My running story

I first decided that I wanted to be good at running when I was about 10, a few years after I first stepped foot on a track. School sports day was never something people trained for, and I resigned myself to only being good at 100m and long jump, because anything over 200m left me legless and feeling like I was about to die. The first time I consciously attempted longer-distance running training was years later in secondary school. I was about 16 and training for the national schools squash championships, and was convinced that training more was always better. I made it a couple of kilometres through sheer force of will, despite every step feeling like my legs were made of lead. I think it’s a common feeling for first-time runners, especially those who attempt to run their first 5km at 200m pace, as I always did – a problem I didn’t resolve until many years later!

Unsurprisingly my first instinct was that I would never be a long distance runner (my body is definitely built for speed and power, not endurance), but persevered, if as much for weight loss benefits as anything else!

When I joined university I immediately joined the athletics club – since running is cheap and simple it seemed like the easiest option in terms of clubs, and it gave me the opportunity to try lots of events without any real aim but also without a huge cost. I did cross-country (badly) every winter and track every summer, usually running around 400m and being drafted in last minute for various other events to make up teams. I was never particularly good, but the social aspect of the club kept me coming back, and it felt good to be part of a team, especially during cross country in the winter!

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University cross country – more a social event than anything!

However, it was during this time that I first started suffering from IT band syndrome, the second most common runner’s injury (after runner’s knee). Runs longer than 3km would make it flare up, and it crippled me to the point of not being able to manage stairs without a crutch. Every time I would have a flare up it would put me out for 6 weeks, where I was unable to run (but thankfully still able to gym). After 6 weeks I would go back to running, feeling fine but having done nothing to solve the root of my knee problems. Needless to say, my three years at university were plagued with injury. Occasionally I would be able to manage a 6km run, but running when I was tired, stiff or simply running on the wrong day would mean I would injure myself and be out for another month or two. It was irritating to say the least, and I resigned myself to being able to run only 2km – 3km at a time (albeit faster and faster).

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My 5k pb in university second year – 23.01 (almost 2 mins slower than now)

After university I discovered boxing, which gave me far more of a kick than running ever did, and for a while I was satisfied simply gymming and boxing to keep fit. However, being able to run is pretty integral to my DNA, and running had allowed me to get outside and explore places better than anything else, so I was adamant that I would strengthen my weak supporting muscles in my hips and glutes (the cause of my ITBS) and work on my striding (heel striking puts a lot of pressure on the knees and can exacerbate injuries), whilst simultaneously continuing other sports so as to avoid over-training in one area as I did at university.

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Boxing training made me fitter than ever and allowed me to start running again

After years and years of trial and error, better shoes, rehab and rest, I am finally getting to the point at which I can trust my body to run further than 5km without giving up. For years I’ve turned down opportunities to race in some amazing places for fear of putting myself out of action for months, and finally I think it’s coming to an end! I don’t want to jinx it but now I’m working with a coach (who is very aware of my history of injuries) and taking adequate time to activate muscles before each run (and rest properly afterwards), I’m feeling really positive about my journey ahead – it’s only just beginning!

My goals this year:

  • Finish Tokyo marathon with no injuries.
  • Complete a fell race
  • Bring my 5km personal best below 21 minutes
  • Bring my 10km personal best below 44:30 minutes
  • Run a half-marathon
  • Enjoy the journey!
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23km in the bag and no pain – a highlight of 2018

Train like an athlete

Health and fitness is everywhere – from your food being marketed as ‘high protein’ or a ‘post workout bar’ to your favourite influencer dancing around in an Ivy Park tracksuit. It’s inescapable, and as someone who used to be teased for eating healthily and enjoying the school PE classes, it’s exciting.

However, I find myself questioning more and more how much these people and brands are actually focussed on fitness and health. I 100% believe that brands focussing more on health is generally a good thing, even if that’s just jumping on the bandwagon in an effort to look ‘cool’ or sell more products, but I worry about the amount of people buying into things that will make them LOOK more #fitness without actually providing them the actual fitness to back that up.

I am probably biased – I have been doing ‘fitness’ since I was about 15, always in the form of functional training, whether training for the national schools squash championships, BUCS cross country or my latest boxing match. But seeing people take part in a 12 week plan to ‘grow their booty’ (without any focus on actual fitness/strength) and then give up is frustrating for me. The amount of emphasis placed on looks (often at the expense of performance) leads me to worry about the longevity of the West’s ‘passion’ for fitness. It reminds me of when I was growing up and the Kate Moss ‘heroine chic’ look was in – you didn’t have to take heroine, as long as you looked like you hadn’t eaten in 3 weeks (thinking about it, this was probably for the best, but since fitness is actually very good for you, it would be nice if people were as dedicated to BEING fit as they are to LOOKING fit). 

It’s easy to imagine my view comes from a place of ‘I was here first, everyone else is just pretending’ but that’s genuinely not it. There are a number of reasons for my concern, and all (I believe) are legitimate. 

  1. When you train for aesthetics, the emphasis gets placed on your looks and how much working out can make you look a certain way. For every person who sticks to fitness after discovering the other benefits, there is someone else who quits after they become disillusioned about the lack of a six pack they were promised after 90 days. Fitness isn’t looking a certain way, it’s about a bunch of internal factors that we can’t even see. 
  2. There are a lot of actual, real life athletes on Instagram, whether they’re competing for the country or working overtime to allow them to self-fund their training and competition fees. However, brands are often choosing to work with people who ‘look’ a certain way over those who actually DO a sport. As someone who works in the fitness modelling world, I see this all too often. Of course, aesthetics are important, but I’ve been told I’m ‘too muscly’ for a job that literally requires lifting weights. Who could look more like a person who lifts weights than someone who got the body they have by literally doing just that. It would be nice to see a little more championing of people who actually DO a sport. 
  3. I like to think that we’ve moved past the point of extremes, because health is sort of by definition ‘balanced’. However a number of fitness guides and classes encourage plenty of extreme behaviour to look a certain way. Sure, they work, but are they ‘healthy’? Training like an athlete (i.e. functional training) focusses on performance and all-round fitness. Runners lift weights, rugby players practise sprints and everyone works on mobility and balance. Training purely for aesthetics can lead to serious physical problems further down the line, especially from poor form and over training certain areas. This is something I’m still working on too – it’s the only way to make training sustainable.

Thankfully training purely for aesthetics often becomes the gateway drug for all the other benefits of exercise, and those who start working out to lose weight can discover a plethora of other benefits. Other factors become the driving force behind working out, and at this point a person’s fitness becomes way more balanced (I’m sure a number of you can relate)!

It’s not entirely necessary to want to run a marathon or to achieve a triathlon PB, but training like an athlete can leave you feeling mentally healthier, accomplished and physically sound well into your older age. Rest and recovery is a key part of an athlete’s training plan, and whilst reducing workout intensity might not give you THAT body in 90 days, it sure as hell will keep you motivated enough to continue working out long, long past then. 

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My week in workouts

I get asked all the time how much I workout, where I workout, what I do and how I fit it all in with work, so here’s a blog post about my week in workouts! I always do my best to workout at least 4 times in a week but sometimes life gets in the way and I just want to say that that’s OK (reading that sentence I should probably quit fitness and just become a poet rn). But in all seriousness, just because this is how I workout, it doesn’t mean this is how you also have to workout! Everyone has different commitments and preferences and I am super lucky to live near central London, so have so many classes available nearby if I want to go, which I am well aware a lot of people don’t have. However, a lot of the workout styles I do are replicable in the gym, so no need to pay for classes if you don’t want to!

 

I workout as often as I feel my body enjoys – I used to push myself excessively, which led to exhaustion, a lack of energy for everything else I do and plenty of injuries. Because of that, if I’m not feeling a workout I won’t do it, or will opt for a low intensity workout or stretch instead. I would definitely advise listening to your body. Working to a schedule doesn’t work if you run yourself into the ground and can’t continue! I work full time and often my schedule changes last minute – I workout intuitively and that’s what works best for me 🙂

 

These three weeks are typical – there’s an ebb and flow of what I’m able to manage in a week. The first week was a heavier than I usually do, the second week was perfect, and the third week a little less than I hoped, but that’s because I was busy.

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Week 1:

Monday
No workout (screw ‘never miss a Monday’)

Tuesday
5pm: Gym workout (glutes day – a short but heavy workout after 2 rest days). 45 mins, all high intensity.

Wednesday
5pm: Xen-do martial arts (a v sweaty HIIT workout). 60 mins, including 10 mins stretching.

Thursday
7:45am: Strength and conditioning at BXR (low intensity but lots of resistance band and some kettlebell/dumbbell work). 50 mins, including band work and conditioning stretches.

Friday
6pm: THE GAMES at KXU (strongman/crossfit style workout – very heavy, low cardio). 50 mins, including 10 mins warm-up.

Saturday
10am: Xen-do martial arts. 60 mins.

Sunday
11am: Filming (and doing) a strength-based workout (medium-heavy weights but relatively high reps). 60 mins, probably about 40 minutes of high intensity work.
4pm: A running shoot (not really a workout but a lot of time on my feet!). 3h.

 

Week 2:

Monday
Rest day!

Tuesday
6:15pm: Strength and conditioning at BXR. 50 mins.

Wednesday
8pm: A 1mile (1600m) race. 6 mins.

Thursday
7:45am: Strength and conditioning at BXR. 50 mins.
6:30pm: Yoga. 45 mins.

Friday
5pm: Gym workout (running and abs). 40 mins, all high intensity.

Saturday
9am – 5pm: Running shoot (again, I was on my feet all day but wouldn’t count this as a workout)

Sunday
10am: Boxing workout at BXR. 50 mins.

 

Week 3:

Monday
5pm: Xen-do martial arts. 60 mins.

Tuesday
6:15pm: Nok-out class at KXU (running, circuits and boxing – all cardio and HIIT). 50 mins, including 10 mins stretching.

Wednesday
Rest day

Thursday
Morning – climbing all morning. 3h.
Afternoon – yoga, strength and conditioning and acroyoga. 2h.

Friday
Rest day

Saturday
Rest day

Sunday
2pm: Gym workout (heavy glutes day). 50 mins, including 15 minute incline walk as warmup.

 

Best workout classes in London

Since two years ago I’ve been somewhat addicted to travelling around London trying new workout classes. Between that and events hosted by various studios, I’ve tried by fair share of fitness classes in London! People often ask what I would recommend for when they visit London so I’ve decided to do a post about it.

In no particular order, these are my favourite classes in London. Of course, what I like and what you might like might be totally different, but recommendations are always useful to get you started in a new city 🙂

 

Barry’s bootcamp

Say what you like about Barry’s, but it’ll always be a class that I love. Granted, I don’t think I could do it everyday, but the combination of endorphin-raising running and strength-building weights, it’s the perfect workout for me. In short, it alternates between treadmill runs and floor workouts, giving you rest from the treadmills whilst you’re working out on the floor, and rest from the floor when you’re on the treadmills. It was one of the first classes I ever did, and never fails to make me feel accomplished. With studios popping up around London (Shoreditch, Euston, Notting Hill and Victoria), there’ll likely be one that’s easy to get to (the Notting Hill is my favourite!).

Barry’s Bootcamp website. (£20 per class)

 

Power of Boxing

This class is hugely underrated, potentially because it’s not smart and swanky like the other gyms. Don’t expect showers and hairdryers. Instead expect a bloody good workout with unpretentious people who love working out. The structure of the class includes floor circuits, punch-bag work and then pad-work in the boxing ring, which no other class I’ve found successfully does. It’s exhausting – expect to be dripping by the end – but leaves you feeling amazing. Every. Single. Time. PoB also works with a local charity to help reintegrate offenders into the community, which I think is amazing. This class is also super affordable, so if you’re not looking to splash out, this is the one for you 🙂

Power of Boxing Website (£12.50 per class)

 

KXU – The Games

This is a relatively recent addition to my list of favourite classes. Think Crossfit/strongman but in swanky gym. But don’t be fooled by the beauty of KXU – this class will KILL you. I would definitely recommend this to anyone who’s relatively fit/strong already and wants a challenge! Unlike a lot of the classes in London, this one makes no attempts at telling girls to ‘lift light’ – the heavier the better! This studio is almost worth visiting purely for the aesthetics too J Would recommend if you want to lift heavy and then enjoy a (somewhat overpriced) shake in one of the most beautiful locations you’ll find in London.

KXU website (£24 per class)

 

BXR – Strength and Conditioning

Another favourite for different reasons to the others. BXR is a boxing gym endorsed by Anthony Joshua. It’s based near Baker Street, which makes it pretty accessibly from most central locations. I put this in the mix because of both the class and location – it’s really smart inside, and contains the nicest changing rooms of any gym I’ve ever been to. The strength and conditioning class is one that focuses on form and strengthening the body in a way most classes don’t. There’s a lot of foam-rolling and resistance band work, which I feel a lot of classes avoid because they don’t burn as many calories as other classes. However, for longevity and injury prevention, there’s nothing like a good S&C class, so I would definitely recommend this to compliment your other training.

BXR website (from £30 for 3 introductory sessions).

 

I hope this helps you try some new workouts and find what works for you! We’re all different and what is amazing for someone often doesn’t work for the next person. Give these a go (there are often introductory deals) and let me know what you think! 🙂

HIIT – Another Space

Another Space in Covent Garden is designed to provide class-based workouts to those who don’t fancy finding a workout plan and slogging it out in the gym. Gyms are great, but sometimes having someone push you harder than you could push yourself is needed to get the results you want. The ‘gym’ itself is absolutely beautiful – all white walls, clean lines, lots of greenery and a food/smoothie/juice bar. Included in the price of the class is everything you might need for a workout, from towels to shampoo and conditioner (Cowshed, no less), as well as boxing gloves, cycling shoes (cleats and all) and you can even pre-order a smoothies to be waiting for you in the fridge when you get out of the class! Another Space is from the same people as Third Space, which you might remember me reviewing before. It has the same feel, although it is smaller (yet somehow more spacious).

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Another (beautiful) Space entrance, Covent Garden

Another Space provides three types of class: Spinning (called Cycle), HIIT and Yoga. The HIIT class (the one class I have been to there) is described as “toning strength exercises with high-energy punchbag work, firing your metabolism to burn extra calories for hours”. It combines Muay Thai with boxing for the punchbag exercises, and high intensity body weight exercises for most of the floor exercises. The class was split into two, so the floor space wasn’t too cramped, and so that we got a punch-bag each. However, I was told by my friend, (a frequent visitor to the club) that the maximum capacity was around 17. We only had 10 in there, and as the space isn’t huge, this filled out the room – I think 17 would have been difficult to fit in comfortably!

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The HIIT room

The class began with stretches and a quick warm-up, before the class was split between the punch bags and floor area. Each group was given an exercise to do for a minute, before moving on to the next exercise for another minute. Every 5 minutes there was a minute break while the groups switched to the floor/punch bags. The exercises were tough, and probably a bit unfair to those who don’t work out a lot – 180-degree rotation jump squats for a minute aren’t easy for anyone, let alone a fitness newbie! The instructor (@Jayrayfitness IG) was fantastic, encouraging everyone in the class to get the correct form/body stance and to really go at it. The great thing about HIIT is it does give you rests, allowing a bit of recovery between exercises so the next minute can be as intense as the one before.

Good for:

  • Fitness addicts who are bored of the gym/want to mix it up a little
  • Workaholics who don’t want to be taking a huge bag of towels, food etc etc around with them all day – you can get everything there!
  • Anyone who wants a full body workout
  • If you need to workout in the morning/middle of the day and want to leave looking like you’ve just come out of a beauty salon, not a gym (GHD straighteners and hair dryers, cowshed moisturiser/shampoo/ conditioner/body wash and deodorant all free!)

Less good:

  • If you don’t enjoy being shouted at (although I doubt this happens in the Yoga classes). This class is quite bootcamp style in the teaching methods – if you want results, you have to work for it.
  • The cost – these are PAYG classes, and at £20 per class, it’s not something everyone can afford regularly. Recommended for the occasional workout boost.

Cost: PAYG £20 per class – no membership required.

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Boxing – Third Space

Third space is the epitome of luxury gyms in London. I attended the gym in soho, just south of Carnaby Street. As I walked in, I did wonder if I’d got the right place – apart from being surrounded by scaffolding, the entrance was more like the entrance to one of those whole foods cafés, welcoming me in with acai bowls and vegan smoothies.

The staff at the desk were lovely, and showed me around the club before donating me some hand wraps (necessary for the boxing session) and showing me to the changing room. I know you’re here to hear about the class but MY GOD what a changing room. Like all great gyms, it had plenty of space, towels, hair dryers, hair straighteners (that’s when you know it’s a swanky gym), a sauna, a steam room and lovely showers.

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View of Third Space, Soho from the 3rd floor (photo from Third Space website).

On to the class.

I have never done real boxing before, so was intrigued to see how the coach, Keith, would handle being with a complete newbie. We started the class with some warming up, before learning the basic moves (1, 2, 1, 2), demonstrated by Keith and others who had been there before. The class was small enough for everyone to have a go with Keith several times before the end of the class, to check on technique as well as have a professional sparring partner. The class was as much technique based as fitness based, and although it wasn’t as tiring as most of the classes I do (probably because it mainly focussed on arms), it certainly got me drenched in sweat within about 10 minutes. We also split the session in two, completing some abs and legs exercised in the middle to give our arms a rest whilst keeping out heart-rate up (yay calorie burn!).

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Sweaty Flora post boxing session (ft. the ThirdSpace sprinting track)

The class was 45 minutes in total, with about 30 minutes of that spent boxing (drills and sparring). By the end I was very hot but with plenty of energy to continue exercising (the perfect time to check out the pool, or the other 3 floors of beautiful gym equipment).

Good points:

  • If you fancy looking hard-core whilst getting a workout, boxing is for you!
  • This class could definitely substitute your arms day. Mine are still shaking 4h later
  • This is a quick way to get your heart rate up in the lunch break or after work, or the great start to a longer workout.
  • I had SO MUCH FUN – I was really smiling by the end, which rarely happens in a class!

Less-good points:

  • Despite leaving me shaking, I had recovered within about 10 minutes of the class, and left wanting a little bit more of a workout. For me, this class was more about having fun, whilst getting my heart-rate up, a little bit like going trampolining – it’s great fun, good exercise but not crazily tough on the body unless you’re really good.