Friday, 31 July 2015

You Never Know What You Can Do Until You Try

Wednesday was my last day as an employee with Vodafone. It was a day of mixed emotions; relief, excitement, nerves and some degree of sadness. My work didn't always inspire me but I've always been fortunate enough to work with people I liked and despite being a fairly reserved person in the office I've made some very good friends.

As is tradition we went out for a leaving lunch and as this day coincided with a team meeting I used my allocated time to take my team through some strength and postural exercises that they could do at their desk without looking too obvious. I considered a HIIT class but it just wouldn't have been practical ;)

My journey home was unencumbered by laptop, phone or swipe pass. It felt rather odd but liberating as well. I had Thursday to myself and today I set off for a week in Yorkshire with some family. It's a perfect demarcation before I dive into the next adventure.
This has graced my fridge for quite some time
Although I've already been working as a PT and fitness instructor part time for several months I'm still fizzing about doing this full time. I know I will have less security, no sick pay or holiday pay, but I'm also looking forward to being able to give this my full attention, to get more creative with session plans, to learn more, to see the people I teach achieve things they perhaps weren't sure they could.
This is going to be my new mantra!
Because as the saying goes, you never know what you can do until you try.

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

This Girl Can Get RunFit

As someone who cares deeply about health and fitness I'm proud to live in the Bracknell Forest area. Our local council (BFC) do a lot of work to encourage the people who live here to look after their health via campaigns and initiatives, provision and promotion of facilities, schemes and clubs. We're also lucky enough to be part of the scope for County Sports Partnership, Get Berkshire Active (GBA).

This has meant that RunFitUK were able to apply for, and were lucky enough to get, one of the This Girl Can Festival Funds offered by GBA, to put on an event encouraging women to get involved in sports and exercise, giving them the opportunity to try things out, ask questions and find out more about opportunities in their local area. Alongside this, Bracknell Forest Council contributed some funding, enabling us to reach out to even more women!
Our festival took place on Sunday 26th July in Bracknell, near South Hill Park. We'd had lots of interest and were optimistic about the weather as we set up cones and kit for the RunFitUK taster session. Unfortunately, as people started to arrive, so did the rain and it was persistent throughout the morning.
Despite the weather we had a great turn out, and even had some ladies join us who were passing by on a run together. As tradition dictates, we started with a warm up and some dynamic stretching before demonstrating that anyone can do interval work, regardless of ability.
We moved on to some strength work followed by some balance and agility games, which had everyone laughing. Of course we finished off with some static stretches, adapting them to standing rather than floor-based versions.
Unfortunately the "Monday Mile" walk I'd had planned was rained off and after handing out goody bags we decamped to the South Hill park cafe for hot drinks, cakes, Q&A and some photos. Smiles withstood the rain and I'm looking forward to seeing some new faces on Tuesday nights at the Bracknell RunFitUK sessions.
Thanks to the funding we have been able to offer five free RunFitUK sessions to all those who signed up, and everyone is also invited to come along to the new Monday Mile walking group that has started meeting at Monday lunchtimes.
I want to say a big thank you to everyone who helped to make this possible: Get Berkshire Active, This Girl Can, Bracknell Forest Council, powered by Cupcakes and Sainsburys for our refreshments, Salming Sports and Laura Fountain for our competition prizes. Bounce Balls, nuun and Sweatshop for out goody bags and to South Hill park for letting a host of bedraggled, dripping runners take shelter in your cafe.

Monday, 27 July 2015

Vik's Picks : July 2015

Another month has flown around and it's time for another Vik's Picks! There's a definite foodie theme this month - only one kit mention but this is a true reflection of the things I have gravitated to in the last 30 days.

  1. I absolutely couldn't get away without mentioning Muscle Milk this month. This brand of protein shake helped me to refuel at Endure 12/50 recently and I've also used it as a base for smoothies on occasion. The fact it is pre-mixed made it really convenient at the race and I've particularly enjoyed the strawberry flavour.
  2. I've been cooking a lot with quinoa lately. Not quite as quick as cous cous but just as versatile, if not more so. I've added it to salads, used it as a base instead of rice or pasta and found a big batch to be a handy stand by for the fridge.
  3. A friend of mine gave me a few Primal Pantry bars to try a while ago and I must admit to being dubious about them, only because there are already plenty of bars that I enjoy and I don't follow a pale diet but I really enjoyed these, especially the cherry ones and since Box Bell Fit  tarted stocking them I'm never far from a fix.
  4. Another item I have been converted to are CEP Calf Sleeves. I've only ever used compression socks or sleeves for recovery but running in these at Endure 12/50 completely changed my mind about the effectiveness of running in compression. My legs have never felt so fresh either during or after a long run. And over the course of 40 miles I reckon that's a fair endorsement.
  5. My cook book of choice this month has been Jamie Oliver's second book, Return of the Naked Chef. I picked this up at a National Trust second hand book store and read it from cover to cover in the grounds cooking from it that same night. The salads have been particularly simple, tasty and inspiring... the malteser shake was also rather good
What have been your go-to items this month?

Friday, 24 July 2015

A Week Of : Dinners

As you may expect for the last in this mini-series, I'm now sharing a week's worth of dinners. I will admit that these haven't all been taken from the same week, mainly because I forgot to photograph some of my meals (I love my food and get stuck in, I make no apology for this) but this is a fair representation of a typical week.

Took dinner round to the lake with my friend Anita after we'd finished teaching and working out respectively. She added chicken to her dish instead of goat's cheese.
  • Quinoa, sweet potato, broccoli, wilted spinach, goats cheese and pumpkin seeds
Dinners don't have to be complicated. 
  • A  fried egg sandwich hit the spot after RunFit!

Delved into Hugh F-W's Light and Easy again for this lovely summery dinner.
  • Roasted carrots and plums on salad leaves with walnuts and goats cheese

Ate out at a local pub that does excellent food. I can't resist their chips (but I did share). I reckon I could have a fair stab at recreating the salad at home.
  • Three grain mixed salad with fennel, apple, celery, red onion, rocket and sultanas
  • Chips
  • Glass of Sauvignon Blanc (I'll admit to it even if not on show)
  • Orzo pasta, quorn fillet (chopped), wilted spinach, broccoli, sundried tomatoes, pesto
Lovely to have enough time to do a proper baked potato in the oven!
  • Baked sweet potato, green lentils, broccoli, goats cheese
  • Glass of Pinot Grigio
  • Easy peasy cheesy beans on toast!
So there we have it. By using variations on a theme you can easily rustle up some quick and healthy dinners from scratch. In the winter I freeze extra portions of my meals for days when I'm tight on time or feeling lazy but in the summer, a big batch of cooked veg will last me a few meals and I can serve with different things. Quick cook grains and tinned lentils are a godsend, and I always try and have a tin of beans or some eggs in the house for dinner emergencies.

Do you have a go-to dinner? Do you get to cook from scratch often?

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Event Review : Endure 12/50

After Equinox24 last year, my team mates and I discussed taking part in the Ultra12 event. With options to tackle 50 miles, 50k or as far as you could go in 12 hours either solo or in a team, there was something that appealed to all of us. When it came to it, only myself and one other former team mate signed up, both opting for the 12 hour solo event.
The name of the event got changed to Endure 12/50 and it occupied very few of my thoughts until about a month ago at which point I started to fret. You see I didn't really have a plan. The event was held at Beale Park in Pangbourne which is quite local and a place I'm familiar with, having run several 10ks there. The start time was a very respectable 7pm on Saturday, giving us 6 hours of daylight and 6 hours of darkness on the 5 mile course. So as I didn't have to travel far or get there early and was familiar with the terrain there was a certain sense of security about it all.

But of course this was completely new territory for me. I've taken part in 24 hours events as a team but that's very different to doing 12 hours on your own. Was I going to camp or sleep? What food and drink was going to work for me? What was my goal going to be? In a bit of a flap I voiced my concern on the Team Bear Facebook page and the lovely Rach unknowingly helped me to form my plan by asking my lots of questions. So my strategy was: aim for 40 miles (longest distance I'd ever have covered), pausing after each lap to re-fuel but essentially keep going without sleep. I would live out of my car rather than camp. I planned to get to site around 5pm, giving me enough to register but not too long to hang around on my own and my friend Debbie arranged to stop by to wish me luck and loan me her Dryrobe for keeping warm between laps.

On Friday night a cool bag was packed with sandwiches, pasties, fruit, protein shakes and an assortment of bars and gels. A kit bag was packed with iPod, a mini wash kit, head torches, three changes of kit and warm clothes for afterwards. I threw in my ultra vest and a spare pair of trainers for good measure. I planned to sleep, doze or just rest as much as possible on Saturday before heading over... until mid morning when I got a text from Alexa saying that when I got there I should come find her... SURPRISE! She'd gotten an entry to the race and had driven down from Edinburgh almost on a whim. So I found myself lazing in a sunny field in the early afternoon chatting to my friend instead of on my sofa. We'd nabbed a parking spot in the solo camp, next to the route just around the corner from the start/finish line which meant we could to pick up food and drink on the way past rather than carry things with us - a big plus!
The race village was small but contained all the essentials, a bank of loos, a food tent (which ran out of falafel burgers - we'd been planning a 1am burger-fest), massage area, solo runner support tent and retailers ashmei and CEP were in attendance. The CEP guys were loaning out compression sleeves and socks for runners to try for free so disregarding the "nothing new on race day" rule I got measured and was kitted out with a pair of lovely blue calf sleeves. More on that later.
All too soon it was time for the race briefing and we were lining up at the start. There was a moment of hilarity where Alexa and I realised that we had put each other down as emergency contacts on our race numbers but had both left our phones in our respective cars - doh! Luckily there were no incidents for either of us but I was checking my phone each time I passed the car, just in case. A slight delay while marshals were scrambled to their stations and we were off around 7:10pm.

After two laps
I deliberately put myself near the back of the pack and tried to take it easy on the first lap. It was hard to stay really slow and my speed crept up but I was enjoying it and it felt comfortable. The course was off road and flat save for two inclines around the 6k mark. It was also easy to break it into lots of sections. There was the first km around a field, the 2km marker, then the lovely lady marshals at check point 1. Out of the park and around "cow corner" you found "club camper" at the 3km mark - a VW pumping out house music. Then you were running along the river. As I passed the boats moored up I wondered if they knew this was taking place and what they made of it all. After 4km there was a water station, then a bridge followed by CP3 at the entrance back into the park. I loved this part as there's a menagerie of animal statues to look at. After the inclines and the 6km marker it was into the woods. I found this section toughest because there wasn't much to break it up and the ground was most uneven here. But after 7km there were two sections of trees strung with fairy lights before you popped out onto a track and you rounded a corner back up towards the start/finish line.
Supportive messages from mum and dad made regular appearance on my phone.
Thinking about the course this way made it easier for me, mentally. Not only was my goal broken down into laps but each lap had it's own sub-sections to tick off. I ran my first three laps then power walked my fourth. Back to a jog for lap five, power walk in lap six and then hobbled around lap seven.
Celebratory sandwich after 20 miles
I'd stuck with the plan of stopped of 5-10 minutes at the car after each lap but after lap seven I wasn't sure I was going back out. It had been painful, tiring, tedious and seemed to have taken forever. I hadn't eaten enough and was colder than I realised. Alexa, who had been napping, gave me a talking to and some hand warmers, bossed me into the dry robe and gave me a pep talk whilst I forced down pizza. Warmer, fed, revived and psyched up I sucked down a gel set off to hit my 40 mile goal at a pace you could conceivably call jogging. I'd enjoyed the night running but after a tough lap it was a relief for the sky to lighten and for me to be more sure of my footing.
Recovery pizza. Psyching myself up for the final lap
After eight laps and 10 hours and six minutes on the course I crossed the line having reached my target and happy to hand over my timing chip in return for a medal. The rain had started in my last kilometer and although I had time to go out for at least one more lap I didn't feel the need. I was done. I'd run further than I'd ever run before. 40 miles over night on no sleep and I was still coherent. Perfectly respectable.
Still managed a smile
On my way to get warm clothes I booked in for a massage. My legs felt pretty shredded, except for my calves... thanks to the compression sleeves they were the only part of my legs that felt fresh! So, Reader, I bought some. Not the blue ones I'd been running in but a pair of turquoise and green ones... RunFitUK colours!

In all honesty I thoroughly enjoyed the event. Staying awake wasn't an issue, the course was great and the medal suitably hefty. The organisation in general was very good. I'm sure some people may have wished for showers but I can't think of any other major change that could be made to improve it. All the marshals were WONDERFUL, they all seemed to have just the right things to say; encouraging without being patronising. Special mention to the first shift of ladies at CP1 who seemed to think I was "amazing" for some reason. Thank you to the chap I ran lap three with; I'm sorry I didn't ask your name. Thank you to the little boy on the river stretch who gave me high fives. Thank you to the spectator who kept commenting on my posture, which was apparently good, you made me laugh. Thank you to Martin for my massage and for still laughing, joking and having intelligent conversation after no sleep either. Thank you to everyone who sent me a supportive message and especially to Alexa - it would have been very different without you.

Would I do Endure 12/50 again? Maybe. And it's only a maybe because there are so many other events out there to try! After all, now I have a bench mark... And one day I will go back to visit the park at a slower pace.
Some stats and info for those of you who are interested in such things. I finished 12th out of 37 in my category (12 hour solo females) and ran eight laps. the winner of my category ran 14 laps breaking last year's record of 13. I didn't sleep and I didn't change kit, save for adding a base layer for lap 6 onwards.

My lap times (which include rest time taken at the start of each lap) and what I ate after each are as follows:
Pre-race - pasty, tomatoes, half cheese and marmite sandwich, nuun, coffee

1 - 00:52:46 - strawberry protein shake, banana
2 - 00:55:01 - vanilla protein shake, nakd bar
3 - 00:57:49 - chocolate protein shake, Chia charge bar
4 - 01:23:21 - nuun, cheese and marmite sandwich
5 - 01:14:23 - chocolate protein shake, apple alpen bar
6 - 01:20:59 - nuun, three biscuits
7 - 01:28:28 - pizza, strawberry protein shake, nuun, gel
8 - 01:54:09 

Monday, 20 July 2015

Resistance Loop Workout

A resistance band loop or mini band is one of the smallest pieces of exercise equipment you can buy and at around £4 it could be one of the cheapest too. But don't underestimate this little bit of kit, it can be incredibly versatile for strength work and I love using it with my PT clients as an alternative to some more traditional exercises and to really focus on the stabilising muscles.

It's probably most commonly used to improve leg strength but it can be used for some upper body exercises too. Here's a mini workout using a selection of exercises to give you some inspiration. To get the most benefit from these exercises always control the movement, whether you're increasing the tension in the band or returning to the start position. Try not to let the band "snap" you back.

Lower Body

Box Step
Place the band around your ankles.
Step the box 5 times leading with your right leg, and 5 times leading with your left leg.
Targets: glutes, quads, hamstrings

The following exercises all require the band to be placed around the mid thigh.
Crab Walk
Start with feet together and knees slightly bent, take a big step to the right. With control, step the left foot to meet the right and repeat.
Try 2-3 rounds of 5 steps to the right and 5 steps to the left.
Targets: hip stabilisers

Running Man
From a standing position, jump the legs apart, one forwards and one backwards, into a very shallow lunge. Jump again to land the feet in the opposite positions. Repeat 10 times.
Targets: all major muscles in the lower body

Standing Glute Squeeze
Take your weight onto one leg, keeping a slight bend in the supporting leg. Squeeze your other leg backwards to increase the tension in the band. Hold briefly and return to the start position. Repeat 10 times with one leg, then swap over.
A more challenging alternative is to squeeze the leg up/back while holding a plank pose!
Targets: glutes

Lying Leg Raise
Lie on your back with legs flat on the floor. Keeping it straight, raise one leg off the floor to increase the tension in the band. Hold briefly and return to the start position. Repeat 10 times on one side, then switch legs.
Try not to use your hands to press into the floor.
Targets: quads

Upper Body

Bear Crawl
Place the band around your wrists, crouch down and place your hands on the floor about shoulder width apart. Keeping your weight mostly over your wrists, crawl forwards on hands and toes (not knees). Try 2-3 rounds of crawling for 30 seconds, resting for 30 seconds. Yes this does look silly but it's very effective.
Targets: triceps, deltoids, pectorals
Hold the band in both hands, arms by your sides but elbows bent to 90 degrees. Lift the upper arms away from the sides of your body, aiming to reach shoulder height. Keep the 90 degree bend in the elbows. Return to start position with control. Repeat 10 times.
Targets: deltoid & rotator cuff

Enjoy! You can find resistance loops on Amazon and in good sports stores.

Do you use one of these in your workouts? Any favourite exercises I haven't included here?

Friday, 17 July 2015

A Week Of : Lunches

Last week I shared my week's worth of breakfasts so this week I'm going to move on to lunches!

Celebration tea leftovers!
  • Small wholemeal roll with cheddar, green tomato chutney and salad leaves
  • Small handful of lightly salted tortilla chips
  • Scone with strawberry jam and cream

  • Toasted bagel with soft cheese and sliced cucumber
  • Rice pudding topped with strawberries

  • Roasted aubergine, courgette, cherry tomatoes and red onion
  • Orzo pasta, pesto, parmesan

Recipe adapted from the Skinny French Kitchen cookbook
  • Quinoa, pomegranate seeds, red onion, parsley

  • Raw courgette ribbons in lemon juice, olive oil and chilli flakes
  • Salad leaves, cherry tomatoes, olives, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds

  • Boiled new potatoes, cucumber and cooked beetroot in a little mayonnaise, topped with olives and pumpkin seeds
  • Salad leaves and cooked beetroot in raspberry balsamic dressing
  • Spoon of coleslaw, cherry tomatoes
  • Broad bean and pea cous cous, left over from a picnic

None of these took long to put together and all are portable if necessary. Having cous cous or quinoa in the cupboard has saved me from lunch disaster on many an occasion; it's easy to make a salad by adding in some combination of dried fruit, seeds or nuts, veggies or a bit of cheese. Apricots, raisins, almonds, olives and feta is a favourite. In colder months soups and curries make frequent appearances. It's rare I have a sandwich!

What's your favourite lunch?

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Coaching at the RMR Retreat 2015

Last weekend I faced my biggest coaching challenge to date. I journeyed up to Cranage Hall in Holmes Chapel to join 80 women for the Run Mummy Run Retreat only this year, instead this time I was there as part of RunFitUK and responsible for helping to deliver some quality sessions alongside Cassie, RunFitUK founder.
Me, Cassie and Jo
During the weekend we lead these wonderful, enthusiastic women through an example RunFitUK session on Saturday morning including warm ups, technique drills, strength and balance sessions, games and intervals. We also hosted the very first RunFitUK challenge on Saturday afternoon and a less energetic technique session on Sunday morning, to give everyone some "take home" tips, regardless of hangovers or aching legs.
It had been anticipated that we would have three coaches for the weekend but a change of circumstances meant it was just myself and Cassie, ably assisted by the wonderful Jo, who organised us superbly. So the ladies were split into two groups of 40, the largest group I'd ever dealt with! I'd be lying if I said I didn't have a few nerves but everyone wanted to be there and get involved any concerns melted away. The balance games were a source of much hilarity for all involved!
After a fabulous lunch it was time for the challenge! We were split into teams of six and pitted against each other in a version of a relay race, with a team member peeling off after each lap. The amount of encouragement the women gave each other was truly amazing and there were some real game faces on show! It ended up being the sort of event when anything could happen and quite often did. There were some astounding sprint finishes, plenty of strategic discussions and at least one 1 km PB. Although captain of the white team, I wasn't due to run until a member of another team had to pull out, so I was seconded and got to play my part of one race. Unfortunately my involvement didn't get us through to the final but the white team went on to win!
My moment
Congratulating my team
All efforts were celebrated
Even though all of our sessions are geared towards the individual working to their own ability the "morning after" technique session made even more allowance for delicate heads by limiting the amount of running and focusing on posture and arm swing, giving some key points to take away and the opportunity to ask any questions. The collective groan at the start of the walking lunges was priceless though!

I felt a bit lost once I got home on Sunday afternoon so decided to take myself out for a run, as I'd actually done very little over the weekend, trying to put my own coaching tips into practice.
There's been a lot of lovely feedback about the sessions so far on twitter and social media including a message from one lady saying that the buzz words had helped her to shave a minute off of her pace on a run already!
Memento of the weekend
RunFitUK are in five locations at present and much as we'd like to grow, we're limited by lack of willing and qualified coaches so if you'd like to get involved please look at the website and get in touch. There are a lot of ladies on the retreat who want sessions local to them!

If we're already local to you and you'd like to try a session, you can book a "wildcard" online. We're not a ladies only group and cater for all abilities. Hope to hear reports of newcomers soon.

On July 26th we are hosting a free event in Bracknell specifically for ladies new to or apprehensive about running. You can find all the details on the events page.

Thanks to Tim Escott for being our photographer all weekend. All water marked photos credited to him.