Everything is good

January is the worst month of the year, I’m sure most of us we’ll agree. Conversely, however, I’m starting the year feeling pretty good.

To be honest, I shouldn’t really be in such a great mood. My leg is still feeling a tad niggly and my runs aren’t going as smoothly as they should this close to the marathon (sorry this is such a boring repetition right now). There’s no pain or horrendous discomfort, but I know in myself it’s not perfect and running twice in a row or pushing out the mileage or number of times I run in the week would definitely be risky. Not only this but my longest run for a fair few weeks (months!) is six miles. Seven weeks out to a marathon this is not ideal.

That said, I’m a glass half-full kind of girl (which is one of the reasons I have so many adult fails as I just presume things are going to work out and neglect to double check or consider contingency plans). I’ve got a general fitness, I’ve run seven marathons before, I have seven hours to complete it… I mean, it could go terribly let’s be honest. My leg could really start to bother me and walking could even eventually be an issue. I might DNF my first marathon. I might be in the middle of a foreign country I’ve never been to, knowing no one, half-way through a marathon I can’t complete, in tears. I mean, that’s the worst case scenario and if it happens it happens. The silver lining is that it’ll make for a great blog post 😉 In a very schadenfreuden way, failures and mishaps are sometimes a more interesting read than someone who succeeds. Obviously I don’t want to fail. More than anything, it’s a bloody expensive failure. And also, having a marathon meltdown isn’t that fun when it’s actually happening to you.

Foam rolling like a trooper

Marathons aside, mentally and physically I’m in a fantastic place.  I feel strong and healthy. Though I’m not running regularly, at the gym I’m lifting heavier weights and feeling strong. I’m still maintaining a level of fitness through running two-three times a week as well as some of my own spinning sessions and steady-state elliptical machine.Long-term readers may remember some frustrations I had a year or so ago about my body basically failing me in certain ways. Things have changed, for the better! I’ve put on about three pounds over the year – which I know isn’t massive and is probably a mix of muscle and fat. I mean, my weight probably varies a few pounds either way but long-term I’ve remained at the same consistent weight. It seems be a nice happy point for me and it’s clearly helped bump me in the right direction to feel and be in optimal health. I feel happier where I am at the moment and really like how I look and what my body can do. My main intention is obviously not lose any weight when my running increases but I’ve got a pretty good handle on this.

Key things that I’ve found that helped get me here:

  • Eating good food and lots of it. I tend to be fairly healthy during the week and then relax at the weekend. If I want cake, I’ll eat it. If I want a takeaway, I’ll have it. I don’t restrict anything but I am conscious of what I’m eating in general. I eat lots of good fats, complex carbs and protein. I’d say my diet is probably more protein and fat heavy though than carb-based. And I’ll tend to time my carbs around when I’m running to get the max benefit. But I do eat a lot, as I’m sure you’ve seen by now! I’m a three course kinda girl 😉 Essentially, I don’t worry about what I eat as throughout the week it all balances nicely.
  • Sleeping enough. I get up ridiculously early in the morning to go to the gym (3-4 times a week, lifting weights). I try not to stay up past 10pm and I find that works for me.
  • Minimising stress. In general my life is not that stressful. I enjoy my job, though my commute sucks at times. I’ve just come to accept some days are good and some days are bad – learn to control the controllables and don’t worry about things are out of your control. I have a great network of friends and family so when life does get hard I’m fully supported. I know I’m very lucky and blessed in this respect.
  • Being sensible with running. Running is a stressor and clearly my body is sensitive. So not training for a marathon all year round will help. After the spring I will be spending the summer and winter just enjoying running and entering races I fancy, but not a marathon. The training for a marathon is a fairly long and arduous process, one that my body might appreciate not doing all the time. I will be running marathons in the future, obviously, but it’s no longer as big a priority as it used to be.

So yeah. I’m feeling pretty happy right now. Mentally over the past year I’ve become a lot more happy in myself and confident. It’s nice that that’s also being reflected to how I feel and how my body functions.

What are important things for you in terms of reaching optimal health?

How much sleep do you get?

How is January for you?

Why I’m OK with being average

No one is going to write a book about my life. That much I’m fairly certain. In fact, I’m always quite shocked that people actually read my blog.

Though I’d still write it even if people didn’t read it. I find the whole process very cathartic and it’s a great way to keep track of races, restaurants and significant events and the fine, mundane details surrounding them that I’d probably never remember otherwise. I’ve often referred to my blog when trying to remember certain things – like where was that place I went to that had that amazing cake? Or what time did I run that race two years ago? Or just being able to flick back to old posts and see how much I’ve changed, or in some cases, how I haven’t changed at all.

But it’s not ground-breaking stuff. I’m not smashing through glass ceilings with my critical thinking and diverse approach to different topics. I’m not even that great a runner. I’m middle of the pack and, worse still, injury-prone. My running is not exactly awe inspiring and I’ll never get super fast times or do a super amazing challenge (spoiler alert on my life right there, guys).

I’m not selling myself short. I’m not being pessimistic. I’m just being honest. That honesty doesn’t make me sad. And I don’t want to be famous (jeeze, what would I be famous for? I daren’t even think… some weird cake eating competition or girls vs. food event – but even at that I’m hardly remarkable to the people who genuinely do those things).

In general, I’m a very happy person. Day-to-day/hour-to-hour this obviously changes (I hate you, commute! *shakes fist*) – as it does for everyone. But when I get home at night, lock my door and get into bed, I’m happy – alone but not lonely. I don’t have any huge regrets in my life, aside from small and insignificant ones (why didn’t I start running earlier?).

I don’t regret getting married and that period of my life. We had good memories together and it helped me grow during that time. And when it ended I learned a lot about myself as a single person, rather than being part of a pair.

It was actually something my physio said to me that made me think. He said, “People underrate feeling fine”. They only come to him when they’re in pain or something’s not right. Then they only realise how incredible feeling normal and not in pain actually is. I know this well; it’s always a momentous occasion when I tell my physio that I feel fine.

This same logic applies to life. Though my life is so very average, that’s OK because I’m happy. I have no major gripes: I’m healthy, I have a loving family, a solid group of friends, I have no money issues, I enjoy my job, I don’t think I look too much like Quasimodo in the great scheme of things, I have a lovely flat and, of course, Alfie. Yes it’s average, mundane and, to a lot of people, boring but I’m happy and healthy, and that is certainly not something to take for granted.

Sometimes I think it’s important to take stock. Your stock may not be one in a million or the stuff of blockbusters, but if you’re happy and healthy, that stock is pretty damn good.

Are you above average at anything?

Would you ever want to be famous? And what for?

Perhaps a fairly personal question, but are you happy?

Quick fixes don’t exist

Like everyone else in the world, I want quick results and less hard work. I want to go to one interval session with my running club then smash a personal best at my next race. I want to eat a bowl full of salad and kale that immediately cancels out the cake I ate the night before. I want to do a few crunches at the gym one time and have killer abs. Forever.

Yeah. Doesn’t quite work like that, does it? Sadly not. And there is no time like the start of the year than hearing BS claims about “lose 7lbs in 7 days” or “get your bikini body in two weeks!”. It’s almost comical how these things suddenly spark up almost as the new year is chimed in. BOOM. Every news paper, every magazine, every advert, every gym… It’s all about that January fix and New Year’s Resolutions.

And the latest diet craze that sprung up out of seemingly nowhere is this “sirt food diet”. Er, what? Sirt, or sirtuins, are a type of proteins in the body that help regulate biological pathways that basically stop our fat cells from multiplying (more fat cells = the more fat we can become). So more foods containing sirtuins apparently means less risks of getting fat. This is a very loose explanation. I won’t get into the science of it because, let’s be honest here, it’s a load of rubbish anyway and the science premise of the diet itself is shaky. Oh and hey, there’s a book so you can go and waste your money on buy and read and be thoroughly unimpressed. The science is based on mice and fruit flies. Enough said.

Ranting aside, Women’s Health actually have a great article outlining this so-called diet revolution. And for once, it actually puts some sense into it.

February addition of Women’s Health

For example, they highlight that one of the ‘sirtfoods’ is red wine and you’d have to drink around 40 litres to get any sort of benefit. And surely then you’d kind of be dead… Unlike say the Daily Mail, Women’s Health doesn’t just present an entirely one-sided article promoting a ridiculous food plan. They give a good insight into how little we actually know about these flimsy claims. And they note how ridiculous such a reductionist approach to eating would be. The final advice was, just stick to eating healthy and exercising. No nonsense there.

What I also like is that WH also talk about good food to include in your diet which have actual science behind them, such as turmeric (a runner’s best friend for anti-inflammatory properties). I like this: science-based no-nonsense advice and for once not another diet to try and lose those “stubborn pounds”. Plus, not everyone reading Women’s Health wants to lose weight so having foods described in terms of beneficial properties other than just fat-burners is always welcomed.

In a nutshell the takeaway message is: you can’t just eat a ton of kale and drink a load of red wine and think that you’re going to wake up the next day two sizes smaller and feel amazing. Unfortunately life is far more complicated and your body is far more complex (it’s smarter than some dumb new crazy diet as well).

Don’t get me wrong, it is tempting to believe the claims that you can lose weight quickly and shape up in an instant but it’s just marketing rubbish. A big load of money is in this industry and it’s sole purpose is to convince people of their quick, easy routes to body perfection. But health is a lifestyle change and takes weeks and months, even years to achieve. And health isn’t solely measured by weight anyway. Any crazy diet to quickly lose weight is just going to cause more harm than good and be unsustainable. So, my advice would be eat your kale and have your cake too (but in moderation).

**Full Disclaimer: My subscription to Women’s Health was provided for free by magazine.co.uk as part of being in their blogger network**

Fear of being an adult

This is a random post but something that struck me the other day.

When I was at school I was confident and self-assured. I knew what I was good at and I focused on those areas (who needs science anyway, right…?). I loved English Literature and English Language, I loved drama (I even did a Speech and Drama course outside of school which involved competitions and exams in reading prose, poetry and general acting) and loads of sports. I won’t lie, I was a proper boffin and proud of it.School

Wow, found this photo of me probably aged 15

I didn’t care if I wasn’t in the ‘popular’ groups or if the cool guys didn’t fancy me. I was never more happy than getting good marks which I worked hard for. It didn’t come naturally but I enjoyed putting the work in to get the good stuff out.

I got good grades through school, applied for a good university and then, BAM, hit an ocean full of similar hard-working high achievers. All my self-confidence disappeared as I was no longer the top in anything anymore. In fact, I was pretty average at best. Despite that, I did achieve a good degree and applied left, right and centre for all the graduate jobs. Then when I had no luck there, all other good but non-graduate jobs. Then ANYTHING. 2009 was a rubbish time to come out of university with a Psychology degree that didn’t really qualify you for anything specific. My confidence was royally destroyed.

My first job was in a call centre for an insurance company reading a script about 150 times a day. I lasted two months before getting the hell out of there and into a basic admin job. To save you the boring details, a year and half later I finally hit gold with the job I’m in at the moment. I enjoy it and it pays well. OK it has nothing to do with my degree and it wasn’t what I always dreamed of doing when I was younger, but it’s a career I’m happy to continue with and progress.

But something happened to me after finishing school. I lost all my self-confidence in my intelligence and my abilities. I literally spend every single day convinced that someone will turn around and say to me, “Err, Anna, why are you here?”. I’m convinced they’ll realise I’m no good and fire me. I’m not saying I don’t do a good job or that I shirk work… It’s just I don’t have the same confidence I had when I was at school when I knew exactly where I was in the world.

I see everybody else around me as more competent and more worthy to be where they are. I think they look at me and wonder how I’m still here. I work hard, don’t get me wrong, but I sometimes feel out of my depth and lost. I’m often asking lots of questions and feeling stupid.

And it’s not just work. Despite being a fairly experienced runner, being generally quite fit and healthy and knowing pretty much what I’m doing, I still think that everyone else at the gym or at races are far more experienced than me. At the gym I think people look at me doing my squats and judge me on my form, my depth and the weight I’m using. Or they look at me in the race line-up and wonder why I’m not further back. I’m pretty sure no one cares but the irrational part of my brain truly believes that everyone thinks I’m clueless. This is despite the fact that I’ve been going to that gym and running for over three years now.

To be honest, it’s a general feeling of “am I really an adult?”. Leaving the bubble of academia and entering the Big Wide World is scary. Dealing with bills, moving house, thinking about divorce… it feels like I shouldn’t be dealing with this. I thought at some point a switch would be flicked on and I’d be an Adult. I’m still 15 in my head, wishing for someone else to show me what to do.

Will I ever feel like I’ve “got this” and I’m in the driver’s seat knowing exactly where I’m going and what I’ll find along the way? I don’t know. Maybe everyone feels this way but we’re all so good at faking it and acting confident when really we’re just all 15 year olds playing at life…

Do you feel like you’re an adult?

What’s the most scary ‘adult-like’ thing you’ve had to do?

Do you feel confident in the different areas of your life?