3 December 2010

Ice Skating.

Your first thoughts are probably of couples holding hands circling the rink at Rockefeller Center under the towering 74 foot Norway Spruce.

Most wouldn’t think immediately of ice skating  as being a fun, yet calorie-burning, cardiovascular system benefiting fitness activity.

Burning around 100 calories in just 15 minutes according to a Wellsphere article, ice skating offers loads of health benefits.

Skating improves endurance and muscle tone as well as aiding in mental fitness. It can also help to de-stress and increase alertness.

I took particular interest in this Ezine article which compares running to ice skating. According to the article, ice skating has similar aerobic and cardiovascular benefits to running. But, as a “low impact” exercise form, it’s not as hard on your joints.

So, why all the talk about ice skating?

I went ice skating with friends at the Somerset House ice rink last night. At first, I expected to be slightly bored due to the fact that we were scheduled to skate in circles on the relatively small rink for an entire hour.

I quickly changed my mind when I laced up my Nike skates and hit the ice chatting with friends and laughing at each others skating abilities.

The energy on the rink was electric and it was interesting in itself just to watch other skaters show off, fall down, cling to the railing and laugh with their friends.

The rink was gorgeous… of course Somerset House is gorgeous. They put up a giant Christmas tree and above the classical Victorian building, the word SKATE was lit up in a rosy glow.

After a few laps, I started feeling the pangs of rarely used muscles. It reminded me of rock climbing because I always ache after a climbing session in the weirdest places because you use muscles that hardly ever get tapped.

I took the day off from running yesterday, but I definitely got my workout in anyways!

The snow started falling about halfway through our session and the whole scene was even more picturesque.

It almost made me appreciate the snow and the cold weather.

Almost.

After trekking through the leftover hardened snow on the way to the gym this morning, I quickly remembered why I wasn’t so fond of it pre-skating.

But hey, I must admit there are certain advantages to living somewhere with actual seasons. Although, I say that while sitting in my cozy flat, wearing my PINK sweatpants and sipping my newly purchased Harrod’s rooibos tea…

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1 December 2010

Could running be more beneficial sans shoes?

Lee Saxby, a leading specialist in barefoot running, believes he has the evidence to prove this as fact.

Although he admits that barefoot running is not the panacea for running injuries, his research proves its undeniable benefits.

After attending Saxby’s seminar at The London Running Show, I think I finally understand the “bottom line” on the benefits of running barefoot.

“Every animal has a different series of locomotion,” says Saxby. For humans, this series starts at a walk, then progresses to a run and ends at a sprint. Now, a fourth type has emerged: jogging.

According to Saxby, jogging is what causes injuries. Joggers tend to be “heel strikers”. In other words, they land heel first on the ground and then rotate to the ball of the foot.

Saxby says this unnatural tendency is emerging due to high tech running shoes that make it comfortable for the wearer to adapt this gait.

“Barefoot running is basically a series of front footed jumps,” says Saxby, “When you’re barefoot, you’ll naturally stop landing on your heel.”

To proove the point that naturally, the body should land on the ball of the foot, Saxby asked the audience to take off their shoes and jump up and down.

No one landed on their heels.

The reason? It hurts. Without cushioned running shoes, heel striking is simply painful.

Although landing on the ball of the foot presents new problems (specifically for the achilles and plantar fascia), it is clear that it is better for the body to run on the ball of the foot, its natural tendency.

A main concern of embarking on barefoot running is worry over the elements. What if you step on broken glass or something equally damaging? “We don’t have hooves,” Saxby admits.

Currently the running shoe industry is searching for what Saxby calls the “perfect shoe solution”. The solution would be something minimal but with enough protection from the environment.

Check out some that are already available here.

Saxby says it will take a minimum of 6 weeks to internalize the process of running barefoot “correctly”.

If you want to try it yourself, Saxby is adament that “just throwing away your shoes is not the answer”. He urges that training is imperative to running barefoot AND injury free.

If you are up to the barefoot challenge, follow Saxby’s checklist to ensure you get the most of your experience:

Barefoot Checklist:

1. Posture – Saxby says your head should be leading, not your torso. Make sure your feet are directly underneath your hips.

2. Rhythm – imagine a metronome ticking and try to follow the beat for an even, rhythmic run.

3. Be relaxed – Everything above the hip joint should be “along for the ride”.

 

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30 November 2010

I woke up at 6:30 a.m. for my usual Tuesday morning 4-mile run. I had coffee, a cherry dark chocolate kashi bar and a banana, pulled on my nike leggings, strapped on my garmin and headed downstairs.

I secured my earbuds underneath my wool headband and opened the door to the flat to find this:

A winter wonderland. My first thought was that I would run through it. This clearly wasn’t an option as I quickly found that I wasn’t able to walk more than 2 steps without slipping on the freshly fallen (and still falling) snow.

Ok. No problem. This is why I have a gym membership.

So, I head to The Gym, just a five minute walk from the flat.

In order to keep the membership fees low, the gym isn’t always staffed and instead uses a pin number system for entry.

I tapped my pin into the keypad and waited. Nothing. I tried five hundred more times and the little glass door simply would not open.

At this point, I’m getting upset. I woke up at 6:30 a.m. to run and I want to run!

A couple came down the stairs and started to type in their numbers.

“Excuse me…” I said, “Could you check to see if there is any staff inside? My pin isn’t working.” They agreed and returned a few minutes later with a negative.

Not ready to give up, I caught a guy on his way out and asked if he had seen any employees inside, explaining my pin wasn’t working.

“Do you want mine?” He asked. Although not entirely in accordance with the rules, at this point I was desperate. Plus, I did pay for the membership…

I thanked him profusely and breathed a sigh of relief when the door slid open in front of me.

I hopped on a treadmill, did a few quick stretches and put Maroon 5 on my iPod.

A minute later, the volume on my iPod dropped to an inaudible level. I turned it back up. I watched the volume level on screen sink to zero yet again.

So, the moral of the story? Despite the snow, the non-working pin number AND no music, I logged my 4-miles.

Honestly, it was more draining then the ten I ran on Sunday. But, today’s run was also more rewarding. If I wasn’t training for a race, I might have been less adament about perservering but I’m glad I did.

Walking back to the flat, I realized I was so annoyed by the snow because of its impact on my run that I didn’t appreciate how pretty it was. This was the first snow of the season and despite the frustrations the snow can bring, I have to admit I can’t help but enjoy it at the same time.

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28 November 2010

Yesterday, I went to the London Running Show at The Olympia in Kensington.

I had multiple reasons for attending… first, to write a feature about it for my portfolio. Also, I wanted to meet some of the staff of Runner’s World UK and lastly, I was just generally interested in attending the seminars, shopping for gear and mingling with other runners.

The show was well worth the 9 pound entrance fee as I accomplished everything I came for and then some!

I met the Editor of Runner’s World and received a half marathon training plan from the Deputy Editor.

I attended a lecture on barefoot running (more on this in a later post!), spoke with staff of Women’s Running Magazine, met the author of Britain and the Olympic Games and his family, spoke with an organizer of the event AND got a free goody bag.

The training advice from Runner’s World was a really helpful. Matt, who advised me on training for the Disney Half Marathon, said he was thinking about running it as well.

Since the race is not far away (less than 6 weeks!), he advised me to up my long run right away. I admitted that today, I was planning on running 9. He said, “make it 10”.

Then, next week I should run 11, the next 12, the next 13, 13 again and then begin to taper.

This morning, I set out for Regent’s Park with 9 miles on the brain. With predictions of snow, I was a little nervous.

The park was frozen down to its very core (see photos below). My face was numb and I couldn’t feel my hands through my gloves.

When I arrived back at the flat, I was approaching 9.1 miles. Starbucks is exactly one mile from my flat.

So, I convinced myself to finish off the 10 miles by bribing myself with Starbucks.

Walking into Starbucks, the warmth and Christmas music hitting me simultaneously, I was so glad I squeezed in that extra mile.

I ordered a grande skinny chai tea latte with one pump of syrup and sat outside the O2 center waiting for the bus. Although freezing (26 degrees!!), the sun was shining and I was so happy to be holding my red Starbucks Christmas cup.

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25 November 2010

Before my Bikram class last night, I had the opportunity to interview my instructor.

I’m currently working on a portfolio for a class project which will include a profile piece. When deciding who to interview, I wanted to choose someone who would be entertaining yet really interesting to me personally.

As a regular student of Bikram yoga , I have done some research behind the practice. I’ve read Bikram’s latest book and even looked in to the qualifications required to teach classes.

I’m fascinated by Bikram himself in that it seems like there are so many contradictory opinions of him out there. I thought it would be fascinating to talk to someone who had met Bikram personally and who had been through the gruelling 9-week training course.

After interviewing my yoga instructor Paul, I found that I am not the only one who is perplexed by Bikram’s ideologies and personality.

Paul described Bikram, and his family, as “amazing” but noted that he felt it a little “strange” that Bikram copyrighted his 26 posture series. Paul says some teachers have said that he’s stayed too long in LA and has, in effect, changed.

But is it simply a money-making scheme?

Paul reminds us that, of course, there are always two sides of the coin. By copyrighting the series, he ensures that it will only be done his way, which he believes is the right way.

Your local YMCA can’t hire a college student with an 8-hour yoga training course under their belt to teach Bikram yoga.

Student’s can feel confident that wherever in the world they go to practice Bikram, it will be the same 26 postures, in the same 105 F degree room, with the same level of instructor.

There is definitely something positive to be said for that fact alone.

Paul, who is also a professional dancer and passionate about both fashion and photography, loves the practice regardless. “I just feel that this is right,” he says, “I feel at home.”

As Paul suggests, you don’t have to embrace the whole package to get the benefits of the practice. Take what you want from the ideologies behind it, practice yoga as often as you can and form your own opinions.

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22 November 2010

Yet another culinary Sunday afternoon…

I decided to try an old favorite quinoa salad recipe instead of attempting something new. I went with a black bean, tomato and cilantro variety that is really yummy! I did switch it up a little bit by substituting half the quinoa for bulgur.

After making the quinoa and bulgur salad with feta last week, I’ve decided that the two grains complement each other really well and create a great texture.

Click here for the recipe. It’s definitely worth trying and it’s relatively simple to make.

Switching gears, I got a little creative with dinner. I had a block of firm tofu in the fridge that was about to go bad, so I decided to be adventurous and branch out from recipes.

I marinated the tofu in balsamic vinegar with a dash of olive oil, some dried thyme, salt and pepper for about 3 hours. If trying this, make sure to dry the tofu first by putting the block between paper towels and applying pressure. Then, cut it into ½ inch thick slices.

Bake it at 190 C/375 F for 30 minutes, flipping the pieces over half way through.

Meanwhile, drizzle olive oil with chopped garlic over sliced eggplant and cherry tomatoes. Slip them into the oven on the upper racks, while the tofu remains at the bottom.

When the veggies are almost cooked through (about 25 minutes), take everything out of the oven and assemble in a square glass baking dish.

I layered the eggplant slices on the bottom, followed by the tofu, then another layer of eggplant.

Top it with the cherry tomatoes and add a generous amount of shredded mozzarella and a handful of breadcrumbs. A few basil leaves work as a garnish for the top.

Then, bake it for about 12 minutes (still at 190 c/375 f)… just until the cheese starts to melt.

It came out in neat square slices and was actually surprisingly good! It didn’t need extra oil or balsamic either.

It’s great by itself but it would also be good with a little marinara sauce!

 

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21 November 2010

9 Miles! It feels good to have worked back up to the level I was at over the summer. I ran faster than expected… all in all, it took me 1:31. According to Runner’s World, you should run 10% faster than your average pace during a race. If this holds true, I should be able to run 9 minute miles in the race and finish right around my 2-hour goal.

We’ll see…

Its funny because technology makes a lot of things having to do with running so much easier. For instance, the iPod makes running much more entertaining. The heart rate monitor can make it safer. The list goes on and on.

One of my favorite running tech gadgets is my Garmin GPS watch. It allows me the freedom of running wherever I want and not having to worry about how far I’ve gone. I can run in circles, out and back or simply meander around the neighborhood… My Garmin will do the calculations for me.

However, I find that I can get easily distracted by staring down at the little clock face keeping track of my pace at that exact instant. Its hard not to get caught up with thoughts of, “Now I’m only running 11 minute miles… better pick up the pace.” Then glancing down to see you’ve upped it to 8:30 minute miles and starting to worry you’ll tire out before the end of the run.

So today, as I headed towards Regent’s Park, I decided I would only look at the distance I’d covered and try not to glance at my current pace. I figured, I was going for distance and that worrying about speed would just be discouraging.

So, as a I came to a stop in front of the Car Phone Warehouse down the street from my flat, I was a little nervous to check my average pace from the run.

It was definitely a pleasant surprise to see that I had run it faster than expected. I think from now on, I’ll adopt this new method.

I’m sure sometimes I’ll be a little dissapointed, but as much as I’m so greatful for running technology, sometimes its nice not to have all of the distractions!

Maybe I’ll even run without the watch every once in a while. I definitely don’t think I could make it without the iPod though…

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