Run Fantastic: The Power of Community

awesome communityWe’re two weeks in and the mojo train is flying along like a madman on a camel!

But it’s time to start thinking about February and in particular your targets for February.

To set your targets log into the spreadsheet and set your frequency and single workout distance targets for each week in February. The weekly distance target you set is the target for your single longest workout for that week in your chosen discipline; it is not your total distance target for the week.

Set my February targets >>


The power of community

[bra_blockquote align=’right’]“The one training tool I couldn’t live without is my training partners. It’s so much easier to get out the door when you have someone to run with and push you on workout days.” Kim Smith, Olympian[/bra_blockquote]

It’s difficult to be self-motivated and get your workouts done 100% of the time. But not with Conkers Run Fantastic! If you’re thinking about not doing a workout, knowing that you’re part of a community can help you get out the door and doing the workout, whether it’s lacing up your running shoes, putting on your cycle helmet or going to the local swimming pool.

I’ve had days where it’s difficult to get out the door, where I’m struggling during a run and where I’ve had such a brilliant workout I’d have loved to high five someone, but doing the majority of my training on my own can mean I miss out on the support and celebrations that come with being part of a community. And while I enjoy the peace and quiet on some runs, for others I long to listen to my running buddies stories.

Part of the power of the community comes from motivating each other to do the workout, for example arranging to meet a friend to workout and keeping that commitment. But for me the real power of the community comes from the support and celebrations that we share together (in real life, or virtually). Group activities might be full of chit-chat but that chit-chat:

  • Might help someone deal with the stress they are experiencing
  • Might help someone discover a new workout or technique to improve their form
  • Might help someone calm their pre-race nerves
  • Might involve celebrating a new training PB with post-run cake

Being part of a community and actively engaging in that community can make your spirit and your fitness soar. And this is something that the Conkers parkrun Jantastic team have been so good at in previous years and that I’m already seeing in the Conkers Run Fantastic Facebook group.

Be part of the community, and remember to log your workouts!

Log my workouts >>


Until next time…

Kassia Gardner

Cross Country: Beyond Rhyme and Reason

cross country runningCross country. I’m not sure which sadistic person decided that running laps around a wet, boggy, muddy field with a huge hill or two on each lap in minimal running clothing would be fun. It sounds more like torture to me.

I’m not great at running over rutted fields and mud, and whilst I love the trails the trails I run are mainly hard-packed trails not the sloppy mud with the potential for losing a shoe that you get on cross country. And then there are the hills; again I don’t mind sauntering up the hills as I do in a trail run but race up muddy ones? Err, no!

So why am I lining up at the start line of a Chiltern Cross Country race in Luton? I’m happy on the roads and over long distances so a short, hard 6km in muddy fields with hills sounds like my ultimate nightmare. And it is, it is sheer madness. But I am being brave, putting myself out of my comfort zone and hopefully making be a better runner by improving my leg strength. I’ve even bought some brand new cross country spikes – well if you’re going to do it you might as well do it properly.

But that’s only part of the reason for running the last two Chiltern Cross Country races. The second reason is that I appear to have no choice. My eldest daughter, Ami, ran her first cross country race for our club, Leighton Buzzard AC, and I have now been firmly told that if she can do it, so can I. Like every parent I try to set a positive example for my own daughters to discover and develop their strengths, and I’m also a SisuGirls Ambassador.

Sisu: determined, brave, & resilient. We encourage the development of sisu in girls through physical pursuits, education & awareness.

Sisu is a Finnish term, which if directly translated into English would mean “having guts”, or ” having grit”. It’s about being prepared to fall, but to have the confidence and courage to pick yourself up and try again. And I suspect I might be falling a fair bit in this race. So as you can see if I want to live up to what I believe in I really have no choice.

And finally, by watching Ami at her cross country races I’ve discovered that camaraderie and team spirit are a huge part of cross country meets. There’s a friendly rivalry and a lot of respect between clubs and athletes, as well as a huge amount of support – whatever your club colours. Most of the races I do are as individual but I love to compete as part of a team when given the opportunity, so I am prepared to endure cross country running to be part of all of that.

I’m sure as I stand on the start line I’ll be nervous and thinking, “What the hell am I doing here?” I may be talking to those around me to avoid thinking of what is to come, but secretly I’ll be hoping it’s not too rutted, too muddy or too hilly or I think I might actually cry.

Until next time…

Kassia Gardner

Run Fantastic: Time to Give Up?

Don't give upWell, Conkers Run Fantastic has started and what a week it has been!

361 workouts so far!

While I hope you’re healthy and uninjured, colds and niggles can strike at any time. Which is why we’ve given you a Conkers Run Fantastic Joker.

Just as it’s important to be committed to the Run Fantastic challenge, it’s also important not to overdo it and store up more problems for later, potentially jeopardising your participation in the challenge later on. Be motivated, be committed but don’t be silly: pay attention to how you are feeling if you are ill or have an injury, and listen to your body.

If you have to miss any activities because of injury or illness, you can use a Joker twice in the three-month period. Each time you use the joker it will account for half the points you would have earned for that week. But remember you’ve only got two to use, so use them wisely – and not because the weather is bad! #SkinIsWaterproof

Log my workouts >>


Time to give up?

[bra_blockquote align=’right’]“I’m not saying it’s going to be easy. Nothing in life is easy. But that’s no reason to give up. You’ll be surprised what you can accomplish if you set your mind to it. After all, you only have one life, so you should try to make the most of it.” Louis Sachar[/bra_blockquote]

Did you know that the middle of January is when most people give up on their New Year’s Resolutions? Many people start the New Year with good intentions but then the willpower begins to fade. Committing to a New Year’s Resolution or fitness goal is great, but it can be difficult to kick old habits.

Conkers Run Fantastic is probably already helping you stick to your goals by keeping you accountable and helping you track your workouts. But the right attitude, the support of the Conkers Run Fantastic community and the following quick tips can also help you stay on track, in the game and on that mojo train.


Tips for keeping to your fitness goals

  • You don’t have to be perfect – It takes time, effort and practice (particularly if practicing form), keep at it and remember small steps done consistently will get you there.
  • Mix it up – Keep it interesting and keep yourself motivated by doing different workouts, this could be mixing up with running and cycling or just adding in different types of workout such as interval sessions or a fartlek run.
  • Train with a friend – Arranging to train with a friend means you’re less likely to miss your workout because you won’t want to let them down.
  • Get use to it – Make your workout as much of a habit as brushing your teeth before bed, be consistent and make your workouts a habit. It can take up to four weeks for an activity to become a habit so keep at it – you’re already one week in!
  • Don’t feel guilty – Missed a workout or two? I bet the world didn’t end! If things don’t go as planned don’t feel guilty, live in the present and get back into your routine today.

It’s easy to talk yourself out of your workout, “The weather is bad,” or “I need to do the housework.” But with Conkers Run Fantastic here to offer you support and keep you accountable, you can get out there and stick to your goals.

Good luck with week two!

Until next time…

Kassia Gardner




P.S. Don’t forget to log your workouts >>

Chocolate Espresso Cake

Chocolate Espresso CakeThis chocolate espresso cake recipe always always goes down a treat with fellow runners, with comments like “Awesome!” and “Mmmmm” regularly heard. And it’s so simple that Ami makes it as it’s mainly just bunging the ingredients together.

It’s an adaptation of a Nigella recipe, which is a vegan recipe, but that’s mainly down to the ingredients we have hanging around the cupboards – getting coconut butter tends to involve a special shopping trip as our local shop doesn’t sell it and quite frankly when we want to make cake I don’t want the hassle of a special shopping trip.



For the icing:

  • 60 ml cold water
  • 75 grams unsalted butter (Nigella uses coconut butter – not coconut oil)
  • 50 grams soft dark sugar
  • 1 ½ teaspoons instant espresso powder
  • 1 ½ tablespoons cocoa
  • 150 grams dark chocolate (minimum. 70% cocoa solids) – finely chopped

For the cake:

  • 225 grams plain flour
  • 1 ½ teaspoons bicarbonate of soda
  • ½ teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1 ½ teaspoons instant espresso powder
  • 75 grams cocoa
  • 300 grams soft dark brown sugar
  • 375 ml hot water from a recently boiled kettle
  • 75 grams coconut oil (90ml if a liquid)
  • 1 ½ teaspoons cider vinegar or white wine vinegar



  1. Preheat your oven to 180C/160C fan/gas 4 and pop in a baking sheet.
  2. Start with the icing.
  3. Put all of the icing ingredients except the chopped chocolate into a heavy-based saucepan and bring to the boil.
  4. Once everything is dissolved, turn off the heat, add the chocolate and swirl it in.
  5. Leave for a minute and then whisk until you have a lovely smooth texture.
  6. Leave the icing to cool, stirring every now and then.
  7. Next start on the cake.
  8. Line the bottom of a 20cm cake tin with baking paper.
  9. Add the flour, bicarb, salt and instant espresso and cocoa together in a bowl and mix with a fork.
  10. In a separate bowl mix together the sugar, water, coconut oil and vinegar until the coconut oil has melted.
  11. Stir the sugar, water, coconut oil and vinegar mix into the dry ingredients.
  12. Pour into your cake tin and bake for 35 minutes – Nigella suggests checking at the 30-minute mark to see if it is already done. This is a fudgy cake and you don’t want to overdo it.
  13. Once the cake is cooked, transfer the tin to a wire rack and let it cool in its tin.
    Give your icing a good stir with a spatula to check it is at the right consistency. It needs to be runny enough to cover the cake, but thick enough to stay (mostly) on the top.
  14. Pour over the unmoulded cake, and use a spatula to ease the icing to the edges, if needed.
  15. Decorate as you wish but leave to stand for at least 30 minutes for the icing to set before slicing into the cake.

Nigella recommends that this cake serves 10-12, but because it’s so fudgey I tend to cut it into smaller chunks for the post-run cake fest. Enjoy!

Run Fantastic: Dream Big!

Be awesome - why I runWell Conkers Run Fantastic has started and it’s “Go, go go!”

Let’s get stuck in and hit our targets for the first week of Conkers Run Fantastic.

As I mentioned in a previous blog post it’s not about achieving 100%, it’s about striving to succeed and that means being consistent in your workouts, if you haven’t set your targets yet then pop on over to the Conkers Run Fantastic website and get them entered. And don’t forget to log your workouts.

Log my workouts >>


Dream big!

[bra_blockquote align=’right’]“Setting goals gives life meaning. The feeling of setting a goal, working hard, and then achieving it is the best.” Sarah Jamieson, Olympian and Commonwealth Games Silver Medallist[/bra_blockquote]

Sometimes our goal is glaringly obvious, for example a breaking 30 mins for a 5k parkrun or going sub-3:30 in a marathon. Sometimes though, it’s not so obvious. But identifying what you really want rather than just going through the motions is the first step to getting and keeping the energy and commitment you’ll need to succeed.

I was watching an episode of George Clark’s Amazing Spaces with Ami the other night, and those people who have created these incredible small spaces don’t start with a bunch of materials which they then try put together to create their small space (OK, there was one – but it’s not recommended). They start with a vision, a dream. They think about how they will use it, what it will feel like inside and how it will look. Only then do they start planning how to build it. It needs to be the same for your training.

Goals act as a catalyst. They give you energy and drive, they inform your decision-making and strengthen your commitment. All training journeys will hiccups and setbacks, so you need to be enthusiastic about your goal. Because it’s that enthusiasm that will give you the persistence, determination and the ability to get back up when you’ve been knocked down.


What if I don’t have a goal for Run Fantastic?

I bet you do, you just haven’t discovered it yet. If you’re struggling to set your goal, use the following questions as prompts. Give yourself some time and space, and ask yourself:

  • What do I want to achieve in terms of performance?
  • What does my ideal day look like?
  • How would I like to feel at the end of Run Fantastic?
  • What would I do if I knew I couldn’t fail?

Of course, once you’ve got your goal you need to plan how you’re going to achieve it. I used a three-step process last year and I’m doing the same this year.


The three step process for setting your goals

This is the process I use:

  1. Set your goals
  2. Define your reasons to help you sustain your energy and commitment
  3. Identify the steps you’ll need to take to achieve each goal


Kas’ Example


  • A marathon PB at the Boston Marathon (time goal will be set nearer the time when I know what kind of shape I’m in)


  • Boston is a once in a lifetime opportunity and I want to perform my best
  • The legs can go faster


  • Smart training plan
  • Run some XC to build strength in the legs – XC races or parkrun courses
  • Strength work once a week – an increase from zero strength work
  • Consistent mileage


It’s time to get on the mojo train!

And don’t be afraid to dream big!

Until next time…

Kassia Gardner

Kas’ Top Tips for Run Fantastic

Run FantasticIf you’re thinking about joining Conkers Run Fantastic 2016, welcome! Success isn’t guaranteed but with the support of your teammates and a fun competitive element, joining Run Fantastic gives you a better chance of achieving your Spring running goals.

Whilst we all want to try and finish with a 100% score, that’s not necessarily the point. The point of Conkers Run Fantastic 2016 is to help you achieve consistency and progress in your workouts (whether you are running, cycling, swimming or something else) so that come April you are a fitter, faster, healthier version of you.

To get the best out of Run Fantastic there are a few things you can do, these are my top tips:


Set process goals, not outcome goals

Often we can get too focused on the outcome, rather than the process. While outcome goals can motivate us, they are often dependant on things outside of our control: in my case it was a first sub-4 hour marathon. On the day it was hot and I don’t run well in the heat so it shouldn’t have been a surprise when I struggled from nine miles and came in at 4:12. By setting process goals you can keep it real and dictate the effort and commitment you want to put in.


Share your goals

This is what Run Fantastic is all about: sharing our goals and holding each other accountable. Tell us what your goals are, even if it’s just to manage a single mile walk, or share them with your sport sisters and brothers, family, other-half or anyone that can help hold you accountable.


Make the time

Schedule your workouts in your diary. By scheduling it you’ll be less likely to forget about it or run out of time for it. Also by putting the workout in writing (and perhaps arranging to do it with friends) will make you more likely to do it.


Reward yourself

Rewards keep us motivated to get in that final workout of the week or to up our game if we’re slacking. While you might think that focusing on the goal will be enough, your emotional brain also needs to feel good. So plan some small rewards that make you feel good for achieving targets, such as completing all your workouts for a week/month.


You are what you think

Watch your words and mind how you think because the way you think determines your experience and the outcome. Try to be positive and use positive words. Tell yourself what you do want and what you hope to be, not what you don’t want. For example, “I want to feel fit and fantastic,” rather than “I feel out of shape and slow.”


Conkers Run Fantastic 2016 is about doing your best to be your best. I’m sure there are lots more tips to help us all get the most out of Run Fantastic so why not share yours on our Facebook group.

Until next time…

Kassia Gardner

Focus On The Journey, Not The Destination

Focus on the journey marathon trainingThat’s it, I’ve completed five weeks of consistent running without the calf injury re-occuring. To say I’m happy is an understatement. During this time I’ve also managed to increase my long runs up to 15 miles, so I’m well on the way to be in a position to start properly marathon training.

One thing I learnt last year training for the Greater Manchester Marathon and Race to the Stones was to focus on the journey, not the destination. I only ever looked to the next race (or race that was a training run). This was especially important for Race to the Stones, otherwise the challenge of my first ultra marathon might have just been too much at times.

Success is a journey, not a destination. The doing is often more important than the outcome.

Arthur Ashe

So I will treat the double bubble of the Boston Marathon, a flight across the Atlantic and then the London Marathon six days after Boston exactly the same, and focus on the journey, and not the destination. Yes, I have a goal time in mind for Boston but at this stage that is irrelevant.

The first race in the road to Boston is the Folksworth 15 which I’ll be doing with my fellow double bubblers, Julie and Geoff. So training focuses on being fit for a 15 mile race for the moment. The advantage of this approach also means I get to enjoy the Christmas festivities without putting too much pressure to fit in interval sessions and long runs that will take more than a couple of hours.

In case I don’t blog between now and Christmas, have a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year and I’ll see you next year!

Until next time…

Kassia Gardner

The Road to the Boston London Double Begins Here

Boston Marathon acceptanceExcept it doesn’t, not quite yet…

After months of crap running due to a stomach bug, colds and a calf injury I’ve finally managed two weeks of consistent running with no illnesses and more importantly no injury niggles and no pain. Which means it’s time to start thinking about the training for the Boston London double.

First up is another two weeks of getting some consistent training with no problems under my belt. This is so important to me that I want to make sure that I’m starting my training fit and healthy.

The Boston London double came about completely by accident, I wasn’t trying to qualify for Boston. I was chasing a London Good For Age (GFA) time of 3:49:59. After pacing the target time for 10 miles and having to keep slowing myself down I thought, “Sod it, just run.” I crossed half was in 1:52:20 and realised a dream goal of 3:44:59 was on. I can’t explain it but I just knew I could do it. I ended up crossing the finish line in 3:40:51 – 4 minutes and 9 seconds inside my Boston Qualifying (BQ) time. And so along with my friends Julie and Geoff the idea of the Boston London double was born. After all, if Emma, Abi and Marnie had done it this year why couldn’t we?

The last two and a half months haven’t been easy. There’s been a lot of grumps/throwing the toys out the pram and a lot of self-doubt. But I finally feel as if I’m healed.

So the next couple of weeks will be about focusing on getting the consistency in my running back and making food choices so I can lose that little bit of weight I’ve put on in the last couple of months by not running, over-eating and drinking alcohol.

So perhaps the road to the Boston London double begins here. In which case, let’s do this!

Until next time…

Kassia Gardner

Beacon Hill Trail Half review

Beacon Hill Trail HalfIf you like trail running, hills, cross-country-esque shoe-sucking mud and great bling then the Beacon Hill Trail Half should be for you! OK, I appreciate that that is probably a bit of a niche market – I, myself, am not a fan of cross country mud, and hills are OK in training runs, but in races? I’d rather not – but it really was a great event.

This annual trail half on Beacon Hill just south of Loughborough is put on by Jack Rabbit Events. This year the start/finish line area suffered a bit due to the storm. They lost a marque during the night before and in interest of safety the start and finish arch and another marque weren’t put out. But otherwise the organisation was fantastic! It’s chipped timed, there are three water stations that also offer gels, and the marshals were so supportive.

The route is a two-lap course comprised of mainly hard-packed trail with a mile of alternating trail and sloppy muddy stuff at the end of each lap. But the trail section is wonderful; it’s wide and smooth although there were a few steeplechase moments due to twigs other debris that had blown down from the trees.

However, there is no getting away from it this is a challenging event. There is nearly 1,900ft of elevation over the half marathon but as you start and finish in the same place what goes up must come down. There are two long, but not particularly steep, hills on each lap, which are supplemented with some shorter, steeper climbs. I found it more of a mental challenge to keep going on the long climbs rather than anything else, particularly on the second lap.

And you don’t need to be fast to run the Beacon Hill Trail Half, yes the winners might finish in about 1:23 (male) and 1:30 (female) but there were also some 3-hour finishers as well. At 2:04 I was firmly in the middle of the pack.

And then there’s the goody bag. I mentioned at the start of this report that if you like bling you’ll like this race. We all have different ideas of what makes good bling; well this was a custom medal that was fairly weighty to hold with a customised ribbon. That’ll do me. The goody bag contained the medal, a bottle of water, a bag of crisps, an oat bar thingy, a caramel wafer biscuit and a bottle of beer! There were also some spot prizes of chocolate handed out, unfortunately I missed out on these.

And finally as an added bonus, because Beacon Hill is the hill where those athletes based at Loughborough train there’s a good chance you might get cheered on by those pushing for a place on Team GB. A group of about 10 were running in the opposite direction to the racers, and it felt strange but good to be cheered on twice by such fast runners.

So if you like trail running, can cope with hills and mud, and love good bling and a great atmosphere then give the Beacon Hill Trail Half a go in 2016.

Until next time…

Kassia Gardner

It’s All About Getting to the Start Line

It was going so well, in fact I was saying so just yesterday to Tim and Gillian. Yesterday I was also having a conversation with a running friend and it was about making sure you get to the start line of your marathon, and not over doing it and getting injured.

RICE and a mug of tea
RICE and a mug of tea

Which makes falling down a pothole at a little after 5am and picking up some injuries all the more prophetic. So here I am sitting with an ice pack on my ankle and wondering whether to go up to the Walk In Centre at Milton Keynes Hospital to get my finger looked at. I also have some ripped gloves and a ripped pair of tights to replace, and I believe some of my skin is lurking around the top of Church Lane in Bow Brickhill.

Of course despite preaching about taking it easy after getting an injury and making it to the start line I still have a runner mentality. After resting my ankle for a few hours I got up and walked from the study to the bedroom (all of about 10 paces):

First thought: ‘Ooh, that doesn’t hurt as much as it did earlier.’

Second thought: ‘I wonder if I can run on it now.’


Did you know 25% of marathon entrants never make it to the start line? I’m trying desperately not to be one of them, and to make sure I do the little things to stay healthy and injury free so I can have the opportunity to race on the 19th March at the Manchester Marathon. But it’s not easy.

I need to take my own advice.

Grumpily, until next time…

Kassia Gardner