12 Christmas gifts for health & happiness

Friday, November 27, 2015

Dear Santa, I don't have all of these items but they do seem to be pretty awesome.
Feel free to leave any one of them under my tree. 

Happy Black Friday! While I completely agree with REI's #optoutside campaign for Black Friday, those of us in the UK still have to work (or sit at work and shop online).  Here are my top 12 gifts for the special person in your life seeking health and happiness.

1. Primus lite stove. These stoves are made in Europe and actually tired out in the factory before they are packed up. The size makes it very portable, which is great for all outdoor pursuits. Add a tin cup and pack of flavoured tea for a thoughtful gift pack.

2.  Sawako Furuno Sparkle helmet. My dog ate my helmet so I have been on th hunt for a new one. It is the party season so why not glitz it up a bit?  I am pretty sure this helmet comes with perm-a-smiles when you have it on.

3.  Rem-Fit 300 series pillow- This pillow helps control your body temperatures as you sleep, ensuring more restful sleep cycle. It also protects against allergens and dust mites.  It contours to your shape, as well as the surface it is upon (which might be handy for camping or sleeping on air mattresses at the holidays).  Other cool features are the Support Clusters and Polyfil fiber that can be added in or removed so you can customize the firmness of your pillow to your preference.

4.  Stolen Goat long sleeve thermal Hexilation bike jersey.- I have bikes on the brain with ride London in the books for 2016.  Every Stolen Goat Jersey I see catches my eye. Made from modern fabrics with a roubaix lining, it keeps you warm but not too hot.  Plus you will look über cool après ride at the cafe or pub. *Bonus- Black Friday sale now on*

5.  The Happiness Planner- my calendar is digital to help my husband and I keep track of what is gong on so I can't go 100% back to paper. The Happiness Planner is more for goal setting and brain dumping. I usually carry a blank journal for that sort of thing any ways. Having The Happiness Planner appeals to me as it creates a structured creative space for all my random thoughts and ideas.

6.  Gym Tote. Ladies- Stop carrying 6 million bags to work with you and narrow it down to one.  This fits gym kit, lunch, trainers, and your iPad but no one would know from looking at it that all that stuff is in there.  I have been trying out the Reese LUXe Tote and am always amazed at how much I can fit in there.  There is so much organization with internal storage and vents to help prevent both your clothes and bag from getting smelly.  Another strong feature design is the optional chest strap that allows you to carry it hands free.  Be on the lookout for a new design in 2016 that incorporates room for a laptop. *Bonus- Black Friday sale now on*

7.  Kamagon ball- This fitness tool is so versatile and fun! Flip it, smash it, throw it, fill it for a fun workout at home. Everybody at home can use it as the amount of water in it can be adjusted, making it easier or lighter based on user needs. It can also collapse down when empty for easy storage. It is part kettlebell, Swiss ball, and medicine ball all in one.

8.  Triathlon Box- Have you ever tri'ed? Half the battle is getting all your kit to the start line (bag, bike, storage box, wetsuit, etc). This box makes it much easier with it's ingenious design of straddling your bike fame.  This also features internal organization, a lock combination, and can be used to stablize your bike on the rack.  I love supporting small British businesses to so this is the icing I the cake.  *Bonus- Black Friday sale now on* You can also get £100 off a Dassi bike. Not bad, eh?

9. TomTom Bandit Action Camera. Move over GoPro. Here is a new style of action cam that will let you document you outdoor adventures.  It has built in action sensors, instant playback, and you can edit your movies on a mobile device.

10. Sweaty Betty Transition Merino top- SB never fails to disappoint me with their annual skiwear line. What can I say? I have a thing for graphical snowflakes.  You can get £20 off your next SB purchase by using my referral link. It is no cost to you and I get a small reward for each friend I refer. Once redeemed, you can start referring friends too. This the season for sharing.

11.  Happy necklace from Swarovski- I saw this on a team member at Psycle and knew I had to have it.  Help others around you change their mindset with this subtle (and sparkley) prompt.  It matches very outfit.

12.  Tory Burch Fitbit bracelet- Never feel embarrassed or discouraged from wearing your Fitbit with these gorgeous luxe bracelets from Tory Burch. I prefer silver and pink, how about you?

Bonus Stocking stuffers-

Svelte Geo Green arm warmers- I am loving geometric prints this days!

Bluetooth Remote Control by CamKix - to take awesome selfies while out running.

NikWax Base Wash and Wool Wash- to keep all your new kit in prime condition.

What is on your Christmas list this year?  Will it bring you health and happiness?

Thanks to Gym Tote for graciously giving me the bag to test. All opinions are honest and my own.  This is not a sponsored post but simply a list of items I think would make great Christmas gifts.  Any links to Amazon are affiliate links, from which I receive a small fee at no cost to the buyer.

Time to be thankful

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Happy Thanksgiving to my fellow Americans out there. I am probably sitting at my desk at work while you are entering a food coma and planning your Black Friday shopping list. Although I wish I had an excuse to be with my family today, I am happy to know I will be seeing then soon when we head back to the USA in January.

I am a firm believer in gratitude as an expression of happiness. Going along with the Thanksgiving theme, here a few of things I am thankful for (in no particular order):

Mom, Di and Erin for sending me letters and postcards. I love getting mail!
We proudly display all the post we get from friends and family.

James for supporting all my running, blogging, baking, body image issues, and having an extra blanket on one side of the bed.

Running shoes that don't aggravate my plantar fasciitis and Achilles tendinitis.  Asics- lets talk about your Gel Nimbus 16s please as I am on my 3rd pair and don't want to ever change. Sole footbeds- thanks for your 'support.'

Merino wool and thick sweaters. Winter came at the weekend, now I need to survive it. Luckily our new flat house is much less drafty than the old one.

Fresh fruit and vegetables all year round. It isn't best for the environment but I do love my daily dose of avocado at breakfast.

Here is my boy.
My Lumie alarm clock and SAD lamp at work. The Seasonal Affect Disorder can be hugely dibilitating during the winter months when it is dark out when you leave for work and when you head home.  These manmade lights helps offset my lack of sunshine and trick my brain into being happy. And I am ok with that.

Oldland, who probably thinks his name is now Stinky. Even though he farts and wakes me up at 5am, I still love him. He helps me accumulate my daily steps and probably lowers my blood pressure (as there is scienctific evidence that petting a dog does this) when I am having a bad day. He helps me stay humble too as I cannot always make myself a priority.

Whether or not you are American, leave a comment below with what you are thankful for today.

Product Review: Mio Alpha2

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Resting between sets on the leg press. HR drops to nearly RHR.

I love how technology is educing the burden of being plugged into something or having extra pieces to keep track of.  Wireless headphones, Bluetooth speakers, and of course strapless heart rate monitors. Strapless heart rate monitors (HRM) are really the way to go if you haven't converted yet, especially for women as there isn't a chest strap to faff around with in/under your sports bra).  I was a big fan of the Mio Fuse as it was stylish and kept track of my steps.  Mio Global asked me to review another product from their line, the Alpha2.

Workout log
The Alpha2 is much bigger than the Fuse but still looks fashionable as a chunky watch from far away. I, of course, like the hot pink accents on the small size to give it a little pizazz (The bigger sizes come with black or yellow accents). The watch face has a large digital display which makes it easy to read when running or cycling, even if it is just in watch mode. People do take notice of it (I have small wrists) and ask me about what it does and how it works.

There are only 2 buttons on the Alpha2. The right one turns on the HRM and starts recording your workout.  It took me a few sessions to realize once my HRM was on, I still needed to 'start' the session.  The Alpha2 beeps at you when your heart rate (HR) gets too high or too low which is a fantastic motivator but can be distracting in a yoga or Pilates class.

The left button will change the display from your HR to the timer, calorie counter, speed or pace info and allows you to set a lap.  I primarily kept mine on HR or used the timer when teaching my spin class.
Summary of a workout. See where I
got caught at a traffic light?
As with the Fuse, you can sync your workout on your phone with the Mio Global app for a more in depth look at your sustained efforts during your session and associated recovery times.  I was disappointed that the Alpha2 doesn't track my overall steps for the day as that is what I loved about the Fuse.  Adding this pedometer feature in conjunction with a social element to the app (find friends, send shout outs for a job well done) would make a more enjoyable experience for users as well as a bit of friendly competition.  Of course, you can manually enter the times/distances from the Mio Global app into Fitbit but I hope they will link it one day for ease. I already told Boints to get in touch with Mio Global as I want my extra points too!

I wear my Alpha2 when I want to push myself to run a bit faster when I am feeling lazy and to make sure I am giving it my all in spin class. It is really interesting to see how quickly my HR recovers when I get stuck at a light or between sets at the gym. Utilizing HR info is becoming more popular among casual athletes as a way to monitor the benefits of their training program and make adjustments when they start to reach a plateau.

Thanks to Mio Global for gifting me the Alpha2 to test. All opinions are honest and my own.

Can we make the holiday happiness last all year?

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Oh the glorious food!
I love Christmas and I am not ashamed to say it. I listen to Christmas tunes in July and have had them playing at my desk since early November.  It calms me. It makes me happy when I am stressed.

This year though it seems everyone (and every shop) is embracing the holiday spirit way early this year. While I am not sure if this is chicken or egg (commercial consumerism inducing the holiday spirit or people just ready for Christmas to come) from what I have seen on social media, people are happy to have their decorations up, meals planned, and Christmas card envelopes addressed.

Which got me thinking.... Why does Christmas make you happy?  And if it makes you happy now, what can you implement the other 11 months out of the year to sustain the joy? Not all of these will suit everyone but as the holiday season rolls on next month, stop and think if you can change something in your life that will help sustain the feeling of happiness all year long.

Your crazy crowns. These are becoming quite popular with
my American nephews and nieces.
If it is.....

Gratitude- Whether giving or receiving, expressions of gratitude are always appreciated. Make it a point to genuinely thank someone who impacts your life in a positive way at least once a week thought the year.  And if someone thanks you, take it.  Don't brush it off but give yourself a pat on the back for a job well done.

Weather- I do miss the White Christmases of Upstate New York. But friends from New Zealand think of beach barbecues when they think of Christmas. Book a holiday at some point during the year to help get you back in the holiday spirit with a climate to match your favourite Christmas memories.

Christine from The Workout Life like snowball fights. (Who doesn't?)
Music- There is no shame in listening to Christmas music at any time of year. I am not sure if online radio stations play holiday tunes year round, find a few good albums to download now off Amazon or make a Spotify list to revisit in 2016 once all the decorations are put away and the biscuit tins are empty.

My sister-in-law feeling fancy for the holidays with her mum.
Gift giving- As my mom will tell you, I get so excited when I find the perfect gift, I have trouble waiting until Christmas to give it (this is one of the major things my husband and I disagree with in our Christmas philosophies). Gift that are thoughtful will go farther than lavish spending (for most people).  The effort will shine through on a good match.  If you see an item that you think will bring someone joy, no matter if there is a reason to give a gift or not, go for it. There doesn't need to be a special occasion other than you were thinking of them and thought it would bring them happiness.

Shopping- Retail therapy can create a big buzz in your brain. Getting a good deal, finding the last one of something, checking an item off your to do list can give you a sense of victory.  If you love shopping, many charities have wish lists that need granting so keep one handy in case you see a bargain and then donate it later in the year.

Cooking- Food is linked to emotions which is why many people struggle to change their eating habits (reason doesn't always apply). Perhaps your family always has the same meal for Christmas, so certain smells and tastes trigger pleasant memories.  Or maybe you love the challenge of creating a new menu with cooking-related gifts that were under the tree.  Personally, I think home cooking is becoming a lost part of our culture as we are pressed for time to move faster, be online more, and away from home for football practice and after work drinks. There is nothing wrong with cooking a lavish meal as often as you fancy. Start with once a month & invite people over who make you happy to share it with.  I encourage you to put love into your food and see the love you get out of it.

Georgie of Fitcetera.co.uk is happy when she "... [makes] food for my family and friends -
I go all out at Christmas with Christmas dinner, Christmas leftovers pie, cupcakes, the lot!
 Everything is made from scratch."

Memories/Family time- The speed of today's world keeps us from physically being present with loved ones. Back in the good old days, my mom would go to her grandma's every Sunday for dinner. Do you know of many families who still do this?  Create new memories and traditions with your family by enduring a digital detox.  Play board games, go for a walk or run, volunteer at the local soup kitchen, or put on a talent show for the whole family.  Then reinstate these traditions at the next big family gathering, whether it is a birthday party, bank holiday get together, or Christmas in July party.

Sarah of Dreaming of Footpaths is making a new family  tradition
with a Christmas Leamington Parkrun.
Religious connection- Maybe Christmas Eve mass is the only one you go to all year long. Does it bring you peace? Do you find a connection with yourself in the still moment after the Lord's Prayer? Although I fall into 'spiritual but not religious' (I choose not to go to church) but pray to the higher being in thanks or to ask for help in my own way.  For some, no matter what religion you identify with, if revisiting your practice (sounds a bit like yoga, doesn't it?) brings you happiness and peace at a crazy time of year, perhaps you can look to incorporate it throughout the year with modern social events at local places of worship.  Or finding a local place of worship will give you community and support no matter where in the world you are.

Time off work- If this is the case, have a look at your work-life balance or even dust off CV for a new gig.  Regularly plan a city break every other month, even if it is just a stay-cation, to get some relief from work place stress.  Talk to your boss about creatively solving some of the stress triggers you are experiencing (work from home 1 day per week, change your start time, delegate a project to someone else on your team).

Lisa from Supermum and Other Disguises enjoys driving around
with her family looking at the lights. OK, this one might be tough
to do all year round but the time with the family can be repeated
with day trips in the car.
I realise there will be some Scrooges out there who will say if we make everyday like Christmas, it won't be special any more. I am not suggesting we take it to that extreme, like having a tree up all year long and carolling every Friday night.  Take some time to reflect on which aspects of the holiday season help you find true happiness (and with it, health) and aim to incorporate it in some small way in 2016.

Tell me in the comments below, what makes you happy at Christmas time?

Book review: Mediterranean Zone

Monday, November 23, 2015

The book:

The Mediterranean Zone: For a longer, leaner, healthier life is the next chapter from Dr. Barry Sears successful The Zone, which became popular in the late 1990's.  The Mediterranean Zone still emphasizes the 40-30-30 formula (which means 40% calories from carbohydrates, 30% from proteins and 30% from fats) but gives suggestions with provided recipes on healthy sources of these requirements.  The Mediterranean influences come together to provide a food pyramid with vegetables as the bottom, with the next tiers up fruit, low-fat protein, mono-saturated fat with grains and starches in moderation at the top. Dairy is noticeably absent from this diagram which is similar the paleo outlook on nutrition.

A few of the basic rules:

  • Eat 5 times a day, never going more than 5 hours without eating.
  • Follow the 40-30-30 principle.
  • Eat something within 1 hour of getting up
  • East fish at least twice a week
  • Limit yourself to a maximum of 2 eggs per week.  Egg whites are acceptable beyond this.
  • Avoid sugary drinks, juices, sweets, chocolate etc.
  • No white carbs
  • Drastically reduce unfavourable carbohydrates, such as pizza, bread, rice, pasta, crackers, carrots, bananas, etc.

Sears claims using this approach will adjust your body's inflammation response and get your hormonal cycle under control.  Strategically utilizing a food item's glycemic index will make you feel fuller longer.  Easy right?  The book makes it easy by providing simple menus, shopping lists, and recipes of dishes you are familiar with (like prawn salad and chicken with mushroom and peppers), and a few simple tweaks make them Mediterranean Zone compliant.  The book also had a large appendix to help you select the correct 'blocks' to put together your own Mediterranean Zone meal.

With my background in biology, I prefer there to be scientific evidence to support claims of better health.  There is a large reference section to the Mediterranean Zone, which sites peer-reviewed articles on inflammation, obesity, hormone cycles and the other topics covered in each chapter.

Overall, the book is an quick read without being too heavy on science lingo.  It provides you with the tools you need to stick to the Zone: clinical markers of wellness (so you can compare your blood work to The Zone's guidelines), a guide on calculating your protein, carbohydrate and fat requirements, and polyphenol/oxygen radical absorption capacity (ORAC) info of many different types of food and spices.  You can read it once to understand the Mediterranean Zone as a lifestyle to follow and then refer back to the book for info on which foods to eat as you begin to incorporate it into your day-to-day living.
Gluten-free & really yummy

The snacks:

Along with the book, I was lucky enough to try the EnerZone Mini Rocks, Enerzone Shortbread, and EnerZone Meal Snack Bars which are part of The Zone brand.  These all looked small in terms of a portion size, but these snacks are what convinced me the 40-30-30 works.  After eating just one of the snacks, I felt satiated. They tasted good too, with the shortbread being the most savoury of the ones I tried. You can buy these snacks, as well as other food items and supplements in alignment with The Zone here.

Have you tried The Zone (either the original or Mediterranean) before?  What did you like about it?

Thanks to Mediterranean Zone and Dr. Barry Sears for gifting me a copy of the book and the delicious snacks to go with it.  All opinions are honest and my own.

Giveaway: Running around in my Runderwear

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Earlier this year, I bought my first 2 pairs of Runderwear briefs at the London Marathon expo.  They were having a deal and my friends Jen and Becs a had both sang praises of the product on their blogs.  In one weeks' time I was headed off to Prague for my first marathon, and thought Runderwear would be useful.  Of course, I forgot them on the drying rack at home while packing for my trip.
Reverse side of ladies brief and G-string

Since then. I have found them to be very useful during my trip to Azul Fit, on days when I run or cycle to work, and anytime I think I'll have an active sweaty day.  The briefs have a granny cut with high waist and lower leg opening. They are snug-fitting but give way very easily so you don't feel squeezed to death.  The high waist has taken some getting used but I understand e design logic (they won't fall down while being active).  Sometimes the waistband shows above my leggings thought, which can be a bit awkward.

Recently, Runderwear sent the their new crop top, G-string, and a pair of men's briefs for my husband to try out.  One of my Spitfire Scramble team mates said she only runs in G-strings, which peaked my interest as I would envision it to be very uncomfortable.

Never take a topless selfie first thing
in the morning.
Admittedly, I was a bit apprehensive about the crop top. With 38B chest (which somehow squeezes into a 34B sport bra with some help) I have trouble finding bras that support me as I usually take part in high impact activities (running, Spinning). As this is called a 'crop top,' I don't think Runderwear expects great support but the packaging says to wear it over a sports bras to help with moisture control if you are above a B cup.

I wore it solo on a Saturday when I was headed to Homebase via train and foot.  I knew I would have a lot of stuff to carry back and that would make me pretty sweaty.  When looking down at my chest, I thought my boobs looked a little bit low as there isn't any underwire sport. The crop top was extremely comfortable and did indeed help me be less of a sweaty mess on my journey home carrying firewood and a hosepipe.  I am not comfortable enough with my body to only wear a crop top, but check out the photo to the left to see how much coverage the top offers. I think it would be perfect for hot yoga, hiking, or any low impact exercise class if you have a large chest.  As with all Runderwear material and design, it definitely dries quickly and doesn't chafe.

The G-string game was completely new to me. I used to have an array of thong undies but over the years, I find myself attending less and less events that require me to dress up.  I really don't care about visible panty lines (VPL) either.  I wore the Runderwear G-string under my ashmei running skort while volunteering at Park Run on a wet and windy morning. The first thing I noticed was the breeze on my bum! (I really wasn't expecting that at all.) The skort and leggings are merino wool which means the fabric is quite breathable.  I then headed out on a 6 mile wet and windy run to,the Olympic Park.  I hardly noticed the Runderwear (which I think is a good thing) while out on my run. I wasn't having the best run so I think if they were really terrible the undies would have bothered me more.  They were nearly dry when I got home.
Men's brief, G-string, and ladies brief

The men's brief are made of the same material but have a 'pouch' in the front design for manly bits.  James usually wears his Marks and Spencer cotton boxer briefs when he exercises (even though I gave him lululemon pair a few years back) so his initial comments were about the cut of the leg being high.  He tried them out during the same wet and rainy Park Run I volunteered at and said he didn't notice them while he was running.  He also felt he had plenty of support but he couldn't say much about the superior wicking capability as it was raining.  James said he will definitely be wearing them on future runs and when commuting by bike in the summer.
Win one of two pairs of these!

Giveaway time! 2 lucky readers will each win a Runderwear women's brief in size medium (brand new in package, don't worry).  Enter below.  Draw ends 27th November.  Open to UK residents only to help keep shipping costs down.  Thanks for understanding.

  a Rafflecopter giveaway

Recovering in my living room with Urban Massage

Friday, November 20, 2015

Running all over town
I do love a good massage. In the past, I primarily got massages as a treat, a wee bit of indulgence to relax. But since being in London and upping my training game, I see the justification of massage as a tool for recovery. It helps work out any niggles before they get worse and keeps my muscles in good shape.

As with any appointment you make, there is always the worry of trying to find the location and get there on time.  The massage therapist I used to use moved offices to a different part of Mill Hill and then I moved to Forest Gate.  So I have been on the hunt for a new one. A new mobile massage app, Urban Massage, recently approached me to do a review and I was thrilled.

Actually, my thought pattern was: At first, a bit apprehensive, because I wasn't sure there was enough space in my house and then I worried what my dog would do during the massage. Then I thought about having a stranger in my house while I was naked. But these were fleeting thoughts though and soon I had my appointment set.

My appointment was confirmed with a text and email.  Leonie was right on time and brought a massage table with her.  I had to provide 3 bath towels and a hand towel (luckily I had enough clean ones). We chatted for a bit while she set up her table as I was interested in how Urban Massage worked. From what she said, they are very focused on employee and customer safety, which was reassuring to hear.  She has been working for them for 6 months and seems very happy with how the service works.

Had to move the dining room table but we made it work.
 Before we started, I had a choice of oils and whether I wanted relaxing music. As a qualified fitness instructor and massage therapist, Leonie was very knowledgeable and had great suggestions for me as an athlete on how to maximize my massage as she gave my legs a good rubdown.  I had heard a few of her tips before and she appreciated my honesty that I don't follow many of them (naughty, I know).  When I asked her for advice to give readers on how to get the most out of your massage, she said she wished people would follow her after-care advice.  Her point was that by listening to what your massage therapist says, you can see/feel the benefits to the recovery process and help alleviate the problems you have been having in a timely manner, which is why you sought out the massage in the first place.
I loved this oil Leonie used.

The hour went by quickly as we chatted about fitness, dogs, and how no two bodies are the same. Urban Massage therapists write notes in your online record to help with continuity of care.  Although the treatment was an hour, she was at my house for 1.5 hours as there was the table set up and paperwork to fill out.  Be sure to set aside enough time for set up and break down of the table when you book your appointment.

Leonie was really lovely and I think I found a good match for my needs. The convenience of it was great, but I did have to rearrange some furniture in my dining room.  It motivated me too to tidy up my pile of stuff on the table.

If you want to give Urban Massage a try, book through the widget in the right hand column of my page or on the app with the referral code RMOLLI1 for £10 off.  Then leave a comment below with your review of the experience.

Thanks to Urban Massage for the complimentary service.  All opinions are honest and my own.  For every booking made through my website, I receive a small commission.

Why I quit Whole30... again

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

The short story is that I am human.

Not strong enough to overcome emotion and resist temptation.

But there is more to it than that.

First let me say my previous attempt at a Whole30 this year lasted just over 24 hours. Clearly I was not ready mentally or physically with prepped food that time around. This time I made it to day 11 after a soft launch that involved peanuts in a bag of nut mix I was finishing up and eating 2 bites of a banana bread recipe which I created for Hi Pro as a commission (watch this space- it is really good!). So maybe I should say I was never really compliant.  My 'pause' was meant to be a Thursday night date at a pub with my husband.  He has been working really hard this semester so we haven't spent much time together in the evenings. The plan was to comply all day, do the best I could at dinner with what was available on the menu, and stick to water.

My work is what The Dude would call 'gutters and strikes' so I was having a bit of an emotional day.  I got some info that my brain immediately filed as devastating and I decided then I was going to drink at dinner.  I only had 1 (big girl) glass of wine and tried to practice restraint by sipping it slowly. (Usually I have trouble pacing myself when drinking but this is something I am working on.)

Friday morning came and I started my day with my standard Whole30 breakfast. At 10am, I went near the canteen to sell my #RODSraffle tickets and got myself a cookie after sitting at the table for 15 minutes debating about what to do. This turned into pizza at Ciderhouse because they were having a Friday opening special of £5/pizza. And mulled cider. Date #2 continued at the Wanstead Tap with a glass of wine and meeting some of our neighbors.

Date #2
Saturday I was back on track.  Sunday, I watched the wagon roll away.

Part of my struggle, which I remember Elle saying on a post when she quit her 3rd attempt at Whole30, was that a lot of the rules of Whole30 I had already adopted. I don't eat yogurt any more (I used to have it everyday in my lunch). I avoid pasta and bread when I can but do love a fresh bagel on the weekend (it was a treat from my childhood). My main problems are (as long-term readers will know) cookies, Diet Coke and lack of self-restraint.  This round, I was also relying on the same recipes over and over which meant a lot of meals were no longer appetising- even 'crack vegetables' were loosing their appeal.

The Whole30 website says most people quit days 10-11. Early on, I had compliments that my skin was glowing, which was great but I didn't have 'tiger's blood' feeling yet (or ever while on Whole30) or improved sleep patterns. Marathon training was going ok as I had Energy Bits for fuel and nakd bars.  As the process started to crumble, I started telling myself I could have 1 day off a week from the regime and stick to it the rest.  But I can tell you that is already failing. Social media provided me with accountability on this round and I still lost the battle.

I have been using Thinking Slimmer's Chillpod on and off and making an effort to go to bed earlier as part of working on my life-balance goals. I am also marathon training which makes me tired and hungry. It is a never ending battle to make good choices and I am sure I am not alone.  I food prep at the weekends, don't buy crap to keep in the house (but my husband sometimes does), and KNOW when I make bad choices. Otis Spunkmeyer cookies just taste so good. Ben & Jerry's is like a hug in my mouth. These emotional triggers are so strong and my body's reaction to the sugar is the endorphins release which makes me feel better in a shorter time frame than the 40 minutes I am required to do to get that runner's high.

It is getting too close to the holidays now to try again and I am tired of being disappointed in myself. There is so much I want to do, so many times I say yes, and then I fail.  It is frustrating to be on such a cycle for what seems to be most of  my life.  I just wanted to let you know I am not perfect and get upset with myself too when I consciously make poor food choices.  And I am well aware these are indeed choices.  I just usually make the 'wrong' one and beat myself up about it.

Ok, time to change my mindset.  I will end this post with the highlights of my Whole10:
  • 10.5 days without an alcoholic drink (which is fine by me as I would rather have dessert than a drink any time)
  • 11 days without a cookie or biscuit (depending on where you are from)
  • 13 full days without a Diet Coke
  • Cinema trip without purchasing any fizzy drinks or popcorn
Do you have any suggestions or tips on how to demonstrate self-restraint?  How do you make better food choices when you are having a bad day?

Packing tips for a 24 hour relay race

Monday, November 16, 2015

Team UK Fitness Bloggers base camp
When I was little, the only family vacations we could afford were to state parks for camping (read: I have never been to a Disney theme park but this will be remedied in January). At these parks there were shower facilities with toilets but we slept in tents and cooked over a camp fire. It is a running joke with my husband that I don't pee outside so in all our years together, we have never been camping (we also lack all the necessary kit).  However, when my friend Helen was putting together the Spitfire Scramble (SS) relay team, I knew I had to do it.

So I bought a tent and waterproofed it with NikWax for extra protection. Luckily it didn't rain, so I didn't have to truly test out the efficacy.  My husband has a sleeping bag for field trips to the Atlas mountains and I have a cushiony exercise mat from Decathlon I brought to sleep on.  I took a crappy pillow from the couch (wrong decision) and thought my sleeping arrangements were sorted.

I signed up for the food pass offered by the organisers, but somehow I ended up bringing an entire suitcase of food.  Here is a photo of all the stuff I carried on public transport.  That was a workout in itself.

Adding to my original list of what to pack for a race, here are a few handy things:

-Triathlon belt to keep your number on- This avoids faffing if your shirt is still wet from your last lap.
Primus Lite+ in action. Thanks to Cassie
for the photo. Not bad for 6:30am!
-Camping chairs or picnic blanket- So you have a place to sit. I vote for chair as it will be much more comfortable but it depends how much stuff you can carry.
-Solotrekk Deluxe Travel Clothes Washing Line- This clothing line doesn't require pegs.  One of the most ingenious inventions I have seen in a while.
-Gazebo or some kind of shelter- makes it easier to find your camp from far away and helps keep you out if sun or rain.
-Small camping stove- We had the Primus Lite+ which was perfect to boil water at camp for a quick cup of tea, instant porridge and a pot of noodles.  It saved me a trip to the food truck for something quite simple. It took less than a minute to get 2 cups of water boiling.  It also would have been perfect for the cold Saturday night if we had thought to bring a hot water bottle (which I added to this list below).  Just make sure the Lite insulation cover is in the right place on the cup.  We had it a bit too low and singed it a little. The fuel canister can be resealed meaning there isn't any waste and you can carry it home with you.  The stoves uses ETA technology for fuel efficiency too mean the can should last a while. I recommend a light with a long nozzle to lit the pilot (only 1 click needed. Every time).
-Food & drinks you can make with hot water- Save money and save your legs for running.
Interior of my n+1 tent.
-Hot water bottle for cold nights when your body is vasodilating- We all were shivering on Saturday night rather than sleeping.
-Lots of bin bags for wet stuff and rubbish- Carry in, carry out.
-Glow sticks or bracelets- Be visible in the dark, mark hazards & it is fun!
-Spare head torch & batteries - This is a reminder for me as my head torch barely made it around the course.
-Solar powered charger and extra power cell- Cassie brought one and it proved to be useful, when the sun was out of course (great British weather).  I had an extra power cell with me and tried to keep my phone off as much as possible.
-Cash for masseuse- A must on a 24 hour race or if you are running it solo.
-Wine or beer- This should have been obvious to me but wasn't in the week leading up to the race.
-Salty & sweet snacks (but nothing new)- To satisfy all cravings.
-Spare loo roll- We never needed this as SS was well organised & stocked but I can't promise thus for every relay.
-Hand sanitizer- Essential for outdoorsy stuff.
Water station at Spitfire Scramble
-Lots of layers- The weather might be unpredictable and adding the overnight element is a game changer too. None of my clothes ever dried in time for the next lap so I think I wore everything I packed anyways.
-Tent that is for n+1- This is a camping rule, regardless.
-Dry bag to keep important stuff dry- Friday night it poured at camp.  If I had been there, my phone, camera, Kindle, and race info would have been in my dry bag.
-Reusable water bottle & then huge bottles of water (although SS provides water for free)- You just need to fill up your personal bottle.
-Water for brushing teeth- No facility to do this at camp.
-Towel and wet wipes- Just in case you can't find a shower. I was never able to get there due to the timing of my run shifts and when the shuttle bus was available.
-Blanket to stay warm at night when you are waiting for your lap to start- Either a regular or foil blanket would be handy.  Even a Snuggie would work.

I am sure if you had a car with a large boot, there are a few other things you would add to the list but these are a good start.

Have you ever run a relay race? What equipment was essential for you?

Thank you to Primus for providing our team with the Lite plus stove to test out.  And thanks to NikWax for the samples.  All opinions are honest and my own.

2016 Race calendar

Sunday, November 15, 2015

On my desk at work, I have had a calendar for 2016 since the start of 2015. We are planning a multi site moved into Central London and are always checking how things will work logistically.  Filling up that calendar brings worry & apprehension because as much as you can plan for that sort of things, there are many factors outside of your control.  Filling my personal calendar for 2016, especially my race calendar, is a different story.  It is fun to think about the places racing will take me and gives me a goal when trying to fit in exercise sessions mid-week (one of these days I will add strength training!).

The year is starting off with a half marathon in Walt Disney World, Florida with the team from RODS Racing.  It will be my farewell as I am leaving the team after nearly 4 years.  I have raised $5,000 with help from friends, family, and my blog followers and cannot thank you enough for your support. I joined the team as a way to mourn my nephew with Down Syndrome who was stillborn. I hope he is proud of the work I am done to raise awareness for this amazing cause.  I am aiming to raise for £850 ($1300) by 7th January so if you would like to give, please visit my donation page here.

Next race on my list is the London Winter Run. I did it last year with my friends Pattie & Georgie, followed by brunch with 20+ of the ladies from Team Naturally Run. Its founder and fearless leader, Leah, was moving away making this the last time many of us would see her, apart from a sweaty hug during the London Marathon. I am looking forward to running it again this year as the route truly is magical. You will find yourself running down some of London's busiest streets with amazing views of the sites and no traffic.

Join me at the London Winter Run with my friend Elle's awesome discount code SIMPELLE, which will take £3 off your entry.  You can use it for any of the race locations.  Score!

On 13th February is the Usual Suspects Race with Saxons, Vikings, and Normans Marathons and Challenges.  My friend Lucy found it and it fits in with our marathon training plan of 20 miles (see next race).  This is a fancy-dress-encouraged-run-as-much-or-a-little event with a looped course and 6 hour time limit. She is worried she will want to do the extra lap to make it a marathon, whereas I know I will be looking forward to finishing after the 20 mile mark.  Rumor has it, these people love to feed you during a race so I am not sure I will see a calorie deficit that day but I bet I will be really happy.  Vegans are able to select a vegan goody bag.  How is that for all inclusive?

Next up in my race diary is Mill Hill Marathon on 6th March.  As I previously wrote, this is my no pressure marathon, and I am enjoying training with colleagues on my lunch break (even though she makes me do hill repeats).  This way it is light out and breaks up my day a bit with a nice release of stress-busting endorphins.  The course is in the same areas as work, meaning I cannot go out for a run without running up and down a few hills.

The weekend after that is the North London Half Marathon which will a  casual fun run as I am not sure how recovered my legs are going to be.  The course is new this year, although still running stadium to stadium, and I enjoyed last year's event, aside from the crappy weather.  Have you signed up yet?

I am sure some other events will be sprinkled in between March and July, but the next race in the diary is Ride London on 31st July. Somehow I have been lucky enough to win a ballot the first 3 years of the race.  I deffered my 2015 entry as I was supposed to be focusing on the Berlin Marathon (oops), so 2016 will be my 3rd attempt at finishing all 100 miles.  2013- got a flat and just missed cut off to ride up Box Hill, bringing  my official distance to 90-something miles.  My husband likes to point out that I did indeed ride over 100 miles that day as we cycled to and from the course but to me, it isn't the same.  2014 was the hurricane, meaning no one was able to ride all 100.  I think it was about 85 miles as both hills were eliminated from the course.  2015 I wasn't there but sadly a gentleman suffered a heart attack on Leith Hill which impacted most riders.  Here's to hoping I am so speedy in 2016, I finish strong!  I have spoken to a few people about training and look forward to getting started.  My poor bike is feeling abandoned as she sits in the shed.

In August, I will be running laps in the dark with UK Fitness Bloggers once again for the Spitfire Scramble.  You seriously need to get a team together and join in the fun.  I met some amazing people and challenged myself in a whole new way (camping, running in the dark, not showering for 2 days but running a lot, living on bacon butties).

September brings me to Berlin for the marathon.  It is the week after a friend's wedding in France, which means I will have a nice holiday in the lead up to the race.  Just need to reign in the alcohol and dancing and I should be fine.  Can I wear trainers to a wedding to avoid twisted ankles and blisters?

The big question mark in the diary is the Turkey 70.3 Ironman.  I was invited to do this race this year but only given 1 month's notice which wasn't enough time to train.  I am hoping to align my Ride London and Berlin Marathon training to ride a wave of athleticism to the coastline of Turkey.

I was really lucky to be able to check many of the coveted London races off my list this year- London 10,000, British 10K, Back to the Stadium 10K, and the Royal Parks Half.  With bigger events in August and September, I want my training to focus on those. Races break up the training mesocyle though and add some fun, so I will see how my cash flow is.  Race entries, travel and extra trainers do tend to add up.

Which races are you committed to in 2016?  Have you started training yet?

Is sugar tax bittersweet?

Friday, November 6, 2015

The UK Fitness Bloggers are holding a debate on the sugar tax.  See the bottom of my post for links to other opinions on the proposal.

In case you haven't heard, the Public Health England (PHE) has proposed to make foods with high sugar content 10-20% more expensive in an effort to deter consumption (which they called a tax or levy). This was one of a few suggestions put forth in the PHE report based on similar programs in other countries that found success, such as Mexico.  Other suggestions included more strict regulations in advertising to children, limiting discounts and offers on high sugar foods at the shops, reducing portion sizes in packaged foods and meals, and reviewing the Ofcom (Communications regulator in UK) nutrient profiling model which is used in advertising regulations.

I recommend you have a look at the report yourself. It was very easy to read (almost repetitive really) and summarises finding from a few studies across disciplines in terms of how much sugar we eat in the UK, how much money the UK food industry spends on promoting 'unhealthy' food, and how a similar campaign to change salt intake took shape.  Based on other countries success, the proposed sugar tax would be one way to eliminate the availability of sugary foods and drinks to children in particular (check fact).  However, there is a correlation between socio-economic status and sugar consumption, which is why some of the initial public reaction was that a sugar tax would be taxing the poor.  

People against Sugar Tax point out on their website that there is already a 20% tax on sugar called VAT.  They believe the focus should be on better nutritional labelling, encouraging children to do more exercise, and ending BOGO offers in shops on sugary foods.  I disagree with their last point that people are more aware they need to eat healthy and are therefore changing what they put into their baskets.  If this was the case, we would see it reflected in consumer reports and people's waistlines.  Unfortunately, convenience and cost will usually win when doing the weekly shop.

As a society, is there a deeper issue here in that poor people make poor food choices (or so the report says on pages 9 and 12)?  Can the cycle of being disadvantaged be broken by families getting their 5 a day? Would a monetary penalty change the culture?  Increasing tax on cigarettes haven't yet deterred smokers from their daily habit so at what point will soda prices be prohibitive?

One point from the report that has really changed the way I think about my purchasing habits was about offers and deals on junk food and fizzy drinks.  If something is 3 for 2, you may be lured into buying more of the product than you need and this can increase consumption because it is readily available.  People are creatures of habit, so if you normally buy x packet of biscuits a week, but another kind is on offer, you probably aren't going to put back your standard choice but instead just eat both in the same time span.  

I know I tend to buy treats for my team at work when there is a sale on in the shop.  I probably wouldn't buy those multi-packs of Haribos otherwise. Same thing with going into the 99p shops. I wouldn't go In there if I wasn't looking for a deal and usually I buy candy and cookies.  From now on, I am going to be extra aware when shopping as I am a girl who is a sucker for a deal! But along with that, I also love my teeth, my heart, my liver, and my waistline.  And excess sugar in my diet is not helping any of these.

Do I think a sugar tax will work? I hate to be a pessimist here but on a national level, I don't know if anything will.   Ultimately, it is a consumer's market.  We need education for people to understand the negative effects of sugar (which are hard to articulate in layman's terms), the potential health implications and associated costs to themselves and NHS, and we need to make cooking meals a priority again.  The tax might work if it is implemented with in-store advertising policies alongside it to prevent pop from going on 'sale' once the tax is applied.  And I am curious where tax monies would go. Could they be used to reduce cost of organic produce?  Offering local classes on cooking from scratch?  Or would it go to the NHS to help revive it?

I love my Diet Coke, know a bit about nutrition and the negative effects of a super sugary diet. However, I have no willpower. I love anything that tastes sweet and find it hard to walk by a 4 pack of freshly baked cookies without eating 2 in the 20 minute train ride home.  But I am on my 3rd round of Whole30, so I know I can live without it. I am a bit grumpy still on Day 5, but I will survive.

If we want to make an impact, we need to get these laws (sugar tax, children's TV advert regulations, I store promotions) passed in parliament (not sure if they will though, given the luxury tax on tampons remains after a parliamentary vote).  This alongside curriculum on health, eating, exercise to develop a culture of health in our children should also instil a fresh outlook on how things could be if we slow down, play more and spend time in the kitchen.  

As a nation, we cannot afford to wait any longer to put something in place.  The NHS will crumble at a rapid rate with increased health problems across all demographics, many of which are influenced by poor eating habits and sedentary lifestyle.  

Other blog posts on sugar tax to check out:

American football and rugby come to London

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

I have know about wheelchair rugby since 2005. My ex-boyfriend & I went to the artsy cinema in my hometown to see the documentary called 'Murderball'. It told the tale of the USA wheelchair rugby team and their huge Canadian rivalry, as well as a few personal profiles of how the players ended up in wheelchairs.  The sport was shown as violent and combative, but also therapeutic for paraplegics who were struggling with their new disability.  With a balance of sport and personal struggle, it is a great film that men and women will enjoy.

The film was a stocking stuffer for my husband, which he enjoyed.  During London 2012, we tried to get tickets without any luck.  But a few weeks ago, my husband discovered that the BT World Wheelchair Rugby Challenge was happening near our home at the Copper Box Arena, with USA and Team GB playing on the first evening.  Front row tickets were very reasonable so we picked up two and planned our date.

You have to bounce or pass the ball every 10 seconds.
USA played Canada on the first match, shortly after Canada just knocked USA out of the bid for Rio 2016 last week (need to check).  James and I knew a little about the sport (each player is given a score based on their ability and there is a max number of 'points' allowed on the court between the 4 players).  There are penalties, a countdown play clock, 2 referees, and a pit crew to help with equipment as it gets damaged from the combative nature of the game.

USA was holding their own against Canada (in my naive opinion as a first time spectator) during the first 2 periods, but something changed in the third.  USA was running the clock down even though they were loosing.  Points seemed to be answered back on forth, but USA dropped back by 4 points instead of 2, which made me nervous.  (Even players on the Australian team weren't sure why USA had this strategy as I asked them).  The 4th period was exciting as USA tried to even up the score but Canada ended up winning 58-57.

It was fun to see a new sport that neither my husband and I knew too much about. We were able to ask each other questions about the rules (or what we thought they were). Over time, I have learned not to ask too many questions at sporting events as the people I am with usually care about watching the game (where I go for the food and experience).  But, I have learned that if you ask questions about the match in particular, questions are allowed.  That made me feel better when I went to the Rugby World Cup 2016 match South Africa vs USA in Queen Elizabeth Olympic park.

I bought my ticket off a friend and went with people she knew.  Over the years of being with my husband, I have watched enough rugby to have a general idea of what is going on.  I should have revised with a bluffer's guide on rugby before the game to remind myself of the basics as I was sitting with strangers. I sat with Dunbar, a South African living in London after traveling through the Arctic Circle on a sailboat.  He was pretty chill.  Most of our section was South African with a random American fan sprinkled in.  I had awesome seats I row 16 and saw a lot of action in my end of the field. But I didn't really want to pay £1/point.  I am starting to think I am bad luck as USA lost to South Africa 64-0. Perhaps this article on mental preparation would have helped USA get in the zone and score at least a few points.

Great seats meant lots of action, just for the wrong team
The only time it is acceptable to
wear an American onsie is at RWC.
Few other things I noticed were first, that food wasn't available, save crisps. At an American sporting event, of course you would have beer but you would also have lots of glorious 'ball park' food-hot dogs, popcorn, nachos, pretzels, ice cream, etc (this is my brain on Day 3 of #whole30 talking, sorry). Second, there was little atmosphere in terms of music, entertainment, and announcements. Watching rugby on TV you get lots of play-by-play commentary which helps me keep straight what is going on. You really have to pay attention when you watch rugby event live.  The only sound effect was a beating heart each time the TMO was consulted.  And that got annoying after a while.  Even the wheelchair rugby has some awesome tunes to play during time outs and equipment time-outs.

Ohio State Uni marching band as the Beatles on Abbey Rd.
A good comparison is the NFL efforts here in London.  I went to see my home team, the Buffalo Bills, play the Jacksonville Jaguars at Wembley Stadium.  And boy- do Americans know how to put on a show! I went with a British co-worker who is a huge NFL fan. He had been going to all the NFL games in London for the last few years so knew a lot about how things would be set up outside the stadium in the lead up to the game. We arrived early to see the different entertainment zones but there was no true tailgating by American standards.  As we waited in line for an 'NFL Legend' autograph (rumored to be Hall of Fame Quarterback and cancer survivor Jim Kelly), the Ohio State marching band went through the fan zone as a warm up for an amazing pre-game show. The Jaguars Roar (team cheerleading squad) had a set of ladies at each corner of the stadium for some cheering and dancing (although I must say they need more practice). Pepsi was shooting tshirts into the crowd & music played between nearly every play.  Every seat also had a Jaguars flag as they were the home team for the game and rumored to be settling permanently in London in 2018.

Unfortunately, the Bills didn't start off strong and couldn't pull it off in the end, loosing 34-31. I had a great time though eating and drinking my way through the game. The highlight for me though was meeting Jim Kelly for his autograph. He was the Bills quarterback when I was growing up (and brought the Bills to the Superbowl 4 years in a row) so he is kind of a big deal to me.

Me asking for a photo even though I
know they are not allowed. Denied.
Happy girl!
It really has been a fun couple of weeks treating myself to these unique sporting events in London, would you recommend any matches in 2016?

This post was sponsored by MaxiNutrition.