Why I choose to wear a helmet when cycling

I feel like this is an age old question debated by many including myself and as it is International Helmet Awareness Day today and tomorrow (admittedly this is more in the equine area) I figured why not ask the question again from a cycling perspective.

I cycle a reasonable amount and ever since I started I have worn a helmet – why would I not as it can save your life so in my mind is an essential part of my cycling kit that I would not be without.  I am a part of a cycling club and we have a rule – no helmet, no ride – this is not uncommon for clubs to insist on and the same is said for most sportives/events also.  We follow the rules of British Cycling and although it is not a legal requirement they do quote:

‘British Cycling recommends wearing a correctly fitted helmet while cycling however we also support the right of each individual to choose whether or not to accept this recommendation and recognise the limit to the protection that helmets provide.’

This is a similar position to that of The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) who quote:

‘There continues to be much debate regarding the effectiveness of cycle helmets and whether the wearing of them should be made compulsory. RoSPA’s position is that we strongly recommend that cyclists wear a cycle helmet. However, it is important to remember that cycle helmets do not prevent crashes from happening. It is therefore vital that through infrastructure improvements, supported by education and training that we reduce the primary risk factors.’

When I first got kitted out in my cycling gear I admit I felt like a bit of an idiot head to toe in lycra, which is not the best look for most, finished off with a dashing helmet.  Does anyone look good in a helmet?  Probably not, but does it matter?  Is the main intention of wearing a helmet to look good or to increase your safety?  For me, I appreciate that it is down to the individual whether or not they choose to wear a helmet though I choose not to cycle without one.

I have been involved in two incidents where I can say with certainty that without wearing a helmet my injuries would have undoubtedly been far worse than they were.  I know others who feel the same also from personal experience.

I see people with those material cycle caps – how will they help you should you have an accident?

I see people with the straps undone – really?

I see people with helmets attached to their back packs or their handle bars – not really serving the purpose is it?

Some tips for helmet wearing:

  • they come in different sizes so you will need to make sure you have checked this depending on the brand and have the correct size.
  • when you put your helmet on it should be positioned correctly – be careful not to have it so low it obstructs your view or so far back it is not covering your whole head.
  • the straps should sit under the ears and be secured in place under the chin – you should not be able to fit more than two fingers between the strap and your chin, if you can then it is too loose.
  • handy tip for making sure your helmet is secure is to put it on and adjust as necessary but before you do the straps up you should be able to bend forward without the helmet coming off.
    • only buy a helmet which is CE approved. CE marking is a certification mark that indicates conformity with health, safety, and environmental protection standards for products sold within the European Economic Area.
  • Helmets also have a lifespan – different retailers quote different time frames but these are generally between 3 and 5 years.

    A lot of retailers also offer a crash replacement discount.  Now I know the intention is not to crash but should this happen and the integrity of the helmet has been compromised by an impact this is a great way of ensuring that the manufacturer can review how the helmet handled the impact for future improvements.  Different retailers will offer different discounts but I have always used Kask helmets and they offer a 50% discount when your damaged helmet is returned (with necessary paperwork).

    There are arguments that there is no scientific evidence to support the effectiveness of a cycling helmet and it is very true that simply by wearing a helmet will not make the act of cycling any safer and I think that often this is the misconception of the argument.  I wouldn’t argue that a helmet would stop the chances of you having an accident, however, if you were to have an accident I would say from an injury prevention perspective it is really hard to argue that a helmet does not assist.  There are lots of studies that can be found online relating to this and the results show that on average there is roughly 65% reduction of serious/fatal head injuries when wearing a helmet.

    The debate will long continue I am sure and Cycling UK make a good point when they say:

    ‘The evidence on this question is complex and contradictory, providing as much support for those who are deeply sceptical of helmets as for those who swear by them.’

    There are lots of websites online that offer advice on choosing a helmet and you can find a blog post here by the awesome Paddle Pedal Pace where she discusses this.

    Bikes and Beauty with Bianchi

    You will know I love all things bike and so having the opportunity to attend an evening with Bianchi Dama to try some of their bikes and find out more about their collaboration with Charles James was something I was quite excited about.

    Arriving at the venue, with my friend Helen from 1 Vision 2 Girls, we were two of the first and so had a chance to admire the bikes they had with them. Helen and I are both keen cyclists and have several bikes each but the rule is always n plus one right so no technically always on the look out for the next. Especially true for me as I am actually looking for my next bike and could it be a Bianchi?

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    It was an interesting opportunity for both of us as I mentioned we are both keen cyclists but neither of us wear a lot of make up and don’t have a skin care regime either (I know shock horror) so mostly we use water in the shower on our skin so finding out more about the active skin care range was going to be good for us both.

    Once we got the right size bike and had helmets on we set off in a small group with Tasha, Bethany and Becky, three of the ladies from the Bianchi Dama women’s performance cycling team. It was a short easy spin around the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and gave the opportunity to talk to the ladies about their recent trip completing the Tour of Belgium and what they really thought of the bikes. I think when venturing into cycling it’s easy to be swayed by those around you when it comes to picking a bike for example I have always had the same brand as it is the preferred one of my husband who is a keen cyclist and cycling coach. I am open to others as I search for the next one and the ladies were saying how they’ve tried many over the years and genuinely found the Bianchi bikes to be super comfortable from the start. This was good news and whilst I can’t give a full review based on a 10/15 minute ride the bike was light, smooth, easy to change gear and really comfortable – it’s a good start!

    When we got back there was a short straight stretch which gave the opportunity to test the bikes a little more and have some fun.

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    After mingling for a while there was a talk, which again as a keen female cyclist I found really interesting. I mean it started with the comment ‘Women’s cycling is the place to be’ and that got my attention as I am biased but of course agree wholeheartedly!

    The three ladies we cycled with from the team were on the panel and as mentioned earlier they have recently returned from the Tour of Belgium which is a female pro race over ending up in Flanders after four days riding. There are 9 on the team and they spoke of how they are all great friends and real friendships too, which makes a massive difference and sees great retention within the team which speaks volumes and they always look like they’re enjoying it. I am more than aware that being part of a cycle club you join with a common interest and goal but these people end up like an extended family and friendships are soon forged and that makes the sport even more enjoyable.

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    These are ladies who all work full time and so being at the level they are have to fit in training to their busy lives. They spoke about how they run off that energy level and it becomes a habit, often seeing them scratching the walls when resting, which is something that I think a lot of people, myself included, can relate to as it is always a balancing act. On average these ladies train for 15/20 hours per week on the bike with one member of the team who has covered 20,000km per year for the previous three years – and is a full time vet too!

    Having to fit in such rigorous training alongside full time jobs requires a certain level of dedication and the ladies spoke about how their typical week is comprised. It is no surprise that longer rides take place at the weekend and are often 4/5 hours with the aim of completing around 3 sessions during the week, often being early morning, but making these count with some focused structure ie including efforts.  There are always tired with achey legs but the fun that comes with this makes you want to do again and all whilst still smiling. Through the winter there is an increased focus in the gym with strength and core work, which sees many benefits in cycling; if your core is strong it really helps for sprints and climbing. Some add running, which is difficult as different fitness to cycling but does allows for fitness in all weather outside which cycling doesn’t always lend itself to.  Cyclocross is something that some of the ladies also take part in through the winter and really takes on the extremes of weather and mud – I love mud so maybe this is something I might explore in future?

    The team are keen to use the heritage of Bianchi to represent in an honourable and exciting way and the trademark turquoise kit and bikes was seen throughout the event. The girls spoke of the collaboration with Charles James and how cycling can be semi glamorous, being equally surprised that until now no one has got involved in this area previously with most not making skincare regime a priority (that would include me!) but how they genuinely feel the new range is fab. When cycling your skin really comes into contact with all the elements often finishing a ride or training session with skin that can be covered in mud, dust, grit, wet, and sweat and naturally this all affects your skin. The range includes two products with one being an active cleanse and the second a cream to enhance and protect. It absorbs easily, contains spf which sounds amazing as sun cream whilst cycling and sweating is not the best mix, it can be worn with make up over it, and is light enough to wear on a daily basis, so is a massive help as a product for sportspeople and those with an active lifestyle.

    A huge positive for me to hear was how this innovative sponsorship with Charles James and Bianchi has been developed for the team and with the team and I quote ‘is a partnership that works’. Leading an active lifestyle and cycling several times a week I’ve admitted I don’t have a strict skincare regime, however, I have noticed how the elements can leave my skin feeling very dry and when products like these are developed actually involving the very people who they are aimed for my interest naturally peaks. The ladies tested the products during the Tour of Belgium ride with positive results, taken to protect their skin whilst cycling.

    Caroline, the mechanic for the team, was also present and I found her parts of the talk really interesting to learn more about the behind the scenes elements that being part of the pro team involves.  She spoke about how technology is important for the bikes especially with regards to lightness and strength amongst other things. One of the key things in Bianchi bikes is countervail (membrane in carbon) reduces the vibration you can experience on some carbon bikes. All of the Bianchi bikes are entirely Shimano equipped, some with di2 and some with mechanical gearing, which Caroline noted is easier to fix. The team experienced a Di2 failure at a national championship this but managed to rectify even though you cannot see the issue with di2. Caroline also spoke of how it is harder to find bad kit now but the benefits of this is that you don’t have to go to the very top end to get the benefits, for example the last iteration of Shimano 105 and Ultegra have under a 200g difference but a £600 price difference.

    I was really impressed to hear that the entire list of mechanicals for the team over the season was limited to:

    • 1 di2
    • 3 punctures
    • 1 skipped chain

    Awesome work Caroline!

    When it comes to cycling the race that most know is of course Tour de France and unfortunately there is not one halo event that stands above everything else to showcase women’s cycling.  The main events to note are:

    Whilst the above is great it shows that women’s cycling is not yet at the same level as the mens.  Getting live coverage of cycling is a big thing and there is a need to make the good women’s races better and have more media coverage and more money to be invested. This is an area that is growing but it is a long slow process, which is unfortunate as women’s cycling is exciting and less predictable. Caroline mentioned that the women’s races tend to be far more attacking.

    One thing the ladies were surprised in Belgium about was that there are genuine fans and at present women’s cycling is also more accessible than the men’s racing, often working out of the back of cars so fans have access to the riders for autographs and photos.

    Today is the first day of me using the new active skincare products and I walked to the station noticing how nice the scent was.  I am looking forward to carrying on using it whilst I train and will follow up with how I found it.

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    In the meantime I have been online and fully customised the Bianchi bike that is on my wish list – it’s Christmas soon right?

    Essex 100 mile bike ride with the Specialized ladies

    One of my best friends is a Specialized ambassador.  Specialized are a bike brand and Laura leads rides for the Essex area from the Chelmsford concept store.

    On Sunday there was an Action Medical Research event that she had signed up to with a group of her ladies from these rides and they were doing the champion route of 101 miles.  I was asked to join and so went along – what is not to like?  An event for a worthwhile cause, being on my bike with a group of awesome ladies and spending a day in the sun.

    The ride started from Chelmsford and headed out to Suffolk and back.  It was 100 miles of undulating road, but nothing too challenging, that was full of chatting and laughter and the occasional shout from Laura for me to power up a hill which is very often her just cycling up next to me shouting to attack it (it is these times I rethink my friend choices).

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    One of the best things about the events from Action Medical Research are the rest stops.  not just some water and electrolytes but proper food including tea, coffee, juice, sandwiches, crisps, cakes, fruit, sweets and jaffa cakes!  I mean jaffa cakes are essential you know.  And the super friendly marshalls and volunteers at the stops too – much appreciated and they all help to make these events what they are.

    There was also one rest stop with the best playground – not a necessity for a bike ride I grant you but a lot of fun that neither Laura or I could resist.  We care not what we look like in full lycra, cleats, helmets and zipping along a swing or climbing up a huge tyre.  Its a fun day outside in every sense.

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    It was a really gorgeous route along lots of country roads so relatively low on traffic and busy junctions were minimal.  So many new places I want to go back and cycle to and one pub I will definitely be visiting, the Henny Swan.

    We found funny named roads that made us giggle (yes we are that immature).

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    I have never seen so many thatched houses either – one lady in our group commented on one being a lovely thatch.  Who knew that was a thing – sadly no further thatched houses compared.

    A shout out to these ladies who were awesome.  One lady is about to embark on Lands End to John O’Groats next weekend.  Another only started cycling two months ago and this was her fifth ride with her furthest distance up until this point being 58 miles.  Such a massive achievement even if post the ride she lost the use of her hands and was unable to cut up her Nandos chicken (I’m not being mean it was just very funny to watch).

    We started together, we rode the whole way together and we finished together.  And some of us even have matching cycling tans naturally.

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    If you are interested in joining one of these rides with Laura you can contact her on laura.specializedambassador@gmail.com or on her Instagram @lalalawson

    #thesegirlsdid

    Don’t let a DNS or DNF define you

    This past weekend I was in France, Chantilly to be specific, and it was gorgeous.

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    My husband and I were there for the Castle Triathlon weekend being held at Chataeu du Chantilly.  I was signed up for the 10km run and my husband was signed up for Le Gauntlet which is a middle distance triathlon.  Let’s just say our weekend did not go to plan.

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    The day before we were due to go I had a hospital appointment following a fall a couple of weeks before on my bike.  I have a haematoma on my left thigh that is giving me problems and until I have an ultrasound I was advised not to run – the conversation went something like this:

    Me: so I have a 10km run on sunday, can I still do it?

    Doctor: yes if you want to potentially make it worse but if you want it to get better then no.

    Me: fair enough

    That pretty much told me and I knew it would be stupid to run – it was very unlikely I would be able to run and that it would be more of a long walk to the finish, probably seeing me finish in the same time it would take some of those taking on the half marathon route.  And so I had my first did not start (DNS) and I am fine with that as it was the sensible option.

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    When we arrived on Friday we made our way to the Chataeu and got Brett registered.  The grounds were simply stunning and I could see why it would attract so many taking part in the Castle Triathlon series.

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    On the Saturday we headed to the Chataeu once again to support two friends from our cycling club who were taking part in the Super Sprint triathlon – well done to both Joel and Mo who were superb and loved the event.

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    We then got our bikes ready and took them for a short spin to check everything was ok for Brett’s race the following day.  One of the great things about travelling to different countries is experiencing cycling in each of them.

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    I should note that four weeks ago my husband was in hospital with a recurring leg issue and on IV antibiotics for six days and for a while we had assumed that this weekend would not even take place but Brett felt that he could still participate and that his strategy would just be amended and instead of racing this would be a training event.

    The Le Gauntlet event started on Sunday at 7am and the plan was for me to drive the short distance to the start and Brett to cycle though neither of us had been expecting it to be so dark.  I mean it was early but it was pitch black so last minute change and both of us in the car we set off.

    Brett racked his bike and left his cycling and run kit in transition and headed out to put his wetsuit on.  Yes, there was an awkward moment avoiding eye contact as sudo cream was applied to avoid chaffing on the bike (yes you can guess where), though most people who take part in triathlons or cycling would not bat an eyelid at this.  The briefing was held and after a good luck kiss he was in the water, which was a large T shaped pond in the grounds, and they were off.  He took longer to finish than he usually would for this distance but the pond is more shallow with most being able to stand and there are a lot of reeds, which caused quite a problem for some.  I saw him heading towards transition in his wetsuit and he stopped and spoke to me commenting that he felt it was a tough swim but I was confident that once on his bike he would be in his happy place.

    I saw him leave transition on his bike and with a mouthful of food he didn’t say anything but was on his way and I went for a walk in the grounds.  Lucky I did as I came across a swimmer who had cramp and got out of the water dazed and confused with the onset of hypothermia.  I took off my dry robe and gave it to him and walked him to the medical tent where the staff there were taking care of those who were in similar states.  Don’t get me wrong the water was not cold and wetsuits were optional so many were opting not to swim in one.  I waited to locate this mans girlfriend and was on my way.

    Some time later I decided to head to bike in to see Brett return for the run leg but as I walked up the stairs I noticed the striking Havering Tri kit walking towards me to see my husband.  I could see from his face he was devastated and knew in that moment that his race was over.  He said he didn’t know what had happened but something was not right and he had pulled out of the race.  He was extremely cold, with purple hands and lips and I think had the onset of hypothermia but being the stubborn old goat that he is refused to go to the medical tent.  I know you are probably thinking why didn’t I make him go – I get that, but you don’t know Brett and those reading this who do will completely understand.

    We got his bike and kit after he had sat down and composed himself and left the grounds, heading back to our apartment.  He could not remember talking to me after the swim, seeing me before the bike and another cyclist had pulled up to his side to ask if he was ok as his speed was decreasing and we think he was swerving on the road, which could have been dangerous to himself and others.  On further investigation we can see from his ride stats that at the 10 mile point his heart rate plummets for the remaining 18 miles, as does his speed and power.  In his swim out pics he looks a bit dazed (though this is not unusual for some coming out of the swim), and his helmet is not on properly, which is extremely odd for him as he is usually so anal about things like that for himself and others (at a recent race he was supporting and actually shouted to a friend that their helmet was not on right).

    He was understandably upset and it took a huge amount to withdraw but I am 100% confident this was the correct decision and have the upmost respect for him for doing so.  I know it would have been a hard thing for him to decide to do but health comes first and in this instance was necessary.  And so he got his first did not finish (DNF).

    So our weekend started with a DNS and finished with a DNF – not the best weekend for the Thake household but undeniably the correct decisions.

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    Thank you Castle Triathlon for the opportunity to take part in your events, as always the venue was stunning, the staff were amazingly helpful and we will be back.

    We’ve both learned a lot from the weekend and neither of us will let it define us, we can look at what went wrong and learn from it.  It’s true what they say ‘don’t be afraid to fail, be afraid not to try.’

    Why I love being outdoors

    Since a child I always went on holiday with my grandparents and this became the norm for my sister and I. Always in the UK and always somewhere near walks and in stunning locations. My grandparents say don’t see the need to travel abroad when there are so many gorgeous places to see in the UK.

    Picnics, country walks, visits to National Trust properties and being outside was something we grew up with.

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    My husband and I had our son young and I quickly adapted from party girl to mum and soon found myself with my own National Trust membership and in the garden helping my son make mud pies.

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    It’s funny though as my husband started with obstacle runs years ago and at the time I thought he was crazy and running around in the wet and mud absolutely did not appeal in any way shape or form and now we’ve totally swapped and that’s when I’m at my happiest. I’m not the biggest fan or urban OCRs and much prefer those that use the natural landscape available with many using lakes and streams and woodland.

    We have had a dog for over 8 years and so country walks, or even to our local parks, are part of our everyday lives now.

    I’m one of those people who are always busy and long to just sit in front of the TV and do nothing but on the rare occasion it happens I am completely twitchy and need to get up and do something. I’m fairly certain it’s the being indoors element as I could sit in a park for hours.

    I’ve been swapping regular run routes for trail runs and just making the route up taking whatever turn I come across knowing that none of them go too far out of the local woods so what’s the worst that can happen? I’ve even run through streams and gone through tunnels during a walk and run – what’s the worst that’s going to happen? It’s only a bit of water and mud!

    I’m lucky with my cycle club that we have a good number of routes so I’m never short of places to head but sometimes I do just go where is familiar and make it up and they can be the best rides. And I often find myself noting different places that I will go back and visit another time.

    I’ve even taken to doing some of my workouts in the garden rather than at the gym if I am able to. With the weather we’ve been having it seemed silly to go inside if I didn’t need to.

    Being outdoors and in nature for me is a happy place. I’ve found over recent years that the fresh air is something I end up craving, the peacefulness that comes with it too. I always sleep better when I’ve been outdoors and feel like I have more energy and most importantly less stress! Being outdoors is simple and about just enjoying what is right in front of us and when it’s good for your health, both physically and mentally, why wouldn’t you take advantage of that?

    I’ve found I’m planning events for next year but there are so many gorgeous places I want to see including hiking so any recommendations are gratefully received.

    Are you like me and like to be outdoors?

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    Why not try it? Get outside and explore – you never know what beautiful places you might find, what adventures await and you’ll get an added dose of Vitamin D to top it all off!

    I Move London Relay

    Have you heard of the event I Move London Relay?  If not then I urge you to check it out.

    What is it?  Well it is more than an event, it is a movement and whilst you take part as a participant in either a 5km or 10km stage with a participant tshirt and receive a medal, it is so much more than just a running event!  This is an event running for 30 consecutive days and nights aiming to cover 4,000 miles by 2,500 runners.  The runners are starting and finishing every stage passing the baton (named Rod) to the next person.  Once complete a Guinness World Record attempt will be successful.

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    Don’t drop the baton!  I mean seriously don’t as that would mean the world record attempt is not valid.  And yes running with the baton is somewhat terrifying.  The pressure of knowing you cannot drop or put this thing down means you run the full stage gripping this with all your might.

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    I was lucky enough to be invited to be involved in this by the awesome Danny Bent who is the brains behind this – if you know him or have met him you will know this man has an infectious energy and if anyone could pull this off it would be him.  I’ve taken part in the promo video and photo shoot and met some wonderfully amazing people who have all been as inspired as I am by this epic event.

    The event is powered by ASICS for three amazing charities:

    Money raised will be essential funds to help combat gang culture, homelessness and mental health.

    The event started 29 June and is running until 29 July – which is great news as it means you still have 10 days to get involved and be part of this amazing movement.

    I ran the opening 5k stage on 29 June with my husband and friend (in addition to a lot of simply brilliant people) and then a 10k stage on 7 July with a friend, which coincided with Pride and England winning a game in the World Cup.

    The atmosphere running along the river and across Westminster and Tower Bridge is second to none with absolute strangers cheering you on.

    What are you waiting for?  Sign up here.  Together we move London!

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    Spitfire Scramble and packing for an endurance running event

    At the weekend I took part for the third year in a row in the Spitfire Scramble 24 hour relay run.

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    I’ve written a post about this event before which you can read here. It is basically a running event that you can do as a solo or in a team of up to 8 members over a 24 hour period completing laps of just under 10km.

    Having done it previously I knew in advance what I needed and what I’d packed before and never needed in the hope of getting it just right this year.

    You can tell the people who do events like this regularly as the set up is like a military operation with clothes lines, grills, food tents and even their own personal sports therapists.

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    Now the event is a five minute drive from my house so it always feels slightly odd packing for camping when so close to home.  This inevitably ends up including a lot more than you intend to take, when I could easily go back and forth to a comfortable bed, a proper toilet and shower (it’s seriously tempting)! But that would not be in the spirit of the event and so here is a little list of items I would class as essential going into an event like this (it’s a car full – couldn’t even fit the dog in!):

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    Camping – tent, blow up mattress (inexpensive and definitely worth it rather than sleeping on the floor), sleeping bag, pillows, fold up chairs.

    Medical – rock tape, scissors, ibruprofen, pro plus, Imodium, piriteze (or any other form of antihistamines), salt tabs, blister plasters, ice/heat packs.

    Clothing – I prefer a fresh change of clothes for each lap (this year I wore the same for 3 laps and I have terrible chaffing – sorry I realise this is tmi), visor, trainers (check the terrain), number belt, running belt, jacket (you may walk and night laps can get chilly), sports bras, spare socks, compression calf sleeves (if you use these), waterproof layers (check the weather).

    Electricals – running watch, headtorch (mandatory for laps after 8pm), spare batteries, phone charger, battery pack, camping kettle.

    Toiletries – towel, toothbrush and paste, brush, dry shampoo, deodorant, baby wipes, spare toilet roll (nothing worse than the porta loos after a weekend of campers and runners and potentially no tissue!), dry shower, antibacterial gel, jungle spray (there are so many bugs).

    Food and drink – electrolytes, water (though there should be a supply), snacks, porridge pots, bananas, soreen, breakfast biscuits, there are usually vans selling food – we had jacket potatoes/pasta/pizza/burgers/noodles on offer here though I prefer to stick to what I would usually eat though food and drink will be totally personal preference, tea bags, coffee, milk.

    Other – foam roller, money, lighter or matches, citronella candles, cool box, water bottle, black bags, bowls/plates/cutlery.

    You’re probably reading the above thinking wow that’s a lot – it is a lot but better to be prepared and set up camp and have everything you need so there is no added stress!

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