Last year I got properly fit. Not just run a marathon fit but whole body fit. In doing so my running times improved immensely and I felt better than I ever had. Feeling so happy in my life meant that I could no longer to put up with a negative work situation and I finally found the courage to jack it in. I was suddenly unemployed and totally free to go anywhere and do anything. I wanted to do something that was going to consolidate my fitness, not ruin it with nights out drinking vodka martinis and ranting about my old boss, so I chose on the spur of the moment to attend a course that my old personal trainer was now teaching out in Kenya. I’d never been on a fitness holiday, never been to Kenya, never really contemplated doing such a thing, but suddenly two weeks later I was driving up to Baraka House and about to embark on a nine day kickstart. And it really did kickstart everything. I had an absolute blast waking up at 6am, exercising three times a day, learning to box, to run barefoot and swimming 4 kilometres in open water, a feat I previously thought impossible. I also made great friends, laughed a lot, ate fantastic food and discovered that East Africa is a very, very unique part of the world. I loved it so much I’m going back in a few days to try and improve my fitness levels after my stress fracture in a safe and varied environment…and of course drink a few Tuskers at the end.
When I first started working out I always wore basic black. It was the easiest thing to roll out of bed, jam on a pair of leggings and a top and leave for the gym or a run without worrying about things mismatching or standing out. As I got more confident about my exercise abilities I began to seek out louder workout gear, items that made me feel great as well as performing properly. By the time I started doing Crossfit even the instructors began to comment on my seemingly endless array of patterned leggings and matching / artfully clashing trainers, it was a proud moment indeed when one trainer said I was the best dressed woman at Crossfit. But not as proud as the moment I managed my first T2B (toes to bar).
Sadly, many of the items of clothing available on the market aren’t that inspired and definitely cater to the customer I was five years ago when I just wanted to slip under the radar in basic black. It’s hard to find exercise gear that really stands out and does the technical bit too. I haunt the Nike running shop in Covent Garden but often find it uninspiring and a bit same-y, Sweaty Betty sometimes produces a colourful outfit, Stella McCartney for Adidas is way too expensive and overly flouncy. I have found Black Milk a good source of out there leggings for the gym (but alas they aren’t quite so comfortable for long runs) and Sports Direct, whilst not glamorous, is always good for a rummage for cheap Nike kit and high vis jackets (when you’re training for a marathon in the winter months you need more than one).
So when I was in Australia last year the discovery of Lorna Jane was one I embraced wholeheartedly. Patterned leggings and matching bra tops, singlets with inspirational quotes to get you going, vests with a bit of detail and neat accessories like headbands that actually stay put all went into my suitcase home. The company have recently started to sell their wares in the UK and for a fortnight recently opened a pop up store where I couldn’t resist a rather fabulous floral zip up shell for the winter months that will soon be upon us. I have only one complaint – why is so much of the stuff handwash only?
Last year I lost quite a lot of weight – around a stone and a half, by following Weight Watchers and adding Crossfit to exercise regime (I already ran quite a bit). After six months I weighed under 10 stone and felt fitter than I had in years but the Weight Watchers thing was getting me down.
Yes, I undoubtedly weighed less but I was still eating unhealthy foods – you can splurge on chocolate and booze or eat a microwave meal as long as it is within your daily points limit. So, when my Crossfit gym suggested a paleo challenge last November I thought it sounded like a way of eating that was worth exploring, moving away from processed foods and getting back to basics. It was a month that had a profound impact upon the way I eat. For a start I don’t think I’ve eaten a microwave meal since. I rarely eat any form of grain or legume (unless I’m in a fancy restaurant and the bread is really good or I’m on holiday in Italy and turning down the fresh pasta seems like a sacrilege), my egg consumption has gone up and they have become an integral part of my diet, I’m beginning to like kale (it’s a learning curve) and when I do eat diary I eat the full fat version. I think more about my food and what I’m cooking and I notice the hidden horrors in all kinds of foods you wouldn’t think contain it (did you know that even M&S plain peeled and cooked prawns contain added sugar…?).
In July, after a particularly decadent fortnight in Italy and a trip to Africa where I thought it would be churlish to turn down good food given to me, I needed to get back on track, so I did a month on the Whole 30 to re-programme myself. I was nervous about the challenge as I have always thought of myself as a bit of a chocoholic. A month without chocolate, heck no added sugar at all, was daunting but in reality I found it surprisingly easy. I never found myself in the grip of a sugar mad lust for a Galaxy bar or a packet of Harbio and to my surprise a date really did cut it when a slight sugar craving hit. Doing the Whole 30 takes some research, a good chunk of commitment and lots of discipline when it comes to cooking your meals or preparing food to take with you when you’re out and about. There were ‘rules’ I fell foul of on the first week when I was still getting to grips with it (carrageenan in almond milk, ‘paleo’ pancakes being off-limits, a slight misunderstanding about peas) but ultimately I think I did pretty well to stick to the letter of the challenge. The only real difficulty for me was not having any booze. July was the hottest month in England in quite some years and not being able to enjoy a cold class of white wine on a summer evening or a beer with friends at a festival at times felt like torture but the fact that is was so hard convinced me it was worth persevering with.
Since finishing I have had a drink or two and even a celebratory Magnum ice cream, enjoying the relative freedom to eat something in a restaurant without asking them to omit butter or substitute salad for fries, but already I feel sluggish compared to a month of eating really, really well. Ultimately I need to remember that don’t feel deprived of food when I eat paleo foods, any deprivation I feel is usually social and clearly my relationship with food is deeply rooted in the communal experience and its bonding abilities. There are still some bad habits there but these are ones that I am in control of that little bit more than before. Hopefully.
Six months ago my fitness goals for this year would have been different than they are now. I would have listed possible achievements that centred around speed – a sub 21 min 5k, a 1:45 half marathon and a 3:40 marathon. I had reached a level of fitness and confidence that meant these were within reach. However, with the current state of my ankle these will not happen this year.
Short term goals:
- Run 5k distances regularly without pain.
- Deadlift more than my body weight – 70kg seems like a good number to aim for.
- Add a weekly session of yoga or Pilates or at the very least an hour of stretching at home.
- 5 strict press ups.
Long term goals:
- Unassisted pull ups! Still my fitness holy grail.
- Pistol squats – darn near impossible but all the more reason to practice.
- Take part in an ultra in 2014.
- Run a 6 minute mile.
- Do a Colour Run and a Tough Mudder.
- Add more sports to my routine. I’d love to spend more time rock climbing, playing squash and swimming front crawl at a decent pace.