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London Marathon Training Series, Month #10: The FINAL word

18th May 2016

Marathon training seriesToday is the last article in our London Marathon Training series. The run is over, the finish line crossed and almost a year of intensive training that has had both ecstatic highs and real lows for our sponsored runner Jim, was concluded in one momentous day, making it all worthwhile.

So, for one last time, let’s hear from the man himself, the running powerhouse that is Jim Hicks, to see what he has to say about the lead up, the big day, and the aftermath of the biggest race of his life. Thanks Jim for flying the flag for Caloo – we even saw you in your bright pink team outfit with our logo emblazoned across it as you ran over Tower Bridge.

“Well Andrew, it’s all a bit of a blur to tell you the truth, but weirdly, at the same time, I will never forget the experience of being part of such an amazing event as the London Marathon.

We travelled down to pick up my running number at the London Excel Arena on Friday. The place was mobbed, but I still managed to get my official London Marathon hoodie. Then I spent the rest of the day relaxing in the hotel, mentally preparing myself.

On Saturday I tried to take it easy but couldn’t resist a trip to the Olympic Park for a look around. Then it was straight into my pre-run routine – dinner at Wagamama, breakfast of porridge, juice and a banana, then over to Greenwich Park for the start.

The start of the London Marathon is crazy, but incredibly well organised. They corral you into your allotted pen (mine was Pen 9, Red) where you wait for the off. But even when we got underway, there were so many people that it took 20 minutes of shuffling just to cross the starting line.

The first five miles were fine, no problem at all. The support was unbelievable, with spectators three, four and five deep all the way, shouting encouragement, offering drinks and sweets – it was emotional (as Vinny Jones might say).

At mile eight it was lovely to see my superstar supporters – my wife Louise, and from our run club Sue Deaves and Elizabeth van Duyvenbode, the ‘three musketeers’, all wearing their Jim Hicks hoodies for the first time.

At mile 14 we crossed Tower Bridge and could see all the pro runners on mile 21 of their run, which was both inspirational and a reminder of just how far I still had to go. At mile 15 I saw the in-laws and I was still going strongish. But over miles 16 to 19 I well and truly hit a wall. It shocked me, because I’d run further in training, but now my legs felt like lead and I came to a point where I was close to quitting. It took me an hour and a half just to do those three terrible miles, and I can safely say they were the hardest I’ve ever done.

Miles 19 to 20 I had a word with myself, a mental monologue, and something clicked, I started running again, believing I could do it. Then over the last ten miles I powered on through, overtaking around 900 people (there’s an app you can download that tells you where you are in the pack). I wasn’t exactly ‘Road Runner’ but I was going well.

The last three miles were amazing, the views, the atmosphere, the pain in my legs. It was easily the hardest, most memorable, most incredible 26 miles of my life, and I’ve already entered for next year.

I started this marathon journey to prove something to myself and in doing so to hopefully inspire others to challenge their limitations. I started out an average bloke, a little rounder around the middle than I probably should have been, and certainly not fit in any traditional sense of the word. But I was determined, and in the process we raised £2,500 for charity, discovered the energy boost that jelly beans can give, confirmed that cortisone injections are completely useless at stopping foot pain in a marathon, that fights with home appliances can land you in serious pain, and that the support of good friends and running partners can spur you on, but that if you are going to run alone you should spend a significant amount of your preparation time training alone.

Essentially, if I can do it from where I started out, a complete novice at long-distance running, then anyone can.

Thank you to everyone who spurred me on, to those who ran with me in training every week, to those who sponsored me, and most of all to my wife Louise for entering me in the first place. Far from this being the end, I’m determined to keep going. As I said I’ve applied for next year’s London Marathon, and I’ve several charity runs and half-marathons booked in already, including the Rock ’n’ Roll Run in Liverpool in a few weeks’ time. Get up, get out and get started with your running. There’s no time like the present.”

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Gene that hardwires dogs to overeat could help us to better understand obesity in humans

16th May 2016

Gene that hardwires dogs to overeat could help us to better understand obesity in humans Most of us love to eat – the tastes, flavours and usually something sweet is simply irresistible. But do you know what drives you to eat, what causes you to feel hungry, or, for that matter, what tells you that you are full? Scientists, working with Labrador Retriever dogs have found a gene that helps the brain to tell them when they are hungry and when they’re full. This is important work, because if similar genes can be identified in humans scientists could be one step closer to formulating a strategy for helping people into more healthy eating patterns.

Lead researcher Dr Eleanor Raffan says: “Although obesity is the consequence of eating more than you need and more than you burn off in exercise, actually there’s some real hard-wired biology behind our drive to eat.”

So why Labradors? These dogs are among the greediest breeds of dogs, and canine obesity issues are similar to those of humans – with genetics, exercise and diet all factoring in. Apparently one to two thirds of dogs in developed countries around the world are overweight, with the Lab at the top of the list.

The culprit is a gene known as POMC, which is linked to weight gain and appetite, and, in a 300-dog study, those Labradors that carried the gene were on average 2kg heavier than those that didn’t.

The gene is believed to help the brain to identify the amount of fat in the body, but on occasion there are deletions from the gene which turn this function off and make it impossible for the dog’s brain to identify when enough fat has been consumed and stored. The POMC gene is also present in humans, though it is thought that the way our brains impact on our body weight is a lot more complex. Similarities do exist though, so more research into obesity in dogs may well reveal some vital answers for us.

In the meantime, if you are worried that your weight has got a little out of control, but you are not yet prepared to change your diet, maybe it’s a change in lifestyle that you need, to invest some time and effort into more physical exercise – jogging, outdoor fitness equipment, energetic pursuits, and so forth.

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What’s the best way to stay fit when you’re older – walking or table tennis?

16th May 2016

Which is better for staying fit when you’re older – jogging or table tennis?In your teens you may have run around and played outdoors or ridden your bike for hours on end. In your 20s you may have danced and kick-boxed, gym-ed or pedalled your way to fitness in a spin class. In your 30s and 40s it might have been Pilates, yoga, Zumba or Tae Bo. But when you get to your 60s, 70s and 80s, what is the best way to stay fit?

Last month the BBC aired an episode of their How To Stay Young series that focused on brain fitness and it pitted the old favourite of walking against the new kid on the block: table tennis. The findings were so interesting that I thought I’d write about them in this last blog of the month.

The participants all took three tests at the outset – problem-solving, memory and emotional wellbeing – and were then split into a walking group and a table tennis group for 10 weeks, after which they were asked to sit the same tests again.

The results were surprising. They were split into three sections:

  • Cognitive. These were the results from the problem-solving and memory tests and they showed that even though both groups had improved their cognitive function, it was the walking group that had improved the most. In fact they had improved by twice as much as the table tennis group.
  • Physical changes to the structure of the brain. Of those who had had their brains scanned, it was those from the walking group that showed that they had produced more neurons in the hippocampus than those in the table tennis group. The increase was three times bigger than that of the other group, and, as this part of the brain boosts memory and your ability to learn, it’s an important result. The scientists believed that the greater aerobic activity undertaken by the walkers led to the increase in these neurons.
  • Physical changes to the structure of the brain. But when it came to the thickness of the cortex – the grey matter on the outer surface of the brain responsible for complex thinking and mental sharpness – it was the table tennis group that came out well and truly on top. Their improved cortical thickness was 11 times greater than that of the walking group, most surprising seeing as this is the part of the brain that shrinks the most with age. The scientists attributed this thickening to the fact that those playing table tennis were learning a new skill.
  • Emotional wellbeing. This is the one that they got most excited about, as the table tennis players were far out in front with fewer negative emotions than the walkers. Regular exercise can reduce anxiety and release feel-good chemicals in the brain.

So both are excellent exercises for keeping fit and staying alert in your old age, especially for the brain and your emotional wellbeing.

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Life expectancy study reveals biggest gap between rich and poor for 140 years

16th May 2016

Life expectancy study reveals biggest gap between rich and poor for 140 years We all know that there is a chasm of difference between the lifestyles of the rich and poor in Britain, but, according to researchers at City University London, despite the fact that they have quite different life expectancies, the gap between rich and poor has not grown above that of the 1870s – until now.

In the 70 years between 1870 and 1939, improvements in clean drinking water, medicines and housing meant that the gap narrowed. From the 1950s to the 1990s, while life expectancy rose steadily, the gap between that of rich and poor remained fairly constant. But from the 1990s to present day this gap has started to widen.

Researchers, who used figures from the Human Mortality Database – the work of teams in the USA and Germany – concluded that this widening gap, the first in 140 years, was likely to be due to poor lifestyle choices.

The author of the report, Professor Les Mayhew, said: “Men in lower socio-economic groups are the most likely to make damaging lifestyle choices. They put themselves in harms way on average more than women do – they smoke more, drink more and there are periods in their lives when they partake in riskier activities.”

While those from wealthier backgrounds may also make poor lifestyle decisions, their additional finances offer them greater opportunities for making a change than those at the poorer end of the spectrum.

But, it doesn’t have to be that way. For the last decade or more, Caloo have been working with schools, institutions and local authorities to install outdoor exercise facilities, free for all to use. Open air gyms, playgrounds for the kids, multisport arenas and fitness equipment. While the well-to-do can have their sterile indoor gymnasiums, the rest of us can get the benefit of a far more sociable outdoor exercise facility, and that all important sun-giving vitamin D that doctors tells us that we all need.

If you would like to find out more about Caloo’s outdoor gyms, or if you’d like to help us to persuade your boss or local council to fund a project in your area, get in touch or take a look around our site.

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Rio Paralympics here we come – GB’s 2016 table tennis team

28th April 2016

future Paralympic championsAugust 2016 may be Olympic month, when all eyes turn to Rio de Janeiro. But don’t forget that the same city also hosts the Paralympics one month later from 7th to the 18th of September. Here, 4,350 athletes from 176 countries will compete for 11 days over medals in 23 sports – one of which is table tennis.

Team GB table tennis is ready and raring to go, with all places filled. World champion Will Bayley and European champion Rob Davies lead the 12-strong table tennis team for the Rio Paralympics, and confidence is high for medal placing.

  • Will Bayley – World champion
  • Rob Davies – European champion
  • Aaron McKibbin, Ross Wilson, Sara Head and Jane Campbell all won team bronze
  • Sue Gilroy won gold at the Commonwealth Games
  • Paul Davies won a Class 1 title at the European championships
  • Paul Karabardak and David Wetherill are European silver medalists
  • Kim Daybell finished fourth at the European Championships in 2011 and represented ParalympicsGB at London 2012
  • Jack Hunter-Spivey is the only team member not to have competed at his level before.

Will Bayley feels he has improved in leaps and bounds since his silver medal win at London 2012, and he now has his sights set firmly on gold at Rio. Training is gruelling, but the rewards are worth the effort.

Performance Director Gorazd Vecko says: “Our target is four to six medals and we are on track to achieve that. For the first time we have two athletes who are world number one in their class – Rob Davies and Will Bayley – and we have three other players in the top five in the world.”

Will you be watching in September, or will you be out there practising to be among their numbers one year in the not too distant future? Table tennis is fun, energetic, fast-paced and sociable. There are table tennis clubs, bars with tables, and even holiday resorts where table tennis beside the pool is a daily reason for joy. Caloo installs some of the world’s finest outdoor table tennis tables for councils, schools and businesses across the country. So if you wish to encourage the next generation of stars following in the footsteps of Davies and Bayley, then get in touch today.

Support Team GB in September at the Rio Paralympic Games.

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The regenerative benefits of sleep – are you getting enough?

20th April 2016

The regenerative benefits of sleep – are you getting enough?Are we a ‘sleep-deprived nation’? Shirley Cramer from the Royal Society for Public Health spells out for us what we should be getting and why.

In an interview on the BBC she said that the average ‘slumber number’ for an adult should be somewhere between seven and nine hours a night. Do you get that much sleep? I know that I don’t.

In our fast-paced, technology-filled world today, is it realistic to expect an adult to get that much sleep? Can someone who has to look after kids and hold down a job, who stresses about budgeting and mortgages, who still wants to see their friends once in a while, and who is constantly influenced by the lure of the shimmering screen, whether that be from their TV, laptop, tablet or smartphone, really wind down early enough and get up late enough to have that much downtime? I suspect that it would take a monumental effort to do that once in a while, on weekends maybe (if you don’t have kids), but to do it on a regular basis would take a significant lifestyle shift.

Of course it is possible. More and more people can now choose to work from home, meaning a time saving from not having to commute to work each day. And there’s strategies like having a day each week where the kids stay with their grandparents (if that’s at all possible), a change in diet to not eat too late or drink energy drinks, tea or coffee after a certain time, banning mobile phones from the bedroom and not falling asleep in front of the TV. There are many ways in which we can lengthen our rest time, but as I said, it will take a lifestyle change for most of us to even get close to the hours Shirley was recommending.

In 2013, The Sleep Council’s Great British Bedtime Report, conducted by insight agency Opinion Matters, concluded that a third of us sleep less than seven hours, and this figure was up from three years earlier. Research carried out in 2015 suggested that though an average Brit would sleep just over 7 hours a night, we were actually doing well compared with the rest of the world, with only the populations of Finland, Netherlands and New Zealand getting more sleep than us. Personally, looking at the figures, I feel this is less an achievement for us and more a damning indictment on the rest of the world’s poor sleeping habits and the globalisation of the sleep deprivation issue.

Shirley went on to say that the less sleep you have, the higher your risk of numerous conditions such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, depression, and eating disorders. She said: “We need to think about sleep in the same way as we think about all the other things that are good for our health, in the same way as we think about a good diet or physical activity.” She also admitted that though we still don’t know why, sleep is ‘restorative’ and sleep researchers have discovered just how good a good night’s sleep can be for all of us.

So, before you go out for a jog, pop down the gym or use any of our outdoor fitness equipment at the local park near you, get the snooze your body needs.

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Obesity in men has TRIPLED over last 40 years

20th April 2016

Obesity in men has TRIPLED over last 40 yearsWe live in an age where the entire world seems obsessed with something called an ‘obesity crisis’, but what does that actually mean? Sometimes it’s easier to boil things down to the pure numbers to recognise the scale of a problem.

My memories of 1975 seem almost sepia in colour, possibly even with a nostalgic cloud effect around them (a little like the opening to Bagpuss – anyone who was a child of the 70s will understand that one!) but Professor Majid Ezzati will remember the 70s in a very different way, as 1975 was the start of the biggest research project of his career, a study conducted at Imperial College London covering 20 million men and women across 186 countries and 39 years in the making.

Thanks to Professor Ezzati we now know that from 1975 to 2014 the number of obese people in the world rose from 105 million to 641 million, with obesity rates among men across the globe going up from 3.2% to 10.8% and for women from 6.4% to 14.9% in the same period.

Professor Ezzati describes the situation as dire, and says that “global obesity has reached crisis point”.

He hopes that the research to which he has dedicated his career can, in some way, help to shine a light on this problem so it can be combatted.

The research showed that the world’s largest obese populations were in China and the USA at 89.6 million and 87.8 million people respectively. And, though the UK only has a mere 14.5 million people classifiable as obese, BMI among women here is the third highest in Europe. Projections suggest that 38% of women in the UK will be obese by 2025, the highest in Europe.

As you can see, there is a clear trend here, and this is why there is so much about obesity in the news – the hope is that by informing and educating people we can reverse this trend so that the dark future projected from Professor Ezzati’s research, and that of other scientists, does not come true.

At Caloo our very business is dedicated to fighting the good fight against obesity. Through the schools and open spaces, parks and businesses that invest in our outdoor fitness and gym equipment, the clubs that take on our outdoor table tennis tables, and our dedication to fitness education and quality standards, we stand up for those who wish to look after the wellbeing of others. We stand for the parents who want to release their kids from the TV and game stations, for the employer who wishes to invest in the health of their staff for greater productivity and loyalty, and for the institutions – medical, army, police – that know how vitally important it is to stay fit.

Heed Professor Ezzati’s warning, get out today and improve our chances of winning the battle against obesity, here and across the globe.

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London Marathon Training Series, Month #9: The BIG day is here

20th April 2016

London Marathon Training Series, Month #9: The BIG day is hereWith just days to go until the 2016 London Marathon on Sunday 24th April, is our Team Caloo runner Jim ready for the biggest challenge of his life? He’ll be joining around 36,000 others pounding the capital’s streets, pushing themselves to the limits of their stamina, proving that they can do it, and raising money for their chosen causes. According to Diabetes UK the London Marathon is the world’s biggest fundraising event, raising over £600 million for good causes since the race began back in 1981.

Jim had slightly more modest aspirations, to raise just £1,000 in sponsorship for his local park, or to be more precise, for the community group that protects, promotes and looks after the interests of their local green space for everyone to enjoy – Friends of Moorside Park. As we had installed our outdoor fitness equipment in Moorside Park some time ago and had stayed in touch with the friends group, we knew it was in regular use by the local running club, of which Jim was a member, and various other local groups. So, when Jim told us that his wife Louise had ‘persuaded’ him to run the marathon we jumped at the chance of helping him, sponsoring his efforts.

Now, nine months later, within days of the big event, we’re so proud of the progress Jim has made, from self-confessed ‘fat boy’ to lean mean running machine. It took a lot of dedication and many early mornings, late nights and strange diets, and it’s certainly not been smooth sailing – but as he says, if he can do it, anyone can, with the right motivation. Now he’s ready, excited and we’re confident that he’s going to do just great on the day.

“Thanks Andrew, that means a lot to me, and yes, I feel as ready as I could possibly be. Last Sunday I ran 21 miles as planned in my training schedule. I used the experience as a marathon ‘tester’, eating the same dinner the night before and the same breakfast on the morning of the run as I will on marathon day. I wore my official marathon outfit, took the nutrition, water and jelly beans (for an extra energy boost) that I plan to have on the day, and Louise even met me at various points along my run to give me water and Lucozade just like there will be for me on the streets of London. It was as full a trial run as I could create, and, not meaning to sound too cocky about it, the experience gave me a boost of confidence. I know that I can do the full run, I know that I’m ready now.

“I was joined by one of my running buddies, Sue Deaves, and we completed the run in 3 hours and 42 minutes – not bad, not bad at all. Add a little extra on for the additional miles of the marathon and you’ve got a pretty decent time for a marathon newbie.

“Now I’m in the final phase of my training, doing absolutely nothing. Well, winding it down, because for the days before a big race it’s important to consolidate strength, to eat right, drink right, sleep right, and prepare for the challenge ahead.

“So, cortisone injection on Wednesday to stave off the foot pain I’ve been suffering from for some time – ironically my operation appointment has come through and it’s four weeks after the marathon! Then it’s onto the ‘run bus’ on Friday for all those travelling down with us so that I can get my official number at the Expo. Saturday will be a day of relaxation (and nerves), then Sunday’s the big day. Elite women get going at 9am, pro men set off at 9.20, then the rest of us join in the fun at 10am.

“I’m so proud to be representing the Friends of Moorside Park, and Caloo, among my other sponsors, and I hope I do you all proud. And, while I’ve enjoyed the training experience, I can assure you that post-race I will also enjoy putting my feet up and having a man-sized slice of celebratory cake. Of course I won’t be sitting for long as I’m signed up for the Rock ’n’ Roll Marathon three weeks later and have my sights on many more over the coming year, so this is definitely not the end of my running aspirations.

“We have surpassed our sponsorship target of £1,000 and are currently around the £1,500 mark. But, every penny counts and our local park needs you, so in one last push before run day, if you’ve been holding back until now, please do sponsor me and the Friends of Moorside Park, just like Caloo have done, and click on this link to make a difference in our local community.

“Wish me luck!”

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London Marathon Training Series, Month #8: 24th April and beyond…

31st March 2016

London Marathon Training Series, Month #8: 24th April and beyond…With less than a month to go to the big day on 24th April, Jim’s training regime has intensified, his fundraising has entered its last leg, and his diet has started to pay dividends. Best of all he seems to be really enjoying the experience and while the London Marathon may be enough for most people he’s already setting his sights on an even bigger target, but I’ll let him tell you all about that.

“Thanks Andrew. Well, as the man said, things have been stepping up a gear in the last month or so. Last time we spoke I mentioned the detox diet I was about to immerse myself in, a Winter Warmer cleanse of just juices and soups from Rawfully Good in Walton. This three-day intensive change to my food intake made a massive difference, helping me to lose 9lbs and, of course, the lower my body weight (within reason) the easier it is for me to run faster and further. However, the timing of this diet could have been better as I found out when I put myself through the Liverpool Half Marathon the day after I finished…

I just did not realise how vitally important it is to eat the right things before a run. I thought all diets were good for you, but without a ‘decent’ meal inside me I really struggled. I was wiped out and only just made it through the half marathon with my running club buddies, but I did make it through and I won’t make the same mistake again with my diet timings. Everyone else did really well, especially as for them it was their first half marathon – so big shout out to Sarah, Chris and my run buddy Elizabeth.

Training has intensified, as Andrew said, with me alternating between three short runs and one short then one long run a week – averaging around 15-18 miles in total each week. This week I’ll be doing two runs of seven miles and one of ten miles, then next week I’ll be going for a final biggie of 21 miles.

The foot is still not great, but at least my GP has signed off on a cortisone injection the week before the big run. I’m not looking forward to it, but at least on marathon day it should dull the discomfort I still suffer from.

Oh we’ve got the squad hoodies sorted out – stylish attire in grey with my name and Twitter account emblazoned across it in pink, my running colours. I’m not sure how many of the ten or more family and friends who’ll be coming down to London to support us will be persuaded to don the team colours, but I’m hopeful for four or five at least.

Caloo may be sponsoring me, but the real reason why I’ve taken on this challenge has been to support our local park committee, the Friends of Moorside Park. And I’m proud to say that we have recently been honoured for our efforts in looking after our green space. At the National Love Parks Awards in Nottingham our youngest committee member, Ben, at just 13 years old, won the Young Volunteer of the Year Award, and we also got recognition in the Partnership of the Year award for our circuits in the park from Pioneer Fitness (where we use the Caloo gym equipment).

A slight aside, but harking back to something I mentioned earlier about having the energy for a big run and how important it was to eat well beforehand, in our awards evening goody bag was a packet of jelly beans, and when I took them on a run with me the next day I found they gave me a great energy boost. Now, while that’s not exactly what I meant by ‘eating right’ before a run, I did tweet the company to say how much they helped me in my training and they were kind enough to send me a box of them to take with me on the marathon – so thanks to Glendale!

As Andrew said, I already have my sights on bigger things – next March there is a Liverpool to Manchester run of 43 miles that I’m now excited about training for, so don’t think that the London Marathon is the end of my obsession with running, as it looks like this may become a part of my life for some time to come.

Also, not to forget, we’re still fundraising, so if you want to help us to help keep our park spick and span and a fun place for kids and adults to play and exercise (of course on the Caloo equipment we have there) then you can still sponsor me by going to my JustGiving page. And if you’d like to follow me on the day (remotely) you can do so through my Twitter feed @jimhicks1978 or via the hashtags #runbcj or #vlm2016.

Wish me luck!”

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Drinkhall wins 5th singles title

23rd March 2016

Drinkhall wins 5th singles titleThe taste of victory is sweet – just ask Paul Drinkhall, who, after a three-year hiatus, beaten each time by Liam Pitchford, is now back as reigning champion.

The PG Mutual National Championships in Hatfield on Sunday was an important event. Not only was it time for celebration for Paul Drinkhall (winning the Guernsey Trophy and the men’s doubles title with partner Liam Pitchford) and for the other big winner of the day Tin-Tin Ho (who won the women’s singles, the women’s doubles with partner Maria Tsaptsinos and the mixed doubles with partner Sam Walker), but it was also widely televised.

Table tennis is incredibly popular as a sport in the UK, but gets pitifully little airtime, so when the championships in Hatfield this weekend were televised by ITV4 who recorded three hours of the competition, taking in the two singles finals and the men’s doubles, that was a big deal.

Drinkhall’s singles championship nemesis, fellow team member Liam Pitchford, was sent packing by Sam Walker in the semifinals, but he was no match for Drinkhall in the final who beat him 4-2.

“It’s great to win, obviously after three years and for a fifth time. It’s just as good, if not better than the others, to get it back. Hopefully I can get a few more in the future,” Drinkhall said after the match.

At Caloo we do our best to help train the next generation of table tennis players across the country. Our work with schools, businesses and local authorities to site the highest quality outdoor table tennis tables where they can be most useful has been rewarding, and our insistence on only using the very best weather and vandalism resistant table tennis tables has led to longer lasting equipment which offers our clients better value for their money.

If your business, local park, or outdoor space could benefit from an outdoor table tennis table or two, get in touch today and we’ll walk you through the process of installation.

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