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!

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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.

the girl gains
@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.

5 Little changes that could just make your life that little bit better

I often find myself naively drawn in by articles promising the secret of an infinitely better life: 5 steps to total mindfulness, 3 intense fat burning workouts, 10 steps to the perfect relationship, that sort of thing. Unsurprisingly, what I regularly find is that these articles just offer a series of commonsensical points, which often align with the things I’m already doing, and I’m left a little disappointed that I’m no closer to secret of perfection in mind, body and spirit.

So rather than promising 5 revolutionary hacks that will give you the ultimate life, I’m offering a series of little adjustments and lifestyle tweaks that I’ve found work for me, and which have made my life just that little bit better everyday.

1. Morning yoga

IMG_3576I’m not really sure how I got into my morning yoga routine, but now I can’t imagine starting my day without it. It’s amazing how getting up and showered and then spending between 15 and 30 minutes on my mat can transform my mood and the way I approach the day. I’m certainly no bona fide yogi, but spending some time stretching out my limbs, syncing my movement and my breath, doing a bit of core and arm work and playing around with headstands, bridges or shoulder stands wakes me up (even if I’ve had a glass of something I shouldn’t the night before) and puts me in the right headspace for the day.

Some days I’ll listen to classical music and follow my own yoga flow routine, other days I’ll watch Yoga with Adriene on YouTube and follow her, but either way, no matter what my day holds, I try to corner off at least 15 minutes of my morning to dedicate to my practice.

2. Lunchtime exercise

IMG_5074The realisation that I could kick the 3:30pm slump by just going out and doing something physical at lunchtime was a revelation. My lunch run often negates my need for that dangerous afternoon coffee, which I know will play havoc with my sleeping patterns, or for the 4pm mindless snacking, often undertaken out of boredom or a need for a distraction rather than real hunger.

I know that I’m really lucky in this regard – that my boss and colleagues are very understanding of my need to get out in the fresh air and run off any stresses – but I also know that getting the oxygen circulating around my system makes me so much more productive in the afternoon and in a better mental place to respond to those emails that require a bit more thought or diplomacy.

Moreover, on the days I get to meet my running pal Lou for a quick dash around Kensington Gardens it’s a great opportunity for a catch-up or a space to vent and, come 6pm I’ve already done 5 miles and I can take the evening off guilt-free if I fancy.

While I know running isn’t for everyone, taking a lunchtime walk, or making the most of the summer sunshine and doing some yoga outside are also great alternatives. If you have a work gym you might even sneak a quick HIIT session between meetings.

3. Walking or running part of my commute

IMG_4349About a year ago I made the decision to add 4,000 steps to my day by walking to and from the tube station, rather than jumping straight on the train that leaves from practically outside my house. A year on and I’m still doing it, now less for the extra steps and more for the pleasure. In the morning getting just ten minutes of fresh(ish) air (this is London after all!), natural light and, in recent weeks, a vitamin D hit in the sunshine, really sets me up for the day. In the evening, having chance to decompress after a day at my desk is invaluable and strolling back the long way through the park rather than cramming myself into a train is definitely the best way to do this.

On the days I want to sneak some extra exercise, especially while the weather is good, I’ll walk the full 4 miles home, or, if I’ve not had chance for a lunch run, I’ll jog home, either directly or via Regent’s Park to add an extra 3 or 4 miles to my route. It’s not just the exercise but the benefit of being outside in the world that never fails to boost my mood and allows me to arrive either at work or at home smiling.

Living in the city where we are set up for walking and cycling a commute I know this is easier, but even elsewhere you could consider parking your car a little further from your house or office, or using public transport for part of the trip and walking or running the rest. Making exercise a functional part of your day – i.e. a means of getting from a to b – makes you more likely to do it on a regular basis and it also means that you have plenty of free time to spend with friends and family rather than squirrelling yourself off to the gym.

4. Tuning into my appetite

IMG_1619Like many people, I’ve been through phases of eating too much, not eating enough, eating through stress, through boredom and through sadness. However, recent GI issues have forced me to take a more careful approach to eating and there have been many benefits to this.

Slowing down my eating, selecting foods mindfully, with an eye to what will nourish me without causing stomach upset, pain or sluggishness, and eating in line with my hunger, rather than unconsciously nibbling throughout the day, has vastly improved my approach to and enjoyment of food. I now focus on three meals a day, or two on a Sunday/my long run day, without snacking in between (if I can help it!). If I’m doing a double workout – a lunchtime run followed by an evening swim for example –  I might add a banana or nectarine in the  late afternoon to keep me going until I get home, but otherwise I hold on until supper.

Following this routine I’ve found that I will naturally feel hungry at around 7:30am once I’ve finished my yoga, and again between 1 and 2pm in the afternoon. Evening hunger usually strikes around 6:30–7pm so I know if I’m going out for supper later than this and don’t want to over-eat because I’m famished I’ll have a more substantial lunch or eat a little later. I also make sure I stay well hydrated throughout the day so I don’t confuse thirst and hunger. I have moments of weakness of course – on weekends I could keep on munching through oats, granola with berries, avo on toast, smoothies and coffee indefinitely if I don’t make a conscious decision to stop and in the evenings if there are nibblies in the house, like grapes or cashews, I am often tempted to them. But knowing when these moments of weakness come I’m learning to avoid, resist or keep them at bay.

5. Accepting I’m not a night owl

IMG_3388I’ve spent years in denial and harboured a lot of guilt around this point, but the fact is, I like my sleep, and I like it at night. I tend to rise early regardless of my time to bed, which means late nights leave me exhausted and grumpy.

Accepting that I’m not going to be the last man standing on a night out, or that I’d rather head home than out to a night club without feeling guilty has been a long time in coming, but as I’ve gotten older I’ve become increasingly at peace with this fact. I’ve started scheduling breakfast dates and lunches over late-night drinks and I try to arrive early to longer events so that if I duck out before last orders I’ve still had plenty of time to catch up with my pals. Just like not everyone gets up at 6 to fit in a pre-work yoga workout, breakfast and blog writing session, not everyone can keep their eyes open and enthusiasm up past 11pm. And that’s ok.

Accepting yourself doesn’t have to just relate to sleeping habits and I’m sure we all have traits that we try to fight against. Just take a moment to reflect on how good or bad these elements of your personality really are and if they are essentially harmless maybe it’s time to embrace them.

Working out on work trips: Finding balance in Chicago

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Looking along the river

Last week I was in Chicago for a conference with work. Work trips such as this are so useful for building relationships with our colleagues across the pond. It’s so nice to add a human element to all of those emails that shoot between us during the remainder of the year and to be able to meet the wider team in the Chicago offices. I love catching up with colleague over suppers and have the opportunity to have those interesting and innovative brainstorming sessions, which are infinitely more productive as a result of face-to-face interactions.

The Chicago trip also means pushing myself out of my comfort zone and presenting to a room of people, something which I often dread but which practice seems to be making increasingly easier.

While the days of my trip were dedicated to meetings, presentations and keeping on top of my emails from London, I was also able to squeeze in some sightseeing, eat deliciously healthy food and keep on top of my exercise schedule.

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Sun through the skyscrapers

Chicago is one of my favourite cities and I know I’m incredibly lucky that I get to spend time there for work. In the winter Chicago comes alive with festive cheer; it is so beautiful with the lake reflecting the blue of the sky and the winter sun making all of the skyscrapers glisten.

One of the benefits of work trips to the States is that the jet lag usually means that I wake up between 5 and 5:30am, giving me plenty of time to run, enjoy the sunrise over breakfast, catch up on my work emails from the UK and get in a morning walk, all before heading to the office.

I also find myself crashing at about 9:30pm, which meant that I got some 8 hours of sleep a night – certainly more than I get at home (when I’m lucky to scrape 7 hours) and something which meant that I hardly touched a cup of coffee for the whole trip.

My workout routine took on a new shape during my time away too, and I let myself enjoy a focus on lower intensity exercise with walking taking centre stage as I averaged around 17km (or 10.5 miles) a day.

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Reflected in the Bean

I enjoyed striding up Michigan Avenue from the lake to the Art Institute and the ‘Bean’.

I could spend forever walking around the Art Institute of Chicago, overwhelmed by the incredible collection there, which houses many of my favourite Impressionist and Modernist pieces, as well as an impressive collection from the Dutch Golden Age and of course, the iconic ‘American Gothic’.

On Friday evening I walked to the Bean for a carol concert, which made me feel very Christmassy. I tunelessly joined in with renditions of Jingle Bells and the Twelve Days of Christmas, not remembering the last time I’d belted out some carols.

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Admiring the Picasso collection at the Art Institute

I also spent time walking along the lake, making a trip to the Planetarium (I’d visited the aquarium and Field Museum, which are on the same site, on a previous visit) and walking from there to Navy Pier, some 6km away.

On Saturday night I walked along the lake to the zoo in Lincoln Park for ‘zoo lights’, a free event where the zoo is lit up with Christmas lights formed into animals, snow flakes, snow men and Santa Clauses, while Christmas music fills the air.

Before my trip I’d also researched a yoga studio, called the Yoga Loft, and I booked in for an ‘all levels’ Ashtanga class for one evening. I’m not sure how ‘all levels’ it really was, as the girls all around me were bending like pretzels and at one point the instructor told us to just ‘throw our leg over our shoulder like a rucksack’, which is definitely easier said than done! Still, I really enjoyed the class and felt totally relaxed afterwards and very glad I’d gone.

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Architectural boat trip

I mentioned the class to one of my colleagues at the conference and she told me that she had booked in for a hot yoga workshop for that Saturday afternoon at 105F Hot Yoga Centre in the South Loop, and asked if I’d like to join her. Although I’d never done hot yoga before but I was keen to give it a try, and nothing says ‘team bonding’ like some serious sweating on a yoga mat!

It was a Yin yoga class, where you are encouraged to hold poses for 4 to 5 minutes at a time, a total contrast to my usual flow classes. I was pretty nervous, but the heat was more bearable that I’d feared (although I did get pretty sweaty!) and it actually helped me to ease more deeply into the positions, more so as the minutes ticked by.

It was such a relaxing class and I felt almost like I’d been to a spa for a deep tissue massage by the time I came out!

Penguins at Zoo Lights, Chicago
Penguins at ‘Zoo Lights’

As the weather was mild for the time of year I also managed to book in for an architectural boat tour along the river, which usually doesn’t run into the winter months. This had been recommended to me by a colleague at the conference as the architecture in Chicago is so stunning an so varied it really warrants a proper tour. It was really interesting a definitely worthwhile, not least to see the city from a whole new vantage point.

Finally, I was keen that my diet do didn’t go totally off-piste as a result of my travels. On arrival I kept myself awake with a trip to Whole Foods, where I stocked up on oats, vanilla soya milk (it was really tricky getting hold of just regular soya so I indulged for the week, and despite initially finding it too super-sweet at first, by the end of the week I’d become rather accustomed to its rich deliciousness!), apples and grapes, baby carrots, hummus, olives and (as a treat as you can no longer get them in the UK) a selection of Lara Bars.

We had a conference supper one evening where I had a delicious vegan dish with black beans, sweet potato and a yummy spicy salsa. I also discovered Lyfe Kitchen on North Clark Street where they had separate vegan and gluten free menus and I treated myself to a festive sprout, cranberry and sweet potato dish followed by a banana and chia seed pudding.

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Carols and the Bean

After my hot yoga session indulged in a quinoa, avocado and tofu salad from The Protein Bar on Michigan, which was really tasty and very filling – a perfect post-exercise treat!

I also enjoyed a long lazy breakfast with my friend Carrie at Eggsperience Cafe, a good American diner. Not ideally set up for vegans (eggs clearly dominated the menu and the oatmeal was pre-made with milk), however I was still able to get rye toast with avocado, lots of coffee and, most importantly, a chance to catch up with my wonderful friend, who was serendipitously in town from LA for a wedding in Chicago.

All in all, a wonderful week of work, working out and working off some delicious food!

Why it’s ok to be a tortoise 

No matter how fast you are, there will always be somebody somewhere who is faster.

These were wise words from a fellow Mornington Chaser at a cross country meet last week, as we discussed the relative merits and downfalls of our respective races. I was worrying about being slower than my other teammates and these words, from a super-speedy runner, made me realise that if my satisfaction from races was only to come as a measure of my pace relative to others, I was set on a path for perpetual disappointment.

So, instead of worrying about the people who may beat me across the finish line (which in my case is many), I’ve decided to set my focus on racing against myself; aiming for PBs and those fabled negative splits. That’s not to say that the race element is taken away completely, indeed nothing says motivation like a bit of healthy competition, but my objective is not to dwell on my relative position but my absolute level of improvement.

It was with this in mind that I ran the St Neots half marathon on Sunday. I had assigned this particular race as the watershed between casual summer running and the next round of winter training. With marathon training kicking off in December, I wanted to assess my fitness levels before I started, to see what I’m working with but also to set a pre-season time to beat.

While I’ve been running regularly since the Paris marathon last April and have had a few shorter races since then, this was due to be the first run over 10 miles that I’d done of late. If I’m honest, my main concern was whether I’d be able to finish. It may sound silly having regularly run over the 13.1 mile distance pre-Paris, but it’s amazing how quickly you can lose your fitness.

Still, despite the windy conditions I felt strong for most of the route. I started chatting with a guy at mile 4 and we ran together for a good 4 miles from that point.

There was a particularly tough uphill and head-windy stretch between miles 8 and 11 which almost finished me off. My pace dropped off a little and I had to dig deep. However, once we turned the corner out of the wind and headed along the final stretch the last two and a bit miles flew by. I was able to catch back up with my new running buddy, who was, by that stage, in need of a little encouragement himself, and we crossed the finish line together.

My splits were pretty consistent and unlike my normal half marathon times, my final few kilometres were on a par, pace wise, with my first.

I crossed the line having beaten my 20km PB and knocking 3 minutes off my half marathon PB, proving to myself that I can comfortably and consistently run a sub 2 hour half marathon.

I was elated as I rejoined some of my Morning Chaser teammates. It was testimony to how much I’m learning to work within my own parameters that when they expressed disappointment by their own sub 1.30 times I was able to lend a sympathetic ear, knowing full well I’d kill to have run that kind of time.

So now it’s on to a winter of training. I’ve already earmarked some long training runs, and have some times in mind. I’ve just got to remember to keep my eyes on my own goals and if I find myself overtaken along the way, not to get too disheartened and who knows, eventually I may be the one doing some of the overtaking.

A run in the park – learning to run cross country

As my last few posts have been a bit philosophical it’s nice to come back to a good old running post.

This Saturday marked the first race in the cross country season. When the fixtures were initially announced R had coaxed me into signing up with the promise that it would be ‘fun’, when Saturday came around however, I was a little sceptical about how much fun it would actually be. As much as I love running, I’ve never been able shake my event anxiety and every race day I find my stomach churning with nerves (some days it’s so bad that I can’t even do a Park Run without feeling sick before). On top of which, the hip-opening 1 hour 45 minutes of yoga that I’d done the night before had left my upper ITB pretty sore, and I didn’t have any racing spikes, an apparent pre-requisite of cross country running.

New running spikes
New running spikes

The resolution to two of these problems came with a brisk walk to Runners Need in Kings Cross – the walk loosened up my limbs before the race and the shop offered some comfortable Adidas spikes at not too higher price.

It was actually the most perfect day for running, not too hot or cold, with just enough sunshine to see everyone in good spirits. The race was in Claybury, a place lost somewhere on the outer reaches of the central line, and consisted of two and a bit loops of a 3km course through woodland with two smallish hills.

Once I’d arrived and met with the other runners from my club I started to feel more at ease – not least as Petra, one of the girls that I train with, was there and it was her first cross country race too. Anna took us on a little warm up run together and by the time I reached the starting line I was actually rather looking forward to the race.

It was strange running in spikes at first, more as I was forced to avoid any spots of path rather than to seek them out as I would normally do. Although I’m used to running in minimal shoes with a forefoot strike, in my spikes I could feel each lump and bump of the course and my ankles were certainly taking more of a hit than usual. Still as the race went on I got more used to them and they did instil me with more confidence when running down the muddy hills.

Running cross country, showing the strain!
Running cross country, showing the strain!

In cross country women and men run separately and having the men cheering us on as we went was so nice and really gave me a boost when I started to flag. On the second lap the second hill really hit me, but with an encouraging cheer from the sidelines I managed a reasonably strong finish and, although it wasn’t the fastest I’ve ever run, I have to admit I really did enjoy it. It was so nice being outside and off the roads and the team atmosphere made for such a nice run.

There were a few minutes to grab a drink before the men’s race started and Petra and I found a good spot from which to cheer them on. Their race was slightly further – 8km rather than 6km – and you could see the strain on everyone’s faces on the third lap, as the knew what was coming up. However, everyone finished well and with some home-baked cakes and flasks of tea waiting at the end it was a jolly occasion all round.

I had scheduled a run on Sunday morning with my running buddy John, also from the club. My legs were surprisingly weary, given that the race had only been 6km, but the 1.5km from my house to meet John helped to ease them out a little. It was so nice having a commitment of someone to run with to get me out of bed and into my trainers.

We truncated our usual route, covering just 11.5km at a steady pace, but it was such a beautiful run along the canal in the morning sunshine and certainly made my bowl of porridge on my return all the more delicious.

Aquatic Centre
Aquatic Centre

Post-run, after a brief stopover at home to shower and gather my things, I enjoyed a trip to the Aquatic Centre at the Olympic Park with my pal Katie. The pool there is so beautiful and a good 40 minutes or so in the pool certainly helped to ease out the kinks of the running and yoga of the past couple of days. I love gliding through the water, stretching out my limbs and helping to re-balance my body after putting it though its paces elsewhere.

All in all it has been a perfect weekend of exercise and early nights, let’s hope it has readied my body for the onslaught that is the Frankfurt Book Fair next week!

100 squats a day?! Plyometric, mindful training

With my summer holiday to Corsica drawing closer (although it feels like summer has already ended in the UK) I’ve been increasingly noticing all of my squidgy bits. This week, when trying on bikinis under the rather harsh lights of the store changing room, I felt less than confident about baring my all in public.

In a last ditch attempt to tone-up pre-holiday I’m following a series of exercises from PT to the stars Dan Roberts, as featured in Women’s Health. Roberts promotes a method which encompasses plyometric training, mindfulness and martial arts, using dynamic, body weight exercises that help improve tone, stability, balance and strength.

The routine includes a daily set of 100 squats, a 3 minute half boat pose and (my least favourite) jumping split lunges. I’m using this programme in conjunction with my usual workout regime of yoga, running and circuits.

Four days into this new regimen and I’ve got that pleasant degree of muscle-ache that says something positive is happening. Today I even hit 200 squats!

I’m realistic in how much impact these exercises can have in the short term and with this in mind I bought a couple of throw-on jersey dresses to keep my stomach under wraps. But I also treated myself to a super-cute bikini, which I hope will get at least one outing during my trip.

Either way, I’m really enjoying (in a slightly sadistic way) pushing my body in a way not experienced while running, and if these exercises serve to strengthen my hamstrings, glutes and core, as the muscle ache implies that they are, then the long term benefits alone make them worthwhile.

In case you would like to join me in this rather gruelling routine the exercises are as follows with thanks from Women’s Health:

The mixed martial arts knee strike
Targets: glutes and hips; Improves: balance and fat burn

Start in a ‘fighter’s stance’ – left foot forward, knees slightly bent. Raise both arms up and to the left. Pull your hands down as you push your right knee up and out. Return to the starting position. Do 100 on each side.

The incline push-up test
Targets: upper body, core; Improves: strength, power

With palms on a chair, shoulder-width apart, get into a high plank. Keep your shoulders, hips and knees in a straight line. Bending at the elbows, lower yourself down, so your body stays in a straight line and then drive back up. Do 50 reps (rests permitted).

The mindful v-sit trial
Targets: abs and lower back; Improves: posture, focus and breathing

Sit in a half boat post – knees bent, feet lifted and thighs at a 90 degree angle with the floor. Keep your back straight and shoulders back and down. Gently place your hands on your knees and focus on breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth. Aim to hold for 3 minutes.

The jumping split squat
Targets: lower body and glutes; Improves: cardio endurance

Start in a lunge, front knee bent 90 degrees to the ground, and back knee bent so it is almost touching the floor. Keep your torso upright. Jump, switching your feet mid-air. Keep going for as long as you can.

The sumo squat 100
Targets: inner thighs, core and glutes; Improves: hip flexibility

Stand with legs wide, knees soft and feet turned out. Squat down as low as you can go before driving back up to the start position. Repeat, 100 times!