Not a parkrunner? Here’s why you should be

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For anyone in the UK unfamiliar with the parkrun concept (strictly no capital p…..), it is one you need to get to know. Founded in 2004 in Bushy Park London – the concept has quickly spread and now with now over 1million “parkrunners” in the UK, this is a phenomenon the country has really embraced with open arms.

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What’s the Lowdown?

The basic concept: a free, timed, weekly 5k run taking part in a variety of locations at 9.30am in little ole’ NI (due to our looooong dark winter mornings) and 9am elsewhere in the UK.

You can sign up online, you get a unique barcode (shown below) that you print out & take with you to the event.  At the end, a volunteer time-keeper gives you a second barcode, with corresponds to your time. You queue up for a few minutes then another kind-hearted volunteer matches the two barcodes up and a few hours later you can check out your result online. Perhaps the best part is that all of this is FREE – you really have nothing to lose!

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Furthermore, parkrun has a load of neat little extras to excite combined statistics & running lovers like me. You get your own unique parkrun homepage to track your progress as the weeks go on, find out how you’re doing against others and if you enter your mobile number, parkrun will even text you details on your time and performance that day!

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What is there on offer for ME?

If you’re a seasoned runner, parkrun is the perfect opportunity to get a kick through the legs on a Saturday morning. For those training for a marathon, an easy 5k is the perfect length for a Saturday before attempting a long run on a Sunday. For the rest of us sane, non-marathon-training individuals, it’s long enough to seem like an exerted effort but short enough not to kill us before the weekend has barely begun!

But parkrun also has so much to offer new runners. It’s perhaps the most welcoming event out there and I think everyone who takes part can agree that it is fantastic to be able to see other people discovery the benefits running can bring for the first time and you get your own group of cheerleaders in the form of the volunteers who devote their time to making the event happen every week. Even by doing a walk-run-walk combination, you are still doing your body so much good and running rings around everyone else still in their bed at that time on a Saturday. The hardest part will be convincing yourself to take part in that first run, after that it’s simple if you just imagine that well-earned coffee and cake that can be enjoyed after the finish.

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Parents pushing prams and people running with their dogs are also very welcome. From what I have seen at Leamington parkrun, having a dog can be a potentially huge advantage you own a Greyhound that can just pull you around, but probably not if your pooch is a Yorkshire Terrier that is likely to need a toilet break half way through!

“But I heard parkrun was an event for my middle-aged Aunt to shift some baby weight and tire out her 8 year old simultaneously?”

Whilst parkrun can definitely help do both those things, running a timed 5K event like this has enormous benefits for anyone interested in sport and keeping their body healthy.

In running in general, I notice a huge lack of participation in the 20-30 age range, especially considering we then should be considered to be at our prime.

Of course I get why: work gets in the way, there is a party to go to on Friday night & quite frankly sometimes a gym slog seems like an easier option: but from experience, if you want to make running an enjoyable activity, this is the perfect place to do it. The competitive streak in everyone comes out and you can push yourself in a way you just couldn’t on a treadmill.

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“OK…. I’ll give it a go, where can I take part?”   

It’s super easy to find your nearest event through this link, you can even become a parkrun tourist by seeing how many different parkruns you can take part in. I’m currently at 5, and can personally recommend Leamington, Coventry (with over 500 runners weekly!), Liverpool Princes, South Manchester and most recently my local town – Limavady.

I think that parkrun is really just getting started – there are even people writing research papers on the secret behind it’s success (why didn’t I think of that one for my dissertation?!). The simplicity of the idea and the great community spirit put together mean this is a concept that will hopefully continue to grow & grow!
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NB – I hope at some time to go through and find some more fun statistics to include on parkrun – the results database contains so much for anyone who is interested in stats to play with!

1Rebel Ride Review

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Last week, on a trip to London, I decided to “treat myself” (quite questionable if this really constitutes a treat or not…..) and booked in for a morning class at 1Rebel – one of the new boutique fitness studios that every fitness blogger under the sun seems to be raving about.

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What is on offer?

1Rebel offers 2 classes: Ride & Reshape. Ride is the traditional spin class offering; although it does market itself a full-body workout due to the inclusion of a set of dumbbells hanging over the bike, while Reshape is the ever-so-slightly more intimidating version which uses intervals of treadmill work combined with weight training. If you’ve ever heard of the infamous Barry’s Bootcamp, the Reshape classes seem to be loosely based on the same idea, without being quite as expensive.

As a new spinning convert, I decide to give 1Rebel Ride a go as rolling out of bed at 6.30am seemed easier when it was following a familiar concept. I was keen to get my sweaty cycling fix & I was not left disappointed.

You can book classes easily online and are given the choice of 65 numbered bike stations on booking. As a result of 1Rebel’s no frills pay-as-you-go system, you won’t be tied to any contracts and are under no obligation to return if you decide it isn’t for you.

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I am told that if you do make repeat bookings, the system will remember what height you set your bike seat at and do the same for you next time. I mean, it’s not difficult to change the height of the seat once you get there and I probably wouldn’t even notice that they had set it at the right height for me but apparently these little details make a difference for some (lazy) people.

So, how was my 1Rebel Ride experience?

After springing out of bed with excitement at 7am (fitness geek alert…..) I headed to 1Rebel armed with my citymapper app for directions & a print out of the email confirmation I had received.

I found 1Rebel quite easily (if you’re stuck just head for the Gherkin) although the outside of the building is quite unassuming.

On entrance I was greeted by a friendly receptionist who didn’t need the confirmation email, instead simply asking for my surname to check my booking. She then reminded me what bike I had booked onto and gave me a nice big fluffy towel for the showers, a smaller towel to take into class and a free bottle of water (gotta love the freebies). Personally I think the bottle of water is quite small for the class and would recommended bring your own larger water bottle if you, like me, like to guzzle a lot during the class.

The changing rooms follow the gritty industrial-chic vibe exerted by everything 1Rebel but with hairdryers, straighteners, beauty products and big lockers. You really don’t need to bring anything with you except your outfit for the day ahead.

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1Rebel also provide cleats (special cycling shoes that clip onto the bike) which was a bit of a novelty for me as I had never used them before!

After we all moved into the dimly-lit, large studio, the instructor kindly helped to connect me to my spin bike as I was pretty clueless. The idea was similar enough to connecting yourself to a set of skis, but I’ve never been much good at that either so was bound to struggle.

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I found the shoes to be helpful for technique, although not a necessity for the spin class beginner as ensuring the foot straps are well tightened on a normal spin bike is more than adequate and basically has the same effect.

The class was 45 minutes long which I personally think was he perfect length of time, long enough to give a well-rounded workout but short enough to be able to maintain the high intensity throughout. 1Rebel also offers 30 minute lunchtime sessions which I think would feel a bit short but are a great alternative for busy London workers.

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We sweated our way through a routine incorporating hills and sprints as well as jumps in and out of the bike, which really got the glutes and quads burning. There was also a track using dumbbells for a variety of arm exercises including bicep curls and tricep dips: I didn’t feel like this track did a whole lot as I spent most of the time trying to maintain my balance and keep cycling at the same time but maybe if I used heavier dumbbells (my bike had been pre-set with 2kg weights) next time it may have more of an effect. It was still nice to mix it up in the middle of the workout.

The low lighting meant that you could really go for it without feeling like everyone was watching you – although it was so dark I sometimes struggled to even see to be able to turn up my resistance.

Furthermore, the lack of a clock annoyed me as I am one of those people who always likes to know how much time there is left to go. If you’re like me – bring a watch.

Despite these little niggles, I had a great experience & by the end of the workout, I felt really invigorated and ready to hit the day ahead. Our instructor had been great at throwing in a series of go-get-it taglines so I left the room really feeling full of sass.

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After a high-5 from our instructor Melissa (@MelissaWeldonUK) and a well-needed cool down from the cold towels provided, we all headed off towards the changing rooms. The showers had quite a queue: if you were in a rush you would need to make sure you got out of the class pronto before the rush. Luckily, this was not too big an issue for me and with nothing but a morning coffee with some friends planned, I was able to enjoy a leisurely shower before heading out to face the day.

So, is it worth it?

In terms of workout benefits, I didn’t find the workout I got from 1Rebel Ride to be much more effective than from a standard run of the mill spin class. The layout was generally similar and the class didn’t contain any new revolutionary material.

With regards to the Ride class’ claim of a “full body workout,” the impact from the requirement of using my core to stabilise myself when running out of the saddle did much more to give the “all-over body” effect than the one track which did incorporate dumbbells. Despite 1Rebel’s claim, I still maintain that if you are looking for all-over body conditioning in a single session, spin class (1Rebel Ride included) isn’t the ideal choice.

However, if you struggle to motivate yourself to work harder and want a workout treat that will set your glutes and quads on fire – I think 1Rebel Ride is a great choice. The state of the art spin bikes and high-energy playlists packed with the latest tunes make this intensive class a lot more bearable and actually quite enjoyable. Moreover, the introductory offer of a £10 class means that, in London terms, it won’t completely obliterate your bank balance either.

Now I’m hoping to be able to return with renewed energy ready to give 1Rebel Reshape a go!

1Rebel, 63 St Mary Axe, London, EC3A. 020 3714 0710. Introductory sessions from £10. 

NB. Photos courtesy of 1Rebel – I was too busy trying to figure out how to strap myself into the bike & mopping up my own sweat to take many photos of my own.

By a means of introduction…

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Here goes with my first post – a bit of a introduction as sorts and insight into my fitness journey.

Let me first say I have never posted my “transformation” story before as I have never wanted people to think I needed transforming in any way or that my life was lacking before I lost weight. What I have learnt since then is that there is no shame in being overweight; it doesn’t make you any less of a person. However, it wasn’t until I lost weight that I was able to gain the self-confidence to realise that and for that reason I feel like it has certainly enhanced my life and allowed me to discover things I am passionate about.

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Once upon a time I was an inactive, overweight teenager. It wasn’t extreme – I wasn’t morbidly obese, had lots of friends and managed to hide my crippling lack of self confidence fairly well so that I led a normal teenage life. I had a lot of hobbies and was involved in a lot of extra-curricular activities but few of them involved sport because I thought I “wasn’t good at it.”  However, the desperation to be thin had been present for as long as I can remember – I remember vividly being upset and embarrassed about my fat body as young as age 8 or 9 but quite simply believed that it would never happen as I just loved food too much.

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When I was 17 I discovered what now to me is so seemingly obvious, that instead of worrying about fad diets or starving myself, losing weight was quite simple: I just had to work off more calories than I consumed. I tracked & learnt about the nutritional content of all the food I was stuffing into my body and started doing cardio regularly, building up from not being able to run at all to taking part in a half-marathon. Over a year I lost 4 stone. I don’t regret taking this approach one bit, it was a maintainable starting point for me to lose body fat.

However, in the quest to be thin – I had forgotten the need to be healthy. Nutrition wise, I tracked every calorie that went into my body and in the aim to keep that amount around 1200 calories daily I basically eliminated fat from my diet as foods with any form of fat were much more calorie-dense. Days that including running would usually “allow” me around 400 more calories per day which I used to really go crazzzzay and treat myself with low-fat yogurts and numerous bowls of Special K.

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Physical signs of this poor nutrition began to show. I lost clumps of hair every time I brushed it, had a terrible immune system, couldn’t sit down for extended periods of time due to hip pain and was permanently cold. The scariest part is that I was never classified as underweight: my BMI was always within a normal range, I weighed far more than the reported weights of various celebrities in magazines (I barely dipped below 9 stone) and ate far more than they apparently did as well.

That is one of the main reasons why I have started this blog – to emphasise the fact that everyone is different.

Luckily, by this stage I had developed the self-confidence and desire to improve in my training that I could see this was not the way forward: I wanted to run faster and feel good while doing it. I re-introduced fat into my diet and began to incorporate strength and resistance training. Soon I noticed a change in my body as I began to become less “flabby” and cut my running times considerably.

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Now I feel fit, healthy and happy. I honestly believe there is no one correct way to exercise, no one way to “build the ultimate body.” You must find what works for you, is maintainable for you and what makes you happy – because that is the lifestyle that will stick.

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So, what is this blog about?

This blog is not designed to be a #fitspo blog posting about tracking macros, constant gains or telling girls to ditch all cardio.  I feel like there is a new online phenomenon telling girls that unless they are constantly squatting and downing protein shakes they will not build the “dream” body. This is lies and not what I want to preach. Who even designed this dream body?

If this is what you discover you love, by all means go for it. I have learnt and reaped the benefits of including weights in my training routine and I think it is fantastic that the previously entrenched view that lifting weights would make girls “bulky” is being overthrown. I love feeling stronger and think the health benefits mean that it is a crucial part of training for anyone who wants to improve their overall health and fitness.

But not everyone who runs/cycles/does any sort of cardio does so because they are ill-informed about what training is best and in some sort of belief that it will give them a body like a Victoria’s Secret model. I do it because I love the endorphins and finding out what my body is capable of. I have learnt the dangers of over-training and instead of pounding out hour after hour of running on the treadmill I mix up my routine to incorporate a variety of interval and strength training.

In conclusion, my fitness journey has very much been trial and error. What I did is not perfect and I am sure I made mistakes. I still make “fitness mistakes” all the time. I read books on different methods of training and nutrition constantly and what I see from those is that no-one really knows and there is no one correct way. There is so much conflicting stuff out there that it is no wonder people remain overweight.

On this blog I hope to provide some hints on what things I think you should believe and what I think you shouldn’t, and also reviews of new foods and exercise classes I may try. I am moving to London in August and this is just TOO EXCITING for a foodie/fitness freak like me so I think I am probably going to post a lot about various cafes and classes I try there.

As a final note, I think if you can take one thing from this blog – I want it to be that you should exercise based on how it makes you FEEL, not how it makes you LOOK. As soon as you get your motivation for exercising correct, everything from training plans to nutrition and general well-being falls into place a whole lot more easily.

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Alex 🙂