Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Chloe Likes To Eat: Everdine Review

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In the interest of full disclosure, I've not been approached by Everdine to provide this review neither am I being compensated for doing so. I paid for my Everdine boxes myself after finding them via the app Running Heroes and using a discount I earned there- if you're interested in joining Running Heros which gives you points for your runs which can be used for rewards such as discounts & freebies, this is my referral link. Running Heroes is completely free to use, syncs with loads of different platforms including Garmin, Strava & FitBit so all you have to do is run like usual and enjoy some rewards.

So disclosures out of the way, what is Everdine and why am I reviewing it? Everdine provides pre-prepared meals which you stick in the freezer and microwave when you're ready to eat. The idea (and they use a term I loathe, so much so that I almost didn't buy from them because they utilise it) is that all the meals are healthy, balanced dishes for busy lives delivered in selections of 8 or 12 on a subscription. Full price, the boxes are £55.20 for 8 or £76.80 for 12 including delivery on a Friday or a Saturday with referral options to get you some big discounts (my referral link gives you £30 off your first box and gives me £30 off too). I know for some this will seem a very expensive option and I know I could buy groceries for much less. I also know a lot of people who rarely cook and for them, this represents a cheaper than eating out option with a whole load of convenience. For me, I trialled Everdine using a substantial discount going into a period of time where I knew I'd be eating alone for a couple of weeks and I knew I'd be trying to get my nutrition back on track after a few weak-willed and lazy weeks of piss-poor prior planning. It was a worthwhile cost to have a choice of 12 different meals at my fingertips, that would be ready in under 15 minutes, especially since I'm in a crazy period with work.

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My box duly arrived on a ridiculously busy Friday morning as I was trying to do a million things at once- always the way. Helpfully, the box comes insulated with fully recyclable sheeps wool padding & ice packs so even though I didn't get to putting everything away for an hour or so, everything was still properly cold in there. As suggested, I duly found space in the freezer for all twelve trays- helpfully they're not only clearly labeled but colour-coded which helped when searching for meals and when organising.

So it's easy. It's a convenient way to have decent quality food ready to go quickly. Great. But what about the food? The important bit. Is it any good?

Well let's talk about the good..

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Clockwise from top left: beef ragu spaghetti, mediterranean cod, vegetable gyoza, pulled pork & boston beans 

So these are some of my favourites thus far. The pulled beef ragu packed a punch of flavour, heated up with without too much excess water & was packed with spiralized  vegetables and a portion of pasta that wasn't too vast. I added a sprinkle of extra cheese as suggested and it was GOOD!

The mediterranean cod was also delicious in terms of packing a flavour punch. despite being served with potatoes, this wasn't an overly carb-y dish. I don't follow a 'low carb' diet, but I am mindful of overdoing carbs and what works for me.

The vegetable gyoza- and FYI the selection from Everdine can be modified to be entirely vegetarian or mixed as well as having the option to take things out that don't tickle your fancy (no thank you asparagus risotto!) was exactly what I needed after an especially hectic day. It was light but filling with a miso broth and the gyoza were well balanced and delicate. I did add an extra dose of sriracha to my bowl- some of the seasoning is a bit lacking for my palate but one I'd definitely hurry back to.

And pulled pork- I love pulled pork and the beans were lovely as an accompaniment. This dish was a mixed bag for me- although I really enjoyed it for a treat, it's really heavy on sugar thanks to the barbecue sauce and it really needed less starchy vegetables- corn on the cob and sweet potato seemed unnecessary and there wasn't a great deal of other fresh in there. It was a nice Friday afternoon lunch though, and the consistency on this dish was spot on.

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Other favourites included: king prawn miso ramen, lamb kofta with roast onion & bulgar wheat & piri piri chicken.

And now let's talk about the not so great. My overall experience with Everdine (thus far, I still have a well stocked freezer as I had 2 boxes of 12 to be going at...) has been pretty good. I like the idea of healthy convenience food and when cooking for one, it's a joy to have a different meal every time around. But I do think they have some development work to do...

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I love falafel, I do, but this was the ultimate faff- the tortillas, baba ganoush, falafel & accompaniments all had to be cooked separately. If convenience is the reason you're tempted to try Everdine, this dish is one to avoid.

It was also victim to something that's been prevalent across the board  and one that is tricky for any food manufacturer to get right. Seasoning is difficult because everyone has a different palate BUT I found the majority of the dishes I've tried to be in desperate need of salt or soy sauce and some needed a bit of a hit of some additional seasoning like lemon juice or chilly lift them. It's worth considering having your favourite seasoning additions to hand if you're planning to give Everdine a try, because a splash of lemon juice took my king prawn ramen from 'alright' to 'gimme more'.

The other issue is consistency- in 2 senses of the word. Some dishes have come out more like soup than expected- tabbouleh I'm looking at you. That's due to the water content and the cooking instructions could really do with some amending to allow for more steam escape perhaps. And the other is macro consistency. I wouldn't go as far as to say I'm a IIFYM girl, but I do keep an eye on how much protein, fat and carbs I eat in a day and make choices to stay within approximate goals The Everdine dishes vary wildly in calorie and macro count and a basic breakdown on each meal when choices would be very helpful to try and gauge within a little which dishes are best suited to your own preferences- there's a big difference between a meal with 20g of protein and a meal with 35g of protein, there's also a big difference between a 650cal meal and a 380cal meal. They won't suit everyone all the time and that's a consideration.

And then... there's the 'clean eating' problem. Yeah. That.

More than once I've chosen not to spend money with specific brands because they use and promote the term 'clean eating'. I hate it. There's some interesting research around the problem of labelling some foods 'clean' and the assumption that therefore others are 'dirty' and the psychological impact that has on how we view ourselves and our food. I also don't like for food to be labeled guilty- if eating food makes you feel guilt or shame, that's a problem. So I almost didn't go through with my Everdine order because their tag line includes this much loathed phrase. It's something I've raised as feedback with them because overall- there's great potential. I would buy from Everdine again. I'd prefer it if the service weren't a subscription as this is not something I'd necessarily buy into regularly but for certain periods of time, the ease and convenience of balanced meals that are ready to go into a microwave for 10 mins really works for me.

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Coconut Chicken Katsu

If you fancy giving Everdine a go for yourself, you can use my referral code CHLOE10 or by clicking through to get £30 of your first box.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Wings For Life World Run Cambridge: Race Report & Photo Diary

Because what else do you do on a Sunday afternoon but line up in the middle of a major UK city to be chased through the streets by a car driven by ex-F1 driver David Coulthard?

The Wings For Life World Run happens globally which is no mean feat in itself, but the biggest catch of all is that there's no finish line. Whether your run starts in the middle of the night (like it doesn't in LA) or the middle of the day as it did for us in most of Europe, your job is to keep running until the catcher car catches up with you. Before you panic with visions of being mown down by an F1 driver who has had all his Christmases come at once, let me explain- runners get a 30m head start on the car and it moves at a dictated pace, speeding up incrementally at specific points on the course.

So that's why I found myself on the start line in Cambridge on Sunday 7th May- although to be fair, it was always touch and go if I would make it. My job requires me to be on call when my parents are away (we work together) and when I booked myself into this event on a dark December night after a bottle (or 2) of wine, I forgot to check the calendar first, so my attendance was always going to be a maybe. But as luck would have it, I made it.

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Race number, shiny new shorts, far too clean trainers

First job of the day was collection race numbers. Although I received a magazine and a can of Redbull (title sponsor) in the post no race numbers are sent out. Given the volume of other stuff that was posted, the need to be at the start so early was a bit rubbish- especially as registration closed an hour before the race start time. Race number collected, baggage dropped, we attempted to join the queue for the toilets, and easier said than done as there definitely weren't enough to go around!

But, formalities out of the way, the start line was fizzing with a couple of thousand people wondering how far they might get.  Some lucky people, like Tom (and this is his smug face) even got a high five from Mr Coulthard himself...

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Smug mode engaged!

The first part of the course takes you through Cambridge city centre which is brilliant for crowd support and it also means you can't get too much speed up too soon either as the streets are quite narrow, especially with a few thousand of us stampeding through them!

And so we were off. I found the idea of a race with no finish line quite intimidating- running is often as much about your mindset as it is about putting one foot in front of the other. I know some thrive on the idea of being chased, personally I work best with a goal to reach, I like to know what's coming in order to plan for it, so this was always going to be a challenge for me. I decided to treat it as a steady long run rather than a race as I've not done much distance in the last month or so and it took the pressure off for me.

Helpfully, there were regular water stations which given the sunshine were wholly necessary and so we pushed on through the villages surrounding Cambridge where we were welcomed by lots of people spectating- always nice!

I hit the 10km mark feeling pretty good, I knew I was unlikely to make much more than 12-13km at my preferred pace but I knew I should have been able to make the 10k mark without too much trouble.

And just after I passed the next km marker, we got our warning. Lots of us had started looking over our shoulders at the sound of vehicles- the numerous photography & assistance bikes on the course shooting past us all, but we knew the car must be somewhere coming up to us. A friend of mine also doing the event had found me and we picked up the pace...

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The catcher car convoy

I made it to 11.87km according to my Garmin- had I realised just how close to 12km I was, I might have had a bit more in the tank for my sprint finish! Luckily for us, there was a drinks station at the 12km marker- a very sociable way to finish, and then a walk to the bus stop- there are numerous bus stop points along the course to get runners back to the finish line. Naturally we finished right in the middle of the 2 nearest one, but decided a walk to the stop was a good cool down after our efforts. The buses were well organised and plentiful at the stop we used, and we were on our way back to Parker's Piece in under half an hour.

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And what a reception back at the start- call me shallow, but I was excited to see a decent goodie bag- the finishers t-shirts, free beer token, running water bottle & snacks all going down well, the medals were a bit naff, but I'm afraid (shock horror) running 'bling' doesn't really do it for me. I was more pleased to see a few friendly faces- Lou (front right) & I hooked up with some other runners we know, many of whom I hadn't seen for a few months for a catch up over our freebie beers and to hit up the queue for baggage reclaim- that took some time as it was a free for all rather than a numbered system, thank goodness for the beers!

Overall- not a bad day out. I love the concept for something different, however challenging it is for me as a psychological shift. Getting out of your comfort zone can only be good. The event was well managed on the course itself with regular markers, water stations, toilets & enthusiastic marshals. The start/finish needs work- given the volume of postage for the rest of the race info, it really would have been easier to have had race numbers before the day and the same system allocated to bag drop.

Would I do it again? I wouldn't avoid this race, but I'm not sure how far out of my way I'd go to get a place. It might be fun to see how much further I can get next time though, so never say never I suppose.


Wednesday, May 10, 2017

You Got This- Regaining Confidence & Showing Body Image Who Is Boss

I’ve talked a lot about training happy this year (click if you missed it). Mostly it’s because I went through a difficult period of putting too much pressure on myself to achieve running and sports goals that weren’t realistic- the times or distances themselves were fine, but I definitely wasn’t giving myself enough time and I definitely wasn’t being kind to myself. I’d be ashamed for anyone to hear the stream of angry and berating thoughts that are conjured when I’m pushing myself to achieve something- a quicker time, a further distance, a new session or technique. So training happy in 2017 didn’t necessarily mean I’d feel like a Disney princess joyfully jumping through meadows every time I donned my trainers for a run, ride or gym session, anyone who has run intervals of 800m will know there is little joy to be found there, but it was about allowing myself the time and space to do something without setting my expectations so high that I’d constantly feel like a failure.

So far, not bad. The first big challenge of the year was the Cambridge Half Marathon (click if you missed it). I’d never tackled the distance before and instead of setting a time goal, I wanted to finish it feeling proud of myself. I did just that- I fell outside of the rough estimation of time I had due to a problem with numb feet but a process of training for a new goal without trying to add more caveats to it left me relaxed about everything, because however you look at it, it was a personal best. But in last month or so, my confidence and my body image have taken a real hit.

For some of that I have only myself to blame- I’ve been drinking too much and I’ve struggled a bit with properly planning meals and the combination effect is that I’m a bit tubbier than I’d like to be, my clothes aren’t fitting quite right and it’s all a bit uncomfortable. Some of the discomfort can be attributed to experience- I went along to BeFit a couple of weeks ago and found it very clique-y and in turn it made me feel out of place, I’ve had a change to my contraceptives which has thrown me off kilter after 6 straightforward years and tackling that new 13.1 distance left me feeling sluggish in my running too. Not a winning combination. So how do you break the cycle of feeling rubbish about yourself, therefore feeling unmotivated to make any changes and thus continuing the cycle?

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Feeling very much the fat lass at the back despite putting a smile on it all for BeFit

For me that cycle was broken in 2 ways. In terms of committing to shifting to some of the extra insulation I’ve been clinging to in the cooler days of spring I took the plunge on spending a bit more for some pre-prepped meals. You might have noticed on my Instagram feed lots of pictures of Everdine trays- they create well balanced, healthy meals that are ready to go at the ping of your microwave. They come in single portions and I used a big introductory discount to set myself up with 2 boxes of 12 meals. Whilst the calorie and macro count of each meal varies, they’re all fairly well balanced and made using fresh, straightforward ingredients (they call it ‘clean eating’ I hate the phrase and almost didn’t go through with the order for this reason) and taking the choice away at meal times has forced me back on track a bit. The drinking… well, there may be a bit of cold turkey going on after this weekend to try and reset the clock a bit, but I’ve already instructed my absolute worst enabler, Tom, that the enthusiasm needs to be curbed! I know it’s working, I haven’t stepped on the scales, I don’t need to. I can see my shape returning and I can feel the change in the fit of my clothes and that’s all I need to know.

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And that just leaves The Great Slow Down of 2017. Transitioning to running with a UKA registered club this year has been brilliant, eye opening and frustrating all at once. The membership of the club are amazing- there are superhuman 3 hour marathon runners, there are older runners, there people who aren’t interesting in racing and there are ultra-runners but every single one of them just wants to share the running love however experienced you may be. What does that mean for me? Well every time I’ve been the last one huffing and puffing through a speedwork session, I don’t feel guilty or ashamed. The sessions are set up so even though I’m slower than most, I’m never left behind and I always get a bucket load of encouragement from other runners who can still speak actual words and so it is that I take myself off to a running club each week, knowing that I’ll be the dying at the back and leave again at the end of the evening hoping I got the people’s names right, that I might actually be improving and satisfied that whilst these might not be *my people* yet, that I belong here as much as anyone else. And so it is that with the goal of simply seeing my 5k back below 30 mins at our first intra-club race of the series last night- 29:59 would have done. Except I didn’t do 29:59. I didn’t even run my PB of 28:46. I knocked a further 1:19 off that time at 27:24, proving to myself that taking the pressure off, trusting my regular training and chilling out was the best possible thing I could have done.

Today I feel like a different person. I’m (I think justifiably) pleased with myself. There’s no niggling in the back of my head as to whether I deserve to be pleased about a personal best- I do, I ran hard for it. I don’t feel like it doesn’t count because there were other people smashing out runs in pretty much half the time- it doesn’t change the fact that I achieved something for myself, and whilst I’ll continue to try and do something about the extra weight I’m carrying right now, because I like it when my jeans fit properly, I’m no longer quite as concerned about the effect it may or may not be having on my ability to run and train. I also know that with time and a bit of perseverance to get back on track, things will even out.

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One mantra I have pushed hard this year is ‘Finish lines before finish times’ and I know that may seem at odds with having just had a personal best time make me feel so much more like myself, but the point of this entire 1200 word ramble is not necessarily they what but the how. Yes, I smashed my PB last night, but I was only able to do that because I have found an environment which I feel safe in- I’m not ridiculed or ostracised or pressured and that safety net of support has allowed me to relax and trust the process. It's also ultimately about taking the time to remind yourself of one of my preferred race encouragements when I'm working as a marshal or supporting:

You got this.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

5 More Working Lunches

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Last year, coincidentally, about this time last year, I posted 5 of my favourite working lunches (click if you missed it)- things I make regularly for a work day lunch that are quick, easy and that weren't just a new take on a sandwich. It seems you liked that post- or analytics tells me you did and  hear people who are uninspired all the time when it comes to balanced, simple weekday lunches which don't require hours in the kitchen or a million ingredients, so here are some more for you to me going at...

1. Frittata

My ultimate use up food, because so long as you've got eggs, you can through pretty much anything you've got kicking about in the fridge into it. It holds well in the fridge and is great hot or cold. My favourite version:

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Dice a whole green pepper, fry for 4-5 mins, add shredded ham, a handful of cherry tomatoes cut in half, mix the whole through and pour 3 beaten eggs over the top. Finish with some chopped feta and stick in the oven at 200C for approx 15 mins.

2. Fajita Bowls

All the 'F's in this post. Don't get me wrong, I love a good burrito bowl too, but these make me so happy also. I like to cook off 2-3 peppers at a time and keep them boxed up for adding to other things (like the frittata above...)

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I cheat and use a peri peri style marinade for the peppers & often add tomatoes into mix. I make up the rest of my bowls with pre-cooked lemon & pepper chicken or prawns, shredded spinach or courgette and an avocado.

3. Pad (sort of) Thai

I posted my Pad Thai recipe earlier in the year, click if you missed it. I say Pad (sort of) Thai because it's not authentic, the sauce is great, but like a lot of my food, I tend to take a more mix and max approach. My favourite combo is grated carrot & courgette (or spiralized if you want to make work for yourself) with a splash of lemon juice, warm through in a hot, non-stick frying pan without any oils, add cooked prawns or chicken and a tablespoon of the sauce and reduce the heat to low so the whole lot warms through. Top with a fried egg & toasted seeds.

4. Courgette Fritters

Courgette gets a hard time as a bit of a fitness cliche- everywhere you look people are substituting carbs with it, making porridge with it, making cake with it... Fritters is another enjoyable way to eat them, bonus is that you can layer them up with all kinds of good things, and they're very versatile. I layered mine up with cooked ham for this fairly monumental bowl full couple with a tomato salad.

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5. Savoury 'French Toast'

I still think the appropriate name for this is eggy bread, but there you go, we'll have to agree to disagree. However you look at it, bringing a bit of brunch joy to a weekday lunch can only mean good things. I think calling it a recipe might be a bit of a stretch, but I have a dedicated post on this coming soon. It served as a joy when loading up on extra carbs before a race.

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Monday, May 1, 2017

Month In Review: April 2017

Last May  Day Bank Holiday Monday I ran a 5 mile race wearing clothes far too warm for the temperatures. Today I washed glitter out of my braided hair, made naan breads, ginger biscuits and am currently staring at the rain coming down outside my living room window and wondering if it's too early to open the bottle of prosecco that's whispering my name from the fridge. Everything and nothing has changed all at the same time which is probably why I'm quietly hopeful about my application to the London Marathon ballot whilst also fully expecting not to be lucky.

As you can probably tell from this prelude, April has been a reflective month for me, so here's a recap...

Sports wise, I captured the elusive negative splits on a Friday night run after an especially tough week. It's the little things, right?

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Negative splits- emotional running for the win

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There was cycling this month too. It felt good to be back on my bike after a long winter away from two wheels. We used that ridiculously warm Sunday we had to explore neighbouring Essex, sneak in a half a cider at a pub and make a start on some tan lines. It was glorious until I realised I am apparently allergic to every plant and insect you can think of!

April is a big month in the running community- it hosts many of the most famous spring marathons including the London Marathon. I knew last year that I wasn't in the right headspace yet to consider my unfinished marathon business but I did sign up to  volunteer on the day with Cancer Research. It so happened that  I was posted near the finish line and it's left me certain that I'm ready to tackle another marathon and prove to myself that I can find some positivity in pushing myself through the full 26.2. You can read more about my previous experience and my thoughts on my monumental marathon sized itch in this post- click if you missed it

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Getting my volunteer on

`I have felt totally uninspired in the kitchen recently, which is not like me at all. I haven't been interested in cooking, or even that bothered about enjoying food. It's not helped by a bit of recent weight gain- I'm a bit tubbier than I was at the start of the year and so I'm hoping a few plans lined up for May will help to kickstart a bit more enthusiasm once more for getting into the kitchen and also shifting some of the excess I know I'm currently carrying, a little uncomfortably. I have a few weeks of flying solo both at home and at work coming up which usually coincides with a renewed focus on things. Here's to a few more of these balanced Al Desko lunches- courgette fritters layered with sliced ham and a fajita bowl.

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Lunch Al Desko

And then there's this weekend. A bank holiday to round off the month. It can be summed up in 2 words: GLITTER. BRAIDS.

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I went to the BeFit London fitness festival on Saturday after winning tickets from MyProtein via Instagram. I'll be honest- if I'd paid for tickets to go, I'd have been disappointed, but I did treat myself to a few bits and pieces and found some interesting new food & kit brands which I'm sure you'll see some of before too long as I get to start using and enjoying them.

The highlight of my day though? Glitter braids by the Braid Bar. I've used their services before and love having my hair properly braided but the addition of glitter was sheer perfection ahead of a busy weekend. I was especially taken that it lasted so well- 3 whole days, even if I did have to go to bed with my hair wrapped in a tea towel. Seriously though... GLITTER BRAIDS.

The other highlight of my trip to BeFit was meeting possibly the friendliest woman I've ever come across. A chance quip at the bar lead to an interesting conversation with one exceptionally dynamic half of StrongHer. It was not only a pleasure to meet Lyanne who is championing women in fitness in a more accessible and diverse way than many social media magnates of our time, but she's also stirred up some fire in me to chase after a few things that have been brewing in thee back of my mind.

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Rocking that hi-Viz

Volunteering seems to be a bit of a running (ha ha) theme this month. A week after VLM 2017, I found myself getting through just a tight a set of security for the Hackney Half as a volunteer marshal. I was wired for sound and really made an effort to cheer everybody as much as I could through my short section of the course around the 2 mile area. It was a beautiful day for it so I hope it was enjoyed by all- plus, glitter braids!

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So, what else... Well here's a few things I've been reading that I wanted to share...

Rockalily's hair tutorial for this 'Bumper Bangs' style was everything I needed to see after my foray into a 40s night last month

This post on small ways to save money is a nice little reminder that you can look after your pennies, and the pounds might not sort themselves out but at least you'll still have some savings one way or another.

Using a TRX system to progress to a pull up. Nothing else to say except Women's Health magazine have once again got my with my eyes on the prize.

I loved Lily's Insta Outfits, not just because she's ultra classy but because it was a timely reminder that sometimes editorial style is not what you want to see and there's still a place for more relaxed formatting when it comes to fashion blogging. 

And I talked about gait analysis- do you need it, is it the ultimate problem solver, when is advice detrimental?