Staying motivated and consistent with your exercise – My Top Tips.

When I think about the events of the last year there is very little in the way of news that surprises me anymore.

So much so that the news of little green men invading our planet would pose less of a shock than the very words my lovely wife uttered to me this morning.

‘I wish I could be like you’ she said.

Presuming that she wasn’t about to shave her hair or indeed grow a substantial  lockdown beard, and for a brief moment ruling out the prospect that homeschooling our children hadn’t resulted in wine o’clock being brought forward eight hours, I finally deduced she was referring to the completion of my morning workout – and my motivation to do it.

The truth is, such has exercise become ingrained on my psyche I really couldn’t envisage a life without it. I  don’t perceive it as a chore, more of an extension of who I am.  It allows me to function more efficiently, remain fit and healthy and ultimately feel happier in myself – much to my wife’s relief.

In a year that has offered so much uncertainty, exercise has been the one constant that has kept  me grounded and relatively sane and that in itself for me has been a hugely motivating factor.

Admittedly, of course I have days where my motivation wanes, especially throughout this pandemic where I’ve become a little too comfortable with pulling on my pyjamas earlier and earlier at the end of the day. As we are all too aware the struggle is real at times and it is during these times of discomfort where complacency can set in.  Having strategies to reframe your mindset is a useful way to keep you on the right path.

With this in mind, I thought I would take this opportunity to share my tops tips on how to stay motivated and consistent with your exercise routine so you don’t get stuck in a rut.

Set yourself a goal

It might seem obvious but having a goal to aim for is a great way to stay motivated.  It allows you to set yourself a  personal target and measure your progress against it.   Whatever you decide, the important thing to remember is that it’s realistic and achievable. It’s worth bearing in mind that whilst it’s great to have ambition giving yourself too bigger challenge can be counterproductive if it starts to become overbearing.

Of course on the contrary if you are ‘up for a challenge’ throwing caution to the wind and perhaps entering an event that you know will need some dedication can be a catalyst to motivation in itself.  This year for example I’ve entered my first triathlon and although admittedly I’m not exactly Michael Phelps when it comes the swimming the prospect of training for and completing a new discipline has already intensified my focus and with it my motivation.

Plan your sessions in advance

Living our lives within the confines of our own homes as we are currently experiencing isn’t exactly conducive to exercise.  If you are anything like me, apart from exercise I’ve barely taken my slippers off  since March 2020  and since the most recent lockdown I’ve eaten more cake than Mr Kipling would feel comfortable with (courtesy of my children’s love for Home Economics).

Thank goodness the schools are back but even so the gyms remain shut, the weather has been either baltic or monsoonal at times and to make it more challenging we have all of our home comforts at our disposal which clearly can be a distraction and demotivating in itself.

I find that planning my sessions in advance means that I am far more likely to follow through with it.  Try adding your planned session to your calendar, write it in your diary or even tell someone that you are going to do it.

In very much the same way that you are probably more likely to attend the gym if you’ve signed up to a class or pre-arranged to meet a friend you will feel more inclined to follow through with your session as you have no excuses.

YOU time

Let’s face it every day is ground hog day at present and there is very little escape from the daily monotony. So much so that even the daily walk no longer feels like a break such is it’s predicability, to put it in context I’ve even contemplated walking backwards on our regular route just to mix things up a little.

If you are struggling with motivation try and view your session as time that you are dedicating to yourself.  Time that will not only improve your health and well-being but also provide some much needed escapism from the strange reality we are currently facing.  Shutting the front door and spending some time alone can do wonders for the soul even if it’s only a five minute jog around the block.

‘That voice in your head’

We all have that voice in our head.  You know the one.  The voice that says ‘I’m too tired ‘or ‘I’m just not feeling it’ so I’ll do it tomorrow. Let’s face it we are all experts at justifying our own reasoning for avoiding our workouts and it can been so easy to be swayed by that internal dialogue.

Nullifying that inner chatter by visualising and recalling how great you feel post workout is a great way to remain motivated.  The key is not to listen to it. Personally I like to mentally picture myself achieving my goals and use it to fuel my motivation.  Remind yourself of why you are doing what you are doing and take a mental photograph.

It might be a mental image of yourself running over the finish line of a half marathon you’ve entered, or looking like Daniel Craig on the beach (not my goal wink wink)  or perhaps fitting into your summer dress (again not my goal).

Whatever that image is, let it drive you towards your aspirations and pulling on your gym kit becomes a lot easier – trust me!

Get social (media)

It worth remembering that you are not alone despite the gyms currently being shut.  We have never been more connected and at the risk of stating the obvious there now are a plethora of online tools and classes to take advantage of.  If it wasn’t for Youtube and  Jo Wicks PE throughout the last year I would’t have discovered HiiT workouts and how easily accessible they are online.  I have no doubt that many of us felt more inclined to sign up knowing that others were participating in sessions at the same time.

With motivation in mind, it is exactly this sort of ‘we’re all in it together’ psychology that can be utilised to drive you forward by signing up to apps such as Strava, Garmin, Nike and  Zwift to name but a few.

Many of these represent a unique fitness community in themselves  Not only do such apps allow to you record your fitness activity while allowing you to analyse your stats (if you so wish) but receiving kudos/likes along with inspiring comments can be hugely motivating.

 

Knowing people are with you can be inspirational in itself so why not download a fitness social media app and get involved.

Variety

What do they say ‘Variety is the spice of life?”

The same is true of fitness.  Repeating the same workout over and over again can become tedious so don’t be afraid to mix it up.

Cross training (which means adding different types of training to your routine) is a great way to keep your mind engaged while actually complimenting your overall fitness. Throughout the week I like to make sure my sessions include  aerobic fitness, strength sessions and core work which keeps both my mind and body guessing.

This advice can also be applied if you tend to engage in only one type of fitness,  for example if you are a runner try including different styles of sessions such as fartlek, sprints, tempo runs etc.. Not only will this make your sessions more enjoyable but watch your fitness improve at the same time.

Invest in Tech

Technology has come a long way and the risk of showing my age I can recall when pedometers were all the rage. Clearly I have lived a sheltered life.

I digress.

Technology has  thankfully progressed somewhat in recent times and there are now many ‘fitness wearables’ available on the market with brands such as Garmin, Fitbit and of course Apple competing for an ever growing marketplace.  These gadgets are available mainly as watches, however, of late you can even purchase versions in the form a ring.

If you haven’t entered the world of ‘wearables’ I would strongly suggest investing in some kit. Technological advances allow you to track a range of health related measures such as your fitness activity, heart rate and even your sleep and this is only the tip of the iceberg. They even tell the time.

These measures allow you to build a more complete picture of how you are progressing on a day to day basis which really helps build your motivation.

More than this they even have the ability to remind you when you haven’t completed enough activity for the day which might just be the kick start you need to get going.

Reward yourself

Rewards are useful incentives to help ignite your motivation and it is great to have something to look forward to at the end of the week as a result of your efforts.  Ideally your reward should be relative to your goals, as a way of example if weight loss is your goal then consider whether calorific food or alcohol is the ideal choice.

Rewards are a personal choice and needless to say they will be individualised in what they will be.  It might be looking forward to something like a relaxing massage or buying yourself some new gym equipment/outfit. Whatever it is remember it is all about acknowledging yours efforts while keeping yourself in the  fitness zone.

As an ideal if you can learn to love your sessions and understand that the reward is the exercise itself ,external incentives become less important as your motivation grows from within.

As a final word remember it is normal for motivation to fluctuate especially during a global pandemic  with so much uncertainty around us.  If you have lost your fitness mojo I do hope this article can help rekindle that fire at least until the gyms reopen.

In the meantime summer is just around the corner so it’s ‘Sun’s out gun’s out’. That has to be a motivation in itself.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Abstinence – 18 months alcohol free.

How many times did I say those immortal words?

You know the ones… the ones that you utter as you stumble down the stairs, mouth as dry as the Sahara Desert as you gulp down two paracetamol with a glass of water, trying desperately to peel your tongue from the roof of your mouth. All of this while trying to fight the waves of nausea washing over you as you try to piece together the jigsaw that was the previous evening.

‘I’m never drinking again’

Time and time again I have announced these words knowing full well that I would be back in the pub with my friends, lager in hand,  the following weekend.

The truth is… I’ve never been the most proficient drinker.

It didn’t bode well that during my first grown up outing ‘on the lash’ (so to speak) I ended up being the victim of a mugging and spending the night at a police station while they waited patiently for me to sober up in order that I could identify the assailant. Five statements later and having described the entire cast of Sesame Street as the possible perpetrator and finally realising my inebriation my interrogators gave up on me.

‘Shandy Andy’ was probably the most appropriate name for my drinking pedigree and yet I continued in this vain for years despite the, oh so terrible, hangovers that had me crawling out of bed after lunch on many occasions.

So, after much deliberation I decided in my 40th year to put an end to the misery.

As I fittingly toasted Wales’s rugby Grand Slam win over Ireland on March 16th 2019, I sank my last alcoholic drink and rode a slightly wobbly and precarious ‘Next bike’ journey home.

So why am I writing this?

I’ll be honest I used to despise reading these sorts of virtuous, self-righteous articles and I also am acutely aware that perhaps I am turning into a cynical and grumpy old man.

However, although I have never been dependant on it or experienced any alcohol related illnesses I have often wondered why it is so inextricably entwined in my life.

As is so common for many of us, it has often been the prerequisite for many aspects of my social life. Whether that be simply meeting friends at the pub for drinks, or the manner in which it is flaunted at professional work events, whereby it seems to serve as a focal point to any celebration.

I have often wondered in the past how my life might be without alcohol, and even more so how I might be perceived as a tee-totaler amongst my friends and colleagues.

As I write this 18 months on since my last sip I can honestly say that my life has improved immeasurably.   All for that small sacrifice of not talking utter gibberish, walking around topless and occasionally pulling off my infamous David Brent dance on any given night out and that’s just after a half a pint.

So, if you are reading this and have thought about having a break, stopping totally or even cutting back I hope you might find some inspiration as I indulge you in some of my observations since becoming a non drinker.

People take it personally

Since I made the decision to leave alcohol behind, I’ve found the reaction of those around me in regard to my alcohol intake somewhat insightful, as it’s not always been characterised by positivity.

It is bizarre that alcohol is the only drug I am aware of where there is an immediate prejudice placed upon you for NOT consuming it; such is alcohol interwoven into our cultural fabric.

I’ve experienced eye rolls, shakes of heads and have even been called a ‘boring bastard’ and that’s just from my wife.

Jokes aside nevertheless, she (my wife) was frantically led away at a party recently and questioned as to whether she would in fact survive as a result of my life changing decision. Although I’m not entirely sure if this is more a sad indictment on my general mundane personality.

Even as recently as last week my visiting sister asked,

‘So, you are completely tee-total now bro?’

‘Yes’ I answered.

‘How do you feel about that Jess?’ she asked my wife.

Clearly, the oh so very sobering thought (excuse the pun) that my wife might have to open a bottle of wine and drink it alone without me has clearly been too much to comprehend for many.

As a society do we place a concerning value on the role alcohol plays within our lives?

Or, perhaps the fact that I have recently found myself tutting out loud and referring to music on radio 1 as, ‘just a noise’ is an issue that those who know me, feel I would be best remedied with a few beers inside me…….for my wife’s sake!

No Hangovers

No alcohol means clearly means no hangovers.

In truth until I gave up drinking I honestly didn’t appreciate just how much alcohol had been impinging on my time in general. As a result weekends now feel so much longer.

In years gone by it wouldn’t have been uncommon to wake on a Saturday morning with the agility of a three toe sloth with a pounding headache, nausea and a craving for food in any fatty form, wondering what time I might look and feel human again.

Despite curtailing my alcoholic consumption to a more modest intake prior to abstinence, my body still felt the relative impact, feeling sluggish and tired even after a few small glasses of wine.

These days the weekends offer a wealth of opportunity and I’m often out running or on my bike just before dawn ready to embrace the day on my return.

The incredible feeling of knowing that I am going to wake with a clear head the following morning is still not lost on me.

 

Sleep

I can actually sleep again!

The truth is with two children blessed with a circadian rhythm akin to an owl my sleep or lack of it became the catalyst to sobriety.

Awaking at some ungodly hour, having had a few the night before meant that not only did I have less sleep overall but the quality of sleep I was getting felt entirely inadequate.

Interestingly, as a stimulant alcohol interferes with our restorative sleep and sleep rhythms in general, which explains why, despite sleeping throughout the night you often wake up feeling more exhausted than you might expect.

Now it’s different as the quality of sleep I have is so much improved.

I sleep deeper, without interruption and wake up feeling refreshed which has had such a positive impact on my general wellbeing and much to my wife’s relief I am more than happy to jump out of bed at the crack of dawn.

 

Mind and Body

Physical health

I have always valued the importance of looking after my health, however, if I were to evaluate the periods of my life where I might have fallen short there is correlation with an increase in alcohol consumption.

Be aware! The empty calories in alcohol can have a habit of creeping up on you.

During my late twenties, for example, I changed my employment from a physically active career in tennis coaching into the more sedentary world of pharmaceuticals.

Unfortunately, with a heavy emphasis on regularly entertaining customers in fancy restaurants, my food and alcohol consumption increased substantially, as did my waistline. Within months I had metamorphosed from a Boris Becker doppelganger to that of Boris Johnson. Enough said.

Again, some years later, following the birth of my children, I managed to cultivate myself a rather fine ‘Dad Bod’ as I replaced regular trips to the gym with regular trips to the fridge for a cold evening beer.

Although of late, in place of booze, I’ve developed a rather unhealthy relationship with coffee, peanut butter and chocolate at the ripe old age of 41, physically I feel in great health.

My energy levels are now at an all time high. I feel fitter, faster and stronger than at any other point in my life. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I’ve achieved some lifelong physical goals and sporting achievements since giving up alcohol.

 

Mental health

Let’s be honest, alcohol is a depressant.

How many of us have woken up with ‘beer fear’ or  ‘hangxiety’ asking questions such as ‘what happened last night?’ or  ‘I didn’t offend anybody did I?’

I still shudder, for example, when I recall drinking so much at a client’s dinner party that in my total inebriated confusion I anxiously demanded of the hosts to inform me as to what nightclub I was in, despite being in their lovely dining room,  before passing out on their living room sofa.

The truth is, in the past, I found alcohol related anxiety could linger for days post hangover, pushing me into a sort of pseudo depression for the early part of the working week.  This left me feeling low, demotivated and ultimately unhappy.

Admittedly, this level of binge drinking is more synonymous with my youth and early professional working years. Yet, despite more modest drinking in recent times I arrived at a cross roads, where I questioned what benefits alcohol actually offered me.

Did it improve me as a person and perhaps more aptly did it make me happy?

The honest answer for me was an emphatic NO.

Of the many benefits I have experienced from an alcohol free life, it is undoubtedly the improvement in my mental health and general wellbeing, that has improved the most.  I now feel  like I am living in the present, which in turn has left me feeling full of confidence and motivation.

In recent years  there has been a cultural shift in our general awareness and understanding of mental health and the lockdown period has undoubtedly amplified the importance of looking after this aspect of our life.

.Money in my pocket

I’m rich!  Well, perhaps not , however, I am certainly better off.

Discounting any aforementioned muggings I think we can agree that regular alcohol consumption is expensive.

8 bottles of Peroni, two bottles of Sauvignon blanc and a further couple of bottles of Rioja extra a week throughout winter and it all adds up.

My wife and I could easily find ourselves spending at least £40 a week on alcohol just at home. That’s over £2000  per annum without even including eating out and nights out together.

The difference to my bank account has been significant and has meant I have been able to save money for far more meaningful activities.

With more money in my wallet it also means I’m less likely to be called ‘Short-Arm’ Fairclough for the next round.

What now?

So you see, that despite becoming the designated driver and the forgotten entity in any drink round (yes you forgot my orange juice again) there is a life beyond booze.

For me giving up alcohol has been one of the most positive live changing decisions I have ever made, I only wish I had made the decision to do it sooner.

In becoming a tee-totaler I have gained confidence, health and (some) wealth and although I still love a party,  the prospect of tomorrow now offers a world of opportunity and if opportunity means no hangover then that in itself is a joy.

Cheers!

 

 

 

Shoe Review – My transformation from road runner to mountain goat with the Inov-8 Roclite 275.

Hello again.

I know it has been a while since my last blog but it has not been without good intentions.

The blogging window of opportunity whilst initially limited by our sons self-imposed nappy strike or ‘nappy gate’ as we like to call it has now been replaced with my new found super power.  What could that be I hear you ask?

Well, my ability to spontaneously fall asleep at any given moment.  I first discovered it while watching Masterchef – a program I genuinely love. However, Love Island has allowed me to explore depths of sleep I never knew were possible.

Anyway, I digress.  I  have also run two half marathons since my last blog post the training for which not only taught me a lot about myself but brought me results I didn’t think were possible a year ago.  I will share my experiences on this and how I improved in a future blog.

One of aspects that has  certainly improved my running has been ensuring I run the ‘easy’ miles something I didn’t do previously.

When RunRepeat offered me the chance to review the Inov 8 Roclite 275 I jumped at the chance as it allowed me the perfect chance to use my easy runs to gain some insight into the world of trail running.

I wasn’t disappointed.  Who knew how beautiful the Taff Trail and Cefn Onn Park in Cardiff were?

Click on the link below to read my review.

https://runrepeat.com/inov-8-roclite-275#expert-andrew-fairclough

 

Shoe Review – On Cloudflow

Shoe Review : On CloudFlow 

Hello.

Apologies, It’s been a little while since I last posted on Welshrunningdad, largely due to the fact that most of my spare time in the evenings is now spent debating with our two year old son on the benefits of wearing a nappy.

The aforementioned nappy boycott coupled with shouts of ‘I want pants‘ at any particular ungodly hour throughout the night is not conducive to feeling mentally conscious enough to blog after work.

Sadly he has won the battle and we are now facing some sadistic form of faecal Russian Roulette which keep us on our toes, literally at times……..

However,  contrary to this within my running world I am pleased to say things are slightly more orderly.

I am extremely pleased to announce I have been accepted as an ‘Expert Shoe Reviewer’ for RunRepeat.com which is a fantastic site offering reviews on a wide variety of running shoes.

I am currently training for the Great Welsh Half marathon in three weeks time  which has provided me with a perfect opportunity to provide my first review as I put the On Cloudflow running shoe through its paces.

Read my first review here:

https://runrepeat.com/on-cloudflow#expert-andrew-fairclough

 

 

 

My top 5 tips to begin your running journey.


I must confess this evening something  extremely strange happened.

As I was reading my daughter a rather riveting bedtime story (something about a Superworm)  and as I tried desperately to ignore my sons screams for extra milk demanded specifically in his cow cup, my wife entered the room in her running kit and uttered the words I’ve been wanting her to say for some time.

Stop it,  no not that but….

I’m going for a run’


I should make it apparent that my wife is a regular gym goer, however I think its fair to say she hasn’t exactly shared my passion for running which is why it was such a shock!

This revelation along with receiving some warm feedback on previous running posts has prompted me to write my top tips on the best way to embark on your running journey – if you’ve just started or perhaps just contemplating giving it a go.

1.Treat yourself to some decent running shoes. 

Running is a fairly cost effective sport in terms of kit. However, your feet are your main source of equipment so you’ll need to look after them. The first step I would advise is to get your running gait analysed.

We all run in slightly different styles, think Phoebe from friends.

via GIPHY

However, the manner in which we run and the way in which our foot strikes the floor determines the best type of shoe to wear. This can help with comfort and injury prevention.

For example, a majority of runners in the UK over pronate their foot on landing which means the foots rolls inwards. This can cause injuries like shin splints for example. Shops that measure running gait will get you to run slowly to identify how you run and offer you a trainer that will compensate for your style. In this case a more stable shoe offering support would help the runner. In Cardiff, shops like MOTI on Albany road or Run and Become on St Mary Street offer this service.

Once you know the shoe you require, shop around. Running shoes are updated year on year and it is possible to get some great bargains by buying last seasons version.

2.Start Slow

I regularly meet people who tell me that running isn’t for them or that they are simply not a natural runner (READ PREVIOUS BLOG ON THIS)

While I accept not everyone will enjoy running, there was a time when I also despised the very thought of it.

Go easy on yourself and don’t run before you can walk (excuse the pun) Don’t expect to be able to run park run overnight and understand that fitness can take a little while to build although it does build quickly the more you do it.

All runners struggle with motivation from time to time but it is worth remembering that the more you do it the easier it gets. The first two or three runs will be the hardest that you will do and it is only an upward progress from there.

There are also incredible initiatives and Apps that offer strong support and guidance to help you along your way. You only have to google ‘Couch to 5km’ and you will find that the BBC and or the NHS offer Apps with a fantastic progressive starting plan – happy days!

3.Get Social – Find a running partner/Join a running club

If you have great intentions to run but are struggling to motivate yourself then running with a friend could be the solution. Running with company is a great way to motivate yourself and is a really enjoyable way to pass the time. Although the ‘talk test’ is always a good measure of how hard you are working!

Another great way of getting into running is to join a running club. Running clubs welcome new runners regularly and offer a great way to meet runners of all levels and will cater to your running ability. You should be able to locate your local running club by visiting British athletics and selecting the ‘find a club’ feature.

4.Enter a running event

Why not? What better way is there to motivate yourself then commiting to an event?

A great goal to start with would be to run at your local Parkrun which is 3.1 miles and incidentally run around a park.

This event is attended by runners of all levels of ability, young and old and even runners with prams and dogs. (Head to Parkrun uk to find your local even) and although it is timed is only as competitive or non-competitive as you make it.

Personally I am in awe, week in and week out by not only the running community but the volunteers who give their time to run this free event.

If you’re feeling a little braver then websites like findarace.com will provide an extensive list of 10kms , half marathons and many more races around the uk.

Remember the word ‘race’ is a loose term in running as and I quote the words of Baz Luhrmann (Sunscreen)

Sometimes you’re ahead, sometimes you’re behind, the race is long, and in the end, its only with yourself’

In running you set the benchmark and nobody else so give it a whirl as if nothing else the experience and atmosphere are something to cherish.

5.Aches and Pains are normal

It is normal to feel some aches and pains or DOMS (Delayed Onset of Muscle Soreness) when starting to run as you are using muscles and movements you might not have previously.

As you get used to running more often these pains subside. ( Of course this is within reason, if an injury is particularly painful or re-occurring make sure it is rested and or checked with your Dr.)

and finally…..

If you concerned about the prospect of knee pain as a result of taking up running then the following statistic might be of interest.

In 2013 a huge study of nearly 75,000 runners and 15,000 walkers found that runners were almost half as likely to develop arthritis than walkers, and the more miles a week runners did the lower the risk was for them.

So there you go! No excuses, now get yourself some kit and give it a go – you won’t regret it!

Follow me on Instagram for more running tips

welshrunningdad_

Finding your true potential.

The passing of Stan Lee earlier last week had more of an impact on me than I might have expected. You see, Stan created Spider-man (and many more heroes and villains) – a character we all know and love and who I lived vicariously though during my childhood and teenage years.

Why?

He is a nerdy teenage boy lacking self-belief simply trying to find his way in life until a Spider-bite changes his life.

Lately I have learnt that life is just the story we tell ourselves and all too often people pigeon-hole us by telling us who we are, what we should do and what our potential is.  Clichéd as it sounds, I’ve always been enamoured with the concept that there is a hero in us all and our true potential is there to be realised when we believe in ourselves.

Sometimes it may take someone else to help us realise that potential, as happened to me recently at my local park run.

A few months ago I turned up to my local park run in Cardiff flustered and a little late.  Having been awake since 5am and with the song ‘Do you want to build a snowman?’ literally haunting me I was desperate to escape the toddler chaos building in my living room at home and hurriedly bid my wife and children goodbye.

I was pleasantly surprised on arrival that the run was introduced by the double Olympic champion Dame Kelly Holmes, who while working in Cardiff apparently couldn’t resist an opportunity to enjoy a morning run around Bute Park.

As she took to the tanoy she spoke passionately about the park scheme initiative and  the incredible community it now represents – motivating people to enjoy exercise and running.

Feeling inspired by her words I set off around the course along with the 700 other participants to enjoy the fresh summer morning air. As I began to near the end of the course I had started to envisage my morning coffee and breakfast and I was somewhat taken aback and if I’m honest awestruck to be greeted by the Olympic champion herself.  At full flight it was difficult to offer any means of polite conversation, however ,within a few metres my feelings of awe were replaced  with one thought

‘Wouldn’t it be amazing if I could beat Dame Kelly Holmes – a double Olympic gold medal winner?

‘What a story that would be for my children’, I thought.

Sadly, my thoughts didn’t hold much place in reality as within seconds I was left in her tracks as she took off into the distance.

At the finish line I was lucky enough to meet her in person as I collected my running token and time and she kindly agreed to an obligatory selfie.

Later than day I cheekily tweeted Dame Kelly Holmes asking her to follow me on Twitter as I hopelessly aimed to beat the park run time she had achieved that morning.

Unbelievably, not only did I receive a reply but a challenge that inadvertently led me on a journey of discovery and self belief.

In order to acquire a ‘follow’ I would have to run a sub 19 5km and whereas previously I thought this feat might be as achievable as me waking up with hair like Chesney Hawkes this tweet had now become my metaphorical Spider-bite.

Every run I set out on from this point took on a different meaning.  Running offers so much to me already only had now started to believe what was possible. My legs seem to have more spring and my tolerance of pain increased significantly.

Mentally I began to visualise racing and beating all the anxieties holding me back in my life and my Strava times slowly started to improve.  I would also add that going for a run at slightly inopportune moments can vastly improve your running times.

For example if I leave the house just as my children begin drawing on the kitchen wall first thing on a Saturday morning I know that I need to be back in a very good time before the house falls down and my wife decides to leave me. I have achieved many a personal best with this technique!

My park run time slowly began to make significant improvements and with it so did my attitude and belief in other areas of my life.

The inspiration and belief I gained from this chance encounter has in turn driven me to inspire others through the inception of Welshrunningdad.

I began telling myself  that it really doesn’t matter that other people place limitations on us because ultimately if we really want something and believe in ourselves then our goals are entirely achievable.

I realise that we might not all be fortunate enough to be bitten by a Spider like Peter Parker or bump into an Olympic legend at your local Park Run.

However, I believe that Stan Lee creations and Kelly Holmes personal challenge are examples that with a little self belief anything is possible.

Who knows I might even wake up with a full head of hair in the morning.

As far as the Park Run challenge is concerned I seem to have aquired an extra follower on Twitter.

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5 Reasons to pack your running shoes on your travels.

Along with the passports, boarding passes and sun screen my running shoes top my priority list whenever I’m  packing to travel abroad – whether that be for business or pleasure.

However, I am fully aware that mentioning running and holiday in the same sentence may well be an oxymoron for many readers so I’ll endeavour to explain my reasoning behind this.

(More) Relaxation Time

Travelling can be stressful at any time especially with children who can be extremely testing at times.

Yesterday for example my wife and I attempted desperately to enjoy a tapas meal at what was once our regular haunt pre-children, only to be interrupted by periodic regurgitations of food and embarrassingly loud announcements of

‘Mummy, Daddy I need a poo’.

And, only as I write my daughter is repeatedly asking for an explanation as to why mosquitos want to take her blood before she even contemplates going to sleep!

It is said that ‘patience is a virtue’ however if I’m honest I’m not sure that the author of that quote had children…

Time out is vital to help restore patience levels and a morning run for me is the best way to embrace the challenges of the day whatever they may be. (yes,even on a holiday!)

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Beach running – My happy place!

Just make sure your partner gets their relaxation time too!

See the Sights

Exploring new destinations can be somewhat overwhelming on occasions and especially when travelling with a young family.

If you’re like me and experience a high degree of ‘FOMO’ (Fear Of Missing Out – for those of you not down with the lingo) sticking on your running shoes can certainly help you gain your bearings quickly and discover those ‘off the beaten track‘ establishments you might have otherwise missed.

You might even catch a glorious sunrise or two on your way.

Perfect that tan

As a Welshman I have to admit Wales isn’t best know for its temperate climate meaning that for much of the year we are more likely to put up an umbrella than douse ourselves in Hawaiian tropic – I mean sunscreen factor 30.

Given the fact that for the majority of the winter months I have the complexion of a milky bar I am therefore obviously not advocating buttering yourselves up and heading out running in the midday sun during the summer months, of course.

(Further to this when actually on  the beach with the family I seem to spend most of my time nestled in some obscenely large hole I’ve created to contain our periodically feral children)

However, an early morning or an early evening run will certainly help boost Vitamin D production which has obvious health benefits for healthy bones.

In addition to this I’m sure very few will deny that a sensibly acquired tan undoubtedly makes you feel better about yourself adding to the mental health benefits from not only exercise but being outside also.

Meeting People

It’s not uncommon to come across other fitness enthusiasts whilst out and about on your daily holiday run/exercise jaunt.

Whilst holidaying in Spain this week I have been greeted with a nod or an ‘Hola’ by the same dog walkers, walkers, cyclists and runners on a daily basis and even witnessed a Zumba class on the beach.

Running and Exercise breaks down those interpersonal barriers and may well allow you to sample a little more of the local language, culture and customs.

I should also add APPs like Strava are also great for creating local competition whereby local segment records for stretches of certain runs are challenged by runner in the local community.

Holiday Weight

How many of us step on the scales on returning home from holiday and are confronted with the horrifying reality that either the scales are broken or we’ve put on a few pounds?

I accept that many will point out that this is part of the course of going on holiday and of course I agree to a certain extent.

However, personally speaking a fews runs here and there mean that I can enjoy eating Spanish Churros for breakfast and a few beers (not at the same time) all the more without having to worry too much about squeezing into my suit on returning back home to work.

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‘My Race’ – Cardiff Half Marathon Synopsis.

What a race last weeks half marathon turned out to be. Every aspect from the weather to the race itself ran like clockwork. (N.B Please read footnote)

Only the day before we faced a deluge and unbelievably by the time the sun rose on the Sunday morning the sky was clear and the wind had subsided.

This year as I awoke I was especially nervous. The 2018 CHM offered me one particular challenge, to shave a meer 4 minutes from my half marathon time achieved in recent years.

The amazing thing about running is that it allows us all to set our unique individual targets and for me this year a sub 1:30 race would offer me an opportunity to turn back the clock and temporarily deal with the fact that I turn 40 early next year.

It’s been 8 years since I dipped under the elusive hour and a half mark and this was my challenge. Some might call this a mid-life crisis, still I suppose it’s better than buying a sports car right?

Training for all intents and purposes had gone reasonably well. I had managed to start running some fairly quick 5kms at Parkrun inspired by Dame Kelly Holmes (more about this aspect in a future blog) and unlike others years where I had essentially just turned up and hoped for the best this year was different as I had approached training with a purpose.

Having gone to bed feeling satisfied although not full on a bowl of tuna pasta the previous evening ,the morning offered its own mini challenges. Thankfully my wife left with me with one less stress by ensuring I avoided the carnage that our children regularly hurl at us on cue at 5:30am daily. This enabled me to run around the house like a headless chicken periodically asking ‘Where are my headphones?’ and ‘Who has stolen my running shorts since last night?’

Typically my Garmin strap had broken and as my wife reluctantly duct taped it to my wrist I had only one last request which was to be dropped into town. Biting her tongue she quickly ushered our children still sporting their PJs into the car and wished me luck as I stepped out into the pre-marathon hassle and bustle.

Myself and a group of thirty four other runners were representing a fantastic charity ‘Amser Justin Time’ which raises awareness for pancreatic cancer and I was due at a pre-race photo forty five minutes before the start. Unfortunately sporadic arrival times meant the photo was a little later than arranged and as my pre-race bowel habits are about as reliable as Arriva trains I visited the Park Plaza to avoid pulling a Paula Radcliffe on the course.

Some but not all of the runners representing ‘Amser Justin Time’

The Race

I still hadn’t quite set upon my race tactics as I stood in the race pen nervously tying and retying my shoe laces and it was a welcome relief to bump into some accomplished running friends who I had enjoyed some training sessions with in the build up to the race.

We found ourselves standing behind the 1:30 pacers and although not my initial intention to follow the pacers I did not have a better plan as the starting gun went off.

I knew I had to achieve an average pace of 6:52 mins per mile for the race and within the first few miles I had already lost sight of my friends as I turned to the pacers to ensure my race destiny.

The first three miles felt relatively comfortable and although I was slightly concerned at the faster than anticipated race pace that flashed up on my Garmin at miles one and two I trusted in my new comrades.

The first half of the race takes the participants through Leckwith and towards Penarth which offers a slight challenge as you clamber up an incline before heading down towards the barrage.

CHM is always extremely well supported and as you venture into Cardiff bay at mile 6 you are greeted with screams from the supporting crowd especially on the bridge at Roald Dahl pass. A quick glance at my watch read 42 mins as I passed the half way mark, slightly slower than anticipated but I felt relatively comfortable as I momentarily contemplated and declined the running gels on offer.

Mile 6-7 takes the runners down Lloyd George Avenue which is a tedious stretch of road towards the city centre and at this point I found myself ahead of the pacers and slightly anxious as my breaths felt ever heavier. The runners around me seemed to be jostling for position for the second half of the race and I willed myself to hold my spot.

In previous years this section of the race has proved my Achilles heel and I focused heavily on keeping my stride and mind focused on the fact that my wife and children would be waiting at mile 9 to spur me on.

As I ran towards my family at the mile 9 marker it took a great effort to return the motivational greeting screamed at my person although it did put a much needed spring in my step.

Another quick glance at my watch and my forearm (where I had conveniently penned my split guide with a Sharpy) confirmed I was bang on time with 1hr 1 minute having passed by since the start of the race.

Half a mile later and things were beginning to take a turn for the worse as I gratefully accepted the bottle of Lucozade on offer. The pacers and the surrounding runners had begun to pull away.

Mile 10 was always going to be a pivotal point for me as not only does it mark the last 5km of the race but it also happens to circumvent Roath Park Lake my regular running stomping ground. I actually screamed out loud as the lactic acid started to take it effect ‘This is your turf now!’ Slightly odd admittedly however it did seem to invoke something in me.

As the pacers disappeared around the other side of the lake I had started to feel that age wasn’t on my side although I constantly reminded myself that all the tempo runs, the hill sprints and the competitive Park runs were not in vain.

Miraculously, as I shuffled up the final incline at mile 12 I passed a wheelchair racer. His arms must have been burning in pain as the crowd, the participants and myself screamed at him to keep going.

‘How poignant’ I thought ‘this is what it’s all about’- inspiring each other and willing each other to push the boundaries to achieve what we once might have thought not possible.

At this moment I became instantly stronger and as the sun beamed onto my face on Cathays terrace the student area of the city I felt overwhelmingly content as my legs began to take on a mind of their own.

As I rounded onto the finishing stretch my legs began to propel themselves faster and faster and I could now see the finishing line and clock above ticking the seconds away.

I found myself over taking the first of the 1:30 pacers then unbelievably the second and as the clock ticked onto 1hr 29 mins I crossed the finishing line with my hands raised in the air.

My quest was complete and as the endorphins and lactic acid pulsed through my body I couldn’t help feel like I had turned back the clock ever so slightly.

I was firmly on cloud 9 as were a majority of my running friends who all seemed to hit their own personal goals.

In the mean time I’ve accepted I am getting older which is exactly why I’ve asked my wife if I can enter next years Tenby Ironman. Probably not the best event to propose with a 3 year old and a two year old so we’ll see.

In the mean time Cardiff Half Marathon entries for 2019 are available today. I wonder if a sub 1:25 is possible ?

Nb Thoughts and prayers with the families and loved ones of Ben McDonald and Dean Fletcher two young runners who tragically passed away on finishing the race.

What are you wearing under that? Half marathon race day hints and tips.

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Me and my Canadian running brother post London Marathon 2013.

‘What are you wearing under that?’ my wife anxiously asked as I donned for the first time the grass skirt I intended to wear whilst running the London Marathon in 2013.

‘I’m not entirely sure‘ I replied equally as anxious.  Perhaps I hadn’t clearly thought this through.

As it transpired and in ‘hindsight’ (or more appropriately – given the manner in which the tribal skirt disintegrated throughout the streets of London – ‘behindsight’)  I have learnt that outfit selection is one of the many facets of preparation a runner might want to consider prior to race day.

The fact that the spectator’s lining the Mall didn’t necessarily have to pay to see the ‘Crown Jewels’ that day is something that still haunts me.

However, at least it gives me some (if little) insight into providing some useful hints and tips for race day.

The week before

Training

Hopefully by this point the hard arduous runs have been completed and this weeks focus can be on bringing down the mileage or ‘tapering’ as experienced runners call it.

From my perspective I just want to remain injury and illness free although ironically as I type I am sipping on ginger tea and have been knocking back the Lemsips as if it is a cure for baldness.

As a side point I might have even coined the phrase ‘chesty cough’ to my wife and I think  we both realised at that point my rugby playing days are over.

Anyway, the maximum distance I will aim run this week will most probably be five miles and I will look to give myself two days rest before race day, although personally I do like to do a gentle twenty minute run the day before to keep the legs moving.

Footwear and Clothing

If you are thinking of wearing clown shoes that is no small feat.

On a serious note a friend of mine (who is also in training for Cardiff half marathon) thoughtfully sent me a picture of his ankle which currently resembles any of the infected characters limbs in the ‘walking dead’.

Unfortunately he had made the common mistake of purchasing a new pair of running shoes (like myself see pic below) with race day looming, and run some distance without breaking them in.

My feet training for London Marathon 2013 (Pre-marriage hence far better maintained these days)

My advice here is if you’ve done your training in flippers, wear flippers, and if you have frustratingly acquired any last minute blisters give yourself time to heal in order that you can enjoy race day pain free.

Likewise with clothing the same applies.  Along with my fashion faux pas during the London Marathon I also experienced the running phenomenon know as ‘Chaffing’.

Choose your clothing carefully as running with your hand cupping your nipples or down your shorts in order to alleviate pain isn’t a good look.  It is again advisable to give your clothing a test run.

Tip – On race day as its often cold in the UK at this time of year I like to wear an old top that I don’t mind losing and wear it until the race starts at which point I discard it. I believe any discarded clothing is given to charity in Cardiff or so I believe/hope.

Sleep

As I wrote that word I actually laughed out loud especially as my wife and I have two children who may well have well been badgers or owls in their former lives.

In this vein, I accept that this element of advice may well be a stretch too far for some parents however getting quality sleep will certainly help prepare the body and mind for demands of a half marathon.

Food 

‘Carbing up’ and attending a ‘Pasta Party’ have become synomous with any pre-race dietary advice for a long distance race.

Personally, the last thing I want to feel as I stand at the start of a race is like a bowl of linguini possibly made worse by potent garlic breath.

Pasta is obviously a great choice of food the night prior to a race however it can be detrimental to overeat.  If you are not a fan of pasta high carb foods such as rice and potatoes are a good replacement.

It’s probably sensible to keep eating in the same manner as you’ve eaten whilst training and increasing carbohydrate intake slowly towards the end of the week.

On race day itself I like to get up a good few hours before the race and have a bowl of porridge with a banana.  Toast with banana and peanut butter is another one of my favourites.

Tip- Just before the race I often have a few bites of a Snickers bar so give me a little sugar/energy hit.

Drink

Another friend of mine (yes I have two) who is also embarking on his first half marathon mentioned casually this week that he is ‘Wetting the baby’s Head’ the night prior to Cardiff Half Marathon.

(To be honest it was only a year ago I was kindly invited on my brother-in-laws stag do,whereby each morning after an evening drinking session I would venture out for a run before we were handed the first alcoholic drink of the day in desperation to sweat out and out run the ensuing hangover)

However, I stress running a few miles with a sore head and running a half marathon are different animals and I would not advise a night out prior to running 13.2 miles.

I will state though that there have been times in my life whereby I’ve been called ‘Shandy Andy’ so what do I know?

Drink plenty of water – It is advisable to stay hydrated throughout the week and especially the night before the race.

Tip – During the race take small sips of any water or energy drinks provided as that should be sufficient to keep you hydrated without bloating your stomach.

Finally….

Enjoy the Race

You’ve done the training and even if you haven’t try and relax and enjoy the day!

Running or walking a half marathon is an incredible achievement so take in the atmosphere and enjoy being in the company of thousands of other like minded runners all running for different reasons whether it be for a charity or a personal challenge and look forward to celebrating that achievement on finishing the race.

Me and a fellow running friend (wow thats 3) celebrating after Cardiff Half a few years back.

GOOD LUCK !

Race Day Eve and Race Day Summary

Race Day Eve

  1. Eat some pasta (not too much)
  2. One beer or glass of wine won’t hurt (No session)
  3. Stay hydrated
  4. Go to bed early (Nookie optional – although probably not if you have children)

Race Day

  1. Get up early
  2. Eat some breakfast a few hours before the race
  3. Get to the race early and give yourself time to use the toilets.
  4. Stay warm
  5. Enjoy
  6. Celebrate
  7. Sign up for the next race

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Eat less, move more!

The Back Story

‘A Large Caramel Macchiato and a Skinny muffin please’ I would bark at the Starbucks Barrista as I ordered my routine breakfast in the not too distant past.

Lunch on the road wasn’t much better.  A tub of sushi followed by a Ginsters pasty and worse still on a Friday night as I often played rugby the following day  I would consume a large Dominoes pizza washed down with just the one bottle of a Campo Viejo Rioja.

(Don’t judge me red wine is good for the heart….so they say!)

The sad thing is I thought I was being healthy.

I am far from being a nutritionalist but it turns out ‘Skinny’ products don’t make you ‘Skinny’

I recall a defining moment in my ‘fat era‘ in 2008 whilst on a ‘Lads trip’ to New York  spending an inordinate amount of time one evening impressing a young lady with my one liners and self-deprecating humour.

(You know one liners  like ‘They say Vaseline was invented by Romans but its actually ancient grease’)

I returned from the bar after buying her an overpriced capriosca to be told by the young woman  ‘ I’m sorry Skinny guys are more my type’ at which point I walked away and proceeded to cry into my pint which is code for order a kebab!

I returned home to Wales distraught and decided to take action.

The Call For Action

I had no idea where to start in regard to diet as my speciality in the kitchen at this time was scrambled eggs made with half of tub of Philadelphia cream cheese.

So I took stock and did what most men would do in a crisis and I rushed into Tesco’s and bought a copy of Men’s Health. (Ok most men would hit the pub but that would have put an end to this blog)

I ripped out the only diet plan in the magazine and followed it to the best of my ability and I can still clearly remember the content.

Breakfast – Poached eggs on toast or Porridge with  blueberries

Mid morning – Plain chicken

Lunch – Jacket and plain tuna

Afternoon snack – peanut butter on rye bread

Supper – Salmon fillet with brown rice

I remember as I gagged down the 200g of plain chicken at 11am sitting in the confines of my company car thinking ‘This is fowl’  (I know I have to stop the puns) that I actually felt like I was eating far more than I had done previously.

Admittedly, I combined my new approach to diet along with starting to run. Weight began to drop off me – Eat less,move more!

Although I felt like I was eating more food I was essentially taking in less calories while feel fuller and more satisfied for longer periods.

‘Eat less, move more.’ To me its a simple message, burn more calories than you consume and you are likely to lose weight.

I must stress I am no authority on the intricacies of diet however, I know that I have lost and sustained a substantial amount of weight dropping from approximately 14 stone to 11 stone.  I have also moved on from the days where I would regularly enjoy a pizza and chips sandwich (or butty if you’re Welsh like myself)

It is all too easy to over complicate diets and lets face it there have been some strange ones ranging from the 5/2, Atkins, juice diets and most recently I have been made aware of a chocolate cake for breakfast diet.  A cake diet sounds incredible but seriously?

For me long term weight loss is found in making long term changes.

How much do I need to sacrifice?

The reason I have addressed diet on this particular blog is that I have been approached by a number of colleagues and friends to help out with a dietary advice.

In order to lose weight it is my view that combining a healthy, balanced diet with regular exercise will undoubtedly prompt weight loss.

Small sacrifices might have to be made along the way whether that be foregoing empty calories from alcohol, fizzy drinks, or the post run/gym work out reward.  You know who you are!!

During the first year of dating my wife she asked me to accompany her on a training run as she had ambitiously entered the Great North Run having never run a half marathon before.   Impressed with her determination to push herself I politely accepted the invite.  However,half way through our run she convinced me to stop for some tea and cake which for me was not only a surprise but brought an entire new meaning to a ‘tempo run’ and a perfect example of how to undo all of the benefits of a good exercise regime.

My wife is actually is in fantastic physical shape however this type of behaviour is commonly indicative of those who often don’t manage to lose weight.  I must add that my wife has entirely different and healthy approach to the reward aspect these days!

Remember, Eat less move more if looking to lose weight, don’t over complicate the concept.

Also remember that along the way a cheat day here and there won’t hurt as we all have to live a little.

Once you hit your weight loss target and learn to understand your body you can certainly relax a little more in your dietary approach.

These days I very much abide by the saying

‘Everything in moderation including moderation’. 

Although the thought of looking like this again keeps me on the straight and narrow!

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