My next training cycle

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Because I have a few months until I need to start marathon training (you can read about my next big races here), the awesome team at Function360 have set me out a new training plan. I am now working with one of their physiotherapist, Ben, who is helping my get my body symmetrical in terms of strength and posture.  Due to my upcoming trip to Thailand and the centre's availability, I will meet him again in four weeks.  I really want to commit to performing this program two to three times a week because it is time that I 1) actually cross/strength train and 2) get more than a 1 minute PB in New York.  My exercise bands and sliders are already packed in my suitcase.  I just need to tell my husband that being on vacation means I can spend time doing what I enjoy.  And that is exercising.

My program from Function360 has a warm up section, followed by strength, power and core work.  Over the weekend, I went in and had a baseline assessment so Ben knew where I was starting from.  We followed this by reviewing what the exercises were in my new program and how to do them properly.  He was really enthusiastic and willing to roll around on the floor to show me how to position my body properly.  His background is in postural rehabilitation but he is keen to learn more about training runners.  I am more than happy to help!

Ben demonstrating my hip homework
He observed that my right hip is slightly higher than my left, even though my legs are the same leg (apparently legs being the same length is a good thing).  My core needs some work, as well as my adductor and abductors.  Whenever a trainer says 'engage your core,' my belly just seems to want to stick farther out.  It has always been a struggle for me.  In every marathon I have run, my hips tend to go about mile 20, so I like the idea of strengthening the muscles that keep that in place.  My pelvic floor should benefit too, which is awesome news (I bought an Elvie last year but have yet to use it.  You can get £15 off by emailing me for the special code  Video on how to use coming soon!).  All of this focus on getting stronger will ultimately help me when I start running again in the summer.  My form will improve, getting my hamstrings and glutes to lift up my heels.  Better biomechanics will hopefully translate into improved speed.

Sticking to my training regime will take me closer to my BHAG (big hairy audacious goal) of Boston Marathon 2019.  I am.starting to accept 2019 might still be out of my reach. My 20 year university reunion will be in 2021 so that timeframe also works.  (Go BU!).  The thought of marathon training for another three years is daunting but I can always focus more on strength and track Tuesdays for alternating mesocycles.

One of my exercises- elevated side plank. Kids- don't try this at home.
I am feeling positive about this plan and look forward to having time over the next two weeks to get into a routine.  I plan on working on my 5k pace while I am away too to keep my family name in top finishers at the Lilac Run at home (well my sister-in-law and step-mom have my maiden name anyways).  Any tips for keeping entertained on a dreadmill for 30 minutes while at aerobic threshold?  If so, please let me know.  I need all the help I can get.

If you are looking to improve your running technique or have any injuries you are trying to overcome, give the team at Function360 a call.  They offer physiotherapy, corrective exercise, dry needling, massage, and more.  You can get 15% off their services with my code #F360MM15.

How was it climbing Kilimanjaro?

Monday, March 26, 2018

Please note I have 5 layers on top and 3 on the bottom here.
The question I have been asked most in the last few weeks has been 'how was it?'  And I usually sum it up in one word- hard.  It was honestly the hardest thing I have ever done. Harder than marathon training.  Harder than open water swimming.  Harder than hot yoga. The persistent physical demand for seven days, being constantly breathless due to the altitude, overcoming my fear/incompetence of peeing outside, sharing a small tent in the cold and rain, eating food I don't normally have, not having Diet Coke.  All of these factors could have been the ultimate formula for a perfect storm.  But luckily, it wasn't.

Everyone who made the trip up the mountain.  Asante!
The easy part was forming friendships with the other women on the trip and crew of Eco-Africa Climbing.  A typical day would start at 6 or 7am for washing from a shallow basin and getting dressed and packed.  Thirty minutes later, porridge and hot drinks would be served in the mess tent.  All meals included a liquid course to keep us hydrated as we were supposed to br drinking three to four liters of water a day.  The next course would be omelettes and a carb- toast, chapati, or pancakes/crepes.  Plus fresh fruit and Nutella. Initially, we were given sausages or another meat but two of the six women were vegetarian. As we climbed higher, I found my appetite waning.  Certain smells would turn my stomach and I started to have tummy troubles throughout the day and night.  I tried to avoid dairy and added water purifying tablets to my water (thank Victoria!) to see if either of these would help.  This is a typical biological response to altitude plus I was on an antibiotic for malaria prevention.  But I felt horrible about how much food we were leaving on the table after every meal.  Luckily,the company owner told us that any food left would be shared with the tour guides and crew.  They also were fed the local rice dish called pilao with a side portion of meat.

Hot cocoa, pizza, and french fries. Best meal ever.
We didn't have too many lunches as we were usually out hiking five to six hours a day.  We did have lunch at the top of Lava Tower as part of our acclimation process (It was a winter wonderland up there, so it was nice to be inside the tent eating hot food.).  About 4pm if we didn't have lunch, we would have fresh popcorn, shortbread biscuits, and tea.  It was a time to catch up with the other women as we would usually split into 2-3 different groups due to differences in pace.  I would take it easy as we had most of the day to make it to our next destination.  Why not enjoy the view along the way?  After tea, you had free time to nap, journal, or keep chatting away.  We were on the cusp of the rainy season start so it was usually too cold and/or too rainy to sit outside or explore the campgrounds.  I usually opted for a nap.  Sleeping at altitude is tricky and when you add in sleeping at a slant and trying not to roll over your tentmate, you end up sleeping pretty light.

About 6 or 6:30pm, hot water would be available for washing and 30 min later, hot drinks and vegetable soup was available. Each day was a different soup and they were all delicious! Our cook, Elia, was amazing. The next course was usually two different types of meat, rice or pasta, a sauce to go on the carbs, and a 'salad' of some sort (corn and cucumber with mayonnaise dressing, coleslaw, etc).   After one of the women on our tour had to be rescued, we were down to three meat eaters.  I would have happily been vegetarian the entire time and will remember that for the next time.

I highly recommend booking a tour that includes a private toilet. The smell isn't bad and you can sit down.
Somewhere between 8-9pm, we would start to get ready for bed.  Teeth brushing, a stop at our private toilet, gazing up at the stars if it wasn't overcast, and then journaling if I hadn't yet.  My memory for specific details isn't great, so I wanted to make sure that I wrote down anything special that happened that day.  My notes mostly consist of how long and far we hiked and how many time I used my SheWee.  Some days we were really chatty along the trail while others we were lost in our thoughts and trying not to fall over slippery rocks.  Our conversations on the trial ranged from learning Swahili (which some of the crew thought was odd), to finding a song who's tempo was the same as our walking pace, to blogging tips, to how we met our partners.  Of course, women can be chattier than men but we also got to know a bit about our guides, Maru, Nasri and Mussa.

Present and accounted for.
Each time we reached camp, we had to sign the official log and then we would get a photo or two at the sign.  Sometimes the sun was out for these photos.  Other times it was raining or snowing.  We were all smiling by the time we got to camp, even if the hiking was tough.  The first day we started at Machame Gate, which provided us with fairly kept trails.  (Note that every day when we started hiking, we immediately were walking uphill.  Kili doesn't mess around).  The rest of the time, we were walking across moorland, through snow fields, in dried river beds, or up Barranco Wall.  Several times, I thought to myself this just isn't safe.  It would be raining, slippery, and I would be crawling over rocks with a heavy rucksack on.  Luckily, our guides knew precisely where to step and helped us along if we needed a hand (which I sometimes did as I have short legs).  The porters, who carried 15kg of our stuff, plus their our supplies, are amazingly fit.  They would pack up after we left, walk by us (I would say casually only in that they made it look easy), and have camp set up by the time we arrived.  It took a team of 24 people (guides, cooks, porters, bathroom dude) to support the six of us.

We were lucky enough to have three women on our crew.
I will post more about the kit I used, my tips for success, visas, and travel insurance (and probably put it all into an e-book) in future posts.  But aside from climbing Kilimanjaro, as part of the International Women's Day tour, we also spent a day in Moshi.

Initially, I wasn't going to do any fundraising for this trip. However, on our last day in Moshi, we visited two primary schools and a Masai village before heading to Chemka Hot Springs for lunch and a swim.  The second school we visited, Rundugai Primary School (photos come soon!), really connected with me as they had students there with Down Syndrome, among other special needs (if you are new to the blog, I had a nephew with Down Syndrome who was stillborn. In the past, I have done a lot of fundraising for orphans with Down Syndrome).  The school doesn't have running water or electricity and was built in the 1960s.  Our tour costs included a donation of 10 cement bags to the school, who are in the middle of building toilets for the students and staff.  We met many of the children, who came in on a Saturday just for our visit.  We also were able to speak with the head teacher, via a translator, to discuss the challenges of the education system.  The government cannot afford to pay teachers so this school has 12 teachers for over 600 students, and one of them is in the special needs classroom.  There were several classrooms, a community garden, and a large dirt lot for playing outside.  We shared our very basic Swahili with the kids and they seemed to enjoy giving us high fives and then ran away, giggling.

It was obvious how big the difference was from the American education system, where most kids are given an Ipad to use on a daily basis.  The head teacher at Rundugari doesn't have an email address because no one has a computer.

Let me repeat that- no one has a computer.

You know why?  Because there isn't any electricity.  It made me realize how lucky I am and my nephews are.  But not having a computer isn't the end of the world.  What did strike me is that the special needs classroom doesn't have any desks or chairs for their 12 students.  The kids were sitting on the floor when we stopped by, playing with large Legos.  I spoke to the special education teacher who explained the kids are at different levels, but she works with them in small groups.  The children are allowed to study at the centre until they are 25 years old (most kids leave school when 13-16 years old), at which point they get a job if they are able or go back and live with their families.  There are not many facilities like this in the Moshi area.  I felt lucky we could visit and meet these smiley kids.

This visit really inspired me to help these kids out.  I am pledging to raise £420 (£1 for every kilometer to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro) towards the purchase of 12 sets of desks and chairs for the special needs classroom.  If you would like to contribute, (approximately $135 or £95 for one desk and chair set.  The head teacher estimated $1600-1800 for the children and teacher set ups), please use the button below.  This is my main focus, but below there are also two other ways to get involved.

Contribute towards 12 sets of desks and chairs for the special needs students  (approximately $135 or £95 for one desk and chair set).  All amounts appreciated.

The primary school could also use some footballs (soccer balls) for the kids to play with during recess.  A leather football costs approximately $25 (£18).

Contribute towards the purchase of sporting equipment that all the kids can use here.  All amounts appreciated.

We also had a candid chat with a local group of Maasai women.  They live quite a ways from the local community, in huts that also do not have electricity or running water.  The hut fits a mud bed where five people sleep on animal skins and small fire in the corner.  The men are off grazing their animals for months at a time and will call their wives once in a while. The Masai women have to walk several miles a week to charge their mobile (cell) phones at the local community centre.  I left my solar charging power bank (that will store power for later use) for the women to use, which cost about £20 ($29).

Maasai women with my charger.

If you would like to contribute towards buying solar chargers for the Maasai women, donate here.  
All amounts appreciated.

If you would rather send items from Amazon than donate cash, see my wishlist here where I have made a few selections that I think the community would appreciate.  But feel free to send other sporting goods that will fit into a small suitcase.  A fellow Adventurous woman is headed to Kili in August and I will send her with an extra suitcase full of supplies for the children and women.

I will update totals on the post every few weeks, so keep checking back to see how we are getting on. If you have any questions about this, feel free to email me:

So that is a brief recap of my trip.  If there are any specific questions, you have leave a comment below.  As I mentioned, I will be adding more posts about different aspects of the trip, so keep checking back over the next few weeks for new posts.

Happy Day of Happiness!

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

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

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

Here are my top 10 tips on finding happiness:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mind and body reset

Monday, March 19, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I did it!

Friday, March 9, 2018

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

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

Tapering: an art you need to master

Monday, March 5, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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