Monday, 1 September 2014

Kit Review: Primark Gym Range

Today I have a guest post and kit review from Dee. Hope you enjoy!

I am not a serious runner, I really only run if I want to lose a few pounds, or to get a bit fitter if Vikki talks me into doing a 5 or 10k!  Because of this, I tend not to go in much for fancy running gear, the running tops I own have been with me for about 8 years or more.  Yes, I know, terrible isn't it?

Anyway, they are getting a bit tired and seem to have shrunk somewhat in length, so I mentioned to Vikki that maybe I should look in the sales for a couple of new tops at least.  She suggested I look in Primark at their sportswear, she had heard good things about the running tops in particular from the ladies in the RMR Group.  As luck would have it, I was off to London that day to the West End where there is a huge Primark, so decided to have a look (they don't stock this range in my local Primark, and that is quite a large store).

I ended up buying 3 running tops, pale green, light marl grey and a black, a bargain at £4 each! They feel lovely and soft, are seamless and nice and long.  They are a technical and fast drying fabric and also have a nice bit of detailing on them. I don't think they look cheap at all.

I went out for a run in one over the weekend to try it out.  It was really comfortable to run in, didn't ride up at all and didn't rub anywhere.  I would definitely have paid a lot more for these tops.

Primark also do leggings and crop tops, but I think I am a bit past wearing those, however if you wear  them, it might be worth giving them a try, after all, what have you got to lose at those prices?

Have you had any running gear bargains? What brands do you think do a good job of producing workout kit at affordable prices?

Friday, 29 August 2014

Coast to Canvas, Summits and Stars

In the past seven days I've been to the coast and the forest, slept under canvas and under stars, eaten in pubs and on hilltops. Somehow, in amongst all that, I've managed to do a reasonable bit of training:
Saturday: "Rest day"
Sunday: 8 mile walk
Monday: Rest Day
Tuesday: 5 mile run
Wednesday: 8 mile run
Thursday: microadventure
Friday: 3+3 mile run
Fun antics on Saturday
It all started with a day out in Brighton on Saturday. My good friends Tim and Becky had been planning this for a while and I had been kept completely in the dark about what was in store, save for the fact that I was being collected at 8am. You'll notice that I have labelled this as a rest day in inverted commas... although I wasn't doing any formal exercise it was a long day with lots of walking. We had a picnic breakfast on Devil's Dyke, watching the para gliders circle serenely. A stroll along the windswept hilltop and we were off to visit a castle, the little town of Steyning then had a pit stop for tea and biscuits at Becky's family home. Then it was into Brighton proper for a delicious lunch, a bit of wandering in the lanes, a visit to the pavilion and exploration of some lesser-known (to me) parts of the city. We finished, naturally, with chips on the beach and arcades on the pier.
Never too old for swings
Bed by 1am and up again at 7am to hot foot it to the New Forest to meet up with my cousin and pregnant wife plus friends/family/dogs for a spot of camping. Sunday's weather was kind to us, allowing for a glorious walk and a ploughman's lunch followed by ice cream. Over the evening's BBQ and fire pit we started planning some time away next year once the littl'un is born... hopefully a cottage rental in Yorkshire for some good walking. Clothes full of woodsmoke, we retired under canvas just as the rain started.

Monday was somewhat wet around the edges. We wanted to make the most of the time we had together so managed a lazy, HOT breakfast with lashings of tea then picked somewhere arbitrary to drive to for a wander and a pub lunch. We ended up deciding against the walk in nearly horizontal rain but had the most magnificent macaroni cheese and chips before saying our goodbyes.
Raindrops keep falling in my tea...
All my running has been very well timed this week. I've managed to find the dry windows in a week of rain. Although a twilight yoga session I'd been looking forward to on Wednesday got cancelled due to the weather I managed a dry 8 miles so no harm done. I'm keeping my eyes peeled for other yoga and SUP sessions I can make before it gets too autumnal.
Rain on the horizon... didn't come our way... 
5pm on Thursday was a special time because it meant that I got to leave the office and head out to Wendover for another micro adventure with McNuff and friends. In the group of ten I only knew Anna when we met up but by the time we said our farewells at 6:45am I considered them all friends. It's one of the things I love about doing micro adventures this way... I get to meet so many cool and interesting people. Architects, charity workers, web designers, astrophysicists who run, cycle, explore and generally make the most of life, it's really awesome. We headed up to Coombe Hill, eyeing the rain filled horizon with suspicion along the way, and ate and drank in sight of the monument as the sun set. As darkness closed in we did some star gazing until the cold wind made our sleeping bags seem very attractive. Despite a deflating thermarest I got some sleep, all be it interspersed with more periods of stargazing. It was just too pretty.
Coombe Hill Monument

This is how I look at 6:15am after sleeping on a windy hilltop
Today's early start and double run has probably put me in fairly good stead for Equinox24 which is now just three weeks away! Running on little sleep and tired legs will be the theme for that particular weekend, yet I'm oddly excited about it all. Of course it will be a wonderful experience but I will have extra motivation because this is the first event I will be running in aid of Hospiscare, the charity that helped my family so much earlier this year. I'm hoping to raise £1,000 but the end of April next year and I would be so grateful if you would sponsor me. You can read more about the charity, my events and how the money will be used on my Just Giving page, where you can also make a donation. Thank you in advance.

What's been the best part of your week this week? Are you in training for any Autumn events?
Really cool snail we found on our way back to the station.

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Nutrition : What To Eat Pre-exercise

An awful lot has been written about how to fuel yourself during and after exercise, but there's not quite as much attention given to how to fuel yourself beforehand, especially the science aspect. I've learnt a lot on my Nutrition for Sport & Exercise module recently and have has some requests to share some of that knowledge.

The body fuels uses predominately muscle glycogen (from carbohydrate/CHO) and free fatty acids to fuel athletic activity. When you are exercising at a low intensity, fat is the main fuel you use. But, as you increase exercise intensity you rely more on glycogen. We only have around 2000kcal of CHO stored in the body, enough for around 2 hours of intense exercise, so it's important to have enough of it in our diet.

As a general rule of thumb our day-to-day CHO requirements are shown in the table below. For example, I'm working out for 6-7 hours a week at the moment and weigh roughly 60kg. This means I should be eating around 300g of CHO per day. As an idea of what that means in terms of real food, I could get 50g of CHO from 2 bananas, 6 jaffa cakes, 8 tbsp baked beans, 70g uncooked pasta, a small jacket potato, 70g muesli, 3 slices of bread or 50-60g of twiglets.

Activity Level (number of hours of moderate intensity exercise or sports) Grams of Carbohydrate/kg body weight per day
3-5 hours per week  5 grams per Kg body weight
5-7 Hours per week 5-6 grams per Kg body weight
1-2 hours per DAY  6-7 grams per Kg body weight
2-4 hours per DAY  7-8 grams per Kg body weight
More than 4 hours per DAY  8-10 grams per Kg body weight

Specifically, we should be aiming to eat 2.5g/kg body weight of CHO within the 2-4 hours before we exercise. So for me that would be 150g of CHO. So a lunchtime run might be well fuelled with a breakfast of muesli with a banana and dried fruit followed by elevenses of another banana or a couple of fig roll biscuits.

The type of food you eat matters. You'll probably be familiar with the Glycaemic Index (GI) which measures, on a scale of 1-100, how quickly sugar from the food is absorbed by the body. Anything up to 55 is classed as low GI, anything above 70 is classed as high GI. The lower the GI rating the longer it takes the body to absorb it which results in a more stable blood sugar level, reducing hunger pangs and cravings.

So you're better off eating low GI foods prior to workout, to give you that sustained energy. Examples of low GI foods are jacket potatoes and baked beans, spaghetti bolognese or muesli and semi-skimmed milk.

Trying to achieve this is almost certainly easier said than done but it's a guideline and you may find it can help your performance. You can find a lot more guidance on this online but I hope this has given you the basics and you've found this helpful. I plan to do a few more posts like this over the next few weeks so if there's anything you'd like me to write about specifically let me know.

How do you fuel before you exercise? Do certain things help or hinder you? Now I'm off to hunt out some twig lets, because I've not had them in years!

Friday, 22 August 2014

My Birthday Week

This week's training...
Saturday: Yorkshire Three Peaks Challenge
Sunday: Rest day
Monday: Rest day
Tuesday: 4 mile run, zumba
Wednesday: 4 mile run
Thursday: 5 mile run
Friday: 3.5 + 5 mile run

This week I had a birthday. It wasn't a landmark birthday but for the first time ever I feeling a bit glum. My birthday has always presented a bit of a problem because so many people are away on holiday but the last few years I've been lucky and managed to get a few people together for celebrations. This year the weekends either side were accounted for and what with all the fun I've been having lately I was afraid it would be a bit of a non event. In the end I took the day off of work, which I don't often do, and opted to spend a day with my folks back home. My dad does a radio show on a Tuesday night so plans had to be kept relatively local but as I can count on one hand the number of times I've had rubbish weather on my birthday venturing out and about was not a problem.

I woke early to the promise of a beautiful day and opened my presents over a cup of tea with my folks. I got a couple of grown-up-but-things-I-really-wanted presents (you know, the kind that you get more excited about than you really should), my favourite candle, some posh toiletries, a stack of CDs, a dress, new lycra, a framed picture from my trip to New Orleans with my dad which is extremely special and a new Garmin. I also got some very cool presents from some friends including a stack of books on adventurous topics, an X-Men and Wolverine DVD box set (Hugh Jackman - yum) and a loom bands kit to protect against feelings of getting old :) I'm a very lucky girl.

Although the Garmin needed charging I took the lycra out for a test run right away. Bright patterns, cool tunes and sunshine made for a very bouncy run, all the more enjoyable after a couple of rest days. I got back to a smashing breakfast; pastries, yogurt, fruit, macaroons and a fantastic home made cake as the centrepiece. Just as well I did run!

We spent the morning at Hall Place. We've explored the grounds many a time but have never been into the manor house. I was keen to see the exhibition by Quentin Blake (probably best known for his illustrations for Roald Dahl) that is hosted there until the end of the month, which proved to be truly excellent. I also enjoyed browsing the local artistic talent that is showcased there and learning a bit about the history of my hometown. I never knew Bexleyheath was so interesting!
The afternoon was whiled away in Greenwich, looking around the market and enjoying a long, lazy and delicious lunch in Jamie's Italian. Free tasters, prosecco and dessert thanks to the Gold Card make it an excellent birthday treat and I will confess to indulging in a little retail therapy.
Italian style nachos... I win!
Lemon meringue cheesecake... nom.
Mum regularly attends a zumba class and asked if I'd like to do one with her. I love doing stuff like that with mum so early evening was spent throwing some shapes in the studio at the local leisure centre before heading home to catch up on birthday messages, phone calls and listen to dad's show with some more prosecco. A very indulgent day but a really lovely one.
My friends know me so well...
The training hasn't suffered too much this week, I even managed a double run today, but thanks to a bit of a cock up on my part I've got a massively busy weekend and I'm not sure how much running I'll be able to fit in. I have a fun day out in Brighton planned on Saturday and then it's down to the New Forest on Sunday for some camping with my cousin. There will be walking if nothing else and next week I know I can get back on track with both my training and what I'm eating.

As is usual for me around my birthday, I've been reflecting on the past 12 months, thinking about what I want to achieve and how I want to try and live my life in my next year. When I think about all that's happened and all I've achieved in the past 12 months the glum feelings I have been having just vanish. I am calm, happy, loved and content with my life, which makes me feel extremely lucky. Looking after myself and continuing to improve my fitness and health is still a top priority for the next year but I also want to try and simplify my life and take more interest in others. People are so interesting and sometimes I have so much going on I forget to take the time and trouble to make new connections. I've come up with a slightly less adventurous "35 before 35" list of things I would like to do in the next 12 months and am coming to terms with finally feeling like an adult. I suppose it comes to us all in the end.

Do you love or dread your birthday? Do you take the time to reflect on things? Whatever you're doing, have a great Bank Holiday weekend!

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Yorkshire Three Peaks Challenge

It's 5:30am on a Saturday morning and I'm remarkably awake having spent the last 6 hours sleeping fitfully in a B&B in Yorkshire. A six hour drive the evening before should have ensured a good night's sleep but I'm worrying about what the day has in store and Anita, four feet away in the other twin bed, is equally nervous. The reason? We're about the embark on the Yorkshire Three Peaks Challenge. Similar in nature to the national three peaks challenge, this involves traversing Ingleborough, Pent-y-Ghent and Whernside and returning to your start point to make up a 25 mile circular walk within twelve hours. The difference is that there is no driving between mountains and it's possible to see where you've been and where you're going at most points on the route. Anita set me this challenge on my birthday last year and we just managed to squeeze it in before my birthday this year. In fact it was only on Friday morning that Anita manages to get herself some suitable foot gear and a set of waterproofs. We've not done much of what you would call training and are relying mostly on our general fitness to get us through. Nothing like preparation!
About to set off on our latest challenge!
By 6am we're scoffing toast, grabbing packed lunches from the fridge and I'm worrying about whether we'll get parked at the meeting point (will we find it, will I need to pay for parking, do I have enough change?). We're about to embark on some proper type two fun.
Our fearless leader, Sam
We arrive at the meeting point by the Old Hill Inn at 6:30 (parking is easy and free), and join the 50 or so other people being assigned to numbered groups and getting issued with an arm band to help the leaders keep track of everyone. Our leader is the lovely Sam. He leads all sorts of outdoor challenges and pursuits and is confident that we'll all get round. It becomes clear that breaks will be in sort supply today and that there's a lot of walking between mountains. At 7am we set off for our first mountain, Ingleborough. Most people and groups seem to start with Pen-y-Ghent so we avoid the crowds, which is just as well as there are so many of us.
Windswept at the top of Ingleborough
By 8:10am we've completed the first mountain. The summit is cloudy so we don't get much of a view but spirits are high and we're all still very chatty. We're getting to know the other people in the group, home towns, backgrounds, motivations and so on. We have a mother-daughter and two father-son pairs as well as a husband wife duo and several people like ourselves who are doing it purely as a personal challenge. The youngest in our group is 12-year-old Tom who does remarkably well (his father is an ironman so he can't complain) and 16-year-old Alex seems to be made of springs, running ahead often and the first one of us to get anywhere.
The walk to Pen-Y-Ghent gives the legs a chance to stretch out but the group stitches out as well. I lose Anita when she makes a pit stop and am still without her by the end of our first 10 minute break in Horton-In-Ribblesdale. I'm assured that she's with the group behind us as we set off for peak number two. As we start to climb the wind is picking up . We've been warned that there's some strong winds coming in later and if we're not likely to be off the last mountain by 5pm then we may not be allowed to attempt it at all. There's a bit of scrambling and gusts that almost knock me off balance. My nose won't stop streaming and I've given up dabbing at it with tissue. I reach the summit without Anita still and am wracked with guilt as I have my photo taken.

From the top of Pen-Y-Ghent we can see a dark, ominous looking peak that we are told is our next and final target. It's not quite lunchtime and we've done two peaks... it feels oddly achievable at this point. We're encouraged to keep the pace up during the long trek to Whernside with the promise of another ten minute break, tea and cake. The support van is indeed a welcome sight! Tea and cake never tasted so good and I finally reunite, all be it briefly, with Anita, who catches up just as we're about to set off again. She sends me on with her blessing.
On our way to Whernside, past a rather famous viaduct
The wind hasn't let up and drizzle is now whipping across our faces too but there's still chatter and cheer. It feels as though the end is in sight, even though it's only 1:30 in the afternoon. On our way to Whernside we pass an impressive viaduct which I recognise from Harry Potter. It cheers me up no end, almost as much as the father-son teams are buoyed by the sight of a hotdog van in the car park opposite. My legs are aching but I'm distracted by the sight of Anita bounding up to meet me. She's nabbed a lift from the lunch stop in the support van, with some of those who have had to drop out for whatever reason, to meet me so that we can climb the last peak together. I'm thrilled to see her and relieved that she's not suffering with any blisters or severe discomfort. I've probably been more worried about her than myself!

If I ever needed her it's now. The ascent is long, blustery, wet and tiring. Where as on the previous peaks it was the steepness that tired me, on this one it's just the trudging that is wearing me down. Anita is a non-stop ray of sunshine as I retreat into my shell and concentrate on where my foot is going next. I keep reminding myself that this is type two fun, fun in hindsight and that there's no possibility of me not completing this unless I slip and injure myself. We finally reach the summit and I manage to smile for a photo before pronouncing that I just want to get off this god-forsaken mountain as quickly as possible. There's no view so nothing to hang around for plus at this point I'm afraid that if I do stop, I won't be ably to start again!
Triumphant on top of Whernside
That doesn't turn out to be very quickly as the descent makes up for the gradient we didn't have to deal with on the way up. The rain has made the stones slippery and fighting against the wind is tiring. Eventually we get to the bottom and I stave off tears of tiredness with chocolate and peanut butter. Now it's just a case of getting back to the pub, which we do 10 hours and 40 minutes after we left.
We did it, and we have the certificates to prove it!
We are tired, achey and red-faced from wind burn but thrilled that not only have we completed the challenge but that we've done it together. Knowing that if we head back to the B&B for a shower right away we're unlikely to leave again, we head straight to a pub we found the day before to get a hot meal. If the other diners and drinkers are put off by our appearance then they are far too polite to say anything but no one asks us what we've just done, only how quickly we managed it.
Pie and custard that my dad would be jealous of
It was a fantastic day and a great achievement. I've never felt the need to tackle the national three peaks challenge, although I have climbed them all individually, and completing the Yorkshire challenge has just cemented that opinion. In my mind this is just as much of a challenge as you're on your feet the whole time. It was well worth doing as part of a group and I would consider doing it again in the future, or something similar. I'd have loved to have stayed a few more days in the dales and explored more. I've not talked much about the landscape or the scenery but both are wild, glorious, varied, stunning, and certainly not to be underestimated!
A well deserved glass of fizz before passing out
We booked through this website and have to say the information prior to the event and organisation in general was excellent. We stayed at the ever-so friendly Dalesbridge which was around 10 minutes from the start point and does a mean cooked breakfast (with vegetarian option).

Monday, 18 August 2014

Berkshire Fitness Scene : Bokwa

It is a rare occasion I walk out of a class but that's exactly what happened when I attended my first, and likely only, Bokwa class. Bokwa is sort of the new Zumba, a group exercise class that has gained popularity in many countries of the world, having been conceived in LA by Paul Mavi. It's one of the classes I found at Reading Uni that I've not seen anywhere else so I thought it worthy of a mention here.

So what is it? Well in essence it's a group dance class. It claims not to rely on fancy choreography but on merely drawing letter and numbers with your feet while popular music plays at high volume. Anyone can do it! It's not for the super fit or coordinated! So the claims go. Now I love dancing, have a reasonable sense of rhythm and don't generally have any issues with learning basic choreography so this should have been a cinch.

I will admit, I had a bad experience. The instructor turned up 15 minutes late. It turns out she teaches another class immediately beforehand that means she physically can't get to the studio on time yet the Sport Centre don't make any allowances for this when scheduling. So she's always 15 minutes late. Of course I didn't stay long enough to find out if that means she runs over by 15 minutes or if everyone gets short changed.

So by the time she arrives I've managed to get myself into a "this had better be good" sort of mood, which I appreciate isn't really the best frame of mind to be in. Because she's short on time she doesn't find out if anyone is new to class (there are at least four of us) or explain the basic concept. As I'd gone into this blind it would have made a big difference to me.

I stand near the front so that I can clearly see what she's doing. Her foot work looks incredibly fancy although occasionally she makes it very simple. I try to follow her and the girl next to me but the switching back and forth makes it difficult. It's only after 10 minutes I realise she's demonstrating two levels and not a whole variety of different steps.

It should have been easy. The music was actually really great and she had a lot of energy but I just couldn't get it. In trying to mimic her footwork I ended up leading with the wrong leg, getting in a tangle and then missing the beat. In the end I just stopped and stood there, watching, trying to figure it out before starting again. I wasn't getting any sort of benefit from moving and I was demotivated. Either she didn't notice or she chose to ignore me, offering no encouragement, so I picked up my belongings and left. I may have flounced.

Now I really want to emphasise that this was my own experience and in theory, anyone should be capable of doing these classes. Once you got the hang of the basic steps you'd be able to put as much or as little energy and complexity in as you wanted and therefore get as much of a workout as you liked. An instructor can absolutely make or break a class but it's the kind of thing you only find out from experience.

Please don't let my experience deter you from trying new classes, or Bokwa specifically. It does seem like a lot of fun and I'm only sorry that it didn't click with me.

Have you had any bad first experiences with group classes?

Friday, 15 August 2014

Du Vin, Du Pain, Du Course à Pied

Just a flying visit from me today as I'm just back from France and shortly off on another adventure. Barely time to pick up fresh pants and I'm out the door again. Just enough time to give you a bit of a low down on what I've been up to in the last seven days.

My training looked a bit like this...
Saturday: 4 mile run with Crewroom
Sunday: Rest day
Monday: Intervals
Tuesday: 4 miles 
Wednesday: Rest day
Thursday: Rest day
Friday: Hill reps

There are more rest days in there than I'm comfortable with but as I was on holiday and two days were taken up with travelling and another planned session had to be scrapped because I'd stupidly left my trainers outside in the rain overnight, that's just how it had to play out. I still got some quality sessions in though and I'll be doing something very energetic this weekend so I'm not feeling too hard done by.
Tiny snail on very wet trainer... the only good thing about having accidentally left them out in the rain overnight.
This was a family holiday and as such there was a certain amount of falling in line with plans. I had no objections to this at all because most of these plans involved wine tasting. We brought quite a bit back with us too!
A large proportion of time was also spent sitting in the garden having aperitifs and rather long lazy meals, as is the French way. I ate FAR more than was good for me but every bite was delicious. I also drank far more than was usual or good for me but it was a bit of a one off.
Eating strawberries and ice-cream has never felt like a chore before.
But of course I did run. I ran along the river bank, alongside fields of sweetcorn and sunflowers, passing ponies and dodging the army of slugs that seem to migrate from one side of the path to the other every day. It was absolutely wonderful.
I'm a little concerned that I might have messed up my metabolism a bit as I don't seem to be able to tell when I'm full anymore, however I'm active, still in training and will be reverting to previous eating habits right now... well, ok, by the middle of next week... I suspect this weekend will be a bit of write off and there's a special occasion next Tuesday to take into account...

But that's all for now I'm afraid. There'll be lots to catch you up on next week so enjoy your weekend, whatever you're doing, and I'll catch you next week.