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School Run Run

My kids are all at secondary school now. My daughter was the last to leave primary school and while I like the fact my work capacity has increased by not having to drive her to school every morning, I do kind of miss it. Her school was in the most fabulous rural location and the school run was really a pleasure. Unless it was icy, when it was a total nightmare! I would often leave the car there and go for a run from her school before heading home to work. I’ve found myself missing those routes so on occasion I’ve been driving up there just to go for a run. When you see the photos from my run the other day you’ll see why I miss it so much!

I headed up one Sunday morning when the skies were clear and the wind not too strong as it’s pretty exposed. The route starts on a quiet country road with woodland on one side and views into a steep valley and across to the Lake District on the other. The sun was coming up through the trees. In Spring these woods are full of bluebells but they look completely different, though just as stunning, in autumn.

The road goes up and up. The steepest part is on Silly Lane which always makes me chuckle as I go past the sign, swiftly followed by gasping of breath as the hill kicks in. When you get near to the top however it begins to open up onto wide expanses of farmland with the moors rising behind them.

The roads here are just calling out to be run on. There’s very little if any traffic. I mean, who could look at a road like this and not just want to run forever?

More climbing and more breath taking scenery takes me to my favourite spot on the run and one of my ultimate views. I have so many photos of this exact view. A friend of mine actually decided to paint it from one of my photos and I can see why. It always looks different. I could stand here for ages and just look. It’s usually a welcome pause on a tough route.

On this occasion, as I was admiring the view and being mindful. I heard some cyclists coming and heard one of them talking about biology and maths homework. It was a lovely surprise to see my son and his mate out for a bike ride. I was so proud of them. I don’t think many 16 year olds voluntarily get out of bed early on a Sunday to cycle into the hills! I loved that they were able to appreciate this stunning day and were having a good old chat about life as they were doing it. I captured them cycling away into the distance.

It was soon onwards for me to the second half of the run, which I love just as much as you can see the three Yorkshire peaks rising on the horizon. Sometimes they look so close that you feel as if you could reach out and touch them and other days they are lost in the clouds and you don’t even realise they are there.

It was a lovely run back to my car and then a short drive home to get the roast in. Perfect. This route is just under 7 miles so it’s an ideal distance for an easy Sunday run for me. I can actually run to the school and avoid driving altogether but this adds on another 6.5 miles and an extra 500m of ascent which wasn’t what I was up for today. Next time!

I hope you’ve enjoyed sharing my run with me. I am so grateful that I can run in locations like this and believe me when I say that I never take it for granted.

Do You Eat Breakfast?

‘Breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper’. It’s impressed upon us from an early age that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Yet around one in five Brits don’t have breakfast at all and one in three don’t eat it regularly. It’s often midday before people eat at all, with many being fulled by coffee in the meantime.

There’s plenty of evidence to show that the brain needs energy from food to function well. Alertness, concentration and cognitive performance all improve after eating. Much of that research has been done on school-age children to back-up the need for breakfast clubs. One in four secondary school kids don’t eat breakfast. It’s hard to learn on an empty stomach.

Beyond the brain there’s also great debate about the wider health benefits of breakfast. Some studies show that eating breakfast helps people control their body weight by stabilising blood sugars, reducing cravings and setting circadian rhythms. Skipping breakfast has been associated with obesity, increased risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes. However, on the other side of the coin is the growing trend for regular fasting as a means to improve blood sugar control and sensitivity to insulin and thereby reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes. As usual with nutrition topics, it’s very confusing and we’ll find opposing arguments and different advice being recommended daily.

I don’t remember much about breakfast growing up but I know I ate it everyday. I do remember sprinkling sugar onto white Mother’s Pride toast (it was the 70s) and developing a love of Fruit ‘n’ Fibre in my teens. I was always hungry by break time. My husband however didn’t eat breakfast for many years. As junior doctors we had to eat breakfast with the attitude that we needed to scoff as much as we could because we didn’t know when we’d get another meal!

Being physically active has definitely changed my attitude towards breakfast. It’s no longer just a case of finding something that will fill me up until lunchtime but it’s the perfect opportunity to eat foods that will help my exercise. I can use food to help my body to repair itself from previous exercise and also to fuel the exercise I’m going to do in the day ahead. I can officially say that I LOVE breakfast, it’s probably my favourite meal of the day.

Fasted running, where you run in the morning without eating anything after around 10pm the night before, is another controversial topic. There’s some evidence that running without eating will encourage your body to burn fat and lead to faster gains in performance. There’s also some evidence that running fasted doesn’t reduce body fat, stresses the body which can lower immunity and has a negative effect on performance. I don’t tend to run fasted. Even if I’m running early and haven’t got up in time to eat and digest a good breakfast, I’ll usually have something like a handful of raisins or a quick swig of orange juice for some instant energy.

Often the barrier is finding something that you feel like eating and something that’s super quick to prepare and eat on a chaotic morning. My regular breakfast is Greek yoghurt (full fat) with a variety of toppings. We have a breakfast cupboard and it’s full of a whole range of things that you can throw on top of whatever you’re eating to make it healthier! I just mix and match every day according to what’s run out and what I feel like. It only takes a couple of minutes to put together and I know it’s nutritious, delicious and will fill me up! Here are some of the things I add to my yoghurt:

  • Granola, hemp or overnight oats – soaked in oat milk or cows milk
  • Berries – raspberries, blueberries, strawberries, goji berries, blackberries
  • Tinned peaches, pears or apricots
  • Other fruits – bananas or kiwi
  • Seeds – flax, sunflower, pumpkin, chia
  • Nuts – almonds, brazil, pecan, macademia

The yoghurt is giving a lovely dollop of protein and fat. The nuts and seeds give it a nutrient and protein boost and the fruit is adding more vitamins and anti-oxidants. So quick, tasty and nutritious. The nuts and seeds can be pricey (I can never understand why they cost so much) but if you shop around there’s a big variety in price. It’s always worth checking the baking section because they’re often cheaper there than in the snack section. And you only need a small amount on your breakfast so they last ages. Similarly, I often use frozen, tinned or dried fruit as it’s cheaper. I do love fresh berries but boy they can be expensive. A punnet of raspberries is about four each in this house and gone in less than 20 seconds after it’s been opened.

I know so many people that eat toast – a lot. It’s their breakfast and snack staple. We hardly ever eat it. The kids don’t really like it much. If I do eat it, it’s usually at lunchtime rather than breakfast but the other day I had delicious brown sourdough with peanut butter, bananas, honey and chia seeds for breakfast. I love brunch sometimes and that’s definitely toast time – sourdough, olive oil, avocado and poached egg with a scattering of salt and chilli flakes is my ultimate brunch! That doesn’t work on a busy weekday but as a weekend treat or mid-week lunch it can’t be beaten in my eyes.

Now we have kids of our own and have realised the importance of breakfast to help them learn we’ve had to adopt a far more open mind about what is acceptable breakfast food. My daughter gets up early because she likes to spend time making a healthy breakfast. She’ll make scrambled eggs, a fruit smoothie or eat rice cakes, apples and bananas spread with peanut butter. She never eats cereals. My middle son also hates cereals and likes to have soup, cauliflower cheese, tuna wraps or whatever is left over from the night before – yes, he’ll eat curry, pasta or roast potatoes. My eldest is more traditional in his breakfast choices devouring Readybrek, three Weetabix and around a hundred pancakes if we’re frying up! There’s certainly a lot of variety and to be honest, I think they’re better going off to school with a belly full of cauliflower cheese than a bowl of high sugar cereals, even if it does seem a little odd to some!

In my eyes breakfast is essential. I’d love to know if you eat breakfast and what you’re all munching on in the mornings. Is it the same everyday? Do you have any weird breakfast choices like my son? Do you exercise on an empty stomach? Is it your favourite meal of the day or just something you have to get through before heading out for the day?

I’m no food blogger or food photographer so I’ve chosen some stock images for this post – all from Pixabay – but here’s a few of the real thing and you can see my Insta stories for more of my Active Fuel (spoiler, we bake a lot).

Running Along the Leeds & Liverpool Canal.

I’ve really been enjoying exploring new running routes recently. It’s helped so much to keep running interesting and fresh. During the lockdowns I’ve found lots of new footpaths and routes locally. One reason I love running so much is that you can grab opportunities to pop on your trainers and explore new places.

My daughter was attending a dance audition in Shipley, near Leeds, so I found myself with three hours to fill. A quick look at the map showed me that the dance school was right on the Leeds & Liverpool canal – perfect! I figured I’d just run in one direction for an hour and then turn around and run back.

The Leeds & Liverpool canal is 127 miles long and is the longest canal in Britain. I’d seen lovely photographs of it when my friend Jo Moseley (@Healthyhappy50) had paddle boarded along it for her #PaddleboardTheNorth challenge. I was looking forward to some flat running for a change too. My aim was a slow run to just enjoy the scenery. The plan also came with the bonus that I couldn’t get lost!

The first thing I discovered was that I should have worn trail shoes! I was sliding around all over the place on mud and fallen leaves. This was a minor thing however as the autumn colours and reflections in the water were just stunning and far more important than my choice of footwear. I joined the canal in the centre of Shipley but it wasn’t long before it left the town and headed into woodland and then into open land.

Although my photos are empty, the canal path was busy with people out enjoying the glorious autumn day. I made it my mission to greet everyone. Walkers, runners, cyclists and dogs all got a cheery hello … and almost everyone replied too! I was literally loving every step. I thought I’d run 5 miles out and 5 back but I didn’t want to stop at 5 as it was just so nice so I made it 6 miles instead. Isn’t that often the way with running? Once you’re out you think you might as well just go a bit further than you’d planned.

I had my trusty Ultimate Direction hydration vest. I had plenty of fluid with my bottle full of my favourite 33Fuel energy drink. The vest also has space for my phone, purse, car key and rain jacket. And I still don’t feel as if I’m wearing anything when I run with it! I also rather wonderfully discovered some Go Bites in the pocket which I munched at the half way point. As you can see, the sun came out and it was rather hot!

I honestly just loved every step of this run. There was no pressure on me. I had loads of time and no set pace or distance. There was lots of human interaction which is such a treat at the moment. My mind could wander free and there was so much to look at – ducks, swans, boats, locks, woodland, bulls and sheep in fields and of course a good nosey at all the houses alongside the canal too.

Such a joyful run. It’s just as well I enjoyed it because my daughter passed her audition and once lockdown is over she’ll be spending plenty of afternoons at the dance studio as part of the Yorkshire Elite Associates. I look forward to exploring more of the canal and running along it as the seasons change.

Is there a canal near you that you enjoy running along? What do you like so much about it? Any tips for the best parts of this canal to run along? I was thinking of taking the train into Leeds and running back to Shipley next time.

Active Women – meet Alison Wren

For many people, the push to exercise comes from a health scare, whether it’s high blood pressure or like today’s guest, breast cancer. The desire to do as much as you can to improve your health can really spur you into action. Alison Wren is the perfect example of even when you can only swim ‘face out of the water’ breaststroke and don’t own a bike, you can begin training for a triathlon! Bringing exercise her life has even led to a redirection in Alison’s career. Read on and be inspired.

Tell us a bit about yourself Alison?

I’m 58 and live in Manchester with my husband and cat. For most of my adult life I’ve been an enthusiastic watcher of sport but not a participant. I’ve been self-employed since 2002, most recently as a digital marketing consultant specialising in the wedding industry. Running a business can be all consuming and exercise was not usually a priority until I took up triathlon four years ago. I’m now completely hooked! I’m currently studying to become a personal trainer as well as launching a new triathlon club for “back of the packers”. I want to encourage anyone to have a go at triathlon, no matter how old or unathletic they are.
You can visit my website Tail End Triers and find me on Twitter @AlisonWrenTri and Instagram @alisonwrentri

When did you decide to start exercising regularly and why was that?

Five years ago I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I had a mastectomy but luckily didn’t need chemotherapy or radiotherapy. However, I struggled to recover from surgery feeling constantly tired. I knew I needed to sort out my fitness. Cancer was a big wake-up call.

What activities have you tried and what’s your favourite?

I started running with couch to 5k working up to doing my first Parkrun. A cancer support group I was in was getting a group together to do a triathlon the following summer – I signed up! 

I booked swimming lessons (I could only do face out the water breaststroke), bought a bike and started getting myself fitter. I got round that first triathlon and absolutely loved it. And I discovered a passion for open water swimming.
I’ve now done several triathlons and open water swims including Lake Windermere, Loch Lomond and the river Dee.

What has been the biggest barrier you’ve had to overcome in your fitness journey?

I’ve always been useless at sport – slow and uncoordinated. I was inevitably last pick for teams at school. Learning to swim front crawl was a real struggle. Coordinating breath, arms and legs was too much – I drank copious amounts of pool water and it took a long time to be able to swim 400m continuously.
And I’m still a really slow runner and cyclist, which gets frustrating as inside I feel I should be a super fast athlete!

Have you had any negative comments and how have you dealt with them?

Not many – the one thing I have had are occasional patronising comments. 

Most coaches have been brilliant – supportive and encouraging – but there’s a tendency to equate slow with beginner. It takes a lot of courage to go to triathlon club training sessions when you’re older and slow, and being treated as a novice when you’ve done lots of events doesn’t help.

Also I’m a big fan of run/walk intervals and I’m actually faster over 5km with this method than if I try to run non-stop. When you do walk intervals you get a lot of comments which are meant to be encouraging but are actually quite annoying.

What goals have you set and have you reached any of them yet?

Every year brings new goals – my first was to get round a sprint triathlon. Then I wanted to swim a mile in open water. Next was complete an Olympic distance triathlon. I’ve done those.

I’ve still to manage under 30 minutes for a 5km run – a tantalising 18 seconds over last time.

My next big event was to have been a 3.6km sea swim in Australia in February 2021 but Covid has put paid to that for at least another year.

What benefits has being active brought you?

So many!

I feel better all round – fewer aches and pains (except when I fall off the bike!), more energy and better sleep.

Wanting to do better at sport has made me focus on eating better and drinking less. I’ve also made some great friends through triathlon.

And when my previous business collapsed at the start of the Covid pandemic, sport offered me an opportunity to retrain and start something new.

What advice would you give to other women who want to start exercising?

Just start. Don’t worry about being too old, slow or the wrong shape. Try different things and find what you enjoy.

What a wonderfully inspiring story of change! If you’ve become active and would like to share your journey to celebrate it and help motivate others then please get in touch.

Nature’s Treats: Running in Lockdown

Autumn running is certainly serving me up some treats at the moment. We’ve had endless rain in the NW of England but in between there have been some real gems of a day. After rain, the air is clear, the autumn colours seem even more vibrant and there’s that lovely chill in the air which is just perfect for running.

I’m trying to run more consistently, every day if I can, but I’ve dropped my distances to make this doable and kinder on my body. I’ve been doing this since mid September and I can already notice a difference. I feel fitter and stronger and I’m definitely benefitting from a more regular endorphin boost. I’ve also found it easier to fit in my runs. Just aiming for 30 minutes on most days makes it more realistic for me. I can run early before work, in a lunch break or at the end of the day. Consistency really is turning out to be key.

I was thoroughly spoiled by Mother Nature this week. I had to drop the car at the garage so the kids got a lift into school (hear the cheers), and on the way back I stopped at the local cycle path. It makes a nice change from the hills which surround my house!

The air was heavy with mist making it dark and slightly eerie. There weren’t many people around but every now and then I’d spot a figure in the mist ahead – it was so atmospheric. I loved this section running through the trees.

Crossing the bridge over the river Lune I was reminded that it’s always good to look for the small things. See the world through a child’s eyes and really notice what is around you. Every now and then when I’m running I try to really LOOK. It always amazes me when I see that I would have missed if I’d just rushed past. Today was no exception. There was a wonderful set of spider’s webs on the bridge, they were heavy with water from the misty air and the light shining on them made them sparkle. Beautiful.

I ran about 2.5 miles before turning round. On the way back, with every step I took the mist was clearing, the sun was appearing and patches of blue sky started peeking through. It was as if the world was waking up and I was running with it. By the time I reached the Crook of Lune and crossed the bridge over the river again, I was rewarded with a stunning view. A view that brought a sense of hope and lightness to my day. We’re all feeling the effects of the second lockdown and the pandemic in different ways. It can be hard to stay positive with so much negative news and being distanced from friends and family. Running certainly helps. Not only does it lift my mood but it takes me outside and closer to nature. This view was just a reminder that there will be an end to this at some point and it will be truly glorious.

Face Your Fear!

Do ever dream about living a life which is completely different to the one you’re in? Do you wonder how others achieve things that you don’t seem to be able to? Do you get scared about pressing ‘send’ on an email and worry about the consequences? Do you feel up to what you have taken on? Maybe you don’t put yourself forward in the first place for fear of getting it wrong? We’ve all been there! We’re all human. Fear can hold us back from so many things, from creating the future we want and from enjoying the life that we are actually living. But it doesn’t have to. You can face fear, turn around what it means to you and use it to help you succeed.

I’ve been working on a new project with 261 Fearless called the 261 Fearless Forward Wom-inar Series. A compilation of webinars designed to help you overcome fear. Alongside three outstanding women, we’ll tell you about our personal journeys and then delve deeper into how simply moving your body can help you transform your life. Looking at health, community and education we’ll explore the world of women today, figure out how fear holds us back and propose what we can do to change that.

It’s a series designed to give you advice, tips and inspiration for your own journey, whether that’s in your personal or business life. It doesn’t matter if you’re inactive or already doing lots of exercise, there’s motivation, encouragement and information for everyone. Come and learn from the experts!

The series ends with a live and interactive forum with the expert speakers on March 7th 2021, where you can share what you’ve learnt and ask questions too.

You can sign up for the full series or each webinar as a stand-alone too. Just head to the 261 Fearless Forward Webinar page.

In webinar one I’ll be sharing my own journey and discussing what fear is NOT. Then in webinar three I’ll be looking at the health of women today and how good health and being fearless go hand in hand.

Come and join us and take your first step to a life without the limits that fear places on you. Be fearless.

Active Women – meet Gemma Hicks

Consistent, healthy choices, every day over time can make a huge difference to your health. In this Active Women Interview, I talk to Gemma Hicks. She discovered that aside from losing weight, becoming active and fit has so many other benefits and it’s opened up a whole new world for her

Tell us a bit about yourself Gemma…

I have always been overweight. I was a chubby child. I hated any form of exercise and my parents, who are both quite sedentary, were always happy to offer a note to excuse me from PE. I was treated with sweets and chocolate if I behaved. My grandparents, who looked after me while my parents worked, fed me on large portions of wholesome food. If I ate it all, it was always followed by a good Yorkshire-style pudding like rice pudding or sponge and custard.

I became an obese teenager. I was relatively academic but never sporting. We never went for family walks or did any sort of sporting activities at the weekend. I continued the cycle of rewarding myself with food if I did a particularly difficult piece of homework or had a stressful day. I would celebrate with ‘treat food’ on a daily basis.

I toyed with various diets but nothing really worked for me. I was reasonably confident in myself but I was always aware of my weight and, at my biggest, weighed over 26 stone. There were lots of things I simply couldn’t do because of my size such as sitting in a chair with arms, going on fairground rides, flying on an aeroplane; I was physically unable to fit into the toilet cubicle and required an extendable belt. I have many an embarrassing tale of a sinking pedalo and hearing horrible jibes in the street from complete strangers.  Luckily, or perhaps unluckily, I never suffered from any health problems (no high blood pressure, diabetes or high cholesterol). This meant there was never any real reason for me to lose weight until I was intending to get married in my early 20s. The picture where I am in the green vest top was me on my 21st birthday. As you can see, I lost a large amount of weight but I did this in an unhealthy way. I stopped eating breakfast and lunch. I went to the gym five times a week for a couple of hours at a time and this was simply not sustainable.

That relationship broke down and I put back on all of the weight and more. Most recently, I have no idea what spurred me on to lose weight. I think I just woke up one day and decided I’d try Weight Watchers for one more time. That was around March 2016.

When did you decide to start exercising regularly and why was that?

I had dabbled in exercise at the gym previously and didn’t mind it but it took until around January 2017 for me to build up the confidence to join again. I started to see my weight drop and decided it was time to incorporate exercise into my lifestyle.  I would go to the gym several times a week. I would use the machines in the main part of the gym, the treadmill, the cross trainer and the weights. I always did a varied workout but never really got out of breath and sweaty. I seemed to think that by turning up and being there for an hour, doing bits and bobs, it was better than sitting at home on the sofa. Which of course it is but it didn’t really help my weight loss.

As my weight loss slowed and I gained more confidence, I decided to try one of the classes at the gym. I started off with a step class which made me cry. Eventually I fell into doing body combat and body pump classes. For the first time in a long time I found myself getting out of breath, puffing and panting and struggling to keep up but feeling great afterwards. The more I went to the classes, the easier they got and after about 12 months, I was starting to feel very confident. I was actually helping those new starters to get involved and feel comfortable in the classes. I also started spin classes at that point too.

What activities have you tried and what’s your favourite?

I tried rugby in my mid twenties, I didn’t have the aerobic capacity to run and didn’t like the idea of getting hurt so after one training session that was a no-no. I’ve done free weights and cardio gym work but I never knew if I was doing the right thing. I moved on to body pump, body combat and spin classes.  The pump and combat classes were a great way for me to get started in increasing my aerobic capacity but, once I became fitter, they didn’t challenge me as much, hence the spin and my decision to start running.

What has been the biggest barrier you’ve had to overcome in your fitness journey?

My weight, without a doubt. Despite having no health problems per se, being overweight makes everything physically so much harder and then there is the psychological side of it too. Being morbidly obese also made me paranoid. I felt that people were looking at me all the time due to my size, I wouldn’t eat fast food or go into fast food restaurants because of the stigma of being an obese person in there. I felt the same sort of stigma about being in the gym. Clearly I wasn’t a valid gym goer if I was overweight. Over time, with weight loss and increasing confidence I realised that 99 per cent of people in the gym didn’t even know I was there, unless I was on ‘their’ treadmill!

Have you had any negative comments and how have you dealt with them?

Yes, lots about my weight. I have been called out in the street by teenagers, tutted at etc. The only negativity I’ve had about my running is from my mum. It’s not really a negative but harks back to school PE and her not wanting me to do anything that I don’t want to. When I was having a wobble about the Virtual Great North Run she told me I didn’t have to do it if it was too hard. I know she was just being kind and didn’t want me to feel the pressure but at that point I saw part of the reason I had gotten to where I was. Part of me wanted her to give me a good talking to and say, you’ve trained for this, you’ve got this, now stop whining and go and smash it!

What goals have you set and have you reached any of them yet?

I’m not really sure why I started running.  I know I didn’t feel like I was getting as much from the classes any more. I was hungry to become fitter so I hired a personal trainer to make the most of the training time I had.  I was urged to set a goal, so I decided that I wanted to be able to run continuously for 5 km. My PT, Susie Hinchcliffe, built me up using the run/walk method to achieve that goal within a few months.

When I’d achieved that, I decided I wanted to be able to run 10 km without stopping. This was my next goal and my PT suggested I entered a race to spur me on. I did and I successfully ran my first 10km race in July 2019. That first race was awful. My mum turned up to cheer me on at the 1.5 mile mark and that made me cry but I kept going. I didn’t stop and the feeling of adrenaline I got having crossed the line was the most amazing feeling I had ever felt. For the first time in my life I felt that I had actually achieved something I could be proud of. I felt like I wasn’t being judged on how I looked, or my size. I felt ‘ordinary’ and also extraordinary at the same time!

The race was organised by my local running club Askern & District Running Club (ADRC), of which I’m now a member. They are the most supportive group of people I have ever met, they clearly have bigger faith in my abilities than I do and they share my passion for running as a means to keep happy and healthy and to allow me to eat the odd piece of cake!

My most recent achievement is the Virtual Great North Run, again done with support from ADRC.  I am yet to consider a marathon however, despite always saying I would never do it, I’m starting to feel the bug creeping in so I’m sure once I’ve done a few more half marathons that I’ll be building up to a full marathon. Who knows what the future holds!

What benefits has being active brought you?

It has given me my life back. I don’t think twice about nipping out to the shops on foot, walking a few miles to a friends house, going out to eat or appearing in photos. All things I would have avoided before I started running. Running now allows me to maintain a healthy weight and live a full life.

I have now lost in the region of 12 stone to get down to my current weight of around 14 stone. I have a fair amount of loose skin. I still have big hips, big legs and a big bottom. I have tummy rolls but I am the fittest I have ever been and fitter than many people I know who are slimmer than me. 

What advice would you give to other women who want to start exercising?

Do it! Don’t worry about it. Don’t spend too long analysing, considering or researching it. Get on the internet, have a quick search and go along to a few classes, groups or activities you think you might like. If you don’t like it, you can say you’ve tried it and move on to the next thing! Once you find what suits you, it won’t be a chore to fit it into your routine. You only regret the things you don’t do. Oh, and invest in a good sports bra, regardless of the exercise you choose!

What a wonderfully inspiring story of change! If you’ve become active and would like to share your journey to celebrate it and help motivate others then please get in touch.

Project Allotment – an update

I blogged back in May about how we had taken a space on our village allotment during lockdown. It was a way to get us active, working together as a family and of course, grow some fresh produce to eat! So how did ‘grow your own’ work out? Did we manage to actually grow some vegetables?

I’m pretty good at planting things but poor at getting them as far as our dinner plates. I badly wanted this to be a success. Seeing the other flourishing allotments around our little patch was encouraging but also rather intimidating. We’ve wandered round and looked at everyone else’s when it’s been quiet so we can get ideas and tips.

So, how has it gone? Well I would say pretty well! We’ve had some successes and some failures.

  • Courgettes – these grew really well at first and we harvested six big ones. We should have had twice as many but they went brown on the ends and just rotted. It had been quite damp and the flowers had gone a bit mouldy so we should probably have pulled these off sooner. They weren’t sitting on the ground but perhaps putting some straw or something down would help. Anyway, we enjoyed what did grow.
  • Tomatoes – these were a disaster. We harvested about six in total from four plants. One of the plants died quickly, the others limped on but always looked really unhealthy. We watered them lots. Perhaps too much or too little tomato feed? I think next time we’ll grow them at home where it’s more sheltered. Perhaps they’re not hardy enough for the patch.
  • Runner beans – a great success. They look lovely as they grow and they’ve been a tasty side dish for our Sunday roasts.
  • Lettuce – we planted too many! The type of lettuce we planted was a bit peppery Next time we’ll plant a few different varieties. They were at their peak when we were on holiday and had largely bolted by the time we got back making them even more bitter.
  • Beetroot – we have loads. We’ve eaten them roasted on Sundays and there are many more to come over the coming weeks.
  • Kale – probably our most successful plant. We kept them covered to stop the pigeons getting them when they were young. Crispy kale is our favourite. We’ve had plenty of iron and vitamin C from this harvest!
  • Pumpkins – never germinated. Shame. We’ll plant them inside next time rather than straight into the soil.
  • Carrots – they aren’t quite ready yet but we dug one up the other day to see and it looked really healthy. We should have a big crop and it looks like our makeshift fleece wrapping might have kept the carrot flies away.
  • French beans – a grand total of one bean! This was supposed to be a low level bush but perhaps we needed to give it something to climb up. Who knows?!
  • Celeriac – donated by a kindly allotment neighbour. We have two and they seem to be doing ok. Not sure how we will know when they’re ready or quite how to cook them but I guess that’s all part of the learning!
  • Parsnips – they better work out. They’re so boring to grow- take ages and ages and take up quite a lot of space. No idea when they will be ready, hopefully they’ll have some kind of growth spurt like my kids!

All in all, it’s definitely been a success. The kids (particularly my eldest) have stayed engaged and been down there regularly. I did wonder if the novelty might wear off but it hasn’t. They’ve even taken friends down to have a look which is nice. It’s encouraged them to widen their vegetable preferences too!

It’s a peaceful little haven at the allotment. You’re surrounded by trees, plants and the sound of the river, sheep and birds. I feel very relaxed there, it’s a real escape. Even if nothing had grown I think I’d still be glad we did it, for our mental health during this crazy coronavirus time. As it is, we’re hoping a larger plot comes up and we have all sorts of ideas about what we’d like to plant next year. In the meantime – I’m off for a kale and beetroot salad!

Quick Question – Can I exercise during my period?

Cramps, heavy bleeding, fatigue. Periods don’t exactly make you want to bound out of the door do they? But, is it actually ok to exercise when you have your period? Is it safe to work out when you’re menstruating? Is one type of exercise better than another when Aunt Flo is in town? There are many myths and misunderstandings when it comes to periods and exercise so let’s start with whether or not you should get fit while you bleed.

When I was teaching on the topic of women’s health to new running coaches at a 261 Fearless international training course, I received a very important reminder. Women’s health knowledge is not the same the world over. Some people may have looked at the title to this blog and said, ‘Yeah, of course you can!’ But in many parts of India, women are not even allowed in the kitchen when they have their period, let alone out on the street in their trainers. The African and Albanian women also said that it wasn’t widely known in their communities that it was ok to do so. Women in some communities are viewed as being more fragile, or even dirty during their period so are best kept away from exertion, other people and foodstuffs. If your answer to the question is an obvious yes, then you are lucky to have that personal knowledge and societal attitude.

Having said that, when your period has started and you’re feeling lousy, you might well question whether exercise is a good or bad thing. In general, the answer to the question is yes, it’s ok to exercise during your period, but there are a few things you should take into account:

Blood flow

The first couple of days are usually the heaviest; longer for some women. A very heavy period can make you feel light headed, dizzy and even a bit weak. If that’s the case, you might want to chose something less strenuous like walking or a stretch class. There’s the practicalities of dealing with a heavy flow and worrying about blood leaking out too which can make you feel less confident. A moderate or light flow shouldn’t interfere with your ability to exercise or affect your performance either.

Tips: Have a look at period pants which you can use on their own but also alongside tampons and pads to prevent blood leaking onto clothes. Very heavy periods can lower your body’s iron stores so make sure you have plenty of iron-rich foods and consider an iron supplement. Speak to your doctor about whether you need a blood test to check for anaemia (low red blood cell levels) and if there is a way to reduce or stop your period flow.

Period pain

Whether it’s a dull lingering ache or sharper more intermittent pain, period pain is exactly that – a pain! Simple period pain is caused by increased levels of chemicals called prostaglandins which cause the muscular wall and lining of the womb to cramp up. Medications which lower prostaglandins, such as ibuprofen, can help to relieve period pain but whether exercise can is more controversial. In September 2019, a Cochrane review (a large review of all available studies) found that exercising at any intensity for between 45 and 60 minutes, three times per week, caused a large reduction in period pain. The authors pointed out however that the studies that were of poor quality so more research needs to be done. They also focused on women under 25 and didn’t include resistance training. We also don’t know from this whether exercising during a period itself, rather than simply ‘regular exercise’ week to week, will ease pain once it has begun.

Tips: Trial and error of your own situation is the best bet. When in pain, start with something gentle and see how you feel. Use ibuprofen (speak to a pharmacist if you are unsure whether it is safe for you) to reduce pain and make it possible for you to exercise.

Energy levels

There’s no doubt that hormones can affect how we feel and it’s not unusual to be lacking in energy in the lead up to a period and for a day or two once it starts. Oestrogen and progesterone levels fall before a period and gradually start to rise again once bleeding begins. Low energy is particularly common if you have heavy bleeding which can be very draining. (Check the tips in the ‘Blood flow’ section above). Exercise however is well known for giving an energy boost and a feeling of wellbeing. It can help you sleep better too which gives you even more energy. So, while it’s difficult, it’s a good thing to do.

Tips: Be kind to yourself but don’t be afraid to try. Just tell yourself you will exercise for ten minutes, whether it’s an online class or an easy run. The boost in your metabolism and the feel-good hormones circulating might be just the thing to recharge you. Have a healthy, light snack before you go and make sure you are well hydrated – being thirsty or tired won’t help your energy levels.

Mood

Most women have problems with their mood in the week before their period and this tends to improve quickly once the bleeding begins. If there is any persistent low mood, anxiety or plain grumpiness then exercise will definitely help. The mood boosting effects of exercise are well known and a strong reason many of us choose to exercise regularly. It doesn’t matter what type of exercise you do, you will feel some benefit. You might want the stress-busting effects of a high intensity work out such as boxing or running or perhaps a calming swim or yoga class. There’s no reason why your mood shouldn’t benefit as much during your period as at any other time of the month.

Tips: Get something in the diary and make a plan. It’s always best to be flexible and pick the activity you feel suits you best at the time. All exercise is good! Enlist the help of a friend if your motivation is lacking.

In summary, the evidence is clear. In most cases, exercising during your period is fine and beneficial. Having said that, I’m well aware that there are many women who suffer deeply during their period and can’t get out of the front door, let alone to an exercise class. I’d encourage them to seek help and make an appointment with their GP to see what can be done to make their lives easier. In the meantime, just know that any little thing you can do to move more will help to make you healthier.


There are more answers to questions like these and lots of health information to help you lead a happy and active life in my book Sorted: The Active Woman’s Guide to Health. Published by Bloomsbury and awarded First Place in the Popular Medicine category at the British Medical Association Medical Book Awards 2018.

www.drjulietmcgrattan.com

Disclaimer: I can’t give personal medical advice and as always with health advice, reading something online doesn’t replace seeing your doctor who knows your medical history and can assess you in person.  So, if you are unsure then always seek the opinion of a health care professional. 

Featured Image: S. Hermann and F. Richter at Pixabay

Come and Move The World with 261 Fearless

I don’t know about you but my running motivation has been lacking recently. I know events are starting to slowly reappear and I’m sure parkrun will be on the horizon soon but there’s nothing like a date in the diary to give you a kick out the door, especially on the endless rainy days we’ve been having up north recently.

Thankfully, 261 Fearless has come up with just the thing to ignite our running spark and get us in our trainers. The Move the World running series is a celebration of the power of running to unite people around the globe. In a time when we’re becoming more divided and ‘distanced’, goodness knows we need something to bring us together. I love working for 261 Fearless as their Women’s Health Lead and Master coach, being a Director at 261 Fearless Club UK CIC and coaching at 261 Club Lancaster. It’s pure joy and a lot of hard work but the rewards are great. Seeing the power that running has to create communities and empower women is always a highlight of my week.

Like all 261 Fearless activities, Move the World is for all abilities. Runner or walker, short or long, at whatever pace you choose. You can select your own distance too. Enjoy a sociable run with friends (men and women are welcome) or set yourself a personal challenge. Make it your own.

Head to the Move the World page on the 261 Fearless website to register. You can choose from four different weeks to complete your challenge. These weeks match up with some big marathons in the USA that 261 Fearless were due to have charity runners at and the ribbon on your medal will correspond with that event. But don’t worry, you don’t need to run a marathon.

The Boston challenge kicks off today and as it lasts all week you can still sign up. You can join in all four if you like and receive your fourth entry for free. Alongside a medal you will get a podcast to listen to while you run (you might hear me make an appearance!), a 261 shop voucher and a chance to win a necklace from Fair Anita, a fair-trade, social enterprise. All proceeds from Move The World will be used towards the 261 mission of empowering more women through running and education

So, what are you waiting for? Set your dates and challenges, get registered. Let me know when you’re taking part, take a selfie and tag @261Fearless and me in so we can share the celebrations. Together we can Move the World!