Yorkshire Yoga Retreat

Last weekend I went on a yoga retreat. I’d never done anything like that before and really enjoyed it. This post is a bit longer than usual because I had such a great time and want to describe it in detail for anyone who’s interested in yoga and/or healthy food. Feel free to bail out at any point!

Many years ago, when I worked in marketing in a big office in Leeds, I had a colleague called Jenni. One day Jenni discovered yoga, decided she didn’t to be on the corporate hamster wheel any more and took herself off to India to become a yogi. To be honest, we mostly thought she was a bit mad at the time – giving up a good job and a nice life to leap into the unknown. But it paid off – Jenni became a fantastic yoga teacher and has worked all over the world, mostly recently at Kaliyoga retreats in France and Italy. At the moment she’s back in God’s Own County for a few weeks, so organised a weekend retreat for friends and family in the Dales.

I’ve had an on/off relationship with yoga for a few years. I do love it, and often attend the flow class at York Yoga Studio. I think the dynamic nature of flow yoga is a great complement to running, building core strength and flexibility – also good for those of us who are getting on a bit and want to stay mobile! But what normally happens is that I go for a couple of months, something happens to make me miss a class and then it seems to take me a few weeks to get started again. I really want to do yoga more often, so signed up for Jenni’s retreat because I thought it might kick-start me into doing just that. It also seemed like a great way to relax and recharge at the end my running season.

Healthy Home

So, last Friday afternoon twelve of us (all women) arrived at the Healthy Home on Cononley Moor near Skipton. It’s a fairly remote but apparently quite well-known place – an eco home designed by Gina Lazenby that has even had a book written about it! It’s all totally Feng Shui-ed, with Buddhas and angels in every room. I’m not sure I believe in all that sort of thing, but it’s certainly a very spacious and beautiful place – my bedroom was enormous! We were promised a weekend of yoga, hiking and healthy, veggie food, which sounded perfect. We were also encouraged not to use our ‘devices’, but to cut ourselves off from the outside world as much as possible to gain the full benefit of the experience. Personally I was more concerned about going without coffee!

Bedroom

Following an afternoon tea with some delicious raw cake, we had our first yoga session. All the yoga took place in an enormous conservatory, and during daylight hours we had the most amazing views of the surrounding countryside as we practised. To ease us in we started with an hour of ‘restorative’ yoga, which was really relaxing, and a great way of letting go of our outside lives for the weekend. Afterwards we had a light supper of red lentil and coconut soup with buckwheat flour soda bread and a huge side salad featuring sprouted beans. Feeling very chilled out, we mostly retired to our rooms at around 9pm. Sleep was an important part of the break for some, especially those with small children!

Sunrise

 

I was slightly disturbed that our schedule for Saturday started with two hours of yoga from 8am, with no breakfast until 10am. I do love my brekkie and wasn’t sure I’d manage without food until that time! But Jenni assured me that once we started I wouldn’t think about food, and she was right. This morning session consisted of a guided meditation followed by some dynamic flow yoga, perfect for waking up the body, and slightly challenging in places. The two hours seemed to whizz by in no time. Our breakfast was worth waiting for: fruit salad, chia seed porridge with goji berries and bee pollen, plus two kinds of fresh juice – beetroot, carrot, orange and ginger, and kale, lemon, banana, hemp, chlorella, moringa, almond and coconut water. Both were amazing! I’d never had chia porridge before, but will certainly be having a go at making it myself.

After breakfast some of us went out for a walk. Luckily the heavy overnight rain had stopped, and it felt good both mentally and physically to be out in the fresh air. It was also a great bonding exercise. I really enjoyed chatting to all the amazing women there, including one who had cycled with her husband from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego – a journey that took four years! The only member of the group I knew before the weekend was Jenni herself, and I had been a bit worried that everyone else would be about 25 and super-bendy, but there were plenty of older women of varying abilities and Jenni was able to cater to us all yoga-wise.

Jenni Yoga

A late lunch was our main meal of the day, and on Saturday it was vegan lasagne made with sheets of celeriac instead of pasta. I absolutely love celeriac, but had never thought of using it in this way before. This was accompanied by sweet potato wedges and another massive salad. Then there was pudding – an amazing confection called Caramel Swirl, which tasted just like cheesecake but apparently consisted mostly of cashews and dates. There’s a link to the recipe here and I’m definitely going to make it soon! In the afternoon I just chilled for a couple of hours, reading, looking at the scenery and watching the sun set. I literally can’t remember the last time I did this, so it was lovely. I had brought some running kit with me (in case you were wondering!) and was tempted to go out, but in the end thought I could run any time, so should focus on why I’d come on the retreat.

Cinnamon-Roll-Cheesecake

At 5pm it was time for yoga again – another restorative session with just a bit of flow in it. I think it lasted for about an hour and a half, but in truth I was so blissed out at the end I can hardly remember! Our supper afterwards was another fab soup – butternut squash, with oatcakes and homemade nut butter on the side. After supper a few people went straight off to bed, but a few of us stayed up to have a go with some Angel Cards. I’m a little sceptical about this sort of new age stuff, but the card I pulled out was the Archangel Michael, which is a coincidence as my birthday is 29th September – Michaelmas Day! Apparently he’s always watching over me, which is good news. I lay in bed later thinking how dark and quiet it was – although the moon was huge and bright and I did hear an owl hooting – then slept like a baby.

Angel

Sunday obviously began with yoga again! It was a beautiful day and the sun poured into the conservatory, flooding it with light. I realised it was the first time I’d ever done sun salutations actually looking at the sun, which was fantastic. The session lasted for two and a half hours, but never felt too long or boring. It was great to have so much time to dedicate to practice without having to rush or think about real world stuff. Breakfast today was raw buckwheat granola with yoghurt and fruit, plus another amazing drink: banana, almond, cacao, maca, mesquite, flax, chia and coconut milk – like a healthy chocolate milkshake!  Later in the morning I had a fantastic Ayurvedic back massage from Jenni’s friend Maria, who had just undergone the training and wanted bodies to practice on – there were plenty of willing volunteers! Another super-relaxing experience. As our breakfast had been quite late we had a little play with inversion postures in the yoga space before our main meal. I even attempted a headstand – not very successfully, but something to work on I guess!

Our final meal together was a black bean stew with lots of lovely veggies in it, served with quinoa and kale. Jenni had also made us all some raw chocolate energy balls for the journey home, which basically tasted like gorgeous luxury truffles! I’m aware I’ve probably used the words ‘amazing’ and ‘fantastic’ far too much with regard to the food, but it really was. It was so tempting to take photos and Instagram everything, but using phones and social media were off the menu. It was all so tasty, and I felt like I was bursting with goodness by Sunday teatime. There was also fruit and a huge range of herbal teas available all the time.

Energy Balls

I left feeling looser, calmer and more relaxed than I have done for a long time – if ever – but also strangely energised. I’m totally inspired to do yoga more often and eat far more raw and veggie food. This might not be easy, living with a dedicated carnivore, but I’m determined to try. I might just have to ask Santa for a Nutribullet! The whole weekend was totally worthwhile. Jenni is the most talented and generous teacher as well as a brilliant chef! I would love to ‘retreat’ on a regular basis, but suspect time and resources will mean it’s more like once a year. I really would recommend this type of thing to anyone, especially if you’re feeling stressed or burnt out.

For more information on Jenni and her work you can read her blog here.

Namaste! xx

Buddha

The London Marathon? Who Needs It!

Did you get the ‘Sorry’ magazine or email from the London Marathon this week? I know how you feel – I’ve had a few of them myself! London is high on the bucket list of most marathon runners, and you get so excited at the prospect of getting a ballot place. But for most of us it’s a ‘no’, just because of the sheer volume of applications they receive. Apparently the odds of getting a ballot place are around 7-1, so they don’t stack in your favour. And it’s even more annoying when some people seem to get in year after year and others never get lucky.

Of course the ballot isn’t the only way into London. In the end I got a place via the Good For Age system. The only benefit of being old is that for V50 women the GFA qualifying time is sub four hours, and I finally managed to achieve that last year, so I’ll finally be lining up next April after years of bad luck in the ballot. I’m always surprised that many people don’t seem to know about Good For Age, but it’s worth checking out if you’re prepared to put in some effort to get there. Obviously you could get a charity place, but most of them have a very high minimum fundraising target for London, which is a lot of pressure for runners. I guess it’s an option if you have lots of generous friends!

And you know, London isn’t the only cool marathon. I’ve done a few other spring ones that have been really good. If you’re chasing a PB (or a Good For Age qualification!) I’d recommend Manchester, which has the flattest course in the UK; and apparently it’s even the right length these days! It’s where I got my first sub 4. This year there were some issues with baggage reclaim being very slow, but hopefully the organisers will have sorted that out for 2017. I’ve run and reviewed Manchester twice, in 2013 and 2015.

Manchester Medal

In 2014 I did the Milton Keynes Marathon, which is a bit later than London (in May) but a really good event. Well-organised, with an interesting course that takes in some lovely parkland, and a finish in the MK Dons football stadium where you can see yourself on the big screen! There’s also a half marathon option if you have friends/family who’d like a shorter challenge. You can read my review here. Although I didn’t get one in 2014, they apparently now do a very cool cow-shaped medal, so I may have to go back for that one day!

IMG_1963

 

In April this year I ran the Paris Marathon, which was a great experience. The only problem (for me) was that it was really warm and sunny, which is apparently the norm at this event  – I do much better in the cold! Although I didn’t perform particularly well, I did enjoy it, and there was also a really chilled and friendly breakfast warm-up run the day before. Running past many of the best-known sights in the city was fantastic, and there was even a rave tunnel! You don’t have to go through a ballot to get a place, but it does sell out, so get in soon if you fancy it – entry is already open. You can read my Paris review here.

Paris Marathon Finish

So don’t despair if it was a ‘no’ from London this time. There are lots of other great marathons out there – these are just a few – and they’re all 26.2 miles long. I actually know a couple of people who’ve done London in the past and not really enjoyed it; they actually found it a bit overwhelming. Hopefully your turn will come one day – and if not, get training for that Good For Age!

 

Friday Feelgood Five 7.10.16

The Friday Feelgood Five had a day off last week as I was celebrating my birthday, but it’s back! Just some of the little things that have made me happy this week.

 New Shoes

New shoe alert! My OH treated me to some new trail shoes for my birthday last week. I’ve never been really happy with any of the trail shoes I’ve had, so we went to Accelerate in Sheffield where they have loads of different brand that you can try. After some expert advice I settled on these Inov8 ones, and I’m really looking forward to trying them out after the York Marathon this weekend.

 Inov8

 

Carb Loading

The best thing about preparing for a marathon is obviously the carb loading. I’ll be starting today, and have bought a great big bag of pretzels to munch on. I like these because they’re carby without being fatty, and also have a bit of salt which can be handy if the weather forecast is quite warm – which it is! Carb loading is also a good excuse to have fish and chips for Friday tea!

Pretzels

 

Giant Reese’s

I haven’t featured any chocolate on here for a while, so let’s put that right now with this beast of a bar my step daughter bought me for my birthday. I love peanut butter and Nutella on toast, and this is like that without the toast – naughty but nice! And of course it will also help with the carb loading.

Reeses

 

Flowers

I wouldn’t say my Old Man is unromantic, but he hardly ever buys me flowers. He is a Yorkshireman after all, and probably can’t see the sense in buying something that costs a fortune but only lasts a few days! So it was nice to get some free flowers at Morrison’s, where your points card knows when it’s your birthday and gives you a present! Just a tiny thing, but a nice surprise at the checkout.

Flowers

 

The Little Prince

I’m a massive fan of The Little Prince; it’s one of my favourite ever books, and I have it in both the original French and English. I found out this week that a Little Prince shop is opening in Paris, so I definitely need to visit again as soon as possible. A good excuse to do the Paris Marathon again maybe?!

Little Prince

 

 

That’s it! Because living well is sometimes just about enjoying the simple things around us. Feel free to tell me your favourite things this week, I’d love to hear about them. Have a great weekend!

Marathon Top Tips

Running your first marathon at York this Sunday? Starting to feel a bit nervous? Imagining you’re coming down with all sorts of ailments, aches and pains? Wishing you’d trained more and eaten less cake over the last few months? Don’t worry – this is all perfectly normal! It’s sometimes known as ‘maranoia’ or ‘tapermania’ and we all get it – even those of us who’ve been through this a few times. When I stood on the start line of my first marathon in 2013 I had no idea whether I’d make it to the finish; but I did, and you probably will too. Running your first marathon is a huge learning curve, and there are lots of things I know now that I wish I’d known then. It would have made things a bit easier, although running marathons never gets easy! So although I’d never claim to be an expert, I have a few tips that might help if you’re a first-timer. I’ve learned some of them the hard way, so maybe you won’t have to!

Taper

 

Hopefully your training has gone well, – but if you’re behind for any reason, don’t try to make up for it this week; it’s too late to reap any fitness gains now. The best thing you can do is just have a couple of short, gentle runs to keep your legs turning so you’re as fresh as possible on the day. If you have to readjust your time goal due to missed training, so be it – there will always be other marathons.

Eat a healthy diet this week to fuel your efforts. Personally I like to eat more protein, fruit and veg at the start of the week, then more carbs and less fibre in the last two or three days. I find if I eat too much fibrous stuff it can have (ahem) digestive repercussions, so I stick to very simple foods in the last couple of days, with no fruit other than bananas. I’ve only ever had the runner’s trots once, in Berlin, but I never want to go there again! But that’s just me – obviously everyone’s body is different. On a similar theme, keep off the booze if you want to perform at your best. The effects of alcohol can still be felt by your body a few days after drinking, so even if you don’t feel hungover it can still be making running harder than it needs to be. You can celebrate when you’ve crossed that finish line!

Get plenty of sleep. Most of us with busy lives never really get enough, but catching a few early nights this week will help your body to prepare for the effort ahead. You might not sleep well the night before the race if you’re nervous, so it’s good to get a few extra hours’ kip in the bank.

Sort out your race day logistics well in advance. The last thing you want on marathon morning is to be stressed by having to organise things at the very last minute. Make your transport arrangements, and if you’re planning to meet up with people at the race finish (which may be a bit chaotic) settle on an actual meeting point. Also, lay out all your kit the night before so you aren’t running around looking for things in the morning. Make a list if it helps. And don’t forget to fill in the back of your race number!

Carb loading the day before the marathon is important, but you don’t need to go crazy with it. It’s more about changing the composition of your meals than eating loads more than usual. Eating steadily throughout the day is better than having a massive pile of pasta for your evening meal. Here’s how I would normally prepare for a marathon food-wise.

Day before: toast or bagel for breakfast with peanut butter and Nutella; banana for elevenses; fish finger sandwich on white bread for lunch (nice, light protein); cake for afternoon snack, pasta with tomato sauce and just a bit of chicken for dinner and maybe a small pudding. This is certainly not a day when you want to be feeling hungry. If I feel I need an extra snack I like pretzels, as they are carby and salty, but not fatty. In general, just aim to eat plenty of carb-rich foods, but not to the point where you feel stuffed. I’ll also have an electrolyte drink at some point, especially if the weather forecast is warm, in order to try and prevent cramp, which I suffered from once in a marathon.

Marathon day: as soon as I get up I have a pint of electrolyte drink to get me well hydrated. My breakfast is always porridge with maple syrup, because I find porridge much easier to digest that wheat-based things. If I’m away from home I take instant porridge pots. I have breakfast at least two hours before the start, preferably a bit more, as I like to make sure I have plenty of time to visit the loo in a number two fashion(!) before I leave the house. If you’re reading this I’m sure you’ll appreciate how important this is! I also have a coffee. After my breakfast I don’t drink anything else until about ten minutes before the start of the race. I’ve found this is the best way to avoid having to stop for a wee en route. I think if you’re constantly sipping on drinks in the hour or so before the start you’ll need to stop and go to the loo at some point; but if you have a drink just before you set off you’ll sweat it out instead of storing it in your bladder. There’s always plenty of water on the course anyway. About an hour before the start I might have a very small snack like a tiny banana, depending on how I feel.

Having a fuelling strategy during the race is important if you’re going to avoid hitting the dreaded wall. Obviously everyone has their own favourite energy products, and you will hopefully have been practising with them in training. Your muscles can store enough fuel to keep them going for about an hour and a half, so you’re going to need to take on more energy before you run out. I like to start about an hour into the marathon. My favourite fuel is Clif Shot Bloks, mainly because I find them easier to carry and deal with on the run than gels. As a general rule of thumb, you should aim to take on a gram of carb for every kilo of your body weight per hour. So, for example, if you weigh 65kg you’ll need to take on 65g of carb per hour. This sound boring, but it’s very effective. The first time I ever bothered to actually work out how much fuel I should be taking on during a marathon I took about ten minutes off my PB, so it’s definitely worth doing the maths! All energy products will tell you how much carb they contain on the pack. An important point to note is that taking extra gels etc is not a subsitute for lack of training. If you take on more stuff than your stomach can process you’ll just end up feeling sick.

Lastly, stick to your race plan. At the beginning of a marathon you should be both trained and rested, so you’ll feel great. It’s tempting to set off like a greyhound, but if you do you’ll pay for it later – as I did in the first York Marathon, when I ended up with a stitch at mile 18 that wouldn’t go away, meaning I had to jog/walk the last six miles. If you feel really good at about mile 24 – which, to be honest, is doubtful – feel free to go for it in the last couple of miles.

Please remember all of this isn’t gospel – it’s all just what works for me. What works for you may be different, but the above advice might be worth a go if you don’t have a clue – as I didn’t the first time I ran a marathon! I hope some of it has been helpful to first-timers anyway. Feel free to add your own top tips below. Best of luck if you’re running at York this Sunday – do come and say hi if you see me!

York Mara

Friday Feelgood Five 23.9.16

Here’s my latest Friday Feelgood Five – some of the little things that have made me happy this week.

My Yorkshire Marathon Race Number

This arrived in the post yesterday. I’m very excited about the Yorkshire Marathon as I had to miss it through injury last year. My aim is to regain the Good For Age time I lost when the course at the Manchester Marathon turned out to be short in 2013-15. Only just over two weeks to go now!

York Mara

Autumn

I love autumn and it’s finally properly arrived! I love running in autumn – especially on sunny, crisp days when you can kick leaves as you go – and I love apple crumble. Bring it on! Here’s a lovely autumn view of York’s walls.

Autumn in York

Yin Yoga

I’m ashamed to say I haven’t been to yoga for ages, and that’s something I want to change this autumn. This week, to ease myself back in, I started a four week yin yoga course taught by Chloe McKay at York Yoga Studio. It was so relaxing! I’ll write a proper blog post about it at the end of the course. Here’s a pic of Chloe, who is lovely. BTW, there is absolutely no way a stiff-legged runner like me could do what she’s doing here!

Chloe

Bargain Leggings

I love a charity shop bargain, and was delighted to find these very cool Nike Drifit leggings in perfect condition in a shop in York. Great for winter! Of course I now need to buy a new black top to go with them…

Leggings

Pieathlon!

I just found out about Pieathlon yesterday and am very tempted to enter it for a bit of fun. It’s 6K of trail running with three pie stations at Huddersfield on 11th December. Running and pie – what’s not to like?!

 

Pieathlon

 

That’s it! Because living well is sometimes just about enjoying the simple things around us. Feel free to tell me your favourite things this week, I’d love to hear about them. Have a great weekend!