Happy Day of Happiness!

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Over the weekend, I found out that today is the International Day of Happiness.  Proposed to the UN in 2011 and approved in 2012, the first day actually took place in 2013 on the spring Equinox.

As the Happiness Personal Trainer, my ethos is to encourage people to pursue activities that bring happiness (even I am guilty of this).  My coaching can encompass physical activity, nourishing food choices, allocating free time differently, and looking for new inspiration.  I believe everyone can experience happiness, but in today's modern society, we sometimes lose sight of what truly makes us happy.  It might be sitting on the beach in the sun, spending time with your kids, volunteering at the animal shelter, fishing while the sun rises, sleeping until noon on Sunday, or having ice cream for dessert.

Here are my top 10 tips on finding happiness:

1.  Don't be afraid to try.  If you love Strictly Come Dancing and think dancing could be something that brings you joy, sign up for an introductory lesson.  Or if you have stacks of poetry, attend an open mic night.  Be being brave, you might experience joy.

2.  Phone a friend.  Forget about texting and email.  Speaking to a live person can make all the difference.  Call an old friend from uni, meet your gran for tea, or call on a neighbor for some human contact and enjoyable chat.

3.  Seek inspiration.  If you aren't sure what would make you happy, head to the library for a nw book, see a movie at the cinema, head to an art museum, attend a religious service or look for inspirational quotes on Pinterest.  A few simple words or a striking painting might change your mood for the day.

4.  Don't worry.  Easier said than done, I know, but if you can forget about what other people think of you, it will  make a world of difference.

5.  Treat yourself.  Indulge on massage, new pair of shoes, fancy chocolate bar, or popcorn at the movies.  You are worth every cent.

6.  Get moving.  Exercise is known to boost serotonin.  The amount of time you need to exercise to feel the benefits is different for different people.  Running, biking, swimming, or walking are good activities to try but you should also choose something you will enjoy.  Yoga and pilates might work for you too.  Don't give up if you don't feel amazing right away (I know it takes me 45 minutes to achieve a runner's high).  Just keep at it!

7.  Chase the sun.  Light is also something that can trigger serotonin release.  So book a weekend getaway to the beach and pack your sunglasses.

8.  Declutter.  I joke that the state of my living room mirrors my mental state.  When I spend an hour putting away laundry, dusting, and finding a few things to donate, I feel like a load has been lifted off of my shoulders.  Spending time in the room is much more pleasant when it is a bit neater.

9.  Outsource.  If there is something hanging over your head, it can feel like it is haunting you.  If you need ironing done, inbox sorted, a craft completed or your bike cleaned, it might be worth it to hire someone else to do it so you can move on.

10.  Smiles and hugs.  Try smiling.  Go on, just try.  If that doesn't work, download a comedy podcast, watching your favorite funny film, or ask a colleague for a funny video of their kids.  Hugs might also help if you have the opportunity someone.

Use #HAPPYDAY today on social media to share your tips on what makes you happy or leave a comment below.  I would love to hear from you.  :)

Mind and body reset

Monday, March 19, 2018

A little over one week since returning from Tanzania and things are feeling normal again.  My stiff walk, similar to a post-marathon gait, has disappeared.  My appetite and breathing are back to normal and my mood has improved.  The laundry pile in my living room is getting smaller too.  When I finish these big challenges, it always takes me a week or so to process what I have done and then figure out how to refocus my life.  Refocus might not be the best word, as I always have work and family to keep me in line.  Without a goal on the horizon, I sometimes feel lost and without purpose.  What should I do with myself if I don't have a race in the diary? We don't have kids, so I am lucky that I can structure my free time as I wish (with a few dog walks scattered in).  It is so easy though to waste time on social media, with naps, and in front of the TV. I work best with a weekly training plan structure in place.

I feel like Kilimanjaro took up as much mental effort and attention as a marathon.  Five months of planning and training went into it and I achieved what I set out to do (hurray!).  As soon as I got back to London, I knew I couldn't go long without adding in some dates to my diary.

I have rested every day since since my return (aside from 45 min spin class that I taught on last Monday).  Because my body was still adjusting, I focused on sleeping.  No blogging, no studying, not much time social media.   In the back of my mind, I have been trying to process how best to share my tale of climbing to the top of Africa.  There are so many tips and suggestions to share, I think I will put everything into an e-book so anyone who wants to do the hike themselves can know what to expect (leave a comment below if you has any specific questions about the trek so I can be sure to answer them).  It has been really nice not to have to worry about squeezing in a run before the snowfall and having to finish off a blog post before bed.

Although my body wasn't stiff or sore more than three days after returning to London, I got a sports massage from my friends at Function360. I am a big baby when it comes to deep tissue, but the therapist listened to my concerns and I felt refreshed after my 60 minute appointment.

Over the weekend, I took my last days of rest and set a plan for the next few months.  We are travelling to Thailand in April and to my hometown for wedding in late May.  There isn't much time to set up a new routine, but I am going to do my best.

First off, I am going to get back to my blog.  While writing my Kilimanjaro blog posts, product reviews, and ebook, I am also going to be finishing up my Future Fit training diploma in nutrition.  I am learning so much about food and really enjoying it.  Unfortunately, Kili sidelined me a bit meaning I am a few weeks behind in my timetable.  Once I am finished, I will be able to offer additional healthy eating advice and coach clients in person or online.  I pride myself on my lifelong learning and want to get as much out of this course as I can.

To keep me motivated in training, I have signed up for the following:

The first event is the Marathon du Medoc, a French fancy dress (costumed) "race" near Bordeaux.  I say "race" because there is lots of wine and food along the course.  My friends from Advent Running had a spare place so I hope I can keep up with their running and drinking pace.  Must add wine drinking to my training plan!

At the end of September, I am tentatively booked into Ragnar Relay with some of my Fitbit Fifty teammates and a 100 mile new sportive called Velo South.  I am waiting to see if we can find 10 people for the Ragnar.  If not, I will do the sportive (I hope I finish in one go, rather than needing three tried to meet the challenge as I did with Ride London).  My husband prefers cycling, so it will be nice to have an excuse to ride with him over the summer.

Finally, my next World Marathon Major is  New York Marathon in November.  I decided to book in  with 2.09 Events (upon recommendation from Charlie at The Runner Beans) as the price wasn't unreasonable for flight and entry.  A few friends live in the city so I have a couch or two to crash on.

Endurance seems to be the word in 2018.  In May, I will enter a 5K race in my hometown with my sister-in-law and step-mom.  They typically place in their age groups, so I am a little nervous about how I will perform.  I don't think I will be able to keep up but I will do my best.

What races do you have in your diary for 2018 so far?

Thanks to Function360 for the complementary treatment.  You can get 15% off your appointment with the code #F360MM15.

I did it!

Friday, March 9, 2018

We started climbing at 11pm, in the dark and through knee deep snow.  At 8:30am, I was on the roof of Africa with my new besties.  Big thanks to Eco-Africa Climbing for a tremendous trip and to the Altitude Centre for all the expert training and preparation. 

Many more blog posts to come but for now, I rest.

Tapering: an art you need to master

Monday, March 5, 2018

The 2018 marathon session has begun.  Tokyo kicked us off in late February and runners are rejoicing that their winter efforts are paying off.  Most runners will be following a 12-18 week training plan and built within there is a reduction in running load in the few weeks leading up to the race.  This is known as tapering.

Tapering is probably the best part about training.  You have permission to train less and rest more.  Friends who don’t race might not understand how this ‘less is more’ strategy works in the lead up to the big day.  Your body will understand it though because it will need to recover, repair, and rest.
Depending on the event and your starting fitness level, you probably have been working hard towards your goals for the past few months.  You will have had rest days built into your weekly routine but as race day approaches, it is time for your body to experience less intensive training.  This will ensure you are in optimal form on race day.

Tapering is a tricky thing to figure out.  You might find yourself asking: How long should I taper for?  Will my fitness level be maintained while decreasing my training load?  Does cross-training count against me when tapering?  Can I still eat the same amount of food even though I am doing less?  Why do I feel guilty for resting after so many days of hard training?  Here are a few answers for you.

How long should I taper for and how much can I do?

In a meta-analysis of 27 studies, Bosquet et al.(2007)1 found that a two week taper period with training volume decreased by 41-60% was the perfect combination for desirable competition outcome.  There was no need to change intensity or frequency of sessions.  The simplest way to apply this to your training is to decrease the length of your training sessions.  However, this study looked at multiple disciplines (running, swimming, cycling, rowing) so it is unclear if this golden rule applies to all disciplines.  You also need to take into account your own body and how it responds to training. For example, you might be more fatigued at the start of your tapering because of long hours at work recently, which means you will need a longer tapering period.

Be sure to monitor your eating habits to match up calories-in with calories-out during a taper.  You will be at risk for a change in body fat levels if you consume more calories than you are burning.  It is suggested that you eat a carbohydrate-rich diet as part of a successful taper to help maintain muscle glycogen levels which will help provide energy to your muscles during the race.2

Is there anything else I can do while tapering to improve my performance?

Here are a few extra tips to help your body make the most of your taper.3
  • Reduce the change of DOMS by scheduling in a sports massage and/or wearing compression garments.
  • Assist your autonomic nervous system by getting lots of sleep in a dark calm space.
  • Keep hydrating even though you are not training as much.
  • Consider travel and time zones when calculating your taper period.  Also take into account changes in temperature and altitude from where you are used to training to where the race is.

Have you ever tapered before a race?  Do you think it helped or hindered your performance?

1.  Bosquet, Montpetit, Arvisais, and Mujika.  Effects of Tapering on Performance:
2.  Walker, Heigenhauser, Hultman, and Spriet. Dietary carbohydrate, muscle glycogen content, and endurance performance in well-trained women. J. Appl. Physiol. 2000.
3.  Mujika. Tapering for triathlon competition.  JOURNAL OF HUMAN SPORT & EXERCISE. 2011.

Portions of this post originally appeared on the non-defunct H2 Life Blog.

Kilimanjaro prep with Altitude Centre

Monday, February 26, 2018

One of the biggest concerns I have had is how to get my body ready for climbing Kilimanjaro.  I can buy every item on the shopping list but the actual hiking is up to me.  People usually assume that because I run marathons and am a personal trainer, I am pretty fit.  Fit is one of those things that is hard to define.  Can I run a 5K or 10K?  Yes.  Can I do a burpee?  Kinda.  Can I do a pull up?  No.

My current exercise regime is teaching a 45 min indoor cycling class on Monday nights and doing a solo track session on Tuesdays.  I try to go to Parkrun on Saturday mornings too.  I also have been working on my running technique via corrective exercise at Function360. At least four times a week, I go on 20-30 minute dog walks in the park too. I always have good intentions of doing yoga at home, lifting weights, doing my homework from Function360 but it is hard to fit everything in around work and life (as I am sure you can relate to).

Luckily for  me, there is a place in London that specializes in altitude training.  The Altitude Centre, located near Bank station, offers a hypoxic training environment where the percent oxygen is 15%.  At sea level, air contains 20.9% oxygen (You can read more about oxygen at high elevation here).  As the amount of oxygen decreases, the heart will have to work a little harder.  Breathing will feel tougher too.  Time will tell how I feel when I am also carrying a rucksack and 3 liters of water.

The Altitude Centre offers an initial mountaineering consultation to help ascertain how susceptible to altitude sickness.  Over 60 minutes, you review your current blood pressure, heart rate, fitness levels and try breathing the air simulated at 5000m.  After my review, I learned I am average at my potential risk of altitude sickness.  One red flag is that I had a poor result in the hypoxia test for both the time to recover (Tr) and time to descend (Td).  Both of these measurements suggest that I would benefit from hypoxic training.  My breathe hold indicated that I have a good tolerance for carbon dioxide.  My Forced Vital Capacity (FVC) was mildly restricted but I have always had this result with testing for work too.

Enjoying the POD before going to work
Based on my results, it was recommended that I attend three POD sessions a week and one fitness session.  POD sessions are passive training, where you sit and breathe with an oxygen mask on for five minutes at a time at a setting the trainer selects based on previous data collected about you.  During the five minutes with the mask off, the air is at 15% oxygen.  You wear a monitor on your finger to record your heart rate and SpO2 (blood oxygen level), which is also graphed and recorded into your profile.  I like these sessions as I don't have to shower afterwards and can do work during the session (yeah for multi-tasking!).  Another option is for passive training while you sleep but renting a chamber that goes around your bed.

Selfie on the bike.  It was hard to take because I was breathing so hard.
The fitness classes are high intensity intervals and can be done on a bicycle, rowing machine, circuits or treadmill.  You can also book in solo sessions where you create your own session plan.  During the session, you wear a heart rate monitor which helps measure your effort through the session and can provide an estimated SpO2.  Here is the graph from one of my HIIT cycle sessions.  We did variable sprints/recoveries over 30 minutes.  I recommend warming up before your session starts and then cooling down and stretching in the exercise room across the hall.

The team at Altitude Centre have all climbed Kilimanjaro and have answered all of my crazy questions about peeing outside, how many snacks to bring, what the temperature was like, and how much to tip porters.  They also let me know during all my POD sessions how my training was going and send me reports with my heart rate and SpO2.

I am allergic to Diamox, the medication that most people take to to help prevent altitude sickness, so am really counting on this training to help me.  My GP from Walk-In Clinic recommended daily ibuprofen as an alternative from research she did in peer-reviewed literature.  The Altitude Centre developed Alti-Vit, as a supplement to help people tolerate the altitude.  Ingredients include Siberian Ginseng, Vitamin C, Reishi Mushroom Extract and Ginkgo Biloba.  A small-scale study published in 2013 concluded that Alti-Vit improved exercise performance and helped reduce the occurrence altitude sickness in the hypoxic chamber where the experiment took place.

Sign for the summit. Let's go girls!
Even if you are not training to climb a mountain like I am, training at the Altitude Centre can also help you lose weight faster and improves your athletic performance as the cardiovascular system is overloaded.  It will improve your circulation and immune system too.  I wish I was marathon training too to reap the benefit in my running ability too.  After I get back from Tanzania, I plan on signing up for my next race.  Hopefully, I can continue my hypoxic training when I get back to London as I chase down my Boston Qualifying time.

Thanks to the Altitude Centre for providing me with complimentary sessions at their facility.  All opinions are honest and my own.

Heart rate monitors can elevate your training

Monday, February 19, 2018

When you climb a set of stairs, does your heart rate (also known as pulse) increase?  Think back to before you started exercising regularly (ages ago, I know) and was it more difficult to climb the stairs then?  With regular exercise your heart, a muscle, will become stronger and be able to stay at a stable heart rate as you climb the same set of stairs.  Your heart rate indicates how fit you are.  If you are able to keep it steady and low (which is relative to you and your age/size/gender), you are physically strong enough to complete the task at hand.

Heart rate varies from person to person and will change as you age.  A heart rate monitor can assist you in your training to make sure you are getting the most out of each session, depending on your training goals.  Resting heart rate is when you are sitting or laying still.  A god time to measure this is just when you wake up, before you get out of bed (yes you would have to sleep with monitor on).  For most people, this would range from 60-100 beats per minute (BPM).  The more athletic you are, the lower your heart rate will be.  Medications, such as beta blockers, will affect your resting heart rate.

The equation typically used to calculate your maximum heart rate (MHR) is (220- your age).  With this you can figure out your heart rate for different exertions.  For example, if you are 30 years old: 220-30= 190 (MHR)* 60% effort = 114 BPM and 220-30=190 *85% effort = 161.5 BPM.  Again, this is an estimate and will vary based on your established fitness level.  There are a few other equations out there that are a bit more completed.  You can also take part in a V02 max test or a field test, which will be more accurate at your current fitness level.  When you exercise, you can decide how much effort you want to put into a session.  The traditional school of thought is low intensity for longer duration if you want to burn fat and work on endurance (50-65% MHR) and higher MHR for aerobic conditioning (65-85%).  High intensity and interval training should push you 90-100% with sufficient rest in between to allow heart to recover.

By paying attention to your heart rate, you can train smarter to ensure each minute you spend training is benefiting your overall goals.  The data provided lets you know if you can push yourself harder up those hills or during fartleks, rather than the voice in your head telling you to ease up.   Your heart rate monitor (and resting heart rate) can also let you know that your body has sufficiently recovered from the previous day’s work out.

The lesson? Start paying attention to your heart rate during a work out and look back to data from previous rides and runs.  Look at the pattern over time and check in at a regular interval to see if your resting heart rate is dropping (which indicates improved fitness).  Don’t discount recovery or endurance rides on the timetable as these are just as important to heart health.  Finally, make sure you have rest built into your diary to give your entire body time to repair from your smarter training.

If you are in the market for a new heart rate monitor, you can read my product reviews here:

Suunto Spartan Trainer

My Zone MZ3

Mio Fuse

Mio Alpha 2

Ready to shop?  Read this post on how to select an activity tracker as a gift here

Portions of this post originally appeared on the now defunct H2 Life Blog.

Final countdown to Kili

Monday, February 12, 2018

In less than a month, I will board a plane to Tanzania.  It is hard to believe that a Sunday night tweet in September would bring me to 5895 meters.  I thought I would send you an update as to what I have been doing to prepare.  I tend to overplan things because like any good Girl Scout, I like to be prepared.  There is still plenty of time for you to borrow kit, book flights, and get your jabs though if you are still thinking about signing up.

Starting to put essentials into my suitcase.
Since I last checked in, I have been sorting out my kit and vaccinations.  I made £400 on eBay, selling stuff we had around the house but didn't use.  Not only was my husband happy because we were less cluttered but I saw my Kilimanjaro fund increasing. I also started asking my outdoorsy friends info if could borrow things, like hiking poles, gaiters, and rain gear.  These items I knew I would only use once, so it seemed silly to purchase them brand new only to store them under the bed.  For snacks and a waterproof duffle bag for the porters to carry, I hopped on Sport Pursuit to see what great kit they had on offer (you seriously need to join their flash sale website). I ended up with Bounce Balls and protein cookies to satiate my sweet tooth mid-climb.  It is going to be hard enough without Diet Coke- I can't imagine doing it without chocolate!

Walk-In Clinic reception area
The vaccines turned out to be a bit more complicated.  You can read about my experience at the Walk-In Clinic, where I reviewed in detail with the GP what the risk factors were if I got sick on the side of a mountain in Tanzania, in addition to my upcoming trip to Thailand.  Over two appointments, I ended up with three jabs, one fizzy vaccinated drink, and a prescription for anti-malaria tablets.  These treatments were divided up over two appointments to avoid lots of shots (which could result in sore arms) and one vaccine had to be ordered in.  Unfortunately, I am allergic to the anti-altitude sickness pills so I will not be able to bring them with me.

Plane ticket confirmation
My flights are now booked, which makes it seem like this is really happening.  I found flights for about £600 on Kenyan Airlines using Google Flights.  The outbound overnight flight made it very tricky not to be traveling for 24 hours straight just before some serious physical activity.  Hopefully I can catch up on my sleep the day before we start our ascent.  I could have found a cheaper flight if my work had been more flexible with time off.  But £600 is less than what I pay to go home to USA so not too bad on my travel budget scale.

I am excited about my new boots.  Oldland is not.
Doing research for this trip, I found A Walk in the Park and Kilimanjaro:Tips for the Top books to be insightful.  Both describe other trips that people with little to no experience climbing big mountains have taken.  These contained a lot of the stuff I wanted to know.  How bad are the toilets on the mountain?  Will I be able to get enough sleep?  How cold does it feel at night?  How many spare batteries will I need?  There are many blogs out there too with similar info.  I have also started looking through the Swahili phrasebook my mom got me for Christmas.  I am posting seven mini lessons up on Instagram if you would like to learn a few key phrases.

"Thank you"
We have our Facebook group set up for the women on the trip to get to know one another before we set foot in Moshi.  I am also still working with Ellis Brigham for our discounted shopping night in London for all the women who register for the trip.  This will be the perfect time to talk to experts about our trip and select exactly what you will need, while sipping on some celebratory fizz.

I would really love to have you come along.  The deadline to register for Kilimanjaro is 20 February, so this will be my last email to you about the trip.  If you have any questions or want to discuss logistics, please do not hesitate to get in touch.  Please remember to use my name as a referral to receive your free gift worth £30 posted to you or I can bring it to Kili for you.