Musicians on Lockdown: Cara Hammond

It’s been a while since the last ‘Musicians on Lockdown’ post, but I feel like this one was worth the wait. Local singer/songwriter, Cara Hammond, chats about lockdown and a #24HourSongWritingChallenge inspired EP.

Musicians on Lockdown: Cara Hammond Title Page

You’re normally based down in London, but you made the decision to come home to North Wales when Lockdown kicked off? Is it strange leaving the city and coming home?

– Yeah it was strange but more because I was leaving London & my whole life there so quickly to come back home. Like all of us, I didn’t know how long that was going to be for & that was scary. I’m glad I made that decision now because it’s been so so nice being surrounded by nature and being close to my family. It’s definitely de-stressed me in an otherwise stressful situation.

You’ve even been taking inspiration from your fans when writing songs?

 – Yeah, since the beginning of lockdown it’s been hard to connect with fans as all of my live gigs and festivals have either been cancelled or postponed. Also for the first few weeks I felt quite anxious about the whole situation & so inspiration for writing could be difficult. However, there’s loads of different features on social media that I hadn’t tried before & realised that now was the time to do it. So I created a post on my Instagram story and using the questions feature, asked people to send me their song ideas. I’d then pick my favourite idea, write a song with it, rehearse it & then less that 24 hours later, perform it in my weekly livestream. Each week I received really great messages either from people who’s ideas I’d picked or other fans who connected with the songs. That’s when the idea for the ‘twenty four hours’ EP came about.

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You’ve been making the most of the live features on social media with Open Mic sessions? How did they go?

 – Yeah, one thing I really miss is playing a gig with a great lineup of other artists & being able to engage with other musician’s fans. After I spoke on a Malaysian radio show’s Insta (Fly FM) using the split screen feature, I had an idea for an open mic using my Instagram page as the platform. I asked a few of my musician friends, either that I’d met at uni or since moving to London at gigs or in sessions etc. Everyone I asked were really excited for it! It was great for our audiences as it was the closest thing they’d get to a gig for a while and it was so good to just talk to other musicians about their experience of lockdown.

How did you end up in London? You didn’t take the big jump to London straight away, but went to University in Leeds? 

– I moved to London in 2018 after studying at Leeds College of Music and doing a bit of travelling. I did look at going Brit School for 6th form but as it’s not a residential, there was no where for me to live, especially at the age of 16. I also looked at uni in London, but I remember looking around Leeds on their open day and it was a really great college, with a mixture of all genres of music. I also fell in love with the city, it’s music scene and student-y vibe was really exciting for me. I’m glad I moved to London when I did as it seems that most of my friends have moved their at the same time & I’m absolutely loving it.

Cara Hammond Photo Sun Set

Your move back home for lockdown certainly shows through your latest EP. Stripped back to your voice and your guitar. What was it like writing about a topic chosen by somebody else?

– It was a really great bit of inspiration actually. It really helped me focus, especially since I gave myself a limit of 24 hours, it meant I really had to get my arse into gear. As a songwriter, you’re always writing and/or collaborating. I love writing on my own as it is very personal and I can indulge a little bit. However I love collaborating too, as it’s so fun jamming with another artist and creating a song which you both feel connected to. Luckily I still have been able to collaborate with other musicians/producers at the moment via Zoom.

Cara Hammond Photo

Cara Hammond Photo

Music has taken you round the world too? Did you think you’d get to where you are when you started out, because you started quite young?

– Since I was a kid I always loved listening to, singing and performing music. I think I knew it would always be a bit part of my life. I’m happy that I have kept on pursuing it as there’s been so many amazing things that have happened and I’m excited to see what’s next!

I’d love to finish on some rather impressive Spotify stats? Which has lead to a new music video?

– So ‘Good Times’ is my most streamed song on Spotify, with over 300,000 streams, which is absolutely crazy. To celebrate this and it’s 1 year anniversary, I created an alt music video with help from my band and fans. My band (Robert Oates on drums, Kieran Williams on keys, Stefan Knap on bass, Dominic Carmelo on guitar) recorded themselves playing ‘Good Times’ to which I layered it all on top of each other to create the full track. I then asked friends, family and fans on social media to send me some videos of them having their ‘good times’ which I edited into the video. It was such a fun video to create as it felt like I was celebrating with all these people even though we were all apart.

 Quick Fire Questions

  1. If you could have any pet you liked, what would it be? – Been spending lockdown at my boyfriends house and he has a pet dog named Billie. She’s (as in Billie Eilish) the cutest, fluffiest thing and she really cheers you up when you’re having a meh day. I’ve moved in with my parents now so maybe I’ll dognap her.
  2. Your go-to drink after performing a gig? – Ooooooh a large glass of white wine.
  3. What you miss most due to Lockdown? – I miss live music sooo much. I had festivals planned for this summer so I’m gutted about those being postponed but at least they’ll be there 2021. Also pubs and holidays.

Follow these links to give ‘twenty four hours’ a listen:

Spotify

Youtube

Cara Hammond

Musicians on Lockdown: The Howl & The Hum

Musicians On Lockdown title image

With cycling adventures put on hold I’ve lost things to write about, but with music playing throughout the house more as I try and fill my days, I’ve created the Musicians on Lockdown series. A series of interviews asking musicians how they’re finding lockdown.

We’re kicking off with British band, The Howl and the Hum. Led by singer/songwriter, Sam Griffiths, the band is made up of Bassist Bradley Blackwell, Drummer Jack Williams and Guitarist Conor Hirons. With their debut album aptly named, Human Contact, released today I’m going to find out how they got to this point.

The Howl & The Hum Human Contact album cover

The Howl & The Hum’s debut album released 29/05/2020

The early days of The Howl and the Hum started at the York Open Mic scene, where Sam would go on to meet his band mates. How did you all meet?

Conor and Jack were in a legendary York band, Littlemores – Conor was the frontman, but I hope he doesn’t feel he’s been demoted since then. We met at York’s open mic nights, Conor and I would compliment each others songs (casual flirting) and Brad’s bass playing skills (less casual flirting) while Jack toured Australia (not a euphemism). When Jack came back we put a bag on his head and forced him to play drums for us – that was in about 2017, when we were tiny little dumb babies. Now we’re massive strong men. 

Despite only now releasing their debut album, they’ve already done a headline tour, but not as you’d expect. Instead of heading straight to London or a UK Tour, they toured the Scottish Highlands in a van they called ‘The Beast’. What was touring the Scottish Highlands like? 

The Highlands is one of our favourite places to play – for some reason we get a good crowd on the Orkney Isles. We’d love to include the highlands in every tour. We were lucky enough to explore most of the towns we were playing in, even if it was just a pub dinner or early breakfast in a remote BnB but they were some of the most beautiful drives we’ve ever been on. On this drive, we were overtaken by a boy racer who was the inspiration for our song The Only Boy Racer Left on the Island. We tried to make the song as picturesque as its setting. 

Van life is basically farts and wee stops, but we wouldn’t trade it in for anything. Except The Beast, who has now died. 

Travelling is something that’s limited right now, but where has the band taken you all so far? Is every country you perform in a different experience?

We played at SXSW in Austin in 2019 which was incredible, we’d love to go back to America, preferably in a van, and play for as long as possible. Australia would be amazing, and our drummer is so obsessed with his year down under that his Google Maps voice is always Australian. 

Any show can be deadly, so we don’t have a particular favourite, but I think one of our favourite ever performances was at Lowlands festival in the Netherlands last summer. It definitely feels like a different experience wherever we go, but not in a disconcerting way – we’re very grateful that everyone speaks English far better than we can.

Come 2018 they were performing at festivals such as Latitude and The Great Escape. What was it like progressing from intimate open mic nights to performing at festivals? 

I guess you’ve got to treat every gig the same, whether it’s playing The Habit on a Wednesday night to one man, or in front of thousands at a festival, but sometimes it can be a little overwhelming. I definitely freaked out when we played at Citadel Festival in London and we were all about 20 feet away from each other – we’re used to being able to tell what we had for breakfast. 

We’d love to play Glastonbury. One day…

Recorded in 2019, their debut album, Human Contact, could become the album that encapsulates Covid-19 into an album. The idea that millennials are lonely only further highlighted by the current situation. That we’d rather contact each other over the Internet rather than face-to-face. What’s the key message behind this album? Do you feel fans might see your songs differently than you initially expected with the current situation?

The key theme is definitely about loneliness in a digital age, and I think that’s escalated since lockdown began, but there are also outlets to reduce loneliness – we now rely on Zoom and Whatsapp to reach out, and burst the bubble that can build around us. I hope people are able to relate to this album in whatever way they can. 

With many albums and tours getting delayed, The Howl and the Hum are also releasing the tickets for their 2021 UK Tour.

We can’t wait for gigs to come back, I just think they’re gonna be nuts. Explosions, live sacrifices, fire-breathers, acrobatics, all of it. It’s difficult to choose, but I guess the Brudenell Social Club is the reason I moved to Leeds, and the Crescent in York was our first headline so those venues would feel like hometown shows. 

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People use music in different ways. Some might use it as motivation in a workout, or others may simply just sit and listen to it. I often warm-up for a cycling race with my headphones in. Do you ever think how people might listen to your music and what for?

I’m always surprised by what people do while listening to our music, because I write it from such a meditative, personal place, but I’m glad people can get their kicks from it. We’d love, eventually, for people to boogie at our shows, but people seem a little apprehensive. As soon as lockdown ends, I think people are gonna wanna shake their money makers a little more.

Quick Fire Questions

  1. If you could have any pet you liked, what would it be?

GOLDEN RETRIEVER

  1. Your go-to drink after performing a gig?

GUINNESS

  1. What you miss most due to Lockdown?

GOLDEN RETRIEVERS AND GUINNESS

Make sure to head to their website to order their new albums, or book your first gig tickets for 2021.

We’ll Never Get This Again

It still feels like it’s all go at the moment, even though everyone’s like ‘enjoy the time-off, we’ll never get this again’. Constant news updates riddled with people arguing about what’s right or wrong. My poor dog subject to people ringing up Radio 2 when I leave to go to the shop purely to moan. And I’m not going to even start on the Twitter and Facebook politicians.

Life’s still happening on Lockdown. Everything hasn’t just stopped. I mean we’ve all got to have learnt a new language by the end of it, no? I’m still learning things about myself everyday. One of the biggest is the fact I’m happiest when I’m ‘on-the-go’. I struggle to just chill. When my mind’s occupied on something, anything, it stops me over-thinking a conversation I had 5 years ago and what I might have said wrong. And, my gosh, I didn’t realise how much going to work helps me sleep! Unless I’ve had a bad day and I just lie there staring at the ceiling wondering what the hell happened. But I’m still here, so it can’t have been that bad.

Despite my blog being quiet, I’ve actually been writing a lot more now I can’t disappear into the Welsh hills on my bike. I’ve come to terms with going out locally purely for my own sanity. I go out early when it’s quiet. I also head to country lanes I know, which allows me to focus on one thing and not how far away I am from everyone around me. I come across people every now and then obviously, but on the whole it’s just that ‘ahh’ feeling of taking a deep breath.

We’ve also caved into getting Netflix when I’ve always been dead against it. I didn’t want to waste my days glued to a TV screen. Basically we’ve completed All 4 and iPlayer, so we’ve had to find something new to watch. We got to 90210 on All 4 about 10 years too late, and we’ve not found anything to be our go-to programme that is easy-watching without being too intense. So now we’ve come to Riverdale like 4 seasons too late…ha. Having got to the end of season one, it blows my mind that someone’s sat down and written it with a plot so complex.

Netflix also meant I could watch Taylor Swift’s Miss Americana documentary, which is probably why I’m typing another blog post. Hearing song’s from her earlier albums took me straight back to being a teenager and realising why I listened to some of them on repeat so much. It’s scary when you look at how much she’s achieved since those albums. With each album and it’s songs ringing true with my life when each one was released. From ‘Mean’ to ‘I Forgot That You Existed’.

I look at myself and things I wish I could change. Being naturally a quiet person, which at times can put me in frustrating situations. I want to put my point across, but my voice just doesn’t raise above the person ranting on. Confrontation isn’t something I’m familiar with, so I guess I’ll get use to that. Then I realise the ‘good girl’ image I battle with and how people think it’s just a free ticket to walk over you because they know there won’t be a backlash. And then I do backlash and there’s just silence…pure silence at the shock of it. The ‘good girl’ image Taylor had to hide away for a year to get rid of. I mean, you get taught everything at school, but dealing with life itself.

Yet, how you see yourself could be completely different to how everyone else does. I got a message the other week from a blog reader saying she wanted to be like me when she grew up because I was a strong woman and amazing at whatever I do. I may or may not have sat there with a little tear in my eye, but with the girl-boss role models I had growing up it felt like I was almost repaying the favour to someone, somewhere, by inspiring someone in the same way.

I’m always going to have strengths and weaknesses. I’m just still learning how to use them. It’s just that whole thing of it’s how you look at a situation. It’s more ‘I can handle this’ rather than thinking of just about every reason in existence on why you can’t.

Elfyn Antics: How A Puppy Took Over Our Lives Part 2

Sprocker Spaniel Puppy

Bringing Him Home

I mean, you’d probably think you’ve done everything you possibly can to make a house puppy-proof. Putting everything out of puppy reach. A baby gate to stop him escaping upstairs because he can’t get back down again yet. Having a little toy box packed with toys to keep him occupied.

I mean there he was, sat on the bottom step of the staircase, no bigger than a potato. His face dominated by the fluffiest of ears. We thought butter wouldn’t melt until we realised what an escape artist he was.

Puppy

A few weeks in of him being joined to us at the hip (quite literally), especially when Mum had her fluffy dressing gown on. There obviously came a time where we had to start leaving him to go out and do adult things like shopping and work.

We tried every trick in the book to try and get him to sleep in his puppy crate, but he was having none of it. This puppy did not want to be locked in there. So we thought it would be a good idea to sort of barricade him into the kitchen part of the kitchen/diner part of the house. If he had any accidents it wouldn’t be a massive deal and he had more space.

But this puppy just wanted to be everywhere he shouldn’t.

We didn’t quite realised his ninja skills until the first time we left him in his make-do puppy pen. There’s nothing worse than sitting in your car watching puppy cam and seeing just how much carnage he’s causing just to get out of his puppy pen.

I felt like the worst puppy Mum ever.

You log onto puppy cam and there he is hanging off his front paws on the fencing stopping him escaping. No success getting over the fencing he decided to push round the side of it. I mean, no big issue, he’s just now got the run of the house downstairs. There’s a baby gate stopping him from going upstair…you think.

Not exactly the text you want off your Mum saying “is he suppose to be upstairs?” when she goes to check on him.

No. He was definitely not meant to be upstairs.

I mean, he may as well have had a party up there. How this little potato sized puppy caused so much mess is beyond me. Clothes were all over the floor. He’d managed to get on top of a chest of drawers. He’d pulled everything out from under the bed. Then when I think he tired himself out completely, he decided to curl up on Ryan’s big bobble hat.

Yet there he is when you walk through the door, tail wagging like crazy, as if he’s been there all day like a little angel.

Film’s might make having a dog seem idyllic, but you’ll definitely have your fair share of dramas along the way! I’ve already had a dog from a puppy once and Elfyn still took us by surprise with all of his antics.

Not as long as the last entry, but I hope it gave you something funny to read. With today being Elfyn’s 1st Birthday, I thought it was time for the next instalment of his antics!

If you’re dog did anything crazy as a puppy, feel free to drop it in the comments below!

Miss the first instalment? Click here!

#24HourBlogWritingChallenge No.1

Blog Challenge

Inspired from my last post linked to Cara’s 24 Hour Song Writing Challenge, I thought I’d start a #24HourBlogWritingChallenge of my own. It’s a weird one right now as I’m in the writing mood, but what do I write about?

I had lots of fab topics sent over on what I could write about. A weekly training/food plan. What new recipes I’ve been using. Women in cycling. However, it was a late entry that I decided to take the plunge and decide to write about.

What would 15 year old Lucy say about where you are now?

I mean 15 year old Lucy wouldn’t have predicted a pandemic. She might have been shocked about where I am now, but at all the other things I’ve got going on.

So I’ve decided to write a letter from 15 year old Lucy after I’ve told her all about what I’m doing at the age of 23…

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Dear 23 year old me,

Thanks for your letter about what you’re up to right now. It makes battling through the dilemmas of high school that little bit easier. I mean, my room’s filled with an Amazon rainforest’s worth of revision notes. I’m staring at them day-in, day-out hoping just some of them stick in my brain. I spend most of my time walking Jenson, but everyone’s freaking out about what dress they’re going to wear for prom. I’ve already got mine. I picked it up in an afternoon shopping in Debenhams with Mum. It was the first dress I picked up. And I obviously wanted nude shoes like Kate wore for the big Royal Wedding. I suppose spending all my weekends photographing weddings, I don’t see prom as that big of a deal. 

It’s more the exams that are filling my brain if I’m honest. Thanks to seeing Leena Gade on the pit wall in Le Mans I’m suddenly paying attention in Maths, but she must have found it difficult to understand at some point right? Last minute as ever I’ve just put my application in for A-Levels. Maths, Physics and Business Studies, which certainly took my Maths teacher by surprise. I mean it took me by surprise a little, but how would I get onto a Mechanical Engineering Degree without them? I get I needn’t put so much pressure on those grades now. They certainly helped you get a good job though right? Working where Grandpa use to work? Just look after your knees climbing through all those aircraft wings.

It feels weird hearing that I won’t end up at University, but oh my gosh your dog is the cutest. Who made it legal to breed dogs with ears so insanely fluffy. And house and boyfriend too? I can’t believe I’ve nearly bumped into him so many times. At the golf club. Nearly joining Wrexham Road Club. Him selling James a bike before we’d even met. I mean that kind of storyline would give most of the storylines on Disney Channel a run for their money, no?

I’m not quite sure how you managed to convince yourself spending so much on a downhill bike would be ok though. Were the driving lessons really that bad? Thank god I pass eventually! Me, racing too. Racing downhill. That sounds like some crazy stuff. Sounds like you made some good friends along the way too. 

I’m not quite sure how I feel about eventually riding and racing road bikes. Sounds as chaotic as the downhill. I guess I was always going to go back to cycling eventually. It’s always the sport I go back to in the end, whether I race or not. I mean, that cycling trip to Belgium sounds incredible. I’ll finally get to see Spa after hearing about it so much off James. 

The London Marathon sounds tough. I know I don’t mind the 1500m around the Daisy Field at school, but 26.2 miles running. My knees hurt already. I can’t wait to hold that gold medal with the red ribbon for the first time though.

At least I needn’t worry about everything as much, despite a topsy turvy turn of events it all works out eventually.

15-year old Lucy x

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It’s funny how when you’re young you think life can only turn out one way. Some things turn out how you want to, like finally getting to see the Spa Six Hours race. Other things turn out very different, like not going to University, but my A-Level grade still helped me get the job I’m in now. So all the hard work didn’t completely go to waste. They might even help me progress in the future.

I imagine there’s a lot of 15/16 year olds out there right now wondering what the hell they’re going to do now they’re not sitting their GCSE’s. Some might be lucky and have good predicted grades. Others may be worrying beyond belief because they were hoping to bump their grades up when it really mattered on exam day. The truth is, I thought exactly the same. Everything in the moment feels like the end of the world. I went from being a good student to just having random jobs for a few years. I worked in cafe’s and bike shops. They weren’t where I thought I’d be at 17/18, but I’m glad I took a year or two to decide what on earth I wanted to do with my life.

Right now, some might say I’ve got my sh*t together. Boyfriend. Dog. House. Family. But the truth is I don’t think you ever really know what you’re going to do with your life. You just take it day by day and see what takes your fancy.

If there’s opportunities, take them.

If it’s what you want to do, but other people aren’t so keen on the idea, just get on with it.

If you can pay the bills and feed yourself, you’re doing alright.

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(Thanks to Ryan for being patient and taking the photos aha)

If you want to give the #24HourBlogWritingChallenge ago, I’d love it if you tagged me in yours so I can give them a read!

Following New Paths

TulipWaking up with a bit more ‘go’ in me this morning, the thought of doing a 2 hour session on my Wattbike seemed like a good idea. I had a bad case of cabin fever yesterday and I just couldn’t get it out of my system. It was definitely an occasion for Lucy to disappear into Wales and sprint up some hills, but I can’t do that right now so we adapt don’t we.

It’s a weird scenario right now where I crave human interaction, but when I go out I’m avoiding people at all costs. It’s definitely made me realise how much I thrive on being able to go outside, which luckily right now is what the daily dog walk is allowing.

And that is where this blog post has come from I guess. Don’t worry the Elfyn Antics will resume shortly…

On my regular scrolling through Insta Stories to see what everyones doing to occupy themselves, Cara Hammond’s Instagram popped up. A female artist from my hometown who’s living it large in London. Cara’s live sessions on Instagram are a good way to spend Wednesday lunchtimes at the moment and this week she was doing a 24 hour song writing challenge and was asking fans to send ideas in. So I sent an idea in:

Following New Paths

I’d started the day getting a bit carried away walking Elfyn. Lucky enough to live near a good loop of country lanes, this was where I was heading. You might have to deal with the smell of cow poo (which Elfyn loves…) but walking past all the fields takes me back to my childhood every time. When I use to watch the lambs run around the pond in the field behind my parent’s house as a kid. Watching them try to figure out they could actually run all the way around it, not just half way. When I used to go and feed the calves in the calving shed at my Nain and Grandad’s farm. The closer I am to a farming environment, the more at ease I am.

So walking along to pause near a gate to a field full of fluffy little lambs, it was enough to put a smile on face. Especially as I watch Elfyn weighing them all up in his little head. He was on the lead obviously as we were still stood on the road. Lambs are just such lively little things the way they prance around the fields then snuggle up next to each other to sleep. They’re coats so pure and clean. They’re always a sign Spring has come for me and I wasn’t sure I was going to see any this year.

I thought I had a route in mind for the daily dog walk. I was doing the longer walk to tire the crazy pup out. However, getting to a certain point where I could carry on using a route I’d done quite a lot recently or turn left to carry on along a bridleway I wasn’t sure which way to turn. It wasn’t a life changing decision obviously, but my indecisiveness took over. The turning left option was a path I’d never bothered to explore before. I thought it was a long drive to a posh house. There was no cattle in it as the field had been ploughed. With the sun shining and the ground solid underfoot I thought today was as good of a day as any to try it out.

I’ll admit there was a slight hint of guilt that took over me as I was passing through. Farmers must be working on overdrive right now doing all they can to get food on our tables. There’s no ‘calling in sick’ for them. If their cattle go into labour, it’s on them to help deliver them. Field’s don’t get tended to without someone driving the tractor. So getting to any gates I made sure I covered my hands with hand sanitiser before and after touching them to open (and close!) them. Luckily there was only one gate to deal with.

Wandering through the fields I wasn’t all that far from home, but it was enough to feel like an escape. To take a deep breathe in for the first time in what felt like forever. A pair of buzzards had caught Elfyn’s eye as I saw his nose following them round as they hovered in the sky. A sky that was blue and cloudless. Random trees in the middle of fields breaking the line of the horizon. So many scents filling up his brain as his tail wagged at a million miles an hour.

Yes it’s fab to say I was in Mallorca not too long ago, but you can’t beat the British countryside can you?

Exploring just a tiny bit of the world I’d not seen before just brought a sense of relief that I’d needed for so long. This was where the idea I sent to Cara came from, following new paths. It’s funny how words to one person can mean something completely different to someone else. I may have just followed a new path with my dog that day, but it matches everything going through my head right now. Where us as a human race are so vulnerable right now, so how we spend our time becomes so much more valuable. Our whole lives have been flipped upside down, so you start to reassess how you’ve been spending your time up to now.

Was what you’ve been working towards actually what you want?

Or are you just scared to do something else because of the leap of faith it requires?

Are you just going to stick to somewhere where you don’t really slot it?

What do you regularly waste your energy on? Worry. Stress. Jealousy.

Do you just want to plod on and live the path laid out in front of you, or deep down is time to switch it up and take the jump?

All those ‘quotes’ that hit you hard suddenly start running round in your head and you’re wondering who the hell you’re suppose to be listening to. Or does the grass just seem greener because cabin fever has set in?

So when Cara’s live session was playing when I started writing this post, I loved hearing her take on the idea I’d sent over. The session is still over on her Facebook page if you fancy a listen.

The whole thing about how people interpret a collection of words got me thinking as well. Would a 24 hour blog writing challenge work? So this might be something I try whilst there isn’t much cycling to write about.

This is probably a bit of a random blog post to put out there, but despite having all the time in the world to write right now, I just haven’t had the lightbulb moment. Until now. Which is why I’ve interrupted the Elfyn Antics post series.

So whilst we try to work our way around all the problems the world is throwing at us right now, just know we’re in this together.

If you need to chat, drop me a message.

If you just need a good rant, that’s cool too.

We’ll get there. Eventually.

If you want to listen to Cara’s Live Session, you can have a listen here

 

Elfyn Antics: How A Puppy Took Over Our Lives Part 1

Sprocker Spaniel Puppy

I’ve been wracking my brain on what to write on here since the Mallorca post. With no races or epic bike rides happening, I was a bit well…stuck. I’ve seen enough Zwift blog posts to make my head hurt. There’s enough ‘how to plan a routine’ posts out there too. And to be quite honest, when we can’t ride our bikes like we used to, do we really want to be reading about it? Probably not.

Therefore, welcome to a new blog post series on Lucy’s Life and Bikes. Elfyn Antics.

For those of you that don’t know, on 10th June 2019 we picked up a very small Sprocker puppy, who like the petrol heads we are, named him after Welsh rally driver, Elfyn Evans. My Mum’s dog is called Jenson, so you hopefully get my drift.

Ever since Ryan and I moved in together, I was adamant we needed a dog. However, with Ryan away most of the time and me working 8-5, it just wasn’t fair on the potential pup we’d give a home to. At the start of 2019 however, things started to change. That was when Ryan stopped cycling. All of a sudden there was a massive gap in our lives. I wasn’t following him to Time Trials anymore and if we were at a Crit race, there would just be my bike in the back of the van. In the space of a morning, Ryan had gone from doing an early morning strength session at the gym to being told he couldn’t exercise again due to a heart condition.

Months went by and I had the London Marathon as a distraction. We both had it as a distraction really as Ryan got me through injury after injury. So, I guess we could ignore the pain of his diagnosis for a few months I guess, but post-marathon I realised something had to change. I’d been surrounded by people going through tough times before, and the common occurrence in all those memories was a four-legged friend wagging its tail every time the family got home. We needed a dog.

Sprocker Spaniel Puppy

Now, it pains me every time the Dog’s Trust advert comes on the TV. For many it works out getting a rescue dog and I love it every time I see one of my friend’s give a rescue dog a home. For us though, I knew we needed the carnage of a puppy. We needed the crazy half hour energy bursts before bed. We needed the little furball snuggling into us on the sofa getting lost in all the cushions. We did look at local rescue centres, but many of the dogs came with complicated needs and were 8 years plus. They were dogs we knew we wouldn’t get accepted for by the rescue centres.

Then it came to decide on a breed. With a small house and garden and steep stairs, there were a few dog breeds that just weren’t possible. Having grown up with a Labrador, we knew one of those would fill up the house just a little too much. I love my Mum’s Labrador to bits, but there’s just no stopping those things when they see a squirrel.

I think everyone expected me and Ryan to get a sausage dog if I’m honest as we were constantly tagging each other in sausage dog videos on Facebook. That’s where the steep stairs in our house came into it. There was no way a sausage dog was getting up the stairs in our house. With me also still being active, a sausage dog wasn’t going to be able to do a 10k run with me was it? We knew we’d still be too active for one, despite Ryan not being able to cycle he can still go on long walks in the mountains within reason.

All dogs are clever creatures in their own ways, but I knew we’d need a dog that was fairly switched on. One that could pick up on what we were going through. I wanted a gun dog breed, and this is where everything happened rather quickly. On the Friday afternoon when Ryan was driving home from work, I decided to blurt out that I wanted a dog. I was trawling the internet, but just didn’t trust any of the sites I ended up on. One phone call to my Uncle later, by some miracle his best friend’s dog just happened to have popped out a littler of Sprocker puppies. For those who don’t know, that’s a cross between a Springer and Cocker spaniel. And there was just one of the little balls of cuteness left. ‘Spesh’ as they liked to call him, but more on that later.

By the Sunday, we were heading into Cheshire to where the puppies were still feeding off their Mum. Barely a few weeks old there were puppies everywhere. There he was, the first puppy we saw out of the litter that just happened to be the only one left, plodding towards us. A puppy covered in white fur and chocolate covered spots, including a heart shaped spot on the top of his head. Naturally you have a cuddle with the other puppies, but ‘Spesh’ had stolen my heart with his extra toes on his back legs. Within 10 minutes I was asking how much he’d be. He was going to be the furball that would turn our lives upside down in the best possible way. He was from a breeder we trusted and was surrounded by cuddles 24/7. It just felt right.

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The following weeks felt like the longest because I just wanted a puppy to be running riot in our house already. I had to refrain myself from emptying the toy shelves in Pets at Home. Although I did allow myself to buy a little Cow cuddly toy, that’s still going strong despite being deaf when Elfyn chewed his ears off. It’s lasted longer than his monkey, who is deaf, has one arm but no hands, and is legless too. Chewy puppy…

We went to see him one more time before we could finally pick him up. Kate sent us so many photos, which helped ease the lack of puppy cuddles in between visits. We sat in the sun watching puppies fight over toys whilst soaking up the sun. I didn’t want to leave that was for sure. We quickly realised we also had the greediest puppy when Elfyn kept chasing his Mum around for food. She was having none of it…ha.

On 10th June, the day after I’d been in London for the DSI Skoda Cycling Academy with Sarah Storey, we were driving once again into Cheshire, but this time we’d be bringing Elfyn home. After a good catch up with my Aunty and hearing about how it went for the other puppies when they got picked up, we were walking out to the van with Elfyn in a blanket that smelt of his Mum. As we drove away the most pain wrenching howl came from this little puppy. He howled and howled. I felt like the worst puppy parent in the world. Had we taken him away from his Mum too early? I was in tear. Ryan was driving and looking at me with no idea what to do. I cuddled and cuddled him, but the howls still came.

I lifted him up to adjust his blanket and the howling stopped. I brought him back down for a cuddle and the howls returned. After all that drama the little monster just wanted to look out of the window…

So quite a few words later, that’s the first instalment of Elfyn Antics. I hope you enjoyed giving it a read and will be back to read the next one. This was more of the background story…next up is bringing him home!

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Why I’ve Swapped The Gym for Pilates

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I’ve been thinking about starting Pilates for so long. I tried some classes a few years back, but that was in the middle of downhill racing I think. The result being it didn’t really last with me being hooked on adrenaline…

Despite trying everything to get back into some sort of strength routine recently it felt like I wasn’t getting all that far. Dumbells that previously felt light are now rather heavy and my core strength is pretty much non-existent. I searched Youtube and tried old workout sessions I’d always love doing, but the interest just wasn’t there.

Just after Christmas a beginner’s course for Pilates popped up locally, so I managed to sign up despite it being a course in high demand. Pilates must be the thing to do where I live. London has spin classes and North Wales has Pilates I guess.

Anyway, that was that and I was signed up to a 5 week course of beginner’s Pilates. I’d looked for videos on Youtube for Pilates and Yoga before, but you don’t realise how wrong you’re doing things until you go to a class with an instructor that has years of experience. Youtube fitness videos can sometimes be fab, but then at times I think they can actually do you more harm than good.

The biggest battle for me with Pilates was not falling asleep. Not because the class was boring, but just with how deep you have to breathe to do all of the exercises. Your ribs open just as wide as they would in a session on the Wattbike, yet at a third of the pace. How I find lying on a Pilates mat comfy I don’t know. I’ve obviously got the family trait of being able to sleep just about anywhere…

Pilates has been a rather big eye-opener if I’m honest. There’s obviously a big trend in yoga at the moment and your not part of that yoga ‘cliche’ unless you can get your leg by your head, but I’m actually starting to think Pilates is a better place to start. With a knowledgeable instructor, you’ll actually start to use muscles you didn’t know you had and use them properly.

Being a cyclist I quickly noticed my quads are very quick to take over when I’m meant to be using my core strength for an exercise. Something the instructor told me would go over time the stronger I get with Pilates.

It’s the go-to recommendation for GP’s when people have issues with things like their backs and shoulders. Our daily lives aren’t really beneficial to things like posture and using our bodies as they’re intended. The thing that shocked me was just how deep your core muscles go, something I’ve only noticed from doing Pilates. You can be ‘toned’ like all of the influencers on Instagram, but if there’s actually any strength there is another question.

I’m excited to be coming to the end of my Pilates course and making it part of my training routine each week. Yes, I’m more familiar with things like running and cycling, but it’s good to mix it up I think. Especially when it’s something as beneficial as Pilates. After only a few weeks I’ve noticed I’m using my body differently, from carrying out tasks at work or how I run.

So you’ll probably see Pilates pop up on my blog from time to time now it’s part of my routine again. Who knows, it might even help when I’m on the bike. I’m just waiting for all of these storms to disappear first…

How I Ran Sub-4 Hour in my First Marathon

My London Marathon Training header

This time last year I was in full panic mode at how on earth I was going to run 26.2 miles around London in a time I was proud of. I don’t just ‘try’ things. If I start something I’m getting it done properly. London Marathon 2019 was no different.

By the title of my blog it’s pretty obvious I’m not a runner, so it was my first marathon as well as never having actually done a running event before. From so much cycling you’d maybe think I’d find swapping my bike for running shoes a breeze, but I quickly found out it was a whole different type of fitness. A good 3-4 hours on my bike could match a 2 hour run effort-wise. It was a steep learning curve that’s for sure. That steep learning curve also means this isn’t a blog post for seasoned club runners, just those who jumped in the deep end like me feeling like a rabbit in headlights.

I owe a lot of my training inspiration to Rachel Ann Cullen, who is the author of ‘Running for my Life’. Her story was amazing to read as a lot of my previous reading was from athletes like the Brownlee Brothers. My head was full of speed sets when in reality I just needed to get miles in my legs. Rachel’s gone on to do London multiple times now, so she’s certainly moved to the seasoned runner category!

So how did I accomplish a sub-4 hour London Marathon simply?

From the start of October when the ‘Congratulations’ magazine dropped through the letterbox I only had 7 months to go from cyclist to runner. After reading Rachel’s book I streamlined my training plan drastically and here’s a little example of how it went.

LM Blog

So rather than having weeks broken down into a strict training plan, I had simple milestones to reach before the big day. For me it was a training plan that was realistic with a job where I’m on my feet all day. I had injuries along the way, but I think if I’d tackled London with any more training I would have had a DNF or even a DNS.

After running the Half Marathon in 1:51 I had a rough idea of what I could run London in, which was under 4 hours. From then on it was just a case of continuing to up the miles and try and stick to around 8 and a half minute miling.

Lucys Marathon

For the 20 miler I clocked a time of 2:52.

Then smashed London in 3:57.

The point I’m trying to put across is that tackling London Marathon doesn’t need to be complicated. If you have a coach, then fab listen to them. If you still feel like a rabbit in headlights, then I have a few little rules to follow:

My LM Rules

Got your own tips and tricks for training for a marathon? Feel free to drop them below in a comment!

Want to read more about my London Marathon 2019 training? Then hear’s my training in blog posts:

Spa Six Hours 2019

Spa Six Hours 2019

There was a plan for this blog post to be how amazing Belgium is for cycling, but Belgium weather scuppered those plans a little bit. Especially weather around the Spa-Francochamps motorsport circuit. Weather can change at the click of your fingers. You can leave the paddock in a t-shirt, but get to the other side of the circuit needing a thick winter jacket and hood. Clouds just roll in and out like waves in the sea.

Spa-Francochamps

Off what people told me prior to my trip, my image of Belgium cycling was long roads that were fairly flat. Yet I don’t think that exactly goes for the part of Belgium I was in. Travelling through Belgium the wide expanse of crop fields quickly turned to rolling hills covered in trees. The track itself is known for being technical to drive. It’s certainly the most hilly motorsport circuit I’ve ever been to.

Spa Six Hours 2019

I’d love to be sat here saying that I got the chance to ride around it, but I was there to watch the Spa Six Hours race. One of the biggest races in the historic motor racing calendar, teams race for 6 hours requiring driver changes and two fuel stops. The best part about it I guess is going back to the roots of motorsport. There’s minimal fancy equipment. The cars have to be original. Feeling the vibrations through your feet as they come flying down the pit straight is sometimes enough to kick the old adrenaline into play. It’s all systems go in the pits for 6 hours providing drivers with lap times and directing them when to pit. There’s no radios here.

Spa Six Hours 2019

Whilst the 6-hour race was the main event, the weekend was packed with other races too. The alarm clock for each day would be a car engine warming up. And I’m not talking about sitting there early in the morning waiting for the ice to melt off your car, I’m talking full on jump out of your skin wake up call.

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One of the most memorable races for me was the Aston Martin Masters Endurance Legends Race, which was full of LMP1 and LMP2 cars. Essentially old Le Mans cars up until around the year 2012. Engines that echo through the forests surrounding the circuit and headlights that light up the sky like fireworks. After my brother and I had made our way up to one of the infamous corners, Pouhon, we could here the cars leaving the pits. It felt like we had the best seats in the house as we looked down on the pit straight and paddock area at the other end of the valley. We watched their headlights come around the circuit with the echoes getting louder as they came along the Kemmel straight. Suddenly they were in view, but quick enough it was back to watching they’re headlights break through the trees. It’s a spectacle I’m struggling to put into words if I’m honest, so hopefully I’ve done these amazing cars justice.

Spa Six Hours 2019

Spa Six Hours 2019

If you take anything away from this blog post, and you are a motorsport fan, I’d recommend going to the Spa 6 Hours endurance event. When the majority only watch the Spa 6 Hours, I’d really recommend heading out to watch the Aston Martin Masters Endurance Legends too. That spectacle topped Bonfire Night fireworks.

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So I started this post talking about cycling didn’t I? Yet I’ve spent a most of it talking about cars…oops.

Not thinking the wet weather would pass anytime soon; I managed to get out on my bike on our first day in Belgium. The cars were out testing, so I thought it would be a good time to get out. I had no clue what the route had in store for me, but I forced myself to go out. It was probably quite stupid going out in such horrific weather on my own in a foreign county, but you’ve got to push the boundaries sometimes I guess.

Cycling in Belgium

I committed the cardinal sin of road by going out with a small rucksack, but it put me at ease that nothing could fall out of my pocket. I definitely wasn’t finding anything again if it did!

After some cyclocross-esque fire road riding, my route eventually turned to roads and landed me in the centre of Malmedy. After nearly turning back when the road became gravel, I’m glad I pushed myself on to get to Malmedy. Tall townhouses, a cobbled bridge bustling with flowers along it and a church steeple all came into view. I breathed a sigh of relief that I could hopefully complete the ride I set out to do now I was off the gravel roads.

Malmedy, Belgium

Climbing out of Malmedy I was soon on a climb that I later found out was 9 miles long. Granted it was not as steep as Sa Calobra, but enough to get the old legs burning. The road just kept meandering up and up.

Eventually I’m on a road that seems to never end. I look ahead and I can just see a pin straight road lined by trees that will probably get felled at some point. Winds blowing at me. Rain is somehow coming at me from the left. Then there’s the small drama of my Garmin going to sleep. I knew roughly where I was going, but I hadn’t seen a road sign for a really long time…

Eventually a junction came into view with a village I recognised. I was starting to think I was riding into the abyss.

I didn’t think I could have beaten the mental capacity to get round Welsh Champs when everything seemed to be against me that day. But somehow a 28 mile day came close to 50. I’d followed the route, but there was an 8-mile ride to the start point and back because of the paddock we were in. There was no cafe stop, just a Clif Bar. (Ok there was an insta photo to take in Malmedy obviously). Sitting writing this I still don’t know where it came from. I haven’t trained for months. But I’ve never been so glad to hear the rumble of engines as I got close to the circuit again.

Spa-Francochamps

I had to ring my kit to get rid of the excess water. There were puddles in the bottom of my shoes. There were points where I didn’t think I enjoyed it, but looking back it puts a smile on my face. I saw more of Belgium than I would have if I hadn’t taken my bike. There wasn’t much chance to take photos, just grey sky. It was just a day I dug deeper than I thought I could.

It was a random weekend, so I guess that makes for a bit of a random blog post. If you’re still reading this rather lengthy post, thanks for sticking with me. My first trip to Belgium has been and gone. Who knows if I’ll head back.