Photo Challenge: Achievement

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It might not have been the New York City Marathon, but last year I completed my first 5k run. Even though I’m now a personal trainer, I still struggle with running. It’s more psychological than anything else. I have the attention span of a three year old, so getting me to stay on a treadmill or do any endurance training is a challenge. Although running 5k is not so difficult, training for the 5k was an achievement for me. I’m determined to keep going with my running, and I hope to one day be able to tell you all that I’ve completed my first 10k, half-marathon, who knows maybe even a marathon.

Click here to join in with this week’s photo challenge.

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Plant-Based Pause No 8: Harness All That Extra Energy

In November 2011, I made the decision to progress towards a plant-based diet and lifestyle. Since then, I have learnt so much about where our food comes from, and what it does to our bodies and the environment. Along the way, I have encountered many obstacles and challenges. I have also been asked lots of questions, most of them valid and a few off them more than a little odd. One of the aims of my blog is to chronicle my experiences as a plant-based traveller. So, hopefully these Plant-Based Pauses will provide a little more explanation and maybe answer some questions that my readers may still have.

‘Success usually comes to those who are too busy to be looking for it.’ – Henry David Thoreau

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One side-effect of eating plant-based is that you will have more energy. A lot more energy. This is a good thing, as long as you know how to harness it. If not, you’ll end up sat in the corner rocking back and forth like a polar bear in a zoo.

If you’re the kind of person who has sat on the sofa for years, swearing to start that new exercise regime next week but unable to find the motivation, by eating plant-based you’ll have all the motivation you need. Since becoming a plant-based vegetarian, I want to do something active almost every day. I climb at the indoor climbing wall twice a week, I go to exercise classes such as step and spin, and on top of that I make it to the gym a few times a week as well. I even managed to complete a 5k race last year, something I never thought I’d do. So there’s no more excuses, harness all that plant power and get going.

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New Activity Alert!: Kettlebells

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We’re only in Febuary, and already this year I have visited one new place (Pila) AND I’ve tried a new activity. Yesterday, I went to my first kettlebells class. For anyone who doesn’t know, kettlebells involves doing exercises that work the whole body with a massive weight in your hands.

There were only six of us in the class, so unfortunately hiding in a corner wasn’t an option. The instructor worked us hard, but wasn’t too cruel. He put us through a really good mix of lunges, swings, arm raises, leg raises and squats. I can definitely feel the toning effect on my muscles already today, although getting my bike going at spin class tonight was a little tougher than usual because my legs were a bit sore!

Check out my Christmas present!

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Right in the middle of an awful day at work yesterday, I was cheered up by an SMS from my neighbour to tell me that a parcel had arrived for me. I knew it could only be one thing – my new running shoes!

I’ve desperately needed a new pair for ages, so when my Mum asked me what I wanted for Christmas I knew what my answer was straight away.

I buy most of my shoes from Vegetarian Shoes in Brighton, because then I know they’ve been made ethically in the EU and they don’t contain any animal products. I try and get down to the shop as often as I can (Brighton is veggie heaven!), but unfortunately it is a trek from Cardiff. So instead I use their mail order service, which is fantastic. There’s loads of information on their website about all their products, including size guides and photographs. They don’t just sell shoes, either. They also have a great range of bags, jackets and accessories. They even sell biodegradable pens – not just environmentally friendly but they’re actually a really nice pen to write with as well. If you have any questions about any of the products, just drop them an email and they will get back to you.

As soon as I got home, I collected the parcel off my neighbour and tried my new shoes on. As I have to wear inserts due to problems with my feet, I usually have a bit of an issue getting used to new shoes, but these ones have been OK. And what better way to christen my new running shoes than with a step class. After taking them for a run today, they are well and truly worn in and my tatty old shoes are a thing of the past.

Cross-Country Skiing Part 2

One of the downsides to being a travel rep is that days off are rare. When you do get time off, you can never have more than one day at a time. Therefore, if the langlaufen course runs over three consecutive days, you’ll only ever be able to attend the first lesson. Although I still looked like a freestyle skier who had accidentally picked up the wrong equipment from the locker room, my first day on langlaufen skis had gone well. Unfortunately, due to the nature of my job I’d then had to miss parts 2 and 3 of the course. These had included minor pockets of knowledge such as how to stop, how to get out of the tracks when you pick up too much speed and what to do if you get into trouble. So my next outing on my langlaufen skis was a few days later with Gabi, my colleague who was already a confident cross-country skier. I’d made a deal with Gabi that if she learnt to alpine ski, I’d learn to langlaufen. So far she’d stuck to her end of the bargain, so I couldn’t really back out when she told me I needed to progress out of the beginners area and onto a more challenging loipe. Astrid, the head of the langlaufen school, looked horrified when Gabi told her which route we would be taking that day. Langlaufen loipes are graded as blue, red and black (the same as alpine slopes) with black being the most difficult. The loipe that Gabi was proposing we take was a black. In Gabi’s head, none of the langlaufen loipes were as difficult as any of the alpine slopes. So by her logic, as an alpine skier I should have no trouble with a black loipe. To this day I am grateful to Astrid for stepping in, and she persuaded Gabi that maybe a red loipe might be more suitable. Well, how hard could it be? I thought. It’s all on the flat, right? The outing got off to a good start. Once I got into my rhythm I was confidently making my way around the loipe. Cross-country skiing is a bit like working out on a cross-trainer in the gym, it’s easier to stay in rhythm if you don’t pay attention to what you’re doing. I should have learnt from my alpine skiing experience that it’s never good to get too over-confident, regardless of what winter sports equipment you have on your feet. Gabi warned me that we were coming up to a steep downhill part of the loipe, and suggested I may want to come out of the tracks as hills are easier to navigate from the smooth, groomed snow that the skaters use. As I’d missed the lesson where I would have learnt how to ski outside the tracks, and my langlaufen skis still felt like a pair of really long, unstable ice stakes, I decided I felt more comfortable staying in the tracks. Don’t worry, I told Gabi, I’ll just keep in the tracks until it flattens out again. After all, I am an alpine skier and therefore used to going fast. How steep could a langlaufen track be anyway?
As I reached the bottom of the hill and the snow beneath my skis began to flatten out, a huge sense of pride came over me. I could handle this cross-country skiing malarky. What was all the fuss about? My triumph was short-lived as I realised that the ground was starting to slope downhill again. The slope that I’d just conquered was only a pre-cursor so a much, much bigger hill. Gabi glided past me and smiled, completely missing the look of terror on my face. A few seconds later, I overtook Gabi again, travelling as a speed that would have scared the hell out of me on my own skis, and completely incapable of doing anything about it. The best course of action, I decided, was to stay upright for as long as I could. That point turned out to be about three quarters of the way down, when I popped up out of the track (literally) and rolled the rest of the way to the bottom, destroying most of the nicely groomed loipe on my way. Yes, I had done what I had previously thought impossible. I had wiped out on a langlaufen track. I can still hear the tuts and other noises of disapproval from my fellow skiers as they skied over me.

A word of warning – If you are thinking of trying cross-country skiing, the most common injury is a bruised coccyx/tail bone. I wasn’t convinced of this fact until I fell on mine and couldn’t walk properly for six weeks. So when you’re buying your leisure pants, maybe choose some with some extra padding in that area.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Renewal

The word renewal conjures up many images. The rebirth of flowers in spring, snakes shedding their skin, the regeneration of a town centre, renewing your library books to avoid a fine (which I have a terrible habit of forgetting), the list goes on.

For this week’s photo challenge, I’ve decided to document my personal renewal. Four years ago, I consciously made a lot of big changes in my life. At 28 years old, after six years working abroad, I moved back to the UK.

I made a base in Cardiff, the place that has felt most like home to me out of all the places I’ve lived.

I learnt to speak Welsh.

After years of partying and abusing my body, I promised myself that I would look after myself in my thirties. This has led to me converting to a plant-based lifestyle, eating fresh, seasonal whole food …

…cooking my food from scratch…

…improving my fitness levels…

…and taking up lots of new sports.

To celebrate my 30th birthday I took a trip of a lifetime to the USA and visited the Grand Canyon, a long-held ambition of mine.

I’ve continued to travel and experience as many adventures as possible.

My renewal is still taking place. Maybe it will never end. I hope not, because I’m loving life and I’m happier than ever.

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On a Monday evening I usually attend a pilates class at my local community centre. My neighbour used to come with me, and during one visit, she expressed an interest in trying the Trixster Spin class. Great! I thought. An activity that I haven’t tried before, it sounds interesting and for once I won’t have to turn up on my own.
Although a lot of people are familiar with what a spin class is, I should probably explain what it involves. I once heard about a woman’s partner who had only recently discovered that spin class involves bikes. For two years he had assumed she spent one evening every week spinning round in circles with a group of like-minded women. The bikes are fixed to the floor, and an instructor shouts instructions to you whilst you pedal your backside off.
When the next class came around I was all ready to go, and my neighbour bailed on me! Never one to shy away from a promise I’ve made to myself, I set off for the community centre. Unfortunately, the receptionist had given me the wrong class times, and I accidentally turned up to the advanced class instead of the beginners group.

Three minutes into the warm-up, I made the rookie mistake of looking at the clock. There was no way I could survive another 42 minutes of this! I was exhausted already! I resorted to sporadically joining in with the exercises when I could, and just sitting and pedalling the rest of the time. I found the resistance on the bike hard to master as well. That should have been no surprise, though, I struggle with gears on a real bike. When the instructor shouted to hike up the resistance, everyone else powered away on their bikes whilst I just stopped with my bum in mid-air. I soon learnt why everyone else had brought their own towels along with them, I felt like I’d sweated out all the fluid in my body! If anyone has seen the film Bridget Jone’s diary with Renee Zellweger, all I can say is I no longer look at the scene where she falls off the exercise bike as comedic fiction. I was literally struggling to walk out of the class afterwards, and the fitness suite being on the upper floor of the community centre only compounded my problems. Trying to walk down stairs whilst your legs feel like jelly and maintain any type of composure around all your other classmates who have quite obviously been spinning for years is virtually impossible. It can’t have been that bad, though, because I’ve been back since. It’s a great cardio workout, and you feel great once you’ve got the feeling back in your legs and bum. If you are thinking of trying spin for the first time, though, I’d definitely recommend going to the beginners class first.

Aqua Aerobics and Aqua Zumba

As I said in my last post, Swimming, a ‘new activity’ can be something that you’ve rediscovered after some time away. That’s kind of the case with me and today’s activity, but with an up-to-date addition. I first went to aqua aerobics over ten years ago when I was a student in Newport, South Wales. A friend of mine convinced me to go along with her and give it a try, and we ended up attending the class every week. I don’t usually like normal aerobics on land as I get bored and distracted, but for some reason putting it in the water makes the difference for me. It’s a great work out, because you’ve got to push against the extra friction that the water creates, and it’s really nice to be able to cool your shoulders and head off in the pool when you over heat. A couple of years ago, when I moved back to Wales, I tried to find another aqua aerobics class to go to, but it seemed to have gone out of fashion. Then another friend of mine asked me to go along to her weekly class with her, forty five minutes of aqua aerobics followed by forty five minutes of aqua zumba. I was excited to be giving aqua aerobics another go, but I was pretty sure that I wasn’t going to like aqua zumba before I even got to the pool. For those who have never heard of aqua zumba, it’s a revamped version of aqua aerobics. Zumba is a combination of salsa dancing and aerobics. There are going to be lots of people, women in particular, who won’t like me for saying this, but salsa and zumba are just not for me. In my book, they sit alongside line-dancing, which was a huge hit in the early nineties, i.e. it’s dancing for people who can’t dance. I went to a salsa class once, and I don’t plan to ever repeat the experience. I was staying with a friend of mine in Devon and she asked if I wanted to join her at her weekly class. You know me, always willing to give something a go, so I went along. We had two classes to choose from, beginners and intermediate. Although I’ve done a fair few dance classes in my time, I was a newcomer to salsa so I suggested that the beginner’s class would probably be best. Cue one whole hour of men standing on my feet and hitting me in the face with their ‘salsa arms’. I wouldn’t even mind if they could stand on my feet in time to the music, but they all had the rhythm of a frog in a blender. I was so relieved when the class was finally over, only for my friend to suggest that we stay for the intermediate class too! Not wanting to hurt her feelings, I made out that I thought it might be a bit difficult for me so I’d just watch. Imagine my shock when the intermediate class started and it was all the same men that I’d been dancing with for the previous hour! None of them were beginners at all. According to my friend most of them had been attending that class for at least two years.

Aside from my dislike of salsa, I was a little disheartened to find that every other exercise in the aqua zumba class was repeated from the previous aqua aerobics class. It seems the two aren’t that different after all. As for the zumba bits, well, as expected I hated them. Not even the instructor had rhythm in this class. To be fair to us in the water, though, it’s hard to dance in time when you’re chest deep in a swimming pool. It took all my concentration not to loose my grip on the slippery tiles and completely immerse myself. So forgive me all of you who attend zumba/salsa/aqua zumba classes. I applaud you for your commitment to what you enjoy, but you won’t be seeing me in a class anytime soon.

Swimming

Trying a new activity doesn’t mean that you have to suddenly take up an extreme sport such as rock climbing or scuba diving, it can be something simple or something that maybe you tried as a kid but have let slip to the roadside since.

I’m the product of two very different parents. My mum’s grey-blue eyes and my dad’s brown eyes mixed to give me multi-coloured eyes. My dad’s very academic, and my mum’s a sportswoman with a knowledge of physical biology. I’m not really either, but I am very artistic (I think my genes gave up on this one and decided to head in a totally different direction). And my mum is an excellent swimmer, and my dad can’t swim. When I say my dad can’t swim, people assume that he just never learnt. That’s also what all the swimming teachers at his local pool assumed when he started taking lessons there. They soon changed their mind. My dad proves the theory wrong that all humans naturally float. Since a young age, my dad has literally been able to walk along the floor of a swimming pool right up until the deep end. He’s quite happy down there, and he accepted long ago that he’ll never be able to swim properly. He just wants to be better at it than he is now, and that’s why he goes to his lesson every week. My mum, on the other hand, grew up swimming in Lake Windermere. My dad was the first person she’d met who couldn’t swim, and I think before that she’d always supposed that it was instinct. I wouldn’t be surprised if my family made bets on whether I would ever be able to learn to swim. It didn’t look good for the first 10 years. Although my mother optimistically took me to the local swimming baths every week, it looked like I’d inherited my ability in the water from my dad. That was until my last year at primary school, when our new headmaster decided to come along to our weekly swimming lesson with us. I will always be grateful to Mr Dempsey for that. Until that day, no teacher had ever actually got in the water with us. Us kids who couldn’t already swim were usually left in the shallow end whilst the swimming teacher busied herself with the children who didn’t need to learn (figure that one out). I genuinely learnt to swim in one day.
I’ll never make it to Olympic standard, or probably anything more than 50 laps at a slightly lob-sided breast stroke, but I can swim. Whilst I was living in Greece, I found swimming a great way to keep in shape. Working as a rep is a very busy and unpredictable lifestyle, so making plans to do anything is virtually impossible. You usually get free access to hotel pools, though, so going for a quick swim was an easy option. It also keeps you cool in the 45 degree heat! Since I’ve moved back to the UK, I’ve tried to continue swimming. I try to go to my local baths at least every couple of weeks and swim 40(ish) lengths. As well as being great exercise, it’s probably the only time of the week when I relax and empty my mind. Thinking about it, I must look like a swimming zombie because I really zone out sometimes.

I’m hoping to be able to fit some private swimming lessons into my schedule over the next year, so that I can learn to swim properly. Although I can swim on top of the water, and underwater, I never got to grips with the breathing properly so I can’t go in and out like you’re supposed to. Until then, I’ll continue with my forty lopsided lengths.

Core Strength

Apparently, there are two times in the year when people make an extra effort to get fit. One is in the New Year, when everyone vows to stick to their resolutions and turn over a new leaf, and the other is right now, in the run up to Christmas. With that in mind, I thought I’d spend some time over the next few weeks sharing with you some of my ‘new activities’ that I’ve tried in the past. I’ve already shared with you my experiences of indoor climbing, step class and joining the gym. In my bid to try at least one new activity every year, though, there are lots more to tell you about. I’m going to start with an exercise class that, for me, wasn’t a good experience and one that I’m certainly not in a rush to try again, Core Strength workout. Posting it first gets it out of the way, and as I have mentioned it a few times in previous posts I thought you might be a bit curious.

As I mentioned in my post Facing My Fears, I am a gold member of my local climbing centre, Boulders. Not only do I get unlimited climbing with my membership, I also get to go to the fitness classes they offer, including core strength. I’d seen the core strength class whilst I’d been climbing a few times, and although it looked tough I thought I’d give it a try. To be honest, I’m not really sure why it was classed as a core workout. We started with a warm-up that was basically jogging up and down a car park. The instructor then said we’d be moving onto cardio exercises. Surely cardio exercises would be more suited to a, well, a cardio workout. He then wrote the list of exercises on the white board, which may as well have been an alien language to me. I had no idea what a ‘V-Raise’ was, and when he mentioned the ‘bicycle crunches’ I looked around for the bikes. I raised my hand when we were asked if we needed an explanation, at which point the instructor let out a sigh and made a half-arsed attempt to demonstrate. Without any technique or safety guidance, I might add. I could understand if the instructor was one of those motivating, shouty marine types, but for all he did they could have just given us the white board and a stop watch and left us to it. The main body of the class involved 20 seconds on and 10 seconds off of four different floor exercises with a jumpy-up exercise in between (sorry, I really can’t remember what it was called). Basically, we did 30 minutes of circuits but without all the running round in circles. If you’re into proving how macho you are, then give core strength a go. If, like me, you just want to keep fit without (literally almost) breaking your back, then I wouldn’t bother. At least I can say I gave it a go.

Since I first posted this on my old blog, I’ve noticed that the instructor that took my class isn’t working there anymore. My experiences of the other classes at the climbing wall have been nothing but positive, so maybe he just wasn’t the right teacher for that enviroment.