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.