I did it…

I did it! 2 hours 34 mins and 52 seconds officially (one second faster than my Garmin said). Not only was that about an hour quicker than I expected (and to be fair it was only 15-25 minutes slower than my previous seven half matahon times) I also didn’t even need to complete it by ‘wogging’, I ran unbroken until the 16km mark and only walked a couple of times in the last 5km.  My first 5km and 10km were actually my fastest 5km and 10km post Pandemic.

I’ve honestly never been so nervous beforehand, I didn’t sleep much and must have had about 25 nervous wees before the race even started (oh and one portaloo stop on the way round – if I hadn’t maybe I’d have been under 2 hours 30!). Once I started running though I felt suprisingly good and relaxed.  In fact for the  first 10km I felt like I was almost coasting and it really wasn’t until I was closer to 15km that I felt my legs start to feel heavy. I always find with longer distances that it isn’t my breathing that I struggle with, it’s the legs feeling tired and as I’d been ill during the last few weeks my energy levels didn’t feel great to begin with. I also felt my knee start to twinge around 7km, which concerned me at the time, but it held out quite well.

Here’s my thoughts post run:

  1. Splitting the run down into sections helps me mentally tackle a long run.  I broke it down into 4 5km runs with a 1km finisher and focused on that one 5km at a time.  Each section I told myself I could walk for a bit if I ran that 5km section, it pushed me to keep moving with something to aim for and in the end for most of it I didn’t need to walk and just kept going.
  2. I started this run faster than I meant to – I was thinking of aiming for 13-14 minutes miles at least to start with and my first three miles all came in under 11 minutes each. I purposefully had to slow myself down because I knew I’d gass myself out if I kept that up but in the end I averaged an 11.4 minute mile. Normally I’m really careful to pace myself early on and speed up if I can rather than go out too quick, but this time I was nervous and that made me go hard early on, in the end that start meant I felt like I had wiggle room in the second half of the run which calmed me down so it worked out ok but isn’t the ideal race tactic.
  3. Strategic walking can actually help your time, I find it better to plan when and how far to walk if needed though to avoid getting into that stop start pattern.  If you do needto stop running though keep moving, stopping to stretch or breath half way through a half does nothing for your legs. 
  4. Manchester has some nice sites to run past but a lot of dull industrial parts too, the atmosphere is great but it isn’t always the most scenic.
  5. Strategic energy gels are useful. Not waiting until you feel like your flagging but taking at pre -planned times keeps you feeling steady throughout.  I’m also always pretty careful on water intake, a few sips at each station otherwise I find I often get a stitch.
  6. Airpod battery life is not sufficient for the slower runner.

All in all I was actually really chuffed with my finishing time and also the actual run itself, which was probably stronger than the time suggests. I’m looking a the next Manchester Half in October now, with perhaps the aim to get back to a 2 hour 10 minute finishing time.

Virtual Reality

Last month I went to visit my friend who has always been into technology and she had recently bought a Virtual Reality headset and one of the things you can do on the headset is a virtual Les Mills Body Combat and I gave it a go.

Now it’s not doing Body Combat in the normal sense, you don’t do a full class and it’s not to the music in the traditional way and of course is largely punching as virtual reality kicking isn’t quite yet a thing.

What it is however is actually pretty addictive, once you have the headset on it feels very real and you can feel the objects coming towards you as if they were real. The classes are pretty short, the beginner / practice ones are as short as 5 -10 minutes, also the headset means your movement can feel a little clunky and you can’t really jump about. However you can really get into it and get a bit of a sweat on just because of how immersive it can feel.

Overall, with the technology as it is, it is still probably more of a novelty activity rather than a full on exercise regime, however if you aren’t currently doing that much exercise it can get you moving and is motivating enough that you might actually want to do it every day.

It is of course expensive, I’m not sure how many people at the moment could afford the headset, remotes and subscription but as the technology progresses I’m sure it will become more affordable.

In terms of Les Mills it’s clear Body Combat lends itself to the new technology although to make it more fitness and less experience both the headset would need to be lighter and they would need to work out how to incorporate more lower body into the workouts. What I’m not sure of is how they could lend the technology to the other programmes – Body Step potentially if they developed a Virtual Reality Step but that would add to people’s cost but beyond that I’m not sure. Whether that will affect Les Mills decision to continue to invest in the technology will be interesting as there is certainly potential and it would potentially encourage a whole other demographic of people to move more. That being said they have invested a lot in the Trip, which also requires a big investment by gyms so they may well decide to stay in for the long run with it.

Tomorrow

Tomorrow I’m running the Manchester Half Marathon.

Well I say run, to be honest i think it will be more of a ‘wog’.

That’s a bit of running / jogging and a bit of walking in case you didn’t already know.

I really don’t feel prepared. I’m fine with endurance but I’ve seriously met snails that move faster than me and my build up has been affected by being poorly and my knee injuries playing up. As it stands today my knee is actually quite painful to run on at all, let alone for 13 miles.

I considered dropping down to run 10km, which in itself would be tough, largely because I didn’t want to be the person who took four hours to finish or come last, but then someone said to just do it for myself and forget what anyone else does it in or thinks of me and so that’s what I’m going to do.

Full report to follow next week.

Abs, a good PT does not make.

I saw a comment on a friends Facebook post the other day that went along the lines of that person would not pick a PT who was not thin because if they weren’t thin how could they advise their clients on how to lose weight / why didn’t they follow their own advice. I get it and I think most PTs will have had the thought at some point as to why would someone hire me if i don’t look super fit?

The thing is knowledge and application are two different things.

I can know how to help someone get leaner, fitter, stronger without being as lean, as fit, as strong. Deciding that I prefer my diet and life the way it is over looking like a poster girl PT doesn’t make me any less good at my ability to coach people to reach a physical peak.

Having life events happen that take you away from your own training or taking medication that affects your body shape don’t stop you knowing how to help someone else lose weight.

Having a specific training goal that means you’ve spent less time on certain elements of your own training doesn’t mean you can’t coach someone else in those.

If you think about a sport like tennis. If we followed the notion that you can’t train someone to success unless you’ve had the exact same success, how do we explain the coaches of all the Wimbledon champions not coached by former Wimbledon champions? In actual fact those coaches may not have had the talent to become Wimbledon champion themselves but they are obviously exceptional at coaching others and bringing out the potential of others.

In football, most top tier club managers are former players but are all the big names, the ones with success after success, best known for their exceptional managerial skills, were they always the Ronaldo level players? They were good, top tier players for sure, but their success as managers came from their knowledge of tactics, man management, their ability to strategise.

Being skilled or talented at something doesn’t mean you will be good at teaching others to do it, coaching and motivating is a skill in itself. Moreover, not being or looking a certain way doesn’t mean you couldn’t do something if you wanted to. I could be thinner (i have been) and faster (I have been) but I do not at this moment want to make the changes that I’d have to in order to go back there. I could help you make those changes if you wanted to, I just don’t want to myself and wouldn’t make you if you didn’t want to. Fitness and body shape is a choice, the essence of the body positivity movement in a nut shell, there’s no one ‘type’ of fit, that should mean PTs should also feel able to chose a weight and fitness level that they are happy with without fear of judgement, be it from clients or other fitness professionals.

Knowledge doesn’t equal application, application doesn’t equal the ability to impart knowledge and abs, a good PT does not make.

What type of PT do you need?

If you follow a lot of fitness people on social media (and to be honest if you read this blog you probably do unless your one of my friends and I made you follow it!) you’ll notice they fall broadly into a couple of camps.

Camp one – people saying drink this, do this, take this and you’ll get results like me. These are the ones doing ‘what I eat in a day’ ‘How I train’ ‘I can’t live without this’ sort of posts

Camp two- people calling those in camp one out and saying ‘don’t fall into the trap of believing the hype, editing, filtering that these PTs post’ and ‘there are no quick fixes or magic formulas’.

I guess I fall into camp two as do most of the PTs I know, but I don’t want to over simplify things, because it’s not always a simple as that’s ridiculous don’t follow that advice.

So for instance, a PT or coaching programe that states that Intermittent Fasting is THE solution to weight loss, and if you sign up and follow our diet and training plan you’ll be 2 stone lighter in three months. The magic ingredient here is you are only going to eat between 11 am and 7 pm so you won’t be having breakfast, we’ll also make some small ‘tweaks’ to what you eat right now. I’d say this a camp one type PT – one method, one size fits all and will get you results. Now let’s be fair. If 10 people all signed up, all followed it completely to the letter they’d probably all lose weight, and to be fair they’d also do so quite safely. Why would that be the case though? Well because they all cut out breakfast, made a few small adjustments to lunch, dinner and snacks and so reduced the amount of calories they consumed. The magic ingredient here was an eating window which meant they ate less each day, a rule that stopped them eating more because they followed it. They could have achieved the same results eating at whatever time they wanted but just counting calories. Equally if they had stuck to the window but not cut out breakfast or made any tweaks they wouldn’t have lost weight, because the eating window wasn’t the magic ingredient their energy balance was. The camp one PT isn’t bad or dangerous here and they may well be getting their clients results, they just aren’t educating them, so if Intermittent Fasting doesn’t actually suit that person and they can’t sustain it long term they are more likely to end up back where they started. This is the same argument I’d make about Slimming Clubs.

Much the same can be said about other ‘tips and tricks’ people post to ‘help people get results’.

‘I drink hot water and lemon every morning upon rising and have abs because it curbs hunger and helps melt away fat as well as detoxing your body.’ – Now having water upon rising will help hydrate you after several hours asleep, it can help wake you up, adds a bit of natural flavour to the water and it has been said water and lemon can aid digestion. I like to start my day with this, but not because I think it will make me thinner, it’s a part of my morning routine that helps me start the day feeling relaxed an alert and means I’ve had at least a little water before I start on the coffee. The PT claiming doing this will help you get abs is bullshitting you and neglecting to tell yo about the very low calorie diet, genetics and training that also contribute to those abs. Again it isn’t a lie, I’m sure they incorporate this as part of their routine but it isn’t the truth either is it.

‘Here’s what I eat in a day’. Great. I mean nothing wrong with giving people food ideas, I might see that salad and think oooh that looks tasty I might try and make that. But what you eat in a day, no matter how great you look, does not help me. Are you the same height and weight as me, with the same activity levels? Nope? Then what you eat isn’t going to be appropriate to me because I need to eat differing amounts. It doesn’t harm me to see what you eat, but it doesn’t help me reach my goal. It could make me feel bad though!

You’d recommend these Supplements would you? Great, they could benefit you, I mean I certainly do take supplements myself and there are some supplements that selections of the population could generally benefit from. You know what the word supplement means though right? Extra. So yes you could buy that supplement and you might feel some benefits. he supplement will not get you the results though if the rest of your diet isn’t working for you.

My point here is, none of these posts or types of actions you see from some PTs are wrong or bad for you or from a bad place but they fail to acknowledge the overall function of a positive diet for weight loss or any other goal.

One method of eating isn’t intrinsically better than all others, one supplement or habit won’t change your life in isolation. What Bob down the road or Sam on the internet did won’t automatically work for you in the same way it did for them. When you see dramatic testimonials from people remember that, yes they probably did do that plan, but they also probably found themselves in the right mindset with the determination to work really hard to get results at that point. In other words had they joined a different plan at that time they may well have also got the same results, because that was the time they were ready to commit to making a change. That’s not knocking any coaches. The coaching and support and tools need to be there for people to use and get the results, I’m just saying the chances are the people who went from the love handles before pic to the six pack after pic probably weren’t reluctantly dragged onto the program, did the bare minimum and still saw those results, they were probably the ones who’d decided it was time to make a commitment to see change and went all in.

Camp one PTs always appeal to people because they make things look simple, make one small change and that’s it and I’ll get you the body you want. What if I told you you could eat whatever you want but take this shake as well and you’ll be three sizes smaller by Christmas. I mean if it were true we’d all be up for that. Camp two PTs are a bit duller, honesty is much less of a big seller and the idea that actually you will need to create a few new habits, lose a few old ones, change your eating habits and exercise is just not as appealing as drinking a glass of lemon and hot water first thing each day.

Generally though, whatever a camp one PT says on their posts online if you sign up to their program you’ll probably find a fair few hidden changes you need to make that a camp two PT will just upfront honestly tell you to make, in fact the type of changes they’ll probably tell you to make in free content online. The value from a camp two type PT comes from the support to make those changes, the education to help you understand those changes and the overall understanding that there is no one size fits all solution and whilst Intermittent fasting might work really well for Gary it sure as hell isn’t going to work for Susan so she’s going to be using MyFitnessPal whereas Jane isn’t looking to lose weight at all so she’s not even looking at calories or eating windows but we are looking at how much fruit and veg she eats in a day.

That’s where the two camps differ really in my opinion. A good PT should be able to help YOU. If they promote one type of way of training, eating or living they are helping one type of person, probably someone like them and if you aren’t like them will they be able to help you reach your potential? The type of PT that can listen to you, your goals and your needs and work out what will work best for you and help you set realistic goals and timeframes is much more likely to help you be successful and enjoy the process.

Weekends and Weight Loss

Happy Friday. As we’re heading into the weekend you’ll no doubt see a lot of posts on Instagram about how a weekend binge will ruin any progress with your diet.

Now at face value this is true. Let’s say you need to eat 2,000 calories a day to be in a 20% calorie deficit and you have stuck to this every day so far this week. Then tomorrow you go out for brunch, then have a takeaway and a few (well maybe more than a few) drinks, including some hefty on the calorie cocktails and eat 4,000 calories and then Sunday feeling a bit worse for wear you have a Fry Up and lots of stodge to soak it up and manage to consume another let’s say 3,500 calories. All those Instagram posts are correct. You’ve eaten 3,500 calories more than your goal. Your deficit goal for the week was 3,500 calories (20% of 2,500 leaves you eating 2,000 calories a day). You’ve just eaten that deficit over the weekend, so yes instead of losing weight that week you’re likely to maintain your current status quo. Not ideal if you are wanting to lose weight.

Yes, to combat this you could just not eat and drink like an utter dick all weekend. You manage to eat homecooked meals that contain the odd vegetable Monday- Friday and not five Espresso Martinis in two hours and you an stick to a nice bowl of yoghurt and fruit for breakfast instead of a stack of pancakes. You could, theoretically do this Saturday and Sunday too right. I mean if you really want results it will be worth it right? And you an decide this works for you. Maybe routine and having the same sorts of food food every day of the week and not eating more one day and less the next suits you, in which case crack on.

But let’s be honest, for those of us who work Monday to Friday it’s easier to reign in the urge to eat like a five year old let loose in a sweet shop because for large amounts of the time we are busy and so sticking to ‘better choices’ is naturally easier. The weekend is when we want to see friends and family, socialise, eat, drink and live. We don’t want to restrict ourselves and so that’s why it’s always ‘do the weekends ruin our diet’ articles you see as opposed to ‘are hump day Wednesdays making you fat’. If we are honest and realistic is just telling people to eat better on the weekend going to stop them eating more? Is suggesting that they substitute rice from broccoli rice so they can feel like they’re joining in or putting their burger between two slices of lettuce instead of a bun going to help (I have such an issue with foods masquerading as other foods but that’s by the by)?

But your body doesn’t start at zero every day. You know how people say one bad day of food won’t make you fat or one salad won’t make you lose 6 stone, our body responds to what we do over a period of time. So your 2,000 calories doesn’t have to reset every morning. So say you actually look at it as 2,000 x 7 = 14,000 calories a week. You naturally easily eat less Monday- Friday so say you eat 1,700 calories each day, except for Friday when you had a couple of biscuits at work and had 1,800. You’ve had 8,600 calories, that leaves you 5,400 for the next two days. Now that still isn’t a fuck it I can go crazy here amount of calories. But that’s say a relaxed 3,000 on Saturday for a big Saturday meal (with maybe some swaps on the booze swapping cocktails for Prosecco to lower the calories- a swap i can get behind!) and 2,400 on Sunday for a decent amount of stodge t clear up the hangover.

That’s a solution that is both not letting your weekend ruin your diet but also not letting your diet ruin your weekend. It isn’t saying sod it and throwing calories counting out the window but it is allowing your diet to fit around your lifestyle. So yes, a crazy cheat weekend will ruin your dieting progress but a plan that allows you to fit those weekends into it can certainly exist.

A Fitness Blog – Where’s the Exercise Posts?

This is a fitness blog and I’m a PT and group exercise instructor so my main job is very much training focused / related. Yet this blog and a vast majority of the online coaching I do is very much nutrition and mindset based.

Here’s why.

You know when you think about getting fit you think the actual exercises you do, how many reps, training splits, the amount of weight lifted, the ratio or cardio to strength training – all that jazz – is going to be the most important part of getting results? Well, it’s not that it isn’t important it’s just not as important as you think it is.

If you are already very fit and active and you want to improve in one specific area or you have a very specific goal to train for then the details of your training will matter much more, if you want to work on doing a pull up, doing legs every day won’t help much.

If you’re starting to get more active, want to drop weight, improve your health, feel better in yourself, then the actual specifics of what you do are going to be more based what you enjoy and what you feel comfortable doing right now. In my mind, what’s the point of trying to force people to do an ‘ideal’ training plan if they hate it, are too nervous to go into that area of the gym yet, haven’t quite got to grips with the movement patterns? Would some modified moves and a more simplified program that helps them gain confidence be a better starting point? of course. If someone prefers classes or using resistance machines over free weights and incorporating those things mean they train then why wouldn’t we incorporate them?

If you’re meant to do a legs session, a push session and a pull session a week and one day you really cannot face doing legs but you’d be up for a second push session then, you know what, the world won’t end and you won’t end up some weird uneven specimen for it.

Basically training has so many benefits and it’s an important element of our fitness and health but it doesn’t need to be over thought or cause dramatic stress. Whilst I think it’s useful to encourage people to do it via blogs, detail adds only so much value.

Secondly with training most people is simple. If it’s a live PT you do what the PT says (with various levels of moaning), away from sessions when given a training plan (or if it’s online training) people tend to follow the plan as given. You say do squats, they’ll squat.

Nutrition advice, not so much. For the majority of us, food is so much more emotive. Whilst training certainly acts as an anchor and stress reliever for many it doesn’t tend to have the same emotional pull as food does. So when you say to someone here’s a training plan it’s generally not questioned. Talking about calorie deficits, not needing to cut out food groups, the importance of actually eating carbs, why it’s ok to have chocolate, why ‘clean foods’ don’t really exist. These are concepts so intricately engrained into our culture that push back is much more likely with the nutrition side of things.

Same with mindset, even if someone accepts what you say about food or say the importance of resting when injured rather than pushing through, it’s much harder to act on it and go against ingrained instincts.

So it’s not that training is easy to do or not important, it’s that once you get started doing something – anything – it’s often the most straightforward unemotive part of health and fitness. You soon start to see benefits beyond the physical and form habits. It’s that diet and motivation and mindset around health is a much more challenging area for the majority of people, whether that be people new to fitness or very experience people (PTs have to convince people not to train some days a lot more than you might think).

For this reason the topics I choose to write about are often diet and mindset based because they are the areas where I think people often need reminders and support and clear information to help make informed decision with regards to their fitness. When I do write about training I try to keep it to posts that will be useful to people, what to expect from classes, at the gym, what to pack in a gym bag and so on – practical things that might help someone train, because if they’re already training and don’t want to pay for a PT or coach they’re probably happy enough with what they’re doing and I’m not sure how useful a bunch of generic training sessions would be.

Mental Health Awareness and Loneliness

You may have seen already that this week of Mental Health Awareness Week and there will be plenty of people sharing their own experiences with their mental health struggles, raising awareness of the struggles many people face on a daily basis, as well as lots of practical advice.

As ever, however, there is a specific theme to the week and this year it’s loneliness and how this can affect people’s Mental Health, so, to keep with the theme, I wanted to focus this blog on this particular topic in the fitness arena.

Exercise is accepted as being good for our mental health, but if you don’t currently do much in the way of exercise it may seem like exercise is often a pretty solitary pursuit. The first instinct for most of us when we think exercise is going to the gym or maybe for a run, things where it’s going to be you doing something alone. The idea of training with other people if your new to exercise can also seem pretty intimidating, even just going to the gym when it’s busy can feel like a lot. So it’s not surprising that for many people struggling with their mental health and feeling isolated and lonely, the idea that exercise could help not only with their mood but also with meeting people, seems a bit of a stretch.

When I first started exercising I persuaded a friend to come to a Zumba class with me because quite frankly I was overweight, unfit and no way was I going alone. I loved it, she hated it. As much as it made me feel unreasonably nervous I went back for class two by myself and then class three, class four and so on. Over time I tried more classes: Body Jam (ironically now the first Les Mills class I tried and one now I couldn’t do well if my life depended on it), Circuits, Street Dance, Body Combat, HIIT and Body Pump. I started seeing the same faces each week, started saying hi (always having a spot helps here!) and over time met people, many of whom are still friends to this day. In fact some of my best friends I met through classes. As much as attending classes involves only me and I don’t need anyone with me to attend it’s certainly led to me meeting a lot of people and realising gyms can be very much a community.

So if you are feeling isolated, maybe you’re in a new area or life has changed recently and you’ve found yourself with time on your hands and fewer people you feel connected with, exercise can be something that provides more than just an endorphin boost.

Now, granted training in the gym isn’t always the easiest way of meeting people. If you’re lifting or on a piece of cardio kit you won’t naturally meet new people (although you might start to see the same faces if you go at regular times and again get to know those people, but there are plenty of other options which lend themselves a little more to widening your social circle.

– Group exercise classes allow you to keep to yourself but you will see the same faces every week so getting to know people organically is much easier

– Group PT / Small group training, much like classes will mean you end up training with the same people each week, and will involved more interaction, making it easier to get to know new people. This can also be a more cost effective way of trying PT sessions.

– Lessons. Do you want to learn to swim better or dance or try another skill. Signing up for lessons in something active is another way of meeting people who you have an interest in common with, which is great if your nervous about small talk!

– Joining a sports team can be a great way of enjoying training whilst also getting to know new people, there will often be team socials to help you get to know your team mates away from the pitch.

– Running clubs, much like sports teams, often have social events planned as well as runs, meaning you can run at your pace then meet people after.

-Cross Fit, a bit like group exercise, if you join a box you’ll often find you see the same people each week, making it easier to get to know new people.

– Online apps, as much as these seem a bit anti social, you will often find online PTs also have a social media group for their clients. Whilst not immediately a face to face option for meeting people these can allow you to connect with similar people and many people find people they connect with and can chat with even if they are miles away in groups such as this.

These are just a few ideas of ways you can help your Mental Health with exercise whilst also connecting with new people, which in itself can also benefit your Mental Health.

You can read more about the official campaign, including downloading some resources for specific populations below.

https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/campaigns/mental-health-awareness-week

Help I’m running a half in 6 weeks!

Have you realised you’re just a few weeks out from your run and you haven’t really started training?

In my latest podcast I talk about my current situation, factors to help you decide what to do and how to approach the situation if you decide you’re still going to run.

You can listen here:

Run Forest Run

I used to run a lot, I’ve only done one marathon but I’ve done a lot of half marathons and 10Ks in recent years.  Now I was never massively fast (I’d definitely describe myself as the tortoise rather than the hare) but I could complete 5km within 25 minutes, 10km within an hour and so on so was comfortable signing up for runs and knowing I’d get around in one piece.

During the initial Lockdown when gyms were closed I ran most days and so was in a pretty good place running wise.  Repeated Lockdowns, back and forth changes, injuries and personal issues just made me stop running for a while.  Added to not being able to train at all, weight gain and general not feeling 100% my running ability is not where it was.  I hadn’t run as much as 5km unbroken for a long time and the addition of more than 10kg of bodyweight in a short period of time made running for ten minutes plus really hard work.

I’ve signed up for a half marathon in May so now is the time that I need to get myself back to a point where it’s doable to run 13.1 miles.  I’ve started running short periods (like 15/20 minutes) unbroken and last weekend ran 5km without walking.  It took me about 38 minutes, but this weekend I got that down to 36 minutes.  I’ve been meaning to try Park Run to help keep up a routine of running but my times have been putting me off.  Realistically I know they’ll be other people running at my pace but my brain keeps telling me I’ll be last and so I keep chickening out.

The  thing is if I was talking to a client I’d be reassuring them that they can do it, they won’t find themselves last and even if they did it wouldn’t matter and I’d mean it, but we’re always harsher towards ourselves aren’t we.

So this weekend I’m going to make myself go and give Park Run a go with the aim of doing it in less than 36 minutes.  At no point am I under any illusion that this half marathon is going to be easy but I’m determined to get myself to the point where I can do it and run the whole thing.  Zero ego, I might be slow and the next month or so will not be pretty but I know I’ll feel good if I get myself to this point.