Sunday, 31 January 2016

Run Clare 2016 - Race 1: 5K Resolution Run

Last year saw a new type of race series on the scene, Run Clare. 4 races over 4 months bringing participants from 5km to 5 miles (8km), to 10km to 10 miles (16km) around four different parts of Co. Clare. I loved last years race series so signed up for the 2016 edition without hesitation. Yesterday was the first race of the series, following the same 5km course of last year.

Myself and Sinead arrived close to the start line 30 minutes before the kick off (11am) in the hopes of getting a warm up in but instead we hid from the cold wind and hailstones in the comfort of my warm car until ten to. This was my first chipped road race since the marathon in Sixmilebridge over two months ago so I was looking forward to getting back out there (and for a much more manageable distance).

Myself and Sinead heading to the Start Line (Pic from John O'Neill's Facebook - link)

The race started shortly after 11am as we headed out the old Lahinch Road for 2km before heading back in on the (new) Lahinch Road. I had set out with the hopes of getting home within 25 minutes (5:00/km) but I was happily clocking up sub 4:45/km as I powered through the run. Running always makes me feel great after the fact but I'd forgotten the drive to keep pushing during a run as over the past two months, most of my runs have been in the 5:30 - 6:00/km range. I got home at 23:30 which I was extremely happy with all things considering.

Afterwards I was delighted to see Paula (the girl I had ran a few laps in Sixmilebridge). She had just clocked a 5K PB which always makes for a happy runner. After a cooldown and chat with Sinead, Eugene and Catherine - we headed back to the car and made it home before it started raining again! Another great event with plenty of water and bananas at the finish line (whats not to love about a free banana!). I'm looking forward to the next race, the 5 miler in Quilty.

Myself, Catherine and Sinead :)

Sunday, 17 January 2016

(Almost) Point-Free Butternut Squash Soup Recipe

Since my better half showed me how to make soup, its become a staple in our house. One batch makes 8+ portions. These can be frozen so make for a handy lunch - just grab one from the freezer in the morning and heat up in the microwave at work for a quick easy lunch. I usually have it with 2 slices of bread (5SP) but you could have it with a salad or slimbo for less points.

  • 2 x Onions
  • 2 x Celery Sticks
  • 2 x Carrots
  • 1 Butternut Squash
  • 1 Chilli (optional)
  • 3 x Knorr Veg Stock Pot
  • Peel and chop the carrots, celery and onions
  • Peel, de-seed and dice the Butternut Squash & Chilli
  • Fry carrots, celery & onions in a pot with a splash of oil for 2-3 minutes
  • Boil kettle and add 1.5l of boiling water to pot 
  • Add Butternut Squash
  • Add 3 Veg Stock Pots
  • Bring Pot to the Boil then reduce head and leave to simmer for 15-20 minutes
  • When cool, blitz in a blender

The best thing about this recipe is that you can replace the Butternut Squash with whatever type of veg you fancy. Keep the 2 onion, 2 celery, 2 carrot base and then if you'd prefer Carrot Soup, add a load of chopped carrots. If you'd rather tomato soup, add 2 tins of plum tomatoes and 6 whole tomatoes. Its a great way to use up any extra veg you have lying around!

Disclaimer: The Knorr Veg Stock Pots are 2SP each so in adding three, the entire pot becomes 6SP. I always track my soup as 1SP a bowl so it is almost (but not really) point-free. 

Give it a try. Honestly, its super easy to make and the batch will cover your lunch for the week, saving you time and money when it comes to lunch time.

Wednesday, 13 January 2016

Weight Watchers SmartPoints - My Thoughts

I've been on the Propoints program for the past three years and I loved it because it worked for me. While one could argue 'Why change something isn't broken?', after nearly two weeks on the new program, I really like the shift WW have taken towards a better overall diet as opposed to simply calorie counting. 

I've been hearing a fair bit of doubt surrounding the new SmartPoints program which was introduced here in Ireland last week so I was curious to see what it was all about. The primary difference is that the points attributed to an item of food is no longer just based on the calories in it. In the past, I always used the crude-but-reliable formula of 40kcal = 1pp rule when in doubt. The new program is so much smarter.

The new SmartPoints program

Now, the base value of any food is calculated from the calories in it (as before) but sugar & saturated fats increase its value while protein reduces it. Zoe (from 59lbs to Go) sums it up perfectly: "So what you are left with for the most part is processed foods being higher in smart points, and fresh natural foods being lower."

The next difference to the program (and my favourite) is that there is a greater focus being placed on activity. Move (and FitPoints) encourage people to move more and earn FPs which are NOT cashed in for food. Exercise doesn't cancel out food choices so moving more isn't an excuse to eat more. I love this and think this was what was missing in the old program. If you don't exercise, you still lose weight on following the program so why would you exercise and then cross off its benefits straight away by eating. (Side note: If you are doing high-intensity workouts multiple times a week, WW do recommend you swap some FP's for food to account for the amounts of energy you are expending).

Another difference to the program is the focus on inner well-being, positive mindset & being nicer to yourself. Learn from your mistakes by looking back at the week just gone by and seeing what worked well... what didn't. What one thing can you use from last week to make this week better? 

On a personal level, what I love the most about the program is that it shakes things up enough to make me have to step back and start again. The problem which clogged my 'well-oiled WW machine' was when I stopped tracking. I know tracking works, I know it keeps me in the bounds of the playing pitch yet for the past couple of months, I've been turning a blind eye to how many points I was spending/carelessly throwing away.

Its easy to think 'That lunchtime treat of a Curly Wurly is only 3PP, two chocolate digestives at coffee break are only 4PP etc' but over the course of a day, you'd easily have 20+ propoints notched up without even thinking about it. Having to go back and calculate the SmartPoints in everything has made me really look at something and think 'Is it really worth it?'... then add in the fact my Curly Wurly is now 6SP and each chocolate digestive is 4SP. 

I'm only two weeks into the new program but from what I know so far, I think this is a fantastic move in the right direction for a weight-loss program to take. I'm a believer in 'Think Healthy' instead of 'Think Skinny' and this program takes a giant step in that direction. I'm looking forward to being healthier in 2016 - even if that means I have to cut down on the number of Curly Wurly's I have...

First weigh-in of 2016

Sunday, 10 January 2016

Slieve Aughty 13km Hill Run

I couldn't really think of a better way to kick off the new year than with a 13km hill run (thats a joke by the way). Phil mailed me during the week challenging me to the run around Slieve Aughty (which is located between Gort and Loughrea) and I'm not going to lie... I was interested! 2016, new year, something new so why not? Myself and Phil headed off for the Start Line well before 10am but encountered lots of flooded roads and detours along the way which meant we only arrived at registration less than 15 minutes before kick off. 

About 100 gathered at the start line for the 11am kick-off where both the 13km and 6km participants took off together. I knew the first 2.5km was uphill but I had no idea what was in store of me. We took off with great gusto but I don't think I'd reached the first km marker and I was already feeling dead. The ground was so soft it made it so difficult to run through. My feet were soaking and covered in mud and I only had another 12km to go! We were running uphill through bog, streams and field crap, skidding, slipping and tripping over. Just before the 2.5km marker, the route split and honestly I've never considered packing in a race before but it took some inner strength to keep on the 13km path as we continued uphill.

The view from the 2.5km mark (with other runners making their way up behind me)

From there, the next 2.5km was through bog, field and trees - I really can't believe the difference it made both to my energy and time. The chat was great between other participants as we complained and navigated our way off-road, through streams and around tree branches. 

My feet, half way through the run

At 5km, we came onto a dirt track and there was a water stop (like an oasis in the desert) before continuing for the next 3km through the wind turbines atop Slieve Aughty. It was awesome - and nice to use the road to pick up some pace as the past few kms were quite slow. One of the most surreal parts of the run was running up-hill directly under on the turbines - you could feel the wind coming off the blades as it spun.

The Wind Turbines

We went back off road at 8km and I knew the next few kilometres were going to be like the first few - only this time we were going downhill and I was more prepared for it. As the majority of the runners were ahead of me at this stage, the path was well worn out which made it slippier and (I think) more of a challenge. There were two parts in particular where you had to go down through a stream and I slipped on both. I was more worried about making sure I didn't lose my car key which was foolishly in my (zipless) shorts pocket. Th ecourse turned out on to the main track shortly after we had started on for the final 2km descent back to the start line. It was messy and I went over on the same ankle twice (ouch). 

Downhil from here

I crossed the finish line at 1:47:45 - bananas. I've ran half marathons faster but never under these conditions. I still can't tell if I enjoyed the experience or not but it most certainly was something new. We finished up in the main hall (after washing my shoes/feet in a nearby stream) where we were treated to hot coffee, sandwiches and jaffa cakes - what more would you want after two hours up a mountain! At least it didn't rain or else it would have been hell mountain...

Route Map and Elevation (from my Garmin)

Monday, 4 January 2016

Do the best you can...

It's January, the start of a fresh year, like blank diary waiting to filled with adventures, worries and plans, new contacts, doodles and so much more. While I'm not really a 'new years resolutions' kinda guy, I do love the energy and the excitement of potential change radiating from others at this time of year. From my own experience, change has always come at the most unexpected times so I'm not focusing much energy on resolutions as I know change can happen and is possible any time throughout the year.

It's Monday, the first one of the year. I'm back at work and tomorrow is the dreaded first weigh-in of the year. It's going to be painful, I know it! Again, I know from my past experience that the hardest step is always the first one and I already know its going to be painful to stand up on the scales and take whatever gain shows on the scales. And again, I know from my past experience that what I do in the face of this information is entirely under my control. I can accept it and move on, I can begrudgingly accept it and halfheartedly work with the program OR I can give it everything I have.

My philosophy has always been:

I found myself re-reading over old blog posts and like flicking back through pages of old diary, I can with 20:20 vision identify whatever I was working through and how it contributed (or hindered) my path to whatever goal I was working towards. For my first post in 2014 (link) I wrote about exploring more and experiencing new things: "My Goal for 2014 will not be to reach a goal because of the person it will make me once I reach it but rather to understand the person I am becoming.". I went on in 2014 to run my fastest marathon, I start cycling and did the Ring of Kerry, I got married. I grew, I changed.

I started 2015 slightly deflated after a few lackluster months (link) comparing my motivation (and weight loss) to building a lego castle. "The hardest step is always the first one. The second hardest step has to be the one where you decide to keep going even when you can't see the finish line. Here comes the cold hard fact - There is no finish line.". 

When did I become obsessed with the finish line! I suppose it's hardly a surprise for a runner to focus on finishing but the thing is I've always known that weight is not concrete and it will continue to change. Being healthy is more important to me than being a certain weight - but at some point weight does your ability to be healthy (and happy). 

The truth is I don't know what I weigh today. I (intentionally) skipped the last class before Christmas (23rd of December) and have gone completely AWOL over the Christmas period. That's three weeks free-reign. *yikes* I guess whats important is that I'm ok with that. I'm not one for guilt and I know if I was talking to anyone else in my situation, I'd encourage them to get back on the wagon - so thats exactly what I'm going to do for myself. I did the best I could last year and even if I didn't, I can't change the past, I did the best I could and now I am doing the best I can by catching myself after a three week WW-free holiday.

I'll deal with tomorrow's weigh-in when I get there. For today, I've started back tracking. I am really looking forward to starting the new Smartpoints program - if you want an overview, pop over to The Skinny Doll's blog post which is excellent!