Friday, 30 January 2015

Eat, Sleep, Train, Repeat

Another full on week! They just keep coming and although I keep meeting demands I'm craving a lie in or a day off. I've got a couple of weeks to go until I get a proper break. Can. Not. Wait.

Things that have kept me going this week include the emergency nakd bars I keep all over the place, lots and lots of herbal tea, nut butter (in porridge, puddings, curry and by the spoon), my lovely RunFitUK group and wonderful friends who fed me chilli and nachos.
Sometimes you just need nachos.
Training felt as though it took a bit of a back seat last weekend but in reality it was just done early so that the days were free for frivolity. And what frivolity that was. Saturday featured a wonderful lunch with one friend followed by watching the Colin Firth version of The Importance of Being Earnest, which I now declare to be one of my favourite films ever, and was followed up by drinks and dinner with my friend Alex, who I *should* have been doing Tough Guy with this weekend. Don't worry, neither of us are doing it, I've not left her in the lurch. Sunday afternoon was spent with my favourite 14-year-old playing guitar and ukulele, watching How To Train Your Dragon 2 and eating fajitas. I'm not sure it gets an awful lot better.

In the last seven days I have run approximately 34 miles, cycled around 39 miles, had my swimming lesson and managed a kettlebells class when I really didn't think I had it in me. I've also been on a bike maintenance course but more on that another time. In the moments in between, as those of you who follow me on twitter may have noticed, there has been a lot of studying. I've got three papers to submit before a workshop in three weeks time and I've just finished one of them. My mind is easier having completed one but there's still a way to go.

Staying with the theme of study, today I'm learning how to be a metafit instructor. I'm really looking forward to it and I'll be sure to let you know how I get on; I love metafit classes so it'll be fun to be on the other side!

This weekend I'm going to be doing a bit of parkrun tourism at Newbury and taking part in the London Winter Race. Next week I'm away for a couple of days for Alex's wedding so posts may be a little thin on the ground. I get a tiny break from training but I sure as hell won't be resting!

What sees you through the more "full on" phases of life? 

Monday, 26 January 2015

Wikd Bars

One of my Christmas presents was Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s Light & Easy cookbook. It's a fine book and I've made a few things from it already; the rhubarb and orange smoothie being a particular hit. One of the other recipes I was keen to try sooner rather than later was his Morning Tea Slice. These are essentially nakd bars; raw fruit and nuts blitzed together with some orange juice until they start to become friends.
My version with dates and cherries.
So I made some and declare that they are very good indeed. My version included some dried cherries because I didn't have enough apricots. My mum also made some, using prunes instead of dates because she accidentally gave all her dates to me. Both versions have been shared around friends and family, in person and by mail, and everyone has loved them. Even my dad. We've dubbed them "wikd bars". They make excellent snacks for work, solid substitute breakfasts and great post run fuel.
Mum's version, with prunes
You can find the recipe here, there's little point me reproducing it in this post. Points of note though, I used a square silicon "tin" and found I needed all the juice from the orange. You can get millet flakes from Holland & Barrett if nowhere else and you don't *need* to use unsulphered apricots if you don't want to fork out for them. I cut my batch into 12 squares but really they were a bit too big. These are pretty filling and next time I'll cut them into at least 16. The mixture only takes 10 minutes to put together and they keep really well too.

We've already started discussing variations for future batches. Perhaps subbing some apricots for cranberries and using cranberry juice instead of orange. Maybe replacing some of the millet flakes with ground almonds and apricots with cherries. A couple of spoons of cocoa and a few drops of mint extract.
I adore nakd bars and will still be buying them. the rhubarb and custard, cherry bakewell, gingerbread and banana bread ones are my faves, in case you ever want to buy me some, but I do enjoy making my own version too.

Friday, 23 January 2015

HIIT & Run (& Swim)

In the last seven days I have been to HIIT and kettlebell classes, swum twice and run approximately 26 miles. Some of that was at the Lakeside Canal Run, some at my 70th parkrun, some on the treadmill and some on the roads around my office. I've also seen two films at the cinema so I think that counts as a balanced week.

In case you're wondering I saw The Theory of Everything (beautiful film) and Taken 3 (first 1/3rd is mostly people being served drinks and not drinking them, second 1/3rd is mostly a big car chase and the last 1/3rd third is mostly people getting shot). I also saw a wonderful sunrise. That tops almost any film.
Luckily swimming seems to be the one thing I can reliably get up early for, even on a cold Monday morning. I made the effort to get a bit of practise in but trying to practise tumble turns in a public session isn't the easiest. I did get to feel virtuous for the rest of the day though. I had lesson number three yesterday in which I was praised for my progress with tumbles.

Wednesday was a tough day. I felt as though I'd been trampled by a herd of buffalo but somehow managed to disengage my brain enough to do my 90 minute run and HIIT class. The HIIT and kettlebell classes weren't part of my training plan but I'll soon be teaching both so wanted to get some more experience under my belt. I'd not actually done a HIIT class before and I'm a little rusty with the bells so I'll be getting as many of these under my belt as possible and practising at home in the next 4-5 weeks. I'm also trying to make Very Important Decisions about gym branded clothing. There are so many options, tech/non-tech, colours, weights... Although it seems the cool pups are wearing navy this season.
I forget that this happens with kettlebells
The gym dog being cute.
Unfortunately parkrun 71 won't be run this weekend, I just won't have time to fit that in as well as my bike session before social plans need to be met. Indeed there are plenty of fun and exciting things afoot this weekend. Meetings, lunch and dinner plans with friends and another afternoon hanging out with my favourite 14-year-old.

Oh yes and I've also been studying. It's fair to say that I'm finding this module, Exercise Referral, the toughest yet. I've had to take myself out of the house to avoid distractions in order to get through all the reading and Waitrose's cafe with free hot drink has really come into it's own!
Study aid.
So that's my week. Maybe I'll manage a rest day soon! Where do you go to avoid distraction? Seen any good films lately?

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Event Review : Lakeside Canal Run

Last Sunday I took part in the confusingly named Lakeside Canal Run in Frimley Green. If any of you follow the darts (no? You surprise me) then you will know that the world darts tournament was recently hosted at the Lakeside complex in Frimley Green. It was from here that the race started with the route being mostly along the Basingstoke Canal; hence the name.

I was given the heads up on this event by Debbie. As it was local, inexpensive, not too long a distance and had the promise of seeing friends I was easily swayed to enter. My regular parkrun used to be Frimley, which uses part of the canal path as it's route, and I've run with friends along other parts of the canal as well so I'm relatively familiar with the area. It was going to be rather fun.

The weather was drizzly as I drove the 25 minutes to Frimley. I was pleasantly surprised to find masses of parking a stones throw from the start line and a very efficient registration desk. I caught up with the lovely Helen from twitter and sheltered from the rain in my car a while. In an attempt to remain cheery I reasoned that at least I'd get a chance to test out the hood on my new running jacket.
Failing to remain cheery.
At a very civilised 10am we were off; firstly along roads and then through some woodland before reaching the canal path around about mile three. Although there were plenty of puddles and muddy bits there was also a lot of fairly hard packed ground, allowing me to maintain a pace I would have been happy with in a road race... that coaching is paying off! There were enough slippery sections to make me wonder if anyone had fallen in as I witnessed once at parkrun. I had a bit of a wobble at mile 6, probably more psychological than anything, being used to 10k races and all, but was still over taking people in the last two miles. Coming off the canal path and back onto roads in the last mile it really was downhill nearly all the way to the finish line. Happy, smiling, slightly muddy, I was cheered over the line by purple patch runners.
I don't look as muddy in this picture as I actually was.
What struck me was how lovely, friendly and local this event was. I'm not sure how many entrants there were but probably just a few hundred, the majority in club vests or showing affiliation to various social groups. The route was incredibly well marshaled and signposted with water at mile three, perhaps a little early in the course but welcome none the less. The goody bag was very acceptable too, with chocolate, sweets, shampoo and a couple of other bits and pieces. It was nice to get a medal, my first of the year, and a results print out was available as soon as we crossed the line. The only criticism I have is that there wasn't a tea or coffee van at the finish. I lost count of how many people voiced a craving for a hot drink after such a cold run.

I would absolutely enter this race again. It reminded me how lovely local events can be. The race calendar can seem a little empty in January so this was a fun way to keep in the swing of things. It was only £17 to enter in advance, which I think is very reasonable, I don't think twice about entering a 10k for that sort of money so it felt as though I got two bonus miles!
Hoodies aid recovery don't you know? As do home made energy bars.
Are there any local races near you in January? Have you earned your first medal of the year yet? If not, what will be your first event?

Monday, 19 January 2015

This Girl Can: Healthy Debating

There’s been a lot, and I mean loads, of talk about the This Girl Can campaign that’s been launched recently. The aim of the campaign is to “inspire women to wiggle, jiggle, move and prove that judgement is a barrier that can be overcome.” It’s also a “celebration of active women up and down the country who are doing their thing no matter how well they do it, how they look or even how red their face gets.”
Lots of my fellow, female, fitness fanatic friends have been quick to shout about how great this is, to tweet, blog and generally be all enthused. My own reaction has been positive too. It seemed as though finally there was a campaign focused on a positive body image and self-esteem, un-related to a specific company (such as Dove) with something behind it to actually help and encourage women to get active. I enjoyed the video and seeing it sparking so many conversations. So much better than all the health and fitness magazines that appear to be positive on the face of it but quite often are just perpetuating the negatives with all the “banish belly-fat” and “get a six-pack” headlines, accompanied by pictures of slinky women or ripped men.

But I’ve also had an interesting conversation with a particular friend about the campaign.

The opening gambit was that if men had started the campaign, it would have been classed as sexist and tarred with the #everydaysexism brush. A number of other questions were raised in our discussion. With so many more active men in the UK than women is it really all about body image and self-confidence? How much of it comes down to upbringing, choice or resources? Should there be a similar campaign aimed at men? There’s a bias towards women in group activities and a bias towards men in team sports so should we be addressing that instead? There was a feeling that it was too focussed on gender, rather than body image as a whole. Should we be aiming for greater equality overall?

A lot of food for thought and some very interesting questions. Before I go any further let's be clear that I am *for* the campaign but it's never a bad thing to have some discussion.

My first thought was that if women felt comfortable and confident enough to go out and get involved with sports and exercise then would these campaigns exist at all? Probably not, so it is addressing a real and particular issue. I think it's *incredibly* hard to untangle body image and gender issues but this *is* a campaign about getting *women* active and it seems to be sparking the right sorts of conversations. I completely accept that men also experience issues with body image and being judged. I’ve had conversations with men about how they too feel intimidated in the gym, even when they go with a friend. Maybe there should be a similar campaign for men. Are men moved by these sorts of campaigns in the same way that women are though? Possibly not. Almost certainly not using similar language. “This Boy Can”?

When it comes to getting women active specifically I do think that certainly a significant barrier is body image and self-confidence. The campaign is a good start but ideally this is an issue that needs to be addressed from many angles. Health, fitness and lifestyle magazines are a part of that. Their content is driven, to a certain extent, by demand so maybe it won’t be until we follow up our words with actions and stop consuming these magazines that we will change how the body is portrayed in the media. Perhaps then little by little we can change society’s attitudes and illusions.

Alongside the issue of body image there are many other things that contribute to someone being less active. Choice, facilities, upbringing. I have no data to back this up but I’m fairly sure that most women don't have the same experiences of sport in their youth as men do and that has an impact. It’s still the norm that women are the primary child-raisers in society and as such find barriers to exercise like childcare to be more difficult to overcome. Of course a large number of "inactive" women may well choose not to do anything but there will be a large number who can't because of lack of childcare facilities, finances and so on.

When it comes to gyms, classes and swimming, women certainly have more options available to them in terms of gender-specific sessions and there more women-focussed team sports opportunities these days too. But how much does this help?  If we think about getting the population as a whole more active would men-only swim sessions and classes be of benefit? Positive discrimination is still discrimination at the end of the day but is it something we have to endure in the short term to achieve equality?

I don’t claim to have any answers or real conclusions; ultimately anything that provokes discussion and debate is useful. My final thought on this though is, as with so many things, why can't we all just be kind and helpful to each other? Then none of this would be relevant.

Friday, 16 January 2015

Tea, Tumbles and Anticipation

It's been one of those weeks that's felt never-ending and far too short all at the same time. The weekend, wonderful as it was seems all too far away now. Which is a shame as it was a particularly good one. On Saturday, after a blustery parkrun and a 90 minute bike session in the gym, I took my dad for a "Gentleman's Afternoon Tea" at the Athenaeum up in London. Definitely reclaimed any lost calories from the morning.
His first course
Mine! All mine!
It's been a bit of an easier week this week in terms of training... not that it might look that way from the numbers! But I'm racing at the weekend and so it's mostly been front loaded (although I'll probably sneak in parkrun on Saturday morning). I have an ambition of getting to 100 parkruns before the end of the year. I've done 69 so far (stop giggling at the back) so I reckon it's pretty achievable.
Rocking the sleepy windswept look after parkrun.
In the last seven days I've run 27.75 miles, cycled approximately 30 miles on the stationary bike and had my second swimming lesson. The half dozen guys in the next lane, although they thought they were the biz, were splashing about like nobody's business. It was all I could do not to suggest they join our class... But in terms of my own swimming, I'm feeling a lot more able with crawl already and have managed tumble turns in the shallow end without cracking my head. I'm going to make the effort to practice during the week but it'll be tricky as I'm working away from my usual office for two days and as yet I've no idea what my training will look like as my coach hasn't yet loaded up my next set and it's been driving me nuts! I'm a planner, I have several things I want to get booked up but I need to know what I've got to work around.

In lieu of Tough Guy I've been trying to enter the London Winter Run but the discount code I have won't work with the entry system despite Human Race insisting it's still valid. As I'm now classed as a late entry the price is fairly high for a 10k (snow zones aside) and so I'm pretty keen to save few quid! I just hope they can sort it soon. On the subject of races, the responses from my poll on Monday about whether I should enter another three ranged from "all of them" to "the free one" and included a concern that I might have to actually drop out of some I'm already doing. Not if I can help it! I think I will be taking on the Leith Hill Half and will probably discuss the others with my coach. If I had to choose between the 10k and the triathlon I'd pick the triathlon.

So that's been my week. Tempo run to do today and a quiet weekend. What achievement has made you happy this week?

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Swimming Lessons as an Adult

When I started telling people that I was planning to have swimming lessons the declaration was met with some surprise. "But I thought you could swim?" Yes I can swim but I can't swim well. Or more specifically I can't swim front crawl (or "freestyle") well. I can quite happily swim a mile with breaststroke but no more than six lengths of front crawl on a good day.

Since I’ve enjoyed my triathlon and open water experiences to date I thought I might try out some lessons to see if I could improve my technique. There are lots of websites offering advice on drills and so on and even my coach attempted to give me swim drills but honestly I found it all a bit daunting and disheartening. I’d rather have someone explain things to me in person, in a language I can understand, at least initially.

My gym membership includes the use of a centre on the other side of town that has a pool. I sometimes go to the early morning swim sessions in an attempt to better myself and noticed some time ago that they do adult swimming lessons. So I phoned up and discovered they had one of these "new year, new you" deals on so I booked a block of 16 sessions before I had a chance to change my mind.

I turned up to my first lesson last week, with four other ladies of varying ages and abilities, feeling pretty nervous and fully expecting it to be a hideous and humiliating experience. Just to make matters worse my instructor turned out to be a rather lovely chap called Courtney. I was going to be impressing no one. I had a quick chat with C poolside to outline my aims then it was into the water to flounder through a few lengths so he could see what he was starting with. He didn't point and laugh so that was a good start. In fact C is the king of constructive criticism and gentle feedback. Over the course of the next half hour I got lots of pointers about hand positioning, arm motion, and even an introduction to tumble turns. I left feeling pleased as punch, already feeling some improvements.
This is what "pleased as punch" looks like.
My lessons work out at £3 for a half hour class with the introductory offer (normally £6.25 a class) and while half an hour doesn't sound like long it was plenty of time for C to give us all some individual instruction and time to practice. Ideally I'll be going to the pool to practice between lessons but I know that's not always going to be possible. I'm just glad to have found a class and instructor I like and I'm looking forward to being able to swim front crawl in a race environment.

Have you taken swimming lessons as an adult? Beginner or improver? What advice would you give to someone thinking about starting lessons?
Post swim cosiness... soon I'll get to sport a Team Bear swim cap too!

Monday, 12 January 2015

Requesting Your Opinion On My Race Plans

As I mentioned in my post on Friday, I had a hard time making the decision to postpone Tough Guy. Alex and I haven't decided when we'll tackle it but I imagine it'll be October time. But even though I've postponed the event I will still be racing that day, in the London Winter Run, which I'd wanted to do but of course couldn't. This also has the added bonus of being a race that a lot of people I know are taking part in and I get a rare chance to meet up with a good friend.

The decision to run the London Winter Run was a pretty easy one but I've also got my eye on three other races and I'm not sure whether to enter them or not. I'd like your advice please!

My current list of events is as follows:
January - Lakeside Canal Run
April - Brighton Marathon (my "A" race)
June - Endure24, Dinton Aquathlon
July - Ultra12
September - Tiree Ultra, Marathon du Medoc, Equinox24
October - (Tough Guy)

I'm also considering the Leith Hill Half (March), Royal Berkshire 10k (May), Bridge Triathlon (standard distance June). I would get free entry into the Leith Hill Half because I marshaled last year and I had my eye on the Royal Berkshire 10k last year. I've not yet got a triathlon in the diary this year and it would be nice to test out my hopefully improved swimming and cycling skills.

So, the question is... which should I do? All of them? Some of them? Or none of them? Discuss.

Friday, 9 January 2015

Enthusiasm, Agonising and Decisions

My first Friday round up of the New Year and there was me thinking I'd not have much to write about... how wrong I was!
Misty morning run
I've hit all my training sessions in the last seven days which amounts to 27.5 miles worth of running, 12 miles on the bike and some strength exercises as well as my first swimming lesson. I'll have a separate post about that next week so stay tuned if you want to know how I'm getting on (hint: I've not drowned). I've been managing to eat more healthily too and feeling rather virtuous for it. I got Hugh F-W's Light and Easy cookbook for Christmas and I've been making a few things from there already. The rhubarb and orange smoothie is a particular favourite and I found another recipe for apple and cashew pudding to stem the dessert cravings (pictured below).
I'm about half way through the reading material for my Exercise Referral module, the last one in my diploma, and getting more nervous by the minute. There's so much to learn! I'm going to need a second pass at some of the more technical chapters but I have until the end of February to do so. Before then though I'll be attending a metafit instructor course in London with a view to being able to teach classes in the not to distant future. I love attending these classes at BoxBellFit so I'm pretty psyched!

That enthusiasm has bubbled over into my race diary. No I *haven't* booked any more events recently but there was a call for everyone in Team Bear to update the team calendar with the events they're doing this year. I'm up to date on that but I was having a browse to see if there were any I could support at and I started to get a serious case of Fear Of Missing Out. But I stopped and thought for a moment... why? I'm doing some big events this year, I'm doing at least one that another team member is taking part in, so what was it? I finally realised that I'd seen a lot of chat about a couple of events where the team were entering en masse and I really wanted to be part of that, and I think I found a solution but I'll save that for another post.
Post run glow
Speaking of events I've been agonising over whether to go ahead and do Tough Guy since Alex announced that she was pulling out (well it is 4 days before her wedding). My reasons for wanting to do it:
- to prove I can
- to face my fears
- to not look weak
- because I said I would
- to raise money for charity

My reasons for not wanting to do it:
- not having anyone else to do it with and hating OCRs on my own
- fear of hypothermia
- being nowhere near where I need to be strength wise
- wanting to do it with Alex because she's the one that talked me into it originally
- wanting to support Alex in the event when we *do* do it together (I ain't doing it twice)

But I finally decided to postpone to a future event and it's somewhat of a relief. In fact that's what we're both going to do, although which future event is yet to be decided. I still have Brighton Marathon as part of my fundraising and I'm confident I'll hit my target with that.

So that's the first week of the year. If this one's anything to go by it's going to be a corker of a year! How's your first week been? Would you have made the same decision about Tough Guy?

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Ultra Running in the Press

Earlier this week I read this article about the growing popularity of ultra running in the UK. It's not often I see something about longer distance running in the press so it piqued my interest and I thought it was a good feature.

Ultra running does seem to have become more prominent in recent times but I wasn't sure whether it was just because I'm vaguely involved in "the scene" that I had that impression; in the same way that once you buy a car you start seeing lots of the same model around. Since completing Gatliff last year I can call myself an ultra runner, without any of the qualifications that people sometimes put on other distances such as "if you didn't run the whole thing you can't say you're a marathon runner". It's true what they say in the article about it being less about the time and more about the achievement.

A lot of runners I know talk about wanting to complete certain races or distances as part of new year resolutions but they almost always attach a time to this. Ultra running allows you to focus on the ability of the body in a different way. The camaraderie is amazing, you get to see some beautiful places and it can remind you of the simple joy of running. Depending on how much of a kit fiend you are.

In the past I've done a lot of 10k and half marathon running. This year I have three (or four depending on how well I run) ultras in the calendar in addition to two marathons. Marathon des Sables crosses my mind every now and again too... I didn't think I would enjoy distance running as much as I have done. I don't go and knock out 20+ mile runs every week but I know I'm capable of it. And I still respect the distance; if I think too hard about it I get quite scared. Most of the time though it sounds too far to be real and you tackle it piecemeal. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.

I'm not suggesting everyone should now go and sign up for ultras, nor that setting goals around shorter distances isn't worthwhile. Far from it. But it's nice to see ultra running getting a bit more coverage and if you already run longer distances it might be something to think about.

And may I also take the opportunity to mention Like The Wind Magazine, who are also referred to in the article. I've read every issue so far and it's a refreshing change from the Women's Running and Runners World style of magazines. More stories, more art work, less training plans. It's full of people sharing their love of running and very inspiring.

Monday, 5 January 2015

New Toys! My RunFitUK Equipment Bag

So this week it's back to the day job and back to coaching RunFitUK in Bracknell. I have loved the sessions so far and I'm really looking forward to making it bigger and better as the weeks progress.

Of course it's the people that make these what they are; I've got a fantastic group and it seems that the harder I make it, the more they enjoy it. To a point of course, as long as there's a fun element! In weeks gone by we've had chocolate relays, the discovery of "pirate faces" and some hilarity pretending to be reindeer. And all this with minimal kit. There's an awful lot you can do to improve strength, agility and balance without equipment but it's fun to ring the changes.

To that end I've taken advantage of the equipment pack hire for RunFitUK coaches and I've got a some lovely new toys for my group. I've got batons, ropes, resistance bands, cones and wobble boards! Now of course there are some very obvious ways to include these in the sessions but I'm looking forward to coming up with some more unusual ways too... bound to be more fun!
Brace yourselves gang!

Friday, 2 January 2015

Welcome to 2015

Happy New Year everyone! Hope you spent NYE the way you wanted to and that you're full of enthusiasm for 2015.

It was so lovely to have some time out over Christmas and New Year. I still did a fair bit of running but found some nice chunks of time between socialising and eating where I could relax and recharge. For the last few years, rather than make resolutions, I've done Susannah Conway's Journalling exercise. It helps me to reflect sensibly on the past year and get some clarity on what I want for the coming year. Last year my word was possibility. This year it's soar. I associate a sense of freedom, excitement and ambition with that word and it gives me a little buzz so it felt like the right one.

Having said I don't make resolutions, I have made two this year.
1) Phone my friends more often
2) See more live music (especially locally)

In more general terms in the coming year I've decided that I want to work on my strength. I've been feeling a little sluggish since the beginning of December, which I put down to the number of chocolates and glasses of wine I've consumed. Whilst browsing my old photos I found these which are serving as my inspiration for the coming year. Though maybe without the anemia this time.
I will also be taking swimming lessons (in anticipation of future triathlons) and continuing to get coaching from Performance Coaching. I have 6 races booked and at least one more to be booked but no triathlons. If it stays like this then I'll be able to keep my promise to my mum about only entering 8 events (all be it a year late) and stand a better chance of performing well. I have 3 holidays booked and hopefully time and money enough for another couple of short city breaks. My current studies will finish in March but I'm considering taking a Triathlon Coaching qualification and thereby maintaining my status as eternal student.

Of course I'll be back to RunFitUK and trying to progress my own PT business. There are a few exciting opportunities on the horizon and I intend to make the most of them. I'll keep you up to date on all that as it unfolds.