Tuesday, October 13, 2015

How I've progressed from running 500m to 16km

As the top of my blog says, when I started out running, 6 years ago, I struggled to keep running for 500 m. Two days ago I went for my long weekend run of 16 km! Then yesterday I was chatting to a friend and she asked how I've got to the stage that I can run for 16 km and this made me reflect on how my running has progressed over the past 6 years.

What I did as a kid
I was never much of a runner as a kid. I did gymnastics for 7 years and considered myself pretty fit and strong. I did occasionally go for runs, but never anything more than around 3 km, and even those weren't very often.  Our family was generally very active when I was growing up. Weekends and holidays were often spent walking and hiking in the countryside. I also walked everywhere just day to day - to school, the shops, the beach, everyday was a walk somewhere.
So as you can see growing up I had a good base of fitness which I believe has stood me in good stead in the following years.

Post baby lack of fitness
After having our two daughters, I hadn't done much exercise at all. After our second child, I drove everywhere, rarely walked and did little or no exercise. I had put on weight and was about 20 kg heavier than I should be. I slowly got back into exercise starting out with a book from the library with, I think it was an 8 minute daily workout. I did video workouts at home and got on our exercise bike while the kids slept in the evenings.

Why and how I started running
When my husband and I first moved to Cairns, we heard about the annual Pyramid Race 

(a race up a local mountain shaped like a Pyramid). Having both enjoyed hiking in the mountains we decided we'd like to one day take the on the challenge of this race and settled on the 50th anniversary which was in 2009.
So when 2009 came about I started running - that's when I found it a struggle to run the 500 m to the local shop!
I slowly built it up with walking and jogging until I could do the 3 km run necessary for the Pyramid Race.

Since the Pyramid Race is a 3 km run to the base of the mountain, go up and down the mountain (922 m), then run  3 km back, we decided we just needed to be able to run 3 km in one go as we knew we could climb the mountain OK.  We did do a couple of practice climbs of the mountain before race day too.

So race day came and off we went. We had lots of friends came to watch us attempt this crazy race after years of inactivity! It was extremely tough - we hadn't realised how hard it would be to climb the mountain AFTER running 3 km there, and then to run 3 km back after the mountain was impossible - we barely managed to walk. Our wonderful friends and supporters waited over 3 hours at the finish line to cheer us home. 

We had come last, but we finished! What an achievement.

Beyond the first race
After completing my first Pyramid Race, I wanted more. What a feeling to finish and a sense of achievement. I knew I needed to do more to get fitter and healthier and was enjoying my short runs. So I continued running and continued to run the Pyramid Race each year, getting a little faster each time. From 3 hours 15 mins the first year, to 2 hours 45 mins the next year, then 2 hours 36 mins.
Slowly I was getting fitter but after a few years of just generally getting fit, I started to want to try other races and to go faster.

Training Plan
At the beginning of 2013 I decided to see what I could really do and get a time for a particular distance.  
There was a 5 km run in June on the flat that I entered and downloaded a free 5km training plan from the internet. I ran my own marked out 5 km run at the start and timed this, then followed the plan and was pleased to have improve my time by the end of it. So I did the plan once again in the build up to the official 5km race, when I went out and ran a full minute faster than my goal - 22 mins 58 seconds! 

That race changed a lot for me. I realised what I was capable of and wanted to know what else I could push my body to do.

I think that was the point that I decided to go from just running when I felt like it, to actually having a training programme with goals and times I wanted to achieve.

Consistency - or lack of!
So for the past couple of years I've tried various running plans - some I've planned myself, others downloaded from the internet for free. I've also done more DVD workout programmes which I've found to be great cross-training to complement my running.

I've had periods when I've been super keen and working out twice a day, and other times when I've been less motivated and have done very little, but overall have felt I've gained a lot in my fitness.

Back to square one
At the beginning of this year (2015), we had a family holiday travelling in Asia for a month. During this time I did no exercise and didn't eat particularly healthily. When we came back to Cairns, I couldn't believe how much fitness I'd lost and how hard it was to get back into it. Running was a real struggle and I felt like I'd lost all the fitness I'd built up over the past few years.
Of course it wasn't quite that bad - but it certainly felt bad enough to know that I won't willingly go for a month with no exercise again!
Maybe it's my age catching up with me; recovery takes longer, and I have to be more aware of what I eat and the exercise I do now than I did when I was in my 20s!

This year I've built my fitness back up to my best adult levels yet. I've done it through general fitness DVDs (Insanity), runs on the flat and trail runs and walks. My races this year have all been good - with personal best times and even another trail running medal - to add to my first one ever last year!

This is the first year I've started consistently running longer distances - that's with an eye to my goal of going under 2 hours for a half marathon run I'm doing in 3 weeks time. I'm almost at the end of a half marathon training programme and each long run I do, I'm still amazed that I can run that far! 

I much prefer being fit and able to run these distances to the inactive and far less healthy person I was a few years ago.
I'm now looking forward to seeing what else I can push my body to do.  The big goal being the Great Wall of China Marathon for my 50th birthday! 

So it may have taken me 6 years, but I've gone from struggling with a 500 m run to being able to go out for a 16 km run. I've built this up  slowly through time and perseverance. Anyone can do it - no matter what your starting point. I've read so many inspirational stories of what people can achieve, that it makes me want to do more and more and see just what I am capable of achieving.
Next year I'll be setting bigger and better goals, and working on keeping my training consistent; after all, I've only got seven and a half years to build up to that Marathon!!

Friday, October 9, 2015

My First Bliss Balls

After watching recent documentaries about sugar on TV, I took a look at my own sugar consumption and, yes, I eat too much. I have always had a sweet tooth, and I know I eat too many sugary and sweet snacks.

So I've decided to try and reduce the amount of sugar I eat.  Working from home, the temptation of chocolate biscuits, cakes and chocolate is always within easy reach. I love to bake and we always have sweet treats in the house.  I don't want to stop baking or eating yummy sweet treats altogether, but cutting back seems a sensible thing to do.

For the first couple of days after I decided to do this, I had a dull, constant headache and was fighting the urge to grab chocolate at lots of times during the day.  The headaches have now mostly gone four days later, but the cravings are still there.

So today I decided to take a friend's advice and try making some Bliss Balls.

Now until this friend suggested them, I'd never even heard of Bliss Balls. They are a high protein, low carb snack which aim to fill you up and satisfy sugary cravings, thanks to the dates in them. 

I Googled and went with this recipe to try out.
I needed 2 cups dessicated coconut, 3 tablespoons cocoa powder, 1 tablespoon coconut cream, 12 dates and 1/2 tsp cinammon.

The recipe said to put everything in the processor..

Looks yummy so far!  Then blend until it resembles breadcrumbs.

Then I had to scoop handfuls of the mixture up and squeeze and shape into balls.

I made 12 balls (the recipe said 10, so mine must be a little small!)

Then, the recipe said to microwave the balls for 1 minute.  This happened...

When I tried to pick them up, they just disintegrated!
I left them to cool a little and tried unsuccessfully to squeeze them back together again.  In the end, I added a couple more tablespoons of coconut cream and squished them back into balls. If I make these again, I would add the extra coconut cream and not bother with the microwave!

I did taste test them too. One before the extra cream and one afterwards. Both yummy!!
The rest have gone in the fridge.

I'm not convinced that these snacks are really any better in terms of sugar than having a chocolate biscuit from the fridge.  I had 2 Bliss Balls, which would have 2 dates in (Since there were 12 dates in total and I made 12 balls).  This is about 32g sugar rather than the 10g that's in one chocolate biscuit! 

However - the dates also contain other nutrients and fibre, that the chocolate biscuits don't, and from what I read, dried fruit is better at curbing hunger than refined sugar.  
I shall give these a try anyway - and there are plenty of Bliss Ball recipes out there to experiment with. 
Do you have any Bliss Ball recipes you can recommend?
Or any other tips or hints that can be used to curb those sugar cravings?

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

How do I motivate myself?

A friend asked me the other day, how I motivate myself to go for a run when all I want to do is sit on the couch!  I'd just posted on Facebook that I was good at motivating myself to do things, but not so good at stopping myself from ..well, eating ! 

It made me realise that if I could understand how I motivate myself to run, I should then be able to apply the same principles to being a bit more controlled with my eating habits!

I brainstormed the key things that I think help me in my motivation to exercise - looked at why they are important, and how I can transfer this to better eating habits!

A Clear Purpose / Goal

With my exercise and running, I have races that I've entered and times that I have achieved in the past. I want to improve on those times and my placements in the races too. These are measurable goals - running a particular distance in a particular time.  I also know I feel and look better when I'm exercising more. My muscles and tummy are more toned and I am slimmer.  I have photos of myself at two points in my life on my pinboard. One is from when I was 26 years old and travelling. I was about 60kg and fit. The other photo is from when I was 31 years old, just after having our first baby. I was  80kg and not fit at all!  I look at and think about these pictures when I need motivation of what I want to look like and what I don't want to look like!

My purpose and goal in healthy eating is to lose weight and feel healthier. Although I'm not overweight, I am at the upper end of my 'ideal weight' scale, and have a stubborn 7kg to lose to get down to what I'd like to be again - 60kg.  I'd then fit into all of my clothes (those I've kept but not been able to wear for years), I know I would run faster, with 7kg less to carry, and I would feel so much better in myself.  Having exercised a lot over the past couple of years and lost a little weight, I know it's not the answer to losing weight. I recently read this interesting article which explains how important what you eat rather than your exercise is in terms of losing weight. It also points out that although when you exercise you burn lots of calories, it is a relatively small amount compared to what you burn just living day to day.  It's what I'm eating that needs to change. I'm already happy and good with the exercise!  I just need to remember this and focus on my goals when I'm thinking about eating - not just when I'm motivating myself to exercise!

Have a Plan / Progamme

With my exercise, I found that my gains were much greater when I followed a fixed plan or programme.  I used to just run when I felt like it and how far and fast I went just depended on my mood.  As you can guess, sometimes I really didn't feel like exercising...so I didn't!  So what kind of programmes or plans? 

I have downloaded free running training programmes from the internet, and also followed the Insanity and Asylum video exercise programmes. I find it helps when I have my workouts mapped out for me each day. I can check them off on my calendar and plan in advance how to fit them into my daily schedule.  The first few days are usually the hardest - both physically and mentally, but once I'm into the swing of it, and can see all those days ticked off, it's easier to keep going!

So with eating - how can I use this to help?  I don't want to plan out what I eat each day. But I can have some planned healthy snacks or meals in my head (or in the fridge) that I can turn to when the hunger pangs hit - rather than the too convenient chocolate biscuits, chocolate milk, chips and cookies!  I've started drinking fizzed water with ice cubes and slices of lemon in it - this looks nice, tastes good and fills me up a little.  I have also started to have non-sugary snacks made up in the fridge, this week I had homemade hommus with carrot sticks; and next I want to try making some Bliss balls that a friend recommended to me. I found a whole heap of recipes here to try!

Visual Progress and Momentum

To be able to see some kind of progress is a huge motivator. Whether it's a faster running time, feeling stronger in a particular workout, or just noticing clothes being a little looser; any noticeable difference helps keep motivation up and spurs me on to do more. I now keep a calendar diary of all my exercise.

 Seeing all the days fill up with runs, cycles and other workouts makes me feel good about what I've done and want to keep on filling that calendar up.  I feel guilty when I see too many blank days and find that motivates me to get up and go!

So with my eating, this should work just the same. The longer I can stick at sensible snacks, portion size and avoiding too much sugar, the more I should start to notice a difference on the scales, with my clothes fitting better and hopefully feeling healthier.  I just have to get through the initial few days and weeks for a noticeable change and so build up that momentum.

Pain and Pleasure

I like to listen to Anthony Robbins motivation CDs.  He speaks about how we are all motivated by what gives us pleasure and what causes us pain. I agree with this completely, and that it's just a matter of choosing what to focus on.

In terms of exercising, this means that when I don't feel like going for a run, I try to focus on how I'll feel after my run, rather than how I feel now.  I know I always feel better after exercising - more awake, happier in myself and satisfied that I actually did it!  When I feel like I don't have time to run. I try to focus on how much more productive I will be once I've been.  

I have also worked hard on getting up early in the mornings (which I have disliked most of my life) and running then. It has taken a long time (maybe a year) but I now enjoy getting up early, and to run first things sets me up for the day - and I don't have the pain of motivating myself to run later in the day, but I do have the pleasure of knowing I've already done my workout before a lot of people are even out of bed!

So how does this apply to food?  Pleasure is definitely a big motivator for me to eat all those lovely tasty cakes, cookies and chocolates.  It's easy to focus on that instant pleasure.  But I need to instead try to focus on the longer term pleasure of the weight loss and healthy feeling that I will have by avoiding too many 'bad' foods.  I think I really need to work on what I'm focussing on - and think ahead more to how I will feel later, rather than instant gratification resulting in guilt and pain later on!

In summary!

I think the answer for motivating myself to NOT eat sugary snacks, have smaller portions and generally eat better is my focus. I have to focus on how I will feel and look later - rather than just the here and now of what I do and don't want to eat.  This is what I have done in terms of motivating myself to exercise lots and regularly, so now I will be trying to apply the same principal to my eating habits; changing them for the long term for a fitter and healthier me!