Friday, February 26, 2016

We Need To Talk About Failure: Managing My Own Expectations

I am a black and white kind of a person. I'm not very good at navigating the grey bit in the middle. That tends to make me desperately insensitive, rigid in expectations and that I see a right way to do something, and a wrong way. And if I don't do something in my perceived right way, then I often deem myself to have failed. And when I fail, well... hell hath no fury like the attack my brain launches on myself.

Oddly, I'd never dream of saying to others the things that cross my mind when I'm beating myself up because I didn't get the splits on my run to the times I'd aimed for, or I didn't close a contract with a client at work, or I didn't get through all the items on my to-do list. They would be cutting, crushing, unnecessarily mean and in some cases nothing less than offensive. In fact one of the many reasons I've come to love being involved in a running group, is the opportunity to encourage others and to chip in with a congratulatory comment to remind people that the group is inclusive of all abilities, there is no place for judgement and we all take pleasure and pride in seeing people achieve their goals- whatever they may be.

So why do I expect so much more of myself? I have no idea. I do know I've always been a bit that way. I set myself high standards and I expect myself to attain and maintain those standards. I imagine it probably has a lot to do with my 'black & white' personality style, and I doubt very much that is about to change much as I travel through my late  20's. But it surprises me that I never stopped to think how this mentality would reach into my involvement in sports. Yeah, probably a bit dim not to have seen that coming right?

I dabbled in bits and pieces of sports at school, but never really stuck at anything. I didn't enjoy team sports and hated PE lessons with a passion. I had some pretty nasty ligament injuries in my mid-teens and distanced myself even further from anything sport or exercise related. Even at university, it wasn't really my scene. Something about being a grown-up with a job, rent to pay, and an expanding waistline set me back to being active. If you click the 'Cycling' tab at the top of my blog, you'll see a well documented journey from cycling to work for the first time a little over 3 years ago, on a very heavy red Raleigh dutch style bike (The Crimson Beast) through to riding over 100km at a time on a single speed city bike, to the joy of having 30 gears and carbon forks on a road bike. Equally, the 'Fitness' tab will take you through just over 12 months of one foot in front of the other- from Day 1 of Couch to 5k in January to running a marathon in October. Yes, really.

L:2016 R:2015. I don't look that different but a marathon and 100km in races later... It sure feels different.
Almost exactly 12 months- L:2016/R:2015

I challenged myself to get quicker riding to work every week, and cycled in come rain or shine. I pedalled myself dizzy keeping up with a lovely bunch of women I rode with, competing with their multiple gears and experience with my little fixie city bike, because falling off my bike would have seemed like a lesser failure than not keeping up. And in the early days of becoming more active, it was easy to stay on the upward trend of improvement. When you've barely exercised for 5+ years and start doing so 5 times per week, it's hard not to see an improvement. Likewise when you take up something new, every time you can go a bit further, longer, harder or do something you couldn't do before keeps a continuous sense of improvement going.

The problem, is reaching the point at which you stop seeing the improvement you crave, because you're working towards something far smaller, and you have much less ground to cover to reach your goal, but that ground is a minefield of obstacles and fire breathing dragons, stopwatches and just a half a kilometre short of the goal.

A couple of weeks ago, I headed off to a training session with my running group, as all sessions, it was mixed ability and was based around endurance. In my head, I knew what I was expecting. I don't even consciously set myself goals and targets, but I also know if I stop the clock at the end and the numbers are off, that's it. Ungraded. Fail. I didn't work hard enough and therefore I'm a bad human who must do better. As the session progressed, it was much faster and harder than I'd anticipated, I was running paired with someone lovely, who I know and who happens to be training for a handful of half marathons which she's likely to complete in sub 2hr times, when really I should have asked to switch my pairing part way through to drop my pace down a bit.

But that's giving up. Giving up is the same as not doing it right. That equally means I will have failed. So I carried on. And I completed the session, too frightened to stop running because I wasn't sure I'd be able to stand up if I stopped and struggling in a major way with my breathing.

I'd run further and faster than I'd expected and I went home, feeling dejected, cried in the shower and got an earful from my family because I couldn't stomach eating food after such a tough run, which doesn't help with recovery. But having run further and faster than I'd had in my head, I realised my own need to do things 'right' and my own sense of failure had reached the 'how' as much as the outcome.

Running further and faster is all well and good, but not acceptable to me because I'd done it badly, feeling awful, and felt I'd let myself down and my running partner down, because I'm pretty sure she could have pushed harder were it not for me.

I am a girl who runs. I am a girl who likes massive scruffy jumpers and a girl who likes snazzy nail polish. I am a girl who rides. But of all I am a girl who can, do not define me by my trainers or my lipstick, judge me on my achievements and my determin

So what's the point to this ramble? I think the conclusion I'm reaching for is that sometimes it's necessary to take a step back from your own expectations and examine how realistic they are. I love to run and cycle. They give me headspace when life is stressful, they bring me joy in the moments where I feel like anything is possible, exercise has restored some long lost confidence in my body, despite it taking a battering from assorted health issues and I'm even playing nicely with the other children and making friends. And all of those things for me, need to take precedence over the anxious worrying about the structure of a training session so I can assess how I need to perform, the need to do better every time and the dark feeling that settles after failing yet another goal that's being imposed only by my own bloody minded self. There is a time for discipline, motivation, drive. There is also a time for being kind to yourself and accepting that not everything will go to plan and that doesn't make you bad person, it makes you human.

This week, I have run for joy. I've run and laughed. I've run and listened to some of the most uplifting music I have saved on Spotify, I didn't break any records, I noticed I'm actually consistently a little slower than normal and I tried my hardest not to care too much. Instead, I took a moment on an especially bright and sunny (if brutally cold) day that I was holding a steady pace well over 1 minute quicker per km than I was 6 months ago, comfortably.

Success and in turn failure are in the eye of the holder and  I'm claiming this one for my own.

In 2014 I said I'd never be the kind of person to run a marathon. In 2015 I ran a marathon and 6 other races. On NYE I will rip over 100km of competitive running having raised about £1200 for @cr_uk it's been a hell of a year.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Adventures: Doing Travel Our Way

Everywhere I look all of a sudden, Vietnam seems to be the destination of choice for those hunting a holiday destination that offers a little slice of paradise. It was recommended to me in January of 2015, but we were in the middle of one of the most difficult house moves we've ever done and a long haul holiday just wasn't on the cards. As the year moved on though, thoughts started wandering to 2016. Both Tom & I have to think on when we might like to take our holidays to make sure we can fit work around it properly, and so we decided it was time we saw more of the world, so off we go.

Whilst we're both lucky to have enjoyed some brilliant European and British holidays, for both of us, visiting Paris in February last year was the start of a bit of a niggle- that we wanted to see more. I've always been put off holidays to far flung corners of the world because I didn't want to come back from weeks of 'doing all the things' feeling like I needed a holiday to recover- we work hard and for us, holidays are our downtime when we get to spend time laying around in the sun and eating snack with a glass of wine at 2 in the afternoon if we damn well want to. What Paris taught us, is that you can see things and do things without it being a chore and that's all down to being selective about what you think you'll enjoy.

Tonight, we mostly ate a LOT of cheese.

We went to Paris and we didn't go to the Louvre. Nor the palace of Versailles. We didn't visit Notre Dame and I wasn't especially interested in Michelin level dining. We did however have the most fabulous long weekend in which we discovered cobbled streets with restaurants lining them that serve only cheese, caught some stunning views of Sacré-Cœur through gaps in buildings and met a fascinating Algerian born man who happened to own the restaurant we were eating (the very best tagine of my life) in and who had fond memories of the area of London in which my Aunt & Uncle live. We came home having had a great time, seen new things, and not felt pressured, tired or grouchy because we'd tried to do too much or too many of the things we weren't interested in (however important a monument they may be).

Paris has been fun.

So, we're flying out to Vietnam on Good Friday for almost 3 weeks and I have been counting the weeks since before Christmas. We're spending some time in Hanoi as that's where we're flying into the country and then it's off to Hoi An- famous for beautiful beaches, resorts and tailoring. Will we be visiting every temple, bridge and monument? Probably not. But since we're doing an 11 hour flight to a brand new continent and country, I'm excited to learn new things and soak up a culture that's so different to anything I've experienced before.

I'm sure there will be many who would consider our trip wasteful because I know we'll spend at least a week snoozing by the (slice of paradise resort) swimming pool or marvelling white sand. Some who don't consider hotel stays and internal flights to be as valid a travel experiences as hostels and day long coach or bus trips between cities. To those people we say- enjoy your trip with sincerity. We only live once and if those experiences bring you joy, then you made the right choice. We're doing our trip our way, and I am confident we'll land back at Heathrow in April massively jetlagged but unable to stop telling people how wonderful our holiday was for all the things we chose to enjoy.

We're also happy to hear recommendations- have you been, what was your favourite street-food must try? Did you visit a market that wasn't in the guidebook and discover something incredible? Did you go on a tour or a cooking class or find a tailor that we we shouldn't miss? 

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Cycling: 3 Years On

I had a handy little throwback on my phone last night to tell me that 3 years ago to the day, I was taking pictures of my shiny new rucksack, all packed ready to cycle to work for the very first time the following day.


That big red Dutch bike weighed almost 18kg, and we called it (lovingly) the Crimson Beast. I wasn't sure cycling to work was going to be for me, but then what do I know?


I started cycling to work because I was struggling to find another way to keep active in a city I didn't know anyone else much in. I think Tom was joking when he suggested it, but then I've always been one for a challenge. 

Longer term followers of my blog will of course know, that cycling worked out well for me, I cycled to work pretty religiously for almost 2 years and 2 bikes later, although I don't get to cycle commute anymore, I'm still pretty in love with 2 wheels for a bit of added joy. 


This one is from 2 years ago at the back end of January. I moved to my single speed bike (which I loved and sorely regret selling on) and cycling was still a daily fixture. The yellow rucksack was still going strong, although the waterproof cover had become a necessity for both the different and darker cycle route having moved house as well as the realisation that the clothes within said rucksack would in fact get wet if it rained.... 

At the peak of my cycle commuting, I was getting through around 400km per month on my bike. I was lucky to live 20-25 mins ride from my office and getting the train actually took longer than riding in. One of the perks of being a manager is that I had enough office space to keep things like spare clothes and wash kit at work too, meaning I didn't require a super huge rucksack every day. In fact, the rucksack got progressively smaller for a while... 

It's FRIDAY! Current cycle commute combo- dance Capris, H&M base layer, Nike Frees, Sprint hydropack & Bontrager (youth) helmet

When I left my management job, I treated myself to a full road bike. I'd been lusting after something with gears for some of my more serious weekend rides (I did London to Cambridge and London to Southend on my fixie...). My Trek Lexa SL is still with me, although I'm only getting out on it roughly once per week at the moment, it's still a joy to ride though. 

Take me back.

Cycling has given me many things in the last 3 years. At a time when money was tight, cycling gave me freedom to do some fun stuff rather than spending money on Oyster Card top ups. It gave me the confidence to navigate London without relying on a tube map all the time and best of all it got me moving all the time.

Being active has become increasingly important to me, because it keeps my head straight and gives me focus that seems to filter through to the rest of my life. I could never have run were it not for cycling first- cycling gave me a basic level of fitness so I could start somewhere. Cycling still brings me joy- there is, to me, something magical about using your own energy to power a machine. I love that it can also bring the freedom of choice- travelling at times that suit me and not needing to rely on other people. I guess in short, I heart my bike, still.

Never felt so deserving of an ice cream. Kudos to my friend for an awesome recommendation- Rossi's Westcliff
Southend, 2014


Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Opinion: Food Is Not The Enemy

Food is a funny thing. I grew up surrounded by it because my family are from hospitality and I am still surrounded by it because my dad is a Master Chef of Great Britain and our businesses supply catering and hospitality. I'm lucky to have never been an especially picky eater in terms of what I do and don't like, but I don't always get on with food as well as I'd like. Food is like the toxic best friend I had when I was 14, and it's all to easy to think that food was the problem, when actually it's all down to how we view it.

 photo fOOD IS NOT YOUR ENEMY_zpstle9cqvo.jpg

As an adult, I'd like to think I have a bit more control over both my friends (needless to say that particularly toxic friend is no longer a part of my life) and my relationship with food. And I suppose I do. Eating in a way that benefits my body has been necessitated by becoming more active, not least marathon training last year. Even at the present level of training (4-6 sessions of running & weights per week), if I don't eat the right things or I don't eat enough, the pretty instant result is that I spend several days feeling rough as hell- far worse than any hangover I've ever endured (given that I'm partial to drink or 3, I've had my share of those too), and it's endlessly frustrating to feel like I'm making progress with whatever training I happen to be throwing myself into, only to face setbacks that are entirely my own fault.

BREAD! The horror. Yes, I ate it.

But getting to grips with something that can have such drastic effects on us- our mood, shape, size, confidence, religion, performance, medical conditions, energy levels (the list goes on...) is tough, especially in a society that almost stigmatises eating- social media accounts ridiculing women eating on public transport, a constant focus on what we should or shouldn't be eating and endless diatribe as to what constitutes healthy, lean, clean, fit or anything else. And these labels are the thing that really set me thinking on how we view food as the enemy, in particular one turn of phrase that has the ability to make or break our relationship with what we put in our mouths, and how we view ourselves and others.

Clean eating

There is psychology behind the 'contamination' of things because we associate them with impurity or something 'dirty'. It feeds into our feelings of disgust, which is a survival instinct- it helps us to avoid decaying foods or things that might be dangerous if we eat them like toxins. But what happens when we associate certain foods as clean, and others as dirty? We start to reject those dirty foods and the idea of clean and dirty also becomes a problem of morality and how we feel about the food, and in turn, other people too. If food isn't 'clean' then it's not pure or good, therefore we make the leap to it being bad, or dirty (how many times have you heard 'a dirty great big *insert food*), but worse still, what about the people eating it? Their food, their unclean food, their impure food, them and us. And so we start to associate the people who eat these nasty things with the same feelings. Us humans, really delightful beings!

Epic post 10mile run brunch- bacon, egg & avocado sandwich on my dad's awesome bread.
You can call this dirty if you want, I call it a recovery sandwich!

Food is not clean or dirty. Some foods have greater nutrition than others (damn you haribo and your tasty, tasty but oh so empty sugar calories) and some foods have different properties or are higher or lower in certain groups of nutrients, but a kale leaf is no cleaner than the baked potato I intend to eat for dinner- one has more carbs- which I will need after completing my 4th fitness session in 3 days (2 of which were sprint training) and one is good for fibre content and vitamins. Kale (I actually prefer spinach, but whatever) will go very nicely with my potato, dressed in lemon juice and maybe with some added black pepper. But it's not better or worse, cleaner or dirtier, more or less pure than the potato. It's just different. And by labelling something as clean, or something as not clean, you are instantly making it something to dear or be ashamed of, something to bad, or wrong. You might even be deciding there's a whole group of potato eating people  out there that you already don't like, despite not knowing them, because of their nasty potatoes. And heaven help us, those who put *gasp* butter AND cheese on our baked potato!

Tonight, we mostly ate a LOT of cheese.

Food is not your enemy, don't make it that way by giving it unnecessary labels. Go do some research on which nutrient groups are best eaten when- and by research, I don't mean pinning a few unqualified recipe book authors to a new board, Challenge yourself to understand what goes into your food. Take a second to remember that healthy bodies (which, in case you missed the memo, come in all shapes, sizes, genders, sexualities, races, religions, nationalities and cultures) are fuelled by food, not fresh air and Instagram.

Apparently lizards like apples.

And if you're interested in a bit more serious reading on the psychology of food and 'clean eating, check out this article Why 'clean eating' is bad for you' it's by far the best I've read on this subject since stumbling across a TV news item last year that made me step back and think about how we talk about food. In particular the author discusses the emotional attachment people give food when influencing our decisions on it, which is fascinating.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Month in Review: Jan 2016

Well, that's it. Month one of 2016 is done and dusted. Whilst I've seen a lot of people wondering how come January is so long, I have found it's zipped past really quickly. January is typically a slow month for the business and a time where we reassess what to do differently in fore the upcoming season and make changes to the 'back end' of the business like contracts and websites and strategies. It's also a time where I spend more time working from home and this year it has been the month of technical training. So, here we go, my January in review....

Really hope some cool stickers come my way before too long. My 2016 diary is very naked compared to 2014/15
New year, new diary. My 2016 one is looking sad and bare compared to my much loved and stickered 18 month one

Off to an 80th Burthday tea. Rock n roll lifestyle right here.
Dark lipstick obsession continues... Taken on my way to a family 80th birthday, I had another family member knock on the door of 80 and my great-grandmother turned 94 this month

I am a girl who runs. I am a girl who likes massive scruffy jumpers and a girl who likes snazzy nail polish. I am a girl who rides. But of all I am a girl who can, do not define me by my trainers or my lipstick, judge me on my achievements and my determin
I ran about 60km in January but best of all, I got into training a bit more technically with the goal of knocking some time of my 10km

L:2016 R:2015. I don't look that different but a marathon and 100km in races later... It sure feels different.
L: Jan 2016 R: Jan 2015

This January also marked a year since I started running. The right hand picture was taken Jan 20th 2015. It was Day 1, Week 1 of C25K and little did I know that wouldn't be where it ended. I started running because my bike wasn't always available to me whilst working away and I needed exercise that was easy to do anywhere. I'd never enjoyed running and it had been 5 years since I'd really put any effort into trying. You can read more about what I achieved in 2015 in my honest review of my year in running post HERE. The left picture was taken not far off exactly a year on. I don't think I look all that different (it's the same Helly running top) but I can't believe how much has changed in 12 months.

And so January ended with both a high and a low. As I mentioned earlier this week, we said farewell to our family Spaniel, Monty. He had 13 thoroughly spoiled years, and it's just a little too quiet without his clattering paws.

Monty, doing one of the 2 things he did best (sleeping, the other was eating)

Winter Run Series: London 10km 31st Jan 2016

And after a sad week losing Monty, I ended the final day of the first month with a massive grin on my face. After a very drizzle-y, wet 10km through central London on Sunday 31/01, I knocked a whole 5mins of my 10km personal best. My last race had been exactly one month before on New Years Eve at 1:06:47, and when my chip time came through for this one, I clocked 1:01:30. Personal bests are not the be-all and end-all of a race, but having put a lot of effort into training through the month, it's invigorating to see it bring results. A sub 60mins 10km is well and truly in my sights. Preferably before my birthday in June!

How was your month?


Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Farewell Old Friend

Snoring his fat head off.

That's a geriatric Spaniel curled up in my arms laying like a human baby. Yes, really.

Last week we said goodbye to our geriatric (13 years old) Cocker Spaniel, Monty. It wasn't unexpected as his senses have been failing for a few weeks, but nonetheless we're all a little lost without the clattering of paws behind us or the trails of dribble on every set of clean clothes.

Monty was a very needy dog, and that got even worse in his later years- he was regularly cursed for whining incessantly when we wouldn't be in the places he wanted us to be, or doing the things he thought we should be doing at the time he through appropriate. He was like that.

But however much of a pain in the behind Monty was, he was our pain in the behind. Farewell old friend.


Had to bribe the little bastard with a pigs ear today. I don't hate animals but Monty is like have someone else's 3yo.

Yup. That's a 13 year old cocker spaniel snoring his little fat head off on his daddy's lap. Absolutely ruined.