ULTRA Festival 2021 – Review

A little while ago Kath signed up for the ULTRA festival online. Over Friday 30th April -Sunday 2nd May the festival offered 12 talks and a couple of films to watch online. Honestly, I was only vaguely interested because, you know, ultra… not likely to happen any time soon or ever for me. We haven’t watched everything yet and we didn’t watch everything ‘live’ but I have really enjoyed it. The first thing we watched was the first session Ultra running 101 – Why it’s for everyone. Initially we were a little irritated because the chat seemed to miss the fact that it was supposed to be basics. However, we very quickly settled in and as the conversation went on it hit the brief more and more and felt welcoming and inclusive. It was a nice introductory talk to the festival and really confirmed that running an ultra is basically having picnic while running a stupidly long way.

Then we watched ‘Training for the Long Haul’ with James Elson and Robbie Britton which I really liked because it was so much about how much of what works is so individual. Kit is individual, training is individual, food is. So much of training is about figuring out what works for you. I really liked the way both of the speakers talked about being careful of people who say there is only one right way of running, training, fuelling… Lots of what they were saying made sense and made me think about whether I should think about my running in terms of time rather than distance. So the training plan I use is based on time for 2 runs during the week and then the ‘long run’ is based on distance. But as I was listening to them I wondered if maybe I’m actually doing it the wrong way round and so I might try doing my long run based on time and think about the other sessions a bit differently. I am quite happy to have a little experiment and see what that does to my running.I also chuckled when they referred to running easy as a difficult thing to do and that it’s fine to run 14/15 minute miles. If anyone is struggling to run that slow, I can help. Just come and run/walk with me. If I hit more than one 13 minute mile in a row I am having a speedy day.

Listening to Shane Ohly talk about his Bob Graham round was also really interesting. I liked his take on the many debates about how these rounds should be done and what counts as supported or unsupported etc. He seemed content to do his thing and leave others to debate whether what he did was proper. I liked that. It seems a good place to be mentally – your run so your rules, others can figure out what means for them. My favourite talk though was ‘A Chat Between Friends – Nicky Spinks and Damian Hall’ which came across as really just that, a chat between friends. The ethos of trail running generally as well as just having a thing for going very long came across really nicely. It’s not about going fast, it’s about pushing yourself in other ways and enjoying the outdoors as you do it. Some of it is just about being smart and organised and good at navigating and good at preparing so you can keep going effectively when you don’t really want to. The same came through in the film ‘Wrath’ which followed Damian Hall and Beth Pascall on their successful FKT attempt on the Cape Wrath Trail a couple of years ago – 230 miles across what looked like stunning but difficult terrain in a Scottish winter. It was inspiring to watch and made me think about what my next impossible thing to do could be.

We’ve watched the talk on Sustainability in running yesterday evening which was also really good but also a bit scary. There is so much waste and often we just don’t think about it anywhere near enough. There is so much more we can all do here and I think it will probably make us think about things more in the future. We definitely do not need any more race t-shirts! Again I liked the realism of this talk, and the focus on each of us doing what we can, making small local changes that together begin to make a real difference. It resonated with what I have often told my students: To change the world you take small steps, bit by bit, little by little and it might not feel like much but it all adds up to making the world a better place. We all need to do more and I will try be more conscious of that.

The final talk we watched last night was the talk on mental resilience. I don’t like the term resilience but I think that’s because resilience is an overused phrase in my world and is often used to blame people who struggle to cope with unsustainable and awful conditions and situations and actually the problem is not them. Resilience is not a long term solution. It therefore took a little while to settle into the talk. However, in the talk, resilience was used in a more positive sense rather than as a way to shift blame for structures that are impossible to thrive in. It was about how you get through those tough bits of running long and while some of it was ultra specific – you have more time to go to the dark places when you run long and the physical exertion is on a different level so a different sort of mental strength is needed, much of what was said is also relevant for shorter runs I think. I quite like reframing the inner dialogue from inner demons to inner angels as a concepts – not sure I’d use angels because angels are bit freaky. But having a conversation with my younger non-running self about how amazingly well I am doing compared to what that younger me would have thought possible is a different sort of inner dialogue than the other little voice reminding me that by all objective measures I am a terrible runner. Reframing or constructing yourself differently, changing the way you think about what you are doing and/or why I think might also be a powerful tool. Certainly something to work with.

I’m looking forward to catching up with the remaining few talks and the film Via Alpina over the next few days but mostly I am excited to get back to running. I feel like I may be ready to step back out there. I might never go that long but I love the ethos of ultra running and trail running generally. I like the focus on being outside and in nature, of running your way, figuring out what works for you, fuelling right for you, not being afraid to walk, stopping for photos, not focusing on speed per se but focusing on challenging yourself, on racing – sure, but racing yourself or the terrain or simply the distance, not necessarily other people. It’s all my sort of running and I will try and focus on the joy of being outside, the joy of moving and the #MyRunMyRules mindset as I re-start my running journey once again. So Thank you ULTRA festival and I think I might well be checking out the ULTRA magazine.

The Body Coach App – Cycle 4(?) Review

Some of you may have notice that Cycle 4, or what is actually Intermediate Cycle 1 on the Body Coach App has lasted rather longer than 28 days. It has in fact been about a 6 week cycle. Honestly, the cycle just never really happened. I checked in this morning partly for a re-set really. I have put on a kg since the last check in and the rest of the stats have pretty much stayed the same. That’s actually better than expected given that I have done very little and not really stuck to the food plan that well either. It’s nothing the app does wrong. But sometimes life just happens. And life happened.

But let’s think about the app and review it for what it is. Let’s start with the exercise sessions. There did not seem to be a huge step up from Beginners Cycle 3 to Intermediate Cycle 1. It was pretty much more of the same. To be honest I was so crap with this that I think workouts 1-3 I only did once each. In fact I am not entirely sure I ever did workout 1. I did workout 4 and 5 a couple of times and quite liked them. I think that’s all I can really say because my head just wasn’t in it. What I did notice though is that just changing the order in which exercises are done or how they are grouped can make a huge difference to how the session feels so even if it looks like more of the same on paper, subtle differences can make a huge difference.

The food for the cycle adds another set of recipes for both refuel and general meals and another set of snacks. Honestly I can’t remember what was on that cycle and what came from previous ones but there is certainly a pretty nice recipe library building up overall! We probably stuck to the food plan 80% of them time in terms of meals. However, I have been really snack-y with nuts and cheese and chocolate and we’ve had hot chocolate more often than not.

Exercise wise, over the last 6 weeks I have been for a few walks. If I have tracked everything then 17 walks. Some of them have just been 2 miles though. 9 of them were over 4 miles with the longest being about 8. I went for one run. A 2 mile run which doesn’t sound like anything but was actually very positive. I did 9 Body Coach app workouts and 7 yoga sessions. So all in all not a great 6 weeks for fitness and mental health. Too much going on and I sort of just didn’t have anything left for self care in that way. I know, I know, I should prioritise it and if I did I would probably feel better. But I didn’t.

There’s lots of change and lots of shifting energies etc and this weekend I felt ready to check in from the Intermediate Cycle 1 and start the next cycle as part of a sort of re-set. I am acknowledging me tiredness and my need for rest but also the fact that I am ready to move more and push a little harder with this. Let’s see what the next cycle brings.

The Body Coach App Cycle 3 – Review

And here we are again. It is Body Coach App check in day. Somehow that came rounds quick. If you want a run down of how the app works have a look at the my thoughts on the first cycle here. I was sort of hoping that after a bit of a motivation blip in Cycle 2, Cycle 3 would be better and I would really see some good progress. I couldn’t be bothered to write yesterday and I have done my check-in stats this morning so this review is actually coloured by how I have got on. Overall though Cycle 3 has been better than Cycle 2 in terms of motivation but progress has been limited. I’m not actually surprised, just a bit grumpy with myself.

The Exercise Sessions

Cycle 3 has, as usual, 5 sessions all of which are 30 minutes long. The first 3 sessions have 35 seconds work, 25 seconds rest and I didn’t do them very often (possibly only once each). Workout 4 is a 30/30 rest to work ratio but is split into 3 sections focusing on lower body, then upper body and then cardio. I bizarrely quite like that one even though it is really quite hard. Workout 5 has one round at 35 seconds work, 25 rest and then the same round of exercises at 40 seconds work and 20 seconds rest. I quite like that one too but did it once when my head wasn’t really in it and found it really demoralising because I could barely do anything for the full 40 seconds. I tried it again and it was much better so it really was just about frame of mind. I have also done 2 of the Saturday Sweat live sessions in this cycle and am planning on doing the 3rd one on demand today. Quite enjoyed them too.

The Food

There are some nice recipes in Cycle 3 and some of our favourites from Kath’s 90 Day Plan appeared. Most of our meals came from Joe Wicks this cycle and the cooking hasn’t really been an issue. It hasn’t been as much fun as early on but I think maybe that’s simply because I have gone back to work and there is less time to just potter about in the kitchen without any pressure and because we are now more constrained by timings of work meetings etc. Granola, bacon and avocado tacos and courgette and cheese muffins continue to be breakfast favourites. The fish biriyani has been a winner for the refuel meals and the haloumi burger is still our go to quick lunch and the sweet chilli salmon kebabs were really nice too. Throughout this cycle we had a total of 77 General recipes, 63 refuel recipes and 24 snack recipes available so lots of choice really. Some of them are simple variations on a theme – like smoothies or granola or steak done slightly differently but they’re good for ideas and variations. Some of them I don’t pay any attention to – I am not a smoothie person, or at least not smoothies made with protein powder but even taking that into account we have lots of good recipes to choose from.

We were sticking to 2 refuel meals because that seems to work best, particularly as Kath is stepping up her running miles and will need the extra carbs. For snacks we had some peanut butter cookies, fruit cake (not JW but Runners World recipe) and some date and peanut butter bars. All very yummy.

How did I get On?

I feel a bit grumpy about Cycle 3 but that’s only because this last week has been a bit rubbish and I have really struggled with energy levels and motivation. Anxiety has also been pretty high. Partly that’s about going back to work and unresolved stuff that quite frankly just needs to get sorted (and it will) and is stressing me out and taking time, headspace, energy and calm that I would rather channel into other much more productive things. The first three weeks were actually pretty good. I still haven’t quite managed to sort out my knees. Doing the workouts in HIIT trainers definitely helps and for squats and lunges I am trying to really concentrate on form even if that means I do far fewer reps. Still niggly though. I would really like to step up the yoga and stretches as I suspect that’s the issue here and the key to solving the niggly knee problem. My yoga app (Yoga Studio) has a yoga for knees series and also a new lower body series so I am thinking they might help and would be good to do regularly and consistently. Knees aside though I feel overall stronger.

In week 1 I did 4 sessions from the app and went for 3 runs. In week 2 I did 5 workouts and went for 2 runs. In week 3 I did 5 workouts. I am really pleased with that because that was my period week and I managed to stay much more positive and active than in Cycle 2. I swapped one of the HIIT sessions from the app for one of Kath’s old 90 day plan where Joe introduced the weights so there was no jiggling about or bouncing or going upside down and that worked quite well. It wasn’t comfortable but I kept moving and overall felt better for that. I didn’t run because going out to run was scary but that’s ok. Week 4, the week just gone, I stepped up work a bit as part of my phased return so worked 3 full days and some of that was pretty intense. I have been tired and my head’s not been in it. Fitting in a HIIT session or a run has somehow felt really pressured. I have done 2 HIIT sessions, no runs and I plan to do yesterdays live session on demand later today. I did do a couple of short yoga sessions but I haven’t been hugely active in this cycle at all. A few short walks and 2 Sunday live stretch sessions on the app but nothing much. I was a little irritated with myself for not making more of an effort until I had my therapy session on Thursday. We didn’t talk about this much but just at the end touched on exercise and stuff and the fact that I may well still be post viral and/or that everything is still weird. I have hugely fired up the brain to get back into work stuff and deal with everything going on so it would be odd if I wasn’t tired. It helped me remember to be kind to myself, to give myself permission to rest, to not push too hard on the exercise and to slowly try things and find a balance that allows my system to recover fully and feel supported while also working on gently building fitness. I felt better after thinking that through.

I have enjoyed the food but I have also been snacking quite a lot. I think it’s probably a stress response. I’ve had extra peanut butter, extra nuts, a chunk of cheese here and there, chocolate with a cup of tea and on quiet a few days a slice of toast in-between and we’ve had lots of hot chocolates through the cycle. I’m not concerned about any of that really. It is what it is and I am certainly not going to start telling myself off or feeling guilty for having toast or chocolate but I am just conscious that mostly I haven’t had them because I was genuinely hungry or needed them for fuel for running or anything. It’s the classic stress eating pattern and seeking out comforting things like toast, like hot chocolate…

I am struggling to drink the 3.5 litres of water. I have managed it on 8 days. And on all but 1 day I tracked over 2 litres so I am drinking more than I was which is good. I do really need to track my water intake though otherwise I hardly drink anything. It’s funny how it focuses the mind. I’m sure I also feel less tired and sluggish when I manage to drink over 2.5 litres. I’d have to keep much better notes on how I feel each day to be sure but that’s my gut feeling.

The numbers

So stats then. I have lost 1kg and a total of 7cm. We were struggling with measuring in the same place consistently but someone on the Facebook group suggested measuring waist, hips and thighs in line with elbows, wrists and finger tips respectively (when you have your arms by your side obviously) so we re-did the measurements like that. Waist and hips we had done correctly previously as far as we can tell but thighs we clearly measured too low (based on a little freckle to try and remember the spot) so my official stats actually show an increase here but measurements should be more accurate from now on.

Any wins?

It doesn’t feel like a ‘win’ sort of 4 weeks. The change in terms of numbers is tiny. I’m not sure my ‘transformation’ photos show any sort of difference. Maybe the one from the back does but it could just be because I am wearing a different bra in the latest one. I’m not sharing them for you to judge – see my comments in the last review about posting the pictures. I don’t, as I sit here typing anyway, feel more energised or positive or happy. But then maybe I do, we don’t know what I’d feel like if I hadn’t been doing the exercise. But yesterday I realised there is a win. It’s just about putting it into perspective and remembering it today when I feel a bit crappy about everything. Yesterday I didn’t really feel like doing a workout. I also knew it was just laziness rather than genuinely feeling too tired. Initially I thought I could just do the live workout but that seemed really daunting. I didn’t know if I had 45 minutes in me. Then I suddenly got really scared about the workouts from cycle 3. So I went right back to Cycle 1 and did the final workout from that cycle. 12 moves, 2 rounds with a minute rest in-between rounds, 30/30 work/rest split. I put music on and got on with it. It’s not that the workout was easy as such. It wasn’t. But it felt so totally doable. For both rounds I could do every single exercise for the full 30 seconds, for most of them I added a few seconds on because it felt like I could and even though I did push myself, I still felt like dancing to the music in the rest breaks. I had fun because it wasn’t daunting. I wasn’t worried about being able to complete it all. It was really nice to feel like that.

Plans for the next Cycle

So today now marks the start of Intermediate Cycle 1. I don’t feel ready for intermediate. I did actually think about delaying the check in because I didn’t really feel ready to step up the exercise. I don’t feel like I have a handle on Cycle 3 yet. But when I mentioned it to Kath she rightly pointed out that we do not have to follow this so rigidly. Check in gives us a new set of exercises and recipes to try. But we still have the ones from earlier cycles. So in the same way that we go back to the old recipes, there is nothing stopping me going back to the old sessions. I’ll have a look at the workouts for this next cycle but if they look a bit scary and anxiety inducing I might just do workouts 4 and 5 from Cycle 3 a few more times and I need to remember that when everything feels scary, I can go back to Cycle 1 and enjoy something that feels easy in comparison.

Overall Thoughts

Actually in this cycle the app did exactly what I hoped it would. I have times, sometimes days, sometimes weeks, where everything feels too much, where leaving the house to go for a run is impossible. I’ve had a couple of weeks like that and without the app I would have done absolutely nothing during those two weeks. I might have done a little bit of yoga but maybe not. The app meant I moved, I still got my heart rate up, I still worked on getting fitter and stronger. The app helped to make sure things did not spiral and get worse. The app will help me get out and run again sooner and without having to go back to the beginning of my running programme every time this happens! This is what I wanted it for, it’s working perfectly so I should just stop being grumpy.

The Body Coach App Cycle 2 – Review

I am again writing the review as I go through the cycle and before I see my stats so that my thoughts are not skewed by what the numbers eventually say. I will add the stats and update the post just before I publish this. So, The Body Coach App Cycle 2. Hm. As I wrote earlier, Cycle 1 was pretty good. I have struggled more with cycle 2. I suspect progress has been limited. If I had to guess I would anticipate a slight weight gain and a small loss around my chest and maybe waist with everything else staying the same. Motivation has been harder to come by and a lot of Cycle 2 has been a little half hearted if I’m honest. Or at leas that’s what it feels like. It actually isn’t all doom and gloom when I think about it. Week 1 was pretty solid. Week 2 threw me off and weeks 3 and 4 were mixed. If you want a more detailed look at how the app works, have a look at my review of Cycle 1

The exercise sessions

Cycle 2 steps up a little from Cycle 1 but it is not unmanageable. On the beginner level there are no weights, so all exercises are bodyweight only. Having already done some of the bootcamp workouts that Joe Wicks did live on the app throughout January and which are available on demand, Cycle 2 workouts feel ok and not really a huge step up from what I had been doing in Cycle 1. I do think if you just do Cycle 1 workouts in Cycle 1 and then step up there is quite a difference though. Cycle 2 workouts definitely do not feel easy. I quite like workouts 4 and 5 which surprised me because I generally don’t like a low number of exercises and high number of sets. I generally prefer lots of different moves and just 1 or 2 sets. So the workouts are fine and challenging and sometimes fun and sometimes just bloody hard. The first 3 workouts continue the ratio of 30 seconds work and 30 seconds rest familiar from Cycle 1 but they are 30 minutes long rather than the 25 of most of Cycle 1. Workouts 4 and 5 go to 35 seconds work and 25 seconds rest. Who would have thought those 5 seconds either way make such a difference. Well, they do! Workout 4 doesn’t look like anything. It’s 5 moves six times and I have picked it twice thinking it would be a bit easier so I would have enough left in the tank for a run. Ha! It’s a bugger. It must be the repetition and using the same muscles. I have been a sweaty mess with jelly arms and legs every time. I have also done the odd bootcamp session. I think I have done all 20 at least once now. I like 17 which is a bums, tums and core one and I have a love hate relationship if 18 which is a killer cardio session (and I can’t do it all but will keep working on it) and 20 is just plain evil with the 40 second work/ 20 second rest ratio for the second round.

The food

Initially when we scrolled through the food for Cycle 2 we weren’t excited. There didn’t seem the be the same number of meals that made us think ‘oh good, yummy’ as there had been on Cycle 1. But when we actually sat down to plan our food, there is actually plenty of yumminess there. Refuel favourites have been Spaghetti Bolognese, Toad in the Hole and the Full English Frittata which I prefer deconstructed to a full english breakfast. The Chicken Jalfrezi from the general meal section is delicious, as is the Low Carb Lasagna. It was nice to try more new recipes and add some to our list of keepers and know that some others were just not for us (I am just not a Chia and Coconut Breakfast Bowl with Spiced Plums kinda girls, just no). For many the biggest change from Cycle 1 to Cycle 2 is that the plan now suggests 2 refuel meals a day rather than just one after a workout. We’d already been doing some of that because we know from when Kath did the 90 Day Plan that it works better for her.

So how did I get on

Well week 1 of Cycle 2 kept the motivation and enthusiasm from Cycle 1 up and I had a strong week with 5 workouts and 4 runs. I felt pretty good and like I was getting stronger. In week 2 I started the period from hell. I only ran once and while I did manage 4 workouts that week the first 2 were a little half hearted and I didn’t really push myself and the the other 2 were half hearted and lower intensity. One was bootcamp 17 which was focused on core strength and the other was the introduction to weights from the 90 Day Plan. I definitely didn’t want anything jiggling! Week 3 still felt a bit half hearted. Period bleurghness lasted the full 6 days rather than being confined to days 1 and 2 and I felt sluggish and heavy. I did however manage the 5 workouts and I went for 2 runs. One of the workouts was just a short ten minute one but still. In week 2 the February Abs Challenge started on the app and I managed 2 of those and then did 4 of them in week 3. Week for was a funny one. I had more energy and worked harder during the workouts and deliberately chose harder ones but motivation was tricky and I ended up not doing anything on Thursday. I did have good runs on Wednesday and Saturday managing to run for 30 minutes without walk breaks for the first time in absolutely ages. Maybe the way I have the rest days structured at the minute needs a little re-think. The Saturday rest days seems pointless as I often want to do something so maybe I need to put both rest days in the week.

Week 1 was mostly still using Cycle 1 recipes just because of when we do our shopping. From memory week 1 was pretty good in terms of meal planning and sticking to the plan. We used recipes from Joe Wicks’ books, the 90 Day Plan and the app throughout this cycle and meals were overall good. Snacks however are another story! I made some peanut butter fudge things but got my measurements wrong because I didn’t realise my scales were wedged on a spoon – so they had far too much peanut butter in. They were delicious though and I couldn’t stop eating them – a snack was meant to be 2 of my little pieces but I could have eaten them all so I gave most of them away to Kath’s mum. It was just pre period which explains everything. I continued to have ridiculous period cravings and basically just hoovered up any food I could find. I had toast, I had extra peanut butter, I had nuts, I had chocolate, I had cheese and and and. We’ve also had hot chocolate on most evenings throughout the Cycle. Somehow it has felt important and nourishing and calming to have a mug of bliss as we curled up for some downtime before bed.

In all the general grumpiness I stopped tracking my water intake and of course drank less as a result. A lot less I think. I restarted the tracking for week 4 and intake went back up but I am still not hitting 3.5 litres. I’ll keep trying.

Towards the end of week 3 my cravings and general food hoovering finally subsided and I felt like I had more energy for the workouts. During weeks 2 and 3 my knees had become really quite sore. I am not sure whether it was just because the workouts were getting harder and therefore my knees were struggling or whether my technique had been poor because my exercise had been a bit half hearted and I had aggravated something. I tried switching from barefoot to trainers but that made things worse so I ordered some HIIT trainers which arrived in time for week 4. I also stepped up the stretching for a couple of days with some 20 minute post run yoga sessions which really target the hamstrings and calves which, as usual, are stupidly tight. The combination of stretching and HIIT trainers made the first half of week 4 ok on the knees. There was still some residual nigglyness but easing and not getting worse during workouts but on Friday after the HIIT session they were really sore. I had been really careful during the session, had avoided squat jumps because my technique is a bit questionable when I get tired and had really focused on form -so it was annoying. I decided not to go for a run on top. During the Saturday run my knees were fine but a bit niggly during the day walking upstairs. More stretching needed!

The Facebook group is still not my tribe. I thought I might try and engage a little – after all you generally get out what you put in. I have commented on some posts and posted a couple of things but I’m not feeling it. There is too much diet talk, too much I have x amount of weight to shift, too much ‘my progress is too slow’, too much ‘how can this be allowed’, too much feeling guilty of going ‘off plan’. I find it quite hard to read that. So many people basically feeling guilty for living their life normally. I can’t decide if I want to hug them or scream at them. I scroll on. There are also lots of repetitive questions about stuff that actually is really clear on the app if people bothered to read the information or which has been answered countless times in the group if people bothered to search or even just scroll a little. Odd. Why pay for an app and then not look at it properly? Weird. The other thing I just don’t understand is sharing the progress pictures. Keep in mind these are generally pictures of you in your underwear. Why would you want to share them with a bunch of strangers – lots of strangers – on a social media platform? I just don’t really get that. The pictures are actually a really good way to see progress but the progress doesn’t change depending on how many people see or like the pictures. I’m not sure posting pictures of yourself in knickers and bra in a Facebook group with close to 10000 members is a smart thing to do. And I generally have no issues over-sharing!

The Wins

Like I said, this cycle was harder, I pushed myself less because of general life stuff and because my knees were sore. I also snacked quite a lot, particularly through week 2 and into week 3 and I didn’t once hit my water target. But there were still wins. My push-ups are getting better. Obviously I still can’t do a full one but I can now do 10 from my knees and I am getting much lower down than I was. I have started jumping out and in for the slow motion burpees rather than just stepping out and back in and I can now hold the bear crawl pose without the crawling for the duration so next time will try a little crawl with it. I haven’t felt hugely energised or motivated or more confident or anything like that but I also haven’t felt worse. My black puppy, while still very much there, has been confined to her place in the corner of the room and is allowing my poorly brain to recover and heal. I think the exercise and the relatively healthy food allowed things to stay calm-ish over the last 4 weeks and that’s a big win. Remember also that my main exercise thing is running and that’s really the only exercise I don’t hate. If I keep the workouts in perspective as something to help my running I find them easier to get into and more fun. Seeing benefits in running helps with that. And there have been running wins. I ran for 30 minutes nonstop twice this week and I can really feel the increased strength when, for example, running up short sharp hills. I have butt muscles and they activate and work! Whatever the numbers say, the app is doing it’s job at keeping me vaguely on track to do the things I want to do.

The numbers

So, Cycle 2 round-up. I struggled. Motivation didn’t come easy. I think that horrendous period has a lot to answer for here though rather than it being a reflection on the app. I definitely had the munchies but I don’t think that had anything to do with the food plan or portion sizes. There’s also been a lot of crap to deal with and I can’t wait for all that to be over which I think will help with head space and motivation to get off the sofa. Overall I have done 16 full HIIT workouts, 1 short body blast, 7 abs sessions and I have been for 5 runs and 2 longish walks. I have not yet done anything today on the final day and maybe I should have done before doing check in stats but that’s not how it worked out this morning. Given that my knees are still niggly I think I will run instead of a HIIT today and maybe tomorrow as well. I have lost 1kg on this cycle and a total of 8cm although apparently gained 1cm round my chest. The thing about some of these is though that it is actually hard to measure in the same spot each time so the measurements are not actually likely to be all that accurate. Interesting to note how the one place I felt like I might have lost a bit is the one place where the numbers suggest otherwise – and we measured repeatedly to check!

Roll on cycle three and a new set of recipes and workouts. I think it might even be quite fun.

Above the Clouds – Review

I am tidying the blog. Well tidying is too strong a word. I was scrolling through draft posts to decide what is worth saving and finishing and what I should just bin. Mostly I just binned things because they were things written about at a particular moment in time which are not really relevant anymore. I did think that this review was worth finishing though. I wrote it in September last year when I was really struggling with fitness and didn’t really know what was going on health wise. Not sure why I never finished the edit and posted it because the review was pretty much finished. So here it is:

A week ago I curled up on the sofa to read Kilian Jornet’s ‘Above the Clouds’. I am grumpy about not running or exercising much at all. I couldn’t get passed the 8 minute runs on the 5k plan and the Nike app just doesn’t seem to work for me beyond a week or so. I was and still am feeling unreasonably tired and this last week I have been for a few walks, slow walks, and I have been aching and tired like a ran a half marathon and didn’t stretch. I have a blood test on Thursday that will hopefully provide some answers. If everything is fine and I am just less fit than I ever have been then ok, well I guess I can work with that. But let’s just wait and see and then go from there.

I finished ‘Above the Clouds’ in an afternoon/evening and it is a nice and easy read. If you are interested in running and in particular running in the mountains then it’s worth a couple of hours of your time. But it’s not the snippets about training or races etc that stick with me from the book. Instead it’s the things left unsaid or hinted at. It’s clear that Kilian Jornet is not a people person and that he would rather just be running in the mountains or recording his thoughts just for him rather than sharing them with the world. There are passages of the book that made me smile because the reluctance to share too much of Kilian the person rather than Kilian the personality is tangible. Engaging with us, the public, through the writing is something he sort of has to do as part of the job. And presumably publishing the book then also means activity to promote the book and so more people stuff… So maybe I should start the review by saying thank you to Kilian Jornet for doing this, for sharing and for allowing us a glimpse into his extraordinary life and give us so much to think about and reflect on.

So the book provides an insight into Jornet’s journey that led to him climbing Everest twice within a few days and I really like that this is positioned both as something that has been in the making all his life and a sort of endpoint as well as just another thing he does. It’s that mixture of acknowledging the extraordinary while also recognising that for him that is actually just what he does, his normal if you like. This tracks through book and it made me think about how many people I would call inspirational just go about their normal life. For them, what they do is not special or record breaking or pushing boundaries (it might be but that’s not the point), it’s about them doing their thing their way. And in some ways this is so ill at ease with the social media world where clicks and likes are everything and doing your thing your way is difficult – particular where your thing your way does not conform to expectation. That juxtaposition between making a living doing what he loves – running in the mountains – and having to to the things which allow him to make a living doing what he loves – being an influencer and content creator – is an interesting one and one he clearly struggles with.

It made me think about social media and how we often view the sort of content created by these sporting greats. We see the big views, crazy mountain runs, snippets of what they choose to share on line with their sponsorship agreements and brands. That’s fine, that’s what it’s about. However it leaves a whole load of stuff unseen. We rarely get a glimpse of the ‘I can’t be fucked to get out of bed today’, ‘I am struggling with motivation’, ‘Everything hurts and I can barely walk never mind run’ stuff. It doesn’t fit with the influencer role. Except that there are glimpses of this in the book. Glimpses of losing the reason, the why, and therefore struggling. It also links, I think to something else Jornet writes about: The difference between training to compete or competing to train. It came as no surprise to me to read that Jornet competes to train. Throughout the book it is clear that his end goal is never about competition or records. It’s about him. Competition/races can provide motivation to train but the race is not the end point. I think maybe us mere mortals could also learn something from thinking about the difference between the two approaches – and we may take a different approach at different times in our lives. Practically I might do much the same but I think the mindset is completely different.

Something that resonated with me, which isn’t really about running at all, is the idea of home as feeling rather than place. Home for me has always been about a feeling not a particular place. When I say ‘home’ my meaning is completely dependent on context. I might mean the house Mum and I shared in Germany, I might mean my Dad’s flat in Hamburg, I might mean our very own corner of West Yorkshire. Sometimes it might mean a hotel room or a cabin or apartment. That’s not to say that I call every place I am staying at ‘home’. To me it’s a feeing of settledness and calm, maybe partly of familiarity but it’s more than that. It’s about what it feels like to be in the particular space. Home is Ilkley Moor when the curlews are circling, home is the flash of orange and blue as a kingfisher darts passed along the Leeds Liverpool Canal, home is the smell of Gl├╝hwein in Hamburg in the run up to Christmas or the icy blast of air conditioning as you come through the front doors of the Contemporary Resort at Disney. For Jornet home is always in the mountains but as it is for me, it is more a feeling than a place.

Jornet writes: ‘To me, sport doesn’t mean a life full of sacrifices but rather one full of choices’. This is sticking with me because it runs counter to how we so often think about life. The narrative of ‘achievements come on the back of sacrifices’ is really quite strong. Not just in sport but in other areas too – careers, relationships even. Reframing sacrifices to choices is a subtle but important difference in thinking about what we do and why. So some of the choices Jornet makes might seem extreme to us. The training he is capable of and chooses to do, the risks he chooses to take, yep, mad. But making choices to do x and y is a rather more positive way of thinking about achievements than sacrificing a and b to achieve them. So rather than sacrificing an hour in bed, I am choosing to get up and see the run rise during my run. Instead of sacrificing my chocolate fix and love of cake, I chose to bake my own healthier versions and instead of sacrificing ‘bad’ food, I choose to learn more about nutrition to help fuel my body better. Sacrifice feels imposed, unsustainable and a bit forced and miserable. Choice feels empowering, sustainable and positive. I don’t know if that’s what Jornet had in his head as he was writing but that’s what is sticking with me.

So overall reading the book left me with a sense of contradictions. Contradictions that are inherent in us all but which come out so clearly when someone like Jornet writes about his life. The book isn’t an amazing feat of story telling, it’s a bit chaotic and the sections don’t always link together easily. It’s not even a particularly well written book but there is something raw and honest about it. It is the story of an introvert who would clearly rather be running in the mountains than writing the book and who is certainly not looking forward to the promotional work the book will require. It’s the story told as it would be told in a cafe with friends with asides and tangents and chaos and an assumed familiarity with his life and work which sometimes means there is a lack of context. I loved the book because it felt real, it felt human and because there was no attempt to hide the lack of need for other people or the disdain felt for many of his fellow humans. There was also no attempt to gloss over the contradictions. Jornet comes across as supremely arrogant in some ways and vulnerable and humble in others. In other words, he’s human with all the flaws, contradictions and issues and the book not only doesn’t hide them, it acknowledges and embraces them. That’s rare in a book by or about elite athletes.

Happy reading.