One stone down with Slimming World

Never before have I had to eat my own words.

For many years I scoffed at anyone on the Slimming World plan. Any diet that sees avocado and prosecco as syns had no place in my life. As a vegetarian I have always had a good balanced diet – eating plenty of fruit and vegetables, perhaps needing a little more protein, with the bad treats incorporated too. Yes this does include prosecco.

Over the last few years I have seen many friends and some family members loose an impressive amount of weight on the Slimming World plan. And whilst it is amazing, I still did not understand why they could not grasp the idea of a balanced diet by themselves.

Earlier this year, whilst training for the London Marathon, I allowed myself to relax my diet somewhat. With the extra training I needed the extra fuel. Which was fine whist I was preparing for the big day. However, once race was over those extra calories chased me down pretty quickly.

I did not put any weight on, instead I felt my muscles soften and generally felt rather sluggish. During my summer holiday shortly after the marathon I did not feel “beach ready” – so it was a good thing we did not spend much time on the sun lounger.

Shortly after arriving home from our holiday I was made redundant. At first it was fantastic – extra time to relax, have time to myself and work out twice a day.

When the reality of redundancy sunk in, my routine and habits changed.

My schedule went to pot and as such had an impact on my balanced diet.

It became the norm to skip breakfast, lunch and then get through a family sized bag of Wotsits around 3pm. My motivation to get out running, to keep training started to diminish and I just felt so drained.

Part of this was the mental side to the redundancy – the positive attitude I had at the beginning slowly disappeared and in came the bad habits.

Again, no weight was gained, but I was fed up. Fed up of allowing redundancy take over my life. I needed to regain control.

Joining Slimming World was the first step. Rather apprehensive and still rather dubious about whether this would work for me, I went along to the first meeting.

Welcoming me into the group was the consultant, Donna. Having lost a massive amount of weight herself she made me believe this could work. The last thing you want when joining is a slim consultant who does not understand the woes! Donna understood from the beginning and believes in every single member in her groups.

The support from Donna and other members in group session is amazing. No judgement is given, we often laugh at habits we recognise in ourselves and there is a wonderful sense of community in being a member.

Every member is different, some loose half a stone in their first week, some just a couple of pounds.

I was the latter, loosing a couple of pounds in my first week. And since then having a steady weight loss of 1/2 pound – 3 pounds a week. There has even been a period when I did lot loose at all, remaining the same weight for two weeks. The most frustrating weeks I have every had.

I have not followed plan 100% each week. Im human. I will, at times, drink a whole bottle of prosecco (which is more than the daily syn allowance). However, what Slimming World has done for me is bring my mind back into a healthier place. Helping me plan ahead, to prepare and to make better choices 80% of the time – but allowing me to still enjoy the things I love!

And in doing so not only has it enabled me to loose 1 stone, it has got me back into a schedule elsewhere too!

I am back to my active self; getting stronger in Spinning classes and getting in the walking miles for training too.

It has made me more mindful and it has made me determined to continue.

With many challenges to come in 2018, it would be amazing to complete them a little lighter.

So with that in mind, I plan to increase that 80% on plan to closer to 100%. But at the same time remember there will be days or meals where being on plan is not possible. On days like that, I will just have put it behind me and look to be on plan for the next meal.

Winter Walking

Though we are technically in the Autumnal season, the temperature has dropped so significantly in the last few days you cannot help but think it’s already Winter.

And with the Winter months comes the planning. The planning for the New Year, the new training plan and the new adventures.

This time last year I was planning the winter months training for the London Marathon. And whilst I am extremely satisfied that I ticked one of the greatest races in the world off my bucket list, I am equally glad that I will not be spending months upon months over the Winter waking up at 6am to run.

Instead I will be taking my training in a different direction. I will be walking my way through the Winter in preparation for the Isle of Wight Challenge. 65.8 miles around the coast of the Island, hopefully in under 24 hours.

Lately I have been talking to a few friends. Friends who have completed challenges run by the same company, Action Challenge, and those who have completed marathons. The one common comment made by all was “just because you can run, don’t assume you can walk.”

This comment has thrown me somewhat.

I always thought running a marathon would be far more difficult than walking. Your heart rate and exertion is higher after all. Right?

I believe that I am going to prove myself wrong over the next few months. Because not only am I going to have to deal with walking long distances, for hours and hours, I am also going to have to deal with sleep deprivation and cold temperatures; whilst dealing with anything that Mother Nature decides she will throw at me throughout my challenge.

However with several 24 hour challenges under my belt, thanks to Mission 24 two years running, I know that I have the mind power to get me through the small, dark hours.

What I need to do in the lead up is just rack up the miles.

So with that in mind I have been thinking about the routes I could complete and the miles I could cover. The training plan issued to me by my chosen charity partner, Mind, is no where near as extreme as the one I received for the London Marathon. The Marathon plan showed many days running; running short distances and long ones. At this stage I cannot remember how many hours I spent running. And I did very little else. A little spinning, a little yoga here or there. But mainly -running!

This plan has the longest walk in the lead up as 10 hours long. And for some reason I find this less daunting than the longest run I had scheduled for the Marathon, at 20 miles.

Luckily, as I live in the Home Counties, on the Herts- Essex border, there are plenty of routes I can look at over the next few months; not only to change things up so I don’t get bored but also to ensure that I cover the required milage.

The Lea Valley – One of the flattest routes I took to train for the London Marathon. It was flat, it was picturesque – it is perfect to cover the miles I need for my longest walk in preparation. Starting from the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park I will make my walk along the river path up the River Lea – passing through Hackney, Walthamstow, Cheshunt, Broxbourne, Harlow and finishing at Bishops Stortford – around 30 plus miles.

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Epping Forest – a walk I tested today and did not enjoy. Following what was a “bike” trail to being with, I lost my trainer in a swamp of leaves. Plus it was pouring down with rain, so I got back to the car cold, wet, shivering and muddy. I am determined that the forest will be a cornerstone of my training in the upcoming months. If I plan it right and scope it out enough I could easily cover 8-10 miles each time.

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Shorter Walks will be key, just like the 3-4 milers when training for the London Marathon. They will keep me ticking over. And lately I have discovered more around my area than I ever have before. I like the off road routes – so the likes of Broxbourne Woods close to home will be a definite player in the short walk routes.

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Old childhood stomping grounds in North London will also be key. Family and friends still live there so why would I not incorporate shorter routes with friends into the training mix?

The likes of Hampstead Heath offers miles of wild wondering, with plenty of hills. To this day I still get lost on the heath. Yet every time I visit I still feel the joy of a first time visitor.

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Aldenham Country Park offers a short route – which you could easily lap in your visit. A country park that is a stones throw from the area I was raised offers a little day out for the family, or an opportunity for someone like myself to train – lapping here will rack up the miles around the lake.

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Whatever happens over the next few months I know one thing – the routes need to be long and the routes need to be those that offer pleasing scenery.

I will not be able to cover boring paved streets; I need country parks, I need rivers and I need countryside. If I am gong to cover 65 point something miles – I need to be pleased by the views.

So whatever I plan over the next few months I need to take this into consideration. I need to feel appeased. I need to ensure that whatever route I plan, it involves a route that offers me something to look at, that stimulates my mind and offers me mileage to challenge me physically.

It is a challenge I said I would never do, but a challenge that will come from the heart. A challenge that raises money for Mind. A charity that has become so meaningful and so dear to all my family.

There may be times when I don’t believe I will complete. But I know that i will. Finishing is the only option. And I hope, just like the London Marathon, he will be there to cheer me on. It won’t be in person – but I will hear his voice, I will feel his warmth and I will make every step count – for him!

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Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red: Tower of London

Between the months of July and November 2014 17,500 volunteers took part in the major art installation at the Tower of London, marking one hundred years since the first full day of Britain’s involvement in the First World War.

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I was one of those volunteers.

My Great Grandfather fought in World War Two, so when I found out about the project I took the first possible opportunity to volunteer my time as a mark of respect for him and all those service men who did, and still do fight for our freedom.

Created by artists Paul Cummins and Tom Piper, the project involved planting 888,246 ceramic poppies – one for each military fatality during the war.

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My shift began one early Saturday afternoon in September. Like minded volunteers congregated at the volunteers office to be issued with t-shirt, gloves and protective eye wear. Once issued with the kit we needed, and introduced to our team leader, we were requested to watch a short video. This showed us how the poppies were made and how we were expected to put them together for plantation.

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On this day I was extremely lucky to be “planting poppies” in the most significant part of the installation – where visitors could see the poppies spilling out from the Tower above.

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To say the experience was surreal would be an understatement. The installation was obviously creating large amount of visitors, and with it being a Saturday lunch time the numbers of people watching was increasing by the minute. The audience was huge, with some even shouting down questions into the moat.

Everyone who was volunteering had their own reasons and were happy to do so. Such a diverse range of people were brought together for such a poignant task – from single adults and school children, to scout groups and retirees. It was such an amazing opportunity for people to come together – some travelling far to take part in such a great project.

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When I signed up to volunteer I did not completely comprehend the scope of the task, about what 888,246 poppies would look like against the iconic Tower of London. On the day itself the enormity of what I was taking part in hit me – every single poppy represented a life. Each one represented a person who died fighting for our freedom.

Volunteering for this project was one of the most humbling experiences I have faced to date. Emotions for most taking part were high and it is fair to say that this has to be one of my proudest moments. Definitely a once in a lifetime opportunity.

Armistice Day approaches this weekend. And every year I hope for peace. I hope we can continue to be good people. To encourage good and educate future generations, in the hope that one day we will have world peace.

#LestWeForget

New York! New York!

The City So Nice They Named It Twice. The Big Apple. The City That Never Sleeps.

Whatever nickname you give to the big city, you will find one visit is never enough. If you have never visited New York City, you need to visit New York City.

It was always a desire to visit. I always wanted to walk the streets where some of my favourite movies and TV shows were based; drink bubbles in Plaza – the hotel featured in one of my favourite childhood films (Home Alone 2: Lost in New York), to see the Friends apartment building in Greenwich and climb the steps to “Carrie Bradshaw’s” apartment in the West Village.

Two years ago today I was exploring the streets of the city; with only four full days to visit as much as possible, waking at first light to make the most of the day.

So how much can you fit into just four days in the “Concrete Jungle?” If you plan in advance, get up early and are willing to rack up the miles; then you will find you are able to cover a lot more than you think.

What did I see in four days?

Ground Zero
The National September 11 memorial and museum. As I remember visiting this area I take a sharp intake of breath. I could not visit New York and not see Ground Zero. Whilst watching the scenes of 9/11 unfold I did not quite grasp how huge the Twin Towers were. Pictures and TV do not do the area justice; on arriving on site the magnitude of the events hits you and it is quite clear to see why. The foot prints of the North and South Towers, with their reflecting pools can knock you for six. Though a memorial to one of the most awful events in history, listening to the sound of the pools I found myself feeling quite at peace – perhaps that was the aim of those who created the memorial.

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The museum, though rather hard to take in, is also something that has to be seen to be believed. I have never experienced a museum quite as silent as this one. Equally I have never visit a museum where i felt that my heart stopped beating.

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I’m not going to lie, it was one of the toughest places I have visited in any city to date. But I would still recommend incorporating it into your trip if you are heading to New York.

The Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island
To visit New York City and not see the Lady herself would simply be criminal. “The Statue of Liberty Enlightening the World,” a gift from France and recognised as a universal symbol of freedom and democracy, took my breath away.

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You can of course adventure into the statue itself and climb to the top, viewing New York from her crown. But not only does this require advance planning, I have been told that the view from outside is so much more enjoyable.

Ellis Island that shortly followed, as you will discover if you take the Ferry over to the Statue of Liberty, was the gateway for over 12 million immigrants between 1892 and 1954. Though I found the immigration hall rather spooky and chilling – as most buildings from that era – I enjoyed walking round the grounds, looking up those with the same surname, shocked at the volume of those baring the same name as me.

The Charging Bull + Wall Street

23226940_10159680077545604_1658583983_n.jpgThe Charging Bull, often referred to as the Wall Street Bull, is a bronze sculpture located in the financial district is a symbol of aggressive financial optimism and prosperity – just a stones throw away from Wall Street and the New York Stock Exchange. Simply walk up from the Ferry port from Ellis Island and you will find yourself easily wondering the financial district.

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Top of the Rock vs the Empire State Building
When I was planning the trip to New York I read lots of mixed reviews about the two iconic buildings. Both offering views of the city from a higher perspective. And in my opinion, equally as stunning. We arrived in the city on the first evening. It was dark and there was not much else to do but see what views one of the buildings had to offer. We headed to Rockefeller (Top of the Rock). The views at night – looking down towards the Empire State Building, lit up in all its glory – were amazing. 

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Equally, the top of the Empire State Building during daylight hours were also just as amazing.

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Personally the difference for me was that the lobby and lifts in the Empire State Building had more to offer visually. Plus, who could forget this building being the pinnacle of some of the most famous movies: King Kong, Sleepless in Seattle….It was a real treat to be in the building, to experience the views and the complete silence (though rather bitter wind) on the observation deck.

Grand Central Station
For many living in the city I’m sure this is simply a commuter terminal. Had it been a train station in London, I would think the same. However, take me out of my home town and stick me in Grand Central Station and I was in love. In my lifetime I have not seen a train terminal like this one. If you only have ten minutes to spare – pass through the building just to see it for yourself.

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Central Park
No trip to the Big Apple would be complete without a visit to Central Park. Whether you simply want to stroll around the picturesque grounds, take time at the one of the museums on its parimeter or if you are joining the the runners at 6am; get to the park.

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During my time in the city I think we visited several times – joining the super fit at 6am for a run; not realising how health conscious New York residents are. On our running mornings we found ourselves along side many New Yorkers; though unlike these residents we stopped for the attractions around the park including Strawberry Fields, Belvedere Castle and the Alice in Wonderland sculpture.

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Time Square
Rather poignantly known for New Years celebrations, full of people waiting to “watch the ball drop.” Times Square was one of the areas of the city that did not fill me with joy. Although I can see that it is a great place to congregate during certain times of year – I found it too compact, to busy and full of street performers. I suppose it would be the Piccadilly Circus equivalent – somewhere I would also do not enjoy.

The Flatrion Building
A architectural delight just a stones throw from Madison Square Garden on 5th Avenue. It is simply lovely to look at and beautifully showcased in the area. If you are at the top of the Empire State Building looking towards Downtown, it is one of those that will stand out amongst the rest. Plan it into your trip, perhaps even stopping by a coffee shop just to stare at the beauty of the building.

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Greenwich and the West Village
Areas I had wanted to visit thanks to my love for Friends and Sex and the City.

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Both areas offer so much charm; who could not fall in love with the Brownstone buildings and dream that they could one day afford to live in such trendy areas of Manhattan.

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SHOPPING
How could one come to this amazing city and not shop? Whether it be Macy’s on Broadway  (where I spent a small fortune at the Benefit counter) or taking the trip just outside the city to the Woodbury Common Outlet Malls, it is hard to resist the urge to spend money.

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With the outlets you can fill your case full of designer brands at discount prices, and on walking up Madison or 5th your can stroll in and out of the numerous shops – some designer, some souvenir – and enjoy every minute. I am not one for shopping on the High Street, but New York brought out my inner shopper and I could not stop. I loved everything, I wanted everything. Its a good thing I had planned extra cash to do some shopping.

The Plaza
One of the biggest things on my New York “to do” list was to have bubbles at the Plaza. So on the very last evening, after we could not possibly shop anymore, that’s what we did. I don’t know if it was the feeling of being in the “Plaza” or if it was the thrill of being in the city itself, either way – the glass of bubbles I had here was one of the best I had ever had. It was an epic way to end such a whirlwind trip to “The City That Never Sleeps.”

And I did not get to do it all. On my arrival back to the UK I looked back at the guide book and saw how much I did not fit in. I did not get to Brooklyn, I did not get to run over the Brooklyn Bridge, I did not see the High Line and I did not visit Madison Square Garden, nor did I scoff my way through a pizza in Little Italy.

So much missed, which makes you realise that although a short city break is amazing and an exciting whirlwind – it does not give you a chance to see it all.

But that simply gives me the excuse to come back, to retrace my steps and plant new ones.

New York – we will meet again, soon!