FitBits - fitness for fun and wellbeing: March 2015


Monday, 30 March 2015

Taper Time: Recovery for the Mind and Body

It feels like I haven't written in ages.

Mindfulness colouring book | FitBits | Marathon TrainingThis is the first blog I've written since my little outburst a couple of weeks ago about taking some time out to enjoy things other than doing, thinking and writing about fitness and running, and I'm happy to report that I am now back in the zone and ready to write again.

I've been doing a bit of yoga, in class and at home, spending time with hubs and enjoying getting a bit pedantic about the colour scheme in my new mindfulness colouring magazine and pocket book, which has actually, really sorted me out.

Half an hour of colouring in each night before bed gets me off the computer, away from my phone and allows me to wind down before bed rather than trying to go straight from screen to shut eye. I'm not getting so stressed about training now and am trying to let things wash over me if runs don't go to plan or if I have a sugar binge at work.

Heading into Taper Town

As we approach the beginning of April, I'm welcoming the taper with loving arms. Although I've loved this round of training, have felt strong and more confident in my ability than last year, I'm definitely ready to ramp it down and rest.

Sweaty Betty Brighton yoga classes | FitBits

The last few weeks have been tough - I've been running three or four times a week most weeks, with gym sessions, yoga and core classes, circuits, cycle commutes and various rides thrown in between. As the long run mileage has ramped up I've been forced to take extra rest and adjust my training according to what my body will allow.

That's meant moving run days around and either skipping or downgrading some of the harder sessions to marathon pace practice or brisk walks home along the seafront when the legs have said no.

Some runners can bosh out 70 mile weeks without injury, but that's not me - I'm not built for that kind of endurance and have to pick my fights very carefully or I'll break.

Running my own race

I'm OK with that though, I can do this at my own pace.

A couple of weeks ago I ran a decent hilly half marathon time (2:14:02) off the back of five or so miles along North London's scenic dual carriageways, and last Sunday after a slow start I got a second wind at around 14 miles to make it to 20 for the final long run before the taper.

I bailed on the RunBrighton hilly run up the Downs for a flat seafront run and after changing my playlist and pulling out Biffy Clyro at mile 14 I spent the last six miles around marathon pace, singing my heart out, having a right old jolly.

20 miles training run | Brighton Marathon Training | FitBits
Behold the face of an endorphin-filled, knackered & sugar-crazed runner :) 

As I approached The Level in Brighton which is about a mile from my house I was less than a parkrun away from the big 2-0 so I did a few laps and rounded it off with a BOSH on the grass to celebrate.

And yes, I got a few weird looks as I sang my way round in circles :)

20 miles training run | Brighton Marathon Training | FitBits

The thing is I haven't been able to run much else during the week when the mileage is this high, and when I do it hasn't been pretty. Instead last week, I did a Core class, had a beasty session at the gym and on Saturday I substituted the planned threshold run for a 15 mile windy cycle ride to do a few reps of the mighty Ditchling Beacon with the amazing Kurt from BTRS. Since midnight on Friday he spent the weekend doing 100 reps of the mile-long hill in memory of our team member Fabrice Cesaro, who died recently.

I did just three reps as had to go out and was pushed for time, 66 is the height of Mount Everest... I can't imagine doing 100!

This was taken at 30 reps for Kurt, 3 for me. He's completed 100 over the weekend! 

Active recovery

Despite me not being able to hit all the runs this past couple of weeks, looking back on last year, I'm definitely in a better place with my recovery. Last year I was coming away from each run with my legs in bits, avoiding stairs at all costs, suffering from severe muscle cramps with every run over 14 miles; allowing the doubt to creep in.

But now, I've got the fuelling and recovery (mostly) nailed. It's just that at this stage with the high mileage on the long runs, for me, recovery means a fair bit of not running and a bit more cross training to let my legs repair. Ice baths, compression gear, yoga and keeping active by cycling or walking to work are all helping me recover from the long runs and tough sessions.

These compression tights pictured here along with my 2XU ones have been my best friends over the winter - they're comfy, warm, and have really been helping my legs keep moving, especially if I wear them overnight after a long run.

Newline compression tights, currently in the sale for £45.95 at High Octane Sports

And to further enhance my #marathonwanker status in the office but save me from bringing in my foam roller, the lovely people at DMP have sent me another Tiger Tail massager, after I cleverly left mine on the bus last year.

The Tiger Tail is a portable rolling massager, perfect for sticking in your bag for after a race and is great for office-friendly foam rolling.

Tiger Tail massager and foam roller| DMP | FitBits | Marathon training
Tiger Tail massager is £32.99 from DMP UK 
Another thing that's really helping my recovery is my magnesium supplement. I know I've banged on about this before but this stuff really is magic. If you suffer from muscle cramps, restless legs, and lack of energy you could have a magnesium deficiency. 

I take this in water once or twice a day and it makes such a difference. It's a bit pricey but for me it's worth not being in constant pain when sat at my desk in the office. 

Find out more about magnesium deficiency here
So, yeah. 

Very much a work in progress, as ever, and with less than two weeks to go until Brighton Marathon, I'm happy in the taper, not getting stressed about missing runs, excited to get to that start line and enjoy the reward of months of hard work. 

Just need to work on the early bedtimes, I'm getting there!! 

Disclaimer: The Tiger Tail and Newline compression tights were received for free from the lovely people at DMP and High Octane Sport, but all views and inappropriate rolling are my own :) 

How are you finding the final weeks of marathon training? Have you been getting stressed like me? What's your recovery secret?


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Thursday, 19 March 2015

Stop putting fitness first

I'm gonna lay my cards on the table here. 

I've been thinking about writing this post for a while, and have only left it this long because I'm scared of what it means and didn't want to admit it to myself. 

Let me get this straight from the outset - I think we all know that I love running, and keeping fit and healthy. That's not gonna change. I love the joy it brings, the energy and endorphins it soaks me in and pushing through the pain to reach my goals and celebrate my achievements. 

I love challenging myself and pushing my boundaries; running further, faster or harder than ever before. I love the communities I'm enveloped in; both on and offline, and at the same time, I love the fact that the only person who can make any of this happen is me. 

But herein lies the problem. 

I'm an all or nothing kind of person - in training, learning, and in love. 

I'm obsessed with planning, am a sucker for structure and thrive on pedantic organisation. I throw every ounce of myself into it and let myself be consumed by it. I see my world through marathon-tinted glasses. 

Everything I eat, everything I drink (or don't drink), everywhere I go, whatever my weekend plans are, what I do and think about when I wake up, and the last thing I think of before I go to sleep - it's all about the marathon

I turn down social invitations, decline offers of cake or treats, (and when I don't, am consumed by guilt), all in fear of jeopardising my running. I use exercise to counteract 'bad' eating, but at the same time reward myself with the exact 'bad' foods I try so wholeheartedly to avoid. 

When I'm not training I'm writing about training; for this blog, for someone else. If I'm not doing either of these, I'm reading about it. Reading magazines, other people's blogs, various websites and participating in a host of online communities. 

Doing, talking, and reading about training. 

And it's been great - until now. 

As I approach the taper (last long run on Sunday), I'm realising just how knackered I really am. Knackered from training, tired from too much computer time, weary from all the deadlines, at work and in life.  It's ironic that I'm sat here close to midnight, having been on the computer all day at work, still in front of a computer now, talking about how much I need to not be on a computer. 

I love writing, I really, really do. It's always been my 'thing'. And running has a place deep within my heart. It's great that I can enjoy these things with my husband and the many friends I've made through doing so. 

But sometimes, there has to be something else. 

International Day of Happiness

On International Day of Happiness (Friday 20th March), however happy it might make me, I'm not gonna go for a run. 

I'm not gonna go to 7am boxing bootcamp, or hot yoga, or the gym. Instead I'm gonna wake up naturally, (I trust my body clock), walk or cycle down to the seafront with my camera, listen to the sea, soak up the calmness and breathe. 

Then I'm gonna walk to work, full of calm; be productive and focused, and if the homeless man is sat outside Sainsbury's as normal I'll buy him a coffee and sandwich like I sometimes do but this time sit with him if he'll allow me to. I'll also ask his name. 

At 9.30am I'm gonna walk outside, look up at the sky and hopefully experience the partial eclipse. 

I'll spend Friday night in the pub (shock, horror) with Chris and then with rested legs from two days off I'll do Saturday's 45minute progression run and the 3-3hr15 long run on Sunday, and however they go, I'll be OK. If it's slow, it's OK. If I have to stop because my hip hasn't loosened, or my knee keeps twinging like it has all week - that's fine. It's time to be kind to myself again. 

I won't come home angry or upset about it. I won't snap at anyone or moan to anyone who asks how it's gone. I won't put my stress onto my husband. I'll run a hot bath, close my eyes, and breathe. 

This is, after all, something I do for fun. A hobby. Fitness is not my life. 

There's far more to life than training - other things make me happy too. Like seeing friends and family, being with my husband, crochet, playing guitar, and photography. 

Maybe even a little bit of colouring in too, just for kicks. 

A video posted by @fitbits_tess on

What will you do on International Day of Happiness?

**UPDATE: Progress report on International Day of Happiness. 

Do you sometimes find training takes over? How do you find a balance? 


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Tuesday, 17 March 2015

North London Half Race Recap + Training Tips from Mo Farah

I've never ran a race as a training run before, I'll have to do it more often. 

It's really liberating to not worry about a time and just enjoy the race, chill out and listen to music or an audio book, soak up the crowd and stop to take photos. I couldn't have chilled out for Brighton Half, I was always gonna play a hard and fast game at home. 

This race was different. At one point about 8 or 9 miles in I actually turned around and ran back on myself to get an awesome shot of some lovely supporters with their signs. 

There wasn't the mass support around most of the course that I'm used to from racing in Brighton, instead small pockets of people cheered at various points, (along with the awesome marshalls high fiving everyone), and this family's welcome warmed my heart so I had to go back and get a photo. 

The North London Half was great. 

A very well organised race with a surprisingly hilly course (must remember to check course profile before racing!), around a maze of residential areas, livened up by starting and finishing at the Allianz Stadium, with a brief jaunt through the mighty Wembley Stadium. 

Which isn't as big as it looks on TV, but exciting nonetheless. The run up to the stadium was really quite exciting and I forgot all about the big hill we'd just ran down (and would have to run back up) to get there. 

Fuelled on a glorious concoction of peanut butter and Nutella on Vogel's toast (pulling out the chocolate-shaped big guns for the long runs now), I ran the 5.5miles from where I was staying at Tufnell Park to the home of the Saracens Rugby Team to join the race. 

Apply liberally with trowel, nothing less

I say ran; it was quite a stop-start affair along some very busy roads and bypasses that involved me pulling my phone out every 10 minutes to make sure I was going the right way. I got there just as the mass warm up was finishing, in time to quickly drop my bag (very speedy bag queues!) and make my way to the start. 

The race

The (slightly delayed) start involved a fair bit of shuffling to get us over the line, but once we did I caught a glimpse of the brilliant Mo Farah, who was the official ambassador of the race and who I'd be meeting later at the post-race Q&A (if I finished in time).

The race itself for me was quite hard and uncomfortable in places; the hills came as a surprise but were by no means impossible, and nothing compared to some of the hills we've been running at RunBrighton. My legs were just pretty tired in general (bring on the taper!) and I was having trouble running consistently at my planned marathon pace of around 10:20min/mi. 

Mo Farah at the North London Half

My original plan was to run a slow first half and then pick it up to marathon pace for the last 60 minutes as per my training plan instructions, but I actually found it quite difficult to slow down and kept finding myself around the 9.30-10min/mi mark. At some points I looked at my watch and was running nearer 9min/mi so kept slowing down. 

I dunno if that means I need to practice marathon pace more or if I need to maybe think about running a faster marathon, at around 10min/mi instead?? Not sure if I could keep that up for the big 26.2... any ideas? It may be because I haven't practiced marathon pace much until now, and need to sharpen up in these final three weeks. 


Anyway, the miles ticked by and of course the phone came out at various intervals for selfies and impromptu photos, and I stuck near the 2:15 pacer to come in at a decent time and make it to the Q&A to meet the mighty Mo Farah afterwards. Not a bad incentive to keep running, I reckon! 

Running through Wembley Stadium at the North London Half Marathon 2015
Wembley Stadium selfie at the halfway point

By the last few miles I was hurting and kept thinking about walking but couldn't bare to miss out on meeting Mo and knew it'd be good practice for the marathon if I could keep plodding through the pain. I'd love to not walk at all at Brighton but I know that's much easier said than done after 20+ miles. 

I picked up the pace for the finish straight and came in at 2:14:02 which I'm really pleased with (the text came through within half hour of finishing), totting up an 18.77 mile penultimate long run for Brighton before the taper in two weeks. As far as long runs go, it was much better than last week's painful escapades

I'm not twitching about the .23 miles to make it up to 19. Not at all.

Garmin's being a 'tard and won't let me embed so if you fancy
a nose at the stats click the image. 

I'm really excited to see what I can do at Brighton this year - even though this half with the miles before it were tough I know I'm much stronger than I was and will definitely get a PB, just fingers crossed I don't get injured!

I made it to the Q&A by the skin of my teeth with less than 10 minutes to spare. You should've seen me try to 'run' to get my bag from picking up my wristband. It's funny how you can't possibly run any further once you've stopped. 

Training Tips from Mo Farah

Meeting Mo was obviously amazing, and really humbling to be in the same room as such a legendary athlete. When I grow up, I want to run like him. 

He answered questions about his training goals for this year and 2016, coming first in 18seconds in a 100m sack race, how he felt and what he learned during his first marathon at London, how to get faster, advice for a beginner, as well as answering my questions about his recovery routine. 

Me and my mate Mo!!
Picture credit: Tom Wheatley at The All Rounder  

He spoke about how he still 100% enjoys running, and how he hates taking a break as he misses it. I think we can all relate to that, how hard is it when we're injured, or our bodies are just knackered and we're forced to rest? 

He also spoke about his struggles with making his career fit around his family life, and the toughest thing is being away from his wife and children. Again, I don't have kids yet but already I can appreciate that sometimes, especially in this stage of marathon training when the weekends are all about prepping for, doing and recovering from the long run, it's hard to balance 'real life' with training, and spending proper time with your loved ones that doesn't involve you writhing around in pain on the foam roller while they watch telly. 

It was great to hear Mo talk about normal things like this - at the end of the day he's just like us - he loves to run - it's just he's a *little* bit better than most of us, trains like a beast, and breaks world records... 

FitBits - Mo Farah at Vitality North London Half Marathon
Mo Farah spoke as the official ambassador for the Vitality North London Half Marathon, the ’Stadium to Stadium Half'. The event is the latest instalment in the Vitality Run Series.

Here are a few takeaways from the Q&A session for us beginner or intermediate marathoners: 

Mo's race day / long run breakfast: 
  • Quorn! No, not really... 
  • Porridge or three slices of toast with jam or honey. 

First time marathon advice:
  • Don't put too much pressure on yourself. When heading out for a long run, don't look at the remaining miles (one down, only 18 etc. to go) - zone out and forget about it, you'll be surprised how quickly it goes. 
  • Don't over train. Increase your training a little bit each week and be consistent. Get to the top of your game and then cut back and have a break to allow your body to absorb the training. Mo told us that learning to rest was a hard lesson for him, and I think it is for all of us. 
  • Set yourself different targets - Mo set out to get into the top 3 for a medal at the 5 and 10k London 2012 races, and once he saw he could push on for Gold, he did so then. This doesn't mean you have to come in the top 3 for your first marathon - just set yourself three targets. To finish should be your first, before you think about any time goals. 
Mo's recovery advice:
  • Keep moving, jog slowly or walk after your run, don't stop. 
  • Eat well, rehydrate, get a massage if you can. 
  • Get in the ice bath. I asked Mo how long he takes in his, as I usually have around 15 minutes and he said 10-12 so I'm happy to listen to the man and get out earlier! 
How to get faster:
  • Run more, and run faster. 
  • Increase mileage and get to the track. 
Mo said after Rio next year he'll think about another marathon so I look forward to seeing if he can beat his record then. Maybe by then, I'll have a few more under my belt... maybe even an ultra?? :) 

Thanks to the Vitality North London Half Marathon for my race entry, and thanks to Mo Farah for meeting us and having a photo with me! 

Did you run the North London Half? Whether you did or not, how's your marathon training going, are you earning medals for your long runs?


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Sunday, 8 March 2015

Lessons learned on the long slow run

I learnt a few lessons on today's long run. As I sit here writhing around in pain, alternating between the foam roller, yoga mat, and pan of leftover roast potatoes in the kitchen, I'm still learning them now.

It was a stunningly beautiful run beneath a clear blue sky along the clifftops and up through Telscombe to join the South Downs Way. Up is the operative word here, folks. Some of those hills were just proper beasts. I cycled the same route with hubs on Valentine's Day the other way around so I knew what was coming and let me tell you, they are MUCH easier on two wheels.

FitBits - South Downs Way - RunBrighton - Brighton Marathon Training

But, I guess we already knew that. And if running marathons was easy, we wouldn't do it, would we? So I'm banking those horrendously difficult miles (even the bits walked because my knees were telling me to), and am gonna share with you the varying levels of joy/disgust/hatred/elation at the situation throughout the run:

Warm up: 
Shit, RunBrighton are warming up in 40 minutes. What happened to my "I'll leave at 7:30 to give me enough time to get there"? Bloody Twitter. Quick - do a few leg swings and lunges and then get going.

Mile 1: 
My knees hurt, maybe I should've done a few more lunges to warm up.

Mile 2: 
Knees still not happy. Stop - get on those lunges. Calf stretch. mmmmm... The sun's coming out and I have three layers on...

Mile 3: 
Really quite hot now, this jacket is coming off. Ooh! Legs happy. YAY. What's the time? Shit, RunBrighton are leaving the cafe in 10mins. Better pick it up.

Mile 4: 
Ooh this is a bit fast for the beginning of a long run. There they are, coming out now. Just in time. Phew! These New Balance trail shoes are great on the road. Hope they don't give me blisters again, think that was just because they got wet on the trail.

Mile 5: 
Ah, I love running along these cliffs, look at this weather, look at this view, we're so lucky. I love running. I love lamp.

Mile 6: 
I really don't mind these hills, they used to kill me last year, but I'm much stronger now. This is gonna be a great run.

Mile 7-8: 
Cross the road and turn into the trail. This hill's OK too. Sort of. Head down, get on with it. Oh no! I forgot to take my first gel! *takes gel* Wish I did find my water bottle this morning, this tastes like poo. Ah, down into Telscombe. Such a pretty village.

This one's gonna be a bitch to run back up, I remember cycling it.

FitBits - South Downs Way - RunBrighton - Brighton Marathon Training

Mile 9: 
And back up out of Telscombe. Oh this is the bottom of that hill that me and hubs rode down and had to politely part the cows. Looks so different in the sunshine. Oh... it's the bottom. Shit. The ambassador is opening the gate.

I don't want to go through, there's a hill through there.

No thank you.

FitBits - South Downs Way - RunBrighton - Brighton Marathon Training

Oh bloody hell go on then.

FitBits - South Downs Way - RunBrighton - Brighton Marathon Training

Mile 10: 
Up. Up. Up. My knees hurt. Oh it's so pretty up here. My feet hurt. Ahhh we're so lucky to live here. Blatant blisters. I want to stop. Can I get a lift from here? These cows have got the right idea. *takes photo*

FitBits - South Downs Way - RunBrighton - Brighton Marathon Training

Mile 11: 
Can we turn yet can we turn yet can we turn yet YAY turn point!! What goes up...

Mile 12: 
...must come down. Ouch. Actually. Ohhhh. And back up... And then down again. My knees. ARRGH. Oh bum it I've forgotten to take another gel. *takes gel*

FitBits - South Downs Way - RunBrighton - Brighton Marathon Training

Mile 13: 
I hate running. I hate marathons. I can't do this. Ouch. My knees hate me. Sod everything. Ooh quick - look happy and smiley for the villagers of Telscombe heading to church. *grimaces*

Mile 14: 
Ahhhh, sort of flat/gentle down hill. I can see the sea. YAY. *picks pace up* Definitely got blisters. Ouch. These shoes aren't gonna cut it for Fort William.

Mile 15: 
Saltdean. Ooh yay the ambassadors brought water at the gate. *picks one up* YAY 15 miles! Argh my legs are fooked. Down hills killed the knees. Ou est le bloody cafe then? It was closer to here on the way out.

My feet/legs/soul hurt.

Mile 16: 
I swear they've moved it. Where's this bloody cafe? Can I stop running yet?

Mile 17: 
WHERE'S THIS BLOODY CAFE DAMMIT?! Ahhh there it is. YAY 17 miles! My legs are screaming. I hate running. I hate marathons. What's that, Michele? "Sprint finish?"

Oh, bloody go on then...

FitBits - South Downs Way - RunBrighton - Brighton Marathon Training - Tess Agnew

Lessons learned

So then, boys and girls. A few lessons learned for me today:

  1. If running to meet the RunBrighton group, leave enough time for a proper warm up. 
  2. Find water bottle the night before, don't faff about trying to find it in the morning. 
  3. It's Spring. You don't need 100 layers any more. 
  5. These shoes gave you blisters last time and you thought it was because it was wet. It wasn't. These shoes are evil and you need better socks / Compeed / everything people on Twitter have recommended. 
  6. Get straight in the ice bath when you get home, no faffing. 
  7. The foam roller is your friend. No, really. 
  8. So is the yoga mat. 
  9. Running sucks. 
  10. You'll never, ever stop though. 


What lessons are you learning on your long slow runs and how do you deal with the confidence knock? 

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Morning vs evening workouts

If you read my blog regularly or follow me on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook, you'll know I'm a sucker for a dose of early morning endorphins.

I don't care whether they come from a pre-dawn mountain bike ride up on the Downs, a 7am interval session or a pre-work gym or swim sesh, just get those endorphins to my person immediately.

Getting most of my exercise done first thing sets me up for the day, leaves me buzzing and keeps the evenings free to chill and catch up with my writing. It might take a couple (alright, a few) flirtations with the snooze button to haul my sorry ass out of bed, but once the initial disgust at the situation fades I love getting up early to make the most of my day.

I have been known to break into song when those early morning endorphins get too much...

In the winter I just can't be bothered to do much after work. You'd think I'd be raring to go after sitting on my backside all day at my desk (gimme a standing desk any day), but nah, I'd much rather go home and chill.

If you get up early in the morning you're treated with this:


I'm an early bird on the weekends too - being in the middle of marathon training means Saturdays are for hills, parkrun or if I'm skiving, a long cycle ride, and Sundays are reserved for the long run, all of which require setting early alarms.

This weekend's escapades were kicked off with 6:30am alarms, and a maximum of two snoozes per morning, promise. Why oh why Apple decided that a non-adjustable nine-minute snooze was a good idea I'll never know.

Saturday's adventure was a wet and windy mountain bike ride with the Brighton Triathlon Race Series crew along the old Downs Link railway to a cafe for cake and back - a round trip of about 38-40 miles that made my face do this:

And today was of course, the long run. On the plan was a hilly one up on the Downs with RunBrighton but I've had a cold all week and it's moved to a cough so I didn't think my chest was up to it.

Instead I treated myself to a nice flat run along some of the Brighton Marathon route, doing the New Church Road loop and back along the seafront for 12 slightly uncomfortable and very slow miles.

For me, getting the morning workouts in is all about organisation. I've written about how to make your morning sessions, it's all about getting your kit out, making your lunch, pre-packing your bag etc. to give you minimal faffing time when you do eventually stop hitting snooze, as well as actually planning your week of exercise.

I've just finished my colour coded Google Doc (geek alert) for next week's schedule and if I make it all (Mondays are always up for questioning depending on long run recovery) there'll be five early alarms set. I'm sharing it with you now so next week I can look back and laugh at myself for trying to cram so much in again. And this is without bikram, I've had to prioritise other things this week!

Why can't we have another day of the week dammit?!

I'll let you know how the above goes...

Paradoxically, I'm sitting here talking about how great I am at getting up early and I should totally be in bed right now so I'm gonna shut up and get some zeds.

Do you prefer morning or evening workouts? How do you stay motivated to get up early or be active after work?


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