Xmas wish list

I’m trying to be less of a bah humbug and get into the Christmas spirit. Here are some of the cool things I’ve added to my Christmas wish list to cheer me up:

Money’s no object

  • I would absolutely love to sort out my running style to turn me from a stampeding elephant into a beautiful graceful gazelle with a full course of Running Technique sessions with the running school. At the moment they are doing a 7 for 6 offer for Christmas.
  • I would love to have a fitness assessment done – I think it would be really interesting to know what my VO2max is and if/how I can improve it. Prices start at £59 for a VO2max assessment at the London Metropolitan University.

Under the tree

  • I really ‘need’ some new lightweight and fast road trainers (my beloved New Balance ones need retiring). I would go for these On Running Cloudsurfers or Adidas Boosts in the vein hope that with these beauties under foot I may actually shave some time off my 10k PB.

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  • With all the marathons I have coming up next year I really need a back pack to carry bits n pieces and water for the long runs so something like this Work Play women’s hydration backpack would be great.

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  • I’ve got a couple of naff really thin yoga mats, but I want a decent thick one that rolls up and has a strap. I have my eye on this Sweaty Betty yoga mat.

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  • I am totally in love with this running jacket from H&M too after seeing Leah with it. Gorgeous isn’t it and a total bargain at £34.99.

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  • I am totally lusting after this Clara Tee from Lexisport.

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Stocking fillers

  • My medal rack is literally overflowing and I would love a customised ‘Dashing Diva’ rack from these guys.

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  • I really need to get on my bike properly and what better way than to take some lessons. These lessons in Bicester are free. Check the web to see if there are similar lessons in your area.
  • Race entry is also a brilliant present, especially for an overseas race. I have too many races on my wish list to mention!
  • Every runner spends a small fortune on sports nutrition so why not make it a gift? Here are my favourites:
    • I love this Apres sports recovery hot chocolate, especially at the moment after coming in from a cold run.

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    • Everyone loves a cookie right? I absolutely love these My protein double chocolate cookies and the best thing of all – they are low in carbs and high in protein.

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    • These Progress 8 sports snacks are delicious – they are made with natural ingredients, high in protein and they come in a selection box so that you can try all the flavours.

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sian

Running away from it all

October was the month where everything seemed to be going well – I was at peak fitness, my job, although not great, was tolerable, I’d just started working at Sweaty Betty. I was networking, trying new things and getting out there. Then came November – the sobering reality hit that I can’t continue with this freelancing lark with the 3-month overdue invoices, terrible briefs and sporadic work. I mean, who can live like that and retain any semblance of normality?

So here I am. I’m in the abyss and I’m struggling to find my way out. My running has gone backwards, I’ve lost weight (not in a good way), I have interviews coming out of my ears, writing tests, my freelance work, work in the shop and worst of all it’s Christmas – the time when we’re all supposed to be happy and have all the answers. I am 34 years’ old next year and I don’t even know what I’m doing next week and it terrifies me. I used to have everything mapped out, and I used to be so self assured, but I’ve lost all my self belief – I assume I’m going to fail at everything; running, work, life.

The past is gone. If I live in the present I have to fill my life with stuff to drown out the noise of abject failure, and sometimes it feels like there is no future.

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I run to be at peace, to get some fresh air, to achieve something (even if that achievement is to just leave the house) – I run to feel part of the human race again. I know that when I have something to hold onto in this world and hang my hat on and say ‘this is me’ I’ll be OK, in the mean time, I run.

Why do you run? If you run to improve your mental health I would love to hear from you for a film project I’m working on in 2014: dashingdivasuk@gmail.com

sian

Race review: Dinton Duathlon

It’s Sunday morning at 6am – my alarm has just gone off, I groan and haul myself out of bed. It can only mean one thing – I have a race!

Today’s race was in fact the day of my first ever team and multisport event – the Dinton Duathlon, which comprised a 5k run/20k cycle/5k run. I have been looking forward to and terrified of this race in equal measure for the last 2 months. I think it’s been a fear of the unknown – running races are easy for me now, but I had no idea what actually happens at a duathlon! I abandoned the notion of actually taking part as an individual seeing as I have the cycling skills of a 4-year-old, and Andy kindly stepped in and took on the 20k cycle. Cue team Dashing Diva and Dude.

As it happened, I needn’t have worried about anything at all as we arrived at the race, which was super easy to find and in the beautiful setting of Dinton Pastures Country Park, in plenty of time. We parked up, registered, dropped Andy’s bike off and after the excellent race briefing, we were both ready and raring to go.

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I set off in the second wave with the other team runners – the run was a 5k circuit on the trails around the country park. I got to try out my new Adidas Raven trails shoes for real and I can assure you they had a real test as it was quite slippery and muddy in places! My legs were still sore from a really hardcore circuits session on Friday (think 150+ kettle bell swings, 30+ squat jumps, burpees etc) so my time wasn’t earth shattering – 28.09 minutes. I handed the baton (timing chip) to Andy who then set off on the 20k on-road cycle. I waited in the bike transition area, had a bit of my protein cookie, chatted to some other runners and before I knew it Andy was back after smashing the cycle part in an incredible 34.39 minutes (actually the third fastest bike time in the team event – well done Andy!).

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My achey legs then set off on the second 5k around the same circuit – surprisingly the run wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be at all. Sure, my legs felt a bit tired, but I pushed through as it was ONLY 5k after all. I finished the second 5k in a slightly slower 29.09 minutes (I’ll take that!).

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I can confirm that Team Dashing Diva and Dude finished the team event 12th out of 25 teams and were the 4th mixed gender team. I think for two total duathlon newbies that’s not too bad is it?

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DIVA rating: 5/5

 

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  • Great location – beautiful setting, easy to find, good parking and amenities (no queues for the toilets and actual real toilets!).
  • Well organised, both in the materials beforehand and the excellent briefing in the morning
  • Great fun event – I loved being part of a team and everyone was really friendly and supportive
  • Lots of marshals
  • Beginner friendly – not all triathlons or duathlons are very accommodating of beginners, which is a real shame
  • Doing the team event allowed me to get a taste of what doing a full duathlon would be like, but without the stress
  • Nice trail run instead of a boring road run
  • Great bling

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I highly recommend this event, particularly for those who want to give a duathlon a go.  If you’re uncertain about doing the whole event alone, why not join a team of 2 or 3?

Special thanks to Andy for stepping in at the last minute to cycle and for Ellie of Barnes Fitness for giving us a place in the event.

sian

Review: adidas Adistar Raven

I was lucky enough to be given the opportunity to try out the new adidas Adistar Raven off-road trail shoes. I was really excited to try them out as they were voted Best Trail Running Shoes by the Gadget Website.

Screen Shot 2013-11-15 at 09.09.43First impressions, they look really good quality with no stitching (Techfit Upper – can’t tell you how many trainers I’ve bought where the stitching has come apart!), a really good solid tread with the TRAXION outsole for maximum traction on hard and soft ground, and Continental™ Rubber for extra grip in wet conditions. I also love that you don’t have to tie shoe laces, with the clever draw string and velcro system. And the colours are totally awesome – the photo doesn’t do them justice, but they are BRIGHT!

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I’ve taken them out on several runs now and although they initially felt a bit ‘chunkier’ than my usual trainers (well trail shoes generally are), they are super bouncy and light! Importantly, I have haven’t had any twinges in my left knee whilst wearing them. I just need to find some decent trails to test them out on now (although I don’t want to get them dirty!). 😉

At £105 they are not the cheapest pair of trainers, nor are they the most expensive, but I am really glad I tried them out as I probably wouldn’t have chosen them and would have opted for a recognised ‘trail brand’.

Now that I have my trail shoes sorted, I am on the hunt for some decent road shoes. Any recommendations?

DIVA rating: 5/5 for looks, quality, cushioning, grip and all round awesomeness!

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sian

Marathon training week 1: The one with the Zero Calorie Advent launch party

I don’t know about you, but I have been finding it really hard to run in the evenings now that the nights are drawing in. All I want to do is curl up on the sofa and eat cake.

Monday: 3M easy run – this a was delightful run. I put on some seriously cheesy tunes, ditched the Garmin and just went out.

Tuesday: Ashtanga yoga class

Wednesday: 3k treadmill run and then 30 mins on the bike

Thursday: 4k run with some sprints

Friday: Rest

Saturday: 4.5k run during my lunch break

Sunday: Meant to be an 8 miler, but couldn’t face it (too cold).

I have plenty of time anyway so not too fussed, but I found it tough to get out there so I might have to start running before work.

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On Thursday I was invited to the Zero Calorie Advent launch party. Zero Calorie Advent is a fun alternative to the usual unhealthy chocolate-based calendar. In December, healthy recipes, free classes and video workouts will be posted up for fitness lovers like me who hate the idea of losing the workout/healthy eating momentum over Christmas.

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The event started with a run with the Goodgym from Covent Garden to Somerset house where we helped out a community project by ripping out radiator covers and lifting sheets of plywood. We then hit the road again from Somerset House over the Millennium bridge towards the Tate Gallery and back to the event again for some well-deserved Presecco.

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I had such a good time and finally got to meet some bloggers in the flesh, including Elle, Leah, and Katy. It was also a great opportunity to donate my entire trainer collection (it was getting out of hand) to a good cause – A Mile in Her Shoes. This wonderful charity encourages homeless women to get out and run.

If you want to join in the Zero calorie Advent fun, check out their facebook page and website for more info.

sian

#sub50project: Strength training for runners

Here is the third installment from John Wood who coaches for Tri-Coaching, a Bristol-based coaching company that specialises in technique and training plans for athletes of all abilities from beginner to international – and all levels in between! John reminds us that running faster isn’t just about running, we need to think about strength trainng too.

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In my first blog I said there were three key elements to running better/faster/stronger. The first was how you train – including speed intervals. The second, more importantly, was technique and being more efficient. Finally – and possibly most important of all – is muscular and postural strength.

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Endurance athletes (and a lot of women, sorry to stereotype) are scared of doing strength work, for what I see as two main reasons:

1) There is the worry that doing strength work builds muscle bulk, which is then seen as unattractive, or as an unnecessary hindrance to running. This is INCORRECT! Yes you can tone up a little more by doing strength exercises, but you won’t automatically become like Jodie Marsh or Arnie just by doing some squats and sit ups! That takes a lot of time, effort, particular training and dietary requirements – and most probably some additional help.

2) Runners see running as the most effective way to train, which is understandable. However if you are busy trying to work on weak muscles and poor kinetic chains, you’re more at risk of injury. Here are a handful of exercises that you can do that don’t require extra kit or going to the gym and will really help your running. I’ll also explain how and why each exercise will help.

Plank:

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Prop yourself up on your elbows with your feet slightly apart. Make sure your body is aligned, your abdominal muscles are tight, and shoulders are directly above the elbows and down and back, not hunched up. Hold this position for 30 seconds to one minute. Gradually add time as your core gets stronger.

This will help you run tall, with your hips in alignment, without your back collapsing.

Extensions: Lift a foot off the floor (without dropping the hips), or go to moving planks where you move up into a press up position and back down again.

Side plank:

Similar to the plank, but on your side. Elbow under shoulder, hips vertical (not rocking backward), legs out straight. This will help give you the elastic strength around your sides so that you can drive your arms back and help get the lift from the opposite leg.

Extensions: Lift your arm in the air vertically, potentially lift your top leg, or even moving side planks where you sink your hips down, then push back up through your side muscles. All the time your hips stay vertical.

Squats:

A simple favourite! Plant your feet. They should be flat on the ground, about shoulder-width apart. Get below the bar and bend your knees slightly. You’ll want equal weight distribution throughout each foot during the exercise. Feet should be forward or slightly turned out. Feet should be about shoulder width apart to give you good balance but without putting sideways pressure on the knees. Look straight ahead. Keeping your back straight, bend at your knees as if you were going to sit down and back in a chair. Keep your heels on the floor. Make sure that you get your quads parallel to the ground, for full range of motion. Lower yourself. In a controlled manner slowly lower yourself down and back so that your upper legs are nearly parallel with the floor. Do not extend below parallel. Keep the weight distributed on your upper thighs and the heels or balls of your feet, not on your toes or your knees. Keep the downward (eccentric) motion slow, then squeeze and drive upward – you gain more strength that way. The glutes (bum muscles) and quads are what give you your driving force, make you go forward faster!

Extensions: Add weight for extra resistance. To make it extra difficult, go for jumping squats and really get your glutes and quads firing!

Lunges:

Keep your upper body straight, with your shoulders back and relaxed and chin up (pick a point to stare at in front of you so you don’t keep looking down). Always engage your core. Step forward with one leg, lowering your hips until both knees are bent at about a 90-degree angle. Make sure your front knee is directly above your ankle, not pushed out too far, and make sure your other knee doesn’t touch the floor. Keep the weight in your heels as you push back up to the starting position. To make it even more run specific, as you step forward on one leg, take the opposite arm forward. It’s good for balance, and for neuromuscular memory. This is (if you can picture it) a super extended running stride, working strength, power and balance.

Extensions: Add weight – either across the shoulders or in the hands. You could put your back foot off a step and just dip down, increasing the stability element. Or to super charge, go for jumping split squats.

Single leg balances:

Simple as it sounds. Stand on one leg. With the other, either lift your knee so your thigh is parallel with the ground, or stretch it out behind you (without leaning forward). Running is a series of single leg balances – if we can’t balance on one leg, how can we expect to run efficiently?

Extension: Close your eyes, it throws the body’s sense of balance! If that is easy enough, try these, making it slightly more mobile.

Calf raises and contractions:

Standing on a step on your toes, slowly lower yourself down to the point where you feel a stretch in your calf. This should take 4-5 seconds. Then drive back up to the top (video here). This will help with both absorbing the impact on your calves but also pushing off. You gain more strength from the slow lowering than you do from the explosive push (approximately 40%), so take your time and control the motion!

Extension: Do it on one leg rather than two. If that is easy, minimise the amount of stability you take from a wall/step.

Shin strengthening:

Walk around on your heels with your toes pulled up off the floor for around 45s (video here). Weakness in Tibialis Anterior can contribute to overuse injuries elsewhere in the ankle and shin region. This exercise helps again with that stabiliser.

Toe curls:

Standing on a towel with it flat beneath your feet, use your toes to grip and scrunch the towel back toward you. Use all 5 toes for this. Then push the towel back away from you (here).  Strengthens the foot, protects agains shin splints and plantar fasciitis, and improves push-off power.

Doing all these exercises 2 to 3 times a week, maybe instead of that extra (4th/5th/6th) run will help make your running more stable and more strong. Remember form is important as is posture – so if you feel things start to fall apart, don’t push it, we don’t want to cause injury. Equally, if you can’t hold your form on the entry level exercises, don’t try and do the extended versions.

Happy running and Train Smart!

John

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Thanks John yet again for some excellent advice – I think this is something that most runners neglect to do, but strength training is so important and I’m already integrating it into my routine.

sian

Is fat now ‘good’ for you? Everything in moderation if you ask me…

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Last week there was an article in the Mail that really got my goat, aside from the fact that it was in the Mail, it did nothing more than add more conflicting dietary messages in the mix. No carb, low fat, carb loading, high protein – if we listened to all of these things sooner or later someone will tell me it’s OK to eat a Big Mac daily!

The article in the Mail was citing new research indicating that fat is good for your heart and that high carb/low fat diets may actually be more damaging to your heart.

Of course fat is good for you – every single cell in your body is encased in a lipid (fat) bilayer so cutting fat out is not going to be good for you, but this shouldn’t then give everyone trying to lose weight a license to eat butter and cheese by the bucket load.

When it comes to diet, it’s all about common sense – we need all types of macro nutrients – protein, fats and carbohydrates, but in moderation. I don’t overload on carbohydrates just because I’m running and I certainly don’t cut anything out of my diet either, I just try to be sensible. Eating half a loaf of bread daily is obviously not going to be good for you, but neither is avoiding all carbs at all costs.

What do you think about these latest reports? Will it change the way you eat or do you think it’s all guff?

sian