Friday, 19 December 2014

Surely That's Not The Right Date?

I'm careering towards Christmas at the moment in a mildly out of control and slightly panicky fashion. Ordinarily by now I'd find things slowing down a little. All cards would be written and sent, presents would be sitting neatly wrapped under the tree and I'd be curled up on the sofa smugly drinking damson gin and finding daft Christmas songs to listen to. But no. Not this year. I'm still training five or six days a week. I've missed the posting deadline for some cards, my lounge is festooned with paper, ribbon and bows that haven't yet made it onto the gifts they're intended for and I'm consulting my diary every half hour to see what I'm meant to be doing next. I can't wait until the 24th when I travel back to my parents' for Christmas. Lots of eating and relaxing. No having to go anywhere or do much of anything. I'm looking forward to Christmas more this year than I think I have for some years, possibly just for the rest!

It's been a fun week overall though. I got a visit from Bear at the weekend which was ace. Can't remember the last time I spent so much time sat on my sofa, or ate so much brownie and ice cream. Of course we went for a run too, because that's the sort of thing that you have to do when in the presence of another runner, even if his HR zone 1-2 is your HR zone 4-5... but remarkably the majority of conversation was about music and I've been digging out long-forgotten albums to listen to ever since.
We had our last RunFitUK session before Christmas this week and it was arguably the best one yet. My confidence with planning sessions has increased so much in the last three weeks and as a result it was possibly the toughest session to date but everyone worked really hard and left with smiles.

I'm squeezing in my own runs at lunch times, putting off swims because of a streaming nose and parading my RunFitUK t-shirt around in the gym on my cycle sessions. And thank goodness I am still training because the number of cakes, mince pies and chocolates in my presence has spiraled out of control and I only have so much will power.

If you're not yet feeling in the Christmas spirit might I suggest a trip to Kew Gardens? They have a Christmas trail at the moment with beautiful illuminations set to music, old fashioned rides, storytellers and marshmallow toasting opportunities for kids young and old alike. I went with mum and dad and we all thoroughly enjoyed it. I had my first mulled wine of the season and tried mulled sloe gin. I'm converted. We stopped in at the pub next to the station for drinks and nibbles before heading home. There are many reasons why it's a lovely pub but I discovered it serves beer bats and really after that nothing else mattered.
Toasted peppermint marshmallow!
Vikki + beer bat = Very Happy Vikki
This weekend I'll be continuing a Roberts' Christmas tradition of seeing Status Quo in concert with the added bonus of support from Chas & Dave (do not judge me!). I wear a sports bra when I go to a Quo gig because I jump around so much. Little insight for you there. I'll also be parkrunning and taking part in the Greenwich Park Christmas 10k. There may be tinsel, there will be mince pies. Lots to look forward to.

Oh yes and I'll also be starting another module, the final module, of my diploma - Exercise Referral for Health Management. I have seven weeks to read and learn the contents of a folder that is 7cm thick. Hahahahaha!

What are your weekend plans? In the Christmas spirit or sucking humbugs?

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

My Year in Running

I've seen a few of these posts recently and enjoyed reading them a great deal. So I thought I'd write my own. It's a cool way to reflect on my year.

Best Race Experience
Equinox24. Hands down. Sure, Gatliff was awesome because it was my first ultra but Equinox24 was super special. A team cobbled together from Facebook and twitter met in a field at night in the rain and then proceeded to support each other while we ran day and night. The course was my favourite of any I've run. The race team were incredible. I've never experienced another atmosphere like it. I met Alexa, Sid and Marathon Man. I bumped into TC in our PJs while I was brushing my teeth. I ran 30 miles and clocked up my fasted ever unofficial 5k times. And there was lots of cake.
Best Run
A whole year of running, over 1000 miles and you want me to pick just one? The parkrun at which I got my first official sub 27-minute 5k was pretty special and I've adored every single run I did with Anita (how we managed to run that fast and still gossip remains a mystery) but I think my favourite run was with Bear last weekend. It was a beautiful sunny wintry morning and I got to run the footpath to the forest which I adore doing at the moment. Plus the forest is stunning. We stomped in muddy, icy puddles and got a little bit lost. First run I've ever enjoyed with a guy. Seriously.
My forest. I adore it.
Best New Piece of Gear
I have a top three. Is that allowed?
1) The new Garmin I got for my birthday that can find satellites in under a minute and lasts for 6 hours in the wilderness
2) My leggings from Crewroom. They are my go-to running leggings now it's colder. Stylish, comfy, warm and flattering.
3) My race vest that I used for Gatliff. Oh how I umm'ed and ah'ed over buying it. I even tried to cancel it after I placed the order. In the end it was exactly what I needed and I'm looking forward to the opportunity to use it more often.
Best Piece of Running Advice I Received
Walk the hills. That or keeping my forearms low. Both have made a remarkable difference to my running in very different ways.

Best Inspirational Runner
Oh lord there's a lot of them out there. There are a lot of my twitter running pals who I find incredibly inspirational and who either manage to coerce me into doing races or send me the most wonderful messages of support. Big shout out to all of you. But if I had to choose one person, while not strictly a runner per say, then I think it would have to be Sophie Radcliffe. She is a constant inspiration, for her achievements, outlook and sweet personality.

If you could sum up your year in a couple of words, what would they be?
Beyond expectations.
2014 - what a year 

Monday, 15 December 2014

Vegetarian? Need a Quick Meal? Try Quorn.

Disclaimer: I was sent vouchers to try a selection of quorn products of my choosing for free in return for writing a review. All opinions are my own.

Much as I love cooking from scratch, which is what I do most nights even though it's just myself to feed, there are times when I need something quick. Something quick that isn't toast or cake or peanut butter from the jar. As a nice change from pasta and pesto I have found the Quorn Chef's Selection Thai Curry.
A pack claimed to serve two and take just eight minutes to cook from frozen. I was a bit dubious. How tasty would this really be? Surely it would be high cal? Half a pack contains just 253kcal and it really does take just eight minutes. All you need to add is a little water and fry it off on the hob. There was a good mix and amount of vegetables. A portion can be bulked out with some rice noodles or a microwavable pouch of rice for a decent size meal. 
Fresh from the packet
The end result looked perfectly appetising and yes it is very tasty. I've saved my other portion for lunch at work. I tried the Thai Green Curry but Quorn also do a Thai Red Curry. You'll find both in the freezer aisle of the bigger supermarkets and it's a better thing to have on stand by than a pizza.
I haven't used Quorn products regularly for a long time but I continue to be pleasantly surprised by the new products and ranges they have brought out recently.

Friday, 12 December 2014

Lights, Camera, Sneezing

As I write this I'm sat on my sofa in my pyjamas, box of tissues to hand trying to rest up rather than do a dozen odd jobs and errands I have listed out. I'm not sure whether I'm feeling rough because I started to slow down and my immune system let it's guard down or whether my body decided that making me poorly was the only way I'd recover properly. In either case, here I am; feeling fidgety.
Christmas Lights in Norwich - Hen Party location.
My weekend was a blur of driving, hen celebrations and training. I failed completely to make or find time to do my prescribed training. All good intentions but I failed to realise how much time travelling would take up and sleep between activities took priority. I've managed to hit all my workouts so far this week though (not counting today) and discovered how slow I have to run to maintain a zone 2 heart rate. I'm still not really enjoying my swimming but I'm feeling a little less daunted by it.

Suspension Equipment training with FutureFit was great fun. I'd never used suspension equipment before (TRX being just one brand amongst many) so it was very engaging. I was by far the least able of the group, but as we were a group of PTs and gym instructors I didn't feel too bad about it. We all have limits and strengths after all! I think I had DOMS for three days straight, particularly in my abs and back so I can attest to the fact it works!
One of the lads showing off his monkey bar skills 
I held the second Bracknell RunFitUK session on a very wet and blustery Tuesday night with three hardy souls who were game for a laugh and some fancy footwork to improve cadence. This side of Christmas I understand it's tricky to fit things like this in around celebrations but it would be fantastic to get more people along in the New Year, not least because it will give us more options with intervals and games.

Despite being under the weather there have been lots of old things about this week. The frosty mornings have made me feel a bit artistic in the photography stakes, I made a start on wrapping Christmas gifts and I've had my first mulled wine of the season... medicinal, of course. I also had a lovely surprise in the post of some wonderful RMR trainer tags, a gift from my parents as a "well done" for achievements of late. I am absolutely over the moon with these. I've already popped them on my laces and look forward to taking them out for a run soon.

I've got a visitor this weekend which I'm very excited about. Luckily this visitor is also a runner so I'm planning a run to the forest and back after which we'll be in need of a good lunch and some chill out time. Can. Not. Wait. But tonight I am babysitting and using the time to write Christmas cards. Not a bad way to spend a Friday.

Have you succumbed to a Christmas cold yet? What's the advice on swimming with a cold? 

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Getting a Coach

Sometimes it's not easy to take the necessary steps back to be objective about your own abilities and your training, even if you have the necessary skills. I'm now a qualified PT and have successfully designed programmes for myself and friends to help us achieve race goals but despite this I've decided to take a step back from my own training and hand the responsibility of designing a training plan to a coach.

Why on earth would I do that? Well for a start I don't know everything; I am still learning, reading around different subjects and discovering different approaches to training. I have also traditionally focused on only training for the next race, rather than looking at my year as a whole. Finally when I'm programming for myself it's easy to get a bit too involved, to be easy on myself or not be completely honest about strengths and weaknesses.

So when I got the opportunity to try a month's coaching with Performance Coaching I decided to give it a go. I'd been intrigued to know what it would be like. It might not be for me but at least I would find out what it was like to have someone else do the thinking for me. Plus it made me feel like a pro, having a coach. This was serious stuff!

The upfront work was quite involved. After a chat on the phone about my goals and background I was asked to elaborate on this by completing a 50-odd page document with information on general health and fitness, training goals, previous race experience and outcomes, available time, current training and basic diet overviews. All of this influenced the designing of my plan which I can access online through the Training Peaks platform. I can log in online or via an app on my phone to see what I'm meant to be doing when then upload my Garmin data and add comments to sessions for review later.

The first week was geared towards determining my HR zones and making adjustments and from then on it was simply a case of getting on with things. I've found I treat my workouts much more like appointments than I used to. My training tended to be a bit of a movable feast as no one was looking over my shoulder. Being accountable to someone really does make a world of difference, even more so when they're in control of the plan. And I'm continuing to learn.

My coach has been incredibly approachable and quickly got a feel for my attitude to training. At our check in after two weeks he was already correct in his assumption that a couple of sessions showing as missed on TP wasn't just due to me being sloppy with uploading.

As I near the end of my trial I am starting to consider whether I want to continue with my coach. We click and I am certainly more focused so I'd like to but there are finances to consider. I already pay for a gym membership, occasional classes elsewhere and want to take some swim lessons in the New Year. However Performance Coaching offer a number of levels of coaching which could make this affordable at a basic level. I know some people who pay for the top package and that would be amazing but it's unrealistic for me.

You don't have to be a pro to have a coach, and even on a short term basis it could be useful if you want more targeted training. Plus it's fun to feel like a pro!

Do you have a coach or would you ever consider it? If you're thinking about it, you may find this article an interesting read. 

Monday, 8 December 2014

RunFitUK : Up and Running

It's official, RunFitUK has landed in Bracknell! I was all a jitter last Tuesday in advance of the taster session that was planned. I knew I had six people signed up and just wanted to make sure everyone had a fun workout. I think I achieved that.

In case you're not in the know, RunFitUK is a running fitness club. The sessions are designed to complement any club/distance training that people may already be involved in by focusing on running specific strength, core and conditioning exercises, technique drills, interval training and stretching but without the distance running. It's suitable for all levels and we try to inject a healthy dose of fun too. I was thrilled to be given the opportunity to become a coach.

Tuesday was a cold and windy night but that just meant we had to keep moving! We are very fortunate to have been given permission to use the car park belonging to Tool Station. It's a good sized space and well lit, very important in these dark months. The session started with the all important warm up and then some Indian File intervals. I was so impressed with the effort everyone put in. Each session will include an element of technique work and for the first session we tried to practice running tall and lightly, even when running fast.

Lunges, squats and balance exercises were interspersed with more laps to keep everyone warm but I think the highlight was the chocolate relay; teams were pitted against each other to see who could steal the most chocolates from the other in the time allowed. Chaos ensued but there was a lot of laughter and a lot of fast running. Like all good sessions should we ended with a warm down and stretches and as it's the Christmas season the chocolates were divvied up as reward for the hard work.

I had a lot of fun meeting everyone and finding out about their varied running backgrounds. I really hope I can help them all to improve their running in one way or another. This was, as I mentioned, a taster session with sessions officially meant to start in January, but there was a lot of enthusiasm for classes to continue up to Christmas so tomorrow it's likely you'll find me outside Tool Station again, in my RunFitUK t-shirt, all geared up and ready to put my RunFitters through their paces. Without giving too much away they're going to have to show some pretty nifty footwork.

If you'd like to join us, or know someone that might be interested, you can find all the information you need on the website here: RunFitUK. Book a wildcard for a one off session or dive in with a session pack. And if you can't join my group, perhaps one of our other coaches is nearer to you. We'd love to have you along for the ride!

Friday, 5 December 2014

Roll On Monday

Dear Reader,

Good grief, what a week! It feels as though I've only been at home for sleeping and changing clothes since last Friday. Madness!

Last Saturday I volunteered at my local parkrun instead of running it as I was saving my legs for Gatliff. I really enjoy volunteering; cheering everyone on and having a little chat during the scanning. As long as I'm wrapped up warm and have a flask of tea or coffee I'm sorted. From there I drove to Iver Heath to meet my friend Fi for a very long overdue catch up over lunch and a woodland wander. We met on a Core and Circuits workshop last year and it was fun to compare notes on where our studies are taking us. Then I headed back to my parents' for feeding and an early night before Gatliff, which I wrote all about the other day so I won't repeat myself here.

Monday. Oh Monday. My one semi-relaxed day this week. However, if I didn't move every 15 minutes I started to cease up. Poor sore legs. Climbing onto a chair to put the star on top of mum's Christmas tree was like climbing a mountain, and I didn't even manage to put it on straight. But dad did find my old Christmas LP that I used to listen to most years when I was little, which made me very happy indeed. He even transferred it to CD for me so I can listen to it at home :)
And that's exactly what I'll be doing later as I put up my decorations and hopefully writing some cards or wrapping gifts. It's the first opportunity I've had to do any Christmas prep in December and I'm really quite excited. I'm just a big kid. There have been some fun things keeping me from the tinsel though. Tuesday marked the first RunFitUK session in Bracknell and my first time coaching. It was bitterly cold but six brave souls turned up and let me put them through their paces. I must say I felt extremely smart in my RunFitUK t-shirt but I'll be snapping up a hoodie when they become available to keep me a bit toastier... four layers and I was still feeling the chill that night.
On Wednesday I went to see Imelda May supported by Big Boy Bloater, two fantastic artists that I was over joyed to see together, and then yesterday I dashed into London to be in the audience for the filming of tonight's Have I Got News For You. It'll be cool to see how they edit it together. As dinner was only a rather pale cheese pasty I decided to treat myself to a frothy coffee for the train journey home. Toffee Nut Latte now rivals Mint Hot Chocolate for my favourite festive drink.

So that's all the fun stuff that I've been up to this week. You might think I'd taken some time away from running but no, my coach had me back to running on Tuesday, so it was out at lunch for a slow 2.5 miles. My quads were sore but I managed it and felt pretty fantastic about that. I also ran for 40 minutes on Thursday and today I roused myself at 6:20am to go swimming then dragged myself out again at lunchtime for an hour's run, including 30 minutes at "race pace". I found a bit of speed and also my "quiet running" skills as I took a squirrel by surprise. Poor little blighter was about 6 inches to the side of me and decided to run in front of me rather than away from me. As I was in full flow he happened to run across my foot just as it was coming up, so I sort of kicked him into the air a little bit. I squealed, he appeared to land safely and I'm not sure which of us was more shocked. Squirrel football aside, my legs now feel as though Gatliff never happened. How amazing is that?

Just as well really because I'm down the gym bright and early for an hours cycling before heading up to Nottingham for my friend's hen do which involves cocktails and a treasure hunt around town. No chance for recovery on Sunday either as I head into London for a Suspension Training course... RunFitters watch out, I may come away with ideas! You won't often hear me say this but roll on Monday. I have a rest day and no evening plans and I intend to keep it that way.

Yours, exhaustedly, but excitedly, Vikki.