30/10/2014

Segway

So last weekend my parents and I tried out Segway-ing. Yes. A segway. 

What in hells-bells is a 'segway', can you not spell segue?! No, we were not practicing our social conversation topical transitions, we were driving whacky vehicles around a country estate on a freezing Sunday. Obviously.

We look deeply unsure here. Mum in particular.

Practicing turns

Segways are two wheeled self balancing vehicles with a motor. To go anywhere, you lean. So lean forward for forward motion or to speed up, back for backward, left to go left... you get it. What you don't get it is how bloomin' weird it actually feels. Did you ever have to play a tree in a school play (No? Just me and my poor dramatic skills then...)? Well, its a bit like that. To be honest I wasn't sure about it, dad had suggested them in SF and we'd turned him down. Are they not what old people use to get around theme parks? They certainly look uncool. I was wrong, I admit that.  

Ours was out at Crieff Hydro's country estate, as my dad very much fancied the offroad ones not the pavement. That would be far too sedate. After a shaky start practicing turns around the segway car park, we actually proceeded to have a really great time of it. They're really quite swift, and if you race them over any bumps, you actually lift off of the control plate which is really a very joyful feeling. This is probably exactly what you are not meant to do on a segway, but never mind.

They are intensely odd whilst going downhill- the handle leans into your tummy in order to auto-brake themselves but it feels a lot like they're trying to push you off the back. They're trying to kill us, I just know it. 

All in all, an awesome random thing to do. Not just for old people and Gob from Arrested Development. 


















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Have you ever done a Segway tour? Weirdly good fun. 

Sorry if you felt this isn't in the kind of scope of the blog. I know its not running but it actually wasn't totally non-active- definitely some kind of core work in all the bending. Its also outdoors so I thought it fit. 

29/10/2014

You Are Doing Well Enough




Houston, I have a problem. I have a wildly overactive inner self-critic.

I already knew this a bit about myself, I have always been a Type-A, academic, people-pleaser (though admittedly this applies only to select people who's opinions I care about). Recently, it became quite a bit more apparent. I study a Counselling Skills class at night school once a week, and we were looking at Ellis's false/irrational beliefs. And we were asked (voluntary not mandatory) to speak about whether any resonated with us. Well, yes actually, yes those two specifically:


'One absolutely must be competent, adequate and achieving in all important respects or else one is an inadequate, worthless person.'

'One is capable of being a better quality of person if one achieves certain things.'*

Yes, yes absolutely. I do feel like I have to kind of be good at many things, and that only if I am can I somehow be a 'better' human. I have a terrible habit of ranking my achievements in certain 'categories' and then somehow adding up the points to see how accomplished a human being I've been that week. Some weeks I feel like I've been a totally pointless human (haven't contacted my parents enough, so a shit daughter; haven't exercised that much, so a crappy healthiness barometer... and so on).

The thing is I have no idea why I do this. I'm not sure what I'm actually aiming for. A few of these accomplishments will make me or others happy, but quite a few of them are things I think I should do. Not actually want to do. On weeks where I achieve them all I don't feel awesome, I feel overwhelmed. Additionally it's almost always impossible to carry them all off- if I do awesome, superhuman amounts of exercise, I guaranteedly just neglected my relationship for those evenings. If I spend all week with my S.O, I neglect exercise and work. You see?!

I'm thinking about this more both because of the CS class bringing it up, but also because it came up on Tinto Hill on Saturday. I was doing my usual, 'I'm so unfit, feel free to go on, you must be so annoyed' spiel, and N just replied, "Stop saying that, you're keeping this running up whilst doing a PhD. That's doing pretty fucking well". It made me realise that literally every time I mention running as a hobby, I mention that I'm no good. That I even do it to people I run with. Who know exactly how good I am, because they are physically there.

So maybe I need to give myself a break. I exercise 5 plus days a week, I'm a good child, grandchild, niece and sister, and support my family when I can. I am a loving partner most of the time. I am a runner, and I keep it up regularly. I am a good friend and I make time for my friends when I can. I am a PhD and I am trying. Maybe that's enough.

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Can you see yourself in any of this? Please tell me I'm not alone in this!


*Second one here doesn't seem to be an Ellis original from looking it up, but is in our COSCA handbooks. 

25/10/2014

Tinto Hill


Well bugger me, that was windy fun.

This morning, my friend N and I got up at ridiculous o' clock, to drive 45 minutes, to award ourselves the pleasure of hastily getting up and down a hill in a gale, all just to return to Glasgow for classes by 10am. If you understood that as a perfectly sensible thing to do on a Saturday morning, you're in the right place. If not, don't worry, I'm sure the majority of the sane world agrees.

Tinto is a hill near Symington in South Ayrshire. Not to be confused with Symington in South Lanarkshire (not at all confusing, right?). Has a nice wee race up it, but sadly I'm unable to compete that day this year (November 8th). Tinto will be awesome if you are in good physical shape, and painful if you aren't. Why? Its immensely run-able. That may sound good, but that means no fast hiking breaks (guilty of using these as rests? Yessir.), as its plausible to run the whole way without pause.

My method was much more fast hike uphill, then run the downhill fully. It was excellent fun, despite the wind being in our faces the whole time on the way up. We just chatted complete rubbish at each other, but the ideal friend kind of rubbish- dream hill runs, 8000m altitude mountaineering; general amusement. At the summit pile, it actually wasn't possible to stand up because the wind was so strong; so we hunkered down beside the point to take a proof selfie (note: will add this, she has it still).

N the rock star




The upshot? Wind behind you on the way down, so it felt like we were absolutely flying. Can also be added to the diary as another morning of loving my Inov8s- haven't had them on in months and they were perfectly comfy and trustworthy once more.

Crazy arms dance



Byeeee


All in all, a hundred per cent worth 4 hours sleep and a hideously early wake up alarm. Made for a fantastic, invigorating start to the weekend. There's honestly nothing like being in the hills and I think we forget just how blessed (boak - wanky blogger word to the max there) we are to be so close to accessible wilderness around Glasgow.

On the way back we decided that a coffee was worth more than being on time got class. Sorry but I'm not sorry. Worth it. Obtaining the was a bit amusing though- the, to be honest, not-so-fit guy behind the counter failed to realize that our wind-battered, mud-splattered, red-faced visages were due to having just been up a hill, and decided to tell us that there was a nice hill nearby, and that walking uphill is, "good for shaping your thighs, y'know?". Given N is a sprint cycling champ who picked up a few silvers at BUCS; and was just 5th in the Nevis race, I think she knows just plenty about thigh shapes. He was well meaning but we aren't super keen on random man advice dispension. Particularly as thigh shape isn't top of the thought agenda. Would be very different had we asked!


Lady with the lovely blue eyes is awesome!


 Anyways, very worth doing and I'll be back on Tinto, hopefully to run more of her on the uphill!

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Ever run this hill? Or any hills?

Any other hills around that you can recommend?

22/10/2014

Sweaty Betty Comes to Glasgow to Keep Me Warm


So, you may or may not have heard: Sweaty Betty is opening a store in Glasgow city centre on Friday, in the very beautiful Royal Exchange Square.

Our big sister, the capital Edinburgh, has had one for quite some time, but only recently have the cool fitness brands migrated to Glasgow. I think our dear green place is a pretty damn great choice for expansion though: there is a huge population of young, dedicated athletes in Glasgow, with an eye for good aesthetics and a cool edge. Every day we get to work out to the beat of our busy industrial metropolitan city, or in the leafy green of the numerous parks. Despite an ancient reputation as an unhealthy city, Glasgow definitely has its share of fitness fanatics. 

The store has chosen a sweet spot beside the cool GOMA. Their winter collection is a mix of dance, ski, and running gear. You can guess which one my interest mainly lies in! However, with the Dance House studios just round the corner from Royal Exchange Square and the slopes of Glencoe and Glenshee not too far North I suspect all of the sports will have their customers.

Before the opening of the new store, Sweaty Betty kindly sent me some of their kit to try myself*. Autumn in Glasgow seemed to fly by and it is now, not to mince my words, bloody freezing. Particularly in the morning or late at night. I received the Chill Resistor Top; Pace Run Tights; and the matching Body Map Thermal Run Top and Thermal Run Tights from the winter collection (click names for the links!), which should help keep me warm and not too moany.

Fellow tweeter Nick, being a cheeky about my frozen exterior earlier this week.

First Impressions...


See the heather marl and rose patterns? Also see below for more accurate peach top colour.


... went something like 'Ooooohh' (very technical, I know). I absolutely love marl patterned clothes (my own dear mum was taking the piss out of me in Canada for endlessly pointing out marl patterned clothes in shops), but don't actually own any. So I was excited to spot the pattern on the chill resistor top and pace run tights. The Chill Resistor Top is the most gorgeous peach colour and I love the multi-coloured flecks in the Pace Run Tights. The top is also so soft on the inside and out. I started wearing it instantly on receiving it. Additionally, its nice and long. I detest tops ending near the waist, so I love this- right down to the hip. From the first try on, these two things have fitted perfectly. These tights also seemed very unlikely to show my pants- very luxe material.

The Body Map Thermal gear looks like something out of Tron- ninja grey with royal blue piping. Very Evangelion, very mecha (I mean this as a compliment, geeky references I know). It has a twist- there are rose pattern inserts across the back of the top, and the knees and waistband of the tights. It is a different material from the others- seems to be fleeced on the inside and a much more technical fabric on the outside, plus has mesh sections at sweaty junctions (back, back of knees etc). These tights did seem a little smaller made, and for a second I was worried about my sizeable booty (baby got back), but they fit fine once on. The top is a little less long than the chill resistor, but is still flatteringly long and nicely fitting. 

My next reaction was pockets. Ohhh, POCKETS. Proper pockets in women's running wear are as rare as steak tartar. Both of these tops have big back pockets. Phone and fuel-sized pockets, not one-lipbalm-if-you're-lucky pockets. Plus both pairs of tights... also pockets!**

How they look on a very average sized human***


On Testing...

I tested them pretty rigorously, on some runs outside (including a long) and in strength training too. Both tights have reflective lines down the sides which you can't really see online but are obvious in real life, giving you more visibility at night. Both pairs of tights also have nice wide waistbands- comfy, flattering and (unlike a certain pair of H&M tights I could mention) they don't fall down. The tops did not ride up. I also had no chafe issues.

The only two things I was not sure about were 1) the mittens built into the chill resistor top. I really like the thumb loopholes on both tops, but the full mitten closure on the CR felt to me restrictive while running. I do also hate onesies with foot closings though, so perhaps that's more a personal issue! I may also end up using them when standing around waiting for races or watching others run- I can imagine having auto mittens to be handy. 2) Well... there's no other way to say this so I'm giving it to you straight- if you can see your nips outline through your sports bra, you will see them in this top too. I recommend a bra that doesn't show cold nip outlines if this bothers you.

To be honest, I suspect I will use the chill resistor top and pace tights more right now, whilst its still autumn not full winter. This is because the thermal ones really are thermal, too warm for the inside or the current weather in the city centre. I wish I'd had the chance to head to the hills proper, as I think they'd perform really well out there.

Before receiving them I wasn't convinced they'd be technical enough. I knew SB was going to be stylish, and performed well in typical running gear, but wondered just how winter resistant the stuff would be. I am now convinced, I will head north soon, and Winter is Coming (how many geek refs can I get in a post?!). I'm interested to see how they perform in terms of fast drying, and in wilder terrain. I suspect it will be quite well though. I will edit and add here once I have taken them to the hills.

They aren't the cheapest sportswear brand, so look out for the sales. But their pricing is pretty comparable to the large fitness brands- Nike, Adidas and the like. And honestly, it seems worth it for the design and quality. These clothes feel great, perform well and make me feel great about running in them.



The Sweaty Betty Glasgow store opens on Friday 24th October, at 14 Royal Exchange Square, Glasgow. Like other Sweaty Betty stores, they will have classes and clubs running, so keep your eyes open for these!

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Have you ever tried Sweaty Betty gear? What did you think?

Before these pieces, I already had one of the tops and some capris. I already liked them, so it was interesting to try the winter gear too.

Does your hometown have a good representation of dedicated fitness brands?

*Disclaimer: These winter collection samples were gifted by Sweaty Betty. I received no financial compensation for posting (or for any links- none are affiliate) and was not instructed to write anything about the clothes. I was only asked to mention the store opening. I will always be honest in my reviews, regardless of where the gear came from, as I have a firm no B.S. policy ;-).
** I will never apologise for being crazy for pockets. I got's stuff to carry. All lady runners will empathise! Men, is the pocket situation as dire for you too? 
*** I have no idea how fashion bloggers do it, taking photos of myself is super awkward. 

20/10/2014

The Science of Running: Running and Depression




I'm starting my series on the Science of Running in scientific areas I'm more comfortable with. My research background is all Psychology and Neuroscience, so it seems pretty fitting. Now, mental health is a really difficult area. I am not in any way suggesting that a mental health disorder recovery is as easy as, 'just go a jog'. Mental health disorders are serious and debilitating and the research into them is totally fascinating. Today I'm just looking at just one research article connecting the two, and noting how it might actually work in plain English. I've deliberately chosen one that you won't see Runner's World commenting on, and that is hard to read for those not in science. I spotted it recently, and thought it was a really interesting approach. 

The paper I looked at was 'Skeletal Muscle PGC-1α1 Modulates Kynurenine Metabolism and Mediates Resilience to Stress-Induced Depression' (2014) by Agudelo and colleagues. The lead researcher is Jorge L. Ruas who works at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden. See, that's a mouthful of a title. This is why no one apart from researchers, and their pals, ever read research articles. Ridiculous.

Okay so to clear up a few things in the title: the 'Kynurenine Metabolism' is a chemical pathway in the body, which can be activated by stress. It produces NAD+, an enzyme. This is manufactured from Tryptophan, an amino acid. NAD+ is involved the transfer of electrons from one molecule to another; the release of energy from nutrients; and as a novel neurotransmitter to communicate from nerves to effector cells in smooth muscle organs. Skeletal muscle-PGC-1α1 is a protein gene which mediates that pathway. Still with me?

In any human or mouse, exercise activates this Kynurenine Metabolism pathway, enhancing the conversion of Kynurenine to Kynurenic acid. Several of these Kynurenine outputs are associated with depression (higher levels of these = more likely to have depression). This mediation by exercise reduces Kynurenine plasma, and protects the brain from stress (as Kynurenine acid can't cross the blood brain barrier, but plasma could) and therefore has positive effects by reducing plasma-based brain change. So the importance is more acid, less other Kynurenine. PGC-1α1 also increases in skeletal muscle during exercise, so there is a dual effect of activation of the protein through exercise, and increase with muscle from consistent exercise.

So, more Kynurenine acid = better for your brain than Kynurenine plasma. 

To test this relationship, they then create mice that have more expression of the protein gene biologically. They find that these mice are resilient to stress-induced depression, as the gene induces Kynurenine Metabolism pathway expression - proof that the expression and creation of the acid has an effect on depression without the exercise. This is important because it proves causality in this pathway, not just correlation of the pathway activity and reduced depression chemicals. It also shows that PGC-1 α 1 controls plasma and the brain Kynurenine/Kynurenic acid balance. These mice are even resistant to straight injections of Kynurenine plasma

In layman's terms the muscles begin to act like the liver or kidneys and produce an enzyme, through this metabolic pathway, which clears out Kynurenine plasma linked to depression (by prioritizing the acid instead). There are a few caveats- this is tested in mouse stress induced depression (putting mice in a highly stressful environment and recording behavioural and stress hormone change). Whilst there are still parallels to human stress and depression (anxious environmental factors or high stress life events), there are some facets of clinical depression this does not mirror (day to day pervasive symptoms). Therefore take with consideration. However, stress is firmly linked to depression now, as inflammatory stress pathways modulate glutamate (a neurotransmitter) plasticity and transmission (both of which are very central to depression). The Kynurenine compounds mentioned also mediate glutamate and inflammatory circuits, probably in a negative way in the brain. So with more  Kynurenine acid compared to Kynurenine plasma, there is less effect on brain glutamate. 

Its fascinating how many things are going on inside us. We are a crazy mix of chemical relationships. On your next run, how about you have a think about your Kynurenine Metabolism?

If you are interested in running and mental health, check out this documentary footage of Simon Lamb bravely discussing his own issues with mental health and how running helped. He's amazing.

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Have you ever been effected by issues of mental health in your running? No pressure to share obviously!

How was this to read, too techy? Too simplified?

Please note if anything in the above is incorrect, I'd love to hear about it, I'm keen to learn :-) Physiological Pharmacology, whilst connected, isn't my exact area.