Nestled in the Brecon Beacons National Park lies Pen Y Fan, the highest peak in south Wales. The gruelling mountain walk to the summit was the location for training at the break of dawn this Saturday morning, in preparation for another adventure to take place later on this year.
Not to be outdone with the London Marathon, I will be joining several others to complete the 84 mile walk that is Hadrian’s Wall; from Bowness-on-Solway in the west through to Walls End in the east.
Taking on two huge challenges in the space of a month may be incomprehensible to many. But for others, like myself, it is just about living life and making the most of every possible adventure.
Therefore, not only have I been attempting to add in the miles (with great difficulty of late) for the London Marathon, I have also had to keep up the long distance walking too.
So, Saturday morning saw myself and a fellow training buddy head off to south Wales at 3am. Less than 12 hours after I arrived home from a week away and with just four hours sleep I was waiting eagerly for the sunrise at the bottom of Pen Y Fan.
Much to my surprise we were not the only early risers. In fact there were numerous vehicles parked up with enthusiastic ramblers and hikers ready to take on the challenge.
And a challenge it was. Not only were we faced with sub zero temperatures, meaning layers were key, but also over 30mph winds with a strenuous up hill climb to boot.
As with most mountain climbs, the first 20 minutes is somewhat of a struggle. With the wind, cold and an almost vertical start we had to take our time and acclimatise to the conditions we were facing. In addition, the rickety paths along the route we chose (later discovering we had taken the tougher course) meant we had to watch our footing to prevent slips and falls.
Half way up, and rather exposed to the elements, we found the wind speed picked up and as such made the sensible decision to get to the summit and back down again as quickly as human possible.
As we reached the top we found ourselves surrounded by many other walking enthusiasts, who had clearly chosen the quicker, easier path.
Had the weather allowed us to feel safe, we would have continued on to include the infamous “Jacob’s Ladder” that forms part of the Fan Dance route taken by potential members of the British Special Forces. Unfortunately we had to make the judgement call and return back down after a quick celebratory picture at the summit.
We quickly descended, taking just a fraction of the time it took to climb to the top, praising all the hikers attempting to make it to the top en route.
In just over two hours we had braved the strong winds, reached the summit and returned to the safety of the car, ready for hot Ribena and breakfast – all before most people had risen from their beds.
Before we knew it we were flying back down the motorway and home, elated by the mornings achievement.
As we made our climb a part of me wondered why I put myself through such gruelling training. Why couldn’t I just stay in bed on a Saturday morning like the average Joe?
Why? Because when you get to the top and see the view, you feel so alive!!
It has taken me some time to put words together that can summarise the third week in my London Marathon training – mainly because I have been a week long strop.
I began the week with the ultimate rest day, waking up at the Champneys resort in Henlow.
The temptation to book myself into high intensity classes and go for a country run was extremely high. However, with a slight niggle in my ankle from the previous weekends activity and a poor night sleep due to lack of heating in my room, I gave myself a stern talking to. Simply allowing myself to relax by the poolside before my treatments later in the day was the one thing I needed right there and then.
Tuesday, still in a rather relaxed state post treatments, I allowed myself a gentle day of walking before ramping up the mileage at the latter end of the weekend.
The rest of the week started well with spinning sessions and treadmill running. But on Thursday evening, whilst attempting to complete my long (10 mile) run that little niggle I felt in my ankle during the week got progressively worse.
Only 3 miles away from my 10 mile goal, running was no longer an option. I started to experience shooting pain all the way from the ankle joint to the hamstring – bringing training to a complete halt.
Hobbling home, I made a swift decision to book myself into the sports therapist the next day. Lucky enough, SV Therapy were quick to respond to my desperate messages and a tough session followed to determine the source of my pain.
The verdict: Peroneal Tendonitis.
Not only did I have a touch of this painful condition, but I also had ligament damage and scar tissue from a previous ankle injury that had not healed correctly.
It is safe to say that my session with the therapist was not easy. The pain was intense and I left for the second time in two weeks feeling rather bruised and battered – but also relieved to have a action plan to strengthen my ankle.
First port of call? Rest. My least favourite activity. Meaning no running for a good few days. In addition lots of exercises and icing the affected area.
You can imagine the mood of a runner who has been benched, particularly when training for a big race. It was not great.
Riddled with another injury made me question, yet again, if I should be taking on such a enormous challenge. Despite many assurances by others that it was still only week three and I still had plenty of time to get the miles in – once I had recovered – I have spent every “rest day” since the diagnosis thinking I should defer my place. With loosing valuable running time I keep thinking of the long runs I would be doing had I not had this set back.
Analysing and overthinking the situation does nothing for confidence. So yet again I had to start then new training week telling myself to forget about the miles I have not achieved and take each day at a time.
And so, as I entered week four, my only goal was to take baby steps, to plan my training a day at a time and to find myself fit enough to run the London Winter Run this coming weekend.
But most importantly – I need to stop beating myself up about miles and training I have not been able to do.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
As with most things in life, plans just turn out how you hoped.
Week two of my London Marathon training was case and point. I had goals in mind, I had targets to reach and training all mapped out. However life inevitably got in the way, with work commitments taking me on the road and cold weather hindering my training outside.
So how did training plan out for the week?
Monday: much needed rest day and sports massage (ouch).
Tuesday: 1 Miles. Treadmill
Wednesday: 3 Miles. Treadmill
Thursday: 5 Miles. Outdoor. Sub zero temperatures.
Friday: Rest Day
Saturday: 8 Miles. Treadmill
Sunday: 9.5 Mile walk
Total running mileage: 17 Miles
Starting the week with a rest day and sports massage sounded idyllic in theory. Then, half way into the massage it starts to sink in that the planned run for the following day will be difficult. The painful process of easing out the muscles was intense, though strangely satisfying. The only issue – feeling like a tenderised piece of meat the next morning.
So it is safe to say my planned run for Tuesday did not go well. One mile in my battered muscles were not playing ball.
Work! We have all had times when work gets in the way of training – and last week was one of those for me. Driving to the south coast on Wednesday meant an early start, six hours behind the wheel and missing my usual spinning session.
Thursday, again I was back to the south coast and thinking it will be another bad day for training. Luckily I managed to get home at a reasonable time, fitting in a five mile steady run. However, the sub zero temperatures saw my breathing struggle and made me re-evaluate my training plan should the temperature drop further.
After 12 hours driving the days prior, I knew my usual early morning spinning class on Friday would not happen. Being on the road for two days on the trot had completely wiped me out. A second rest day was on the cards as I prepared for a long run on Saturday.
Baring in mind the temperature drop I headed straight to the treadmill on Saturday morning, getting the planned eight miles under my belt as a result. At least one day went to plan!!
Sunday saw me rise early and join my usual walking buddies. Again, sub zero temperatures and before sunrise too, we headed out to complete an impressive 9.5 miles before most had risen from their beds.
The rest of the day was spent relaxing at Champneys Henlow (review to follow soon), making the most of the hot tub, pool and thalassotherapy treatments – easing the achy muscles.
So – the week did not go as planned. Too much got in the way and my mileage goal was not met. But, that was just one week.
I am now well into week three and am determined not to be distracted.
Goals for the week:
Let’s see how it goes……..
Yesterday saw the end of week one in the London Marathon training schedule. After a shaky start to the year, with what appeared to be shin splints threatening my plan, I finally found myself back into a rhythm. I found myself finally coming to terms with my ballot place and gently working through the week – looking no further than the day ahead rather than the bigger picture.
So what did I manage to get into the schedule this week?
Monday: 4 Miles outdoor, undulating terrain. Steady, yet wary of the shin issues.
Tuesday: 4.6 Miles. Running club speed work on the track, with warm up/ down runs to and from home.
Thursday: 6 Miles. Indoor. Treadmill.
Saturday: 5.4 Miles. Indoor. Treadmill.
Sunday: 7 Mile walk. Hilly terrain, Epping Forest
Total Running Mileage: 20
Considering I was concerned about my physical ability the week prior, I am pleased with such a solid number to build on in coming weeks.
If I compare this to my training for the same week in 2017, when my last marathon training schedule kicked in, there is a increase of 6.5 miles. So already I am getting off to a better start. Perhaps having experience this time round is working in my favour.
So the shin pain has eased, my mileage has doubled on the previous week and I have finally got back into routine. However, as with all plans there is room for improvement. For instance, yes I completed a good week of training, but where in that schedule was a rest day? There was not one. I unintentionally carried on training as I did not feel like I needed one. A mistake I cannot make again. Rest days are equally as important as training itself.
As I enter into week two I have a few goals in mind:
With many goals there is no time to waste. It’s time to get into week two!
Berlin, Germany’s capital and largest city, has a somewhat turbulent history. Badly damaged after World War Two and broken apart by the Cold War, recent years have seen the city rebuild itself – especially after the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989.
Despite Berlin now being known for it’s lively nightlife, cafes, bars and street art, the references to its tumultuous history can be seen throughout the city.
Growing up learning about the events around the World War and remembering the fall of the Berlin wall, it was always a city that was on my bucket list. So, when I discovered a few free days between Christmas and New Year I quickly booked in a bargain break to explore the sights Berlin had to offer.
With our base being in the lively, shopping area of Alexanderplatz – one of the best-known squares in Berlin – we were right in the hub of the city. Not only was the famous TV Tower (The Fernsehurm) visible from our hotel window, but the hive of the Christmas Markets were a stones through away. The TV Tower was on the top of our list, it’s views were reported to make a visit top of the list of things to do whilst in the city. Due to foggy, cloudy weather obstructing any views, we sadly decided to save this for the next trip.
The area of Alexanderplatz had numerous sights to explore, including the World Time Clock, and due to the season, the Christmas markets offered plenty of traditional German treats and Eggnog.
A little further East (a good walk if you are up to it) is the East Side Gallery. The open air gallery consists of numerous murals painted on to the remaining Berlin Wall and is now a heritage protected landmark.
The Berlin Cathedral Church is a sight to be seen. Nestled along the banks of the River Spree this elaborate 19th century cathedral is one of Berlin’s main landscapes.
Twenty minutes east of the cathedral you will stumble across the iconic, and most famous landmark in Berlin, Brandenburg Gate. The gate has come to represent German unity and peace since the end of the Cold War, with hundreds of thousands of people celebrating here when the Berlin Wall fell. Today, thousands of visitors flock to the landmark as part of the city’s New Year celebrations.
Minutes away from Brandenburg Gate you will find the Reichstag and the most significant historical buildings. Visitors can enter the building for free, when booked in advance, and explore the new roof dome with fantastic views of the city. If you want to visit the the dome and take in the views from this modern adaptation of this historical building make sure you book at least three days in advance. Our visit left us rather disappointed when we discovered that advance booking is imperative after a series of terrorist threats in 2010. Sadly, this meant that we missed out visiting this impressive building.
The Memorial to the Murdered Jews in Europe is located on the other side of Brandenburg Gate. The outdoor memorial consists of 2,711 concrete slabs arranged on a sloping field. Designed to produce an uneasy atmosphere, many visitors have noted it resembles a graveyard. When visiting and taking in the scope of the area I found the memorial rather harrowing and somber. It is hard to imagine the suffering of the victims and the immorality of those that caused this.
After visiting such a saddening sight, Tiergarten offered peace and tranquillity. The picturesque paths and ponds was a runners dream (just a shame that I did not bring my running gear). The huge park is home to the Berlin Zoo, Victory Column and forms part of the Berlin Marathon route.
On our final day in the city we found ourselves fully immersed in yet more of Berlin’s gloomy history.
A visit would not have been complete without visiting the famous “Check Point Charlie,” the name given by the Western Allies as the well known Berlin Wall crossing point between East and West Berlin during the Cold War.
The Berlin Wall Memorial on the border strip in East Berlin, is an open air sight commemorating the division of Berlin by the wall and the deaths that occurred there. Nearly 80 people were killed trying to cross from East to West Berlin between the years of 1961-1989, all of which can be seen at the memorial. It is estimated that around 5,000 people made a successful escape from East to West Germany during that time.
It is safe to say that, despite enjoying our visit, taking in the sights and culture, our trip left us feeling rather melancholy. Whilst the city offers a lively energy in parts, the depressing monuments and gloomy weather left me wondering what more Berlin had to offer.
With Christmas and New Year now a distant memory it is time to prepare for the most important time in the running calendar….Marathon Season.
I’m not going to lie, getting myself motivated to train for the London Marathon the second time round has been rather tedious. With the festive season taking precious running time away, bad weather, injuries and re-occurring bouts of illness, getting out to pound the street has been difficult.
I have never been a fan of the treadmill. The monotonous pounding on the belt, going nowhere, staring at a wall and watching the clock slowly tick away simply bores me. I have always been a runner who prefers getting outside, running in the fresh air and picking picturesque routes to stimulate my mind.
However, the past few months have meant that I have had no choice but to jump on the dreaded treadmill (or “dreadmill” as I like to call it), to keep my legs ticking over and to work through injuries and illness without the harsh impact of the pavement or weather aggravating my ailments.
In doing so, I have found a way to carry training when factors outside my control prevent me from getting outside. With the trusty iPad covering the time and distance, I can now work around anything that is thrown my way between now and marathon day.
Although I will never be a lover of the treadmill, spending time racking up the miles on the dreaded machine, I have come to appreciate there are benefits of getting indoors to train.
Its safe and convenient!
As the last few months have taught me, treadmill running allows you to focus on training without the risk of slipping on uneven surfaces or the aches and pains that you gain from the harsh pavement. Running in cold weather takes its toll on our bodies, as it takes a while to warm up muscles – using up precious energy. A treadmill workout allows us to invest energy into the job at hand – the training.
After running in the cold, and subsequently coming down with a rotten cold on several occasions, I have made the decision to take my running indoors in wet weather over the next few months. The idea of completing long runs on the treadmill fills me with dread, but loosing weeks of training due to illness is not ideal either. The treadmill allows me to adapt my plan to the weather.
Running indoors is also safer. Dark winter mornings and nights are not ideal for women running alone. You can keep to the most well lit paths and still be at risk, especially if you go into your own running world like I do. During the dark hours I try my best to stick to busy areas, main roads and routes where I know I can get help quickly should I need it. That said, I would not risk training on dark mornings, when there are few people around. This is another occasion where the treadmill offers an alternative solution.
Control the pace!
Although they can be a bore, the treadmill is a great way to control a steady pace or training yourself to run at a faster pace for a bit of interval training. Adjusting the incline can also help your stimulate races, with pre-loaded race profiles to aid your training.
Improve your form!
According to Runners World, researchers discovered that runners have reduced stride lengths and higher stride frequencies on the treadmill compared to running outdoors, due to the feeling of instability when running on a treadmill. This in turn can help to improve form and reduce impact on the joints.
Treadmill running is by no means the same as road running, and certainly not a form of training I enjoy. However, it offers a perfect way to keep my training for the London Marathon going during busy times and unpredictable weather. I definitely intend to take the vast majority of training outdoors. But, if I find myself on the “dreadmill” at times too, that is perfectly okay!
Venture to the southern area of Italy (into the “Italian Boot”) and you will find yourself surrounded by a mixture of history, culture and culinary delights. Several years ago I found myself immersed in Italian charm and sunshine, found in the south.
Known in Italian as the “Mezzogiorno” or “Midday” region, it is home to some of the most historical towns, tranquil bays and stunning coast line.
With only a few days to make most of the area I settled slightly south of Naples in Vico Equense – a quiet coastal town – in the historical farm house “Astapiana Villa Giusso.” High up in the hills, away from the hustle and bustle you would normally experience this farm house offered an idyllic break away with nothing but charm and tranquillity.
Far from the mainstream hotel, this family run gem allowed an escape from everyday life. If you are looking from a break from Wifi, TV and luxury amenities then this is the place for you. Its remote location offers exactly that, whilst providing amazing views over the bay of Naples and being a great base for many attractions in the area.
I could not visit the region without taking time to absorb the remains of Pompeii. The ancient Roman city that was obliterated when Mount Vesuvius erupted back in 79AD is now a UNESCO World Heritage site, attracting over 2.5 million visitors every year. You can easily spend a day wondering the ancient cobbled streets taking in the ruins as they stand today.
The site can get extremely busy, especially in the summer months, so if planning a visit it is advisable to book in advance or plan a trip during the off peak season. I visited in September, when the weather was still pleasantly warm but had less of a crowd.
This southern coastal town facing the bay of Naples offers a great combination of culture and history. Not only is it convenient for visiting nearby Pompeii, but also provides a gateway to Capri – just a short ferry ride away. Here you will find copious numbers of restaurants with sweeping water views offering gourmet cuisine, tasty Limoncello and of course Gelato! A day spend it in Sorrento is pure delight.
We did not get much time in Capri, but the time spent was enough for me to fall in love with its rugged charm. If you have time it is advised to visit the Blue Grotto – only accessible by boat.
Sadly with only a few hours to spare, we did not get to visit this waterfront cave but spent a great deal of time at the marina, swimming (or floating) in the crystal clear waters and riding the funicular railway to Piazza Umberto – the centre of the island which offered breathtaking views of the island below.
A few hours on this stunning island was not enough – so much so that a return trip is on the cards.
My visit to the region was a whistle stop tour filled with culinary delight, stunning landscape and an abundance of Italian charm. I hope to return to explore more of what Southern Italy has to offer in the near future.
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.
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.
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.
As I set off on a bright Saturday morning for an easy four mile run, a route I have completed with ease on numerous occasions over the years, I quickly found myself struggling somewhat. The dull ache I had felt in my knee in recent weeks resurfaced, along with a throbbing pain in both shins.
I persevered for a mile or so, stopping now and then to give my shins a little rub, thinking my legs just needed to warm up. However, I quickly begun to think back on my runs of late and realised this was not right. I have struggled for weeks, with achy shins and knee – putting it down to being tired or just being a wimp.
With the London Marathon training due to kick in shortly, I knew I needed to buy a new pair of running shoes, but it was just one of those things I just had not got round to doing. So, I was plodding along with the same trainers I had trained and ran the London Marathon in, back in 2017 – giving very little notice to the state of the shoes or how they were affecting my performance.
What became clear today was that my running shoes were well and truly dead. They had died some time ago, but I was too preoccupied to realise and replace them. And the consequence was that they were starting to cause me issues.
So how do you know when it is time for a new pair of trainers?
Is the mileage on your current running shoes too high? After researching this afternoon I have realised that mine were well passed the recommended distance. Depending on your running style, body weight and running surface your running shoes need to be replaced every 300-400 miles. This year alone I have hit 300 running miles, and this does not even begin to factor in the training I completed back in 2017: before, during and after the London Marathon. Just shy of two years of running miles!! It is no wonder, therefore, that I am starting to struggle with my well worn pair.
Feeling pain? Muscle fatigue, shin splints and pains in your joints could mean that the cushioning has worn out on your trusted runners. Not only have I been feeling rather fatigued, but today’s running (and a few others recently too) caused pain in my shins and a week off of running due to issues with my knee. Pain box ticked!
Do your trainers fail the twist test? If you hold your shoe at both ends and twist the shoe the sole should remain firm. Older shoes that no longer have support will twist easily. Mine did not have an issue here, but that is not to say that they were still suitable to run in.
Are the treads worn out? Whilst stretching on the track at running club this week another member spotted the well worn patch on the sole of my shoe. Running with worn soles is a complete no no. I have been well aware of the issues with mine for some time, but carried on running regardless. I should know better than to allow my trainers to get to the current state and continue training. So why I am surprised with my performance this morning I don’t know!!
Alternating running shoes is often advised. Running with numerous pairs of trainers will mean that half way through the life cycle of one pair they will become a reference to help you notice when the old pair are ready to be replaced. I always have multiple pairs of trainers, which a rotated on a regular basis. My only problem this time was that it took me a while to pick up on that reference. Instead I put my performance, the aches and pains, and the fatigue down to over training and exhaustion.
If, like me, you have problems keeping track of the mileage there are a number of things you can do to keep track. Either simply write the date you started training on the label or log the shoes on the app you use to record your runs. Both my Garmin and Strava have the ability to enter this information and keep track of mileage.
So, as I tell myself off for being so blase with the most vital piece of equipment a runner could need, I lay my well worn trainers to rest and begin the hunt for a new pair to get me on the road to the London Marathon 2019.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.