Join my beginner's run club

Monday, November 12, 2018

I was never a fast runner.  Even now, I am fast for me but nowhere near as speedy as some of my friends.  There have been many times where I have showed up for a group run (either formally or informally organized) and found myself at the back, wondering how much longer it would be until I got lost (have a read of my blog post on how to be a good run club leader).  Turning up to track or even parkrun can be scary because nobody wants to finish last.

You know what?  It is ok to run slower than other people.  Perhaps you have a goal though to improve your running speed. It is up to you if you want to build up your run/walk intervals or want to finish a 5K without walking. There are several ways to get faster.  One is to develop your running muscles (primarily glutes and hamstrings) by lifting weights.  Another way is to add speed work and hill sessions to your training regime.  If you are a beginner though, you might just need to run more frequently.

Rather than wait for the calendar to change to 2019, why not join me on Wednesday mornings through 19 December for a beginners' run club?  We meet at 6:45am for 7am departure near Kings Cross/St Pancras stations.  There is a free bag drop available and our route is predominantly along the towpath.  We have up to 60 minutes to run and or walk 5K before returning to the start point to collect our bags.

Early morning runs can be tough, especially when it is cold and dark outside.  Running with a group is the perfect way to add accountability.  Plus you will be ready to set brand new goals in 2019.

Sign up for MyCrew app today and then register for the runs you can make.  I would love to see you there.  Feel free to invite your friends and colleagues.  I always say, "the more the merrier".

My 4x4 Challenge is complete!

Friday, November 9, 2018

I am experiencing a wave of relief as I type this.  I knew that the 4x4 challenge would be tough on me physically, mentally and emotionally.  There was so much packing, logistics, planning and physical effort involved to get it done.  My house is a mess with bags half unpacked and new kit without a place to go. My usual habit is over-committing, so I am really looking forward to having no races booked in until February 2019.  My first first priority now that I am done is sorting out my house (which will also keep my husband happy) and then focus on strength training.  That Boston Qualifier isn't going to come without some more hard work.

Here is a very brief recap of the races:

Marathon du Medoc, near Bordeaux France
Unofficial time:  6:21:31 (Link to my strava stats here)
Read my race review here

Ragnar Relay, along British coast
4 legs totaling 26.5 miles in less than 40 hours
Race review forthcoming

Photo by Ben Tufnell

Wadi Rum Ultra
, Jordan
257 km over 5 days.  Hardest thing I have ever done
Race review forthcoming

NYC Marathon, USA
Official time: 4:49:15 due to 5 bathroom stops and sore legs from mile 20. Also my 4th World Marathon Major.
Race review forthcoming

Hogwarts Running Club Platform 9 3/4 run, benefiting Rods Racing 
Bonus virtual race because I have a t-shirt that says "Run like You Know Who is chasing you".

Coming soon are a million blog posts about the races, the kit, and preparation.  If there is anything in particular you want to know about, leave a comment below and I will do my best to answer it.

Big thanks to Simplyhealth for supporting my 4x4 Challenge.  Learn more about their new Active Plan by clicking here.

And don't forget that through the month of December, I have an inspirational advent post every day through Christmas.  Be sure to bookmark so you see each and every one.

Healing power of nature

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Urban forest
This weekend I had the pleasure of attending Wild and Well Festival in Bristol.  It offered four different themes: Move, Explore, Connect and Eat, with workshops, panel discussion, fitness classes, and demonstrations across five venues.  For me, the theme of nature and being outdoors kept cropping up as I thought about my happiest moments, what calms me, and why I take on crazy fitness challenges.  I also learned about the Blue Mind movement, which has sparked my interest as marine biologist, personal trainer and health coach.  After the NYC Marathon, I will be reading up on these in my down time and sharing the highlights with you here on the blog and on social media (click on pink circle to the right to follow me).

It absolutely makes sense to me that being outside and connecting with nature can have healing powers.  This really became clear to me after visiting Cape Town in February 2017.  Two weeks in the sunshine and one week along the sea changed my outlook on life.  I now know I need to be outside as much as possible, with a good dose of Vitamin Sea to be content, as well as ample sunshine.  I found a sense of calm and enjoyed being alone in my thoughts while visiting South Africa.  Part of this was due to a semi-digital detox without a SIM card to stay connected when away from my hotel.  Think about how much time you spend each day being bombarded with emails, phone calls, text messages, meetings, and personal space invasions while on public transport.  Removing technology can make a big difference in how you experience your free time.

Taking the path less traveled
As I spent Sunday outside in the chilly sun of along Bristol's harbor side, I realized how hard it can be for people living in cities to find ways to be in nature and/or unplugged.  Available green spaces in cities might be small, with audio stimulation from traffic and visual stimulation from people walking by. Areas with water, such as rivers, streams, canals or reservoirs, are even harder to come by when landlocked.  When was the last time you sat alone in the woods or a field and took in your surroundings?

Walking wild
If you make an effort though to visit nature, maybe not daily, but at least once a week, (and leave the phone at home), it will help calm your body and mind.  City life is overstimulating.  Being alone in nature can help combat the effects.   Here are some tips on how to find and enjoy the experience of nature healing:
  • When you get to an open green (or blue) space, turn off any music you might be listening to and silence your phone.  Listen to wind, trees and birds around you.  Breathe deeply and listen to your breath.
  • If you live in London, walk along the towpath in the early morning when it is least busy.  Look at your surroundings rather than down in front of your feet.
  • Flotation therapy, such as that offered by Floatworks in London, is where you float in super salty water in a pod which allows for sensory deprivation in a meditative state.  You will experience physical and mental relief of life's stressors that occur outside the tank.  This is a great option to try if you cannot find green space or water near where you live.
  • Consider a train or bus journey to the woods or coast for a day trip off the grid.
  • Book an active holiday where you bike, hike, swim, run, or camp.
Capri length can be a good options in the spring and autumn
  • Dress appropriately so you enjoy the moment rather than worry about rain or temperatures.  I know I can be miserable if I am too hot or too cold!  The Jack Wolfskin tank show in the photos is great for warm days and for layering in the autumn.  The cut is very flattering for someone who has wider hips, like me.  Capri length trousers (such as the ones in the photos by Jack Wolfskin) are helpful too when the seasons are changing and you aren't sure if the temps will be the same in the afternoon as they were in the morning.  You never know what will happen so have some layering options in your bag if you can, including hat, gloves and rain jacket.
  • Look at the plants and wildlife as you explore.  See what you recognize and what you need to learn more about.  You might want to pick up a flora or fauna guide to help you identify what you saw during your time in nature.
I love having my dog with me on my walks
Do you ever feel the urge to be explore in green space?  How do you feel when your phone is off and you are alone in your thoughts?  What is your favorite part of being out in nature?  Leave a comment below and let me know.

Thanks to Simply Hike for providing me with the Jack Wolfskin kit to review.  All opinion are honest and my own.

Preparing my feet for desert running

Friday, October 19, 2018

Preparing for a desert ultra like Wadi Rum Ultra takes a lot of planning and organization.  Slowly you need to build up miles, gather the specific kit you will need, try out said kit, research camping food, try said camping food, and prepare your feet.  Then, in the last three weeks before the race, you need to add in sauna or Bikram yoga sessions, make sure your luggage doesn't go over the weight limit, and finally go see a chiropodist/podiatrist for a “medical pedicure” one week out.  This bit of advice can from my friend, Becs, who has done countless ultras, including Marathon Des Sables.  I don't usually get cosmetic pedicures unless I am going on a beach holiday.  Turns out “medical pedicures" are very different.

Using my Simplyhealth Active Plan, I found a place in London that meets the criteria for reimbursement under the chiropody/podiatry benefit of the Active Plan.  I went to Margaret Dabbs for a “medical pedicure” at cost of £85 for a 45 minute appointment.  I traveled from work to Marylebone on a sunny afternoon at the start of October and wasn't sure what to expect. “Medical pedicures” are performed on dry feet by a podiatrist or chiropodist.  The purpose is to thoroughly exam the feet, addressing any issues (such as nail fungus, ingrown toenail nails, dry skin, bunions, calluses, etc), shape/file the nails, and remove dead skin.

Using the drill to buff off skin around my toe nails
When I arrived at the clinic, there were several women having manicures with nail polish on the ground floor of the clinic.  My podiatrist, Laura, brought me to the basement into a small private room. She began by disinfecting my feet while explaining what she was going to do as it was my first time.  She examined my feet very carefully, looking in between and under each toe. I am lucky as my foot condition was 'mild' according to Laura.  She said my feet don't have a lot of fat on them (they are quite narrow) and I didn't have too much dry skin built up.  She proceeded to cut, then file, my toe nails.  She also buffed the nails before she put oil on my cuticles and explained that cuticles should never be pushed back as they compromises the protection around your nail bed.  Cosmetic manicures and pedicures have got it all wrong. Who knew?

Laura took a 'drill' (which it kind of is) to file down the rough skin around the bed of each nail. She used a scalpel to carefully scrape off all the dead skin on my feet and heels.  Next, she used a big rough file to further smooth the skin on my feet.  The treatment ended with the application of lotion to leave my feet feeling super soft and smelling fresh.

Laura taking a close look at my tootsies
Although Laura was not a runner, she had seen many runners for the same reason I was there.  She told me that it was good that I came in at least a week before my race.  To keep my feet in prime condition, I was to continue to moisturize in the lead up to the race but not to file (if I wasn’t racing, I was supposed to file every day).  We discussed black toenails (touch wood I have never experienced this) and she said that if I get one, I am to leave it alone unless it becomes painful.  She assured me if a black toenail falls off, it will grow back, although perhaps a little differently.

Scraping dead skin off with scalpel
Because me feet were in good condition, Laura said I could come back quarterly for a “medical pedicure” or sooner if I had any problems.  She was easy to talk to and I am very happy with how soft and smooth my feet were.  It did seem like a bit of an indulgence so I am glad my Simplyhealth Active Plan will reimburse me for the cost.  I think if my feet had a lot of issues, it would be something I would want to do regularly.  Although it didn't prevent me from loosing any toenails, I think I would definitely do it again if I signed up for another desert race.

The clinic emailed me the receipt the same day, which I will submit to Simplyhealth.  I did contact the clinic prior to booking to ensure their staff were registered with HCPC in order to meet the Simplyhealth criteria.  Hopefully I will have time this weekend to make my claim online.

Final result
Have you ever had a "medical pedicure"?  If so, why?  Let me know in the comments below.

Thanks to Simplyhealth for sponsoring my 4x4 Challenge and allowing me use of their Active Plan. All opinions are honest and my own.

Medical sign off for my first ultra

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

When you start running bigger and more challenging races, the organizers want to ensure you are in tip top shape to compete.  Some countries, such as France, will ask for a doctor to sign a release form stating you are fit for each and every race you run.  I had to do it for the Paris Half Marathon, which meant an appointment with my GP, taking time off work, and a £30 fee for a signature on a form.

Pre-race weigh in
Wadi Rum Ultra, race 3 in my 4x4 challenge upped the ante a bit and asked for an electrocaridogram (ECG), in addition to a doctor's note saying I was fit and healthy.  The race didn't provide an official form for the doctor to complete so I looked at what the Marathon des Sables form covered.  Included was a medical history, blood pressure, resting heart rate, allergies, and current medications.  I forwarded the link over to the Walk-In Clinic when they invited me in for my medical sign off.

I thought it would just be an ECG because that was included in my original wellwomen appointment in 2017 as that is all the race asked for.  Instead, I was pleasantly surprised for a full physical, ECG, and urine analysis which in total lasted just under an hour.  The Walk-In Clinic have their own sports physical form which made it a bit easier to send the required info over to the race organizers.

Low blood pressure
The doctor is the one I have met in my past visits (including travel vaccination) so we have already built up a bit of a rapport.  She asked relevant questions about the race (how far, how long, what is the environment, how have you been preparing).  We had plenty of time to discuss these answers and much more.  I asked her about hydration strategies as I was still trying to figure that one out.  She talked about my anxiety medication and how I might experience hallucinations under these extreme conditions.

Hooked up for my ECG
The ECG was painless although a bit of a faff to connect to all of the wires.  I think I moved or took a deep breath during the first measurement because my graphs showed a bit dip.  We repeated the process and my resulting ECG was normal. Hurrah!

ECG results
The clinic receptionist offered to scan across my letter and ECG for me even though also they give me the original.  The team is always helpful and efficient.  I love visiting their clinic as the appointments run to time, are long enough that you don't have to rush any conversations with the GP you see, and the customer service is superb.  If you ever need something for a race (ECG, physical, travel vaccination, etc), I recommend booking in. This private practice offers more flexibility than a GP office with a central London location, next to the Gherkin.

Thanks the City Walk-In Clinic for the complementary service.  All opinions are honest and my own.  

Working with Function360- one year on

Friday, September 28, 2018

I can't believe it has been 1 year since I started working with Function360.  For this that don't know, this performance innovation centre is based near Moorgate Station in Central London and offer many different types of services (osteopathy, physiotherapy, sports therapy, corrective exercise, dry needling, myofascial release etc).  They fully supported my two year plan of a Boston Qualifying (BQ) time from day one.  Now that we are halfway to that goal (eek!), here is how they have helped me over the last year:

Phase One: Gait analysis, initial strength/movement assessment then prescribed corrective exercise

My first appointment at Function360 was to have a gait analysis.  Last summer, I really struggled with pain in my feet and Achilles.  The BQ goal was delayed by a year because of this.  The info gathered during this appointment fed into my runner-focused strength training plan.  There were a few imbalances identified that if addressed could reduce my risk of injury given my activity levels.

Nearly every Thursday morning from October to December 2017, I would work with a corrective exercise specialist team member from Function360 to strengthen my key running muscles- glutes, hamstrings, and core.  When we started, I was unable to do a 'bird dog' but was soon progressing to a more challenging posture.  We also worked on improving my squat technique and hip mobility.  My Achilles needed this more than anything as I was just recovering from a bad flair up of tendinopathy during the summer of 2017.

Bird dog in my garden

I tried my best to complete my exercise regimes at home in addition to our weekly sessions.  Once I was stronger, we cut back to meeting once every other week while I completed two to three more sessions on my own. The exercises were chosen based on what my body needed to improve strength, in addition to what kit I had available at home (exercise bands, dumbbells, steps, and a yoga mat).  I could tell they wanted me to succeed by working with kit and time limitations.

Doing my stretches at work on a break

Phase Two: More core. 
At the start of the 2018, I was assigned to Ben (a physio and rehab specialist) who did another assessment to monitor my progress.  I told him about the niggles I was still getting in my hips and glutes and he prescribed a new set of exercises.  I met with him monthly to receive a new program and to check in on any issues I was having.  I was already in the habit of setting aside 30 minutes a few times a week for my exercises, so this worked for me and my schedule.

Psoas march

Phase Three: Maintenance and recovery

This summer, as my marathon training started up, my sessions with Ben were mostly sports massages.  We had discussed previously how I would manage the strength training alongside weekly mileage requirements.  There just isn't enough time in the day!  He was confident that I had a good baseline level of strength to work off of.

One thing I had missed in my previously marathon training cycles was the regular rest and recovery.  I tended to only get sports massages after I couldn't stand the pain in my periformis anymore.   It is so important to maintain your body with rest and recovery, not just blast it with HIIT sessions all the time.  This lesson has taken my years to learn.

Sports massage with Ben.
Sports massages are necessarily 'relaxing' (I have zeo pain tolerance) but chatting with Ben is a good distraction as he works on tense muscles in my legs and back.

Phase Four:  Life after the marathon
After the NYC Marathon in November, I plan on taking a step back from cardio and looking at my body imbalances again. I now have a gym membership and will focus on weight training in addition to revisiting the Function360 programs I have.  Ben and I haven't talked about what approach to take yet but I am sure we will come up with something achievable that will produce my desired BQ in 2019.

Bonus appointments: Emergencies
Function360 has been fantastic at getting me in when I am panicking about a new pain weeks before a race.  For example, I had developed a (what I thought was) random hip pain in late January.  I was training for Mount Kilimanjaro and had a 10K race coming up.  Jordan, the company director and physio therapist, kept me calm as we went through a thorough medical history and assessment of the pain and my posture.  She decided I needed some dry needling only to discover a huge bruise on my hip from a fall I had while camping.  We concluded that fall probably knocked my body out alignment temporarily.  Ben is easy to reach via email or Instagram if I have questions about my exercises or a little niggle.  Most recently, I was starting to develop 'maranoia' when my neck hurt during a spin class.  An osteo appointment with Victor made me feel much better because he didn't find any serious issues and he did a few manipulations to release some joints in my neck and back.

Dry needling

The proof is in the pudding really.  Is all this hard work paying off?  Since I began working with Function360 a year ago, I have:

  • run a sub 25 minute 5K in May
  • improved my 400m time from 2:00 to 1:40
  • increased flexibility in my hips and hamstrings
  • reduced my Achilles pain
  • become a more confident runner

Are you ready to achieve these things too?  I wish I knew this could happen for me years ago.  I would have started much sooner (and stuck with it!).  If you have committed to putting in the miles, I can tell you targeted strength training will make a world of difference to your  running performance.

Function360 is kindly offering my readers 15% discount on their first visit with code #F360MM15.  If you pay them a visit, please let me know how it goes in the comments below.  Everyone on the team is fantastic.  You will be in good hands no matter who you see.

Thanks to Function360 for the complimentary services.  All opinions are honest and my own.

Race review: Marathon du Medoc

Thursday, September 20, 2018

What you will see most of the race- runners and grapevines.
Have you ever heard of the Marathon du Medoc?  This no-pressure race was the first in my 4x4 challenge.  It is quite famous in France, as well as among the international running community, for its unique format.  Fancy dress (costumes) are mandatory and wine it offered alongside water at all the refreshment stations.  Many of my London running friends have done it before.  A group of them had a spare place which gave me the opportunity to run the race this year.  I love to explore new places by taking part in running events.  This trip was no exception.

It seems a bit odd to be running on these gorgeous estates, but hey ho.

Race entries and fees: This is by no means a cheap race.  Registration was about €80, which included a really nice technical running t-shirt (women- size up as the women's cuts is extremely form fitting), small branded drawstring bag, food and wine along course, "lucky dip" bottle of wine from one of the wineries along the course in a really nice wooden box, a cooler bag, finishing line rose for female finishers, a plastic cup for the after party, medal, and more food and drinks after the finish.  Add on top to the cost of the registration fee the transportation and accommodation costs, especially if you decide to stay in Bordeaux rather than Pauillac.

Line for the loos
Course and bogs:  The course starts along the Pauillac riverside and winds through the vineyards of the Medoc region.  Some of the course is paved and some on loose gravel and dirt.  The start is a bit conjested due to the narrow town streets and plenty of runners but people start to spread out after the first and second wine stops.  Of course, the scenery along the scenery is a very pretty due to the surrounding vineyards.  We were spoiled by blue skies and sunshine too.

There are plenty of toilets in the start area compared to the number of entrants.  I was really disappointed at the number of port-a-loos along the course through.  There was a lot of peeing on the vineyards, which looked funny when several men dressed the same lined up adjacent rows.

The bag drop was a bit of a faff as all bags were searched, then a label was handwritten by someone else and attached before the bag was placed in a big trolley.  Later, you collect your bag, they look at your bib for your number, then asked you in French 'what color your bag was' (I think) and dug through a large pile of bags.

Few members of Team FOOD!
Location:  Pauillac France, about an hour drive north of Bordeaux.  You can fly direct to Bordeaux or take a train to Paris, then another to Bordeaux. From Bordeaux, there are occasional trains, a local coach (bus) service or the marathon has a private shuttle service organized too.  Each option runs at a specific timetable which you should check before booking.  Half of our group took trains via Paris and the other fly to Bordeaux.

Refreshment station
Atmosphere:  Was absolutely amazing!  Everyone at the start line was happy and relaxed with the goal of having a good time.  So many people from the local community were out too, both cheering us on and volunteering at the numerous refreshments stations.  Many people put picnic tables out along the road and were enjoying meals as we ran by.

Goody bag was ace!
Race bling and goody bag:  Last year's medal was in the shape of a guitar because the theme for the race was music.  This year's theme was amusement parks.  The medal was round and had the roller coaster logo in the center.

Race 1 of my 4x4 challenge done!
After you get your medal and bottle of wine, you can enter the after party tent, where there is more wine, beer, and snacks.  We were a bit rushed for time at the end because we wanted to make the shuttle bus back to Bordeaux.  Thirty minutes was enough time to have a few drinks before hopping on a hot bus and getting stuck in traffic.  At least no one from our group got sick, unless some of the other passengers.

Team FOOD finishing hand-in-hand.

Tips if you want to take part next time (from me and my teammates):

  • Plan ahead.  Accommodation is very limited in Pauillac.  There are shuttle buses and trains but you need to book in advance.  Pay attention to the booking cut off dates!
  • Add a day or two on to your trip and enjoy Paris (especially if you have never been).

Matt and Pippa ended up slowly cutting off bits of their costume along the way.

  • Consider how hot and heavy your costume will be.  If you are running with friends, matching costumes might make it easier to spot each other in the crowds.  I was surprised to see that not all costumes were related to this year's theme.  There were lots of minions and Disney characters. You can be as creative as you want.
  • Don't forget you will be running a marathon.  It is easy to get caught up in the other details for this event but you will be on your feet for about 6 hours if you enjoy the refreshment stations.  You can take it at a party pace but it is still a lot of time on your foot.

Oysters, steak and ice cream are available at the last few refreshment stations.

  • The race website is extremely hard to navigate.  The translations are poor which can be frustrating when you are trying to find the answer to something (like when the shuttle buses are).
  • Pack medication for tummy troubles.  Basically, we broke all of the normal pre-race rules by drinking the night before the race, staying up late the night before the race, and eating different foods  like rich cheese and wine.  I was suffering a bit from stomach issues on the course and wasn't able to find an open pharmacy over the weekend until 11pm on Sunday night in Paris.  It was not ideal.


  • Bring your friends and make some new ones along the way.  There is plenty of time to  meet other runners at the pasta party, race, and after party.
  • Stay hydrated!  We had unseasonable temps this year.  Although you only get a few shots of wine at each refreshment station (I wasn't even buzzing at the end of the race), keep drinking water along the way.
Have you ever completed Marathon du Medoc or something similar?  Let me know in the comments below.

Post script: My teammate, Melanie, says she likes the little quirks of the race (website, bag drop, transport) and thinks is what makes it more of an adventure.  I say there is a race out there for everybody!

One of the large ducks we had to avoid being run over by.

Thanks to Simplyhealth for sponsoring my 4x4 challenge.  If you enjoy living an active lifestyle, check out their new Active Plan.