Friday, 27 February 2015

What is a "Weekend"?

I spent last weekend at the University of East London, specifically it's Sports Dock, taking part in the workshop for my Exercise Referral course. Three full days in a place designed for sports and study? Bliss! I've been to UEL previously for my Kettlebells course and it was a joy to be back there. I find it a pretty inspiring place and there's always something going on. Thanks to good flow of traffic I arrived an hour early on Friday and spent some of that time watching Basketball practice. Other days featured badminton, volleyball and the cricket team hovering around. There was even a gospel choir about the place on Sunday.
Two of the days were fairly book heavy, (re)learning about numerous medical conditions and the benefits of exercise for both prevention and as part treatment as well as the considerations for designing exercise or activity programmes. It could have been really dry but my tutor was engaging, enthused and entertaining so it was fun. Apart from the fact he got so carried away we didn't always get a break mid morning or afternoon. Cue low blood sugar levels! The third day was mostly spent in the studio, designing and delivering circuits designed with different groups in mind. I got a bit dizzy from walking around in circles as part of the warm up but again, it was a good group and we had a bit of a giggle in the process.
As such I had precious little time for my own training. I've had to cut short or skip one or two sessions so in the last seven days I have only managed one swim, one strength session, 5 miles running and 24 miles on the bike. Gosh I can't remember the last time I only run 5 miles in a week! I've yet to run my session today and I'm running both days this weekend too so next week's numbers will be much higher. Sometimes life just happens.
Speaking of which I get to actually experience a weekend this week (yay!). I'm being all sociable tonight, seeing family for dinner tomorrow and taking my godson to the cinema on Sunday. Loverly.

RunFit Bracknell was extra special this week as we got a visit from HQ. Cassie had only ever seen our location in photos and knew my group only via Facebook so it was lovely to show her how we do things. Apparently I've got a bit of a reputation for the use of themes and foodstuffs in my sessions so she was a bit disappointed to have missed pancake week but it was suggested that she comes back for St Patrick's Day or Easter. We also got to have a bit of a chat about things like RunFit's involvement in the forthcoming RMR retreat (very excited about that) and other developments. I'm really proud of my group and it's a joy to be involved in RunFit so it was big thumbs up and enthusiasm all round.
Aside from RunFit, training and the day job, the next couple of weeks are going to feature a fair bit of writing. In four weeks time I'm back at UEL for my assessment so I'll be working on my portfolio for that in the next week or two while it's all still fresh in my mind. In addition I'm writing a couple of articles and trying to get ahead on session plans. Although all this keeps me busy it doesn't really feel like work, which is wonderful.

Is there anything you do that should feel like work but doesn't? When did you last go "back to school"?

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

What Value Do You Put On Health?

I spent a lot of time over the weekend becoming familiar with a range of medical conditions, such as Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), diabetes, arthritis and depression, and the considerations that I would need to have when designing a workout for people with these conditions. What became clear very quickly was that exercise was beneficial to just about everyone but more importantly was terribly important as part of prevention measures as well. It's medically proven that people who do regular physical activity have:
  • up to a 35% lower risk of coronary heart disease and stroke 
  • up to a 50% lower risk of type 2 diabetes 
  • up to a 50% lower risk of colon cancer 
  • up to a 20% lower risk of breast cancer 
  • a 30% lower risk of early death 
  • up to an 83% lower risk of osteoarthritis 
  • up to a 68% lower risk of hip fracture 
  • a 30% lower risk of falls (among older adults) 
  • up to a 30% lower risk of depression 
  • up to a 30% lower risk of dementia
The NHS website gives some fantastic information on how much exercise we should be taking as a minimum and there are some great initiatives like Change 4 Life.

There are so many reasons why we, as a nation, move less than we used to. We have more sedentary work and an abundance of labour saving devices but many people quote lack of money as a reason not to exercise. I completely understand this. There are huge financial demands on many of us these days and coughing up money for a gym membership, classes or a personal trainer can feel like an unnecessary luxury.

I'd like to try and re-frame that a little. Now what I'm going to say next will not apply to everyone. Some people genuinely do not have money to spare; this does not preclude them from exercise but they may need to be a bit canny about it. I'll likely write another post on that sometime. However there are people who will think nothing of spending a few hundred pounds on a handbag, a pair of boots, games consoles or on a nice suit. There might be a little thought before handing over the credit card but probably not too much. Ask someone to spend that same money on a personal trainer, a gym membership, a piece of exercise equipment and it's a different story, usually "I can't afford that".

In reality it's a matter of priorities. These purchases are sometimes seen as investments, there's something tangible in return for your money. Spending that sort of money on a gym membership, a PT, club membership or the like can feel very different as there's little to show for it. But spending that sort of money on your health is far more of an investment than buying that handbag. It seems ludicrous that we should put a higher value on material things (within reason) than on our own health. What point is there in having the flash car when your back hurts too much to drive it?

I'm not suggesting that you should stop all frivolous spending but maybe consider spending in a different way occasionally; put your chocolate spend towards a class for one week perhaps. That £200 you could spend on something material or frivolous could perhaps get you half a dozen PT sessions or a few months gym membership, depending on your location. Perhaps a couple of pairs of trainers or new sports kit. A handful of exercise DVDs (self-motivation not included) and a few pieces of basic kit, all available to order online and delivered to your door, which perhaps isn't quite in keeping with what I'm trying to encourage but you get the idea.

So my point is this. Moving is good for us. It doesn't have to be expensive but it should be a priority.

Monday, 23 February 2015

Bracknell parkrun

It's official, parkrun is coming to Bracknell! 
Parkrun is going from strength to strength with new locations launching just about every week, or so it seems, in the UK and overseas alike. Some parts of the country have a higher density of events than others and I'm inclined to think that I'm in one of the luckier areas with my two nearest parkruns being 20 minutes drive away and another two or three within 30-40 minutes drive. 

I'd heard a rumour that work was in progress to bring two parkruns to the area, one in Ascot and one in Bracknell. I've yet to hear anything more about Ascot but I've heard that although the Bracknell event is yet to appear on the events page it will be launching on April 4th. Even better it's going to be less than two miles from my front door! 

There's a "test" parkrun on Saturday 21st March at 1pm which I hope to attend but nothing will stop me from being at the inaugural event either as a runner or a volunteer. I'd also like to get a few of the RunFitUK  Bracknell Team together and use it as a way to show them just how much they're improving (insert proud face emoticon here).

If you're local to the area or just fancy a bit of parkrun tourism, keep an eye out for the Bracknell parkrun and indeed other new events wherever you are.

Friday, 20 February 2015

Puddings, Pancakes and Lessons Learned

It's difficult to remember whether I'm coming or going at the moment. A week of working from home followed by a four day weekend and a two day work week with a few 6am starts will do that to a person I suppose.
Beautiful sunrises make up for early mornings
As a result, when I totted up my training for the past seven days I was astonished to discover that I'd run approximately 32 miles and managed one metafit class and my swim lesson (helped by the fact I remembered my swim suit this week). Not bad for someone who feels as though they've done nothing for ages.

Or rather for someone who feels as though all they did at the weekend was sit around and eat pudding and chips. Actually I did do a fair bit of that. I had a couple of days break at the home of The Pudding Club in the Cotswolds. I wasn't there for club night but I did sample some of the puds, stayed in the Summer Pudding themed room and had some very enjoyable time out. I also met a man who commutes an hour and a half from London every day to sell fudge. And blimmin' lovely fudge it was too!

I probably felt more inclined to ensure I was "properly fueled" whilst away after a rather poorly fueled 13 mile run on the Saturday that resulted in me feeling rather spaced out and inhaling smoothies, bagels and protein bars when I fell in the front door. You see I'd been lulled into a false sense of security. I've done a lot of around-two-hour runs lately but they've been quite slow. As a result I've been using less energy and using it in a different way to when I'm running at race effort. It was an important lesson to re-learn just seven weeks (SEVEN!) out from the Brighton Marathon. Gels/bars will now be carried on all two-hour-ish runs.

The foodie theme continued on Tuesday with it being pancake day of course. It was also Mardi Gras but I couldn't find any beads on short notice, nor any feathered costumes or marching bands so my RunFit group got off lightly with a pancake relay race. Much hilarity ensued.

Today I'm on the first day of a three day Exercise Referral workshop at UEL Sports Dock. I've been there once before and find it one of those facilities that really make you feel like part of something bigger. I'm not too sure how it's going to pan out, but I do know that after this I have four weeks to get ready for assessment. If I pass, that's my whole diploma done!

There's one more thing I've been up to this week that I've mentioned in passing on social media. I want to tell you about in more detail but I'll save it for a post next week...

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Race Organisation : Getting Involved with Barnes Fitness

If you are a runner, cyclist or triathlete in the Berkshire area, chances are you will be familiar with Barnes Fitness. Wife and husband duo, Ellie and Ian, are the force behind the wonderfully organised events such as Dinton Pastures 10k series and Dinton Duathlon as training clubs and group exercise sessions.

I've been curious about what is involved in organising events such as the Dinton 10k series and I'm about to become somewhat wiser. Ellie and Ian have kindly taken me under their wind somewhat and are giving me some insight into just what goes on behind the scenes. They have 12 events in the calendar this year and I will be helping out at all of them, save for the aquathlon, which I'll actually be taking part in. I'll get involved in set up, registration and anything else I can render myself useful for, both on the day and in preparation.

The first event I'll be at is the Cholsey Chase on the 15th of March, a 9 mile race located between Reading and Oxford. It's only £18 so if you're not busy, in the area and fancy a challenge, why not sign up? Come and say hi! I'll give you a hug and a high five.
Or perhaps if you want to be involved but aren't up to that sort of mileage why not volunteer yourself! Ellie and Ian look after their volunteers well and it's fantastic fun cheering people on as a marshal. If you've only ever been on the participant side of the fence it's well worth seeing what it's like on the other side of the fence, at least once. I speak from experience.

If you're interested to learn a bit more about what goes into making an event great then look out for other posts in this series further down the line. I won't be sharing a step-by-step or "how to" guide but I will share my experiences from time to time.

Have you ever marshaled or volunteered at a race? What did you do and did it give you a different take on your own race days?

Monday, 16 February 2015

Internet Findings : February

I thought it might be fun to do an occasional post on bits and pieces from around the internet that I've been drawn to recently. So here's a little round up of blogs, articles, podcasts and links to things I'm coveting. Enjoy!

Runner's World posted a really good article on dividing and conquering your long runs - a strategy I've used myself in the past to good effect.

Chrissie Wellington writes about juggling training and life. The take away from this, for me, was not to compare myself to others. I don't live the same lives so I won't have the same training plans. There are also some great tips on involving the family, ensuring you don't end up relying on convenience foods and making the most of the time you do have.

"focus on what you CAN do in the context of your life"

Finisterre have got some gorgeous lines at the moment. I had to retire my previous merino base layer but still don a pair of their merino pants for cold weather running. I'm lusting after the zephyr range at the moment, specifically this hoodie, but while we're at it I'll have the pants, vest, leggings and an Eddy long line too please!

I'm not the only one getting to grips with becoming a cyclist at the moment. Kimberley is also learning about repairs and maintenance. Check out her blog here.

The ever-fabulous Bangs and a Bun wrote a great piece about dealing with overwhelm, something that is quite relevant to me at the moment. She also does a wicked podcast, the latest of which is all about dealing with those things that weigh on you.

Found any cool articles lately? Link me up!

Friday, 13 February 2015

Burning The Candle At Both Ends

Little bit of catching up to do this week... I didn't post my usual "Friday Roundup" post last week because I was away at a wedding which not only separated me from my technology but also resulted in a light week in terms of training.

In the seven days up to and including Friday the 6th February I run just 15.5 miles and did one metafit class. I was scheduled to do an additional hours run and my swim class, both of which I had to skip. I did miss it, although the wedding was tiring enough, spread, as it was, over two days. We ate, drank, danced and laughed a lot; utterly marvelous. And I got a voucher for a monster truck ride as a thank you for being bridesmaid - how cool is that?!

This week I've been more on track with 26 miles of running, 19 miles of cycling, HIIT and kettle bells. By rights I should have done an additional bike session but for the sake of body and mind I ditched it in favour of study and rest. I have absolutely no regrets about this whatsoever, especially as the extra time allowed me to complete and submit the assignments required prior to my Exercise Referral workshop next weekend.

Next week is going to be a bit of an odd one. I've got a couple of days off for a get-away which throws my training out of kilter again and the sessions I have scheduled are vying for time with classes and general life. You know, cooking, working, sleeping... that sort of thing. I had to give myself a talking to the other day when I started to feel overwhelmed. I often put my head down and just plug away at everything, ticking off training sessions and commitments, not getting much downtime until I fall into bed. On realising I'd forgotten a family member's birthday I knew I wasn't coping quite as well as I thought I was and it was time to reassess the priorities. Something had to give.

A short-term priority is study, just until the end of March, with the longer term priority being work in all it's forms and the planning that goes with it. If I need to make time and space for rest and life then any volunteer duties will be first to go followed by training. Whilst my training can be almost meditative at times, if I'm regularly stressing about how I'm going to fit it in then that's not right. I'm serious about putting as much as I can into my performance this year, but if I need to ditch a session once in a while, as long as I'm being wise about it, then I'll be healthier in the long run. Case in point... I'm writing this at 4am thanks to my mind being busy with all the things I have to do and am apprehensive about.

So on that note, I'm going to try and grab a couple more hours sleep.

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

On Becoming A Metafit Instructor

For reasons that will become clear in due time I recently undertook a day course to become a metafit instructor. Metafit, for the uninitiated, is a "30 minute metabolic workout". The workout aims to change the resting metabolism by working big muscle groups with simple un-choreographed, high intensity intervals, inside of 30 minutes. It was developed by former Royal Marine commando Justin Corcoran who actually taught my group himself.
Metafit is one of my favourite classes these days. It's bloody hard work but I always feel great afterwards and I can get through knowing it's only 30 minutes. Well, actually it's 30 minutes including the warm up... the evil part ranges from 17 to 22 minutes... quite manageable. The idea is to go all out during that time though so you're spent by the end. There are lots of squat thrusts, burpees, walk out press ups and sprints. All things I dislike but want to be better at.

The course took place in London in a dance studio. There were only seven of us, two guys and five women, all at different stages in our fitness careers; as such it was great chatting to everyone. We started out by actually doing one of the latest releases, "Behind Enemy Lines". I'm rubbish at commando crawls and my get ups need some work but overall it was awesome. What I like about the classes is that they are such hard work you are entirely focused on getting through it. Even though we were working out in front of a mirrored wall I don't think I looked in it at all.
Dans la studio.
Similarly to Les Mills branded workouts, there are new releases every month. Unlike Les Mills the music is PPL free and the ongoing subscription for instructors is much lower. Also unlike Les Mills the instructor does not take part in the class. It is physically impossible to do the session and teach it. Just can't be done. Justin was constantly moving around the group reminding us to jump higher, make the moves bigger and PICK THOSE KNEES UP NOW! In the nicest possible way of course.
We learnt a lot about the origins of the workout, how to teach it effectively and practiced instructing some warm ups and mini-sessions ourselves. It was a lot of fun, and rather refreshing. Since the course I've been brushing up on all the moves and trying to put myself through a few sessions at home. That takes some will power I can tell you!

But you can now find me on the list of metafit instructors in the area and I'm looking forward to teaching for real.

Monday, 9 February 2015

Bike Maintenance Class

I am not a bike person. Despite having done a few triathlons a duathlon and one other cycling challenge I'm fairly clueless about bikes. I've owned various second hand hybrids over the years but when I bought my first road bike, despite the relatively small amount of money I spent on it, I was determined to learn how to look after it properly. Fast forward a few months and I've taken advantage of some cycle training provided by my local authority but I still really know next to nothing about the workings of the machine, or what to do if things go wrong.
I have a book on vehicle maintenance and have read several articles on how to fix a puncture but it's never sunk in. What I needed was some real-life demonstration and hands-on practice. There are quite a lot of bike maintenance classes around once you start to look. They range from free or cheap Council run initiatives to pricier evening classes. I looked at the offerings at my local bike store and council but couldn't make the dates so decided to try out the class offered by Evans Cycles.

The Evans Cycles FixIt! classes run regularly, last one hour and cost £15. You cover the real basics of bike maintenance and get sent home with a home maintenance starter kit worth over £15 and a training manual. You don't even need to take your bike along. My availability meant that I ended up in a women only class. I would have been just as happy in a mixed class but I know some women may feel more comfortable with asking questions in this environment.
Instructor Ella
Classes are kept quite small but there were only two of us booked in this particular evening. Our teacher was the lovely Ella, who was very friendly and approachable, she didn't assume we knew anything but didn't patronise us either; the tone was spot on. After the offer of a cup of tea we were shown into the workshop area of the store where a bike was set up in a stand ready for us to practice on. Ella went right back to basics, teaching us about the components of a bike and how to carry out your pre-ride or 'M' check before moving on to cleaning and re-lubing, changing an inner tube to fix a puncture and brake and gear adjustment (the thing I was most keen to learn). Plenty of demonstration and chances to try our hand at various tasks too.
Practicing adjustments.
As the class was so small we covered the material pretty quickly which left plenty of time for asking questions. I learnt how many lumens you need to see by (200 minimum), whether it's ever going to get any easier to get my feet into my toe clip pedals (no, I'm probably going to have to be brave and get cleats), how bike shoes differ with price and what all the cool kids are wearing in terms of hi-viz gear these days.

I left at the end of the hour feeling so much more confident. I now feel capable of fixing that annoying clicking noise my bike's been making and equipped to clean and look after it properly. This was a great introduction for the nervous cyclist and well worth doing. If you're a more competent cyclist then you probably won't get much from these sessions and would be better off looking at one of the more comprehensive courses on offer with another provider. I'd highly recommend checking out your local bike independent shop to see what they offer.
Goody bag
Have you ever taken a bike maintenance class or have you just picked things up along the way?

Thursday, 5 February 2015

Newbury parkrun

I enjoy parkrun. I've been parkrunning since 2010. I've completed 71 runs at 9 different venues and volunteered 10 times. This year I'm hoping to reach my 100th parkrun and so far it seems I'm right on track. My latest bit of parkrun tourism was at Newbury. I'd had this one in mind for a while, as it's my friend Debbie's local one and I'd been invited a few times. Finally we found a Saturday that worked for us all so it was game on! I met Debbie and her hubby, Steve, at their house which meant getting up even earlier than on a regular work day but it was absolutely worth it.

We'd had a dusting of snow overnight so there was some um-ing and er-ing about trail shoes vs road shoes but as the Newbury course is quite flat and mostly on hard packed paths road shoes were perfectly adequate. It's a single lap course, not something I come across very often and a very welcome change. It's also somewhat larger than my regular haunt boasting between 300 and 450 runners.
With a race the next day I was supposed to be taking it easy but my legs had lots of energy in them and a slight competitive edge came out. Debbie and I ran together for the most part until she pulled a sprint finish out of the bag. And I thought we were friends! But it was a good fast course, well marked and I thoroughly enjoyed the change.
Some expert photo-bombing in the background there.
One of the big attractions for a lot of people is the social aspect of parkrun. I must confess this is something that I often bypass. I generally go alone or have something to dash off to afterwards so it made a nice change not only to run with friends but to stop for coffee and a natter afterwards in the local caff, that opens just for us runners on a Saturday. I met the lovely Theresa from Miles Stronger, purveyor of barcode t-shirts, and ate the largest rock cake you ever did see. It was the first time I'd stayed for coffee after a parkrun and it's something I resolve to do more often in the future, even if that means being brave and introducing myself to people I don't know.
Second breakfast
I hear on the grapevine that a couple more park runs are starting up near me so I look forward to a little more parkrun tourism in due course. In the meantime I'll be going back to Newbury for Debbie's 100th parkrun in March so I'd best get working on my sprint finish... or would that be out of line?

Have you done any parkrun tourism? What's your favourite course? Do you stick around for socialising afterwards?

Monday, 2 February 2015

Event Review : London Winter Run

Sunday morning was bitterly cold, although it didn't look it from the safety my friend's flat, where I'd stayed the night in preparation for the London Winter Run. I'd been awake since 6am, paranoid I'd miss my 8am alarm and fretting about whether my overnight bag would fit in the luggage sack we'd been issued with (it didn't, the bag split but they were still kind enough to take it).
The London Winter Run had been widely advertised and promoted in the running cycles I'm part of. A 10k taking in the sights of London in aid of Cancer research with a super medal? Yes please! I'd been disappointed that it clashed with Tough Guy and when it became evident that I wasn't going to be doing that I jumped at the chance to enter. It was a bit of a trial getting my place in this event, and it wasn't cheap, but I persevered so that I could run with friends and in particular fellow Team Bear member Alexa. There was also a team from BoxBellFit and a lot of the RunFitUK crew taking part too so if I hadn't gotten in I'd have gone along to support anyway. Plus there was going to be gin and lunch afterwards so...

In the weeks leading up to the event plenty of information was emailed out and my pack arrived in the mail in good time. My start time was emailed to me with the assurance I could shift into a later group if need be. Just as well because trains into London wouldn't have gotten me there in time. As it was I crashed with a friend and it was a short bus and tube journey. The bag drop at Pall Mall and start line were dead easy to find; the marshals were knowledgeable but it was simple enough just to follow the crowds of people carrying pale blue bags. Bag drop was quick and easy and miraculously there were no queues for the loos.
Running buddies
The start line was a little chaotic. There was no way of checking who was in which wave but the organisers did a decent job of filtering us over the start line in smallish groups in an attempt to reduce congestion on the course. I did hear "Let It Go" a few too many times though... and the cold *was* bothering me! Out of the wind and in the crowds it wasn't so bad but I was desperate to get moving in order to warm up.

I hadn't really been sure how I was going to approach this event. Tough Guy was going to be one of my "A" races and although this was a pretty flat course I wanted to run with Alexa and enjoy the route. I'd paid enough after all! It was also pretty crowded by the time we got over the start line so I figured a PB wasn't on the cards and settled in to a social run. And what fun it was. The atmosphere was fantastic; lots of people in costume or charity vests, chirpy marshals and "motivators" all along the course as well as cute signs. The snow zones were kinda fun but felt a little half hearted. Passing the churches that had their bells peeling out was rather special though.
Look at us all! From the top of the London Eye (c) Human Race
The route was mostly an out and back course that took us past the Eye, St Paul's and in sight of many other London landmarks. If you wanted an iconic London event that wasn't a half or full marathon, this was pretty much the one for you. There was a water station around the half way point and lots of photographers so I fully expect some horrific photos to be made available to me at an extortionate price in the near future.
Photo by Alexa
Crossing the finish line to cheers is always fun and the polar bear hugs were a lot more welcome than I'd anticipated. A great way to get a bit warmer. Medals had to be hunted down a bit but boy is it a good'un! There was no goody bag but water and plenty of coco vita was on hand. A banana wouldn't have gone amiss though...
Photo by Alexa
Collecting our bags posed no problems and I think we all left in good spirits, if rather shivery. I kept adding layers throughout the afternoon and although the hot gin cocktails we had certainly helped I only really warmed up when I finally got home to a bath and a mug of tea.
Hot gin cocktail (you can tell it's medicinal, it's in a medicine bottle) and uber peanut brownie.
It was a fun day and a nice event but at £35 for early entry and £45 for late entries it was a bit pricey for my taste. Worth it perhaps for tourism purposes and of course for a good cause but I'm unlikely to enter next year. I've seen other reports that weren't overly impressed with the organisation; I thought it was really good, especially for the first of it's kind, and frankly I'd expect no less from Human Race. It was just a shame my entry process was turned into a bit of a shambles.

Here's to conquering the cold!