Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Viks Picks : June 2016

June. It's meant to be summer, but we've been yo-yoing between storms and blazing sunshine. I'm not totally giving up on stodgy food yet but I'm embracing fresher flavours, bright colours and forest running. I think my choices this month reflect that.

  1. I've not dipped into any cook books this month but I have been playing around with some frugal, healthy meals including this cauliflower cous cous. Blitzed, sautéed cauliflower with some "yellow stickered" red pepper, spring onions, apricots, sultanas and sundried tomatoes... made a huge batch which was a great portable meal for the week.
  2. It's summer race season again which means midges, mosquitoes and other biting insects. I've been experimenting with using citronella oil as a natural insect repellent, rather than the usual bug sprays which smell awful and often irritate me as much as the insects. A couple of drops on hems (not directly onto skin) is all that's needed to keep them at bay. It smells strong though so don't overdo it!
  3. My snack of choice this month have been Tribe bars. There are three flavours, all of which I really like. An emergency breakfast or a snack between classes, they feel as though they're doing me good, not just filling a gap.
  4. I was lucky enough to get to try some Hoka shoes recently and also swiped myself a visor. It's got a sweat absorbing lining on the front and is just firm enough with the elastic to stay in place. It's seen me through sun and rain on races and will be replacing my trusty cotton cap that I usually wear in the rain. Unfortunately these don't appear to be for sale, which is a real shame as I'd highly recommend it. However I know that Crew Room do similar and they have been highly rated too.
  5. Lastly, this month, I'm bigging up the latest Brooks Glycerins. I was a Ghost girl through and through for the longest time then took a chance on some bright blue Glycerins, which I adored. I had to bin them earlier this year so when I saw these bright little beauties and realised I could get 50% off the price with my Vitality policy, it was a no brainer. They are super bouncy, light and GOR-geous!

Have you treated yourself to any new trainers lately? Any sale bargains? What's your tried and tested mozzy repellent?

Monday, 27 June 2016

Event Review : Forest Five

It's rare that I get nervous before races these days, yet all day I had butterflies in anticipation. The distance wasn't new to me, nor was the event (having run it a couple of times a few years back). What was new to me was running as part of a club. I'd joined Bracknell Forest Runners back in April but with only one social run under my belt and a brand new, unworn club t-shirt, I'd never really known what it felt like to be part of something so much bigger. Would I be shunned because I'd not been to track night? Would I feel as though I'd done the club colours justice?

The Forest Five is Bracknell Forest Runners' own event, open to all, of course, but I'd say it was pretty much the highlight of the race calendar for the club. It's a five mile run around Swinley Forest, always on a Wednesday night in June. So of course I had all day to get nervous. Thankfully I had work to keep me occupied. Normally I have PT clients on a Wednesday night but as it was a quieter evening and I knew so many people also taking part, I rescheduled appointments just so that I could run. And it was well worth the effort.
Club photo, pre-race
By 6:30pm I was on site, number pinned to my t-shirt, citronella oil strategically dabbed on hems and trainers. Hellos and hugs were dealt out to the myriad of people I discovered I knew running, including my RunFitUK girls, Ellie and Ian of Barnes Fitness, members of Box Bell Fit and of course, fellow club members. It was a warm, dry evening, the bugs were out in full force and there was a huge turn out. All set to be a great event.
I believe there was some sort of pre-race briefing but I couldn't hear it above the babble in the crowd. The starting horn was audible, though, just... The route had changed somewhat since I last ran, with the start in a different place and a long gentle uphill drag for the first few hundred meters. It was all pretty cramped to start off, but as ever, the field spread out eventually, with only minimal jostling around puddles, tree roots and muddy bits. There were plenty of (encouraging) marshals and no opportunities to take a wrong turn. A pretty, varied and fun course.
The surface underfoot varied from gravelly, hard packed trail, sand, undulating and downright hilly in places. There was The Hill, which actually seemed smaller than I remember from previous years, and of course where there's up, there's down and downhill I'm good at so I was able to pick up a few places there. I hadn't *intended* to race, but my legs felt good and I felt duty bound to stay ahead of as many of my RunFit girls as possible. What made a huge difference was the support. I started to realise that being part of a club is a bit magical. Those shouts of "come on Bracknell" suddenly applied to me! That was me they were cheering on. Other club runners gave words of encouragement as they passed me or I passed them and I endeavoured to do the same. One guy kept overtaking me, then I'd overtake him... I didn't beat him to the finish but it was great trying to push each other a little more.
The roar coming in to the finish was just fantastic and I made sure that I gave as good as I got when I finally caught my breath enough to shout others over the line. In previous years there was no medal given out, nor a goody bag, just water, a banana or mars bar and possibly some sort of memento. Times have changed, however, and this year there was a bespoke, eco-friendly wooden medal on offer, each one slightly different and one that I'm just as proud of as the super shiny, beasts of medals from the likes of Cakeathon. There was also a goody bag containing the obligatory water and mars bar, but also foot soak salts and granola - useful stuff!
It was one of the most enjoyable races I've done in ages. The support, the camaraderie, that atmosphere... it's a greta distance to race and the location is just brilliant. I'm a long-time fan of mid-week, evening races anyway and having this on my doorstep... well I feel very lucky. The icing on the cake was a course PB with a Garmin reading of 46:09!

Thank you to everyone who made the event possible, to everyone who shouted encouragement at me and especially to Dean for taking some great photos and making me run quicker. I'll get my own back soon enough.

Friday, 24 June 2016

Love Active Life, Vitality & A Reader Deal!

Today I'm going to talk about something very grown up... Insurance, specifically life and health insurance. Yawn! But wait, don't go yet! I promise you this is going to be interesting and fun. Yes I did just say that I'd make insurance fun. Well actually I can't claim to be doing that myself but health and life insurance have become a great deal more interesting since the introduction of Vitality

Vitality have been around for a lot longer that you may realise, starting in 2007 as a joint venture between Discovery and Prudential. The general premise is that you get rewarded for staying fit and healthy. The fitter and healthier you are, the lower the chances of you having to claim on the insurance and so everyone is a winner.
I heard about Vitality a few years back but paid it little or no attention; I'm not sure I realised all the benefits. I've held life and health insurance ever since I got my mortgage, ensuring that I would be able to cover the bills if something happened that meant I was unable to work. Since becoming self employed this is even more crucial, dull as the idea may be. Pay as much as you can into a pension, save whatever you can, have insurance - all lessons that my father drummed into me as I started working life, and so far it's stood me in good stead. 

As time went by I started to hear more about Vitality and the rewards on offer. I decided to get a quote to see if it was worth me changing insurers and decided to get in touch with Jenny at Love Active Life, the Run Mummy Run contact for Vitality. Jenny is an absolute star. She walked me through the whole process, ensuring I wasn't going to be taking on a policy that wasn't right for me or one that would leave me worse off, and arranged everything for me. It took a little to-ing and fro-ing over the phone and email but it gave me full confidence in the final quotation. 

I managed to save money by switching from two policies I held, to just the single Vitality policy that covered me to the same degree. Not only that but I get the following benefits by earning points from staying active and taking positive steps towards looking after my health:
  • 50% off the Virgin Active monthly membership price
  • 50% off a Garmin device
  • 50% off a pair of trainers each year from Sweatshop
  • 50% cash back on a bike from Evans
  • Up to 50% cash back from Lloyds pharmacy
  • Up to 40% off British Airways Economy European flights
  • Up to 50 % off Eurostar
  • 75% off Champneys spa breaks
  • Monthly iTunes rewards
  • Weekly Starbucks and cinema tickets (dependent upon activity level) 
There are plenty of other rewards I've not mentioned and it's up to you how many you make use of. Vitality also encourage you to understand your health by doing an online health assessment (5 minutes), fitness test (3 minute step test), and a 15 minute health check at a local pharmacy.

So far I've made use of the 50% discount for a new Garmin device and applied for my cash back card for Lloyds. The Garmin helps me to track my activity thus earning points which in turn have earned me a weekly cinema ticket and Starbucks drink, helping me to take time out from work that can seep into every available waking hour! In July I'm taking myself off for 3 nights at Champneys (all meals and 3 treatments included) for some rest and relaxation. Well that's the theory anyway, I may end up doing all the classes! 
Nifty info graphic showing how much I could save per year.

I've just taken advantage of the Virgin Active offer too. I only need to go to one yoga class a week to be no worse off than paying for them separately, then there's the pool, sauna and steam room plus a host of other classes that I would like to try. Holding a Vitality policy has also prompted me to book a dental appointment that I've been putting off for a year or so.

I've been harping on about how great Vitality is to just about everyone I know who is remotely active because I just think it's a great product. You're incentivised to look after yourself and it can enable you to do things you otherwise wouldn't. For me that's a weekly cinema trip, a mini break and a new Garmin, things I wouldn't be able to afford without the rewards. Getting set up in the members area was really straightforward, as was linking in the relevant devices to track my activity. And of course Jenny was on hand to help every step of the way.
I'm delighted to now be in partnership with Love Active Life, helping to spread the word, and as an extra bonus for my readers, you'll get an extra £40 towards either a new device or pair of trainers when you contact Jenny at Love Active Life ( quoting VRPT and take out a policy. This policy may not be suitable for everyone but there's nothing to lose by investigating. 

You can also follow Love Active Life on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Shorter Distances, Strawberries and Small Fry

Ah the return of the shorter distance events and some proper rest time! I find it lost impossible to keep free time in my diary and can't imagine not taking part in races throughout the year, even though every year I try and put a limit on how many I enter.

I took things much easier this week though and my legs thanked me for it. Ok it was the third weekend in a row where I was racing but this time it was "only" a 10k. The hilly Polesden Lacey 10k was super fun and enjoyable despite the rain because I was with friends and family.
Rachel and me prior to running the Polesden Lacey 10k and smashing some targets.
I visited Virgin Active three times last week for yoga, a TRX class and a swim. It was my first yoga class with Andrew, a softly spoken, bearded gentle soul whose style I enjoyed very much. His classes will be a regular feature of my week, although an hour feels so short after getting used to 90 minute classes. The TRX class was just a 20 minute short, sharp workout on the gym floor. Just five of us in the class which consisted of three upper, lower and core exercises. I was complimented on my form, which was reassuring seeing as I teach it from time to time! I threw a few kettle bells around beforehand, 32kg deadlifts and 24kg swings... feeling strong again. My standard 1km swim had more flow to it and I rewarded myself with 5 minutes in the jacuzzi afterwards.

My favourite class of the week last week was kids class on Tuesday at Box Bell Fit. Love these girls and boys. It's usually exhausting, like herding cats, but you can't fault their enthusiasm and it's so rewarding seeing them getting more competent and finding exercise fun. My team lost at tug of war though.
On Wednesday I took part in the Bracknell Forest Runners' Forest Five race for the first time in about three years and the first time in my BFR kit. It was a fantastic turn out and I spent so much time talking to people I knew. I had butterflies leading up to the event, which was most unlike me, but put it down to feeling like part of something big. In summary, I had a good run of it, and there will be the customary write up soon. I've since had a week off of racing but of course I have more races and some new challenges in the pipeline, and they're not insignificant! I need to start focussing on cycling for a while and then work on my open water swimming.
Not your usual bling
Aside form work and training I've been cooking. It's strawberry season and the allotment is overflowing with the things. I'm getting kilos of them every couple of days, along with gooseberries and yet more rhubarb so I've been cooking up a storm. I was particularly impressed with a simple strawberry jam I made and am thinking of making a strawberry and rhubarb version soon. But the piece de resistance was my rhubarb and strawberry crumble... new speciality. Not clean, not especially healthy (although no added sugar) but damned delicious.
This week's training summary:
Saturday: Rest day
Sunday: Polesden Lacey 10k
Monday: Yoga
Tuesday: Rest day
Wednesday: TRX class, Forest Five
Thursday: Metafit, 1km Swim
Friday: Rest day

Any other suggestions for using up strawberries? Perhaps something healthier? Part of a running club? How did you feel running in club colours for the first time?

Monday, 20 June 2016

Mental Health : Talking Therapies

Not so long ago I felt as thought I was drowning. Things felt overwhelming, for no particular reason. I wanted to shut myself away and not have to deal with life. It was an effort to make myself go to work, despite loving what I do. It was even harder to train. I was tired, bodily tired. Little things became a big deal. I couldn't pinpoint what was the root cause, which meant I struggled to know what to do.

What I did do was to resort to some methods I've found useful in the past. I made myself get out the door for at least a walk every day because I know how beneficial exercise and daylight is to mental health and general well being. Yoga became increasingly important to me. I found myself adjusting my goals on almost every effort. I went for blood tests to check my iron and B12 weren't low again. I took to journalling more, making myself talk to people, sending a brain dump to a friend I knew would understand.

I lurked on a couple of support groups for people with anxiety and depression and was plagued with this feeling that everyone else's problems were bigger than mine, that I was a fraud for being there, that I wasn't deserving enough. When I was finally brave and posted my first message, full of these anxieties, I was blown away by the welcome. I didn't realise until that moment just how much I'd been holding on to.

The biggest step I took was to refer myself to Talking Therapies. Talking Therapies is a friendly and approachable service that helps people with problems such as depression, anxiety, phobias, panic, stress and OCD. That help could be in the form of an online course, guided self-help or a stress control groups. In some cases they can even provide counselling. And it's all for free on the NHS. 

My first contact over the phone with my therapist, Emma, involved a chat about how I was feeling, what had been going on in my life and what sort of therapy might be best for me. It was decided that the online Cognitive Behavioural Therapy or CBT would be most appropriate. I could dip in and out, use the online journalling facility and have phone calls every couple of weeks with Emma. Although Emma was not providing a counselling service, I was able to talk to her a little about things, get stuff off my mind, and she listened, was supportive, but always guided me towards finding my own solutions. Whenever I've suffered what I would term a socially acceptable moment of hardship, like a death in the family, people have been quick to offer their time and ears "any time" but it's so hard to believe that you can take that offer up. You don't want to worry your friends and family. Sometimes it's easier to open up to a stranger.

The CBT course felt very common-sensical and I was highly dubious as to how it would help. But I persevered, dipped in and out, went back and forth over it, worked through some of the Thoughts Feelings and Behaviours cycles for myself and did find it useful in understanding why I was feeling the way I was. It didn't provide solutions in itself but understanding is the first step to figuring out how to fix things. A holiday, more sleep, a bit more breathing space between new projects at work; small changes that helped a great deal.

Mental health is a hard thing to talk about. I'm not looking for sympathy. I'm not trying to be all woe-is-me, but I've been comforted and inspired by others who have been remarkably honest and open about their own issues on blogs and so all I hope is that sharing my experience will do the same. Mental health is just like physical health. Sometimes its good and sometimes it's not and you don't always have full control over it. What you can do is learn how best to manage it.

Now I've been discharged from Talking Therapies (after just 4 of the maximum of 6 review calls with Emma) I'm focussing on maintaining my wellbeing; understanding my triggers, learning to spot them and put measures in place to avoid them in the first place. It's likely I'll get relapses but hopefully I'll be able to cope with them and they won't be as bad. Staying active, making time for myself, not saying yes to everything, getting enough sleep... all of these are things I need to be better at.

I would recommend Talking Therapies to anyone suffering from low mood, anxiety or depression. It's hard to be brave and ask for help, but once you do you realise that you're certainly not alone.

Friday, 17 June 2016

Event Review : Polesden Lacey 10k

One of the things I really wanted to do this year was to race at a National Trust property. I've been a member of the NT for years and admire the work they do. Heck I've even been on working holidays with them (although making cider and learning to surf and turf didn't really feel like "work"). The grounds of the properties they own and the swathes of countryside are stunning and it just seemed like a lovely thing to do, given the opportunity.

My friend and RunFitter, Rachel, took part in the Polesden Lacey 10k last year and hearing her description of the event, even with mention of the huge hill, was enough to get me signed up. Polesden Lacey is a National Trust property with a beautiful 1400 acre estate with stunning views across the Surrey Hills. It was owned from 1906 by the famous Edwardian hostess, Mrs Greville, who entertained royalty, politicians and the cream of society. The route takes in the grounds and some of the woodland walks that surround the house. The 10k only cost £18 which gets you a fine medal, chip timing and chocolate at the end of the race. There is also a 2k fun run for those who don't want to tackle the whole thing.
It was a grey and drizzly sort of morning as we set out to make the hour drive to the event. As we stepped out of the car I regretted my choice of attire; vest, shorts, thin long sleeved top. The wind bit through and I could feel the rain seeping through to my skin. A brisk walk to the shelter of registration tent to collect my number and then to the woods near the start line to eat a picnic breakfast. Overnight oats for me and mum, sausage sandwich for dad.
On the way we stopped at the Hoka tent to eye up the brightly coloured trainers. The guy there said that I could try a pair of trainers for the race so ignoring the rule of "no new things on race day" I promptly ditched my beaten up old Salomons and laced my feet into a bright new pair of hokas. After breakfast when I found Rachel and the rest of the Tool Station Posse (as we now call ourselves at RunFit) it didn't take much to persuade Rachel to try a pair too. So kitted out in fresh kicks and snazzy visors to keep the rain out of our faces we huddled into the crowd on the start line, bracing ourselves for "the hill".
It wasn't a huge event, around 400 people and so there wasn't too much jostling at the start. The route quickly lead out of the main grounds and into the woods. The terrain became progressively gravelly, then muddy, first down hill then up hill. For a mile. I am not ashamed to admit I broke and walked. My legs weren't fully recovered from the previous week's marathons and I'm not strong at hills at the best of times. Spirits refused to be dampened by the rain, although the trees offered respite from the down pour, and soon we were tackling another, shorter uphill through meadows back towards the property. The steps up and through the pagoda must have been someone's idea of a joke but the views before we turned into a dense wooded area were stunning, even in the rain. My legs found a sprint finish, thanks to the cheers from parents and friends.
Soaked to the skin and a time of 1:03:35 could have left me feeling deflated but instead I felt a sense of achievement and wellbeing. It was a joy to cheer Rachel over the line as she finished in a time 12 minutes faster than the year before. Well done! Medals and chocolate bars collected, hugs all round and tags snipped from our now not so new-looking trainers. Regrettably we did have to return the shoes but the consolation was that our own trainers were nice and dry!
So without further ado it was a quick dry and change and to the cafe where we partook of tea, cake and other various lunch items. If the sun had been out we would have stayed for a picnic and made a day of it, but alas, t'was not to be. We will be back though, to visit the property and to race again no doubt. We're also talking of trying a night run at another NT property in the autumn.

My thoughts? The marshals were all cheery and genuinely helpful, the organisation good, too few toilets but an excellent medal. The rout, although slightly challenging was not beyond most and very picturesque. Having the fun run was a great way to make it more of a family day out and an extra marque for shelter (mainly for spectators) would have been nice. I'm adding it to the list of "would do again" races.

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Less Training, More Self Preservation

My clients are getting used to me grimacing every time I demonstrate a leg exercise. With Cakeathon on Bank Holiday Monday and the Stour Valley Marathon the Sunday after, my legs seem to be permanently sore!

In the days between events I'd foam rollered like never before, stretched a LOT and even got the most painful sports massage I've ever had. I survived thanks to copious amounts of compression wear and actually making myself take part in warm ups and stretching throughout the week did help, I'm sure of it. I wasn't able to get booked in to yoga last week but I did make use of my new Virgin Active membership to try a Pilates class. It helped. That and a gentle swim, followed by a jacuzzi, sauna and steam (well why not).
Amazing Stour Valley Marathon bling! 
I didn't run at all last week apart from the marathon and for once I didn't miss it or feel guilty. Even when I was marshalling for the Dinton Pastures 10k on Thursday night, although given the size of the ice cream I had (which was effectively dinner) I probably should have done! Dinton is always fun. I know a good proportion of the participants these days and it's always a good atmosphere. It was a dry but hot evening with blessedly few insects around. The water station didn't stand a chance and the ice cream van did a roaring trade!
As a bit of a treat to myself I ordered a new pair of trainers. I had to ditch my bright blue Brooks Glycerines earlier in the year and went back to my Ghosts which are tried tested, but frankly a little boring in the colour department. This year's Glycerines are squint-inducingly bright which is really all the excuse I needed. That and a 50% off deal for sweatshop.
They've not been taken out for a test run yet, I'm waiting until the weather dries up and I'm not running trail. I think a gentle saunter later this week may be on the cards. I'm not out of the silly season for races yet, still two more to do before a break, but it's all shorter distance now thank goodness. You can have too much of a good thing...

My activity diary, or lack of it, last week reads like this:
Saturday: Rest day
Sunday: Stour Valley Marathon
Monday: Rest day
Tuesday: Pilates
Wednesday: Long walk around Virginia Water
Thursday: 1km Swim
Friday: Rest day

Swayed by bright kit? In the throes of too many races following overly enthusiastic race booking earlier in the year? Share your latest!