31/03/2015

She's Got Gumption: Neah Evans

I started a series of posts, interviewing people I find inspiring and aiming to learn from them. The previous interviewees are Cat Simpson and Susie Chan.

This one is a little different. I'm going to highlight someone with very little online presence. Someone who I personally adore in real life: Neah Evans. Neah started as a runner. Well, actually, she started as a general all-round athlete. Her family are highly active and she has been involved in a huge variety of sports. She and I met running for the university team and it was close to love at first sight. She was a brilliant runner, especially on the hills. Neah has recently left the world of running behind to become a competitive cyclist, in between working as a vet. She is a total inspiration to me- strong, clever, funny. What a gal.

Neah and I at Scot Unis

On Cycling

Okay, you know I know nothing about the world of cycling. What exact kind of cycling races do you do?

I am a track sprinter.  The main events I will do are match sprints, team sprint, keirin, and 500m time trial. All this takes place in velodromes on fixed gear bikes with no brakes. It's a mix of top speed, acceleration and tactics.

What does a week of your training look like?

It depends a lot on work and what events are coming up- my program is about to change to be even more sprinter-specific. Currently I will do 20 mins on the rollers every morning, 2 or 3 road rides of around 1.5 hours, 2 or 3 gym sessions (squats, dead lifts and leg press is the main focus) and 2 or 3 track sessions per week. I will stretch and do some very basic yoga most evenings.

Does it include any cross training or strength training?

I do strength training mainly at the gym but some of the sessions I will do on the bike are designed for strength. Track cycling is very specific so I don't really do cross training. (I do a little because I enjoy it rather than it helping cycling).

What is your diet like during training? During life?

On the whole my diet is fairly good. I work hard to get enough protein as I'm a vegetarian but I haven't had any issue with this. I should probably mix it up more- my staple is porridge and a lot of fruit for breakfast, omelet and quinoa with salads for lunch, and either banana pancakes or protein shake for dinner with a lot of coffee, cereal bars and nuts for snacks.... and of course some cake.

Neah at the Revolution Series where she came 3rd. Photo Credit: Robyn Stewart

Photo Credit: Robyn Stewart

Its no secret that training for any racing takes time and energy, would you say you've sacrificed anything to be as good as you are?

For sure, I'm still relatively new to cycling but I have missed parties, hanging out with friends, seeing family; all to race or even train. My friends are very understanding as many of them are sporty as well, so are very supportive.

What has been your best moment in cycling so far?

As I'm still new to it (only started racing  beginning of last year). I did a race in January where I finished 3rd (beaten by an Olympic medalist and a current British squad member). It was very fun racing with people of such high caliber, and also in front of a large crowd.  But the so far the best moment was when I found out that I've been selected on to the Scottish performance program.



On Running

What was your proudest achievement running?

I have had so many highs from running. I have won the under 23 hill running championship twice now which is cool. My first win was very special it was a low-key hill race but of a decent standard, my parents had also raced and won their categories. It was a very good family day out, it was lovely to have them see me win my first race.

Okay, I'm going to hit you straight here- do you miss it?

Yes. (Now I feel bad for asking!)

Is there anything you don't miss?

Not really I just loved running.

Racing on the hills
On Competing

What do you do to prepare mentally for racing?

There is nothing I do specifically, I run through the plan in my head. This is more for organisation, I'm a great believer in just winging it.

What have been your favourite and least favourite competition experiences? Why?

It's hard to have a favourite to least favourite, as every event is so individual. So long as I feel I have done my best I'm happy. I complete because I love it- for every low there is a high.

 Do you have a competitive spirit with other racers, or are you trying to beat yourself?

I'm super competitive, mainly against myself, but I do like to beat others.


Would you say racing for running and racing for cycling are quite different? Or do they have more in common than we'd think?

They are very different. The training, race prep, even how the races unfold are very different. You can go into a running race knowing who is out and predict fairly well how it's going to go, you really can't do this with cycling. Even the post-race feeling is different.

Whats Next?

Whats the next race, the next challenge?

My main target this year is the British champions in September.

Would you ever get into triathlon? It seems like many people in your two sports do.

I have been asked this a lot, I would really like to do one at some point but it won't be for a while; I find it hard enough to have the time to train well for one sport, so three would be difficult!

What other dreams do you have in sports in general?

I don't have time to dream!!! I'm keeping my head down and training hard, will just have to wait and see where I end up. I want to be the best I can be- if this means I can compete at world cups and Olympics then great, if not so long as I have done my best I can't ask for more.

Showing off her enviable yoga skills.

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Thank you so much Neah for taking the time to reply to my questions.



So lessons from Neah to you: eat well, train hard, don't let dreaming stop you working hard towards what you want. And, lastly, there's nothing that wrong with just winging it. You can follow Neah on twitter here.


Who inspires you?


27/03/2015

Buff Headwear Review



Buffs are an outdoor classic. A high-functioning classic- more vintage Land Rover than Bentley. I can remember stealing my dad's arrow-print Buff to keep warm on the hills when I was only 3 ft tall. Charmingly simple, multi-functional headwear; made of nothing but polyester microfibre fabric and a clever concept. Recently, kitshack.com very kindly sent me a piece of Buff headwear to review.

I already own three Buffs- a reflective one in neon; a fleece-lined one in bright pink/orange; and, as of last weekend, a Wee County Harriers number (really an excellent alternative to a tee shirt or medal). However, I am a vain creature visually-minded individual, so when they told me to take a look at the range I jumped straight to the Nuwara Women's Slimfit+, which had a gorgeous pattern and colour. I'm a big fan of teal so it will match a lot of my existing gear (I also loved the Duha). The slimfit is deliberately narrower, which is an asset to me as some of the originals slip off my chin when used as a mouth covering.

Used as a headband out running



Also wearing Nike Twist Tempos || Brooks Pure Cadence || Craghopper Compresslite

Neither of my other Buffs are true Buff headwear items and I could immediately tell the difference. This Buff was softer, more elastic, and vibrantly coloured. The main selling point for athletes is that Buffs really are insanely versatile. They are just a tube of polyester microfibre. But, they're just a tube that I personally have used for; running, skiing, hiking, sailing, biking, and climbing- mostly in the winter cold, but also once to cycle in 40-degree Turkish heat. Just a tube that can be used as a neck warmer, pulled up over the mouth and /or nose, as a head band (I frequently use them to keep my ears warm), as a bandana, as a balaclava, and as a wristband (see below video for all possible uses). These tubes are wind resistant. They dry very quickly. They wick sweat when its hot and keep you warm if its cold.




If you start an activity then find you don't need one, Buffs weigh less than nothing to keep on the arm or down a bra (35g, don't say you don't do this) or in a pocket. They pack very small and are light in a daypack. They are also comfortable and stylish for daily wear- I wear my new one with a leather jacket too.

The pleasure really is in the simplicity. Good design in a good material and it does all that.

ETA: other things people now have suggested as uses: boob tube; hayfever blocker; sleep mask; sand mask; anti-chafe 'down under' (not sure what he meant by that...)

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Do you own a Buff? 

What other pieces of kit would you say are essentials?


+ The Buff was c/o kitshack; this post was not sponsored- the company requested only an honest review in return for a gifted Buff of my choice. As I stated, I already own Buffs so was already a fan. No links are affiliate.

24/03/2015

Exercise: Am I an Addict?

I recently came across These Girls Do's post on Exercise Addiction vs Dedication (<<< go read it!) and it really made me think. I commented on the post itself but then couldn't stop musing on about it. It linked in to a lot of my own confusion over the term, and a lot of the conflict I experience with other people about exercise too.

Exercise Addiction is not currently a recognised disorder; and for good reason. Its definition spectrum is just too vague and would apply to a huge number of entirely healthy, some would say extremely healthy, athletes. So when does exercise become an issue? Is it automatically a problem if something is addictive? Our environment is full of things which could qualify as addictions- food types, exercise, even people. When does it become a bad thing?

It is suggested that exercise has to be 'to a damaging degree'; 'physically damaging'; or 'excessive to qualify as an exercise addiction. This to me is so vague that it is flinch-worthy. Technically all exercise does micro physical-damage. Do you mean 'painful', as in you are injured but continue? 'Painful', as in your muscles hurt? 'Painful', as in you're struggling uphill and your heart is racing but you know it'll be worth it?

This is mentioned in pairing with not having 'adequate' rest. However, what is 'adequate' differs dramatically by person, and by activity variance. I don't take a lot of rest days, but the exercise I do is extremely varied in both content and intensity, so I'm rarely straining the same things. Excessive is not a single definition, but again highly variable by person. Friends who don’t exercise, in particular, say I’m obsessed because I work out 5-6 times a week. They do not factor in that I have slowly worked up to that, and because they see exercise as punishment, they do not understand the happiness I get from it.

This line of thought also exposes a dangerous assumption- many articles discussing the phenomenon seem to find it difficult to justify a lot of exercise done by a non-elite athlete. Is it not justifiable if you're not that good? What if you're training to be better? In fact, what if you aren't training for a single dang thing? I'd argue that there is nothing wrong with exercise for the joy of it.

Other potential 'problem' signs in the literature include experiencing exercise withdrawal, or getting a "buzz"from exercise. Now, I don't know a single athlete who doesn't miss training when injured. But its not just that they miss the training. When I am out of exercise I miss moving, I miss my friends, I miss the outdoors. I feel sluggish and crappy. Yes, yes I do get a high from exercise but I get that when its the only session I've done a week or when I've done one every day. Do we suggest its an addiction because of that feeling? Is seeking something that makes you feel that good really a bad thing? The same could apply to your job when you've pulled off an epic presentation, to you boyfriend or girlfriend when you kiss, to your friends when they've made you laugh so hard your abs hurt.

Another behaviour included on the Exercise Addiction Inventory (Terry, Szabo & Griffiths, 2004) is exercise being used as a way to change mood. If that's wrong I'm not sure I want to be right, there is nothing in the world like a great run after a shitty day, or boxing it out at Muay Thai.

Having fun in all 3 cases
Experts do comment that exercise can be a "positive addiction" - defined as having a healthy adaptation to the barriers to exercise: commitments to work, family, relationships etc which compete for time. I would argue this is where I am. But this does mean I tick another box on that peskyinventory;  Terry, Szabo & Griffiths (2004) say exercise is a problem when it interferes with your relationships. When is 'interference' happening? Its hard to say. Certainly, as I've suggested, I do experience tension in some relationships because of it. Almost invariably in relationships with people who don't work out.

I know some of my friends think my exercise is troublesome if it means I can't/won't stay out late, or 'have' to leave shopping to go to the climbing wall. The thing is, honestly, exercise is part of my fun. There are times where I would rather exercise than go shopping, or go see that film. Not because I feel compulsively about it, because I genuinely will have a great time. Similarly, I’m going to Italy in the summer and am already planning on doing the vertical km course. Some people will say, “its a holiday, stop working out”, but I genuinely WANT to do it. To me a great holiday would include exercise, its my down time. This conflict will not make me lose these people as friends, but it does loosen the bonds between us, and strengthen the bonds between me and people who Get It. As These Girls Do pointed out, “If we judged excessive exercise by the general population, anyone training for anything would be counted as addicted”. We can't judge addiction by the majority here.

Perhaps the only section of the literature that I can understand is the differentiation between exercise addiction through addict-type properties and through compulsion. Compulsive exercisers don't get any joy from it. Its a chore and relentless. I don't think it is healthy to be like that. Exercise takes up a huge part of my week. At the start I tried to fit exercise in because it was healthy, now I have it narrowed down to sports and classes which I love. I wouldn't dedicate 6 hours of my week to something I didn't love.

It is suggested that exercise addictions show a high comorbidity with eating disorders. If anything in this case I'd list the exercise addiction as a feature of the ED- another purging behaviour. This is obviously dangerous. That said, I have seen people for whom a sport helped them get out of their disordered eating. The other situation where I wholeheartedly believe exercise dependence could be dangerous is if someone continues to exercise through trauma or medical conditions. That said, I've exercised through injury. Bet you have too.

I can be very touchy about exercise commentary. I fullheartedly believe I have no issues with exercise and that my exercise is healthy and not over the top. I have trained up to this, I love all of it. It can make me bristle when people question it. Sitting on the sofa does damage too. Shows on TV and sugar filled foods are addictive too. Yet I'm not allowed to pass comment on that. It can also make me sad when people react to my running up a hill with, "Urgh, why do that to yourself?!", when to them did the joy of movement become a punishing chore?

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Sorry for the massive, slightly tangent- filled post.

Where would you draw the line between addiction and healthy habit?

Is your exercise addiction a healthy one?

20/03/2015

Dumgloyne Hill

On Monday morning N and I set off on an adventure. We are both busy people, with insane lives. And we missed each other. So we did what only maniacs will do- we made a plan to go run up a hill before our respective works started on Monday morning. You should see the texts- they contain a lot of exclamation marks, kisses, and general excitement. We chose Dumgoyne- close to Glasgow, short, sharp and sweet. 

Dumgoyne

Shows you the gradient of this hill!
Honestly, the up loop of Dumgoyne was a hike, not a run. We wanted a chat, it was first thing on a Monday, and we were un-bothered about timing. Additionally, my girl N was meant to be saving her legs for a cycling training camp abroad... we'll see about that. Shes mega-fit though so I doubt it was an issue. 



We got to the top, larked about on the trig point, then swooped downhill, laughing. 

Like a swan.

Titanic theme tune moment

Sorry for extreme blurryness; phone was not enjoying the fog
There's not really much more to add. I don't have any stats or a training plan or anything. I didn't take a watch up.  I'll let the green mossy hills speak for me. It sounds strange to say, but I feel that this kind of exposure to the wilds almost insures me against the working week. 

All I know is this- I went to bed on Sunday night feeling stressed to the eyeballs about the coming week, and I got to my desk on Monday morning calm and happy, with secretly muddy legs. The magical combination of hills and friends!

Edit: Coincidentally, today is actually International Day of Happiness. Do things that make you happy. This made me happy. 

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Do you find nature protective against stress?




17/03/2015

My 'Home Gym' + Workout

Firstly and foremost, 'home gym' is an extremely grandiose term. This post should truthfully read "What fitness equipment lies around in our living room for my loving partner to trip over on his way to the kitchen"*.

I have the following gym equipment at home to work into quick home bodyweight workouts. All of it was very cheap, and is not advanced gear, but is useful to target specific things. I've also designed a 25 minute workout that can be done using bodyweight and this minimal equipment, which I will show you guys below!

Not pictured: super cheap hand weights; cause I forgot them. 


Skipping Ropes

These ropes cost me 79 pence from home bargains. I am not kidding, they are the number one cheap as bit of equipment. They are also a fantastic cardio option and can help you work up quite a sweat in very little time. If you have a spare 10 minutes only to work out, I cannot recommend skipping enough. Its also an excellent warm up option. Honestly, these have lasted well. I've seen 10 quid ropes break; 79p seems absolutely fine.

Skip option 1: jump with both feet

Skip option 2: skip one foot at a time

Resistance Band

This is a maximum strength band and functions in two useful ways for home or park workouts: it adds work to otherwise easy moves and it can be used in stretching, particularly if you are not super bendy. Yes, that's me. I got this from Amazon and it cost £2. Its also very useful for travel as it is extremely light and occupies almost no space when packed.

Light Weights

Now, obviously these are not going to cut it for heavy workouts. Heavy weights cost more money, which is why I do not own any. These were a TK Maxx bargain (around a fiver?), but have to be used carefully to get any kind of efficacy. Please note I FORGOT them for the photos, so they are represented by bits of tree in their absence.

Foam Roller

Again, this was picked up at TK Maxx for a minimal amount of money (£15) and so far it seems to hold up well. It works the same way as the far more expensive trigger point rollers do- with chunky sections to break up tense muscle fibers.

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Workout time! This is a leg and arms circuit, with skipping cardio intervals. Each strength set is 5 minutes, including the stretch period; for 25 minutes total.

Round 1

1 minute skipping
1 minute front squat with band*
1 minute shoulders circuit- curl; fly; circle repeat 10s each
1 minute bent row with band
30s skipping
30s rest

Straight curl the 'weights' up, fly out to here, then circle the arms here

Upright row- back straight and pull the bands up with elbows close

* For this put the band over shoulders then under feet to cause a pull down into the squat- my band was not long enough!

Round 2

1 minute skipping
1 minute banded clamshells
1 minute tricep flys with weights
1 minute push up with band
30 skipping
30s rest

Clams- keep heels together.
Tricep Fly: Keep arm close to body and raise right up, hinging at elbow.

Sorry this is so blurred. Band goes over back and under hands.

Round 3

1 minute skipping
1 minute lateral band walk
1 minute lunge rotate with weights
1 minute shoulder press with band*
30s skipping
30s rest

Walk sideways with band around ankles.

Squat down.

Lunge and rotate torso towards front leg holding your 'weights' central to the body. 
* Again mine was not long enough, goes under feet with yourself in squat position and press hands up from shoulder into the air.

Round 4

1 minute skipping  (4 min 30s)
1 minute glute bridge with band
1 minute press up position weight raises
1 minute skullcrushers with band
30s skipping
30s rest

Band above the knees for the bridge
Lift 'weight' straight up, arm stays close in to body.
Arms go from straight up to hands at face, bending at elbow, keep elbows in together.

Warm Down and Stretch

Hamstrings- classic stretch can be deepened w resistance band (30s minimum each leg- band around foot sole instead of holding the leg)
Quads w resistance band (30s minimum each leg- band around ankle held over shoulder at hands)
Upper back and arm stretch (1 min- triceps)
Foam roll quads (30s min each leg- face down rolling along the quad)
Foam roll ITBS (30s min each leg- rolling hip> knee and back up along side of body)
Foam roll lower back (1 minute- lying on it rolling up back and down again)

Phew! Hope you enjoyed that. Is there any equipment I'd add? Not for now, but if I were to lose easy access to a cheap gym (with all classes included- uni sport is a great deal), I would add kettlebells; an exercise matt; and a step. If money were no object I would have a pimped out gym with TRX cords and boxing pads too! In another life I guess...

Vest Adidas || Leggings Sweaty Betty+ || Shoes Brooks Pure Cadence

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What home gym equipment do you have? How do you use it?


*Bonus points go to weights as a toe stubbing master race and to foam rollers for, well, rolling when you step on them.
+ Crosses indicate items I was gifted