My three fitness goals for 2019

1000 KM challenge medal

Every year I have a few big fitness goals to focus my time on. For a goal-orientated person this is what gets me out of bed (usually at 5:30AM to train!).

Last year I ran Snowdonia Trail Marathon in July which was an amazing ultra event on really challenging terrain and where we summited Snowdon (around mile 23) and then hobbled downhill to the finish line. I’ve done many marathons but this required specific work on muscle endurance and to get comfortable on hills and elevations so I spent the first six months of the year training for that with running and endurance coach, Luke Tyburski.

snowdonia trail marathon finishers
The finish line Snowdon Trail Marathon @yanarbeauty

After a lovely long summer break with almost no running, the rest of 2018 was spent doing Park Runs (although not sure what’s harder, running fast 5Ks or marathons!) and enjoying being back at my CrossFit gym building strength and working on my olympic lifting skills.

The snatch is my nemesis so I’ve been really trying to crack that with coaches at Royal Docks CrossFit as well as oly-lifting coach and ex-British champion, John McComish, who I’ve been training with at Peacock Gym in east London for the last few months and will continue next year.

I’ve always liked working with coaches for the expertise and accountability they bring so that’s something I highly recommend if you’re serious about a goal.

What’s in store for 2019?

The 2019 goals are in place. I usually start thinking about these in the last few months of each year so I have enough time to mentally prepare and plan ahead.

This quote by Seth Godin which is one of the ways I approach goal setting. It has to be something difficult and scary enough to keep you on your toes but not completely out of reach. I also like it to involve a mix of physical and mental.

If it scares you quote seth godin

Yoga

From January to July I’ll be spending most of my time and energy on my yoga teacher training course, which finishes with two weeks of assessments in July. The coming months will involve lots of practice teaching friends and family, assignments and homework and a big end of year project.

To squeeze this in to my already packed schedule (and because I don’t want to cut back on my training) I plan to basically cull my social life for a few months to carve out the extra time I need. It’s only temporary so I’m sure my friends and family will understand and won’t mind. I did the same last year for the marathon training so they’re pretty used to it now!

CrossFit

To keep making improvements I have booked a CrossFit competition in May – a pairs fitness competition called Inferno Series, which I did last year. It will be great to try and beat our 2018 scores and ranking and give us something to work towards. After that I’d love to do a singles CrossFit competition (Rainhill Trials in Manchester is one of the most popular ones) but as this is is a ballot entry I’ll have to wait and see.

Running

I’m trying something different this year so instead of one big event I’ve signed up to do the 1000KM challenge with Pow Virtual Running, which simply involves running 1000KM within 12 months, from January 1st. I chose this for the aim of being more consistent with my running rather than doing a massive push for six months and then nothing for a few months.

I’m definitely motivated by numbers so by splitting the challenge into weekly and monthly goals (it’s around 20K a week or 80KM a month) I will have something very tangible to keep me on track provide me with a more regular running habit. Plus you get a really fun-looking medal at the end of it :)

1000 KM challenge medal

So there we have it. Three key focusses for 2019 which should definitely keep me busy, motivated and excited. What are yours??

I’ve fallen out of love with running – here’s how I’m going to fix it

homer_running falling out of love with running

It happens. There I was, not so long ago, running like nothing in the world compared to the freedom and joy of hitting the road on a run and bam! It couldn’t be more different now. Legs feel like they’re wading through mud, ankles like they’re strapped with lead and the mind split in two having the most almighty wrestling match. One half wishing it could be anywhere else but out there on a Saturday morning and the other half willing and coercing it to keep going.

It’s been a mental and physical battle like this every time I’ve run for the last few months, so me and running are currently going through a bad patch.

sports running giphy

This change of head and heart has been a little untimely to be honest as I’m exactly half way through a six-month training block for Scott Snowdon Marathon on July 15th. So with just three months to go before I am literally on a mountain and having to run up it, I have to sort my head out, fast.

So what do you do when you no longer want to run (but you have shit loads of training to do before a big race)?

What do you do when you’re half way through an 18 miler and there’s an overwhelming feeling to just stop and call it a day.

What if something else is flavour of the day? In my case weightlifting and Crossfit? I find these two activities waaaay more fun right now but I have this mountain race looming over me so now is not the time to spend Sunday afternoons at my Crossfit gym perfecting my snatches.

In the last few weeks and months I’ve been riddled with non-stop negativity, before, during and after the trainers go on. This negative mind-set became so bad and loud that on my last 20-miler I gave up at mile 11, sat down at the top of Greenwich Park (not a bad place to pack it all in) and refused to get up and get going again. My head wasn’t in it and no mind game or visualisation trick was going to work this time. I had officially fallen out of love with the run.

I’d been trying to deal with this alone for several weeks with no progress so I finally consulted my coach Luke Tyburski. (Big plug here for Luke as he’s so much more than just a running coach but super experienced in the mental side of challenges too).

‘It happens. And it happens to more of us than you realise,’ he says over our Skype consultation. From what I understand from Luke and reading about others, running without joy happens to everyone from elite athletes to novices. It happens to people who have been running and racing for over ten years like myself and to people like Luke who run phenomenally long ultra races around the world. But there are ways around it.

So he gave me three bits of good advice:

> Grab a cup of tea and have a long serious chat with yourself. Really ask yourself why you’re doing it. What’s your motivation, why do you want to run this race? And even once you’ve answered it dig deeper and find out more. If you say you love trail running ask why, what does it do for you? What will completing this event mean?

> Look ahead into the future and see how this fits into longer-term goals. Will this race be a stepping-stone to other challenges? Will it make you stronger for other goals in mind?

> Find your happy place again. Take the weekend off long runs and go out for a casual run instead: no watch, no time, no pressure or expectations and run for as long or little as you want (say, up to one hour) to regain your confidence and find your happy place again.

So I’m working on the above.

To combat negative periods when out on the ground, ultra runner Debbie Martin-Consani, who I met on a press trip for Montane and Polygeine (which is a clever anti-odour technology used sports clothing) and she recommend counting while running to help calm the mind.

‘Count to 10 over and over again. It’s like a temporary distraction.’ It sounds a bit nuts but I’ve been doing this and it genuinely works. I just keep counting 1-10 in time with my strides, a bit like an insomniac, and eventually find a quiet place in my mind again. A bit like falling asleep.

Luke also recommends switching the point of focus when we are in a whirl of negative thoughts during a run.

‘When you’re being internally negative (e.g. thoughts about painful muscles or discomfort) focus on the external e.g. the weather, the scenery (enjoy its beauty), or the fact that you can run/train/lift etc, and there are millions of people who cannot.

– this has actually been very useful as I realised running the same route for months on end has been slowly feeding my boredom. As soon as I changed routes last week I started externalising and not internalising. The run was so much better. Sounds obvious but sticking to a route we know usually helps with getting the miles in without too much thought but after some time it seems like this familiar route has a counterproductive effect.  

‘When focussing on the external (bad weather, hard hills, heavy weights etc) move your focus internally. Do you feel strong, have you done this before? Did you survive it last time? Positive self talk is a cliché but it goes a long way.

‘Finally when you’re on a tough part of a race or run and it’s physically demanding, accept this is your ‘new norm’. Don’t fight it. Acknowledge the negative thoughts and say I hear you but you are not helping me. I will not let you drag me down.’

This is not the first time running has lost its spark for me – after my second marathon I didn’t run for two years and hung up my trainers again for another year when I started Crossfit in 2015, but then had a comeback with two marathons 2017 – so I know we’ll get through this; like any relationship we will reconnect again. Let’s just hope I find my happy running place before I’m on the side of that mountain.

Would love to hear if you’ve been through the same and any of your negative-fighting tips and tricks please!

X

Are your long runs making you fat?

marathon-training-tips-stressfree-marathon-healthista1

Next weekend I’m running London Marathon, which I’m really looking forward to. It will be my third marathon but my first in London (Brighton and Edinburgh previously). I had never planned to run but was offered a last minute place by Lucozade Sport via Health & Fitness magazine who I write for, and seeing as London is so difficult to get into (oversubscribed ballot entry and expensive charity places) of course I said yes quicker than I can send the email reply. But I had just under three months to train so it’s been tight to say the least – a bit like cramming before a huge exam.

Interestingly, a year and a half of weight training and CrossFit has made me stronger than I was for my previous marathons so I’ve been able to tackle the long distances without too much risk of injury. All those deadlifts have luckily come in handy!

But long steady runs have had a surprising effect on my body. At the start of the training when I was building up from eight, nine miles to 15 and more I got leaner and noticed some excess weight fall off pretty quickly. However, during the weeks where I was running 18, 19, 20 and 21 miles I noticed things change – I was no longer feeling light or lean but quite the contrary, I felt like I’d filled out a bit despite doing big mileage every weekend.

I’d cut back on CrossFit (from four sessions a week to three) but I didn’t think that was the cause. Could I be imagining it? A quick step on the weights at my parent’s house confirmed I was right as I’d gone up a kilo but endurance training requires good fuel so I put it down to the extra calories I’d been consuming.

Turns out there’s more to it than that. When I saw my sports massage therapist – the brilliant Uju Eze, who is actually a movement specialist because she’s definitely more than just a sports masseuse – she confirmed there is science behind the gain.

“When you run at around 65% of your maximum heart rate for a long, sustained period the body goes into a catabolic state (muscle-wasting) which means it adapts and starts to store fat and use muscle as as fuel instead because it thinks something is wrong and it needs to get ready to survive.”

This, and a number of other reasons are why low intensity steady cardio (otherwise known as LISS which is the opposite of HIIT – high intensity interval training) can actually be the wrong choice of exercise if fat loss is your goal. Here are a few reasons why the body is not in a fat burning state:

  • the body adapts to low intensity steady state cardio and eventually doesn’t need as much oxygen or energy to do the workout so it becomes easier and consequently less effective. To keep reaping benefits you’d have to increase the intensity e.g. by either training faster or increasing distance.
  • Increasing volume however, could have a detrimental effect in the long run because of a loss of muscle mass (the catabolic effect) which in turn leads to fewer calories burned by the body at rest (the metabolic rate) because muscle burns more calories than fat, and if there’s no change in diet it will eventually lead to fat gain.
  • too much cardio can also lead to increased hunger and additionally, fuelling for long runs can often involve high glycemic foods before, during and after the workout which actually suppress fat loss and fat burn.
  • long steady state cardio only burns calories during the activity rather and doesn’t change your metabolism. To make changes to your metabolism and experience calories burn up to 24 hours after exercise, studies show HIIT training works because it produces mitochondria (cells where respiration happens) and increases mitochondria activity so your body increases its oxidative capacity.

So it wasn’t all in my head, I was indeed actually holding onto weight. There are more explanations and studies shared about this in this article, Does Cardio Make You Fat and following that, check out this article which compares HIIT vs LISS and explains why high intensity interval training is a better option for fat loss and toning up than low state cardio.

I’m now looking forward to the end of this marathon when I can go back to short, sharp and strength based interval training. However, research shows that some steady state cardio can be good as a means of recovery from high intensity strength training so I won’t be giving up on the steady state cardio just yet – it just won’t be as long as it is now.

And I almost forgot! For those friends and family wishing to donate here’s my marathon Just Giving page which a friend kindly set up for me. Even though I don’t have to raise any money for my entry we thought it was only fair to put a few pounds in the pot as a show of gratitude for my place – I’ll be donating to Parkinson’s UK. Thanks all!

x