Reflections on a challenging year

It’s been an unusual year for me.  Unusual in that I haven’t run a single marathon…or even a half.  I do realise that makes me sound a little unusual, the irony isn’t lost on me.

I tried.  I was full of good intentions, and training plans, and I had my sights set high for a post-foot-surgery comeback… but it wasn’t to be.  Instead I didn’t even start the last three marathons I entered.

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My running kinda went downhill after missing my goal in 2016’s London Marathon.  I lost faith.  Then I ended up having surgery to correct a painful ongoing foot problem which wiped me out.  It took longer to get back to running than anticipated and then I got the fear every time I put my trainers on.  You know, the fear that makes you want to do absolutely ANYTHING else other than what you’re supposed to do.

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Sometimes I gave into the fear.  Sometimes I didn’t.  They say things fall apart so that better things can come together.  I guess we’ll see about that.  However, 2017 is coming to an end and it’s time to find some positivity in the things I have done rather than dwelling on those I haven’t, so I tried to find some.

1. I got back on my feet

OK, so I haven’t run all that much this year, but I have run.  I have picked myself up and started the journey back to my usual runner-bean self.  It’s been hard. It’s been physically hard because I felt like I had to teach myself how to run again and it’s been mentally hard because running scared me.  But I got back on my feet.

2. I bought me a bike and cycled almost 3 times as many miles as I ran this year

Yep, me, a bright new shiny pretty blue bike!  And I quickly had to learn how to ride it in cleats, on London roads, because I gave myself just two short months to prepare for Ride 100.

FYI, 2 months is probably, PROBABLY not long enough to go from semi-regular gym spinner to lycra clad 100 mile road cyclist…probably.

First time in cleats on Wimbledon Common

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3. I took that bike and rode 100 flippin’ miles

Which was HARD.  Why didn’t anyone tell me??  Why does everyone have to make cycling look so damn easy?!  Still, I completed my first ever cycling sportive in one piece, and I even started to enjoy it once I remembered to feed myself.  It actually turned out to be 120 miles after I had got myself there and back.  I did not leave my bed for the rest of the day (to be fair there wasn’t much day left by the time I’d finished…)

I cycled 100 miles to the Queens house…I went the long way

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4. I got stronger

Every time I gave into my running fear I found myself at the gym instead.  A lot.  And I had forgotten how much I loved it.  I swapped runs for sweaty spin sessions and went to classes called ‘Broken’ and ‘Insanity’ and ‘Core Wheel’ – you name it, I was there.

I also started lifting/pushing/squatting heavy things again and fell in love with Body Pump once more.  It gives you a different kind of post-workout buzz – and a different type of post-workout ouch (big ouch).

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5. I officially became a Barre Babe (as Nesse calls us)

I’ve been a regular at my Monday night Barre class for about 18 months now and I’ve seen a real improvement in my strength.  Barre is a ballet inspired isometric strength class that works by holding your body still while you work a particular set of muscles to the point of exhaustion.  It hurts, but we do it to hardcore gangster rap (seriously), and have the occasional glass of prosecco after to numb the pain (also seriously).

I absolutely bloody love it and if you fancy it I can promise you that Nesse is the best (and most glamorous) Barre teacher in London – catch her on her website here or on Instagram here.

Nesse on the left…and us trying to be like Nesse on the right.  Photo credit: Instagram @nesseinlondon

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6. I went boxing at the Ministry of Sound

I mean, COME ON!

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So, it’s been an unusual year.  And I didn’t run a marathon. So what?

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WeTRAIN: A New Fitness Concept in London

It was hot, muggy and humid at a sweaty Brixton warehouse, in a stifling 31 degree London, when WeTRAIN hosted their WePLAY Launch Party.  I wasn’t entirely sure what was in-store, but I was promised an evening of HIIT, Barre and Yoga so I was prepared for a tough workout!

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WeTRAIN is a new fitness concept to launch in Clapham and Brixton that brings you a range of classes, from Insanity and HIIT, to Sunrise Vinyasa Flow, Rocket Yoga and even ballet inspired Barre, in small groups of 8.  They call it ‘The Shared Personal Training Co’.

The idea is that you mix socialising with your workout to give you a personal training experience, without the extravagant cost or commitment of a series of sessions.  You’re free to go to any session you fancy, when you fancy, and just pay as you go. Just make sure you book first as I have a feeling this is about to take off!

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When we arrived we were greeted with Strawberry Serotonin Smoothies and Energy Chickpea Blondies courtesy of  The Thinking Kitchen which was just the kickstart we needed (and both tasted AMAZING, I need that blondie recipe!)

I started off with a Power Yoga session and quickly realised my stiff limbs have been missing their weekly downward dogs and pigeons!  We went through a series of postures and stretches, with hip openers and strength poses, before a very welcome savasana.

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This was followed by a Barre class. What’s Barre?  Well, I didn’t know either, but it’s a mix of ballet, pilates and yoga, all set to a hip hop soundtrack, I loved it!  The class was made even better by the instructor, Hillary Cannon, who has a refreshing approach to teaching where twerking midway through Fiddy’s Candy Shop is not only acceptable, but actively encouraged…

It challenges you by working each muscle to the point of exhaustion, in a full body workout, to build tone, core stability and strength.  Think push ups, planks, tricep dips, plies, clam shells, and everything else that hurts like hell.

There were actually quite a few exercises I was ordered to do by my physio last time I was injured with my lazy arse (true story), so I really think it’s the perfect session for a runner. Don’t expect not to wake up the next day in a world of pain though, as Hilary says ‘pulses hurt like a mother f**ker!’

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As the classes were small, it was easy to follow what was going on and the instructors could make sure we were doing the moves correctly, always helpful when muscles start to tire and form drops (and, err, what’s a plie again?!)

After the oh-so sweaty workouts, we re-hydrated with (ahem) prosecco and re-fueled with salad tubs from Gym Bites whilst WeTRAIN CEO, Adrian Mooney, explained to us a little more about how WeTRAIN works.

Finally, GB triple jumper Julien Allwood talked to us about how WeTRAIN donate a percentage of their fees to the Dame Kelly Holmes Trust, a charity that empowers disadvantaged young people, so you can be sure your workout is doing more more than just keeping you fit!

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I genuinely think WeTRAIN is a great concept and a welcome addition to the London fitness scene, there are even plans to expand their offering into other areas of London next year.

For people who are looking for a bit of flexibility, and some bang-on-trend classes, without the monthly spend commitments, this is definitely for you.  I’ve already done another Yoga and Barre class and I’m booked into Fit for Function (with the lovely Elle from Keep it simpELLE) and, yep, more Barre!

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Classes are just £12 a session and with only 8 people (max) per class, you can be sure you’re getting a much more personal experience than in a gym.

I was invited to the WeTRAIN launch party to try out some of the sessions on offer.  All views are my own.

Front Crawl Masterclass with Richard Stannard

I always loved swimming as a kid.  I mean, I kinda had no choice, my Mum threw me in the deep end of the pool when I was about 2 years old and told me not to get out until I’d earned my 5m badge.  I almost drowned that day (I remember it clearly) but I came away with my little pink badge and, after I’d finished choking, a big smile on my face.

Of course I exaggerate (slightly) but I think learning to swim at a young age is an important life skill.  I would have missed out on so many fun activities without that skill and, if nothing else, it teaches you not to be fearful of the water when your brother tries to suffocate you in the rapids on holiday (and he wonders why I used to lock him in sheds?!)

Whilst I’ll always be the first person to run into the sea, swimming is one of those things I haven’t really tried to improve as I got older.  Last week, Olympic Team GB partner, Fitness First, invited me to their Hammersmith pool for a front crawl masterclass with 7 time Triathlon and Biathlon World Champ Richard Stannard.  Given the time it took me to dig out my swimming cap, googles and sensible swimming costume (sequin clad bikinis don’t really scream ‘credible athlete’ do they?!), I realised it had been some time since I had gone swimming.  I was a little nervous.

FF Hammersmith’s brand new 17.5m pool

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Of course I had no need to be nervous as the Fitness First team immediately made me feel at ease when I turned up, and Richard and Jas, from The Triathlon Training Centre, were more than welcoming.  We were lucky enough to have the pool all to ourselves and, after an intro where Richard explained the correct way of putting on a swimming hat and goggles (I didn’t know there was a right and wrong way…) we were ready to jump in the water.

As soon as Richard got into the pool and glided effortlessly through the water it was clear why he’s nicknamed The Fish.  It turns out learning the correct front crawl technique is a little like learning to drive, a lot to think about at the same time but, once you get it, it all falls into place.  Once you get it..

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We went through a series of drills up and down the pool concentrating on a different aspect of front crawl each time.  The one thing that way made clear was that, if you want to improve, improve one thing at a time.

Breathing:

We started with a focus on breathing, but apparently that’s the most difficult bit to master.  Breathing out in the water has never really felt natural to me so it took a few minutes to remember not to simply hold my breath!  Luckily, I’ve always been a front crawl rather than breast stroke swimmer, so a lot of the basics came back to me quickly (ie. I didn’t drown or embarrass myself).

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Legs:

Next we focused on leg work using a kick board to allow us to concentrate on fast, straight leg kicks.  Apparently many people ignore their kicking and rely more on the arms but a good leg technique reduces effort.  The goal is to kick from the hip, rather than the knee, with a straight leg and pointed toes, this helps to keep the body flat in the water rather than sinking.  I think I got this bit…

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Arms – The Catch:

Finally, we moved on to arm technique we where we learned ‘the catch’.  The catch isn’t something I’ve heard of before but it’s a technique where you create a paddle with your arm to push yourself through the water.  You press the water behind you rather than down to swim faster.  Makes complete sense…until you try to do it…along with the hip kick thing and occasional oxygen intake which just gets in the way of everything.

Apparently I started off well but defaulted to my usual stroke towards the end of the length, I put this down to my concentration moving rapidly from my arms to my lungs!  I think my catch will take a bit more practice.

That’s me on the left, err, smooth as a fish…

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My evening in the pool reminded me how much I used to love swimming, and the bonus is it’s much easier on the joints than pounding the streets in my trainers.  Maybe they’ll make a triathlete of me yet 🙂

Fab bunch of Fitness Bloggers with Richard and Jono – Photo courtesy of Abbi at Upraised Living

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I would like to thank Richard, Fitness First Hammersmith, The Triathlon Training Centre (and Nandos for the post swim salad!) for a fabulous evening in the pool, I honestly enjoyed every minute and you’ve inspired me to go swimming more often!

#FFSwimSquad

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Review: Best’s Bootcamp

I always have good intentions of giving my tired limbs a whole week off exercise after running a marathon, but I’m shamelessly addicted to sweat drenched workouts so, when I was invited to be one of the very first people to try out London’s hottest new bootcamp since Barry’s on Thursday, I really couldn’t say no!

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When I turned up to Best’s Bootcamp’s brand new swanky studio in Charing Cross, it was clear this was going to be a tough workout, the trainer’s were all ripped and the studio, complete with DJ, looked serious…perhaps not the gentle return to exercise my body had in mind!

The dimmed room is lined with 22 treadmills facing floor length mirrors, with each having a workout station behind it so you can switch between running, and strength based exercises throughout the class.  I was given a treadmill (a treadmill complete with a personal fan no less) to start on, so my legs would just have to deal with what ever was coming their way!

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Named ‘Tread Army’, we were given the choice of starting on 8, 10 or 12 kph which steadily increased by increments of 2 throughout the 7 minute warmup, before I knew it I was up to 14 and hoping I wouldn’t fly off!

We then switched to the floor station where we were now the ‘WorkerBs’ for 7 minutes of squats, lunges and jumps on a soft box which, handily, you can flip over for a choice of 2 heights, I took the lower option, don’t judge me!

The studio has a unique Trainer Cam on the wall so, wherever you are in the room, you can always see what you’re supposed to be doing and focus on form rather than straining your neck to see what’s going on.  I though this was a great addition because, with just 60 seconds or so per exercise, you don’t want to waste any time.

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Already exhausted, I was back in the Tread Army again, increasing both speed and incline for some lung busting hill work and speed intervals, the legs were coping well.  Back on the floor we performed various kettlebell moves to  work on the arms, back and glutes, I’m not used to kettlebells so this was hard!

The final sweat session on the treadmill involved more speedwork and hills, but also involved some downhill running (who knew treadmills could go downhill?!)  This felt really odd to me and I couldn’t quite get used to it so I went back to zero (I kept the speed the same though, I promise!).  We then moved on to the last section of floor work to attack the abs, and attack we did with a mix of weighted sit ups and planks.

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Aaaandd finally the 50 minute workout was over, the very first Best’s Bootcamp class complete – ouch!  On leaving the studio we were treated to a post workout shake from the Blend Bar.  I chose the Berry Blast which was a mix of strawberries, blueberries, cranberries, almond milk and vanilla whey, perfect recovery, it was delicious!

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I thought Best’s Bootcamp was a pretty fantastic workout, intense, tough, sweaty and a good mix of cardio, strength training and HIIT.  To make the most of it, I would recommend having a good base level of fitness beforehand or you might struggle, but otherwise it’s a workout that delivers on everything you could want from a bootcamp, with some pretty top notch equipment, in a stylish studio, and changing rooms stocked with Kiehls, hair dryers and GHDs.  And how did I feel the next day?  Errr, it hurt, but that’s the only way I would have it!

Best’s Bootcamp is just a 2 minute walk from both Charing Cross and Embankment station and opens on 9th May, with individual classes priced at £20.  I highly recommended you check it out, I have a feeling it’s going to be very popular very soon! #BeYourBest

Many thanks to Marcel Grabowski Photography for all the great photos and Best’s and Action PR for having me. I was invited as a guest to try out Best’s Bootcamp. As always, all opinions are my own.

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F45 Training. I’ll be Batman

So, I’m on a little running ban.  No running, no Strava, not even a peek.  Most people might take the opportunity to put their feet up for a while but I’ve never been good at keeping still, so I’ve been looking for some new challenges to keep me out of trouble this week.

This morning I went to an F45 class at a new studio in London Bridge.  I had no idea what F45 was, but apparently it’s the latest fitness craze in Australia which launched in the UK a couple of months ago.  The celebs love it (obvs) and  a quick google search told me the guys look like this…so I thought it was worth getting up at 6am for.

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They describe F45 as ‘the most innovative, challenging and systemised team training workout in the world’, what that means is you get a high intensity workout combing strength and conditioning, as well as cardio.  There are 10 different styles of programmes which they mix up so each workout is unique.

Turning up at the studio, I was greeted by a friendly lady who checked me in and set me up with a heart rate monitor.  When you become a member you get your own, but as a guest I was to be Batman for the morning (seriously, I was Batman, best morning ever).  The monitors link to screens in the studio so you can see what everyone’s heart rate is and %max, I thought this was great as you can see exactly how hard you’re working and whether you’re slacking compared to everyone else!

The classes are quite small, there were 7 in mine, and with 2 instructors on the floor they can give everyone individual attention and even remember your name (sadly, they didn’t call me Batman to my face), it made a refreshing change to the usual packed classes you can get.

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There were 9 stations in total, you spend 2 minutes at each station doing 45 minutes work and 15 seconds rest before having a 2 minute break and doing the circuit again.  We started with a quick demo of each station and a warm up then got started.

I started on the rowing machine, which I was happy about because I’m an expert at those, then moved on to reverse burpees with plyometric jumps, errr, what was that again?  Luckily each exercise is demonstrated on the screen in front so you don’t look stupid in case you forget, didn’t make me any better at it though!

Next was hills on the bike, followed by some kind forward leaning squat which made 45 seconds feel a lot longer, the 15 second break was very welcome…

Next up was weighted lunges with shoulder bags, floor ladders with kettle bells at the end and then wheelbarrows, the ultimate team exercise that makes you feel like you’re back at school sports day.  I was always rubbish at school sports day, today was no different!

Finally we had some bunny hops over benches (high benches, more like hare hops…) and weighted sit ups.  Then we got a full 2 minute break before going round again, yayyyy!

The screens round the studio show a countdown clock so you know how long you’ve got left of work or rest and you can keep an eye on your heart rate. By the end I was pretty exhausted and my Batman heart rate percentage indicated I was still alive and worked hard.

I was genuinely impressed with everything, the workout, the studio and the team were all fantastic and, whilst I’m sure some of the other classes are much busier, I enjoyed being in a small team.  The instructors took the time to help you, and modify the exercises for your needs, which was really helpful for my runner limbs that don’t always do what I tell them to.

This morning I was at an Athletica class, which is slightly more cardio focused, but you can also go to a Romans class with more weights based exercises, or a Hollywood class which I’m sure is full of surprises!

Currently there’s a studio at London Bridge but I believe there will be another opening in Clapham soon which is perfect for me!  You can get a 7 day free trial on their website so it’s definitely worth a go, I’ll be heading back for a Romans class when I’ve recovered, I just hope I can be Batman again.

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Hot & Sweaty with Ellie Goulding

When an email landed in my inbox from Nike Women inviting me to the exclusive launch of Ellie Gouldings’ new Tighten & Tone N+TC workout with none other than Ellie herself I couldn’t reply quick enough!

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The venue was Tobacco Dock in East London where I joined maybe 300 other like minded ladies bubbling with excitement and ready to get sweaty on the mat. There was a small stage at the front and the evening kicked off with a stunning acoustic performance from Ellie who treated us 5 or 6 of her hits including the current number 1, Love Me Like You Do and one of my favourite running tracks, Anything Could Happen.

Ellie Goulding was singing just a metre away from me!!  ARRGHHHH

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Despite being an international superstar, she told us she was feeling shy.  She needn’t of been because we all loved her, and even more so for being so normal, but  she was clearly putting her heart into her performance.  It was bloody brilliant!

Ellie then rushed off to change into her workout gear (reminding us why we were there!) and we went to find ourselves a mat, the punishment was about to begin…

The Nike Master Trainers were introduced on stage together with Ellie’s personal trainer, Faisal, who would be leading the session with Ellie. Ellie has been a bit of a fitness freak for some now and she’s also a keen runner so I knew the workout would be beneficial to my marathon training.

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We started the session with a good warm up before getting stuck into the Tighten & Tone workout. I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect but it’s only a 15 minute workout, how hard could it be?  I was expecting an easy ride. I was wrong.

Tighten & Tone is a combination of high and low intensity intervals designed to activate the core, strengthen the arms and work the legs.  We completed a range of exercises including burpees, planks, pike push-ups, squats, thrusts, seated scissor kicks (ouch!) & lunges for 30-60 seconds with a couple of 10 second rests if we were lucky.

The Nike Master Trainers were dotted around everywhere checking we weren’t slacking so there was nowhere to hide!  Ellie proved herself to be just as fit and strong as I thought and completed all of the exercises with graceful ease.

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How was it?  More intense than I thought and definitely one to work up a sweat – there were some real lung busters in there.  I’m definitely going to need some more practice at those seated scissor kicks!

After the workout we were greeted with a choice of healthy meals, I went for the teriyaki salmon salad, together with a welcome glass of bubbles, it was just what we needed!

And how did I feel the next day? In pain…

Thanks To Nike for a fabulously fun evening of live music, sweaty exercise, delightful company and champagne!

I’ll definitely be doing Ellie’s workout again and you can try it yourself by downloading the free NTC app, you don’t need any equipment so you can even do it in front of the TV.  No excuses!  There won’t be any Faisal though…sorry 🙂

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