Fashionably Fit: Summer Style

Hello there! I think we can safely say summer is well and truly here. Well, us Brits needed something new about the weather to moan about right?

It’s not secret that I get up stupidly early to run. Currently we’re talking at 5.10-20am depending on how far I go. When people hear this their usual response (unless they’re a fellow runner) is “you are mental, why on earth?” Sure I could run in the evening but I love being out there in the morning before most people are awake. And the best part is that the sun is shining! When my alarm goes off I’m actually OK to get up because the sun has been beaming through our white curtains and has gradually woken me out of a deep sleep anyway.

I always tell people who are interested in getting fit or starting running, it’s so much easier to start in spring and summer than winter. I detest getting up so early in winter because it’s like the middle of the night. It’s cold. It’s usually wet. I’m grumpy. So the motivation isn’t there. Therefore summer is a great place to start these good habits.

But before and during summer, us women get hounded by that nasty stock phrase: getting “bikini body” ready. The obsession begins just before summer, flashed across every women-focused magazine (“lose 7lbs in 7 minutes!” or something similar). To combat this horrid obsession SportsShoes think that rather than focus on the ‘perfect bikini body’ the better solution for body confidence is to don some colourful, high performance kit and go for a run in the sun. Nothing is more empowering I’d say.

I’m a huge fan of Nike and SportsShoes has a great range of technical active wear which will help women look good, feel great and ultimately boost their confidence. I could live in my workout gear (seriously) so for me it’s important to feel and look good in it.

I was sent some cool Nike gear to trial and review. A number of very summer-focused running and workout tops. Perfect for the heat!

IMG_7252 This purple running top (find it HERE) was perfect when I went on a 15 mile bike ride the other Saturday and running in general.

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The fabric wicks the sweat away from my skin so I don’t get all sweaty and sticky. There’s all little holes in the back as well to keep you cool.

Another top was the below yellow one (found HERE):IMG_7253 It is very bright. I love that about it! It’s also made from very thin material (slightly see-through?) but keeps you very cool. I adore this top.

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Again made from the technical material to help sweat wicking (nice phrase there). In retrospect not a great top to wear with my tiny shorts but it was seriously hot that day so I didn’t care (let’s not talk about the very cheeky joking remark I got about looking like I was just out of Anne Summer’s – how rude!)

The below top (find HERE) I initially thought was just a regular workout top in that it was just cotton, but it’s actually made from that wicking fabric too so I can run in it without any chafing issues.

IMG_7211It’s a little big on me but I quite like that – it’s airy and cool.

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Another top is a plain black one (found HERE).

Netley Abbey parkrun 19.07.14 The top is a nice feel but it does slip down a bit which was a bit annoying. I was wearing a pink sports bra underneath to jazz it up so it wasn’t too big a deal. It is quite loose and light so cool in the hot weather.

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The final top is more of a gym top than a running top (find it HERE) as it’s a bit thicker and I’m sure it would rub under my arms (that dreaded chafe…).

 

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It’s such a nice colour though. I tend to wear a lot of dark colours in both normal life and running, so it’s nice to add some more bright colours to my stock! Again it’s made from the wicking fabric. And it’s very soft feeling.

I love the summer because you can really wear so much more exciting work out gear. In winter there’s a lot of jackets and leggings which is never as exciting. Plus during the summer you can get a nice tan on your arms and legs (though not always with great tan lines!)

What do you wear during the summer to workout?

Does what you wear help build your confidence?

What colours do you prefer for your workout clothes? 

**Full disclosure: These products were sent to me for free in order to review, but all opinions are my own. The links provided are not affiliated links.**

Stansted Slog Half Marathon

There is absolutely no other way to describe this half marathon but by it’s apt title – The Slog. That is the first word that came to my mind on finishing.

A few of our running friends mentioned this half to Ben and me and persuaded us to do it (who am I kidding that I need persuading to do a half marathon? Favourite distance!) It’s described as off-road, challenging and undulating/hilly. I’d go ahead and remove the word undulating and just stick with plain old hilly. Going into this I had only one real goal: to finish uninjured. I had a soft goal of finishing in under 2:15 but finishing uninjured was most important.

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That is some sweet elevation. Maybe nothing compared to some hardened hill-loving runners out there, but for this road racer it was a shock.

My main worry was flaring my hip issue up again. Remember Endure? Yeah off-road stuff doesn’t seem to help things. But all body parts felt good so I thought just give it a bash, have some fun and enjoy the scenery. It’s not a goal race for me and I needed to do 13 miles.

With Ben’s mum and my parents in tow, Ben and me headed to the lovely Stansted House in Havant on Sunday morning.IMG_7279

We met up with a small number of fellow Hedgies and enjoyed the very lovely facilities. Not a portaloo in sight.

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It was all very relaxed, friendly and had a local feeling to it. There was a marathon relay going on but there was only 150ish runners for the half.

Mile markers Lovely and informal

At 10.30am we stood in a huddle at the start and the race director counted down and shouted “go!”

I bombed it straight away. Hear me out, my logic was “run as fast as you can while you’re able”. I knew the elevation would rip into me so I thought I’d go for it while I could. The two mum’s cheered us on (then headed to the coffee shop, bless them. My dad had already headed out to his spectator spot further on).

The first few miles were through woodland area and it instantly felt like one of my much loved (*cough*) RR10s so my speed was somewhat limited. Well ,what was I expecting?

Depressingly several women overtook me almost straight away. Massive respect to them though, I didn’t see them again for the rest of the race. I saw my dad at this point. I love my dad but why does he feel the need to tell me how many girls are in front of me? Like I’m going to catch them?! He’s as competitive as me!

Anyway mile two came and another girl overtook me and stayed just ahead. We played a bit of position-swapping for a while until I managed to absolutely cane it on a downhill and get enough distance between us to not see her again.

Mile five was an absolute BEAST. We hit this mountain hill and I made a feeble attempt to continue running and realised it was causing more harm then good. Everyone else had started walking so I joined in. No shame.

As we finally got to the top, we ran freely across some fields with such beautiful views. I had my phone and I thought if ever there was a time for a race selfie, now’s it.

IMG_7287 A man ran past me and saluted my photo taking. He even offered to take one of me but I declined, very kind of him though.

IMG_7285Finger on lens sorry – best I could do while still running!

I don’t remember every single mile, but there was lots of running through fields, up and over stiles, through kissing gates, up hill and after hill. I broke the race into three parts. There was a drinks station just before 3 miles, half way and just before 9 miles. So I went with those segments, knowing at mile 10 the significant hills had finished and it was just a parkrun left.

I didn’t bother looking at my watch because a) the mile markers were out from it (as expected) and b) my pace was all over the place with the hills. So I just put in some effort and tried to keep going. I won’t lie, before halfway I wanted to stop. It was very warm and I was being destroyed by the inclines. I should have taken water with me as I was desperately thirsty between the drinks stations. And my heart rate monitor was chafing so much so that I had to take it off.

I had taken some mango puree with me to try on the race in place of a gel.

IMG_7283Yep it’s baby food. I’m experimenting, what can I say? But I didn’t fancy it at all. With the hot weather it would be warm mango puree. Yeah no thanks.

I saw my dad again at the last drinks station and was far happier by this point. He asked if I was on target but I didn’t know how to answer as I didn’t really have a target. It was nice to see him and I gave him the mango puree and my sweaty HR monitor as a thank you ;-)

The drinks stations were so different to what I usually find at road racers. I would usually grab one and keep running as I drink. But everyone would fully stop at the station, grab a drink and almost leisurely drink it before toddling on. I followed suit – lovely and relaxed!

IMG_7328I got back on the trail and was off again. I was in such good spirits at this point. I was surviving! I wasn’t able to catch another woman ahead of me sadly – though we also played the overtake game as well. She was amazing at the uphills and by the end she was a blip in the horizon. By this point I was firmly set in my position and was happy to remain that way following the people in front. The runners were very stretched out though so sadly no in-race conversation happened. It felt a bit lonely at times.

On the last mile I was visualising the 13 mile marker that we saw when we drove in towards the car park. The last mile was all through woodland on a narrow path and I knew when we got out of there I’d see the sign and it would be the home straight. I saw a family walking ahead and they kindly moved to the side. I ran past and shouted “one mile left!” they cheered and laughed.

I broke free of the lovely shade and saw the mile marker and the two mums. They clapped and cheered and it was brilliant. Then a nice 500m downhill to the finish.

Whew! I got as much water as I could and then stumbled back to the two mums to collapse in a heap and cheer the other runners on.

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I felt exhausted! But in a good way.

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My official time was 1:53:09 and fifth female. What I’m really chuffed about is that I beat my target and I beat my half marathon time from last year’s off-road crazy hilly Cheddar Gorge race (I think I got 1:58 something). But I found it so much harder than Cheddar Gorge. There were just so many uphills and inclines.

Ben ran past and we cheered him on. He finished in 2:09:16.

IMG_7295 He didn’t have a great race. His ankle is still not 100% and it was fairly uneven underfoot. Ben also doesn’t run well (his words not mine) in the heat. He really struggles when it gets too hot. But considering he did Cheddar Gorge in 2:52 he did amazingly.

IMG_7319 The other Hedgies did so well too. All coming in not long after. Everyone agreed it was brutal. We were all shattered and sort of broken.

My heart rate monitor had ravaged my chest and was so painful.

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 Apologies for the tummy shot!

OK it doesn’t look that brutal there at all but I assure you it is raw and even worse under the sports bra – like hideous. I almost cried in the shower later when the water hit it. So so painful. I had tried the Polar HR monitor strap a few days previously with the Garmin monitor bit as I’d heard that was better but it kept popping off. I really like wearing it though for the extra data. I need more Vaseline I think (or any, I’d forgotten to put some on…). Good job I’m not going anywhere requiring a bikini!!

As some consolation, I managed to swag a bit of birthday cake that had been presented to one of the runners pre-race.

IMG_7312  All was well again in my world!

My dad appeared a little while after Ben had finished. He’d walked a fair way to see us at that 10 mile point and had just made it back. I’m so proud of him for walking so far and trying to be more healthy (he’s trying to lose weight) and also so grateful for him being so supportive of our running. But when he moaned to me about his one blister, I may have wanted to punch him.

On leaving the race the race director told us to wait as he grabbed two platters of cake to give us and thanked us all (the Hedge End guys) for coming. How nice is that??

IMG_7321That bread pudding was AMAZING

And then we all said goodbye and the parents and us headed to find food for lunch. At this point I was actually OK without food considering I’d just eaten two bits of cake fairly quickly and I’m never that hungry post race.

We found a lovely pub in Rowlands Castle (disappointingly, there is no castle) and I had a nice goat’s cheese and beetroot salad which ordinarily I might have scoffed at as it was quite small with literally four ingredients (leaves, bit of onion, goat’s cheese, beetroot). But it was perfect for my cake-filled (though heart-rate monitor ravaged) tummy.

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I have to say all in all this race was the hardest race I’ve ever done. The heat, hills and uneven terrain just killed any sort of speed and killed my legs. But it was challenging in a way that invigorated me. Pace isn’t everything in a race. The scenery, the camaraderie, the feeling of completing something bloody hard just made the race for me. Everyone nodding to each other at the end like “we survived, we are invincible”. You can’t buy that feeling of accomplishment.

What’s the hardest race you’ve ever done?

Do you wear a HR monitor – does it ever chafe you? How do you solve this??

If you had to choose hills and cool weather or heat and flat, what would you choose?

Week #6 Marathon Training

Hi guys, another week of training done. Now I know I said I probably wasn’t going to document my marathon training every week but I guess I am…sorry, I know it’s quite running heavy and probably boring.

Anyway last week was a mixed bag. I felt very tired and getting up really early in the morning was taking it’s toll. But I guess I need to ‘woman up’ and get on with it, this is what’s it all about.

Monday – no running but this strength routine:

- 4x 15/leg single leg squats
- 4x 15/leg weighted calf raises
- 200/leg clams with resistance band
- 4.5mins crab walk
- 3mins plank
- 100 Russian twists

Thera band workoutMy lovely theraband has snapped like three times… 

Tuesday – 5 mile tempo run (one mile warm-up, three tempo miles, one mile cool down). I went off too fast on the first tempo mile. In my head it went like this: “Wooohoo yeaaahh! So speedy! Yeaaahhh!” then 7 minutes later “I’m dying, god I’m dying. And here’s a hill. I’m dying.” And that trail of thought continued for the rest of the run. Well done, Anna, brilliant pace control.

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Wednesday – I was supposed to do a strength workout but I was working from home and it never happened because when I finished work there’s so many more cool things to do at home than workout. I did manage some toe lifts and 100 bicycle crunches. Then I just lay on the floor watching a film (Gone Baby Gone <—amazing).

Thursday – 6 mile easy run. Usually I wouldn’t bother showing my splits for an easy workout to avoid my ego being enticed but this run annoyed me. I spotted a fellow runner ahead of me who was running a little slower than me. I eventually overtook her, said good morning as you do, and then had to pick up the pace to get a bit further ahead (it’s that awkward over-taking moment, you know?)

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Anyway she starts getting faster to catch up! And all I can hear are her footfalls behind me. Like seriously, BACK UP. I overtook you. Don’t try and repay the favour on my easy run. I had her hound my heels for two miles (mile 3 & 4) which meant I had to run faster than I wanted to to avoid her overtaking me. This is probably all in my head I know.

Strength workout in the evening:

- 4x 18/leg weighted calf raises
- 4x 15 single leg squats (15 more on weaker leg)
- 4.5mins crab walk
- 200/leg clams with resistance band
- 4mins wall sit
- 4mins toe lift
- 2x heel taps

Friday – Alarm set for 5.10am, walk Alfie, out the door 5.45am for a 15 mile bike ride…One mile in feeling great “wooohooo cycling’s not so bad!” …a few minutes later “hmm feels so bumpy, better check my wheel”. GARGH flat tire. Even if I did have a puncture repair kit I wouldn’t know how the hell to fix it. So I turned around and walked a rather miserable 1 mile home. I was not amuse so took my frustration out with cleaning the bathrooms and hoovering.

My lovely husband (finishing at 12.30 on Fridays) fixed the puncture for me so when I got home from work I could try again. I loved it, really enjoyed it. But got to almost 12 miles and bam another puncture.

IMG_7259 But a really nice guy on a bike stopped and helped me. He was very nice and helpful, fixed the puncture after like 20 minutes worth of sorting as my wheel is so tight.

I was very grateful, we then parted ways and two minutes up the road another puncture. Seriously. Ben had to come and collect the bike and me.

Saturday – we went to our local (Netley Park) parkrun. I thought I’d just see how I felt and push it if I fancied. I went with it, pushed hard and got 21:56 and first lady. Quite happy with that!

Sunday – Ben and me and some guys from the running club did the Stansted Slog half marathon. Unbelievably hard. I’ll do a recap post soon. I finished in 1:53:09, fifth female. Brilliant race.

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And now I’m shattered! But a good week of training. I’ve got a sports massage tonight with Kyle thank god as my legs ache so much. Good aches though (*touch wood*).

Have you ever had an annoying failed workout?

Have you ever done an off-road, hilly race? It’s like an adventure but so much harder than a road race.

Are you good with maintaining tempo speeds or a set workout without getting carried away?

My VO2 Max Testing

When my running/massage therapist friend Kyle asked if I would be interested in doing a VO2 max test for free I literally jumped at the offer within seconds. I think my response was “hell yeah!”.

VO2 max is (according to Wikipedia) “the maximum rate of oxygen consumption”. It’s basically how well your body can use the oxygen that it’s taking in and is a measure of fitness. People with a higher VO2 max level will be able to take in and use more oxygen than someone with a lower VO2 max level and can therefore can work more intensely.

It’s one of the reasons many athletes do altitude training. Altitude training (at a specific range of metres above sea level) produce more red blood cells to compensate for the fact that there isn’t as much oxygen available. Then when the athlete goes back to sea level they’re at an advantage as they have a lot more red blood cells than previously and therefore can run harder and faster for longer because they have more oxygen available <—please correct me if I’m talking codswallop, I’m clearly no expert!

Unfortunately finding out your level is not something you can really do without going through a proper extensive test on a treadmill with blood sampling and measuring your oxygen intake – which can be quite pricey. So I was so chuffed to be able to have mine tested for free!

It’s part of a study run by Southampton Solent University – the other week they had the whole of the Southampton football club come in and get there’s tested. Very cool.

Southampton Solent Health and Sport ScienceI knew that this would be hard. It’s no secret that I hate running short distances and I hate that feeling of max effort when your sprinting. I’ll never be a fast sprinter and I’ll never get my 5k time significantly down as mentally and, very likely, physically I just don’t have that drive in me. I like long distances, getting into my stride and just enjoying the run. But for this test it was all about max effort. Oh joy.

I turned up feeling very nervous and without any real idea what to expect (apart from running on a treadmill). I had electrodes attached all over my chest, shoulders and hips. Embarrassingly I had to take my top off for the entire thing, but luckily I was wearing a sports bra which is kind of just like a crop top anyway but I still felt fairly naked.

The tester, Grant, took some readings of my base-line HR and other bits and bobs to make sure I didn’t have any pre-existing issues. None were found, whew. Then it was time to get warmed up and begin the tests.

The treadmill was huge and there was no computer screen to show how fast and far you’re running. This was frustrating – I like feedback! The treadmill was also facing a wall.

VO2 Max Test 2

I’d be running three minutes and then would jump to straddle the stationary sides to get my blood quickly taken, then I’d jump back on the treadmill which would then increase by 1km/hour and another three minutes would commence. This cycle would continue for however long I could keep going.

The pace at the start, as you can imagine, was easy peasey and I trotted along thinking “pft, this is nothing”. But as the three minute intervals went on it started getting a lot harder. For example (if I’ve worked this out correctly), say the pace was 9.40mins/mile the next interval would be 8.49mins/mile, then 8.06mins/mile, to 7.30mins/mile. These are quite significant jumps. And three minutes is actually quite a long time. Especially when there’s nothing to look at or listen to apart from Grant’s occasionally “doing well, getting great data” which I imagine are his stock phrases he tells all his participants… ;-)

VO2 Max TestThree minutes is a long time and I longed for those 10 seconds of pause where my finger would be pricked and blood would be taken. I started counting down the minutes and found myself despairing when I realised I’d counted too quickly!

It started just getting too hard. I tried to push on but I found myself moving back on the treadmill as my pace just couldn’t keep up. I was harnessed in so there was never a danger of falling off but I knew it was time to stop. I finished and was very much finished. Sweating like a beast.

I instantly felt disappointed. Why couldn’t I go on for longer? It was very frustrating. Grant said my results were good when I asked him – but I think he was trying to make me feel better as he could tell I was disappointed. The only point of reference I had was that Kyle had said he’d lasted for 30 minutes. I lasted for just 20. Never mind that Kyle is a 5min/mile runner and also male! And I know I’m not in as good a shape as I was this time last year, but still the competitive and perfectionist Anna was not consoled.

Results

My VO2 max magic figure is 56 and I have a resting heart rate of 53. Both of these are pretty good as a female and, despite my initial disappointment, on reflection I’m really pleased with these numbers. I’m not sure if I’ll be able to improve my VO2 max score. Some people can, some people can’t – Paula Radcliffe’s never changed from when she was a young girl to when she was an Olympic athlete (but she was very, very gifted anyway). And it’s unlikely I’ll get tested again, but it’s good to know!

VO2 normsI got a neat report as well with lots of my data and figures that I could geek out over (and scratch my head in confusion). Essentially though some important figures for me were my training zones. I wear a heart rate monitor and obviously my Garmin so it’s nice that I have some actual figures that I can run by in order to hit certain workouts.

  HR Pace                      
Easy Run <162 >8min/mile
Steady Run 162-172 8-7.26min/mile
Tempo Run 172-185 7.26-6.26min/mile
Interval Run >185 <6.26min/mile

Obviously over time (hopefully) I can improve on the paces with more training. But who knows!

Have you ever had a VO2 max test done?

Do you ever get unreasonably disappointed in yourself? I have high expectations for my performance and I’m a perfectionist so always want to be the best I can be. Often though this can cause me a lot of disappointment and frustration (hello injuries).

Do you use a heart rate monitor to work out?

Men drink beer, men bring back meat…

Sometimes during the week Ben might go out with some boyfriends (doesn’t work does it? – boy mates) to go do what men folk do…like drink beer and talk about whatever those men folk talk about. My delicate feminine mind couldn’t handle whatever goes on in those meet-ups I’m sure ;-)

While he’s out this is usually my time to take charge of the television…catch up with the Kardashians or check in with the Housewives (both Real and fake – though likely the same thing). Maybe even have a solo-Anna family Guy sesh, who knows! Rock and roll.

Usually this is also the time I can have whatever I want for dinner without Ben turning his nose up (“how many vegetables are you having?” or the always pleasant “that looks like sick”). Very exciting. Anyway, I digress. So Ben went to the pub and very likely two hours later I went to bed (as I said: rock and roll).

In the morning Ben and me got up and were catching up, having not had the chance to do it the previous night, and he casually mentioned that he won some meat. Random but OK, that’s quite cool. What kind? “Beef something” he says.

Getting my breakfast ready I open the fridge door to find a rather large hunk of meat sort of crammed in among the yogurts and butter.

IMG_7225 A bit of meat he says?! This could feed a small family for two weeks!! I was stunned. We don’t even eat beef that regularly! Ben appeared rather sheepishly and went “yep that’s the one”. You don’t say…

Could have been worse, Nathan (one of said boy mates) won six pork steaks and woke up in the morning to find he had eaten half of them when he got in…

Anyway I carved that bad boy up (the meat, not Nathan) on Sunday afternoon and it literally took me 45 minutes. I cut some of it into chunks after my dad suggested using some of it for casseroles and slow cooker meals, and cut the rest into steak portions. All now safely in the freezer.

It’s mildly amusing that last week I cooked us some organic beef steak and Ben really wasn’t a fan. Probably me not overcooking it and it turning out a bit more chewy than we like.

IMG_7221 I sprinkled the steak with some steak seasoning (Schwartz) and we had it with vegetables and roasted sweet potato chunks (and BBQ sauce of course).

Well beef will be on the menu now for a fair while so I might have to get the cooking of it right! Well, practice makes perfect I suppose.

And while we’re on the subject of recent eats, we’ve also been enjoying pork steaks with a honey and soy sauce marinade served with a new-to-me vegetable/fruit (?): plantains.

Honey soy pork I fried seasoned slices of plantain in coconut oil. I’m not going to lie, they didn’t entirely rock my world. But they were a nicely carby addition to the meal. We were slightly disappointed that they didn’t taste a little of banana… ;-)

And one last meat-related point. Probably the worst time to win a huge hunk of meat is when you go to Casa Brasil, the all-you-can-eat Brazilian rodizio restaurant. I think I ate gammon, roast pork, pork ribs, beef sirloin, beef rump (I think?), and another type of beef (more chunky but lovely and salty)…

So yeah, perfect timing when I can’t even look at the deli meat in Tesco at the moment.

Have you ever won a food item in a raffle?

Have you ever tried plantain?

Are you a big meat eater? What’s your favourite meat? I must admit I’m a very boring meat eater in that my favourites are chicken and turkey. Though I love ribs…heavenly.

**Psst! Check out Laura’s blog Wholeheartedly Healthy for a brilliant giveaway –> HERE ! **