Taking the ‘work’ out of ‘workout’

On those occasions when someone remarks on how ‘good’ or ‘disciplined’ I am to exercise on a regular basis I always feel like a little bit of a fraud. It’s not like I have to drag myself to the gym, or force myself to lace up my trainers, shunning a favoured spot on the sofa or an evening in the pub; the truth is, I actually really enjoy exercise and want to workout.

While for many people exercise may seem like a drag, or something that needs to be ticked off a weekly to do list, for me it is an escape and a way to pacify my restless legs and even more restless mind. I find relaxation in my runs, ‘me time’ in my yoga practice and serenity in the swimming pool. I love attending spinning classes with my friends, or spending time alone in the gym, headphones in, focusing on form and technique, leaving all of my stresses and worries outside. That’s not to say that I never miss a workout, or that I never have those days when I’d rather lay in the bath than lift weights, but in recent years, finding the sports and workout times that work for me has made keeping fit a whole lot easier.

What I’ve learned, through trial and error, is that working out doesn’t have to be hard work. If you can find the types of exercise you enjoy, done at the right time of day and driven by the right motivating factors, you may find that a 6am slog can be transformed into an 8pm indulgence.

So how can this magical transformation occur? I’ve outlined a few things here that have worked for me.

Find a sport that you enjoy

This may sound obvious, but so often I hear of people forcing themselves to pursue an activity that they dislike simply because they feel they ought to do it. Instead of pushing yourself in a direction that you don’t want to go, think about what it is you enjoy doing and how you like to do it. If you know you prefer social activities to solitary sports then look for team games rather than solo pursuits, or join a running/swimming/cycling club instead of going it alone. Consider whether you need a coach or trainer to motivate you and therefore whether PT sessions or classes would work well for you, or, if you prefer to have the freedom to undertake workouts at your own pace, maybe look to more ‘open’ activities instead of things like boot camps and Cross Fit. Ask yourself if you would rather spend more time outside and therefore whether running, kayaking or paddle boarding would be fun for you, or if you favour being inside, look at activities within gyms or studio spaces, such as yoga, zumba, box fit or spinning.

And remember, the answers to these questions don’t always have to be the same.

I love doing yoga on my own in the morning, but equally enjoy a group dance class with someone telling me what to do. I love running and swimming outside, but also like  lifting weights in the gym. The secret is when you don’t enjoy something, figuring out specifically what it is about that thing that you don’t like. For example, running for me is an escape and a chance for some internal processing, so I have no interest in having a coach dictate my pace or forcing me to run track. I know that I dislike getting on the bike in the gym as I find it really hard to motivate myself, but I love going to spinning classes and I know I will put in a really good session with the help of an instructor shouting directions from the front of the room.

Of course, all of this comes with the caveat that for most activities it can take a little time for enjoyment to grow while you build up your fitness, confidence and competence, but if after a couple of months of persevering you still don’t feel like the regime you are following is working for you, then don’t feel like you have to stick it out, simply change it up.

Time it right

It’s not just what you are doing that can impact on your enjoyment of different types of exercise, but also when you are doing it. It so often seems that when people take on a new fitness regime they automatically opt for the 6am workout window, which to me seems like they are making it unnecessarily hard work for themselves. While I appreciate that for some people this is the only option available, for many others it is just one of the multifarious slots in the day when we can sneak in some exercise.

I’ve learned that while I love running I have no interest in going before work in the mornings. I find that I am sluggish and uncomfortable running at this time, my stomach is never happy and my limbs are heavy. Come lunchtime, however, I’ve got my trainers on and I’m ready to bound out of the door like a gazelle! I’ve discovered that my favourite way of starting the day is with a yoga session, preparing my mind and body for the day ahead, but it is very rare that I will take to my mat after this 6:30-7:30am window. Swimming is a lot more flexible for me, I love an early morning swim, a sneaky lunchtime dip, or a post work session, but that said, I find getting into the pool a whole lot easier in the summer when it’s warm outside, than stripping down and diving in when there is snow on the ground! The weather impacts on my running motivation too, and my husband and I joke that we are the opposite of ‘fair weather runners’ as we much prefer running in the cold than in the heat and do our best training and races between late September and early April.

Where you are in your life can also impact on the types of exercise that feel right for you. While pregnant, for example, swimming, walking, Pilates and yoga have definitely taken priority, and I’ve put running on the back burner for now. Injury and illness may also dictate what you feel you can do and you may find lower impact exercises or strengthening workouts take over from HIIT or intense cardio sessions.

Remember, you can be a seasonal and time specific athlete and can workout on rotation if that works best for you.

There’s no ‘I’ in team

While there are times when working out alone seems like the best option, for me, there is nothing like accountability to others for getting me out of the door for a training session. Whether it is going on a run with a pal, agreeing with colleagues that we will head to the gym together after work, or playing a team sport, knowing that others are relying on me to be there is often all the motivation I need. Even on the days when I would rather train alone, it can help to agree to meet a friend at the pool or gym, knowing that we will do our own sessions once there, but then may go for a coffee together afterwards.

The secret with group training is not to let being with others give you an excuse not to train as hard as you might otherwise do. Remember that standing chatting at the water fountain in the gym or gossiping at the end of the pool isn’t going to help you hit your fitness goals!

I hope that this is all helpful and that it motivates you to try a new sport or at least to try shifting the timings of your exercise to see if it improves how you feel about working out. If you have any additional motivation tips I’d love to hear them.

Until my next, stay fit!

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Podcast episodes to enjoy while you are…

I’m sure I’m not alone when I say that the discovery of the Serial Podcast a couple of years back changed my listening habits for good. I was training for the Paris marathon at the time and found myself chain listening to episode after episode on my long runs. From that point on, podcasts rapidly replaced music during runs and gym sessions, while my at home listening switched from exclusively Radio 4 to an array of podcasts covering everything from sports to true crime and from love to politics.

Three years later, podcasts have become an integral part of my life. Whether I listen for extra motivation while running, relaxation while in the bath, entertainment while cleaning or inspiration while cooking, I’m rarely without the dulcet tones of one of my favourite podcast hosts.

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve discovered a few new podcasts and like any evangelical listener I wanted to pass these recommendations on. Of course, if you have been living under a rock for the past few years and haven’t yet heard the first series of Serial, this is the gateway drug I would recommend to start you on your podcasting journey. From there you could do worse than to delve into the archives of This American Life, (one of my favourite episodes will always be ‘Our Friend David‘), or continue down the Serial path with S Town (from the makers of Serial and This American Life).

But if you have already enjoyed these series and are looking for something new, or else, you would like something a little different in tone, the below may be for you.

Podcasts for while you are…walking

Happy Place Podcast with Fearne Cottone: Kirsty Young
Hosted by Fearne Cotton, Happy Place explores the experiences and shares the advice of guests on how to find joy every day.
I only discovered this podcast a couple of days ago but have already walked over 50,000 steps, eschewing buses and tubes, so that I could keep listening! I’ve just finished the episode with Gok Wan, which I loved, but I think if I was to recommend a single episode it would have to be the Kirsty Young interview. If you love Desert Island Discs you will really love this episode: thought provoking, engaging and calming, what more could you want from a podcast? I’m really excited to mine the Happy Place back-catalogue of episodes to find some more gems.
The Rich Roll Podcast – Finding joy in simplicity with the Happy Pear

Regular readers will know that I’m a big Rich Roll fan. I find his interviews inspiring, motivating and great for getting me through long runs (not least because he takes the ‘long form’ format to the extreme with interviews running, in some cases, over 2 hours!). While sometimes this sort of time investment can seem a bit of a daunting prospect, and I have found myself losing momentum with some of the seriously long episodes, this relatively snappy episode with The Happy Pear, (Dave and Steve, the Irish, plant-based, sporty twins behind The Happy Pear food product, cafe and book brand) really made my day.

I love these guys so much; they are two of the most charismatic and emphatic advocates for healthy living that I’ve ever encountered. Their philosophy: ‘if you’re happy with really simple things, it’s a lot easier to find joy every day.’

I can guarantee this episode will make you smile and the enthusiasm from Dave and Steve for healthy living, their dedication to family and their attitude towards keeping active will certainly rub off.

Podcasts for while you are…in the bath

Love Stories with Dolly Alderton: Emma Freud

I discovered the wonderful author and journalist Dolly Alderton through the podcast series The High Low (see below), and when I found out that she had released this solo podcast I immediately jumped on the bandwagon.

In this series, Dolly talks to guests about their most defining relationships: the passion, heartbreak, longing, familiarity and fondness that have formed who they are.

My favourite episode has to be this interview with broadcaster, writer and script editor Emma Freud, the woman behind the man that is Richard Curtis. If anyone is well-placed to talk about love in a sincere yet lighthearted way, it is the partner one of the biggest names in romantic comedy.

The High Low with Dolly Alderton and Pandora Sykes: The Dangers of Self-Deprecation; & A Deep-Dive Into ‘Nanette’

The High Low came to me as a recommendation from one of my great friends, Helen, and after a car journey of episodes together I immediately got home and downloaded the back list. I’ve subsequently got a whole host of other friends hooked and post-episode debriefs always result in some really interesting conversations.

It pitches itself as a ‘news and pop-culture podcast’, which translate as a really nice mix of high- and low-brow culture, from issues of race, gender and politics to reality TV, romance and celebrity. Whenever I pass this recommendation on I always feel like I have to caveat it with a note that the hosts, while amazing, are incredibly posh (perhaps not something I need to point out given that one of them is called Pandora). While they are hyper-aware of this and don’t shy away from it, it is something that strikes you the moment you start listening and could put some people off without giving it a chance.

There are lots of episodes that I could recommend, but this recent one about ‘Nanette’, a stand-up show by Australian comic, Hannah Gadsby, provides a lot of food for thought. From comedy to the dangers of self-deprecation, I hope this episode gets you thinking and as hooked on The High Low as I am.

Podcasts for while you are…cleaning

Ear Hustle – Left Behind 

I discovered Ear Hustle via the Radio 4 Extra Podcast Radio Hour, when they played a short clip from one of the episodes. I was immediately intrigued and after listening to the previewed episode in full, quickly caught up on the entire first series. The podcast presents stories of life inside San Quentin State Prison, shared and produced by those living it. The hosts, Nigel Poor and Earlonne Woods, are a visual artist employed by the prison and an inmate respectively. The stories they explore are honest, funny, difficult and thought provoking and offer a new and nuanced view of people living within the American prison system.

The episode I would recommend you start with is called ‘Left Behind‘ and is about prisoner Curtis Roberts, who was sentenced to 50 years to life for stealing under the three strikes law for committing three non-violent robberies. The story explores how he ended up becoming a thief and how has has struggled to maintain a sense of hope during his years in prison. It is really moving and will certainly start to make you think differently about the people incarcerated in the US as well as the American judicial system.

30 for 30, Bikram: Arrival 

Recommended to me by friend and fellow podcast addict, Anna, this series of 30 for 30 explores the life of yogi Bikram Choudhury, from his rise to fame and fortune to stories of scandal and sexual assault.

If you have heard of Bikram yoga but know nothing about the man behind the moves, then this podcast is definitely for you. I knew nothing of how Bikram took Beverly Hills by storm, using his Hollywood connections and rags-to-riches origin story to build a devoted following and lay the foundation for a yoga empire. Nor did I know about the seedy underworld of this empire and the mental and physical abuse suffered by many of his followers at his own hands.

For this series you will need to start at the beginning with the first episode, ‘Arrival’, but you will soon find yourself at the end!

Podcasts for while you are…working out

Running for Real with Tina Muir: Colin McCourt

I migrated over to the Running for Real podcast with Tina Muir after she left another podcast favourite of mine, Run to the Top. As a presenter, I find her relatable and easy to listen to and she always has interesting guest on the show. I know I’ve mentioned this episode with Colin McCourt on the blog previously, but it is so good it bears repeating. McCourt was a middle distance runner who competed at the Commonwealth Games in 2010 and was on track to race in the Olympics in 2012. However, when at the age of 27 he didn’t make the 2012 GB team he stepped away from running for what he thought would be for good.

During the years that ensued he struggled with his mental state and with his weight until one day, when he saw an old photograph of himself running, he decided to seriously rethink how he was living his life. By reintroducing running and structured training, as well a by improving his diet, he regained control of his life.

If you need a little motivation to get you out of the door for a run or to the gym, or if you need something to spur you on while you are running, this is the podcast for you.

Fit and Fearless: How to be Healthy when Hectic with Alice Liveing 

I discovered Fit and Fearless via my friend and fellow fitness fanatic, Sophie. She had spotted an episode on pre- and post-natal training and sent me a link and I started listening from there. The episodes are short and easy to digest. They are good for shorter runs or gym sessions rather than longer slogs.

As a starter, this episode with fitness guru Alice Liveing is great for tips on how to be healthy when you’re snowed under, but as I think I’ve mentioned this before, I will also recommend this more recent episode with dancer and singer Fleur East.

Podcasts for while you are…cooking

Table manners with Jessie Ware: Yotam Ottolenghi 

In this podcast, singer-songwriter Jessie Ware and her mum, Lennie, host a series of guest from the worlds of music, culture and politics, for dinner. Discussions centre on food and family with a soupçon of oversharing. I first head about this podcast a few months back when it was mentioned on High Low by Dolly Alderton, but I only got round to listening this week.

I really loved this episode with one of my favourite chefs, Yotam Ottolenghi. In it they discuss Yotam’s children, husband and their surrogacy process, as well as his new book in which he will be (finally!) simplifying some of his dishes. Perfect listening while you are cooking up a storm in the kitchen.

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!

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.

Tri, tri and tri again: The reality behind triathlon training, kit and racing

With my love of running and swimming it’s amazing how often people have asked if I’d be tempted to do a triathlon. The honest answer is yes, but (and there is always a but). The crux of the matter is that I’m not the most confident cyclist, and although I’m trying to build up some cycling strength through spinning, arguably pregnancy isn’t the ideal time to take on a new discipline and seriously entertain ideas of triathlon glory.

Yet while I regularly put my triathlon aspirations to bed, they are periodically reawakened, most often by the Strava stats and pictures posted on Instagram by my friend, and amazing athlete, Nicola Kaye.

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Whether it’s during her training weeks in Lanzarote, on tours across Europe and South America, or even just her workouts in London, seeing and hearing about Nicola’s training and race schedule really makes me want to brave my first race. However, rather than taking all of the pictures at face value (which make triathlon training look like a very sunny and jolly swim, bike, run in the park), I decided to dig a little deeper into the reality of triathlon training to find out how Nicola entered the world of triathlon and to discover the kind of dedication it really requires.

When did you start competing in triathlon events and what motivated you to start?

I’d always been quite a keen runner before moving to London in 2006, and when I made the move to the big smoke I took an instant dislike to tube travel. A flatmate at the time suggested I look at the ‘bike to work’ scheme, whereby some companies offer employees the opportunity to buy a bike tax free through the company. I was delighted to see that it was something my employer offered and pretty soon I was covering my daily commute by bike.

London can be pretty intimidating to a new cyclist but I soon came to love my daily bike commute – wind rain or shine! My morning commute is still a favourite part of my day over 10 years later.

It wasn’t until 2010 that a colleague at work posed the idea of a few of us entering the London Triathlon. As a runner, I’d had a pretty frustrating few years with a number of injuries (including both knee and foot surgery) so I was a little apprehensive about entering a race. My first response was ‘but I can’t swim!’ and then when I thought about it a little more rationally, I realised that technically, I could swim, just not front crawl, which is the typically chosen swim stroke of triathlon, being the quickest and most energy efficient. Furthermore, when other responses such as ‘I’ve not been on a bike since I was 10’ followed, I realised that I would be in good (or rather, similarly inexperienced) company for my first triathlon. It was a great bonding exercise with my colleagues, as we trained for our first triathlon together and we all managed to complete it, but it was a very tough first outing!

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So you were you a runner before you started competing in triathlon? 

I’ve always loved running and having my knee and foot surgery a few years ago taught me to never take it for granted. I’m always grateful to be able to get out and run but these days I tend to limit it to about three times a week since I’m still quite susceptible to injury. I love the freedom running allows you and I love that wherever you are in the world, you can just lace up your trainers and get out there.

What’s your favourite of the three disciplines, or does this vary? 

Cycling is my strongest discipline by far, and I love the sport. It’s very sociable and a great way to be able to see places, so I often do a lot of cycling while I’m travelling. I was fortunate to be able to take a year out of work and I took the opportunity to cycle in South America, Australia and New Zealand. Cycling over the Andes from Bogota to Cartagena is probably one of the toughest things I’ve done to date but the experience was incredible and everyone we met, so warm and welcoming.

Swimming continues to be my nemesis, but on a good day, I love it. Unless you were a competitive swimmer at an early age, it’s quite tough learning and indeed become good at swimming as an adult. You need to put in a lot of work for very little reward! I’m determined to get better at it though so I keep chipping away.

What does a typical week of training look like a) in the lead up to a race b) between races?

A standard week is normally 3, 3 and 3 i.e. 3 sessions of each sport, although I’m trying to improve my swimming at the moment so sometimes there’s 4 or even 5 of those sessions in a week. The weekend is reserved for the longer sessions so I’ll normally do a long bike on one of the days and a long run on the other. Around each of these core sessions, I’ll then try to fit in a couple of mobility and strength sessions and stretching/foam rolling is key! The more the better really.

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I have a coach who helps to write my programme and this has really helped to structure my training. The week before a race, sessions tend to be shorter and sharper with longer recoveries to ensure you are in the best possible shape on race day. After a race, it’s very much about listening to your body. Every race affects you differently but you need to make sure you don’t do any high intensity work too soon or you risk injury.

And what does your typical diet look like? 

I eat a lot! My colleagues at work think I eat constantly, but then I think they sometimes forget that when I show up at work in the morning, I’ve usually swum for nearly an hour and cycled 30 mins to get there, while they’ve largely rolled out of bed and onto the train.

I’m lucky in that I love good, healthy nutritious food, so there’s definitely plenty of veg, salad and lean meat and fish in my diet. To be clear though, I love cake too and that very much features every week as well!

I try to keep my diet pretty varied, but breakfast is almost always porridge. Otherwise, it’s about maintaining a good balance of fat, carbs and protein and making sure you eat at the right times around training. Easier sessions can be done fasted but you need to make sure you’re well-fuelled for any of the high-intensity work, or you render the session ineffective.

How do you manage to fit in training around work and socialising?

I’d love to tell you that I’m super organised and that I manage it perfectly. In all honesty though, it’s a struggle. It’s become a bit easier since I changed jobs last year and I now have a much better work / life balance. Prior to that, my sleep almost always suffered. The problem is, the more you train, the more sleep you need, so making sure you factor that in is incredibly important. I’ve come to realise that sometimes, a bit more time in bed will benefit me more than getting to the pool for 6.30am.

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I try to fit in my training before work and at lunchtime wherever possible, but inevitably, it doesn’t always work out. Ultimately, I’ve learnt to be flexible and accept that on some weeks, I won’t get all of my planned training sessions done. It’s not the end of the world. In the lead up to a race however, I will often prioritise training over socialising. It means missing out on stuff, but it’s a choice I make and given the time and effort that goes into my training, I want to make sure that I do myself justice in each race.

Are you training for anything at the moment?

Absolutely. It’s how I stay motivated. I’d always get out for the odd run or bike ride if I didn’t have races in the calendar but my training wouldn’t be so structured as it is currently. My 3 big races this year are 3 half-ironmans in April, August and September respectively. September’s the big race  as it’s the 70.3 World Championships in South Africa, which is a race I qualified for in Estonia last summer. I also mix the bigger races with a number of smaller events too, to take the pressure off a bit, and to ensure I retain the fun element. I’ve a few local running events planned and a couple of bike sportive both in the UK and in Europe.

Have you ever had any equipment disasters during a race?

Oh yes, several! You have to take it on the chin and make sure you learn from the mistakes where you can. It’s also why it’s good to put a few races in the diary so that if one doesn’t go to plan, you’ll have other opportunities to make up for it.

I’ve had one DNF (did not finish) due to a double puncture (I tend to carry one spare inner tube but certainly no more than that). I also forgot to put on my ankle chip timer at one race and missed the start altogether. These days, it’s one of the first things I put on!

Do you have a favourite race and race distance? 

I started triathlon racing sprint and Olympic distance (750m / 20k / 5k for sprint and 1,500m / 40k / 10k for Olympic). I think I’m more of a diesel though and better suited to the slightly longer distance. Half-Ironman (70.3) is my favourite distance which involves a 1.9km swim, a 90k bike and a 21.1k run. The swim isn’t much longer than the Olympic, which goes in my favour as a weaker swimmer, and then I can get stuck into the bike and hopefully pick off a few of the swimmers who beat me out of the water. The run is then about trying to hold my position.

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I’ve done the London Triathlon four times. It’s not a particularly scenic course, but the great thing about doing a race close to home is that it makes it easy for friends and family to support and it’s great having support out on the course.

I’ve also done the Mallorca Half-Ironman twice and it’s a race I love with a really challenging bike course.

These days, however, what makes a good race for me is doing it with friends and family. Travelling together and being able to share the experience with others makes it really memorable.

What is your greatest sporting achievement?
Representing my country as an amateur at both the European (ETU) and World (ITU) Championships in 2015 and 2016 was pretty special, particularly my first outing in Geneva where my parents came to support me.
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I think, however, that finishing my first Ironman race (a 3.8k swim, 180k bike and a 42.2k run) in 2016 is what I’m most proud of, because I know how hard I worked to get there. The last half of the marathon was a real struggle and at that point, it very much becomes a test of mental strength. Crossing the finish line is still so fresh in my mind and still brings tears to my eyes nearly 2 years later!
All of the equipment can often be intimidating to athletes thinking of going into the sport of triathlon, what advice would you offer to them?

Triathlon is still a very new sport, relative to most other sports, which means that there have been some huge technological developments over a relatively short space of time. Triathletes love kit and love spending money on new kit that they very definitely don’t need and I’m no different to that. It’s very easy to convince yourself of a ‘need’ for something new to the market.

That said, because of the rapid developments in equipment, it means you can pick up the stuff you need without spending a fortune. There’s a wealth of knowledge out there, so definitely take advantage of it.

Wherever possible, you should try before you buy. If you’re going to be doing races that have an open-water swim, for example, then you’ll need a wetsuit. It’s possible to rent wetsuits for a race or even a whole season and there’s a number of outdoor lakes which will let you test out different models so you can see what works best for you.

In terms of a bike, the best advice I was given is to buy the best frame you can afford. All of the components (gears, wheels, etc.) can be upgraded at a later date as and when you can afford to spend a bit more money on it.

The internet is also a great source of information. It can be a little intimidating at first because there are many (often contrasting) opinions flying around, but it can be helpful to see what works for others and may just work for you too.

What kit do you use? 

For swimming I have a HUUB wetsuit and I swear by Zoggs Predator Flex goggles which I find comfortable, don’t steam up and are available Polarised for outdoor sunny swims. Real swimmers all use those tiny little eye-socket goggles that I find unbearably uncomfortable!

I have 2 sets of running shoes that I currently use – the Saucony Kinvara for my longer runs, which are lightweight but also really cushioned. For racing I use the Adidas Adizero. For shorter distance races, most people don’t wear socks and then you want to look for a tri-specific run shoe which tend to be seamless and ensure you don’t finish the run with feet covered in blisters. It’s also important to use elastic laces, which save a lot of time and energy in transition.

As for the bikes, there’s currently 3 in the family! I have a beautiful steel road bike from Condor on which I commute each day and do a fair number of miles on in the Winter. My second bike is a Felt aero-road bike which I love. The geometry of the bike is somewhere between a normal road bike and a time-trial (TT) bike making it a decent choice for both road cycling and triathlon. I also put aero bars on it during triathlon to get myself in a more aerodynamic position. The bike is nearly 10 years old; I bought it second hand from a friend about 5 years ago for an absolute steal! I’m not sure how many kilometres have been ridden on that bike, but I did 10,000km on it just last year!

This year I welcomed bike number 3 into the fold; I finally bit the bullet and bought myself a TT bike. Over longer distances, it can save you quite a bit of time due to the aerodynamic position it allows you to adopt. It’s a Cervelo P3 with Di2 (electronic) gearing and cost me a small fortune. I may not own my own house, but I do have a very pretty new bike!
Who are your fitspirations? 

I’m surrounded by inspirational people. I run with Serpentine Running Club which is full of talented individuals and seeing the successes of members within the club, week after week, inspires me to get out there and keep pushing myself.

I think that 2012 really inspired a nation of cyclists and I too was probably caught up in that. It’s great that as a country we’re doing so well in the sport of cycling and it’s fantastic that we have so many strong women at the top of the sport.

In triathlon, boundaries are being pushed every day and records are continually being broken. There’s so many strong women in the sport, leading the way, and what is particularly nice to see is those that are taking time out to have kids and then returning to the sport as strong as ever.

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If I need to name one person though, it’s probably my Mum. At 65, she swims with a Masters Swim Squad 3 or 4 times a week, and on a Saturday morning, heads straight to Parkrun after. She’s also a regular on the triathlon circuit and regularly wins her age-group. She often plays it down by saying she was the only one in her age group, but she always beats me out of the water so I don’t buy that! I hope I’m still going strong in 25 years!

My barefoot-running brother-in-law

At well over 6ft, often running barefoot with a Rhodesian ridgeback and child or two in tow, my brother-in-law, Georg, is hard to miss. This axe-wielding, Thai boxing, trail running father of three has always inspired me, not only with his ability to push through a marathon no matter what, but also in how he takes new sporting challenges in his (incredibly long) stride, while juggling a hectic family life and a successful career in dentistry.

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He and my big sister have been together since they were 16, so he has been pretty much a permanent fixture of my adult life. We both fell in love with running at around the same time and still remember proudly completing our first sub-30 minute 5km together. He has dragged me to many a Park Run and, although he subsequently admitted to wanting to kill me at the time, I was so proud to help get him to the end of the killer Potters Marathon a couple of years back. I love when we have a chance to run and chat together and I wanted to share a little bit about him here. If you ever thought that you were too busy to run, read on!

When did you first start running?

Probably when I was about 15 months old, I’ll check with my mom, ha ha! But seriously, I use to run to make weight for Thai boxing fights. To begin with I hated every second of it, but slowly the miles crept up until one day I decided to sign up for the Potters ‘Alf marathon. After running that I felt an awesome sense of achievement and I continued on from there.

Was running something that came naturally or did you have to work at it?

It was a bit of both really. Once I reached a certain level of fitness (which, because of Thai boxing didn’t take too long) I felt like I was unstoppable and could keep running (albeit slowly) forever.

What do you enjoy about getting out for a run?

Running is a good time to just switch off. I tend to overthink things and to keep my emotions hidden. When I run I find I can turn off the overactive part of my brain and also the part that suppresses my emotions. That means that I often find myself running late at night laughing, crying and blankly staring into space.

When and why did you start running barefoot?

When I was a kid in South Africa, we ran barefoot everywhere. In primary school in SA you don’t wear shoes in summer and all sports, including rugby, are played barefoot. But then I became a fat, angry teenager in the UK and when I eventually tried to run I was told I needed all kinds of special shoes to do so. The problem was that  they just made my feet hurt. I remember very well one day in North Yorkshire taking my trainers off and hiking up Carlton bank barefoot and loving every second. Soon after that I bought my first pair of five finger shoes for particularly rough terrain.

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What is your proudest running achievement?

This tends to change every time I do another stupid run somewhere! To date it is probably trying to do the Born to Run Ultra Marathon in Wales few years back. Even though I was pulled out at 35 miles into the 40 mile run, I still ran a lot further than I ever imagined. I’ve found from running and fighting that you tend to learn a lot more about yourself when you losing rather than winning.

What was going through your mind during those 35 miles and how did you keep yourself going?

For the first half of the race I was mostly thinking about my family. For the second it was a mixture of thinking about how worried wife would be if I didn’t make it to next water station and paranoia of being followed buy a strange man (who actually turned out to be a St Johns ambulance guy who was following me as I was talking to myself and covered in my own sick!)

Would you do another ultra?

100 per cent yes! As soon as I stop having more children and get time to do the proper training!

Do you do any form of cross training?

I spend some time doing circuits in gym, I still go Thai boxing when I get time and I love swimming and cycling outdoors in the summer (but I hate both in the winter!)

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How do you fit in your runs around having three energetic children and two dogs?

I try to combine parental duties with running, but it’s not always easy. I recently had dog attached to a running buggy with baby in it, a 6 -year-old running next to me, and a 4-year-old on my neck. I only managed 2km before I almost died! In seriousness, I try to do some runs with the kids; most of my training runs are done with dog and or baby in running buggy. It also helps that I have an awesome understanding wife who doesn’t mind me going out running.

How do you find running with a buggy and a dog?

I love it. It only gets tricky when there are lots of people in our way. The dog loves it and the baby loves it.

What running buggy do you use?

I have an Out n About fixed wheel running buggy. It’s very well used now; it probably done a few hundred miles!

 

IMG_7872Any tips for parents running with buggies?

Make sure your baby is old enough to sit while supporting their own head; make sure they are comfortable; take lots of snacks (for the baby) just in case; and be prepared to sing to keep the child amused!

What races have you got coming up?

The only thing booked so far for this year is the Potters ‘Alf marathon, but I’m hoping to do a few triathlons and open water races in the summer. It’s all a bit last minute with having young kids!

 

I’m looking forward to running together again on holiday in May (although I may only be waddling by then!) and to learning more from him about managing to run once our little lady arrives in August. Until my next, happy running.

Fit and Fearless: Motivation beyond PBs and weight loss

Thanks to my pal Sophie, I recently discovered the Fit and Fearless podcast. I began listening with an episode on pre- and post-natal training but rapidly began mining their backlist, enjoying episodes on working out when busy, nutrition and body confidence.

Listening to this podcast threw into focus thoughts that I’d been having about what motivates me and how I measure success, both in terms of my exercise routine and my diet.

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@thegirlgains

Eating and exercising throughout pregnancy can be a bit of a minefield, and while I usually measure the success of my workout routine by how fast or far I can run, how heavy I can lift, or how many burpees I can do before collapsing, right now none of these measures are applicable. Similarly, I would ordinarily gauge my diet on how my clothes are feeling and cutting down on calorie-dense foods if my jeans were to get a bit tight. But at the moment pretty much all of my clothing is tight and, all being well, it will only get tighter. So what other measures should I be using to quantify my success and to keep myself motivated to continue training and steer clear of the tempting treats?

One of the messages I loved from Fit and Fearless is that success can just be about getting yourself to the gym (or by extension, to an exercise class/your yoga mat/the pool/into your trainers). Even if, on arrival, you decide it isn’t your day, by just scheduling the time and getting yourself there you are developing a routine, which in all likelihood will turn into a workout. I know that sometimes the hardest part of getting out on my lunchtime run is just getting into my gym kit. It’s so easy to continue sitting at my desk, responding to emails and letting the moment pass, but once I’m over that initial hurdle the actual act of going for a run is easy (well, easy-ish!).

The other thing that the podcast reminded me is that exercise should be about having fun and treating your body. I always feel better after a workout, even if all I can muster at the moment is a 3 mile walk/run around the park. Exercise gets the endorphins pumping and keeps me sane during a hectic day. It’s an opportunity for ‘me time’, a chance to clear my head and reset. I loved that in the body positive episode of Fit and Fearless the team talked about not just thinking about exercise as a means of burning x number of calories, but as a time to enjoy yourself and feeling strong. They promoted the idea of exercising with the real intention of focusing on being present in your body and not thinking about weight loss.

The other big message of both this and the pre- and post-natal fitness episode was that exercise shouldn’t be about what you look like, but rather it should be about what your body can do. I love this sentiment and I have to remind myself that what my body is doing is not only going for a 30 minute swim or a 45 minute spin class, but doing those things while also growing a human!

So how am I implementing these messages as part of my exercise routine, attitude to exercise and diet more generally?

1. I’m reminding myself that no matter how brief the session, exercising always makes me feel good about myself. It makes me feel strong and empowered and reminds me that I run this body.

2. I’m committing to getting myself to the point of exercise, even if that fails to turn into a hard workout. If I walk instead of run, that’s ok, the important thing is staying in the routine of getting my trainers on and getting outside.

3. I’m eating mindfully and in a way that nourishes my body and not letting my rapidly expanding belly act as an excuse for overindulgence (which I have been doing!) instead, I’m asking myself if I feel good from what I’m eating, whether I’m getting plenty of nutrients from my diet and would I choose to eat x or y if I wasn’t pregnant.

4. Finally I’m reminding myself to enjoy this time: to enjoy being in my body and embracing the challenges it presents as well as knowing that now, more than ever, the imperative to be well nourished, fit and fearless is greater than ever.

Until my next, enjoy the Fit and Fearless podcast here and follow the girls @thegirlgains in Instagram and at http://www.girlgains.co.uk.