Monday, 29 September 2014

A Less Nutritious Future?

I recently read an article in the Soil Association magazine about the affect excessive carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is having on the nutritional content of our food.

It's something I'd not really considered before. I have a half plot allotment and patio garden that I tend to haphazardly so grow and eat a fair amount of my own fruit and vegetables. I get a great deal of satisfaction from this and some peace of mind knowing that it's not been sprayed with anything. However it seems that is only partially improving the quality of my food.

There is more CO2 in the air than ever before, in our lifetimes. This is due in part to our ongoing mistreatment of the soil. As the proportion of organic matter in our soil drops due to intense agriculture, so does it's ability to absorb CO2. A new study has found that crops grown in higher concentrations of CO2 have reduced levels of essential nutrients such as zinc, iron and protein by 9%, 5% and 6% respectively.

As some one who is deficient in iron and is on a constant mission to improve the protein content of her diet, this concerns me. This affects us all and as I am part of a wider community of people who care about their health, it felt appropriate to write about it here.

What can we do? A small step would be to support organic farming, grow a little of your own food, and generally take more of an interest.

You can read a version of the article here.


Friday, 26 September 2014

A Well-deserved Break

This week's training:
Saturday: 18 miles
Sunday: 12 miles
Monday: 30 mins yoga
Tuesday: Rest day
Wednesday: Pilates
Thursday: 8 mile walk
Friday: Rest day

This week I have mostly been in Cornwall, pottering around the coastal paths, messing about in the sea, enjoying some lovely relaxing yoga and pilates classes and indulging with delicious food.

My ultra marathon training plan says I should be running 50 miles but instead I'm enjoying a well earned break after Equinox24, resting my body and mind ready to come back to the second half of my training plan with renewed enthusiasm.

That is if I decide to come back at all. I'm especially fond of Cornwall. I'm not generally one to talk of souls and spirits but I don't feel such a deep sense of calm and well-being anywhere else; it feels like my spiritual home.

I hope you have a wonderful weekend. If you need me I'll be on the beach looking out to sea with a bag of chips and a glass of wine.

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Review : Equinox24

It's one in the afternoon and I can barely keep my eyes open as I make my way southward on the M1. I'm tired but elated. I've just spent the weekend with a wonderful group of girls, acquaintances and new friends, in a field, eating odd food at odd times, running laps and getting very little sleep. It's been truly wonderful. It's been Equinox24.

As you'll know if you've been following my blog, this was the first of my new set of challenges to raise money for Hospiscare and I took great pride in wearing my charity vest on my first lap.
Excited and rocking my Hospiscare vest
The aim of the game is to complete as many 10k laps in the grounds of Belvoir Castle Estate as possible in 24 hours, alone or in a group with as many as 8 people. I took part in a team of five, which made it no less challenging I can tell you. For a long time I only had Alex and myself in the team.. plus three empty spaces. Gradually I managed to find three other equally crazy ladies who were prepared to join The Dynamos. None of us had met each other before the event.

What should have been a 3 hours journey ended up taking 5 hours and I finally arrived in the dark and the drizzle, nose pressed against the windscreen. having spent the last 30 minutes convinced I was lost in a maze of country lanes. Cheryl and Michelle had already scored a camping spot so I quickly threw my tent up and tried to orientate myself in the huge field that didn't really seem to contain very many campers at all. Raven arrived even later than I did having had an even worse journey but many hands made light work of getting her pitched and we all turned in for an attempt at a good nights sleep.
Belvoir castle on the morning of the event 
We woke to a foggy but dry morning and the sounds of campers making breakfast. Conversations with strangers were struck up over bacon and egg sandwiches and mugs of tea and acquaintances were made whilst brushing teeth. It's one of the things I adore about camping, everyone's really friendly and no one thinks anything of wandering around in wellies, PJs and sweatshirts. Alex arrived about two hours before race briefing, in time for us to decorate our campsite, dish out race packs, get into our running kit and apply face paint. It was nearly time!

I knew that a large contingent of RMR ladies, Team Bear members and other assorted twitter personalities were taking part and I managed to meet up with a few at the race briefing, which was just as well because there wasn't much opportunity to socialise afterwards. The brief was short but informative, covering a few things that hadn't been in the comprehensive info pack, and then it was time to join the start line. As team leader of sorts I was running first whilst everyone else had to hang around in camp getting nervous.
Team in camp
And we were off! The course is approximately 50% tarmac and 50% grass/trail around the estate. It was well signed with markers every kilometer, well marshaled and really pretty. There's a lake with some very loud geese and gorgeous views of the castle. There was talk of a hill, a long steady hill between kilometers 3 and 4. What we hadn't been expecting was the B*****d hill at kilometer 6... After the 5km point you turn to run through a field. The path starts going downhill quite steeply and the thought occurs that what goes down might have to come back up again... and there it was, a hill that brought all but the truly hardcore to a walking pace. I decided to see it as an enforced rest point. It was certainly a talking point. In fact it was where, on one of my later laps, I got talking to a chap in a green kilt who made me laugh by laying on the ground in front of me. I later found out this was @MarathonMan_UK. I may have a bit of a crush...

Before I knew it I was rounding the corner for the last kilometer around the camp site, waving to a few people who kindly cheered me on and pushing for the change over point. Garmin stopped, slap band passed over to Alex and a sigh of relief. One lap done - and seemingly a PB to boot! The four hours between laps went surprisingly quickly. By the time I'd got back to camp, freshened up, and had something to eat it was time to look out for Alex coming back. Three hours to go. Merchandise purchased at race HQ and cheer Cheryl back in. Two hours to go. Another cup of tea and cheer Michelle in. One hour to go. Fresh kit found and changed into, over to transition to warm up and look out for Raven coming in... lap two is go!
On the start line
And so it continued, into the evening and through the night. Being organised with wet-wipe showers and putting on clean kit to sleep in meant I could get almost 3 hours rest and not have to get into cold kit. Taking a proper airbed to sleep on was probably the best thing I could have done; comfort is key! During the night when people started to suffer we all pulled together and changed the running order slightly so as to always have someone out on the course. I won't forget Raven, without hesitation, offering to go back out just an hour after she'd run, to cover one of Alex's night laps.

Running in such darkness was a new experience for me. I've run in the dark before but it was "urban dark" with the ambient orange glow of street lights. Running in almost pitch black was thrilling and beautiful. The course was marked with glowsticks, the castle lit in spooky orange, stars and a sliver of moon were bright in the sky and there were times where I was almost totally alone, the only sign of life a sparse line of bobbing head torches in the distance. The course was only slightly slippy but the B*****d Hill was even more treacherous and the pot holes seemed to suddenly open in front of me. It was during the night that the marshals really came into their own; still there, still cheery. The halfway water point had a stock of gels and oat bars and one lovely lady who was waving an LED stick around as if it was a rave. It occurred to me, at 4am, that I was still really enjoying myself. Sure it was a completely bizarre situation and the bobbing of my head torch was making me feel slightly queasy but I was having a fantastic time. Running. In the dark. And the fog. And the cold. At 4am. Mad.

Race HQ at night was also something else. During the day there was music, a bouncy castle and a lot of buzz. After dark it became more subdued but the sense of camaraderie was far stronger. Organisers Johnny and Laura were still very much present (I don't think they sleep for over 48 hours) as was the massage guy, who apparently hadn't stopped since noon. The pizza van eventually closed and the cafe stand also finally admitted defeat, leaving out pasta pots, snack bars and drinks with an honesty box. Someone appeared with a box of beers. Solo participants still got a smattering of applause each time they crossed the finish line and there were tentative questions asked about how many laps had been completed so far.

Fuelling was a constant battle. It's hard to know what you'll want to eat and rather than rely on the on-site catering I took my own food; a huge stash of all sort of things. There comes a point though when you're just not hungry for anything, let alone another chocolate recovery shake. I made a point of having a shake and something solid after each lap even though my stomach felt really unsettled but it was worth it for the stable energy reserves.
Cake!
Cheese and onion pasty for breakfast... such is the diet of the 24hour runner!
We were generally blessed with the weather. I think there was an hour or two of rain during the early hours and of course fog but otherwise we were lucky. Sunday morning was bright and sunny and it felt like a joy to be running. Still. Again.
The castle on Sunday morning
It was over all too soon. At 11am, as Cheryl completed her last lap, we decided to call it quits. I toyed with the idea of doing one more lap but I could tell everyone was about done in and my knees probably needed more than an hour before taking another B*****d Hill battering. Besides, I'd done 5 laps/30 miles which was what I'd set out to do. Timing chips were swapped for medals and the obligatory group photo taken. Cars were packed, goodbyes said and we went our separate ways. The hot bath and cosy-ness of my Equinox hoody when I got home were bliss.
Team Dymanos with our well earned medals
I'm still on a high, and ravenous, three days later. I've barely left the comfort of my hoody and my stomach is still not quite back to normal but DOMS seems to have passed me by. Would I do it again? Yes! Would I do anything differently? Maybe take slightly less food, slightly more sports bras and many more photos. I'd run that extra lap too. Or maybe I'd attempt it solo... Question is now am I an endurance runner or an ultra runner?

Thank you so much to Johnny and Laura, to my team mates, to all my RMR and twitter friends, to anyone who talked to me on the course and to everyone who has donated so far. It's been brilliant. It's been Equinox24.

Best bits of Equinox24
The organisation
The marshals
The race t-shirts
The loos and showers being kept in such good nick (all things considered)
The camaraderie

The worst bits of Equinox24
The B*****d Hill
Trying to find the site in the dark
The laps coming up as 5.9miles on my Garmin

My Equinox24 in stats
Lap Start time Duration Post run fuel
1 12 noon 56:40 FGS Chocolate shake, pasta, cake
2 5pm ish 55:58 Chai Latte, quorn pasty, protein flapjack
3 10pm ish 01:03:11 FGS Chocolate shake,  pasta
4 3:40am ish 01:06:30 FGS Chocolate shake, jack oat bar
5 08:45 ish 01:01:09 Apres hot chocolate, cheese & onion pasty

The "Best Day Ever" t-shirt just *had* to be worn

Monday, 22 September 2014

What Is : Creatine?

I've written on this blog a lot over the years about protein as a supplement but very little about other supplements that claim to enhance performance. One of these, which is often mentioned alongside protein, is creatine. I would often see it advertised alongside the protein powders on websites and disregarded it, not knowing what it was or what it was supposed to do for me, but thought it about time to do some research. I reasoned that if I was hazy on it, others might be too so I hope you find this a useful beginner guide.

So what is creatine? Well it's an organic substance that occurs naturally in the body and helps to supply energy to all cells in the body, particularly muscle. Prepare for a little bit of science. The body uses phosphocreatine (PCr) in the production of ATP, a substance which supplies the muscles with energy and in particular powers the short bursts of energy required for high intensity activities such as running. The body usually has a limited supply of PCr but increasing the amount of creatine in the body by taking a supplement increases the stores of  amount available to combine with phosphorous in the muscle cells to produce PCr. This is then is broken down into ATP during the first few seconds of exercise. So... more creatine means potentially more PCr which can make more ATP and therefore increase the amount of energy available to use. So far so good? OK.

This increase in available energy can improve performance in sports and exercise that require muscular strength and short burst of power such as:

  • strength training
  • sprinting
  • long distance running
  • long distance swimming

But does it actually work? Studies have shown that taking creatine as a supplement can improve performance and recovery and could help to build muscle directly by increasing protein synthesis or indirectly by increasing capacity for exercise.

So if you want to try it for yourself, how do you take it? There are two generally recognised "creatine loading strategies". The first is known as rapid loading. Start by taking 20-25g of creatine daily for 5-7 days then 2-5g creatine daily for up to 28 days. Alternatively a steady intake of 3g per day over 28 days will yield the same benefits. There seems to be no significant benefit to using one method over the other.

A few points of note... There's no benefit to consuming more than 20-25g of creatine per day as higher doses are just flushed from the body in your urine. Taking creatine with a carbohydrate drink helps to stimulate the release of insulin, which increases absorption by the muscle cells. However caffeine cancels out the effect of creatine and so should be avoided when taking this supplement, in order to gain the most benefit. You should also be aware that long-term use could affect kidney function.

If you want to try using this supplement then it's readily available from most stockists of protein supplements. I'd be very interested to know if you already use it and whether it's made a difference.

Friday, 19 September 2014

Weekend Of Reckoning

Saturday: Cycle training & 30 mins online cardio class
Sunday: Bacchus half marathon
Monday: Wall sit challenge & HIIT
Tuesday: 4 mile run
Wednesday: 4.5 mile run
Thursday: Jump & yoga challenge
Friday: Rest day

By the time you read this I will be on my way to Belvoir Castle and embarking on one of the most nerve wracking things I've ever signed up to; Equinox24. I'd been feeling pretty calm about it all until about three weeks ago, even with several changes to the team that require last minute recruiting, but in the last week the terror really kicked in.

In reality, for this event, I've got it relatively easy. I'm in a team of five rather than running solo so although the event lasts for 24 hours I will likely only be running 4-5 laps and having 4 hours rest between each one. I can do this. I've trained. I'm fit and well. It's the logistics that are freaking me out a bit; wondering if I've packed enough kit or too much, have I got the right sort of food (again I've undoubtedly got too much), will the weather hold or will it be miserable. And will the team manage to find each other? Only two of us have ever met in real life before! In the last week we've all been a bit more vocal on email and hopefully making a team banner, adorning the camp with balloons and ourselves with glowsticks and face paints will help with the bonding process. I've never had such a lengthy packing list for anything, even a 2 week holiday to the states!
You wouldn't think I was only going away for a weekend...
All along I've been telling myself that this is meant to be a fun thing. I've no aims for time or numbers of laps, but I want to do my best and it's a complete unknown, completely different to anything I've attempted before. I've been trying to bury my fears in order to quell those of others but they've manifested themselves in my dreams almost every night since Monday so I'm hoping that my honesty here will help.

The temptation has been to go all out with training in the last few days but instead I've held back a bit in order to conserve energy. Held back on the exercise at least... food has been another matter entirely...
Cake to feed hungry runners
I did a couple of hours of cycle training on Saturday morning. Put me on a track in a race situation without junctions, stopping, gears and traffic to think about and I'm fine... put me on the road and it's another thing entirely! So it was off to a free council-led thingy to practice and learn how to ride properly. I'm getting used to pedals with toe clips and so promptly fell off my bike about 10 minutes after I arrived, earning myself some pretty nasty cuts and bruises in the process. But I got up and back on to build my confidence again. By the end of the session I was feeling so much better about it all and I'll be going back for another session in a few weeks time. Best use of 2 hours ever.

The knees worked well enough to get me around Bacchus half marathon on Sunday, even if they were very sore and they've held out and started to heal up over the course of the rest of the week. Only doing a couple of shorter runs and a little HIIT has left me feeling restless but I'm feeling in decent shape for tomorrow.
Happy times at Bacchus
I'm just trying to keep in mind that I'm doing this for the experience and to raise money for a wonderful charity. When I feel overwhelmed I will turn to my team and my friends knowing that they will understand and put aside their fears to encourage me, just as I put aside mine to encourage them. And I will also think of my Aunt, who would have been #VirtualTraining with me, and cheering me on from afar. And I'll know that I can push a tiny bit more.

It all starts at midday on Saturday. Phone battery permitting I'll be posting pictures and updates to twitter throughout. Texts and tweets of encouragement will be most appreciated and if you can spare a couple of quid Hospiscare would benefit greatly. You can donate at https://www.justgiving.com/VikkiRunning/

Good luck to everyone else taking part in Equinox24 or indeed any other event this weekend. The TeamBear motto is "Suffer But Never Surrender" but the most important thing is to remember to have fun :)

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Race Review : Bacchus Half Marathon

I am running through a vineyard in a sarong with grapes draped about my person, quietly shedding leaves and looking out for an escaped sheep. As I pause to consume wine and jaffa cakes a Roman taps me on the shoulder and hands me some grapes with the words "I think these are yours".

If I said that this was a rather odd dream I had, you'd be forgiven for thinking that were true, but in actual fact I was taking part in the Bacchus half marathon, an annual event held at Denbies Wine estate where fancy dress is nigh on compulsory and there is wine tasting en route. It was, without doubt, the most enjoyable half marathon I have ever done, worth every penny of the £45 entry fee and an event I'd do again in a heart beat. This is not en event for PBs; if you run for a time you'll likely miss out on all the fun parts. This is most definitely an event to do for the experience, for the fun, for the wine and with friends. The more the better. 
My race posse consisted of my parents, who, to my delight, decided that spending a day in a vineyard wasn't a bad way to spend a Sunday. Although the half marathon didn't start until 11am we were still up early-ish as it was a 50 minute drive away and with the marathon distance event starting at 10 we weren't sure how far away we'd have to park. We needn't have worried, parking was plentiful, free and easy allowing plenty of time for me to register, get kitted up and explore the race HQ. The best part of this is eyeing up everyone's costumes. I decided, after much deliberation, to go as an approximation of Bacchus or "Grape-Lady" as I got referred to more than once. It's the first time I've run in proper fancy dress and despite shedding leaves and grapes around the course I survived without chafing or costume-related injury, possibly as my costume felt a little tame compared with some.
I hadn't arranged to meet friends at the race, although I knew a lot of the twitter gang were taking part so I was pleased to find Lucy at the bag check on my way to the start line and even more so when it turned out we were both planning to take it steady. I was glad of the company. We set off through the vineyard, and out into the town where we met our first water/wine station. These appear approximately every two miles, loaded with biscuits, fruit, chocolates, crisps and sweets as well as water, squash and most importantly WINE! Stopping for a swig, a scoff and a natter so often makes this feel more like a party than a race. 
Enjoying a wine stop with Lucy and Laura
We found existing friends and made a few new ones on the way round. I have never been so well-fueled, and it was an interesting experiment in how well my system reacts to solid food on the go... all good practice for the forth-coming weekend...
Most of the route is on the estate and on trail. There are some long gentle climbs, fields and tracks affording some spectacular views. It also means that you may encounter escaped sheep, mountain bikers and horse riders. Quite how the horses didn't get spooked by us all I've no idea. Also dotted on the course was entertainment in the form of steel bands and bagpipers. This event has it all folks!

My parents managed to get to a couple of points in the second half of the race to cheer me on. In fact they were cheering everyone on... they're getting very well practiced at this, although dad's announcements of "just one more lap to go!" may have been less than well-received... They are on the verge of becoming minor celebrities; I've had comments from friends who recognised them from other events, who appreciate their enthusiasm and encouragement. To all you spectators out there, never under-estimate what a difference your support can make to anyone taking part.  

In reality the route isn't especially spectator friendly; if you want to meet your runner at the start or finish then there are only a few points in walking distance that allow you to also catch them on the course. Mum and dad got a fair few miles under their belts in the name of spectating! As such a lot of people choose to remain in the race village which offers retail therapy, space hopper time trials, food, drink and even spin classes. 
Tucking in to yet MORE food!
The last mile and a half of the course is all downhill, giving us the chance to really stretch our legs and push for a sprint finish. Tumbling over the finish line we were greeted with a handshake from the race director himself who had run as Wonder Woman then presented with a wonderful medal designed by Laurie King, who also designed the finishers technical t-shirts and the water bottles available to anyone who presented their medal at her stand in the race village. Tables laden with cakes and fruit distracted us on our way to the post-event hog roast, free to runners and including a glass of wine. 
Showing off my t-shirt and medal, post clean up
The party atmosphere continued well into the afternoon as runners and their friends and families relaxed with food and wine in the sun. My dad commented that I looked the freshest I'd ever looked after a half marathon, and I certainly felt the best I'd ever felt. I can't really find fault with this event. A huge thank you to the organisers, to Denbies and every single marshal. I hope you got to enjoy some of the wine as well.
This is post-race, in case you can't tell from the look of me... oh and best race number this year... 2014!
Finally a mention for my wonderful mum who was designated tweeter and photographer for the day. She did a sterling job, winning a selection of wine in the DenbiesBigTwit competition for best photo of the day! Truly well-deserved.
The winning photo - well done mum :)
Were you there? What was your highlight? Fancy taking part next year? 

Monday, 15 September 2014

Nutrition : What To Eat Post Exercise

The aspect of sports nutrition that most people have the best understanding of is re-fueling after their workouts. The benefits of replacing the energy you've used as soon as possible are much written about, and in particular the benefits of consuming the "right" balance of proteins and carbohydrates to give the muscles the best opportunity to repair themselves. But what about the amount of food and fluid and when should we be consuming it?

The text books tell us that we should be consuming 1g per kilo body weight of high GI foods up to 2 hours post exercise then 1g per kilo body weight of low GI foods every 2 hours after that. For example, if weigh 60kg so I should be eating 60g of high GI food, such as half a nutella sandwich, after exercise and then another 60g of something such as a cereal bar around 2 hours after that.

The reasoning behind taking on high GI foods first is that these are more readily absorbed by the body, so the nutrients and glucose get into your system quickly. This means that you are less likely to suffer a crash immediately after periods of exertion. This is something I've experienced myself after my longer runs in the past, to the point I would get faint and dizzy. Scary for me and those around me. High GI foods cause a spike and consequent crash in your blood sugar levels so it's important to follow up with the low GI foods to stabilise them out.

So the theory is all well and good but what does this mean in practical terms? Well examples of good post-exercise foods are:
  • Fresh fruit smoothie made with yoghurt and milk
  • Cereal bar 
  • Slice of malt loaf
  • A handful of nuts and dried fruit
  • A sandwich/wrap or roll filled with lean meat such as tuna, turkey, chicken, cottage cheese 
  • Rice cakes or oatcakes with jam/peanut butter or low fat cream cheese 
  • Bowl of cereal and milk
If you can't stomach solid foods immediately after exercise then the smoothie, chocolate milk (not milkshake), specially designed sports recovery drink or a protein shake are all good options, not least because they will help replace fluids you'll have lost as well.

Which leads me nicely onto a final word on hydration. After any activity you should aim to replace any outstanding fluid loss (bodyweight loss) by about 150% as soon as possible. So if you're a kilo lighter after exercise than when you started, you should aim to consume 1.5 litres over the course of the next few hours. Any recovery drinks you take will contribute to this, as will rehydration drinks, tea, coffee, squash... it doesn't have to be water! Obviously it's not realistic to be weighting ourselves before and after every session but you'll have a sense of whether you sweat a lot and you can judge accordingly.

I'm going to be trying to apply this theory to myself for real after Equinox24 at the weekend... I suspect eating 60g of anything will not be a problem!

Friday, 12 September 2014

The Week Of Insatiable Hunger

This week's training:
Saturday: parkrun, 30 minute HIIT workout & 9 holes of golf
Sunday: Leg work out & 8 mile run
Monday: 4 mile run & "Hundreds"
Tuesday: 15 minutes yoga
Wedesday: 6 mile run & 30 minute HIIT workout
Thursday: 5+5 miles double run & weights
Friday: 30 minute HIIT workout

I'm feeling much more on track with my training this week. Maybe it's having smashed my PB at parkrun on Saturday morning (26:41 - my first ever sub-27!!!), getting my charity race vest or the realisation that there are only 11 days until I go on holiday and I have two relatively major running events before then but my motivation has been pretty high and I'm all sorts of focussed.

I'm still trying to complete the Sweaty Betty 30 Day Sweat Challenge workouts and succeeding so far, although they're not necessarily in the right order, and just to mix things up a little more I had that round of golf I mentioned last week. Once I loosened up a bit and discovered that I could actually hit the ball some distance I rather enjoyed it all. I'm not pretending I was any good (except for the shot in the second photo, chipped from the bag to nearest the hole) but it was fun to try something new and I definitely felt worn out afterwards. The golf course is also a rather tranquil place. I forgot I was in the middle of an urban area. It's truly amazing how golf courses can be hidden in plain sight.


I've been getting All The Post this week... bits and bobs for Equinox24 (head torch, camping toaster and table, salt and pepper pot, tent pegs, glowsticks, LED balloons), stuff for my fancy dress outfit for Bacchus half marathon (no I'm not telling you yet) and a pair of shiny new trainers. I was hoping to hold out a little longer for my trainers but I'd started to get sore spots after runs and my current pair are very visibly worn so I bit the bullet and forked out for some new ones. They've already clocked up 11 miles since Thursday and I feel rather smart in them. I won't be wearing them for Equinox24... I've got two old pairs of road shoes and a pair of trail shoes for that, and the road shoes may well get permanently retired afterwards.
Purdy new shoes!
Speaking of Equinox24, I've still got masses of stuff to organise for it, not least food shopping. My kit list is longer than any I've ever had, even longer than for any holiday I've ever been on! Our band of misfits, otherwise known as The Dynamos, seems to be gelling well over email and we've all sorts of ideas for making us feel even more of a team at the event. I can't quite believe it's come around so quickly. 

But of course before then I have Bacchus which I'm running purely for fun. I will not be chasing a PB and will definitely be breaking all the normal rules of running and sampling the wine on offer at the water stations. My mum and dad are coming up to support and join in the revelry and I'm hoping it will be a really fun day. This does seem to be one event my parents are particularly on board with... mum's even gone as far as to ask when I'm going to do the Marathon Du Medoc... soon, mum... soon.

All this activity is making me want to eat All The Food so you must excuse me while I go to find something to eat that isn't cake.

What are you preparing for at the moment? What's your favourite long run food?

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

What Is : Training Periodisation?

The world of fitness is full of jargon. I'm not sure there's a runner left who isn't familiar with the term "fartlek" (but probably plenty who can't help but snigger) but there's still plenty of terminology that you may not be so familiar with. I certainly, have only relatively recently come across and started to understand the term "periodisation".

Periodisation is really just a term to describe the introduction of planned variations into a training programme. This commonly involves alternating phases of specific types of training and training loads. But why would we want to do this? Well it's seen to be an effective way to make progress and reach a higher level of performance. If you do the same thing all the time, while you may make improvements initially, you will soon plateau.

The approach is used a lot in programmes for new exercisers, increasing the intensity of a CV workout every few weeks to continue to overload the body (which is how improvements are made) whilst reducing the risk of overtraining and injury. The variation also helps to keep the training interesting and challenging.

Now to introduce a few more terms. Periodisation of a training plan typically has three cycles that fit together: 

  • microcycle - typically up to 7 days
  • mesocycle - anything from two weeks to a few months
  • macrocycle - the overall training period, maybe a year or two 

To illustrate, an Olympian's macrocycle is going to be 4 years, and within that time they will have several mesocycles (perhaps an endurance phase, a strength phase and a power phase), each containing a number of microcycles (maybe increasing the number of reps of a strength exercise over the course of a week, before dropping back but increasing the weight). 

Periodisation can be applied to just about any sport and running is no exception. Runner's World have a really good article giving examples and guidelines. I won't recreate it in full here but if you're interested in finding out more about how periodisation could help you prepare for your next PB then it's a good starting point. It outlines the three mesocycles of a base phase (endurance), preparation phase (building speed) and peak phase (race simulation).  The article also outlines the microcycles in terms of the percentage of time you should be dedicating to endurance/long running, strength training/hill running and speed work (there's those fartleks again).

Although I'm following a training programme at present I'm not sure it's periodised so I'm keen to try applying these principles to my Spring marathon training plan which I'll start at the end of the year. Are you already familiar with periodisation? Is it something you actively use or are interested in introducing to your training?

Monday, 8 September 2014

Back To School? I Never Left!

I thought it was about time I did a bit of an update on my studies. September always brings with it that back-to-school feeling but I'm feeling it's effect less this year because I've barely stopped studying all year.

Although I'm now a newly qualified PT, I'm not done with my courses. The PT certification is just one part of a bigger diploma I'm working towards. Since I completed the Level 3 PT course I've taken (and passed) modules in Nutrition for Exercise & Sport, Pre- and Post-natal Nutrition and Marketing. I have just two modules left for the diploma, Pre- and Post-natal Exercise then GP Referral, which should be done and dusted by the end of March 2015. Outside of the diploma I'm also taking a course in Suspension Training at the beginning of December and my Leadership in Running Fitness in October. I'd had the LiRF course on my wishlist for a while but an exciting opportunity prompted me to get it booked up ASAP. All will be revealed in due course, I promise.

An even bigger land mark for me was getting my REPs application approved. That's right folks I'm now on the Register of Exercise Professionals! This definitely marks a new phase for me in my PT journey. I am looking at starting up my business proper and trying not to get overwhelmed at the prospect. Even when I've completed my formal studies I will still have so much to learnt, about business and myself. Little by little this is becoming a reality and I'm thrilled about it.
Is studying something you enjoy? Any courses on your wish list? Any advice for a fledgling PT?

Friday, 5 September 2014

A Set Back And The Mystery Of The Vanishing Time

This week's training has looked like this:
Saturday: parkrun
Sunday: Rest day
Monday: metafit
Tuesday: 1 hour at the driving range & 30 min HIIT workout
Wednesday: Rest day
Thursday: 4 mile run & metafit
Friday: 5 mile run, 30 min HIIT workout & 15 minutes yoga

You'll see there are more non-running workouts featuring in my training this week. This is partly because I've decided to take part in the Sweaty Betty 30 Day Sweat Challenge. It's part of their brilliant "get fit 4 free" campaign. You can take part in free workouts in store if you're lucky enough to have one close by, otherwise there will be online workouts (HIIT, yoga and other challenges) available throughout the month as well as recipes, tips and inspiration. I've not run nearly as many miles in the last week as I'd planned to and it's thrown me a little off track. Having these extra workouts has complimented what I have done and given me a bit of a boost.

Sunday was meant to be a long run day, but some drama and a very disturbed night's sleep meant that I felt completely wiped out and unable to join a couple of people for what was looking to be a really fabulous 22 mile run along the North Downs and Greensands Way. I'd even made a cake for post-run refueling (which got demolished by my work colleagues on Monday instead). So I decided to take it easy on myself, and gave myself permission to only do things I wanted to do. This resulted in a lie-in, breakfast in front of some Friday Night Lights (my latest box set obsession) then several hours on my allotment.
I'm a big fan of the headspace meditation app and have been using it daily for some time. I've recently completed 30 days of meditations on focus and I realised, when I was taking a lunch break at the allotment, that running and gardening are just about the only two activities I am totally present in. I become so engrossed in what I'm doing that I lose track of time or forget about things that have been bothering me before. I want to practice applying this to other things I do.

I finished the day with some batch cooking in an attempt to deal with the wonderful gluts of fruit and veggies around at the moment, and spending some time on a couple of craft projects I'm working on. The day was nothing like what I'd planned but exactly what I needed. Best of all I didn't feel at all guilty for not working out.

And the week has continued to improve from there. I got a PB for 2014 at Woodley parkrun on Saturday which was totally unexpected. It happened to be their 100th run and somehow I missed the memo about wearing blue. I wore green... Tuesday marked my first trip to the driving range. I've been challenged to 9 holes of golf tomorrow and it was deemed necessary for me to get some practice in. By golly that made me ache! Wednesday's rest day coincided with a day in the London office and dinner with my folks at Jamie's Italian in Threadneedle street. They do the most amazing chocolate macaroon dessert which I urge you to try.

And finally I'm delighted to have received my running vest from Hospiscare, along with a really lovely note from Celia, the lady I've been chatting with on email about all my events. The first event I'll be wearing this at is Equinox24 in just TWO WEEKS TIME! It's a pretty bright orange which can only help with being seen during the nighttime portion of the event. I can't believe it's come around so quickly. I thought I was all set but got a bit panicky on twitter during the week. But twitter is full of lovely people and so one packing list, some reassurance and some head torch recommendations later and I'm feeling much more settled. Last minute team changes haven't helped but we're finalised, focused and ready for fun, facepaints and flapjacks :)


Thanks to everyone who's donated/sponsored me so far, you are stars! If you haven't yet sponsored me please consider doing so at www.justgiving.com/VikkiRunning/ Every donation you make will be matched by my employer so you will be making double the difference. Thank you.

What's the best way you've found to cope with a set back in your training? Any tips for Equinox24?

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Nutrition : What to Eat (and Drink) During Exercise

As my workouts are getting increasingly longer in preparation for my Autumn and Winter events, I'm starting to think more about how I should fuel myself during these sessions, to get the best out of them. My Personal training studies have covered this and I thought it might be useful to share what I've learnt.

Eating

If your workouts are usually 60 minutes or less, then you won't need to think about eating during a session. Your body generally has enough energy stored in the muscles to cope with an hour or so but after that those stores benefit from being "topped up".  As I'm now doing longer sessions, in preparation for my longer events in the autumn and winter, I'm having to think about fuelling up on the go.

Although the body gets most of its energy from fat, fat doesn't metabolise very quickly so carbohydrates are the fuel of choice during exercise. You're looking to take on 70g of CHO per hour, starting about 30 minutes into your session; think little and often over the course of your workout.

What you consume is worth thinking about. Your body needs that energy source quickly so a high GI food is perfect. Bananas and dried fruits are good options if you can handle solid foods, 500-1000ml of isotonic drink also work well and tend to be easier to consume on the go or in the gym and lots of runners take gels or jelly sweets. The options are varied but ultimately it comes down to what you can stomach. The sports drink you sip in the gym probably won't be enough on a long run and you might not be able to face the gels you eat during a triathlon when you're running an ultra (for example). A cheese sandwich might appeal more!

Drinking

In addition to fuelling it's important to keep properly hydrated during exercise. Even if you're 2% dehydrated it can seriously affect your performance and your general feelings of well-being. As you dehydrate your blood becomes thicker and it takes more effort for your heart to pump it around your body.

So how to stay hydrated? You need to drink approximately 1ml of fluid for every kcal burned or 1.5 litres for every kilo lost in weight during exercise. The best way to accomplish this is by drinking little and often throughout your event or training session. I've been known to pop into pubs on my running route to top up on water. Indeed, water is all you need for sessions lasting less than an hour but a sports drink is more beneficial for longer sessions. There are three main types of sports drink, all of which have a different purpose:
  • Isotonic provide carbohydrate and maintain hydration
  • Hypotonic designed to maintain hydration
  • Hypertonic used to supply carbohydrate 
During exercise you'll want an isotonic or hypotonic drink as these are less sugary and energy dense which allows the fluid to be absorbed more rapidly. There are plenty of sports specific drinks on the market (I'm a particular fan of nuun - see the side bar for a discount code), just make sure what you're buying suits your needs, but you can easily make your own.

Isotonic
  • 500ml water
  • 500ml fruit juice
  • pinch of salt
Hypotonic
  • 750ml water
  • 250ml fruit juice
  • pinch of salt
A final word on hyponatraemia. This is a condition that occurs when your blood sodium levels become too diluted. You've probably read about the occasional marathon runner who has suffered from this. It tends to affect those who are new to exercise or cover longer distances like ultramarathons or triathlons, as they tend to sweat more and have longer to take on fluids. Findarace.com have recently featured a great article about this, from a personal point of view and I'd recommend you give it a read. But don't get scared off of drinking during exercise. It's important to rehydrate, just make sure you include a little sodium as well.

Now I just need to start following my own advice! How do you fuel or hydrate during exercise? How do you carry it when you're out and about?

Monday, 1 September 2014

Kit Review: Primark Gym Range

Today I have a guest post and kit review from Dee. Hope you enjoy!

I am not a serious runner, I really only run if I want to lose a few pounds, or to get a bit fitter if Vikki talks me into doing a 5 or 10k!  Because of this, I tend not to go in much for fancy running gear, the running tops I own have been with me for about 8 years or more.  Yes, I know, terrible isn't it?

Anyway, they are getting a bit tired and seem to have shrunk somewhat in length, so I mentioned to Vikki that maybe I should look in the sales for a couple of new tops at least.  She suggested I look in Primark at their sportswear, she had heard good things about the running tops in particular from the ladies in the RMR Group.  As luck would have it, I was off to London that day to the West End where there is a huge Primark, so decided to have a look (they don't stock this range in my local Primark, and that is quite a large store).


I ended up buying 3 running tops, pale green, light marl grey and a black, a bargain at £4 each! They feel lovely and soft, are seamless and nice and long.  They are a technical and fast drying fabric and also have a nice bit of detailing on them. I don't think they look cheap at all.

I went out for a run in one over the weekend to try it out.  It was really comfortable to run in, didn't ride up at all and didn't rub anywhere.  I would definitely have paid a lot more for these tops.

Primark also do leggings and crop tops, but I think I am a bit past wearing those, however if you wear  them, it might be worth giving them a try, after all, what have you got to lose at those prices?


Have you had any running gear bargains? What brands do you think do a good job of producing workout kit at affordable prices?