It has been awhile since I’ve blogged about my fitness journey so I thought this would be a good opportunity to bring you all up to date with what I have been doing recently. You may recall me mentioning in this post that I managed to make quite a bit of progress in terms of weight loss last summer, bringing my weight down from 93kg to 78kg. Unfortunately, I was unable to maintain that weight as I had a relapse. Having to take medication again increased my weight but I cannot blame that alone. I felt depressed by the weight gain and compounded to the problem by eating badly, and before I knew it my weight had risen to 94kg! I dread winter. I hate cold weather and found it difficult to be motivated enough to run outdoors. In addition, I also hated the gym that I had joined back in January, and as a result, hardly went there. While it is fairly close to home, if you don’t like it, you simply won’t go there, even if it’s next door. Period.
As I grew bigger and lost more and more fitness, I became increasingly depressed. I have Type 2 diabetes, which I am meant to control with diet and exercise. As my eating fell to the wayside, I stopped testing my blood sugar, choosing to live in oblivion. I knew something had to change, but I felt stuck in a cycle of losing weight, only to gain it all back every time I had a relapse and had to go on medication. It then became hard for me to start my fitness journey all over again as I felt so disappointed by having gained weight. However, this is the reality of my life, and probably much better than having to take medication all the time, which only caused my weight to continue to climb. I thought about my problem very deeply and realised that the thing that frustrated me most was that my base weight was so high, and it was very hard for me to bring it down due to fluctuations every time I had a relapse and had to take risperidone. The reason for this is because when I worked as a lawyer at Bell Gully a couple of years ago, I had to take my medication continuously in order to hold down the job. This pushed my base weight from 70 kg to 93 kg, and I have never been able to bring my weight down to this level ever since. My ideal or goal weight is actually 60 kg, but I’ve allowed a 10kg buffer because of my condition and the effect medication has on my weight. So in an ideal world I’d be 60kg, and allow a buffer of 10kg for weight gain caused by relapses and the medication.
I was pleased that I was able to lose 15 kg on my own last summer, without a gym or PT, but realised that if I were to try to push past the barrier and bring my weight down to 70kg or below that level, I would not be able to do it on my own. Part of the problem was that I wasn’t getting enough support from the community gym which I was going to, but linked to that was also the fact that I was not forthcoming about my situation because I didn’t feel comfortable confiding in the instructors there. However I cannot solely blame them. I needed to want to be helped, if that makes sense. It took some time for me to reach that point.
A few years ago, I trained at Les Mills and used the Howick branch a lot, as it is close to home. I met a wonderful young trainer called Laetitia. I confided in her about my condition and the problems it presented in terms of my weight and she was wonderfully supportive. However, after a particularly bad depressive episode I left the gym, which was probably one of the biggest mistakes I have made in my life, as my health and weight have deteriorated ever since.
I was determined to pick myself up again, but this time around, I knew I could not do it alone as I had done last summer. I constantly thought back to Les Mills Howick and how much I enjoyed going there. The trainers and fitness instructors were all so wonderful to me and I felt happy to go to the gym, which wasn’t the way I felt about the community gym. One of the instructors at the community gym always put me down in the Combat class, getting off the stage to come over to correct me on my movements. I always felt self-conscious infront of the other gym goers, which was one of the reasons I went to the gym less and less over the course of my membership. I couldn’t complain to the manager about him as he was the manager!
I had to accept that this time, I needed to see a personal trainer, which was hard for me as I’m a self-starter and believe firmly in helping myself in order to get ahead in life. Over the years though, I’ve learnt that there’s no shame in asking for help when you need it, and it’s certainly better than struggling on your own or giving up. Deep down, I desperately wanted to do the YMCA 10k summer series in the Auckland Domain, which starts in October and I knew I’d never get there if I continued to go it alone. Last summer, I just did a couple of the runs, this summer, I’d like to do the entire series, which starts when daylight saving commences in October and runs until April, when daylight saving ends. To run with the pack, I need to be able to complete the course in no more than an hour and a half (the course is quite difficult and contains a lot of hills, so this needed to be taken into account).
The more I thought about Les Mills the more I realised that it was the right gym for me, if ever there was one. I simply had to put aside my insecurities about being an ‘older’ member if I was to improve my health and fitness. I picked up the phone and asked if I could go into Les Mills Howick and talk to someone about rejoining the gym. The next day, I started going to the gym and working out on a trial membership thanks to a consultant called Autumn and before I knew it, I had rejoined the gym. There were some familiar faces and a lot of new ones as well. Since I had last been a member, they had upgraded the facilities so the gym was even better than I had remembered it! Unfortunately, Laetitia didn’t work there anymore (but she does work out there and it was lovely to see her again). Funnily enough, I ended up picking a lovely young PT called Alice that is really good friends with her. Her manner reminded me so much of Laetitia’s and that’s why I chose her. Since I started going to Les Mills, I have lost 4.5 kg in just three weeks. I have also gotten back into running 10ks, my most recent race being the Sri Chinmoy in the Auckland Domain last Sunday. I managed to complete the race in 1 hour 29 minutes (but the course is much easier than the YMCA 10k run which has more hills so I have quite a bit of work to do!). Initially, I was reluctant to enter into races when my times were so slow, but one of the fitness instructors called Maureen who also does 10k races encouraged me to enter in order to improve my fitness. There is another Sri Chinmoy race on the 16th September, which I’ll enter as well. I loved how supportive the other runners were during the race and afterwards. Considering how many times I have fallen down (one time quite literally, during a run along the waterfront), I need all the support I can get to pick myself up again and carry on.
I now exercise every day (which I didn’t do from February through to June). I do three 10k runs per week, sometimes going to the Newmarket branch of Les Mills so I can run in the Auckland Domain. I see Alice for PT once a week for an hour, and do another hour of weight training on my own during the week. For the other two days, I do classes. At the moment, I’ve been doing RPM with Kate and Pump with Stacy, who are both really lovely instructors who remember me from the last time I went to Les Mills Howick, and also from other gyms before that. The Saturday before last, Alice and I did George’s boxing class together, which I really enjoyed. Who knew exercising could be so much fun!
In parallel with exercise, I also keep a record of everything I consume on an app called My Fitness Pal. It’s been around for a long time, but I didn’t use it as I used to do Weight Watchers in order to control my weight. Unfortunately, Weight Watchers doesn’t work for me anymore. I have diabetes, so fruit most definitely isn’t free as per Weight Watchers, because it contains quite a bit of sugar. They have changed the programme so much over the years and added lots more zero points foods, especially those which are high in protein such as chicken, fish, tofu and eggs. I don't really agree with this. To me, nothing is free. Everything has some kind of value in terms of calories and macros, and therefore has an effect on your body. In saying that, I have developed a lot of good habits from doing Weight Watchers over the years, including weighing food to ensure I am not overeating. There are certainly some similarities between the two programmes, one being that you must record everything that you eat. What I like about MFP is that you record calories, rather than points, which to me seem rather artificial. I think counting calories is a more accurate way of measuring what you’re consuming. MFP also places an emphasis on macros, so if you enter the foods you’ve been eating across the day and corresponding quantities, it will give you the content of protein, carbs, fats, sugars and so on. Unlike Weight Watchers, I find this very useful, especially for controlling my blood sugar levels. I have been testing my blood sugar regularly and my levels have never been better! Although it sounds quite tedious to have to log everything you eat and all the activity you’ve done for the day, it actually isn’t as bad as it sounds. Once you enter items, they will automatically be stored in the system, making it easy to add them next time. The app (or I’ll often just use the website and work on my laptop) is very easy to use and MFP is a very supportive community of members, a lot like Weight Watchers. You can become friends with other members, see their food diaries and interact with others on the forum. I’ve had some queries about MFP and other members were most helpful in answering my questions.
It is early days yet but I am determined to make this work long term. That’s why I’m not following fad diets such as Keto or doing intermittent fasting which to me is just a form of starvation. Hopefully, with the help of a PT, I’ll be able to get back on the horse after relapses occur. I do hope they won’t – I’m trialling something new where I take my medication pre-emptively for a period of two weeks every six months or so to try and prevent the onset of psychosis – but it will be awhile until I determine whether that method works or not. In any event, losing some weight, improving my fitness level and being back with old friends at the gym has certainly made me happier and lifted my spirits. Given my battle with depression, this reason alone, nevermind diabetes, is enough incentive for me to continue on my journey.
Once you set a fitness goal and are working towards it, whether it be to lose weight or run a half marathon, you can get into the zone and make rapid progress. However, problems can arise during your fitness journey. Unfortunately, it’s never quite smooth sailing. In a previous blog post, I have covered the dreaded fitness plateau. I have also talked a bit about some of the injuries I have had which impaired my ability to train. In this post, I would like to cover how you can redeem yourself when you fall off the fitness wagon. This happened to me recently. By opening up about why I derailed and how I managed to get myself back on track I hope to reach out to others who have been in the same situation.
As you may recall from my earlier blog post, I was making excellent progress during my weight loss journey and managed to drop from 93 kg to 78 kg by running 10k three times a week. I even managed to do a couple of 10k runs in the YMCA’s summer series in the Auckland Domain. All was going well until I fell ill. As those of you that have been dipping into the “Mind” section of In the Circle may be aware, I suffer from schizophrenia. Medication didn’t work out for me because it caused excessive weight gain and Type 2 diabetes, so I control my condition naturally. But when relapses occur, I do go back on medication and that causes me to gain weight. While I’m unwell, I don’t exercise. In two months, I went from being able to handle running a flat 10k course in one hour and ten minutes to barely being able to walk the same distance. Every time I fall ill my eating also goes out the window and I start eating a lot of junk food. Thankfully, I wasn’t quite back to my starting weight but when I got weighed at the doctors, I discovered that I’m now 88kg. This is frustrating as it puts me forward 10kg.
For a long time, I felt so angry and depressed but I finally managed to get my act together thanks to the support of my cousin’s wife, who is a personal trainer. While she was a student at the fitness academy where she trained to become a personal trainer, she trained me and is familiar with my condition. Miriam’s advice was to start by walking the 10k course and alternate by doing weights at the gym every second day. She said to concentrate on how good it will feel to run again.
Try not to make the same mistake as me and fall into a downward spiral. It’s best to nip it in the bud and pick yourself back up as quickly as you can, otherwise it will mean even more work for you in the future!
For me, the key was not to ruminate on the past and how much progress I had previously made. Once I learnt to put the past behind me, I could concentrate on the journey back to a fitness level I was happy with. Indeed, I have learnt to actually embrace and enjoy my current journey back to health.
It helps if you can come up with an action plan going forwards. Even though the way forward to running again was very obvious (starting off by walking again), it took someone else (a personal trainer no less) to point out to me that that was what I should be doing. I’m a bit of a self-starter and enjoy exercising alone, but if you need extra support and motivation, it might be a good idea to see a personal trainer for awhile so you get back on track.
Focus on the end goal. If it’s weight loss, try not to become obsessed with a particular number but think of how good it will feel to be lighter and have more energy. In my case, the end result is being able to run which really is the best feeling in the world. As Miriam said, that should motivate me every time I am doing my 10k walks.
In summary, try not to feel too depressed or beat yourself up if you fell off the wagon. We’re all human and it happens even to the most dedicated athletes. Try to focus on getting back on track. Your body will thank you for it.
True, a women's gym I used to belong to, had the recipe for this fabulous green smoothie on their webpage. I love it so much that I simply had to share it on my own website!
-2 cups leafy greens (spinach, kale, romaine lettuce, bok choy, swiss chard, collards, dandelion)
-2 cups liquid base (water, coconut water, coconut milk, almond milk)
-2 cups ripe fruit (banana, mango, berries, orange, avocado, peach, pear, apple, pineapple, grapes)
1. Blend the leafy greens and liquid together.
2. Add the fruit then blend again.
3. Enjoy - makes 2 serves!
I have been going to the gym for the past 15 years. My first gym was the University of Auckland gym, which I went to while I was a university student. Since then, I have belonged to a number of different gyms – work gyms, women’s gyms, suburban gyms, corporate gyms and community leisure centres. Over the years, these facilities – and the people who attended them – have helped me tremendously on a physical and personal level. I have met some incredibly dedicated, inspiring people through fitness centres. I decided to write a blog post on belonging to a gym as I think that a gym membership can be extremely beneficial in terms of one’s health and overall well-being. Note that I have deliberately used the word ‘belonging’ rather than merely ‘being a gym member’ or another such expression. After you have been going to a gym for awhile, you will feel a sense of belonging, as though you are part of a community. You will get to know people and some will even be a bit like family. This is a really nice feeling.
If you’re wanting to exercise regularly for your health and overall well-being, a gym can be a great sports facility at which you can train. In saying that, it’s not for everyone. The only way to know for sure if it’s for you is to give it a try. Most gyms offer a free pass to guests for them to try the facility before committing to a membership. This is a good idea, especially if you’ve never used a gym before as it will give you a chance to see whether you actually like it.
What should you look for, if you are interested in joining a gym? For a start, consider whether you are actually a gym person. Not all active people train at the gym. A fitness instructor from the first gym I belonged to once told me that there are lots of perfectly healthy and active people out there who don’t exercise at the gym. Some people just don’t enjoy training in a gym environment. If you’re one of them, don’t be miserable. Good options if you prefer training outside the gym are running, swimming, boot camp and sports. Click here to read part 1, part 2 and part 3 in my series on running.
What are the benefits of training at a gym? They are great if you are pushed for time as you can do a workout in as little as 30 minutes. They are also a good training facility if the weather’s bad as you’ll be undercover. You also can’t beat the convenience of being able to train any time during opening hours, unlike sports which meet to train on a certain day or days at a specified time. Some gyms offer 24 hour access, which is great for shift workers or anyone wanting to train outside regular hours.
In joining a gym, here are some of the factors you might wish to consider.
Location is an important consideration in choosing a gym. In my experience, the gym has to be close to either home or work, or you’ll never end up going. If your gym is close to home, it makes going on the weekends easier if work is far from home. Some gyms are part of a franchise which enable you to use your membership at other branches. This may mean that you can train at a facility close to the office during the week and a different one close to home over the weekend.
Before you join a gym, make sure that you are happy with the facilities. Does the weights area have a good range of machine and free weights? Have a look at the timetable for fitness classes. Does the gym offer an interesting range of classes? Try one if you’re able to before you take out a membership, to test the vibe of the fitness studio. Are the instructors enthusiastic and passionate about teaching? Do the participants engage in the class? These are good signs that you’ll enjoy taking fitness classes at the gym. Some of the fancier gyms might have facilities such as a spa, sauna and even swimming pools.
Have a good look at the changing facilities, showers and toilets. Are they clean? Are they adequate for the number of members at the gym? Be warned that they can get very congested during peak periods, especially in the morning before work. Allow extra time to shower and get changed before heading to the office.
Price point is a major consideration. Obviously, the fancier the premises and the more facilities that the gym has to offer, the more expensive a gym membership will be. Rest assured that it is possible to stay perfectly fit and healthy at a very basic facility. I currently belong to a community recreation centre, which I decided to join for three reasons (i) the convenience of the location, which is quite close to home; (ii) the weights area, which was very good; and (iii) the fact that the gym offered a range of Les Mills fitness classes, which I really enjoy. As it had been a long time since I had last had a gym membership, I was eligible for a 50% discount, bringing the total cost of an annual membership down to just over $330. I felt that this was incredibly good value, as basic gym memberships start at around $750 per annum.
Finally, before you decide on a gym, make sure that you ask around at work. Chances are your colleagues may go to a gym and they’ll be able to recommend a suitable one to you.
It’s a good idea to get into the habit of exercising consistently in order to maintain or improve your fitness and overall health. If you’ve been doing the same cardio and resistance training programme for awhile, you may find you stop making progress. If you’re on a weight loss journey like me, you might stop losing weight no matter how strictly you adhere to your training programme and diet. You need to change your programme every now and then because the body gets used to doing the same exercises and stops responding to them. Changing your exercises shocks the body. The longer you’ve been training, the more often you’ll need to vary your exercise programme. It’s also a good way to keep yourself stimulated as doing the same workouts week after week gets boring after awhile.
In this blog post, I’d like to offer some suggestions on what you can do when you plateau in order to kick start your training again. I’ve decided to open up about my fitness journey and draw from my own experiences in order to help others. This is a problem that every dedicated exerciser will face from time to time. I have received SO much support from fitness instructors from the many gyms I’ve been a member of over the years (including the wonderful Aseel Mohammad Al Baghdadi, whose wedding dress I featured recently in the Style section), other gym members as well as friends and colleagues who are also fitness focussed so this is just a very small way of paying it forward.
As discussed in a previous blog, from September until December last year, my training programme consisted of walking every day, building up to three outdoor 10k runs and walking on alternate days every week. When the local outdoor swimming pool opened in December, I substituted walking for 2km swims (40 laps of the 50m outdoor community swimming pool) on the days I didn’t run. This took me about an hour. I didn’t do any weight training because I just couldn’t bear to be in a closed in gym environment. I craved to be outdoors in the fresh air. Also, I was restricted in terms of what exercises I could do due to a lingering neck injury. The area underneath the back of my neck between the shoulders is always incredibly tight. I noticed that high intensity training, such as boot camp and crossfit, only served to aggravate the injury. Walking, running and swimming enabled me to work around the problem for awhile but I knew I had to get to the root of the problem sooner or later, otherwise it would remain unresolved and prevent me from doing boxfit classes, which I really enjoy. I’ve started seeing a chiropractor, which I’ll discuss in a separate post. This is the first time I have ever seen a chiro. It will be interesting to track my progress and I will offer my thoughts on whether the treatment has been helpful in addressing the problem.
I’m currently on a weight loss journey (and will be for some time) because my weight increased significantly over the past few years due to some health conditions I developed when I returned home from overseas in 2010. I fell off the wagon big time, but not because I lost all self-control or “let myself go”, as a lot of people unkindly commented to me. People shouldn’t judge as they don’t know all the facts (and even then, they probably still shouldn’t). But of course, most people make assumptions and are quick to jump to conclusions. Dealing with negative and hurtful comments like this isn’t exactly easy, but is the least of my problems in the grander scheme of things. For those of you who are interested, I offered some strategies for coping with situations like this in this previous blog post and, more recently, here.
My starting weight in September was 93 kg. By early December, I managed to bring my weight down to 78 kg, an overall loss of 15 kg over approximately 14 weeks. I exercised alone, without help from a trainer. A PT can be very helpful, especially when you plateau. I have had help from one at a time I needed some assistance to get back on my feet again after I first fell ill in 2010, but I knew I had to do tackle it alone this time around. Although I’m not a qualified fitness instructor, you tend to pick up a lot from going to the gym over the years and soon learn what works for your body. Also, motivation was not an issue. By mid-December, I had reached the end of the road with that programme. In order to continue making progress and remain motivated, it was time to change things a little. Having worked very hard to be able to run again after a two year period of not exercising while carrying a lot of extra weight compared with my fitter days, I was keen to keep running in my training programme. Besides, I know from experience that it’s the most effective way for me to lose or maintain my body weight.
When I started exercising again in September, I heard about the YMCA 10k summer series. Every Thursday evening from the start of daylight saving in September until it ends in April, the YMCA organises a 10k run (with a 5k option) in the Auckland Domain. While I was training independently from September until December, I kept that in the back of my mind. I wanted to start competing again but needed to do quite a bit of work on my own in order to (i) lose quite a bit of weight first; (ii) build up to running 10k again without stopping; and (iii) be able to run the distance in a respectable time so I could keep up with the rest of the YMCA runners, the vast majority of whom are incredibly fast (circa 40-50 mins for the 10k route in the Domain!).
While I was on holiday at our bach (holiday home) over the Christmas/New Year holiday period, I decided to take part in the YMCA 10k summer series upon my return to Auckland. The great thing is that it’s very flexible. You don’t have to do the entire series, nor do you have to register beforehand. You simply turn up on the day. The entry fee is just $5 and there are spot prizes that are drawn afterwards (I even won a bottle of wine!).
As you might recall from a post in my blog series about running, I used to do a lot of running in the Auckland Domain while I was a university student. In fact, it was where I started to run. I really liked the idea of returning to my running roots during what has been a very challenging weight loss journey. As discussed in a previous post, the Domain is a special place for me as I have fond memories of running there during happier times. Whenever I run in the Domain, it’s not just good for the body, it’s also incredibly good for the soul.
I did my first run last Thursday and wrote about my experience on my LinkedIn account to make other Auckland runners aware of the event. Here’s what I had to say:
For those of you in Auckland who, like me, (i) advocate work/life balance but believe in active relaxation (and using time constructively) and (ii) are a serious and passionate runner, I can't recommend the YMCA 10k summer series highly enough. It takes place on Thursdays at 6 pm in the Auckland Domain until daylight saving ends. I ran the 10k yesterday evening but there is a 5k option too. I haven't competed for several years and was very nervous given the high calibre of runners that are part of the YMCA running club AND the fact I'm not exactly in top form, but they were SO welcoming and supportive. I was going to just do 5k but they encouraged me to go all the way! The course is very challenging as there are lots of hills. Put it this way, if you average around an hour for a flat 10k course like me at the moment, you'll be absolutely fine running with this group of amazingly talented and lovely runners. You run at your own pace, not together. Still, being part of a (spread out) group is motivating and there is a real sense of community which I love. I'll be back next week.
The chiro fully endorses running as it isn’t putting too much strain on my neck. In fact it was swimming that had to be removed from my programme due to too much neck movement in freestyle as you turn to breathe). He recommended that I start doing some weight training to build strength and help prevent injuries in the future. A few days ago, I joined the community gym in my suburb. In addition to resistance training, I’m also looking forward to doing RPM classes on alternate days with running, to replace swimming until my injury improves and I am able to return to the pool. In the future, I’ll come up with some blog posts about my experiences returning to the gym after a number of years, examined from different angles.
About six months ago, I stumbled upon this mango lassi recipe on Cathedral Cove’s website. I absolutely love mango lassi, but it’s typically loaded with sugar. I developed type 2 diabetes two years ago and had to eliminate sugar completely from my diet, so it has been awhile since I’d last had one. This recipe is sugar free, so when I saw the recipe I was very excited and simply had to try it. After I had done so, I posted a picture on Instagram. I was asked for the recipe by one of my followers, so I decided to share it on my website.
For those of you outside New Zealand, Cathedral Cove is the manufacturer of the most delicious coconut yoghurt. I was introduced to it at a dinner party I held for my 35th birthday, as a friend brought some for dessert. Cathedral Cove coconut yoghurt comes in a range of flavours but in my opinion the best is the plain one. It contains just two ingredients- coconut cream and probiotic cultures. If you live outside New Zealand or are not otherwise able to access Cathedral Cove’s products, you can use any coconut yoghurt to make the recipe.
This drink not only tastes great, but ticks all the boxes for the health conscious.
- Gluten free
- Dairy free
- Diabetic friendly
- Nut free
Here is the recipe, which I have reproduced with Cathedral Cove’s permission.
1 Cup of Filtered Water
1/2 Cup of our Natural Coconut Yoghurt or our Mango, Passionfruit and Chia Coconut Yoghurt
1 Cup of Frozen or Fresh Mango
1cm Piece of Ginger
1 Heaped Teaspoon of Turmeric
Pinch of Black Pepper
Put all ingredients into a high speed blender and blend until smooth.
This is the third article in a series of blog posts on the subject of running. In Part I of this series, I covered the benefits of running and the kinds of people that running might appeal to. In Part II, I covered what you need to know in order to get started. In this post, I will help you discover which distance is right for you. I’ll also offer a few training tips which I hope you’ll find useful.
What distance is right for you?
Technically, you can run any distance. You can also run for any length of time. It really depends on how much time you have, your current level of fitness and what you’re trying to achieve. If you’re thinking of entering a running event, there are three main options: the 10k, half marathon and full marathon. Having trained for each of these events over the years, I feel comfortable about discussing each category and comparing them with each other. But first, let me tell you a bit about where I fit in.
These days, I call myself a 10k or middle distance runner. Having spent 10 years as a long distance runner training towards many half marathons and one full marathon, as well as dabbling in a bit of off-road running, I finally found my niche at the age of 30. It was quite a journey to get here. In a way, I’m not sorry that tried a range of distances because long distance running gave me a lot of enjoyment and satisfaction over the years. It was an economical way of exercising while I was a student and couldn’t afford a fancy gym membership with access to fitness classes. It also served me well while I was living in France, where there isn’t much of a gym culture. Running outdoors ensured that I maintained a good level of fitness while I was living overseas. I worked long hours and sometimes travelled for business. Running was easier to fit into my schedule.
However, as much as I trained and competed in long distance running events, I always felt quite disheartened with my times. I would have saved myself a lot of heartache had I listened to a fitness instructor from the university gym which I attended when I first started running, who told me that I had the classic physique of a middle distance runner and that’s what I’d excel at. The fastest marathon runners are tiny, which I am not. I think this is the main reason why I struggled with long distances. When I returned home in 2010, my cousin and some family friends encouraged me to enter into a series of 10k running events with them called Run Auckland. Up until that point, I had never done a 10k run before. I soon became hooked, especially when I achieved a PB of 50 minutes in one of the races without much training.
What I’ve learnt over the years is the value of quality over quantity. When it comes to running, longer isn’t necessarily better. A good run can be a short one. As the saying goes, sometimes less is more. I used to think that the more I ran, the better a runner I would become. Sometimes, in order to improve, you need to cut back a little.
The great thing about the 10k run is that it can be over and done with in around an hour, depending on your level of fitness. This means that it’s not as difficult to fit training in around work and other commitments. For me, this distance makes running more enjoyable as you move at a faster pace and it’s easier to stay focussed. You’ll find you have time for cross-training. You’re also less likely to become injured, as longer distances can be quite hard on the joints.
If you’re thinking of entering a half marathon, you’re looking at running for about two hours once a week, as well as squeezing in a couple of shorter runs so you can work on speed and hill training (more about this below). Half marathon events are very popular both in New Zealand and overseas. When I first started running while at university, a half marathon was my first event. Many more followed both in New Zealand and overseas during my 20s. It’s not a bad place to start as it gives you a good goal to work towards. When you finish an event you’ll feel a real sense of achievement. Half marathons are a good way to train if you’re living in a country where exercise options are limited. I lived in France for four years during my 20s. Unlike New Zealand, there isn’t much of a gym culture so I found that running was the perfect way to exercise and it was easier to fit into my schedule than exercise classes at the gym, not that there were many options.
The full marathon should be on every serious long distance runner’s bucket list. You’ll need lots of time for training, which needs to be fitted in around work or study and other commitments. I completed the London Marathon in 2008 and used to allocate five hours for my long run over the weekend, plus up to four hours for two shorter runs over the week. It’s not easy training for a marathon during the winter. At the time, I was living in Paris so a lot of my runs took place while it was dark and I spent a lot of time on the treadmill at our work gym when it was snowing outside. Running such long distances can leave you injury prone. I found it very hard on my joints. Running for such long periods of time was also tedious. To be honest, I didn’t enjoy the training or race much. I concluded that it wasn’t for me but this isn’t something I would have known unless I gave it a go.
As mentioned in Part I of this series, by its nature running is high impact and can cause injuries, especially wear and tear to the legs. To minimise this, make sure you warm up and stretch before each run. After your run, make sure you cool down and stretch properly to avoid injuries. Try to avoid running on consecutive days so you allow time for recovery. On other days, cross-train. Upper body resistance training, swimming, boxing, pilates and yoga are all good options which complement running nicely. Runners need strong legs, so it’s also important to build lower body strength. Resistance training can be helpful, especially squats, dead lifts, leg press and calf raises. Just make sure you allow enough recovery time after running sessions before doing heavy leg work at the gym. Runners also need a strong core. I’ve never found sit-ups very effective. I find the most effective core conditioning is in yoga and pilates classes. It’s also a great way to stretch and re-lengthen as running can take quite a toll on your lower body.
Run smarter, not further. Increasing the distance of your runs won’t improve your speed as effectively as interval and hill training. What is interval training? Instead of running at the same pace all the time, you vary your speed. For example, you might run at 10 k/hr for 2 minutes and then reduce your speed to 8 k/hr for the next two minutes. By introducing these short, explosive bursts into your training, you’ll find that your overall running speed increases. Incorporating some hill work into your training will help improve your overall performance as a runner, not just your ability to cope with running on an incline. You might choose to have one or two shorter sessions each week where you focus on interval and hill training and do one longer run where you focus on endurance.
Make sure you stay well hydrated both during and after your run. If you’re running very long distances, you may find that water alone isn’t sufficient to replace the electrolytes you lose while exercising. For endurance training such as marathon running, you could try consuming some sports gels or a sports drink such as Powerade.
This is the second article in a series of blog posts on the subject of running. In Part I of this series, I covered the benefits of running and the kinds of people that running might appeal to. In this post, I will cover what you need to know in order to get started.
When to run
You can run year round. You might find that you need to make adjustments according to the climate of your country. In Auckland, I find I have to start my run no later than 6am during summer, otherwise it becomes unbearably hot. In winter, I can still run outdoors but wear long tights and a light running jacket. When I lived overseas, I couldn’t run outside for part of the European winter due to the snow, so I trained on the treadmill instead.
Where to run
You have several options:
o Using a treadmill at the gym or at home
o Running in a park
o Running on the pavement or along a promenade
o Running off-road ie trail running
Each has corresponding advantages and disadvantages. Personally, I find running on a treadmill artificial and rather boring. Your strides are different to running on the ground. Time passes very slowly, even if you listen to music while you’re running. In saying that, it can be useful if conditions make it unsafe to run outdoors, such as darkness and snow.
Training in a park or along a promenade is incredibly pleasant. While I was a university student, I spent a lot of time in the city. As discussed in Part I of this series of posts on running, I used to run in the Auckland Domain. I also used to train along the Auckland Waterfront, a lovely promenade linking the Eastern seaside suburbs of Okahu Bay, Mission Bay, Kohimarama and St Heliers with Auckland City. Nowadays, training at the Auckland Domain and along the Waterfront isn’t the most convenient option for me. At the moment, my training consists of 10k runs which take place on the pavement from home to Botany Junction (a suburb in East Auckland) and back simply due to time constraints. I don’t need to factor travel time into my run and allow for getting to and from the starting point. While it isn’t the most scenic route (the other downside is that the course is completely flat so it doesn’t allow for hill work), it’s easy to fit an hour long training session into a fairly hectic day. Over the years, I’ve learnt that you have to make exercise convenient otherwise you’ll never be able to fit it into your schedule.
If you’re lucky enough to have the opportunity to run overseas, there are some wonderful parks to explore while out running. While I lived in London, I used to run in Greenwich Park and Hyde Park. While working in Paris, I ran regularly in the Bois de Boulogne. When I visited New York, I simply had to go for a run in Central Park because that is simply the place to run.
If scenery is really important and you don’t mind the travel time getting to and from your running destination, then off-road or trail running might be for you. Bear in mind that off-road is be more challenging technically than road running, so don’t be surprised if your times are slower than road events. In order to become a good trail runner, you really need to train off-road. You can get shoes designed for trail running, which I highly recommend as the impact on your feet is different to road running.
I did the Carter Holt Harvey Half Marathon at Woodhill Forest with a team from the law firm I summer clerked at while I was at university. The terrain was very challenging – 21k of running through a forest over branches and logs, not to mention up and down an enormous sand dune. While it was an enjoyable experience, it wasn’t really for me and I haven’t done any trail running since then. I’ve noticed that most runners tend to fall into one category. You’re either a road runner like me, or an off-road or trail runner. There’s nothing wrong with trying both to see which one you prefer, as I have done.
What you’ll need
The most important thing you’ll need is a decent pair of running shoes. It’s worth investing in shoes which offer good support. As discussed in Part I of this series of posts on running, for every stride you take while running, you’re carrying two or three times your body weight.
There are so many different brands and models on the market that finding the right pair of shoes can be a rather daunting and confusing experience. Something that I did when I first started running at the age of 20 was to go to a sports shoe shop in Auckland called Shoe Science, where they measure your feet, get you to try on different shoes and videotape your feet as you run. They analysed the footage and identified some potential issues. Based on this, they made some suggestions as to suitable shoes. I ended up with Aasics Gel Cumulus. It’s a perfect fit for me and I’ve stuck with the same model over the 15 year period that I’ve been running. The fact that this line is still in existence really says something. It’s obviously still a very popular model and for good reason. The only change that I have made was to switch to the men’s version of this model. Why did I do this? About three months ago, I noticed that I started developing callouses on my toes, which were becoming rather painful. As a diabetic, I have to take good care of my feet. I became concerned about this, so I went and saw my doctor. He commented that I have quite broad feet and would be better off using the men’s version as they’re broader than the women’s model. Since switching to the men’s model, I feel so much more comfortable when running. There is so much more space in the front part of the shoe so my toes aren’t cramped. If you suffer from the same problem, this might be worth considering. Sure men’s shoes don’t come in the pretty feminine colours like pale pink and blue but at the end of the day, comfort comes first. That’s always been my motto when it comes to footwear, but it’s especially the case for running shoes due to the impact on your feet.
In my opinion, the quality of the clothing you wear for running is less important than shoes. When I was a student, I didn’t wear fancy gear when exercising as I simply couldn’t afford it. These days, I do wear some nice gear, which I can justify. Exercise is something I do regularly. It forms a very important part of my life. I also have a habit of wearing active wear casually, especially now that I am self-employed and can wear whatever I want. I don’t spend a lot on work clothes like I used to in the past when I was a lawyer. My ensemble for my gardening business consists of a business t-shirt and old running shorts which I’ve turned into gardening gear. For running, dri-fit clothing is definitely more comfortable because you should get hot and sweaty if you push yourself hard enough. I’d only ever wear Aasics running shoes, but when it comes to clothing, I’ve found that Nike is the best brand for me as the clothing fits me perfectly. The quality is also good. While it’s not exactly cheap, it will last a long time. If you get dri-fit, you’ll find it dries quickly after you wash your clothing so you won’t need lots of sets of exercise gear.
You may wish to listen to music on your phone or Ipod while you run. I tend not to, as I find I’m more alert to hazards such as cars reversing in driveways and oncoming traffic.
You might also find a device such as a Fitbit useful to monitor the distance you cover. While I don’t use one of these myself, members from previous gyms I belonged to have reported that they found them helpful for motivation and to track their movement during the day.
In my next blog post in this series on the subject of running, I’ll help you discover which distance is right for you and offer a few training tips.
This is the first article in a series of blog posts on the subject of running. In this post, I will cover the benefits of running. Drawing from my personal experiences as a runner of 15 years, I will explain why I continue to be a firm advocate of this form of exercise.
Despite the popularity of new fitness trends, running remains a very popular form of exercise. It is a great form of cardio-vascular fitness because it’s high intensity. Running is one of the fastest ways to get your heart rate up. Running gives you the maximum bang for your buck which is great if you’re time poor like me and want to gain as much as you can in as little time as possible. If you start and finish your run from home like I do these days, you’ll save yourself a lot of time travelling to and from the gym. Don’t forget that travel time, getting changed into your exercise attire, talking to people at the gym, having a shower afterwards and getting changed back into your clothes doesn’t count as exercise time! One of the best things about running is that it can pretty much be done anywhere and doesn’t require a lot of bulky equipment, unlike other sports. If you’re always on the road for business and personal travel, running is a good option as all you’ll need is your running shoes, shorts and a top.
Running is one of the most effective ways to lose and maintain body weight. Every time you take a stride, you carry two or three times your body weight. It’s for this reason that running burns so many kilojoules. I’ve tried a lot of different types of exercise over the years, including a variety of fitness classes, boot camp, boxing and cross fit. Yet, I always find myself returning to running. In conjunction with a healthy diet, I’ve found that it is the most effective way for me to maintain a healthy body weight and a decent level of fitness year round. This became even more important for me when I developed Type 2 diabetes two years ago. Running helps me maintain healthy blood sugar levels. I am able to control my condition naturally, without medication.
Running can also help improve your performance with many sports. Netball, hockey, tennis, rugby and soccer are just a few examples of sports that require some degree of running. I played hockey throughout school and for a local club while I was a student at university. I found that running regularly enhanced my performance because it improved my overall level of fitness and ability to move more quickly on the field.
I started running when I was 20 year old. At the time, I was a university student with very little money. I could only afford a membership at the university gym which was fairly basic. Unlike upmarket gyms such as Les Mills, there were no exercise classes so I used to run on the treadmill. One day, one of the fitness instructors came over to talk to me. He encouraged me to consider running outdoors and recommended the Auckland Domain, a large sports ground near the university. I followed his advice and that became my regular training ground over the next four years until I graduated from university.
I’m now 37. I have been a regular runner for around 15 years. I have gained so much from running over this period. It has done me the world of good. When I started running outdoors back at university, it honestly changed my life. There are the obvious benefits in terms of health and fitness, which I have described briefly above. Running also makes me incredibly happy. I find that I’m better able to cope with stress. It helps me to achieve greater clarity in my thinking, which helps to resolve personal problems. I sometimes start a run feeling the weight of the world on my shoulders but by the end, I feel that I can cope with life again. Running gives me an amazing sense of freedom. The feeling of being completely free is hard to achieve and is simply priceless in a chaotic world like the one we inhabit.
I have also benefitted from running during my studies and career. As a law student, I found that I just couldn’t get my head around the theories of Hart and Dworkin while studying at the law library. Running became a separate arena which gave me the time and space to reflect on what I learnt in the classroom. While out on my runs, I found my own ideas starting to coalesce. This was the case when it came to writing my Honours Dissertation in the final year of my law degree. I found that my best ideas came to me during my runs. I used to scribble all my thoughts in a notebook afterwards so I could incorporate them into my research paper.
Running has helped me develop as a person. When I started running, I noticed that it improved my confidence and made me believe that I could achieve anything. This helped me to develop a positive attitude which spilled over into my studies and later on, to my career as a lawyer.
As discussed in a previous post on Instagram, running is also associated with many wonderful memories, which takes me back to happier times. Whenever I run in the Auckland Domain, I am reminded of my many runs in that park as a university student. While the present may seem bleak at times, being reminded of prior happiness in that place at a different time in my life brings me so much inner peace and fills me with hope for the future.
Runners have a nice camaraderie with one another. Whenever you’re out on a run, other runners will always smile and say hi to you, even if they don’t know you. It’s like you belong to an exclusive club where members are connected by a common passion. Indeed, my love for running isn’t understood by the outside world. Running makes you hot, sweaty and tired. A lot of family members and friends of mine just don’t understand why I spend my spare time on such a strenuous and unglamorous activity, much less actually enjoy it. The same can also be said for gardening, my other passion.
I have formed some fantastic friendships with other runners over the years. Not only do we share a common passion for running, but we’ve also found that we have a lot of other things in common as well. While I was at university, I used to train with a girl called Julia, a fellow law student who now lives in Wellington and works for the council. We trained towards a half marathon together and enjoyed our Sunday runs, which gave us the opportunity to catch up on our lives and what we got up to on Saturday night!
Running can even have a profound impact on your career, creating job opportunities and helping to forge lasting professional relationships. When I was in my penultimate year of my degree, I spent the summer clerking at a large New Zealand commercial law firm. One of my rotations was in the firm’s corporate department. I was placed in one team within the department, but one of the other partners started talking to me one day in the kitchen. He mentioned he often saw me running in the Auckland Domain. It turned out that he was an avid runner himself. He started giving me work and ended up being a referee when I applied to start my career with a large commercial law firm in London as he had also worked there during his career. When I returned to New Zealand, I found myself back in his team, even though I had specialised in contentious rather than transactional matters while working overseas. Since then, we have both left the firm to move on to different ventures but remain very good friends.
Another good reason to run is that you tend to improve with age. As I entered my 30s, I found that my technique and speed are much better than during my 20s. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve actually been able to achieve better times in races. The more you do something, the better you become. That’s not to say that once you start running, you should stick with it forever. That was the case for me because I found something that I was deeply passionate about. However, many people move onto other forms of exercise and this is perfectly fine. Take my previous boss for example, who I mentioned in the paragraph above. In the time I had left the firm and moved overseas, he moved into mountain biking, which he discovered he loved even more than running.
One of the downfalls of running is that it’s hard on the joints. As a consequence, it can leave you injury prone. I’ve found that the best way to counteract this is to cross-train. In other words, I mix running with other forms of exercise which are lower in impact to minimise the risk of injuries to the lower body. At the moment, it’s summer in New Zealand so I’m making the most of the warm weather by training outdoors. I run 10k every second day, which takes me about an hour. On the days I don’t run, I swim 2k (40 laps of a 50 metre outdoor pool), which also takes me about an hour. You can try running on grass, which is lower impact than running on the road or pavement. Be warned though that it’s harder and isn’t as much fun.
Running is also off-putting to a lot of people because it isn’t an easy form of exercise. As mentioned above, with each stride you take, you’re carrying two to three times your body weight. It’s therefore much easier to walk, cycle or swim. However, if you’re prepared to put the effort in, you’ll find running can be incredibly rewarding in terms of your overall well-being.
Who should run?
Just about anyone! In saying that, it’s definitely not for everyone, as much as I love running myself. But give it a go anyway. You might find that you really enjoy it! You don’t have much to lose in any event.
Running suits people like me that are competitive against themselves. I like bettering myself, both as a runner and in other areas of my life. I’m always striving to improve on my previous times. I’m not really fussed if I’m faster or slower than other runners. Entering into races introduces an element of competition against others. Racing can be motivating. No matter how difficult the course or tired you are, when you’re surrounded by lots of other runners you’ll find the motivation to carry on. Some people enjoy the competitive aspect of races. However, I personally find greater satisfaction in bettering my own times rather than comparing my performance with others, because everyone is at a different fitness level. We all have different goals and running plays a different role in everyone’s life.
A lot of people complain that running is too solitary a form of exercise and that they prefer exercising with other people for company and support. As mentioned above, I used to have a training partner while I was a university student. If you’re keen on running but want companionship, partner up with a like-minded individual. These days, I prefer exercising alone as it’s hard to co-ordinate training times with someone else. I also enjoy being alone as it gives me some personal time and space outside of home and work. If you prefer running in the company of others, you could also consider joining a running club. There’s a running club in downtown Auckland that meets outside the Nike Britomart store. During the summer, the YMCA Marathon club hosts a 10k running series every Thursday evening at the Auckland Domain. For the remainder of the summer, I’m going to make an effort to attend these races for extra motivation and support with my running.
Hopefully, this post has given you something to think about. Who knows, you might find yourself inspired to go for a run, even if it’s something you never considered doing before. In my next blog post in this series, I will cover everything you need to know to get started.