Talking burpees, ice baths and goals with Dame Kelly Holmes

Last week I got the opportunity to meet and have a chat with Dame Kelly Holmes, double Olympic gold medalist, as you do._2018534

I had been invited to an event at the GSK Human Performance Lab in Brentford by MaxiNutrition. It was an opportunity to find out more about the impressive facility, the research done there and how that is translated into the development of MaxiNutrition products. I may not have mentioned this before but I have a background in biochemistry so I jumped at the opportunity to get a bit ‘science geeky’ for the night. Obviously the chance to meet a middle distance Olympian was a bit of a draw as well!

I’ve got to admit to being a bit nervous about the whole ‘interview with an  Olympian’ thing. I’ve never really met anyone ‘properly’ famous and was a bit concerned that I’d get tongue-tied or ask really dull questions or that she’d wonder what on earth little old me was doing there talking to her. I needn’t have been concerned. From the moment we met she was relaxed and chatty and I felt totally at ease.

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The first thing I noticed from a distance was how tiny she is. Really small. Although she’s also got guns of steel and definitely a look of someone that I wouldn’t mess with. Up close it was clear that she is still in amazing shape, 10 years on from her Olympic triumphs in Athens.

 

I asked her about what her training regime had been like as an international athlete and particularly how much strength training had played a part. I was quite surprised when she told me that an awful lot of her training was strength related. On reflection I probably shouldn’t have been. To run 800 or 1500 meters quickly, you’re going to need strength and speed and my own experience over the last year or so should have told me that this would play a major part in a middle distance runners training.

With up to three sessions a day Dame Kelly’s training included sprint sessions, fartleks, weights work and good old bodyweight HIIT, including burpees. I may have to change my opinion on my least favourite move – if it’s good enough for an Olympian then it’s got to me good enough for me!

She told me that she thought more runners should pay attention to strength training to help them improve. Too many people in her opinion start running and do nothing else to support their training and then get frustrated when they stop making progress or start getting injured. Strength training in her opinion complements running well and it’s definitely something she’d encourage runners to do.

We moved on to talk about recovery. Training up to three times a day is pretty hard-core and it’s going to take its toll on the body so maximising recovery would surely be important? Dame Kelly let me into a little secret – contrast bathing. I’d asked her whether she thought that ice baths worked and she said that she definitely did but that the most effective type of recovery in her opinion was switching between cold and warm. So 10 minutes in a ice bath – a dustbin full of it in her case, followed by a warm shower or brisk massage of the muscles and then back into the ice. I’ve always been a bit sceptical about whether or not ice baths actually make a difference. I’ve used them during marathon training and they’re not a lot of fun but now that I know they have the Dame Kelly seal of approval I’ll try to embrace them a little more.

I asked Dame Kelly about how she trains these days and how she keeps herself motivated. She told me that to mark her 10 year anniversary she decided to set herself a challenge to take part in one duathlon every month. Cycling, she said, was quite difficult for her, it uses totally different muscles to running and she’d had to train really hard to become proficient in it. To keep herself motivated she sets herself small achievable goals, like taking 20 seconds off her bike time. She told me that she gets a real buzz out of competing in the events, from watching the elites whizzing past to staying around to support the tail enders come home.

My time with Dame Kelly was soon at an end and I asked if we could have a photo taken, expecting to pose for a regular shot. As quick as you like she was up out of her chair saying “come on lets pose doing squats”. And before I knew it there I was with a barbell on my back, squatting next to a double Olympic champion. Excuse my poor form, I was a bit overexcited!

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Project Barbados – Week Six – we’re here

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So my six week pre holiday fat loss project is over and I’m typing this from the veranda of our hotel room in Barbados. We’ve been here since Saturday afternoon and it’s beautiful – the view from our room really isn’t that different to the photo above. Stunning.

In reality my fat loss project doesn’t finish here – I’m only 3 weeks into Extreme Inferno and there’s another 9 weeks to go, including this one. I’ve packed plenty of workout clothes and a resistance band and have already done two workouts. It’s really humid here so I really worked up a sweat but luckily the pool is just steps away from our room -  the perfect way to cool down.

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I’ll update with my progress through the rest of EI at the end of each phase. There’s already progress for sure – I’m lifting heavier weights, achieving more reps and I feel stronger. I’ll do some weights and measures next week – although the after effects of a week’s holiday might mean that it’s a few more weeks until there’s any significant change there.

It’s going to be pretty easy to eat well here – loads of fresh fruit, meat and fish on offer. On the other hand alcohol is also in plentiful supply -  champagne at breakfast and lots of lovely cocktails and the local beer is also pretty nice. I’m going to relax and enjoy myself for the week – I’m on holiday after all!

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Project Barbados – Week Five

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This time next week we’ll be on the plane to Barbados. I am very excited indeed. The fifth week of my pre holiday fat loss project has gone very well and I’m feeling a lot more confident about the idea of stepping onto the beach in my swimwear than I was a couple of weeks ago.

This week has also been the second week of Extreme Inferno – Julia Buckley’s fat loss and fitness programme. After an exciting first week of getting to grips with new workouts and meeting my virtual training buddies the second week has been all about digging in and getting the absolute most out of the workouts. In some ways the second week has been more challenging than the first – I’ve upped my weights for pretty much all the moves where we’re using them. Because I now have a benchmark for what I’m able to do, I’m now challenging myself to achieve more in every session. It’s been sweaty and tough but a lot of fun and my body has definitely noticed!

20140704_071741Those of you who’ve been reading my blog for a while will know that I’ve been doing pull up and chin up training on and off over the last year or so. My progress with these has at times felt frustratingly slow, partly because I’ve been inconsistent and partly because they’re bloody difficult. I was incredibly pleased this week when I managed to do not one, but two chin ups with the medium resistance band. Massive progress from where I was just a few weeks ago and it just shows that persistence and practice will pay off in the end. You can see how pleased I was from the big cheesy grin in the photo.

 

10447862_10152088179216012_6166793378333910656_nThis week I also discovered that our balcony is an amazing place for a cool down and post workout stretch. London has been bathed in sunshine, not so much so today, but the early mornings here this week have been beautiful and I’ve enjoyed lying on my mat with the sun on my face while I stretch out my legs. Bliss!

My thoughts have now turned to how I’m going to keep up with EI while we’re away. The hotel has a gym but I don’t know how well it will be equipped but as long as it has a few free weights and a gym ball I’ll be fine.

We’ve got free Wifi in our room so I should be able to log on and run Julia’s videos just fine from there. So absolutely no excuses not to keep up with the programme while I’m away. Not that I need any really. I’m loving it, and can feel the difference in my body after only two weeks so I’m actually looking forward to carrying on while we’re on holiday.

I took my measurements this week and am very pleased to say that I’ve shrunk. My tummy and hip measurements have come down by a little bit which makes me very happy indeed. The hard work is paying off. There’s more to come but it’s so much easier to stay motivated when you can see results.

Bring on the final week!

 

 

What this lady lifts


I’ve been strength training for over 18 months now and the large majority of it has been done in my own home. I loved the Ladies Who Lift sessions that I had in the gym with Sally Moss back at the start of 2014 and the strength training that I did as part of my marathon training, but overall I love the convenience of working out in my lounge even more.

In the time that I’ve been using weights I’ve built up a bit of a collection of equipment and I’ve often been asked for advice on what kind of weights someone looking to start out would be best to get. So here in one handy post is a run down of what this lady lifts!

YorkI started out with this York 20kg Cast Iron Dumbbell Set. These are a great beginner set which allow you to take on and off the plates to vary the weight you are lifting for different moves. For example, most people will be able to lift far more weight in a move like bent over row than they will in a bicep curl.

Once you’ve got a set of spinlock bars you can also then buy additional weight plates to add onto it if you need. I’ve got some extra York Standard Cast Iron Disc X4 plates too.

BarbellSoon things between me and weights were getting serious and I found I could lift quite a lot in some of the big moves. It was time to invest in a barbell. I went for this 6ft York Spinlock Bar. All the weight plates that I already owned fitted onto it and it meant that I could set up the bar with heavy weights for moves like bent over row and Romanian deadlifts and leave the dumbbells set up with lighter weights for different moves. Less faffing around, quicker workout, happy Becca.

I should point out (in the interests of health and safety) that I don’t do back squats with this bar at home. For that I’d need a squat stand or rack and preferably someone to spot me to. There’s not enough room in our flat for that type of equipment and I generally workout in the morning when my OH doesn’t have time to be standing around spotting me!

My next set of weights were a bit of a splurge, a present to myself for the progress that I’d made. They’re not by any means an essential piece of kit but for the ultimate in convenience and space saving they are fantastic.

Bodymax Selectabell Dumbbells are basically 12 sets of dumbbells in one. Each one of these can be anything from 5kg to 32.5kg. To change the weight you simply rotate a dial and hey presto – more or less weight added in seconds. Very clever engineering and no more faffing about with changing plates – the ultimate in convenience. I love these very much indeed.

 

In fact the only things that aren’t totally perfect about these is the fact that the weight goes up in 2.5kg increments. That’s OK for moves that involve large muscle groups, say squats or lunges. But for upper body moves 2.5kg is quite a jump and so I find that I have to have a pair of spinlock dumbbells set up for the intermediate weights as well.

tuff_tech_bellsThere is one other small downside to the selectabells too, and that’s their shape. There are a couple of moves that I do where I need dumbbells with a flat edge, or I need to swing the dumbbell around like a kettlebell. I’m sure that the plates wouldn’t ever come off the selectabells but I never feel totally confident about trying out that theory. And that’s where the latest addition to my collection comes in.

These little beauties from a company called Savage Strength are perfect for swinging around with confidence. They are the only fixed weight dumbbells that I have and the only rubber ones too but I really like them. They are  great for one of my favourite moves, the renegade row.

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You start in a plank position with weights in both hands and the raise one of the weights while keeping your core tight and hips level. Then you return the weight to the floor. As you can see it’s not the sort of move where you want round dumbbells wobbling around underneath you so the hexagonal Tufftech weights are perfect. And I generally wear a top when I’m doing mine. I know I’m in my own home but I just generally feel a bit more comfortable that way!

squat_press_stand_Looking around the rest of the Savage Strength site has me drooling. While I might never have enough space to fit in an entire Power Rack, I’d like to think that one day I might be able to fit in a squat stand so that I could work on back squats and bench press safely in my own home.

 

But for now I’m doing fine with my trusty dumbbells and barbell. I’ve managed to make significant strength gains and lose fat without ever having to step foot into a gym. Even with the expense of the swanky adjustable set I’ve still spent less in 18 months than I would have done on gym membership in Central London and its mine to keep forever!

Disclosure - the people at Savage Strength were kind enough to send me the Tufftech weights for free. However, all opinions are my own.

 

 

Project Barbados – Week Four!

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Time is flying. Just two weeks until we’ll be sunning ourselves in Barbados. I suddenly feel a bit panicked that I’ve got loads of stuff to organise and not much time left to do it in!

This week saw the start of Extreme Inferno – the new fat loss fitness programme from Julia Buckley that I piloted last year. I have really been looking forward to getting stuck into this. I’ve been following Julia’s workouts for some time but there’s nothing like being part of a structured programme with lots of other people for getting me focussed. This first week has seen us get off to a great start. There’s been an amazing buzz among everyone taking part - Julia is administering everything through a secret Facebook group – and it’s fantastic to have so many ‘virtual’ training buddies.

The really great thing from my perspective is that Julia has developed some new sessions. It means that even though I took part in the pilot it still feels really fresh and like a brand new challenge. This week has seen me do two weights sessions, a bodyweight circuit, two HIIT sessions and an ‘active’ rest session focussed on mobility.

This video mash up gives you an idea of what I’ve been up to. Not all of the exercises are from this first phase but it will give you an idea of what my week has involved.

Despite having done some of the sessions before it’s been a real challenge and there have been satisfying aches in various parts of my body that let me know that it’s working. Next week I’m going to focus on upping my weights for some of the sessions and making sure that I do the most advanced version of the move that I can in the other sessions. I know that the best results will come when I really challenge myself to stay outside my comfort zone – however tough that might feel.

Even after just one week I can feel the difference in my body. Muscles feel tighter and my stomach is definitely flatter – it helps that I’ve kept my diet quite tight for most of the week. Alcohol is the only thing that’s really tripped me up – a couple of nights out have meant my wine intake has been higher than ideal so that’s the thing for me to focus on over the next couple of weeks.

And with just two weeks to go until we fly my mind has turned to packing and making sure that I have everything I need. I was really excited to find that the Sweaty Betty summer sale started this week and meant that I’ve been able to bag some of their fab summery pieces at nearly half price!

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I love the turquoise and purple colours on these pieces which will mix and match nicely. I also like the fact that they’re all designed for the beach so I can go for a run along the sand and then jump straight into the sea to cool down!

Just two weeks to go – it’s starting to feel quite exciting!

 

10 things I learned from marshalling the Hackney Half marathon

Yesterday saw the inaugural staging of Run Hackney, a half marathon in my neighbouring borough.

Half marathons are hard to come by in London. There’s the famous Royal Parks Half which is becoming as difficult to get into as the London Marathon itself and since Run to The Beat has now become a 10K, there’s not a lot of other choice. As a consequence there has been a real buzz in the London running community about this new event with loads of people I know signing up to take part.

When I first heard about the race I was keen to enter myself. But something told me to sit it out for this year. Turned out to be a wise decision as my injury wouldn’t have allowed me to train anyway. So I did the next best thing and signed up to be a course marshal. If I wasn’t going to run the race myself it was a great way to still be a part of it.

It’s the first time I’ve marshalled a ‘proper’ race. I’ve volunteered at parkrun before but that’s a small event with around 100 runners held on footpaths in a local park. Run Hackney had around 12000 people signed up to take part and the route wound its way through the borough and into and around the Olympic Park. A different level of organisation was required!

I was asked to go along to a volunteer briefing session a few weeks before the event where I learned more about what was going to happen on the day. There’s a huge amount of organisation involved from mapping and measuring the route, agreeing road closures, the logistics of getting supplies to aid stations, recruiting volunteers and organising other staff. It made me realise where a lot of the entry fee for big races goes to. Staging these things isn’t cheap!

I got a run through of my duties on the day – basically the marshals are there to look out for the runners. To spot any hazards and deal with them if safe to do so, to report back to event control in the event of any emergency and to generally be friendly and encouraging.

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My marshalling point. Had to make sure they turned the corner!

So having completed my first stint as a marshal, what has it taught me?

1) Race day for a marshal starts just as early as race day for a runner. My alarm was set for 6am to allow me to get across to my marshalling meet up point, collect my supplies for the day, get a quick lesson in how to use a radio and get to my marshalling point

2) Regardless of very clear signs which had been up for ages given ample warning of road closures, some local residents will get quite angry when they can’t go about their usual Sunday business. Thankfully there were people being paid to deal with traffic related issues so I didn’t have to get involved

 

3) Put on a high vis jacket and suddenly people turn to you for advice. Did I know what time the race started, how long until the 2hour runners get here, how do I cycle from here to Victoria Park, any idea what the temperature is were just some of the questions I was asked by members of the public. Apparently people in high vis know everything!

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4) Radios are cool. All the marshals were given a radio in case they needed to alert event control to any hazards or to call for help in the event of an emergency. We were all on the same channel which meant that we could all hear what was going on around the rest of the course. Things I got to hear about included

  • lots of people arriving late for the race thanks to many transport routes being down
  • a debate about whether to delay the start of the race due to late arrivals. The decision was quick and clear – it would go ahead on time
  • slight panic over a lack of volunteers at one of the water stations – soon resolved
  • announcement of the start of the race and a running commentary about where the lead runners were on the course
  • notification of a fire near to the route – thankfully quickly dealt with
  • towards the end of the race an increasing number of calls for help with runners that had collapsed. It was a scorching hot day and apparently not enough water on the course. Thankfully it seems that everyone was OK in the end but at one point it was quite worrying to listen to

I didn’t need to use my radio myself but it was a brilliant insight into event management and the kind of issues that crop up and need to be dealt with instantly to avoid any impact on the smooth running of the race.

20140622_0956595) Cheering on runners is ace – especially when you’re joined by a slightly drunk but very enthusiastic local. “we love hackney we love hackney” she shouted while jumping up and down and clapping and cheering wildly as the masses went past. It was infectious and I soon found myself joining in, picking out names on people’s vest and cheering everyone along. Great fun.

6) Cheering runners is even better when you know them. I saw loads of people that I knew and it was fantastic to be able to support them on what was a very tough day to be running a half marathon. There were whoops, high fives and one very sweaty hug. It was ace!

7) Even the fast guys struggle in the heat. I am a ‘towards the back of the pack’ runner and in my head everyone ahead of me is breezing through the race making light work of it. My marshalling point was just before 6 miles, not even half way and I was quite surprised to see how tough some of the fast guys were finding it.

8) The very back of the pack is a very lonely place. Hackney Half had set a pretty generous cut off time of a three and a half hour finish. By the time the very last runners came through there was no support left for them at all, except me. I tried my very best to make them feel just as important as the thousands that had gone before them, in some ways they probably needed the support more. I take my hat of to you ladies and gentlemen – that amount of time out in that sun cannot have been fun.

9) Runners are a bit nuts. It was in the mid 20s and much of the course had little to no shade. But there were still loads of people pushing themselves to their limits. You can argue about whether this is sensible or not but there’s no denying that runners are a determined bunch. I had one girl hobble past me intent on completing the course. On the radio I heard of another man who was clearly delirious and needed to stop but was absolutely intent on finishing to the point of getting slightly aggressive with the marshals that were trying to help him. We’ve started so we’re going to finish. Nuts!

10) Runners make good marshals. I was randomly paired with someone who works at events for a living. He knew loads about how to use the radio, spotting hazards and dealing with slightly angry residents. But he knew nothing about running, about what it’s like to take part in a race, how the runners would be feeling, what they would appreciate (cheers, smiles, applause) and what they wouldn’t (shouts of ‘you’re nearly there’ at less than halfway through a half marathon). That’s where my experience as a runner beat his hands down.

“Why are you cheering them, you don’t know them?” he asked “because they’ll appreciate it” I said. Bewildered look.

“Tell them there’s water just around the corner” I said “they’ve been running for nearly an hour in this heat” another bewildered look.

“Your hands are going to hurt if you keep clapping them all” he said “not as much as their legs are going to hurt tomorrow” I said.

“That’s nearly all of them through now, I guess we’re done” he said. “Not until the last one comes through” I replied “they need and deserve our support just as much as the others”.

I thoroughly enjoyed my experience as a marshal and would do it again in a heartbeat. I hope to Run Hackney myself next year but if for any reason I can’t then I’ll be back to stand in my high vis jacket looking out for and cheering on every last runner again.

 

 

Project Barbados – Week 3

CaptureThree weeks today I’ll be in Barbados. The time is flying past quicker than I thought it would. Week 3 of my fat loss project is over and right now I’m feeling a bit annoyed at myself as some of my food and drink choices this weekend haven’t been exactly consistent with my goals. But hey – what’s done is done, let’s focus on the positives from the week gone by.

This was the final week in the run up to the start of Extreme Inferno which starts tomorrow. Julia advised us to have a relatively light training week to make sure that we were starting the 12 week programme fresh. Since it’s not long since I returned from injury, and I have a natural down week on the horizon in three weeks time, I carried on pretty much as normal but have given myself some extra rest this weekend.

On Monday I tried out an online video workout. A collaboration between Sweaty Betty and Barry’s Bootcamp. I’m a massive fan of Sweaty Betty workout clothes and have heard lots of good things about BB so I was excited to see what was in store. I really enjoyed the workout and my glutes were aching for days afterwards!

Tuesday was a body weight workout where I focussed a lot on pull ups. I moved down to a lighter resistance band and spent quite a lot of time working on negatives – where you perform just the lowering part of the exercise. I was really pleased with how I did. Next goal is a full pull up with the smaller band.

20140619_071005By Wednesday I had sore glutes from Monday and lats from Tuesday so I took a rest day. Thursday was a glorious morning and I decided to get out in the sun and do some sprints. A perfect opportunity to try out my new sports headband from Halo. Halo headbands are technically designed to keep sweat out of your eyes while you are working out. They have a Sweat Block seal which stops sweat from dripping down onto the face. It’s been really quite warm in London over the last week or so and I’ve been getting particularly hot and sweaty while working out. Sprints in the sunshine definitely put the headband to the test – it stayed put and kept the sweat out of my face. Result!

 

20140620_071359Friday was more bodyweight and core work. Another sweaty session where the headband came in very handy! I’m thinking about investing in another one as I do like to be coordinated when I work out, even if no-one else is around. There’s 13 different colours in the range so plenty to choose from. I quite like the look of the visor bands too - I don’t really like running in a full cap as it makes my head hot but this looks like it could be a good halfway house.

Food and drink was pretty much on track during the week but as I’ve confessed already, not so great this weekend. No excuses here, just some poor decisions but with Extreme Inferno starting again tomorrow I’m putting that behind me and focussing on the week ahead.

I took my photos and measurements for my start of EI stats. I’m really not far off my best ever set of measurements – the marathon flab has pretty much gone which pleases me a lot.

And in case you didn’t see it elsewhere – I was in the Daily Mail this week with Julia! I’m not a fan of the paper, nor of the headline that they’ve used for the article but I’m always keen to help Julia spread her message about the most effective form of exercise for fat loss. This blog went a little bit crazy on Monday and Tuesday as a result!

Three weeks to go and a new 12 week fitness programme starting tomorrow. I’m focussed and ready to get blasting more fat. Bring on Week Four!

Disclosure – Halo sent me a headband free to charge to try out. However, all views are my own.