Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Seeing Gold in a Friends Eyes...

I have a friend, his name is Kieran. We have worked together for the past eight years and every day the pattern was the same - we'd clock in at 8:30am, go at our respective desks on the same floor, have biscuits at coffee break talking about the latest series on Netflix or who got kicked off Bake Off. Wash, rinse, repeat. We were both overweight and we both smoked.

Kieran & Myself - June 2012

One day over four years ago, Kieran decided to quit smoking. I remembering being so envious of how easily he just stopped smoking. We were the only two that smoked in the office so he used to still come stand outside with me while I smoked. He said it was more the habit of leaving your desk that helped him quit but I'm sure it still wasn't easy. Seeing someone make a change and commit to it made the notion of quitting finally seem possible to me.

Three years ago, I joined Weight Watchers and well, the story is documented here in this blog but basically it changed my life by giving me the tools and means to track my food intake and helped me stay accountable week by week. Last November, Kieran told me he was thinking about his weight so was going to join the same WW class.

Kieran (last year) at my stag - July 2014

Over the past year, week by week Kieran has continued to kick ass, powering on like a positive motivational ship through what I have found to be bumpy seas. As the pounds came off and he clocked up the Silver 7s, other people in the office started to notice. I remember someone asking him 'So how did you do it?' waiting for that miracle solution but his answer, Weight Watchers, wasn't what they were looking for. It takes work, it requires discipline and effort but seeing someone soldier on through office bake-sales & pizza lunches has been so incredible to see. 

Last night, just over a year after joining - Kieran got his Gold Card! Four and a half stone, gone! The difference between us, Kieran (he'll admit this himself), never earned a single activity point. Turns out the kitchen is where the majority of weight-loss can occur. Now I know everyone's story is different and plays out in different ways but for me, seeing Kieran go through it has really helped me. When you see all the cogs working in harmony with a focused navigator at the helm, it really instills confidence and faith in the whole machine. It's always easier to give someone else advice yet we never take our own/listen to ourselves. Seeing Kieran continually work towards his weight loss goal has really helped me.

That awkward day recently when we both wore the same shirt to work

Kieran, buddy - I'm so proud of you and delighted you've gone Gold! Like with running, every step you take you have to take yourself. No one can do it for you, no one can drag you up that hill or do a lap for you - it's just you, your mind and the road ahead. And while it's not a race, the only person you are in competition with is yourself... And just like with running (here comes a spoiler) - There is no finish line. You've changed, that's the beauty of any journey worth fighting for - you'll continue to learn and continue to inspire others. Be Proud.

Thursday, 19 November 2015

An Evening in Verette's Kitchen

Last Thursday evening, I left work early and travelled down to Patrickswell (just outside Limerick) for an evening in Verette's Demo Kitchen and I had an absolute blast. Verette is an amazing woman who I've had the absolute fortune to know online for the past few years. She is this years Weight Watchers Leader of the Year, she is also a chef and from her kitchen she teaches a variety of cookery classes and demonstrations all with a healthy eating perspective.

Verette busy at work

The kitchen is set up so all attendees sit around the hob while Verette took us on a cooking adventure. She does a range of classes from 'Curries in a Hurry' to 'Just Desserts', Fish & Italian. Last Thursday night however was a 'Starter, Mains & Dessert' class promising to walk us through a complete meal which you could prep for well in advance and deliver on time without much effort on the day. 

I'll be the first to admit, I am so lazy when it comes to cooking and the kitchen. I'm lucky enough to have married someone who absolutely loves being in the kitchen. (Hey, I'm good at the cleaning up part). I rarely venture around the hob apart from making soup or tuna pasta but that's about as far as my cooking skills go so I was curious to see how the evening would go. 

The class, which ran for over two and a half hours, was interactive, fun, informative and really really great. Verette started by whipping up a batch of hummus and paprika tortilla chips which we devoured while she moved on to preparing the Starter - a goats cheese and onion marmalade tartlet. We all asked questions varying from 'How many propoints are in a block of goats cheese?' to 'Where did you get that garlic crusher?'. 

The best part was getting to eat the dishes as they were being made so you could really get a taste for what you could cook. Mains was a salmon & penne dish while dessert was a delectable mixed berry crumble. We were given so many ideas throughout the evening about customisations and tweaks to the recipes we'd been given that would easily change them up should you need it. Add Beetroot or Roasted Red Pepper to the hummus, use apple stew with the tartlets for a mini-apple tart or add lime & ginger but biscuits to the crumble for example.

Grubs up!

What I loved was how easy Verette made everything seem to just whip together. Since the class, I've been eager to get into the kitchen and actually prepare a full meal for my husband who I think has never had a meal cooked for him (by me) in the eleven years we've been together. He won't know what hit him :)

So if you are looking for a fun evening out learning something new or just increasing your healthy meal options, I cannot recommend a trip to Verette's Kitchen enough. I know she does some demos out of her kitchen like the one coming up at the end of November in Athenry (Saturday, November 28th at 2pm). Keep an eye on her website for different classes as something might take your fancy - it's

Making crumble

Monday, 16 November 2015

Marathon #7 - Sixmilebridge Marathon

Last Sunday was my birthday, so when I woke another year older I thought 'what better way to spend your birthday than running a marathon'... Some might think I was mad to be running my third marathon in 7 weeks but I was really looking forward to this one - no time goal, no pressure, nothing in front of me apart from my feet and the road.

I made my way to Sixmilebridge with half the family coming along to see me off. It was so nice to have them all at the start before the race took off. We parked in the GAA club and on my way to registration I met a fellow Galwegian Johnny Mannion who was lacing up for the 26 lap course. That was the unique thing about this race - it's a one mile loop you repeat 26 times. We were due to start at 12 noon but the Double Marathoners had been on the course since 7am, working their way through 52 loops of Sixmilebridge.

At the Start Line (with Patrick Mercie)

We gathered at the start line (0.2 of a mile up the road from the mat) and watched as the Doublers and 30 milers passed by. Knowing they were 5 hours into their run and still going strong was encouraging. I got to shout support at Alan Murphy (an incredible Ultra Marathon-machine I've been following on Twitter for ages) and Michelle Burke (who is my running hero) as they passed by. 

We started just after 12 noon and headed down towards the mat (which is in by the school prefab) and back out onto the road again. The route brought us up through the village, around by the local pub before turning left and passing the library. The road veered left and up the hill passed the school before turning left again and back to the start line. The loop appeared as straight forward as the come - now I had one lap done, I just had the next 25 to get through.

I found my groove pretty quickly and as this was a headphone-less run, I started chatting. I told nearly anyone that would listen that it was my birthday - I don't know whether I was hoping they'd let me off a lap or two as a result but I did get loads of back-pats and Happy Birthdays from other runners. I ran with a lovely Finnish woman Paula for the first 5 or 6 miles and we had a great chat, she knew people I knew from Galway and I knew some of her friends from Limerick. 

Myself and Paula early on (hence the fresh faces and enthusiastic waves)
Pic taken from Mary Mockett's Facebook (link)

After myself and Paula split, I ran with two lovely guys from Carlow who nearly had me convinced to sign up for the Tullaroan Marathon already. After they pushed on, I was chatting to a Polish guy as the miles clocked up. While the first half passed in a relatively easy blur, the repetitiveness of it all was starting to take its toll on me in a way I didn't expect - I wasn't paying attention to the numbers. I hadn't taken in much water or food. On a regular marathon, I'd take water at every station however as there was water every mile, I often kept going without. It wasn't until nearly half when I realised I hadn't taken on any yet!

The Half Marathoners joined in the loops at 2pm and with it, a few other runners I knew like Eugene and Wojtek joined the field. The half runners added speed to what felt like energy flagging around the course. A lot of people were walking the hill on the far side of the course but I was determined to run it for as long as I could. I clocked half at 1:55 which I knew was kind of pushing it so I decided to slow it up a little and take each loop with a bit more ease. I wasn't going out to push myself and my legs were starting to tire.

Round and round... (Pic taken from Mary Mockett's FB)

By about Mile 18 I had had enough of that hill and decided I'd walk every second loop. I'd overheard Michelle pushing some of the Ultra guys on by saying to run half the hill (to the white van) and then recover and walk to the school. Who am I to argue with a woman who was still powering around on her 45th lap. We even had time for a selfie on the way up the hill...

Running up THAT hill...

I absolutely LOVED the fact I got to talk to everyone I knew on the course but hated the envy I had as others passed proclaiming how many laps less than I had they had left to complete. The last six loops/miles were tough. It was raining, the wind battered into us as we turned at the top of the hill and believe it or not, it turns out, there are actually 8,359,014 better ways to spend your birthday other than running 26.2 miles - I worked them all out while I ran.

Alan's wife was giving me his progress each time I crossed the finish line and I knew Michelle was still out there - honestly, their strength kept me going as I was thinking that regardless of how tired I was, I couldn't imagine how tired they must be. I'll admit it was disheartening crossing the mat alongside another guy who was just about to head around on his final loop while I still had three more to go but honesty, the support of the people around the finish line really helped as Michelle's husband and Alan's wife were among the many supporters who cheered and encouraged every single runner who passed through starting their next lap.

Alan finished amazingly in third (8:49) and was standing cheering me on for my final lap, obviously we man-hugged it out with the appreciation fellow runners have for one another. I high-fived every marshall the whole way around as I said 'Hope I don't see you again'. The very last marshall responded with 'Ya, until next year' (Don't think so mate!). This marathon was most certainly insane, doing the same loop over and over again. I crossed the finish line for the last time 4 hours and 21 minutes after starting - making this the longest duration I've ever run.

There is absolutely nothing easy or straightforward about running a marathon and while I finished on empty I think this is one of those days that'll live with me forever. The camaraderie and banter, the complaining and encouragement, the motivation and inspiration I received running in circles was absolutely incredible. 

Proud finishers... Myself, Alan & Michelle

When I think about it, spending my birthday running really was the best present my body could give me. How many people could just decide to run a marathon? How many can say they've run three in seven weeks? How many get to spend their birthday doing something they love that gives them so much more back than they ever could have wished? I certainly feel like a lucky guy. Now I'm rewarding my legs with a few months break before they take on the 26.2 mile journey again but don't worry, I'll still be out there pounding the tarmac!

Happy Birthday to Me!

Thursday, 5 November 2015

My End of Year Challenge - Hit 5000 km!

I've set myself an ambitious running goal to finish out the year - hit 5000km. I'm currently at 4452km which leaves me 548km short of my target (that's roughly the same distance from Galway to London). With any goal, the number one rule is always to make sure its a challenge but achievable and I think spending the this month and next clocking up 274km will be a bit of a challenge but one I'm looking forward to.

My Nike+ App

I've done a few run streaks before (see here or here) and they have been fun but I don't want to be restricted to having to run everyday - this gives me the small bit of flexibility to take days off or cover longer distances. Covering 270+ km a month requires covering 27 x 10K's but I suspect I'll try break it up by doing a few shorter mid-week runs and then longer weekend ones. It is most definitely still a challenge but one that I think will keep me on my toes!

Most of the time it is probably going to be wet and windy, mostly it'll be dark but I'm ready for it. I've the Sixmilebridge Marathon next weekend and this goal will be a great way to keep me running over the winter. I have plans to change up my training over the winter months (post on that coming soon) and I promise I'm not going to do another marathon for a while* 

(*well, a few months anyway!)

Sunday, 1 November 2015

Lets go round again...

It hasn't even been a week since the last time I ran 42.2km and I've already signed up for the next one. Yep, I'm marathon mad at the moment! I got home from Dublin last Monday feeling quite disappointed with my 4:00:55 Dublin finish time but the more I though about it, the more I'm sure that on the day I'd given it everything I had in me and that's all really anyone can hope for.

I was planning on signing up for the Paris Marathon next April as my brother-in-law is doing it but I just found out its full and registration is closed so that's not an option as there are no more places for 2016. I've seen a few options around like Clonakilty in December or Connemara (again) next April but none of them are really doing it for me... That was when Michelle (@chelleburke) suggested something loopy... The Eddie Murphy Memorial Race.

The choice: 13, 26, 39 or 52 loops of a one mile course in Sixmilebridge (Clare) in two weeks time. It's the same day as my birthday (November 15th). So... As a birthday present to myself I've signed up for the full, hey - what doesn't kill you makes you stronger right? Besides, there are plenty of ways I would love to spend my birthday and running 26.2 miles in a circle sounds like my idea of fun!

So that's it, Marathon #7 came around much faster than anticipated but the plan is to take this just doing what I love to do - run. I won't be watching the clock, I won't be putting myself under any time pressure, this one is for me! I'm doing it because I want to, because I can and because I fancy the challenge. There better be balloons and a cake waiting for me at the finish line 😃