Tri, tri and tri again

Last weekend was an impressive one in terms of sporting achievements. You may have seen the Brownlee brothers swim, cycle and run to a one, two finish in the elite men’s race at the world triathlon series in Leeds on Sunday, or looked on as team GB triathlete Vicky Holland claimed a bronze in the elite women’s race (Holland and fellow triathlete Non Stanford are now definitely my new sporting girl crushes!), but I’m also incredibly proud to say that, earlier in the day, two of my close family friends – Matt and Chris – raced in the open entry men’s event. For both of them this was in their first Olympic distance triathlon and they both totally smashed it.

If that wasn’t impressive enough, I can’t tell you how proud I am of my friend and running pal Katie, who faced her first half Iron Man this Sunday, completing a 1.2 mile (1.9 km) swim, 56 mile (90 km) bike ride, and a 13.1 mile (21.1 km) run in and around the grounds of Shugborough Hall in Staffordshire. While I knew she would nail it (that girl’s got grit) that doesn’t detract from how incredibly in awe I am of her for doing it. (And I’d be fibbing if I didn’t admit that it’s started to sew seeds of a triathlon in my mind too…)

After all of that it seems rather anticlimactic to add that this weekend I also ran in the 2016 Potters ‘Arf Marathon.

The 13.1 miles around the towns of Stoke-on-Trent are possibly some of the hilliest I’ve run under race conditions. Still, being a natural born Potter and having never previously run the race I decided that this year was the year to face ‘heartbreak hill’ (the killer climb between miles 11 and 12) alongside my brother-in-law and Potters ‘Arf veteran, Georg.

Knowing the reputation of the course with it’s multiple hills I had no expectations of a PB and as such went in to the run with a relaxed attitude. My parents, sister and two nephews came along to watch, which was so nice, and they all waited with us at the start despite the torrential downpour that arrived just before the race began.

Despite the rain, supporters had turned up in their masses and the atmosphere wasn’t dampened at all (although we were all pretty soggy by the time we were called to line up on the start line). Luckily by the time we began to run the rain has stopped and it held off pretty much the whole way round.

I don’t think I’ve ever run in such a well-supported race. Every mile of the course had people on the sidelines cheering us on and many of the supporters were offering water, jelly babies, orange segments and cold sponges to us as we went. It made me so proud to be from Stoke and I found myself grinning like a loon most of the way round as a result.

I ran the first couple of miles with Georg but lost him in the crowds (surprising as he is a 6ft something barefoot giant with an enormous red beard any Viking would be proud of!). Still I soon settled into my own pace and the initial miles ticked over quite quickly. I had been warned about the hill between miles 4 and 5 and kept my head down as I ploughed up it.

I was flagging slightly at mile 8 but hearing our friends and neighbours Andy, Lisa, Morgan and Spencer on the sideline cheering me on gave me the extra push I needed.

The other notable hills came at around miles 9 and 10 and on the second I heard a runner behind me say ‘is this “the one”‘ to which someone else answered ‘no, that’s still to come’. It was lucky that I heard this exchange as I knew the worst was still waiting for me!

Heartbreak hill was signposted, although the signage wasn’t necessary. Usually when running up hills I look at the ground to protect myself from the sight of the gradient, but even looking down couldn’t conceal how steep the drag was. I was determined to keep my legs turning over but did have to walk a few steps before pushing on. Still, once at the top it was all down hill to the finish and I ran into Hanley with the biggest smile on my face. Mum, dad, Jo and the boys were all cheering at the finish and I was surprised to see that I’d comfortably come in under the two hour mark, which, given the hills, I hadn’t expected.

I saw an old friend at the finish line too, and despite having never run a half before he crossed the line not far behind me, impressive stuff! It was lovely enjoy the end of race euphoria together. I soon found Georg too and we celebrated together.

So a successful weekend all round and another ‘run not race’ under my belt.

Happy running.

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A good influence?

Like many health and wellness bloggers I try to surround myself with positive and inspirational people and media, not only to stay abreast of the latest fitness and diet trends to report back on here, but also to keep me motivated, optimistic and to try to help mould me into the best version of myself (or a slightly better version at least!).

Occasionally I find that something I read, hear in a podcast, or glimpse on social media resonates with me in a much more profound way than the usual interesting, but less effecting, information. While so often the latter type of nuggets will have an instant impact, their effects are, more often than not, only short-lived – a magazine article that pushes me out of the door do a workout, or an Instagram picture that drives me to make a healthier meal choice. However, on the occasions that I read or hear something which has a deeper influence, I find it seeps into my subconscious in a way that goes on to shape the way I think, behave and interact with others well beyond the initial point of impact.

This was of course the case when I switched from a vegetarian to a vegan lifestyle some ten years ago now after learning more about the dairy industry and realising the effects that dairy products had on my body. Once I was equipped with this knowledge the fact of veganism seemed an obvious conclusion.

In recent weeks I had my eyes opened again in this regard as I listened to an interview with Kip Anderson and Keegan Kuhn, makers of the documentary film Cowspiracy. While this documentary had been on my radar, I hadn’t prioritised watching it as I had thought it would just be a case of preaching to the converted. However, what the interview revealed was how little I actually knew about the detrimental effects of animal agriculture on the environment and why grass-fed meat is not the often vaunted ‘sustainable’ solution that many meat eaters claim. Again, equipped with the knowledge that the animal agriculture industry is responsible for more of the ‘human-produced’ greenhouse gasses than all means of transport combined, or that whole ecosystems are disrupted by the land requirements for grazing cattle, and that this is the leading cause of species extinction, habitat destruction and wildlife culling, reaffirmed in my mind my lifestyle choices and made me want to share the message with others (with almost evangelical zeal!).

My attitude to exercise has also taken a positive turn in recent months and this was further solidified by a excerpt in Adharanand Finn’s new book,The Way of the Runner, which I read this week.

After a series of hip issues and my decision not to run the marathon this year I had felt my relationship with running sour somewhat. However, once the pressure of training for an event was removed, and I was able to let my body recover without the anxiety of missed training sessions, I found that I was able to reconnect with the real reason I go out running: just because.

Finn voiced these sentiments perfectly in his book:

I know some people run to loose weight, to get fit, or maybe they’re running to raise money for a charity. But for me…these are just by-products. Running itself has its own raison d’être…[W]e run to connect with something in ourselves, something buried deep down beneath all the worldly layers of identity and responsibility. Running, in its simplicity, its pure brutality, peels away these layers, revealing the raw human underneath…[I]f we push on, running harder, further deeper into the wildness of it all, away from the world and the structure of our lives…we begin to float…Our minds begin to clear and we begin to feel strangely detached, and yet at the same time connected, connected to ourselves…

In this modern world we need excuses…The world is set up to cater for the rational, logical mind, which needs to see tangible reasons and benefits behind any effort. We need to dangle the carrot of marathons and best times in front of ourselves to justify this strange habit of getting up, running around outside, coming back having not actually gone anywhere…And this, on some superficial level motivates me to run. But really, deep down, I know it’s just a front. What I really want to do is get away from all of the structure, the complexity and chaos of my constructed life, and to connect with the simple human that lies buried under everything else.

I don’t doubt that this is a message that will resonate with many other runners.

Finally, with my daily practice of yoga and discovery of the wider mindfulness and meditation movement, I can feel another shift taking place. Partly responsible for this greater sense of connectedness and peace with myself is my recent discovery of Rich Roll. Roll’s podcast is full of interviews with inspirational ‘paradigm breakers’ in different fields from business, music, fitness, meditation, sleep and nutrition, and his unapologetic approach to health, wellness and veganism (the tagline to his bio is ‘a life transformed by plants’), have all served to motivate me to feel more at peace and proud of my lifestyle choices, while also compelling me to strive for more in work, exercise, wellness and diet.

You need only to listen to his interviews with Ariana Huffington, John Joseph, Light Watkins, Jedidiah Jenkins, Mishka Shubaly, or indeed any of the other motivational interviewees he has had on the show to realise what an incredible resource this is.

There are some really powerful lessons to be learned: Roll is a recovering alcoholic turned ultra-athlete and he is pretty frank that to make a change in any element of your life you already know what to do:

There is no secret bullet or life-hack that is going to help you to accomplish what you want to do, it’s simply a case of stopping what you doing and switching to take the actions that will move you closer to your goal. It’s tough to hear because people want to hear that there is an easier, softer way. The short-cut is to make that goal your absolute one priority and do anything you can to achieve it.

The podcast makes me think about life in a holistic sense: in an interview with Jason Garner, Garner highlighted the problem of compartmentalising different aspects of our lives and how ‘we talk about work life balance as if work isn’t part of our life’, something which really struck a chord with me. In another episode our engagement with social media was brought into question and the focus was placed on the importance of ‘being’ rather than ‘appearing to be’, a shift that would serve many of us.

At it’s essence is the message that life, success and happiness is all about perspective – two people can have the same experience and perceive it totally differently, so what you have to ask is how much responsibility are you prepared to take for your mindset and approach to life?

I will finish with a Viktor Frankl quote that I particularly like, which Roll cited in an episode I was listening to this week:

Between stillness and response there is a space and in that space is our power to choose our response and in our response lies our growth and our freedom.

Happy inspiring.

 

 

Train your mind, fuel your body and start getting stronger

Last week the flu epidemic that seems to have been sweeping our office finally caught up with me. From feeling unusually achy and slightly sub-par while doing my yoga on Wednesday morning, I found myself a shivering, sweating, aching, snotty mess by Wednesday evening.

While my training dwindled into non-existence and I had to miss a race on Sunday, what I lacked in movement I made up for in sleep. Unable to get out of bed for a couple of days I also had plenty of time to listen to lots of health and fitness podcasts and I used the time to listen, learn and be inspired.

Rich Roll PodcastI began with a good dose of the Ben Greenfield Fitness podcast and it was through him that I discovered the Rich Roll podcast, a new revelation in my wellness listening (Greenfield’s interview with Rich Roll can be found here and is well worth a listen).

Roll is a vegan ultra-endurance athlete and health and wellness advocate, and his wife, Julie Piatt, is a vegan chef and a mindfulness and meditation guru. Roll leads on the podcast, but he and Julie have written a book together – The Plantpower Way – a cookbook-come-lifestyle guide, and in the initial edition of the podcast I listened to, they discussed the book together.

This episode also looked at the emotional drivers behind diet and behaviour. In particular it focused on the importance of taking a holistic approach to your health and well being, as well as on the value of meditation in nurturing your emotional and spiritual sides. Roll described it as ‘going beyond the kale‘, emphasising the point that diet alone is not enough for complete wellness. While you may choose to adopt a plant-based diet, rather than simply letting that be an end it itself, you should go beyond the green juices and lentils and take the increased vitality afforded by your diet to fuel other elements of your life.

9781583335871_The-Plantpower-Way-1024x943Similarly, while exercise has its place and values, alone is not enough for total health. As Roll points out, you can be out running, which is ostensibly a positive act, but in that space you might also find that you are being very hard on yourself and running becomes ‘its own repression machine’. Of course running can also be incredibly liberating, it all comes down to the perspective that you bring to it, but if you are using running as an escape or ‘if you’re stuck in running and you get super compulsive about it, ask yourself, is that any better than any other addictive behaviour pattern?’

I found this perspective particularly helpful, as I know from my own experience that while sometimes I find running very calming and restorative, at others, (particularly at the moment when pain and injury are combining with the feeling that I need oomph up my fitness), running becomes its own source of stress and anxiety. Having someone else verbalise this has helped me to think about the role that running plays in my life and has allowed me to take a step back to reflect on where it is bringing me positive energy and where it is becoming an emotional and energy drain.

Piatt also stressed that running does not offer enough of a meditative space to allow you to fully enjoy all of the positive benefits of meditation. While it can offer a transformative and very positive space, it is no substitute for seated meditation, which provides a more complete opportunity for self-enquiry and self-discovery. It allows you to quieten the mind and create a reflective space between the goings on of the world and your responses to them. It also opens up a healing space for you to reflect on your character and priorities, as well as to re-balance the energetic mind and body.

HeadspaceWhile Piatt directed listeners to a guided meditation on her website, Roll promoted the Headspace meditation app. I have to admit to having the app but, at the time of listening to this podcast, to only being a few sessions in to the Take 10 series. So, with all of this positive talk of meditation, I used my bed-bound time to re-engage with the app and feel like I’ve really started to make some progress.

I have been trying to get into meditation since the yoga retreat in January, and have toyed with sessions on and off, but I know that to really ‘crack it’ I need to make meditating as much of a habit as my morning yoga sessions or lunchtime runs.

In a later podcast episode, but still on the theme of meditation, Roll interviewed meditation guru Light Watkins. Here the discussion touched on this idea of making meditation a habit. Watkins noted that the difficult thing is to break your bad habits, in this case, the habit of not meditating, rather than to adopt positive new ones. He used the example of a man who had re-engineered his bike so that the handlebars were backwards, meaning that when he turned left he would go right and when he turned right he would go left. It took him eight months of practising for five minutes every morning before he finally cracked being able to ride the bike down his drive. In this instance, as with meditating, it is not about the knowledge of how something is done or why it works, or even the processes that you need to go through to get the desired end result, rather it is about consistent behaviour and being consistent enough that your body eventually habituates towards meditating (or riding a backwards bicycle).

In Roll’s conversation with Light, again there was an emphasis on holistic health, giving the example of a Rubik’s cube, where every side of the cube has to be balanced. In this example meditation offers the tool to unlock the problem of the Rubik’s cube and restore overall balance.

I found this a really useful way of thinking about meditation and the body as a whole and it certainly gave me food for thought with regard to how I treat my mind and body.

My other valuable takeaway from Watkins and Piatt was the idea that we shouldn’t regard events or circumstances as wholly good or bad. Rather than polarising our experiences we should try to see the nuances and reflect on what can be learned from them. Piatt noted that ‘there is no human life that does not have any darkness in it…in order to be a fully integrated human being you have to have embraced both the light and the dark, it is what has made you what you are today. You can’t cut off a part of your existence and pretend it never happened’.

While this is a sentiment we may have heard many times before, I found it incredibly comforting and reassuring, particularly during a week of illness, which I had been regarding as entirely negative.

As this post has perhaps shown, taking time out, even when unable to get out of bed, can be positive and constructive. For me, it was a chance to listen to podcasts and to my body, to encounter new inspirational speakers, to meditate (unhampered by the feeling I should be doing something more ‘active’) and to reflect on the health of my body as a whole unit.

Here is where we start getting stronger.

Brain Pickings: On thinking fast and running slow

Last week I struggled with my long run. The issue was not so much physical as mental. I found myself counting down every kilometre, my mind jumping from fatigue, to boredom, to hunger (I’m still running fasted, although with my distances mounting I think I’m reaching the tipping point at which I can do this) and, although my splits were no different than usual, each kilometre seemed to go on for twice as long. I pushed through 25 kilometres, as I’d planned, and while it wasn’t a bad run, it was just that little bit tougher than I would have liked. I chalked it up as good marathon day practice – a reminder of what a run with my head in the wrong place could feel like – and resolved that this week I would work as hard on my mind as on my limbs to prepare me for my long run.

In the week I listened to an interview with the Runners Connect coach Jamie Dodge, in which she had placed emphasis on enjoying the journey while running, both during training and in races. She noted that many runners, when they cross the finish line, are more keen to tell the stories of the various things that happened during the race – the people they met, the spectators cheering them on, the scenery, the route – than to obsess over their final times, and I count myself within this group. Listening to her made me realise that the journey really is the important part for me; I love being able to go out and just run. I like being able to escape on a run, listening to podcasts or music as I go or to run and chat with friends as we pound the pavements together.

It was with this idea of just enjoying the journey in mind that I set out on my long run this Sunday. I was slightly anxious about keeping my mind on course, but as it was I needn’t have worried. I had downloaded a series of podcasts and within seconds I was totally engrossed in the first: an episode of Radio Headspace featuring an interview with Maria Popova.

brainpickings

You know the feeling when you hear, read or watch something and you suddenly feel like you want to share that thing with everyone? That was how I felt listening to Maria Popova speak. She is the creator of Brain Pickings, a website which began as an email newsletter to seven friends and which now has over seven million visitors each month. As Georgie Okell, presenter of Radio Headspace described it, Brain Pickings is an ‘online archive of interestingness, inspiration and meaning’.

The idea originated out of, on the one hand, Popova’s idealism of what learning could be and, on the other, a dissatisfaction with her college liberal arts education, which wasn’t the edifying experience she had hoped for. In search of something more, she supplemented her classes with long visits to the library, reading and reading some more, dipping into different disciplines from neuroscience to philosophy, and allowing the cross-pollination of ideas from one subject area to the next. In this way, Brain Pickings became a permanent online record of her own thinking and personal development, while at the same time becoming a source of inspiration for her readers.

I would urge readers here to explore the site and to listen to the interview, but before you do I wanted to touch on some of the points that really resonated with me.

On communication 

Popova’s comments on communication really struck a chord as they outlined behaviours that I often find myself guilty of. To read and write and truly engage with the material that goes into Brain Pickings, Popova noted that she has to close her inbox and cut herself off from the constant beeping of emails, text messages and social media updates. She observed that communication today has a sense of immediacy which creates a false sense of urgency, and while we know that this sense of urgency is a fictional product of the technological environment we live in, we all still find ourselves buying into it. We live in a world of reactivity, where people are so quick to form judgements and to act on those judgements, reacting rather than reflecting and responding. It is important to recognise this and to take a step back when we can, to allow our mind to explore our thoughts and ideas properly, and to observe and listen to the world without the need to trigger a response.

On writing

This sense of immediacy of information and the urgency to react extends beyond emails and text messages to much of the content we encounter online. The list-like content and catchy headlines of many articles and blog posts demand our attention, promising instant information requiring only minimal engagement. We are attracted by so-called ‘click-bait’; short-form material engineered to catch our eye rather than to generate appreciation or understanding. The result is that many people ‘mistake attention for appreciation’.

Popova aims to move away from this approach to writing and her site includes more and more long-form pieces where, as she explains, ‘there is an opportunity to explore nuance, clarity and context’.

On meditation 

One means of extracting ourselves from this culture of urgency and immediacy is through meditation. Popova observes that ‘the beautiful thing about meditation is that it’s a reminder of how to be in yourself and in the world without this compulsive reactivity.’ It is important to give yourself the space to take a step back and make an internal investment to be more reflective.

On reading

By reading and engaging with the experiences of others we are able to feel a resonance between our own experiences and emotions and those of others, across different times and spaces. Reading about emotions of love and doubt, hope and fear experiences by those around us, we may discover deeper meaning and a greater understanding of ourselves, and in doing so may feel less alone in our experiences.

On finding your path

Sometimes, when we encounter particular philosophical teachings, or learn from historical narratives, read about science and linguistics, literature and mathematics, something in our minds just click and we find ourselves exploring new paths or taking our lives in different directions. Sometimes it can be something as small as having a particular conversation with a person, or going on a retreat, or even listening to a podcast or radio show.

For some readers, Brain Pickings has acted as this apparent catalyst for change, of which Popova observes:

‘I’d be a fool to believe that I had catalysed whatever change someone has gone on. People are on their own path, and there are things that may help them to clarify that path, but I think they would have arrived anyway. But there is some reassurance in seeing things playing out in other people’s lives to act as a point of reference – in the lives of people that we as a society see as successful…People step into what they already are, they just find a context which makes it easier to access what is already in them.’

On purpose

One of the most profound comments from the piece was on finding your purpose in life. On this, Popova affirmed that you find your purpose by doing. She quoted the book Conversations with Picasso, in which Picasso observes that  ‘in order to know what you’re painting you have to begin to paint’. A lot of people are misled by the ‘fetish of finding their true purpose’ and it makes them afraid of going down the wrong path. The result is that instead of doing everything, people end up doing nothing.

Allowing yourself to accept that your life may not have one sole purpose, and that the one thing you deemed so important at 21 may not be the thing that matters to you as much at 31 or 41 frees you to ‘just live, with attentiveness and awareness of the world’, and discern from that what it is that gives you a sense of purpose.

‘If you come at everything with too much of a fixed plan you could cheat yourself out of so many things because you can’t envisage you future self’s values and how you will develop…Keep checking in with yourself, what brings you happiness and nourishes you.’

***

As you have probably gathered from this post, my mind was so active going over all of Papova’s words that my long run flew by; I will certainly be downloading some more Radio Headspace for my run on Sunday.

Happy running.

January Blues?

So it’s colder than it was in December, even though you were hoping that Spring might be on its way, and it’s still dark when you wake up in the mornings and when you leave the office at night. The joie de vivre of the New Year and all of it’s resolutions seems an awfully long time ago, and, if you’re anything like me, you’re totally broke. With all of this stacked against it, it’s little wonder that January is associated with the blues.

In the dying moments of January, I wanted to write a post to give readers a little lift; to give you that spark of motivation to keep on top of your training and to maintain the post-Christmas clean eating and regular workout habits that you entered into with so much energy just 31 days ago.

So what keeps me going when the January blues are lurking?

  • Let someone else talk you into the right head space
Listen to Radio Headspace or check out the free Headspace app
Listen to Radio Headspace or check out the free Headspace app

I’ve mentioned previously how much I love the Runners Connect Run to the Top podcast, but it bares repeating. I find listening to other runners talk about their training, fuelling, form, races and the hurdles that they’ve had to overcome to get to where they are today incredibly motivating. Listening to these interviews and insights during my long runs helps to distract my mind from how many more miles I have to go and listening on my train commute only makes me want to go out and run all the more. If you want an episode to motivate you to run, listen to this interview with Fernando Cabada, or if you are more interested in running form, try this interview about the TrueForm Runner. There are heaps more that I could recommend, but I’d suggest you check it out for yourself – download an episode and then head out on a run.

I have also started listening to the Healthynomics podcast, which I discovered as a result of Run to the Top. It has some really interesting interviews and a great no-nonsense approach to running and fuelling for runners and while I’ve only listened to a couple of episodes, I can tell that I’m going to be tuning in regularly. My other recent discovery is the the Radio Headspace podcast, which was recommended to me by my friend Sophie and which is motivating in a very different way. With subjects ranging from mind and body, to careers, innovative inventions, relationships, life and death, it’s a great all-round informative and inspiring listen and particularly great if you’ve got a curiosity about mindfulness and meditation.

  • Make plans and stick to them
Schedule your runs
Schedule your runs

One of the best things about following a marathon training programme is that it doesn’t require any thinking in terms of what workout you are going to do. You have a week-by-week list of runs and cross-training sessions and you have to complete them. This removes that moment of doubt when you wonder if you really want to go on that run after work, when its cold and dark outside, or whether you might just be better off going straight home and having a nice hot bath. As soon as you start to question if you will make a workout, the chances are you will end up skipping it.

Schedule your workouts like you would meetings or supper dates and don’t flake. Once you have your plan, don’t question it and if you have a particular run or session that you think might be difficult to do, enlist a friend to come with you. I don’t know what I’d do without my pal Louise accompanying me on my mid-week evening runs. And this week I also organised a trip to the pool followed by supper with my friend Rosie. On a chilly, dark evening I could easily have bypassed my swim and skipped straight to supper, but having someone with me helped me make it into the pool and made the post-swim meal taste all the nicer as a result.

  • Change it up

Try a new route, run your usual route backwards (not actually backwards, but you know what I mean!), swap a swim for a weights session, or yoga for dancing. Changing up your workouts helps to keep you motivated, prevents exercise complacency -when you just allow yourself to go through the motions without really pushing yourself – and also helps to keep all of your muscles active.

I’ve been cross-training with swimming and trying out new pools to add more variety and I’ve been using the techniques I learned at the yoga retreat to lead some of my own yoga practices, rather than just going on autopilot and not really engaging properly with my body and breath as I let someone else talk me through a workout.

  • Read yourself fitter
'The Way of the Runner', Adharanand Finn
‘The Way of the Runner’, Adharanand Finn

As with listening to fitness podcasts, I find reading books, blogs and magazines on health and fitness also keep me motivated. Buying a copy of Women’s Health to read on my lunch break or picking up a free copy of Coach Magazine on my commute to work can make the difference between fitting in a workout that day or not. Similarly, reading about other people’s fitness exploits in books or on blogs also makes me want to go out and succeed in my own sporting challenges. Recent blog discoveries include Healthynomics and Underground Wellness, while on on my ‘to read’ list I now have My Year of Running DangerouslyThe Way of the Runner and The Dark Side of Fat Loss. There are more reading recommendations on the Read page of my blog if you are in need of further inspiration.

Surrounding yourself with people who normalise being fit, healthy and mindful of their diets really helps to keep you on course when others suggest that your vegan diet, lunchtime runs and early morning workouts are just crazy.

  • Dress to sweat 
osprey backpack
A good running rucksack allows you to run your commute – definitely a worthwhile investment!

When in doubt I love treating myself to a new piece of running kit to help motivate me to get out and run (this is probably why I am broke!). At the moment I love any excuse to wear my pink and navy Nike leggings and at the risk of becoming an ‘Active Wear’ stereotype, that means working out!

Treating yourself to new gym kit obviously isn’t a sustainable motivating factor but sometimes it’s ok to splash out on a new headband or some brightly coloured leggings if it means you feel you are investing in your health and you do then go out and use them for sports.

 

 

Embrace your bad runs, listen to your body and other wise words from the Runners Connect Podcast

Runners Connect - Run to the Top Podcast
Runners Connect – Run to the Top Podcast

This weekend, while I was searching for an audiobook to get me through my long Sunday run, I stumbled upon the Runners Connect Run to the Top podcast. Curious, I downloaded a couple of episodes while I had my pre-run cup of tea. Tea consumed, I pulled on an extra running top, laced up and headed out into a very chilly day, pressing play as I began my 12 miler.

The first episode was entitled Why it’s important to welcome bad runs. Like all runners, I’m all too familiar with bad running days; days when my legs won’t cooperate and when, despite feeling like I’m putting in my usual effort, my splits remain embarrassingly snail-like. In fact, I had had one such day that Saturday, and I was hoping above hope that my Sunday run would progress with the pleasant ease of that the previous week, rather than the huffing mess of the previous day.

As it was, I found myself so utterly distracted by the podcast that I didn’t notice the first few miles go past. While the audio quality wasn’t the greatest and the production was by no means as sleek as an episode of This American Life or Serial (my usual long-run podcasts of choice), the content was rich, interesting and engaging, and the presenter, the British elite runner Tina Muir, was endearing and instantly likable. After a slightly long and nervous introduction, the interview really got going. She was interviewing the CNN journalist, runner and author of My year of running dangerously Tom Foreman, who was one of the most inspiring speakers about running that I’ve heard, and I think may be one of my new running gurus!

'My Year of Running  Dangerously', Tom Foreman
‘My Year of Running Dangerously’, Tom Foreman

Back in 2010, while in his 50s, he got back into running in a big way, agreeing to join his 18-year-old daughter to train for, and run, a marathon. From marathon success, he continued his running journey, racing in multiple half-marathons, marathons and eventually ultramarathons.

Throughout the course of the interview he reflected on various aspect of running, from injury, to combining being a good runner with being a good family member, work colleague and friend. I don’t want to give away everything he said – rather I would compel you to please go and listen to the interview for yourself – but there were some particular titbits that have stayed with me which I wanted to include here.

On injury:

Having covered so many miles, what was surprising was how little injury Foreman had incurred. However he said that he ‘took very seriously the idea of incremental increases’, only gradually upping his distance to let his body adapt. His mantra was ‘the run that counts is tomorrow’s run’, meaning that you should never run so hard one day that you are either unable or unwilling to run the next, (race days are of course an exception to this rule!). He urged listeners to take every hint of a problem seriously; to be aware of twinges, to look after your joints and muscles, to be attentive to the possibility of getting injured and to reflect on the difference between discomfort – fatigue or a build-up of lactic acid – and injury.

He vaunted the importance of listening to your body; even when you think you should push through, the most sensible and valiant thing to do is to pull up slightly, keeping in mind that the aim is to get from a to b, and if that means going slightly sideways for a little while that is better than being forced to stop completely due to injury. And if you feel a twinge or a problem weeks before a race, you have to seriously ask yourself ‘how valuable this race to me?’ Because it may be that pushing on for that race will write you off for the next six months, so it is important to be realistic and think, is it worth it?

On bad runs:

In the interview, Foreman recalls a conversation he had with the Bugs Bunny animator Chuck Jones, who, on his first day at art school was told by his art instructor ‘each of you has 10,000 bad drawings in you, so let’s start drawings and get them out now’. Foreman observed that similarly, we all have an awful lot of bad running days in us and while some days you may feel exceptional and running feels like the best thing in the world, other days you may feel truly awful. On those awful days, however, it’s important to remember that as a rule of probability the next run you do is likely to be better, and rather than worrying about feeling heavy or tired, what you need to think is ‘thank goodness I’ve got that out of the way’.

It’s important to remember that the best athletes out there still have painful, awful days, but what makes them the best is that they accept that such days do not define their ability, they are just painful, awful days which they put behind them and move on to the next run to see if it’s any better.

On running a marathon:

Wisely, Foreman observed that a marathon is too long a race to do for anyone but yourself. You have to really want to do it, and to commit to it for more than just the time, or the medals. While those things are important to some extent, the essence of your drive should be the thought that ‘I’m out here to deliver the best I can, to engage the physics of this race as a human animal and deliver the best I can…the real goal is to reach that state that I’ve just run a beautiful race and expressed my human athleticism in the best way I could.’ And remember, in a big city marathon, like New York or London, there are over 50,000 people running and only one person gets to win, the rest of us have to run for something else.

On getting outside:

A man after my own heart, Foreman stressed that time outdoors matters. He observed that it is easy to look back on you days and realise you were never effectively outside. Running, however, gets you outside of the house and outside of your comfort zone. There is something very invigorating and freeing about being in a situation where it’s not the perfect temperature all of the time, or when that cup of tea or biscuit isn’t arm length away. Rather, running, in a range of weather conditions, allows you to engage with the bigger human experience.

On skipping training runs:

This little nugget was one which really resonated with me: on skipping runs, Foreman used the following rule of thumb: ‘If you are really busy or you have a family commitment and you really want to run but there just isn’t time, then it’s ok to skip that run. The run you can’t skip is the one you just don’t want to do, that’s when you have to go. You can’t give into that part of you. You are always better off for going for a run. Sometimes it takes a mile, sometimes it takes five miles before you feel better, but invariably, by the end, you will feel better.’

On balancing your running with the rest of your life:

Foreman advises, don’t worry about what people think of your running ability, if you are going to worry about anything worry about how your running impacts on you as a friend, colleague or family member. Foreman insists that ‘you have to make sure work as hard at your life as you do at your running’, and that’s not always easy. As his daughter observed in the book, ‘the challenge is not running a marathon, the challenge is running a marathon and not letting your life fall apart’. You need to strive for balance and make sure your workplace sees your running as something that makes you a better employee and that your family sees it as something that makes you a better family member.

This advice really struck a chord with me, as I know sometimes, when I’m deep into my marathon training programme, I can get slightly cagey about weekend activities, or protective of my evenings, and I just have to remember to try and make up for this when I’m training for shorter races and not to be too uptight if I have to tweak my schedule to fit a shorter run before work or over lunch.

While I’ve written more here than I had intended, as you can see, I was particularly inspired by this episode and will now be buying Tom Foreman’s book, My Year of Running Dangerously! Since I heard this episode of the Runners Connect podcast on Sunday, I have listened to 5 or 6 further episodes and would particularly recommend the episode with motivational speaker and marathon runner Dick Beardsley as well as the one with sleep expert Dr James Maas. Do check out the podcast as there is lots of really great content there and lots to keep you inspired on all of your runs.

Tina Muir also writes a blog about her running which can be found here.

Enjoy these and happy listening, reading and running!

Festive fit bits: Sleeping, eating, running and NutriBullet-ing

Christmas presents with my nephew Sebastian
Opening Christmas presents with my nephew Sebastian

Before I jump into a January ‘New Year’ type post, I wanted to write a quick round-up of the Christmas period, which has been especially heavenly.

After two blissful weeks away from the office, jam-packed with family and friends, good food, lots of sleep, running and relaxing, I now feel (almost) ready for the year ahead.

And this Christmas has shown that festivities and fitness don’t have to be mutually exclusive.

Regularly getting more than 6 hours of sleep a night has proven that the dark circles under my eyes aren’t a permanent fixture and will disappear without oodles of concealer, if only I get to bed on time. For the last few weeks I’ve been hitting my 8 hour sleep targets regularly, much to the approval of my Jawbone Up and my body, which does actually seem to function without coffee, who knew?

Vegan cookbooks
Vegan cookbooks for a January of tasty treats!

My Christmas gifts – from people who clearly know me all too well – included, a NutriBullet (which has already had lots of use!), three new vegan cookbooks, a new steamer, a beautiful wooden salad bowl and an enormous new teapot. These are all very welcome additions to our household, which is currently surviving on a diet dominated by green gloop, as I’m still enjoying the novelty of NutriBullet-ing pretty much everything!

I had some very funky new running leggings, which I took out for a spin on Boxing Day, and marathon entry for the 2016 Potteries Marathon from my brother-in-law: I’m not yet sure if he loves me or hates me!

New jazzy leggings, en route to try out a new yoga centre
New jazzy leggings, en route to try out a new yoga centre

I also had some delicious Nakd bars and some Booja-booja truffles to fuel me though all of this wholesomeness.

While Christmas of course means more tasty tempting treats, and I did indulge in plenty of nuts (my ultimate downfall), a delicious vegan mince pie and a few glasses of mulled wine, being a vegan I think I escaped too much seasonal spread, as the bulk of our meals were based around vegetables, comforting jacket potatoes, salads and soups.

We also tried out some delicious vegetarian restaurants, visiting HanSas Gujarati in Leeds and Prashad in Drighlington, both well worth a visit if you are in West Yorkshire looking for some really indulgent, vegetarian Indian fare.

Training for the Brighton marathon provided me with the motivation I needed to get out and run over the festive period, when snuggling up in front of old movies in my parent’s all-too-cosy house seemed like a very tempting alternative.

Running buddies! Boxing Day run in the rain with my brother-in-law
Running buddies! Boxing Day run in the rain with my brother-in-law

Despite the flooding, rainy days and a horrid cold, I just about managed to stay on top of my programme, with a little help from my running buddies!

So now I’m almost ready to get back to work and jump into 2016. This coming year has some new sporting challenges – 2 marathons, learning to ski, a yoga retreat and a coast-to-coast walk are all on my to do list, and somewhere among them I will also be getting married!

Lots more marathon motivation, exercise tips, recipes, reading recommendations and (hopefully) some ‘shredding for the wedding’ secrets to follow.

But for now I’ll leave you with the most delicious breakfast smoothie recipe, adapted from Deliciously Ella, which I blitzed up in my NutriBullet after my long run this morning:

NutriBulletted breakfast smoothie with oats and spriulina
NutriBulletted breakfast smoothie with oats and spriulina

4 Brazil nuts
3 Dates (or 2 Medjool dates)
1 Banana (peeled and sliced)
40g Oats (Ella uses more, but I think this is plenty)
1 tsp Cinnamon
1 tsp Honey/Agave
1 tsp Spirulina powder

  • Place all ingredients into your blender cup.
  • Add a couple of ice cubes and top up with cold water to the max point on the cup.
  • Blitz for 40 seconds or until the mixture is totally smooth.

Happy blending!