Fitness, Health, Races, Training

Running to the Dark Side

As the hype of the London Marathon dominated my social media feeds I could not help but contemplate on the decision I made to defer my place to 2020.

Watching the stories of runners working their way around the course led me to reminiscing about my own race two years ago. Thoughts of those who came out to support me on the day (some no longer with us), the adrenaline on the day and the atmosphere created by the wonderful people of London cheering the runners on. There is a reason why they say the London Marathon is the greatest marathon in the world – the public coming together made for the most 26.2 enjoyable miles I have ever run.

It is no surprise that in watching this years race I decided to give myself a hard time. Yes, I had made the most sensible decision at the time, but I started to think maybe I gave in a little too easy.

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Hindsight is a wonderful thing and had I been feeling how I feel now, then, I would have been in a different position. But I wasn’t and instead I developed further issues beyond my physical injury that have kept me from running.

Since I developed the love for pounding the pavement and being outdoors, I have always been an advocate of the impact it has on my mental health. The more active I became, the more I was able to control my state of mind. If I had a good day, I ran to be free and active. If I had a bad day, I ran to shake it off. My mind could be controlled by the simplicity of running.

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But what happens when the one thing that keeps you balanced, becomes the one thing that makes you feel unstable?

My decision to defer came not only from the physical injury, but the anxiety I developed around running post diagnosis. I became paranoid. Paranoid that I would injure myself again, paranoid I was behind in training miles and paranoid that I would not be fit enough for the big day.

I believed in dialling back the pressure, in deferring my place, would enable me to ease back into a gentle running pattern. To learn to love running again.

Instead the anxiety became worse. A fear of running developed. My half marathon training races came and went without me attending, and my absence from running club continued. With the longer nights I promised myself I would get back to it, just starting with a short, solo run to remind myself I still can.

But I am still waiting for my moment.

 

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Everyone talks about the love of running, the mental and physical benefits. But no one mentions the dark place you can go to when your confidence is lost. I believed there must be something wrong with me. Despite some suggesting I should contact the running club for advice and some attempting to coax me out for a short run, I just wanted to retreat into the shadows.

Until one night several weeks ago I was contacted by a friend.

With a couple of weeks to go before the London Marathon, she was experiencing high levels of anxiety when faced with running. Especially the long runs. Like me, she was considering dropping out, with thoughts of the long runs and the missed miles, causing extreme levels of stress and doubt.

Despite being distressed that she felt this way, I was so relieved to find out I was not on my own. Weeks later, she made it to London and she crossed the finish line. Making me realise if she can get back out there and complete 26.2 miles feeling the way she did, then I can put one foot in front of the other to start again.

And that is what I intend to do. It may not be tomorrow, this week or next. But I will get back to running club, I will get to parkrun and I will learn to love running again.

With twelve months until the London Marathon 2020 I have a goal!

Adventures, Fitness, Health

Time Out at Champneys

I have always been an advocate for experiences rather than things. So when the other half handed me his credit card for my birthday and said “book yourself into Champneys for the night,” I was in my element.

When you spend your life rushing around at high speed and training consistently, time out becomes precious. Even more so when it is time you can spend alone, with a book, and complete relaxation.

So last this time last week, after a long walk on one of the coldest mornings of 2019, I checked into Champneys at Henlow Grange for a one night spa break.

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Having been a spa day guest many times before I knew a overnight break, where the majority of my time will be spent in the famous white robes, was just I needed.

Checking in with ease just before 2pm, I quickly fell into the relaxed mantra that Champneys promote.

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Donning my robe I booked myself into a Thalassotherapy session – a warm salt water treatment rich in minerals that is ideal for re-mineralising the body and aiding the detoxing process. The session, lasting around 25 minutes, is designed to stimulate and tone tired aches and pains – perfect for those who are put through their paces with training.

After my session in the Thalassotherapy session, I took to the conservatory with a piece of cake, a hot drink and a book – admiring the sun setting on a cold, frosty day.

A light nap followed in my room, followed by a three-course meal (included in the package) and a bottle of wine. Although I know Champneys are very much into the detoxing and well-being, the dinner was somewhat of a disappointment. Not only were the portions incredibly tiny, but also some dishes were simply tasteless. You have the option to purchase extras – such as side orders – should you feel you need them. But personally, after spending a fair amount of money of a bottle of wine, I felt inclined to add further expense to my bill.

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On returning to my room for the evening I found myself disappointed further. I had no heating – on a day that hovered around zero temperature wise. I complained several times and was advised I would receive a portable heater – only to have to go searching for one when, at 10:30pm, I was still waiting. After heading to reception, to be given a broken heater and no resolution to my predicament I gave up on expecting any kind of service from the team that remained over night. I prepared for a cold night sleep – with extra layers.

Awaking early the next day, I removed all my belongings at 7:30am and headed to reception to speak to someone further. With treatments booked for later in the day, I had no choice but to hang around and see out the rest of my stay – soaking robe (not drying out overnight without heating) and all.

Although I received an apology, it did not feel heartfelt – the manager on duty knew there was no heating in my room before they left the night prior, but nothing was done. And the next morning nothing was offered to make up for it.

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After a very nutritious breakfast (much more satisfying than dinner), I spent the morning lounging by the pool waiting for my treatments. My original plan was to join a few classes in the morning however, after a disrupted sleep in the cold, I simply had no energy to entertain my original schedule.

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The treatments themselves were delightful. After a full body exfoliation, body wrap and head, neck and shoulder massage I felt extremely relaxed – though I wished I had moved the treatments to the day prior when I did not have to drive home.

Post treatment it was time for the final meal – a buffet lunch – both nutritious and satisfying, before heading home.

Leaving the resort in a mix state of relaxation and disappointment. Disappointment coming from the lack of customer care and service when it came to the lack of heating in my room.

However, a week after my stay, I was contacted by the new resort manager. Swiftly restoring my faith in their customer service – I was invited back to Henlow with a guest.

So I return to Champneys next month, for a little more rest and relaxation in the hope to test out more of their fantastic treatments.

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Adventures, Fitness, Health, Races, Training

London Marathon Training: Fearing the known

When I discovered I had secured a space in the London Marathon 2017 I had a number of fears, with a little excitement. Despite any fears I had I threw myself into training, embracing all the highs and lows as and when they arose.

From the boredom and loneliness of training, to the fear of the unknown. It was a period in my life where everything was uncertain. Having never experienced a marathon before I was clueless as to what I should expect or how I would feel. As the miles increased week by week, so did the fear.

Whilst at the time this fear, the fear of the unknown, was unbelievably overwhelming there was some comfort in not knowing what exactly I had to face. Ignorance was pure bliss.

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Its been a good couple of months since I discovered I have received a ballot place in the London Marathon 2019 and I am finding myself feeling a higher sense of trepidation than before. I have not thrown myself into training, as I did back then. Instead I am finding excuses to pass on vital running miles with the hope that I will “get into it” in the New Year. That is not to say that I have not been training at all, I am still throwing myself into Spinning, walking and shorter running distances. However, I seem to have an aversion to racking up the miles and getting out there no matter the weather.

And the reason for this? The fear of the known!

I am putting off getting into the swing of training, not because I am lazy or that I don’t want to run the Marathon or do my best.

My mind just knows what is to come over the next few months: the early morning runs in the cold, the boredom of the long run, the worry of injury and knowing that in a couple of months the pain from training will be so immense that it feels like your legs will never be ache free again. And as such, it is not playing ball.

As with all training, it is not just the body that needs work its the mind too. And my mind is working overtime in attempt to combat my nerves and anxieties for the months ahead. Whilst the only way to alleviate these feelings is to simply get out there and run, sometimes it is just not that easy.

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So in an attempt to get my marathon regime under way I have to find new ways to push myself, to work around my fears and take my mind off the end goal. Its time to break down the training, to put a plan in place and to take training one week at a time.

It’s time for the work to begin.

Health

Sleep Trackers: Five Stages of Sleep

It is well known that a combination of a good diet, low stress and exercise enables us to sleep better. However, in the busy world we now live in, where we find ourselves having to deal with the stresses of every day life, snoring partners and restless children, it is no surprise that getting a good nights rest is something of a struggle for most of us.

According to Sleep-Science, scientists before the 1950’s believed that as people drifted off to sleep their brains and bodies would go into a “shut down” mode, entering a passive state which would enable them to recuperate from the days events.

What we have since learned is that sleep is a lot more complicated and active than we think.

Many fitness trackers have a built in sleep monitor that enable us to understand how well we are resting and in turn offer tips to help us improve our sleep. For many years I have tried not to focus heavily on the sleep tracker itself, as at times the constant monitoring of my own sleep cycle caused further stress.

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So what are the five stages of sleep?

Within Stage One of the sleep cycle our brains produce alpha and theta waves, and eye movement slows down – usually within minutes of nodding off. Here we are in light sleep, are somewhat alert and can easily be awoken. This stage of sleep is rather brief – usually lasting only several minutes.

Stage Two of our sleep cycle is also light, where our brain produces a sudden increase in brain wave frequency known as sleep spindles. The brain waves then slow down. If you were to have a power nap this would be the optimum time to awake.

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Stages three and four is the stage whereby we enter into deep sleep, as the brain starts to produce slower delta waves. No eye or muscle movement is experienced during these stages and it becomes a little harder for someone to wake us due to the fact that our body becomes less responsive. As the brain starts to produce more delta waves, we will then move into a deeper, more restorative stage of sleep, and it is most difficult to wake up at this stage. This is the optimum time for our bodies to repair muscles and tissues – especially important for those of us who spend a great deal of time training.  This stage is also important for stimulation, growth, boosting immune function and building up energy for the next day ahead.

We then enter Rapid Eye Movement Sleep (REM) about 90 minutes after falling asleep, with each REM cycle lasting up to an hour. On average, an adult has five to six REM cycles each night and during this stage our brains become more active. This is where our dreaming will occur, our eyes will jerk in different directions, our heart rate and blood pressure increases and our breathing becomes fast and irregular. The REM stage of sleep is important for the learning and memory function – this is where our brains processes information from the day before – storing it in our long term memory.

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As adults we spend half of our sleep time in stage two, 20% in the REM stage and a further 30% is usually divided between the other three stages. As we get older the time we spend in the REM stage will become progressively less.

My own cycle follows a similar pattern, with the vast majority of my sleep in the lighter stages – it’s no wonder I am easily awoken my snoring or our mischievous cats. I used to spend a lot of time worrying about my limited time in the deeper stages of sleep but as I get older and understand how sleep cycles change, this has become less of a worry.

The important factor for me is ensuring that I improve my sleep cycle as much as possible. Ensuring I keep to a regular schedule for both going to bed and waking up is extremely important – even at the weekend (though sometimes life even gets in the way of that bed time). Keeping a TV out of the bedroom is a must for me; though I am guilty of focusing on gadgets (i.e. my phone) before I drift off, falling asleep with the lights and sounds of a television will only have a negative impact on my sleep.

Other great ways to improve sleep is exercise – I never have an issue falling asleep due to high levels of activity, it is just the staying that way that’s the problem. So, at times I like to add Floatation Therapy sessions and massages to help relax my mind and body.

As our personal and professional lives become increasingly busy and stressful it is imperative that get the rest we need to keep our bodies functioning to their full potential.

Over the coming months, as my training for the London Marathon starts to take on a new level, my sleep will be most important and something I will keeping a close eye on.

Adventures, Fitness, Health, Training

Wonderful Walks: Epping & Hatfield Forest.

Taking a walk in the forest is a fantastic way to get outdoors and away from the hustle and bustle of daily life.

According to studies, spending time in a forest can reduce psychological, depression and hostility. At the same time it is also known to help improve sleep and the feeling of well being, whilst being mutually beneficial for your physical health and fitness too. The smell of trees also have their benefits as the chemicals they release, phytoncides, have been attributed to improved immune defences as well as a reduction in anxiety!

With all these advantages of walking around trees it is no wonder I feel so relaxed after spending time in my local wooded areas. When you add the fact that they offer such scenic surroundings to pass the time whilst walking, it makes me wonder why I don’t spend more time in the woods!

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I have always been a big advocate for exercising to improve mental health. No matter what activity you choose, you will always find that once completed your state of mind is completely different.

Walking or hiking is an activity that has become more frequent in my training schedule in recent years. It offers a break from the high impact and intensity from other activities I take part in, like running or spinning. Though, that’s not to say it is any easier. With a group of highly enthusiastic walkers – the pace and the terrain is always a challenge.

Whilst training for the Isle of Wight challenge finding routes that allowed us to prepare for both the mileage and terrain proved rather difficult. Living around the Herts/ Essex border did not exactly prepare us for what we were to be facing on the island. So we had to search for the toughest hills possible, the longest paths and the most picturesque routes to keep our minds occupied on the challenge ahead.

Forest routes became a frequent favourite as most offered us all of the factors we needed for training.

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Epping Forest was one of these and one route we continue walking today! The 2,400 hectares of ancient woodlands is found between Epping at the north and Wanstead at the south. Here you will find 12 miles of woodland paths north to south and 2.5 miles east to west – offering a fantastic opportunity to walk a loop of significant distance. A forest with many paths that look identical, it does open the opportunity to get lost if you don’t know your way – I certainly did the first time I ventured there alone. Once you have familiarised yourself with the paths (perhaps with a map), you will find pleasure if finding new routes and working how to make your walk longer or more challenging.

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Not only that, but with our ever changing seasons you will be rewarded with a number of beautiful views whatever the weather. Epping Forest is always a hive of activity throughout the year, with dog walkers, runners, cyclists and horse riders alike – all wanting to take advantage of the beautiful scenery.

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Hatfield Forest, though significantly smaller than Epping a short distance away, offers equally stunning views. Only 403 hectares, it is a biological Site of Specific Scientific Interest in Essex. Only a few miles from Bishops Stortford and moments away from London Stansted airport, this picturesque spot is owned and managed by the National Trust. Like Epping Forest, not only will you stumble across a number of walkers, runners, cyclists and horse riders but also roaming cattle during the fairer months of the year. Whilst Epping offers an undulating terrain, Hatfield Forest is significantly flat in comparison. Running along the north of the forest is the Flitch Way, a former railway line passing through 15 miles of rural Essex between Bishops Stortford and Braintree, where you will find numerous runners and cyclists opting for the gentle path ways to clock up the miles.

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Delve further into the forest and you will find a mix of grassy paths, woodlands and even a lake. In the height of Summer, the forest is a hive of activity, with numerous families and friendship groups heading here for the day. In the cooler months, especially earlier in the day you will normally come across dog walkers and fisherman, taking advantage of the serene surroundings. No matter what time of year you visit, you are bound to be captivated by the beauty of the Forest, though more so during early, cold, sunny mornings in the winter when the sunrise and mist from the cooler temperatures provide the most beautiful backdrop.

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I have walked both Epping and Hatfield Forest countless times over the last few years and am yet to find a walk that I don’t enjoy. Each walk may see us taking the same steps, following the same paths at times, but every time we do the view is different. At the end of each walk we find ourselves feeling just that little bit better physically and mentally.

Adventures, Fitness, Health, Training

Post Race Recovery

As I dragged myself out of bed this morning I felt the tell tale signs that I had pushed my body to the limit the day before, running the Royal Parks Half Marathon (write up to follow soon).

The delayed onset muscle soreness had set in. Walking down the stairs proved rather challenging, getting in and out the car made me look like an elderly lady and the more I remained still throughout the day the more stiff I became. To the point where I felt the best thing for me to do at the end of the working day was to go home, eat well and have an early night.

Whilst I feel a sense of achievement, completing 13.1 miles is always tough, I can’t help but look at the many steps advised to take to aid post race recovery and see what more I could have done to make the recovery just that little better.

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Rehydration is one of the most important steps post race. No matter the weather, rain or shine, the exertion on race day will mean any water taken on board will have been sweated out, along with electrolytes and minerals to boot. I always carry a hydration backpack whilst running; ensuring I don’t have to rely on water stations en route. At the finish line I always take extra water that is being handed out and on the journey home I tend to pick up a bottle of fizzy water to quench the first. Then, once home, the rehydration will continue. Though this time round I should have added a few electrolyte tablets to replace those that were lost during the race itself.

Cool Down is extremely important, especially if you have a long car journey ahead. The temptation once a race is complete is to sit down – something I always try to avoid as (like I have seen today) the more I remain stagnant the more I suffer with stiffness over the next 48 hours. Post race I try and use a short walk as a cool down; usually the walk from the finish line to the tube station is sufficient for me.

Eating to recover is always recommended. Something I always have an issue with. Post race the last thing I want to do is eat, with the over exertion (and perhaps too many jelly babies from spectators) making me feel rather nauseous. It is advised to eat something with a good mix of protein, carbohydrates and healthy. Bananas are always readily available at every finish line, which is unfortunate for a banana phobe like me. My go to once home is a jacket potato with beans! Ultimate comfort food.

It is recommended to have a gentle massage to flush out the lactic acid and toxins. If you head to a sports therapist to aid your recovery, make sure they are aware you have taken part in a race so they know to be gentle. Personally I have to wait a few days before allowing any therapist to ease out my aching muscles. Instead I always spend a good 30 minutes in the hot tub at the gym, followed by some time with the foam roller. The roller and I don’t get on at all. It’s not pleasant process – but necessary.

Stretching is one step I always skip! And seeing as I failed to stretch after yesterday’s race it is no wonder I am feeling the aches and pains today. As I increase the training in the lead up to the London Marathon this is something I am going to have to pay more attention to.

Add some post race Protein to your meals! As a vegetarian I often fill up on eggs or Quorn post race. An omelette is a perfect way to fill up on protein and aid muscle recovery.

Early to bed! Not only do most races start early, requiring a nasty wake up call especially for a Sunday, but your body has been pushed to its limits. You are bound to be tired and it’s normal to feel like going to bed before the sun goes down. After yesterday’s race I spent the afternoon in fresh pajamas, on the sofa with a duvet before tucking myself into bed well before 9pm. It was the most dreamless sleep I had had for weeks.

Continue to rest in the days following the race. Don’t rush into strenuous training straight away. Take advantage of those rest days, with active recovery. Today I am allowing complete rest, but tomorrow I will return to running club for a gentle track session and will keep the legs ticking over throughout the day with a lunch time walk.

Despite running numerous races over the years, and having the experience to know what’s best, I still made mistakes in my post race recovery. Hopefully I will continue to learn from these and make better choices next time round.

Adventures, Fitness, Health, Training

Joining Harlow Running Club

For many years I have spent the majority of my running miles training alone, with the occasional running partner thrown in. And whilst it is always great to have a running partner, I often found pressured to run faster than I was capable – at the other person’s ability. Which can be rather stressful.

So when I trained for the London Marathon in 2017 I was not bothered about running alone. I could set my own pace and train as I wanted to.

It’s funny how that can change when you pick a new challenge. When I signed up for the Isle of Wight I could not even imagine getting through the long hours walking around the coastal path alone. So with others joining me on the challenge itself, I trained with them. And I was so grateful to have that company to get me through.

Once the event was over, however, I had to find a way to get back into training alone. The challenge was done, it was time to get back in to a normal routine. But I found it incredibly hard to do so – unless it was a group spinning class – it was difficult to get back into a schedule and motivate myself.

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So I started to toy with the idea of joining the local running club. Something I had always shied away from with the misconception that it would be to cliquey, that it is full elite runners and that I would embarrass myself with my mediocre “running.”

In the attempt to re-claim my love for running whilst the weather was on my side, I threw caution to the wind and contacted the club organisers who swiftly invited me along for a “taster” session.

I was duly impressed. On arrival I found that my idea of what the club would be was pure fabrication on my part. The group were not cliquey in the slightest – in fact several members came up to me straight away as I was clearly a “newbie.” Neither was the club full of elite runners. And I was not mediocre at all – I just was not elite.

In just a month I am starting to understand the benefits of joining a running club such as this one.

  1. I am in the right in environment. By surrounding myself with like minded people who enjoy running and show such enthusiasm will help me in the long term. Within the group you will find so much support – many members encouraging and motivating you.
  2. Running clubs encourage a range of training – something that you will be less likely to do alone. Harlow Running Club have a great mix of training: from track sessions, hills, long distance and speed. I find that if I am running alone it is easy to get into a rut of running the same routes and therefore becoming rather bored. In the month I have been running with a club I have seen a variety of routes, lots of hills and some speed work too. With them I have discovered some lovely country routes I would have never have known before.
  3. It’s a community. As with my boot camp days, I have quickly developed relationships with many of the club members who have encouraged me to test out different parkruns, races and generally inviting me along for a Sunday run. These people will no doubt be imperative to my motivation over the Winter months.
  4. The competitive streak will surface. I never thought of myself as competitive, but have often been told otherwise. In my month since joining I have noted that this competitive edge has been surfacing more often than not. Whether it be catching up with one person in front or over taking another runner in a sprint finish – there is definitely a competitive edge within me.
  5. Being a member of a running club will give you that psychological ability to call yourself a “runner.” I have always battled with the idea of calling myself a runner as my running at times feels more like a jog than a run – especially if I compare myself to those at the elite end of the spectrum. But now that I am an affiliated member of a running club and registered with England Athletics it feels like I can class myself completely as a runner.

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Within a month of joining the club I am already finding improvements with my running technique and abilities. This week saw me reach a PB for my 5K, I have seen my average min/miles drop, my fastest min/miles (for short bursts) improve, a greater ability to conquer hills and to top it all off I have met some wonderful people who encourage and support me every step of the way. And this is just within the first month.

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Joining Harlow Running Club was the best decision I have made for my training in such a long time. I am looking forward to seeing what it will bring over the next few months.