Winter Running

I quite like running in winter. There’s something about getting layered up and hitting the streets. Knowing that while you might start out a bit on the cool side you’ll soon be lovely and warm but unlikely to ever get too hot. Seeing the mist as your warm breath hits the cold air. Finding that your favourite paths and routes are that little bit quieter as more people stay inside. Getting my dose of daylight by going for a run at lunchtime to balance our travelling to and from work in the dark.

Sunny and cool are probably my favourite running conditions and every now and again London serves up one of those perfect running days during winter. That’s the good side of winter running.

For the last two out of three winters I’ve been training for the London Marathon and have had to embrace winter running in all its glory. Forcing myself out of bed on dark cold and wet mornings. Praying that the snow would stay away. Leaving the house looking like a Christmas tree in an effort to be visible. Sometimes having to head out and run in actual snow.

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On many occasions I’ve cursed winter running – willing the lighter, warmer mornings to arrive. Looking forward to the day when I could leave the house without gloves and a hat. And then panicking when that day arrived knowing that it meant race day was getting ever closer.

This winter I’m not training for a marathon. I’ve not really run consistently for some time and haven’t done anything beyond a sprint session since the end of September. I am loving the training that I’m doing right now but now that the days are getting shorter I’m starting to crave some time outside in what little natural daylight there is. So I’m planning on adding some running back into the mix.

Those of you who’ve been following this blog for a while will know that I like a good goal. So rather than just say ‘I’m going to do some running’ I’ve entered a race so that I have a focus and something to aim towards.

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The Cancer Research London Winter Run seemed like the perfect goal race. A closed road 10km race, starting in Westminster the route heads out on a loop past some of London’s most famous landmarks including The London Eye, St Paul’s Cathedral, Big Ben, Tower of London and many more iconic London sites. As well as a great route, the race features some extras that make it sound like a lot of fun. A giant snow ball warm-up, an ice cave and snow zones on the route, a winter warmer finish zone and polar bear hugs at the finish. What’s not to like?

So I’m all signed up. And if having read this you fancy signing up too then I have some good news. Standard entry costs £39 before 16th December but if you use the discount code KISDISCOUNT you can reduce that by £3 – for a limited time.

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So if you also want a winter running goal and something to keep you motivated during the cold months, then what are you waiting for? See you there!

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Photo credits http://winterrunseries.co.uk/ (except for the one of me, I took that!)

Taking a holiday?

I’m just back from a lovely two week holiday in the USA. We spent time in Chicago, Denver and New York and I thoroughly enjoyed the break. My holiday period coincided with the halfway point of the current round of Extreme Inferno, Julia Buckley’s online fat loss programme. The programme is 12 weeks long so two weeks away from home might seem like a  good excuse to take a couple of weeks off from my fitness schedule as well.

But I didn’t view it that way.

Holidays for me are time off work, time to relax and unwind and spend time with Mr J, time to explore new places, enjoy good food and drink. Generally time to enjoy myself. And I enjoy training – I love working out and how it makes me feel. So while some people might decide to take a fortnight off their usual schedule I planned to fit in as many of the EI workouts as possible.

Being able to do that took some forward planning. Research into what facilities would be available in the places that we were staying, thinking about how much workout kit I could afford to pack and whether I had any opportunity to wash it, scheduling workouts that I could do without any equipment for the days when I wouldn’t have access to a gym.

Coregasm in our 52nd floor apartment

Coregasm in our 52nd floor apartment

One of the great things about Extreme Inferno is the mix of workouts – there are plenty of sessions that require no equipment at all (like Coregasm which you can try out for yourself here), and others where it’s easy to improvise. My carry on case came in handy one day as an improvised weight along with some bottles of water. Other sessions allowed me to make the most of the fantastic facilities I had access to in Denver and Chicago.

Brilliant free weights area in Chicago

Brilliant free weights area in Chicago

Our apartment block in Chicago had a gym facility on the 9th floor. A great space with lots of equipment and most importantly for me a brilliant free weights area.

Happy Becca.

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Fantastic facilities in TruFit in Denver

Then in Denver we had access to an absolutely enormous gym with pretty much everything you could think of, including a climbing wall and full TRX rig!

So while we were away I managed to keep up with the EI schedule, which definitely helped to balance out some of the extra alcohol and not so clean food which was consumed.

And I also picked up some fab new leggings too.

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Back with my beloved barbell

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while you’ll know that I’ve developed quite a love for lifting heavy weights. It all started when I discovered Julia Buckley’s Fat Burn Revolution programme and realised that I was reasonably strong. Over the last 18 months I’ve been improving that base level of strength, in the main with dumbbells in my own home.

In January this year I did a four week Ladies Who Lift course run by Strength Ambassadors, which taught me the basic barbell lifts – squats, deadlift and bench press. I loved it and surprised myself with the weights that I could manage after just four weeks of training. Realising how beneficial strength training could be to my marathon training I signed up for personal training sessions with Sally Moss, the founder of Strength Ambassadors. We did a lot of barbell work in those sessions which saw me to a strong marathon finish, despite carrying a hip/glute injury pretty much the whole way around.

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Since the marathon and while I’ve been recovering from that hip injury I’ve not been doing a lot of very heavy lifting. Julia’s Extreme Inferno programme has been my main focus as I’ve turned my attention back to fat loss, and while I use weights a lot during EI it’s all work that I can do in my own home with dumbbells – no barbell required.

Recently my glute/hip has been feeling a lot better and I’ve been hankering to get back to some barbell work. So for the past 3 weeks I’ve been having a once a week PT session with Jess Wolny, who I also met on the Ladies Who Lift course. We’ve worked our way through the ‘big lifts’ and it’s felt great to be back with the barbell again.

I’ve been really pleased to see how much my strength has improved since I last tried these lifts out. I’m relatively comfortable ‘working’ at a 50kg squat, 60kg deadlift and was particularly pleased with a 50kg bench press. Jess has also introduced me to the military press – a move that’s gone straight to the top of my favourites list. I’m excited to see where my numbers get to as I carry on training with Jess.

Last weekend I was back with Strength Ambassadors at one of their free Olympic Lifting workshops. In the two hour session we were taken through a series of drills that culminated in being able to perform both the snatch and the clean and press. There’s an awful lot going on in each of those lifts but Sally and Alex broke the moves down so that they were easy to understand and the drills progressed quickly so that before you knew it there you were Olympic Lifting.

I thoroughly enjoyed the session. While the weights were relatively light the Olympic Lifts are incredibly dynamic and involve explosive movements so by the end of the session I was exhausted. That kind of post swimming all over tiredness when you know you’ve worked your entire body.

I wouldn’t say I was a natural at the lifts at all. I have a lot to work on in terms of mobility in my squats and my form in the clean. I got some excellent cues from Alex that really helped me improve in particular aspects of the lifts during the course of the session. I really enjoyed myself and absolutely loved the jerk part of the clean and jerk.

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I’m hoping to sign up for a beginners course in the New Year so that I can learn some more.

It’s safe to say that I’m loving having the barbell back in my life!

Dirty weekends

Warning – if you’ve come to this post on the basis of the title expecting a *particular* kind of content you may be disappointed.

I haven’t really run more than a couple of miles at a time since May. Mainly due to my hip taking a really long time to heal up but also because I’ve been busy doing other kinds of training. But since my hip is now pretty much better and I’m thinking about a spring half marathon next year I thought it was about time to lace up the trainers and get back to the running.

To ease myself back in again I’ve taken part in two completely different types of events over the last two weekends. Different but with a similar outcome –  I got very very dirty!

Last Saturday saw me take part in the 5K Run or Dye at Excel in London Docklands. Billed as the most colourful event on the planet the 5K course had a number of dye stations on route where we runners had different coloured dyes thrown on us as we ran. I had mixed feelings on my way to the event bright and early on a Saturday morning. I was hoping for a carnival of colour but was slightly concerned that I’d paid a reasonable amount of money to get up very very early on a Saturday to just get covered in paint.

The reality was somewhere in between. Having met Mollie, Bethan and Tessa at the DLR stop we made our way to pick up our race packs. As well as a white T-shirt and temporary tattoo we were also given two bags of dye each. Once we’d all changed into our race tops the fun began as we chucked the paint around and got suitably covered in colour. I’m not going to deny that it was pretty fun.

 

Once the run started I was a bit disappointed if I’m honest. I’d expected music and atmosphere as well as the advertised dye stations but what we got in reality was a 5K run around the Excel with a couple of areas where volunteers chucked paint over us. I don’t know why but I’d expected paint cannons and sound systems –  a party of paint. The reality was people scooping handfuls of dye and chucking them in our faces. It was a laugh overall but I couldn’t help feeling a bit ‘was that it then?’ and I don’t know that I’d pay to do it again.

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Yesterday Buckley’s Battalion re-formed to take on the Major Series South in Tunbridge Wells. The team made up of Julia’s fat loss clients was a of a different line up to last year but the team spirit and camaraderie were just as strong as we made our way around the 10K cross country course.

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It took us nearly three hours to complete the course which included mud, muddy water, bogs, ice pits, electric fences, barbed wire, mud, more mud and just when you thought you couldn’t get any more dirty a bit more mud thrown in for good measure. Teammates were essential to lend a hand getting out of ditches or freeing people who had literally got stuck in the mud.

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The atmosphere here was brilliant – friend or stranger if you saw someone in need of a push or a pull that’s what happened.  There was a fair bit of queuing for some of the obstacles but no-one seemed to care – it wasn’t the sort of event you ran for time – it was all about the taking part and getting round as a team. Oh and the mud.

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This was always going to be a bit of a test for me. 5K is one thing but 10K of hilly cross country on no real running training is somewhat more of a challenge. My hip behaved itself impeccably but my calves had other ideas and at just over halfway I started to get cramps. It was pretty frustrating but I kept going, walking when I needed to stretch them out. It meant that I started lagging behind the rest of the team a bit but in true Battalion style someone was always there with me making sure I was OK and the team stopped and waited for us back markers to catch up at regular intervals.

I’ve got to be honest and admit that I was glad once we’d finished – happy to have done it but a wake up call that my running fitness is pretty much shot to bits and needs to be built back up again. If I’m serious about doing Tough Mudder next year I will need to get this sorted!

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Of my two dirty weekends the mud won hands down, even if I did go home with some bruises and scrapes alongside my dog tag style medal and loads of mud. There’s something about getting absolutely soaked to the skin and covered in mud that I really quite enjoy!

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National Fitness Day

10407471_10152250528691012_4587385522592345905_nIt was National Fitness Day on Friday. Hundreds of venues across the country opened their doors to allow people to try out classes for free.

I went to a Body Combat class in Covent Garden. It was run by Les Mills and I absolutely loved it. Inspired by mixed martial arts it featured moves from a wide array of disciplines such as karate, boxing, taekwondo, tai chi and muay thai. I got a proper sweat on in the 30 minute high intensity session. 48 hours later I still have DOMS to talk about. Great fun!

 

National Fitness Day was all about getting involved and trying something new. I’m really glad I did – it’s made me interested in trying out other boxing or martial arts based fitness sessions. I don’t want to get into fighting but the moves are tough and the guys running the class looked super fit!!

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I spent the whole session next to this guy trying for the life of me to place him as I thought he looked really familiar. Only afterwards did I realise that he was Greg Whyte - the man that completed Davina McCall’s Sport Relief challenge with her this year and National Fitness Day expert. Wish I’d realised earlier – I would have asked him to post for a selfie with me! 20140926_122107~2

Did you get involved in National Fitness day? What did you do?

Fit enough for the Army?

My fitness levels have come on in leaps and bounds in the last 18 months – I’m without a doubt stronger, faster and more agile than I was. Workouts that I used to find challenging I can now complete with relative ease and the weights that I’m lifting are considerably more heavy.

But I haven’t really had an opportunity to benchmark my fitness levels against any particular standard. Until last week that was.

Army

I work with a number of men who used to be in the military. One of the first things that springs to mind when I think about people in the army is their fitness levels. I recently watched the Channel 4 series on Royal Marines Commando training which illustrated exactly the levels of fitness that are required. This programme showed one of the toughest basic military training programmes in the world, so it was a somewhat extreme example, but having chatted to the people I work with they recognised similarities to the training that they went through themselves.

So when one of them suggested that we start up a team challenge to see who was fit enough to meet the basic standards for the Army I was intrigued. The test sounded straightforward enough. As many push ups as possible in two minutes, then as many sit ups as possible in two minutes followed by a one and a half mile run as fast as possible. There are targets to meet which are adjusted for gender and age. In ice bucket challenge style the person who completes the challenge gets to nominate the next person to do it. So on Thursday morning this week I found myself jogging down to St James’ Park to start my Army Basic Fitness Test challenge.

I’d been given my targets to pass the test but also a more challenging set of numbers that would see me score maximum points. I could score a maximum of 100 points for each exercise but needed a minimum of 70 in each to pass. So I couldn’t make up for a slow run by doing extra sit ups – I needed to meet the minimum score for each.

As a 40 year old woman my targets were:

  • 13 Press Ups
  • 37 Sit Ups
  • 14:30 run

We started with press ups – I got to 20 without really breaking to much of a sweat and by the time I’d got to 30 I was being told ’3 more and you’ve scored maximum marks’. 33 press ups it was! All those press ups I did on Extreme Inferno obviously paid off.

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Sit ups were more challenging. I do a lot of core work but hadn’t done military style sit ups for some time. I got to 40 in around 90 seconds and decided that I’d had enough. My lower abs were screaming, I’d met my minimum target and that would do me.

I though I was going to die on the run. Or be sick. Or expel my lungs through my mouth. It was awful, I felt terrible and kept having to stop to recover and get my breath back. Despite feeling slow and decidedly unfit, thanks to some ace Army style coaching from my colleague I kept going. “I’m going to be sick” I panted “you can do that once you’re finished” he replied as he kept one pace ahead of me pushing me to run as fast as I could. I finished the 1.5 miles and literally couldn’t speak for 5 minutes afterwards. He wouldn’t tell me my time and I assumed that I’d failed.

Back in the office the scores were revealed and it transpired that I’d completed the run in 13:58 – well under my target. It meant that I’d passed the test. When the scores were added up I was at the top of the leader board – well above a woman nearly 20 years my junior and also ahead of someone who actually used to be in the army! My performance on press ups was hailed as “one of the best I’ve ever seen from a woman”.

So I’m really quite pleased to have been deemed fit enough to join the Army. Not that I’m going to, but it’s fantastic to know that at the age of 40 I’ve passed test that I would have struggled with in my 20s!

 

National Fitness Day

cb975cd2d5b63edb7790e9a2f7fc3f6eFriday 26th September 2014 is National Fitness Day and I’m excited and proud to have been asked to be an official Ambassador!

You all know how much fitness has done for me and I imagine that many of you reading this will also have stories to tell about how fitness has changed your life for the better. But that’s not the case for everyone.

The largest celebration of physical activity in the UK, run by not-for-profit health body ukactive, National Fitness Day sees the health and active lifestyle community unite to raise awareness of the benefits of physical activity, inspire people to get active and make it easy and fun to try something new with free taster sessions.

The National Fitness Day ‘Power Half Hour’ is a great place to start. Venues across the country are hosting free ‘Power Half Hour’ events on National Fitness Day – just 30 minutes out of your day, and you don’t even have to be a member to take part.

With brands such as Better Gyms, British Military Fitness, Club Company, Energie, Everyone Active, Fitness First, Gym Group, Pure Gym and Spirit Health Clubs on board offering a variety of free sessions from indoor cycling and bootcamp to yoga and pilates – there’s bound to be something that appeals. Find an event local to you here.

And if you live in London, Birmingham or Bristol then you have the chance to get involved in National Fitness Day – live through mass participation exercise events to be held at 12:30pm in London’s Covent Garden, Birmingham’s Victoria Square and Centre Promenade, Bristol city centre.

Get updates from National Fitness Day on Twitter (@FitnessDayUK), tweet them using the hashtag #fitnessday and connect with them on Facebook (National Fitness Day).

I think it’s a fantastic initiative to encourage people to be more active, or to try something new. Leave me a comment to let me know if you’re going to get involved and what session you choose to take part in. And perhaps I’ll bump into some of you in Covent Garden?!

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