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.

March Planning

Black cat lying next to a calendar with a person looking at  the calendar planning
Kath and Einstein Planning

My February roundup is actually pretty much contained in my Body Coach App Cycle 2 Review. I did a bit of running and a bit of stuff from the app… and it was fine. I have now done a bit of planning for March and I have changed a couple of things. So the first thing to note is that I have gone back a week on the running plan. I could push on but I’m in no rush and I don’t feel settled into it so I am repeating a week before moving on. It feels sensible and right. I don’t need to reach a specific distance by a specific point and I’d rather feel comfortable doing what I am doing than constantly pushing for further. I will continue with the two 30 minute runs during the week. I think I will try and run as much of those as I can without walking – but depending on the route there will likely be some walking. West Yorkshire ain’t flat! My weekend runs this month will go up to 5.25 miles and I will try and do those run/walk with 45 second running/30 second walking. Let’s see how that goes. I might even repeat another week if the 4.25 miles I am to do this weekend feels really hard.

I am still aiming to do 5 Body Coach workouts each week but if I am struggling I am happy to drop one and just do the run. I so far quite like the cycle 3 workouts so maybe motivation won’t be as much of an issue as in Cycle 2 and I can get them done in the morning. I have gone back to work on a phased return today so I now need to fit work into life again so there’ll be some experimenting with how that works best. I like the idea of a workout first thing and then running after work to draw a line under the work day but that might not actually be feasible. We’ll see.

Cycles 1 and 2 suggested that having the rest days as I had them didn’t really work. I had Tuesday and Saturday as rest days. It seemed like a good idea in planning. It left one weekend day free from workouts and running to devote to other things and then split the week into 2 workout days, one rest day, 3 workout days, one rest day… Except that on the Saturday I often felt like I wanted to do something, the workout or run could be done any time without fitting around other commitments (and now work) and somehow felt less pressured. This was the case even where I had completed workouts on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday already. Somehow I never felt like I needed or wanted the rest on Saturday or on Sunday. Monday was also good, a workout somehow nicely sets up the week. On Tuesday I’d welcome the rest day and then not really get going again, sometimes going for a run or doing a workout on Wednesday but struggling or then taking an extra rest day on the Thursday. So for March I am trying something slightly different. I am going to workout/run on 5 days and then have 2 back to back rest days. So Tuesday and Wednesday become rest days. It might not work but it is worth seeing if it does.

And yes, of course this blog post is just an excuse to share the photos of Odin and Einstein helping us with our planning.

A ‘not quite’ sort of day

1st of March. Hmph. Time seems to be flying and yet not moving at all. Time is weird. I went for a run today. I didn’t want to. I did a workout too this morning, didn’t want to do that either. I didn’t sleep well. My knees hurt in my sleep and I couldn’t get comfy at all and wherever I turned there seemed to be a cat making it impossible for me the stretch out or move. I didn’t make 30 miles in February – I nearly did but not quite – because I did not want to dodge all the people that the glorious sunshine brought out yesterday. They were everywhere and in hordes, even on the roads. So no quick 30 minutes to just tip the mileage over 30 and no 4.5 miles to fulfil my obligation to the plan.

Yesterday’s sunset

Anyway, I woke up early. Not that it felt like I had been asleep much. An exercise session was on my mind but I thought if I just keep quiet maybe that feeling that I should just get it done would go away and I could stay in bed drinking coffee, cuddling cats, watching the sun come up. Well there was no sun to be seen in the fog anyway and then Kath uttered the words I didn’t really want to hear: ‘I was thinking about doing a workout’. Oh sod it then, let’s do it. Let’s start the month positively. It was actually fine and I did feel better afterwards. There was a lot of ‘not quite’ in the session though, the not quite managing the same number of push-ups as yesterday, not quite sprinting on the spot until the timer beeped and not quite managing the bear crawl for 30 seconds… not quite.

I left my sports bra on as I had planned a run today and having to change bras is a major factor in not actually making it out the door (no? Just me? Oh ok). Kath headed out after she finished work. I was still faffing with stuff but decided I wanted to get it done. I wanted the first day of the month at least to go to plan. Well, not quite. I got changed and headed out. I felt cold. I rarely feel cold running and even if I do it’s only for a few steps really. But throughout the whole run I could not get warm. I couldn’t quite get into a rhythm, not quite. I was always not quite settled. I told myself that if I got to the end of the road and still wasn’t feeling it I would turn round and come home. At the end of the road I was neither settled nor more unsettled and on autopilot I just kept going. Everything though felt not quite right. I dropped to run/walk. I’m not sure why. I was going downhill. I had been quite clear in my head about the planned loop but now I just couldn’t face it. I turned off early and significantly shortened the loop. I kept going on run/walk. Sometimes though I didn’t run the full 45 seconds – not quite. I met Kath coming in the opposite direction as I huffed and puffed up a gentle slope. She turned round to come with me. From there it was uneventful, a walk up the hill, a run/walk home. I was supposed to do 30 minutes. I did 28.22 minutes. Not quite. I only covered 1.86 miles, not even 2 miles. Not quite. I also didn’t really feel better after the run. I felt better when I put my sticker on the calendar for today showing that at least on Day 1 I stuck to the plan – even if not quite.