Bringing things up to date, 2019 was a mixed year for challenges: fewer races than usual but some new and interesting things to talk about.
From a training perspective, the big new thing at my gym last year was the release of a brand new, purpose built Blaze studio. Touted as ‘the next big thing’, Blaze is a fantastic form of HIIT – High Intensity Interval Training – short sharp bursts to get the heart rate pounding and maximise calorie burn, while building endurance and strength.
The concept is simple, a 45 minute class with 3 x 3 minute rounds in 3 different zones. Firstly a treadmill, usually set as steeply as possible with (if you are lucky) alternating sprint/walks, or otherwise brutal climbs like the training montage in Rocky 4. The middle is a strength zone with dumbbells and a bench to do anything from squats to flyes, planks to deadlifts. The last (and best) is a full length punchbag, for all kinds of kickboxing drills, punches, knees and even some crazy floor work to really de-stress.
To bring it to another level, all participants wear combat gloves and My Zone heart rate monitors (regular readers will know I am a sucker for new kit), with everyone’s performance projected onto the wall and coaches patrolling the room shouting encouragement, over the music. Activities are targeted by zone, yellow being 80% of Max HR and Red being 90%+, with a goal to spend 12-18 minutes of the session in the red, while recovering as quickly as possible inbetween. It is massively addictive and I loved it instantly, a great way to keep up and track fitness all year round, with an unofficially competitive edge as it is near impossible not to compare your stats to others, which only pushes you on further.
On a slightly calmer note, I managed to get in a bit of diving last year, although not quite on the same levels as usual. This was neither the warm Caribbean sea nor the icy quarries of the midlands, but some more unusual venues. First up was an old fashioned hard-hat experience, diving indoors in one of those brass screw on helmets from back in the day as seen in films like Men of Honour, and wow did those guys have it tough. Not only did the helmet weigh an absolute ton, but the set of lead boots accompanying it ensured it was only possible to shuffle around with all the grace of a moonwalking elephant. My 15 minute experience went by in a flash though, and is highly experienced for any diver if only to realise how good we have it now!
The second part of the day was spending time in a real life decompression chamber. These things allow divers who have been to higher depths and pressures, or worse managed to get themselves DCS, aka ‘the bends’, and looks more like something you might see in a space station than hospital. In the end four of us spent half an hour simulating a deep dive to 50 metres, before the system slowly perfectly decompressed back to atmospheric pressure. And yes, all of the expected side effects did happen, from squeaky voices to nitrogen narcosis! A great experience, although hopefully one I will never have to actually do for real.
Back on the racing trail it was two more familiar events that anchored the year: Velo 2 and Great Birmingham Run number 6!
The first Velo was my longest race to date and really tough, involving 8.5 hours cycling 100 miles up and down hills around Staffordshire, Worcestershire and the West side of Birmingham. This one was more of the same, but on the East side, taking in the sights of Solihull, Coventry and Warwickshire, with plenty of countryside to accompany the concrete. In fact one of the highlights was riding through the cobbled streets in the centre of Cov: who knew it was such a great looking place from that angle!
The last race of the year was the Birmingham Run, which is really more of an annual tradition, and as mentioned the sixth in seven years (including the marathon). By now these have all blurred into one, but it is always a decent day out and supportive crowd, and I was happy enough that at least it did not tip it down like the previous year. Since October I have been ramping up my running in prep for the Marathon, moving from around 10k per week to closer to 20k by the end of the year, but more on that in future posts…
Because by far the biggest thing to happen last year was the birth of my beautiful baby daughter Isla in May!
PS. Sponsorship link https://fundraise.cancerresearchuk.org/page/james-and-the-marathon-challenge, with more to follow soon!