September – what a month

I always knew that September would be a tough month.  That basically I would have to just put my head down, keep fighting until the very end and then hopefully emerge from the other side still kicking.

Having given my notice to finish teaching at the end of the Summer, I was offered a further month of work with a bonus to help ease the transition for new members of staff within the department.  With a finish date of four weeks, after having just had the six weeks of Summer off, I decided to go ahead and accept the proposal.  The extra money I was being offered would be nice in the build up to Christmas if nothing else!

I knew it would be tougher than when I had originally returned to work back in May.  A May timetable with no year 11 or 13 and countless trips across other year groups is very different to a September timetable, when new courses are starting up and resources need creating or adapting to suit different classes.  My September timetable contained six year 11 classes and a year 10 class, amongst others, so I would also spend lunchtimes holding coursework catchup sessions for those GCSE students.

Not only would my workload be higher, but my personal life at the weekends was also looking rather full during September.  For each of the weekends my calendar was pretty jam-packed full of activities.

Week 1: Marshaling at Go Beyond Northampton Half Marathon
Week 2: At a friend’s wedding
Week 3: Round Norfolk Relay
Week 4: Ealing half marathon
Week 5: Oscar’s birthday party/christening

There wouldn’t be a lot of time for sleep, running or baby cuddles.  With my Mum very poorly I also wanted to try and fit in as many visits back to Norfolk as was practical.
As a new ambassador for Decathlon I was also really looking forward to the Decathlon blogger meet up at the end of the month, although was concerned that I would be burnt out by that point and unable to fully enjoy the activities that had been planned for us all.

As it turned out though, things didn’t really go quite to plan for September.  I had severe back pain from the second week of the month, managing to run the Round Norfolk Relay only having dosed myself up with double-strength Ibuprofen first, and then unable to run any further miles in September.  The day after the Round Norfolk Relay, my Mum was once again admitted into hospital with a serious infection and so many trips were made over to Norwich hospital for visits during the week, as well as twice-daily phone calls to help support my Dad.  Following one weekend visit and eating in the questionable hospital canteen I ended up throwing up over and over.  My Dad was also left feeling poorly that evening.  I made the difficult decision to pull from Ealing Half Marathon – I hadn’t been able to walk with a straight back for ten days by that point and also I felt it was more important to be with my family in Norfolk.

By the time I began the final week of my contract, I was really struggling.  By Wednesday lunch time my face was hot to touch – burning up, whilst my coat-clad body shivered uncontrollably from the cold.  At 3pm that day I made the decision to head for home, leaving my half-finished marking laid out on the shared office desk with a post-it note stuck to the top reading “Really sorry, – feeling totally pants this afternoon.  Will clear in the morning.”

Oscar's first birthday

That Wednesday was Oscar’s birthday, only I never saw him that day as I rang to cancel my physio appointment on the way home, before curling up into a little ball in my bed, texting Dan to ask if he would be able to pick Oscar up from nursery on his way home from work later that night instead.

The following day I couldn’t even get out of bed, and napped on and off all day, feeling very sorry for myself.  I left emailing Decathlon until the very last minute to say that I wouldn’t be able to make it that evening, just in case I perked up a little and was able to still attend.  I so wanted to attend.  I knew deep down that I would be too poorly to go though, and even if I did manage to sit through the train journey down, I would not be well enough to enjoy the activities they had planned for us once down there.

Friday, my last day at school and I was still too poorly to attend.  What a funny end to my time at the school.  I’ve been in this week to clear my desk and tidy up a few loose ends, but the end of my time there wasn’t how I imagined it to be at all.Oscar's first birthdayThe Saturday was spent opening up Oscar’s birthday presents and last minute cleaning and tidying ready for Oscar’s guests the following day.  I managed to get through the weekend somehow, although I still don’t feel 100%.

…But we did make it through the other side.

Our life will be better now.  That hard work was worthwhile, as it has put a nice pot of money into our bank which we can fall back on if necessary and I’ve been told any future reference requests will be glowing following the work I put into my role.  I’m very glad that my time in school is over now though.  Despite working full pelt, I never felt like I was totally doing my best job of being a Mum or my best job of being a teacher or a daughter or wife.  I always just felt like I was getting by – existing and doing my best to not sink in the madness that was going on around me.  The last fortnight of the month contained several days where I managed only to grab something from the petrol station for lunch, and skipped tea altogether as I knew Oscar was being looked after at nursery for food and I really needed to get on with work.

This is the start of our new chapter now.  One hopefully filled with healthy living, three meals a day, a tidy house, family fun, lots of running, a return to blogging, and a better work-life balance for us all.  I struggle with that work-life balance, as I know many do.  But at the end of the day, life is short.  {How is Oscar one year old already?!}  I don’t want to look back and feel like I missed out because I was too busy working or wishing Oscar would go to sleep so that I could get some marking done.

Now to see how the next chapter of our life turns out…

Countdown to the Rio 2016 Olympics

It feels like hardly any time has passed since London held the 2012 Olympics.  I had put in for lots of tickets but was unlucky with all requests.  My friend managed to get tickets to see the Paralympic Dressage on several days though, so let me buy two tickets from her for one of the days and I went down with my Mum to watch the event.Dressage at the London 2012 Paralympics

At the start of the Summer I was actually out in Malawi on a school trip with a group of year 11 students.  We kept hearing updates on the Olympic events now and again as students received messages from home but I was a little upset not to have really been able to see any of the footage in my home country, so it was nice to receive the Paralympic tickets on my return.

A couple of weeks ago I was contacted to see if I was available to head down to London for the one year countdown celebrations for the Rio 2016 Olympics.

Tuesday 4th August marked the start of the one year countdown and Fitness First – as the official fitness partner of Team GB – were holding some exclusive workshops hosted by some of the Team GB coaches.

There were three fifteen minute sessions repeated throughout the day:
Strength and conditioning: The Power to Perform
Nutrition: Introduction to Performance Nutrition
Psychology: Introduction to Sports Psychology and Motivation

Anna posted on Twitter that she hoped to attend the event and so we decided to meet up beforehand and head over to the Fitness First studio in Bishopsgate together.  Much less scary going into something new with somebody you have already met!

I woke early and caught the train down from Cambridge.

train down to LondonWe had been given a hashtag to use for the event – #everydaywinners and upon entering it on Twitter I discovered that HelenEmma and Christine were also going down for the event.

My train arrived and I grabbed a quick Costa whilst waiting for Anna’s train to come in.  I had been organised the night before and collected together a map with directions from the station to the Fitness First studio, along with my train time details.  The map said it would take 5 minutes to walk to the studio.  I’m betting that it actually took us closer to an hour.  Navigating London is clearly a not a strong point for either of us!

When we finally arrived and had given over our blog names we were ushered downstairs.  This gym was enormous and just looked amazing inside.  I’m very jealous that none of the gyms out this way are even close in comparison!  One of my favourite features was the video on the wall of the workout area which showed you how to complete different exercises.  Very handy to have right there in front of you!

We weren’t waiting long before the group of us that had gathered were ushered over to the workout area and introduced to Duncan French.  Duncan is internationally recognised as a leading strength and conditioning expert. Included on his resume are Olympic, World Championship, and Commonwealth Games medallists from a variety of sporting disciplines, as well as a current world record holder.

A few bars were issued out, although there ended up being more bloggers than bars – probably why I look a little sad in the below picture as I was still without at this point.

Fitness First workshopImage from fourfits_ Instagram.

I was soon issued a bar though.  Luckily the bars weren’t heavy at all and Duncan showed us a variety of moves to try which we then had to put into a sequence at the end of the session.  Some of the moves started off fairly easy, although my form wasn’t always correct, as shown in the photo below that Anna took!

Lifting at the Fitness First eventCheck out my rounded back!
Duncan explained to us that we weren’t focusing on strength, but that we should be focusing on our co-ordination.  Something I have proven in the past that I am lacking in!  He explained that we should be focusing fully on the task at hand, and not just absentmindedly lifting a couple of weights up in the corner of the gym.  The first task when you arrive for a workout should be to get your mind in the right state ready for a good session.Duncan French at Fitness First

The session we worked on included pulling the bar up, squatting, rolling it and returning to the original position.  I messed up the sequence a few times when I wasn’t fully focusing, and when we went down for the squats my legs reminded me that I had put them through a 70 mile race just three days earlier!

The second session was led by James Collins, a leading Sport & Exercise Nutritionist. James was heavily involved in advising Team GB Olympic teams and individuals in the run up to the London 2012 Olympic Games.

When I heard what the three sessions for the day were going to be based on, I was probably most looking forward to this one, although it felt rather generic when we were there.  We were handed a few powerpoints to share out between us and were talked through some basic nutrition principles for sport.  Being interested in this area I was already aware of quite a lot of the information we were being told and felt that it might have been nice to hear a few examples of athletes that James had dealt with and how he had helped them specifically adapt their diet.  We only had a 15 minute session though, and I would imagine that composing a talk for a group of ‘unknowns’, all of different fitness levels and from different sports would be a difficult task.

The final session was the most interesting of all and was the psychology session led by Sarah Cecil.  Sarah is a technical lead Sport Psychologist at the English Institute of Sport and has worked extensively with a range of sports for over 10 years including canoeing, fencing, athletics, shooting and women’s rugby.

We got to sit down for this session, which my legs thoroughly appreciated!

Bloggers at Fitness First eventAnna had the sense to take notes on her phone all the way through the talks and I wished I’d pulled out my notepad and paper from my bag before the sessions began.  Although I would have felt a little silly scribbling notes down!  I also thought afterwards I probably should have brought my camera rather than relying on the camera on my phone as I would have gotten much better quality images than the ones I came away with.

Sarah Cecil at Fitness FirstSarah talked us through how our brain reacts to situations – the fight, flight or freeze response and how best to not let our automatic responses damage our performance by adapting to either the physical or mental stress that has been added to our environment.

The whole morning seemed to be over very quickly, and I would have liked to have experienced much longer sessions than we had.  As soon as we started to get into a session it seemed to already be over which was a shame.  On leaving we were each given a water bottle, towel and drawstring bag and have been given a month pass to a local Fitness First gym.  Although there aren’t really any ‘local’ to me, I am hoping to try out the one at Bedford a couple of times as I was really impressed with the Fitness First in Bishopsgate.

Fitness First and Team GB have collaborated to produce a quiz to help people discover what sport they might be best suited to based on speed, stamina, strength, power and agility.  Apparently, despite there being 28 different sports featured in the Summer Olympics, us Brits tend to stick to just four – running, cycling, football and swimming.  The idea behind the quiz is to encourage people to take part in sports that they might not otherwise have considered, potentially being sports that they could do well in!

When I tried the quiz I was told that I should give volleyball a go.  It’s not something I’ve ever tried but I would be happy to try it.  I can do jumping around!  :)

Volleyball player

See what sport the quiz suggests you should take up.

Afterwards, Helen led Anna and I to O-Food, a Scandinavian sandwich bar where I enjoyed a Bello sandwich – Herb baked Portobello mushroom, pickled red cabbage and Spanish Guindilla chillies with roast pepper relish and parsley pesto on sourdough roll.

Bello sandwich from O-FoodIt was delicious.

I really enjoyed having a long chat with Helen and Anna all about running and blogging.  There aren’t many people day-to-day that I get to talk blogging with, so it was nice to compare stories and have a laugh over lunch.

My legs were rather achy by the end of the day and I may or may not (totally did!) have fallen asleep for most of the train journey back home again.

Which sport was suggested for you by the quiz?
What is your favourite feature about the gym you go to?

A less Grim recovery

Last year when I ran the Grim Reaper 70 mile event it took me a long while to recover.  I had planned to run several easy 5k distances the week following the race.  The reality was rather different though, and I ended up taking a break from running for three weeks; the week following the race and the two weeks of my honeymoon following it as well.  My legs and head were just not ready to return and my body appreciated the extended break.

This year I have felt differently.  I knew that I wanted to attempt a more ‘active’ recovery and had a complete day of rest on the Saturday afternoon once I had awoken from my slumber.
I walked to and from the pub with Dan to watch the football on the Sunday.  (About a 20 minute walk in each direction.)
On Monday I repeated the walk, but this time in to town.  Forty minutes of walking is nothing usually, but I wanted to make sure that I did not overdo things.

On the Friday (first 53 miles or so of the race) I had actually run/walked 109,531 steps according to my Garmin Vivofit.  My highest daily step count yet!

Vivofit - a lot of stepsFor anyone wondering what happens to the display screen on the Garmin when you reach the 99,999-100,000 step point it is a bit of an anti-climax.  The screen display just returned to a zero.  I’m not sure what I was expecting exactly, perhaps a moving image of congratulations or streamers to spring out of my watch would have been nice?!  Haha!

I just realised I never posted a comparison between the two years I ran the Grim Reaper race, so here is a little table to show how my improvement was over each lap…

2014 2015
Miles 0-10 2:14:09 2:02:51
Between laps 1-2 0:03:37 0:02:47
Miles 10-20 2:25:17 2:12:55
Between laps 2-3 0:14:26 0:06:48
Miles 20-30 2:31:57 2:24:28
Between laps 3-4 0:19:41 0:10:31
Miles 30-40 2:45:13 2:34:21
Between laps 4-5 0:26:18 0:17:10
Miles 40-50 3:00:50 2:30:55
Between laps 5-6 0:17:41 0:20:38
Miles 50-60 3:07:24 2:56:16
Between laps 6-7 0:39:14 0:13:40
Miles 60-70 3:50:44 2:55:55
Total time: 21:56:31 18:49:15

Every single lap time and between laps time was quicker this year apart from the stop between laps 5 and 6 which was when I chose to go to the toilet and add some extra layers.  My laps were much more consistent this year as well and it was really only the last two that were noticeably slower.

Tuesday this week and I was off to London for a blogging event where I met up with Anna, Helen and Emma and we were put through a few moves in the gym.  ( Proper post about this event to follow. )  I showed how poorly I could execute these moves as shown in the picture Anna sent over below!…

Me lifting weights

Check out those rounded shoulders and that face that isn’t facing forwards.  Gah!  Oh well, the weights weren’t heavy at all.  Instead we were concentrating on focus and co-ordination here (I am very lacking in the co-ordination department.  Let’s just say my sport of choice is running for a reason! 😛 Although I used to love team games like netball and rounders when I was at school.)

Although the weights weren’t heavy, we did participate in a lot of squats and I thought afterwards that squatting on semi-tired legs probably hadn’t been the best of ideas.  I also upped the walking from 40 minutes the day before to several hours as I negotiated the journey to Cambridge train station then London itself.  Anna and I discovered we weren’t the best at following either map or phone directions to get to the gym and our journey ended up much longer than the estimated 5 minutes to get from station to Fitness First, where the event was held.  My legs were rather achy by the end of Tuesday and I kept my evening very laid back and lazy to compensate.

They felt fresher by Wednesday and I was itching to head out for a chatty run, so joined the trail group for 6 easy miles later that evening.  I made sure to keep things nice and steady and it was good to catch up with others that had also run the event at the weekend and discuss recovery. heart rate and all those other things us runners chat about after a race!

Yesterday involved a mad rush around town trying to pick up a few items for my upcoming anniversary.  (I can’t believe Dan and I will have been married for a year already this coming Sunday!)  As it was the first Thursday of the month, this meant it was also the committee meeting that night at running club, which is held immediately after training.  I sit on the committee as website editor and thought I might as well head out for a little run if I was going to be at the club anyway.

This week is the first week of a half marathon training plan that groups 4,5 and 6 are following at the club.  Running in group 4 last night we were all supposed to be running just 5 miles at 9:15-9:30mm pace.  I thought the short distance and not too speedy pace would be OK for my legs, although the group ended up moving much quicker than it was supposed to be.  So despite my legs feeling quite good I decided to keep pulling myself back to try and remain a little sensible and not get carried away.

I’m switching to a rest day today to compensate, and Dan and I shall be away tomorrow so I won’t be able to run anyway.  I’m feeling much more comfortable than I did last year after the Grim though.  Maybe it is down to spending less time out on the course this year?  Or having a better strategy to keep moving throughout?  Whatever it is, I am very grateful but shall not be taking it for granted.  The slightest twinge and I shall adjust my training to ensure that I do my best to remain injury free.

A couple of links:
Lauren has just written a great post about recovering from the Race to the Stones ultra
Stephen from also ran the GR70 at the weekend and made a great film of the race

How do you come back from a big event?

Pilates, Whole Foods, bloggers and Coombe Abbey

This weekend was a busy one. I do love busy weekends but really struggle with getting back into the working week again afterwards when I haven’t made time for the housework, schoolwork and admin stuff I would normally slot in over the weekend.

On Friday evening I headed to Wellingborough Rugby Club where one of my old coaches was holding a charity race night (all races were pre-recorded and shown on the big screen).  Dan and I didn’t have much luck with the actual betting, but we did pick a winner in the raffle!  Dan graciously let me have the free one to one pilates session (I really couldn’t imagine him giving it a go!)Pilates win in the raffle

I’m a little nervous about somebody seeing just how weak and inflexible my body is, but at least in a one-to-one session I won’t be able to compare myself against lots of super supple people.  This week is a little busy with a 10k race on the calendar tomorrow evening, trail run with friends on Wednesday after school and then a parents evening on Thursday but hopefully I shall manage to book my pilates session for the start of the Summer holidays and it will work out as a nice way to wind down at the end of term.

On Saturday morning I headed to London to meet up with several other foodie/fitness/running bloggers. It was something I had both looked forward to and been incredibly nervous about for a long time. Some of the bloggers that I knew were going I regularly communicate with over blog comments/Twitter/Instagram but there were a few bloggers that I hadn’t heard of before, so most likely would not know who I was either. My biggest worry was that when we met up (outside Whole Foods at 1pm) that I would be stood right next to other bloggers without noticing and then there would be that awkward realisation a little while later, followed by an awkward silence coming from the embarrassment of not realising…  Awkward!

In the end I decided to give parkrun a miss in the morning rather than rushing back home following the run, showering and changing super quick, leaping in the car and storming off to London probably leaving my directions on the kitchen counter and forgetting my purse – which would without a doubt have stressed me out.
Instead, I decided to give myself a lot of extra time, enjoyed a little lay in and went through my directions in great detail with Dan. I decided it was probably easiest to drive down to Camden and so Dan found me directions to a parking lot not far from the station and I ended up arriving with plenty of time to kill at a little before 11am, long before our meeting.

Whole Foods was easy to find and after some brief stressful moments pushing through the crowds in the city I decided it would be best to find a pub with WiFi and perch up with my iPad until a little nearer the time. I am really not a London fan and much prefer to live life as a country bumpkin!

I hate London screenshot(As you can tell from my phone screenshot I’m rubbish at responding to social media alerts!)

Just before 1pm I headed back over to Whole Foods. There was someone outside.  Should I recognise them? (I didn’t!) I panicked, rang Dan and continued to walk round the corner on the phone. Turns out I shouldn’t have recognised them (unless they repeated the same ridiculous panic procedure as me but then instead of returning, left completely!) and as I turned back onto the street a few minutes later I spotted Anna. I recognised Anna from having read her blog for the past few years and so immediately felt a bit more relaxed.  As I got closer I could see that she was stood with Pip and Cat and not long after Ceri joined us as well.  I felt very silly for having a moment and being shy. I’d been looking forward to meeting up with the other bloggers for ages.

Our first task was to grab some lunch from Whole Foods to take to the park. This should be easy right? Apparently not! It did make me smile that all five of us spent a long time deliberating over what to choose. There was certainly much more choice than when I pop to Tesco on a Saturday lunchtime! I walked by as Pip was ordering a burrito box without the burrito and decided to follow suit. I am all about the variety when it comes to meals and so I got the guy behind the counter to throw everything in that box; rice, black beans, guacamole, lettuce, tomatoes, sweetcorn, red onion, sour cream… My box was overflowing with delicious food and I made a mental note to recreate this box for some of my lunches this week. I also picked up a pot of mixed fruit salad.

Whole foods burrito counter

Claire joined us before we headed to the park and the six of us found a nice half-shady-half-sunny spot out on the grass.  It was so hot out there on Saturday, the shade was a welcome break.  The chat was nice and relaxed over lunch. Mainly food natter with a bit of running thrown in. Anna had brought along her Cakeathon medal and my jealousy grew for how beautiful and HUGE and heavy it was in real life!

Anna and I blindly followed the London-based folk back out of the park and to inSpiral, a nearby vegan cafe, to meet up with a couple of other bloggers a little later.  I was glad it wasn’t just me that was a bit overwhelmed with navigating the streets of London!  I was amazed at how many runners were out on the streets in the middle of the afternoon.  It was so hot outside and the streets were so crowded I couldn’t imagine that getting a very consistent run in would have been particularly easy.  I’m glad I live where I do.

Once in inSpiral we met Laureen and Lily for drinks and cake.

Blogger meetup in inSpiral

Despite the eight of us having all blogged regularly for a while now we only managed to take one photo between us which included actual people.  (Picture above stolen from Cat!) But, we did all manage to take photos of our meals from the day.  But of course(!)

It was a great debate over what to drink.  In the end I settled on an inSpiral shake – ‘Made from a tub of our raw vegan cashew-based ice cream and blended with your choice of milk and a dash of agave nectar.’  I went for mint choc chip with almond milk and it was lovely and refreshing.  I do much prefer almond milk to cows milk since I have begun drinking it.  If only more places offered a choice like this!

My cake of choice was a Raw Hazelnut Tart – ‘creamy hazelnut and vanilla filling on an activated buckwheat, cacoe and hazelnut crust topped with a raw chocolate ganache.’

inSpiral Raw Hazlenut Tart

…I made the right choice!

I had a great day and chatted to so many lovely people.  I can’t believe how nervous I had been at the start of the morning now and wished I had chatted more.  With so much in common with everybody I’m not sure how I expected us to have nothing to talk about, because there was not a moment of silence once we had all met.  It was just a shame that the day seemed to go by so quickly.  I shall definitely be putting my name down for another meet up! :)

The drive home was a little eventful, as the fuel gauge display in my car would not display anything and I had no idea how much petrol was remaining in my car, or at what speed I was driving!  Once out of London I managed to pull over and turn off my car.  When I started it back up again the display seemed to work so I asked no more questions!

The following morning I was up bright and early to marshal at the Coombe Abbey running festival for Go Beyond.  The day was completely different to the Saturday and this time I had awoken to grey skies and constant drizzle.  The A14 being closed off and adding an extra 35minutes to my journey didn’t brighten my mood at all. Coombe Abbey running festival start line Go BeyondI was managing the registration tent on Sunday; directing runners to the right queues and running over to the chip guys with details of runners entering on the day.  The weather did pick up a lot later on in the day and I’m pretty sure my face got a little burnt in the afternoon.  I did get a few odd questions whilst chatting to runners before they collected their entry packs.  One runner had forgotten his money and wondered if he could pay in euros?!  (The answer, for anyone thinking of doing the same in future, was ‘no’ I’m afraid.)  Apparently the day before someone had asked the question ‘If it doesn’t rain this evening, will the course be dry?’  ?!

After seeing the last runner off over the finish line (10 minutes after the marathon had begun, as he had misjudged how long it would take him to get to the event!) I broke down the registration desk and moved over to the finish line where my next station point was at.  I do enjoy being on the finish line – giving out medals and seeing people achieve what they set out to do.

Go Beyond Coombe Abbey running festival medals

One runner really stood out on race day.  Rosanna Andrews from Northampton Road Runners was running the half marathon and won it.  Outright.  First lady, but also the first person to cross the finish line for the half marathon distance!  Her Mum was also the third lady over the marathon finish line. I’ve never watched a race before where a woman has come first!  There was actually less than two minutes between the first guy and the first lady for the marathon as well.  With the course set on loops (12 loops for the marathon distance) it was really exciting to monitor the current placings as runners started each new lap and to keep track of who was in the lead.

I was absolutely knackered by the end of the day though and enjoyed a little nap back at home before tea!

How do you prefer your weekends?  Busy or relaxed?
Have you ever met people through their blog before?
Favourite random question you have been asked as a marshal?!
Have you ever witnessed a woman beating all of the men in a race?