On Saturday I took part in the Liddes-Verbier 29km trail run in the Swiss Alps, the baby race of the Trail Verbier St-Bernard family.

Trail Verbier St Bernard

In the lead up to the run, I’ve been following a 14 week training programme of around 500 miles, and definitely not enough hills! It was my friend Tori that first introduced me to trail running – when in 2012 and 2013 we took part in the Eco Trail de Paris and the Beaujolais Villages Trail together. With their combined ascents of 1,250m, this 29km at 1,498m altitude, with a climb of 2,500m+ was always going to be tougher…

Liddes to VerbierThe run consists of two big ascents, the first of which is higher than Snowdon (1,085m) and the second higher than Ben Nevis (1,344m)! And with fog and rain welcoming us at about 2,000m on both climbs it sadly meant we missed out on enjoying the stunning scenery of the St Bernard region.

The view

The descents were pretty treacherous also – technical terrain made very muddy and slippy by a number of days of persistent rain. Given all of this, I was pretty pleased to arrive in Verbier in 6 hours 31 mins, in 127th place (27th in my category) and pick up my finisher’s t-shirt!

Sarah Mayo in Verbier

Throughout, I had a lot of time to think. When not trying to work out how long until the next check point or where to plant my next pole, I began thinking that trail running is a great metaphor for life. There are ups and downs, there are twists and turns, slips and tumbles, blood, sweat and tears, but there is always one constant… the people around you, the people that help you through the tough times as well as the good times.

It’s these people that helped me complete this challenge, and my heartfelt gratitude goes out to them all:

  1. My support crew of sister-in-law Miki and nieces Sana and Fumi – from the start at Liddes, to the half-way point at Lourtier, to the end in Verbier – it was such a welcoming sight to see their smiling faces supporting me come rain or shine! (And sorry Sana for “STILL talking about that silly run”!) My running support crew
  2. Organisers, supporters and fellow runners – races like this take so much organisation, especially in inclement weather as it was this past weekend. My thanks to all those supporters/volunteers who were out in force along the route shouting “Bravo” or “You crazy trail runners!” and my fellow runners who picked me up with words such as “Courage” when I paused to rest or literally picked me up when I slipped and fell… Start of Liddes
  3. The BeaRCat Running Club – I was proud to wear my BeaRCat running vest, promoting this great running club around the Swiss Alps! I’ve been a member since the end of last year, and this fab community has provided so much friendly support and sage advice over this short space of time. Sarah Mayo Bearcat Runner
  4. Family and friends – A huge thanks to all my family and friends who have patiently been there for me over the last few months throughout all my training. For all your encouragement and lovely words of support, I’m forever grateful. Colin of the Collines
  5. And finally, my brother Colin – as I said earlier, my event was only the baby distance and it is with awe that I write about my brother who completed the daddy of the races – a gruelling 105km route, over a 7,500m ascent, in an incredible time of 22 hours 38 minutes, finishing in a staggering 46th place (12th in his category). I thought of him a great deal throughout my race, having started 8 hours before me, and knowing that he would finish around 8 hours after me (at 3.30am). When the climbs were tough, the thought of Colin somewhere nearby in the mountains kept on driving me forward. What an achievement Col, I’m massively proud of you. (It’s also just occurred to me that ‘colline’ in French means ‘hill’ – very apt that he should be so at home in the hills!!)

My closing thought may seem clichéd but I can’t argue with it… We all run our own races in life… We can’t compare our chapter 37 to someone else’s chapter 40… So, whatever your goal or race be proud of what you achieve, and don’t forget it’s the people around you that are important. They are the greatest prize of all. And so it’s to them and you, that I wholeheartedly thank and dedicate this post.

Santé!

G x

Over the last few weeks, there’s been a lot of talk about marathons… Running bore alert!

It all started a couple of Sundays ago, when I went to watch the London Marathon with fellow BeaRCat runners. London was looking resplendent in the sunshine and the iconic landmarks of Big Ben and the Embankment provided a stunning backdrop to this incredible event. It was such an inspirational day and brought back memories of my two London Marathons in 2000 and 2010. The experience planted a seed and got me thinking about my 2015 running challenges…

London marathon

On the day after I had a whirlwind business trip to Paris. This is one of my favourite cities having spent 6 months working here when I was 18. In April 2012 I also took part in the Eco Trail de Paris, a 30km race around the trails of the Paris suburbs, ending up at the foot of the Eiffel Tower. All the memories came flooding back as we enjoyed a tour of the Seine, and the Champs Elysees on the back of a moto taxi! The sun was shining and the city was looking spectacular. So, it was perhaps not surprising that when I got back, and with the 2015 Paris Marathon ballot open for entries, I decided to try my luck by entering…

Eiffel Tower

And then last weekend, I enjoyed three glorious days in Edinburgh, the city where I grew up. The sun was once again shining and the city was looking stunning. I went on my favourite run up Arthur’s Seat, a bit of a tradition whenever I’m up and enjoyed the reward of the breathtaking views overlooking Edinburgh and the Firth of Forth. I was chatting to my parents about marathons and was reminded that they were the ones that inspired my interest in running when they both took part in the Edinburgh Marathon during their 40th birthday years, achieving amazing times of 3.26 and 4.08, respectively. This got me thinking, why have I never considered running Edinburgh, my home race? So I decided that should I not get through the Paris ballot, I’d sign up to the 2015 Edinburgh Marathon instead!

Edinburgh Castle from Arthur's Seat

I was of course tempted to enter the ballot for London when it opened this Tuesday but decided that I’d leave that re-run until 2020, making it a 10-yearly thing! Anyway, my 2015 running goals were decided for me this Wednesday, when I received a congratulations email to say that I have been accepted into the Paris Marathon on the 12 April 2015.

Et bah dis donc, I guess that’s my 2015 running challenge sorted then. Edinburgh will have to wait until another year. The countdown is on. 341 days to go!

A bientot!

G x

While I’ve been following a strict running programme since January, my Bikram Yoga practice has suffered. On Monday night, after 10 weeks off, I finally plucked up the courage to head back to Bikram…

Keep calm and Bikram on

It was gruelling. I had forgotten how much of a heart-pumping, limb-stretching, sweat-inducing workout it is! To try and combat the inevitable stiffening up, I headed back for more on Tuesday night… and even so, come Wednesday and still today, the back of my legs and glutes are feeling it.

I can’t believe how out of Bikram shape I feel! It’s clear that I have a lot of work to do, to undo all of the tension that my rigorous running regime has built up within my body and regain the flexibility I had at the beginning of the year…

So, to remind myself why I put myself through it, I thought I’d revisit some of the basics of Bikram, and why it is of benefit for runners, and others alike.

bikram logo

Here’s my ABC of the benefits of Bikram Yoga:

  1. A is for: Agility and Alignment – This practice is the perfect antidote to running, helping with loosening up those tight hamstrings and improving general stretching. The postures and stretches elongate the limbs (the opposite effect to running) and encourages you to stand taller, stronger and prouder.
  2. B is for: Breathing and Balance – Regular practice of Bikram is proven to increase lung capacity, which is obviously great for runners. The focus on breathing within the class also enables you to move more easily into a meditative state, with the mind and body working in harmony – a great skill to adopt during long-distance running especially.
  3. C is for: Core strength and Concentration – Lots of runners choose to practice Bikram to build core strength and stamina. It’s a great overall exercise for the whole body (and mind). The series of 26 postures works through the entire body, and helps focus on core strength by encouraging you to keep your tummy tucked in throughout (ostensibly to protect the spine).
  4. D is for: Discipline and Determination – Bikram commands an amazing amount of focus and discipline in order to get the full benefits of each posture. As you enter that meditative state, the mind is emptied of all thoughts, giving you the mental strength to keep going longer. Again, another great tool for long-distance runners.
  5. E is for: Energy and Everyday wellbeing – Regular Bikram practice is detoxifying and energising. The benefits are far more than about fitness, with evidence that it supports digestive, respiratory, circulatory, endocrine, lymphatic, nervous, immune and skeletal muscular systems.

So, I guess the main ABC lesson of this blog is to find that happy balance between running and Bikram practice and you can only reap the rewards!

G x

 

 

And I’m still learning.

When I publish this post, it will officially become my 5,000th tweet!

twitter-chalk

Given ‘Ginger and Spice’ first started out on twitter (just over two years ago) as a mini-blogette, it felt appropriate to mark this milestone with a post looking back at my twitter/blogging journey so far…

And as Twitter has recently celebrated its eighth birthday with a #FirstTweet tool that enables you to look up user’s first tweets (you can find yours here), it felt fitting to look at what I’ve learned since that very first tweet as Ginger at 9:22 PM on 18 Feb 2012.

Gingertwitter

Here are 5 lessons I’ve learned along the way, to help you get the most out of your tweeting/blogging:

  1. A picture tells a thousand words – we’ve all heard this saying before – but whether it is Twitter, Facebook or your blog, posts with great pictures get more engagement. No wonder Instagram is one of the fastest growing social networks.A picture tells a thousand words
  2. Size doesn’t matter – it’s easy to get obsessed with how big your following is or isn’t, but it’s quality that’s important, not quantity. The key is to try and build the right following, made up of engaged followers, who are interested in what you have to say. Size doesn't matter
  3. Short and sweet – Love what you write about, keep it concise (300-400 words per post) and focused around a theme that you become known for, and you will build a community of followers. Short and sweet
  4. Give and take – Read, comment, follow, RT and like other people’s tweets/blogs. You will not only pick up some good tips from others, but you’ll build up your own community at the same time. Learn from others
  5. Rest and be thankful – William Wordsworth said it, and so do I! Don’t put too much pressure on yourself. It’s alright to take a break from writing now and again, and hopefully after a rest your writing will be revitalised! Rest and be thankful

Despite these 5 tips, I’m the biggest rule breaker of all and guilty of not heeding my own advice… So, let’s see whether I can take on board these lessons between now and my 10,000th tweet!

And because size doesn’t matter, here’s my blogging journey so far, in numbers 😉

Good luck with your blogging/tweeting!

G x

Richmond and Running – Two things that I love…

And these two things came together on Sunday in the form of the Richmond Half Marathon, culminating in me achieving my first goal of 2014 – that elusive Personal Best (PB)!

Richmond Half Marathon route

Sunday’s half marathon was my second half of 2014, with the first being the inaugural Hampton Court Half Marathon on Sunday 23rd February. Sadly the Hampton Court half had a marshalling error which resulted in the course being 0.4 miles shorter than the requisite 13.1 miles, so my official race finishing time of 1:50:34, while a PB by a long shot, was not an official PB in terms of the distance… 😦

Hampton Court Half result

So, come Sunday, the pressure was on to post an official PB. And, it feels great that all my training (and hibernating) since January has finally paid off with a time of 1:52:21!

Richmond Half Results

It is only right as a runner first, and a blogger second to summarise my key take-outs from yesterday’s run… which now holds a very special place in my heart for the following five reasons:

  1. As a BeaRCat Runner – I joined the BeaRCats at the end of last year, and as I’ve mentioned before, they are a really lovely community of like-minded individuals, who all happen to enjoy running. I’ve run for years but have never pushed myself, and in the short space of time that I’ve been running with the BeaRCats, I’ve seen my pace improve week on week, month on month. It might be an individual sport, but running with the BeaRCats is running as part of a team. This is typified by the fact that the mile 11 water station was manned by Caitlin and fellow BCs (such a welcome sight!) and the first person I saw immediately at the end of both the Hampton Court half and the Richmond half was John Reece (a fellow blogger) cheering us all in!Bearcat runners
  2. As a TRObot – I not only ran as part of the BeaRCat team yesterday, but I was also proud to be one of the TRObots, a team of 7 TROers. We work locally, in Old Isleworth, looking out over the tow-path that we ran along yesterday, and as a team we ran for local charity SPEAR – a charity helping homeless people in South West London rebuild their lives. The team all did amazingly well, from posting a top-20 finish dressed as a banana, to achieving PBs. And Nicky who was sadly unable to run, due to injury, was an absolute TROjan on the water station at mile 11. What’s next for the TRObots?TRObots
  3. As a Local – I’ve lived in the area (St Margarets) for a little over 3 years now, and before that was on the other side of Richmond, in East Sheen for 5 years. Richmond is such a special place and I feel so lucky to live here. With its parks, the river running through, its history, and its town centre, it’s the most beautiful of London boroughs. The run (thankfully) took in the flattest part of Richmond, mostly along the Thames tow-path. It was difficult terrain however, and congested at times along the path, but a beautiful route nonetheless.Richmond course
  4. As a Goal-Setter – I’ve been following a 9 week training plan on my Nike+ app since January, and while I haven’t religiously stuck to it, I’ve been pretty dedicated. This app has 100% helped me achieve my PB this year – I thoroughly recommend it. The only downside is it’s hard to keep track of your speed when it’s tucked in your pocket and it’s noisy (traffic). Nike+ App
  5. As a Runner – I’ve now run 6 half marathons – from the West Coast of Scotland (MOKRUN) to the South of England (Brighton) and I’m developing quite a taste for this distance. All have been very different, but all of them hold special memories for me. My first was the Great North Run in 1999, and my previous PB was recorded at Silverstone in 2010. But given my love of Richmond, my new running pals in the form of the BeaRCats and TRObots, and my new PB, the Richmond half now has my heart! Richmond heart

Love

G x

A friend of mine is heading off to Dubai this weekend for some winter sun, inspiring me to write a review of my travels there… I’ve been 3 times over the last 5 years to visit a couple of friends who are working over there. Burj Khalifa

Dubai is certainly not for everyone. It’s man-made. It’s materialistic. And it’s a place of contradictions. But if like me, you enjoy eating, drinking, sunbathing and shopping, then you’ll love it here too!

Last December I stayed with friends, but I’ve previously stayed at the Sofitel Dubai Jumeirah Beach, a 5-star hotel in the Jumeirah Beach Residence (JBR) at the heart of Dubai Marina.

Read on for some of my recommendations of what to do and where to go…

  1. Eating – If you’re visiting on a Friday then definitely visit the new Foodie Friday Market in Safa Park (enter by Gate 5), open between 9am and 2pm. With a host of stalls offering freshly prepared and cooked organic foods and drinks, this is a lovely place to spend the morning. A great lunch (or breakfast) spot is The Lime Tree Cafe & Kitchen, serving up delicious, nutritious food to either take-away or enjoy in situ. You are spoilt for choice for restaurants in Dubai. One of my favourites – for the food and view combo – is Abdel Wahab – an amazing Lebanese overlooking the fountains of downtown Dubai. Top tip – only go if you can book a table on the terrace, with a view of the fountains and the Burj Khalifa in the background. Every 15-30 minutes there’s a stunning water display, choreographed to magical music. Madinat Jumeirah is also a must-visit with loads of excellent places to eat and drink…Fountains downtown Dubai
  2. Drinking – There’s a plethora of great bars to choose from, but one of my favourites, again for the view, is Bar 360, Jumeirah Beach Hotel. This is a gorgeous spot to have a sundowner, overlooking the Burj Al Arab, listening to some cool tunes from the resident DJ. Top tips – hop on a golf buggy from the hotel, the walk is further than you think! Also, if you’ve got long hair, tie it back, it is very exposed and windy! Another popular spot is the Barasti, Le Meridien Mina Seyahi Beach Resort & Marina, a great beachside bar, with a nice atmosphere. And if you can wangle an invite through a member, the Dubai Offshore Sailing Club is an even more relaxed spot to enjoy a drink, in the company of the more established Dubai expat community. Remember and respect the muslim culture, drink sensibly and only in licensed venues! Burj Al Arab
  3. Sunbathing – Some of the nicer beaches while beautifully groomed, can be expensive (the Jumeirah Beach Hotel), but there are some other good options to choose from. The RIVA Beach Resort (around 100-150 Dhs a day for a sun-lounger) is one of Dubai’s first standalone beach clubs, with its Café del Mar-style vibe. Top tip – while the beach and sea here are nice, the food is expensive and not great, so take your own! The Dubai Ladies Club (about 80 Dhs a day) is another cheaper and quieter option. There are also some good free beaches along JBR – The Walk – which is great for people watching if you don’t mind going without a sun-lounger. Otherwise stick with the hotel pool, the infinity pool at the Sofitel is stunning and was a firm favourite of mine for soaking up the winter rays! RIVA Beach resort
  4. ShoppingSafa’s Foodie Friday Market has lots of stalls with local artisans and their wares. But you can’t go to Dubai shopping without visiting the malls, not least to enjoy the lovely air conditioning if the heat’s getting too much for you! The shopping while tax-free is expensive, so things probably work out the same as here in the UK. The most famous is the Mall of Emirates with its marble floors and designer stores. In contrast to the glitzy, glamorous malls, there are the souqs. And there’s one in particular to head to if you’re in the market for leather bags. It’s the market in Karama – Dolce and Karama as my friend calls it 😉 Jump in a taxi and head for the fruit market in Karama… If you can find it, Walencia is one of the best shops with a wide selection of bags. Saz and Tori Dubai Offshore Sailing club
  5. Exercising – Dubai seems to attract fit people and has loads of sporting activities to choose from – be it dragon boating, yoga on the beach or sailing. You can get some great advice on running, yoga and the latest fitness classes from this blog written by Tori (pictured above). If yoga’s your thing, then definitely check out this interview with Noura of Yogalates Bliss in Dubai. If you want to run, there’s a good little running track around Safa Park which benefits from the shade of the trees in the park. And, I’ve also previously been put through my paces at a military bootcamp with Ignite on the beach.

All this talk of Dubai is making me quite jealous of my friend who is heading there this Friday! Hopefully this short review gives her some ideas of what to do and where to go…

Safe travels!

G x

I work in event marketing for an agency that describes itself as “The experience agency”. We specialise in bringing brands to life through one-to-one experiences that are authentic, memorable and ultimately create brand advocacy.

I’ve recently returned from skiing in Verbier, Switzerland where my brother runs a luxury ski chalet business – Bramble Ski and its even more luxurious sister company Haute Montagne. They are also in the business of “experience” describing their service and raison d’être as “redefining the luxury chalet experience”.

Haute Montagne Chalets

But what does experience really mean? Surely one person’s idea of an experience is different to another’s…

Haute Montagne (HM) was recently featured in a Sunday Times article, entitled “Ice and easy: the £700,000 skiing holiday”, as the most expensive skiing holiday sold last year… Imagine clothes wrapped in gold tissue paper, gourmet food, arrival by private jet, a private sommelier and the promise of a secluded spot away from the skiing masses. These are just some of the things the HM experience promises. With art galleries, cinemas, pools, spas and a remote idyllic setting, these chalets have been described as super yachts in the snow. It’s difficult to imagine this kind of money and extravagance!

Haute Montagne Chalets

While staying (not in one of the luxurious chalets I might add!) with my brother (Colin), I thought I’d take the opportunity to ask him and one of his fellow co-owners (Natasha), how they define “experience” in their business, as well as in other areas of life:

1. What’s your most memorable experience in life so far?

Colin: “A 3 month ski trip to Las Lenas, Argentina, not just for the skiing adventure but for the best red meat and red wine in the world.”

Natasha: “In terms of travel or holidays, a round the world trip with my husband was pretty memorable! We went to surf spots everywhere but the best was probably Arugam Bay in Sri Lanka. A Danish couple had spent thirty years building a beautiful little oasis of calm, beach huts built amongst gardens right on the beach. The central building was completely open on three sides and was such a wonderfully relaxing spot after years of London life. The best thing was how they looked after their staff, all from local families. During the civil war when no tourists came they simply bought some fishing boats and kept everyone employed as fishermen!”

Arugam Bay in Sri Lanka

2. What experiences are on your bucket list?

Colin: “Nothing so defined, but I have always thought it would be fun to combine sea kayaking with ski touring, while roughing it in a tent every night.”

Natasha: “I don’t do bucket lists, I’m not generally into lists or collections and I tend to take life as it comes. I guess I would like to take the kids to Africa and would love to see the Himalayas.”

Himalayas

3. What is it you think that sets the Bramble Ski and Haute Montagne experience apart from other luxury ski holidays?

Colin: “Our ability to be able to adapt to each client. Flexibility is key. Our chefs design their menus each week to suit the different guests, the hosts adapt their service style to the guests preference and our ski instructor-concierges and chalet managers respond to any requests thrown their way.”

Natasha: “The staff, without question! We have the most amazing team of people and that’s what makes the experience so great. Our staff are naturally service orientated people, you need empathy in order to anticipate what a client will need. You need a winning smile and you have to be prepared to roll your sleeves up and work hard to get the job done.”

Haute Montagne Spa

4. What’s the simplest and most extravagant detail that your clients can expect while staying with Bramble Ski and Haute Montagne?

Colin: “From a phone call an hour before arrival, assuring the guests that we are ready for them (a simple Bramble detail)… to lobster and caviar served in the private spa area with Cristal Champagne (an extravagant Haute Montagne detail).”

Natasha: “The most extravagant details like having your bags packed for you with golden tissue paper are actually the simplest things to do, you just need to be trained. Once you are trained these things don’t actually cost more money. It just takes a perfectionist to do it so well that when you open your luggage back home it is like Christmas, it is the biggest treat you can imagine.”

W Hotel Verbier

5. What other companies and experiences do you take inspiration from or admire?

Colin: We mostly learn from our staff who have worked in Michelin starred restaurants and 5* hotels, but we certainly look at what The Virgin Lodge and the new W Hotel in Verbier are doing.

Natasha: “I take huge inspiration from music and art. I love that it is possible to create something pristine and perfect, if that is a 3 minute song or a watercolour portrait. I love simple things that can give you pleasure. The experience of hearing live music performed for example, it can totally alter your mood. It is the result of hours and hours of practice, sometimes a lifetime of dedication, to create something seemingly effortless and totally beautiful!”

Thanks to Colin and Natasha for sparing some time to share their thoughts on what makes a great experience… They and their co-owners are now in their 9th season with Bramble Ski, with many regular and celebrity clients, so they’re clearly doing something very right…

I’ll just have to get used to the thought of never experiencing this kind of super yacht decadence, beyond my dreams… even with my brother at the helm!

G x