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.

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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 stroke (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!

To drink or not to drink? It’s not really a question…right?

Like telling yourself you’re on a diet, or that you’re giving up smoking, when you know that you can’t have something it’s amazing how that thing seems to gravitate to the forefront of your mind. In recent weeks that thing for me has been drinking.

Whether it’s a glass of red wine in front of the fire on a chilly winter evening, an Aperol Spritz over game of cards on a lakefront in Italy, a shandy in an English country pub after a long walk, a glass of champagne at a book launch, or a gin and tonic with the girls at the end of a busy week, I’ve come to realise that alcohol plays a part in many elements of my life. Being someone who is invested in a healthy lifestyle this may seem quite surprising and indeed there have been many times – often when training for a particular race, or else the morning after the night before, when I’m trying to drag myself through the day on a mixture of bananas, paracetamol and coffee – when I’ve sworn myself off alcohol. But this is a promise that I’ve been at liberty to rescind at any point, be it a day, week or month or so later, whereas at the moment I’m afforded no such liberty.

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That said, being pregnant has provided a good opportunity to enforce sobriety for a prolonged period. While I know that recommendations vary, and I believe everyone should follow the path that feels most right for them and their baby, I have made the decision not drink at all throughout my pregnancy. If I was mildly concerned to reflect on how integrated into my lifestyle drinking is, I’ve also been comforted to see that I can live a teetotal life. I’ve proven to myself that I can navigate dinner parties, private views, holidays and even the odd wedding or two alcohol free. And five and a half months into my newly found teetotal lifestyle I’ve found myself asking, once the pregnancy is over, will I go back to drinking?

In all honesty, my feelings in this regard have fluctuated wildly. In the early weeks of the pregnancy, the constant ‘morning’ sickness meant that I couldn’t think of anything worse than drinking. This not only made getting through the Christmas and New Year period without the usual lashings of mulled wine and Prosecco much easier, but also saw me thinking how easy a dry future would be. Since the nausea has subsided there have been times when I’ve lamented not having a glass of wine in my hand on a supper date with my husband, or found myself gazing longingly at a newly opened wine bar in town, with the look of a Dickensian pauper child staring into a toy shop window. Later, on these same evenings, I’ve caught the night tube home and, surrounded by vomiting and leery crowds, I have found myself feeling quietly pleased, and often slightly relieved, about my sobriety, and on waking the next morning, have felt so grateful for my clear head and nauseous-free stomach.

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In terms of training, weight loss, sleep quality and avoiding those lack-lustre post-booze days, it would make sense to give up drinking for good. The frustrating thing is at the moment I’m not seeing these benefits as I’m getting larger and slower. And there is something about the social element of sharing a glass of something with my husband or friends that I’m reluctant to relinquish completely.

What this period has made me reflect on is how eminently possible it is to enjoy events without a drink in my hand to counteract my natural introversion. And now I know that I don’t really need a glass of wine to unwind after a killer week – a gym session or run can actually do the job quite nicely.

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While I hope (all being well) we will be wetting the baby’s head with champagne come August, what I hope to return to is a more moderate approach to my alcohol consumption and the freedom and knowledge that I don’t need a glass of anything to enjoy the company of my brilliant friends. Besides, between the lack of sleep and potential breastfeeding that will come from having a new baby, I imagine those nights of inadvertently drinking one too many may be behind me…for a while at least.

As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. Do you drink? Would you give up drinking? How has this impacted on your physical and mental health and athletic performance?

 

On exercise during pregnancy, getting larger and the fear of leaving work

As my last few posts have been interview or podcast based I thought I’d write a quick post to update you on my fitness and pregnancy progress over the past couple of months.

I’m now just over 24 weeks pregnant (or five and a half months for those working in normal time) with a little girl who, for reasons I won’t go into here, we are currently calling Crêpe Suzette. Getting past the 20 week scan was a big relief, and although this revealed an issue with one of Suze’s kidneys, which initially caused us a little shock and upset (her right kidney is multicystic and will never fully develop or function), having seen the specialist and knowing that they will be keeping an eye on how she develops, I am feeling a lot more positive about the prognosis. We are so excited about introducing her into the world and determined that even with one kidney she will be a strong and empowered little lady. Even if she can’t play contact sports such as water polo like her mum, we already have grand plans for her triathlon career!

She is clearly growing at a good pace (she is over a 33cm in length now), and in response my body has been rapidly expanding. Many of my clothes (sports wear included) have now fallen by the wayside and I’m embracing my new (enforced) capsule wardrobe.

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I made a few additions to this last week, investing in a new pair of running leggings – which are sufficiently baggy to see me through for a little longer and sufficiently jazzy to make me want to exercise – and a couple of oversized sports vests, which are a bit more forgiving when surrounded by mirrors in the gym!

In terms of exercise, I’ve been really enjoying going to spinning classes as I feel like I’m getting a pretty killer workout without Suze bouncing around too much. Similarly, I’ve been spending more time in the gym, trading my Sunday long run for a long gym session. When I’m lifting weights I feel strong (not just large) and the cross trainer provides a great low-impact cardio workout. I’m still going to yoga classes and modifying where necessary, and I start each day with 15 to 20 minutes of home practice.

I am still running, although it is becoming increasingly hard work, so it’s nice to have some other options available. I max out at around 5 miles now and I have to intersperse jogging with short periods of walking. I’ve noticed that my calves and hamstrings are a lot tighter and burn a lot more than ever before, which I am putting down to the change in my weight distribution. All the same, I’m determined to keep getting out for as long as I’m still enjoying it, especially now that the weather is improving and the parks are open later in the evening. I’m just really grateful at the moment that I have the time to run as I know this will change come August!

Another wardrobe addition I’ve fallen in love with, this time courtesy of my mum, is my maternity swimsuit. It is the first time ever that I’ve had a non-training/racing suit and instead I’m embracing a cute little polka dot, halter neck number! It took a bit of getting used to pushing off the wall and tumble turning whilst trusting that I was retaining my modesty, but I’m pretty comfortable with it now and I love the looks on people’s faces as I overtake them in my casual cossie with my enormous stomach! When I swim I feel pretty much normal, which is wonderful.

I’m really determined to keep my body moving, not least as it helps with the swollen ankles and ‘pasty feet’ I’ve suddenly started getting as a result of water retention when I sit down for too long. But also, when I exercise I am a better version of myself and a better person to be around. Exercise means that I still feel strong and confident in my body and even at times, dare I say it, sexy.

Although exercising is proving more physically taxing than ever before, it is still such a huge and valuable part of my life I wouldn’t go without it. Even if exercise now means a walk around Green Park at lunchtime rather than a 10k run along the river, I know I’ll always feel better for doing a little bit of something, and it’s still a good way to catch up on a podcast and see some sunshine.
Changes to my body and workout schedule are not the only things I’m having to get used to. At the moment the prospect of taking time away from work is totally terrifying. I love my job and my team so much and I have so many great projects on the go at the moment that it’s impossible to imagine stepping away, even if only for a year. I know that I will only have that first year with Suze once and how important that will be, and I’m sure when the time comes I’ll revel in our time together, but for the time being I feel like I want to cling onto my job tighter than ever, terrified that it won’t be waiting for me on my return.

I’m sure lots of parents-to-be go through all of these emotions. I’m hoping that my inability to control and plan for everything during this period will prove a positive lesson for the future. I’m having to learn to let go a little and go with the flow and, while for now I feel very out of my comfort zone, I hope that it will stand me in good stead for when Suze arrives and I can’t control anything at all!

If you’ve been through a similar experience, or are going through something similar I’d love to hear your thoughts and opinions. Until my next, keep moving.

Emotional agility and the power of values

What are my values? What are the things that sit at the core of who I am, what I believe and who I want to be as a friend, family member, wife, colleague and (eventually) parent? These are the questions that have been buzzing around in my head this week after listening to a recent episode of the Rich Roll podcast.

The episode, with Dr Susan David, addressed the concept of emotional agility, that is, our ability to acknowledge and embrace the full spectrum of our emotions (be they joyful or sorrowful) and to approach them with ‘courage, compassion and curiosity’. It is our ability to manage these inner experiences and rather than allowing them to ‘hold us hostage’, we are able to ‘learn from them, evaluate the situations we face, be clear-sighted about our options’ and act in a way that is intentional, mindful and true to our values.

Here values are defined as qualities of action. They are the overarching things that dictate the direction in which we choose to navigate our lives. Values are not things that can be completed, rather, they are ways of being that we can work towards through goal-setting. When trying to establish our values, David suggests looking back the day and thinking ‘what was the most worthwhile thing that I did today?‘ She distinguishes ‘most worthwhile’ from ‘most fun’ or ‘most exciting’, because with ‘worthwhile’ there is often a degree of effort or difficultly involved, and yet the sense of satisfaction enjoyed following the activity can act as a clue as to what motivates to you. She also offers a quiz on her website, listing values including cooperation, caring, flexibility efficiency, reliability, trust, community, change, responsibility, confidence, adventure, autonomy, bravery, accuracy, accountability and generosity, encouraging you to consider which of these resonates with you.

Establishing our values is only the first step to realising them. Everyday, our decisions and actions provide opportunities to pull ourselves closer to our values or to push us away from them. So often our thoughts, emotions and the stories we tell ourselves can drive our behaviour in a way that’s not aligned with how we want to be in the world. David argues that it is only when we have emotional agility (as opposed to emotional rigidity) that we are equipped to behave in a way that is value-aligned and authentic, rather than exhibiting insincere emotions, such as false positivity.

She explores how the stories we tell ourselves about who we are act as powerful predictors of future behaviour and can often leave us living in a way that is reactive rather than intentional. For example, if we tell ourselves that we are shy, stressed, or unhappy we find ourselves living out those characteristics. Similarly if we keep telling ourselves that we must be positive or happy when this isn’t actually how we feel we risk being unable to deal with our true emotions, leaving them to bubble and swell beneath the surface, unattended to, until they burst out.

David also introduces the idea of social contagion. This is the way in which we can ‘catch’ behaviours and emotions from other people, often without even realising it. In some cases this can be innocuous; say, for example, you are in a lift and everyone around you gets out their phone, David posits that their actions would increase the likelihood of you getting out your phone as well. Sometimes, however, social contagion may lead to behaviour that is misaligned with your values. Say, for example, your colleagues regularly turn up late for work or take an excessive number of duvet days, this behaviour may be transferred to you, impacting negatively on your timekeeping and work ethic. This process is a product of subconsciously comparing ourselves to others, wanting what they want, normalising the behaviours we see around us and adopting these behaviours.

So how do we avoid non-value-aligned behaviours and sleepwalking down a path that may leave us questioning ‘how did I end up here?’ According to David, having a clear sense of what our values are can protect us from this. By regularly reminding ourselves of our values – just spending 10 minutes a day thinking about who is the person/wife/friend/colleague/parent we want to be – starts to bring them to the front of our minds, allowing them to more easily inform our actions and act as a driving force directing our lives.

That’s not to say that value affirmations alone make living in a value-aligned way easy and David acknowledges that consistency does require cognitive effort. To help remove some of this effort she suggests trying to adopt positive habits. Habit piggybacking, where you attach a new habit onto an existing one, may also help in this regard. For example, if your value is to be engaged and present in your relationships but you find that you are always being distracted by your phone, perhaps you could get into a habit of putting your phone away with your keys/bag/coat when you walk in through the front door so it no longer hinders your engagement with your family and friends.

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All of this brings me back to my first question: what are my values? When I think about David’s ‘worthwhile’ day, for me this involves time spent with my family, husband and friends, some form of exercise, learning something new through books, articles, blogs and podcasts (and writing about it!), making progress on a project at work, going to an art exhibition or museum, trying a new recipe, making sure the house is clean, and knowing that I have filled my day as productively as possible. From this it becomes clear that relationships – be they with my friends, family or husband – are incredibly important to me, as it self-improvement and challenge – both from a work/academic and physical perspective – and efficiency – the best kind of day is one when I have achieved the maximum amount of the above-listed things! With this in mind, I hope I can now actively live in a way that is more closely aligned with these values and allow them to inform my decision making going forward.

Until my next, thank you for reading and as always I’d love to hear your thoughts.