London Winter Walk

Sunday 14th January saw me take on my first challenge of the year, London Winter Walk – A 20km walk organised by Action Challenge as part of the Ultra Challenge series.

It was the first event I have taken part in with these guys and was booked as a attempt to kick start my training in preparation for the Isle of Wight challenge, also organised by Action Challenge.

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The walk promised the opportunity to get in some early training for one of the many events they have scheduled for the year ahead.

Setting out from Southwark Park, at the break of dawn in my case, the route saw participants pass over Tower Bridge, west along the River Thames into the City – taking in many of the capitals iconic landmarks en route. A quick rest stop, lasting around two minutes for myself, just after the half way point in Vauxhall, before the route sees you walk along the South Bank, crossing Blackfriars, Millennium, Southwark and London Bridges on the way back to base camp.

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Starting in the first wave, at a bright and early start of 8:30am, gave me somewhat of an advantage. For the first half of the route, there were very few pedestrians – especially in the city area – so there were not many people to weave in and out of. This enabled me to see a good time for the first half of the challenge – 18th in my wave.

 

The way back to base camp differed slightly. Growing numbers of tourists, cyclists and runners started to appear – slowing the pace and generally making you more aware of your surroundings.

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That said, by the time I was heading into the 19th kilometre it was not even midday. As some of the final waves were heading out at the start of the walk, I was finishing. And the timing was not too shabby either – 3 hours 9 minutes! My time saw me finish 22nd in the 8:30am wave, as the 10th Female.

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Obviously, throughout the day my rankings dropped somewhat as other participants completed in each wave. However, I was still considerably high up the charts considering this was the first walking challenge I had taken part in. Finishing 64th over all (out of 1600 participants) and being the 41st Female.

I took great pride in my results. I am not accustomed to walking challenges. Don’t get me wrong, I walk fast – years of commuting has done wonders for my walking speed. However, I have never walked as fast and at distance, as I did on Sunday.

Fuelled by those around me (not that there were many after the first hour), I power walked like I have never power walked before. I saw myself becoming a tad competitive when those more seasoned walkers over took me. I hated the feeling of someone approaching from behind. And when I crossed the finish line, I did so with no one in around me at an average pacing of just over 15 minutes per mile.

A pace that will definitely not be attempting for the Isle of Wight challenge, that’s for sure.

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The London Winter Walk was something new to my training.

Having run so many races over the last few years simply walking was a nice change to the norm. In the lead up I did not feel the pressure I would normally feel when participating, I didn’t feel nerves and I felt uncharacteristically relaxed.

The walk also made me a little more mentally and physically prepared for the challenge ahead. I now am aware that despite my trainers being wonderfully suitable for running, for walking they are not. Where you need the bounce when pounding the streets at a faster pace, with walking you need a little more stability and support. By the last kilometre I could feel every cobble in the street!

It also made me aware of pacing. Whilst the 15 minute mile pace was fine for a shorter distance I need to be aware of slowing it down as my training walks become longer and arduous.

The final factor I take away from the London Winter Walk, and one that has been mentioned to me on numerous occasions, is that walking is not easy. For someone who has spent the last few years developing my running pace and mileage, it was incredibly difficult to stop myself from breaking into a run a times and keeping the steady walking pace. Its not as easy as it looks!

The event was one that I would definitely look at completing again. The organisation by Action Challenge was outstanding; the staff were friendly, the rest stop had a multitude of snacks and refreshments, and to finish off a freshly cooked hot meal upon completion.

London Winter Walk is the first of the Ultra Challenges this year; with the Easter Walk (25km from Windsor) and the massive Isle of Wight challenge (106km) both booked in.

I am sure to become an ultra challenge addict. Not stopping until I have completed them all!

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Keeping fit over the Festive season.

Yep – it’s that season of tide and joy. That time of year when no matter how much you try to avoid it you find yourself surrounded by mounds of festive treats, and the exercise plan starts to waver to make way for the multitude of Christmas parties and gatherings.

Its no surprise that we come out the other side with a few extra pounds and finding getting ourselves motivated to exercise just that little harder.

So what do you do to stay focused and to stay on plan over the festive season?

Over the last few years, as I find myself wanting to go to “out, out” less and less I am finding sticking to plan comes a little easier too. However, like everyone else I have my downfalls and I will no doubt reach for a mince pie or two over the coming weeks.

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So I make a plan, to follow the following rules where possible:

Plan ahead! 

Not every meal I have is going to be Slimming World friendly. There will be some exercise classes that I will no doubt miss for some reason or the other. What I will do is plan ahead. Plan for those meals that may cause me to eat things that I know are not good. And if I know I will be missing a class or two, I will work around it. I will ensure that I keep to my lunch time power walks and throw in a few more for good measure.

I know that for Christmas Day itself the rule book will go out the window. I will enjoy every bite possible. So in the lead up I will do everything in my power to ensure that I am making the better choices to account for that.

Become the Designated Driver

One thing I enjoy these days is my freedom to drive and get about. I also enjoy the freedom to leave a party whenever I choose to, to not rely on cabs and other people to get home. Becoming the designated driver gives me the flexibility to do so.

It also means that I limit my alcohol consumption and therefore less likely to be hungover – which could lead to over-indulging and the likeliness to miss training sessions and classes.

Driving keeps me in control. I still drink, though these days it mainly tends to be at home, controlled with dinner.

Eat before you leave!

If your social event involves more drinking than eating make sure you eat before you leave the house. Years of not following this advice myself has lead to many nights getting drunk at super speed and mornings spent pre ordering Dominos to cure the hangover caused by overindulgence. Eating before hand means you are also less likely to head to the kebab shop at 2am too – though I make no guarantees!

Make wise choices!

Yes – we are all going to eat our share of indulgent foods. But that does not have to be every meal for for the next three weeks. Make better choices. If you know you are going out for a three course dinner, make a better choice for breakfast and lunch. One indulgent meal does not have to lead to an indulgent day.

When you are out and about think about what you are eating. Can you swap those chips for a side salad? Do you need to have starter, main and desert?

Don’t skip breakfast!

Its a given. The golden rule. Leave the house with a full belly and you will be set up for the day. You will be less likely to snack throughout the day. There is a saying – “eat like a King for Breakfast, a Prince for Lunch and a Pauper for Dinner.” Reversing your meals so that breakfast is the biggest meal of the day will mean you have more time to digest your meal throughout the day and not go to bed with a heavy stomach! I personally hate having a heavy meal after 7pm, I always find in doing so I feel ill and wake up feeling rather sluggish and bloated the next day.

Load up on your Vitamins!

It goes without saying that fruit and vegetables should be the most important part of your diet. Getting your five a day is key and loading up with Vitamin C is vital – especially as the temperatures drop and coughs and colds are wide spread.

Load up with a mix of the two by preparing a Nutri-Bullet each morning or prepping healthy snacks to take on your travels.

I always have a box of satsumas on my desk and take a pot of crudities and hummus to munch on between meals.

Allow yourself the rest and cheat days!

Giving yourself a break every now and then will mean you are less likely to fall off plan completely. We all need those days of rest, make sure you plan them in. If you have a cheat day or a cheat meal so be it. Don’t beat yourself up about it. Draw a line under it, move forward and look to the next days plan.

Its an exhausting time of year. Give yourself a break. Its allowed!

Focus on the long term goal.

In the grand scheme of things the festive period is only a small portion of the year. Yes we become very indulgent, over excited and sometimes allow things to slide. However, it is short term. Think about the long term goal, how far you have come and where you want to go. Then make the next plan – the New Year plan – and get right back on the horse ready to keep going.

Whatever you are doing over the next few weeks to celebrate; enjoy yourself, relax, rest and remember to keep going!

Enjoy a happy, healthy holiday!

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Exercise and mental well being

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My outlet to do so is simple. Exercise.

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

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BeFit London

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Last weekend saw the return of BeFit London at the Business Design Center in Islington. After missing out in 2016, I snapped up some “super early bird” tickets as soon as they became available and was thoroughly looking forward to a day of classes at the festival.

On booking the tickets I was advised that I would later have the opportunity to pre-book classes in advance. Sadly, I never received that opportunity and my emails to the organizers went un-answered. So I went along anyway, with no classes booked in and trying my luck.

The event was jam packed from the get go on Saturday morning, with fellow fitness fanatics eager to get into a class run by Clean Eating Alice and Barry’s Boot Camp, to name a few.

I began my day wondering around the festival, seeing who was exhibiting before the floor became completely packed. I was delighted to see stalls from many of my favourites including Tea Pigs, Two Chicks and Pip and Nut. The exhibition floor was great for testing out some new products – like the energy bars from Kind and the scrummy “Nutri-brex” – a gluten free and far taster version of weetabix. However, I was not there to eat all the samples, I was there for the classes.

So I attempted to get into my first class – a HIIT session by Clean Eating Alice. Sadly, by the time I joined the queue it was too late – the class was full. Rather disappointed I headed down to the live show where I caught a live cooking demonstration from Madeleine Shaw – author of “A Year of Beautiful Eating.”

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Determined to get a piece of the Clean Eating Alice action I remained on the comfy bean bags in the live area to ensure that I got to see her interview, who was so inspiring for someone of such a young age. So full of life and positivity, and completely infectious. I was so inspired after her live talk that I made my way to the Barry’s Boot Camp class, but sadly that too was full.

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I attempted a few other classes, including Yoga and Spinning, but again all the other fanatics kept beating me to it. So with one final walk round the stands, testing a few more products, I made my way home – rather disappointed.

I expected a little more from the day.

Although it was great to sample products from many companies, it would have been a nice touch to have a goody bag to take away. Sadly, the only companies giving away goods were My Protein and Oatly (an oat based alternative milk drink).

 

Additionally I was rather disappointed to have not been able to take part in the classes. Perhaps opting for the super early bird ticket was where I went wrong – perhaps I should have splashed out on the VIP ticket which gives you extra perks, like fast track class entry. A learning curve for future events maybe.

I would like to come back to BeFit 2018 and try again, but only if I can get my hands on a VIP ticket. Simply paying the standard entry gives you no guarantees and unless you love spending your day queuing – can leave you disappointed.

Tested: Floatation Therapy

In attempt to ease the constant ache in my legs from training I have tried many remedies over the last few months. Deep heat, deep freeze, magnesium oils, tiger balm….you name it, I’ve tried it. I have lost count on the number of sports massages I have had or the number of times I have visited the local pool to take advantage of their spa facilities.

Despite trying a variety of things to help with the pain, the ache did not seem to want to go away. Sports massages are great to help loosen the muscles and target the troublesome areas – however, due to the brutality of these sessions, they do leave me staggering away rather bruised and battered. And despite enjoying the sessions, I was starting to feel like my legs would never feel the same again.

Until I tried a Floatation therapy session at Floatworks. Working for Red Letter Days I had been aware of this treatment for some time, many colleagues had tried it, but I had never got round to trying it myself. So after researching the benefits and getting feedback from others I decided to go ahead and book in a session – one week before the London Marathon.

 

What is Floatation Therapy? 

The experience involves lying effortlessly in a i-sopod floatation tank. Delivered through a super-saturated Epsom-salt solution, 25cm deep and containing 525kg of magnesium rich Epsom-salts.

Heated to skin temperature, the environment in the tank is controlled so that the air is also skin temperature. All you have to do is lie back and imagine you are floating in the Dead Sea.

The therapy is known for a whole list of benefits. Training for the London Marathon, I picked out a select few that applied to me.

From all the research I have found on this treatment, all providers state that floating promotes total calm and relaxation, improved sleep and diminishes anxiety and fear. All helping towards a better general wellness.

Mental benefits includes creating mental clarity, alertness and deepens meditation.

Now the physical benefits are more interesting to me; decreases the production of cortisol, lactic acid and adrenaline, speeds up rehabilitation and recovery, relieves pain, improves athletic performance, reduces blood pressure, pulse, heart rate and oxygen consumption. All the physical things you want to hear as a runner.

The list of benefits from floating seems endless and continues to grow as the treatment becomes more popular.

During the treatment itself I did not seem to be able to switch off, though I am told this is normal during your first float. I just kept thinking how strange this was floating, wondering how much time has passed and trying to calculate when my time was up.

Floatworks recommend turning the light off inside the pod once you are settled. For around five minutes you will have relaxing music before it stops completely. So then, all you have is darkness and complete silence.

When my time was finally up, I did not feel like it had worked. I had spent some of my time trying to defy nature and make myself sink. The rest of the time I spend squeezing my eyes shut telling myself to “go to sleep”.

However, within an hour of the treatment being up I entered into a very zen state of mind. My legs felt pain free, my mind was clear and I generally felt the most relaxed I have felt for months.

And it continues, over the last few days since having the treatment, I find myself freaking out less about the impending London Marathon and I have let myself relax a little more. I have barely run since – but have allowed myself accept that this is okay. I have walked more, slept better and generally feel more at peace.

It is safe to say that floating is definitely something that works for me. And it is something I hope to continue doing on a regular basis – not just for the physical benefits after training but for the general well being I feel that it has given me over the last few days.

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I would thoroughly recommend this to anyone. You don’t have to be training for a Marathon to reap the benefits. Floating can help with anyone; from those who are suffering from anxiety and fertility issues to those suffering from injury.

Try it for yourself at Floatworks. Not only are you welcomed by a friendly team, but the facilities they have enable your stress free experience to continue. All you have to do is bring yourself.

You got to “tab”it out!

Tactical Advance to Battle, aka “tabbing.”

I will always remember my first tabbing session. With a group of fellow Regiment Fitness members, around two years ago, I attended a training session for WAR Adrenaline Race (featured in my Blog earlier this year). During the session we were issued with Bergens, almost the same length as me, that weighed between 15-20kgs – then told to run! Run as fast as your legs could possibly go.

This took my training, at the time, beyond levels I have ever experienced. With the Bergen half way down my legs it was almost impossible to run. I was bent over double with the weight of the contents and every single part of me was screaming!

A few weeks later, I attended a further session dedicated only to “tabbing.” In this one, at times we had to wear two Bergens; your own along with a member of your team’s over your chest. If I thought my body was screaming last time, then this time round it was off the chart.

Although it was the hardest training I have ever experienced and I felt like crying for the whole hour, I kept booking sessions.

Eventually fellow tabbers and myself discovered the “short back Bergens” – designed for the shorter person, like me! We purchased these beauties and found that the tabbing sessions were more bearable as we were not spent most the hour bent over double.

So, with the comfort of my own short back Bergen, packed out with pillows and heavy weights I started to enjoy the beasting we experienced on the tabbing sessions.

Over the last two years myself and other boot camp members have travelled far and wide before day light on a Saturday morning. And on a few occasions, participated in a number of “night” tabs all in the aid to increase our fitness levels.

Tabbing sessions are not easy. They are most definitely not for the faint hearted and designed to push you beyond your limits. I have lost count on the number of tabbing sessions I have taken part in over the last two years, but I would like to describe myself as a “well seasoned tabber.” I am never at the front of the pack, nor the back. Usually I am in the middle encouraging those struggling behind me.

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At the beginning of this year, myself and two others decided to take part in a double tabbing session back to back. This consisted of a two our tabbing session at 7pm on a Friday evening followed by two hours at 6am the following morning. I was at my fitness peak and we completed the Friday and the Saturday without any major issues (though the Saturday morning was rather tedious – due to achy muscles and fatique).

Then disaster struck for me not long after. I developed pneumonia – so training was out and tabbing was a definite no no.

It took a very long time for me to get the courage to return back to tabbing after my illness. My confidence was gone and I was worried about being at the back, slowing the pack down. However, as I started getting stronger again I decided to take the plunge and get back into it. Not wanting to over do it, weight was removed from my Bergen to ensure I did not overdo it on the first session back.

So at the beginning of June, I took the plunge back into the tabbing world. It was tough, it felt like my lungs were going to explode – but I plodded along and would like to think I kept up.

I have continued to participate in as many sessions as possible since. So, when our trainer – Jonny – advertised a 90 minute session I thought “why not?”

I arrived yesterday morning to discover only five people had booked on. Me, the only female, and four other long legged runners. I knew straight away it was going to be a session that was going to make or break me.

Within 30 minutes it had broken me. I was struggling to keep up with the guys and loosing confidence with every step. Every session I had participated in before had someone slower, someone who needed me to encourage behind me. This time I looked back and there was no one. When I looked ahead all I could see was dust from the fast runners in front.

I wanted to quit, head back and I told Jonny so. But he and all the other guys refused to let me give in. They pushed me on and on. Hill sprints followed, where I thought my lungs were going to burst, my legs fall off and I actually thought I would pass out. The final push up these hills broke me. I had a wobble, I broke down, I cried and had a mini panic attack.

Sensing my distress, Jonny sent the guys off running round a field whilst I recovered myself. Then we were off again. The final section of the session – up Hadham Road! If anyone lives in Bishops Stortford or knows the area you would be aware of this road. It is the most horrendous incline you would ever come across as a runner. It looks like nothing from the bottom; but goes on for what seems like miles. Running this incline without a Bergen would be a challenge enough. With the Bergen, I wanted to die – or hide in a bush.

The struggle and pain at this point was indescribable. The guys were off and I was trotting like a baby elephant miles behind. But Jonny would not let me give up. Everytime I felt myself slowing myself to a walk he appeared to spur me on; telling me to “stop shaking my head.”

Eventually we made it back; my legs burning, lungs exploding, mind blowing, half dead!

This tabbing session was the hardest thing I have had to done for a while – and I had not long ago completed Mission 24!

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The lesson learnt this time round; there is always more you can give. The mind can play amazing tricks on your body. It will make you think you cannot go on, that you cannot give anymore. But lucky for me this time, Jonny and all the other guys training knew I could give more even when I couldn’t see it myself. I may not have been able to go fast – but I could get to the end.

This day showed that there are days when getting through to the finish is hard. The only thing I can advise is train with people who you know will drive you on, push you to your limits and be there to give you a hug when you break down.

For PCOS Sake!

Slightly off my usual fitness and training posts, however I felt it was time to discuss an issue that is important to me and something I have struggled with for the past sixteen years.

Polycystic Overy Syndrome (PCOS).

At the tender age of 16 I was diagnosed with PCOS. Having to go through the variety of tests at such an age was completely terrifying and rather embarrassing. Can you image – being sixteen, not knowing what this “PCOS” was or meant and being sent to the maternity ward of your local hospital for a scan? Being surrounded women in their twenties, thirties and forties looking at you, knowing that they thought you were a knocked up teenager? Horrifying! Plus, with an absent Mother to join me on such appointments it was a pretty scary ordeal to face alone. But I did and after many, many tests and specialists; it was confirmed – I has PCOS and the Doctors did nothing further, other than put me on the Pill. I was told at the time I don’t need to see them again until I wanted to discuss children. At sixteen; that meant nothing to me. So with the Doctors not being too concerned and no further support offered I went on my merry way.

My teens were spent not thinking about it at all, in my twenties I started to think about it a little more and event went so far to by some support books so I could spend more time reading about what I face. Safe to say the books went un-touched and gathered a great deal of dust sitting on the shelf. However, it has only been in my thirties that I have really started to realise I need to pay much more attention to the condition.

This is for a number of reasons. Firstly, as I have got older I have discovered that a number of friends and even my sister also suffer from the same thing – so it is a lot more common than i originally thought. Secondly, now that I am in my thirties one of the side effects of PCOS is really starting to get to me…..The struggle with weight loss.

You may be thinking, “What is Polycystic Ovary Syndrome”? PCOS, as it is known, is a common condition that effects the way in which a Woman’s ovaries work. The main features of this condition are Irregular Periods, excess androgen (high levels of male hormones in the body – JOY) and Polycystic Ovaries (ovaries become enlarged and contain follicles which surround the eggs).

So what does this mean? It means that someone with PCOS will have some or all of the following symptoms:

  • Irregular Periods
  • Fertility Issues
  • Excessive Hair Growth
  • Weight Gain
  • Thinning Hair
  • Acne/ Oily skin
  • Thinning hair loss from the head

Plus further down the line PCOS suffers have greater risk of developing more serious conditions like Type 2 Diabetes and High Colesterol.

So we get all the fun!

I have lots of friends who struggle with different symptoms. The most heart breaking being the infertility issues. For me, that doesnt cause too much concern. I knew my chances were very small early on, so I have dealt with that and enjoy my childless life.

My biggest problem with PCOS is the weight gain, or in my case the inability to loose weight; despite constanty training and leading a relatively healthy vegetarian diet.

So after reading several books, which I found rather useless, I started researching online and stumbled upon PCOS Diet Support. This site was founded by someone who had PCOS. So unlike the many books I read, most likely written by someone without the condition, it was refreshing to hear from someone with experience.

I discovered an article written here about having PCOS and eating Gluten foods. I suppose it is not that much of a shock to find out that the two do not mix. Accoring to research Gluten Free diets are highly recommended for someone with PCOS. Gluten foods play havoc on an already inbalanced hormonal system, could possibly cause a spike in insulin levels and if Gluten intolerant could contribute to Insulin resistance.

So, in order to get my insulin levels right and in the hope of being able to control my weight better I have made the decision to change my eating habits and remove gluten from my diet.

Although I have never been a big pasta or bread person there are so many foods that contain gluten that I never realised. This week has been a big learning curve for me. The obvious foods have not been a problem, but as a vegetarian I was shocked to discover that most Quorn products (from which I get most my protein from) contain some form of gluten.  A lot more attention is going to have to be paid to food packets in order for me to be able to change my eating habits and be as Gluten Free as I can possibly be.

I know it is going to be difficult, but luckily I have a few friends who are already Gluten Free and have made the change. So all I can do is follow advice I have been given and read the labels of everything I buy.

I am hoping to make some serious progress in the next few months and I will be sure to document it when I can.

Wish me luck!