Fit friends: My secret weapon for winter training

When it’s cold, dark and rainy in the winter months it’s really easy to let your motivation for exercise slide. A lunchtime run suddenly seems less appealing when it involves getting soaked through, and the pool seems less alluring when it’s subzero outside. What I find makes things even trickier is the running routes I frequent during the summer become more difficult to navigate in the winter. I don’t like to run home alone along the canal in the dark, many of the parks I like to lap close at 5pm and the off-road routes become so muddy underfoot that I end up walking sections to avoid slipping over.

IMG_2840 (1)While I could use all of this as an excuse to bed down until Spring, I’m making the effort to dig deep and keep going with my training, allowing my fitness routine to take a slightly different form to account for the season. And although my weekly mileage is down, my yoga hours, pool and gym times are all up and I’m focusing on building strength and flexibility alongside a toned down version of my usual cardio.

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Each evening, my good intentions see me packing my swim/run/yoga kit ready for the following day, but what has been really helping me to get out of the door for an exercise session is having training buddies on hand, who are already kitted up and waiting for me outside.

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It’s so much easier to get to the gym or out for a run when you have someone to go with. I’m so lucky that my friends at work are also keen to keep fit throughout the winter and we can all head from the office to the gym/pool/yoga class, or else enjoy a lunchtime run together. And we have a mutual understanding that once we are working out we all follow our own programmes, so there’s no chatting by the water fountain or long rests in the weights room!

Fitfluencers

If you haven’t got fit friends at the ready to keep you on the straight and narrow, I also find following ‘fitfluencers’ on social media really helps. I find it hard to see other people leading an active life and exercising without being taken over by the urge to exercise myself!

On Instagram I love Alice Liveing, Shalane FlanaganCharlotte Kalla, Samantha Gash, Kaisa MakarainenA Pretty Place to Play, The Runnerbeans, Running with Mo Yogi Bare, Tina Muir, Alex Puccio and Shauna Coxsey.

Podcast persuasion

Another great way to make sure I get out for a run is to download a podcast episode I really want to listen to, but only allow myself listen while on a run. Running and fitness podcasts, such as Run to the a Top from Runners Connect, Marathon Talk and Rich Roll are great to stay focused, but I also love escaping run chat with the High Low, This American Life or Reasons to be Cheerful.

Strava stats

Accountability and a little healthy competition with myself also helps keep me going, which is why I love tracking my runs on Strava. It’s a great way to keep an eye on my mileage and gauge how I’m getting on, but I’m also aware that my  running data is public so I can’t slack off too much in case my stats become conspicuous by their absence!

Home workouts

I love at-home, early morning workouts and during the winter these really help to get me going for the day. YouTube is a cornucopia of great yoga videos – I love Sarah Beth Yoga, Yoga with Adrienne and Boho Beautiful – but workout apps are also great for short, focussed fitness sessions. I’m currently using Power 20 Prenatal fitness app, but before this I loved the Weight Loss Fitness app – both free to download.

If you are struggling with winter workouts, or if you have other hints and tips to keep on track when it’s wet and cold outside do let me know.

Now I just need to go out for my Sunday run…

Until my next, happy running.

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Child’s play

Last weekend I spent an afternoon with a friend and her two young daughters (NB not the image above which is of my two nephews!). Having arrived just after they had returned from their respective gymnastics and dancing classes we were greeted with a display of handstands and cartwheels across the lawn and a rendition of ‘The Merry Old Land of OZ’ with accompanying dance moves. From their I found myself joining in with them, practising headstands, back bends and cartwheels for what was certainly the first time in a good number of years. Gymnastics in the garden turned into jumping rope, then tug of war, and then limbo. When drizzle forced us inside we started colouring, followed by Twister, then exploring dens, reading ‘The Secret Seven’, playing chess, doing kids yoga, and ending with a game of blind-mans-buff. Needless to say that by the end of the day I was exhausted (and aching in a number of long-forgotten muscles the next morning!), but feeling incredibly happy and satisfied all the same.

There is something so great about allowing yourself to let go and just play. You find yourself lost in the moment and go back to seeing the world through children’s eyes. Spaces under the bed become potential spots for dens, standing on your head becomes fun, as does scrabbling around on the floor under a rope, or bending and balancing your body in a game of Twister.

All of this put me in mind of an article by Oenone Crossley-Holland, which I read last week, about getting in touch with your ‘inner child’, and an episode of ‘Radio Headspace’ about reconnecting with yourself. In both instances the point was made that we often get so busy in life ‘trying to be a grown-up’ that we tend to forget what really matters to us; we lose sight of the small-wonders in the world and become out of touch with those things that ultimately make us happy.

In her article, Crossley-Holland poses a series of 20 questions, ranging from your ability to  relax and enjoy yourself to your relationships with your siblings, and from how you feel when you are alone to how you react in the company of children. For each question the reader is asked to respond ‘lots of the time’, ‘sometimes’ or ‘hardly ever’.

In considering each question (I’ve listed them in full below for those keen to quiz themselves) it really got me thinking about the values we hold close as children that get lost with adulthood and how to re-embrace these child-like tendencies – the joy of learning, awe and wonder at the little things in the world, taking time out to play and unwind.

The Headspace podcast reiterated these points. Here, the host Georgie Okell asked children and adults the same questions about what they had learned that day, whether they had felt bored at any point, what they liked doing with their friends, what they were afraid of, what they wanted to be when they were older and what the word ‘stress’ meant to them. Listening to their answers side-by-side it was easy to see how our values and expectations change into adulthood, but also how many of us have that inner-child vying for attention and just wanting to get out and express itself.

I loved listening to the kids as they proudly told Okell what they had learned that day about dinosaurs and reptiles. On the flip-side it was quite saddening to hear some of the adults respond that they hadn’t learned anything new. One respondent made the quite telling point: ‘As a kid that’s your entire goal just to learn and explore the world whereas as an adult it’s like you are meant to know everything and it’s almost looked down upon if you have to learn things.’

To the question, ‘do you ever get bored in work or in school?’ again the kids responded with over excitement and enthusiasm, even at things as basic as being able to ‘cut and draw on paper’, while one of the adults responded ‘yeah, of course I get bored, everyone gets bored’. Answers to questions about fears switched from spiders and monsters from the kids to inadequacy, letting people down and missed opportunities from the adults, while the content of dreams moved from adventures to anxieties.

My favourite response was when the kids were asked if they knew what it meant when people say that they are ‘stressed’. Not only was it a comfort to hear that many of them didn’t really know what it meant but one boy in particular made me smile with his answer: ‘I don’t really know about that [stress], but I know about Godzilla…and turtles’. (The same boy also wanted to be Godzilla when he grew up).

The adult responses weren’t all negative however. With the questions about what you like to do for fun, what do you like to do with your friends and what do your friends mean to you, the answers were more closely aligned between children and adults. Getting outside, playing games, sports, climbing trees, chatting, being silly and letting go with friends continued into adulthood, as did the fact that the best thing about your friends is that they stick with you no matter what.

play 2All of this made me think about my own approach to life. Despite years as an awkward and anxiety-filled teen, for one reason or another as an adult I find myself less uptight and more renowned amongst my friends for my nonsensical silliness than ever before. I credit this to a number of factors: my friends and family are all playful people who embrace life to the full and actively encourage pastimes from outdoor adventures, climbing and treasure hunts, to trampolining, going to water parks and buying inflatable swans (you know who you are).

I work in a job I love and one which allows me to learn something new almost everyday and fosters collaboration and growth amongst colleagues. Living in London there is never a shortage of things to discover or fun activities to engage in, from boating on the Serpentine to roof-top films and from dinosaur crazy golf to the outdoor swimming ponds and numerous lidos, everyday can be spent exploring, learning and in a sense of wonder.

play 3Finally, being more at peace with myself and not getting hung-up on all of those little things that tend to preoccupy you in the years when you are growing into yourself and your skin means that I’m more inclined to try out something where I might end up looking a little ridiculous.

As Crossley-Holland notes, allowing your adult self and inner child to walk hand-in-hand allows you to carry ‘adult responsibility without allowing it to bring you down’. You can use your inner child’s creativity and light-heartedness to get a fresh perspective and cultivate your awe for things around you.

Allowing yourself to embrace and enjoy the present moment is so important and kids are really good at doing just that without even trying. We can learn this from them and try to embrace their readiness to engage in and enjoy the world and their relationships with other people in it.

play 4The takeaway, this bank holiday weekend do something that you really enjoy, let go, be a bit silly and embrace your inner-child!

***

How in touch with your inner-child are you?

1. I have a playful side and know how to enjoy myself
2. My childhood memories are strong and I can remember how I felt when I was you young
3. I have a vivid imagination and enjoy creative pursuits
4. From time to time I look at old photographs of myself
5. I have a healthy relationship with my siblings
6. The people who knew me as a child say I haven’t changed much
7. I am comfortable in my own skin
8. In all of my friendships and intimate relationships I look for equal partnerships
9. I have found peace with my upbringing
10. Life’s small pleasures delight me and I am often in awe of the world
play 511. I am aware of my childhood wounds
12. My demeanour reflects who I really am inside
13. I have built a life that supports me
14. Being alone doesn’t worry me
15. I live in the present and have a curiosity for life
16. Sometimes I can be silly and I value laughter
17. Each day I take time out to unwind and switch off
18. I enjoy the company of children and I feel I can learn something from them
19. When I’m throwing my toys out the pram I can admit it
20. I feel a sense of freedom

Why it’s ok to have a girl-crush (or two)

Alex Puccio - one of my massive climbing-celebrity girl crushes!
Alex Puccio – one of my massive climbing-celebrity girl crushes!

While I was at the climbing wall this week I spotted a girl with the most amazing abs. They were magazine-quality abs, the kind you only see in Women’s Health or on Kayla Itsines’s Instagram account, but here they were, in real life, without the help of any filters or Photoshop. And her arms, well, they were something else, and I couldn’t help but stare as they tensed and flexed as she floated up the wall. Her hair was bundled on the top of her head in a tousled, but utterly perfect kind of a way and she was pretty without even a scrap of make-up. Wearing some chalky combats and a Nike sports bra with a tan and a smattering of freckles she looked amazing and I had to admit, I had a total girl crush.

What is more is I have to confess that this is neither my first, nor my only, girl crush.

There is of course the zen-crush I have on my yoga instructor who, as I think I’ve mentioned before, has the most incredibly sculpted shoulders and arms I’ve ever seen, and who makes hippy yoga chic look, well, chic. And then there is the intellectual-crush on my book club friend, who is the only person I know who can speak with the same enthusiasm and passion (and at the same speed!) as me about obscure eighteenth century literature and inter-war American fiction and who can inspire and challenge me and make me feel as though my mind is awash with new ideas.

Adriene Mishler - my YouTube yoga crush!
Adriene Mishler – my YouTube yoga crush!

There are the crushes on my colleagues: one who can dress in clothes that she’s just picked up in a charity shop and make them look like she just sauntered off the catwalk; and another who seems to defy time as she bakes, writes, makes her own clothes, throws glamorous dinner parties and still manages to look bright-eyed and dewy-skinned the next morning, ready to start over again.

There are the crushes on my uni friends, one who seems to get every job she applies for and can tell you about every exhibition in London (all of which she’s seen), as she serves up gin cocktails and has me in stitches over some funny anecdote or other in her chichi city apartment.  Another who seems to be forever jet-setting for work, who is perfectly groomed at all times with beautifully manicured nails and cute little blonde curls and who always knows what to do in a crisis. And a third who is the spitting image of Kate Middleton, with a wardrobe to match, who does Pilates, bakes like Ella, and is possibly the kindest person I know.

And, I couldn’t omit my yoga buddy, who is so perfect that when she got married last week, a group of us agreed that not only did we want to be her, we actually wanted to be her husband(!)

And that’s before I even start on my running and climbing partner, school pals, or indeed the masses of celebrity crushes from Adriene (of Yoga with  Adriene fame) to Natalie Portman (you know she is a Harvard grad and a vegetarian right?!) – but I think you get the gist.

Who doesn't have a crush on Jess Ennis, right?
Who doesn’t have a crush on Jess Ennis, right?

So, why I am admitting to you the slightly awkward fact that I basically fancy 90% of the women I encounter?

The truth is, that some times we all feel a bit down on ourselves. We feel self-doubt, or anxiety, sadness, or frustration and worry that we aren’t as clever, or as pretty, as athletic, or as well-dressed as the people around us. But the fact is, we are all our own biggest critics and while you may be obsessing over something stupid you said in a meeting, the outfit you wished you had changed before you left home, or the size of your squidgy bits, someone else is fixating on something totally different, like how witty you are, or how much they wish they could bake, or run, or get into the most awkward yoga poses like you do.

The thing is, a girl crush is healthy because it is a chance to see the absolute best in someone else, and maybe to recognise some of that goodness in yourself. It’s not about jealously, or about comparing, it’s about thinking about all of the cool, quirky, pretty, fun and elegant things you see in the people around you and realising that there isn’t just a one size fits all model for what makes people attractive.

I’ll finish with my favourite girl crush story: at uni I had this cream bobble hat that I’d wear to lectures in winter, mainly because as soon as there was a hint of moisture in the air my hair would treble in size. One night in the union I was chatting to a friend from my course when one of her friends come over to join us. She was super pretty, tall and dressed in some cute skinny jeans and a little sweater and I immediately felt scruffy and short and awkward. When my friend introduced us the girl looked at me for a second and then looked sheepish and taken aback before smiling and saying, ‘oh my god you’re the girl in the cream bobble hat, I’ve had a total girl-crush on you!’ It made my night and suddenly I didn’t feel so small and frumpy any more!

Lazy weekends in London

While I love weekends away, there are times when all you need is a lazy weekend in your own home and this past weekend I indulged accordingly.

Yogarise, Peckham
Yogarise, Peckham

After a long, hectic week at work, the weekend started on Friday evening with a rocket yoga class at Yogarise in the Bussey Building, Peckham.

Although I do yoga most mornings, it’s been a few weeks since I went to a taught class and it was really useful to check in with a teacher to make sure that I’m practising correctly and working with my breath, as well as to feed off the energy of practising as part of a bigger group.

The class runs for just over 90 minutes and it is always the perfect way to unwind and re-energise ready for the weekend. I was pleased to find that despite feeling totally exhausted when I arrived, I felt strong throughout the class and could feel my months of practice starting to pay off.

On Saturday I got up reasonably early and did another quick yoga session before heading to Park Run. My last Park Run a couple of weeks ago, wasn’t great. I was way off my target splits and felt dreadful, so much so that I had a bit of a tantrum and pulled up after just 4km in protest against myself! So this week I was determined to just go into it relaxed and enjoy it.

Park run Highbury
Sunny Park Run

This strategy seemed to work and I had a good run – not super fast, but a reasonable pace not far off my PB and, more importantly, I had fun.

As I was focusing more on my surroundings and less on the run I became very aware of the complete spectrum of abilities at a Park Run; from the speedy club runners at the front of the pack, to those who are just starting out on their running careers. There was an older man, happy to walk the route, albeit at a fair clip and a number of people alternating between a run and a walk building up from ‘couch to 5k’. There were the guys with legs so strong they looked as though they had been chiselled from stone, lapping everyone with the greatest ease and elegance and a woman, who I saw cross the finish line where her husband and daughter were waiting with a stopwatch, cheering as they let her know she had beaten her previous PB.

Looking at the array of people turning out at 9am on a Saturday morning really made me smile – a whole bunch of us crazy people who just love to run.

We met R’s sister for brunch after the run at a lovely cafe in Kings Cross. It was so nice to get together, even if only briefly, and she told us how her daughters have started climbing. They are only six but incredibly precocious and excel at anything they put their minds to, academic or sporting, and it’s really great to hear that they have discovered climbing.

Stroll in Clissold Park
Stroll in Clissold Park

Inspired by the girls, and after a short stroll to help my hearty brunch go down, I headed to The Castle climbing wall for a couple of hours of bouldering.

It was a reasonable session – I felt more fatigued than I had done during my climb on the previous Wednesday, but focused on getting some miles back in my arms and enjoying the climbs. I can really tell that I’ve been doing plenty of yoga in the time since I was last climbing properly, as I feel really flexible and more aware of my body and positioning than ever before, finding it easier to twist into moves.

On Saturday evening we went to The Sampler in Islington; a wine shop where you can also take some time to taste an array of delicious wines and a place we had been intending to visit for a while. We enjoyed a couple of hours there (and a couple of glasses of wine!) before going on for Turkish food at Gallipoli. A perfectly decadent Saturday evening.

On Sunday I kept my pledge of re-starting my long Sunday runs and, despite the torrential rain, ran just short of 16km along the canal and around Victoria Park. I took my time but felt strong throughout. It was the first run over 10km that I’ve done in a while and it was reassuring to know I still had it in my legs.

Running in the rain also gave me that overwhelming sense of satisfaction when I got back home and it made the cups of tea and muesli on my return all the more delicious.

muriel'sI spent the afternoon with friends, taking a trip to the Piccadilly Whole Foods to restock on protein followed by a delicious vegan supper in Muriel’s Kitchen in Soho, a restaurant chain that I’d also had my eye on for a while. We gossiped over coffees, juices and scrumptious salads, which was bliss. Muriel’s offers meat, vegetarian and vegan dishes – with vegan options clearly marked up on the menu – and it is definitely another place to add to my vegan-friendly London restaurant list.

All in all the most lovely of weekends, bring on next Friday!

On running and writing

imageRegular visitors to the site may have noticed that I’ve been doing a little blog housekeeping of late.

I’ve refreshed the layout and organised my posts to make it easier to view them thematically, whether you are interested in Running, Yoga, SwimmingClimbing, Recipes and Nutrition, Marathon Training, Mind and Body, or Guest Posts. This menu is available on the sidebar of the desktop site or at the bottom of posts on mobile.

I’m always looking for ways to improve the content and accessibility of the site, so comments are very welcome.

ClimbingIt’s so nice (and it still surprises me) to hear when people have read posts, and it’s also useful to hear what kind of posts are most interesting or helpful to you, (as well as those that aren’t!)

I’m also on the lookout for guest posts, so if you have taken up a new sport, discovered a great recipe, learned how to fit in exercise with children or while pregnant, have overcome an injury, or have achieved a new goal that you want to share, just let me know.

During this refresh process I’ve been going back through old posts and it’s like reading back over an old diary. My first post was back in February 2014 and I wonder how many miles I’ve run since then.

SwimmingWriting has not only helped to keep a record of the training I’ve done, the new sports that I’ve tried, and the research and books that I’ve read on health, fitness and nutrition, but it has also encouraged me to read and learn more than I would perhaps have done otherwise.

Whether it is the benefits of training your brain to allow you to push yourself further on a run, the impact of sex on your workout, or the health fallacies perpetuated by bad data, I’ve discovered so much while writing this blog.

Through the experience of training for a variety of events I’ve learned about exercising with injury, supplementing with protein and resisting temptation.

I’ve run in towns and cities including New York, Chicago, Paris, Frankfurt, Stratford and Edinburgh; I’ve climbed in Font talked climbing in Slovenia.

IMG_0213I’ve had good days and really bad ones and I’ve learned how to stay motivated from the most inspiring of runners including Murakami and Jurek.

So I wanted to re-surface a selection of some of my old posts, which I’d almost forgotten writing and which I hope you have a minute or so to enjoy here.

Happy reading!

Waking up forgotten muscles

With exercise, as with all routines, it’s easy to get into a rut. You find yourself going through the motions but not really pushing yourself; lacing up your trainers or rolling out your yoga mat, but not fully engaging in the activity you are doing.

When this happens, it’s easy to plateau, or worse, to feel your fitness levels falling. The pleasure from your workout diminishes and your interest may start to wane.

When you start to sense this happening, as I have done recently, it’s worth doing something to shake up your routine – something to push yourself out of your comfort zone and to give you renewed momentum.

This week I took a three pronged approach to defeating my exercise complacency:

1. Turning my yoga practice on its head

Having recently finally mastered my crow pose, I decided that it was time to increase my repertoire of inverted-balance postures with a headstand.

For this, I turned to my friend Sophie for help. She talked me through building up from a downward dog, putting my head on the ground, moving my hands within my peripheral vision and walking my feet up towards my hands until I could feel the ‘tip’ of my hips into the air.

Yoga in St James's Park
Yoga in St James’s Park

I practised in front of the wall at first and then, when I gained my confidence, in the centre of the room. I had one toppling incident, when I got slightly over confident with my balancing skills, but yesterday I proved to myself that I could hold the pose without assistance when I practised in St James’s Park during my lunch break.

It’s amazing how much core strength it takes to hold a headstand (something I certainly don’t remember from doing them in my playground days!), but it was also amazing how proud I felt when I finally mastered it.

Adriene does a free ‘Foundations of Yoga‘ series on YouTube, which breaks down new poses so you can increase the poses in your practice and I’d recommend checking it out.

2. Regaining my confidence on the wall

On Saturday I organised a trip to the climbing wall with my friend Mark. It’s been an absolute age since I last went climbing and finally having a bit of spare time over the weekend I decided to bite the bullet and get back onto the wall.

We went to a climbing gym that I don’t normally go to, which was good as all of the routes were new to me and I had no preconceptions about what I should be able to climb (and thus no immediate gauge of how much weaker I’ve become).

chalky hands
Chalky hands

It was a really fun, low pressure session and it reminded me how much I love to climb and how much I’d missed that familiar chalky smell!

My muscles were certainly aware it had been an age since my last visit as my lats and shoulders were agony on Sunday and Monday.

Still, this wasn’t enough to put me off and I returned again on Wednesday evening to finish a couple of the problems that had foxed me on Saturday. I left satisfied and with that crazy, shaking fatigue that I’ve only ever experienced from climbing, where I know I’ve pushed myself to my limit.

3. Racing on a whim

On Sunday it was my running club’s Summer League 10k race in Regents Park. I had been debating whether or not to race, but after a little talking round by R, I decided to take part; and I’m so glad I did!

Picnic after Summer League 10k, Regents Park
Picnic after Summer League 10k, Regents Park

It was my first 10k race and I wasn’t sure how to pace myself. Luckily one of my running partners from Tuesday training was there too and we stuck together for the duration. We went out a bit too fast and I could really feel my legs tiring towards the end. However, he helped me through the last two kilometres and made sure I finished the race smiling.

Our chance to rest at the end of the race was short lived as we were then talked into entering a 400m relay. I’m certainly no sprinter, but it was really fun tearing around the track. I haven’t raced in a relay like that since my school days and I’d forgotten how liberating it feels to sprint and how fun it is to be part of a team.

So all in all a really good few days and I’ve certainly shaken off my exercise complacency – arms and abs yoga anyone?

Your happiness makes me happy

This Saturday, while reading an article by Oliver Burkeman in the ‘Guardian Weekend’, I encountered the principle of ‘mudita’. 

This concept is one of the four virtues of Buddhism and describes a form of happiness derived from someone else’s successes or victories, untainted by any self interest or envy. 

Be it joy at a colleague’s promotion without a hint of jealously, or happiness for a friend’s latest sporting triumph devoid of the desire to surpass it, ‘mudita’ is the purest and most altruistic form of happiness, and one which, in my mind, certainly seems worth trying to cultivate. 

To develop ‘mudita’ in its truest form it’s important to note that the process isn’t to be perceived as a chore or duty in order to qualify as a ‘good person’. Rather, it is a state of mind to be reached which makes the cultivator much happier than he or she would otherwise have been. 

As the Dalai Lama puts it: the capacity to take pleasure in the triumphs of many others gives you much better odds of being happy than in merely finding happiness in the successes of oneself. 

This model of altruistic happiness is grounded in the fact that happiness isn’t a zero-sum game. As Burkeman states, ‘there isn’t a fixed amount of happiness; you getting some doesn’t mean less for me.’

While a life of pure ‘mudita’ might be an unattainable ideal, an awareness of the concept might help to nudge us in the right direction.

So next time your neighbour’s warrior three is more balanced than yours, or your running teammate crosses the finish line ahead of you, or your climbing partner completes a route before you’ve even mastered the second move, just remember to be happy for them, (and when you beat them next time they might just be happy for you!). 

Namaste.