National Fitness Day

Wednesday 27th September, National Fitness Day. A day in the fitness calendar that is marked to encourage the nation to celebrate the fun of fitness and physical activity within the UK.

Across the country there will be many activities taking place for everyone – from the fitness fanatics right down to those that prefer mild physical activity. Either way, the aim is to engage all kinds of audiences and to get people moving. Many companies, on this day, offer free trials and classes as a way to introduce those who may not be quite sure, to try before they buy.

Fitness Squad UK are just an example of one of these companies. Offering a free boot camp sessions on Wednesday 27th September, at all their locations. Take advantage of any free sessions from these guys and the many other companies who offer there services for the day. You may find something that suits you.

And as it is celebrating a day of fitness, I thought it would be fitting to look back at my own journey over the last three years. To reflect on the activities that shaped the person I am today.

Pole Train Fitness 

After years of saying I wanted to have pole dancing lessons I finally took the plunge three years ago. Finding a friendly, local service minutes from my house I quickly picked up the moves and gradually found my confidence building. For many years there has been a stigma around the pole training industry, with it not being recognised as “fitness” but something smutty. However, during my time at classes I found myself finding the stigma lessening as people came to accept that hoisting yourself up the pole and arranging yourself in numerous positions took work. It took strength and determination, and left you with a hell of a lot of bruises. Sadly, as I started to take too much on with other areas of fitness something had to give. I was training for half marathon, which meant I had less time to focus on pole training. So my classes stopped.

However, I hope in time to get back into pole training as there is nothing quite like achieving a move that you just did not think was possible.

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Boot Camp

Back when I joined the outdoor boot camp sessions in my area it was known as Regiment Fitness – now re-branded as Fitness Squad UK the principles are still the same. Outdoor boot camp sessions, where you can only expect to get fitter and at times, covered in mud. I quickly found my fitness picking up the minute I joined. And not only that, I discovered how much I loved exercising outdoors and to top it off I found an amazing group of friends in my local area – who to this day I still keep in touch with. It didn’t matter if you were slowest, the fastest or the laziest – there was a place for you at boot camp.

It was due to joining these guys that that I got the confidence and ability to complete all the challenges I have achieved to date. I would never had dreamed I would have been able to run 10k comfortably, let alone a whole marathon. I would never I have thought I would enjoy rolling in mud at an OCR race. Boot camp did this. It gave me everything in my power to be the person I am three years later.

Although I am no longer a member due to changes in circumstances I still think fondly of the training sessions and all the people I have met along the way. Many of them are life long friends and still join me on my many adventures today.

OCR Training

Fit4OCR is the ultimate adult playground. A fantastic facility that enables you to take time to master many obstacles. During my time with them (and there have only been a few sessions) I have learnt the art of mastering monkey bars, I have climbed walls and most recently started to work the ninja rings – ninja warrior here I come.

It is a fantastic place that is not just limited to adult sessions. Kids are welcome too, and I envy their lack of fear when they are in session, showing up the adults like me.

I never have a bad session with these guys. Each time I go I develop a new skill, I take that extra step to master a new obstacle or keep working at an old one.

I think its about time to book in another session!

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Spinning

One of my favourite fitness activities is spinning. It is something I that has been part of my schedule for at least ten years and something that will never get old. There is nothing like a good old session that leaves you dripping with sweat and that euphoric feeling once completed. It is an activity that complements all other areas of training. During the lead up to the London Marathon it was an activity that was built into the training plan, simply because it does wonders for all areas of fitness and gives you that little break from pounding the pavement.

If you can get over that feeling after the first session, that feeling that you have chaffed butt cheeks, then keep going – as with everything it only becomes more enjoyable the more you do it.

Les Mills

Whether it is Body Pump, Body Attack or Body Combat you are going to get a good work out with Les Mills classes. I have taken part in all three over the last ten years. My favourite today – Body Combat. When I was first made redundant Body Combat was the one class I went to to let out aggression. With a routine that offers shadow and kick boxing each class provides the ultimate, high intensity work out. Try one of these classes, there is bound to be one that suits you.

Yoga

Yoga is an activity that has only come to me in the last eight months. I always shied away from it. I felt that it was a pointless exercise, I would rather take a class that saw me dripping with sweat and got my heart pumping. However, in the final months before the London Marathon, when my body was aching constantly I gave it a go. And I was transformed. As much as we need the high intensity work outs, we need to stretch out and recharge too. And yoga helped me with that. I am not particularly good at it, I am in no way bendy. But it helps ease those achy muscles and relaxes my tired mind.

Running

Another activity that has been the cornerstone of my fitness for over ten years is running. When I started I thought I was going to die – I could not run a half a mile without stopping. But with perseverance and determination I got better. I kept running. If I said to myself all that time ago I would run a marathon one day I would have laughed. But I did. I am finding it difficult to run currently – loosing my mojo this summer has put a mental block in my mind. But it is one activity I know needs constant coaxing. I know it will come back to me, and I never stop trying.

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Walking

Finally, when all else fails. When I cannot stomach the thought of a high intensity work out or even the thought of lying in the studio stretching – I walk. I used to enjoy lunch time walks in the local parks close to work. And closer to home there is nothing like a long river or country walk to ease your mind. Walking will play a huge part to my regime over the coming months as I take on the Isle of Wight challenge.

I have spent a lot of time over the last ten years dedicating time to fitness. If I had all the time in the world I would complete all these activities, and no doubt more, as much as possible. My problem – time. There is not enough time in the world to do everything you want to do. So I do what I can, when I can.

So, if you are not active get active. Find something that works for you. There is time in the day, even if it is just a 30 minute walk. Stop making excuses and move!

If you are already active, keep challenging yourself. Keep finding activities that get your heart racing, that makes you feel that adrenaline kicking in.

I know I will.

 

Nuclear Blast – 2017

Nuclear Races are known for award winning fun; relentless amounts of mud over undulating terrain with numerous obstacles in between.

Nuclear Blast certainly followed suit. After deferring my entry for Nuclear Rush after the London Marathon I returned to have some muddy good fun.

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I was tempted to cancel. Recent trauma has left me physically and mentally exhausted. However in an attempt to regain some normality in my life I decided to go ahead. It was my first OCR event running solo. I was apprehensive – worried about going at it alone. But with many months training alone and running regular road races by myself I shook it off and went along for the ride.

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The race did not disappoint. Nuclear Blast is a 5k race, where you have the option to complete as many laps as you wish within a two hour window. If you finish a lap at 1 hour 58 minutes you are encouraged to run another lap if you have energy left in the tank. If you run one lap and decide that’s enough for you then that is absolutely fine too.

Personally, I have an issue with running laps (something I am slowly building upon), so the single lap was more than enough fun for me. I had been out on the course for an hour and a half – with plenty of obstacles and mud to appease me.

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And there was mud galore. Whether it was the recent wet weather contributing to the muddy terrain or simply just a natural mud fest, I’m not sure – but either way I have never experienced so much mud during an OCR race. And it was a laugh.

I completed obstacles at my own pace, laughing at myself and generally having a good time. Obstacles I would normally avoid were completed with gusto – mainly due to the fact that I was in my own world. And unlike most OCR races, there was very little waiting around to complete the obstacles – meaning less time to stand around getting cold.

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Despite completing many gritty obstacles over the course, I could not get over my knew found fear of cargo nets after falling off at Rat Race Dirty Weekend, so It was one that was quickly bypassed. However, with so many other obstacles I was not disappointed.

 

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Nuclear Blast was simply amazing. As usual the spirit all around was something that cannot be replicated. I have completed many OCR races now, and nothing compares to Nuclear Races. The course, the obstacles, the thrill level, the organisation, marshals and even the fellow participants – who are always willing to offer a hand or a friendly shove – makes Nuclear stand out from all others. It is clear to see why they are award winners.

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The only thing that was missing from Nuclear Blast? The death slide. So, roll on Nuclear Rush 2018 – death slide, zip lines and all.

 

This. Is. Sparta.

Facebook is fantastic about reminding you where you were on this day in the past. And it seems, September seems to be the month that Ross and I take our last break before the busy Christmas period sets in. Sometimes this can be in the form of a short break, but most of the time it is a week somewhere warm. A destination where we can catch those last sunny rays before the winter sets in in the UK.

Throwing back to September 2015 and we saw ourselves in mainland Greece. When I suggested Greece for our destination this time round Ross immediately agreed, on one proviso – that we visit Sparta!

So the planning and investigations immediately kicked in. Flying into Athens we hired a car and travelled to the area of Isthmia, an ancient city located on the Isthmus of Corinth – an hours drive from the city of Athens and almost half the way to Sparta.

Staying in this area at the Kalamaki beach hotel gave us an excellent base, offering picturesque ocean views and the relaxing atmosphere we needed whilst being close to the local attractions within the Corinth area.

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A visit to Ancient Corinth is a must when in the area, especially for those interested in Greek history, as it is here you will find the remains of the Temple of Apollo – some of the oldest remains left standing today.

Other important sights to see include the Corinth Canal. Cutting through the narrow Isthmus of Corinth separating the Peloponnese from the Greek mainland, it is only 4 miles in length and 70ft wide – making it impossible for most modern ships to pass through. Visiting this wonder was one of my highlights of our trip. The pictures I took do not give the canal the justice it deserves. It is simply a “must see” if you are visiting the area.

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Moving further west, we planned a whole day in Sparta. The area we had come to see after all. And the area Ross was most excited about.

Just over an hour and a half from our hotel, after a drive offering beautiful views through the Peloponnese, we arrived in Sparta. Acting like proper tourists, with the map spread out on the dashboard, and looking rather lost we finally stumbled upon the points of interest we were after.

There before us the statue of King Leonidas, rather belligerently located in front of the football stadium. Those who are interested in their Greek history will know that Leonidas was a warrior king of the Greek city state of Sparta. Others will know him as Gerard Butler, from the film 300.

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Just a short walk from the statue you will find the acropolis and ancient theatre. In a rather quiet location, there were no fees and when we visited no other tourists. We had the site completely to ourselves. Giving us plenty of time to soak up the atmosphere and the history. Ross was in his element. This. Was. Sparta.

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The rest of Sparta does not have that much to see, a small archaeological museum provided a little more history in the area and some lovely coffee shops were perfect for a refreshment stop.

However, if you are in the area then most likely you would have hired a car. And if that is the case I would definitely recommend the short drive (5km) to Mystras. A drive that is not for those with a faint heart as it requires a rather steep, mountainous route to reach the top where you will find Mystras castle and monastery.

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Once parked, swap the flip flops for your trainers as the journey is not complete. To fully appreciate Mystras you have to hike right to the top, along very stony, slippery paths to the castle on the hill. The views are most definitely worth the hike – they are simply breathtaking.

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For Ross the highlight would have been the main area of Sparta, due to his fascination with Greek history and obsession with the film 300. For me, this was my highlight. The exhausting trek to the top, in the blazing sunshine, to get the most amazing views. This was more my thing.

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The best views are always at the top, and these do not disappoint. We took our time here; climbing to the top, enjoying the views from above and then a slow descent taking pictures on our way down.

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Once back to ground level we stopped at the small village outside the castle for much needed drinks after the hike in the heat.

Then it was time to jump back in the car. The hotel pool and several glasses of wine were beckoning.

Sparta (or more broadly the Peloponnese) had not disappointed, we were satisfied with our fill of Greek history and culture.

But my Greek journey is not complete. We flew into Athens, but saw nothing the city had to offer, so at some point that is on the cards. And with so many Greek Islands to visit, the adventures will never end.

It’s good to walk

Shortly after completing the London Marathon I read a comment made by someone on social media stating “if you walked at any point during the marathon, then you have not run the London Marathon.”

Not only did I think this is the most ridiculous comment to make, but it also made me extremely angry. The person making the comment was obviously a runner who took their running seriously, however what right did they have to comment on how a person finished. For some the race is serious, it is about getting the best possible time and beating as many people as possible. For others, time is irrelevant. For many, like myself, it was not about the finishing time, it was about the finish. It was about completing your journey and crossing the finish line – regardless of how you get there.

I ran around 99% of the distance. There were short stops, generally around water stations and when I was saying hello to loved ones, when I broke into a walk. To regain my thoughts and strength. To give myself a talking to. I don’t care that I walked the 1% – I was doing whatever I could to see my journey through.

And the same still applies. The last few months have seen me loosing my running mojo at times and in doing so I have lost a little drive, motivation and strength. When I am feeling my lowest, running generally helps. But lately, at times, even running fails me.

It is at times like these that I have to adapt. I have to adjust my expectations and re-plan my day. So when this happens, I take to walking.

This morning was one of those days. The sun was shining, it was a glorious morning. However, the strength within me was lost. So I put on my trainers and took myself for a four mile walk – along the river and through the town park.

Walking, for some, can be the perfect exercise. And at times when running fails me, walking is better than doing nothing. So that’s exactly what I do.

I am lucky enough to be surrounded by green spaces – making my walks very pleasant and in the Winter, very muddy. I am also privileged to live in proximity of London and at times I like to wonder round the vibrant city.

In recent years I have been fond of the “walking trails” available in the capital, hunting down various characters from up coming films. When the Olympics were in our city I hunted down various “Wenlock” and “Mandeville” characters with friends, covering over ten miles in one day. Following years saw the release of movies such as Shaun the Sheep, Paddington Bear and Roald Dahl’s the “BFG.” Each movie had its own trail and each time I ventured in to London to hunt down as many as possible. Not only did it get friends together, but it also got us walking about the city in a exciting way and making exercise fun rather than just a chore.

What ever your reason for walking you need to enjoy it. So if you walk to get through an injury or illness, if you are suffering from a physical or mental block from running or if you simply just love walking – just don’t stop.

Get out there, keep active, feel the sun on your face.

As I said to myself today – “Walking four miles is better than no miles at all.”

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Running through Grief.

Grief. Such a horrible word. It is something I have not really suffered with before. Yes I grieved the job I lost through redundancy, I have grieved the end of friendships and relationships. But real grief. The grief you feel when you have lost someone close, someone you are never going to see again and someone you could have helped if you pushed harder. That grief is something else.

I have sympathised with many friends over the years over their loss of a loved one, I have supported them through dealing with the grief but I never fully understood how it feels.

Now, one week on after loosing someone dear to my heart, I am trying to find my own ways to deal with my grief and the guilt I feel for not being able to help them.

To some it may seem like I am acting normally. I am not crying every minute of the day. I am doing every day things. I am continuing to go to interviews. Some might think this is not the normal behaviour of someone who is grieving. But what I have come to understand in just seven days, is that people deal with grief in many different ways.

I could be one of those who decide to spend the days dealing with my feelings by drinking copious amounts of wine – don’t get me wrong, I have had my fair share of wine over the last few days – but that is not me. I could retreat into myself and not talk about it. But again that it is not me.

What I have done over the last week is ride the very emotional roller coaster that comes along with any loss. The first few days saw a lot of shock, anger and at the same time organisation. My head went to the place it feels most comfortable – organising, making calls, delivering the horrible news. Once that was over, my body was hit with the most overwhelming feeling of loss and guilt – when there was nothing else to organise on my side the feelings kicked in and they hurt like hell.

That night I laughed, I cried, I screamed, I danced (to music that I knew he loved) and I drank.

The next day I gave myself a talking to. I needed to get myself together. I needed to learn to work through my feelings. I needed to get back out running.

I had not run for four days.

Some might think that four days is nothing. But for me, that was a long time. All I had done in those four days was sit. Sit and make phone calls. Sit and talk.

It was time to stop sitting.

So I went out. I ran. It was the hardest run I have ever tried to complete. And it was only three miles. It was windy, it was raining and I wanted to stop. But somewhere along the way the sun came out and I felt like I was being pushed.

It felt like he was telling me not to stop, to keep going. So I remembered, I remembered his voice cheering me on in my final moments at the London Marathon.

So I kept going.

The next day I went out again and I felt him there with me. Like he was telling me that he was happy now. That he was okay.

So I will keep on running, even when I don’t want to. I will keep running because I can.

I will keep on running for him.

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Fundraising: Reaching your goal

When I was first offered a space for the London Marathon from the Willow Foundation I had two thoughts. One (the standard) was “how am I going to do this?” The second – “I’m never going to be able to reach my target of £2,000.”

Training for such a huge event takes its toll, you barely have time to think of anything other than the job at hand. Add the pressure of fundraising on top and it became one of the most challenging six months I have faced.

But with the challenge comes the reward. The reward of knowing you have completed one of the most amazing races in the world and in doing so knowing you have helped numerous people by raising money in the process.

So, if you are one of those who have just signed up for the biggest challenge of your life or if you are simply just looking at raising money for a charity close to your heart, here are my tips to help you reach that all important target.

  1. Set up your fundraising page as soon as you are committed to the challenge. Even if the event itself is a year away, the sooner you have a page up and running the sooner you can get those important sponsors coming in. I started my page immediately, I had six months leading up to the event and thought I would need the head start.
  2. Make a fundraising plan. Take into consideration big holidays – such as Christmas; you will find friends, family and colleagues are more charitable around this time of year.
  3. Social Media is a powerful tool and free. Use it. Tell everyone about the amazing thing you are doing. When I first started to promote my page I was rather shy about it, but the closer I got to the big day the more I shouted about what I was doing. Every time I made it through a long training run, I spoke about it, I blogged about it and I shared my fundraising link – every time. Use a countdown to the event to remind people how long you have left – if there are only 30 days remaining, tell them.
  4. Raffles! Everyone loves a raffle. I put together three raffles in the lead up to the big day. For the first one I received a voucher from work for dinner at the Savoy. Raffling this off at my Boot Camp group raised over £100 – which got me off to a fantastic start. The second raffle I put together for my work colleagues the week leading up to Christmas. Using loyalty points I had gathered from various retailers I purchased several gifts for the raffle – which raised around £80. The final raffle I ran in the last few weeks leading up to the big day, for Easter with chocolate eggs. This one generated around £60. Like I said – everyone loves a raffle. Try it for yourself.
  5. Bake sales. Or in my case a cake sale. Lets face it, with all the extra training I did not have time or the energy to spend baking. After long runs at the weekend the only physical thing I could manage was lifting the remote control. So, with my trusty Costco membership I brought massive batches of cakes and pastries and sold them at work. Sugar sells after all, and timed with pay days the cake sales proved extremely successful. In the six months lead up to the big day, I recall running the cake sale two to three times. Each time the cakes sold out completely.
  6. Tuck Shop! My biggest success in my fundraising. Back to Costco again, I began my tuck shop at the end of January – after most in the office had given up their “no sugar” diets post Christmas. I stocked up on fizzy drinks, crisps and chocolate – yes I helped increase the chances of diabetes in the office. But, it worked. Like I said, sugar sells. And those purchasing were likely to head over to the corner shop anyway. Instead, by purchasing from my tuck shop they knew they were helping me get that little bit closer to my target for the Willow Foundation (the company charity).
  7. Stick a penny pot on your desk. I had one on my desk for several months and I told all my colleagues it was there. Some colleagues came in to work with bags of pennies they had from home. Some simply just emptied their pockets of the unwanted coppers. Either way, every penny helps and it certainly helped me reach my target.
  8. Do not give up. Don’t stop shouting about what you are doing. There were times when I thought I was boring everyone with my updates, with my constant requests for sponsors and at times I thought “maybe I should not bore people today.” But each time I remembered I should shout. I had bragging rights, especially once I completed the marathon itself. I deserved to shout and continue shouting about it. Be proud! I know I am.
  9. Keep your page open – some sponsors can come months after the event itself. I have left mine open until the end of 2017, as you just never know when you might receive a donation (page can be found here).

Today it still feels like a blur. I don’t understand how I managed to both finish the 26.2 miles itself and raise such a huge amount of money at the same time. My end total for the charity was £2,222.95, so each mile on the day itself was worth £84.85. Each painful, tired step was worth every penny. All the hard work fundraising paid off, as well as the training miles too of course.

The most important thing to remember is to not give up. If you have a challenge coming your way and you are fundraising, shout loud and proud for all to hear.

You are amazing, keep going!

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Running: Berwick-Upon-Tweed

I always like a change of scenery when running. Let’s face it, covering the same routes over and over again can become rather monotonous. So, when I knew I was heading up to Northumberland for a family trip the first thing I did was plot a running route on Strava.

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With my 11 year old niece in tow (who has been inspired to run since watching me run the London Marathon), I set off each morning. Not for a long run, as I did not want to push my niece too far too soon, but enough to get her learning the basics of road running. Each morning we went a little further, a little faster.

 

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A downhill route into the town of Berwick-Upon-Tweed, proved to be the perfect way to get her started on her running journey. From the town we headed up to the castle walls and followed the path, with provided picturesque views around the outskirts and along the sea/ river front. It was a beautiful route, a route that offered such peace and tranquillity early in the morning  – one that I could easily run time and time again. I am a sucker for running with fantastic views. And the views were simply amazing, though even in the height of summer, rather breezy once you stopped running (so I would advise taking a long sleeved top to throw on once your run is over).

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Our adventures did not just stop at running and walking the castle walls. We also ventured over to Holy Island for an afternoon exploring. A tidal island off the coast of Berwick-Upon-Tweed it is one that offers plenty to do, with Lindisfarne Castle (currently closed for renovations until 2018), ruins of Lindisfarne Priory, a nature reserve and plenty of hiking opportunities.

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It even offers a scenic running route too – though this was not something I was able to explore on a family outing. Whatever you do whilst on the Island you have to pay close attention to the tidal times – which change daily throughout the year. Make a mistake or ignore the signs whilst driving along the causeway when the tide comes in and you will find yourself in somewhat of a pickle. And most likely in need of being rescued. We did not have such trouble – looking up the times in advance and ensuring we were off the island in plenty of time.

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Beaches along the Northumberland coast line are also stunning – though again they can be rather chilly. With the tide far out they can be perfect spots for those who love a beach run (I am not a fan myself) or even a long walk.

Taking it easier this week whilst away has done me the world of good. I ran shorter runs and having my niece to look after allowed me to take the focus away from my own running – I focused on her running instead.

In addition, the long walks around to town and around Holy Island without the pressure of time or expectation helped clear my mind. The fresh sea air did me the world of good.

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That said, I made the decision on returning to not run the Bedford Half Marathon. I was not ready for both the physical and mental challenge, and I realised that that is okay. Sometimes you need to make decisions that are best for you and this time round I have no regrets about not taking part.

There are plenty of races coming my way over the next few months. Now it is time to get back into the racing mindset.