Dancing at dawn with Morning Gloryville

Friday, September 29, 2017

When my alarm went off at 4:45am, I wasn't sure if going to a rave before work was a good idea.  However, it was the autumnal equinox and there was sunshine in the forecast.  I got myself out of bed, ate some breakfast and ordered an Uber to get me to the Shard in a hurry.  Morning Gloryville (MG) had already started and I needed to be there before dawn.

Driving up to the Shard in the dark of night
It has been years since I went to a MG event.  That was back in the day when they were just starting out by renting empty warehouses in Shoreditch.  With the lights on and being 100% sober, those events were a bit more surreal because you felt like you were in a club but could just see what it really looked like during the day.  I didn't know exactly what to expect at the Shard event aside from an amazing view of the sunrise.  My only time there was to take part in a yoga class a few years ago.

Good morning London!

My friends Corey and Eileen got there at the start.  From the 5:30am to about 6:45am, there were several morning rituals involving chanting, drums, and energy releases to welcome in the Equinox at sunrise.  I was glad that I chose to sleep a bit later and arrive just before sunrise.  It was the best of both worlds- to have more energy and see London slowly awaken.  I wasn't really with it yet when I arrived so I think too much time with the chanting might have put me back to sleep. I didn't realize this was part of the schedule for the day.  Next time there is a special edition MG, I will look more closely at the timetable. 

Tarot reading area

The 69th floor is a square with stairs in the middle so only two of the sides really faced the sun.  Even though MG started super early, there was still a big crowd ready to take part in the ancient traditions.  Another side of the square had the entrance from the lift and a bar with plenty of food and drink to buy with hardly any queues.  All the things available were very healthy selections of smoothie bowls, vegan cakes, and botanicals (virgin) cocktails.  The fourth side had beautiful face painting, tarot readings, a charity, and complimentary massages.  There wasn't a booking system for any of these meaning you had to stand in a line but you made some new friends in the queue while waiting.  I tried to book in for a massage because there was a paper signup at first, but it was too confusing after the rituals ran overtime.  I just wanted to dance.  A guy I saw get up from a massage looked to be in absolute bliss.  I will have to  make it a priority next time.

Vegan sugar-free cakes

The dance floor facing east was packed every time I did a lap of the floor.  The weather that day was perfect for our bird's eye view over the city.  You could see very far, and even observe fog rolling steaming up on the river.  At the top of the Shard, the bright sunshine was a natural way to light the dance floor and build up your positive energy for the day.  We could not have been any luckier!

Here comes the sun, little darling

There were a few kids there, which at first struck me as odd, but if there is a sober rave when kids would normally be up at home, why not bring them along?

Adorable dragon baby princess

If you needed fresh air or space to chill, the open air on the 73rd floor gave you the opportunity to relax or take part in one of three yoga classes.  Most of the MG events will have free yoga, so plan ahead better than I did and try to find out the schedule when you arrive.  I missed out because I didn't realize the class times until it was too late to join.

Free yoga

Sadly I had to leave for work at about 8am.  This is when a live band took over from the DJ.  The party lasted until 9:30am for those who had a more flexible day.  If you had been able to stay the whole time, you would have definitely got your money's worth.

I am a dancing fool so I will attend another MG and bring my husband along.  We never seem to make it to the clubs because we are old but this is a good compromise if you don't have to be at work until 9am.  A cocktail would have been nice but I can still have a good time without it.  MG holds events all over London and across the globe so you don't have too much of an excuse not to come along..  They are always looking to expand too if you want to suggest a venue near you.

Morning ritual facing west, giving you an idea of the costumes people wore

The next MG is Thursday 5th October at Ministry of Sound
 with Summer of Love theme.  Fancy dress was in abundance at the Shard but there were people in their work clothes too.  The Equinox  theme was nature/ying & yang so you saw nymphs, muses, zebras, earthy hippies, a family of dragons (see the princess above) and more.  It was very much come as you are which meant there was no pressure to look a certain way.  Glitter seemed to be a must!  And there will be a glitter station at the Summer of Love too.  I am still finding glitter everywhere which is a wonderful reminder of the fun I had.

Thanks to Morning Gloryville for the complimentary ticket.  All opinions are honest and my own.

Aftershokz Bluez 2 Wireless Headphones review

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Lately my Facebook feed has been full of questions about wireless headphones and bone conducting headphones.  Here is my review that was originally posted on the now defunct H2 Life Blog.

Thumping beats really help me keep my pace. However, my small ear canals make ear buds uncomfortable and they usually fall out. I prefer the old school headphones that slip over your head. True, they are not cool and get really sweaty but I don't have to worry about my run being disrupted so I can put my music back on. On the flip side, I worry about my safety. As a woman who usually runs alone, I always try to be aware of what is going on around me-cyclists, cars, pedestrians- I need to be able to hear my surroundings. It is a tough balance though when your music motivates you to keep going at a steady pace.

Aftershokz  Bluez 2 are a wireless 'bone conducting' headset that allow you to listen to audio tracks while running, cycling, cleaning, walking, etc.  I didn't realise how annoying wires were until they were gone. I wasn't getting tangled up when I swung my bum bag around or needed to remove my jacket. It was fantastic. If the volume is up too loud, the sound waves will make your cheeks buzz, but I took it as a sign that I need to turn the volume down. The sound quality is fantastic for both music and my Harry Potter audiobooks, however busy traffic can sometimes overpower the recordings. I did find on longer runs (10+ miles) the band around the back of my head would start to drop which would then need a bit of readjustment around my ears. The battery holds charge for at least a week between uses and the system will tell you (literally, it speaks) when it needs charging. It is also really easy to sync to your mobile phone.

SIde view of how they headphones sit

I should add that one night at dusk, I did not hear a man run up behind me. There wasn't any traffic and I was in my running zone with Podrunner playing. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a tall man running up behind me. I jumped and he apologised. He was out for a run too and said he was trying to be loud as he came up behind me. Lesson learned: even though your ears are uncovered, you might still be vulnerable and not hear your surroundings.

My husband is more of a cyclist than a runner (hence the recent ride to Paris).  To get another opinion on the functionality of these headphones, I asked him to try out the Bluez2 on a long bike ride.  Here are his thoughts:

Commuting in London (and I’m sure elsewhere) you often see those cool guys with their headphones weaving through traffic to get where they’re going, no doubt fuelled by some up-tempo beats. Craziness.  No doubt fun, but crazy all the same. Safe cycling really demands an awareness of what’s happening around you – hearing the sound of the vehicle approaching from behind can give an indication of its size, speed and, sometimes, likelihood of it trying to overtake you on that blind bend. So listening to music or the radio on closed headphones seems to me like a pretty stupid idea.

Although the Bluez2 seemed a possible way around this, I was initially sceptical. They have proven me wrong though and do a pretty good job of allowing you to listen to your favourite beats or radio show while still listening out for that traffic around you. On a couple of rides out from the suburbs of London in to the Hertfordshire countryside I listened to both a talk show - the irreverent Danny Baker Show - and music. At the moderate speeds I rode at I could hear Danny’s stories without too much problem, although much faster and on downhill sections the sound of wind past my head began to drown things out. Music wasn’t such a problem and the beats came through fine, but I imagine a windy day combined with moving at 30 km/h would make listening difficult.

The main issue for improvement I see is the need to better accommodate the wearing of sunglasses at the same time as these headphones. As they currently are you need to sit the glasses on the outside of the headphones - although not designed for this it works but after a couple of hours on the bike the sides of your head about the ear begin to ache.

Sunglasses vs headphones
Overall though I think these things are great. The Bluetooth connection means there’s no need to worry about wires and I can both listen to speech and music without too much problem, while at the same time feeling like I know what’s going on around me. Just beware; if the radio show is too amusing you might get distracted, and if the beats too big you might try to take that corner just a little bit faster than you might otherwise normally do.

Front view of me in the Blues2

For both a running and cycling viewpoint, the Blues2 worked really well for us.  If you normally wear sunglasses, a cap, a headband, or a big hairstyle when running or cycling, these factors may influence how well the Bluez 2 fits on your head.  You should also consider if  you will use it for dialogue or music and if wind speeds will impact in your ability to hear.  The toughest thing is remembering to charge them once a week, although the verbal reminder is quite effective.

What kind of headphones do you wear when you run or cycle?  What is the best feature about them?

Aftershokz kindly gave me these headphones to review.  All opinions are honest and our own.  This post contains affiliate links which cost nothing extra for the buyer and help support the running of this site.

Easy rice salad recipe

Friday, September 22, 2017

Packed lunches are a beautiful thing, if you get them right.  I am a big fan of crack vegetables and will often have them as a side dish for lunch.  Right now, I am trying some other dishes to expand my repertoire with an easy way to get a vegetable and carb serving in.

This week, I started working with Shannon S Nutrition after seeing the amazing results my co-Zero Advent Calendar founder, Becca, had.  Shannon is teaching me to count macros, which is a new practice for me.  During this first week, I am just getting used to logging all my food on My Fitness Pal and being aware of portion sizes.  Next week, I will take more notice of my macros.

If you are new to the term, macros means looking at the amount of protein, fat, and carbs you consume.  It goes a bit beyond calorie counting to ensure your body is fueled properly.  Shannon has given me the ratio I need (30% protein, 29% fats, and 41% carbs on average) to achieve my goals.  Now I just need to stick to it!

I developed the recipe below using what I had in the cupboard to get some carbs in, along with vegetables.  Everything is to taste really so feel free to adjust the ratios to what you like and what is in your kitchen.  I am a big fan of Mexican food, which is why I chose these spices.

Easy rice salad
2 servings of cooked brown rice
1 can black beans
150 g frozen corn, defrosted
2 tbsp coconut oil
Sauteed medium onion and one bell pepper
1/2 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp garlic granuals
Salt and pepper to taste

  • Prepare rice according to package directions.
  • While rice is cooking, chop up onion and saute in coconut oil on low to medium heat.
  • Add one chopped bell pepper to pan once onions have cooked for a few minutes.
  • Cook peppers and onions to desired tenderness.
  • Defrost corn in microwave.  It should only take 1-2 minutes.
  • Drain can of beans and rinse.
  • Add corn, beans, and spices to pan with pepper and onions.  Heat through.
Ack! I will replace this photo soon.
  • Once rice is cooked, place in a large bowl.  Add everything from the pan to rice.  Stir to mix.
  • Serve hot or cold.  Keep in the fridge.

Push the city limits with Suunto Spartan Trainer

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Some people love running on trails, and others in the mountains.  Unfortunately, if you live in a big city, such as London, there typically aren't many of either to explore.  Runners just need to think outside the box and see where their feet take them.  Who needs the same old boring route when there are so many places to explore?

Suunto Spartan Trainer wrist heart rate monitor watch in Ocean

For example, if you prefer to run in the mountains, check out Box Hill in Surrey.  Normally, I only think of using this hill for cycling but I took part in the Salomon Sunset Series over the summer here and it was one of the toughest races I have ever done.  Everybody walked during this race at some point.  The views were spectacular each time you reached a crest and the unpredictable tree roots along the paths kept us on our toes. For hill reps a little bit closer to London, Primrose Hill, Greenwich Park, and the stairs near the Duke of York Column (off of The Mall) are all places to work your body to the max.  For those who don't know, hill reps are just like they sound- you run up a hill several times.  These are great for building speed and/or strength depending on how long each repetition is.  Hills force your form to change (get those knees up!) and the intensity is affected by the gradient.  If you are a beginner and want to give hill reps a try, start with a comfortable 20 minute warm up run to the bottom of a hill.  Run up the hill for one minute and remember where you stop.  Walk back down the hill to your starting point as a recovery.  Run back up to your finish point five more times with a walking recovery back to the start.  Finish with a five minute cool down run to help bring the heart rate down.

Headed to the track in Victoria Park

If you prefer something flat and fast but outdoors, there is an outdoor track in Victoria Park that is free.  You can also try The Mall when the roads are closed (to avoid tourists on the pavement) or the north side of the Thames along Victoria Embankment. These will give you the chance to work on your speed without having to dodge too many traffic lights. If you prefer a traditional track, here is a list of London's Athletics tracks.

London is a concrete city, meaning proper trails are hard to come by.  If you hit the outskirts of town, such as Epping Forest or Richmond Park, you might find something with trees and dirt paths to satiate you for a while.  I would also suggest the Regent's Canal tow path as a substitute for trails because the surface often changes and you will forever have to be dodging others along the way.  It can get quite crowded when the weather is nice or during commuting time.

Note that Ocean matches OPI polish in 'This cost me a mint'
How are you going to track of all of these expeditions?  The new Suunto Spartan Trainer watch is the perfect tool for heart rate monitoring, and not just while running.  There are 80 different sport modes pre-installed and will last for 10 hours of continuous activity on one battery charge.  It has GPS too, which will measure your speed, pace, distance, and altitude in real time while running, cycling and swimming. The coolest thing is a 'breadcrumb view' which makes it easy to discover new routes but also find your way home again.  A new software upgrade that is now available will also monitor your sleep patterns to ensure you are getting your recovery right.

Monitoring your heart rate and logging training sessions on Strava will help you push your training in the right direction to succeed at your goals.  You can see your abilities improve over time with an increase in pace and reduction of heart rate over similar routes.   The GPS data can be used to create a heat map on Strava to see where you run the most and how much space you have left to explore in London.  Greater London encompasses 1572 square kilmeters (607 square miles).  I bet there are a few streets and alleyways left for you to discover so get out there and push the city limits.  If you find an amazing hidden gem, leave a comment below.

This post is in collaboration with Suunto.

Gait Analysis with Function360

Monday, September 18, 2017

You probably have heard lately how I am struggling with my running.  My Achilles are angry with me, developing pain during and after runs.   When I stand up to walk, I usually waddle for a few minutes until I loosen up a bit.  I usually blame it on my age, but as a scientist, I am always willing to learn more.

The guys from Function360 invited me in for a gait analysis to look more closely at how my body moves.  I was really interested to see what they observed as I had a gait analysis done in Berlin 2016 at the marathon expo, which said I was a 'perfect runner'.  Then in the spring, I visited the Saucony Stride Lab and they made some suggestions on which shoes I would run well in.  These two sessions monitored my movement on a treadmill.  Function360 has a different trick up its sleeve.

Their office is conveniently located within walking distance of Moorgate and Liverpool Street Stations in Central London.  I brought a sporty set of clothes with me and my running shoes as I assumed my gait assessment would involve some running on a treadmill, as I had mentioned above.  Imagine my surprise when I learned my analysis  would involve standing still and then on one foot with my eyes closed.  There was some walking too (about 50 laps of the exam room) but I didn't even break a sweat.  Their gait analysis can fit in to anyone's day in the office without needing a shower afterwards.

I met with Mike, an ex-rugby player turned personal trainer who is working towards a masters degree in physiotherapy (he is also Irish and really tall).  He was very friendly during our meeting and made me feel at home in the exam room by explaining to me what I had to do while also asking me about my training and injury history. My measurements were taken on a Sensor Medic mat which feeds into Free Step program.  All the raw data is captured in real time, so Mike was able to explain a few things about my readings as we went along, such as where I put the most of my body weight when I stand (interestingly, my left heel which was where most of my Achilles pain was that day).  The entire appointment took less than an hour.

After I left, Mike went away to create a report for me within which he summarized the major points of my strengths and weaknesses based on the data collected.  The report also recommended what could be done to correct imbalances, such as custom insoles to help with my posture and pain.

The insoles are definitely an investment (starting at £200+) but will last for 10 years.  These are made from the scans so no further appointments are needed for a fitting.  Their custom design takes into account injury history and which sports they will be used for. The material used and the type of insoles (full length or 3/4 length) are chosen based on customer preference and intended use.

My dynamic results after pacing back and forth a million times

The report was sent to me by email and it fairly technical in the summary.  The highlights were:
  • Static:  The centre of pressure of the left (L) and right (R) leg are not on the same line. The L leg's centre of gravity is backwards and the R leg centre of gravity is forwards with respect to the body centre of gravity
  • Stability:  Postural sway is almost double the normal value in a double leg stance (eyes open and closed), indicating pelvic instability and weak hip stabilisers
  • Dynamic:  There is reverse gait on the R foot (I go back on myself after the toe off phase, increasing chance of overloading and further wear and tear).  There are elements of uneven gait which needs to be corrected to enhance my performance and reduce risk of injury. The structural imbalance in the rear of the R foot and the collapsing of the arch in the L foot need to be corrected/supported with the use of insoles. 
My suggested rehabilitation plan includes:
  • Glute activation in closed chain, bilateral and unilateral exercises, gradually progressing and increasing loading
  • Balance/proprioception to increase stability at ankle, knees and hips
  • Opening up the hip flexors and adductors to allow glutes to activate more.

Sway test results with eyes opened and closed

You might want to know what happens after the analysis is done.  Me too, so I talked to Mike about what the results meant and what I need to do next.  His answers are in italics.

How 'normal' are my results?  Do most people have an imbalance or just the clientele you attract?

Yes, most people have imbalances and can live with them with no problem. The importance of addressing these imbalances is heightened in active people (athletes etc). Many people live with imbalances and are totally fine, but when you are impacting the joints on unstable joints or muscles with imbalances this is where the problem lies because damage will occur.

Your results are not abnormal, they are normal imbalances, but your activity levels and injury presentation suggest that addressing these imbalances is important.

Trying to stand on one foot with eyes shut
In terms of correcting problems, do clients come in once a week for an hour?  Do they have 'homework' to do?  How long does 'rehab' usually take?

Correcting the ‘problems’ depends solely on the patient. What we do is identify where the work is required, we then give you the option of working with us weekly or every other week on your specialised rehabilitation, constantly progressing the program, or you may choose to come in every few weeks for a reassessment and update of the program whilst carrying out the prescribed program alone at home. It is usually quicker when the exercises are carried out with a therapists present, because they are monitoring form/technique and also progressing the movements more frequently. 

The duration of rehabilitation varies. We can help you to progress as much as you like, and performance progression is endless. Our initial goal would be to target the obvious imbalances, reduce your injury risk and optimise your performance at the basic level. Moving forward we can do more sports specific rehab with you, and this can be progressed as much as you would like it to be.

In my case, what will happen to my gait and body pains if I decide not to take on board your recommendation?  Or just do insoles or rehab, not both?

I am not very good at it
This is difficult to answer. Running and impacting the body with imbalances causes pain/injury/damage, but the presentation is different with everybody. To us, the rehab is the most important phase of the process because building strength to support your sport is greatly important.

The insoles will provide foundations for your strength to be built on, and provide stability to the structural imbalances that rehab does not address (arch collapse, ankle rolling etc).

Why don't you have runners run during the gait analysis?  Does their gait not change?

The gait pattern with walking provides enough information for us. The imbalances found on the analysis would be heightened in the running cycle.

Does 'reverse gait' on right foot mean I am a heel-striker?

No, reverse gait means that you are going back on yourself (usually due to joint instability), so after your toe off phase you go back onto your foot, essentially slowing you down.

Will the rehab exercises make me any faster?  I don't think genetically/anatomically my body is designed to be springy.

The rehab will definitely make you faster. Your muscles drive your running, if you have imbalances in the muscles that are propelling you forward, you are not running at your maximum potential. If you fine tune those muscles to propel yourself forward without hindrance you will run faster. The insoles will also help with this.

If you stabilise the pelvis through rehab, work on single leg stability and balance to increase ankle stability and then reinforce these progressions with a solid landing through insoles you will definitely run faster and be at less risk of injury.

Well, what am I going to do next?  With my life goal to qualify for the Boston Marathon in 2019, it makes sense that I start to work on my balancing my imbalances.  I will try anything that will get me faster.  Track was making a difference to my speed but I know that strength training will help too.  Having knowledgeable coaching will make a big difference too.  My next step will be to get back in touch with Function360 and see how we can move forward.  I will keep you posted on what actions we decide to take.  #BQorBust

Thank you to Function360 for the complimentary gait analysis.  All opinions and imbalances are honest and my own.

6 tips to stay fit as the seasons change

Friday, September 15, 2017

Now that the dark nights are settling in and the temperature is starting to plunge, don't give up on your summer fitness regime.

Stay motivated- Create a vision board, sign up for a race, pick up some cool goal setting stationary, put £1 in a jar for every mile that you run, or even make a bet with a friend.  Dig deep and think about what would inspire you to keep moving through the winter.

My vision board from 2012.  Who doesn't want Jess's abs?
Invest in a fitness tracker- It doesn't need to be anything fancy, a simple step counter will do.  Some will even buzz if you are sedentary for an hour to remind you to get up and take a quick walk.  Apple phones already have the Health app for this and there are other free options out there.  The government recommends 10,000 steps a day but I aim for 14,000 because of dog walks.

Comparing GPS trackers at Park Run

Workout at your desk-
 Curry's PC World teamed up with Fitbit to bring you a high-intensity routine that only takes 20 minutes and can be completed at work.   Set aside time during the day to do these five moves.  Get your office mates involved too! You can also check out the 100+ free quickie workouts I have posted here on my blog.

Hire a personal trainer-  The financial investment and accountability of a set meeting time will definitely keep you on track.  The guidance of a personal trainer can bring you quick visible results which can be very rewarding too.  If you don't have time or budget for in-person coaching, you can also sign up for digital coaching with me.

I used to walk Snowy. What a cutie!
Use your energy for good-  Long time readers will know that I believe in the work that Good Gym and Cinnamon Trust  charities do.  Good Gym has 3 different types of event.  The first is where participants can run in a group to do a one-off service job helping an elderly person.  The second is also in a group run but this time you help with community project.  The third, and I think the coolest, is where you commit to regularly running to an isolated older person.  You get to have a visit with them and then run home again.  Imagine the impact you will have by brightening their day!

Cinnamon Trust is a bit similar but involves animals.  You are paired with a local elderly or disabled person who needs help caring for their companion animals.  Usually there are dogs that need walking, but sometimes there are cat to play with or bird cages to clean out.

If you don't live in the UK, perhaps you can find similar programs where you live.

Get the right kit-  Winter is to much different from summer in the UK, aside from the shorter days.  Make sure you can be seen with reflective gear.  Invest in breathable layers with technical fabric.  If you feel good (ie not too hot or cold) and are confident you are safe, you can put more focus on your exercise regime.

I hope one of these suggestions will work for you.  If you have any additional ideas, leave a comment below.

This post is in collaboration with Curry's PC World and Fitbit.

How to have an awesome weekend

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Of course, different strokes for different folks but I had an awesome weekend and think you should too.  Here are my tips.  Let me know which ones you try and how it goes.
Burgess Park fishing late
  • Be a parkrun tourist- Due to my next tip, I needed to be in Elephant and Castle mid-Saturday morning.  I started looking at different parkruns and found Burgess Park run would be closest to where I needed to be.  After a quick shout on Facebook, I had a few friends meeting me there.  The bonus was that a few other friends from track happened to be there and it was perfect running weather (sunny, cool, with a slight breeze).  The course is flat and pretty with a fishing lake, open lawns, and wildflower gardens.  They even had orange pieces at the finish.  I was #224 and pleased with my sub-30 time.  After saying goodbye to everyone, I put my Osprey rucksack on and ran another 5K towards my marathon training. 
  • Attend an instructional weight lifting session- I was lucky enough to be invited by Vlique to attend a Girls Who Lift session at One2One fitness studio near Elephant and Castle.  Although I am a certified personal trainer, I don't have any clients right now nor do I belong to a gym.  It was great to have Anna review proper technique of cleans, squats, dead lifts, and pull ups.   An added bonus was that Sabine from My Life My Challenges was there too.  I hadn't seen her in ages so it was great to catch up. 
Working on my clean but I am fatigued from running 10K
  • Hit up an activewear sale- Lululemon leggings are my gold standard in terms of quality and fit.  However, they are also a big investment.  Sabine knew about a sample sale, which we spent a lot of time and money at.  
  • Have a delicious milkshake with a good friend- Maple syrup, Jack Daniel's and vanilla ice cream.  Need I say more?
  • Go on a date with your partner- Sunday was our 7th wedding anniversary.  We went to Luppolo in Wanstead as it is one of our favorites.  We always order the same thing.
Goat's cheese, red onions, olives pizza
  • Sleep in and then go for a run- Don't set your alarm.  When I woke up, I had a rough idea that I wanted to run another 10K.  I added in a stop at Rinkoff Bakery for some crodoughs, I mean to add in a mile, too.
  • Eat an outdoor brunch in Victoria Park- Yes, more eating.  Are you seeing a theme yet?  I met James and Oldland at a cafe for yummy food in the brisk air.  The sun went behind the clouds but that didn't matter as I ate a big plate of veg, egg, and halloumi while James had banana praline pancakes.
More eating!
  • Make your dog a cake- Not only was it our anniversary, it was also Oldand's 3rd adoptiversary on Monday.  I found a dog-friendly cake recipe online.  After Oldland licked all the Greek yogurt icing off of the cake, he swallowed the cake in two bites.

Liking the plate
  • Watch Outlander- The 3rd series ("season" in America) started and I cannot wait to see how they adapted Voyager.
I was lucky to see Outlander on Thursday night as a sneak preview :)
If you have any suggestions on what I sure try this weekend, leave a comment below and let me know.

Thanks to Vlique for the complimentary experience.  All opinions are honest and my own.

Hoka One One - Clifton 2 vs Hupana

Monday, September 11, 2017

One of the great things about being a fitness blogger is the opportunity to try new products.  This year, I was extremely lucky and received a few pairs of trainers (sneakers, for you Americans).  Before the London Marathon, I was hesitant to try any new pairs of shoes before the race (#1 rule- never try anything new).  After the marathon, I continued to attend track sessions with Advent Running and started incorporating more strength training in.

My last six pairs of running shoes have been Asics Nimbus 15's and I am petrified of what to do when my last pair wear out.  Good trainers can cost £100+ so there is a big financial risk and, of course, a possible injury risk.  With a long-term history of Achilles tendinitis and more recently plantar fasciitis, I am always worried that changing shoes will cause me problems again.

Last year, in true American fashion, I met a Hoka One One rep on the Tube last year and discussed becoming an ambassador with him.  I had heard good things about Hoka One One as they are very cushioned.  Originally designed for ultra runners, the unique thick sole provided more protection than other shoes at the time.  I was hoping the extra padding would give me a bit more bounce (rather than relying on my Achilles) and protect my joints with each step I take (yes, I am a heel-striker).  The rep sent me a pair of Clifton 2's to try out.  Here is info about the Clifton 2's for you shoe geeks out there:

Clifton 2
Weight- 203g
Where to wear them- Road (Hoka One One claims that there running shoes have 50% more cushioning that standard running shoes).
Preferred ride- Plush
Type of runner- Neutral
Drop- 5mm offset (24mm forefoot, 29mm heel)
Insides- 3mm Ortholite insole

It took a while to adjust to the shoes because they were elevated (due to thick insole).  I took a few days to gradually break them in and get used to the motion of the shoe.  It felt like I was rocking forward.  I wore them to track, on local runs, and the Women's Running Magazine 10K in Milton Keynes.  They were comfortable enough that I started to wear them to work too (which I normally don't do with my running shoes in order to save the miles for my marathon training).  However, I was still stiff the day after runs.  With a few pairs of Nimbus 15's in my closet, I probably didn't give the Clifton 2's as much time to adjust to as I should of, but I was worried about aggravating my injuries.

This spring, Hoka One One sent me a snazzy pair of Hupanas.  When I first looked at them, I could see the insoles were not as thick as the Clifton 2s.  They seemed comfortable when I put them on for the photos.  Here are their stats:

5mm offset (19mm forefoot, 24mm heel)
Molded Ortholite sockliner

Top view of the Hupana

Sadly, I have yet to run in the Hupanas.  After the London Marathon though, my Achilles have gotten progressively worse.  I took most of June and all of July off from running in the hopes that they would heal.  But they never did.  At the end of July, the osteopath diagnosed me with Achilles tendinopathy, rather than tendinitis (I am not too sure how they are different), and prescribed eccentric exercises to help me heal.  It was a 12 week program but I only had 8 weeks until Chicago Marathon when I started.

When I tried on the Hupanas on for the photos, they were really comfy.  I think that they are urban-sleek too, meaning you could wear them for day-to-day casual.

Huspana on top and Cliften 2's on the bottom

I really like the aesthetic design of this shoe.

As I can't tell you much about how the shoe feels when you run in them, I can try to explain what an offset or 'drop' is.  I have heard this term from many of my running friends who take running much more seriously than I do.  They know about running shoes like my dad knows about cars.  Make, models, specifications, and availability.  I am trying to learn what I can from these experienced runners so I can find the next pair of shoes that will allow me to run pain-free.

I spoke with a friend and fellow blogger, Steve Skinner, who works at The Running Works in London to learn more about these terms.  He explained the offset/drop is the difference between heel height and forefoot height.  If the offset is zero,  the heel and the ball of the forefoot would be at exactly the same height off the ground.  He added "The weight of a shoe is less important for someone running 5k a few times a week to stay healthy compared to someone racing regularly. However, if you are an efficient runner and light on your feet you might not need a huge amount of cushioning and/or support. A lightweight pair could be more comfortable and help you to run more efficiently/quicker."  You can tell from the stats above that the Clifton 2 has a 1/2 cm thicker sole than the Hupanas.  This info is useful for people who have joint pain, run long distances, or prefer sprints on the track.

Steve made a good point saying if you have comfortable shoes to run in, you will want to run more.  He recommends that every runner have a gait analysis to help you understand how you run and what you need in a shoe.  With your perfect match, you can run more efficiently too.

Another view to compare the insoles

As the saying goes, 'give a girl the right pair of shoes, and she can conquer the world.'  That is what I am hoping for with my next pair of running shoes.  After I complete the Chicago Marathon next month, I will be half way through my World Marathon Major quest and ready for more.

If you have run in a the Hupanas, let me know in the comments below how they felt.  As soon as I can, I will update this post too.

Wellwoman routine physical with Walk-in Clinic

Monday, September 4, 2017

There are many difference to the health care system in the USA versus the UK. While I can list the positives and negatives of each, I don't think one is necessarily better than the other. Perhaps I am a bit jaded because I am still trying to figure out how the National Health Service (NHS) works and have had much more experience in how the US system works because I lived there for over 30 years.  I can say in both countries, I have received treatment for my ongoing skin allergies with success, have been successful in not developing another DVT (blood clot), and when I broke my toe in the UK, I didn't have to pay one cent for treatment (aside from the taxi).  In my opinion though, the NHS doesn't offer much preventative care, such as regular physicals or blood work once you turn a certain age.  This is probably due to the increasing demand on a system that is not staffed or funded adequately for the growing (both in sheer number and average age) population of the UK.

For those readers who do not live in the UK, when you book to see a GP (general practitioner aka your doctor) in the UK, the appointment is limited to 10-15 minutes, during which the doctor has to build rapport, listen to your concerns, perform an assessment, create a diagnosis, prescribe a treatment plan, and capture all data in the computer system required by the government.  You can only raise one concern at a time due to the short time frame.  Appointments in the USA don't offer much more time either.  You can invest (see the word choice I used there?) in private health insurance in the UK, which offers shorter waiting times for diagnosis and treatment.  Large employers may even provide this for you as a benefit.  So far, despite all of my pre-existing conditions, I have been able to receive the care I need courtesy of the NHS.

Waiting area

Needless to say, I was really excited when the Walk-In Clinic approached me to receive a complimentary Wellwoman medical examination.  The service is with a private GP and allows for a 90 minute meeting during which there is a head-to-toe review.  The City Clinic is in central London near the base of the Gherkin.  I was welcomed by a receptionist who gave me some forms to fill out about my eating/drinking habits and medical history, which I then reviewed with my GP, Dr. Juhasz.

Can I just say how nice it was to not be rushed through an appointment?  With 90 minutes, we could chat at lesiure about anything in my paperwork that concerned her (over-committing myself was identified as a possible problem).  She took notes on my form rather than staring at a computer screen the entire time, making me feel like we had a connection on a personal level and that she was listening to what I had to say.  It was her preference to go through the paperwork first while I was still dressed and then start the physical exam later (for which I put on an exam gown due to the ECG and breast exam).

Exam room

The Wellwoman examination includes the following:

•    Lifestyle assessment
•    Overall examination including BMI calculation, height, weight, fat content, girth and chest inspiration and expiration
•    Examination of the cardiovascular system including heart sounds and blood pressure
•    Examination of the respiratory system including peak flow testing
•    Examination of the musculoskeletal system – range of movement, restriction, tenderness
•    Examination of the neurological system – reflexes, sensation, power
•    Gynaecological / breast examination
•    Resting electrocardiogram for women over 45 or where clinically indicated
•    Urinalysis for 8 elements

Along with a full blood profile which includes:

•    Haematology (blood count, platelets, red blood cells etc;  white blood cells and ESR which are inflammatory markers)
•    Liver function screen
•    Kidney function screen
•    Serum iron
•    Calcium levels
•    Full lipid profile including HDL, LDL and total cholesterol, triglycerides
•    Glucose level
•    Thyroid function screen
•    Vitamin D

There are other tests you can add on depending on your needs.  I opted to add a thyroid test and a long-term blood glucose test to see if there is a medical reason for why I am always tired (not just from over-committing) and to see if all the cookies I consume are negatively affecting my health (my co-workers think I must be pre-diabetic).  Together, Dr. Juhasz and I decided not to have an internal gynaecological examine as I am up-to-date with my pap smears.  This is available though for those who are interested.

The highlights of my results are below. Overall, I received a clean bill of health.  Dr. Juhasz explained that the BMI and percent body fat are not always the most reliable measures of health due to available testing methods that are convenient and cost-effective.  I usually explain this to my new clients so it was a bit funny being on the receiving end of this advice.

As I mentioned above, we also did an ECG, which came out as normal.  I wasn't very good at blowing in the tube for my lung function tests (spirometry) though.

In the past, my cholesterol has been excellent.  I was curious to see if two years of eating meat after being a vegetarian for so long would have affected my results.  They are still pretty awesome.

Test                                                                 Result                                          Ideal Range

My bloodwork results were in the advisable range with the exception of Vitamin D, which was on the cusp of being low.  This is completely normal for folks living in the UK because there isn't much sunshine.  I was advised to start taking a multi-vitamin to help top up my levels.  She is happy with the amount of exercise I do on a weekly basis and that we tend to prepare our own meals rather than eat out.

The other advice I got from Dr. Johasz was to:
  • stop putting so much pressure on myself to over-achieve
  • try to relax once in a while.....
  • ..... with my husband too
  • try the Konditor and Cook salted caramel brownies available at the bottom of the Gherkin
I am so happy I was able to attend this physical after not having had one in over six years.  It was very professional and not once did I feel pressured to hurry up.  I felt I could really relate to the GP I met with and she was able to answer my concerns (mostly about the amount of Diet Coke and cookies I eat) in a non-condescending way.  She also gave me some tips on how to look at my moles for skin cancer (ABCDE) and reviewed how to perform a breast self-exam.

When I asked how often clients have one of these thorough physicals, she said it depends on the patients' preference.  Being located in central London, many people would find it easy to book an appointment in a lunch break for an annual check up.  Or some people might wait a year or two in between if they generally feel healthy and don't have any concerns.  The clinic also has more specific services for sexual health, same day urgent care, travel clinic and more.

Right on!
When was the last time you had a physical at the doctor's?  Do you think people should have one every year?

Thank you to Walk-In Clinic for this complimentary experience.  All opinions are honest and my own. 

 As a disclaimer, Dr. Juhasz doesn't normally recommend these brownies.  I mentioned celebrating with cookies and she suggested the local bakery.  She said I could cut back a bit on the sugar and that sleeping more would help me maintain consistent energy levels.