You may or may not have heard of teff flour or teff grain but it’s certainly not new. It’s an ancient grain native to Ethiopia and Eritrea and predominantly known as the ingredient for injera, the traditional pancake style of that region. But turns out teff is a lot more versatile than just a spongy roti for curry.Continue reading “Teff – Why It’s My New Favourite Ingredient”
I was so excited to be interviewed my Metro recently for an article on the importance of weight training for women: Weight training should be an essential part of your workout routine.
Journalist Natalie Morris asked me to share my fitness journey, how I got into weightlifting, what I love about it, what it adds to my life and why more people, particularly women, should give it a try.
It’s a fantastic article – full of quotes from me! – and some expert tips from others. Hopefully it will inspire more people to pick up a barbell and feel the benefits for themselves.
If you’re still feeling hesitant, maybe intimidated or scared about weights, and unsure how to start improving your strength, then have a read and let me know what you think.
Here’s an extract – my top tips on why you should start weightlifting
There is no better feeling than doing something you previously couldn’t or imagined you could do. It will send your confidence soaring.
Coming from zero strength means I’m super proud of my body and my journey – it still amazes me today that I can do these things. I never forget where I started.
Progress sometimes feels slow and gradual but there are many small wins and milestones along the way.
A huge mental shift in how I view my body
When my fitness journey became about what my body can do, not what it looked like, it became more than just a workout. My mental attitude towards my body is so much healthier now.
The focus is no longer to stay slim and it’s not about achieving a certain aesthetic. My goals and objectives are all related to performance now.
I decided I had to lay stronger foundations for the future, especially with a family history of osteoporosis and knowing women’s muscle mass shrinks with age. I was determined to go into my 40s with a stronger physique.
The quest to build all-over body strength led me to CrossFit where I learnt how to move well with weight bearing and bodyweight exercises.
So while I work on my fitness goals, I’m also building a body for everyday life so I can lift, push and pull things without hurting myself, and building stronger bones for later years.
It’s a lot of fun!
Having a purpose is one of the best ways to enjoy exercise so it never feels like a chore. It’s never an effort getting up early or training after a hard day at work when you have goals in mind. And once you’ve finished a great barbell workout, the endorphins are through the roof.
I always have short term and long term goals – whether it’s hitting a certain weight on a lift or working towards a competition – and these keep me locked in and committed.
Being surrounded by people who are also working towards various fitness goals is hugely motivating and that kind of positive, determined, can-do attitude is contagious.
So the cliche of surrounding yourself with the right people is not just a saying, it’s very true.
You’ll break down barriers
I also want women to breakdown their own perceptions of what they think can do and achieve.
What is heavy or seems impossible one day, will be normal some day in the future if you keep at it so don’t get too frustrated with what you can’t do. Focus on learning how to improve it.
Follow more of my fitness and weightlifting journey at @yanarfitness
I never set out to do weightlifting. A few years ago I didn’t even know what Olympic lifting was, but I’d started CrossFit and a whole new world of fitness had opened up. The killer combinations of Olympic lifts (snatch, clean & jerk, power clean, etc), gymnastic / bodyweight moves and functional training challenged me physically and mentally.
I was hooked on the adrenaline and intensity of the workouts – heavy weights, fast paced and fierce. Plus, I was learning all these new barbell and gymnastic skills so the journey didn’t stop there…
During the first few years of CrossFit training I was still running marathons.
The deadlifts, back squats and cleans and functional training such as box jumps and kettle bell swings, all helped me to develop more strength and more power through my hips, glutes and core, which translated really well to stronger running. I could run faster and for longer, and without any sight of injury.
I ran Snowdon Marathon in July 2018, coming in the top half of women (I’m usually trailing at the bottom of the pack) and felt elated not be defeated by a mountain.
However, I decided to park marathon running for a while and spend the next 12 months focusing on bodyweight and barbell skills, particularly pull-ups, toes-to-bar and the snatch, as I was still lagging behind in these. And you know how the saying goes, work your weaknesses, so now was the time.
I found a great weightlifting coach – John McComish, an ex-national champion (for England and Ireland) in Olympic lifting – at Peacock’s boxing and weightlifting gym, which is a local community place but known for its competition training, and I immediately felt in good company.
Being a newbie all over again
When I started having weekly one-to-one session with John, in October 2018, all I wanted was to improve my snatch and gain more confidence getting under the bar. At that point, I hadn’t even heard of a weightlifting competition, but by February 2019 my numbers were all going up and John started seeding the idea of entering one ‘some time this year’, which of course, sounded ridiculous to me.
Entering a comp was a bit like how running a marathon feels like something impossibly out of reach for a new runner. The distance feels enormous and you have no concept of what the training or the event is like.
Because I still remember those days, all those years ago as a beginner runner, and also as a beginner CrossFitter, I can recall that feeling of being new to something and how it can feel a bit intimidating at times.
That’s why I always like to remember my journey and where I’ve come from – from super slim, no-upper body strength, serial runner in my 20s and early 30s, to now being able to deadlift 100kg and clean and jerk 55kg (my body weight). It makes me feel super proud.
So I try to cut myself some slack when I’m frustrated that I’m not performing or improving, as I’d like to. It takes a while to build strength and technical skill and I respect that I’ve only been focusing on this for six months.
When it sparks joy (and when it doesn’t)
There’s no better feeling than hitting PBs (or PRs if you’re reading from the US). I felt mighty high and floated around with a new confidence when I hit a 40kg snatch (which I used to think was a far-off distant goal) followed unexpectedly by a 42.5kg snatch the following week, and felt totally euphoric for hours that evening.
I’d never experienced the bar riding up so smoothly before, and then catching the weight within seconds and standing up with it strong above my head, and I just wanted to do it again and again.
But of course those big weight PBs don’t come all the time so with the highs there are also lows. I’m currently missing a lot of lifts and it’s hard not to feel like I’m doing something wrong or that maybe, I’m just not right for this. Imposter syndrome definitely springs to mind!
My inner critic might occasionally try and whisper that I’m not a natural lifter and that I’m forcing myself into this sport but I just have to gently shut that voice down and get on with my training. At the end of the day, even if I don’t make huge gains, I’m doing it because it’s fun and hugely rewarding.
Learning something tough that pushes your limits toughens you up, and the confidence and strength I’ve gained has carried over into other parts of my life, so the joy it all ‘sparks’ as had a domino effect.
Sharpening the tools
In my mind, I regularly visualise each lift and each part of it and sometimes fall asleep replaying the sequence over and over. It’s great to have something so positive to focus on but it’s also frustrating when the lifts don’t happen in reality.
Powerlifting, which is made up of the deadlift, back squat and bench, is different as the bar doesn’t have to travel overhead or fast so the skillset needed is quite different.
Olympic lifting, particularly the snatch, is highly technical – you need mobility, strength and speed, as well as the mental focus to put all the pieces of the puzzle together. I think the combination of mental and physical skill really appeals to me.
The snatch is performed fairly fast but to make it happen several tiny adjustments have to come together perfectly, and if or when, one tiny element is out of synch then the lift just doesn’t happen. Failing lifts is part of the practice, which is why training can be really frustrating.
I surround myself with a gang of super positive fitness friends who motivate me to work hard and stick to it. And, for all its faults, Instagram can be a motivating place too – I follow small but mighty women, such as 55kg weightlifter Allie Rose (@livlaflift58) and CrossFit queen Jamie Greene (@jgreenewod) as well as CrossFit athlete turned weightlifter Jocelyn Forest (@jocelynforest).
I absolutely love spending time, effort (and money) on this new fitness goal. While it can take over your life (in the same way CrossFit or any other sports training can), I’m trying to see it as just a very healthy hobby. I love seeing myself get stronger, not just physically but mentally too, and love learning and drilling the skills.
I still run – little and often, although no long distance this year – and I still do one or two CrossFit classes a week as I have a lot of friends there, and I enjoy it, so I haven’t given up the fast and furious workouts just yet.
I have no idea where this weightlifting journey will take me – just like how I had no idea that starting CrossFit four years ago would lead me here – so I’m excited by that unknown too. I trust I’m on a road that’s positive and empowering so I have no worries of what may come.
Are you a beginner, or experienced weightlifter? Have you nuggets of experience or wisdom to share? Have you also transitioned from CrossFit or maybe you just want to give it a go? If so, let me know! Keen to hear more on this topic…
It’s that time of year again – marathon season – with biggies such as Paris, Brighton and London all within a few weeks of each other. I know marathons happen up and down the UK and worldwide all year round but April always feels more like marathon-month than others so now’s a great time to share this great video, The Why: Running 100 Miles.
I watched this last year when I was training for Snowdonia Trail Marathon and grappling with training that was mentally, emotionally and physically challenging. It was my sixth marathon but my first mountain event (where we would summit Snowdon at mile 23) and throughout the six month training block I was riddled with self-doubt, worry and lack of confidence.
Living in flatter-than-flat east London was not conducive to mountain training, and my inner critic was having a ball by putting me down through every training run and prep-race. I was losing motivation, finding all the training sessions so hard, not enjoying myself and couldn’t understand why.
Luckily, my running coach Luke Tyburski is a phenomenal ultra athlete who has done some crazy big events (such as Morocco to Monaco 12-day triathlon, an event he created himself) so he was great at helping me get to grips with the mental side of things.
I’d ran several marathons before so I was used to the long distance training but CrossFit had come into my life a few years earlier and this had definitely become flavour of the day. So I was fighting conflicting desires and needs and I had to reevaluate my relationship with running. That’s when I wrote Help, I’ve Fallen Out Of Love With Running post.
Like any relationship, dynamics change and evolve over time and that’s part of the joys. And there’s no better time to explore your relationship with a sport, activity or hobby then when you have to tick off big miles on a Sunday morning.
I also kept in mind one of my favourite quote from Luke: ‘It’s only at reaching your limits where you’ll catch a glimpse of your true potential’.
With long distance events such marathons, 50km, 100km and 100 milers becoming more popular, it makes sense to dig deep and find the sticky or meaningful reasons why we run.
I started reading more about mental side of athletes and sports performance – I had How Bad Do You Want It? on my bedside table – and stumbled on this mini docu film by Billy Yang on why ultra runners do ultramarathon events. Why do they put themselves through so much physically, mentally, emotionally? What’s the pull, the lure and enjoyment in something so seemingly gruelling?
Billy also goes beyond commonly cited reasons such as self-improvement and challenge to bigger questions about our need to seek out situations where we’re challenged to the point of extreme, in a way our modern day lives don’t require us to.
Not only is The Why beautiful and humbling to watch but it helped me see things in a new, fresh light. Suddenly I realised others also suffered in similar ways (with anxieties, self-doubt, fear) so it no longer felt like there was something wrong with me as a runner or that I was failing.
‘When reaching your limits, it’s only there you’ll catch a glimpse of your true potential’.
I realised the conversation of why is one all long distance runners, endurance athletes and probably all athletes have to answer, not just to others but really deep down to themselves. After all, it’s the why that feeds the endless drive and determination needed to smash through these incredible feats.
Watch the film
I watched it a few times before my race as it was so inspiring. I hope you enjoy it and get something out of it too, whether it’s your first marathon or you’re a regular on the ultra trails. It might fire up your own why to help you power through your next event or inspire you to book one. And if you’re running London next week, good luck and enjoy it!
Would love to hear what you think!
After ten years of freelance life as a writer and online editor for national press I decided to go in-house, full time and permanent. A big move. But it was a decision I’d been contemplating for perhaps 18 months or so, and finally the right job came along, as commercial editor at Hearst.
People usually do it the other way around – they’ll spend years grinding away at the 9-5 and finally release themselves to new and more flexibility ways of working through a freelance role. For me it was the opposite.
I’d spent years carving an amazing freelance career that worked with my passions in health, beauty, fitness and wellness. I’d worked my way up from beauty writer/assistant to web editor and digital director and eventually set up my own digital consultancy advising small to medium brands on digital and social media projects.
I had freedom, flexibility, fun, countless perks and great contacts but I knew it was time to switch. Here’s why…..
✨I wanted a new challenge
After years of establishing myself within health, beauty and wellness I didn’t want my next move to be too far away from these subjects that I loved. But I needed an environment that would open up new learning opportunities.
That’s one of my rules of thumb on deciding whether to stay or move on: is there more to learn or have I reached a plateau? I definitely felt like I’d reached a plateau with the type of work and contract roles I was getting.
I’ve always been good at forging new paths or diversifying my skills but this time I knew the next role wouldn’t be wildly different or teach me anything significantly new. There was nothing wrong with those roles but it wasn’t a path that would help me grow personally or professionally.
📈I wanted to future-proof my career
Over the course of a decade I became quite adept at reflecting on where I was professionally and find ways to keep opportunities flowing. Branching out and diversifying into digital and commercial work (I originally started out on print editorial) definitely helped make freelance life more successful as I had my fingers in lots of different pies, but this time I needed a bigger change.
I took a mental snapshot five years into the future and knew I had to future-proof my career. One option was to grow my freelance business into a bigger brand but I knew this wasn’t a direction I was interested in. The other option was to fill in gaps in my CV to ensure I had a whole spectrum of professional experience to take me into the future. I had plenty of experience working with start-ups (mainly in the beauty industry) but I had no work history with larger corporates so I kind of knew what I had to do.
✋🏽I wanted to stop hustling for work
This point was part of my five-year vision into the future. Did I still want to be looking for contract work every 12-18 months? No. And how did I feel about doing more editorial, which I loved, but with rates so low they can barely pay a mortgage? Definitely wasn’t keen on that. So I no longer wanted to hustle.
💵I wanted HR and payroll
I’d had my fair share of chasing invoices big and small. Late payments or at worse, no pay, was definitely something I was happy to leave behind in return for a guaranteed drop of money into my account each month, no pleading needed.
🤓 I wanted processes and systems
Seems like an odd thing to want but after years of free, fluid and organic ways of working I actually just wanted a good process to follow. At the time I loved the ad-hoc working style adopted by small organisations and start-ups and for a long time this work culture really suited me, but eventually I started craving structure and organisation. I simply wanted to learn more organised and more efficient ways of doing things.
👫I wanted to work with more senior people
I was often the most senior person on a team, sharing my digital skills and experiences with others and for several years I loved doing this. I enjoyed training up junior staff and writing strategy documents and toolkits for brands and PRs but I reached a point where I knew I had to learn more myself.
I wanted to be in an environment where there were people more senior than me to learn from. I’m slightly obsessed with learning so this was a big pull.
💥I wanted to work on bigger projects
Small organisations usually means small budgets. I had plenty of ideas and creative solutions but the issue of limited resources would always hold us back. For years this didn’t bother me but eventually I wanted to work on bigger brands and bigger budgets, not just for the kudos and clout but to challenge my thinking and ways of working.
Essentially what all of these points boil down to is a need to keep learning, growing and evolving, as a person and in my career, which is pretty much essential for work survival (and in general life!).
I wouldn’t change a single thing from my years as a freelancer – even the trials and struggles, especially in the beginning years, all lead to an accumulation of valuable experience.
Eight months in, I’m still super happy in my role at Hearst – I’m commercial editor for Women’s Health, Runner’s World and other titles – as I take on all the amazing health and fitness branded campaigns, from Nike and New Balance to Imodium and Deep Freeze. It brings together all my interests and professional skills and gives me the large scale experience I was so keen to find.
I’m not as restricted as I imagined I would be either, as our projects and campaigns change so regularly and each one is entirely different; plus we have the capacity to be as creative as we want. A dream set up.
So it was totally worth holding out for the right role in the end!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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 :)
So there we have it. Three key focusses for 2019 which should definitely keep me busy, motivated and excited. What are yours??
7 quotes by Kofi Annan about gender equality and why empowerment of women matters
- Strengthen girls’ access to secondary, as well as primary education. Education holds the key to unlocking most of the obstacles facing girls and women — from being forced into early marriage, to vulnerability to HIV/AIDS and other diseases.
- Guarantee sexual and reproductive health and rights. How can we achieve real equality when half a million women die of pregnancy-related causes every year — causes that are entirely preventable?
- Invest in infrastructure to reduce women’s and girls’ time burdens. What are the prospects for girls and women who are forced to spend half of every day gathering water, fuel and other necessities for their families?
- Guarantee women’s and girls’ property and inheritance rights. How can women climb out of poverty without access to land and housing? And without that security, how can they protect themselves against the impact of HIV/AIDS?
- Eliminate gender inequality in employment. And a good job is also a woman’s best protection against falling prey to trafficking.
- Increase women’s share of seats in national parliaments and local government. Equality of opportunity in policy-making is not only a human right; it is a prerequisite for good governance.
- Redouble efforts to combat violence against girls and women. That means leadership in showing, by example, that when it comes to violence against women and girls, there are no grounds for tolerance and no tolerable excuses.
“Whatever the very real benefits of investing in women, the most important fact remains: women themselves have the right to live in dignity, in freedom from want and from fear.”
‘Above all, I would urge the entire international community to remember that promoting gender equality is not only women’s responsibility — it is the responsibility of all of us.
Sixty years have passed since the founders of the United Nations inscribed, on the first page of our Charter, the equal rights of men and women.
Since then, study after study has taught us that there is no tool for development more effective than the empowerment of women.
No other policy is as likely to raise economic productivity, or to reduce infant and maternal mortality.
No other policy is as sure to improve nutrition and promote health — including the prevention of HIV/AIDS.
No other policy is as powerful in increasing the chances of education for the next generation.
And I would also venture that no policy is more important in preventing conflict, or in achieving reconciliation after a conflict has ended.
But whatever the very real benefits of investing in women, the most important fact remains: women themselves have the right to live in dignity, in freedom from want and from fear.’
Taken from United Nations, Secretary General, Kofi Annan who ‘Calls on International Community to Promote Gender Equality and Invest in Women’ – February 2005
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.
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!