Exercise and mental well being

We have all seen the rather amusing meme’s stating “I run because punching people is frowned upon” or “I exercise because completely exhausting myself is the most relaxing part of my day.” And yes they are amusing, but all jokes aside there is an element of truth in these statements.

During the most adverse times in ones life finding an outlet to channel any stress, anxiety or grief is an important factor in working through ones troubles and ensuring that mental health and well being is maintained.

In my late teens and early twenties, when I found myself in a situation that challenged me mentally or caused me adverse stress, I often turned to partying hard. Back then I thought there was nothing better than deciding not to deal with my problems, doing Tequila shots was more my vice, thinking the next day they wont be there. Obviously the next day and the hangover always was, along with the deepened feelings of anxiety and depression. As the years went by, and my experience in life continued, the partying ways lessened and my love for Tequila shots did too.

By mid to late twenties and now in my almost mid thirties my outlet has changed. During any times that cause me higher levels of stress I have turned to exercise. Exercise has been proved to reduce anxiety and depression. It improves self esteem and cognitive function. And for that small amount of time when you are running, spinning or boxing it out in Body Combat your mind forgets. You can go to your happy place simply by sweating it out.

Over the past few years I have struggled on and off with stress, desperately trying not to head back to the depressive years of my late teens/ early twenties. And every time exercise (and a few bubbles on the side) has been there to help me manage my stress levels. During these times I simply spent extra time channelling any negative energy into my performance.

Luckily, over the years, I have developed the ability to recognise when I need to “sweat it out” and when I just need to have a few drinks with friends. Some are not so lucky. Some, perhaps people with deeper levels of mental health, cannot find an outlet or simply don’t talk about their feelings because they are embarrassed or don’t know how to express themselves. It is these people we need to look out for and take time for.

I have many friends who have dealt with various forms of depression, anxiety and grief. The blessing with them, is that (I hope) they always have people to talk to, even if they don’t find an outlet to deal with the pain. And it is painful. Yes there are other things going on in the world that are a hell of a lot worse. But in that moment, at that time, what ever that person is feeling is bigger than anything else.

I have often been told in recent years that I have been an inspiration. That seeing me push through has inspired people to run. That I have been the heart and soul of many teams. And most importantly I have had a positive reflection on life.

Right now, I have to say I only hope its true. As during a stormy part of my life, whilst going through an experience I never imagined I would face, I am using all the strength I have gained. I am using my experiences and the positivity to pull through some tough times.

My outlet to do so is simple. Exercise.

“Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass, It’s about learning to dance in the rain”

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City break: Prague

Facebook takes great joy in reminding you on a daily basis what your memories are for this day in time. Today they reminded me that this time last year we had landed in Prague for our much needed and delayed trip.

Prague is a top European city destination no matter what time of year you go. But to have the pleasure walking around the city without a jacket and experience its stunning baroque buildings under blue skies was a treat.

If you are looking for a break filled with history and of course the beer then look no further, book a trip today. It was one of the most memorable city breaks Ross and I have experienced together to date. My only faux pas was booking a hotel slightly out of the main centre due to the fact that they had a swimming pool – which we were not allowed to use. Don’t make that mistake – book closer to the main centre if you can.

That said – being out of the town meant that we covered many miles each day on foot, ensuring we had plenty of beer stops for Ross of course.

Day one had to be spent seeing the iconic Charles Bridge and the bridge we ended up crossing every day. The bridge is a stunning piece of architecture dating back to the 15th century (when construction was finally finished). One can only cross this by foot – no cars. So you can take your time strolling across, listening to the street performers and taking numerous photographs.

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Over the bridge into the Old Town Square is the famous astronomical clock. Time it to arrive on the hour and you will see the clock come to life with 12 apostles passing by the window above the dial and symbolic features moving aside.

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Being one of the most popular tourist attractions within the city, it attracts large groups of people into the square to watch the clock come to life. If you have time, climb to the top of the tower for fantastic views of the Square, the red roofed buildings and the castle in the distance.

 

Day two saw us spend more time closer to our hotel exploring Prague Castle, the grounds and St Vitus Cathedral.

An area that was also popular with tourists. You could easily spend a day here exploring everything that the area has to offer – paying to tour the cathedral and museums in and around the castle. We were just happy to potter around the grounds, taking pictures, enjoying the stunning views across the river and even watching the changing of the guard.

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After a mid morning pit stop we ventured on our way to the Petrin look out tower, a 63.5 metre tall steel frame work tower, which I was told strongly resembled the Eiffle Tower (though on a smaller scale) and had some fabulous views over the river and of Prague castle too. We were not disappointed here.

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After a long climb of 299 steps (and feeling the structure sway too) we finally made it to the top. The views were stunning. If you are up for the climb I would definitely recommend making the effort for the views alone.

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Plenty of pictures later we made our descent to ground level, wondering through the park grounds and back across the river for some lunch, I believe some beer and a hunt through the city to find the Dancing House and John Lennon wall – a must for any Beatles fan.

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Our final day was spent doing a mixture of activities from a cruise on the river Vltava – soaking in the sights from a different view – visiting the Prague Beer Museum and wondering round enjoying everything Prague had to offer.

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We covered a lot in the short time we were in the city. But I know there was so much more to see. If we wanted to spend more time indoors then there were plenty of museums to visit – but we enjoyed being out in the sun soaking up the culture of Prague itself.

Sadly, as with all adventures, there has to be an ending. And the next day it was time for this one to end. With our new found love of Prague we flew home promising to return one day soon.

If you are looking for a city break this summer, or even beyond that, add Prague to your list. Not only does it offer so much culture, it is a diverse city that suits travellers of every budget. You will not be disappointed.

Falling in love with parkrun

Several years ago I registered for parkrun – a free, weekly 5k timed run available in numerous parks around the country. However, once I signed up I printed my barcode several times but always failed to use it. With other activities and events; from boot camp sessions, races and climbing mountains – there was always “something else” to do – so it never got used.

Signing up for the London Marathon saw me cancel my boot camp membership to concentrate solely on running and therefore Saturday mornings meant early starts with hours upon hours of running. I simply did not have time for such a short run of 5K. So the parkrun bar code went on to be a slip of paper I carried in my purse.

Marathon completed, with no plans to return to boot camp (due to location changes and needing more flexibility in my life), I needed something to keep me on the straight and narrow on a Saturday morning. Something to make sure I don’t spend my Saturday mornings in bed.

Enter the parkrun.

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There are several near me, some that are probably easier than the one I have been frequenting of late, but Harlow Town park is not only the closest but also a bit of a challenge. With a mixed course of hills, a mixture of grass and concrete path, plus laps to boot it is one that tests the most seasoned runner.

I went along to my first parkrun last week (10th June) with a goal of 35 minutes in mind. Giving myself a realistic goal but at the same time something I can work on, as not only do I hate hills but I have also developed a fear of laps of which Harlow town park had 2 and a half lap to finish. I ran and I walked a little (running uphill on grass is torture to me) and I finished in 34:20 according to my Garmin (parkrun had a slightly different time, so I am not sure how they work that out without a chip). So I set a goal in my mind and beat it. I was buzzing and ready to come back.

Today was my second attempt at the parkrun. With a forecast of scorching hot weather I did not imagine I would beat my previous weeks attempt. At 9am it was simply roasting. I don’t complain, I live for the hot weather, the sunshine and the opportunity to star fish in the garden. But when coupling this with running I turn into a melting, sweaty, heavy breathing mess. Today was no exception. I knew it would be hard. Waking up with scratchy eyes and sneezing consistently, due to hayfever kicking in, I had to make sure I didn’t go crazy. And I didn’t. I paced myself and if I felt the need to walk at times I did. Though, this week I walked less than the week before. There is part of the course where you have to run uphill on grass and for both weeks it has got me completely. This week, I had marker points in my mind and due to that I ended up finishing 8 seconds faster than last. Completing in 34:12 and not really having the energy to go out there with a sprint finish, I was buzzing. To have a better time than the week before with the heat we were facing was an amazing achievement. And I went away happy. Happy to be improving, no matter how many seconds and ready to come back next week and try again.

 

So I have fallen madly and deeply in love with the parkrun and everything it represents. I am in awe at the whole organisation and what it does to get people out there. To bring local communities together and simply bring goals to every day people.

Whether you want to run, walk or do a combination of the two, I thoroughly recommend you get involved. Get running, get walking, bring the kids, bring the dog. Everyone is welcome.

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I can’t wait to see how my performance takes shape over the next few weeks.

Bring on next Saturday!

 

 

 

Decathlon Sports Series – 5K

The first Sunday in June. It was a beautiful sunny morning and I had signed up for a free 5k run in my local park, run by Decathlon. The only problem being, I had lost my mojo. Not long returned from the USA, rather jet lagged and having not really trained for two weeks, I almost didn’t bother to show.

I am so glad I did. A maximum of 500 participants were able to sign up and on arrival I could see a fair amount of people had certainly done that. From all ages and abilities this race was put together by Decathlon to encourage people to participants to run and at the same time bring the community together. And they certainly had done that.

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It did not matter about your ability and that definitely showed. You had the fast runners, who you could not see for dust, the regular runners (I would like to say myself included), those who were probably less experienced in running and even whole families with children – who sprinted out at the beginning only to be advised by parents to pace themselves.

The route was not easy. Anyone who is familiar with Harlow Town park would know that. A hill start, on small park paths meant it took time for me to fall into my easier 10:30 min/mile pace. Though I did get there eventually, the hills that followed after pulled back my pacing and after running on flat, easy surfaces in San Diego the weeks prior I was rather unaccustomed to the inclines, the people and even the pot holes. That said, I finished in 35 minutes – which is still respectable – giving me the starting block to get back into a training routine. It also gave me the buzz of running again. That uphill start, became a down hill finish and I had the joy of a sprinting all the way to the end, passing many runners who over took me in the last mile.

A medal, of course, was available from the local Decathlon store along with a goody bag filled with treats, plus you get a free t-shirt too. As a marketer, I find that this was a clever tactic to get footfall in store after the race. After all if you are putting on a free race you want to encourage those people entering to spend a little money in store after.

Overall It was a well organised event by the team at Decathlon – plenty of people on course to keep the runners safe, great atmosphere and the most important thing – they got people running. Anyone that encourages people to get active deserves a gold star in my book.

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Would I run this again? Yes – definitely. I really hope my local store arranges another event like this. After running long distances over the last six months it was rather nice to run just a simple 5K. To know that it will be over in less than an hour, you don’t have to pack a running bag and probably don’t need to carry water (unless it is a hot day), was rather refreshing. No planning, just go.

And with this I want to continue with the 5k routes in Harlow Park. So with the “Park Run” membership that I signed up for years ago and never used – I am going to keep attacking the hills of the park in the hope to improve each week.

Stay tuned to see how I get on………

Return to Fit4OCR

Today was a good day, it was the day I returned to Fit4OCR (an obstacle course training facility), after a year of being absent from the arena. After months of just focusing on cardio, this summer my focus is to get back my physical strength and returning to Fit4OCR is part of that plan.

Fit4OCR is a obstacle course training facility where you are able to practice and learn technique to get over obstacles. From tyre mangles to monkey bars – you are taught and encouraged to overcome many obstacles you would face at an OCR race, whilst having fun.

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I first discovered Fit4OCR around 18 months ago, when a group of boot camp friends and I made our first visit to the facility in Baldock. Within the first five minutes of arrival I knew this would be my new playground. Run by an extremely friendly team – Gill and Marc – and a bunch of like minded participants, we had fun from the get go. Throwing ourselves over walls and into water filled trenches, we came away cold, muddy and buzzing. Safe to say we came back several times over the next few months, bringing along other friends each time. And each time we went, we had a blast. No matter who went, you were made to feel welcome, everyone introduced themselves and it had a great team spirit – no matter who you were grouped with.

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So the fact that it has been a long year since I have headed up to my favourite playground saddens me. But with a serious illness to overcome and then fear of developing an injury before the London Marathon – I simply had to prioritise and put my OCR training to the back of the list.

My performance at Dirty Race Race Weekend proved that I needed to get back to it, get dirty and harden up my now super soft hands. And that’s what we did today.

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On a beautiful sunny Sunday morning Jo and I headed up to the new location, ready to build back our strength – mine neglected due to recent events and Jo missing paying attention to her own training due to training others – we were ready to throw ourselves at it. And that’s what we did. Albeit – slightly slower than the other participants taking part today, and probably looking rather soft with our gentle approach to the obstacles, we made our way round – excited to see the new arena and just to be back.

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Slightly cautious at first, but then starting to throw ourselves at the obstacles – with Gill’s guidance – we began to fall naturally into our happy place. There is nothing quite like looking at an obstacle in front of you thinking “that is not possible” but then remembering that anything is possible if you practice, practice, practice. And that’s what we did today – quickly hardening the calluses and even ripping the skin, which put a stop to further activity on the monkey bars and the rings – which were not available at the previous location. That did not deter us though, we kept on, throwing ourselves at other obstacles – our muscles remembering we can overcome them with ease and summing up those we could not for next time.

 

We came away from the session, as we had done before, buzzing, determined and ready to come back and try again. In the meantime we have put a plan in place to keep the practice going. To harden up the hands and get them used to the motion of monkey bars we will be heading back to the local town parks to practice, practice, practice. We have achieved our goals before and we will do it again. The goal for next time – to conquer the rings like a true ninja warrior.

 

If anyone is looking for strength training or is planning on their first OCR race I would thoroughly recommend looking Fit4OCR up. There has not been a session we have walked away disappointed. Every time we go we achieve something new. Today, I climbed the cargo net after falling from one at Dirty Rat Race Weekend thinking I would have to come back down the way I came. But I didn’t. I was shaking at the top for some time, trying to calm myself down and work it out. But there was no pressure, Gill was there at the bottom, not rushing me, not saying a word and eventually I made it over the top and back down to ground level. I overcame a new found fear, simply by being there today. So when they say the best thing to do is “get back on the horse” they are right. That’s not to say there was no fear, there was. I was still slightly shaking when I got back to the car, but it is the tactics they use at Fit4OCR that enables you to overcome an obstacle that makes them special.

That and the fact that you feel like a valued family member every time you go – it is simply the best place to train.

I can’t wait to go back and overcome more! In the meantime, it’s off to the park we go!

Tried & Tested: John Frieda Luxurious Volume

Anyone that has trained for major sporting event will probably understand that whilst in the final stages of training you completely neglect everything in your life. For me this ranged from the other half and friends, to my diet and well-being.

One thing in particular that faced severe neglect during my training was my hair. Don’t get me wrong, it was washed every day, but outside of this I had little time to spend making sure that every strand was where it was supposed to be. I am not saying that I spend copious amounts of time preening now – because I don’t. But during the marathon training my hair came in two states – either scraped back in a messy bun with numerous Kirby grips or it was newly washed, drying naturally into a wavy – I would like to say mermaid like – mess. My GHD’s were gathering dust, longing to be used. But I had other priorities.

So when I was offered some John Freida products to try out, I happily accepted. When my hair was naturally brown, I used the John Frieda “Brilliant Brunette” products all the time. So I was excited to try out the new “Luxurious Volume” products that were on offer, boasting “naturally fuller, thicker hair.”

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Arriving in the post the next day, I was immediately happy. Opening the package, the smell was incredible.

Once the Marathon was done, and I was no longer throwing my hair back to hide its condition, I made time to start using the products. The result was instant, whilst washing I could feel the difference. My hair was soft, silky and smelt amazing. To start with I used the shampoo and conditioner on its own, not wanting to overload my hair with products. And I did feel a change in volume, though not so much the thickness – but then I have a lot of hair anyway. Additionally I found that my hair was much easier to manage; less tangles after washing, it was soft and shiny and to make it even better – once blow dried my hair was pretty straight. So, my poor abandoned straighteners still have not had that much use. On days when I just can’t be bothered to dry my hair, let’s face it we all have many days like that, I simply use a bit of the mousse that was in the package to scrunch up my hair – and I have the long mermaid hair look again (or so I like to believe).

 

I gradually started to use the mousse every now and then, when blow drying my hair, and found that made a difference too. My hair was naturally fuller and thicker. Though I also found that using this on a regular basis made my hair greasier quicker than normal – so now I tend to use this once a week, when I have time to spend fully pampering my hair with washing, blow drying and straightening too. And it makes a difference.

Verdict – I love the John Frieda Luxurious volume products, and I have since replenished my stock of the shampoo and conditioner. Retailing at £6.99 per bottle, I would definitely recommend. Boots currently have 3 for 2 on John Frieda, which always works for me as I am usually overzealous with the conditioner and always need more conditioner than shampoo. Plus there are other products available in the range too, which I am definitely planning to try out.

California Dreaming….

This time last week I was sitting in the sun, glass of Sauvignon Blanc in hand and listening to live cover bands at the Vista Strawberry festival. Already my adventures in San Diego, California are becoming a distant memory and the post holiday blues have most certainly set in as I am now back to reality of work, unpredictable English weather and the feeling that the next holiday is far too far away.

Therefore, in order to keep my adventures alive in my mind, I share my highlights, my favourite days and those attractions that I would advise other travellers to avoid.

Day one saw us cover a massive 13 miles round the city. A beautiful sunny day, I was happy to explore the city mainly on foot. Jumping on the “trolley” we headed down to Seaport Village for a wonder round the marina, soaking up the views and enjoying the glorious sunshine. Moving on from the area we headed to the famous Gaslamp Quarter – what became one of my favourite areas in the city. Known as the historic heart here you will find a multitude of bars, restaurants and events. Here we stopped for refreshments and to wonder round the shops.

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With so much to see we didn’t linger for too long. Off we went, walking the streets all the way to Balboa Park – which is simply a MUST for anyone visiting San Diego. Beautiful grounds in the middle of the city, with plenty to keep you busy. One could easily spend a couple of days here – especially if you enjoy museums, there are a whopping 17 museums to keep you busy if that is something you fancy. Not wanting to spend any time indoors, when the weather was so amazing, we simply chose to stroll around the park, taking in all the architecture. Of which there was so much to take in, all the buildings along El Prado were a sight to see. From the botanical building, Lily pond, the Japanese Friendship Garden, to name a few, even if you decide not to visit the museums there is plenty to keep you occupied. And if you fancy a spot of lunch I would thoroughly recommend stopping at The Prado at Balboa Park or even bringing your own picnic.

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Day two saw us venture down to the USS Midway museum. For anyone who is interested in their history then this is definitely worth a visit. For just $18 (if you book an online ticket), this is a great day out for all. We spent a good 2-3 hours at the museum, which allows you to get a sense of how life on the USS Midway would have been like. You can also watch short films about the history of the Midway and how it came into commission. The flight deck was the highlight for me – where you could wonder round the planes and helicopters. Ross was in his element! The area surrounding the Midway had plenty to see too – the Famous “Kissing Statue”, Bob Hope memorial and various monuments to honour those who lost their lives in service – including Pear Harbour.

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In perfect proximity, we then headed to Little Italy. We after all needed refreshments and I wanted to check out the area. We found a perfect spot for coffee for Ross and a San Pellegrino for me. Then came back a few nights later for dinner at Davanti Enoteca – great pizzas, though the wine was a little more pricey than other establishments we had come across so far.

Over the next few days we continued our adventures with gusto. Visiting the area of Carlsbad to Legoland – which I would not recommend at all. $90 for a day where a lot of rides were closed, there was no atmosphere and If we did not visit the coast line afterwards, it would have been a complete day wasted.

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The area of Pacific beach should definitely be on your list. The beach is simply stunning, no Instgram filters needed here. The sea front is lined with many restaurants, bars and there is plenty to keep you occupied too. If you are an active person, then you would fit right in with many of the locals who were running, skate boarding, cycling and roller skating along the beach front!

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We continued exploring the coast line. With stunning beaches continuing – at Del Mar, Encinitas and we even travelled as far as Huntington Beach – which was heaving with those celebrating Memorial Day weekend.

Travelling slightly outside of San Diego and North County we could not resist a trip to the Wine Country of Temecula. What a day. Being slightly inland resulted in a rise in heat – boasting 90+ degrees on the day we visited – I was in my element. Wine and sunshine – two of my favourite things. Visiting two wineries in the area, Callaway and South Coast was simply a dream. I loved every minute of the day – taking in the views and tasting A LOT of wine. Then, after, visiting the Old Town of Temecula too. It was one of many great days we had during our holiday – something I definitely would do again and recommend others to do.

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La Jolla. What can I say about La Jolla? If you have been to the area but not stopped by here, then shame on you. It is simply paradise. The views are amazing – I could sit for hours on the coast line just doing nothing! It is so tranquil. And to top it off, you get to see Sea Lions and Seals in their natural habitat. At sunset they were chilling on the beach, but during the day they were swimming in the sea – very close to the beaches or sunning themselves on the rocks. A sight to see for sure, and definitely an experience worth having. The area is known as the “Beverly Hills” of San Diego so you can imagine what the high street was like. Ferrari and Maserati show rooms, roof top bars with Ocean views and estate agents dubbing the area as “Billionaires Row.” I fell in love with La Jolla and would happily retire here – if I was a billionaire of course.

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Sadly, shortly after visiting La Jolla, our holiday was closing to an end. For the first time ever we were not ready to go home. So different from other breaks in the USA, we simply felt at home here. We wanted to stay, we wanted to see more. So we packed in a few more days of fun; including shopping at the Mexican borders in San Ysidro, a local Strawberry Festival at Vista and on the very last day, in our last remaining hours we stopped off at Coronado Island for brunch, a walk along the sea front and even managed to wonder round the Hotel del Coronado – the hotel where Marilyn Monroe was famously filmed in “Some Like It Hot.”

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San Diego must have been in mourning for our departure as the sun did not shine at all that day – the only day in our two weeks that we did not see a peak.

So our adventures in the Golden State were over and it was time to come home. Five days later, with jet lag still in force, I am missing the sunny care free days in California. Sadly this is what happens with holidays, they have to come to an end, we have to return to reality and start saving and planning for the next adventure.

I never expected to love San Diego as much as I did, expecting more time on the sun lounger than on my feet. But there you go, some places in the world just surprise you and stay with you. San Diego certainly did that. And I will welcome any opportunity to go back, perhaps explore a little more of the state of California too.

In the meantime, reality is beckoning on a Sunday evening….