Friday, 29 April 2016

Vik's Picks : April 2016

This month I've been very focussed on wellbeing, both physical and mental, nourishing my body with good food, my skin with care and my soul with space to relax. So with that in mind, here are my picks of the month.
  1. This month I have been dipping into Indian Food Made Easy as my cookbook of the month. I've made simple dishes like Chilli Cheese Toast and Masala Scrambled Eggs as well as the more involved Goan Coconut Chicken Curry, with quorn instead of chicken, of course! But I hardly scratched the surface of what I wanted to cook so I'll be returning to this book soon.
  2. With so many fitness trackers out there it's hard to choose when you're in the market for a new one. It depends very much on what you want it for. After careful consideration I opted for a Garmin vivoactive. I'll be puting a full review up soon but it not only tracks my runs, but walks, swims and indoor activities as well as step counts. I've loved using it and would recommend it as good all-purpose device.
  3. It was thanks to Vitality Insurance that I was able to afford the vivoactive. Vitality offer life and health insurance with the added benefit of a host of perks if you stay healthy and active. It's a no-brainer as far as I'm concerned. I was able to swap two existing policies for one with Vitality, offering the same cover for a little less than I was paying previously, gaining access to benefits like a half price activity tracker, half price gym membership and free Starbucks and cinema tickets weekly if I hit my activity targets. Again - full write up coming soon!
  4. A recent discovery that I'm singing the praises of is Buddha Radio, an Australia internet radio station that plays chilled out popular music with a host of wicked covers, with no chat or adverts. It's perfect for background sounds or to relax to.
  5. As the weather is getting brighter I've switched my moisturiser to one with SPF in it. My go to brand is Clinique and their Superdefense Daily Moisturizer with SPF20 protects my skin when I'm out on longer runs, without the horrible smell and stickiness of sun cream. Be smart, stay safe in the sun!
Do you have a go-to moisturiser ? Cooked a new dish this month that you're proud of? Please share!

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

A Holiday Before The Storm Of May

I'm on holiday in Cornwall at the moment with my mum. It's a long-awaited and much needed break for her birthday and is consisting of much relaxing, good food and dipping toes into the sea at Watergate Bay. It's a part of the world we love as I'm sure you'll appreciate from the volume of Instagram photos I've undoubtedly been posting (this being written in advance).
Setting off on a long run.
But being self-employed means that before I go away on holiday I need to get ahead a bit and so the the week before I left was super busy. May is going to be a busy time for me with the start of three new Back to Fitness courses, my first Eat4Health instructor role, training for a new challenge plus the introduction of two new ongoing classes. On top of that I have studies and am trying to keep up with a CBT online course with Talking Therapies. Sometimes life just happens all at once!

So it was a week of meetings, one with RunFitUK founder Cassie to plan the upcoming hill running workshop (also in May!), and another with Eat4Health to get some final training before I lead my first course. I also managed to squeeze in two cinema trips, one freebie thanks to Vitality, and started the holiday with a bang by way of seeing ELO play the O2. A good mix of fun and work and a good week of training too! I'm still struggling with some of my runs but I did have a really great long run with the ladies from Bracknell Forest Council who are taking part in the Bracknell Half Marathon.
On the run through leafier parts of Bracknell
My training for the week ending 22nd April looked like this:
Saturday: Rest day
Sunday: 15 mile run
Monday: Barre class & yoga
Tuesday: Rest day
Wednesday: 5 mile run
Thursday: 4.5 mile run
Friday: Rest day

What holidays have you got planned this year? And will you be taking your trainers?

Friday, 22 April 2016

Is That The Clean Eating Wagon That Just Rolled Past?

It's fair to say that I fell off the healthy-eating wagon and it rolled away on the weekend of the 9th and 10th of April! I had three social events over the two days; lunch with my dad (Union Jacks in Covent Garden), bowling and dinner with the girls (Frankie and Benny's) and cocktails for my friend Alex's birthday (culminating in a sandwich meal deal and two bars of chocolate on the train home). On top of that I was marshalling as the Dinton Duathlon so was grabbing snacks here and there. Tea cake and crisps for breakfast anyone? Although I enjoyed the planned meals, the bad planning and poor snack choices left me feeling pretty horrendous and I've been trying to catch the wagon again ever since.
Veggie burger topped with macaroni cheese - yes really!
The heavy socialising left little room for exercise so I had more rest days than usual but the arrival of my new Garmin Vivoactive, at half price thanks to my new Vitality Health and Life insurance policy and the associated benefits scheme, got me obsessing over step counts and provided the incentive to get outside for a run even when I didn't really feel like it. I was reminded of how rain actually makes me run faster! I've only used the step counter and run features so far, although it does masses more. I'm keen to get to the pool soon to try it out there and to see how it fares with indoor sessions. It claims to track golf as a sport but I can't say I'll be trying that one out in the near future.
Snazzy new Garmin. It's pool-proof so definitely rain-proof!
I was delighted to be invited to a Sport & Activity Forum at Bisham Abbey, hosted by Get Berkshire Active. It was an opportunity to catch up on what's going on in the area and to do a bit of networking. In a nice twist, we were encouraged to network "on the hoof" by finding someone to converse with and going for a walk around the grounds. The focus was on how sports and activity in relation to mental health, something that's becoming ever closer to my heart, and it was inspiring to listen to the presentations. I came away with some ideas for signposting people from my courses into other areas and with renewed vigour to apply for a Coach in Running Fitness qualification as well as signing up to become a Mental Health Ambassador for my local area.
On balance it was a pretty good week. Certainly an interesting one. A lighter week in terms of training but I was very happy with the quality of what I did, especially as I managed to squeeze in a cheeky clubbercise session on Friday night, though unfortunately the cat was nowhere to be seen on this occasion!

My training diary for the week ending 15th April ended up looking like this:
Saturday: Rest day
Sunday: Rest day
Monday: 90 minute yoga class
Tuesday: Rest day
Wednesday: 7 mile run
Thursday: Rest day
Friday: 6 mile run & Clubbercise

What's your favourite healthy portable snack? Got a new gadget recently? Does your sports club have a mental health ambassador?

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Berkshire Fitness Scene : Barre Class

It's not just London that has a wealth of fitness classes. A little bit of careful searching and you can uncover some real gems right on your doorstep. At least that's what I've found with this series. I live in Crowthorne, a place that has quite a village-y feel but just about everything you could want nearby. In amongst the tea shops, salons and gift shops on the high street is a dance studio that hosts children's dance classes, pilates and Barre.

Barre classes were born in the USA and as with most new fitness trends, the UK has followed. The classes take inspiration from classical ballet and combines this high-intensity workout with high energy dance music, designed to target thighs, bum, abs and arms.  The classes are put on by Kathy of Evergreen Fitness and the class is described as follows:

The exercises are set to work on one group of muscles at a time; small, precise movements which you will really feel and the muscles will start to change shape with practice. With consistency, you will find your body becoming slimmer and a more dancer-like physique developing. 
Although it's usual to book a block of sessions, Kathy very kindly let me attend one for free, to see what it was all about. Now I consider myself to be a relatively fit and strong individual but even though this class is suitable for all abilities, I found myself being tested purely because it worked my muscles in an entirely new way! It's good to be reminded what it's like to be a beginner sometimes.

The class size is kept quite small, partly by virtue of the size of the studio but it also means that Kathy could give us more attention. I'm not a dancer. I have danced, disco as a child then tap, modern jazz and salsa as an adult, but never ballet and it showed! Plies became squats and I had to fight my instincts to put weight through my heels! My ego should have been left at the door... instead I worked hard to keep up when I should have perhaps taken it a little easier. The pace of the class was quite fast, faster than I'd expected, but great fun and all set to pop music. If I hadn't been concentrating so much I'd have been singing along. In opposition to ballet, warm up took place away from the bar, but the bulk was performed at the bar, offering support and stability. We also used props such as balls and bands. My glutes and thighs were aching within the first ten minutes!
For someone uninitiated in the language of ballet, I was relieved that Kathy demonstrated throughout, and I did my best to copy her elegant arm movements and replicate the moves, the technical names for which I can't remember. I felt extremely inelegant and uncoordinated, but never embarrassed... everyone else was far too involved in what they were doing to worry about me.

We finished with some slider pad work and floor work using a hoop, which I'd never used before, to give our abs and thighs one last blast before we wobbled out of the door for home. It's usual to feel DOMS two days later but mine kicked in the very next day, despite having taken part in a restorative yoga class that same evening. I'm disappointed that I won't be able to attend regularly because I think it would be really good for me, to compliment my running, but I'll certainly try to get back if my schedule changes.

Have you tried a Barre class? What was your experience? 

Monday, 18 April 2016

Event Review : Gung-Ho!

There's one event I did last year that I didn't write about at the time, Gung-Ho. I wasn't in possession of my phone on the day and took no photos and never managed to get them from those who had so put it off but just the other day someone was asking me about my experience and as the event is being advertised again I thought it was worth still putting my review out there.
Event credit: Gung-Ho!
We've had muddy runs, obstacle course races, colour runs and glow runs. The newest kid on the block is Gung-Ho, a 5km event featuring inflatable obstacles! Family friendly, un-timed and good for groups, its something anyone could have a go at and have a giggle with. Indeed that's how I took part, as a group of trainers and trainees from Box Bell Fit. A motley crew of all shapes, sizes and running ability, we made up a good proportion of our wave!

The event was held on Windsor race course, billed as "West London". There was plenty of parking, all be it at £5 per car, and a lot of space for the inflatables and course. When entering you could chose a wave to be part of. There were several of these going throughout the day and they seemed to be pretty on track. There was a race village with a merchandise stall and plenty of food trucks, all keen to separate us from out cash. Indeed for an additional fee you could buy an all-day pass, enabling you to go around the course as many times as you liked.

The course started with an inflatable ramp that you had to get up and over. There were around ten obstacles on the course ranging from slides to walls, foam pits and a huge bounce castle type affair that was the cause of much hilarity as we bounced like ribena berries around the place! While the obstacles were great fun, ad despite the best efforts of the organisers there were still some queues to get onto them. And I will confess I was somewhat disappointed with the course itself, being marked out with cones and involving a lot of zig-zagging back and forth. It got quite boring, especially when you could see the next obstacle a stones through away. But on some obstacles we were allowed to go through twice, to take our time and fun was had by all. It certainly made a different being part of a group and I still treated myself to a post-run ice cream cone.
Event credit: Gung-Ho!
Entry fees started at around £35, which got you a cotton t-shirt and headband. The website called out that the entry fee also got you a race bib, which I found odd because you weren't timed and all races should include that, and free entry for spectators, which I would expect (Tough Mudder... I'm looking at you). For a 5k event, even one that's a bit different and requires quite a significant staffing level, I found that to be on the expensive side, especially as parking was extra and the food trucks charged according to the fact they had a captive market.
Event credit: Gung-Ho!
I'm glad I gave it a try, not least for the camaraderie, but I like trying events that are a bit different. However I wouldn't necessarily recommend it or partake again.

Did you do Gung-Ho! last year, or are you thinking about doing it this year? If you've already done one, did you enjoy it and would you do it again?

Friday, 15 April 2016

Starting to get a Spring in my Step

After a few days of surprisingly warm weather and the sight of daylight at increasingly early times of day, it really feels as though Spring is here. There have been a few t-shirt sleeve runs (as opposed to base layer and jacket runs) and although I'm yet to actually get out of an evening during daylight (due to work - not a complaint), I'm keen and motivated to do so.
I've been piling a lot of "shoulds" on myself recently, which has sometimes left me feeling pretty stressed out about running on occasion. Training is important but when I'm left dreading every run, I know something needs to change, which is exactly what I did a little while ago, sacking off a long run to just enjoy my day. I've just been getting some enjoyable miles in, which in the end added up to the distance I was after anyway.

I actually managed to remember to take a rest day in addition to mixing up running with other workouts. I went for a fitness assessment at the local Virgin Active, which was reassuringly straightforward, and while I was there, had a browse of their class timetable. Some interesting things there and a pool that is wonderfully free of school children. I gave up a gym membership when I became a PT, partly because I have access to a gym where I work, but I pay out for swim and yoga sessions, and having greater variety appeals at the moment so I'm considering taking one out again. It feels like a bit of a cop out in some respects, but I've always maintained that if things aren't fun, you won't stick with them, and right now exercise for me needs to be more fun.
So with that in mind, my training for the week ending 8th April looked like this:
Saturday: 2 mile walk
Sunday: Strength & Conditioning class
Monday: 8 mile run, 90 minute yoga class
Tuesday: 5 mile run
Wednesday: Rest day
Thursday: 6 mile run
Friday: 3 mile run, press-up & sit up work out

How do you keep training fun, especially when you're building up to a big event? Or do you just manage to knuckle down and get on with it?

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Berkshire Fitness Scene : Yoga

Yoga. It's not new, it's quite mainstream these days, and you are likely to find a class near you, wherever you live. So why am I including it in my series of posts on the local fitness scene? Because I think too many people write it off too early. Those of us who frequent classes or are part of sports clubs base some of our decision on whether we "click" with the teacher, coach or other members. We try a few before we find the one we like. Yet for some reason, from personal experience anyway, few of us do the same when it comes to yoga. Given that yoga comes in so many forms it seems bizarre that such a high proportion of people try one class with one teacher and give up. And I'm hoping that if you are one of those people, this post will persuade you to have another go.

My first experience of yoga was at University in a vast sports hall with around 50 other people. I was lucky that I gelled with the instructor and I came away with several months of positive experiences. It was only when I tried other yoga classes that I realised not all classes nor instructors are equal. Some I found too slow, some too difficult, the instructor unengaging... but some were great and I've gone back. I tried hot yoga, which I really enjoyed but have found the distance to class prohibative. I'm no yogi. I don't know the differences between the variations. I don't practice at home much. I'm not vegan. I don't meditate (often). I don't go "ommmmmm". But I know what I look for in a class.
I found a local teacher whose classes I really enjoyed, but as my schedule varies week to week so  I found I wasn't always able to make one of his half a dozen classes. As yoga has become more important to me so I've been trying a number of different teachers in my local area with varying success.

Mostly I've been going to Sam Rao's classes. The Saturday and Thursday classes are conveniently located in halls just half a mile away. If I'm prepared to skip parkrun I can go to the early Saturday class which is more challenging, but otherwise I can get to the 10am class after parkrun, which makes for a lovely morning dedicated to me. Sam is a kindly, approachable 70-something gentleman who is fighting fit. He fully believes in the physical health benefits of yoga and often talks about how certain poses should be affecting our internal organs. His adjustments, when he does them, are confidence boosting although his classes are often too large for individuals to get much attention.
Other instructors I've tried include Delmar, whose small classes mean you get a lot of input into what you practice, and Rosie, whose classes, although a little gentle for me, are lovely and welcoming. Paul and Rachel form a bit of a double act for their classes, with one taking the ear and the other making adjustments as necessary. Their classes are at a good intermediate level, although beginner friendly, with a slightly more spiritual element. The hall was beautifully warm (normally I'm armed with layer upon layer) and smelt of incense. Bliss.

I'm had recommendations for classes by Claire Foster and Lynn Waters, amongst others and they're on my list to try should I get the chance. Most of these instructors trained with the same lady yet they are very different in their styles. What is particularly lovely about all of these instructors is that they form a sort of group. Buy a booklet of tickets from one and you can redeem at classes with any of them, particularly great of someone like me!

So if you have tried yoga before and thought you didn't get on with it, I encourage you to try a different teacher. Of course I've only mentioned classes local to me, but a cursory internet search will throw up plenty near you, either independent teachers of those at a local gym or leisure centre.

Are you a yogi? Did it take you a while to find a teacher you liked?

Friday, 8 April 2016

Training Update to April 1st : Working up to Marathon Distance Again

It feels like a while since I gave you an update on what my next events are and my training for them. You'd be forgiven for thinking that perhaps I was taking a break... But you know me, there's always something in the diary! My next events are the Royal Berkshire 10k on May 15th, Cakeathon May 30th and the Stour Valley Marathon on June 5th. I mention them all in the same breath because the training I'm doing now, isn't really for the 10k, it's looking further ahead to the marathon.

And that said, all these dates feel like a long way off which makes it hard to stick to a training plan sometimes. Oh not until end of May? Never mind I didn't manage that long run today then. What do you mean it's just 6 weeks away. Oh dammit. I won't lie, it's been tough trying to get into the right headspace lately, to get out the door or even out of bed some days. But I'm doing my best to stick to the plan, to get a good mix of cross-training in as well as getting the right ratio of listening to my body but recognising when it's all in my head.

The week ending 25th March was quite a tough one, incorporating Swimathon, an aborted attempt at 18 miles then a further 23.5 miles to boot... Looking back it's no wonder I felt tired. I hadn't given myself enough space to recover. As a result the next week was hard work. Really hard work. I finally took a rest day, had a couple of days where my only activity was yoga and a short walk around the forest, and my scheduled runs that I struggled around. I ended the week with Clubbercise, just to ring the changes, which helped. Yoga is still a crucial part of my training regime; I find it wonderfully restorative whilst still being challenging sometimes. I'm making sure I get a class in every week to help body and mind.

It may look a little haphazard but the weeks were roughly on track. I'm sticking to three runs a week (Monday-Sunday) and the distance is creeping up even if my confidence isn't. Just as important as the mileage is the mindset. I *know* I can run the distances I need to, I just don't always *believe* it. I'm not sure I'll be setting any new PBs at Royal Berkshire which is a shame, but who knows. Time will tell and my biggest challenge in the weeks to come will be to develop and maintain a strong mental attitude.

Week ending 25th March

Saturday: 2.5km swim (Swimathon - gosh was it really that long ago?)
Sunday:10.5 mile run (aborted 18 mile attempt)
Monday: 30 minute home yoga video
Tuesday: RunFitUK (took part to make up numbers)
Wednesday: 5.5 mile run
Thursday: 10 mile run
Friday: 8 mile run

Week ending 1st April

Saturday: Rest day
Sunday: 30 minute home yoga video
Monday: 30 minute home yoga video, 2 mile walk
Tuesday: 5 mile run
Wednesday: 20 mins skipping, press up matrix, sit up matrix, 2 mile walk
Thursday: 6 mile run & 90 minute yoga class
Friday: Clubbercise

What's been your biggest challenge in training so far this year?

Wednesday, 6 April 2016

Volunteering at parkrun

On as many Saturday mornings as I can manage I join around 250 other people at one of my local parkruns. It's one of the best things since sliced bread if you ask me; a timed 5km run that's completely free thanks to a host of volunteers.

Over the past six years I've done 102 runs at 12 different locations across England (I'm yet to do a parkrun in Wales, Scotland or Ireland, or indeed one of the many that are springing up in other countries), and all thanks to the many people who don hi-viz come rain or shine and  make sure we're all safe. I can't quite believe I've been park running for that long, but there we have it. So I've done my fair share of running, so having reached my 100-run milestone and with the next milestone of 250 runs too far away to feel achievable, it's time to concentrate on giving something back. 

Prior to 2016 I volunteered 11 times across a variety of role including set up, marshal, finish tokens and barcode scanning. This year alone I've volunteered five times and in some new roles such as pacer and timekeeper, possibly the most nerve-wracking role there is! I enjoy donning my hi-viz just as much as my trainers, perhaps even more so, as I get to see all the action and cheer on every runner. 
Parkrun, as an organisation, now recognise the effort that volunteers put in by issuing them with their own milestone t-shirt after taking on 25 volunteer roles, in the same way as runners earn their t-shirts for 50, 100 and 250 runs. It's a great idea and although I'd do it for the love of it, I must admit it's a lovely touch. I can honestly say I don't have a favourite volunteer role, although pacing was a lot of fun. Even when the weather is shocking, wet, windy, cold, I still get out and do my bit. 
Every parkrun has an option for you to sign up to volunteer request emails and will have an email address that you can use to contact them and offer up your help. Please consider doing this even if you're not a runner, especially in holiday times when volunteers are often thin on the ground. It doesn't take up much of your day and you get o be part of something great. I ran my local parkrun last weekend, as it was their birthday event, but I've got my name down to volunteer for the next two weeks... role to be confirmed!

Have you volunteered at parkrun? Do you have a favourite role? Are you a runner who's never volunteered or a volunteer who's never run?

Monday, 4 April 2016

Post-Workout Snacks

Food! My favourite subject. I run to eat and I eat to run (other exercises also feature). I have my tried-and-tested pre-long run or race breakfast of choice which consists of a coffee and either overnight oats or porridge with banana and nut butter. And as I've learnt through some rather scary, wobbly experiences, post-exercise fuelling is also vital.

My go-to replenisher for post long runs is a chocolate protein shake or milk. It's easy to consume if I can't face real food and has a great carbs to protein ratio. A ratio of 3:1 carb to protein ratio is favoured for lean muscle mass and endurance work and it's important to get this in fairly quickly to optimise recovery. I also turn to things like protein bars, nakd bars, nut butter on rice cakes and the odd cheese sandwich as sometimes I need something savoury after the sweetness of energy gels. 

American company have sent me this cute infographic with a few more suggestions for post-workout snacks. I think I may try edame beans sometime as a recovery snack as I love them anyway. Nuts have an overwhelming selection of foods including healthy snacks and high-protein snacks and do ship to the UK but it's worth checking out your local stores for interesting snacks too. Lidl and Aldi, for instance, often have good value nuts and seeds for making your own trail mix, and Holland & Barrett have some great new snack lines. Companies such as The Protein Works or MyProtein have great deals on whey protein, bars and nut butters. It's personal preference but great to get more inspiration than the standard post-race banana!

What's your post-workout snack of choice? 

Friday, 1 April 2016

It's The People

It's often said that it's the people around you that really make a job enjoyable. I certainly found this to be the case when I worked in an office, enjoying the assignments more or less depending on the team, and find it still holds true as a self employed personal trainer.

These days I mostly work directly with my clients and it's these diverse individuals that make my day, rather than with a team behind the scenes. In some cases I work with groups (RunFituk, Back to Fitness) and the banter and the way the group interacts is wonderful. But the vast majority of my time is spent with one or two clients at a time and it's the best fun. When you choose a trainer to work with, you have to get on with them, so it stands to reason that I get on with everyone I've been working with longer term. If a client and I don't gel, then maybe I'm not the trainer for them. There are plenty of us with different approaches after all, and that's absolutely fine. But no matter what else has been going on in my day, I always leave my sessions feeling uplifted and that's totally down to the people.
We chat quite a bit in my sessions, I'm certainly no sergeant major, and everyone has different topics they enjoy talking about. One of my clients chats a lot about foreign TV shows but we've also recently started discussing the merits of planting from seeds versus plug plants, as Spring approaches. Comparing experiences of different potato varieties in-between sets of dead lifts is quite surreal. One of my twice-a-week clients frequently shares notes on yoga classes, cake recipes and what's worth buying in the latest Sweaty Betty sale. And some of my clients have catchphrases that make me giggle. "What... now?" is a frequent exclamation from one person, after I've explained the next set, perhaps ever hopeful I'll suggest a cup of tea first.

And of course it's always great when a client turns up with a story about how they were able to get that dress done up this week, or that someone commented on their newly-found muscle definition.
It's these little things that I look forward to and that give me joy. When my beginner groups tell me about how they were able to manage a longer walk or one of my run group earns a new PB or feels confident enough to set a new goal I'm lifted.

The work I do now is about people, and I'm lucky to be able to work with such wonderful individuals.