Lessons learned training.

The last two weeks have been particularly difficult. As I unexpectedly became bed-ridden with a bad cold, training went completely out of the window. But I still managed to get myself back up and get the long runs in – with 10 miles completed last Saturday, followed by a steady 12 miles yesterday morning. Training in between has been almost impossible – my body just simply did not allow it.

However, the two long runs I completed helped me learn valuable lessons about training that I just wanted to share.

It is okay to run at a slower pace. In order to complete the long runs I have had no choice but to adopt a slower pace whilst running. It has not been easy – stopping for several coughing fits en route. But there has been significant improvement week on week. By adopting the slower pace has meant that I am steadily running at a good pace for longer periods, stopping less, my heart rate is more controlled and I am generally building up the endurance needed for longer runs. So moving forward it makes sense to continue with this pace (around 11 minute/ mile) for my longer distances.

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Hills are not the enemy. Lets face it, everyone hates running up hills. Your legs burn, your heart beats faster and your lungs feel like they are on fire. But if you stick to a flat terrain throughout training, you are never going to get stronger. Don’t get me wrong – I still hate hills. However I am learning to embrace them a little more. Tackling them at a steady, consistent pace means that I get to the top without feeling like I am going to pass out.

Don’t be put off by what others are doing. Yes I am slightly behind. Being ill means I have lost out on several training runs. During this time I spent a lot of time stressing over what everyone else was doing, how far they were running, how many times they were running each week – which in turn stressed me out even more. So others are reaching longer distances than me already and at a faster pace. So what? The only person who is going to run this for me, is me – so I need to focus on me. Stick to the plan, stay focused.

You don’t need another bathroom break. Yesterday I was late starting my run due to the fact that I assumed I needed the bathroom for what seemed like the tenth time that morning. As soon as I got running I knew it was just my mind playing tricks on me. Nine times out of ten it is just my mind. When you start running you simply forget the need and concentrate on the task at hand – running.

Your legs will work on their own. Once your legs are warm and in a steady rhythm they will just keep going until you tell them otherwise. Yesterday was the first time I noticed this. Don’t get me wrong – I still took a pause every now and then. But I am starting to find that, if running on a flat, my legs will just keep moving. During the 12 miles, I found that I did not have to tell them to keep going from mile one to six, then again from mile 10 to 12. The miles in between still need work, in particular miles eight to ten. This is where I perhaps need to think about taking on my energy jellies sooner.

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My Camelbak is not big enough to get me through the London Marathon. During yesterdays 12 miles I discovered I had run out of water at mile 10. This is good to know now, rather than on the day itself. Therefore I have to ensure I factor this in for future training runs and Marathon day. I will have to take time to pause and re-fill the water supply and due to this carry some extra electrolyte tablets too.

So, as I enter week five of the training plan I am feeling more positive. I am happy with the progress made, even if I am not exactly where I wanted to be at this stage. The only way to get through is keep going, keep learning from my training sessions and keep focused.

Sponsor me here

Adventures of Gemma’s 1st Birthday

11141784_10155777756100604_236570875574431637_oA year ago, after signing up to several events, my colleagues suggested I should start my own blog. At the time I thought perhaps there were only so many times I could appear on the Red Letter Days blog or maybe I actually do have enough content and action in my life to engage the blogging world.

It turns out it was the latter. At first I thought who on earth would be interested in what I have to write out about. It turns out – quite a few. I have been overwhelmed by the number of people reading and commenting on my blog posts over the last year.

To be honest I did not think I would keep it up. But here we are 12 months on, going strong and as I continue to blog on I am constantly learning more. So I would though I would use this post to share what I have learned over the last year.

Blogging helps me gain inner peace. Much like running and training does, blogging allows me to reflect, de-stress and put my thoughts into perspective. All work hand in hand – when running I thinking about a way to document my feelings and when blogging I am thinking about the next week’s training plan.

The Blogging Community is full of amazing people. The majority of which are strangers, but extremely supportive. I feel connected to many people who I have never met simply by reading their blogs, them reading mine and sharing experiences.

I don’t care what people think. I used to be the kind of person who cares about how I am perceived. Whether that be in person or on social channels. I don’t know whether it is coming with age or a combination of other factors too – but I could not care less about what people think about me anymore. I am my own person, I love what I love, I have people who love me and who love me back – everything else means nothing.

I am constantly learning and with this blog it has been no exception. As my previous point mentioned, blogging opens up a world of like minded people who you can relate to and bounce ideas off. Every blog I write, get comments on or read has a little bit of advice or suggestions – therefore allowing me to become a little more wise and resourceful.

Frustrations in training are only minor set backs. I have had many frustrations over the last year. In the face of these, I have got back up and kept trying. This week has been a prime example. After missing out on 5 days worth of marathon training due to a nasty cold, I was stressed and frustrated. Was it easy getting up yesterday morning and attempting a 10 mile run – of course not. It hurt like hell. I stopped several times to allow for coughing fits – but after each I took a breath and trotted on my merry way.

Inspiring others is the most amazing feeling in the world. And it was one of my main purposes when starting this blog. I never thought I would be the kind of person who would influence another’s behaviour. However, when a close friend recently said I had inspired her to run after cheering me on at Hackney Half Marathon I thought my heart would burst. If I can get through one year inspiring just one person to get moving, get running, get active then at least I feel I am serving a purpose.

At the end of the day the goal is the finish! Its not about what the person next to you is doing, or how must faster they are than you. The distance is still the same. You still have to run the same race. Concentrate on you!

So with all the learning’s from the last 12 months I look towards the events, frustrations and fears to come, knowing that no matter what, I will get through all the challenges I have signed up for.

90 days and counting…….

London Marathon Sponsors welcome here.

 

Lucy Bee’s Sweet Potato & Spinach Frittata

In a continued attempt to ensure I don’t get bored with food I decided to include Lucy Bee’s Sweet Potato and Spinach Frittata with my weekly batch cooking this week, after spotting it on the Facebook page.

Ingredients:

  • Coconut Oil (1 tbsp)
  • 1 large white onion
  • Garlic
  • 5 medium sized sweet potatoes
  • 125g spinach
  • 8 eggs – beaten
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • chilli flakes
  • Parmesan

Method:

Preheat oven to 180C

Line a baking tin with grease-proof paper.

Melt the coconut oil in a pan, adding the onions – cooking until soft.

Add the garlic, followed by the sweet potato. Stir together.

Reduce the heat, cover and cook for 15 minutes (or until the sweet potato is soft), turning in between.

Add the spinach and cover. Continue cooking for a further 5 minutes before transferring to the baking tin.

Whisk the eggs, adding the seasoning and chilli flakes. Pour over the top of the mixture. sprinkle with Parmesan and bake for 15-20 minutes.

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The recipe says to enjoy hot or cold. However, I much preferred it warm with a bit of salad myself.

This tasty gluten free, vegetarian recipe is perfect to make in batch, especially for lunch boxes.

Lucy Bee has some great recipes – with many being vegetarian and gluten free they are perfect for me. Her Halloumi burgers, from my previous post, were to die for.

I am currently scouting for another dish to try. Any suggestions?

 

 

The Willow Foundation

I first discovered the Willow Foundation when they became the partnered charity for my employers, Red Letter Days.

Willow is the only national charity currently working with seriously ill young adults, aged between 16-40, in order to offer special days away from the day-to-day life that a serious illness brings.

Set up in 1999 by Bob Wilson OBE, former Arsenal goal keeper, and his Wife Megs the charity has fulfilled over 13,000 special days. For those faced with life threatening illnesses such as cancer, motor neurone disease and Huntington’s disease (to name a few), a “special day” offers the opportunity to return some normality to their lives; lifting spirits, allowing family time away from hospitals and giving that much-needed source of strength to get through the dark days.

I started getting involved with the charity, representing Red Letter Days, back in 2013 running my first ever 10k run at Hatfield House and raising £120 for the charity.

The following year I came back to run the race again – raising a further £180.

Throughout 2015 and 2016 I set up a new fundraising page for Willow as I decided, thanks to a new level of fitness, to run several events over the two years – including OCR races, Half Marathons and a multitude of 10k races (including Willow Warrior). During this period I raised £380.50, which I was incredibly proud of.

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Then towards the end of 2016 I decided to enquire about charity spaces for the London Marathon. Having entered the ballot system I did not actually think anything would come of it. I received official notification in October that I did not get in from the London Marathon organisers and felt a sense of relief. Running a marathon is on the bucket list, however at the same time to train, run and complete it is something that is way beyond anything I could fathom. So for brief period the relief set in, until I got a call from Willow themselves a few days later. Happily informing me that I had received a charity place.

I have never felt more terrified in my life. Driving home that night I had mixed emotions; excited to be able to tick the London Marathon off my bucket list and fear. Fearing what was to come. The months of training and panicking about just one race. This is bigger than anything I have ever done before – and I have clocked up a lot of the last few years.

In the lead up to Christmas I kept telling myself the real works starts in January. And guess what – January is here and the Marathon consumes me. From food, to training, to fundraising – my thoughts throughout the day are mostly about the Marathon. These thoughts include “Am I running enough?” “How is ‘x’ running that many miles already?” “Why am I so tired?” “What should I be eating” and the most frequent thought – “How am I possibly going to run 26.2 miles.”

So, in the hope to raise more awareness for the charity and to help distract me from the thoughts going through my mind, I write this post as a plea.

A plea for all my friends, family, colleagues and acquaintances to dig deep. Sponsor me. Help me believe in myself and in doing so help me help make a difference.

I am running in memory of those who have been lost, for those who have lost loved ones and those who have battled or still battling at life threatening illness.

97 days and counting!

Sponsor me here

For Uncle “Rusty” – may you forever be with us.

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Recipes: Lentil Casserole & Raw Snickers

As a vegetarian it is very easy to fall into the trap of eating the same dishes. I often find myself getting bored of food and when this happens I eat the wrong food.

In order to ensure I get all the nutrients I need and to stay on track I have been researching various recipes that are full of fuel for the increased training.

Lentil Casserole

The first recipe I stumbled across was from the London Marathon website itself. With the title “one pot dinners” I read on to find a “Sausage and Lentil Casserole”. Due to the fact that Lentils are packed with protein this recipe is perfect to help muscle repair after a training session. Obviously, as I am a vegetarian I skipped adding the sausages and also their suggestion for Chick Peas as a replacement – giving it my own twist and removing ingredients I am not too keen on.

Ingredients:

2 cups of red lentils, 1 onion, garlic, carrots, courgettes, celery, spinach, tinned tomatoes, vegetable stock, cumin and olive oil.

Not one for following recipes exactly; I fried up the vegetables in a little olive oil and garlic until slightly browned – then added the cumin.

The next stage was to add the pre-washed lentils; stirring them in with the tinned tomatoes.

Cover with vegetable stock, stirring occasionally and adding more water as the lentils start to absorb the liquid.

Once cooked (for me it took around 30-45 minutes cooking on a very low heat) season to taste and box into portions for the week ahead.

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Raw “Snickers” Bar

Over the last two years I have really been getting into making “clean treats.” Not only are they great alternatives to sugary snacks, but most of those I have made to date are extremely tasty.

After Christmas I really had a craving for snickers bars. So, thinking there must be a clean version out there, I discovered a recipe from A Sunshine Mission. Again, with all recipes I find I alter them slightly – sometimes due to the fact that ingredients are hard to find. For example, with this recipe it lists “brown rice syrup”. However, of all the health stores I went to I could not find this. Therefore I replaced this with maple syrup.

Ingredients.

For the base – 1 1/2 cups of cashews, 1/2 cup of shredded coconut, 8 medjool dates (I used regular dates), 3 tablespoons of maple syrup.

From the peanut butter caramel – 8 dates, 1/4 cup of peanut better (I used Meridian 100% peanut butter), 2 tablespoons of almond milk, 1 tablespoon of maple syrup.

For assembly – 1/4 cup of peanuts, 1/2 a bar of raw chocolate (75% and above).

Method:

The base:

  1. In a food processor, process the cashews into small pieces
  2. Add coconut, dates and maple syrup and process until it forms a sticky dough.
  3. Press into a loaf pan and place into the freezer

The Caramel

  1. Process all ingredients, adding almond milk a little at a time until a smooth caramel forms.
  2. Spread the caramel over the base.

For Assembly

  1. Scatter peanuts on top of the caramel and press down lightly.
  2. Melt the chocolate in the microwave, stirring every 15 seconds until completely melted.
  3. Drizzle chocolate over the top of the bars.
  4. Place back in the freezer until hardened.
  5. When ready cut into bars.

I found that storing these in the freezer after cut stopped them from melting and loosing shape – plus they keep longer. I take one out the freezer each time I fancy a sweet treat.

They are so tasty! I thoroughly recommend trying these yourself.

 

 

Surviving Winter Training

With Christmas over, there are no more excuses to stop the training getting into full swing. However, with many more cold, dark nights still upon us how do people stay motivated throughout the winter months?

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I have found in particularly difficult to get back into the swing of things lately. Having successfully reached 10 miles in training pre-Christmas just trying to run 4 miles, at times, is proving difficult. Two miles this afternoon was torture. I find this is mainly down to the fact that it is Winter. Dark nights make we want to be at home; warm and cozy. The dark mornings do not help either; who wants to get up and train when it is still dark at 8am?

However; I have no choice. There is a Marathon to run in only 105 days and I need to get my butt in gear to push myself further.

So I have been taking on a lot of advice; reading articles on Runners World and London Marathon itself; who focus on key areas to get you through the Winter:

Kit

Your running kit crucial to training and getting through a marathon itself. It has taken me a long time to work out what is right for me. I have always layered up during the winter months – but often with the wrong items. For example, I used to have lot of long sleeved layers including thick hoodies – which are completely impractical for running, simply because I feel like my skin could not breathe. I then went on to investing in running jackets; which also did not work for me. I found that I could not get a good running motion with my arms, finding them very restricting and the “swish, swish” noise of the fabric rather irritating. Running belts have also been a big problem for me; trying all sorts that held just keys and phone, to those that also held water bottles. All of which I found irritated me whilst running too.

Now my kit consists of the following:

  • Running bra and dry fit vest
  • Long sleeved breathable top – my favourite right now being Under Armour.
  • Running Gillet – enabling me to keep my chest warm; whilst giving me the flexibility to move and preventing me from over heating. Mine was purchased from H&M sportswear. Not only is it light and warm; but it also washes well without loosing its quality.
  • Camelbak – perfect solution to holding water and all the essentials whilst running. Mine holds enough water for a long run along with my keys and phone. It also has a small pocket to hold any light layers I may discard during training. It is light, so it doesn’t irritate me whilst running and has the handy drinking tube so you don’t have to hold water in your hand.
  • Leggings – again H&M come up trumps for me here. They have great capri’s and full length leggings for running. Though I am currently looking at compression tights as I get further into training.
  • Trainers – The most important. After all, if you have a rubbish pair of trainers you are not going to make it. My favourite for the last year have been Nike Flex Run. I have had three pairs and find they offer me the perfect fit for running. I am currently looking at buying my fourth pair – because lets face it, I can buy as many trainers as I like in the lead up to the marathon.
  • Additional items – Gloves, lights and socks. After many dark, cold runs it was time to invest in these items; not only to keep me safe but to keep me warm. I purchased a pair of Nike running gloves from one of their outlet malls recently along with elite light weight socks. My running lights were purchased from Amazon for £2, cheap but they do the job.

In order to improve my performance I am also looking at compression tights and leggings. Previously I thought the socks in particular looked rather silly, but I am starting to understand the reasons why runners wear these items.

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Staying Safe

Running in the dark in order to train is unavoidable in this country. We have dark mornings and dark nights so the most important thing is to ensure that I remain safe as a runner.

Reflective, bright clothing and lights are a key factor. Most of my running gear is black – but I have my lights and usually my long sleeved top is a bright colour so I can be seen.

The majority of my training runs are likely to be solo, therefore I need to ensure that I tell someone where I am going (especially at night) and the route I am going to take to get there. During the dark nights, I also stick to main roads – leaving the more secluded routes to the weekend when I can run them during daylight.

I have never got on with running to music so luckily I can concentrate on my surroundings and hear any trouble approaching.

I also always ensure that I take my phone and my debit card – just in case I get lost (it happens) or become injured.

Warm Up 

As I get further into training I am starting to realise that a warm up is detrimental to running. This week I have been concentrating on a few exercises to enable me to do so; with leg kicks and hip circles forming part of my warm up routine. I might look like a wally in the middle of the street holding on to a lamp post, whilst performing my leg kicks. But I am starting to care less and less what I look like.

Nutrition and Hydration

Both are key to any training plan. This week I have been making a conscious effort to ensure that I take on board as much nutritious food as possible. My batch cooking for the week involved a lentil casserole found on the London Marathon site, packed with nutrients. And I am ensuring I take on at least two litres of water a day.

Additionally I purchased Runners World’s “Meals on the Run” to help me get more diversity in my diet for pre and post running nutrition.

Positive Mental Attitude

In order to get me through the training and marathon itself I am going to constantly force a positive attitude. Training is hard, especially in the Winter months. Lately I have been doubting myself (not for the first or last time i’m sure). On days when I can barely run four miles I wonder “what am i doing”. But I have been here before – when I ran my first 10k race and my first half marathon, and everything in between. The mind is a very powerful muscle and I need to constantly tell myself “You CAN do this.” There is no room or time or self doubt. I just need to get out there and keep trying.

Winter training is always the hardest. I don’t know anyone who would prefer to run in the dark, pouring rain rather than sunny mornings. Sadly there is no choice. The training needs to be done and as I don’t get on with treadmills – I need to continue to get out there pounding the pavement. Come rain, come shine – I will be racking up the miles longing for the lighter evenings and sunny days.

105 days remaining………

Donate to my fundraising page here

 

 

The Marathon Plan begins.

Almost three months ago I officially signed up for the London Marathon. Time has gone by, with 106.4 miles worth of training (yes, I have kept a log), and it’s safe to say that I feel no more prepared now than I did back in October.

Today the 16-week training plan begins. I have chosen Martin Yelling’s Intermediate plan – which can be found on the London Marathon website – seeing as I am not a complete beginner to running and I can usually run for a steady 40 minutes. What I liked most about this plan was it focuses on the time running rather than miles itself, with the longest training run being 205 minutes. For some reason I have found this plan less daunting than those I have seen stating the miles for each run. I know the distance would most likely be the same with any plan – with the longest run being around 22 miles – but I find this training plan with “minutes” a little more comforting.

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I will be using the plan as a guide throughout the training period, mixing the running up with spinning classes and some Les Mills classes for strength. In recent weeks I have  found that spinning has helped me improve endurance and speed. I am now, at times, running consistently at a faster pace, the only problem being that my lungs can’t quite cope with this and I have to keep stopping to let my breathing recover. Something I hope will continue to improve as I add more running into my schedule over the next few weeks.

Nutrition is more important than ever. Now that Christmas and New Year are out the way I need to ensure that I am paying particular attention to what I am eating and drinking. Its all very well being able to run, but If I don’t get the right nutrients I will continue to find running incredibly difficult. A bit like my running this morning, a pitiful 1.6 miles hurt after a night indulging in all sorts of yummy treats on New Year’s Eve. Bad nutrition could also cause me injury and illness too – so it is definitely something I need to pay more attention to.

Armed with lots of advice from Runners Word, London Marathon and Renee Mc Gregor’s “Food for Running Success” I am going to spend the few weeks really diving into the science of nutrition and finding out what is best for me going forward.

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Sleep is a major player in my training. It is safe to say I don’t get enough sleep. And this has been clear to me over the Christmas break. Prior to the break I would normally get around six hours sleep every night. Weekends I would be up at 7am the latest. This week I find myself easily sleeping until 9am and I feel like the whole day is gone. It is a clear indication to me that my body is needing the extra sleep. Therefore I need to ensure I aim for eight hours every night over the next few months. Easier said than done, but I can only try.

I am delighted to be given a space at “Meet The Experts” on 4th February. A chance to listen to those experienced in marathon training and hopefully have any questions I have answered by the experts. If you are running a marathon for the first time it is recommended to attend. I received a free ticket through my charity place, but they can be purchased directly for £20. I am personally looking forward to this event as I feel like I don’t have a clue what I am doing. So I am grateful for any advice I can get.

The final part of the plan is sports massages. I have not had one for several months and I am really feeling the need at the moment. Recently I had a neck and shoulder massage at work and was told by the therapist that she just could not get to the muscles. Months of training without a proper full body massage has left my muscles tight and achy. So, a good sports or deep tissue massage is top of my priority list over the next few weeks.

Knowing where to go from here is extremely daunting. The journey I am going to have to face over the coming months is rather terrifying. I am constantly questioning myself and my ability to be able to complete this marathon. When I am struggling with a short run I am always thinking “how the hell am I going to run 26.2 miles?” I know most of it is mind over matter. I have run two half marathons, I have two more before the big day. I can run. I just need to keep telling myself “I can do this.”

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