Friday, 29 January 2016

Vik's Picks : January 2016

What with Christmas and the January sales there are no shortage of cool, nifty, trendy or useful items around at the moment. So it's been quite hard to choose my picks for this month but here goes!

  1. I don't go clothes shopping very much, at least not to physical shops, but a post-Christmas trip to Bluewater was made and I discovered the store Forever 21 and their line of activewear. I was pretty smitten, taking armfuls into the changing room, and settled on three pairs of leggings including this ombre pair. It's reasonably priced and was a good fit for me. 
  2. My recent foray into ice and snow running has necessitated the purchase of grips for my trainers. Some of my fellow runners used yak tracks but I plumped for these Due North everyday ice and snow grips which I was really pleased with. I found them for around £11 on eBay and they've stood up well to 3 days of walking and running on snow, ice and pavements.
  3. We all know about buffs but I didn't realise that they also did "normal" head gear like this snazzy bobble hat. This was a Christmas present and has already been worn a lot. It boasts a fleecy band on the inside to keep your ears extra toasty. Maybe a good one for swimmers!
  4. After the excess of cake and chocolate over Christmas, healthy snacks are FIRMLY back on the menu. Aldi are stocking these Kallo quinoa & seed multigrain cakes at the moment and one of these with some nut butter makes a very sustaining snack. My new go-to afternoon pick-me-up.
  5. The Body Coach, Joe Wicks, has had a lot of publicity recently and while, as a vegetarian, buying his book isn't worthwhile for me, his YouTube channel is great for some quick HIIT workouts to help you fit in some movement when you're pushed for time or just don't want to go outside. Thing that I really love about his videos is that he does them with you in real time, getting out of breath and working hard right alongside you. It's made it even easier for me to move my body every day.
Was there anything you got for Christmas or in the sales that you'd recommend to others?

Friday, 15 January 2016

January Goal : Moving Everyday

January is the month of good intentions, resolutions, projects and goals. We so often try to take on so much in the throes of our new found enthusiasm that we set ourselves up to fail early on and struggle to recover from the knock back.

I've set myself some resolutions, some projects I want to achieve through the year and some weekly/monthly goals. I'm as fallible as anyone when it comes to staying on track and feel as though I'm "ramping up" to some of my resolutions rather than diving in head first but one thing I felt compelled to include as a goal for January (and hopefully beyond) is moving my body every day. By that I mean doing something active, whether it be formal or informal exercise. So far this has included brisk walks, running, cycling to and from work, yoga and HIIT workouts in the privacy of my own home. I'm enjoying it and making a concerted effort to stick to it.
New Year parkrunning
As with everything, the smaller the step and the easier you can make it to achieve the goal, the more likely you are to stick to it and build the habit. I've not committed to doing a class everyday, not even something aerobic everyday, and many of these things are free as well! I've found the whole thing not only helping me to feel more energetic but also beneficial for my mental well being. Going out for a brisk walk at lunchtime helps to clear my mind and makes me more productive on my return.
Out on a chilly walk around the lake
Many of us are training for events or maybe just starting out in exercising in general but what ever your ability or circumstance I encourage you to join me in moving every day. Here are some cheap and easy ideas to get you started!
  • A brisk 20-30 minute walk, perhaps around a local park, or with a friend
  • parkrun. It's free, friendly and can be fun (unless you're trying to PB)
  • Try a new exercise class. Check out your local community centre for nearby classes. Many will have special offers on
  • Do a workout DVD. ALDI recently had some on offer but you can pick them up quite cheaply from many shops and online. Perhaps check out the charity shop.
  • If you're keen on running then just go out for a run. It doesn't have to be miles. If you're tight on time try an interval workout. 
  • Yoga or pilates are great for getting the body moving at low intensity. There are plenty of online videos and apps available to help you learn or to provide a routine. Yoogaia has a free 7-day trial of their pre-recorded classes at the moment.
  • HIIT workouts are also brilliant for doing at home, with next to no equipment or space. Again there are plenty of ideas online but I like The Body Coach's YouTube channel at the moment.
  • If you have a bike then cycling to the shops, to work, or your friend's house gets you moving without having to carve out too much extra time. 
  • Skipping is highly under-rated in my opinion. Ropes are very cheap to buy and you can get a great workout in a very short space of time. Check out my blog post from last year for ideas.
And all that's just for starters. We can all find 20 minutes in our day to move around and it's so important to do. Will you join me for the rest of the month, moving every day, and let me know how you get on? What was your favourite activity? 

Wednesday, 13 January 2016

Event Review : Polarnight Half Marathon

Running in the dark is not new to me. Neither is running in snowy conditions to some degree as I've tackled a few snowy training runs over the years and freezing temperatures in Chicago. What is new to me is the two of these being simultaneous... at 3pm in the afternoon.

Norway in December is a dark but magical place. There is precious little daylight, the air is cool, crisp and clear, and everyone knows how to drive in the snow. It's quite remarkable, to a Brit. I was in Tromso with friends to take part in the Polarnight Half Marathon; another race I'd been talked into but that I would do again in a heartbeat. It's a little known race over here it seems and while part of me would like to keep it that way by not writing about it, I have no grand ideas about the size of my readership and I have a real need to share this one. The idea of running in the dark and the snow, in minus temperatures, in the arctic circle prompted exclamations of "you're mad!" from most people I mentioned it to before the event. These same people, on seeing photos and hearing our endorphin-fuelled accounts of it, have since expressed jealousy and regret at not signing up themselves.
We arrived on Friday night, bundled up in down jackets, hats jammed over our ears and hands shoved deep into gloves. The short walk up the hill from the bus stop to the hotel proved problematic as I fell over twice in the space of ten minutes, bashing my knee quite hard. Immediately I was concerned that this would scupper my race but thankfully I was more shaken than injured. Race packs were collected the following morning and we wandered around the town, testing out our ice grips and doing a little sight seeing. Given the 3pm start, a race day breakfast seemed a little out of place so a pizza and pasta lunch was found instead.
Leaving the hotel at 2:30 still gave us ample time to walk to the start, make final kit adjustments and deal with the bag drop before the warm up at 2:45. Norwegians seem to be very calm and collected; everything felt very well organised and just as it should be. There was no queue for the toilets, bag drop was well manned and having somewhere warm and dry to hang out prior to the start was bliss. The warm up was great fun and we made sure to get a few photos in front of the Christmas tree in the square.
Milling around before the start
Pre-race selfie
Emotions quickly flipped from "OHMYGOD this is AMAZING!" to "OHMYGOD what are we DOING??" then suddenly we were running, with only a few hundred other people, down the high street and around the island. It started snowing. Big fluffy flakes that got in your eyes. The route was an out and back, through residential areas, along the main road around the island to the airport and back. It was well lit, marked with big candles and marshalled by some of the friendliest people I've met. Traffic was kept at bay and water stations were every 5km. We peered into houses as we passed and became confident on our grips. This was wonderful. This was bliss.
Taken at around midday
Th first half was straight forward. The route undulates but not horribly so. Shortly after the turning point we met a spirit-sapping icy head wind for a couple of miles. The snow had stopped for a while and the shouts from the marshals were ever more important. I'd been concerned about being warm enough but when out of the wind I was a little too warm. I wasn't brave enough to dispense with any layers though, not least because I didn't want to stop moving as I wasn't sure I'd start again. I'd had no great aims for this race. I was there for the experience and time be damned. I'd not trained very well and I was happy to get round, although 2h30 was at the back of my mind. I swear there's something in the air in Norway that makes running easier somehow. It's certainly drier, cleaner perhaps. Whatever it was, conditions, training, peer pressure... I somehow finished in 2h14, just 4 minutes off of my PB (not a great PB I know - I'm going to aim for a sub-2 this year now) and with the biggest grin on my face. After being given our medal and swathed in a foil blanket we found hot juice and cold bananas at the finish before shuffling off fairly quickly to the warmth of the bag drop area.
There was still a whole evening ahead of us so after getting warm, clean and dry, and kitted out with some lovely new souvenir socks, we headed out for beers and a hearty evening meal. We may also have gotten stuck into some Baileys, but I wouldn't believe every rumour... We spent the rest of our time out there exploring the town, drinking lots of coffee, eating cake and embarking on another little pre-breakfast run to make the most of the conditions. It was truly wonderful. And to top it all off, as we boarded the plane to fly back home we got a bit of a show from the Norther Lights!
On race day I wore:

  • Due North Snow & Ice grips
  • My usual Brooks Glycerine running trainers
  • X-socks thick walking socks
  • Kalenji thermal leggings
  • Finnisterre merino pants
  • Shock absorber bra
  • Howies thick merino base layer
  • Tech t-shirt
  • Crewroom running jacket
  • Buff
  • Ronhill beanie
  • Marks & Spencer thermal running gloves
I also wore a head torch (un-used) and my Ultimate Direction race pack with foil blanket, phone, lip balm, gels and extra merino buff. I didn't use any of it apart from one gel but I'm glad I had it.

We stayed at a basic but comfortable hotel, just a stones throw from the start line with free wifi and good breakfasts, for three nights and flew direct to Tromso from Gatwick, neither of which broke the bank. The entry fee for the half marathon was around £45 but there were 5k and 10k options too for a little less money, meaning that those who aren't feeling quite so brave can still share the experience. I can't fault this event, I loved it so much. It was so completely different to anything I've done before. There's already talk of going back although I'm also eyeing up the midnight sun event. Norway is not a cheap place for food and drink but you can eat well (even as a vegetarian) without breaking the bank. I'd happily recommend some places if you ever consider going out there.
Have you run in the snow or ice? Would you? Any other events like this that I should have a look at?

Friday, 8 January 2016

Recipe : Uppark(run) Cake

It is the done thing, amongst runners at least, to celebrate landmark events with cake. And so it was only right and proper that I provided cake in honour of completing my 100th parkrun last Saturday. I made my go-to chocolate cake recipe (from the Pink Whisk here) in addition to a new recipe, which had been pinned to my fridge for some weeks. 

I'm a keen supporter of the National Trust, enjoy visiting their properties and indeed sampling their cake. I'd recently visited Uppark House and this recipe for "Uppark Cake" was tempting and felt appropriate purely because it had the word "park" in the title. It went down a storm and I promised I'd share the recipe here so here it is!
Uppark cake in foreground, chocolate cake behind.

Uppark Cake

Makes 9 portions (halved from the original recipe)

  • 110g cooking/baking margarine
  • 110g granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 165g self raising flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tbsp marmalade
  • 1 1/2 tbs milk
  • 200g mixed dried fruit (I used sultanas, mixed peel and cherries)
  • A sprinkling of caster sugar for the top
  1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C.
  2. Grease and line a tin (I used a square silicone cake pan).
  3. Cream together the margarine and sugar until light and fluffy.
  4. Add the eggs one at a time, with a little flour to prevent curdling.
  5. Add all the other ingredients, sifting the flour and baking powder into the bowl, and mix.
  6. The mixture should drop off the spoon easily. If it is too stiff, add a little more milk or water.
  7. Smooth into the prepared tin and bake on the middle shelf of the oven for 35-45 minutes (check after half an hour and every 5 minutes after that).
  8. Sprinkle with sugar while still warm.
  9. Cut once cooled, and enjoy with tea and friends!

Wednesday, 6 January 2016

Nourishing Mind, Body and Soul

Happy New Year everyone! Hope you all had a lovely Christmas and are still managing to keep any resolutions you may have made. I'm not usually one for resolutions but I did make a couple this year, in brief to clean up my diet and to continue to learn, develop and improve as a PT. I also chose a word for the year; nourish. I'm hoping this will inspired me to concentrate on eating good food, feeding my brain with knowledge, and my soul with books, relaxation and kindness.

I spent most of the holiday period with my family. Indeed I spent almost a week at my parent's house, doing the cooking and not a lot else, just about the longest I'd spent at theirs in one go since my 20's. I go the go-ahead from mum and dad to do parkrun on Christmas day AND Boxing day, which got me a few steps closer to my 100th parkrun. Christmas day had a large turn out, with everyone in good spirits and most in festive attire. Boxing day was slightly quieter, even though it was a usual parkrun day, which I thought was odd but I guess we were suffering from the excesses of the day before. I certainly indulged over Christmas but refused to feel guilty for it. I started to feel guilty on the 2nd January when I was still eating mince pies, but that's by the by. Running certainly helped me to feel a little better about my choices and the fresh air was most welcome!
I'm not sure about the santa hat and Hawaiian shirt combo
Christmas day parkrun, number 96
New Year was low key, barely making it through to midnight after a last minute meal out and bottle of bubbly, and just as well really as I tackled the New Years Day double of parkrun, starting with Bracknell at the usual 9am and then nipping over to Woodley for 10:30am. Ever the troopers, my parents came out in support, and even got roped into marshalling at Bracknell! I ran with friends, got pushed to sprint finishes and got quicker over the two events. All of which meant that on Saturday 2nd January I ran my 100th parkrun! Some very dear friends came over from Newbury in support, mum and dad were out again, bless them, and I managed to match my time from the day before despite chat and far worse conditions (although not as bad as had been predicted). I'd made cake, which was dutifully demolished and we all went away a little happier.
First medal of the year
I only had a few hours work between Christmas and New Year and lovely as it has been to have so much time off, it's been great to get back into a routine and finally get my head around which day and date it is! It was a joy to see my RunFitUK group again on Tuesday and also to start a new exercise class for beginners. I was quite nervous in the run up to it but the first session has gone well and I'm feeling really positive about it now.

I've managed to do something active every day so far this year, whether that be a run, metafit, or a walk. It may not sound like a lot but it's made me feel better to get out of the house even for a stomp around the lake and to move my body in this time of hibernation and grotty weather. It's also helped me to achieve the 20.16km distance for my first virtual race of the year. It's also helped to stop me stagnating in advance of my first race of the year. This weekend I'm tackling the polar night half marathon in Norway. I'm not packed and my training hasn't been what it could or should have been but it'll be an adventure however I perform. I'm pretty confident I'll get round without too much trouble even though I haven't covered anything above 10 miles in training but what with ice, freezing temperatures and wind chill I'm sure it won't be close to my PB. I've bought a set of spikes for ice running and planned an outfit I hope will work as I heat up and cool down, I've got my krone and passport and just need to find all my cosiest gear for when I'm not racing.
Recent temperatures in Norway
So that's the start of my year. I've got half a dozen events to look forward to (to be revealed in due course) and a few new projects in the pipeline. 2016 is off to a good start and I'm excited about how it will unfold.

Are you a resolution maker/word for the year chooser? Did you stay active over the festive period? Are all the mince pies/Christmas foods eaten yet??

Monday, 4 January 2016

PURE Fast and Listen Food Coaching Course

Last year I was lucky enough to win a competition in Personal Trainer magazine for a place on a food coaching course run by dynamic American duo Robyn and Geoff Randolph from Pure Healthy Way. Robyn and Geoff have written a number of articles for PT magazine recently including this one on intermittent fasting, something I have learnt a lot about first hand recently.

The six-week ‘PURE Fast and Listen’ course was specifically targeted at professionals such as personal trainers, massage therapists, nutritionists and dieticians and was very much a "try it for yourself" approach. I'd been expecting it to be more of a book-based learning course but it was actually very hands-on, as you were expected to participate in changing your own approach to food and eating. The course provided information and tools on food coaching and education, increasing my awareness of subjects such as intermittent fasting and raw food cuisine, explaining how these food choices can impact on your lifestyles. It was delivered through a mix of videos, coaching and downloaded handouts which I found really easy to work through and revisit as and when needed.

Before the course started I had a phone call from Robyn to discuss the course, what I hoped to get out of it and whether I was right for it. Part of the course involves eating PURE for 21 days and a good two weeks were spent preparing us for those 21 days and what it would involve. In summary, for me, that meant no cow's dairy, refined sugar, gluten, caffeine, alcohol or grains (with some exceptions) and two days of fasting per week. I was particularly nervous about intermittent fasting at first, because I've suffered with sudden low blood sugar in the past and it's been quite scary but Robyn reassured me that she'd been through the same and that I had nothing to worry about.

Examples of meals I was eating and loving.

Spending so much time in preparation, changing my mindset from what I *couldn't* eat to focussing on what I *could* eat, and getting some strategies in place for socialising, meant that the 21 days were actually relatively easy. I built new habits, drinking lemon water first thing in the morning and barley grass shots three times a day. Small adjustments meant that I could still eat versions of my usual meals in most cases and I soon found that the sugar cravings, and in particular my cake habit, was no more.
A cake that was compliant, served with sheep's yogurt
I realised that a lot of the time I was eating "just in case"; having a snack in case I started to dip in the middle of a session or class at work, even though I wasn't hungry. I learnt to notice when I was sated and what sort of food my body actually needed. I was most surprised at how stable my blood sugar levels were but also how much speed and power I lost as my body adapted to burning fats for fuel rather than carbohydrates. Although I hadn't started this with any intention to lose weight I lost about 5kg and 2 inches from my waist. I felt brighter, looked leaner and wasn't thinking about food so much. I also no longer had my morning "sniffly nose" which has been a constant for months, which makes me think it is diet related. Indeed I didn't realise just how much better I felt eating this way until I stopped and reverted over Christmas!
After: you can just see a bit more definition on my stomach.
The coaching I got from Robyn was a huge help. We also had a Facebook group where all participants on the course could share experiences and ask questions. I was dubious about the whole thing, I'll admit, and while I don't think I've necessarily learnt anything new about food itself, I have learnt about a new approach to eating, more about coaching, and that actually trying these things for yourself is absolutely key. This isn’t a one size fits all approach but it has the potential to make a difference to a lot of people and to instil healthy habits for life.
I mentioned that I didn't keep this way of eating up over Christmas but I fully intend to re-incorporate elements of eating PURE into my life now the last mince pies have been banished from the house; starting the day with lemon water, having fasting days, cutting out most grains and refined sugars. I will have the occasional tea or coffee, but I've a good stash of caffeine-free teas I love that I drink most of the time, and limiting alcoholic drinks to the occasional glass of wine over dinner with friends or family won't be difficult. I'm looking forward to feeling better in my body again.

Have you ever tried cutting things out of your diet and did it make any difference to you? Whole30, Lean In 15, paleo, vegan or some other approach. I'd love to know what way of eating makes you feel your best.