Let me entertrain you

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I was recently invited to comment on a new phenomenon, ‘entertrainment’ by the Telegraph, who were writing a piece on the rise of boutique fitness classes and the potential side effects of using these classes as your main source of training. I had first come to understand the concept of entertraining via my friend, personal trainer Lawrence Price, who published this post on the subject. It’s an interesting one to comment on, because there are two very valid sides to the argument.

So I just thought I’d share with you a little of my thoughts on the subject. What is it? Is it bad? Can it be good? Read on:

What is entertrainment?

Entertrainment is the concept of working out in the way you want to workout (often very high intensity, randomly strung-together exercises) for fun rather than function.

Why do we love it so much?

The endorphin hit we get from an intense workout, such as boxing or a Barry’s class, leaves a lot of people feeling incredibly positive. When it’s at the start of a day it can set you up feeling upbeat for your day at work, and when it’s at the end of the day it can be a way to shake off frustrations and get the body moving after sitting down all day.

Why has it increased in popularity and what are some examples?

As the wellness sector has expanded, more and more people are opting to go to fitness classes after work instead of home, the pub or even the gym. The classes provide a pre-planned workout (ideal if you’re not sure what you should be doing at the gym), a motivating trainer and, for many, a chance to catch up with friends. It’s like the gym and a club rolled into one. Many even have the flashing lights, loud music and (post-workout) drinks to match! One Rebel, Barry’s Bootcamp, Kobox, F45 and Boomcycle are just some examples.

Why is entertrainment not necessarily a good thing?

When we workout at 100% intensity, 100% of the time, something has to give. Our bodies are not very good at coping with sitting down all day, handling stressful situations, and then smashing out a day’s activity in one (often very intense) hour. Whilst workouts such as these can FEEL good, they often don’t provide the body with other things it needs, such as mobility work, stretching, and rest.

In addition, the vast majority of boutique fitness classes are done in large groups, often reaching up to 50 people. In these groups it’s impossible for a coach to be able to assess whether everyone is doing the exercises right, with the right form at their particular level. If you’re an experienced gym goer that might not be a problem, but tiredness coupled with bad form and heavy weights is a recipe for disaster.

Whilst many of us are inactive all day, our nervous systems are very much active, thanks to work stresses, juggling tasks and everyday demands. Intense workouts just put these systems under MORE pressure, ramping up our sympathetic nervous system further. Your sympathetic nervous system is also known as your ‘fight or flight’ response, and gears you up to tackle stressful/demanding situations. In the short term, this is incredibly helpful, and can help you think on your feet, run away from danger or handle stress effectively, but an excess of time spend in this state can lead to a range of acute and chronic issues, from hypertension (high blood pressure) to insulin resistance. Therefore it’s not recommended to add more stress to your body if it is in a state of heightened physical or mental stress already. Both types of stress (physical and mental) illicit a physiological response e.g. even if you’re not stressed physically, chronic stress such as that from work can have the same negative effect as extreme physical duress.

For a lot of people therefore, a calming yoga session or meditation would be far more beneficial than a sprint session, switching on the parasympathetic nervous system and calming down the body. Without rest our bodies are far more prone to burnout, injury and illness, so a daily HIIT class might not be what’s best for you, especially at particularly stressful times of the year.

 

TL;DR

  • Basically, not all fitness classes have your best interests at heart, and it is incredibly difficult for a coach/trainer to be able to assess your physical state or form during a workout catering for 30 – 50 people.
  • Since we all lead such stressful lives already, sometimes smashing out an intense HIIT class may not be best for our bodies in the long term, and we may benefit more from yoga or a stretching session at stressful times.
  • However, in general, some form of movement is better than no movement, and it’s up to each and every one of us to check in with ourselves and just be mindful of how our bodies are feeling. Still fancy that Barry’s class? Go for it 🙂

 

I would love to hear your thoughts on the above! Check out my Instagram and YouTube for more.

Notes on living as a human

What I learned from a night of spirituality

I wrote some Instagram stories about what I learned after a panel discussion with a number of leading life coaches, and thought it might be valuable to write them down here too, since I have received so many messages about how useful they are. If you like them, save this page to refer to when you’re feeling a bit down!

Before I get started I think it’s important to say that spirituality definitely isn’t for everyone – for me certainly I like to have a very ‘fact-based’ view of the world, and I find anything as ‘wishy-washy’ as spirituality quite overwhelming and confusing. If you’ve ever suffered from depression, you probably know what it’s like to sit with seemingly millions of thoughts rushing around your head, trying to make sense of them all and feeling like you might be going a bit crazy. Sometimes sitting with those thoughts is the worst thing you can do, and (at least for me), getting out of my own head was the best way to stop the ‘feeling crazy’ thing. So, if you’re suffering I would really recommend trying CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy), which retrains your mind to get out of those thought clouds and into a healthier way of thinking. Either way, I think there’s some really valuable insights below, so here goes! 🙂

On reaching your full potential

There are a lot of things that hold us back from reaching our full potential in life, but most usually stem down to not feeling ‘worthy’ of achieving something, and lots of self-doubt. A great way of reducing those thoughts is to understand your limiting beliefs and question why you feel them- only by understanding the cause of limiting beliefs can we start to question them.

How to challenge beliefs:

  • Understand that a belief is just a thought – a lense through which we view the world. Our beliefs are OUR truths, but they are not necessarily THE truth. Thoughts are not reality and they can be changed.
  • Speak to people – we have a lot of blind spots in our thinking and the echo chambers in which we live don’t help that. Having people who challenge our beliefs (about the world and about ourselves) helps challenge beliefs. This can be from friends, family, a therapist and/or random strangers.
  • Physically challenge beliefs. Often the best way to change the way you view your abilities is to push yourself outside your comfort zones. Many of our beliefs about ourselves are outdated (e.g. failed a presentation at school and therefore unable to present in public in adult life) and need updating. Push outside your comfort zone and view ‘failures’ as learning experiences.

 

On authenticity:

Authenticity is incredibly hard to come by if you spend your life worrying about what other people think about you. Our ‘true self’ is diluted by trying to bend to the wills of other people. Know that perfection is impossible and chasing perfection is a fools folly. Stop caring so much about what other people think and be true to yourself.

 

Takeaways:

  • When your mind is in the right place and your mindset open to growth and learning, any and every experience in life is an opportunity. From the darkest places grow beautiful things and from the hardest times strength is made.
  • Trust the process
  • Your purpose in life is to be the fullest expression of yourself in everything you do. Fuck what anyone else thinks. As long as you are staying true to your values and remain open to potential other truths, you do you.
  • You are already enough, just the way you are.

Shopping rules

With each of our wallets, we have a choice: to buy or not to buy. In fact the choice gets even better – with so many shops having so many ranges year round, the choice gets larger and larger. What should we buy? How often should we buy? Should we buy at all?

Everyone is different in their purchasing habits, which is why I can only speak for myself, but I am trying to make a conscious change at the moment to buy better. I find myself mysteriously wanting a midi leopard-print skirt the moment I see it being put on in fast-forward on Instagram, and thinking about buying a new gold mirror when I see a Made-dot-com advert on the tube. However, in this age of consumerism, waste and neglect, I am desperately trying to come up with ways to spend my money better.

As an ‘influencer’, I think it’s important to remember that gifting (when a blogger/influencer will get sent something for free in the hope that they might post about it) is not impact-free. Just because it didn’t cost anything, it doesn’t mean it doesn’t have an impact, so for the purposes of this post, I am including accepting gifting as purchasing something.

I am not perfect, and have constant cognitive dissonance with my job – do I work with a brand that promotes consumerism? What brand doesn’t? Am I perpetuating the problem by advertising stuff or by using my platform to educate and provide greener alternatives am I actually helping? I don’t think the answer is simple or clear-cut, but I hope that I can at least have some positive impact while I’m here on this earth.

So, without further ado, here are some of my self-imposed purchasing rules for non-essential items.

  1. Ask myself if I can imagine myself using/wearing an item when I am in my own house in 5 years time. At 5 years it has already significantly beaten the average lifespan of an item of clothing in the UK (2-3 years), so may well be worth buying. Timeless pieces and the perfect jumpsuit are often worth buying. Everything else is often not. Basically, you can do consumerism as well as you like, but if you’re still buying stuff, you’re still contributing to having more things. We don’t need more things, we need less.
  2. Message a brand if their product arrives in excess packaging. This isn’t to seem like a dick, but I think it’s actually really important to make your voice known when it comes to your purchases. I recently received a very generous amount of fitness clothing from a brand (that I didn’t know was being sent) and each item was individually wrapped in plastic. So I messaged the brand to ask if they had any plans to reduce plastic packaging in future – hopefully if enough people ask, they will consider taking the requests onboard.
  3. Share amazing brands doing amazing things. Small brands rely on dedicated people and word of mouth. I work with an incredible brand called Freda that sells sustainable and ethical period products with a social mission. For me, buying from a brand like this is a no-brainer – they’re not significantly more expensive than Tampax, have a MUCH lower environmental footprint and have a ‘giveback’ (a proportion of the profits go towards ending period poverty in the UK). However, as start-ups, brands like Freda don’t have huge advertising budgets, or the ability to gift to hundreds of influencers in the hope that they’ll post. It’s by getting loyal customers who share by word of mouth that the message gets round, and each and every one of us can provide that service to brands we love and that we feel should do well. Put your money and your mouth where your values lie – it’s only in this way that small brands that do good can compete with big brands that don’t!
  4. If a highstreet brand has a ‘sustainable/ethical’ range, purchase from that (if you have to buy something). If I’m just looking for ‘something’ (e.g. for an event), I will often head to highstreet stores. Ideally I would be able to shop in advance in more sustainable shops, but sometimes it’s not possible in time, so the highstreet offers a speedy alternative. Whilst a ‘sustainable’ range from Zara is unlikely to have anywhere near the positive credentials as something from a small eco-friendly brand, imagine if Zara suddenly find that 25% of their customers are preferentially buying from their small ‘eco’ range compared to their ‘normal’ clothes. The proportion of ‘eco’ clothes are going to increase, and at that point we can ask for more from them. We have so much purchasing power and brands really are listening!
  5. One in, one out. When it comes to clothes, the vast majority of us have too many. We forget what we own, end up buying more and then check everything back into the same drawer. I do quarterly clear-outs to friends and charity shops, and then maintain that level of clothes – a level where I know what I own, know my special-occasion outfits and try not to buy more. If something new comes in, something I haven’t worn recently goes out. It’s a good system that means everything gets worn!

These are just some of the ways I try to improve the way I live through my purchasing power. I’d love to hear your ideas and tips!

My marathon journey – the lowdown

When I was asked in December by Asics whether I wanted to run a marathon in Tokyo I was so excited – for any long distance runner, being flown out to Tokyo to run 42km is an absolute dream come true. However it took me a little while to respond to the offer – believe it or not I’ve actually spent my life saying that I have no interest in running a marathon. I’m a short distance runner (5km is my vibe) and have been plagued by injuries since I started running properly at uni. Not only that, but I don’t see running a marathon as the epitome of fitness – so many people seem to sign up, train, run it and then give up running altogether, as though they have ‘proven’ their fitness and can now give up forever. I much preferred running for fun (with the occasional 5k parkrun to assess time), and the thought of training for a marathon over 2-3 months (and probably giving up my other favourite sports, such as boxing), was daunting to say the least. I’m a runner in the sense that I like to run, but I wouldn’t say my skills are anything special, and marathons definitely take something special to complete.

However, after much thought (and my general attitude of ‘say yes now, think more later’), I accepted the invitation to race. For the first time in my life, I was given coaching by someone who understood the purpose of the running for me: to enjoy the process and not hate running at the end. It’s a personal challenge for everyone, and for me the marathon was about getting over the fear of running on my injured knees. I think sometimes the fear of pushing yourself too far and failing can stop you doing things you desperately want to do, and I made a pact with myself last year to stop being afraid and just jump, so I did just that! My training plan was tailored to me, and it suited me perfectly – approx 3 runs a week with time to rest, do boxing, do resistance training and look after my knees. Within the first few weeks of training I got my 5k pb (21.20) and 10k pb (45 something) in training runs (before being told off for running too fast and that I would need to slow down if I was ever going to complete a marathon) XD

Training went well for the first few months, and I loved testing my body. I’m built for power and speed, so to be able to show myself that I could run further than I’d previously imagined my body could handle was amazing. However, around 3 weeks before the marathon my old injury flared up again. I knew it would at some point (I’ve never run consistently in the last 4y without it doing so, which is why I used to only run maximum 10k once per week, to keep it at bay), but I was hoping it’d either be early in my training (leaving plenty of time for rest and rehab) or on the marathon day itself. If you’ve ever suffered from IT band syndrome you’ll understand the pain. It starts with a dull ache on the side of your knee(s) before becoming a sharp pain and spreading up your IT band all the way to your hip. After a while the pain becomes unbearable, and at its worst requires crutches (as I did frequently when I was at uni because I kept running on it, as my coach told me it ‘wouldn’t cause lasting damage’). *Eye roll*. Anyway, it’s a literal pain and the only real short-term solution is rest. Unfortunately this cut out my biggest training week – my longest run of 17 miles and all the other runs that week. Even my 5 – 10km runs were causing minor pain, and I worried I might have to pull out of the marathon (either in advance or half way through). I recorded some of my thoughts pre-marathon here.

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After a week of tapering (including just a few slow, short-ish runs), we headed out to Tokyo for our second taper week, arriving 4 days before the marathon. One thing I hadn’t taken into account was the jet lag, until Chevy, our coach, reminded us that any race done on jet lag was an extra-special achievement. My main concern was running form – tiredness causes poor running form and poor running form causes injuries!

Regardless, it was incredible to be out in Tokyo for the 4 days before the marathon (which felt like about a month!). We walked around the city plenty, even fitting in a short 6km run around one of the parks. Every day was 20,000 steps or more, which potentially isn’t the best way to prepare for a marathon, but it was good to keep the body moving, especially after such a long journey from London (17h of sitting down door to door pretty much)! If anyone is thinking of doing a marathon with a big time zone difference, I would allow one day per hour of time difference (advice I got from someone else) – I think the jetlag was a minor issue but an issue nonetheless.

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Race day came (after an impressive amount of carb-loading on ramen and sushi) and we left the hotel at 7am for the 9am race. I have never seen so much chaos before a race – thousands and thousands of people unsure of where to go, running around in the pouring rain. Having never done a big race before it was pretty overwhelming (but also very exciting!). We were probably far too early to the race – we were dressed in our racing kit (a couple of layers) and standing in the rain for almost an hour after warming up, meaning that by the time we got started at about 9.20am, pretty much everyone was shaking from the cold! Piece of advice (which probably every marathoner knows) – if it’s a cold/wet race, bring a couple of extra layers to chuck in the charity bins as you set off – they collect everything and donate it to charity (from what I heard), which is preferable to everything being chucked on the side of the road mid-race. It ‘only’ took me about 45 minutes to warm up, but unfortunately my once freshly activated glutes were flabby and cold by the time we started, so my IT bands started hurting around 8-10km in (since ITBS is usually caused by having weak gluteal supporting muscles). Obviously not ideal, but not a disaster.

The atmosphere was incredible during the race. Japan is one of the friendliest countries I’ve ever been to, and every few meters there was another group of people offering fruits, sweets and nondescript homemade goodies. Every few kilometres there was also a water/sports drink station. I think I had water about 4 or 5 times during the race, which felt about right for me (but probably ask your own coach what they’d recommend for you). The first 21km sailed past – none of it was easy, per se, but I felt like I was gliding through at exactly the right pace without really having to try. Perhaps I should have just signed up for a half XD

Around 30km in, my non-injured (left) knee suddenly became incredibly painful, changing my pace from about 6 mins/km to around 6 mins 25/km, which is back to the pace I first ever ran a 5k at (albeit 30km into a race). I ended up running with pretty much totally straight legs for 10km until I hit 40km. I stopped for a drink and that was it for me – both knees buckled and I nearly fell to the floor. It was pretty depressing to think that I might have to pull out of a 42km race at 40km in.

Being crazy I decided that I would walk the last 2 kilometres, being overtaken by runners everywhere. Despite the fact that I overtook 870 runners during the course of the race overall, I will always struggle with the face that I lost 62 places in that last 2kms. It took me 18 minutes to complete the last 2k, but through gritted teeth I did complete it!

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I would usually never advocate running through extreme pain (or really pain of any sort) but you can’t really quit a marathon at 40km, which is why I kept going. Running through pain is what got me the recurring injury in the first place, so please, if you’re training and you feel pain don’t do as I did in the race – please rest up!

As mentioned multiple times on my Instagram, my main goals for the marathon were to complete it and to soak up the atmosphere. I completed both of those things with flying colours, and for that I am so proud. Competitive me will not stop beating myself up for not completing the marathon in my self-imposed unofficial time goal of 4h, but having said that, if I were to read someone else being disappointed in their time of 4h, for example, I would feel really crap about my time of 4.28.50, which is why I can’t exactly complain about such a time. Running a marathon is amazing regardless of the time you do it in, and we all have our strengths and weaknesses – you don’t have to be amazing at everything, even choosing to take part can be the most impressive bit sometimes!

TL;DR

Would I recommend running a marathon? Yes absolutely, if only to find out what you’re made of and show yourself that you can do things you never believed possible (42km is a bloody long way).

Am I happy with my time? Yes, in hindsight under the circumstances, I am absolutely bloody impressed that I finished the marathon, let alone in under 4h30. If you can do it faster than that, that’s great! If you are slower that’s also great! It’s pretty cool that we’re all running marathons, don’t you think?

Would I run another? Tough question. Logical me says no. I know my hips are misaligned and that I’m injury prone, so marathon training will never really benefit me as much as all the other training I do. However the me that likes crazy challenges may well say yes to another marathon or ultra marathon, especially if it’s in a cool place or for a good cause! Never say never 😛

Would I recommend Tokyo marathon specifically? Yes, especially if you’re looking for a personal best – it’s pretty much totally flat/even slightly downhill and has lots of long roads and few sharp corners. The atmosphere is amazing and don’t worry too much about the weather – apparently we got the only rain they’ve had on marathon day in over 20 years!

Advice for running a marathon?  I think more than anything, don’t over train. More is not necessarily better, and injuries are easier to prevent than they are to cure. Slow running is very valuable (a skill I’m still learning) and finding a few running buddies makes it far more bearable. I’ve got a general running tips vlog here (although I’m no expert, just sharing what I’ve learned).

What did I learn?

  • I am capable of far more than I thought (4 years ago running 2km was impossible due to injury, and 5 years ago my 5k pb was 32 minutes).
  • Slow running is as hard as fast running. Harder mentally.
  • Marathons are hard.
  • I’m really fit (I never ‘hit the wall’ during the marathon, probably because I was forced to run much slower than planned), but that could be better put to use over shorter distances and doing more races per year.
  • Running a marathon can be kinda boring at times, but also the biggest feeling of achievement ever.
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Just after I stopped crying

Check out my favourite running gear and supplements I took during training for the marathon.