Friday, 30 October 2015

Vik's Picks October 2015

The blackberry season is over but now we have crisp mornings, bright leaves to kick, chestnuts to forage and lots of warming drinks to consume. The base layers are out but I'm staying in capris for as long as I can! Here's a round up of the things I wouldn't have been without this month.

  1. Like art, snacks, tea and music? Then like me you'll probably enjoy Early Bird subscription boxes. I wrote about them before but what's telling is that unlike many subscription boxes I'm still getting them; once a fortnight admittedly but I love that I get a new mix track to listen to each time while I plan my sessions over a cup of tea and elevenses. A little comfort for the chilly days.
  2. My cookbook of the moment is Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi. The paella was a hit, caramelised endive took me into new territory (cooking lettuce!) and an adapted version of the saffron tagliatelle with spiced butter was super easy comfort food that felt a bit posh. 
  3. I can't quite believe that I've not written about this item before but this Rucksack from Howies is by far the most used thing I own. I got it as a birthday present and two months later I reckon it's price per use is down to pennies already. It's been my luggage for long weekend breaks, is my day bag unless I'm going out somewhere special, and has proven well made. There's a padded section for my laptop, I can keep used gym kit separate from clean clothes, there are oodles of pockets, it's comfy to wear and has a waterproof cover that packs away neatly. Winner!
  4. Monday night Circuits classes are either al fresco or in a hired hall without a sound system so I've been using this Sony Bluetooth Speaker to provide tunes. The battery life has been great and it packs a punch when it comes to the volume it can produce. It's only on loan but I'm so impressed I'm investing in a similar version for myself.
  5. I'm never without a lip balm. There's one in just about every bag I own, several scattered throughout the house and a couple in the car. But the one I always use when I'm spending any significant time outside is the Molton Brown Vitamin Lipsaver. It used to have an SPF in it but I'm not sure if it does any more. In any case a little goes a long way, it's super moisturising, long lasting and helps prevent against chapped lips now the weather's turned. 
Any cook book recommendations for me for next month? What makes it into your active skin care regime in winter?

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Fighting The Feeling Of Needing To Hibernate

For once I'm going to be proud of myself. I completed a whole week of training without skipping a day. 
The only thing I didn't manage to do last week was yoga, because it had been cancelled and I didn't find out in time to make other arrangements, but I can cope with that. My legs have been complaining though. The strength work has been taking it's toll and my quads have not wanted to play the game. Saturday's parkrun was not sub-30, my usual aim, but hey, it's one week.

Talking of parkrun, I've been inspired this week by a lady called Charlotte. She's only recently started doing parkrun and has been the last to finish in the past few weeks. Someone has to be. But she always gets the biggest cheer and comes back week after week to try again. On Saturday she got a PB and was over the moon. I think we all were, on her behalf. I'm hoping I might see her at RunFit!

I still have large chunks of time in the middle of the day when I'm not training myself or others and when I realised that I'd only left the house to go to the gym for three days I decided enough was enough and took myself to Starbucks to do some work. It was the change of scenery I needed!
Pumpkin spiced soy latte!
I've also managed to wrangle my diet back under control. I got my first Thud box this week (review soon) so have had even more fresh veg to supplement the allotment harvest and foraging spoils. I've had time to cook up big batches of soup and prep meals with intentional left overs so I'm not coming home hungry and resorting to junk food. Plus I've pretty much eaten all the chocolate in the house anyway! Cajun spiced Quorn with sweet potato mash, greek salad over crisp breads and caramelised chicory have all featured and all been delicious. Eating substantial lunches and light dinners seems to be working out well too.
A very satisfying salad.
This week has gotten off to a good start and there's the This Girl Can Danceathon at the weekend to look forward to, but last week's training looked something like this:
Monday: Boxercise
Tuesday: Speedwork
Wednesday: Kettlebells
Thursday: metafit
Friday: 4.5 mile run
Saturday: parkrun
Sunday: Strength & conditioning circuits

How are you fighting any need to hibernate? What's your favourite Autumn/Winter salad?

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Realising How Much I Enjoy Moving

Being on a small cruise ship for a week plays havoc with a training plan. I pretty much had to write off my entire week and even the plans I had to do some metafit on deck was canned because there was lack of space. Plus I think I'd have scared everyone else on board with it, it certainly would have been antisocial.

The cruise was lovely though, and I did move a bit. We were able to set foot on dry land to explore every day which we took advantage of. Hiking was limited due to time constraints but we did take a few walks up to the castles, and down to a waterfall, a couple of miles a day perhaps. On the coach home I greedily read a Men's Fitness Supplement that a fellow passenger and Boxercise instructor had lent me.
On my return home I realised just how little I'd really moved and how sluggish it had made me feel. That and all the food. So I'm on a mission this week to get my diet back under control and to move a lot more. You'll find out how I get on with that next week. It was an absolutely joy to get to parkrun on Saturday morning and to head out for some "no pressure" miles on Sunday. The plan said 9 miles. Given I struggled to get out the door with that number looming over me I was very pleased with the 6 miles I clocked up. I tagged a meta fit on the end to finish me off. Well the new one came out while I was away and I wanted to teach it this week so it made sense.
I can't bring myself to call this a training update... it's pathetic... but for completeness' sake, here's what I did last week.
Monday: Town exploration and castle walk
Tuesday: Town exploration, castle walk and waterfall stroll
Wednesday: Town exploration
Thursday: Town exploration
Friday: Rest day
Saturday: parkrun
Sunday: 6 mile run & metafit
Do you get sluggish or twitchy with a week off of training?

Monday, 19 October 2015

Fun Running, Running for Fun and Racing

When I did Glow in the Dark at Windsor with mum back in April there was a great turn out. Dad commented that he was surprised that so many people had shown up for something that was essentially a fun run. I didn't think much about it at the time but afterwards I felt glad because it means that people are running for the love of it and not always competitively; more people are encouraged. And indeed there weren't many people there who were running with a goal in mind, other than perhaps just to get round without stopping.

It got me thinking a bit about the difference between fun runs, running for fun and racing. The definitions of these will vary from person to person but my definitions would be something thus:

Fun Run: a short, sociable run with a theme, often un-timed, where walking is not frowned upon. Usually suitable for all ages.
Glow in the Dark - 100% fun.
Running for Fun: a run of any length, not necessarily a race, that is enjoyable. It may be run in its entirety or parts may be walked. Pace is not the focus but the event often has a social aspect.
Yateley 10k - running for fun.
Racing: a timed event where the participant has a goal in mind and endeavours to reach it, usually at the expense of enjoying the event. Rarely social, unless you count sharing recovery shakes and cake afterwards.
Two triathlons in one weekend - don't let the smile fool you, it was very much not fun.
These are not cut and dried categories. I've done my share of "fun runs" that I've not really enjoyed that much, races that have been loads of fun but for the most part I could put all my events into one or other of these fairly happily.
Carnival du Nice - Fun for me, a race for Alex.
Tough Mudder - a "fun run" that was 100% not fun.
People tend not to stick at doing things that they don't enjoy so it makes sense that running should remain fun on some level. It's all very well to try to better yourself but if that's your sole goal every time you lace up your trainers and set foot over a start line then it's quite likely that resentment will set in swiftly. It's important to keep the fun in there as well. Which is why I've not raced every Yateley 10k event, why I sign up to colour, glow and fancy dress runs, why I run with friends sometimes.

Mum's first trail run - I *think* we both had fun.
If I felt after each run the way I felt after Tough Mudder, the Brighton Marathon, my double triathlon weekend or Gatliff Ultra then I would give up. It wouldn't be worth it, there would be no joy. And that's what I tried to explain to my dad, that's why people turn up to these fun runs, even the long distance runners. Because it reminds us where we started, that running can be fun, that it's not always about a time or a rank or a goal. Sometimes we're helping others, sometimes we want to take in the scenery, sometimes we just want to see what we can do in our comfort zone.
Brighton Marathon - achieved my goal, was over the moon despite what this photo may lead you to believe.
After Gatliff, my first ultra. I was enjoying the custard but not the memory of the boggy fields.
Dad is not a runner. He will walk laps of the park while I do parkrun, or meet me part way through training runs for an ice cream. Mum runs sometimes. She has several parkruns under her belt, a 5 miler and a 10k trail run. She even goes out of her own accord sometimes just because she fancies it. Mum, dad and I have signed up in a team for Glow in the Park London in November. It's highly likely that we won't run a single step, but it doesn't matter to us about our speed. What is important is that we have fun. Who knows what will stem from that.
Mum and I after 5 miles in the Olympic Park - definitely ran for fun.
 What's your ratio of fun runs : running for fun : racing? Do you agree it needs to be fun sometimes?

Friday, 16 October 2015

Fitness in the Workplace : Maintaining Healthy Habits

Something I've been hearing a lot lately, in consultations with people looking for training plans or some personal training, is that they have struggled to achieve their health and fitness goals because work and life “get in the way.” 

We have quite a culture here in the UK of making work our number one priority, of being seen to be the first in and the last to leave, of skipping lunch breaks and of long hours almost being a badge of honour. This doesn't sit very well with me. Skipping meals isn't good for your blood sugar levels, affects your ability to concentrate, and can lead to poor food choices later. Long hours almost invariably means a lot of sitting, either in our cars, at our desks or indeed on the sofa at home after a hard day. But there are things you can do to achieve your health and fitness goals despite these obstacles.

I've already written about a workout you can do without even leaving your desk, tips for keeping healthy eating habits on track, and about incentives and facilities employers could provide, but what can you do if you have a hectic agenda?

First, look at your work schedule with fresh eyes. Do you have to start or finish at your usual time? Do you have to be physically present for that regular meeting or could it be done by conference call? Is it possible to delegate a few routine tasks that would free up some time? A client of mine works for an American company so often has to work late but we managed to find a time late afternoon where she could take a break and fit in a PT session. She treats it like a meeting, an appointment she must keep, and declines other meetings that colleagues may try to schedule at that time. A meeting that could be done as a conference call could give you the ability to take it in the car on the way to your gym or fitness session. Perhaps starting a little later would give you the chance to do that early morning spin class and miss the rush hour traffic on the way home... you may not lose as much time in the evening as you think!
I've said it before and I'll say it again... make use of any on-site facilities your place of work may have such as a gym, showers or outdoor space. Do a lunchtime or after-work class, go for a run, cycle or walk in your lunch break; it will help to clear the mind and can be a social activity too; things are always easier when you have the support of others so see if there are any other like minded people who are also trying to say no to the cakes and yes to moving more.

This series has mostly been about the workplace but look at your schedule outside of work hours too. Although many see exercise time as "me time", if you really are struggling for time and fear neglecting your partner or time with children, look for activities you can do together. There are lots more parent/child activities available these days and so many evening classes and clubs relating to physical activity. Again, by treating these like any other meeting or commitment, you increase the likelihood that you'll stick to them.
Think outside the box, think creatively. Get someone to help you if you struggle to see the wood for the trees. And whatever you come up with, tell someone about it. Knowing someone is expecting you to go somewhere or do something, being accountable, even if they don't accompany you, can be a powerful tool when it comes to maintaining a habit.

Have you found success despite your hectic agenda? Do you have any other hints or tips to share?

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

The Fog on the Rhine

I'm on holiday this week! I'm currently on a boat on the Rhine enjoying some quality time with my mum and also panicking slightly about how much work I have to come back to. Not a lot of wi-fi out here!
In contrast to Tuesday and Wednesday the weather was glorious on Thursday and so I took advantage of it and went out for my longest run since Medoc... right after I'd feasted on banana and nutella porridge and watched the GBBO final. I finally got the chance to try out a pair of Skins shorts that I'd won from Running Heroes. I'm not sure if it was the positive mental boost from the weather, the super-fuel of porridge or the shorts but it was the best run I'd had in ages, comfortable, enjoyable, not ridiculously slow.

Not my best effort with training last week but a couple of quality sessions in there:
Monday: Rest day
Tuesday: Speedwork
Wednesday: Strength training
Thursday: 7 mile run & metafit
Friday: Rest day
Saturday: Rest day
Sunday: Rest day

I'd had good intentions of doing some metafit on board the cruise ship but alas there's not really a suitable space. Not have I taken advantage of the elderly exercise bikes on board so the activity has been reduced to some leisurely strolling around town, a couple of climbs to castles and a turn or two on the dance floor. The four-course dinners are not helping anything! But I am having a lovely time :)

Any tips for resisting cruise ship buffets?

Monday, 12 October 2015

Healthy Inside and Out : Talking Therapies

I'm becoming far more aware of the wonderful facilities we have in Bracknell Forest, and across Berkshire, for physical health, but also increasingly. for our mental well being. The latest of these that I have discovered is Talking Therapies.

Talking Therapies was set up in 2008 with the aim of providing easy access to support for depression or anxiety-based problems. Support can take many forms, from short term help of 6-10 sessions, face to face or over the phone, to Wellbeing and Stress Control courses. The service is available from 8-8pm Monday to Thursdays and 8-5pm on Fridays and accessible either via referral from your GP or by self referral, via a form on the website.

There's still a great amount of stigma surrounding depression and anxiety in our society but it's becoming easier and easier to get help. Raising awareness of these services helps, as does making them as easy as possible to access. Providing the support requires a lot of commitment from those who work for the service but having met them I know that they are truly dedicated, kind, considerate and want to make a difference.

Exercise can help with depression and anxiety issues too and that's why I'm working with my local council and Talking Therapies, amongst others, to promote a Back To Fitness scheme, details of which can be found on my website.

If you know of anyone who may benefit from either Talking Therapies or Back to Fitness, please pass on the information.

Friday, 9 October 2015

Berkshire Fitness Scene : Danceathon!

I thought I'd share with you news of a forthcoming event in the Berkshire area that I think looks like absolutely fantastic fun. Fan of Strictly? Love dancing? Want to try it for the first time or try a different style? Then come along to the This Girl Can Danceathon in Reading in association with Get Berkshire Active!
It's on the 31st of October at St Laurence Church in Reading from 1pm until 5pm and costs just £5 entry with all monies being reinvested back into Berkshire based projects designed to encourage women and girls to be more active. So not only do you have a great time, you help to make this sort of fun accessible for even more women.
The event will feature a mixture of dance styles including Zumba, Pop and Street, split into 20 minute tasters. The tasters are designed to be fun and perfect for all dancing abilities. You can even make an afternoon of it with the ‘Look Good Feel Great’ area which will feature activities such as nail art, hair, beauty and face painting. And what's more, everyone gets a goody bag!!
You can pre book via eventbrite or just turn up on the day. To pre book just click the link - 
I'll be there, and I hope to see some of you there too!

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Last of the Summer Sun?

Time seems to be flying past at an astounding rate and the rain, cold and darkness are also creeping in apace. Last week was almost certainly the last of the good weather and so I'm really glad that I managed to make the most of it.

Work-wise I've been keeping fairly busy with my regular classes as well as meeting most of the finalists in the This Girl Can... Run a Marathon campaign. It's been a real joy to get to know them a bit and work with them to come up with a training plan for the next 8 weeks. Although they're all of different backgrounds and abilities what is common to all is the level of excitement and enthusiasm. I can't wait to see how they all get on!

Friday was spent on a course, learning about how to put together a circuit for the older population. While it wasn't a qualification, it certainly gave me some ideas and I'm tempted to look into getting the qualification that would allow me to teach these sorts of classes, as I think there could be a demand in my area. It was a really fun day, not least because I got to meet people from all sorts of backgrounds including a chap who'd completed the Majorca Ironman the previous weekend.

It's been a week of wandering outdoors. I think I managed to find the last of the blackberries in the fields across from the training centre whilst out for a meander between sessions. Always carry a ziplock bag, people! These are now residing in my freezer ready to be added to smoothies, porridge or pies as the mood dictates. 
I've been trying to add hill and speed work into my training schedule as a regular feature and it was made more enjoyable this week as I met my friend Anita in Swinley Forest for a jog with added hills. She's much more powerful than I am so she left me for dust but I still loved it. We rewarded ourselves with a steam, sauna and coffee at her gym across the road afterwards - a rare treat for me.
As seen in Richmond Park, not Swinley Forest.
You'll already know that I took part in Run or Dye rather than my usual parkrun on Saturday morning, but didn't do a great deal else that could count towards my training. I tried to make up for the lack of running over the rest of the weekend with long walks. I stayed with a friend in Richmond and we made the most of the sunny weather, Richmond Park and Kew Gardens. Brunch and a farmers market may also have featured.

My diet has still not been brilliant and so this week I'm trying a new tactic of eating my main meal at lunchtime and having something lighter in the evening. This way I should be able to get to sleep more easily, not need to snack so much during the afternoon and eat better as I'll have more time to cook. I'll report back next week.

Not my best effort with training last week but a couple of quality sessions in there:
Monday: Strength training
Tuesday: 6.25 mile run
Wednesday: Strength training
Thursday: Hill reps & metafit
Friday: Rest day / training course
Saturday: Run & Dye
Sunday: Rest day

Did you take advantage of the last of the warm weather? Where's your favourite outdoor space?

Monday, 5 October 2015

Event Review : Run or Dye

I lent out of the car window, brandishing a ten pound note at the gentleman in hi-viz, for the privilege of parking in a field. "When you've parked up, head towards the pink flags over there", he gestured to the right. I peered past him into the fog. There were no flags to be seen. "They are there, I promise, put them there myself earlier!" he was apologetic but didn't give me any change from my tenner so I drove on, parked up and wandered in the direction he'd indicated, following other equally tentative souls.
Foggy castle grounds
It's 9:15am on a Saturday morning and I've forsaken my usual parkrun in favour of the 5k event Run or Dye at Hever Castle. Almost identical to the Colour Run, this is a non-timed 5km fun run during the course of which you pass through a number of colour stations and get pelted with coloured powder, turning you into a veritable rainbow by the end. I'd entered alone but most people were there in small groups, all ages, all abilities and all revved up to have a good time.
After what felt like a very long walk from the car park I arrived at check in as the warm up was under way. I collected my race pack; a drawstring bag, race bib, wrist band, temporary tattoo, dye pack and white cotton t-shirt with the Run or Dye logo on the front. I quickly changed and realising I didn't have enough time to get back to the car again headed over to the bag drop. As I approached I was informed that it would cost me £2 to leave my bag. There were no signs and I'd left my money in the car so I resigned myself to carrying it around with me. Ho hum.
To get into the spirit of the event I doused myself with the contents of the dye pack and got to the start area. The MC cranked up the music, threw some t-shirts, headbands and other goodies out into the waiting crowd and soon we were off! Although we were being set off in waves, it was all very informal, you weren't allocated a set time or divided up as such. I'd ended up near the front of the pack so had lots of room to actually run. I wasn't gunning for a time, I wasn't even wearing my Garmin, but it was nice to have the option rather than having to walk.
Channelling my inner Braveheart
The course wound around the grounds of the castle, through woodland and around a lake. I think at one point I did spot the castle but it was so foggy I could have been almost anywhere, which was a real shame but just one of those things. The colour stations were approximately every kilometre, the only way to track your progress around the course as there were no markers, and I found another benefit of being out in front was that you got the full force of the paint throwers! I *may* have shouted "give me your best shot" as I jogged through the stations, arms raised high above my head.
Enthusiastic paint throwers
Event the flowers seemed to want in on the action
It was all over far too quickly... but not so quickly that I was able to join the back of the pack and go round again, which I must confess I considered doing. In the race village the MC was valiantly trying to start building up to the after party as the first runner returned. Cups of water were given out, food vans touted their wares and finishers snapped "after" photos in all their multicoloured glory. No medal at this event, just the joy of having run and feeling a bit like a kid again.
Particularly unflattering post-run photo

I wandered back to the car, with mixed feelings. I'd enjoyed the experience, despite not being able to see the castle, but I felt unsure that it was worth the money. I'd have felt more comfortable with a £5 parking fee, and I'm aware that some of the entry fee goes towards Help for Heroes but still... it's not a cheap event. Fun for the kids, and groups who are newer to running, but next time I'll rack up another parkrun instead.

Friday, 2 October 2015

Courgette & Blue Cheese Tartlets

As a single person who often works until about 8pm, I'm saved from reaching for junk food by batch cooking. This isn't restricted to chili, soup, stews and the like, oh no! My latest batch cook has been delightful little puff pastry tarts, topped with seasonal fruit or veg, a little cheese and some nuts or seeds to up the protein balance. 
Served hot with a side of potatoes and salad or vegetables, these make a lovely easy dinner and cold with salad they're a tasty light lunch. I first made them for a picnic and they've been a go-to ever since. I tend to make 4 at a time to have warm for dinners and cold for lunches. They're super quick and easy and very versatile.

Courgette & Blue Cheese Tartlets

1/2 pack of ready-made puff pastry
50g blue cheese, crumbled
1 medium courgette, sliced
Handful of walnuts pieces
Salt & pepper

  1. Preheat the oven to 180C 
  2. Flour your work surface and roll out the puff pastry into a rough square, about 2-3mm thick. Cut into four smaller squares (these will be your bases) and transfer to baking trays.
  3. Score a line about 1cm in from the edge of each base with a knife. Prick the base all over with a fork, avoiding the outer scored border.
  4. Lay the courgette slices over each base, and season. Sprinkle over the cheese and the walnuts.
  5. Bake the tartlets in the oven for 12-15 minutes until the edge is puffed up and golden and the cheese has melted a little.
  6. Serve with a side of salad or vegetables of your choice.
I've experimented with different combinations of toppings including:
  • Apple, blue cheese, red currants and walnuts
  • Pear, smoked cheese and pumpkin seeds
  • Peppers, goats cheese and pine nuts
Try adding some herbs or perhaps some chilli flakes, whatever takes your fancy. These keep in the fridge for 4-5 days in a well sealed container.

Got any other slightly unusual batch cooks to share? What would you top your version of these with?