Going Further and Faster #iblamejulie

I’ve been quiet here for a while, caught in that loop of too much happening to write and the longer I leave it before writing the more there is to write about. I’m stepping out of that loop here and now.

In the past couple of weeks I’ve:

  1. Run further than I’d ever run before – 8.2 miles at a cracking pace.
  2. Run my fastest parkrun without meaning to – the plan was to go steady and gentle, but my steady and gentle is now faster than it was.
  3. Run my first 10k race – thrilled to bits with my finish time of 1.01.53.
  4. Discovered why people have rest days – PB parkrun Saturday, 10k Sunday and running group Monday was not a good plan!

My target this week is to get under 30 minutes at parkrun, and I think I can do it.

The #iblamejulie is in recognition of the difference the online Scream If You Want to go Faster course by Julie Creffield has made to me. I’m now 8 months into my running journey, so not sure I can still call myself a newbie, but I had been mystified by the maze of different advice out there on getting faster / stronger / fitter / lighter. By breaking it down into manageable chunks with a different theme each week, and making me record my progress Scream has guided me through the maze. The online community of participants have compared experiences and supported each other throughout. And definitely I’m running faster and stronger for being part of it.

I’m still struggling with stress eating and seeing my weight wobble around the same amount, so Julie’s focus on accepting what my body can do now, rather than always looking ahead to reaching a goal weight really appeals to me. My body is still obese, but it can do more than I ever believed possible, and I plan on celebrating that rather than beating myself up about not losing weight faster.

Julie isn’t the only one to blame for my improvement. I have lots of other amazing people supporting and encouraging me to push myself and improve and I’m grateful to each and every one of them. There’s my running group TeamCCRG, the women of the This Girl Parkruns North East Group, everyone in the parkrun for people affected by obesity group, not to mention all the individual runners, marshals, volunteers, and even passers by who spur me on with smiles and cheers. It’s amazing the difference a smile can make when you’re struggling! And of course there’s also my family, who are not only trained to put the kettle on as soon as I start stretching but are also joining in as well as encouraging me.

The impact all of this has had on my mental health is massive. My confidence has increased beyond measure. I’m no longer worried about people seeing me run (although as discussed here the jacket stays), I’m more likely to talk to people, to try things I haven’t done before, to keep going when it’s tough. Which isn’t to say the stress, anxiety and depression have gone completely. at the moment stress levels are high and I’m aware of keeping a tight lid on the anxiety to prevent it shooting up too, but I have a whole new set of coping mechanisms to draw on when they do appear.

In July last year when I started running I couldn’t make it to the first lamppost and thought 5k was an impossible goal. Now I’ve done 10k and more. 5k is the shortest distance I run in a week. I will run a half marathon in September. And honestly, if I can do it anyone can. Just start with tiny changes and who knows where you’ll end up.

– – – – –

I’m running this year to raise funds for two great charities, it would be great if you could sponsor me.

Advertisements

Addressing the elephant in the room.

My running has gone well this week despite hiccups. I didn’t get to do my run commute because my son was sick. Parkrun was cancelled because of ice (again!) Strava kept losing me so I’m not sure how far I ran. But I ran a total of at least 17 miles over 3 runs, plus a gym session. I’m enjoying running more, I feel like my speed’s increasing and gradually building my distance is working too.

Gibside parkrun as my regular one was cancelled.

But running isn’t what I want to write about today. Today I want to address the elephant in the room. And I’m fairly sure the elephant in the room is me.

I’m now over a year since I signed up to Newcastle Can and started exercising and eating healthily. My weight loss was dramatic at first but stalled fairly quickly and is now very slow. It will fall by a couple of pounds, go up by more, drop again and tends to average around the same point.

It’s hard not to feel disheartened. I’m making an effort to cook more from scratch and eat healthier. I’m definitely exercising a lot more. But my weight doesn’t shift.

I try to think positively. I know my body now is in much better shape than it was. I’m stronger, I’m fitter, I can do things I never thought I could. But one of my targets is to lose weight, to at least get down to overweight rather than obese. Although I’ve reduced my risk of weight related ill health it’s still pretty high.

The problem is stress and emotional eating. I’ve managed to change my eating habits massively, but the second I’m stressed it all goes out the window. And life is stressful.

Coming in the next few months are my daughters A-levels, my son’s EHCP review, a DWP assessment of my son’s disabilities before he turns 16, son’s GCSEs, daughter’s choice of post school destination, son’s transition to college… That’s just parenting stress, there’s also money worries, health concerns, work… So many stressful things I can’t avoid.

I have to be careful that stress doesn’t turn into paranoia, anxiety and /or depression. My mental health has been ok lately, but I know how fragile it is.

image from healthyplace.com via Pinterest

Throughout my life food has been consolation and celebration. It’s an embedded habit that I’m really struggling to shift. The guilt and sense of failure when I binge is getting harder to cope with, and sometimes I cope with it by eating more.

I’m trying to be kinder to myself. Not to beat myself up for every failure. Not to give in to every craving. It’s hard going but I’m sticking with it. Hopefully chipping away at the problem one hour at a time will lead to positive change. I’m staring down that elephant. I’ll get there.

image from Pinterest.

Elephant cover image from Pinterest.

Sand, sea and stairs. A visit to Newbiggin-by-the-Sea Parkrun.

I’m part of a Facebook group called This Girl Parkruns North East, a wonderful supportive and friendly bunch of women who play a major part in keeping my running going on those cold winter mornings when I’d much rather be curled up in bed. Once a month we do a tour, where those of us who can meet up at one of the many local parkruns. Today we were at Newbiggin-by-the-Sea. It was, to say the least, bracing!

Official time 33:42, not bad at all.

It was my third parkrun of the year, and the first I was able to run all the way since being poorly at Christmas. Well, I ran all the way except the short, sharp uphill section of sand, stairs, tarmac, stairs and muddy grass which I think almost everyone walked up. I think that section was my least favourite bit.

Apart from that, and the cold high winds it was a lovely course. It was my first time running on sand, although the sandy bits are short they are challenging. Most of the run is on the Promenade which I liked. I think I’d have taken in the beautiful views and public art a bit more had the wind not kept my hair in my face most of the time 🙂

Flying feet and face of concentration! Photo from Newbiggin-by-the-Sea Facebook page.

I had my iPod and listened to music as I ran. I only ever put one headphone in so I can hear what’s going on, but I find my music can spur me on if I’m flagging. I can get my legs going in time to the song, and if I notice I’m singing along I know I’ve got breath spare and can put a bit more effort into my running. When I first started running I struggled to keep a steady pace without music. Now I occasionally do run without any, sometimes because I forgot to charge my iPod and sometimes on purpose. Some of the official runs I’m planning to do later in the year don’t allow headphones, so I need to get used to occasionally doing without it.

Afterwards we went for chat and cake in Cafe Bertorelli, which is lovely but has some of the creepiest wooden dolls I’ve ever seen. I’m only allowing myself one cake a week as part of my healthy eating, so I have to make sure it’s a good one!

I swear that one in the middle blinked!!!

Not giving up…

According to Runners World and Strava today is the day most people give up on their fitness related new year resolutions. I’m determined not to, so I went for a run.

Not a bad pace considering I had to walk the last little bit.

It would be easy to use selective photos to make it look like I run somewhere pleasant surrounded by nature, and for some bits of my run I do. But a lot of it is alongside the metro line and I’m never out of earshot of the motorway. For bits of the run I dodge fly tipped furniture and daren’t fall because of the broken glass. I love that among the urban sprawl there are still beautiful patches of nature that I can run through.

Running over the motorway.

The run went ok, although my stamina is still not great. I had to walk the last little bit. I briefly toyed with the idea of stopping my tracker when I stopped running, and decided I’d only be cheating myself. If I don’t record the bad bits I won’t see how I improve. So I decided to consider the walk a cool down.

Once home I braved my first trial by scales of the year. As expected the combination of inactivity, illness and indulgence in December has led to a 6lb gain. This is frustrating. I feel like I’m doing so well since I joined Newcastle Can, but for it to work long term I need to maintain the weight loss. Hopefully now I’m active, well and eating healthily again my weight will start heading back down. I’d like to at least get myself into the “overweight” rather than “obese” BMI band this year. And to contribute a few more pounds to the Newcastle Can total!

Image from Newcastle Can Facebook Page.

However I’m not going to stress too much about the numbers. Keeping active and being mindful of what I eat have been the two biggest changes I’ve made in the last year. I’m going to concentrate on keeping those going, and hope the weight loss will follow.

I’ll keep on telling myself I can do this!

An end of year update…

Since my last blog post in November I’ve only managed another 3 parkruns. First I hurt my leg, and just as I was getting back from that I developed one of those annoying winter bugs which just keep on going. So only three parkruns and no additional running, similar lack of attendance at gym, and pretty certain to miss tomorrow’s double parkrun. If you’d told me this time last year how much not being able to run would upset me I’d have laughed at you!

Image from Newcastle parkrun Facebook page.

Other things that have slipped clearly include blogging. Updating here more regularly is definitely on my to do list.

Healthy eating has wobbled a bit. I have indulged over Christmas more than I have the rest of the year, and given that and the lack of exercise I haven’t dared step on the scales! However what I count as unhealthy eating now is still miles better than what I was eating just a year ago. Many of the small changes I’ve built in are still holding.

It’s hard not to end the year a bit despondent. I’m inactive, over indulging and feeling grotty. It would be easy to imagine myself right back where I started. So I need to recognise what I have achieved this year.

  • Eating healthier. I have completely changed the way I eat, with more meals cooked from scratch, greater understanding of what’s in my food and fewer unhealthy treats. I’ve got braver at substituting ingredients and giving things a go, and am calling for takeaways far less often. This doesn’t just affect me, the whole family are affected.

Cooking from scratch

  • Exercising. I’ve gradually increased my exercise from a daily dog walk to regular running and weights training, via dancercise. I’ve gone from unable to run for a bus to able to regularly run 5k and beyond.
  • Obesity. While my BMI stubbornly remains just within the obese rather than overweight scale I have dramatically improved. I’ve lost almost 2 stones, have changed body shape and am much healthier than I was.
  • Health. My bloods are no longer alarming my practice nurse, no more high risk of diabetes, cholesterol and heart disease! Obesity related back pain has vanished, a recurring skin condition has cleared up and I’ve had far fewer migraines than usual. Eating less highly processed food has also lessened IBS symptoms.
  • Mental health. Fluctuating. I’ve had bad spells and good spells, and I accept that this is how it’s likely to continue to go for me. I’m getting better about noticing the bad spells early and trying to stop downward spirals. And I’ve used good spells to push myself, trying new things and making new habits, which will hopefully mitigate future dips.

And looking forward? For the first time in years I’m starting a new year with concrete plans for improvement, rather than a vague “I must sort myself out this year.” In 2018 I plan to:

  • Join a running group. Through people I’ve met at parkrun I’ve been invited to several, and have shuffled evening commitments so I can get to one.
  • Get to 50 parkruns. This may be an ambitious target, I’m on 10 now, but I think it’s achievable.
  • Enter some races. My big goal is the 2018 Great North Run, a half marathon in September, but to train for that I’m intending doing some official races beforehand, building distance and trying new routes and surfaces.
  • Blog more. Keep myself accountable and track my progress so I can celebrate the highs and work through the lows.
  • Get creative. I’ve signed up for the 64 million artists January challenge, hoping it will get me trying new things.
  • Lose more weight. I’ll continue tracking my weight with Newcastle Can, aiming to get out of the obese bracket, and possible even into the healthy weight bracket!
  • Keep it sustainable. I’ll be attempting Plastic Free July again, but also trying to make changes throughout the year to reduce my impact on the planet.
  • Look after myself. While plans are great to have it may be my health, mental or physical, won’t let me achieve them all. I won’t be beating myself up if that happens, I’ll be putting myself first and making sure I’m strong and safe and have time and space to recover.

I’ve done a lot this year. I still can’t quite believe how much I’ve changed. I started with tiny baby steps, and I kept on going. Now I’m running, and I don’t intent stopping any time soon.

6 months in #NewcastleCan

It’s 6 months, near enough, since I signed up to Newcastle Can, a local initiative to get people healthier, more active and losing a combined total of 100,000 pounds this year. You can read the various posts I’ve written about it here. I thought 6 months in was a good time to look back and review my progress.

I feel healthier. I am healthier. I’ve upped the amount and intensity of my exercise. Prior to Newcastle Can I was generally managing 10,000 steps a day, but a brisk walk was the nearest I got to cardio. These days I’m at the gym at least once a week, building in weights as well as cardio. When I first started, in April, I struggled to manage 10 reps with the smallest weight on any machine. My arms are still not as strong as my legs, but I’m upping the number of reps and the weights and its definitely working. My body is changing shape, my stamina has improved and I come out after 90 minutes feeling more energised than exhausted. I have Newcastle Can to thank, their open day got me through the doors and showed me the gym was not the terrifying torture chamber of my imaginings. 

I’ve had to cry off my Saturday Dancercise class over the summer due to family commitments, so I’m wondering if I can find another class I enjoy or whether to add another gym session to my routine. I don’t want the gym to become a chore, but as cost is a definite consideration it may become the choice of necessity. 

During the first couple of months the weight dropped off quite quickly, and Ive lost over a stone. Although recently the weight loss has stalled I’m definitely continuing to change shape. My clothes are hanging off me and I’ve had to start buying things a size smaller. People are noticing and complimenting me on how much slimmer and healthier I look, which is lovely.

I’m not kidding myself. I was clinically obese when I started and despite all the weight I’ve lost I’d have to lose another stone or two to get anywhere near a healthy BMI. People are really complementary when they hear how much I’ve lost, but as a percentage of what I need to lose it’s not that great. I need to keep going. I know now that it’s not just possible, it can be fun too!

I’m cooking from scratch more, and I’m far more aware of what I’m eating and the impact it has on me. I’m not dieting. I don’t have a calorific value I’m strict about not exceeding, or any foods I can’t eat. I know from past experience that would just make me feel frustrated and craving “banned” foods. But I am far more mindful of what I eat, portion sizes, additives, fat and sugar contents. Nine times out of ten I will choose the healthy snack, but I’m not going to beat myself up the day I go for a cookie instead of an apple. And by making my own cookies I can be sure I’m not getting any hidden extras when I do indulge. 


I think it is this mindfulness, this drip drip drip of small changes that I can keep to rather than unsustainable massive changes that’s made Newcastle Can a success for me. I don’t know if I’ll hit the very optimistic weight goal I set when I signed up. If I did it would see me in the middle of the healthy BMI range for my height. I do know that I’ve made permanent changes for the better in the way I live my life, and that’s worth celebrating. 
What small changes have you made that have made a big difference to your life? 

Eating Healthier: Chips. #NewcastleCan

Until comparatively recently I rarely looked at the ingredients of the food I was buying. I was more interested in how easy it was to cook than what was in it. I had what now seems a naïve amount of trust in the food industry, who I was sure wouldn’t feed me anything unnecessary. 

My drive to get healthier has seen me paying a lot more attention to the labels, and doing a lot more of my own cooking rather than relying on convenience foods. I hadn’t realised how much I’d bought into the convenience food culture, believing cooking certain things myself was far too much trouble, without ever having tried it.

Until very recently having chips in our house meant either a visit to a chip shop or oven chips…

I mean they’re just chips, right? But quicker. Bung them on a tray, bung it in the oven and chips are ready in 20 minutes. No need for all that faffing about peeling potatoes, no worrying that the potatoes will go off before you use the whole bag, no dealing with roots or mud. And it’s just potatoes. 

Actually no…

This is the brand I happened to have in my freezer. Other brands may have different ingredients.

Call me fussy, but I expect chips to be more than 92% potato! Why do chips need two different types of flour? Why do they need colouring? And 4% oil seems a lot. 

So I decided I’d give making chips a go. Believe it or not I’d never made chips. As a child my mum made them, in a chip pan full of boiling oil that terrified me! As an adult I’d believed oven chips were healthier and more convenient. 

It turns out it’s not that hard to chop up a potato…

Skin on for healthier chips.

After chopping them I put the chips in a large bowl, with a tablespoon of oil and some seasoning, cover it up with a plate and give it a good shake…

Then pop them onto a baking tray and into the oven at 220°…

Depending how chunky I’ve cut them they can take up to 20 minutes to cook. They’re best turned half way through cooking. 

This is the way I make chips most often now. I can vary the size of them, vary the seasoning, and they’re very popular with the family. Apart from a couple of extra dishes to wash they’re not really an inconvenience. 

No flour, no starch, no colouring, no fuss! And a bag of potatoes is a lot cheaper than a bag of oven chips.

I’m not saying I never get chips from the chip shop any more, and we still have oven chips in the freezer for emergencies. But in general I make chips from scratch these days, and I’m surprised how easy a switch it was. 

—–

Newcastle Can is a project to get my home town working together to get healthier and lose weight. You can find out more about the project here, and my other blogs on the subject are listed here