Thursday 19 June 2014

Running Gear Review - SPIbelt and Karrimor Armband

When I run or walk I like to travel light so all I really need are the essentials - a key, maybe some emergency cash and definitely my iPhone. Where running is concerned, beating my time definitely isn't my focus at the moment - it's about laying down the miles and building endurance and stamina so while I'm not that interested in pace, I do like to know how far I've gone so I like to carry my phone with the Runkeeper app operating. As such the search was on for a way of toting my iPhone in safety.

I've seen people running with their phone in their hand and while I'm sure that works for some people, for me it sounds like a recipe for disaster. I have a vision of merrily trotting along while I lose grip and watch in dramatic slo-mo as my phone glides out of my sweaty mitt and flies elegantly through the air before slamming into the tarmac. Secondly - sweat. We all know most phones and especially iPhones don't react well to moisture so keeping it well away from my skin while exercising seems a sensible option. And speaking of moisture, UK = Rain. I'm not INTENDING to be rushing out to run in a downpour but there is every chance that on any given day sun could easily change to showers (or monsoon) so at the very least some protection would be prudent.

Option number 1 was a cheap and cheerful arm band which I picked up from Sports Direct for just a few quid. It was the Karrimor brand and seemed to be rather reluctant to stay on my arm. To fasten it tight enough to stay up meant the two parts of the velcro fastening hardly made contact, hence wasn't secure. I definitely don't have skinny upper arms so I can only imagine how badly this would fit those who do.

Another shortcoming was that the headphone port access point was on the wrong side for my phone. If I had a shorter phone (I have a iPhone 5) the cable could have looped across to the other side inside the case, but this wasn't possible for me. The imperfect solution was to slice a second hole in the bottom of the case from which the cable could protrude.

The plastic front did mean I could access my phone if I needed to and the touch screen remained at least somewhat responsive behind this extra layer, but I was rather concerned at the rate condensation built up behind the plastic and it also didn't seem very water-resistant. Of course being strapped to your arm means it's in the frontline for rain so I don't think it would stand a chance.

Next up and my current phone-toting solution is the SPIbelt (SPI stands for Small Personal Item). I went for the water-resistant option - mine actually has the gel-loops too which I can hardly imagine I'll ever have cause to need. There is a water-resistant version without these loops too, but I couldn't find it online at the time I purchased - to be honest they don't get in the way so either is fine! The belt is made of a stretchy material with a handy quick-fasten clip and adjustable stretchy strap which should definitely fit most runners' waists/hips.

The stretchy belt combined with the small size of the pocket means that there is no bobbing about when you run. The contents are held securely but the belt isn't restrictive or tight meaning you really don't notice you've got it on.

Holding my iPhone 5

The belt pocket look super skinny, but is wildly deceptive and could definitely house much more than a phone, I've been holding just my iPhone but it can hold even larger phones too. I tried it out with a friend's Samsung Galaxy S3 and it fit just fine.

Being low-profile it's discreet too and I can imagine it's be great for travel as it would easily be hidden under a looser layer so great for the security conscious.

I'm not particularly a fan though of tossing scratchy keys or cash in the same pocket as a phone as this sounds like a sure-fire way of scratching the screen, but this really isn't a problem as almost all ladies running tights/capris have a really handy zip pocket in the middle of your back. I wouldn't necessarily advise popping anything pointy or bulky back there - the last thing you want when you are running is something digging into your spine but for the odd key here or there and cash/credit card, it's perfect! However if you're not toting a phone the SPI belt would be great for holding all your essentials.

Tuesday 17 June 2014

Marwell Wildlife - Sunset Party in the Park

Last week I was lucky enough to attend a wonderful event at one of my very favourite places - Marwell Wildlife. Marwell is a fantastic wildlife park with a great legacy of helping to save so many threatened species with skilled and carefully managed conservation and breeding programmes.

It's also a wonderful place to visit with gorgeous open and authentically natural habitats housing some very happy and content looking creatures.

So on Friday night after a hard week of work I made the short jaunt up the M27 to the Sunset Party in the Park - Starting at 6.30pm the park laid on a fun evening of activities and entertainment to the backdrop of wonderful glorious weather, the advancing twilight and of course the wonderful wonderful animals.

The evening kicked off with entertainment even while queuing to enter the park courtesy of the excellent Top Bananas stilt band.

In the park I was happy to meet up with some great friends including Emma Collins and her fabulous family and I can vouch that the evening was a roaring success with us all! The girls especially had a whale of a time meeting some wonderful costumed performers - my favourite being The Penguins!

The Collins' crew loved them too as evident from Emma's hilarious Penguin-Selfies!

A couple more fun characters were Mr and Mrs Pigeon - I'm a sucker for a cute birds and these cute couple left little 'treats' behind as the comically pecked around the park - thankfully the treats were of the sweetie kind!

The Sunset Parties coincide with the Marwell 'Rise of the Dinosaurs' event which runs through to the 2nd September and features an incredible array of moving and growling, life-size dino sculptures that the kids lapped up. They were certainly a spectacle, but I'm a real-live animal gal so after a quick Aberdeen Angus burger (that any T-Rex would be proud to munch down) I continued on my merry way around the park toting some essential gear!

The decision as to what gear to take to any given event plagues me for days before a function - I knew it would be a trade off between enough length to get some great frame filling shots and enough aperture to chuck enough light into the mix. I settled on a pair of set-ups. First up was my Canon 7D paired with a Sigma 150-500mm - perfect for getting up close and personal and a Canon 60D with short Tamron 28-75mm for close up goodies. The Tamron's f2.8 aperture is great for letting in lots of light - this proved essential in the rapidly diminishing light and if I'm honest I could have done with a faster long lens as the light levels forced me to shoot on a way higher ISO than I usually care to... but a girl can only dream for faster glass!

So back to the animals! New additions since my last visit were the Walkthrough Aviary at the very top of the park housing a wonderful mixture of birds from around the world. My favourite was the Waldrapp Ibis.

Also new to me was a new area for the Meercats. Surely no one can resist these cuties!

Another favourite is the Amur Leopard - just stunning!

Talking of big cats - I just about had enough light to grab some quick frames of the Snow Leopards -  the second half of my trip was a little dark for my liking so I think I need to pop back and concentrate on this side of the park again - even so these guys were gorgeous even if they are looking a little grainy for my taste.

Last but not least - a few more birds (my own personal weakness) - Humboldt Penguins - always adorable and the first place you NEED to stop off when you arrive at Marwell

The seeming trend of the season on the high street - Flamingos (or Mingos as the Collins girls love to call them.

An ostrich - snapped as the sun was going down.

And my absolute favourite - the Marabou Stock - gotta love him!

If you'd like to see all the pictures from my visit to the Sunset Party in the Park at Marwell Wildlife then pop on over to my Flickr album - and if you're inspired there is another chance to attend this great event on the 5th July - click here for all the info.

Monday 16 June 2014

Happy Anniversary Fitbit!

A year ago today a little gadget entered my life and promptly changed it forever.

I bought my Fitbit on a bit of a whim to go along with a desire to lose some weight and get active. It certainly did the job - it got me motivated to keep moving with 'badges' awarded via the iPhone app for each distance/step and floors climbed milestone and synced perfectly with My Fitness Pal to keep me on track with monitoring my calorific intact.

So to date, here are the vital statistics!

Distance travelled - 1485 miles. That's as far as London to Athens.
Floors climbed - 7961 - That's only 39 floors off my 8000 'badge' that is apparently as high as the clouds!
3,423,819 steps in total.
Total year weight loss - 5 stone.

I can honestly say I'd be lost without my Fitbit - I can only think of one day in the last year that I left it at home and I felt positively bereft (and inspired to go for a good long walk in the evening to make up some numbers) and it's now as much a part of my daily life as getting dressed.

So thanks Fitbit - you changed my life.