The 7 Podcasts That’ll Make You Love Long Runs

Running-and-headphones

Your choice of listening material when running is a very personal thing. Some people prefer to leave the headphones at home and embrace the sounds of nature during their runs. Others need a good fast beat to help them keep their pace up. And some people look to podcasts to provide a distraction from the pain and hard work of running.

I fall somewhere between the first and third camps. On some days, particularly when it’s sunny outside and the birds are singing, I just feel like running in silence. But when the weather is a bit grim and I’ve got a long run ahead, I generally turn to podcasts to help keep my spirits up and make the miles go past faster.

I’ve got a half marathon coming up this weekend (the Northumberland Endurancelife if anyone’s interested) and my husband is already prepping his podcast list for his ultra run. If you’re looking for some new inspiration, here are some of my favourite podcasts to help make long runs fun. But a word of warning: you may find some of them so addictive that you won’t want to stop…

If You’ve Got an Ultra Coming Up: Limetown

I was struggling to find a podcast that was as gripping, well-produced and addictive as Serial. Then I found Limetown. Although it’s a fictional story, the investigative journalism style makes it feel more like a true-crime podcast.

The story itself – the disappearance of 300 people from a model town in Tennessee – is intriguing and each plot twist pulls you deeper into the story. Once you’ve started, you won’t want to stop listening so download all the episodes and plan a three-hour run.

For Binge Listening: Serial

If you haven’t listened to the award-winning podcast, Serial, then you’ve probably been hiding under a rock for the past few years. But if that’s the case then great! You’ve got all the fun to look forward to.

Serial is a non-fiction podcast that investigates the murder of Hae Min Lee in 1999 and the subsequent conviction of her ex-boyfriend Adnan Syed. It’s easy to forget when you listen to the serialised narrative that this is a real story, with real people involved, and that there may not be a happy ending.

It’s a gripping show and the best news is, once you finished season one you can move onto season two which is a whole different story. Hours of entertainment to keep your legs moving.

To Get You Through Long Runs: The Tim Ferris Show

Tim Ferris interviews the great and good from all walks of life in a show that was seemingly devised for long runs. Episodes frequently exceed two hours in length making it a great choice for long workouts. Although it’s branded as a business podcast, the interviews are wide-ranging and cover many aspects of lifestyle, productivity and work.

For Inspiration: The Tough Girl Podcast

If your legs need some inspiration to keep running, then the Tough Girl Podcast will provide. Host Sarah Williams interviews women who are pushing the boundaries in their outdoor adventure challenges. From epic adventurers to Olympic athletes, this show will make you realise how many endurance challenges there are in the world and what it takes to complete them.

Be warned: if you listen to too many episodes then you may find yourself dreaming up your own challenge to escape the regularity of day-to-day life.

To Learn Something New: Crypto News Podcast

Okay, this is a bit of a cheeky entry as I co-host the podcast! (But hey, it’s my blog, so I can give it a shout-out, right?) If you’re bamboozled by bitcoin and confused about cryptocurrency, but feel like it’s something you should know more about, then join two crypto newbies as we navigate our way through the world of cryptocurrency.

Each week we talk through some of the top crypto news stories to find out what’s hot (or not) in the crypto world. Download the 12 boot camp episodes to get a simple overview of what Bitcoin, cryptocurrency and the blockchain are all about and finish your run better informed than when you started.

For a Quick Fix: The Other Stories

If you’re looking for a short fiction podcast with a nod to the dark side, then check out this podcast from the team at Hawk and Cleaver. The stories cover the genres of horror, sci-fi and thrillers, and will leave you with a definite chill down your spine. The episodes are generally between 10 and 20 minutes long so enjoy them on a quick lunchtime run or stack up a few for a longer session.

If You Enjoyed Limetown: Rabbits

Like Limetown, Rabbits is a fictional podcast presented in a true-crime style. And if you thought the events narrated in Limetown were weird, then Rabbits takes things to a whole new level.

Rabbits is the story of the search by the podcast host, Carly, for her missing friend, Yumiko, who she believes disappeared because of her participation in a mysterious alternate reality game known only as “Rabbits”.

The first couple of episodes are a little slow going, with a lot of backstory and information on video game culture and alternate reality. But after that, the story quickly picks up pace and the plot twists come thick and fast as the suspense builds. The ending is as weird as weird can be, and personally, I found it not quite satisfying, but don’t let me put you off. Rabbits will make you forget your tired legs and burning lungs while you listen to find out what happens next.

What are your favourite podcasts? Let me know in the comments below or get in touch on Twitter – I’m looking for some new shows to listen to!

Cycle Torch Shark 500 Bike Light Review

Cycle Torch Shark 500

Last week I reviewed the Cycle Torch Night Owl, an affordable, bright light designed for bike commuting. This week I’m taking a look at its big brother: the Shark 500.

I’ve been really impressed with this light and both myself and my husband have been using it on our bikes. In fact, my husband loves it so much that he’s come up with a way of attaching it to the headband he normally uses for his heavier, battery-pack torch so he can use it for night orienteering.

Cycle Torch Shark 500: Vital Stats

Weight:
Lumens: 500
Modes: 4 (3 levels of brightness + flash)
Run-time: 1.5-30 hours
Where to buy: In the UK, it’s available from Amazon.

First Impressions

Shark box 1The Shark comes in a simple but stylish box. Open it up and you get a thank you note from the company, underneath which is the torch, neatly packaged in foam casing. In fact, you actually get two torches – Cycling Torch throw in a rear light to give you a bit more for your money. Also in the box are three attachment straps of different lengths and two USB charging cables. There’s no instruction manual, but you can download one online.

Shark box 2For a low-cost bike light, the Shark is pretty stylish, if a little on the large size. The front end is unusual for a bike light in that the plastic casing extends over the light itself. More on this later.

The Shark 500 has an IP65 water resistance rating. This is defined as “dust tight” and protected against water projected from a nozzle. The weak point in terms of water resistance – the USB charging point – has a thin rubber cap to seal it from the elements. Which I somehow managed to pull straight out of the torch body. (Tip: don’t do this, it’s a complete pain to fiddle back in.) It works but is a bit awkward – the thicker plug on the rear light is much easier to secure.

Shark frontBoth the main torch and the rear light are charged via USB. They charge quickly, the main light back to full power in around four hours. The power button on the Shark glows red when charging and switches to blue when fully charged. The rear light glows green when fully juiced.

If you read the manual (or this post) you’ll discover that by pressing and holding the power button, you can find out how much charge the torch has left. 10 flashes indicate 100 percent charge, 9 flashes indicate 90 percent charge, and so on.

Setup and Bike Attachment Points

Both the front and rear lights attach using the rubber straps provided. The rear light is super easy to get on and off, the front light slightly less so. Both feel secure once on, even when riding on bumpy paths. I haven’t had them long enough to test the longevity of the bands but they seem pretty rugged.

Testing in the Dark

Right, now we’ve got the preliminaries out of the way, let’s get on to how it does in action. I took the Shark 500 out on a ride on local, averagely-lit roads (I don’t live in the city) and down the local canal to test it in an unlit environment.

Shark rear lightThe Shark 500 has four modes: high (500 lumens), medium (250 lumens), low (50 lumens) and flash. Both the high and medium settings are bright enough to light your way on roads in partially lit areas. The 500 lumens setting was also great for off-road riding. It’s not bright enough for fast downhill or really rough mountain biking but it’s definitely a step up on the Night Owl.

With most bike lights you get a circular light but the Shark is different. The plastic casing cuts off the beam at the top and bottom creating a rectangular beam of light. The cut off at the top helps focus the beam and prevents you dazzling oncoming cyclists or drivers. Having been dazzled myself plenty of times in the past, I appreciate this! However, the plastic casing on the bottom is not so helpful. It limits the field of light so you can either focus on the ground around your front wheel or further ahead. Logically, you have to go for looking ahead, which on the road is fine, but for off-road biking, I’d have liked to have a wider field of vision.

According to the manual, you get 1.5 hours of light on the top power setting. I actually got a lot longer this – about 2 hours and 40 minutes. The torch flashes and the power button turns red to warn you you’re low on charge twenty minutes before it gives out. On the medium setting, you get three hours of light, and for most bike commuters the 200 lumens will be bright enough.

The rear light isn’t bad, but you’ll probably want a dedicated rear light if you spend a lot of time biking in the dark. The battery life on this was disappointing. It’s supposed to last two hours on the brightest setting, but after an hour and forty minutes the beam faded and pulsed. It stayed on for another hour but not really at a usable level.

Summary

For the price point, the Shark 500 gives you a lot for your money. It’s much brighter than the Night Owl and definitely a better option if you cycle on unlit roads or off-road tracks. For technical mountain biking at night you may need a brighter (and more expensive) light but as far as value for money goes, the Shark 500 gets top marks.

Full disclosure: Cycle Torch provided me with the Night Owl light to test. This review is my honest, unbiased experience of using the bike light.

Cycle Torch Night Owl Bike Light Review

Cycle Torch Night Owl

If you’re looking for a bright, affordable commuting light then the Cycle Torch Night Owl is one of the best value models currently available. It’s a USB rechargeable bike light (plus one for the environment!) and comes with a “bonus” MicroBot rear light. The Night Owl is a lightweight model that’s bright enough to both see and be seen on most roads and gravel tracks.

Cycle Torch Night Owl: Vital Stats

Weight: 80g
Lumens: 200
Modes: 4
Run-time: 2-20 hours
Where to buy: In the UK, it’s available from Amazon.

First Impressions

Night Owl box 1The Night Owl is neatly packaged. When you first open the box, a big “Thank You” message is the first thing you see. I was expecting this to be an instruction sheet, but this appears to be the one thing you don’t get with the light. Still, at least it saves some trees. (If you’re the sort of person who enjoys reading manuals, you can find it online here, along with some simple instruction videos.)

Night Owl Box 2The light itself is neatly wrapped and tucked into a custom-cut foam casing. This is actually a set of lights: along with the main front light, you also get a “free” tail light, which is nice. Also in the box are two USB charging cables, a plastic mount for the rear light and two rubber straps to attach the lights to your bike.

The torch is lightweight and looks and feels… like a torch. This isn’t a beauty parade, but it’s not a bad looking thing. The power button is front and centre on the top and on the underside, there’s a curved mount and the USB charging point which is protected with a rubber cover.

The torch has an IP65 water resistance rating. This is defined as “dust tight” and protected against water projected from a nozzle. What this means in reality, is that it should cope with heavy rain showers, but don’t drop it in the canal.

Charging is quick and easy – just plug the USB cable into your computer or a USB charger and away you go. It took just over 1 hr 15 mins to fully charge the main light from empty via my laptop (much quicker than the suggested 4 hours). The small rear light took 1 hr 35 mins. Both lights glow red when charging and blue when fully charged.

Incidentally, if you’re worried about charge levels, there’s a neat setting you can use to test how much charge you have left. If you press and hold the power button for a few seconds the light will start to flash. 10 flashes indicate 100 percent charge, 9 flashes indicate 90 percent charge, 8 flashes indicate 80 percent charge, etc. etc.

How did I find out about this? By reading the manual. Sometimes it pays to be a geek.

Setup and Bike Attachment Points

Night Owl back lightUnlike some lights, the Night Owl doesn’t have a separate mount that needs to be screwed onto your handlebars, which means there’s virtually no setup. You just whack the light on and snap the rubber band around the handlebar to secure it. It’s a bit too fiddly to put on with gloves, but the band has a tab which makes it super easy to take the light off, even if you’re wearing winter gloves.

The tail light is slightly different. You attach the mount to your seat post using the smaller rubber band and then slot the light down onto the mount. This means you can leave the mount on the bike and easily remove the light. I guess this is what it’s designed for, as unlike the front light, the rubber band attached to the mount doesn’t have a pull tab and is a bit of a pain to get off. A tab addition would make this significantly easier and save me having to spend five minutes hunting around in the dark, trying to find where the rubber band pinged to.

The rubber bands seem to hold the lights on securely. As for longevity, time will tell how long the bands last.

Testing in the Dark

So, onto the fun stuff! How does it perform? I took it for a ride on local, averagely-lit roads (I don’t live in the city) and down the local canal to test it in an unlit environment.

The Night Owl has four modes: high, medium, low and flash. High mode is a bright 200 lumens, medium is 100 lumens and low is 20 lumens. I’m not sure when you’d ever use it on low unless you were desperate to save battery, but both high and medium modes are bright enough to be seen by and to cycle in lit areas. The high mode is blinding enough to make sure that any oncoming cars will know you’re there.

I was also impressed with the brightness of the torch on unlit tracks. I took my mountain bike out to the canal and the light was perfectly adequate for cycling on the flat, wide path. It wasn’t so great on a rough downhill section, but to be fair, it’s not designed to be a mountain bike light. Equally, if you’re a speedy road cyclist, you may find it’s not quite bright enough to give adequate warning of approaching hazards.

Cycle Torch claim you’ll get 2 hours of light on high power. When I tested it, I only got 50-75 minutes which was a little disappointing, but should be enough for most commutes. This is where the provision of two USB charging leads comes in handy. You can keep one at home and one at work to top up your light as and when needed.

The mid power mode supposedly gives you four hours of light and the flash mode 20+ hours. If you cycle on lit streets where you’re more worried about being seen than lighting up the road, then the flash mode is a good option to save you having to remember to charge the light every day or two.

Summary

The Cycle Torch Night Owl is a great little torch that’s perfect for commuting and easy off-road cycling (e.g. gravel tracks) at a slow-moderate pace. The only downside for me is that, on the model I tested, the light time didn’t quite live up to expectation. The addition of the tail light makes this a great buy and in terms of value for money, this bike light can’t be beaten.

If you’re looking for a brighter light for dark lanes or off-road use, I’ll be reviewing the Shark 500 next week!

Full disclosure: Cycle Torch provided me with the Night Owl light to test. This review is my honest, unbiased experience of using the bike light.

Five Ways To Beat the January Blues

Beat January Blues

Tomorrow is the final day of January and, for me at least, it can’t come soon enough. I’ve written before about how I struggle with the winter months and the last month has felt particularly gloomy and miserable. Day after day of rain and grey skies with just fleeting glimpses of blue skies and sun. People who suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) can really struggle at this time of year and even the most cheery and optimistic of us can fall prey to the odd bout of the January blues.

At this time of year, all my body seems to want to do is sleep. And even when I sleep well, I still wake up feeling lethargic and tired. Getting outside to exercise often improves my mood, but just working up the energy to get togged up in my layers and get out can sometimes feel too hard. Rather than looking forward to the year ahead, my mind is prone to dwell on all the things that are wrong with the world, rather than all the things that are right. I think of what I should be doing, how I should be a more positive person, why everyone else seems to be achieving more than me. At this time of year perhaps more than any other, I struggle to avoid comparisonitis.

I don’t have a solution to this. (If anyone does, please let me know!) But over the years, I have figured out a few things that make me feel better, if only for a while, and help to banish those January blues.

Make the Most of Sunny Days

It doesn’t feel like we’ve had many, but at this time of year, you have to make the most of whatever sun you can get. It can be frustrating if you work full-time in an office and the sun only seems to come out during office hours. But even just half an hour in the cold winter sun can help improve your mood.

The same is true on the weekends. I scour the weather forecast, searching for any sign of sun. If the weather’s looking good then make the most of it. As I try and tell myself, the cleaning can wait for a rainy day.

Escape to the Sun

This is many Brits’ solution to dark dreary January days. In previous years, I’ve usually booked a climbing trip to Spain during the first couple of months of the year. Not only does this give me the motivation to get down to the climbing wall and train over the winter, but it also allows me to feel the sun’s warmth on my skin for a few days.

This year, we decided to stay in the UK and will be touring southern England in our campervan in March, praying for good weather.

If you’re lucky enough to be in a position where you’re not tied to one location because of family commitments or work, then why not temporarily relocate to a warmer climate for some of the winter months?

Embrace Hygge

If you can’t get away, then there’s nothing for it but to make the best of the winter weather. This means embracing the dark nights and the wind and rain lashing on the windows (it’s atmospheric, right?) and making your home is cosy as possible. Light some candles, put on some relaxing music and spend the evening curled up with a good book.

Get Outside, Even If It’s Raining

Even if the weather isn’t great, I still find it helps to get outside of this time of year. If I’m feeling sleepy and lethargic, then there’s nothing like lashing rain-soaked wind in my face to wake me up! A quick walk, run or spin on the bike will get your blood moving and give you a much-needed boost of energy.

Plan An Adventure

Another good use of dreary January days is to spend time planning and preparing for your next adventure. Or adventures – why stop at one! It always cheers me up to have something to look forward to and planning the details of a summer adventure can make the dullest day seem a little brighter.

What are your tips to get through the January blues? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter!

Five Reasons to Love Walking in the Rain (+ 5 Top Tips)

Hiking in the rain

I love the lush, green British landscape and welcome the change of seasons and the variety this brings to my life. But sometimes, I wish it didn’t rain quite so much! Since the start of the new year, rain has been the dominant theme of our weather here in Yorkshire. But has that stopped me getting outside? Has it hell! Given the choice between a dry, bright day and a rainy one, most of us would choose to walk in the former. But there are reasons to enjoy walking in the rain, and at least one of them should make you force yourself outdoors whatever the weather.

Here are a few of the reasons why I love walking in the rain, plus my top five tips to make hiking in bad weather less of a chore.

1. Bad Weather Walks Can Be the Most Memorable

Now, I have plenty of memories of beautiful walks throughout my life. But some of the experiences that really stick in my mind have been the wet weather walks. A hike up the Merrick, when I was probably about seven years old, has gone down in family history as the day the rain never stopped. During the walk, we could rarely see more than 20m ahead and let’s just say that the view from the top was shades of grey…

Another one that sticks in my memory is a hike we did on a holiday to America. We’d been walking for hours, zig-zagging up through beautiful forests and lush meadows, but just as we reached the crest of the summit ridge, a thunderstorm drew in. Rather than turning around and hiking back down, we retreated a hundred metres down the path and huddled miserably in the rain while the path below our feet turned into a stream and lightning flashed overhead. But the thunderstorm passed and, in its wake, we submitted the peak and were rewarded with beautiful views.

There can be a fine balance between going out in weather that is safe but a bit miserable and weather that’s downright dangerous. Where you draw that line will depend on your level of outdoor experience, the type of activity you’re doing and the weather forecast, and is up to you to decide. Err on the side of caution, but don’t be put off by a bit of rain.

2. It’s Good Training

When I used to train with a search and rescue team, one of our training officers had the motto, “If it ain’t raining, it ain’t training”. There is truth to this, in that training in bad weather is good preparation for races or other adventures when you’re not sure what the weather conditions will be like. (And let’s face it, if that event is in the UK, even in summer you can’t guarantee sunshine.)

If you train in bad conditions, then if the weather isn’t ideal on the day of the event, you won’t be thrown by this because you’ve prepared and trained for that eventuality. And if you do get a good weather day, then you’ll appreciate it all the more!

3. You Get to Properly Test Your Kit

There was a reason you bought that £300 waterproof, right? And if you never go out in the rain, how will you know if it was worth the money?

In all seriousness, and going back to the point above, if you’re training for an event that could be affected by wet weather, you MUST test out how your kit will work under those weather conditions. Midnight on the overnight camp of your first mountain marathon isn’t the time you want to find out that your tent leaks!

You also need to work out how your body responds to different weather conditions, particularly wind and cold, so you can make sure you wear the right kit and have spare layers packed.

4. You’ll Feel Better for Having Done It

When the rain’s lashing on the windows, it can be really tempting to scrap your outdoor plans in favour of curling up inside with a nice cup of tea. And if you can do this without feeling the teeniest bit guilty, then good on you. But for most people, you’ll feel better for getting out, if only for a quick breath of fresh air. There’s nothing more rewarding than a long hot shower and a mug of hot chocolate after a long hike in the rain. And you’ll sleep better for it too.

5. Rainy Days Can Be the Most Beautiful

There’s a reason photographers love mixed weather days. Unexpected rainbows, shafts of sunlight through dark clouds and dramatic, moody lighting can transform even the plainest landscape into something quite beautiful. Many of these moments come and go within minutes or even seconds, and if you hadn’t have been outside, you’d never have seen them. So, if the forecast is for rain or showers and you’re not sure whether to go out or stay at home, then go. Nature herself may reward you.

Five tips for walking in the rain

Here are my top tips for hiking, running or biking in bad weather:

  1. Invest in good waterproofs. If it’s torrential rain, nothing will keep you totally dry, but a decent pair of waterproofs will mean the difference between an enjoyable day out and a miserable, soggy experience.
  2. Choose the right route. Today may not be the best day to tackle that exposed ridge scramble or do a long circuit of high peaks. Going out in bad weather doesn’t mean ignoring the forecast and you may need to adjust your original plans to take into account the weather conditions. A low-level, straightforward route will probably be a more enjoyable experience and avoid potential epics. Also, pick a route that’s easy to navigate, so you don’t have to faff around with maps or GPS units in the rain.
  3. Plan a cafe stop (or keep moving). Standing eating soggy butties in the rain isn’t much fun. So if you’re going for a long walk, see if you can plan in a stop for food at a cafe or pub. If there’s nothing on route, then consider taking lots of snacks that you can eat quickly, and keep moving so you don’t get cold.
  4. Take a friend for motivation. If you’ve got someone to chat to, this will take your mind off the weather and make the miles fly by. You can keep each other’s spirits up if things start getting a bit damp and motivate each other to keep going.
  5. Stock up on podcasts. This may be a controversial one, and for many people (myself included a lot of the time), getting outside is about getting away from everything else and just enjoying being in nature. But as I found this weekend, if you’ve got your hood up against the driving rain and you’re plodding along a familiar route, listening to something fun and entertaining is a great way to both take your mind off the weather and make you walk a little faster. I selected a variety of podcasts, including my current addiction, Limetown, and tucked my phone into my trouser pocket under my waterproof overtrousers to keep it dry. My 16 km canal walk flew by.

I hope that’s encouraged you to get out and enjoy the outdoors whatever the weather! If you’re going backpacking, then check out my tips on camping in the rain. And if you’ve got more tips for getting outside in wet weather, please post them in the comments below.