Chicago Marathon Training Essentials

about to go for a run- marathon training run

Garmin Forerunner 220

I trained for and ran 4 marathons with my Garmin Forerunner 305 and I LOVED it. Sadly, it didn’t love running anymore and would take ages to find satellites, became slightly erratic and had a terrible battery life. I actually threw it in the bin in Berlin after the Berlin Marathon.

When Watch Shop got in touch asking if I’d like to choose a watch from their vast collection, I knew it was the perfect opportunity to replace my Grandpa Garmin with a snazzy new purple one- the Garmin Forerunner 220. It seems to have signal all the time which is an absolute revelation (I can actually start running as soon as I leave the house).

Garmin Forerunner 220

This lightweight beauty is easy to use (even for this technophobe) with proper buttons (touch screen watches and I do not get on!), with options to see pace, time, distance (both miles & kilometres) lap time (you set the lap distance- great for speedwork) it does everything I need it to. Plus you can hook up a heart rate monitor or foot pod if you’re using stride or heart rate training. There’s also the option to set workouts using your Garmin Connect or a manual training plan with prompts for pre-determined targets such as pace, heart rate or distance! Pretty cool.

There’s a 10 hour GPS battery according to the manufacturers, however the watch goes into sleep mode if you stop for a certain amount of time to save battery- perfect for people who get back from a run, throw their watch off and forget about it until their next run!
For the most in-depth review of the Garmin Forerunner 220 you will EVER read- check out DC rainmaker’s blog. Seriously, any watch you’re thinking about, he has a review.

They’re currently on sale for £143 on – highly recommended.

Adidas Ultra Boost
Adidas Ultra Boosts
Another tried and tested old favourite, my Adidas Boost have got an upgrade in the form of purple Ultra Boost (I can see a colour theme emerging for the Chicago Marathon!). To avoid over wearing the colourful pair I’ll be wearing on race day, I’ve also got a pair in black to wear for a number of training runs, especially muddy ones.

I love the springiness and comfort of Adidas Ultra boost but know they aren’t supportive enough for everyone to run long distances in. The knitted upper provides a sock like fit, moving as your foot moves, with the support sitting outside of the shoe on the mid-foot and back.
The waffle tread, and signature ‘boost’ bounce creates a comfortable, stable shoe that I can wear for miles and miles.

Adidas Ultra Boost running
If you do need a more supportive shoe for long runs, I really recommend an Ultra Boost for your shorter distance training runs.

Halo Headbands

Halo Headbands
I hate my hair sometimes- and keeping it out of my way while I run is a constant battle. Pony, plait, bun, down… I was recently sent some new hairbands to try out, and much to my surprise, really liked them. They come in a variety of widths, and have a non-slip band underneath them to prevent them falling backwards. I have a weird issue with ears and always wear hairbands over my ears to prevent them sticking out, which can be quite painful- these were comfortable laying on top of my ears even for a 13 mile run. They run quite big for my small head which was actually a bonus as I didn’t get a post-run headache of any sort.

mesh leggings fabletics
Mesh leggings
I’m obsessed with mesh right now. I bought some amazing crop leggings from Fabletics that have mesh cut out bits over the upper thighs.

I also got some pretty awesome long leggings from Lululemon where the whole back panel from thigh down is mesh. Perfect for this weather providing breathability but coverage- I actually wore these during my very wet 13 miler on Sunday. (I can’t find these online yet, but similar here!)

Strategic Water Breaks
For some reason I am not loving running with my hydration pack at the moment, I feel so slow and clunky with it on. During my runs I am taking a water bottle with me for my warm up mile, hiding it somewhere sneaky, then lapping back past it after a few miles. On Sunday’s run I made a pit stop at Sainsbury’s for water and Haribo around mile 8! I haven’t yet decided what I’ll do for Chicago but with water stops every mile, I may just rely on the aid stations or give Tom a bottle filled with water incase I change my mind!

What are your running essentials? Do you have a favourite watch type or trainer that you rely on? 

Guest Post: How I Lost 2 Stone (30lbs) & Started Running

Jo and Charlie Pretty Muddy

I am so excited to have one of my best friends, Jo, guest posting on the blog today. She just completed her first ever 5K lastt Saturday. She has an amazing weight loss/transformation story and I am so thrilled that she agreed to share it on my blog. Also if you’re interested in nail art, go check out her amazing nail blog (she’s the one that paints my nails before each of my marathons!)

I’ve written a guest post for Charlie before, but this time it’s a little different. This time Charlie asked me to write about something very personal…my weight. Well, not specifically my weight, more the journey I’ve been on over the past year to change my diet and lifestyle, but what that comes down to for me is my weight.

Around this time last year I had been avoiding the scales for months. As my size crept up I was too scared to look so I just ignored the problem. I love food, especially junk food. As all my friends moved towards more healthy and active lifestyles I continued my bad eating habits and became even more sedentary than ever. The year before I had overturned my lifestyle quite successfully, went to the gym regularly and ate better than I ever had. Unfortunately as I got more comfortable in a long term relationship the drive to maintain this fell and combined with a new job I just started to slowly slip back into my old ways.

The event that highlighted the situation to me was an 8 mile training walk for the Three Peaks Challenge that I had agreed to participate in with Charlie and some of our other friends. I knew I would need to up my fitness before completing it but didn’t realise quite how pathetic I was until our training walk. It was a boiling hot day, and very hilly, and I struggled immensely. It shocked me how unfit and unhealthy I was. I had to pull out of the Three Peaks as I knew I couldn’t participate safely and would put the rest of the group in a difficult position. It was shortly after this that I decided things had to change. I look so unhappy in this photo!

Jo Three Peaks Challenge

The Diet:

My boyfriend (now fiancé!) Tom was always trying different diet plans and tried to get me involved but I continually resisted. Eventually he found the 4 Hour Body (Slow Carb) and it seemed to really work. It wasn’t until I found a friend’s blog (Ash Cooks Slow Carb) which provided tons of yummy Slow Carb recipes that I decided enough was enough and I would have to join him.

The 4 Hour Body is a plan designed by Tim Ferriss and features in his book, which I must admit I’ve never actually read. I relied on Tom to educate me on the key points of the diet plan, which meant that I might not have been doing it 100% ‘accurately’ but I was doing what worked for me.

Key Points:

  • 6 days a week on diet, 1 day off (Cheat Day!)
  • On diet:
    • 30 grams of protein within 30 mins of waking up – preferably via something like eggs or chicken, but I can’t eat that much in the morning so have always relied on protein shakes
    • No sugar, carbs or dairy. At all.
    • Tons of water – at least 2 litres a day
    • You’re allowed 2 glasses of red wine a day but I don’t like red wine so didn’t have any alcohol on diet days
  • Cheat Day:
    • 30 grams of protein within 30 mins of waking up
    • Tons of water
    • Grapefruit juice before a meal helps to control insulin spikes (I found it also prevented me getting horrible sugar headaches)
    • Eat whatever you want!

I decided to try to go Slow Carb for a month, and see how I got on. The diet is pretty restrictive but the thing I found was that mostly it’s just boring! There are tons of meals you can have, and you’re encouraged to eat as much as you like, so you don’t tend to feel hungry, it’s just dull. At first the sugar cravings are horrid, but you soon get used to it. What surprised me most was that I almost immediately started sleeping better as there was no sugar keeping me awake. I also stopped getting the post lunch slump which meant my afternoon productivity increased. All in all I was feeling pretty good.

The Food:

I surprised myself by missing fruit the most. Some people do have fruit while on the diet but it’s so high in sugar that it makes it harder to cut out other sugars. My guilty pleasures are Diet Coke (you’re allowed one a day, although again, does make you crave more sugar), mayo (one tablespoon a day) and peanuts. Nuts are allowed in moderation and I definitely go over the line but they’re like crack to me!

We eat a lot of meat and roasted vegetables, my favourite is a nice rump steak with tons of different veg. I’m obsessed with aubergine at the moment as it feels more bulky than some other veg and seems to just fill that hole better. We also have a lot of chilli with cauliflower rice, curry with lentils, fajitas with lettuce wraps and stir fry with courgetti. The diet plan recommends repeating the same few meals but we have to introduce variety to keep our sanity! It’s forced us to become a lot more creative and we make all our spice mixes, guacamole, salsa etc from scratch now – so much nicer!

For lunch I usually have tuna with crudités. Things like cucumber are full of sugar so you’re not meant to have them but I do, they’re vegetables for god’s sake! I’ve found quite a few options for Slow Carb friendly lunches around work too – burrito salad box (yum!), Vietnamese salad, Pret Chipotle salad, hot roast chicken from Sainsburys with a microwave veg pack (Tom has this most days but I find it a bit dull!) I seriously miss my crispy bacon baguette with a bag of Doritos some days, but I don’t miss the post lunch slump!!

My Weight:

I am a bit OCD and wanted to keep track of my progress so started a spreadsheet to keep track of my weight and goals. This really helped me as in the first few weeks you can’t see much difference in your body, but the weight was dropping off on the scales at a rapid rate. By the end of the first month I was 12lbs down, which is almost a stone! I was so buoyed by this progress that I decided to carry on indefinitely.

Jo weight loss

Over time as your body gets used to the diet your progress does slow. This graph shows my first 6 months, the downward trend is fairly steep and I lost a total of 30lbs! You can see the step up each week after Cheat Day. Tom assures me that Cheat Day is essential to spike your calories and trick your body to keep burning energy at a higher rate rather than going into ‘starvation mode’ (bad word really as at no point did I feel starved in any way, this is definitely not a fasting type diet). You can also see where we went on holiday for a week in September, I put on about half a stone, but dropped it again within a couple of weeks.

The best way to track your changing body is to take measurements and photos. I didn’t take measurements (I wish I had!) but did take photos each week along the way. These still amaze me and I look at them regularly for inspiration. The comparison below shows me at the start, and also around the end of the first 6 months. I’m like a different person! I sometimes wear these shorts around the house now and they almost slip off, crazy that just over a year ago I could barely fit into them!

Jo weight loss pictures

I lost all this weight without changing my exercise schedule at all. I say schedule, all I was doing was playing one game of netball each week – hardly intensive cardio!

After Christmas I did lose my way a little, I was getting fed up of the strict regime, and very very bored. Since then I have dipped in and out of dieting, mostly sticking to it during the week but having the weekends off. One of the reasons I was getting fed up was that my weight loss had plateaued, I seemed to have reached the limit I could achieve through the diet alone.

Jo comparison photo

The Exercise:

It was at this point that I decided to pick up the exercise a little. I had started working from home so wasn’t even getting a walk to the tube station daily. I had lost a lot of weight but was still not really toned at all. I wanted to see if mixing some exercise into my regime could help me past the plateau and improve my body shape.

I have always been awful at running, I’ve tried different plans to turn myself into a runner but it’s never worked. As it’s something that’s so easy to do during lunchtime, and free, I knew it would be perfect if only I could teach myself how, and get over my fears! I bought the Kiqplan app and started from nothing, increasing the distance little by little following the plan. I had never run outside before and was terrified but I was determined to give it a try.

My first run was great, I ran 1.12 miles very very slowly, but the sense of achievement was huge. I didn’t realise how much easier it would be with 2 stone less weight to carry along with me! I set about running a little every day and continued to build up my strength and confidence. I built up my distance steadily and within just a few weeks I reached my first big goal of 5k, I couldn’t believe it. I even completed a 5k race with Charlie recently, which I never ever thought would happen! Unfortunately I had a stomach bug during the week so was so low on energy that I couldn’t run it all, but that’s just made me more determined to try again in September at the next Pretty Muddy event!

Pretty Muddy 5K

I had mainly kept to the diet through this period and was frustrated as my weight was still plateaued, however, my body shape had started to change as I dropped fat and built up muscle. I weighed more than I did at Christmas but relatives who hadn’t seen me since then were all commenting that I’d lost more weight and was looking much smaller. All this from just running 2-3 miles three times a week, every little really does count!

For the first time in my life I felt strong and lean, and was starting to notice new muscle definition. It was a shock to see how quickly my body changed – I must remember how quickly it can go back too! When I looked back at how I struggled on the Three Peaks training walk I was amazed to see how my body has changed, not just in size but in strength too. My fitness is still not great and I need to work on my stamina, but the improvement already is huge.

The Future:

After lots of celebrations following getting engaged recently and life just getting in the way I have let the running and dieting drop and have already noticed my shape changing. I’ve managed to consistently stay within half a stone of my lowest weight throughout all my ups and downs recently, which is a limit I set myself, so I’m not too worried, but it is time to step it up again!

Jo and Charlie Wedding

Back in my gym-bunny days I enjoyed weights sessions, and found that they really helped tone me up. I think the next step is to re-introduce a weights plan or something like Pilates into my exercise regime. That and keep building up my running distance. I’ve promised to try a 10k with my sister next year so I’ve got that to aim for. She’s just given birth to twins so if she can do it so can I!

I’ve worked so hard that I’m determined never to let my weight slip again. I have set myself an upper weight limit, if I breach this it’s back on the diet straight away! I’m not weighing myself obsessively every day anymore but am making sure I step on the scales at least once a week, just to keep me honest! As I mentioned at the start, this journey began as an attempt to reduce my weight. Looking back, it’s about so much more than that. 

I’ve always wanted to walk down the aisle as a size 10, and I’m confident now that that dream will come true!

How to grow your blog readership: A Daily Checklist

How to increase blogger readership

I don’t normally post a lot of ‘blogger’ tips on here as I’m not sure what percentage of my readers are also bloggers, but I recently came up with this list after chatting with some other bloggers. It’s my ideal daily activity list, however it definitely does not get achieved every day.

The idea is to grow readership, create connections with those on social media and relationships with other bloggers. Not only that, but to increase your online presence which will help your google ranking.

  1. Check your social media
  2. Check & reply to any blog comments
  3. Post blog onto FB, Twitter & Pinterest
  4. Read your fave blogs & comment
  5. Find a new-to-you blog on one of the facebook groups & leave a comment
  6. Share any great articles from the day – sign up to blogs, newsletters & websites that regularly post brilliant content
  7. Post blog on Stumble upon and stumble away, add other people’s content to stumble
  8. Add latest blog post to a Tumblr (if you have one)
  9. Brainstorm blog ideas
  10. Spend 5 mins on Pinterest- pinning your own posts, adding to your boards and pinning other great posts

You obviously don’t need to do each of these every single day, some are only relevant on days that you have a new blog post, whilst others could be done every other day (or less).

If you work in an office perhaps this is something you could do by getting in to work early or maximising your lunch break by completing a few of these activities. You could write your own list detailing the tasks that you think would most benefit your blog and social reach.

I find that keeping it in the front of my work diary helps keep me accountable, and means I’m less likely to forget them.

I’d love to hear from you- would you like to see more blog tips? If yes, what sort of questions would you like answered?

Image source.

Chicago Marathon Training Week 6

Pretty Muddy 5K

This week I’ve felt like finally my training is going to plan, my confidence is back and I’m excited to be enjoying my workouts a little more.

Monday– Back with a boom for this workout. A progression run of 6 miles total- the aim was 9.00, 8.45, 8.30, 8.15, 8.00 and then an ‘eyeballs out’ run of at least 7.45. I felt great about absolutely nailing this workout- 9.06, 8.43, 8.32, 8.09, 8.01, 7.19 (balls to the wall). It was such a great confidence boost to start the week with this workout!

Barrecore Stretch class- this is a game changer class. I am useless at stretching and foam rolling on my own, despite all the research and experience that shows how important it is. This class was 45mins of myofascial release using a ball, plus some deep stretching. This has officially been added to my schedule each week.

Tuesday– Nike Frame Workout

Throughout the year, Nike put on amazing free workouts across London (and the rest of the world!) This class was in association with Frame studios and was held in trendy Kings Cross Granary Square. We boxed, kicked, squatted and burpee danced (pulling out a dance move at the end of each burpee).

Nike Frame Workout

WednesdayBarrecore class

I put it off at lunchtime, so after a long day, had to suck it up and get on with my speed work. I had 6x5mins at 7.41 pace on the cards (nope, not a typo- 7.41 is my goal speed!) with 90 second recovery jogs. I hit the pace just fine, but took 2 min recoveries at the slowest jog ever between each set.

ThursdayBarrecore class

These classes do  not get easier- I am always have sweat dripping down my back, and burning muscles after the 15 min warm up. An old friend has just started going to the Chiswick early morning classes so it’s nice to have someone to struggle along with. I love the little group that goes to the Chiswick classes, it’s a real little community.

Friday– 1 mile warm up, 6 miles at 7.54 min mile pace, 1 mile cool down.

Running along the Thames path

SaturdayPretty Muddy 5K

Sunday– I had 13 miles on my schedule, got all dressed up, stepped outside…and immediately retreated back into my sitting room and out of the rain. I had BarreAsana at 11.30 so opted to go to the class first (where I managed a headstand for the first time!) and hoped the rain would clear up. It didn’t!

So after an Acai bowl at a new smoothie shop in Chiswick, I put my big girl pants (and new Lululemon leggings) and headed out into the wet weather. 13 miles at 8.45 min mile pace, finishing helpfully at Outsider Tart to refuel on brownies.

Outsider Tart brownies Chiswick

Note I didn’t take a proper rest day this week after two full rest days last week – both Saturday & Sunday so I started the week feeling well rested. Additionally, I didn’t go all out in the Nike Frame workout or Pretty Muddy 5k with my friend. I just wanted to highlight this as often we can see other people’s training logs and feel like we should be working harder or completing more sessions when often what we see isn’t all it seems. For me, I need proper rest days to recover fully, a lot of sleep and good nutrition to get me through marathon training cycles!

Pretty Muddy 5K

Before Pretty Muddy

After Pretty Muddy

We definitely got PRETTY MUDDY!

My friend Jo has had a dramatic change around in the past year (more on her story next week), and I’m so proud of her. I was thrilled when she agreed to do the Race for Life Pretty Muddy 5K this weekend, and she’s been training for the past few weeks using the Kiqplan training app. Unfortunately she’s been suffering with a stomach virus that’s been going around, so she wasn’t in tip top condition on the starting line.

We arrived in Finsbury Park about 11.30 for our 12 o clock wave, used the cleanest of porta-loos and got into our wave warm up. We were surrounded by a whole group of enthusiastic ladies, a lot of them racing 5K for the first time.

We set off at a great pace to the first of 9 obstacles, some very fetching pink tyres. I am actually really bad at the tyres, clearly my co-ordination is terrible!

Pretty Muddy 5K

Pretty Muddy 5K

Next up was a set of tunnels that were covered in mud inside to get us messy.

Pretty Muddy 5K

Luckily not all of the obstacles were muddy on the course, these were my favourite to watch Jo jump over! Unlike other obstacle course races I’ve done, there weren’t queues at each of the obstacles which was great.

Pretty Muddy 5K

Pretty Muddy 5K

After this rope climb, Jo started to feel a bit light headed. It was quite warm, and they didn’t have water along the course- seeing as Jo didn’t have a lot of fuelling during the week, we decided it was probably a good idea to walk up the hill before jogging slowly again.

My least favourite obstacle was a rope net over a muddy pit, the net was sodden and would slap down on our backs. It was not pleasant. The second to last obstacle was the muddiest, with volunteers throwing buckets of cold water and mud over us as we ducked beneath ropes in a muddy paddling pool.

Loved the last slide obstacle!

Pretty Muddy 5K

Finished- smiling, muddy and smelly.

Pretty Muddy 5K

Without showers to clean off, we poured water over us and changed clothes. Unfortunately I hadn’t brought a big towel to protect myself when I changed my leggings- it was slightly embarrassing in a park full of people but I had to get my muddy, wet clothes off as quickly as possible, even if it meant some awkward flashing.

Pretty Muddy 5K

Since we didn’t run the whole 5K, Jo is keen for a redemption run, so it seemed perfect when we discovered that Race for Life is hosting another Pretty Muddy 5K in Hammersmith in September. I don’t think they’ve released more info on it yet, but keep an eye out on the Race for Life website for entries etc.

As part of my ambassador role with Kiqplan I received complimentary entry to Race for Life Pretty Muddy 5K.