Why everyone should run an ultramarathon

If you’d asked me a year ago, perhaps two, whether I thought I could realistically run an ultramarathon, I would have laughed in your face and probably said something like ‘no, and I don’t really want to either’.

The root of this belief was:

1) That I found (and still find) running 15km very difficult so could never imagine how I was supposed to run over 3x that amount and not die…

2) If I believed I could, I knew that I would have to give it a go. ‘Giving something a go’ means months of hard training, anxiety, doubt and the possibility of ‘failure’, which many of us aren’t inclined to experience, let alone seek out.

Last month I ran my first ever ultramarathon, 50km across the gorgeous Peak District hills. I signed up 3 weeks in advance of the race with no expectations, no ‘goals’ per se, just a desire to race at least once in 2020 and spend time outside. The race went better than I ever could have expected, and I truly loved every minute.

Image by Benedict Tufnell

4 weeks later I took part in my second ultra (depending on your definition) – 48km along the Jurassic Coast – simply because it was close to home and I know how beautiful the route is. I signed up one week before, and the whole experience was a delight.

Image by Jake Baggaley

From what I’ve seen of ultramarathons, they are friendlier, prettier and far more forgiving than your average road marathon. People rarely run the whole thing, you have support the entire route (in the form of checkpoints with water, foot, medical aid etc every 10k or so) and everyone is so friendly! Walking isn’t frowned upon and you see people of all shapes and sizes signing up – there is far less judgement than I think people expect from these events. Because it’s a small community too, you tend to get to know people pretty fast!

Somewhere between childhood and adulthood, people stop believing in trying out new experiences in favour of keeping to the known and the predictable. In short, people stop believing in themselves.

With this comes the knowledge that you’ll probably always be OK, but equally, probably never have the best time of your life, never find a new hobby and never experience all that life has to offer. Fear of the unknown, combined with mental images of elite athletes laughing at you for hobbling around a 50k course is enough to put anyone off… but I’m here to say that it shouldn’t!

Reasons to run an ultra:

  • Without pushing your body, you will never see what your body is capable of. It’s a lot more than you think.
  • Humans like to see progress. There is almost nothing more satisfying than seeing physical progress in running, whether that’s running to the end of your road, doing a faster 5k, or simply enjoying your run for the first time!
  • Trail ultras are far more forgiving on the joints than road marathons and similar, which means you’re less likely to experience running related injuries.
  • People (women especially) tend to improve or maintain endurance long into their 40s, meaning it’s the sort of hobby that you can take with you through your life, or pick up late! Runners (contrary to popular belief) actually have better functioning joints in older age than the average person.
  • It’s essentially an eating competition – the longer the run, the more you need to eat. If eating is one of your favourite pastimes (I know it is for me), you’ll probably do pretty well in an ultra!
  • The views! Maybe you think running is boring. Ultra running is NEVER boring. Choose one in a place you want to explore and enjoy the views!
  • You can’t pressure yourself to get a particular time on an ultra. Unless you’re an international champ, there’s no ‘doing well’ or ‘not doing well’ on an ultra. You signed up and showed up – that’s pretty epic! If you finish, you get a medal. Everyone is a winner here.
  • Training is about time on feet rather than pace or even distance. One of the hardest things about an ultra is being out on your feet all day, but if you have a busy job and spend a lot of time standing up, or enjoy walking a lot, you’ll probably be really good in an ultra. Of course, running training is important, but you have a head start if you are used to spending hours on your feet, even if you’re just standing still!
  • You get space. You might enjoy running with thousands of people around you – in which case I’d suggest doing a road marathon or something like the Great North Run. For ultras the chances are you’ll meet plenty of people along the way, but will never be penned in or surrounded by people.
  • It’s an adventure. While many road races feel quite similar, ultras are all different. They’re a great excuse to travel and explore somewhere new.
  • It’s a life experience. Ultras, especially multi-day ultras, can take over your life for up to a year, but the chances are they’ll also become one of the best things you’ve ever done. I’d say that’s reason enough to sign up!

If this blog post makes you keen to sign up, check out my vlog ‘10 things I learned from my first ultramarathon‘ and vlog of the ultra itself – I hope it’ll inspire you to get out there and give it a go!

Image by Jake Baggaley

Is the Fitness Industry really for the Black community too?

This piece was written by the wonderful Oli from @wellwitholi on Instagram. She is a qualified Nutritionist and Personal Trainer and works to increase inclusivity and diversity in wellness spaces. Oli puts out incredible content, with references, well thought out arguments and inclusive mindset. I also promised to use my platform to amplify voices that deserve to be amplified 1000x over. Go and give her a follow on Instagram!

 

Spoiler alert: the answer is an unequivocal – yes! However, as social media has helped highlight especially over the last two weeks, a lot of fitness brands, gyms and health magazines have a long way to go in assuring racial equality throughout their companies.
For most White people who are active in the fitness world, racial inequality might not be something that is often considered, if at all. As with many things, unless it directly affects you, it can be easy to overlook the significance.

My earliest memory of fitness outside of compulsory P.E. lessons was when I signed up to my first gym membership in my first year of college. Although I went to a gym with predominantly White people, and this definitely did feel alienating at times, this was a reality that mirrored the area I grew up in just outside of Brighton. At the time, I put my head down and got on with it. However, when I moved to London, a city commonly praised for its diversity, I was surprised to find myself in similar scenarios – particularly when going to ‘boutique’ or ’higher-end’ gyms.

Even outside of the gym, whether I’m scrolling through Instagram, flicking through a women’s health magazine or online shopping for some new gym clothes, there is a perpetuating image that lean, White women with ‘perfectly perked’ glutes constitute what is considered the ‘body ideal’ for fitness. If you fall outside of this, especially if you are Black, this space can start to feel very unwelcoming.

You may be thinking, what does race have to do with fitness? Why is it important?

In this post, I’m going to explain some of the racial inequalities that are interlaced throughout the industry. Beyond just over-priced green juices and 5K run challenges, the fitness industry should be one that aims to improve and support the physical wellbeing of everyone, right? I don’t believe we can continue to move forward with this narrative until we address its racial disparities.

It’s no secret that in recent years, the fitness industry has gone from strength to strength. In 2019 gym memberships in the U.K. grew by 4.7% to 104 million, whilst in the same year, the fitness industry was estimated to be worth £5-billion. With this considered, it continues to surprise me that an industry that is thriving – both economically and through popularity – continues to lack diversity and inclusivity.

 

  1. Accessibility

Undoubtedly, one of the key influences of these inequalities is cost.

On average, a gym membership costs £40. In London, where prices of everything are inflated and ‘boutique’ gym memberships are more common, gym memberships can cost as much as £92, with some over £350 per month.

In the UK, Black people make up 55% of the 2 lowest income quintiles. This is reflective of pay gaps between ethnic groups where Black people who were born in the UK are paid on average 7.7% less than white counterparts who were also born in the UK. Similarly, Black people who were born outside of the UK are paid on average 15.3% less than white counterparts also born outside of the UK. To gain an understanding of the reasoning behind these figures, I recommend doing further research on employment gaps and race inequality. However, with these statistics considered, it can be more difficult for Black people to gain access to a gym, especially those that are higher priced. Notably, the latter are typically fitted with better equipment and sometimes have extra perks (e.g. spa facilities).

Research highlights other barriers that can block Black people from having fair access to gyms, including transport difficulties. When looking at which ethnicities are most likely to live in the most deprived 10% of neighbourhoods, Black people took the lead at 19.6%, indicating minimal disposable income for this group. If these statistics are readily available on the British government website, could gym branches be doing more in terms of research to ensure they are including more gym facilities in economically deprived areas? Moreover, what’s stopping them from doing so already?

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Figures from Gov.uk 

I recently had a conversation with a friend who was suggesting ways fitness branches could be doing more to accommodate the communities they enter. For example, take an area like Hackney, that through gentrification is considered to be ‘up and coming’. According to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG),in 2019 Hackney was reported to be in the top 10 most deprived authorities in the U.K. Harmonious with statistics previously shown, a 2011 census shared approximately 40% of this community is made up of Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) groups, with 20% of the BME community being Black. That is, despite gentrification, the community who still lives there reflects income disparities already mentioned. Therefore, it makes no sense why a fitness branch would open a studio in an area such as Hackney, and with all statistics considered, not even try to accommodate to the surrounding community. It continues to push the same narrative that Black people are not welcome in fitness spaces. One idea we shared was the idea of having a ‘community rate’. This would work similarly to a student discount; however, you’d just need to show proof you lived in the area/postcode and you could have your class at a cheaper price.

 

  1. Representation

Pretty much every gym and fitness company has a catchy slogan that pushes the idea they welcome ‘fitness for everyone‘. However, when you consider the actual advertisements these companies show, particularly the ‘boutique’ brands, is it really everyone who is represented? Sometimes Black people are not even included and if they are, it’s often not at the same inclusive ratio as non-Black counterparts. On countless occasions, I’ve seen brands include one ‘token’ Black person in their promotion and pass this off as being ‘inclusive’.

It’s not just advertisements that can lack representation of Black people though. Health magazines and newspaper articles can be just as guilty for pushing the ‘diversity’ narrative, but not actually following through. This includes the lack of diversity on magazine covers. In just one example, following its first launch in the U.K. in 2013, one of the leading women’s health magazines has only included Black women in 4 out of 73 magazine covers thus far. Only… four. There are definitely more than four Black women in the fitness industry, so why the lack of inclusivity?
A figure I think is also important to highlight here is that in 2016 it was reported that 94% of the British journalism industry was made up of White people.

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There have been only 4 Black women on the cover of Women’s Health magazine out of 73 issues. For comparison, Kayla Itsines has also been on it 4 times. 

When you look even further, lack of representation of Black people can prevail within gyms as well. This could echo the fact that Black people have the highest unemployment rate out of all ethnic groups in the U.K. at 9% (research employment inequalities & race); or, it could be harmonious with the notion that these spaces aren’t particularly targeted for Black customers, therefore the desire for Black personal trainers isn’t there either. I share the same experience as some of my Black friends that on several occasions I have been the only Black woman to attend a class full of only White women, maybe one or two other POC, but almost always instructed by a White person. Being in this situation can be daunting. I have sometimes felt a certain responsibility to not take up too much space, be quiet and almost set a good enough impression of myself to ensure that other Black women (as we are often seen as a monolith for each other) will still have access to the space. Whilst I’m not saying it’s imperative that I am surrounded by Black staff or members to have an effective workout, the lack of inclusion does give the message that these spaces are not created with ethnic inclusivity in mind.

 

  1. Fitness Influencers

I’m sure we can all agree Social Media is a powerhouse full of influencers telling us the things we should buying, how we should be eating, and the next best workout plan we should be following. Unsurprisingly, the same lack of representation of Black people exists here too.

For YouTube alone, there are no Black people in the Top 10 paid Forbes list and only 2 POC, whilst on the Top 10 Fitness Influencers list also published by Forbes, there is only 1 Black person and 1 other POC. I’m not trying to dismiss the merit and amount of hard work each non-black individual has put into their niche to achieve these top spots; however, I think it’s really important to challenge the statistics and ask, why are they so imbalanced?

I strongly believe the lack of diversity of fitness bloggers who are at the ‘top of their game’ reflects the same reality that fuels the lack of diversity offline. That is, fitness brands recruit who they consider being the most desirable consumer by endorsing fitness bloggers who mirror that image (think, White skin, washboard abs and perfectly toned bum). The fitness industry as a whole has then gone on to make this an almost elitist standard. It fuels the same narrative that if you don’t fit this image, and God forbid you have Black skin too, then you’re unwelcome. Of course, some fitness bloggers do go out of their way to challenge these ideologies by actively promoting more body and skin colour diversity, however, the fact these bloggers even exist further highlights there is a big representation problem within the industry.

In 2019 it was found 62.3% of adults 18+ were either overweight or obese in the UK and of that figure, 73.6% were Black adults – the highest percentage out of all ethnic groups. With these statistics considered, isn’t it the purpose of the health industry to help improve the health of everyone, but especially those who might need it most? So why, when beyond just anecdotes there’s published social research highlighting the fact that some Black people feel too intimidated to start fitness because of lack of representation, they continue to be so underrepresented?

Just this International Women’s Day 2020, one of Europe’s leading sport’s nutrition brands failed to include ANY Black women in their Instagram feed press photos for their event… zero! (N.b. Whether or not any Black women were even invited is still unclear).

 

So, what does this mean?

The momentum we’ve seen in people supporting the Black Lives Matter movement over the past couple of weeks will go down in history books – it’s a given. But we must continue to challenge and keep the same energy as we continue to fight against racial injustices. As much as I wish these two weeks of trending #BlackLivesMatter now means that racism is eradicated, that just isn’t the case. To be quite honest with you, this is only just the beginning.

It makes me angry that because of the colour of their skin, an individual might not feel welcomed to exercise.

If that doesn’t make you just as angry, I’d have to question your integrity in an industry that should be focusing on the wellbeing for all.

The information highlighted throughout this post wasn’t tucked away in a secret archive. This is information that is readily available to the public and I would recommend everyone in the fitness industry to continue to do your own research.

 

To fitness brands: What are you doing to make sure Black people are equally included? Do you have Black people throughout your team that can challenge racial disparities? Are you making sure you actually represent Black people within your brand, and aren’t just including one ‘token’ Black person?

To fitness branches: are your gyms equally dispersed into lower economic areas? Do prices reflect the general economic status of the community you’re in? What could you be doing to make sure Black people feel just as welcome in your gym/studio as non-Black people?

To consumers: Are you also supporting Black fitness bloggers online? (following someone is free, by the way!). Are you challenging your favourite companies who have been silent regarding the Black Lives Matter movement? Are there conversations you could be having with the owners of the gyms/studios you go to?

Every voice matters and can be used to initiate positive change. Don’t let yours go to waste.

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Ways Black people can experience inequality in the Fitness Industry. (UK based) ~~~ I hope this post can help highlight how systematic racial inequities can have a snowball-effect impact that can block Black from getting some of the same opportunities as non-black people. Just today I had a comment under a post where I had questioned why a specific sports nutrition brand hadn’t included ANY Black women in their International Women’s Day event that said “…maybe pick the bigger battle right now” … I literally: 🤦🏽‍♀️. It’s been BEAUTIFUL and encouraging and inspiring to see so many people (finally) listening more to #blacklivesmatter and taking note. However, I feel like I really want to make clear here that racism and racial inequality isn’t just a thing/object that once you’ve ‘beaten’ it it’s gone. It’s woven throughout society and something we’ll need to continue to challenge daily. When you make a cake you need to get each individual ingredient, weigh them out, mix them together, bake the cake, cool it and then ice it. A lot goes into it right? It’s the same with racism – a LOT goes into it, therefore it’s going to take a LOT of work to even begin undoing it. That is why my reply to the comment mentioned above was “challenging lack of diversity in big brands is part of the ‘battle’”. It’s part of the ‘undoing’. The words ‘educate yourself’ have been seen a lot the past week+ and it’s really important that you (and I) continue to do that. Sometimes even I can find myself baffled by ignorance or racist words that I am actually lost for words. That’s why it’s important to build up a catalogue of knowledge that you can articulate well in response to challenge what you see/hear. #themarathoncontinues . 👇🏽Let me know if you have experienced any other inequalities in the fitness industry. I LOVE healthy discussions & HATE racism so leave it out of my comments ☺️ #shareblackstories

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Top people to follow for home workouts

With much of the world’s population recommended to stay at home, and some even on lockdown, I have been asked where I would look for home workouts. Thankfully, in an age where social media is so built up across society and working out is the norm, home workouts are easy to come by.

I asked you guys which you find the best, so here are my findings! Please do share this with your friends and family. Exercise keeps the brain happy and is a great way to structure the day, which is extremely important when all other structure has gone. You could all come out of this fitter than when we went in!

There are loads of paid apps that you can use/subscribe to which have some really great workouts on, but I personally want to support individuals at this time (albeit some pretty famous ones). I may well create another list of apps that you can subscribe to as I know they’re popular! Let me know your faves and if you’d be interested in a separate list of these 🙂

 

Instagram

Thanks to the advent of carousel posts and IGTV, workout videos on Instagram are pretty common. Here are some of my favourite accounts:

Natacha.oceane

Ironman and athlete Natacha Ocean has always been a favourite of mine. With her evidence-based approach to training and nutrition and ‘training’ style workouts, she is definitely one to follow. Check out her IG for workout inspo.

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Shona_vertue

Another athlete, ex-gymnast Shona shares a very balanced approach to training, far removed from the ‘no days off’ crew. As a yoga teacher, a lot of her sessions are already bodyweight based, and perfect for strengthening supporting muscles. Shona will also be hosting live workouts from her YouTube channel so get involved!

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Aliceliveing

Personal Trainer Alice shares gym-based workouts on a regular basis, but also has more conditioning workouts available too. Also, although she doesn’t post there anymore, you can find some home workouts on her YouTube channel.

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Zannavandijk

Zanna has recently been travelling, but regularly shared workouts before that, so scroll back a little for a wide variety! She also has a YouTube but I can’t find regular workout videos on there (but you might want to check it out anyway) 🙂

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Sophjbutler

Sophie became a wheelchair user after injuring herself during a workout, but if anything, she has become more determined. She shares home workouts suitable for all, and is just generally a delight to follow. Check out her (somewhat sassy) twitter too.

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Lillysabri

Lilly shares workouts on her YouTube (over 300 available!) and Instagram, so choose your platform! They’re easy to follow and she does them in a bikini, so you can pretend you, too, are in sunny Dubai.

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Annieopenshaw

Friend, squash player and all-round superb person Annie shares workouts regularly on her Instagram, including many without equipment. She also has a YouTube channel that may provide amusement.

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Hauptstadttrainer

I met Erik on our little Tour de France trip last summer, and have followed his account closely since. He is incredibly friendly, but also (possibly more importantly on IG) incredibly knowledgeable, and shares home workouts suitable for all. Screen Shot 2020-03-17 at 11.01.56

LeenPeet

Not everyone who shares great workouts is instal-famous. Been Peeters is a certified personal trainer who shares home workouts suitable for all on her Instagram. Check it out!

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YouTube

Pamela_rf

I personally think it should be illegal for anyone to have 4.6m IG followers at the age of 23, but looking at Pamela’s Instagram account, she’s clearly doing something right! However, her workouts can primarily be found on her YouTube – she even has a ‘home workouts’ playlist.

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Les Mills

Not technically a person, but well known in the world of accessible workouts. Sometimes a little high-impact, but plenty of options there and all free!

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Lucy Wyndham-Read 

I’m not a huge fan of the aesthetics-based approach of this channel, but for many it’ll be the difference between exercising and not, and benefits are there whether you exercise for mental health, aesthetics or performance!

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Sarah’s Day

Sarah doesn’t strictly do workout videos, but has a wide variety of content. I expect, with the rise of demand, she will be posting more and more home workout content, so stay tuned!

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The Body Coach

If you’re looking for a wide variety of workouts and regular videos, The Body Coach is your guy! My friend loved his ‘7 days of sweat’ workouts, and that was before quarantine. Subscribe to stay sane.

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Madfit

For regular, easy to follow workouts (choreographed to music!), subscribe to Maddie’s channel on YouTube. You won’t get bored with the variety of content on there 🙂

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Sydney Cummings

Personal trainer Sydney shares a multitude of workouts on her channel, arranged by time or category. Want 60 minutes of workout or a no equipment workout? Check her out.

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Heart Alchemy Yoga

Looking for something a little more relaxing? Michelle is catering for those of us with slightly anxious dispositions, sharing yoga and meditations suitable for all abilities.

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Dormy House

Fiann and I stayed at Dormy House as part of our UK staycation. The hotel is part of the Farncombe Estate, a group of hotels within a short drive of one another, each with their own defining rustic charms, but a definite connecting thread between them.

I previously stayed at The Fish Hotel, another of the hotels on the estate. I loved it so much that I decided Dormy House would have to be next on my list. I was not disappointed! Foxhill Manor will have to be next – watch this space!

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The front of Dormy House, in full Christmas attire

Dormy House is another breed of hotel. Modern but rustic, with beautiful decor and everything you could possibly need – it is the perfect place to relax for a long weekend or staycation. We stayed in the Courtyard Suite, a little quasi-apartment with a room, living room and bathroom, complete with all the necessary amenities. Whilst I didn’t see the other rooms, the suite was the perfect size and I would definitely recommend it for a little extra room compared to your bog-standard hotel!

Of course we immediately visited the spa on arrival – having run a 10k race earlier that day, we were dying for something to ease our weary legs, and the spa hit just the spot. First stop was the outdoor hot tub next to the fire. We had the place to ourselves and it was the ultimate relaxing experience. The spa also has a huge variety of different rooms with various purposes, from a beautiful sauna overlooking to pool, to an ice bucket for some swift cooling. We spent a good 40 minutes in the spa before heading to dinner.

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The beautiful pool at Dormy House

Dinner at The Potting Shed was great – there was a specialist vegan menu, and although it had only two options for each course, everything we ate was of top quality. I especially enjoyed the dessert!

We didn’t get to explore much more of the estate in the short time I had, but I would love to be able to return sometime for longer. Fiann and I felt there was so much more to do by the time we left (not least just enjoying the hotel sitting room and fire with a good book)! Other than potentially getting more vegan options on the menu for breakfast and dinner, I would give this hotel a full 10/10 for having everything we could possibly want and more. See below for some more pics by the incredibly talented Caylee Hankins who you can find here or on her Instagram.

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The front sitting room was beautifully decked out for Christmas!

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It’s never wrong to order another coffee when they’re that good

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We never wanted to leave our perfect little sitting room in our suite!

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Enough space to swing a cat (or dance like nobody’s watching)