Sunday, February 26, 2017

Month In Review: February 2017

So February has fairly flown past. Maybe it just seems short because January was a 5 weeker. Maybe it's because I've been focused on projects of all kinds. Either way, it's been a solid February one way or another. And technically there's still 2 more days to go.

So I ran a lot in February. And I talked about it a lot... for a change. There's a reason my blog is named as it is... February has been the peak training month for the Cambridge Half Marathon, my first ever and I took the opportunity to post an update to my 2017 training happy goal - click if you missed it.

Fenland Running - Cambridge Half Marathon Training photo 32141194123_31197f141b_o_zpspdw1hmyh.jpg

On a personal note it's been a month of making peace. I wrote about family estrangement- click if you missed it, and what it means to make difficult choices as well as the longer term and far reaching emotional consequences- and it takes a bit of working through with the people who love and care for me- the ones I choose to have around. I've also been humbled to receive messages- private and public from others on both sides of the fence. Remember that there are a dozen or more sides to every story, and you don't get to judge.  

And I also talked about race fever. It's a real thing. There's always a cool race or event to enter, but there's also such a thing as too much. This year I've planned me events in properly so I get to do the ones I love without overdoing it on events that don't spark some joy. Working this out has been key to my 2017 goal to train happy- click if you missed the original post on my 2017 goal

On a foodie note, I definitely didn't get to cook as much as I did in January. This is always the case when I have to relinquish kitchen access, I mean it's like they own the house or something. I get that my situation with working away is probably a bit unusual, so please let me know if you would like to know more about my job and why I generally spend most of my week working 'away' but 'at home'. I don't have a desperately glamorous job, but it is in some respects a lifestyle choice which affords me some awesome benefits.

One thing I did get all over... Brunch. On a weekend I am terrible for eating enough. Often we have brunch and dinner and then inevitably get heavy handed with snacks and wine in the early evening. Given I've been running a lot (scroll up....) the brunch bit has to be good. I posted my 4 favourite (and super simple) brunch dishes- it's a disservice to call them recipes- click if you missed it. I also concocted this incredible protein mug cake one dark, chilly night... MyProtein Salted Caramel Mug Cake mix made with 70ml almond milk, a teaspoon of almond butter and a Grenade Peanut Nutter Carb Killa bar- half chopped and stirred through, half poked in the top. Joy in a mug...

Salted Caramel Peanut Nutter Carb Killa Grenade Mug Cake photo 32886762585_bf346721e7_o_zpstdjybyrj.jpg

Tom & I also started to seriously consider weddings. We got engaged last March whilst away in Vietnam and we have committed to financing a house purchase before we worry too much about a wedding but as we draw closer to the house buying thing, we have started to think about the practicalities of planning the next big life event. I'm not really into weddings and it's not going to be a traditional affair, but working out where to even start seemed a bit overfacing. After a few interesting chats with Twitter friends I realised that there's a lot of peripheral stuff that is as important as you want it to be. I'm sure there'll be more about what we do or don't decide to do about our wedding in the fullness of time, so watch this space.

I read some brilliant posts this month including...

Em's pragmatic take on her encounter with cancer in Brave Is Not The New Black... and a reminder to think on your choice of words when speaking to people, especially if you don't understand their situation.

Phoebe at North of London is killing it with brilliant posts with blogging tips but in particular this one about sharing and Improving Your Blogging Karma resonated for me

Lissy's point over at Dainty Alice on cliques and blogging is another one which had my nodding and remembering a few examples of similar experiences- if you blog, you are a blogger. 

And Vegan or not, there's some brilliant recommendations for in Lily's Four Vegan Lunches To Try post. 

And that was month 2 of 2017 for me. Thank you for continuing to read Chloe Likes To Talk, and thanks for engaging with kind comments, tweets and shares- let's get going for the last third of the first quarter of the year.


Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Not Your Average Transformation Tuesday

I'm not here to talk about significant weight loss. Neither have I gained major muscle. There's no six-pack to see here. I have mini-muscles if I flex my bicep but in a world of dramatic before and afters, there's a few other things I wanted to share from an alternative perspective.

Alternative Transformation Tuesday - 2013 photo Transformation Tuesday before_zpstcf9fqra.jpg

That's me in 2013. I wasn't drastically unhealthy- I used to cycle a 20km round trip to work 5 days per week and I've always liked to cook and understand the basic concepts of cooking balanced food. I wasn't the healthiest person you'll ever meet, but I was just about a healthy weight for my height and participating in in 3-4 hours of exercise per week via my cycle-commute. I was doing ok.

So what's changed.

Well it started with losing my cycle commute to a new job. And having been adamant I wasn't a runner for a long time, I realised that trainers were going to be more transportable than my bike whilst working away regularly, so got on board with the Couch25K program....

Alternative Transformation Tuesday 2015 Running before photo 16324722761_7be9c044b8_o_zpsrf4rkyee.jpg

And it sucked. It was really fucking hard. And it only really came together after a handful of stutters...

This is me 2015 vs 2016:

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Do I look different? Sure. I was a little lighter and leaner. I ran over 100km of races between these 2 images. I also spent a lot of time feeling 'not good enough', setting myself unreasonable goals and feeling frustrated. I didn't realise it at the time and it took me until the autumn of 2016 to realise that when it comes to exercise, sports and health, there are constantly changes to make, things to learn and that everyone is working towards something different in their own way.

And this is me in 2017.

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I am a bit lighter- around 10kg, I'm a bit leaner- a size 10 from a 14 but it's nothing too drastic. There's no dramatic picture of me standing in a single leg of my old pair of jeans. There's no six pack and dedication to veganism or paleo or low carb. Do I enjoy buying a small instead of a medium? Sure, but here's a few things your average Transformation Tuesday doesn't tell you...

Alternative Transformation Tuesday Running photo TT Running_zpsjkjxb3ri.jpg

A before and after picture can't tell you that not only can I run 5k, but my 10km time has come down by 15 minutes and I completed a full marathon less than a year after lacing up my trainers for my first run.

A before and after picture doesn't tell you that riding my bike over 100km and 100 miles is exciting and it isn't so hard that I think about giving up half way through anymore.

A picture cannot demonstrate the improved healing time and significant reduction in injuries I suffered in the last 12 months because I've learned to love lifting heavy things.

And a picture will never explain the connection between physical strength and emotional strength that has given me the empowerment I needed to make peace with with all kinds of big life stuff.

A transformation picture can tell you a lot of things. It can help you to understand changes you might have made. They can celebrate you in all your beautiful forms. But a picture or a comparison cannot tell you your worth. It cannot tell you all of the positive changes you are capable of making and how much of an impact a healthy passion can have on your life.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Training Happy Updates - The Cambridge Half Marathon

My 2017 goal was to train happy, to stop putting unrealistic expectations and goals in the way of enjoying sport and exercise. You can read more about my training happy goal and why I needed to reach for it, click here.

This is a sentiment that's truly tested when you have lots of plans for the year in particular, I'm running my first half marathon on March 5th- the Cambridge Half. It seems a bit illogical to be running a 13.1 distance having already done a marathon but I fancied trying something new and a closed-road, big ticket race is as good a place as any to try it.

The problem with shiny new exciting things is the tendency to take a 'go hard or go home' attitude and to set myself up for my own perceived failure. So with 2 weeks to go, here's how it's going in the lead up to my first biggie of the year...

The Training Plan

I work best with a plan and because this is a transition from 10km to half marathon I chose a more advanced plan which focused on varied sessions and matched the number of training sessions I can realistically fit into a week and then tweaked any sessions as needed.

Events Race Planning Moleskine photo 32090225094_7b3d7a30bd_o 1_zpsx42jqbuv.jpg

I've really enjoyed having a weekly speedwork session- one of my modification has been to run a different session each week with my running club instead of the generic Fartleks listed. I also allowed 14 weeks to complete this 12 week program so I had some wiggle room- holidays, weather, life, worst case scenario, injuries. They all happen. And if you're on the hunt for a training plan for a new distance, I rounded up my 5 picks from 5k to half marathon right here- click if you missed it.

Attainable Goals

Because physically, I know I can complete 13.1 miles, crossing the line is the goal, but I also knew it wasn't going to motivate me, that said, I want to enjoy the day, I want to enjoy having completed so I have set a time goal, but it's limited and set conservatively. Ultimately it's about #finishlinesbeforefinishtimes which is a sentiment I shared when I was featured on the MyProtein Women Instagram feed in January.

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Listening to my body

So this is a hard one to learn. And it's why I put some extra weeks into my training. Last weekend after a long week, disturbed nights and shitty weather I did not want to run. Not just feeling a bit lacking in motivation, but full on struggling to get out of bed tired and so I didn't. I stayed home, made sure to eat properly and the result is that my final peak long run this week was my strongest yet.

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Finding the JOY

I find it hard to believe that anyone enjoys every single run or ride or gym session they do. Sometimes it doesn't go to plan, sometimes you don't feel like it, and sometimes you have to do the things you enjoy the least to see progress. But if you can't see the point in things, or you find yourself dreading all of your workouts, then maybe it's time to revisit your reasons. I found the joy in new routes, planned runs with friends and dragged Tom along for some of them too. I've also planned my year (you can read more about how I plan my race calendar here- click if you missed it) around events that sound fun or I know I love. It's easy to get caught up in race fever- entering events because other people are or they sound fun at the time, but holding out for the ones I really love or want to do and fitting in not just running but some of the cycling fun and games I crave.


Thursday, February 16, 2017

Race Fever: How I Plan My Race Calendar

Race Fever. It's a real thing. The irrepressible urge to sign up for ALL the races and events. I'm pretty sure there's no right or wrong number of races or events to do, that's all down to your own preference, but as someone who frequently has their head turned by shiny looking events, and someone who has missed out on preferable events because something is already booked in, I've found planning my races really beneficial. It also helps me to stagger the cost of any expensive races and prevents me from over booking myself.

I know a lot of runners who swear by spread sheets- a page for events with their sign up dates, event dates etc, but personally, I'm a pen and paper kind of a girl..

Planning Notebooks Bullet Journal photo 32457120600_8a48deef75_o_zpsaeieh0r0.jpg

Actually, to be more specific... I'm a multiple notebook, sticker, coloured pens and pencil kind of a girl, and a all green everything kind of a girl. My bad.

For real though, I like the act of writing things down, it helps me to remember things and I find it easier to view than using a screen, especially in my own time as I spend most of my work day glued to a computer and a phone.

I use a Moleskine extra large 2 month planner. It shows each week to a page with a notes page opposite and it has a year calendar at the front, showing each month to a page. And it's predominantly this way that I plan my races.

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First port of call- enter any holidays, important dates, work commitments etc into the year. It stops me from booking races when I know I'm likely to be on call with the business or when I'm planning holidays.

Next in go races already booked- I had one or two events I'd already sorted for 2017 before it started- if you like big events, you may well find yourself entering ballots or signing up for events more than 6 months ahead. This year, I knew I had the Cambridge Half Marathon in March and Endure 24 in June.

Now comes the FUN bit. Races and events I already know I really want to do in the year. 10k is my happy place and I already know in 2017 I want to revisit the Vitality 10000 where I set my PB in 2016 because it was an awesome course and the high of finishing with a PB added to a great atmosphere and well organised race. It's become tradition for Tom & I to ride to Southend on the BHF London-Southend ride because it also usually falls on the Rapha Women's 100 weekend which I love, and I can usually tell whcih weekend it'll be based on the last 3-4 years. As well as these 2 biggies, a few highlights to include, in case you fancy any for yourself:

Wings World Race For Life: a role reversal for most runners, you are chased by the catcher car, so it's down to you how far you get. I had friends who ran it last May from Cambridge and I'm looking forward to giving it a shot myself. The race raises money for spinal chord injury and happens at the same time in cities all over the world.

Royal Parks Half.: You might already know I did secure a ballot place for this. I knew it was going to be luck of the drawer, but I alo knew when it would fall and the Women's Running Magazine 10k series would have been my alternative race as it falls the same day, local to me in north London, Finsbury Park.

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Oh yeah!

March AC Summer Run: having join a new running club in 2017, I thought I'd better mark the race the club hosts into the the diary fairly swiftly this July. For anyone reading in Cambridgeshire, we'll be hosting on July 2nd.

London Marathon: I'm not running it, but decided I wanted to volunteer this this year. I'm supporting the Cancer Research administration team on the day as it's a cause important to me, and I get to soak up some of the atmosphere

Ride London: I represented Team Skoda in Ride100 in 2016 and had a blast. You can check out my photo diary from the 100 mile closed road route if you missed it. I didn't get a ballot place, but as last year proved- anything can happen! It's also hellish trying to get around London on the day, so it's a useful date to be aware of.

And last off, I've been pencilling in races I've been too late for or unable to fit in this year as well. I know this might sound a bit odd, but it'll help me keep track for next year- I'd love to do the Disney Paris Half in September 2018, which I can't fit in this year, and I quite fancy running my 'local' half marathon- The North London Half, which is just a bit too close to the Cambridge Half for me this year.

To Do Stickers photo 32062900823_1abf3bb3ae_o_zpsgh9qduhc.jpg

So far, 2017 is shaping up to be a fun year event wise. I'm excited for the events I've decided to do and have been lucky with my Royal Parks place. I'm eyeing up more cycling adventures for the summer months which is typically when I run a bit less- I'm not a good hot weather runner!

As for frequency, this seems to be a hotly debated issue. There are stories of heroes running marathons weekly, I have friends who race once or twice a year, just keep them in their trainers and people who book lots of events and struggle to complete them all due to injury or conflicting commitments. In 2015 I raced a lot- if you're new around here and you want to know why (and what got me running) you need to read this post. In July 2015, I spent 3 weekends of 4 attending races, and for me, it was too much. I'm not an early riser and cherish a weekend lay in, so extra early starts didn't help, travel time to-from venues meant I lost at least half a day at a time, and I was shattered. As an inexperienced runner, I didn't have enough time to recover before throwing myself into the next event. In 2016 I went the other way. I imposed a one race per quarter limit, and I was bored, missed out on things and ditched the idea mid-year.

This year, I'm aiming for roughly one event per month, cherry picking my wishlist races first and foremost, and then taking it as it comes. It's not exact- I have 3 events between May 7th & June 11th, but not consecutive weekends, and I'm nipping off on holiday straight after Endure24 on June 11th. My point- it's very much a personal thing. Family life, work, cost and time are all factors so what works for me, might not work for you.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Slow Cooker Recipes: Winter Favourites

The slow cooker. Mine was a Christmas gift back in 2012 when Tom & I were living on one very minimal graduate salary in a shithole flatshare in E14. It was a lifesaver for making cheap food that neither of us had to put a lot of effort into between working, studying and a health hazard kitchen. My love for the slow cooker has stayed with me though and especially in the cooler months, it's such an easy way to cook. With that, here's a few of my favourite recipe. A lot of them are American (because they love their Crockpots over there) and Pinterest is a goldmine of slow cooker recipes if none of these grab your fancy!

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Thai Chicken Soup (Foodiecrush)

Think Thai curry flavours in a soup, great for a working lunch. Because our slow cooker is small, I use half the ingredients would usually add noodles instead of rice. It also is lovely with spinach stirred through for some extra fresh and would work well with leftover roast chicken shredded through the soup based if you're keeping it economical.

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Image: Foodiecrush

Mexican Mixed Bean Stew

This is one of my own from 2016, but one I've been making for a while. If you fancy a hit of extra protein, add chicken thighs to the bottom of your slow cooker and cook on low for 6-7 hours. I like to serve this over a baked sweet potato with a sprinkle of cheese over the top and plenty of diced peppers mixed through.

Mexican Mixed Beans recipe photo B47A13C7-4905-4B5C-9B92-86683D639EB7_zpsaonm6n5k.jpg

Korean Beef (The Recipe Critic)

This works equally as well for chicken but I love beef for something a bit different (I eat a lot of white meat & fish). My only edit to this recipe is that reduce the sugar content- I use 1/4 cup sugar and a tablespoon of honey instead of 3/4 cup sugar. Another top tip, because I loathe wasting plastic bags on coating meat- put the raw beef in the slow cooker dish first, sprinkle the cornflour over and mix well to coat.

Slow Cooker Korean Beef - Recipe Critic photo slowcookerkoreanbeef2_zpso3lgmeg6.jpg

Image: The Recipe Critic

Sweet Potato, Chicken & Quinoa Soup (Chelsea's Messy Apron)

This is a weight soup, but great for post-run food or a filling al-desko lunch. This recipe does appear to be designed for an industrial sized slow cooker though, so to scale down:

I  tend to use just the one standard UK can for the tinned ingredients (drained, that's usually around 250g, this recipe calls for over 400g tins), I use an empty can (about 400ml) to measure out the stock and add only 2.
1 large sweet potato should do it
2 chicken breasts should be plenty or 4 chicken thighs
I used approx 50g (dry weight) of Quinoa

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Image: Chelsea's Messy Apron

Winter fought off in a bowl! Now, to find my favourite spring recipes in the hope that the sun will come out to play!