Let Race Season Begin!

Yes! Now I remember why I used to race all the time…..this feeling…..you can’t bloody beat it!  Whooosh! Look at how far my little hobbit legs are carrying me……this feels brilliant.  Okay so this feels a little less brilliant now and more hurty.  I think I’m slowing down a bit?  I’m definitely slowing down a bit.  Yeah it’s definitely hurty now.  Oh God is it possible for your lungs to collapse through overuse?  Maybe……I don’t know……..I feel like I’ve only got one lung now……….are my eyeballs still in their sockets?  Because they don’t feel like they are…….oooooh the finish line, the finish line!!!

Welcome to my brain during my first race in goodness knows how long!  I genuinely can’t remember what my last race was (not counting the honeymoon ‘marathon’ *coughs*).  I’ve been wanting to get back racing for a long time but I’ve just kept putting it off –

I’m not fast enough yet…..

I’m not as good as I used to be……

I’m not ready yet…….

It’s annoying just reading those pathetic excuses, let alone having to listen to them.  Yes, it is difficult to return to something when you know you’ve gone backwards.  When you know you’re going to be much slower than last time.  When you know it’s going to be difficult.  But you just need to get back on that horse, even if the horse is a little bit less steady on its feet (hoofs?!)

A couple of weekends ago I took part in the podium 5k.  I’ve done this race many times before.  It’s flat and it’s fast and there’s always plenty of mega speedy runners to help pull you along.

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Briefing at the start line – photo credit: Bryan Searby

Unfortunately the weather wasn’t brilliant but when is it ever in East Lancashire?  Far from PB shape, I made the conscious decision to set off right at the back of the pack and if I could work my way through any runners then that would be a bonus (especially given the ability of the field).  I finished 28th out of 38 runners in 20:07.  Whilst still just under a minute slower than my best, I was very satisfied indeed with that result, considering the complete and total lack of speedwork this year and it’s a great starting point to build upon.

Eager to maintain a consistent presence on the race scene, just a week later I found myself donning my stripes again but this time in sunny Blackpool for the Northern Athletics Road Relay Championships.

I was on the fourth leg and what followed can only be described as ‘destruction derby’!  As you can imagine on a beautiful day, Stanley Park was brimming with visitors out to enjoy the sunshine.  This certainly made for an interesting race and to be honest I found it more mentally draining than anything.  The constant twist and turns in the route were made much more complicated by constantly having to navigate around prams, dogs off leads, ice cream van queues, boating lakes, toddlers seemingly without parents and kids on scooters.  Oh and I swear the driver of the Thomas the Tank Engine passenger train had it in for me, seemingly gunning straight at me, leaving me the option of jump in the lake or career into the ice cream queue.  I opted to stay dry, on this occasion.

Nevertheless I thoroughly enjoyed my two laps around the park and was thrilled to run just shy of 6 miles in under 39 and a half minutes.  Obstacle races are obviously much more my bag!

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Photo credit: David Wood

It was great to feel part of the team again and we did ourselves proud with a top 25 finish.  It certainly gave me back the buzz of race day and ignited my running mojo once more.  So much so, the next event is already in the diary.  I’ve well and truly got back on the horse.  It might be more shetland pony than Red Rum but I’ve taken the hardest step in getting back in the stirrups.  Bring on the speedwork!

Fast Food – Butter Bean & Chorizo Stew

This comforting stew from BBC Good Food is quickly becoming a staple favourite in our household – mostly because it uses just four simple ingredients and can be on the table in around fifteen minutes.

Ingredients (serves 4):

  • 200g chorizo
  • 2 x 400g chopped tomatoes
  • 2 x 400g drained butter beans
  • 1 tub fresh pesto

Method:

  • Slice up your chorizo and fry in a saucepan over a medium heat (you don’t need to add any oil to the pan as there’s sufficient tasty fat in the chorizo to cook with).
  • After about 5 minutes, add the tomatoes and the drained butter beans to the pan, bring it to the boil and simmer for 10 minutes.
  • Take it off the heat and swirl through your pesto
  • Season lightly and serve

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It’s delicious on it’s own but for some extra carbs I add a wholemeal wrap or pitta bread.  If I’ve got any in, I also like to add some fresh spinach and dried chilli flakes.

The Road to Rainhill – 7 weeks to go!

I am far from the best at anything I do, but I make sure that no one is ever able to accuse me of not working hard enough.

That right there, is pretty much my life motto.  I’m pretty good at some things, overwhelmingly average at a lot and just downright terrible at others.  But I will never not give something my all.  Honestly, sometimes I wish I could just half arse things.  Just let it go, forget about it.  Be happy with not trying.  I don’t know whether it’s a good or a bad thing, but something is hardwired in my brain to not let that happen.  It’s just who I am.  I mean, if you’re not going to give it 100% then why bother?  I’m definitely an ‘all or nothing’ kind of gal.

Anyway, ever since I started CrossFit the biggest competition that I’ve heard people talk about is the rainhill trials.  It’s pretty much the London marathon of the CrossFit world – heavily oversubscribed and the only way in is through the ballot.

Now even though I enjoy it immensely, CrossFit is still one of those things that I am overwhelmingly average at (some would say below average but I’m really trying to work hard at having more confidence in myself at the minute!).  I’ve made huge progress since I started 16 months ago and I’m hitting PBs on my lifts on a regular basis – but trust me when I tell you my numbers are far from special (they are however, special to me and I always celebrate my little victories and take pride in them)

Yes – I really did run off in the middle of a competitive workout to go and ring the PB bell!

So why would someone like me be talking about a competition?  Well, the rainhill trials is one of the only major competitions to be ‘beginner friendly’.  For most competitions you need to complete qualifying workouts and only the best will get in.  For this one, you enter via a ballot (no matter what your ability) and if you get drawn, you’re in! You then do some seeding workouts so you’ll be placed in a category with people of similar ability.

I entered said ballot a couple of months ago and didn’t get in.  I was disappointed.  But last month I received an email that set my heart racing – someone had withdrawn and my name had been selected to take their place.

Cue a flood of terrifying thoughts and I naturally wanted to decline the place as I felt waaaay out of my comfort zone.  But then why the hell did I even apply if I was just going to turn down a place?!  So I put on my big girl pants and paid for my ticket before I got chance to chicken out.

And so I have seven weeks to improve.  Because for me, this is all about the journey.  The road to rainhill.  Anything could happen on the day and I might very well finish in last place – someone has to.  But I know I’ll be much stronger and fitter for going through this process.  Just like when I set myself ambitious race times for running.  Sometimes I smash them, sometimes I don’t.  But I’m always a better runner for having a go.  Those weeks of training along the way don’t just get discounted if you have a bad day.

Things helping me along the way

My hands are a real mess at the moment.  My skin is dry and I have bad rips and callouses.  I bought an inbitz handpack to see if that would help and I swear that their hand balm has been sent to earth from Jesus – it is literally heaven in a pot.  I’d highly recommend it and the pot lasts for ages (the balm is really thick so you only need to apply a small amount).

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Because everyone shaves their hands, yes?

Get The Label – a new online shop selling designer gym wear at bargain prices.  The prices are surprisingly low, even for brands such as Reebok, Adidas and Nike.  They were kind enough to send me some kit and I immediately fell in love with the Reebok leggings –

They’re a great fit, with added reflective patches on the seams and ventilation behind the knees, which comes in handy for gym workouts as well as outdoor runs.  Bonus points for also having a handy key pocket at the back.

I was also sent a Reebok Crossfit t-shirt and a vest – both of which I’ve worn in the open workouts so far and they’ve definitely brought me some luck!

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I’ve got some goals I want to try and work towards over the next seven weeks, but the biggest thing for me to work on will be confidence.  If the past few weeks have taught me anything, it’s that sometimes the only thing holding me back is me.

A Break in the Lakes – Seasonstrail Review

I know it might seem that we’ve not been long home since our honeymoon, but to us it feels like a lifetime ago and we couldn’t wait for a short break and a change of scenery to recharge the batteries.  And so we decided to spontaneously pack our bags and head off to one of our favourite places – the Lake District.

Incidentally, our first little holiday as a couple was in Ambleside three and a half years ago.  It was lovely to return as husband and wife – we even ate in the same restaurant!

A couple of weeks before we left for our trip, I was contacted by Seasonstrail to try out their new kit.  You pick four items of clothing (for women – a sports bra, a base layer, an outer layer and leggings) and you can see how each bit of kit looks on the model and build your own running wardrobe.

I don’t mind admitting I was a little bit wary at first.  I’ve seen other companies try the whole ‘buy a complete outfit’ scheme and the kit always seems a bit below par.  I was very happy to be proved wrong with seasonstrail.

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I was very glad to have my kit with me in the Lakes.  Not just for running, but I used them as base layers under my walking kit as the weather was so cold and wet.  I completely forgot I had my leggings on underneath my trousers as they fit like a glove (no one wants saggy leggings!).  The long sleeved base layer was fantastic as the arms hug you close but the torso has a little more room which means it doesn’t ride up as you run.  I’ve lost count of the amount of expensive base layers I can’t wear for running anymore because they constantly ride up and I have to stop and re-adjust myself every half mile as I’m flashing the whole world and his dog my stomach!

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Long sleeved base layer with leggings (photo credit: Martin Pearson)

You can tell the kit has been designed with practicality at the forefront – the leggings have a discreet key pocket at the back which keeps a decent sized house or car key snug.  I’ll never understand why sports clothing manufacturers would ever design leggings without anywhere to put your key?  The leggings are also relatively high-waisted and very flattering.

All the material is moisture-wicking and anti-chafe and just feels comfortable on your skin.  But the best bit – thumb loops!  They’re on both the long sleeved base layer and the hoodie.  Perfect for those colder runs and again stops the sleeves from riding up.

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Sports bra with the leggings

 

The outer layer also has reflective strips on the seams to keep you safe and make sure you’re seen in the dark.  It also has the same thumb loops as the base layer, toggles to adjust the hood, zipped pockets and a smaller inner pocket to stop things like coins jiggling around as you run.

Literally every single thing has been thought about.  The customer service I received was fantastic and they also offer free delivery and free returns.  Cost-wise, the a full four-piece outfit is £100 – however they are currently offering a 20% discount, so £80 for a full running outfit.  I’d be the first to say that something is over-priced if that’s what I think but I do genuinely believe this is good value taking into account the quality of the kit.  (I’m not sure about £100 though….that might be a tad steep).  I can imagine that some people may think the style is a little plain, but personally I love the fact that you can mix and match all of the gear.  I’d take practical things like thumb loops, comfort and zip pockets over a jazzy pattern any day!

Full Disclosure:  I was sent the full kit for free in return for my own review and honest opinions.  I have received no financial compensation for this post but I am a genuine fan of the brand and what they stand for.

Fast Food – Baked Porridge

This has recently become one of my all time favourite breakfasts – it feels much more luxurious than just a bowl of plain old porridge.  It’s delicious eaten warm, straight out of the oven but it’s also great for making the night before and eating it cold with a dollop of natural yoghurt – perfect post-gym fodder!  The recipe is from fitnaturally, with my own little tweaks to it.

Ingredients (makes 3 portions):

  • 100g porridge oats
  • 1 banana, sliced
  • a handful of frozen berries
  • approximately 275ml whole milk
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 generous sprinkling of nutmeg
  • half tsp of baking powder
  • butter to butter the dish
  • natural or Greek yoghurt, to serve

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Method

  • Place the oats in a bowl and mix in the cinnamon, nutmeg and baking powder.
  • Lightly butter your baking dish.
  • Cover the bottom of the dish with your sliced banana.  Scatter your berries on top.
  • Add your oats to the dish and then pour over your milk, making sure there’s enough to cover the oats, then press down lightly.  It might look like a lot of milk but if you don’t completely cover the oats the finished product will be dry and claggy.
  • Bake at 200 degrees centigrade for 20-30 minutes (check after 20 – you want a golden brown top but don’t let it burn!)

Enjoy it warm, straight from the oven or, if you can resist the tempting smell, let it cool and store it in the fridge for quick and easy breakfasts on busy mornings.  It will keep for a couple of days in an airtight container in the fridge.  I like mine with a dollop of greek yoghurt and a sprinkling of chia seeds if I have some in the cupboard.

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Using Macros for Performance – CFPendle 30 day challenge

“Macros”.  I hear that word a lot in various health and fitness circles and before the start of this year I never really understood what it meant – and honestly didn’t really care to either.  But my local CrossFit box were putting on a thirty day challenge, inviting members to learn how to use macros to help achieve their fitness goals; whether that be to lose, maintain or gain weight.  I was interested right away and it was perfect timing as the challenge was to begin the week after we got back from our honeymoon.  Two weeks of all inclusive food and alcohol certainly takes its toll!

Macros – what is it?

Put very simply, macros (short for macronutrients) is a term used to describe the three main food groups: carbohydrates, protein and fat.  Your balance of these food groups will vary greatly depending on your goals, which is why counting macros is a much better way of eating for fitness goals as not all calories are created equal.

How do I do it?

We worked out our macros with the help of our coach and ensured that they were tailored to our individual needs and goals.  Out of courtesy I’m not going to publish his information all over the internets (because, rude!) but also I think that it’s really important to do this with the help of someone who knows what they’re talking about.  We were lucky enough to have constant support throughout the 30 days where we could ask questions (I asked a lot!) and I still got muddled up with my macros.  However a simple google will assist you if you’re determined to go it alone.

Once we had our macros calculated (taking into account how much and what types of exercise we each did on a weekly basis) we were pretty much good to go.  In a nutshell, the idea was to stick as closely to your macros as possible using wholesome, nutritious foods.

For example – to meet my energy needs and not lose any muscle, 50% of my food each day needed to be made up of carbohydrates.  Now this would be easy if I could just stuff my face with cake, potatoes and pizza!  But the idea is to get as many nutrients from your food as possible.  So white pasta, rice and bread were replaced with wholegrain versions; snacks of crisps and chocolate were replaced with cottage cheese, apples with peanut butter and peppers with home-made hummus and potatoes were replaced with sweet potatoes and lots of fresh vegetables.  I can assure you, it really is quite difficult to meet your daily numbers when you’re eating loads of the good stuff!

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Typical Day

To give you a good idea of the meals I was eating (and just how much!), below is an example of what an average weekday consisted of for me:

Pre-Crossfit – a small home-made ‘high energy’ muffin and a coffee with whole milk
Post-Crossfit – sweet potato fritter with a poached egg or a bowl of porridge with a sliced banana
Lunch – home-made butternut squash soup and a wholemeal bagel with chicken, avocado and tomatoes
Pre-run – a small banana with some good quality peanut butter
Dinner – salmon fillet with cajun rice, green beans and brocolli
Snacks – tea, coffee, small handful of nuts, cottage cheese on a wholemeal rice cake

I certainly didn’t go hungry!  I’ll admit I found the first week a struggle, rarely managing to hit the amount of carbs that I needed.  But I stuck with it and it was just a case of trial and error and seeing what worked and what didn’t.

 I used ‘myfitnesspal’ to track my macros.  In the first few days this was a right pain in the arse.  It took a lot of time inputting ingredients and creating meals and it was a bit of a chore weighing stuff out.  However the scanner on the mobile app was fascinating (you scan the barcode of your food and the nutritional value just pops up on your screen – what a time to be alive!).  It was definitely worth the effort and by the second week it took no time at all.  Plus I was getting better at judging quantity of food by sight and didn’t have to rely on the scales so much.

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Typical breakfast! You can see on the pie chart that I was waaay off the macros on that particular day.

The Results

Thirty days is not a great amount of time and we were advised that we definitely shouldn’t have a big jump in numbers either way – the whole point of the challenge was to use the thrity days to get to grips with everything and utilise the knowledge of the coaches so that we can hopefully continue and incorporate our new way of eating into a healthy lifestyle change.  A big jump in numbers wouldn’t be sustainable.  With that in mind I was thrilled by my results – I dropped 1.5% bodyfat, weight pretty much stayed the same but I also put on a bit of muscle.

The biggest gain for me though was my energy levels.  I felt so much better both during and after workouts and I recovered a lot quicker with less aches and pains the next day.  I slept better, felt stronger and faster and achieved PBs in pretty much every lift during the 30 days.

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Was it Worth It?

Absolutely.  I was genuinely amazed at the difference and I really enjoyed cooking with new foods and learning new recipes.  We had a fantastic support network and we all gave each other tips which helped a lot – especially at the start.

I’m definitely going to continue using macros.  I will still have the occasional take away and dirty kebab (just like I did in the challenge).  I will still eat the odd doughnut and enjoy a glass of wine because that’s the beauty of a lifestyle change.  If you restrict yourself something silly then that’s a recipe for disaster.

I think the biggest reason that this new way of eating has worked so well for me is because it doesn’t restrict any particular food group.  I tried a six week challenge last year and whilst it was great at the time, I gradually eased out of the good habits because it was very restrictive of things like oats and bread (even wholegrain) and dairy was also frowned upon.  Using macros takes the individual into account.  I perform best eating a lot of carbs and as long as I made good choices, I pretty much had free reign to dive head-first into a bowl of sweet potatoes and rice.  This makes for a very happy runner!

I’m now forty-something days into the challenge and I’m still seeing improvements.  Now I have a much better understanding of what my body needs and how best to fuel it, I can’t wait to see where it takes me.

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Obsessed: A Word The Lazy Use To Describe The Dedicated.

You’re obsessed.

Immediately I inhale my breath through clenched teeth and curled lips, ready to defend myself.  I hear this a lot, you see.  Interestingly never from my gym buddies or running club mates, but frequently from (not so close) friends, colleagues and acquaintances.  Lazy ones.

Today, rather than get immediately on the defensive, I want to step into the insulter’s shoes (because let’s face it, that phrase is always going to be intended as an insult).  So let’s look at how much exercise I’d do on an average week –

CrossFit – usually 4 or 5 one hour classes per week.  We don’t actually exercise for the full hour – it’s normally less than half this but I’m physically in the gym for the hour so for the sake of argument we’ll call it 5 hours a week.

Running – this varies a lot from month to month but at the moment I’m probably spending 3-4 hours a week out running.  For now, we’ll call it 4.

So that’s a total of 9 hours a week.  I also spend additional time stretching and doing mobility work.  Personally I would say that everybody should do this regardless of if you exercise or not.  But again, to look at it objectively let’s stick another hour a week on there for stretching.  So, on average, 10 hours a week.  40 hours a month.  That’s more than enough hours to earn me the ‘obsessed’ badge by many.

I asked the person who labelled me obsessed if they liked to watch any soaps.

“Oh yes!  Eastenders and Coronation Street are my favourites but I like Emmerdale and Hollyoaks too,” was the enthusiastic response.  “Oh and Neighbours – can’t forget about Neighbours, I’ve watched that for decades!”

“And do you watch every episode of those soaps?”

“Of course!  If I’m out I’ll record them or watch the omnibus at the weekend.”

I smiled and they frowned……I think it dawned on them where I was heading with this.  A quick tot up and their approximate weekly fix of soap operas spans 11 and a half hours.  46 hours a month.  And that’s just soaps alone – no other tv shows, news items or films (which they confirmed they watched a lot of each week).

Would I ever accuse someone of being obsessed with television?  I really wouldn’t.  And I don’t believe that’s because I’m a nice person who wouldn’t say boo to a goose (I am nice but I hate geese and regularly tell them so).  No, I think it’s because sitting in front of the television each night is far more socially acceptable than to go out running or head to the gym.

But why?  Honestly, I don’t know.  I’ll guess that people who never exercise perhaps feel a sense of inadequacy.  They know they probably should get up off that sofa at some point, but for whatever reason they don’t.  And rather than say fair play to you, I wish I could do that most will deflect that feeling by mocking or insulting the person that does.

And of course, how other people spend their free time is no concern of mine.  I think everyone should do whatever makes them happy and stop being so Judgey McJudge Face.  I just think it’s a little sad that I’d be considered much more ‘normal’ if I spent every evening in front of the television and every weekend sitting in a pub.

Don’t get me wrong, I like to sit on the sofa with my husband and a big bowl of doritos and whatever the latest Netflix craze is.  I like to go out with my friends and that will often involve a pub.  On a Friday I like to get home as soon as possible and put on pyjamas by 5pm.  It’s just that these particular days are interspersed with early mornings at the gym, nights at the running track and an occasional race.  And that’s not because I’m punishing myself or feel that I ought to be doing those things – it’s because I love to do those things and I love how doing those things makes me feel, both in mind and body.  And I get that some people just won’t understand that feeling, and it’s a shame.

But I’m getting much better at laughing off the insults (you should see how some of my  colleagues react when they learn that I *gasp* lift weights).  These days rather than immediately get on the defensive I’m much more inclined to respond to a “You’re obsessed” statement with a wry smile and a “Yes – from your perspective”.

All I know is that when I’m on my death bed I’ll be thankful for the full and energetic life I’ve lived and I certainly won’t be crying over all the goings on I’ve missed from Albert Square….

Starting 2017 in Paradise

Happy New Year!  (Is it still okay to say that in the last few days of January?)  Hopefully the inundation of “New year, new me!” posts that always flood the blogosphere at this time of year have subsided and I can settle back into yacking about all things running-related.  But to re-cap 2016 in a nutshell – – – -> I didn’t run or race very much, I did a bit of CrossFit, I got married.

Starting the year as a married couple has honestly been pretty much exactly the same as before we were married, with the exception that I keep signing my name wrong and we have a lot less money than we did this time last year.  We now also get to do cool things like fist-bump our wedding rings together and yell ‘Team Pearson!’…….

I still have big CrossFit goals (that’s for another post) but I’m determined to increase my running and racing miles this year.  To help me with this, millet sports kindly provided me with a pair of Brooks Ghost 9s to take with me on honeymoon (I am much more romantic than that last sentence gives me credit for).

On our first morning waking up in Paradise (aka the Dominican Republic) we couldn’t resist heading to the beach to watch the sunrise.  It was breathtaking.  That could have been down to the 98% humidity but I’m convinced it was more because of this view –

Whilst the beach was pretty much deserted (and before it got too hot!) I took the opportunity to test out my footwear in the sand.  Running in sand is horrible in any shoe (soooo tough!) but the combination of my new kicks and the stunning location made it a pleasure.  The Ghost 9s have an engineered mesh which really does help breathability but still kept the sand out.  Top marks, Brooks!

We spent most of our days relaxing on the beach or lounging by the pool; drinking cocktails and eating.  We did get off our backsides every now and again to have a go at the pool games but it certainly wasn’t anywhere near the level of exercise we’d normally do at home – and we were very happy to enjoy the rest!

Sunrise run!

Sorry – had to be done!

Not too long after this I was pushed over by the tide!

Anyone for ‘surf yoga’?! Made much more interesting after a few Mama Juanas….

We were celebrating Boxing day by the pool, enjoying some nice wine with lunch and following it up with a few cocktails when one of the members of the events team broke the peace by yelling, “Christmas marathon!! Christmas marathon! I need all of you to meet back here in an hour with your trainers, just sign here!”

Now you’re talking!  I knew it obviously wasn’t going to be a full marathon so before he could finish his banana mama I’d already signed myself and my new husband up (sorry, love – no backsies!)

So at three o’clock we rolled up to the meeting point, slightly drunk and very hot.  They’d pretty much signed up every holiday maker they could, luring them in with a free t-shirt ( I am a sucker for a t-shirt!).  We gathered at the start line with still absolutely no idea how far this ‘marathon’ was supposed to be.  I decided to ask someone official looking with a clipboard and he just pointed two fingers at me and said excitedly, “it’s two laps, lady!”

“Ah right.  Two laps of what?”

“Two laps of over there! Bye now, run, run!”

Ooookayyyy then.  Nevertheless, the bewildered holiday makers seemed excited about the two laps of somewhere vague in the 30 degree heat and we buoyed over the start line in good spirits.  Mostly alcoholic ones.

Approximately thirty seconds in, people started to fade.  Let’s be fair – it’s Boxing day, it’s bloody roasting and not many of these people look like experienced runners.  I genuinely did start right at the back (I have GoPro evidence!) but I’ll be honest – it only took a few minutes before I was itching to push on.  And so I did.  Despite the conditions I did actually really enjoy it.  I was only doing about 7:30 minute miles because:

a) I didn’t want to be a dick

b) It was actually quite hard to do 7:30 minute miles!

Most of the tourists watching thought we were idiots and at the time I completely agreed with them.  It didn’t make me slow down though!  One lap to go and I heard a moped fast approaching behind me.  I instinctively moved over to the side, assuming it wanted to go past.  When it didn’t overtake, I glanced behind to see two events co-ordinators flashing their lights, bipping their horns and waving at everyone to them that I was the ‘weener’.  They kept yelling, “This is the weener coming through, lady weener over here! The weener, the weener!”

Good Lord.  What the hell is going on and what on earth am I doing?  This isn’t exactly how I envisaged my honeymoon!

The finish line soon appeared – which was unhelpfully in the same place as the water station – and I promptly aqua planed through the tape! (If you happen to buy a pair of the Brooks Ghost 9s, don’t run fast over wet marble in them.  You will fall down.)

I gulped down as much water as possible and cheered everyone home – including my new husband (who did brilliantly well!) but was muttering something about divorce proceedings as he stumbled through the finish.

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So there you have it – go on a relaxing honeymoon, come back a ‘marathon weener’!  If nothing else it’s a good story for the grandkids one day ;-).

But now I’m home and surprisingly I’m not doing too bad at getting back on the running wagon.  There’s no breathtaking Dominican sunrise on my morning run (more like breathtaking freezing fog), and anyone approaching me on a moped shouting and waving at me on my evening runs is certainly no events co-ordinator (more like a scally trying to nick my garmin)….but it’s home, and there’s nowhere else I’d rather be.

Disclosure:  Millet Sports kindly gifted me the trainers in return for this blog post.  They sadly did not gift me our honeymoon.  Sigh.

Food For Thought

Okay, before I begin, I want to make it abundantly clear I’m not known for my meticulous healthy eating regimes and whilst I think I’ve struck a pretty good balance between eating well and enjoying treats in moderation, I don’t exactly eat to perform…..

Anyone for bread?

Anyone for bread?

My 'snacks' for the Trailblaster 12 race....

My ‘snacks’ for the Trailblaster 12 race….

However, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t take a keen interest in nutrition and I do try to make at least 80 percent of my meals from scratch.  So when I was asked if I was interested in reviewing the new book ‘Fast Fuel’, I jumped at the chance.

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The author, Renee McGregor has years of experience and expertise in sports nutrition and advises athletes from amateur to Olympic levels.  In the book she translates her scientific knowledge into practical eating advice, aimed specifically at runners looking to achieve their goals.

The main focus of the book is stressing the importance of choosing nutrient-dense foods.  So for example, if I’m planning on a sixty minute run with some faster sprints towards the end, I know I’ll need some carbs to fuel me.  Rather than choosing a nutrient-poor carbohydrate such as an energy drink or white bread, I’d be better opting for a bowl of porridge or some fruit.  These options will still provide me with the carbs I’d need but in addition will provide my body with valuable vitamins, protein, minerals, fibre and antioxidants.  Of course it’s not always that easy and grabbing an energy drink would be better than having nothing at all – just so long as that isn’t a regular occurrence.

Of course that’s pretty straightforward advice but the book goes into much more detail and has some fascinating chapters that a science geek like me relished the chance to read, such as the effect of caffeine on performance; the gluten-free fad; racing weight and body composition; aerobic and anaerobic metabolism and the female hormone cycle.

As well as the science side of things there are hundreds of recipes in the book too.  There’s nothing too complicated but the recipes were far more interesting than the ‘chicken, broccoli and rice’ I was expecting! (I’m sure there’s a lesson in not judging a book by its cover in there somewhere…..).  The recipes are laid out simply with clear instructions and the nutrition facts per serving are displayed at the bottom of each page.  There aren’t any glossy photographs of the meals but to be honest I quite like that.  I mean, my meals never look like the photographs in cook books anyway!

It retails at £9:99 (which is a reasonable price for what you get) but I’ve seen it currently in the sale at WHSmith for £6:99 (which I think is a bit more like it and I’d be happy to pay that price for it).

ProWater

If you’re a regular reader (Hi, Dad!) you’ll know that over the past twelve months I’ve been trying my hand at CrossFit.  I love the variety it adds to my training and I’ve gone from paying pretty much zero attention to strength training (bar the occasional bootcamp session) to doing it about four times a week.  My bodyweight is surprisingly pretty much the same as it was last year – maybe an extra kilogram or so – but my body composition has changed quite dramatically.

Now I’m certainly no power lifter but I’m quite keen to retain the baby muscles I’ve built over the last year, and when I’m running a lot of miles this can be quite tricky.  I’ve been trying to add more protein to my diet and was thrilled when ProWater asked if I’d be interested in sampling some of their products.

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A lot of my harder strength training sessions are done at 5:45am, which is certainly not my most favourite time of day to do anything – let alone be expected to pick up heavy stuff or be good at gymnastics.  But it’s often the only time I’ve got to work out so there’s no point whinging about it.  The biggest drawback is nutrition – I do the workout fasted because, let’s face it, no one wants to get up at 4am to eat and allow that food to digest.  But this makes recovery even more important.

In an ideal world I’d eat a proper meal within twenty minutes of finishing my workout.  Again, it’s simply not possible so I look for the next best option – which for me has always been a protein shake.  I’ve tried various different whey proteins and I’ll normally mix it with whole milk to add a few more calories.  Most days it works just fine but sometimes, when you’re absolutely parched, you’re red hot and your throat is burning, the thought of a chalky, dusty shake doesn’t set my world on fire.  But an ice cold, fruity, refreshing juice? Now you’re talking!

In a nutshell, one 500ml bottle contains 20g of protein with zero sugars, carbs or fat.  I’ll admit I was a bit sceptical at first and thought that the ingredients list would be full of ‘nasties’ but they’re made with 100% natural flavours and colours and honestly, they taste really good!  Quite sweet, but certainly no sweeter than any other juice drink and a much more refreshing option than a powder.

I’d say the product is more geared towards the consumer that might be looking towards losing weight and wants the convenience of a protein shake but without the often hidden calories.  Personally, I’m looking at maintaining or perhaps even gaining weight so it’s not ideal for my needs, but I’d definitely consider it as an option for adding more protein in addition to my usual meals or snacks.

Price wise……honestly I was a bit taken aback at the expense.  You can currently buy a pack of 12 500ml bottles for £29:99.  So even buying in bulk works out at £2:50 per drink, which is definitely out of my price range.  However if I found them on offer somewhere I’d definitely buy some to keep handy in the fridge.

I certainly feel a lot stronger than I ever have and the weight that I’m able to lift is gradually sneaking up.  Most of that is due to the work I’m putting in but I can’t deny that good nutrition has some part to play.  As the saying goes, ‘Abs are made in the kitchen’, right?

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Disclosure:  I was sent a copy of ‘Fast Fuel’ and four bottles of prowater for free to review.  I did not receive any additional financial compensation and all opinions are my own, honest ones.

An Open Letter To The Man Who Is the Reason I’m Still Running

Together, as a club, our hearts are heavy.  We stand shoulder to shoulder as we grieve the passing of the founding father of our ‘little club’.

You can read a little more here about Gerry McCabe in this fitting tribute but I’d like to selfishly talk about the effect that he’s had on me as a person.  I wrote a private letter to him a couple of weeks ago and his family were gracious enough to read it to him during his short stay in the hospice.  With permission from his family I’d now like to make that letter an open one:

For Gerry

Up until 2012 I had barely run a step.  Of course there were the mandatory PE classes at school in which I failed miserably at all sports.  I was the stereotypical short, scrawny girl that couldn’t throw, catch or hit.  Always picked last for teams, I would dread PE.  Unless it was cross country – I actually enjoyed that (despite not being very good at it) and nobody else was relying on my (lack of) athletic prowess.  I could just run until I got to the finish.  Unfortunately in those days you had to be selected to take part in school cross country events, which of course I never was.  Because it wasn’t about the enjoyment of sport, it was all about winning and that was the end of running for me.

Fast forward twenty years and nothing much had changed.  I still had those dying embers of the previous fire inside of me that told me I wanted to be a runner but I had nothing to keep it burning bright.  I watched the London Marathon every year in awe, promising myself that one day, I’d be there.

In 2012, I decided I’d do something about it.  On a whim I entered the Great North Run – my only to target to make it round in one piece. I started jogging outside but I hated it. Barely half a mile in my lungs were burning, I was dripping with sweat and every step would hurt.  I’ll never forget those first early mornings, where I would try and run a mile before work – in the dark and alone.

I worked my way up to 5k and although I was making progress, the enjoyment just wasn’t there.  Come June, something called ‘parkrun’ had made its way to Burnley and I was there bright and early for the maiden event.  Whilst running, I noticed a lot of people in these funny black and white stripy vests. “Gosh”, I thought to myself. “These must be serious people.”  Yet their vest wasn’t the only thing they had in common – they were all wearing a smile.  And chatting.  And laughing.

The friendliest people I know

The friendliest people I know

There were of course other people wearing different vests that day, but between me and you, they all seemed rather grumpy! One ‘gentleman’ even almost knocked me over in his eagerness to get to the finish.  I plucked up the courage to wander over to the friendly bunch in black and white and struck up a conversation and before I knew it I had agreed to join them on Monday for a training session.

And that was that. They welcomed an enthusiastic – yet struggling – ‘wannabe’ runner with open arms.  They never once made me feel like I wasn’t good enough.  They never once put me down.  They never once made me feel like my Yr7 PE teacher did.  I was a runner, now.  So thank you, Gerry. It’s because of you that I’m the person I am today.  Not just because of my love of sport, but because I have gained the self-confidence that I was always lacking.  Even at a meagre 5ft nothing, I walk (and run!) with my head held high.  You’ve created a club not just of athletes, but of friends. Of supporters. Who hold each other up and celebrate everyone’s achievements, no matter how small.  Who make each other feel good about themselves. Who offer advice and encouragement. Who stand together.  Who have become a second family to me.

My first race for TAC! It was a huge struggle, but I was a runner now and I was loving it.

My first race for TAC! It was a huge struggle, but I was a runner now and I was loving it.

Whether I’m at the front end of the pack or right at the very back, whether I’m on a track or wading through mud, whether I’m slushing through snow or melting in a heatwave – that flame will never be put out. Thank you, Gerry.

P.S I did complete the Great North Run and I did fulfil my childhood dream of running the London Marathon – and because of you I did it from the Championship start.

An incredibly proud moment, standing with my brother.

An incredibly proud moment, standing with my brother.

My thoughts and prayers are with Gerry’s friends and family and as a club, I know we will continue to do him proud and ensure that the good nature and the ethos of our club remains as Gerry intended it.

Catching Up

This little blog has far from a wide-reaching audience but it would appear my recent online absence has been noted and commented upon (mostly by my boyfriend and my Dad but still, I’ve been missed!).

Half-way through the summer I took the decision to forget about racing for the forseeable future.  Life was becoming frantic and the local races were starting to creep up to twice a week and to be honest, it just became stressful (who knew that organising a wedding involving three different locations in less than eleven months would take up so much time?!).  And at the end of the day running is just my hobby and if it stops being enjoyable, well…..it’s time to find a new hobby.

One of my last races of the summer, celebrating a win along with my Dad and team mate, Nic.

One of my last races of the summer, celebrating a win along with my Dad and team mate, Nic.

I didn’t stop running completely though – I think I would become slightly unstable if I did that!  I’ve just really enjoyed running as and when I feel like it.  No targets, no races – simply running for the love of running.  Because it really doesn’t always have to be about chasing a time or moving up to a particular distance.  Yes, I’ve definitely lost a lot of speed and quite a bit of endurance but hey, everyone needs a break and I certainly feel better for it.  And anytime the questions about dresses/hair/jewellery/shoes/music/bands/venue got a little overwhelming, I just went out for a pootle or headed to the gym and returned clear-headed and care-free again.

So here’s a few highlights of my summer:

100 parkruns

I’ve mentioned my Dad a few times on the blog before.  At the end of June we both completed our 100th parkrun together (I may have waited for a few weeks for him to catch up!).  It was a brilliant day and we spent the whole run side by side, chatting about all of our previous runs together.

Smiling all the way! (Photo credit: David Belshaw)

Smiling all the way! (Photo credit: David Belshaw)

Nothing says "100 parkruns" like cake! (Photo credit: David Belshaw)

Nothing says “100 parkruns” like cake! (Photo credit: David Belshaw)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Unfortunately I’m still waiting for the coveted ‘100’ t-shirt despite completing the run in June.  I’ve asked parkrun UK about it who were not willing to come forward with a reason.  They originally said they were hoping to place an order in October, although Wiggle have now stated they were hoping for November.  I won’t hold my breath!  It’s wonderful that they offer free milestone t-shirts, but personally I’d be very happy to pay for it than waiting for a free one and surely that would resolve the issue?

Time Out

We took a short break at the end of July to have a bit of fun in Southport and to tackle the highest mountain in England, Scafell Pike (after a very heavy night on the lash!)

#crossfitwankers

#crossfitwankers

It's impossible to be sad on a mountain!

It’s impossible to be sad on a mountain!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tough Mudder

I’ve never really been one for obstacle races but when my friend suggested doing one as a group for her 30th birthday, I couldn’t resist.  It was actually loads of fun and although expensive, we had a brilliant day and I wouldn’t hesitate to do another.

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Hen Do!

I had an amazing four-day weekend with friends and family in Penrith.  We had the perfect combination of outdoor activities, alcohol and hot tubs.

prosecco makes pull-ups easier!

prosecco makes pull-ups easier!

Segway time!

Segway time!

A comeback race

I had a rare free weekend and couldn’t resist a go at a local 10k trail race towards the end of September.  It was lovely and a massive confidence boost to come away with a win, but the number of entries was very low so I’m not really counting it.  Was a lovely little trophy though!

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And of course in between all that little lot, we’ve planned (what we’re really hoping will be) a cracking wedding and honeymoon.  Right now I’m just continuing to enjoy exercise and do it as and when I find the time.  I’m surprisingly looking forward to winter and just getting some steady base miles in.  Oh and of course the occasional parkrun.  Look out for a tiny runaway bride on Saturday morning at 9am!

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Welcome To The Gun Show?

When thinking of guns in terms of Crossfit, prior to this week the majority of people would have immediately conjured up the image of someone tensing their biceps.  See below for a cringeworthy case in point:

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Tickets to the gun show, anyone?

Unfortunately, as of Dave Castro’s recent announcement, the image that now comes to mind when hearing the words ‘crossfit’ and ‘guns’ will be firearms.  See below for a cringeworthy case in point:

Mat Fraser

Mat Fraser, a crossfit athlete showing his support for gun culture

Allow me to elaborate – every summer since 2007, the StubHub Center in Carson, California plays host to the Crossfit Games.  Think of it as the crossfit equivalent to the Olympic Games for athletics.  The Crossfit Games is a competition which is open to absolutely everybody right across the world.  Starting in February, a new workout is released each week for five weeks which every single crossfit athlete can attempt.  You submit your scores and if you do well enough you will be selected to represent your region in the next stage of the competition – Regionals (continuing the athletics analogy, think of this as the Olympic trials).

Only the select few at the top of their regions will advance to the next and final stage, the Crossfit Games (think Olympic finals).  These competitors are the best of the best at the sport and are rightly given the title of the Fittest on Earth.

The winners of the competition have always received a cash prize.  But this year, the director of the Games, Dave Castro, has announced that they will also receive a Glock handgun.  Yep, that’s right – a firearm.  Something that is illegal to possess in the majority of countries taking part in the Games outside of America.

There are so many things wrong with this that I’m not sure where to start.  On a personal level I’m completely against civilians possessing firearms and my thoughts can be summed up in nicely in 65 seconds courtesy of this clip from the magnificent, The West Wing:

But I’m adult enough to put my personal opinions to one side and respect that Americans have the right to purchase guns and bullets.  If people believe that the answer to reducing gun crime is to get more guns out there….then…well that’s their opinion and I can choose to respectfully disagree.

But politics aside, what the actual chuff have handguns got to do with Crossfit?  If it was a shooting competition only open to American citizens then the prize of a firearm would make absolute sense.  But crossfit is the sport of fitness.  It’s about being a well-rounded athlete that can run, jump, row, lift heavy and do gymnastics.  It’s about being healthy in all aspects of life; eating well, getting sufficient sleep and improving mobility.  It’s about being a better person.  Please, someone please tell me how a gun comes into that ethos?  Interestingly, Reebok (Crossfit’s main sponsor) who’s recent slogan is #bemorehuman, disagrees with the new prize.  It seems they don’t disagree enough to do anything about it though.

The fact that the competition is open to everyone is something that Crossfit prides itself on.  The sport places a huge emphasis on community; on getting everyone involved no matter what their level of fitness or physical limitations.  There are over 13,000 affiliates across the globe. So what happens if someone from Iceland wins the prize?  Someone from the UK?  Australia?  Are the organisers so short-sighted and self-engrossed in their own gun culture that they genuinely believe that athletes would love to win a firearm that’s illegal to own in the country that they have come to represent?

So for the first time since trying my hand at the sport, I’m genuinely ashamed of the hobby I’ve grown to love.  Don’t get me wrong, crossfit has many flaws – just like running does, just like athletics does, just like football does.  And I’m the first to take the mick out of myself and my new hobby (I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve used the hashtag #crossfitwanker on twitter!).

Ultimately I’d recommend crossfit to anyone and everyone.  I’m stronger, faster, happier, healthier and more confident in my own skin than I have ever been.  But I’m gutted that Dave Castro et al. refuse to acknowledge the thousands of us that would like him to revoke the Glock sponsorship.  For a business that’s invested so much time, effort and money into tackling the big soda companies in a bid to make society that bit healthier, I simply cannot comprehend their reasoning for pushing their pro-gun culture on their international following.  To say nothing of what impression this gives to the thousands of children out there that attend the Crossfit Kids classes.

If you’d like to make your voice heard, please consider signing this petition.

For me, the only pistols I’m interested in are those of the squat variety –

pistol squat

The Silent Killer?

I’m genuinely confused as to why stress is often given the nickname of the ‘silent killer’.  Silent?!  Really?  Anyone within a three mile radius of me will know about it when I’m stressed.  I have a terrible potty mouth at the best of times but when I’m stressed or upset this bad habit can get out of control.  I’ll slam doors, I’ll throw things down and bang and clatter my way through the day.  I’ll curse loudly, growl noisily and I’m absolutely positive even my ‘eye rolls’ makes a sound when I’m stressed.  Sometimes I’ll just need a big ole cry but I can assure you I’m anything but silent.

One area where I miraculously have managed to stay rather silent, however, is this blog.  There’s no real drama to report – I’ve simply endured an incredibly hectic and stressful eight weeks and unfortunately things like writing and blogging had to take a backseat due to other priorities.

So presumably during this frantic couple of months I’ve not really been keeping up with fitness?  Actually, it’s been the one thing that’s kept me sane this entire time…..

I’d had a particularly bad week.  There had been tears (and I’m really not a ‘cryer’), little sleep, missed meals and a lot of worrying.  When it came to Saturday morning, surely the best thing I could have done was sleep in, put my feet up and watch some television?  Whilst that sounded like heaven, I made myself get up and go to parkrun.  And once that had finished, I made myself go to crossfit.  And it was absolutely the best thing I could have done.

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I didn’t run myself into the ground, nor did I give myself a hard time about weights that I couldn’t lift.  But I did let my friends rally round me.  I did slow down to chat to people at parkrun and say hello.  When I started failing lifts at a weight I knew I should be able to manage, I took a deep breath and let the coach give me a few pointers.  My ears pricked up as a few people shouted some encouragement my way.  And all of a sudden that bar flew up and I didn’t stop smiling for the rest of the session.

When stuff gets hard, often the easiest thing in the world is to curl up into a little ball until it all goes away.  I often hear the phrase “be kind to yourself”.  And it’s a sentiment I agree with.  But kind doesn’t have to mean lazy.  After a tough day I long to just get home, close the curtains and mooch in front of mindless tv.  I tell myself “I deserve this”.  But after a few hours of it I end up feeling worse.  That particular Saturday morning I left the house feeling drained, tearful and carrying the weight of the world upon my shoulders.  I came home a couple of hours later having push pressed that weight from my shoulders into another galaxy.

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For me it’s not just about those magical endorphins and the euphoric highs they can create.  It’s about getting outside in some green space and leaving your computer/phone/paperwork behind.  It’s about being amongst like-minded people.  It’s about setting an hour aside to forget your day job and focus on the task at hand…whether that be reaching the finish line or getting to the end of a workout.  And then congratulating one another when you’re done.  (Not to mention the fact that I’ll fall asleep as soon as my head hits the pillow).

Some wear stress as a badge of honour.

“You’ve worked fifty hours this week – is that all?!”

“You haven’t had a lunch break this month – what’s a lunch break? I’ve never had one of those!”

(Don’t you just hate those people?).  Personally I avoid stress as much as possible.  I know that I’m much more productive if I can take a thirty minute break to go for a walk to clear my head.  I can then come back to my desk refreshed and ready to crack on.  And on the days I’m genuinely unable to take a break then I make it a priority to take some exercise when I get home.

But my version of being kind to myself is to get out and enjoy a gentle run with friends, walk up a hill with family or pick up something heavy for a bit with some rowdy encouragement.  To surround myself with people who have all turned up for a variety of different reasons but we ultimately have the same goal – to become better.  Not necessarily to be the best, but just be a better version of what we were yesterday.  Whether that be running a little faster, lifting a little heavier or simply feeling better about ourselves and leaving more able to cope with whatever the day has to throw at us.

I’m thankfully at the end of my stressful period now and I’m looking forward to a much more relaxed summer.  But on the days that life might throw me a curveball, I’ll lace up my runners, chalk up my hands and remember my new life motto:

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N.B. This is a light-hearted post about my little struggles of late and how I’ve personally dealt with them and is by no means a serious post about mental health issues or advice.  That being said, if you’re feeling overwhelmed, please don’t keep quiet. Dealing with stress over a prolonged period of time can have serious effects on our mental and physical health.  Here’s a good place to start – http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/stress-anxiety-depression/Pages/understanding-stress.aspx

When Fear Stops You In Your (muddy) Tracks

After a short struggle I was able to free my right leg from the gluttonous mud.  I checked my shoe was still firmly on my foot (it was) and trundled forward.  Much like my energy, my determination to finish the race was being sapped from me with every  step.

Six paces later and squelch.  This time it was my left leg; trapped up to the knee.  I needed to plant both hands on the ground – which were freezing cold thanks to being covered in my soaking wet gloves – in order to release my leg from the grip of the peat bog.  I cursed that Great Hameldon Hill was home to the terminator of bog monsters – they will not sleep until I am dead.

Anyone that has seen (or indeed, heard) me try to race on the fells will know that it’s not my most favoured running environment.  Whilst the thoughts in the paragraphs above about last Sunday’s race up and over Great Hameldon Hill may be a touch melodramatic, they were my honest feelings at the time.

It’s not the steep uphills that bother me.  I love running uphill, no matter what the terrain.  Obviously it’s tough going but I’ve always enjoyed the challenge of steep climbs.  The inclement weather didn’t bother me too much either.  Don’t get me wrong it would have been lovely to have some fine, warm weather as we assembled in the starting field, rather than resorting to jumping jacks in order to keep our toes from going numb.  But there’s something about facing high winds and torrential rain I find extremely satisfying……and that post-race soak in a hot bath feels all the more rewarding.

No, it’s none of the above.  For me, I hate what everybody else appears to love about fell running – the descent.  The part that everyone else calls the ‘fun’ bit is the bit that cripples me with fear.  Every divot I step in I believe will result in a sprained ankle.  Every bog I fall down I think will be the one where I’ll break my arm in the fall.  Every slippery rock I skate across brings with it the fear of a broken neck.

And everyone knows that no matter what your running ability, you’ll never do well in a fell race if you lack confidence.

Photo credit: David Belshaw

Photo credit: David Belshaw

As it turns out, I did finish Sunday’s race.  And I did it without breaking any bones or even falling over.  And despite my vocal protests on the way down I may have enjoyed it a teensy tiny bit.  But I still shudder with fear of the thought of the next fell race.  People ask me why I’m thinking about entering another one and my answer is always the same –

You don’t get better at things by avoiding them.

And I want to get better at fell running.  I love climbing hills.  I love being out in the elements.  And oh, the views!  It’s just the getting back down part I’m not a big fan of.  But if I want to get better at it then I need to put the effort in.  I need to do it more often and I need to just damn well stop whining about it.

There’s a phrase that’s used regularly amongst my crossfit coaches – work your weaknesses.  If you’ve booked on a class that you later find out has your most hated movements in it, then you show up anyway and give it all you’ve got.  If you don’t work at them, your weaknesses will always remain just that.

Photo credit: Toni Darcy

Photo credit: Toni Darcy

I just need to transfer this motto across to my running.  In my quest to get even the most marginal of gains I’ve found a brilliant article written by Tom Addison for Inov-8.  (I have a lot of love for tip number 8!).  I’m sure you’ll find it a useful read.

I’m looking forward to getting out on the fells and trails a little more often and hopefully diminishing my fears.  I’m really not looking forward to cleaning those damn fell shoes again.

My fell shoes now permanently live outside!

My fell shoes now permanently live outside!

Comparison is the thief of joy

Oh flippin’ heck Darren we’ve just been overtaken by a girl, this is well embarrassin’!

My heart broke a little bit as I ran past a couple of teenage lads at my local parkrun who were struggling on the first lap and were clearly not impressed that a lowly ‘girl’ had gone past them.  I stopped to chat with them a little bit and to encourage them on, explaining that I’ve done lots of parkruns and that they were most likely running much faster than I was when I first started out.  To be honest I don’t think they appreciated me engaging in conversation when they were struggling for breath and I probably came across as a right smug wanker so I left them to it.

But we all do it, don’t we?  Compare ourselves to others.  And it always ends up with the same sinking feeling of disappointment.  Of not being good enough.  Of not being fast enough.  Of not running far enough.  And it’s bullshit.

On Saturday I did something terrifying – I took part in a crossfit throwdown.  It was basically a competition where, in pairs, you took part in three different workouts throughout the day and your scores were added up.  To make it even more interesting, it was ‘hero’ fancy dress.  I didn’t want to go as your typical superhero so I chose someone who was a personal hero of mine….

Doing my best to impersonate Jessica Ennis!

Doing my best to impersonate Jessica Ennis!

Even though it was all for charity and a bit of fun I was still nervous.  I’ve only been going to crossfit for six months and my team mate only about three months so both of us agreed to just enjoy the day and do the best we could.  Mission accomplished!

Pain face!

We had a right laugh and worked really hard.  But the results table?  Trust me, we were far from a podium finish!  In fact we were almost dead last.  But why on earth would we compare ourselves to people who are quite frankly well out of our league?  To people who’ve been doing this for years?  To people who regularly lift significantly heavier than we could ever dream of?  Why would we rob ourselves of that feeling of pride after looking back at how much progress we’ve both made in the past few months?  I was really proud of what we both achieved and I won’t be ruining it by comparing myself to others.

I woke up on Sunday feeling like I’d been run over by a bus.  The best thing to do would be to have a relaxing rest day, maybe a bit of a walk and some gentle stretching.  Unfortunately I’d made plans to turn that ‘bit of a walk’ into run the Darwen Heritage half marathon.  Which is a bit hilly…..

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I had a feeling the race wasn’t going to go well when I went to collect my race number, dropped my t-shirt on the floor and couldn’t bend down to pick it back up.  Ah well.  It was a nice day for it, I knew it would be a gorgeous route and to be fair my legs were in a much better state than my shoulders!  Seriously though, I wasn’t injured, just very achey.  Don’t come crying to me if you’re also foolish enough to race when you can’t tie your own shoe laces!

I set off at what felt like a conservative pace and let my legs loosen up.  Surprisingly, as the first few uphill miles ticked by my legs felt better with every step.  I started to enjoy it.  Even though I’ve only run further than ten miles twice since October 2015 I was excited to see just what kind of time I might achieve (no – it’s not big or clever to be under trained for a race, but I’m being completely honest about my lack of mileage and making the point that you don’t always need to run yourself into the ground as long as you’re cross training and keeping your body strong).

hill

I loved the challenge of the hilly route and the support out on the course was incredible.  I found myself overtaking first lady at about half way and I genuinely couldn’t believe what was happening.  I started doing the old comparison trick.  Ooh I’m sure that lady’s faster than me.  She looks more comfortable.  Perhaps I should stay behind for a bit.  I bet I’ve gone off too fast.  I’m going to crash and burn at this rate.

And then I had a word with myself.  I listened to my body and it was telling me I had more to give.  I pushed on the gas a little and trundled on.  I won’t lie – once you’re in first place, no matter what pace you were aiming for that day, you’re probably not going to give it up without a fight!

From mile 11 it was all downhill to the finish and it was a wonderful feeling.  The aches and pains of the previous day were washed away with endorphins.  I grinned when I saw the finish line and they’d made a tape for me to break.  Best.  Feeling.  Ever. (Gun time – 1:32:46)

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Moral of the story – be your own hero! (Thanks Khara).  Stop turning round and fretting about what others are doing.  Yes, support and encourage everyone and be happy for them when they achieve a big milestone.  But don’t let it discourage you.  Don’t let it take away from your own satisfaction.  No matter how small, your victories are just that – your victories.  Be proud.  Be your own hero.

Photo credit: Paul Brown

Photo credit: Paul Brown

All Aboard The PB Train!

I hinted in my last post that my recent change in diet has had a massively positive impact on my running, despite halving my usual mileage over the past six months.  I harped on about how good I was feeling (both in body and mind) but of course feelings are incredibly subjective.  I’m a data geek at heart so let’s back up the talking with some statistics…..

Podium 5k (5th March)

I just love this race – fast, flat loops with a speedy field of competitors and always a superb showing of cheerleaders.  I felt good but I hadn’t raced a 5k or pushed hard at a parkrun since last November so I genuinely wasn’t sure how I’d do.  I wrote down on my entry form that my anticipated time was 20 minutes (my best time on this course being 19:45).

I pushed hard from the off and aimed to stay at that pace.  The set up of 5 x 1k loops makes it easy to pace and I had the sole focus of just hanging on to that pace.  I knew I’d got it right when I was steadily overtaking people in the second half.  I’d been patient and my consistency was paying off.

Mile 1 – 6:05
Mile 2 – 6:05
Mile 3 – 6:04

I ran the last chunk with everything I had left (5:32 pace) and was rewarded with a shiny new PB of 19:16.  A definite confidence boost considering my low mileage of late (averaging 17 miles a week instead of the usual 30+).

Buoyed up by a surprise PB I was keen to keep the momentum going and after a couple of easy days had a go at a timed mile with my running club.  I’ve done some mile reps before (they are as awful as they sound!) but never an all-out single rep effort.  I’ve only ever ran a sub-6 mile before in downhill sections of a race but I was really hoping to try and break that barrier on the flat.  End result – 5:51!

I saw out the rest of the week with a tiny bit of easy running and some cross-training before it was time to lace up the racing flats yet again…..

Trafford 10k (13th March)

The Trafford 10k is a big deal in terms of the sheer quality of the field.  It’s a very well organised event on flat country roads and always pulls in a hell of a lot of talent (the winning time this year was 28:56 – well done Tom Lancashire!).  The conditions were great on the day and whilst I had not done any specific training for the 10k distance all year, I really wanted to break that sub40 barrier just one more time.  It may have been a bit greedy (after all, the one and only time I have run a sub40 I put months of focused training in).  But coming off the back of a 5k PB and feeling in good condition I knew I’d regret not having a bash.

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I set off fast (too fast!) and tried to settle in, but it was just impossible to find any space – with 850 runners on a narrow start it was never going to be easy.  There was a lot of pushing and shoving by people twice my size but I tried to use my small frame to my advantage and duck and weave where it was safe to do so.  The roads widened after about three quarters of a mile and everyone started to settle down.

I did my best not to focus on my watch and instead run comfortably hard.  Any time I did sneak a look at the garmin I gave myself palpitations!  I thought the pace was far too fast but yet I still trundled on with it.  You never know unless you have a go, right?

I got past half way and, barring a complete blow-up, I knew I had sub40 in the bag.  I stayed as focused as I could and was determined to see the second half out strong.  As I approached the final turn and the announcer shouted my name I couldn’t quite believe the number on the clock.  Not only was it a sub40 but it was also a massive PB – chip time – 39:00!

The Three PB Amigos!

The Three PB Amigos!

Burnley parkrun (19th March)

 Encouraged by the recent good form I wanted to have a good blast around parkrun.  Whilst the conditions under foot weren’t as good as they are in the summer months, it was significantly firmer than it had been pretty much all year and with good weather conditions too I set off with hopes of PB number three.

The first mile was predictably fast but the remaining two were a bit more of a slog.  It was touch and go all the way whether I’d beat my current course best of 19:51.  I yelped as I crossed the line – 19:49! What  a brilliant feeling!  But of course we all know it’s not official until you get the parkrun text….

*beep beep*

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Dammit!  Officially one second behind my best.  Ah well, two out of three ain’t bad.

I have no doubt that a big part of my recent good form is the change in my diet.  I’m not saying that eating well makes you run faster per se, but eating well has changed my body composition quite dramatically in a short space of time.  I’m roughly the same weight but I’ve gained some lean muscle and I’ve dropped 5% body fat.  That change in composition definitely makes running faster a lot easier!

I’ll stress though that there’s never a shortcut to a PB.  A change in body composition may improve your running if you put in the hard work too.  Every second I took off those personal bests were hard fought for….and the battle’s not over yet.

Gunning for the finish (photo credit: David Belshaw)

Gunning for the finish (photo credit: David Belshaw)

Six Week Challenge – The Results

Last month I wrote a post about the importance of diet and talked a bit about the challenge I was embarking on – for six weeks I would cut out all processed food.  (Well, mostly.  Life is too short to say no to the occasional piece of cake, bacon sandwich or slice of pizza).

A variety of measurements were taken before starting the challenge, at the half-way point and again at the end of the six weeks, including weight and body fat (the body fat was measured using calipers, which generally seem to be one of the most accurate ways of measuring body fat).

I’d like to add that I had no ambitions of weight or fat loss before starting this challenge.  I was intrigued as to how a better diet might improve my running (or not!) and see for myself if there were any other benefits to cutting out the processed crap.  I was already at a healthy weight and had no interest in reducing any numbers.

Typical Day

To give you an idea of the kinds of meals I was eating, an average weekday looked something like this –

  • breakfast – pancakes (made with coconut flour), with a banana, greek yoghurt, honey and home made granola or an omelette with plenty of mushrooms/bacon and vegetables
  • mid-morning snack – piece of fruit
  • dinner – chicken with rice and veg
  • afternoon snack – handful of nuts (soaked overnight) or some greek yoghurt and fruit. Maybe some 90% dark chocolate too.
  • tea – grass fed steak burger with mash and vegetables

I varied my meals to keep things interesting and I added/reduced snacks depending on the volume of training and generally how I felt.  On some days I train twice (crossfit in the morning and running in the evening) so I had to take care to ensure I got enough carbs – this really made me think about how much I used to rely on refined foods for carb intake.

Never went hungry!

Never went hungry! A typical evening meal

Stats before the challenge

weight – 48.2kg     waist – 65cm     hips – 74.5cm

body fat (mm) abs – 14, suprailiac – 13, tricep – 16, thigh – 29
body fat % – 21.4

Stats at week 3

weight – 47.6kg     waist – 64cm     hips – 72.5cm

body fat (mm) abs – 11, suprailiac – 12, tricep – 16, thigh – 25
body fat % – 19.5

Stats at week 6

weight – 47.1kg     waist – 62.5cm     hips – 68cm

body fat (mm) abs – 10, suprailiac – 9, tricep – 13, thigh – 20
body fat % – 16.6

To say I’d actually increased the amount of food I was eating, I was really surprised at the results.  Although I was disappointed to lose weight I was glad that it wasn’t a significant amount (one kilogram over the whole six weeks) and I can safely assume that I put on some lean muscle as my body fat dropped by a whopping 5%.  I really wasn’t expecting that and to be honest I’d like to put a % or two back on as I feel that 16% is quite low for a woman (just my personal opinion about my own body).

Was the challenge difficult?

At first, absolutely!  My typical day used to consist of toast for breakfast, a sandwich and crisps/biscuits for dinner and pasta for tea.  During the six weeks I couldn’t have any of my usual meals.  I had to spend a lot of money on new ingredients (coconut flour – I felt like a right wanker buying that) and I had to spend a lot of time planning meals and generally getting organised in that first week.  I was craving bread and honestly nearly jacked it all in after just a few days.

But after that, it got significantly easier and by the third or fourth week I barely had to give it any thought at all.  After the initial big spend on new ingredients, my food bill reduced and I was no longer visiting the local shop or bakery for that almost daily treat of a cake/sausage roll/bag of crisps.

 Were the any other benefits?

LOADS!  The numbers on a scale or a tape measure don’t really matter to me, the big difference was how I felt.  I had bags more energy and just generally felt less irritable.  My skin cleared up, as did my patchy eczema and I loved cooking different meals and trying new things.  My body shape changed quite a lot (even though I didn’t alter any aspect of my training) and *gasps* even my abs started peeking through.  No, don’t worry, I won’t be posting a picture of that!  After all, my core is not any stronger than it was six weeks ago, the layer of fat that insulates them is just a little smaller.

But what difference did it make to running performance, if any?

Now you’re talking!  But trust me when I say that topic deserves a post in it’s own right *spoiler alert* it made a BIG difference.  More in the next post.  I’m such a tease.

Now the six weeks is done and dusted I’m very happily continuing with the changes I’ve brought into my diet.  I definitely won’t be as strict with it as I was in the first six weeks (Easter is coming!) and I won’t hesitate to tuck into treats and take-aways every now and again.  But the next challenge for me is to try and maintain bodyweight (or even increase it a little) without eating crap.  It’s easy to pile on the pounds with junk food but putting on lean muscle is surprisingly difficult.  Shout up if you have any tips!