Monday, 31 August 2015

Craughwell Half Marathon

This was one I hadn't planned on doing but after last weekend's gruelling 20 miler (in training for the Berlin Marathon which is now only four weeks away), I decided to take a 'breather' and sign up for a Half Marathon to fill the gap between my two 20-miler runs. I figured a challenging 13.1 miles would be equivalent to the scheduled 15 miles I should have been running... So on Saturday morning at 8:15am, I left the warm comfort of my bed for Craughwell.

With Patrick from How Many Belgians

In the registration hall I met Patrick whose blog I have been following for ages. He planned on running 12 marathons in 2015 in aid of Gorta Self Help Africa but I suspect he'll smash his original target as Craughwell was his 11th marathon this year. His blog, How Many Belgians, is well worth a follow. Link here.

The run started outside the Community Hall in Craughwell at 9am - the route was a 5.4km loop which I had to repeat 4 times while the marathoners had to loop 8. One group had left at 8am so there were already people on the course, one of which was Michelle Burke (@chelleburke) who I love. She is an incredible woman who was running the marathon as a warm-up for an Ultra Marathon the following day!!! I know... 

Anyway, the course was a relatively flat loop, with a table at the start line and half way around. The table at the half way point was crammed with jaffa cakes, coke, jelly babies and loads of other essentials. I'll admit I was jealous of the early marathoners stopping off to refuel but my abstinence from all fizz and chocolate until after the Berlin Marathon applies even when running a half marathon.

Rain down, Thumbs up!

I really didn't know how I'd find loops but honestly it was such a change from the norm I loved it. There was a little double-back bit (shown in the picture above) which meant you had a chance to see others on the course. I kept my eyes peeled for Michelle but we never crossed paths. The loops continued and I clocked each of my km splits close to 5:00 so ran happy.

The last loop was rather glorious as I knew most of the other runners were doing the marathon so knowing they had to keep running while I was going to finish was enough to motivate me through the 'close to end' fatigue that sometimes happens. I ran up through Craughwell village one last time and crossed the finish line somewhere around 1:45:30... and thats when I saw Michelle!

Myself and Michelle (who was about to start her 6th lap)

In all the excitement of grabbing a selfie with Michelle, I forgot to stop my watch and therefore registered my finish time as 1:46:05. I skipped the post-run feed in the main hall as I knew I'd be tempted so once I'd collected my medal, I jumped into the car and headed home happy out with a super morning of running. Half Marathon #12 was unplanned, unexpected and just fantastic! It was a low-key affair but was just what I needed. Now I'm prepping myself ahead of this weekend's 20 miler and then I have the Athlone Flatline (Half Marathon #13) the following weekend and then taper! 

BOOM! Another medal

Saturday, 29 August 2015

It's my 3rd Weight Watch-a-versary!

On this day three years ago I walked into the Weight Watchers class in Oranmore weighing over 19st. Over the past three years I lost 7 stone, ran four marathons and quit smoking (it is all documented in this blog). I firmly believe however that I've learned more from the motivational roadblocks and obstacles that have hit me along the way than I have the successes.

The 2012 Me v The 2015 Me

I've taken my eye off the ball and put back on weight. I've had days (and weeks) where I have gone on a complete rampage and fallen off the wagon but as hard as it is, I've always dusted myself off and kept on going. There have been weeks where I haven't seen any change on the scales despite putting in the work.

Just to give a quick summary. I lost 99lbs (over 7 stone) in my first year at WW. It was brilliant, I had the wheels in motion and everything just 'fell in place'. Making the right choices was easy as I was seeing the results week by week. I didn't ban anything, yep, I still had takeaways and pizza and drink - just in moderation! I was 1lb from goal (which is 12st) and everything was super! Then the wheels started to shake a little and over the next year weight slowly crept back on and I finished my second year at 13st 7lb. Meanwhile birthdays, christmas and life kept happening.

I started 2015 at 14st 1lb (two stone heavier than my lightest). I repeated what worked for me last time and I set a goal - 1lb a week would have me at 12st 7lbs by June and that worked for a while but guess what... At the end of August I'm right back at 14st 1lb, where I was on January 1st this year.

2015 Weigh-Ins

Now, you might be wondering why I'm sharing all this but it all feeds into the point I am trying to make - It's tough. Losing weight is tough, I'm sure maintaining a goal weight is tough. Getting up an hour early every morning to go for a walk/run/bootcamp is tough. Not having that slice of cake in the cafe is tough. Working on yourself is tough. Tough but not impossible. If it was easy, none of us would have weight problems. Even if there was a magic pill that would burn up all the excess calories you consumed in a day - it still wouldn't solve the problem relationship we have with food.

I just wanted to share three tips I've discovered along the way which have really helped me and hopefully someone might find something useful from them. (Quick Disclaimer: I don't work for Weight Watchers, I don't get paid by Weight Watchers, I don't get anything for free from Weight Watchers and yep, I still pay €10 every week at class).

Tip One: Support is more important that you think!

Don't go it alone. There are plenty of classes (Weight Watchers, Slimming World, Unislim etc) so hopefully there will be one local and at a time that suits. For me, having the WW class in Oranmore has been amazing as I have no excuse not to go. I pass the class on my way to and from work so I have no excuse not to go. Accountability has always been key for me so even if I know it's going to be a bad weigh-in, I still turn up on Tuesday as if I skip a class, that usually spells disaster.

It also helps to have a friend doing the same with you as you've extra support. That being said, when I joined WW I was on my own but connected with others online (like the amazing Skinny Doll) who was a constant source of motivation and inspiration. Don't go it alone.

Tip Two: Always have a Goal. 

I can't stress how important this one is for me. Without a goal you just end running up and down the field. How can you measure success (or failure) if you don't know what you are aiming for. Some people join WW to 'lose weight and get fitter' but for me, I've found that too abstract to get a hold of. Now while your goal may be to lose 5st, don't look at the bigger picture to start - break the goal into smaller chunks and work towards each smaller goal (which feed into the bigger picture).

I've always seen my goal weight at the top of a pyramid but that has to be reached one block at a time. When I started, I found the Silver 7's an excellent motivator as it gave me something short-term to work towards while in the background, each of those Silver 7's boosted me up the pyramid along the way. If you don't want to work towards a weight goal, work towards a specific goal such as 'Walk 10K'. Also remember that everything takes times, don't start a Couch to 5K program and quit after 2 weeks because you aren't running 5K in less than 30 minutes.

Tip Three: Believe in yourself!

This one is a constant struggle but I've proven to myself time and time again that believing in myself is 80% of the battle. I remember when I ran my first marathon I knew before I started that I was going to finish it (maybe crawling, but I knew I could do it). Self doubt has to be the biggest killer of dreams. We all have bouts of cripplingly high self doubt which tempts us to throw in the towel. Be proud of where you are, regardless of where you are. I still believe the most important step I ever took was into the WW class on August 28th three years ago. Did I believe in myself then? No. But I learned to. It takes time - but don't let your enemy live in your head. All you can do is what you can right now. Things don't get easier, you just get better at them. You learn.

Monday, 24 August 2015

Body Fat Analysis

I'm trying to think of three scarier words other than Body Fat Analysis which strike more fear in my heart and all I can come up with is 'World Chocolate Shortage' or 'Beyonce Quits Showbiz' but thats another story. I've been bobbing up and down with my weight at Weight Watchers all Summer and its kind of been getting to me in terms of sucking my motivation so when I saw French Vanoli were doing Body Fat Analysis, I booked an appointment.

 Ready to face the music...

I do Bootcamp twice a week in the French Vanoli gym in Oranmore so it was right place to get my body fat analysis. I'm used to standing up on the scales in Weight Watchers every Tuesday but I think similar to getting a blood test, its impossible to have the full picture of your health without looking underneath the surface (i.e. weight only). I'm doing loads of running and after a summer of cycling, walking, climbing Croagh Patrick - I'm naffed at the lack of reflection of this work on the scales.

I turned up after work last Friday and met with Tom who took about 15 minutes to go through the analysis. Using a hand-held scanner, he took seven scans across my body and then we waited for the result. My current weight is 14st (89kg) which puts me well into the Overweight category on the BMI scale. I'm not happy with where I am on the scales but my body is telling a different story. I ran the Streets of Galway (8K) faster than this year than when I was 2st lighter. I'm mid training cycle for my fifth marathon (having completed two already this year).

When Tom finished the analysis, the results came back at 17.9% which puts me in the Healthy category. Yes its at the higher end of that category but it certainly put my weight worries at ease. Tom suggested a number of changes I incorporate into my week which will help bring that figure down to my new target which is 15%. I didn't realise that my Bootcamps are classed as cardio, as is my running therefore I am doing "only" 5+ cardio sessions a week - there is no variety there.

I don't want to start messing around with changing workouts so close to the Berlin Marathon (5 weeks away) so for now, I'm going to continue doing what I was doing - sticking to my 2x Bootcamp's a week and sticking to the Marathon Plan. I am however going to cut all crap for the next five weeks - not a single biscuit, square of chocolate or (here comes the kicker) fizz.

Why? Because I have to haul my weight around Berlin for 42.2km's - the less I have to haul the better to be honest - so for the next five weeks I am focusing on eating as healthy as possible. It's going to be tough I know it will, but maintaining that discipline can't be as challenging as running a marathon. The next piece of chocolate I will have will be across the finish line in Berlin and that will keep me motivated!

Last Friday's 20 Mile Long Run

Monday, 10 August 2015

The 2015 Streets of Galway

The Streets of Galway is probably the largest and best know road race in the Galway Running Calendar, selling out each year in advance. The race takes place on a Saturday evening and takes in some of the main sights Galway has to offer. Starting on Fr Griffin Rd, you get to run past the Spanish Arch, up Merchants Road through Eyre Sq, around by the Cathedral before heading out to Salthill passing Leisureland and coming back along the Prom.

I signed up this year as part of the French Vanoli Team - they are the guys I do Bootcamp with, they are awesome (check them out here). 16 crossfitters and bootcampers signed up and turned up in the rain on Saturday evening to run the Streets. This year, the organisers were adding a corporate/non-athletic club team prize which was cool as there were gangs from various companies and gyms around Galway all warming up before the race.

With (some of) the French Vanoli gang

We met with Yvonne and Gordon and we gathered at the start line with the 2500+ others who were also glad the rain had subsided for the time being. The race started at 7pm on the button. The first kilometre was spent dodging people, potholes and footpaths. The one thing that always irks me about races is walkers/slow joggers ahead of you at the start line, especially when there are pacers in the starting area - people should really position themselves behind their target time. (Rant over)

I have to say, I absolutely loved this years race. I ran along happy out clocking up the kms no bother, and having the team in the same t-shirts made others easy to spot along the route. I even had a quick chat with a work colleague somewhere in the middle of the race. The last 2km in along the promenade never really excites me - its a route I know well (from my long runs) and is part of most Galway runs. That being said, the last 500m was pretty packed with spectators which helped motivate me along towards the finish line.

I crossed the finish line with a time of 36 minutes 37 seconds which absolutely blew my mind. Going out there, I was hoping for a Sub 40 but sometimes you just go with the run and it works for you. I even beat my 2013 time (38:15) which really surprised me considering how much running I was doing them versus now. Also, my 8K PB is 35:55 so I really wasn't too far off (which again, really surprised me!). We hung around the finish line and cheered others across the line (despite the rain which probably actually made the event even more Galway if thats possible).


The 2015 Streets of Galway was absolutely brilliant - the atmosphere was fantastic at the finish line but people didn't hang around too long. The cold rain drove us into a pub where we had a celebratory drink before heading home. (After taking a few selfies of course)

Gordon, Yvonne and Myself

With Donna and Aisling from French Vanoli

With one of my favs - Lisa from LRPR

Saturday, 8 August 2015

Not all calories were created (or burned off) equally

Despite being a Weight Watcher, I don't really pay too much attention to calories. I only use calorie information in the absence of pro-points (by using the extremely rough '40cals = 1 pro-point' rule). For example, the last day I was queueing in Costa Coffee and they had the cals info beside each drink. Knowing this information helps guide me (and others I'm sure) to choose an appropriate drink instead of ordering blind. I am still not over the fact a Butlers Hot Chocolate (without cream) is FIFTEEN pro-points!

I'll have a Tall Iced Coffee please...

It's also true that not all calories are created equally. I know the calories in a bag of salt and vinegar taytos are different to the same value of steamed veg on a plate. A couple of sources have plated up various foods of the with the same calorie content (e.g. link here) and it seeing it laid out like that can be eye-opening. Then despite all this, the calorie value of a plate of fruit have to be more beneficial to the body than the calories in a sugary snack. 

Each of these plates contain 200 cals

Where Weight Watchers and calorie counting differ however is when it comes to Low Fat foods. While 2 litres of Diet Coke is 0 pro-points, half an avocado is 4 pro-points. It doesn't take a scientist to work out which is better for you. Again, I understand why and how the weight watchers system is devised the way it is - it works because it applies a universal rule (pro-pointing) across all foods - but as we know now all calories were created equally.

Dust... anyone... no?

Anyway... the point I was getting to was this: Have you ever tried to burn off a certain amount of calories intentionally? Let me explain, I was away with work last week and grabbed a quick lunch from Burger King (I know, I know). After work that evening I was back in the hotel and out of boredom, ventured up to the gym. In the three years I've been doing WW, I've never been inside a gym. I stepped up on the cross trainer and it asked me a few questions about weight, height, gender. The last question: Enter Goal (Distance/Pace/Calories). I hit Calories and typed in 500 as my goal (remembering that my BBQ Bacon Cheeseburger at lunch was somewhere in around there)... and off I started.

10 minutes passed and the sweat was starting to build up, 15 minutes passed and I had barely hit 20% of my goal. WTF!? I quickly re-assessed my situation and lowered my goal to 300 calories (thanks to the handy minus button sitting there like a temptress) and I trudged on. It took around 40 minutes to hit 300 on machine and bloody hell I felt every bit of it. 

300... My revised goal

I have never every thought about the calories I burn off when exercising and looked at it purely on calories worked off. When I run, I get a 'Run Summary' at the end and I never pay attention to the calories burned - I see it as '30 minutes running' as opposed to '400 calories' but since my session on the cross trainer, I cannot get over the amount of work it took to work off 300 calories (about the same as a single mars bar).

I'm not going to change to a Calories In vs Calories Out kinda guy but seeing a different way of working off calories has certainly opened my eyes to the effort and energy it takes to burn off that sneaky pack of Yellow M&Ms you might eat in the car on your way home from work. DAMN IT! *laces up runners, goes for a run*

Monday, 3 August 2015

The 2015 Rock & Roll Half Marathon

I signed up for the 2015 Rock & Roll Half Marathon after a really lazy June (I didn't do much running after the Cork Marathon so knew I needed something to kick-start me back into gear). I've run this Half Marathon in 2013 (link here) and last year (link here) and its definitely one of the better Halfs I've been part of. It attracts a large crowd and as gives you the opportunity to run through Dublin city center. Each year they've taken feedback and continued to make the course, support and event better and better.

Myself, Elaine and Andrea before the start!

The run started at 8:30am on the Quays (up by the 3 Arena) and brought us straight down the quays, across the Liffey and up around by Christchurch (3km). We always slag a friend of ours (Gordon) about a phrase he once used about "listening to his body" when running, but bloody hell I really should have taken a leaf out of his book. I knew as the km's were clocking by that I was going to fast and despite continually trying to re-adjust my pace, I kept clocking sub 5:00/kms which was a pace I knew I wasn't going to be able to keep up.

With my over-eager fingers, I had put my planned completion time as 1:35 when signing up so I was put in Corral 2 starting off (out of 14 corrals) so I knew I was in with a bunch who I would never be able to match pace wise. I got caught up in the adrenaline but it kept me going around by the Guinness Factory (where the 1:45 pacers overtook me), Heuston Station and the Irish Museum of Modern Art (6km).

The route continued down Sarsfield Rd before turning onto Chapelizod Rd (10km). The route was very familiar as I've only know it from previous Rock n Rolls and the Dublin Marathon, although we ran it in the opposite direction there. The run turned into Phoenix Park at 13km and thats when I first felt the proper strain of going out too fast earlier on. My Phoenix Park experience felt more like a test of endurance and I really could feel myself dragging.

Around 19km there was a hill which I never really recovered from (check out the pace map below) but what really kept me trudging on was hope I could beat my previous R&R times. In 2013 I ran it in 1:51, last year in 1:50 and this year I just wanted to beat that.

Course and Pace

I crossed the finish line at 1:49... Nowhere near my best time but an effort I was quite pleased with all things considering. Every run teaches me something and this was a hard lesson in the importance of both pace and proper training. I have 8 weeks to the Berlin Marathon which means a good few weeks to ramp back up my training and long runs.

I really enjoyed the 2015 Rock & Roll Half Marathon and the rain stayed away despite the sky lingering on the bring of a downpour. There was a load of support out along the route and the bands do make for great distractions along the way. I took the free bus back into the city after the race and even made it back to Galway in time for my nephew's 4th birthday party! Not bad for a Bank Holiday Sunday.

New Bling for my Medal Box