fun. They run dance classes where you can learn everything from strutting and shaking your booty like Queen Bey, to striking a pose and voguing like Madonna. My friend and I went to a Rihanna Rude Boy class on her insistence (definitely not the class I would have chosen because if my dancing ability is questionable at the best of times, when you add in Rihanna’s sultry sexiness, my attempts to emulate her are truly hilarious). Several of those attending were clearly taking it quite seriously and had invested in Rihanna style outfits. I on the other hand was in my ‘Be Happy’ t-shirt with a big smiley face on it – basically I looked as far from Rihanna as is possible. My lack of ability/dress sense aside, how was the class? Well the instructors are brilliant – clearly seasoned pros. However the class itself moves pretty quickly and if you are a rubbish dancer be prepared that a number of your fellow classmates will be considerably better than you. That said, the atmosphere is welcoming for all abilities and almost convinces you that you look like Rihanna/Beyonce as you are strutting your stuff….…..at least until you watch the video footage back afterwards!

Ever since I saw the show ‘Tango Fire’ several years I have been dreaming of learning Argentine Tango. When you think of tango most people think of the ballroom variety – all stiff and controlled movements. Argentine Tango is a completely different ballgame – it was born on the streets of Buenos Aires and sizzles with South American style passion.

A few months back I got a taster class as a present. This dance company is pretty unique as instead of being teamed up with someone who is only moderately less clueless than you, you are coupled up with a professional partner. So you essentially get a one-on-one lesson but in a group setting.
The whole point of Argentine Tango is that you are so connected with your partner that you follow the movements of his body rather than a pre-defined routine. I struggled with this at the start and was charging about the dance floor pretty independently of my partner, but he showed incredible humour and perseverance in sticking with me and by the end, even I was able to see progress. At £50 per class it was too expensive for me to carry on but if I ever come into money I will definitely sign back up.

Drink Shop Do is a cafĂ©/bar, designer store and arts and crafts venue that now also stages dance classes. I went along to the ‘Stop! Hammertime!’ dance because surely learning the MC Hammer Can’t Touch This Dance is an essential life skill which is on everyone’s bucket list? The dance classes takes place in the bar area downstairs – it’s not an ideal dance venue as space is pretty limited but the advantage of not having a wall of mirrors is that you can’t put yourself off by catching sight of how funny you look.
Having been to the ‘Seen on Screen’ class I decided to dress up. As I didn’t own an actual MC Hammer outfit, I made do with a pair of flowery, baggy pyjama bottoms – somehow I think I should have probably not bothered! Anyway the class itself was lots of fun and for once I seemed to be around a group of people whose dancing ability seemed on par with mine. The class as a result moves at a pretty manageable pace even for a beginner. However on watching the recording back several days later I realised that the routine we were taught bares very little resemblance to the MC Hammer original so if you are determined to perfect the real routine this class probably isn’t for you. However if you just want to have fun in a relaxed, informal setting definitely consider it.

So by the end of all these dance classes have I gone through a ‘Dirty Dancing’ style transformation – probably not, although I am slightly less terrible than I was before. That's mainly because along the way I have learnt to let go and in true Bowie/Jagger dance about like a complete idiot as if no one was watching.
Borrowing/tweaking the words of Mr Swayze himself, from now on “Nobody puts Betsy in the corner” :)

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