RED January Day 7 – Yoga

A day spent working with two year olds ought to be active enough.

I certainly feel like I’ve had a full and active day. Chasing around the garden, picking children up, carrying children, sitting on chairs designed for two year olds, being sat on like a chair for two year olds, and sitting on the floor can leave me feeling tired, sore and aching.

After my first day back at work following the Christmas break, my choice of RED January activity was clear: yoga.

I had already tried out a new YouTube yoga programme by Yoga with Adriene. Today I completed day 2:

This is a 30 day programme, published to coincide with the New Year. A great thing about this time of year is the fact that New Year exercise videos are plentiful – so it’s easy to give something new a try.

I’ve used Yoga with Adriene videos before – and I really like this one. Adriene explains everything thoroughly, and presents with her usual warmth and humour.

The video I used today lasted just under 40 minutes. It focused on the foundation of yoga practice, beginning with breathing and posture. It built steadily towards positions and movements which work the whole body, and which I certainly found challenging.

By the end of the session all my aches and pains from my day’s work had eased, and I felt calm and relaxed.


RED January – Reality check

Reality is dawning. Tomorrow I’m back at work, and my course has restarted. How am I ever going to find the time to do all the things I need to do?

I took a twelve month study break from my postgraduate, distance learning course this time last year. This was for various reasons and, just after I applied for the break, I found myself unwell and at an absolute low point. If I hadn’t already arranged to take a break, I probably would have dropped out.

It may be no coincidence that 2018 was the year I sorted my health and fitness out. There have not been many years when I haven’t had some sort of study commitment – I am a study-addict. It’s an unhealthy addiction, both in terms of putting myself under unnecessary stress, and also because it leads to very sedentary habits. In the past, when I have been working on an assignment, I have struggled to make 2000 steps in a day. Juggling work, home and study has been hard. Juggling work, home, study and my new, more active lifestyle? How will I manage?

I want to continue with my course. It is important to me. And so is my new lifestyle. But perhaps establishing new habits and goals is exactly what I needed to do before beginning starting to study again. Otherwise, I would have slipped back into unhealthy habits, both in terms of physical and mental well being. I have RED January to hold me accountable, and start me off on the right foot. I’ve already experienced the benefits of exercise for managing stress. I hope that balancing all the other demands of life with physical activity will help me to feel calmer and more in control. It might even make me more productive.

I am going to have to plan ahead, and prioritise. But I also need to be kind to myself. I need to remember that exercise can be a brisk walk with the dog, or working out to a YouTube video at home.

This morning I took the dog for a walk and then did a couple of YouTube workouts. Then I studied for a while. I haven’t tackled my to-do list or any housework yet. But I’ll get there.


RED January Day 5 – Minehead parkrun

I’d like to tell you about Minehead Parkrun. It’s quite a small parkrun. Numbers fluctuate and, being a seaside town, we often have visitors. Today 117 runners completed the course .

Minehead is a coastal town in the UK county of West Somerset. It’s near to Exmoor National Park, surrounded by stunningly beautiful countryside, and is well worth a visit (and I don’t even work for the Minehead Tourist Board!)

The course is quite flat, and paved, following the seafront promenade. There is often sand blown onto the promenade, and it can be windy. The views are pretty, especially on a bright day (although today was gloomy, grey and very cold). There are usually people strolling up and down, or sitting on benches, enjoying the bracing sea air. Visiting runners might reasonably hope for a personal best, although two factors can work against this:

a) the wind

b) the need to keep turning

The course starts beneath the clock opposite Minehead’s preserved steam railway station. Runners head first towards Minehead Harbour, turn, return past the start line, continue towards Butlins holiday park, turn and complete the first lap by returning past the start again. This route is completed twice, and then a final run down to the harbour and back to the start.

Confusing? I found it very confusing first time around. I knew that I still had further to go because those fast runners were still lapping me. And most of the slower runners too. What didn’t help was the fact that some really keen, fast runners just keep going after their 5K. But what I love about this parkrun is the fact that all those laps and turns create many opportunities for smiling and cheering each other on. Minehead parkrun is super friendly, and super welcoming.

If you’re ever in the area, come and join us. We will give you a warm welcome. For more information:

#RED January #Parkrun #Running

RED January Day 4 – Water Pilates

The last weekday of holiday before returning to work next week. I made the most of my time by joining a Water Pilates class at my local leisure centre.

The focus of Water Pilates is to build core strength. The instructor introduces very controlled movements, which are repeated while focusing on breathing, and engaging the core. One of the other class members commented ‘what’s really fascinating about this is that it doesn’t look like we’re doing anything – but it’s really hard’. I had already tried out this class last week, and I can honestly say that I felt how powerful the exercises were the next morning.

My abs were particularly stiff and sore for a couple of days. This was really beneficial to me. Due to a problem with my lower back, I can’t do crunches or similar exercises that involve lying on my back. But with Water Pilates, crunches are done while lying in the water in a ‘v’ shape, supported by a noodle.

There are exercises to work all muscles groups, with an emphasis throughout on core stability. The buoyancy of the water offers support for joints, while water resistance is actively used to give an effective workout. And trying to carry out the movements with control while bobbing about in the water truly exercises the concentration. And of course, this is great for working on balance.

I thoroughly enjoyed the session, and felt energised and set up for my parkrun tomorrow.

#REDJanuary #WaterPilates #Swimming

Red January day 3

Falmouth Harbour

Today was going to be tricky, and emotional, as I would be driving my daughter back to Falmouth, where she is a university student. It’s been lovely having Sophia at home for the holidays, and we are going to miss her.

And then on top of the emotional goodbyes, a round trip with a driving time of almost six hours leaves little time for RED January. Would I be able to find time to exercise? Would I fail RED January on the third day?

I began the day with a quick yoga session. Faced with the prospect of all those hours in the car, a few stretches seemed like a good idea. I wondered whether this could count as my exercise for the day? It seemed too easy – surely RED January should require a bit more effort. But at least I was prepared for the journey.

The journey to Cornwall was good, a bright, cold morning, and not too much traffic on the road. And most importantly, my poor old car got us there safely.

Arriving in Falmouth stiff and aching two things were necessary:

1) a good stretch of the legs

2) a Cornish pasty from Rowe’s

We dealt with the pasty first, and then went for a walk. Falmouth was overcast, and bitterly cold, but lovely, as always. We strolled along to the National Maritime Museum, and then back through the town, with a few stops along the way. Strava tells me we walked 2.3 miles. Might this count as my day’s exercise? The leisurely pace left me feeling that I needed something a little more vigorous, particularly as I needed to balance eating the pasty, and spending six hours sat in my car.

So arriving home, I was itching to have a run. As it was zero degrees Celsius and pitch black outside (and it had been a long day) I used the treadmill. I made my first attempt at running intervals, using a NHS England Couch to 5K+ podcast. The Speed podcast introduces intervals, running and jogging for a total of twenty minutes. Since completing Couch to 5K I’ve been able to run for thirty minutes at a time, which is a huge achievement for me. But I am slow. So speed is something I want to work on. I found the running intervals hard, but I certainly felt that I’d challenged myself for day 3.

#redjanuary #C25K

Red January day 2

I got up stiff and aching today, and knew a day off from running was needed. I also wanted to spend time with my daughter, who returns to Falmouth University tomorrow. So when my daughter suggested we go swimming, it seemed like a perfect idea.

Swimming would be a good change of pace, while still allowing me to do something active. I love to swim – it’s one form of exercise that I’ve always felt comfortable with. It’s also a fun thing to do together.

However, as much as I love to swim, I do wish that I was better at it. I can swim for a long time, I can swim a long way. But my swimming stroke is not great. It is inefficient, and lacks grace. When I learnt to swim, back in the 1970s, swimming lessons seemed to involve flailing around in the water until you could flail without sinking.

What I lack in grace, I tried to make up for in effort this morning. We spent a good 50 minutes swimming at our local pool in Bridgwater. I swam using my own interpretation of front crawl, and on my back using no particular stroke at all. At one point we both had a go at butterfly stroke, which seemed more likely to make me swim to the bottom of the pool. But we had fun. And swimming is a great choice for fitness, providing a good workout while supporting the joints.

I hope to make swimming a habit. Perhaps I’ll think about working on improving my technique. But as long as I enjoy it, and my fitness benefits, it will be time well spent. One of the exciting things about RED January will be finding different activities to try through the month.

RED January

artistic blossom bright clouds

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January can be a tricky time. Christmas out of the way, but the worst of the winter still to come. Short gloomy days, dark mornings and evenings, miserable weather, and money tight after Christmas. And then there are New Year’s resolutions, which only serve to make us feel bad about ourselves when we don’t keep them.

So this year I’m trying something different. I’m doing RED (run every day) January. Although I won’t necessarily be running every day – I will be doing something active each day. I might swim, walk, join an exercise class, work out at home to a YouTube video or, yes, I might even run. The idea is to do something physical to help keep the January blues at bay, while promoting the benefits of exercise for mental health, and raising money for the mental health charity Mind.

Each day throughout January I will also be sharing what I have been doing towards RED January.

Day 1

The morning after New Year’s Eve. It would be easy to have a lazy day. But on the first day of RED January, I needed to do something active. I toyed with the idea of doing something physical that wasn’t actually running, as I’d had (for me) a late night, and was feeling tired. Besides, I had a good run yesterday, and should have taken a recovery day. But – it’s called Run Every Day January, for goodness sake – so I felt the need to start the year off with a run.

Before I got out of bed, I’d decided to run on the treadmill to try out some interval work. That could mean a shorter session. But then I got up, pulled back the curtains, and saw the beautiful, bright, fresh new morning. So out I went.

I realised pretty quickly that I had needed that recovery day. Even though I’d done a good yoga warm up with Yoga with Adriene, I found that my hamstrings were stiff and my legs didn’t seem to want to cooperate. But I kept going, getting into my rhythm. Until I needed to stop a couple of times to let tractors pass.And then I was struck by a sudden need to take photos. Having stopped, it was harder to get back into my rhythm. So I stopped again, and again, and again – each time snapping the glorious morning on my phone. I decided to just enjoy the moment, the sunshine and the beautiful scenery. In this way, I got round my usual 2.8 mile circuit. It wasn’t my best time, but when I checked Strava I found it wasn’t as slow as I expected either.

Back home, another yoga session to cool down. Day 1 done. Now what shall I do for day 2?

#REDJanuary #Running

A different kind of graduation


As each year comes to a close, we tend to reflect on the highs and lows of the year. For me, ‘graduating’ from NHS England’s Couch to 5K programme has been a definite high. This graduation means that I can now run for 30 minutes at a time. I don’t yet cover the full 5k in that 30 minutes, but I’m getting closer on each run.

I hadn’t expected this momentous event happen in 2018, I’d planned to complete my final C25K run in January 2019. But taking the opportunity for extra runs over the holiday period meant that I finished ahead of schedule, during the last parkrun of the year. This morning, New Year’s Eve 2018, I went for my first run as a C25K graduate. And as I ran I reflected on what graduation means to me.

I’ve graduated in the conventional way more than once before. Over the years, I’ve had an unhealthy addiction to studying. I know this about myself. I’ve graduated with two bachelor’s degrees, a masters, a PGCE (teaching qualification) and a couple of other postgraduate qualifications. And I’m still going. I collect degree certificates like other people collect fridge magnets. The reason? I think the reason is low self-esteem, and the need to be reassured that I am good at something. That I am worth something. No matter how tough things have been in the past, I have drawn strength from study, and from academic achievement. I know that I am lucky to be able to achieve academically, and I have worked hard at it. My graduations mean a lot to me, even if my motivation for achieving them has been confused.

This graduation is also important. It might not have taken years of study, or led to mounting student debt. I didn’t need to spend hundreds of hours sitting at a desk writing; I graduated running next to Minehead beach in glorious winter sunshine. I didn’t need to burn the midnight oil to meet deadlines, and it caused me no stress or anxiety at all. In fact, my running has helped me to manage stress. But what is most significant about this graduation is the fact that I would not, before I began C25K, have ever believed it to be possible.

I never doubted that I would be able to get a degree. But I always doubted that I could run, get fit or sort my weight out. One year ago, I weighed nearly five stone more than I weigh today. I was unfit and my health was suffering. I was tired all the time. Now my life and my health has changed.

Looking forward to 2019, I’m not making New Year’s resolutions. But I am setting targets for the year. Just as I set targets last year. And as I reach these targets, I’ll set new ones. Resolutions shouldn’t just be for one day, or one time of year. We should continue to assess our goals all year round.

My goals for 2019? I plan to build on the improvements to my fitness health and diet. I’ve signed up for RED (run every day) January, a couple of 5k races, and a 10k in April. But that’s just the start.

I’d love to hear about your goals.

Have a happy New Year. Here’s to a successful, healthy 2019!

Festive food choices

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It’s the last weekend before Christmas, and I’m doing okay. I’m exercising, and I’m happy with what I’m eating. I’m not going to say I’m ‘being good’, because I believe phrases like that are a huge part of the problem. Food is food, it should not be given moral value. Expressions such as being good, being naughty, deserving a treat, when applied to food, all serve to complicate and confuse the act of eating, so that it becomes something other than nourishing and fuelling our bodies. The same goes for giving food as a reward, particularly during childhood. Eat your greens (lovely delicious vegetables) and you can have pudding, do well in your spelling test and you can have some sweets; statements like this reinforce the idea that certain foods are special. Certain foods are for the deserving. Certain foods have a value beyond how well they nourish your body. And, strangely, these foods are often the least nutritionally valuable.

And this time of year, there is an awful lot of tasty, rich, delicious food around. Food that is highly palatable, full of calories, fat, salt and/or sugar. And, above all, food that is special. I’ve worked hard this year establishing new attitudes and routines around food. I don’t want to let these routines go, but I also won’t want to miss out on Christmas. I realise that I’ve been conditioned over the years to think that some sort of letting go and indulging is necessary to the enjoyment of Christmas. There is also the social expectation that we should join in with overeating – as if everyone else’s enjoyment depends on what we eat.

And so, I question myself: can I enjoy Christmas if I decide to stick to my eating plan? Will I even be able to stick to my plan? Am I strong enough? I worry; am I just afraid of letting go? If I don’t stay strong over Christmas, will I descend back into an uncontrollable cycle of overeating and weight gain?

What I need to remember is, of course, that food is just food. I’ve found over the past year that I can eat whatever I want and lose weight – because I have learnt to want different things. I will trust myself to want the right things over Christmas. And if I want to eat a bit more on Christmas day, that’s fine too.

In the past, Christmas day has started with shortbread, chocolate, and a glass of something alcoholic. The eating carried on all day, so that by the time Christmas dinner was ready, I couldn’t face it. By bedtime, I would feel sick, irritable, and wiped out. If you ask me, that doesn’t sound like fun. This year, I’m making different choices. Christmas day will begin with a parkrun. I plan to make intelligent food choices that make me feel nourished physically, mentally and emotionally. I plan to enjoy my day.

I don’t want to be a misery over Christmas. I want to enjoy a special meal with my family. But I also intend to be in control of my own choices. I’m not eating to please anyone else. I’m also absolutely not going to feel guilty if I decide to eat a little more than I usually do.

Whatever you decide to eat over Christmas, it’s your choice. Enjoy, and remember, it’s just food. You’re not being naughty, you’re not being good. You’re just eating, that’s all.

Merry Christmas and a have happy, healthy, New Year.

Winter solstice blues

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At my first parkrun, someone said to me ‘if you can keep running through winter, by the spring you’ll be flying’. Easy enough in theory. With winter solstice in less than a week, short gloomy days, dark mornings and evenings, inhospitable weather, and the temptations of the festive season on the horizon, it’s easy to let things slip.

Yesterday I wimped out of parkrun. The weather outside was truly frightful; heavy icy rain and wind. As my regular parkrun is on the coast, there would be no shelter. Feeling slightly (very slightly) off colour, and tired, I could not face it. Even so, I am fortunate enough to have a treadmill at home, so I had a good treadmill running session. I turned the pace up a bit more than usual and felt quite good about my run. But then guilt crept in. I kept checking into Facebook to look at photos of real, more determined, less pathetic runners who actually made the effort to run despite the ghastly weather. I felt annoyed at my own lack of commitment.

This morning I awoke to a calm and bright day. A beautiful morning for a run. Did this make me cheerful? No. I was annoyed that this weather didn’t arrive yesterday. I’m following NHS England’s Couch to 5K programme –  On this plan, it’s important to have rest days between runs to avoid injury. I’m now on week seven, which involves runs of 25 minutes at a time. This is a big deal for me, having struggled to run for sixty seconds in the beginning. It’s going well, but I don’t want to take any chances. Having done a long treadmill session yesterday, I needed to have a rest from running today.

So, as an alternative to running, I chose to use a You Tube workout video, to work some different muscle groups. This was fine, but by the end I was tired of being cooped up indoors. And my dog, Archie, was also getting very impatient for his morning walk.

I decided to head out for a long walk to make the most of the morning. I toyed with the idea of driving to one of our favourite walking spots; maybe Kilve beach (where Bryan Adams famously recorded the music video for Everything I Do, I Do it for You – check it out, or the lovely woods at Ramscombe on the Quantock Hills. But getting in a car to walk a dog seems a bit wasteful. So, we headed off on the route of my favourite neighbourhood run, from my village to the tiny hamlets of Shurton and Burton, about a mile away, and back again.

By the time we set out, the sun had disappeared, and the sky was grey. But the weather was calm and mild, an absolute gift in December. As I walked up the lane towards Shurton I remembered the walks we did in the summer. It was a hot summer, and we had to walk late in the evening to protect Archie’s paws. The good weather went on and on, and I enjoyed being outdoors and gradually becoming more active. That seems a long time ago now. But the winter has a charm of its own; even on a grey day. As we strolled along I watched a wren pop in and out of a hawthorn hedgerow. Somewhere a crow cawed, breaking the winter silence. All was calm.

I realised that, when I run, I don’t always notice these things. I listen to music, and I focus intently (as a new runner who is trying very hard) on what I am doing. I always enjoy the beauty of the countryside, but the tiny details are sometimes overlooked. Today, I took my time. I stopped and chatted to walkers and fellow dog owners. I drank in details of the environment around me. I relaxed, unwound and enjoyed a moment of calm in the middle of the frantic festive build-up.

This weekend, my plans had to adapt to the weather. I still managed to find time for exercise, and time to enjoy being outside. We still have months of winter ahead of us. There will be all sorts of weather; bad days and good days. The trick is to make the most of the good, and not beat ourselves up over the bad. We can’t control the seasons or the weather. My plan now is to work with the weather, to be adaptable, and appreciate moments of beauty.

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