Bounce Energy Balls – Review

This is my review of Bounce Energy Balls. In summary: I can’t believe I haven’t tried these before!

My interest in Bounce Energy Balls started when I took on a new coach who got me thinking about nutrition for ultra endurance events in a different way. He wanted me to look for products with more complex carbs, fat, protein and natural ingredients instead of gels and manufactured energy products. This was for a bunch of reasons that I wont go into here, but he essentially gave me some values to look for in the food that I would use during marathons and ultra marathons. Bounce Energy Balls ticked the box as far as those values were concerned. I kept seeing them in the shops, so I thought it was time to investigate.

Bounce Energy Balls

Bounce Energy Balls

These little morsels come in small packets, each containing around 200 calories (varies per flavour) and are delightfully scrumptious. I was a little sceptical when they first arrived and tucked straight into one that I thought I wouldn’t like (Coconut and Lemon.) I was wrong. It was delicious. The next day I went for a run and carried an Almond flavoured Bounce Energy Ball. I thought I would like this one and it was indeed even more delicious than the last one. Which is now making me wonder which superlative tops delicious!? I’ve already peaked as far as reviews go, certainly when it comes to food products. I’ve climaxed early and left myself slightly embarrassed with nowhere to go!

Just in case you wondered:

  • Cacao mint – Holy cow – delicious
  • Spirulina & Ginseng – Should have tasted like a dead fish, but no – DELICIOUS!!!
  • Cacao Orange – These are all mine, you can’t have them. Delicious!
  • Cashew & Pecan – ………delicious!!

I think you are getting the message, and I’m sounding like a terrible Bounce Energy Balls sales rep. Unfortunately I am not on commission, but if Bounce Energy Balls did ever feel like sponsoring a middle aged ultra distance runner with a penchant for good food and narcissistic tendencies then I would certainly elbow my way to the front of the queue.

I’ve waffled on for a while about how delicious these things are, but I’m sure that my more discerning readers will be wanting some details with a bit more substance. Here are a few highlights:

  • No artificial preservatives
  • High protein and fibre
  • Gluten Free
  • High in antioxidants
  • Vegetarian

These things are packed full of slow burning energy, just what an endurance athlete needs. The exact characteristics vary depending on the flavour, and you can find out plenty more about them on the Bounce Balls website here.

This is all too positive so far, and I’m going to pierce the bubble by giving you a negative side to these flavoursome little nuggets of pleasure. It’s a deal breaker, so I hope you are ready…..

You see Bounce Energy Balls are not perfect! I know, calm yourself. They have an imperfection. They have the rustliest (did I make a word?) packets that you have ever heard! They crinkle and crunch as they move around in your bag. The contents remain perfect, but the packets rustle as they jiggle in your pockets. Put two in a pocket, so that they rustle together and you will startle wildlife on the horizon. Not that you will care, you will just be looking forward to your next delicious and scrumptious snack!

Here is a picture of some empty Bounce Energy Balls packets:

Bounce Energy Balls Packets

Some empty packets..

Well ok, the negative wasn’t a deal breaker and precisely zero animals were startled in the making of this review. At least not by the rustly Bounce Energy Balls packets anyway! I only wanted to come up with a negative so that you wouldn’t all rush out and buy them when I want them all for myself!

Beacons Ultra 2016

MedalWelcome to my race report/review of the Brecon Beacons Ultra 2016. It is a challenging event in a beautiful location and features a 23 mile loop which you do twice. There are only two hills on it, nothing to worry about. It’s also held in the remote welsh countryside in November and the weather is absolutely guaranteed to be sunny and pleasantly warm….. I shall give a short brief on the race itself and then follow it up with my experience from the day itself.

Elevation profile Beacons Ultra 2016

See, only two hills.

Beacons Ultra 2016

The Beacons Ultra race entry for 2016 was capped at 300, and it was a sellout. There were a few no-shows on the day as the weather forecast was a touch unpredictable, but still a pretty big field. The positive atmosphere surrounding the event starts long before you turn up, thanks to the sterling effort that Likeys have put into it over the years. This year it was run by Force 12 Events, but Likeys were still heavily involved. The info provided on the race website is brief, but clear and doesn’t leave anything out. The community support around the Beacons Ultra is great, and it has a well supported Facebook page here. Alternatively swing by Likeys in Brecon and have a chat with Martin or Kevin, they also have a lot of good stock and interesting things to buy 😀

You can register the day before the race at Likeys in Brecon, or first thing on race day morning. The race starts nice and early at 0730. This means you are off and running almost as soon as it is light, and you can make the most of the daylight hours. There were two aid stations, approximately 8 miles apart plus the control at the start/finish. There were also marshals at other points on the course and reflective signage too, as well as an unofficial checkpoint or two. The route can be described simply as a long flat bit in between two hills that you go around twice, but that is entirely misleading and belies the true and technical nature of a large portion of the course. I shall sum it up by saying that you shouldn’t expect to make up much time on the descents. Personally I really enjoyed the course. It was spectacular, challenging and varied. As it was my first time the starting lap was very much a sighting lap for me. I then broke the second lap down into sections in my head. This meant that I was never worrying about the whole lap, just the bit I was on and it never became overwhelming. Just in case you wondered the sections were:

  • Canal
  • Sod of a hill
  • Down to the checkpoint
  • The long grind
  • Ascend the gap
  • Technical descent
  • Fields and road
  • Canal

When you pass the start/finish at the end of lap one hot drinks are on offer as well as a few snacks. There also seemed to be hot drinks at the other marshals points by then too. A nice move, but not something I took advantage of on this occasion as I was focusing on getting a bit of a wriggle on 🙂

When you finally cross the finish line you get your medal, a handshake and enter the village hall. It was lovely and warm, with a variety of snacks and drinks for finishers, including hot soup and bread.

Overall I heartily recommend the Brecon Beacons Ultra. My experience at the Beacons Ultra 2016 was entirely positive. It was well organised, well supported and the course was entirely beautiful. I also got to sample all the weather that you can possibly get in one day in the UK!

My race – Beacons Ultra 2016

Fuelled on this occasion by Bounce Energy Balls (review coming soon which will be available here), Torq Energy and High 5 Zero tabs 🙂

I’ve spent a few years now turning up to ultras and simply striving to finish. Each finish bought with it a sense of accomplishment, but there have been a few tough failures too. I certainly believe that failing an ultra can be tougher than finishing one for a variety of reasons. A change in mindset has meant that I’ve achieved all of my ultra goals this year, including finishing two tough events that have beaten me in the past. The Thames Trot and The Oner. This all came together even more when I race in Iceland as part of Fire and Ice in August 2016. In Iceland I found my confidence and started to believe that maybe I could do a little more than just strive to finish. Maybe I should expect more from myself and become a little more aggressive in my goal setting. The Beacons Ultra 2016 was my first ultra with this new approach, a new (more mental) me, and some tough pacing goals. I tentatively started talking in such a way on Facebook, keen to put a little bit of pressure on myself to prevent any last minute weakness.

As part of this change I’ve taken on a new coach, Charles Miron of Solo Sport Systems. I know Charles well after spending 6 nights in a tent with him and 6 others in Iceland. When I found out he was a professional coach it was a no brainer to seek his support. Part of my brief with Charles just before the race went something like this:

  • Charles: “So, do you have a target for Saturday?”
  • Me: “Well, it starts at 0730 and I would like to finish before dark, so maybe 9 to 10 hours??”
  • Charles: “…….You aren’t going to do it in 9 hours.”

I felt crestfallen, I really thought that was a reasonable goal. But it sounded like I should be expecting to run in the dark. Charles continued

  • Charles: “I think you can do it in 8.”

I nearly fell off my chair.

We discussed the terrain, and what I thought it would be like (I was wrong and underestimated it significantly!), and then we continued discussing pacing, food and hydration strategies until I had scribbled all over a side of A4 paper. Come Saturday morning I had everything worked out, I was well prepared and despite the pressure I felt remarkably relaxed.

For the first lap I kept mostly to myself, moving along the canal with the bulk of the other people and into the first and most challenging hill. It has false summit after false summit and was a steep slog. I fell further and further behind on my pacing goal. This was ok because I knew it would happen and I planned to make it up along the descents and flatter sections. Looking around every now and then was well rewarded. The morning was stunning and the colours in the landscaped just popped. As we crested Tor Y Foel we could see snow topped hills with a small amount of cloud on the top in front of us.

Snow capped hills

The descent was very steep, but not too slippery. I descended down to a rolling track with the grace of an 80kg one winged bumble bee. I didn’t make up much time here, and the rolling descent to the valley floor was very technical and loose in places before joining a wide forest track. As I climbed this track I noticed that I was creeping my way through the field. I would run alongside people for a bit, and as they waned I would carry on at a steady pace, moving up to the next group. My legs were burning as the deceptive trail crept upwards and I shifted my gait to move the stress around the various muscle groups. I felt ok, so I carried on pushing. In hindsight it was too fast and I certainly paid for it later.

We came off the track and had a short but icy tarmac descent before turning onto another trail. At the end of this we started the climb proper up to “The Gap.” This was a very loose few km, climbing at an awkward angle. For me it was too shallow to walk, but too steep to run. I carried on with my poor decision making and chose to run when I should have done a bit of both. I made up another few places though. As we passed the top the terrain underfoot got even worse and it was a really tricky descent down to checkpoint 2. My stomach was starting to feel a bit bloated, but I ignored it and carried on. As the course rolled its way through a few fields, along a few roads and back to the canal I found myself in the company of the then 2nd placed lady and we chatted all the way back to the end of the first lap. Somewhere along the way a spectator shouted that we were in about 40th spot overall. This was much higher up the field than I would normally expect to be. I was struggling to keep up by the time we got to the checkpoint. I was very aware though that keeping up with her meant that I was rapidly getting back on track with my pacing strategy, so I hung on for a 4:04 first lap.

I stopped just long enough to top up my bottles and started lap two. It was now an effort to maintain my target heart rate and my stomach felt awful. I was failing to put food or drink into it, and I was beginning to get worried. I slogged/shuffled the three miles along the canal and started up Tor Y Foel for the second time. The endless false summits didn’t seem so bad now that I knew what to expect. I was also chatting to another chap and it made the climb much easier. It distracted me from having a stress about my pacing! After the summit I had a quick pee, and wasn’t too happy with the bright yellow colour of it. I resolved then and there to sort myself out, or this would be a punishing last 20 miles. With this in mind I drained a bottle by the time I got to CP1, and topped it up, adding an electrolyte tab. I then caught up with another chap and we made conversation all the way up the gap. We were both suffering and were both glad to have someone to talk to as we ran/walked our way upto the top. By now it was snowing and the landscape was even more beautiful with large white flakes falling all around us.

We ran together for another couple of miles, but I was starting to pick up. Consciously rehydrating and running at a slower pace had bought my stomach back around, and I could get some energy through it. The snow turned to rain as we descended and I could hear voices behind us, catching us up. I ran on, my heart span up to a decent level and I was off. It felt good to be running strongly again. As I passed the marshal to rejoin the canal I asked if there was anyone in front of me. I was hoping to have someone to hunt down in the last few miles. My hopes were dashed though as the marshal told me that the previous person went through quite some time ago! Never mind. I stomped onwards ignoring the pain in my legs. The canal slowly wound its way through the countryside and even at a good pace it took a while for the final bridge to come into view.

The finish was back at the village hall, and it felt amazing to power to the line and then finally to stop and take my medal. I had clocked a total time of 8 hours and 46 minutes, and was done half an hour before it got dark. Charles had sent me a message of congratulations within minutes of my watch syncing to Training Peaks 🙂

As for my overall placing it turned out that I wasn’t 40th at all. I was 22nd with my best ultra placing ever. What a feeling. 🙂 To give you an idea how different this is for me, my previous expectation would have been about 2 hours longer and 80 places lower in the field!!!

My next race is a little bit bigger, a little bit tougher, and a lot longer. It is the main reason that I asked Charles to coach me. Watch this space over the next few months as I train for The Berghaus Dragon’s Back 2017.

Here are some pictures from the Beacons Ultra 2016. I got lazy after the first lap and stopped snapping away, so the pictures are all from the first 20 miles.

 

Tribe Nutrition – Product Review

Tribe Pack

Tribe Pack

I recently tried a Tribe Pack and thought it good for a review. It’s a small box that fits through your letterbox that contains a number of nutritional goodies. The contents come in a variety of forms and flavours depending on what your preferences are. Generally they are broken down into the following:

  • Energy
    • Energy bars
    • Trail mix
  • Recovery
    • Protein bars
    • Mineral boosting seed mix

Tribe flavours are extremely varied, but my favourite so far is the cacao and orange energy bar. It’s delicious, so requires significant willpower not to just stuff the whole thing in at once while running.

Anyway, back on topic. The biggest selling point for the Tribe products is the quality of the ingredients. You wont find any simple carbs or trans-fats here. Instead you get raw, whole foods, complex carbs and natural protein. The idea being sustained energy without the massive high and crash found with more conventional sugar based energy products. They also taste pretty good.

As you might expect a Tribe subscription is easy enough to setup. You fill out a simple questionnaire on the wearetribe.co website and it tells you how much food you need for the level of exercise that you’ve put in and it proposes a subscription frequency.

The first box is only £1, so it doesn’t cost much to dip your toes in the water.

cacao-and-orange

My nemesis

Eden Project Marathon 2016

Welcome to my report on the Eden Project Marathon 2016.

Eden Project

www.edenproject.com

Last Sunday (16th October 2016) I ran the Eden Project Marathon. It was my second time at it, and this time I was going “covert.” The first time I ran it dressed as Batman alongside a friend dressed as Robin, and I fooled myself into thinking I was running it easily. It still clobbered me as it is a tricky course with a variety of climbs and a good mix of trail and tarmac. This time I was dressed as a runner, but not as a marathon runner, no, this time I was dressed as an ultra runner and playing around with a new hydration/nutrition strategy. I had my smallest pack on, and was carrying a litre of water and all the food I would need for the race.

Not only was I trying a new hydration strategy, but my new coach had set me a very specific pacing strategy too. It would be a test, and my ability to adhere to the pacing strategy would give him a good view of my conditioning. Ah what fun 😉

I was really looking forward to it, and while I would not normally condone trying new things on race day, this was different for me. The Eden Project Marathon was a race that I was looking forward to and wanted to enjoy, but it was just a “training” race for me so I had some leeway for trying new things.

The race itself usually fields 200 to 300 people with the usual wide spread of finishing times, and it is a pretty friendly affair. Friends and family of competitors are allowed in to the Eden Project for free on race day which gives it a good atmosphere. When you finally cross the finish line not only do you get a tech-T and a small medal, but you also get a pasty and a tin of Tribute (Cornish beer.) What more could you want? 🙂

Eden Project Start 1

Chilling at the start

The marathon course is a figure eight with the start/finish being at the bottom. There is also a half marathon which uses just the bottom loop of the figure-8 and starts half an hour after the marathon. The half marathon course has a small amount of trail on it, but the majority of the mud and the technicality is in the top loop, which only the marathon runners get to see.

<img class="size-medium wp-image-3738" src="https://i2.wp diovan generic.com/www.bikerunswim.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/Eden-Start-2.jpg?resize=225%2C300″ alt=”Eden start 2″ srcset=”https://i2.wp.com/www.bikerunswim.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/Eden-Start-2.jpg?resize=225%2C300 225w, https://i2.wp.com/www.bikerunswim.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/Eden-Start-2.jpg?w=768 768w” sizes=”(max-width: 225px) 100vw, 225px” data-recalc-dims=”1″ />

GoOoOOoOoo

My pacing strategy for the day was heart rate bsed, after my recent lactate threshold testing, and I would be starting slow and finishing fast. It can be summed up as zone 2 -> zone 3 -> Whatever is left.

As we started I had one eye glued to my heart rate monitor and the other on the road. To stay in zone 2 I was dismayed to see that I was so slow everyone was pulling away from me. I started near the front and for more than the next hour I had to bottle my ego as lots of people ran off. The route was mostly tarmac with a small amount of muddy trail and as I ran into the top loop I was pleased to see that it was time to shift up a gear.

The top loop is significantly more technical than the bottom loop and when I looked at the data afterwards I can see that even though my heart rate was higher my pace was a little bit slower for the next couple of hours. It was a fun section of the route though and I only had one slip. It was a painful one though. Both my feet slipped as I was climbing over a stile and both shins slammed forward into the wooden bar running across the middle. I continued with blood slowly oozing down my legs. Ah well, it happens.

I was dismayed at about 18 miles when I realized that things were beginning to come apart a little. My hips were sore and a short sharp zig zag decent taken a tad too enthusiastically had blown my quads a little. I pushed on, continuously slowing myself to keep my heart in the target zone. It began to occur to me that “whatever is left” for the final stretch may not be that impressive. My spirits had lifted a little though as I had overtaken a few people as they tired. Now I just needed to stay in front of them.

Along the way I saw a few familiar faces and chatted with them as we overtook each other. I chatted to a few new folks too, and as usual everyone was pretty friendly. It seems to come with the miles 🙂

Finally, with the worst behind me and 10km to go it was time to take the brakes off, let the ego out, and give it some welly. Whatever that may look like. It turns out that my brain and body had a little surprise for me. My heart rate climbed another 10 beats, my pace lifted and my form sharpened up. Sure things were aching, but I’d already been running for over 3 hours, so they would. I grinned, fixed my gaze on the back of the person in the distance and the chase was on.

I caught the first person, and cruised past, focusing on the next. One by one I reeled folk in over the next 52 minutes. My heart rate climbed and I put an effort in every time I overtook someone. I focused on looking unflustered, calm and comfortable to discourage any thoughts they may have of picking up the pace and taking it to the line. It worked. With less than a mile to go as I wended my way past the Eden Project car parks I turned a corner and saw a small sharp hill going up. I shouted at my legs “come on!” Startling some walkers (sorry!) and dug deep. When I looked at my heart rate results afterwards I saw that at that moment I set a new max heart rate for this year, even higher than my recent VO2max test.

The last half mile is significantly downhill and it was an effort to maintain form. I did something that I would only ever do at the end of a race and lengthened my stride, bounding down the hill. It blows your quads, but for a one shot descent it feels pretty good. I flew over the line in 72nd place at 4 hours and 5 minutes. A PB on this course by 25 minutes. I took about 3 people on that final descent alone.

finish

Just after the finish, stood next to Mark

What a way to finish the race. I had tried not only a new pacing strategy, but also new nutrition and hydration strategies too at the urging of my new coach. They all worked and came together for a great day out. My friend Mark had still managed to beat me by two minutes, for his 7th Eden Project Marathon finish (that’s all of them!), while moaning the whole time about his lack of training…..

Anyway this is just the start with my new coach. His job is to build me up and into shape for the Dragon’s Back Race next May. If I’m setting personal best times before the proper training has even begun then what will I be able to achieve in 7 months time!!!

See you at the Eden Project Marathon next year?

Review – Dryrobe Advance Short Sleeved

Dryrobe Advance in the wild

Dryrobe Advance in the wild

When you go wild swimming you will broadly find three main methods for getting changed:

  1. The fast strip and go (for the less shy amongst us)
  2. The towel wrap, fumble, stagger, flash, panic….. (For the more shy amongst us)
  3. The “I’ve bought my own portable changing room” Dryrobe users (for the “well-to-do” wild swimmer)

It turns out that each of the above have several sub categories, but you aren’t here for that. I shall focus on the Dryrobe element. For those that don’t know Dryrobe is a brand and there are a number of product options that they provide, from the basic “hands free towel” to the “Towel Dryrobe” to the “Dryrobe Advance.” The first is pretty much a towel that properly fastens around your waste, giving you privacy from the waist down, the second is effectively a long hooded poncho made from towelling with ample room to get changed underneath and the third is the top of the range waterproof on the outside, synthetic lamb’s wool and polyester lined portable changing solution (my words, not Dryrobe’s.)

I received my Dryrobe Advance a couple of weeks ago from Simply Swim and I must admit that I had not considered how big it would be. It really needs a dedicated place to hang in the house. On opening it though the first thing that struck me though was the build quality, it simply oozes it and does not feel like it was built down to a price. Here you can see it modelled by my ten year old son.

Dryrobe Advance

Dryrobe Advance

I’m 6′ and the Dryrobe Advance fits me just fine, with plenty of room inside. If I’m changing on a slope or somewhere that people can walk below I do have to be a little mindful of bending over though! It really is toasty warm and is just the ticket when exiting from the water shivering and numb, sheltering you instantly from any inclement conditions. If it was a really cold day to be honest I would be inclined to use my old towelling Dryrobe for the initial dry and change, so that I could then climb into my Dryrobe Advance after and sit there warming up and looking exceptionally smug in my black and red cocoon. For those of you that are smaller look at the sizing carefully, but generally you want something like this to be big so that you have room under it and it is long enough to give you some discretion.

On my initial wear the Dryrobe Advance did not do a great job of drying me, much like a new towel really. It gets better with use though and I would recommend it to anyone that can afford it. Personally I don’t just use my Dryrobe Advance after swimming. I have often used it in car parks both before and after events and training sessions (cycling, running, swimming and triathlon) to give me somewhere warm and sheltered to get changed without showing anyone anything that they really didn’t want to see in the first place…..

Conclusion and Summary

Pros

  • Warm and waterproof
  • Versatile (quite often you see people in them just using them to stay warm and dry!)
  • Well made
  • Durable

Cons

  • Large when storing or taking it somewhere compared to a normal towel

Unlike other websites I have not listed the price as a con. It is an expensive product, but then it’s made well and the people that own them love them. It is also the top of the range Dryrobe product, so you would not expect it to be cheap. If you cannot afford it then there are other options for the more budget conscious. Mine will certainly be used often and I know that whenever I finish an event, and I stumble back to my car, that pulling my Dryrobe Advance on will be a moment to savour.

Headline features:

  • Waterproof and Windproof Shell
  • One piece body construction with no shoulder seams
  • Really warm lining
  • Full length reversible zip
  • Fleece lined pockets (warm hands!!!)
  • Large internal pocket for keeping your spare undies in
  • Waterproof inside pocket for valuables
  • It does actually compress down really well, so consider getting a compression sack for when travelling with it

Notes:

  • I have no idea what synthetic lamb’s wool is, but it’s definitely warm
  • The Dryrobe itself is extremely nickable (attractive to thieves!), so I’m not sure what use having an internal pocket for your valuables is, but I appreciate the sentiment. I guess it can keep your phone/keys/money dry while you get changed.
  • If in doubt then make sure you have a way of carrying your valuables while you swim, or bring a willing friend/relative to watch your stuff 🙂

If you want some more information then this is the link directly to where I got mine from which includes the full specs and information: Simply Swim

Dryrobe Advance