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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

At the risk of stating the bleeding obvious (© Basil Fawlty) it’s been hot over the last few days. Not just the sort of hot where it’s really just a bit warm but we do that optimistic, British thing of pretending it’s hotter than it is, but properly hot. Hot like on your summer holidays abroad hot. By and large we like hot and all that goes with it (sunbathing, drinking Pimms, eating ice lollies, having barbecues etc.) so hot is a good thing… except for when you want to go running. Then it’s a sticky, sweaty, bad thing!

Obviously the best way to overcome this is to put on your shorts and vest and go out early or late in the day when it’s not so hot. But here’s the thing… even when the weather’s boiling I still see lots of women wearing capris, long tights or (last Sunday) thick jogging bottoms. As far as I can work out the only reason for this must be that they think they’re too fat/white/dimply to wear shorts. This never happens with men, who seem to wear shorts all year round with no trouble at all, whatever they look like. Most of them seem to view it as a sign of weakness to wear tights, even in the depths of winter! It’s just we women who’ve been conditioned into thinking we mustn’t display our bare legs unless they look like Elle McPherson’s. And as only 0.00001% of us actually have legs like Elle McPherson’s this has to stop.

Yes she looks hot, but has she ever done the Manchester Marathon? I think not.

 Obviously I’d love to have legs like Elle’s, but as God saw fit to create me a short ginger rather than a willowy beach goddess, I’ve come to accept that this is now unlikely ever to happen. But I don’t see why I should be condemned to having an unpleasantly sweaty lower half when I run just because this is the case. Running is about feeling happy and carefree, and it’s difficult to feel that way when a pool of sweat is gathering around your lady parts. Comfort is paramount, especially on long marathon training runs! So I guess what I’m saying is please don’t feel you can’t wear shorts just because your legs aren’t perfect, because very few people have perfect legs. If people look at you when you’re out running they probably aren’t thinking “My God, look at her fat legs” but rather “Good for her, I wish I could do that”. I’ve decided to make a point of wearing shorts whenever it’s warm enough now, because if a woman in sweaty capris looks at me and thinks “Well if she can wear shorts with her pasty stumps, I certainly can” that would make me very happy.

Short, white and (in this case) wet!

So remember girls, you are entitled to wear shorts for no other reason than you are a runner, and that automatically means you are fabulous and look great. Just do it! Enjoy your summer running – be comfortable and carefree!

I’m so obsessed with running these days I sometimes forget that until about four years ago I was, if anything, a cyclist. Didn’t own a pair of running shoes, had never run so much as a 5K and went out on my bike most Sundays. Even managed to bag a couple of Alpine cols over the years! Then I caught the running bug and cycling definitely began to play second fiddle. Apart from anything else, running seemed much quicker and easier to fit into my working day. I could probably count on the fingers of one hand the number of times I went out on my road bike last year, to the point where my cycling-mad husband threatened to put it on Ebay! My cycling was reduced to popping into town on my mountain bike.

Back in the day!

 It was only when I began to train for the Manchester Marathon earlier this year that I began to realise how cycling could actually complement my running. The training plan I chose, the Women’s Running Beginner’s Plan, included some aerobic cross-training, so cycling fitted into it really well. Instead of a Monday recovery run after Sunday’s long run I’d go on a 30 minute bike ride; then mid-week there was a longer cycling session, into which I tried to work a few small hills.

 It’s easy to think that when you’re training for a marathon that all you should do is just run as many miles as you possibly can. Obviously running is very important! But in fact your heart and lungs can’t tell the difference between running, cycling, swimming or any other aerobic activity, so it all builds extra fitness – and without the impact on your joints of pounding the pavements. What it won’t do, however, is get you used to being on your feet for a long time, so you can’t substitute all running with cross-training!

The training schedule I’ve chosen for the York Marathon is the Women’s Running Improver Plan. It includes some much cross-training, but I’ve also decided to continue to substitute cycling for all the recovery runs as that seemed to work really well last time. The way I see it, recovery runs are about getting your muscles moving gently to aid repair, and cycling can do that just as well as running.

Since the Manchester Marathon at the end of April I’ve been doing less running and more cycling in preparation for the holiday in France I’ve just been on, where cycling through the lovely scenery of Provence was the order of the day. I’m hoping the hilly terrain will have acted kind of like interval training for my heart and lungs… but now the bike must take a back seat again as I need to get my legs back into running mode before my 14-week Yorkshire Marathon training programme starts on 15th July. Can’t wait!

I’d love to know what others think about cross-training. Do you do it?

Holiday cycling. Yes, those white shorts were a mistake. Not helped by the croissants!

 

Well, I’m now almost halfway through my 16 week training programme for the Greater Manchester Marathon (my first) on 28th April. In fact I’ve just realised that’s exactly two months today, which helps to focus the mind a bit! It’s been going pretty well so far (touch wood). I haven’t yet had to miss any training sessions – although I did do a long Sunday run on Saturday a couple of weeks ago when we were having friends to dinner so I could drink on the Saturday night! As I mentioned previously, I’m following the beginner’s marathon schedule from Women’s Running magazine and this is what the next eight weeks of training look like.

 Being a bit old and slow I’ve decided to take things quite cautiously speed-wise for my marathon debut – after all, the most important thing is to arrive at the starting line uninjured! So I’ve settled on a proposed race pace of nine minutes per mile. This makes my tempo/threshold pace 8:30 and my long slow run pace around ten minutes. I’m actually finding it quite hard to run that slowly on longer runs; I sometimes glance down at my Garmin and find the pace creeping up to below nine minutes. This isn’t really a problem now, but it could be as distance increases over the coming weeks, so I really need to try and get to grips with it; after all, setting off too fast is a classic marathon running error. But I have a feeling that this will correct itself as the long run distances get longer and harder!

I read up quite a bit about marathon training before starting and soon realised that developing a strong core is supposed to enable you to run stronger for longer. It does this in two ways; by strengthening your hips and legs so you can retain better posture as you begin to get tired, and also by helping to prevent injury. I’d never tried this before, so a few weeks ago I started going to a core toning class at York Yoga Studio on Wednesdays instead of my usual hatha yoga. I think this is now really helping me to run more strongly, especially on the hill sessions. After the first couple of classes I felt a bit stiff the next day, mostly in my hips, but now I’m used to it I can really feel the benefits. Our instructor, Zita Soanes, is absolutely awesome and as an ex-athlete herself she really knows her stuff. I’d recommend this type of training to any runner if you aren’t already doing it, although yoga and Pilates are good alternatives too.

A class at York Yoga Studio

 I’ve also decided to treat myself to a sports massage at least once a month. I’m lucky enough never to have had an injury yet in my (albeit short) running life, and massage is another good way to prevent injury – although many people don’t go to see a therapist until they’re already injured! It’s not just a little bit of TLC, a sports massage generally straightens everything out to keep things ticking over nicely and rejuvenate the legs for better training; and good sports therapist can often detect and treat niggles even before they become apparent to you, and before they become a problem. I go to Colin Hawxby at Muscle Management – he’s a duathlete, so as well as being a great therapist he knows a lot about running and cycling. I get lots of good advice included in the price of my treatment!

Colin in action!

I’ve also been focussing a bit more than usual on nutrition. Obviously I usually have a pretty healthy diet anyway, but I’ve been tweaking it a bit to help with marathon training. I’m going to write a separate blog post about this next week as I think it’s a really important part of training that’s often neglected.

 So, I’m really enjoying training up to now, but I never take it for granted and have no idea how things will progress once I get to the big mileage weeks – Monster Month as some people call it! Hope your training is going well too if you’re doing a spring marathon.

And I didn’t get into the Great North Run 🙁  C’est la vie!

 

Have you seen the latest figures on childhood obesity, stating that one in three children leave primary school overweight? Shocking, isn’t it? It’s easy to blame parents for this, but in truth it can often be difficult to prise kids away from their computers, iPads, Nintendos, smartphones etc to do some exercise; and the older they get, the harder it can be! When I was asked to review The Ice Factor in York it occurred to me that this could be a fun way to get your kids involved in some exercise over the Christmas holidays, so duly enlisted my stepdaughter Milly, 14, and her friend Britney to come along and give feedback – they didn’t need much persuading! And of course hubby/dad Steve didn’t want to be left out. This award-winning seasonal attraction is apparently the largest outdoor skating rink in the north of England so we had high hopes of a good time.

The Ice Factor is certainly easy to get to, based at the York Designer Outlet Centre where the A64 meets the A19, and there’s ample free parking on site. We’d booked onto the 1pm session, so popped for a bite to eat in the centre’s food court beforehand. Obviously McDonald’s is the dining destination of choice for most teenagers, but relatively healthy options such as Bagel Nash and Spud-U-Like are available if you can persuade them!

Milly (left) and Britney booting up!

After lunch we went to (quite literally) get our skates on. A word of warning – if you have a bag with you, leave it in the car or the Ice Factor cloakroom, because they aren’t allowed on the ice. Boots were strapped on as a palpable sense of excitement grew in the air and a crowd formed near the door onto the ice, dying to get out. Finally we were released – not without humour, as most people immediately clung for dear life to the barrier at the side of the rink. I admit I was initially amongst them as it’s many years since I’ve been ice skating! But, as cyclist Steve noted, it’s a bit like riding a bike, and one by one people took the leap of faith onto the ice and set off – some more successfully than others!

The girls soon get the hang of it!

Milly and Britney were soon out on their own, holding hands and gliding around quite confidently. There was a huge variety of people at this session, ranging in age from tiny tots through to adults – mostly parents accompanying children. Little ones can make use of the penguin skate aids supplied, which basically enable them to be pushed around the ice by a fully-grown skater. But I would say that the overriding demographic was indeed teenagers, in pairs or groups, all seemingly having a great time no matter what their skating ability. Boys were obviously keen to show off, with the girls taking it a bit less seriously. After a few fairly gentle laps I was surprised to find my feet aching quite a bit, and realised I’d been tensely scrunching them up, like a parrot clinging to a perch! So I tried to relax a bit and felt a lot more comfortable.

Wait for me!

The setting of the rink is quite attractive, with a huge Christmas tree in the middle and a sort of grotto with big sparkly reindeer at one side. For those who’d rather watch than do, there’s a raised viewing platform and a rinkside café that looked nice but surprisingly quiet for lunchtime. It’s worth emphasising that the Ice Factor does consist of actual ice, not the plastic stuff that many temporary rinks are made of these days. The ice in one corner of the rink seemed a little bit lumpy, but I guess that’s maybe the price you pay for having the real thing! Music was playing, but we could hardly hear it; I’m guessing the teenagers would have liked it louder, but maybe it’s turned up at night, when the atmosphere is probably a bit more club-like. Skating marshals are on hand to ensure nobody gets too carried away, or in case of emergency.

 The hour seemed to pass really quickly – I guess because we were enjoying ourselves. It was sad to see that there were a few people who never actually left the barrier to skate – I’m sure they just lacked confidence rather than ability! Milly and Britney did fall over once, but didn’t seem to mind. I was surprised I managed to stay upright for the full hour; possibly because I wasn’t too ambitious, but I was trundling round pretty well by the end.

Just like riding a bike?!

 So what was our verdict? Well the girls certainly had a fab time and are thinking of going again with a group of their friends. It’s handy that they can get there from York by bus. Steve and I also had fun, although skating once a year is probably enough for us! We certainly all laughed a lot, both at each other and other people! As a form of exercise it wouldn’t be cheap to do on a regular basis, but if it can get children outside, being active and enjoying the fresh air maybe it could inspire them to do something else… like going for a walk? You never know!

The Ice Factor is part of the Winter Wonderland at the Designer Outlet, which also has a traditional funfair and a Santa’s grotto. If you have any last-minute Christmas shopping to do you could always deposit older kids there while you get on with it! It would also be a great place to take any visitors you might have over Christmas, for a family trip when the kids get bored over the holidays, or even a date with a difference. It’s definitely fun for grown-ups as well as kids!

For further info or to book a skating session visit the York Designer Outlet website.

 

Who thinks this is massively ironic? Just as we’re all enjoying the Olympics and feeling inspired by the awesome athletes a new study has revealed that the UK is the third laziest nation in Europe, with around two thirds of adults failing to take the amount of exercise recommended to stay healthy. To be honest this figure surprised me. Looking around at the general public I’d have thought the number of lazy people would be much higher. I’m constantly amazed at how many people, both adults and (more worryingly) children seem to be overweight; and more amazed by how many of them don’t seem that bothered about it.

 Apparently inactivity is now as big a threat to our health as smoking. Modern life means we just don’t need to move around as much as we used to – but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t! Lack of exercise can contribute to some of the most dangerous threats to our health, such as cancer, heart disease and type 2 diabetes, but many people seem to think those things will never happen to them, making no effort to change their lazy lifestyle until they day they actually keel over with a heart attack – assuming they survive it. The problem is that we all like an easy life, and it’s easier not to exercise than to do it!

 Often when I’m trying to persuade people to exercise during a wellness evaluation they come up with excuses as to why they shouldn’t or can’t. Here are some of the most common.

 “I don’t like exercise.”

Really? How do you know if you haven’t tried it? The only people who ever say this are those who’ve never exercised regularly. There’s an activity for everyone out there – try a few different ones until you find something you like!

 “I don’t have time to exercise.”

Hmm. Do you have time to do any of the following? Watch telly/spend an afternoon browsing the shops/chat to your friends on the phone for an hour/go to the pub/play computer games/bake cakes/get your nails done… you get the picture. You do have time to exercise – if you want to. It’s all about priorities.

 “I’m too tired to exercise.”

Then you need to start by getting more sleep. Or maybe you’re just brain tired from work or stress, in which case exercise will re-energise and invigorate you, making you feel less tired.

 “I work full time.”

And you don’t get a lunch hour? Then what about going to bed an hour earlier and getting up an hour earlier to exercise.

 “I have kids.”

Then get your partner to look after them for half an hour – it won’t kill them. If you don’t have a partner, ask someone else (mum, friend etc) to watch the kids for half an hour while you exercise – you can always return the favour. Or get a DVD and do something when they’ve gone to bed!

 This is my favourite: “My boobs are too big!”

Admittedly, running might be a bit of a problem if you’re built like Katie Price! But there are loads of other activities to choose from. Try something that supports your weight, like swimming or cycling. A lot of that excess boobage may be fat that will reduce as you become slimmer.

 The thing is, you can always find a reason not to exercise. Even I can do that some days. You’ll never regret exercising, but if you don’t you might wish you had in years to come. You don’t have to do it to Olympic standards!

Last week I reviewed the bingo wing-busting Powerspin – and this week you can win it! Apparently most women, especially over a certain age, do hate their upper arms, so if you want to get yours honed to Michelle Obama-like perfection before the summer hols, here’s your chance! It’s great for abs too.

To be in with a chance to win just leave a comment below telling me your top summer health tip by the end of next Tuesday, 5th June. I’ll pick out the one I like best and announce the winner on Wednesday 6th.

Good luck!

So yesterday we learned from a survey carried out by the mental health charity Mind that over half of women are too embarassed about their bodies to exercise in public, even though it’s apparently better for us than antidepressants. Whilst this is sad it’s not exactly surprising in an age where most people judge others far too quickly by their appearance, and we’re constantly bombarded by images of celebrities who are apparently too fat or have too much cellulite!

 I can totally understand why some overweight women feel far too paranoid to take to the streets to get fit. I guess they feel that passers-by will laugh at them, point, make unkind comments or whatever. But you know what? Most of the people who do that are just jealous. They haven’t got the bottle to do it themselves so they want to bring down those who have. People who are into exercise themselves would never criticise someone else who’s just getting started, they’d be happy for them and encouraging. If I see someone who’s obviously new to exercise jogging down the road or in the park I think “Good for you, you’re doing something to help yourself”. When I first started running I was embarassed. I wasn’t fat, but I wasn’t thin – and I certainly wasn’t much good! I had to stop and walk quite often, and I thought that made me look useless. I’d try to stop on the quietest parts of my little running route so as few people as possible would see me walking! And I’m still not thin now by the way – my bum and thighs wobble a bit when I run, but I just don’t care because it makes me feel good.

 The best bit of training advice I’ve ever been given is not to care what anyone else might think, say or do when I’m out and about. What do they know? I know I’m maintaining a healthy body weight, reducing my risk of developing type 2 diabetes or dying from a heart attack and feeling generally more happy and energetic. Beeping white van drivers? Just ignore them – or choose to take it as a compliment! Twenty years ago I’d probably have given them the finger, but I’m more chilled now (mostly).

 It’s a great time of year to start exercising outdoors – showers permitting! But if you still feel apprehensive about it try to rope in a friend as a training partner. It also really helps to have a goal to motivate you, which is why I try to do a couple of running events each year – otherwise it’s too easy not to bother! One of the best programmes for novice runners is the NHS Couch to 5K programme, which aims to get you gently to running 5K non-stop in nine weeks. Lorraine Kelly is currently running a similar programme called Mums On The Run. And you know what? By sheer coincidence the York Race for Life event is nine weeks tomorrow. So there’s your motivation! Go on, give it a shot, you won’t regret it. The more you exercise the better you’ll feel about your body. And stuff what anyone else thinks!