Catching up: Mind, Body and Spirit

I realise that I haven’t written for a while; a combination of mood, work and wedmin, sunshine and social engagements have made me reluctant to sit in front of a screen when not absolutely necessary of late. I’ve even been eschewing my phone in favour of books and magazines in a bid to escape the dreaded pull of the blue light, which connects you to a million things that you could or should to be doing.

Still, lots has been going on so I wanted share a quick(ish) update with you here.

Mind

a life without limitsLast week I finally finished four-time World Ironman Champion Chrissie Wellington’s autobiography A Life Without Limits. I’d been listening to this as an audiobook following a recommendation from the Twins in Trainers and, as with finishing any good book, having reached the end I suddenly feel like I’ve lost a close friend.

I found Chrissie and her story beyond inspiring and it both entertained and spurred me on through countless long runs. This is an incredibly story of an athlete discovering her athletic capacity relatively late in life and trading a phenomenally successful career in international development for a brutal  training regime and killer races.

I really can’t recommend this book enough and although my reaction to Chrissie’s story hasn’t been to sign up for an Ironman (as I know one of my Twin pals has been tempted to do) if you are looking for something to get you out on a run, swim or cycle, look no further.

Body

IMG_4497Talking of getting out to train, today I enjoyed my first swim in the Hampstead ponds. This has been on my ‘to do’ list for some time now and with the sun shining on London this weekend posed the perfect opportunity. It was just a quick dip today (as my friend Ariana and I were taking it in turns to guard the bags while the other swam) but it was utter bliss and I will certainly be making a return visit.

My favourite part was swimming alongside a duck and her little ducklings, all seen for the first time at water level. This was my first non-sea-based open water swimming experience and it was no where near as scary as I had feared.

I’ve also been enjoying (more traditional) weekly swim sessions in the St Pancras pool. Alongside my morning yoga ritual, these serve to stretch out my limbs and have proven good alternatives to running in the hotter weather. I have a back list of sets to share, which I promise I will do soon.

As for running, I’m back to a steady ebb and flow of weekly runs ranging from 3 to 13 miles. I really feel like I’m in a pretty positive place with running at the moment and despite a niggling pain in my lower right shin, I’ve been feeling good and, most importantly, really enjoying each run.

IMG_2875R and I enjoyed our first run in Epping Forest the other week and I can’t believe we’ve not ventured out there sooner. It was so beautiful and the trails are great, especially for practising hill running. It’s always nice to try a new route and to test the limbs on different terrain. Even better though, is its proximity to our friend Mark’s cafe Hucks, where we went afterwards for peanut-buttery crumpets, amazing coffee (with all of the non-milky milks) and live music. Basically the perfect day.

I’ve entered a few races in the autumn months but until then I’m just embracing running (and gossiping) with my pal Louise on our lunch runs, or avoiding the tube with my commuter jogs and just heading out on my long Sunday routes without any agenda.

Finally I also got down to the climbing wall for the first time in an age last week. My arm, chest and back muscles certainly benefited from an hour or so of bouldering (even if my feet didn’t thank me for being squished back into climbing shoes!) and although my climbing isn’t what it was, it was so nice to get out of my head and onto the wall for a while.

Spirit

IMG_4010Another new experience since my last post was my first trip to The Sunday Assembly in June.

With the tagline ‘Live Better, Help Often, Wonder More‘, The Sunday Assembly was started by two comedians who decided that they both wanted to start something that was like church but totally secular and inclusive of everyone, no matter what their beliefs. The resulting group offers inspirational speakers, moving talks, music (and singing by the ‘congregation’), cups of tea and the opportunity to chat with lots of like-minded people.

I hadn’t especially thought that I had a Sunday morning void in my life (in fact my Sunday’s are strictly dedicated to the Gods of the Long Run), but I admit that there was something so uplifting and enjoyable about belting out songs with like-minded folk, as well as listening to inspiring short talks and feeling like a part of something bigger than myself.

The Assembly gathers twice a month, on the first and third Sunday’s, with the next London group on 7 August and I intend to be there.

That’s all for now but more soon I promise. Until the next, go out and enjoy something new this week!

 

 

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Swimming upstream

It’s been a funny old week in the UK, and by ‘funny old’ what I actually mean is abjectly disastrous. This blog isn’t usually a platform for my political opinions, but this week comes as an exception and as politics and well-being collide I’ve found myself laying awake at night worrying, doing sun salutations to the sound of Radio 4’s Today Programme, putting on the news in the gym and talking politics while on the road with my running pals.

So before I share this week’s swim set, as I know my blog has quite an international readership, I just wanted anyone reading to know that a significant proportion of the British population is tolerant, inclusive and outward looking and that we know and value how much internationalism in the UK enriches our lives, culture, economy, skills base, workforce and communities.

I have so much more to say on the subject, but here is not the place. I just want to reiterate the point that we are a tolerant nation, and for better (and sometimes for worse), a democratic one. I think the past week has really highlighted the need for all of us in the UK to do some soul searching and to take a serious look at ourselves to try and understand how we have become a nation so divided. We need to reflect on how we got ourselves into this mess in the first place, and, in the coming weeks, months and years, we need to make a plan (something which no one appears to have felt necessary up to now), to get ourselves out.

This week as politicians have been trying to keep their heads above water, I’ve submerged mine in order to escape. This session is just 2,000m, but the sprints are killers. It took me a few attempts to get the 25m front crawl without breathing but it was pretty satisfying once I’d cracked it.

Enjoy!

Warm up
200m choice

Main set
4 x 100m IM sprinting on fly and breaststroke
30 seconds rest between sets
4 x 100m IM sprinting on back and front crawl
30 seconds rest between sets

8 x 25m front crawl no/minimal breathing
15 seconds rest between sets

200m front crawl breathing bi-lateral (either every 3 or 5 strokes)

4 x 100m sprint to easy every 25m as:
100m full stroke
100m kick
100m full stroke
100m kick
30 seconds rest between sets

Swim down
200m front crawl

Total 2,000m

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.

IMG_3455

I am, IM: A 40 minute medley swim set

After my last swimming session post I received lots of positive feedback so I’ve decided to share a swim set here each week. Hopefully this will motivate you to get your weekly chlorine hit, as well as having the added bonus for me of making sure I get to the pool at least once a week and put together a worthwhile session (rather than lazily doing laps).

I know a couple of people at least who bowed out of the fly in the last session. This set has more fly, but there is plenty of rest between sets and you never need to do more than one length/25m of fly at a time, so I’d urge you to give it a go. If full stroke is too much you can try fly legs with one arm pulls. Here you need to do a fly leg kick and pull one arm at a time, leaving the other arm out in front of you. Here the trick to getting this drill right it making sure you are still doing a fly pull (not a front crawl one).

Another question related to listening to music etc. while swimming. I have to admit I’ve never done this and while it is each to his own (and I do like to listen to music when running), when I swim I quite like the escape of being in the water and being isolated from technology and distractions. I also believe that there is a lot to focus on while you swim – especially when you are just starting out – in terms of getting your body position right and your strokes fluid and consistent, and there is the concern that listening music or a podcast would distract from that. We all have room for improvement on all strokes so I’ve added a drill set to the end of this session to tap into that and hopefully to keep you engaging in swimming and not looking for other distractions!

Right, that’s enough from me, here you go, it’s 2,200m and should take around 40 minutes. Enjoy!

Warm up:
200m front crawl

Main set:
2 x 175m as
Fly to front crawl (50m)
Back to front crawl (50m)
Breast to front crawl (50m)
Front crawl (25m)

30-45 seconds rest between sets (take longer if it means you’ll do the fly!)

3 x 150m front crawl as
Swim (150m)
Kick (150m)
Pull (150m)

15 seconds rest between sets
4 x 125m as
Fly, back, breast, front crawl, front crawl x4

30 seconds rest between sets

5 x 100m front crawl alternating each length drill to swim

10-15 seconds between sets

Drills:
Shark fin – on each pull touch your hand to your armpit, then return it to your side, lift it to your armpit again before completing the pull.

Catch-ups – after each stroke leave your hand in front of you until the other hand meets it.

Catch-ups with drag – as above but as you pull allow your fingertips to ‘tickle’ the surface of the water and keep your elbows high.

Top hat – as you bring your hand out of the water touch the top of your head before you allow it to re-enter and complete the pull.

Breathing every 3,5,7 strokes

Swim down:
200m front crawl

2,200

I hope you enjoy the set and as always feedback and requests welcome.

Happy swimming!

A fun 45 minute swim set

After a blissful, (if not slightly indulgent on the food and wine front), long weekend, on Tuesday I decided to stay out of the rain and switch my run for a gym/swim combo.

Lunchtime saw me power through a Kayla Itsines-inspired HITT workout, with jumping squat-lunges and cross-body mountain climbers designed to turn all of your muscles to jelly.

In the evening I headed to the pool and had such a great session I wanted to share it here.

This is a 2,100m session which should take around 45 minutes and is a great way to keep you interested and engaged for the whole set:

Warm-up

2oom front crawl
100m backstroke
100m breaststroke
(400m)

Main set

300m front crawl
2 x 150m front crawl (30 seconds rest after each)
3 x 100m front crawl (30 seconds rest after each)
4 x 75m front crawl kick (20 seconds rest after each)
5 x 50m as 25m fly, 25m backstroke, rest 10 seconds, 25m  backstroke, 25m breaststroke, rest 10 seconds, 25m breaststoke, 25m frontcrawl, rest 10 seconds, 25m fly, 25m backstroke, rest 10 seconds, 25m  backstroke, 25m breaststroke, rest 1 minute
6 x 25m front crawl off 30 seconds
(1,600m)

Swim down

100m easy

If you have a fun swimming session do share it with me and I hope you enjoy this one as much as I did.

Happy swimming!