1,500m two ways

As I get closer to my due date, and as London gets hotter and hotter, I’m finding swimming is my fitness saviour.

I’m definitely slower and get tired a lot quicker than ever before, but I always feel better for just getting into the pool and moving my body. Being in the water also helps to ease my heavy legs and deflate my ugly swollen feet and ankles!

This week I’ve hit the pool four times, and while I can’t go as far or as fast as usual, I’m aiming for 1,500m per session. My sets aren’t the most varied at the moment, as I can’t do backstroke (due to buoyancy issues) and I also find it slightly awkward swimming fly in a busy, public pool, but on the plus side this is encouraging me to get the kick board and pull buoy out to make things a bit more interesting.

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Here are two options for 1,500m sets, which I’ve enjoyed this week while 36 weeks pregnant:

Warm-up

200m front crawl

Main set

200m breaststroke

4 x 50m free kick off 1 minute 30 seconds
200m front crawl pull
200m front crawl
4 x 50m breaststroke kick plus 15 seconds rest between sets
200m front crawl pull

Swim down

100m front crawl

1,500 m

Or

Warm up

400m front crawl

Main set

4 x 50m from crawl kick off 1 minute 30 seconds
200m breaststroke
200m front crawl
200m front crawl pull

Swim down

300m front crawl full

1,500m

Do let me know if you have done any fun swim sets lately that I can enjoy this week.

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On switching paths: from publisher to parent

After a month or so of work getting busier and busier, last week I finally admitted to myself that it was time to take a step back. I had (perhaps naively) hoped that in the lead up to my maternity leave things would slowly quieten down, but instead, there is a renewed sense of urgency about everything. I’ve been burying myself in work, checking emails at all times of day, working late, and without the motivation of running to get me out of the office at lunchtime, skipping my lunch breaks. The kind suggestion of my boss to cut down to four day weeks, combined with an array of midwife and renal appointments, has actually served to make the situation worse as I’m trying to fit more work into less time. And as long as I’m present in the office, there is an expectation that I’m firing on all cylinders as usual, which, if I’m brutally honest with myself, I’m really not.

It was after another sleepless night, followed by a morning thinking about my ‘to do’ list while trying to do yoga, that I decided enough was enough. That day I spoke to boss and we decided that I would finish work a week earlier than originally planned.

Knowing that I had one less week of work, commuting and office stress, and acknowledging that I’ve been struggling, was like an enormous weight being lifted from my shoulders. It also gave me the impetus I needed to start handing over my workload.

I’m lucky that I work in an incredibly supportive environment with the most wonderful colleagues, who have not only put up with my hormonal ups and downs, but who are also willing to take on the burden of additional work that will result in my leaving. I also know that in reality nothing will collapse when I go: books will still be published, rights sold, authors placated.

Taking the work worry out of the equation has also allowed me a little more headspace to think about the actual process of giving birth and my role as a parent. These are things that I realise I’ve been pushing to the corners of my mind, hidden behind work stress, baby admin and body worries.

The NCT and breastfeeding courses, as well as the antenatal class at the hospital have made me realise that my focus has been too much on the fact of my pregnancy – my changing body and my fear of miscarriage – and not enough on my birth plan and the reality of the days, weeks and months that will follow the birth. I think that I’ve spent so long being terrified that I may lose the baby that I haven’t allowed the idea of actually being a mum sink in.

I’m pleased now that I’ve got the time and headspace ahead of me to get to grips with these feelings, to write a birth plan and to start putting strategies in place that will allow me to continue to be a good wife, friend and family member as well as a good mother. And I may also have started compiling a list for some pre-Suze maternity activities: lido swimming and pregnancy yoga anyone?!

As the sun sets on the first six months of 2018…

As June draws to a close, and with just over five weeks before Suze is due to be born, I wanted to reflect on the past six months. I suspect the next six months will be quite different to the last, so I wanted to take this opportunity to digest the first half of the year and allow myself to enjoy some of the memories.

January

We started 2018 with our traditional New Year’s Day walk. This year we headed along the canal through Camden and Regent’s Park to the top of Primrose Hill. As always, it was a refreshing and satisfying way to kick off the year and a good way to blow away the cobwebs of the previous evening.

 

On 5 January we had our 9 week scan and were able to see baby Suze for the first time (although at that point we didn’t know she was a she!).

Our good friend Mark came to visit from Canada and joined us, along with my sister- and brother-in-law for some iceskating at Somerset House and a trip to see Wildlife Photographer of the Year at the Natural History Museum.

 

We spent a relaxing weekend in Yorkshire with my father-in-law and his wife, and my parents also joined us for a lovely walk in the Yorkshire countryside.

 

And I headed to Birmingham for a perfect day with the polo pals, Katie, Helen, Suze and Mark for a reunion with our teammates Sophie, Cheri and Collette.

Back in London I took Mr S to see Girl from the North Country for his birthday and we finished the month by passing the 12 week pregnancy mark and finally being able to tell our friends and family our news (although I’m sure many had their suspicions after my booze-free Christmas!).

February

February saw us heading off to Slovenia for skiing in Kransjska Gora, enjoying time outdoors at Lake Bled and sightseeing in Ljubljana.

 

We also had a really great visit from my parents, sister, brother-in-law and the boys. We took them to the Science Museum, to see Buckingham Palace and for tea and cake on the South Bank.

 

March

If we hadn’t had enough snow in Slovenia, March saw plenty in London.

 

Surprisingly, there was a lot less up north when we headed to Manchester to spend time with our pals Becks and James. Snow did hit when I returned to Manchester two week later for Becks’s birthday celebrations, but that didn’t dampen a perfect day with some of my oldest friends.

 

This second trip up north also provided a perfect opportunity to see mum and dad and enjoy a rather chilly walk with my good friend Laura and her baby Alexander.

 

We also enjoyed a few jaunts to suburban London for walks, lunches and lovely long chats with our wonderful pals Mairead and Steve and Ceri and Ed.

 

The month concluded with a delicious vegan afternoon tea and trip to Tate Britain to see the Impressionists in London show with my fabulous friend Georgina.

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April

April kicked off with another exhibition, this time Picasso at Tate Modern, followed by cake at Harvest E8, one of my favourite north London vegan-friendly cafes.

Finally the daffodils opened in Green Park after a very snowy winter, making my walk into the office a lot jollier. Being greeted by flowers on my desk from another happy author also helped!

 

April was also marked by a truly fabulous surprise trip to Versailles and Paris with my wonderful water polo girls, Katie, Helen and Soph.

 

Mr S and I enjoyed plenty of London walks during the sunny weekends, exploring the river Lea and Walthamstow Wetlands sustained by a feast from the vegan food market in Hackney.

 

And I enjoyed an early morning view of the Monet and Architecture exhibition at the National Gallery with my fabulous colleagues Polly, Rosie and Tom.

We finished the month with a wonderful trip to Copenhagen to visit our lovely pals Kathryn and Greg and their beautiful baby Rose (and managed to squish in some sightseeing too!).

 

We returned to London ready for the renovation work on our kitchen to kick off on 30 April.

May

The first weekend in May saw Helen, Soph and I at BeFit London where we enjoyed a killer spin class and a relaxing yoga class, as well as getting onto the leaderboard for a skipping competition!

 

Sunny Sundays offered plenty of opportunities for London walks and I enjoyed a stroll through Finsbury Park, Highgate and Waterlow Park with Mr S and through Victoria Park with my lovely pals Ariana and Antonia.

 

A trip to Birmingham, ostensibly for the Eurovision Song Contest, also saw me enjoying a surprise baby shower.

 

And on the Sunday we went stand-up paddle boarding, although for me it was just a spectator sport! Still, I participated fully in the vegan roast dinner afterwards and was so pleased for the chance to see my lovely pal Letty while there.

 

In May we also enjoyed a trip to Centre Parcs to celebrate mum’s birthday. We marked the Royal Wedding with our own tea party, as well as getting stuck into all of the Centre Parcs fun of running, kayaking, swimming and archery!

 

The following weekend I enjoyed the Regent’s Park Race for Life with my fabulous running partner Lou to mark her 30th birthday and my 30 weeks of pregnancy.

 

And we closed the month with a Garden party at the Palace in the glorious sunshine.

 

June

June began with a trip to see Agatha Christie’s ‘The Mousetrap’ with the lovely Georgina and her husband Tes, followed by lots of lovely chats and delicious food at By Chloe in Soho.

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I enjoyed the exhibition Splendours of the Subcontinent at The Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace and put on my own (very small) exhibition of drawings from our life drawing class.

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We also headed off on our treehouse adventures in Wales, marked by plenty of relaxing, strolls in the countryside and deliciously indulgent ‘us time’.

 

I also got to see Legally Blonde the musical, as a belated birthday gift from my pals Katie, Helen and Soph. And got round to redecorating the spare room ready for our new arrival.

 


We enjoyed a weekend in Hampshire at a mini family festival of fun organised by our friends Ben and Fern, where we were able to catch up with lots of Mr S’s old uni pals on what was a truly perfect day.

 

We had a lovely visit from my mother-in-law and I enjoyed a wonderful morning in the sun with my sister-in-law in Potters Bar.

So that brings me up to today.

It’s been six months, five exhibitions, four countries, three theatre trips, two rooms (and a hall) redecorated and one race. We’ve enjoyed many of walks, lots of spinning classes, even more yoga and swims, and all of the best friends and family.

While I’m so excited about the future I’m also really grateful for the now and all of the experiences we have had.

So are we ready for the next six months? I guess we’ll see…

An escape to the country: Our treehouse babymoon

With a tendency towards minimalism and a love of the great outdoors, it is perhaps unsurprising that one of my longer standing whims (if that’s not too much of an oxymoron?) has been to stay in a treehouse. This desire was finally realised last week, when R and I headed to Wales for three nights in a secluded cabin in the canopy.

Located just outside the village of Tintern, sited at the top of an orchard and surrounded by fields on all sides, the treehouse offered the perfect solitude we were looking for. Built by our host, Gemma, it spanned three rooms – a combined lounge/kitchen/diner, a bedroom and a bathroom – plus a little balcony, just big enough for my yoga mat! With running hot and cold water, a wood burner and an electric hob, we had every luxury we needed for a glamping weekend away.

While a few people raised an eyebrow at my desire to holiday in a treehouse while 33 weeks pregnant, this did little to dampen my enthusiasm. In fact, taking a few days to escape the hot and hectic city, and all of the jobs that need to be done around the house, was just what we both needed. Chore, TV, work and stress free we enjoyed long chats over unhurried meals in the local pub, read our books while sitting on the balcony overlooking the orchard, went on long walks fuelled by a supply of hot cross buns to be enjoyed when sufficient mileage permitted, lingered over the crossword over breakfast of properly made (not microwaved!) porridge, played cards and scrabble in front of the fire, and generally embraced the serenity and togetherness that we know may become increasingly rare in the coming months.

While the excitement of the new addition to our lives takes up a lot of ours thoughts, energy and plans at the moment, our weekend in the trees was a wonderful opportunity to just be us again for a while. Whether it was while doing yoga on the balcony or reading a trashy magazine (me), going for a morning run or enjoying a third pint at the pub (R), we indulged ourselves, free from the usual pressures of home life. We also enjoyed those conversations, which so often come with our holidays, that are liberated from the bounds of domestic priorities – no questions over what’s for dinner or who’s going to empty the washing machine!

While I don’t often talk about my relationship here, I just wanted to acknowledge how lucky I am to have such a wonderful partnership with someone with whom sharing a tiny space in the trees is all the luxury I need! I love that when our relationship is stripped back to two pairs of walking boots, our anoraks and some time outdoors, we are both at our best, no grand gestures or fancy hotels required. It was good to be reminded of this and to have it at the forefront of both of our minds ahead of the new challenges that await us.

I was too sad to leave when Monday morning came around and we needed to get back to the city. Sadly our treehouse retreat was not enough to satiate my whim for a treehouse holiday; rather, it fuelled my desire to book another! Let’s hope baby Suze shares her parents’ enthusiasm for time outdoors and we can enjoy more treetop adventures together.

Until my next, enjoy any summer escapes you have planned.

We stayed at Mistletoe Treehouse, Tintern, booked with Canopy and Stars.

Why I’m surprisingly comfortable taking my kit off…

One of the (many) great things about growing up as a swimmer is that I have developed a total lack inhibition when it comes to stripping off in a swimming pool changing room. When you’ve spent years trying to fit in training around school, and as an adult you find yourself squeezing a pool session in during your lunch break, there is little time for prudishness. It’s a clothes off cossie on while trying to catch up with your swimming pals kind of affair, with no thought given to the nudity in between.

This lack of inhibition was something that was drawn to my attention after a swimming session this week. As I confidently flaunted my 30 week pregnant belly and newly formed breasts in the shower before drying myself with my tiny sports towel, the woman next to me was painstakingly manoeuvring into her swimming costume beneath a large bath towel. I felt sad that, in what I regard as a safe, female, sports-focused space, she felt uncomfortable enough to go through the rigmarole (that many of us are familiar with from on-beach changing) of trying to undress while within a towel tent.

This is perhaps a surprising observation, and a touch hypocritical, coming from a woman who can change her work clothes up to four times before leaving the house on a so-called ‘fat day’, and who has spent years battling with issues of body image and confidence. Yet with communal swimming changing, and likewise, when wearing sportswear (often the most unforgiving of the outfit choices), I feel surprisingly body positive and unconcerned about how I may look to those around me.

Reflecting on this on my walk home from the pool I realised that, when it comes to the sporting arena, for me it’s not about how you look but what your body can do, a message propagated by the #sportsbrasquad movement (worth searching on Instagram if you’re not already familiar with this hashtag). While on the beach I may find myself intimidated and in awe of scantily clad bikini beauties, on poolside, even with my giant belly, I don’t bat an eyelid. In fact, it’s in the pool at the moment I feel my most at ease. I’m weightless and can swim almost as well as I could pre-pregnancy, and I feel an even greater sense of smugness when me and my belly do some overtaking. It’s only when I pull myself back onto poolside, and it takes a while to regain my land legs, that that literal enormity of my body is brought back to me.

I’m pleased that I can have this focus on performance over physique in some areas of my life, but I need to work at translating this into the everyday, when I’m in my jeans and not just my joggers. The body critical and comparison games are dangerous and counterproductive ones to play. The question shouldn’t be about how my thigh gap compares to anyone else’s, but rather how well my body is performing at whatever it is that it’s doing, be that running, yoga, swimming, cycling or growing a baby, and whether I’m maximising my health and wellbeing alongside those goals.

I will be focusing on this going forward and until my next, embrace getting your (PE) kit off (and on) and as always, let me know your thoughts on all of the above.

Sneaky little 2k swim

While I’ve been trying to get into the pool at least once a week, I’ll admit that recently I’ve not been swimming proper sets, but rather, just putting my head down and doing laps. However this week, inspired by a recent episode of the Rich Roll podcast with Australian Olympic swimmer Micheal Klim, and to mark 29 weeks of pregnancy, I put together the below set.

As I can’t do backstroke at the moment (on account of my enormous belly) I’ve found myself structuring my sets around breaststroke and front crawl. I can still do fly, so I popped in a little bit for variety!

While it’s not the most inspired set in the world, I felt so good afterwards – having some structure definitely makes the metres pass more quickly and getting in the pool helped to shift a bout of nausea that had been plaguing me all day.

So if you want to swim like a very pregnant woman, the below is 2,000m and took me 45 minutes.

Warm up

200m freestyle

Main set

4 x 100m full stroke, kick, pull, full strokeĀ (no rest between 100m)
30 seconds rest
200m breaststroke
30 seconds rest
100m breaststroke kick
30 seconds rest
4 x 25m fly (15 seconds rest between 25m sets)
400m as 200m freestyle pull, 200m freestyle full stroke
30 seconds rest
100m breaststroke drill (2 kicks to 1 pull)
200m breaststroke
30 seconds rest
100m freestyle kick
30 seconds rest

Swim down

200m freestyle

Total: 2,000m

Good run? Well that depends on your definition of good…and run.

Good run?

It’s amazing how two seemingly innocuous words can stir up such a array of emotions. I know when my husband poses this question he is just taking a casual interest in my daily activities, and yet when he asks, for some reason so many feelings – embarrassment, anger, upset and irritation – well up inside me. In my mind I’m shouting, ‘imagine rapidly gaining 2 stone, being constantly hot and breathless, feeling nauseous with acid reflux and needing to pee almost as soon as you’ve been to the toilet, and then try having a good run’, but I usually just smile and say ‘yeah ok’.

Having had two pregnancies in relatively quick succession, and with the toll that this has taken had on my body, I’m struggling to recall the last time I enjoyed a truly good run. There were some relatively decent 10 milers in the autumn last year, when I was starting to feel something like myself again, but that was before the first trimester sickness of the latest pregnancy took hold. At the moment, nine out of every ten runs feels like a struggle for one reason or another – reflux, fatigue, abdominal pain, sore hamstrings, upset stomach, breathlessness, the list goes on – and I can barely run a mile before I need to walk a little. So why persist, you may reasonably ask? The answers are many and various, but it was only while listening to the Running For Real podcast interview with Colin McCourt this week that I really started to deconstruct what exactly it is I’m feeling now when I run, and why it is that I’m continuing in this endeavour.

For those of you unfamiliar with McCourt, he was a GB runner who, after failing to make to Olympic squad in 2012, decided to give up being a professional athlete. He subsequently buried himself in a career in finance, put on quite a lot of weight and gave up running completely. Years later, a bet with friends saw him lacing up his trainers once more, shedding the weight he had gained and going on to run an impressive sub 16 minute 5k.

McCourt’s ethos now is to be transparent about his running and the struggles he has had with his training since returning to the sport, and he is open and honest about the internal conflicts he has had managing his ego during this period. A lot of what he said in the interview really resonated with me. It’s hard to admit to yourself that you’re now pretty rubbish at something that you were once ok at, and even harder to let other people see how far you have fallen. One of the most powerful things that McCourt said in the interview was that while you may be worried about a slow run or a bad race performance, the reality is, no one else really cares. I think this important to remember this when massaging a bruised ego after a sub-optimal run.

Although I am still slightly ashamed of my Strava stats at the moment, and while I may need to temporarily change my definition of a ‘good run’, there are still reasons within me that mean that I keep going.

I keep going for that one run out of the ten when I feel something like myself again; for the run that reminds me why I love the sport. It’s never obvious when this ‘good run’ will strike: I could feel great in the morning when I get up but then fade after a few metres on the road, or feel awful on setting out and then find I can keep going for longer than I’d anticipated. So I have to keep going on the off chance I hit that running sweet spot.

I’m also aware that giving birth will be the toughest mental and physical challenge that I’ll ever have to face and I need to prove to myself that I’ve still got the grit to get through something I’m finding difficult. If I can keep my body fit and healthy and force myself out of my comfort zone then this has to set me up, to some degree, to manage the trauma of birth, or at least put me in a better place than if I let myself get overweight and unfit, right?!

I keep running for my general health and the health of my baby. Despite the old school rumours that expectant mothers should basically be bedridden, the NHS, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, the National Childbirth Trust and the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence all recommend moderate exercise during pregnancy. This helps to alleviate or reduce the risk of gestational diabetes, pregnancy-induced hypertension, high gestational weight gain, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

I run because exercise is good for Suze, because the babies of prenatal exercisers tend to have more efficient hearts than those of non-exercisers, and this higher cardio fitness level seems to last into the childhood years.

I keep running because I’m terrified of becoming horribly overweight. I’m ashamed to admit this, but as I pick up weight so easily and I’m acutely aware that I’m eating more and moving less at the moment, I’m nervous about becoming enormous and not being able to lose the weight post-pregnancy. I know I shouldn’t be so vain as to be worrying about this right now, but I can’t help it, and with more women than ever making the hot pregnant and postpartum body look like the norm, I don’t want to be the one fatty who let themselves go in pregnancy.

I also keep running because right now I can, whereas in a few months time it’s going to get a whole lot harder.

And I keep running because next week I’ve got a Race For Life 5km raising money for Cancer Research and I need to know that I can get round the course and earn my sponsorship money!