FitBits - fitness for fun and wellbeing: April 2015


Saturday, 25 April 2015

Ashdown Park Spa Day - How to win at marathon recovery

I’m not sure what I enjoyed the most – running strong to PB glory at Brighton Marathon this month or the epic spa day of pampering and indulgence afterwards at the gorgeous Ashdown Park Hotel. 

I've only ever had a spa day once before, and that was a Groupon deal for Bannatynes in Hastings for my birthday a few years ago. Whilst it was a great day, there was a distinct 'leisure centre' feel about the place and we didn't feel comfortable sauntering around in our robes. 

Ashdown Park though. All kinds of yes. 

Nestled in the midst of beautiful Ashdown Forest, the hotel is one of most sought after spa hotels in Sussex and I was more than a little excited to get there now that I didn't have to concentrate on the marathon. 

Great minds...

It seems I wasn’t the only marathoner with the same idea that day – there were a few other runners taking advantage of the facilities – we were a conspicuous breed; easily identified by our aching shuffles and collective post-run groans.  

For all of us, race day came after six months of hard training – from the relentless 6am Sunday alarms for the long run, pre-work intervals and gym sessions, to all of those tough hills sessions around Brighton’s beastiest inclines in the battering winter rain.

As I've mentioned, the whole of Brighton came out to play for marathon day and I bounced round the course lapping it up, enjoying my big moment, (all 4:55:56 of it); never letting the smile leave my face. It was tough in the latter miles but I’d worked hard for months and wanted that PB. [insert #thisgirlcan reference here] 

Waking up the day after with surprisingly still mobile (ish) legs and heading to Ashdown Park for a much-anticipated day of indulgence, I relished the time to relax, recuperate and reflect on my achievement.

From all the enticing spa packages on the menu, the Afternoon Tea Spa Day stood out the most. Having daydreamed for many months about visiting the hotel for its legendary Afternoon Tea, it seemed only right that the post-marathon recovery day be done in style with a spa day AND cake.

Because that's why we run, right? For cake? :)

From the moment we arrived we were welcomed and treated like royalty, given a tour of the Country Club facilities and given our complimentary robes and slippers. I slid my bruised, sorry-looking marathon feet into mine with pride. 

Only one black toenail this year, and no pins & needles during the race. A win for my Brooks Glycerins :)

Steering clear of the fitness suite...

Needless to say, as well equipped and impressive as the fitness suite was (and it really was, there was proper gym porn in there guys, kettlebells, barbells and EVERYTHING), I steered clear as I don't think my legs would've forgiven me if I'd have tried to do a workout. 

Or allowed me for that matter.  

We opted instead to start the day with a walk around the beautiful grounds, wandering the rolling country trails as they meandered through the forest and fields, making friends with horses and squirrels, and even spotting a roosting owl. 

After last year's epic DOMS I knew it was a good idea to keep moving after the marathon, and the walk definitely did me good, despite the inevitable aches and tightness that lingered from my run. 

I was surprised just how well my legs were moving actually, after the initial protest from first getting out of the car (it was a 45minute drive), the comedy penguin walk from last year was nowhere to be seen. 

Once we’d got back to the Country Club, a few lanes in the pool and a dip in the gorgeous, hot Jacuzzi were on the menu. I need to get back on my swimming this summer as I didn't have time to work on it during this round of marathon training. 

The pool area was a haven of peace and tranquillity; dimly lit and inviting, with only the sound of the water lapping the tapered edge and the occasional turn of a magazine page from other guests.


Cake porn

When we made our way to the Fairways Lounge to enjoy our Afternoon Tea, the table was already laid out for us, and the most gorgeous selection of cakes, sandwiches and freshly prepared scones were waiting to be inhaled enjoyed. 

The photo doesn't do it justice, so get ready for some cake porn...

Ashdown Park Hotel Afternoon Tea Spa Day review

Ashdown Park Hotel Afternoon Tea Spa Day review

Ashdown Park Hotel Afternoon Tea Spa Day review
Queen of Pudding Cake with a Meringue top. Can I get a hell yes??

This little beauty... banana and white chocolate cupcake. ACTUAL HEAVEN. 

Ashdown Park Hotel Afternoon Tea Spa Day review
True story... 

Happy Tess :) 
The full body aromatherapy massage that followed this epic sugar binge was, as to be expected, absolute bliss. I entered the therapy room into a world of calm, and left my tired, aching body behind on the table.

The rest of the day was spent meandering between the pool, sunloungers, Jacuzzi and sauna, (still steering clear of the fitness suite!), with the occasional visit to the Fairways Lounge to enjoy our complimentary drinks as part of the package. 

It was tough, guys. I'm not gonna lie. 

 Ashdown Park Hotel Afternoon Tea Spa Day review

The moody clouds that towered over us on our walk that morning had parted by the early evening and sunshine poured in through the wide windows of the lounge, a perfect end to the most relaxing day.  

Ashdown Park Hotel Afternoon Tea Spa Day review

I arrived at Ashdown Park an exhausted, aching and elated PB-holding marathon runner, and I left in a whole new skin – completely relaxed, over-indulged, and absolutely certain that post-marathon spa days are to be an essential requirement from now on!

If you fancy a day of utter indulgence with a Spa Day or Afternoon Tea at Ashdown Park Hotel, head to their website for a little looky at what's on offer! (And take me with you please!) 


How do you recover from marathons and other goal races, do you have any post-race rituals? Have you ever been to Ashdown Park?  

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Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Brighton Marathon 2015: The run of my life

How do I even start to tell you about my Brighton Marathon experience this year?

My epic, awesome, run-of-my-life Brighton Marathon 2015? It was the kind of run where you can't stop smiling, where no matter how hard it gets (it was hard), how much it hurts (it hurt), you just keep  on running and even have it in you to speed up at the end, just because you can. Just a bit different to the finish of my first attempt, last year.

I'm a little bit ashamed to say that I started to count the number of people I picked off during the last few miles but lost count at 55 and got distracted by a water station.

Does that make me an arsehole?

On the way down to Preston Park, repping #teamblue for the UKRunChat crew

Be gone, maranoia

The final weeks leading up to the race had been shrouded in the all-too-familiar maranoia and last minute niggles that come with the territory of tapering, but as the day grew closer and my tight hip and hamstring loosened, followed shortly by my knee calming down and twinges disappearing, I grew (not-so-quietly) confident, as well as apprehensive, and excited, and nervous...

Basically I was bouncing off the walls and everyone knew about it.

I didn't have that gripping fear from last year; the terror of the unknown - would I make it to the finish? Can I run that far? I know it took me a little longer than it should've done to run in training but my 20 miler a few weeks previous had put me in good steed and I knew the only thing that would stop me getting that medal would be if my knee was a total bastard and flared up again.

Thankfully, I didn't feel a thing from it - not even the tiniest niggle.

Thank you knee, I heart you.

BM10k start

Listening to Jo Pavey, race starter, giving tips on fuelling. I got a high five at the start!

Pacey McPacerson

Right from the start I made a conscious effort to slow down and keep to my planned pace of 10:45-11min/miles to come in around 4:45-4:48. I was about a minute or so out from the splits on my pace band but this gap gradually grew to about 5 or so minutes as I walked through most of the water stations (there were so many), and stopped to stretch my tight hamstrings and calves.

Here's the thing, folks (first time marathoners, take note): if something needs stretching at mile 8 it's gonna get a whole lot worse by mile 22 so you might as well listen to your body and give it some love. Unlike last year where I gave up at points and just didn't have the energy to carry on running, the 'wall' never really came for me on Sunday.

Yes, some of the latter miles were slower, and yes, I lost time at the water stations and by stopping to hug and high five my amazing cheerleaders but it was a beautiful, hot day and I didn't fancy trying to run with paper cups since now that race organisers had moved away from the handy plastic pouches.

Keeping promises...

I didn't panic about stopping or slowing at any point; didn't feel disappointed or angry with myself for walking like I did last year - I'd stopped to stretch on many long runs before and it'd never cost me much time. I told myself from the start that I would run past the point at mile 15 last year where I first stopped with pins and needles, and I wouldn't walk between miles 16-20 apart from at the water stations. The #UKRunChat support station down by the lagoon going into the 'road to hell' (aka Shoreham Power Station was epic too and great to see the amazing online community we've built spill out into 'real life' :)

When I got to the power station stretch I stuck both earphones in, took it by the balls, and got it done, promising myself only to walk at the water stations or just before the turn point. Soon I was on the home straight and facing the right way to the finish - albeit four more miles away. I spent the whole race high fiving other BOSHers, cheering friends and smiling for photographers.

In fact the smile didn't really leave my face, even when it got tough down by the power station. I hugged my cheerleaders around the course, ran part of the way with friends while having a chat, cheered friends and those in fancy dress or who looked like they were struggling.

Brighton Marathon 2015 nail art - Don't Stop

Saucony had put on a great cheering post down at mile 22 with a massive screen showing runners' prerecorded personal messages of support from loved ones and a volunteer shouting support on a tannoy. You can have messages filmed at the expo before race day and then be played back to you as you approach the screen. Next year I want a message!

At the end of the power station stretch when Mile 23 and the amazing BOSH cheerleading squad came into sight I literally skipped, jumped and whooped my way through, high fiving and cheering as I went. I'd been looking forward to it all week and it really made my day to still feel so strong at that point. The support there and all around the course was just immense.

Three more miles, and PB glory was mine.

Tess Agnew at Mile 23 of Brighton Marathon 2015
Me approaching the BOSH cheering post... 
BOSH cheering squad Mile 23 of Brighton Marathon 2015
What I was running into :) 

I checked my pace after that and slowed down again because I didn't wanna burn out for the finish, but soon realised I had a whole lot left in the tank and spent the last couple of miles speeding up, joining another fellow BOSHer for my last (and fastest!) mile of the race, ending in a glorious, heart-clutching, can't-breathe, give-it-all-you've-got sprint finish.

Tess Agnew - Brighton Marathon 2015 finisher - FitBits
This picture sums up my run :)
Once again I fell into the arms of the RunBrighton volunteers who personally saw to it that we got our medals from them, (thanks Daz & Lee!), and stumbled off in a daze of endorphins to collect my bag and find my family and friends.

I felt amazing. Invincible. Unbeatable. I never imagined that I'd have ran so strong, I'm so surprised, and proud of my body and mind for all that I achieved that day.

It really was the run of my life.

Setting goals and trusting training

The key with this marathon for me is I felt capable from the start. All through training I knew I could do it, and all through the race I knew I had time, I knew how to pace myself. I got the fuelling spot on (a few days of gradual carb loading and during the race a mix of gels, shot bloks and gatorade), and although I was ready for it, the wall never really came.

I know a lot of people didn't like the cups now that it's been changed from the handy plastic water pouches and bottles of Gatorade, but I think it really worked for me because it made me take on little and often rather than lots all at once, and made me walk through the water stations rather than trying to plough on through in a panic.

Tess Agnew - Brighton Marathon 2015 finisher - FitBits

Because I'd set myself three time goals, there was no room for disappointment. I'll be doing this from now on because it's a great strategy to have and there's no room for failure.

My three goals were:

A: 4:30 or near enough
B: 4:45-5:00
C: Any PB (sub 5:07)

I don't know if I could've got the A Game had my body not seized up in the taper, or my hamstrings hadn't been so tight, or if I'd just had the balls to run faster from the outset, but I do know that by this time next year or so, that 4:30 will be mine. 

I'm in no rush, anyway. It's all a bit of fun, I run because I love it, and I can honestly say, hand on heart, that this year's marathon was my absolute favourite run of all time. Ever. 

Running, Brighton, BOSH: I bloody LOVE you!

Brighton Marathon 2015 medal - FitBits
Mine! All mine! 

Entries are now open for Brighton Marathon 2016, I'm waiting for payday to decide if I'm gonna sign up again or do another one (maybe Paris or Berlin if I can convince the hubs to come or one day, if I ever get in, London??) It'll be hard not to do Brighton though as it's such an awesome race. The crowds are immense, the atmosphere electric and volunteers just amazing. If you've never done Brighton before, come and play.

** As well as bossing the marathon I also recovered like a boss with an amazing Afternoon Tea Spa Day at Ashdown Park Hotel in East Sussex. I hereby promise never to do another marathon without a spa day following it! :) 


Did you race Brighton? How was it for you? How do you set yourself goals? 

Saturday, 4 April 2015

15 taper commandments: learning how to rest

Eight days out from Brighton Marathon and again, I'm on a running ban until race day. This happened last year, I got all the way to the taper, and a previously unproblematic hip decided to come out to play and put me out for two weeks until race day.

This time it's that very same hip, and the opposite knee. Or is it the hamstring? IT band? Let's cut to the chase and give Tess some new legs, yeah?

I'm not letting the maranoia get me. I can do this. 

I've run just twice in the last two weeks, once was the surprisingly enjoyable 20 miler once I'd got over the initial slow start and found my second wind (thank you Biffy Clyro). The other was last Sunday's windy, uncomfortable faff-fest of a run that I bailed on after nearly 8.5 miles. I swear I've never faffed so much with my earphones in all my life, it was infuriatingly ridiculous.

My legs were heavy and sore, which really puzzled me as I hadn't actually been able to run all week. Looking back on the week's training leading up to it I did have a core and yoga class, tough gym session, aborted midweek run and then a 15mile cycle with three reps of the formidable Ditchling Beacon before attempting last Sunday's penultimate long run before race day.

Add a mental headwind to that with the accumulative fatigue of three months' training and it's no wonder I had a shit time. I spent the rest of that week with twingey knees, a tight hip and the sorest hamstrings ever known to man.

This wasn't just DOMS. This was proper, actual pain, and I was scared.

Brighton Marathon Training - Tess Agnew - photo by Mark West
A smiley Tess 12 miles into my 20miler - papped by Mark West

Enough is enough

The question is, how do we know when that persistent ‘niggle’ of ours is enough of a concern to call the physio?

Going from one gym session, long ride or marathon training cycle to the next, it’s inevitable to pick up a few aches and pains along the way. But what do we do when it's real pain that we're dealing with, not just that satisfying dose of DOMS after a good workout?

You'd be pretty lucky to get through a whole 16 weeks of marathon training without a few niggles or injuries, however insignificant you might try to make them feel. I'm as guilty as the rest of us for training through it, hoping it’ll go away on its own after a bit of rest, or I'll listen to my body and adjust my schedule to allow recovery and do something else like cycling, or circuits. 

Sometimes though, that's not enough.

My amazingly patient physio, Tom Goom, at The Physio Rooms in Brighton, has dealt with my stubbornness and varying levels of maranoia for two seasons now, and he reckons in general: if in doubt, get checked out.

“Minor aches and pains that settle quickly not usually anything to worry about but consistent problems, severe pain or injury that prevents you running or training should be checked out. Signs of tissue damage such as swelling, bruising, reduced joint range of movement or sensations of giving way are also warning signs to seek professional advice.”

I *might* have ignored the twingey knees for a little more than a week, and I *might* have noticed my right knee felt swollen after the 20 miler. My hamstrings are always tight, so what if I couldn't straighten my leg with cramp one morning this week, and haven't been able to sit at my desk without shooting pains up my legs?

The hardest thing to do

I'm a very stubborn person - when I'm training for something, all I see is the end goal and I'll damn well get there, whatever it takes. I still sometimes fall back into my old habits of pushing these warning signs to the back of my mind and not admitting the truth. I'm also completely in love with addicted to exercise, and maybe I rely on it for my wellbeing a bit too much. 

If I can’t run I look for other ways to get that endorphin fix. I'll go for a long ride instead. Can I go to the gym? What about bikram or a swim? Surely I can't just do nothing??

But sometimes, doing nothing is exactly what I need, to let my body have the time to recover, and for me, that's the hardest lesson to learn. I mean to completely rest. As in nothing. NO EXERCISE. No running, no cycling, no gym, swim, boxing or circuits. Nada. 

That's a hard thing to do, that is. 

I realised recently that I don't ever actually have a complete rest day, because I cycle to work every weekday. It might only be a five or six mile round trip but there are a couple of hills in there and I'm not gonna lie, I do like to push hard on my beautiful, fast roadie. 

15 taper commandments

Next week I'm running a marathon, and right now my legs hate me. So that means the next seven days are all about rest, recovery, and relaxation. Then: repeat.

Art Therapy Magazine - Tess Agnew
Fruits of a few evenings' labour - from Art Therapy Magazine

I do solemnly swear that for the next seven days:

  1. I shall not run. 
  2. I shall not cycle. 
  3. I shall not do legs at the gym. 
  4. I shall not doubt myself. 
  5. I shall not let the maranoia get me. 
  6. I will swim. 
  7. I will walk to work with my favourite songs in my ears. 
  8. I will colour in between the lines. 
  9. I will meditate. 
  10. I will feed my inner yogi. 
  11. I will eat and not feel guilty. 
  12. I will go to bed at 10pm every night. 
  13. I will embrace the impending adrenalin that will flood my veins and fill my stomach with butterflies.
  14. I will buy camomile tea and have hot baths to combat this.  
  15. I will be ready


Do you find it difficult to rest or am I alone here? What are your strategies for beating maranoia in the final taper weeks? 

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