Coffeeneuring #2. Merkin’s Farm Cafe

Wednesday 26th October 2016.

Bouyed up by my first successful (if short and somewhat wussy) Coffeeneuring adventure, I planned a trip to Merkin’s Farm for half term, when I presumed I’d be able to drag my teenaged son with me. The promise of one of their homemade bean burgers will normally prise him away from his computer and onto his bike. Unfortunately, this time I obviously wasn’t persuasive enough, so a solo trip it was.

It looked cold and grey, so I dressed up in my new (and highly attractive) winter cycling gear.* What’s not to love about fleece-backed black and hi-viz yellow lycra? (Shall I start a list??)** Anyway, it’s warm and visible which is what matters. I planned a route and set off. Route just happened to go past Great Chalfield Manor – anyone spot Poldark there? No, just a van.

Great Chalfield Manor
Anyone seen Poldark?

I arrived, ignored the suggested cycle parking,

Bike parking
Bike parking


parked in front of an (unfortunately)  pink bench,img_0185


and headed inside for my veggie breakfast.

Veggie breakfast
Veggie breakfast

An uneventful ride back home (no falls this time!) completed an 18 mile round trip. The only downside to this ride? It wasn’t as cold outside as it looked and I was sweltering in my winter cycling gear especially on the return journey with a warm, full stomach. It was worth it though!

*Maybe, just maybe, that’s why my son didn’t want to accompany me

**You’ll be glad to hear I have no photos of me wearing this attractive outfit


Two stories featuring a coffee shop

Two stories featuring a coffee shop. Only one has a vague fitness connection, but I found both quite funny.

I didn’t think I could be embarrassed being in Lycra anymore

Once you’ve been running (or cycling, or anything outdoors-y that requires well-fitting clothing) for a while you just don’t care. It’s your badge of honour, it says “I’ve just done / am about to do / am in the process of doing something awesome”.  Last Sunday, this changed. Due to a complicated set of arrangements, my car had been left on the other side of Chippenham and needed to be collected. In a rare moment of keenness I decided to cycle over, put my bike in the back of the car and then drive home.

As I drove home with a smug feeling of “I actually went on my road bike – on my own!” I decided to call into my new favourite coffee shop and buy a takeaway drink (in my reusable cup, natch). I parked right in front of the plate glass windows, strode in in my all-Lycra glory and waited my turn. As I strode back out I was aware of the stares of fellow cafe go-ers (you know when you see thought bubbles coming out of people’s heads? These said “wow – I don’t know what she’s wearing, but she’s obviously in the middle of some epic sporting endeavour”).  I then ruined it by not climbing back onto a bike and cycling off into the sunset, but by getting back into my car in full view of the entire cafe and driving off. Sigh.

cappuccino cup with drawing on scum

“We’re in England for God’s sake!”

Co-incidentally I was back at the same coffee shop whilst I killed time after my swimming lesson. It was quiet in there (Monday morning) with just a few customers. Whilst I waited for my drink a man came in and stood behind me eyeing up the menu board. As the manager asked what he’d like, the chap exclaimed “Why do they have these stupid words for the sizes? Why can’t they just say small, medium or large?”

The manager was politely explaining that a primo means a small in Italian, a Medio is medium, but he’s interrupted by “I know what the sizes ARE, but why aren’t they in English? We’re in England for God’s sake they should be in ENGLISH!”

Pauses for breath, then he added “I’ll have a cappuccino”.

I had to bite my lip from adding “Don’t you mean a frothy coffee?” whilst smiling sweetly.

Shot Blok Giveaway

Everyone likes a freebie, yes? And everyone likes Shotbloks, yes? Yes?
You do, great. Then head to the bottom paragraph to find out how you could get some freebies.

You don’t? Oh – I’ve never met anyone who didn’t like those little jelly cubes of goodness.

You’ve never tried them? Well now here’s your chance.



I have used Shot Bloks on many long runs and each of my marathons. They are like eating those little pre-dissolved cubes of jelly (or was that just a “growing up in the 70s” thing? ), but 3 of them give you basically the same energy boost as an energy gel. You have to have some water to help them down, but they also contain the salts you’ll have been sweating out so they have everything you need. On a personal note, I’ve found that picking them out of your teeth for the next few miles is a fine way to pass the time on a long run.

I can really recommend Shot Bloks, so you may be wondering why I’ve got two packets to give away instead of just scoffing them myself? Well I ordered a selection of flavours from Up and Running, and by mistake they sent me these Black Cherry flavour ones. I hate anything cherry flavoured with a passion (but I love cherries -weird, huh?) so they kindly sent me some other flavours and said I could give these away.

The Black Cherry variety also has caffeine in then, so they are ideal for a boost towards the end of a race when you may be flagging.

To enter this giveaway, please leave a comment after this post telling me if you’ve tried Shot Bloks before, what you thought of them and what’s your favorite method of fueling on long runs. Winner will be selected at random on 1st September 2015 from people who’ve left a comment by 23:59 on 31st August 2015.

Good luck!

Bargains bargains bargains!

Everyone loves a bargain, and everyone loves new running gear. (Well, most runners love new running gear. ) So, if that describes you, get yourself down to Lidl!

I popped down there yesterday when I heard they were having one of their regular promotions of running gear. I love their running socks and have been buying them over the last few years whenever they have them in. I stockpiled two pairs yesterday – well at £1.99 a pair it would be a shame not to.

New socks - not pink! Old legs -a bit pink

Whilst I was there, I couldn’t resist also buying this cool running vest.

Snazzy new vest - also not pink!

It was sold as size 10/12, so as a standard size 12 I was worried it would be too tight but at £2.99 I thought it was worth a try. It turned out to be nicely snug meaning it didn’t rub under my arms as I ran tonight. The material it is made from is fairly thin, but in the current warm weather that’s not a problem. It is also a really groovy pattern (and not pink), which pleases me greatly!

Lidl also have capri trousers in various jazzy patterns, and of course they have men’s running gear as well as women’s.

I have received no payment or freebies for writing this review, I am simply happy to recommend good, inexpensive kit.

One of those days

One of those days where your recovery run means you don’t feel at all stiff after yesterday’s unplanned half marathon, but you realise your favourite running pants must be losing their elasticity as they are no longer staying firmly in place.

One of those days when you go to the self scan till in the supermarket, and it bossily tells you to place your empty bags in the bagging area. When you do, it panics “UNEXPECTED ITEM IN THE BAGGING AREA!!!”

One of those days when the young man who comes to sort out your overly-sensitive till pityingly eyes your new pack of huge but incredibly comfy pants, and you want to shout “They’re for running! I’m a runner! I’VE RUN MARATHONS IN THESE PANTS!!!”

Huge and unattractive, but THE bast pants for running
Huge and unattractive, but THE bast pants for running

Product Review – High UV Protection Buff

I was recently sent a Buff from the lovely people at Kitshack. This was sent to me free of charge, in return for an honest review. Now I’m nothing if not honest, so here goes. I have actually had this Buff for a few weeks now, because I wanted to make sure I gave it a really thorough test.

This is how it arrived. I'm not that handsome. Or rugged.
This is how it arrived. I’m not that handsome. Or rugged.

It came with lots of stickers, tattoos and a screen cleaner. I don't know why
It came with lots of stickers, tattoos and a screen cleaner. I don’t know why

I do already have a Buff, so I’m no stranger to these interesting garments. I bought it when we went skiing in Canada, and it was a cosy godsend. It was easy to wear under my helmet, up covering most of my face, or simply as a neck warmer. I was intrigued to see how a summer version would work.

The buff I was sent was a High UV protection buff, which is basically a tube of lightweight, stretchy, seamfree “Coolmax® Extreme” fabric which Kitshack says is has “superior wicking performance and at least 95% UV protection”. They come in a huge variety of colours and patterns, and also come in adults’ and kids’ sizes.

Once you’ve picked your Buff, you have to decide how to wear it. Headband, wristband, beanie, dangling down the back, twisted up on top – there are pictures, instructions and even a video to show you how to wear it.

With our recent spell of warm weather I didn’t want to cover any more of my head than necessary as I tend to best up very quickly when running. However I need something to keep under control the bits of hair that are too short to be held in by my pony tail. So a Buff Headband it was.

I have always had problems wearing hairbands, because I have a very low hairline at the back so most hair bands pull my hair up and out. It turns out that the Buff did exactly the same, so I could only wear it with my hair pulled up into a high ponytail.

I tried various ways of folding my Buff. One was too tight, squeezed my head and eventually popped off. One was very wide, which helped keep my glasses on and ear buds in but was also very warm. Beanie style made me look like a crazy loon! Folded into 6 seemed to work the best, until it also popped of the bank of my head during parkrun.

So what did I think of my Buff? Well, sad to say, as a summer running accessory I don’t think it’s for me. As I thought, my head doesn’t seem to be the right shape for a Buff. I found it constricting and hot to wear now that the weather has warmed up. However, I see lots of runners wearing Buffs in the summer so it’s obviously not a universal problem. I think for me it will be invaluable in the cooler months when I can wear it as a headband or beanie until I have warmed up.

Too wide headband
Too wide headband

Helps keep your glasses on your nose
Helps keep your glasses on your nose

Best fold yet. Keeps your ear buds in.
Best fold yet. Keeps your ear buds in.

Beanie fold
Beanie fold. I look like a dork

Janathon Day 19. Post Race Thoughts – Bath Skyline 10K #3

Still thinking about yesterday’s race (shows it was a good one!).

1:27:30 is my official time for the Bath Skyline #3 (Racecourse course) Definitely my new 10K PW*, and I’m fine with that.

I was amused to see that Relish Running Races had published this on their website and facebook page yesterday:-

“WOW! We have never seen mud like that before, that was really something else. That has to be our toughest course ever! If you thought it was muddy for the earlier waves, the later waves was a pure mud bath! Well done to all the runners, what an fantastic achievement 🙂

It was amazing to see such commitment to the cause and seeing runners coming home plastered in mud – the Cotswold Hills are definitely a little shorter this evening :-)”

It’s official then – it was a tough one. Runners wearing ‘Tough Mudder’ T-shirts were overheard to say it was tougher than Tough Mudder. I’m just wondering now how the Slaughterford 9 (next Sunday) is going to feel after that…

I was amazed I felt so okay after running that, that I didn’t bother with a recovery run and got on with the day. By the evening though, I realised my mistake.

Day 19 of Janathon could justifiably have just been getting my kit clean again, but I also heroically managed a few creaky stretches before bed as well.

* PW = Personal Worst

Crewroom Running Clothes

I was lucky enough to speak to Kate Giles recently as her company Crewroom are pleased to launch not one, but two new ranges of running (and sport) gear. They are covering all bases, with ranges aimed at urban landscapes and also more natural settings; featuring bold colours and more subtle tones; suitable for city running, night running, trail running, paddle boarding, yoga, and even for a pint at the pub. This is what Crewroom say about the ranges, but I wanted to test this out for myself.

The new ranges are called Elements and Laser. Elements has a breezy natural feel. The fabrics are soft and supple, feel like cotton but are actually fully technical so they are easy to wear and move in. Laser has a more urban look to it, apparently targetting ‘city runners’. It has bold colours with hi-viz reflective panels.

VX Sprint Vest

VX Sprint Vest
VX Sprint Vest. Photo

Part of the Laser range, this vest says ‘racer’, and Sprint is a very appropriate name for it.

They Say “Made with our flagship fabric, Vapour-X, this vest is a true performance garment with some flattering design features and discreet reflective branding to keep you safe and seen. Super light and amazingly comfortable, you’ll hardly notice your wearing it on those long runs through the city.”

Black and Tabby Says this felt very lightweight when I first picked it up, and if I didn’t know better I might have thought it was a cheap garment. However as soon as I started running on a hot and humid evening I was very appreciative of the lightness to this vest. It made my sports bra feel too heavy! It is cut fairly high at the front which means I wasn’t worried about getting the front of my chest sunburnt, and the armholes were cut to reveal quite a lot of shoulder. On the plus side this made for a cooler run, on the negative side I did feel like I ought to start doing some shoulder exercises if I was going to show them off in this vest. The Vapour-X logo on the front hem feels large, plasticky and clunky and I wonder why they put it here?”.

“I’m not used to wearing a vest when running, which probably explains why I felt a little exposed wearing it. However it was light, cool and comfortable to wear and it will definitely be worn again”.

Update – I wore the vest again on another hot and humid run, and loved it. Light, comfortable, airy- what more can you ask for! The only thing I don’t like is that logo on the front hem.

Laser Trail Shorts

Laser Women's Shorts
Laser Trail Shorts.  Photo

The shorts are proper short runing shorts, with a split side seam (just for the bottom few centimetres) and a brilliant flash of colour down the side seam. They have a good sized zipped pocket on the back, and a smaller ‘key’ pocket inside.

They Say Like it’s Refresher predecessor we’ve kept this product light with a focus on comfort. We’ve used a lightweight stretch microfibre shell and our signature Vapour-X lining which reduces chafing and helps keep the garment fresh and dry. Other nifty features include a rear media pocket and an internal key pocket with a key-tie to stop annoying jangling!”

Black and Tabby Says  “I liked how these shorts felt when I picked them up (light and not rustly) and loved that they had a liner (aka “integral knickers”) which I have always found to be more comfortable than running ‘commando’ or with my own underwear. Pulling them on and looking down they looked quite baggy around my tummy which I felt self concious about. When I looked at myself in a mirror though they looked fine. (Mental note – don’t look down!)

Speedy baggy shorts. Photo Tony Duffy
Speedy baggy shorts. Photo Tony Duffy

These shorts are short, there’s no getting away from it. The split sides put me in mind of a proper speedy racer and I had this image (on the left) in my mind as I ran. This was actually no bad thing, as it meant I felt I had to push hard all through my run, even when (especially when) overtaking a dog walker up a hill.

I think I’ll need to wear these shorts a few more times to feel really comfortable in them. At the moment if I was doing a 5K race I’d grab these like a shot as only then would I manage the speed these shorts deserve”

Black and Tabby testing Crewroom clothes
Black and Tabby testing Crewroom clothes

Update  I wore these shorts again today on another hot and humid run, and I didn’t even notice the bagginess I did on first wearing. I also didn’t notice the split sides. However, like the Sprint Vest, I did notice how light, cool and comfortable they were to run in. I also forgot to mention the splash of colour down the sides which I really like – not too in-yer-face but just enough to brighten what could be prettty plain shorts.

My son took this photo of me running in them, and it has been universally agreed they make me look very sporty and smart. Miracle shorts then!


Elemental Fjord Short

Also available in Not Pink
Also available in No Pink. Photo

These shorts were recommened by Jordanna, Crewroom’s lead designer, who said “they are amazingly comfortable and flattering with an extra wide waistband which feels really supportive when running.”

She kindly took note of my “I don’t like pink!” request, and sent me a pair in a lovely “Blueberry/Lime” colourway which turned out to be a bluey-gray with a pale lime highlights (not as bright and hi-viz as I’d have thought).

They sayLightweight shorts made from fabric with four-way stretch for extra comfort and manoeuvrability. Nice little features include the rear zip pocket to secure your phone, card or keys and two side pockets. The wide elasticated waistband is a beautiful feature and gives a very flattering finish. Along with the breathable and wicking fabric, these really are a fully functional pair of performance running shorts.”

Kate Giles, founder and CEO of Crewroom said “when you handle the Elements fabric, it feels like cotton, it has that softness. You know you’ll be able to train in it for a long time.” Kate prefers to wear this is this very hot weather, but knows that some people do prefer the more technical feel of the Laser range. She believes Elements is fine to wear to train in, and then wear down to the pub.

Black and Tabby says “When I unpacked these shorts I wasn’t sure that they were a technical fabric because they felt so soft and stretchy. I also wasn’t sure about the wide waistband – was it going to dig into me as I ran? As I have no waist (I sadly go straight up and down) I do have problems with belts and waistbands riding up as I run.

Despite these misgivings I put these shorts on and shot out for a short run before I went away on holiday. After initially fidgetting with the waistband I was impressed to find it was comfortable. If you’ve ever run in any shorts or trousers where the waistband has slipped below a vaguely wobbly tummy you’ll know how unsettling this feeling is. These shorts don’t do that. Even with my phone in the back pocket they felt secure without being constricting, and despite my lack of waist they didn’t ride up and give me a ‘wedgie’, so they scored highly for that. As I ran they simply felt cool and comfortable.

Elemental Fjord Short with Laser Vest
Elemental Fjord Short with Laser Vest

Like the Laser trail shorts, these are short. I could see the line where my usual shorts finish (not a tan line – more like a windburn line I think), but they were so comfortable to run in I didn’t care. They are a more casual styling than the Laser Trail shorts, and combined with the fabric I could see myself wearing these on hot days to do things other than running in. In fact I took them on my recent holiday hoping it would be hot enough to wear them on days out as well as having some running kit with me ‘just in case’, but it wasn’t to be.”

How many shorts make you run like this?
How many shorts make you run like this?

It’s obvious I love these shorts. I’ve worn them for another two short runs and they’ve performed brilliantly both times. The only negative I can find for them is that, unlike the Laser Trail shorts, they don’t have an integral lining so you either need to be brave enough to run ‘commando’ or you need to find the perfect running knickers to go underneath (something I’ve yet to do). I guess this is so that you can wear them for activities other than sport but that would have made them my 100% perfect pair of shorts. As it is they’ll have to have a score of 99% I look pretty happy with them though!

Please Note – I received no payment for writing this review, but I did receive the shorts and vest for testing purposes. All views and comments are my own.

Meet Kate Giles, Founder of Crewroom

I was fortunate enough last week to have the chance to interview Kate Giles. The first thing I learnt was that it’s not a good start to insult your interviewee. In my defence I honestly meant ‘tough cookie’ as a compliment.

Photo of kate Giles
Kate Giles. Photo credit  Pandora’s Thoughts Photography

To build a solid case for the defence I’m talking about a Team GB rower who caught pneumonia whilst training in foul weather, but who only found out when coughing and hearing a ‘pop’ that turned out to be three ribs cracking. This is a woman who, whilst taking a year to recover, comes up with the idea of creating performance sportswear so that no other athlete has to suffer the same fate as her. Anyone can come up with a good idea, but I’m talking about a woman who acts on it by forming a company and setting about revolutionising sportswear. As if that wasn’t enough, this ‘tough cookie’ is the sort of person who, when struggling to get people into her shop doesn’t give up but sets up a juice bar inside to tempt them in, and when that doesn’t work offers fried breakfasts instead. In my eyes that’s someone who’s a tough cookie, although Kate very politely suggested that ‘resilient’ was maybe a better word.

Kate Giles on the road
Kate Giles on the road. Photo credit Pandora’s Thoughts Photography

The company Kate set up with a friend became Crewroom, and she recently bought out her partner to become the sole CEO. She leads a company that designs performance sportswear that looks as good as it feels to wear. It’s not only the designs that are innovative, but the company has developed their own fabrics to ensure the products come up to their high standards. Kate said the main focus for her clothing has always been the materials, so much so that she became involved in developing her own fabrics. Their shirts made from “Vapour-X” fabric each contain about 10 recycled water bottles, as well as bamboo charcoal, which means they’re also nailing their colours to the environmental mast as well. I will be looking more at the fabrics in my next post where I review a couple of Crewroom shorts and vests.

For men as well
For men as well. Photo credit Pandora’s Thoughts Photography

Obviously the function of the clothing is very important, but looking at the Crewroom website they also look really stylish. I’m impressed with how they look good without any of the silly fripperies that some companies seem to think women need to have in their sportswear. I don’t want laces to dangle and annoy me, nor acres of loose flappy fabric to make me look huge and rub me raw when it’s hot, thank you very much. I am also impressed that the women’s specific clothing, whilst it does have some pink for those who want it, also has a wide range of other colours. Kate said she has to have pink in the women’s range – she had a group of six women who came into the shop and just said “Where’s the pink?!” However the designers have chosen a strong shade, and thought about how it will look when you’re hot and sweaty.

A refreshing change to pink!
A refreshing change to pink! Photo credit Pandora’s Thoughts Photography

Crewroom use designers from the London School of Fashion who work on site, in the same building as the shop and the rest of the business by the river in Putney. How interactive is that? They get to see and interact with the customer base right at the point of sale. Kate said that as a smaller brand they have to listen to their customers, who in turn give them great feedback. The brand is growing by word of mouth with “people saying how much they like the product”.

I asked Kate what she thought was more important, the look or the function of her clothing. She said that all of her designs are fabric led. Once the fabric is right, then her team of designers look at the style of the clothing. “What happened to me, was because I was wearing inappropriate fabric. I am fabric led. My mind actually works towards when someone’s training, always making sure they’re well protected.”

The success of the Crewroom designs means that it is now a sought after brand for elite athletes, with Crewroom supplying kit for Team GB rowers and canoeists. Seeing as I felt a little star struck to be talking to Kate, I asked her if she got the same buzz out of seeing ordinary people wearing Crewroom products, as opposed to Elite athletes and famous people. “Way more!” she immediately and exuberently answered. “It’s my biggest excitement!”

Kate thinks the biggest change in the market is more people doing non competitive sport. “A big part of our target audience is people in their 30s and 40s, who’ve maybe had their children, maybe never done any sport, but who start with running and get a bit of a buzz.” (I was smiling at this, because this is *exactly* how I started!) We chatted about how it is now normal for people of all ages and abilities to get out and exercise. Growing up in a small Wiltshire village (not far from where I live, co-incidentally) it was unusual to see people out exercising. “If you’d seen a 60 year old woman running in the village you’d think she was Mad Alice. It just didn’t happen”. Kate also has a healthy attitude towards aging. “I don’t think middle age exists anymore. No one thinks of themselves as old at 30 or 40. It’s like saying it’s all downhill from here. You might not run faster but you can get happier and happier”. She believes getting older is just about being more relaxed and “growing into our own skin”. These days she likes nothing more than to meet up with a group of friends, go for a run and then go to the pub!

That's my kind of post run refreshment
That’s my kind of post run refreshment. Photo credit Pandora’s Thoughts Photography

Her main sport now is running as it’s the easiest thing to do. Rowing takes a lot of time to get organised and she simply doesn’t have the luxury of time at the moment. As she is obviously a very hard worker I suggested that she didn’t sound like someone who could be happy just sitting around on holiday and doing nothing. However apparently she’s quite happy to do that on holiday, as long as there was the sea or a pool. Sounds ideal to me.

So is she really a ‘tough cookie’? I asked Kate if she thought taking part in sports taught people how to have strength and a ‘backbone’ or does it show you what’s already there. Kate replied with a story about a tough rowing coach who told the women’s rowing team “Just when you think you’re about to die, you’re only about 25% there”. This gave them the self confidence to carry on and push themselves further, and ultimately go on to win Olympic Gold.  “You realise how capable you are, the more you push yourself” Kate added. This sounded to me like a good motto for life, as well as for sport, and I think it sums up how she’s living her life. I wonder if she’d prefer ‘inspirational, resilient cookie’ as a description?


* Catch up with Crewroom ( at the London Triathlon Expo 2014, on Saturday & Sunday, August 2 & 3 at the ExCeL Centre, east London, where the team will be on stand 32 exhibiting their brand new ranges.