Swim, bike, run, write.

Triathlon Training - The Extra 1%: Strength and Conditioning (Home Workout Routine)

As an endurance sport, triathlon can be incredibly tough on both the body and the mind. With three disciplines to master and - when it comes to age-groupers - up to 17 hours of constant movement to contend with in Iron distance races, race day success relies upon a body that's not only fit but also strong and resilient. This is where conditioning through strength training is a key factor in helping your body to cope with the demands of swim-bike-run training, so you can produce a powerful performance come race day. As we head in to the off season, now is a great time to start introducing some strength work to your regime.

There are heaps of great articles out there which give detailed examples of gym-based strength programmes. 220 Triathlon is great place to start for training advice (on a side note - guess who's wetsuit clad butt made it into the 'your pictures' section of the November issue. Totally fan-girled). My other half and I have also found The Triathlete's Training Bible by Joe Friel really handy when it comes to adapting your strength work according to your phase of training.

As a general pointer for getting started, identify your weak areas and work on them. For me this is definitely my upper body - years of ballet classes have made my legs pretty sturdy but my arms are notoriously weedy. I'm working on it! Include a mixture of strength work, to build muscular force and endurance, along with some plyometric exercises (such as box jumps, burpees and jump lunges) to build power and turbo-charge your fitness. Short, sharp high intensity stuff is a good way to keep your fitness whilst reducing your overall training volume over the winter. Core work is a vital component too - a strong core is going to help you keep an efficient body position in the swim, on the bike and during the run. It's your body's powerhouse so make sure it's nice and strong. When it comes to what sort of weight to use, if you're just getting started opt for something slightly lighter - that goldilocks level of challenging but manageable - and safely build your way up to lifting heavy. As with all things fitness related, diving straight in at the deep end is a big injury risk factor so start at an intensity that's safe and appropriate for you. If you're not sure and need guidance, or if you just want help switching up your routine it's always worth speaking to a PT who has some knowledge of how your strength work needs to fit in with your triathlon training. (Hi, hello, over here!)

Okay, so that's a quick note on gym stuff. Great. But for most age groupers, triathlon training has to fit in with an already very busy lifestyle. When you're already squeezing numerous hours of swim-bike-run alongside work and family commitments the thought of having to fit in even more sessions and spending time travelling to a gym can be off-putting. Strength training is quite often neglected by us age-groupers and I totally get it: when time is precious you'd much rather spend it out on the bike or stomping the trails than picking things up and putting them down again in the gym.

That's why I've put together a quick video (featuring a cameo appearance from my sausage dog) with a time efficient, no equipment, full body workout that you can do in the comfort of your living room. It's designed to help you build strength, power, stability and core control to make you resilient and efficient so you can swim-bike-run harder, for longer. 

The workout:

Warm up: Spend 5 minutes or so getting warmed up - this could be walking (try going up and down the stairs a few times - you'll be feeling warm in no time!) or taking a gentle spin on the turbo trainer. Follow this up with a few dynamic stretches to make sure your body is ready to work.

Perform each circuit three times through, taking 1-2 minutes rest in between each circuit. 

Perform each exercise for 30 seconds (you can ramp up the intensity by increasing this once you're comfortable with the routine)

Circuit 1:

Squats - step the feet wider than hip distance, bend the knees and push your hips back (imagine you're doing a poo off the edge of a cliff!) keeping your back straight and your chest up. Use those powerful lower body muscles to push back up to standing.

Lowering phase push ups - great for building upper body strength and control. Start in a push up position and slowly lower down until you hit the mat, keeping your body parallel and maintaining control throughout. Reset and repeat.

Spiderman climbers - strengthen up that core whilst getting some mobility in the hips and working those shoulders. Adopt a push up plank position and then take your knee to the outside of the elbow on the same side, keeping your core muscles tight and your back straight. Just like old spidey-pants scaling a wall... kind of.

Burpees - the one we all love to hate. Start with a jump (go for a tuck jump if you want to make it harder!) then come down to a crouching position before jumping your feet out behind you, keeping your legs straight, and jump them back in ready to go again. Burpees are revolting but they're great for building explosive power.

Circuit 2:

Side lunges - by strengthening up the outer and inner thigh muscles whilst challenging your balance, side lunges can help you to remain strong and efficient on the run. Start with your feet together and lift one leg. Step it out wide to the side of you, bending the knee and keeping the other leg straight, pushing your hips back so your knee isn't pushing forwards. Power off of that working leg to return to the centre, using your core muscles to stay balanced.

Tricep dips - you can do these from the floor like I have in the video, or perform them using a bench or a sturdy chair if you prefer. Place your hands behind your bum with your legs stretched out in front of you and your fingers pointing towards your toes. Lift your hips and straighten your arms (make sure you don't let your shoulders creep up towards your ears) to adopt a reverse plank position. From there, bend your elbows keeping them tucked in behind you (rather than flaring out to the side) and lower your body before returning to the straight arm position. To really get those triceps burning, hold the reverse plank position for 30 seconds before going into the dips.

Step through planks - another core exercise that gets your shoulders working too. Start in a push up plank position and step your leg through to the opposite side, twisting in the waist but keeping the shoulders stable.

Star plank with squat thrust - call me a sadist, but this is one of my favourite exercises right now. It's a great plyometric exercise that works your upper body, lower body and core all at once. Start in your regular plank position and then jump your hands and feet out and in like a star jump. Then keep your core and upper body strong whilst tucking your knees in towards your chest. Keep your back neutral and try not to let your hips creep up too much.

Circuit 3:

Split squats - not only does this exercise really work into the quads, hamstrings and glutes, it also gets all the little stabilising muscles in your foot and ankle working while you balance which helps to promote good running form. Lift one foot and place it behind you on a chair or a step. Bend the supporting leg and perform a single leg squat - make sure you sit back into the movement rather than pushing your knee forwards.

Elbow to push ups - get those shoulders working hard whilst thinking about core control at the same time. Start in an elbow plank and then move up into a push up position, placing your hand underneath your shoulder where your elbow started. Keep your core strong and try not to let your hips swing, so that your shoulders are doing the bulk of the work.

Single leg extension cross crunches - working your abs and your obliques, this exercise also works on stability in the pelvis and you get a nice little hamstring stretch. Lie on the floor and think about drawing your tummy button in towards your spine to engage the core and keep your lower back imprinted on the mat. Lift the legs and bend the knees so that they're at a 90 degree angle. Inhale and lift your head and shoulders from the mat, with your hands at your temples. Exhale and take your elbow towards the opposite knee, extending the other leg out straight horizontal to the mat. Inhale to return to the centre and repeat on the other side. 

Mountain climbers - stabilise and strengthen the shoulders whilst working the core and getting your heart rate up. These are essentially like doing high knees in a plank position. Start in push up plank and then bring one knee in towards your chest before quickly alternating with the other. 

Once you've done all three circuits three times through, take some time to perform some gentle stretching. 

Need help? Email me at jennifersophiefitness@gmail.com!


Exercise, Anxiety and Me: How Triathlon Has Improved My Mental Health

We have our falling outs, my brain and I. In 2014, during my final year of University, I got diagnosed with general anxiety disorder. Having a name for how I was feeling was kind of a relief in itself, and on reflection it made me realise that anxiety was something that had been with me for a fair few years before that.

Anxiety is, unfortunately, extremely common - Anxiety UK figures suggest that it affects approximately 3 million people in the UK. Everyone's experience of it is different, making it hard to describe and hard to understand. For me, anxiety manifests as an intense sense of self-doubt, repetitive negative thoughts that make me question my ability - and my right - to achieve anything. It makes me overthink every action and interaction (that silly thing I said 3 years ago? Still worrying about it), explore everything that could possibly go wrong and pick away at anything I see in myself that falls below the mark. It'll throw up 1001 things I need to do/solve/improve, but leave me feeling so overwhelmed and doubtful of my ability to achieve any of it that I'm left feeling inadequate and powerless. And then there's the frustration and guilt about feeling this way. I'm so thankful for the wonderful people and opportunities I have in my life, I frequently think to myself "with everything going on in the world, who the hell am I to feel like this?" which in turn adds to the whole low self-esteem, feeling like a crap useless potato thing. I end up getting anxious about being anxious. It's hard to accept that I'm not consciously choosing to have these thought patterns, so I can't control it. But I can fight back and stop it from controlling me.

There's also the physical effects of anxiety. The only way I can think to describe it is that sensation of real intense fear or nervousness before something that scares you - an exam, an interview, a dentist appointment... Except with anxiety (in my case at least - others have specific triggers) there's nothing specific in that moment causing it and so there's no set time that the feeling will subside. You know that once whatever you're nervous about is over, you'll go back to feeling better. With anxiety it could last minutes, hours, days. My anxiety can range from a low level bubbling where my mind whirls around a little bit too quickly and I'm trying to think about 100 things at once. To a full blown 'attack' where my heart feels like it's racing, I run hot and cold, my lungs feel like they can't get enough air in, my stomach does backflips to rival an olympic gymnast and my tear ducts spring a major leak. Thankfully for me this doesn't happen too often, but the thought patterns and the worry about anxiety creeping up on me are always lurking. After being diagnosed in 2014, I got given some tablets as a short term fix to get me through my exams and trotted off leaflet in hand, fully intending to sort it out properly and never quite getting round to it. It kind of becomes the new normal.

I've mentioned before how taking up triathlon has helped me get back some mental toughness and find my way back to myself. We're entering into Stinking Bishop realms of cheesy here, but the journey to the start line of my first Ironman 70.3 really was so rewarding and it gave me the mental strength to start kicking anxiety up the arse. I've found with triathlon training that as my physical strength has developed, so too has my mental strength. I've gone from 'I could never' to 'yes I can' and triathlon has helped me to get there. Every race I've completed, every hard session I've pushed through. Each time I've gone out and achieved things that have surpassed my expectations of what was possible. It's all felt like building blocks which have linked together to help my mind grow stronger, to help shut down the anxious thoughts more often and to help me believe I can.

That's not to say it's been straight forward. So often the advice regarding mental health is to just 'exercise more' - but it's not that simple. I'd say I'm pretty fortunate in that my anxiety isn't too severe - it's a pain in the arse at times but it's certainly not debilitating. For some people, just getting out of bed in the morning takes a huge amount of effort. Telling people to 'exercise more' as if it's easy, without acknowledging the support and strength required to get to that point, isn't helpful. I can remember times where my training became another thing to be anxious about. I once found myself sat on the bottom stair, in full running gear with tears in my eyes and panic in my chest. Held captive by this intense self-doubt that made leaving the house and completing the run seem impossible. However, as I carried on training these blips became few and far between. Some great advice came from a wise man named Morph on training camp: create a mental filing cabinet. I put the awesome sessions in there to remind me that I can do it. I put the not so great sessions where I pushed through anyway in there to remind me that I can be strong. Things get tough, I get tougher. And some stuff just goes right into the shredder - learn from it then move on from it.

Triathlon helped me to discover the power of 'yes I can'. It showed me in a tangible, quantifiable way how my mindset could impact on my performance. I realised I wasn't going to be able to achieve what I wanted to without first believing that I was capable of it. Being able to actually see - in the form of average bike power or running pace - how I was sometimes letting my mindset hold me back pissed me off. It gave me the fire in my belly to say 'shut up brain yes I bloody well can'. Improving my mental strength kind of became a 4th discipline along with the swim-bike-run whilst training for Ironman 70.3 Zell am See. Triathlon gives me a focus and a goal to really work on my mindset. My desire to be a better triathlete is strong enough to fight back against my brain's anxious tendencies.

It'd be unrealistic to say that triathlon has 'cured' me - the way my mind works is part of who I am and I can't out run anxiety. But what triathlon has given me is the strength, experience and perspective to be able to cope with it more effectively. Plus it's helped me find my alter-ego "race Jenny" who is brave, feisty and tenacious and who I want to channel a little bit more in everyday life. I still have my moments where my brain seems to speed away in perpetual motion and I feel weak. But then I open that mental filing cabinet, look back on what I've achieved in triathlon so far, look forward to everything still to come and I remember that I'm strong.

We're all dealing with things. Whether it's mental health, physical health or just life's little challenges. It's important to remember that no one is perfect. Asking for help does not make you a failure. We are all strong and we are all capable. Be patient and kind - to yourself and to others.

Why I Tri

"Wait, what? All in one day? And you do that for fun?"

Throughout my Ironman 70.3 training, and even more so now I've decided to step up to the full Iron distance, a question I've been asked a lot is: "but... why?" Granted, I can see that from the outside this triathlon malarkey probably seems a little bit mad. Splashing around in a freezing, murky lake at 6am. Spending Sunday mornings riding around in slightly lurid lycra that makes you look a bit like a naff superhero. Obsessively muttering about threshold power and Strava segments. I guess it's not surprising that I've had my sanity questioned a few times over the last year. Triathlon can be such a tough and relentless sport, but it's also incredibly rewarding. It's given me more than just fitness. It's given me confidence, purpose and self-belief. It's given me focus, passion and strength. Despite it's quirks, I'm head over heels with triathlon and here's why

'The race is long and in the end, it's only with yourself.'

I guess part 1 of the 'why' is that triathlon appeals to my perfectionist streak. It's all about working hard to achieve your best. And when you think you've done that, figuring out what you can do next to make your best even better. I'm definitely a little bit competitive, but at the heart of it all you could come last and as long as you've given it your all you've still won. With three disciplines to master, there's always something that can be improved, a new goal to chase. And that's exciting. I love the process of training and racing, celebrating the improvements and working out ways to tackle the weaknesses. There's always something to aim for and that's a little bit addictive. I love it.

'Enjoy your body. Use it every way you can. Don't be afraid of it, or what other people think of it. It's the greatest instrument you'll ever own.'

Part 2 of why I tri comes down to never wanting to take my body for granted. I do triathlon because I can, and that's a privilege. It's so easy to go through life hating your body. Being ashamed of it. Viewing it as a sack of flesh and bones that doesn't fit in with some arbitrary standard. But actually our bodies are pretty amazing things which allow us to experience so much. I'm lucky that, right now, I'm fit and I'm healthy. For me triathlon is about giving my body the opportunity to show me what it can do. And to appreciate that. One day whether it's through age, illness or an accident, I might not be able to do these things anymore. The thought of reaching that stage and not knowing what my body is capable of scares me. I do triathlon because I'm incredibly lucky that I can - not everyone has the choice of 'shall I go for a run today' - it's important to me that I don't take my ability to do so for granted. Of course, like so many others, I still struggle with body confidence and I can sling insults at myself in the mirror with the best of them. But triathlon has helped me to view my body as much more than just a series of measurements and a body fat percentage. I've learnt to try and appreciate my body for the awesome things it allows me to go and experience, rather than just obsessively critiquing it for how it looks. And that's improved my confidence, my happiness and my wellbeing.

I love Triathlon because it challenges me. It makes me strong, it keeps me thankful and it gives me purpose. The permanent chlorine perfume and quads of steel are just a happy bonus!

I'd love to hear your 'why I tri' stories - if anyone is up for sharing theirs with me to publish on here please do get in touch: jennifersophiefitness@gmail.com

*quotes are from Baz Luhrmann's 'sunscreen'*

Run Slow to Get Fast: The Power of the Long Slow Distance Run

If you want to get quicker at running, you've just got to out and run faster more often - right? Not exactly. It can be hard to get your head around the idea of deliberately running easy. It's something I definitely struggled with initially - how could running slowly make me quicker? But when I got it, I got it. I took almost 3 minutes off my 5k PB this summer during IM 70.3 training without actually meaning to and that's hugely down to the improvement in my running that I got from my long, slow runs.

Hard, fast sessions definitely have a place in your training programme. They're great for turbo charging your fitness and building up that valuable mental toughness that you'll need to be able to dig deep come race day. But these tough sessions place a large amount of stress on your body and an over emphasis on high intensity training over a sustained amount of time can lead to injury, burnout and a loss of performance. Running fast and hard all the time isn't going to work long term to get you quicker, because it's just not sustainable. Enter the long slow distance run. The general school of thought at the moment, and a method that is put into practice by some of the best elites, is to perform 80% of your training at a low intensity with the remaining 20% formed of moderate and high intensity sessions - the icing on top of your running cake.

Running long and slow allows you to build strength, endurance and efficiency without over stressing your body. It builds a strong foundation from which the higher intensity work can be performed more effectively. Slower running strengthens the key muscles and through the increased blood flow (thanks to more capillaries being formed as the body adapts) these muscles improve their ability to utilise oxygen. The muscles get better at using energy and more efficient at removing waste products (i.e. lactic acid) boosting endurance. A good level of strength and endurance means you can run faster, for longer before the fatigue kicks in. The physiological benefits don't stop there. Running at an easy pace also helps to strengthen the heart muscle which makes the cardiovascular system more efficient - the stronger your heart is, the more blood it can pump with each beat meaning more oxygen can be delivered to the rest of the body. All of this adds up to a great base fitness which makes you stronger and more efficient when it's time to go hard.

Easy pace running is also great to facilitate recovery between sessions whilst continuing to build fitness. These gentler sessions get the blood pumping round your muscles without putting too much stress on them, helping to flush out any soreness and get things moving again. Adding in gentle recovery paced runs to your routine is a great way to build up your mileage whilst keeping the overall intensity at a safe level, reducing the risk of injury.

Finally there's the mental benefits of a lovely long run at a civilised pace. The high intensity sessions aren't just hard on your body, they can take a toll on the mind too - when you're constantly digging deep and hurting it's easy to lose the enjoyment factor and motivation can fade. Mixing in lower intensity sessions gives you time to just enjoy the act of running. There's something so refreshing about just getting out, clearing your head and exploring the outdoors without constantly eyeballing your pace or having 'am I going to puke or burp' moments.

So there's the benefits, but how should a long slow distance run feel? If you're into numbers there's a few great pace calculators out there which can tell you exactly what pace you should be running to on your low intensity runs. I tend to favour the Jack Daniels' VDOT calculator or the Tinman calculator - just pop in a recent time for 5k (or another distance) and you'll get a whole list of different paces to target for various sessions. If you're more into running to feel then your long slow distance running pace should feel comfortable and like you could maintain it for a good few hours. You should be relaxed and easily able to maintain a conversation. It's important to note that your comfortable running pace can vary day to day so a mixture of running to pace and running to feel is always good. Your body knows best so listen to it! How often and how far you're running is dependent on the individual - what distance you're racing and what your goals are - but a training plan should generally have a smart balance between low intensity long and recovery runs, tempo runs and speed work. Train smart and you'll race fast.

Happy running!

7.3 Things I Learnt From My First Ironman 70.3

Views from the top of the Kitzeinhorn Glacier, Zell am See
Through 9 months of training and 6 hours 26 minutes of racing, the journey to the finish line of my first Ironman 70.3 definitely taught me a few things. From how to tackle a big climb to becoming the queen of snot rockets (sorry everyone) it's been a bit of an education. I'd probably be here until Christmas if I tried to list everything, but here's the main things that swim-bike-run to mind:

1) Do the thing you're worst at
I spent most of the bike leg of IM 70.3 Zell am See grinning like an idiot. I had a bloody great time out there and I felt really strong, which is pretty amazing because this time last year 90% of the time my catchphrase was 'I f**king hate cycling'. I used to be too scared to let go of the handle bars to get my bottle out of the cage, stopping/starting usually involved me ending up sideways on the side of the road (damn clip-in pedals) and the mere thought of any form of road junction made me quake in my little cycling shoes. My coach knew he had his work cut out when the girl who was terrified of cycling said she wanted to do a half ironman so working on my bike skills was the major focus in my training plans. It took time, patience and determination but I soon started making big progress and now it's safe to say the bike is currently my favourite and potentially strongest triathlon discipline. It can be so tempting to just avoid the thing you're worst at because chances are it's the thing you least enjoy. Be honest with yourself, identify your weakness and work hard to make it your strength. The benefits you'll get are so worth it.

2) You're training your mind as much as you're training your body
"The greatest limiter you face is not the many miles you train, but rather the few inches between your ears. You are fully capable of achieving much more than you think you can." - Joe Friel

In his book 'The Triathlete's Training Bible' Joe Friel emphasises the fact that you have to work on your mental fitness just as much as your physical fitness. When you set yourself a goal that treads the line of what you think is possible, you have to believe in it to be able to achieve it. Looking back over my training, 9 times out of 10 the difference between a crap session and a great one can often be pinpointed to my mindset. Believing that I can, learning to shut the negative thoughts out and finding my mental toughness has been a big part of the journey. I've still got work to do but I'm getting there.

3) You'll probably have to remortgage the house/sell your spleen after an overexcited pre-race visit to the Expo
It's like gift shop syndrome on steroids. Did you know you can get an Ironman cake tin, spatula and apron? I didn't take things quite that far but I've got a pretty good stash and I will be very ~on brand~ until further notice. The expo at Zell am See was only open pre-race so I was a little bit paranoid that I was jinxing myself by buying race merch before I'd even started, but it was quite a good motivator to get to the finish line so I could actually wear it all!

4) Walking around transition on race morning is like trying to navigate the supermarket on Christmas Eve
A heady combination of stress, nerves, excitement and adrenaline turns otherwise reasonable people into bumping, barging, bike pump wielding maniacs. Trying to negotiate your way through final bike checks and the swim start line up on race morning is a little bit like trying to get at the last packet of mince pies at 3.58pm in Tesco on Christmas eve. With people furiously sprinting up and down, windmilling their arms in an effort to get warmed up (I saw one guy accidentally punch a lamp post doing this) finding a quiet spot away from the hype was really important to stay calm and get a relatively stress free start to the race. It's worth pointing out, though, that once the race had started the sense of comradeship and camaraderie between competitors was great. So many people were urging each other on throughout the race. It just goes to show that whilst we might all look a little bit mad gallivanting around in our wetsuits when we're stressed out pre-race (the mildly shocked look that the swim cap facelift gives you doesn't help) - triathletes really are a very friendly bunch.

5) Spectator support is the ultimate power up
From the cries of 'hup hup hup' that rang out as we made our way up the climb to the people cheering and the kids hosing us down with cold water on the run, the support from the crowds at Zell am See was pretty awesome. It really does make a difference too. You're constantly pushing your body and testing your mental and physical limits so a smile and a high five goes a long way.

6) A half marathon and a half marathon in an Ironman 70.3 are completely different beasts
Rookie error number 1? Completely underestimating how hard the half marathon would feel with 56 miles of hilly riding in my legs. I'd done plenty of running off the bike in training but there's still a lot of work to be done to get myself stronger and more resilient. Rookie error number 2 - I just didn't even think about nutrition on the run. I'd meticulously practiced my bike nutrition, but I hadn't really put any thought into the fact that I would need to keep fuelling throughout the run. Fool. I had one 'in case of emergency' gel in my pocket which I didn't have until 2km from the end. Lesson learnt - nutrition practice on long training runs is a must, especially now I'll be stepping up to full Ironman distance.

7) Never take "just finishing" for granted
It's easy to lose perspective of how big a challenge you're undertaking, how much you're asking of your body and how many things can potentially go wrong - particularly those that are out of your control. I think it's so important to remember that just finishing is an achievement in itself when there's so much to overcome. I came so close to ending up with a DNF, despite being a good 2 hours within the cut off time, because of a storm. I'm pretty sure I'm one of the last ones who got across that finish line before they stopped the race due to the weather - and that's only because I argued with a marshall like my life depended on it (told you I'd found some mental toughness!) It just makes me realise that you can't take finishing for granted, even if you're less than 1km from the finish line. I'd literally just thought to myself 'I've definitely done it, even if both my legs spontaneously fell off I'm pretty sure I could drag my carcass over the finish line from here' when the marshall tried to make me stop. It's not over until you've got some bling round your neck (and some post-race carbs in your cake hole...)

7.3) Finishing will give you way more than just a medal and sore legs
Completing something which seemed a little bit impossible at the start of the journey will give you self-belief, confidence and a new found appreciation of the things that your body can achieve. I signed up to Ironman Copenhagen less than 24hrs after crossing the finish line of my first Ironman 70.3. Partly because I just got way too overexcited, but mostly because I genuinely believe that with a lot of hard work I can do it. And that's a huge thing for me because I'm the kind of person who's self-belief has always been a bit awol. It just proves that sport is a powerful, wonderful thing.

If you fancy a read of my full race report from Ironman 70.3 Zell am See click here.

Ironman 70.3 Zell am See Kaprun Race Report: Mischief Managed

Guten tag from beautiful Zell am See. I'm so happy to be able to say I am officially an Ironman 70.3! Currently strutting around in my finisher t-shirt. Well, shuffling - sorry legs. Race report below, it's a long old ramble so you may want to grab some sort of hot beverage to get you through...

Race morning started with my usual ritual of coffee, porridge and a few quiet moments to get my head in the game. I'd been re-reading Chrissie Wellington's autobiography the night before and a quote that really stuck with me became my mantra for the day: "When things get tough, you get tougher". I kept repeating this to myself and it saw me through. If there was ever a day to put my big girl pants on and just get on with it, today was it.

The race didn't start until 11.10am - a really rather civilised start time when you've become accustomed to forcing down porridge pre 4am on race mornings! With our bags packed we headed down to Schüttdorf and decided to walk the mile or so towards the transition area and swim start. Bikes checked, nutrition locked and loaded it was time to get warmed up and get the wetsuits on. Queuing up for the swim start ended up being a bit mental. For some reason they'd loaded up the van to take the streetwear bags away early, meaning there was loads of us having to literally leap and throw our bags in to the van as they were closing the doors. The driver then decided to start reversing the van into the crowd of wetsuit adorned athletes waiting to get in to the lake. I have no idea why he thought this was a good idea, but almost being run over was not an ideal start to the race haha! 

Nervous and excited, we made our way towards the water. I was so glad to have my other half and partner in tri Graham by my side at this point, he kept me calm and focused. Really all this triathlon malarkey is his fault (I caught the bug whilst watching him race IM Bolton and Wales in 2015!) so it was a special moment to be able to start with him. He's much quicker than I am so this was the last time I'd see him until we passed each other on the run course. I really enjoyed the swim - Lake Zell is so beautiful! There was all the usual bumping and barging that you'd expect from a race of this size, but nothing that bothered me too much. It's hard not to enjoy yourself with such incredible scenery around you. Before I knew it I was making my way out of the water and heading towards T1 with a swim time of just under 38 minutes - around what I was expecting as I always just try to stay calm and relaxed on the swim.

The bike course at Zell am See is pretty spectacular. The first 20km features some nice, long downhill sections which gave me a chance to find my rhythm and get some nutrition on board. I was feeling great after the swim and grinning away to myself thinking 'I'm actually here and doing it!' 
The infamous 13.5km climb up towards Dienten/Hochkonig kind of lulls you into a false sense of security, starting with a fairly gentle steady climb for the first 10km. We'd driven the course earlier in the week so I knew what was waiting for us closer to the top - it would have been easy to go up this first bit a lot faster but I knew I'd suffer for it later so I stuck to my planned power output and focused on spinning up, staying comfortable. I like a good climb so I was enjoying myself at this point. The sun was shining and the Austrian landscape provided some amazing views. We made our way through Dienten and with the locals' cries of 'hup hup hup' ringing in our ears it was time for the real climbing to start. I won't lie, this last 3.5km or so is pretty damn steep and there's a certain amount of digging deep required to get up it. This is where I was so thankful for the rides we did on training camp in Majorca because I knew that I could do this, no matter how much my quads were burning. There were a few people stopping and walking around me but I was determined to just keep pedalling. When things get tough, you get tougher. There was some great support from spectators near the top which definitely gave me a little boost and suddenly I was at the top, feeling good. The descent is steep and a little bit technical to begin with, with a few sharp turns so I kept my wits about me and just concentrated on getting down safely. The rest of the course is great, with lots of fast flat sections and a few little hills to keep things interesting. I could feel the climb in my legs by the end, but I was way ahead of where I thought I would be and generally felt good. I rolled into T2 with a 3hr 16 minute bike split. Considering this time last year I was still clinging on for dear life whilst riding around at 16kph, not even able to get my bottle out of its cage without stopping, this was a pretty big achievement! 

Just the small matter of a half marathon to go. The weather was fairly hot while I was on the bike but thankfully it clouded over making the temperature a little more comfortable for running. I felt great for the first 2km, running a good 10 secs faster per km than I had planned without pushing at all. 'Awesome', I thought to myself, 'it's going to be a good running day'. Hah. Famous last words indeed. As I headed out of Zell am See and collected my first lap band it was like someone flipped a switch and I was hit with all the pain. Everything hurt. My running has been feeling strong recently but clearly there's still a lot of work to be done. I quickly ditched my pace plan and just focused on putting one foot in front of the other, running as much as I could and walking the aid stations. The long uphill to Thumersbach felt never ending but I just kept going. It wasn't fast and it wasn't pretty but I knew I was still on for a sub 6 hour 30 mins overall time. Finally I was coming towards the end of my final lap. 1km to go. 

And then the storm came. I made my way past the last aid station and was suddenly stopped by a woman shouting who eventually told me they were stopping the race because of the storm. With about 800m to the finish line I was being told I'd have to stop and wait for 30 minutes. I'd got to the point where stopping was not an option, I just needed to keep moving and get to that line. I'm usually extremely polite and don't like to kick up a fuss (seriously, I once almost just ate a half raw burger in a restaurant because I was too polite to complain - my friend had to frogmarch me up to the waitress!) but this was just not going to happen. Cue me sobbing on the side of the road like a maniac, begging with this woman to just let me finish. Turns out kicking up a fuss works a treat because another marshal came along gave me a little shove forwards and said 'ok, lauf lauf!'. Tears streaming down my face I ran as fast as I could to get to the finish before anyone else could stop me. I think I was one of the last lucky few who actually got an official time - by the looks of things the people that did stop ended up with DNFs in the official results. The finish line itself was a massive anticlimax. Throughout training, during all those winter rides not being able to feel my feet; the interval sessions that made my lungs feel like they were about to explode; the turbo sessions that made me feel like a chocolate teapot in a log burner; I'd had this image in my head of running down that carpet with people cheering and my name being read out. It had spurred me on all through training. Instead, everyone had left to shelter from the storm and the announcer was talking about the weather. I collected my medal with no idea where I was supposed to go next and ended up just wondering around in the rain feeling like a lost child until Graham found me! Not my finest hour haha. 

So there we have it. Definitely not the finish I had in mind, but a finish nonetheless. 6 hours 26 minutes after I started, I was officially an Ironman 70.3 finisher! When I think about how far I've come, it's hard not to be happy with what I've achieved.  Overall, the race was great despite the melodramatic ending and organisational quirks, but I feel like I've got unfinished business. I want my 'you are an ironman' moment! 

And with that in mind, IM Copenhagen 2018 here I come! Time to reset, give my body a little bit of recovery and then get cracking with winter training. It's time to get stronger, faster and more powerful, ready to step up to the full distance. Zell am See, you were a good start but these little lamb chop legs have definitely got more in them. 

A big thank you to my friends, family and work colleagues for putting up with all the constant triathlon related chatter. I know I've become a lycra-clad weirdo who always smells a little bit like chlorine so your support and patience is much appreciated. To my lovely clients for not laughing at me too much when I've gone to demo a squat and almost ended up getting stuck forever due to achy legs. To my Mum and Dad for always being there to provide words of encouragement, dog-sitting duties (Lord Rizzo say thanks), support, perspective and a much needed cup of coffee. To Campbell at Re-leaf MK for not laughing in my face when the girl who was terrified of cycling turned round and said she wanted to do a half Ironman. And last but not least, to my lovely Graham - my boyfriend, best friend, training partner, bike mechanic and voice of reason. You've been on hand throughout to help me to believe that I can, to keep me focused, inspired and to give me a kick up the backside when I needed it. I literally could not have done this without you by my side. I owe you big time. 

Okay Jenny it's not the Oscars, have a beer and calm down.

Bis bald!


The Training Diaries #IM703: Pre-race Reflections

I guess it's kind of a good sign that I've been too busy training to blog, right? My little blogging fail means that I'm starting this post with a bit of time travel. Grab your time machine (mine is pink and glittery) and let's head back to June... *cue some whirring sounds, an impressive time-lapse montage, slight motion sickness etc*

Okay so back in June I headed off to Majorca for a triathlon training camp led by Campbell from Re-leaf MK (Target Your Potential). Campbell is a cycling ninja and the mastermind behind all of my training plans. This was my first training camp and I kind of knew it was going to make me or break me. Thankfully it was the former. We enjoyed an awesome week of training complete with sea swims, mountain hill reps, runs, long rides and a bike-run brick session that still makes me feel a little bit sick when I think about it haha! I gained so much that week, both in terms of fitness and mental toughness. I came home feeling strong, with some really valuable training sessions under my belt which I've been able to reflect on during my tough training sessions since. It was great to spend a week with a lovely bunch of like-minded people and I learnt a lot from all of them - thanks guys for the inspiration and the motivation!

Next up was the inaugural Hitchin Triathlon, a sprint distance race organised by some friends of ours who are the brains behind Hitchin Running Club (which is pretty much where my eventual journey into triathlon all began). It was so nice to race in my little home town and there was a great atmosphere at the race with a real mix of experienced triathletes and first-timers. I'd been feeling really strong in the weeks leading up to the race, particularly on the bike so I was excited to get on the start line. A strong swim and bike split meant that, despite a bit of cramping and a desire to throw up on the run (which turned out to just be a really fricking big burp, c'est typical!) I came away with 3rd female overall and an age group win. My other half, Graham also won his age category and was 2nd male so we've got a pair of sassy his and hers trophies nestled on the book case. Team Force out to play!

My final training race was the ETU standard distance qualifier at Grafham Water earlier this month. This was my first time racing the standard distance and I absolutely loved every second. It was a great experience to race in such a competitive field and I came away with a good bike split (for me!) and a new 10k PB - perfect little confidence booster pre half Ironman.

So that brings us up to date. It's T-minus 37 hours until I'll be on the start line at IM 70.3 Zell am See Kaprun, Austria. I'm currently writing to you from our little Air BnB apartment, with Lake Zell literally at the bottom of the back garden. I want to stay here forever! 2017 has involved 212 hours 45 mins of training. 798.4km of running, 2516.4km of cycling and 68,800m of swimming (according to Strava, I'm not the world's biggest nerd I swear). I'm ridiculously excited to get on that start line, see what I can achieve and just soak up the experience. Obviously I've got a time in mind that I'd like to achieve but really it's all just about getting the best out of myself on the day and enjoying every moment. Oh, and I'd really like to not poo myself because judging by all the 'don't trust that fart' posters I saw when I watched Graham race IM Wales 2015 it's a real possibility in longer distance racing. So yeah, no code brown situations would be just lovely.

The (very) long car journey over here gave me a lot of time to reflect on how far I've come. Whenever I take my run coaching clients out to tackle their first real hill, I always make them stop and look back when they reach the top so that they can see what they've achieved, so I guess this is my more metaphorical, self-indulgent 'looking down the hill'. In the past 9 months I've achieved more than I ever thought I was capable of. This main thing is my cycling - I used to be bloody terrified on the bike. I've gone from spending most of my time in a heap on the side of the road with my bike on top of me (damn clip in pedals) to tackling some of Majorca's finest climbs and comfortably rolling around at over 30kph, tucked up all aero. My philosophy is pick the thing your worst at, work at it and make it your strongest asset. I feel so much stronger in all three disciplines, but I really think the biggest difference is up in the wee space between my ears. We have a complicated relationship, my brain and I, but triathlon has helped me to develop my self-belief and my self-confidence so much. I've found the mental toughness that kind of went walkabout after I graduated from university and as nauseatingly cheesy as it may sound, I really do feel like triathlon has helped to bring me back to myself. I've still got a long way to go but I'm excited to keep training, keep progressing and to see how far I can go in this sport. 'Yes I can' has become my mantra for 2017, and it's served me well. If there's something that you've always dreamt of doing just believe that you can do it because that's when you'll start doing something about it, and that's when you'll achieve more than you could have dreamt of.

Time to get some rest! I'll be back with a little post-race update soon (someone yell at me if I don't because history suggests I'm not so great at the regular blog post thing) but for now - see you on the other side. Hopefully with a nice shiny medal to go with all the stuff I bought at the expo today. Oops.



The Training Diaries #IM703: Duston Sprint and MK Half Marathon

It's T-minus 114 days until Ironman 70.3 Zell-am-See and I can honestly say I'm starting to feel excited about seeing what I can do - rather than crapping my pants about the distance! So that's a good start. Training has been going really well and I feel like I've made some good improvements over the last few months - not just in terms of fitness but mentally too. My bike FTP is up and I'm running faster than I've ever been able to, but the biggest change is that I've actually started to believe that "I can". Self-belief is something that I've struggled with a lot in the past, but I feel like I've finally found my mental toughness again and I'm ready to take on anything (yep, even the climb on the Zell am See bike course!)

My triathlon season kicked off with Duston Sprint Triathlon up in Northampton on 23rd April. This was my first ever triathlon last year so I was really looking forward to seeing what I could do compared to last year me. When I raced it last year I'd only just about set arse on a road bike for the first time a month before and had graduated up to my big girl clip in pedals just one week before the race. I can remember just being so relieved that I'd made it to the end of the bike split without falling off! This year was a completely different story - the bike has been a big focus in my training and I'm definitely feeling the benefits. My other half, Graham, treated us both to power metres earlier in the year which I've found so useful in terms of knowing when to push and managing my effort so I don't turn into little miss jelly legs on the run. Combined with some great 1-1 sessions with Campbell from Re-leaf I'm really enjoying cycling - who'd have known! The course at Duston is slightly undulating with a little stinger up towards a church (I'd love to tell you where but I can barely navigate my way around a cardboard box, let alone the Northampton countryside). I felt good the whole way round and completed the bike split 7 minutes quicker than last year. After getting a little bit overexcited and nearly running straight past my area in transition (what a muppet), I headed out on to the run course. I'd picked up a little niggly lower leg issue the week before the race so I wasn't entirely sure whether my run legs were going to make an appearance but thankfully they were ready and raring! After a nice downhill start to the run route I just decided to dig in and see what pace I could hold until the end. I finished in 1hr 17 minutes 57 seconds (compared to 1hr 30 in 2016) and somehow managed to win my age category too so I got to bring home a shiny thing! This was a great start to the season and the fact that it is only the start has got me feeling so excited and motivated to keep pushing with the training - there's still lots to work on (especially speeding up transitions!) so hopefully the best is yet to come!

The next week it was time to turn my attention to the Milton Keynes Half Marathon on 1st May. Other than the odd park run, this was my first non-triathlon race since 2015 and it felt so weird not to have my bike and a million other bits and pieces with me! It was a pretty big race (I think the commentator guy was saying there were around 4000 people racing!) but it was really well organised and a wave start system meant there weren't any fisticuffs or tripping up on the start line. The course went up through central MK, where there was some great support, and then down the ouzel valley through some parks to finish up with a lap round the stadium. I've only done a half marathon once before so I'm not that experienced in racing the distance but I had a pace plan and felt in control throughout. My aim was to get round in less than 2 hours and I finished in 1hr 53 mins so I'm pretty happy with that! Now to just get my head round doing that after 56 miles on the bike...

Graham has been smashing it with shiny new PBs both for the sprint triathlon and the half marathon - I'm determined to catch him one day! ;) It's so exciting to be working towards the half ironman together - especially as it was Graham's double Ironman effort back in 2015 that got me into the sport in the first place. It definitely helps that we both 'get it' in terms of all the training, galloping around in lycra and the very early nights!

Next stop is our Majorca training camp early next month and I am so ready to get some sunshine on my pasty little legs. Sea swims, mountains and Tolos beckon!

Check out my previous 'Training Diaries' posts here.

How to Find Motivation to Train (When You Really Can't Be Arsed)

Motivation is a fickle beast. Some days it's right where you need it and you're chomping at the bit to get sh*t done. But then there's the other days - the days where you wake up and just the thought of dragging yourself out of bed and putting some clean underpants on seems like way too much effort. The good news is it's totally normal for your motivation to take itself off on a little unannounced holiday every now and then. Despite what social media might fool you into thinking, nobody is 100% motivated 100% of the time. The important thing to remember is that when it comes to achieving your goals, it's how you deal with these little dips in motivation that's going to determine your success. Particularly in relation to fitness, it's the harder days that are going to make you stronger. Your mind is being trained as much as your body and if you can overcome these little hurdles you'll develop that mental strength which is just as important as your physical fitness.  So how do you find some motivation to train when you really can't be arsed? As a self-confessed lazygirl, I've had to master a few methods to keep me going:

1) Remember your goal
That thing you want to have achieved in 6 months time? What you choose to do today will determine whether you get there or not. Keep your goals in sight, picture yourself achieving them, imagine how great you'll feel. That feeling is what's going to get you up and out the door today. I keep a printed copy of my half ironman training plan on the side in our bedroom so that it's one of the first things I see when I wake up - it's a great reminder of what I'm working towards. Every time I start feeling demotivated, I just picture myself crossing that finish line come race day and it's enough to get me excited and ready to go. This is where having a goal you really care about is super important.

2) Just turn up
When you're struggling to get motivated just task yourself with completing one small thing that's going to help you towards your goal in some way. Make it something manageable  - often just getting started on something small unlocks that energy you need to complete what you had planned in the first place. And if not - something is still better than nothing. Be kind to yourself and start again with a fresh perspective the next day.

3) Two's company
Training with a friend or partner (or hiring a personal trainer) can be a bit of a lifeline when your drive disappears. Plan your training sessions in advance and get them in the diary - it's a lot harder to cancel when your best mate is waiting for you on poolside at 6am or you've got to phone up your PT and tell them that you just can't really be bothered today.

4) Self-care and tough love: know the difference between 'I can't be arsed' and 'I actually just can't...'
Self-care is always a priority and sometimes you've just got to listen to your body, not your training plan. Particularly when you're training for an event, there will be times when you just need to give your body the rest it needs - whether it's due to illness or just pure fatigue. It's fine to take time out when you need it - that's how your body repairs and gets stronger. But, sometimes you've got to practice a bit of tough love. At the risk of sounding like an annoying toddler, "why?" is the magic question here. Why am I not feeling motivated? Is there a genuine reason or am I just having a bit of a lazy day? Self-discipline and being honest with yourself is a huge learning curve and an important part of your training. Sometimes you've got to give yourself a little kick up the bum and just get on with it (and you'll feel really good afterwards, promise!)

5) Hard work deserves rewards
All stick and no carrot makes Jenny a grumpy, demotivated girl. Don't forget to give yourself a pat on the back every now and again. Sometimes just reflecting on how far you've come can be enough to get you going again. And if not, plan something nice for the end of your training session. It might be breakfast with a friend after your early morning session or stopping somewhere with really good coffee halfway through a long bike ride. Giving yourself something to look forward to is a great way to get started.

So there we have it, a few little tips and tricks to help you get going when your motivation sods off to Santorini without your permission. How do you stay motivated?

Feel Good for Summer: The Number on the Scales Does Not Define You

So according to a well-respected source *ahem, facebook*, yesterday was the vernal equinox marking the official start of Spring. Finally! Naturally, the Great British weather is treating us to a deceptively chilly day to honour the occasion (I'm typing to you from the depths of my turtle neck), but hopefully this means warmer weather and sunnier days are on the horizon.

It's also around this time of year that all the magazines are going to start telling you that you need to 'lose weight for summer'. For the small price of ~£3.50 you can turn to p. 67 and find out how to lose an arbitrary amount of weight in an unrealistic amount of time (it usually involves doing something weird like spiralizing sheep bogeys or sleeping with a pineapple under your left butt cheek). The front page of one particular glossy I came across the other day had 'how to love your body' on one side, beautifully contradicted with 'how to lose 7lbs' splashed across the other. And that's where the issue lies. First up - where did 7lbs come from? Why not 6lbs? Or 10lbs? And secondly, what's wrong with my body right now - 7lbs and all?

Weight loss as a goal is totally fine. For some people, losing weight is essential to improving their health. For others, having a specific target is a big help in staying motivated. But what we're really talking about is fat loss and how much your body weighs is only one part of the picture. It's important to look at weight in context with other indicating factors - body composition, blood pressure, fitness, energy levels. What your body can do and how you feel. The number on the scale does not define you. When we focus solely on weight, we're ignoring all the other awesome things your body can do, in favour of a number (which let's face it can fluctuate so often depending on things like how hydrated you are or when you last pooped!) Your weight doesn't determine your self worth.

The point I'm trying to make is that wherever you are in your fitness journey - however much you weigh - you are already good enough. You deserve to feel good about yourself right now - not 7lbs from now.

This summer, instead of focusing on how many pounds and ounces the magazines have told us we should lose before we can strut our stuff in swimwear, let's focus instead on how we want to feel. I'm guessing for most of us the answer would be something along the lines of healthy, happy and confident. So let's start making realistic, empowering plans to get us there. Let's make a commitment to our health and wellbeing now, instead of faffing around with sheep bogeys 1 week before a holiday because a glossy has told us it's the new *thing* for instant weight loss. Let's strut around with the sass and confidence of the little girl in that BBC interview this summer, regardless of what the scales say. Let's stop agonising over numbers and turn our attention to fitness, to good food and to the amazing things our bodies can do. Because that is where the magic happens, and that is when you'll feel awesome.

The Training Diaries #IM703

I guess you could say the inevitable has happened. Less than 2 years ago, whilst supporting my other half at a middle distance triathlon, I told my mum that I would 'never be caught dead' doing a triathlon. In my defence, we were standing by a pretty murky, duck poo filled lake, I'd been hauled out of bed at 4am and at this point I hadn't set foot (or should that be arse!?) on a bike for a good 10 years. A lot has changed since then, and after taking on a couple of sprint distance triathlons last summer, I'm all signed up to do my first half Ironman this year.

So, lobotomy aside - what happened to change my mind? Really my boyfriend is to blame for my now ongoing love affair with triathlon. I first spectated an Ironman when he raced Bolton in 2015. It's so hard to explain, but watching all of those people push themselves and overcome so much to cross that finish line woke something up in my brain that made me say 'I've got to do this.' (I can only imagine it's the same 'something' that made me follow my parents around yelling 'I want to do ballet' incessantly at the age of 2.) I think it's important to me to see what my body can do, to see how far I can push myself. Plus, it turns out open water swimming is amazing (which makes up for the stinky lake water and the duck poo), riding a road bike can actually be kind of fun and once you get over the jelly legs situation, the post-ride run isn't so bad. There's something special about triathlon; the training, the community and really getting to see what your body is capable of. It's an opportunity to test your limits - plus you get to gallivant around in lycra and spend most of your time smelling like chlorine, what's not to love!?

On to the race. A half Ironman involves a 1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike followed by a 13.1 mile run. I figured if I'm going to swim, bike and run my through a 70.3 mile race course I may as well go somewhere with decent scenery so at the end of August we'll be making our way to Zell-Am-See, Austria. Mountains, good food and an excuse to belt out 'the hills are alive' at the top of the climb on the bike course - I'm so excited!

Training is well underway - today marks the start of my phase 3 training plan. So far it's been all about building a base of strength and endurance ready to start working on power, speed and performance. As always with this kind of thing, there's been a few hiccups along the way - a niggly little shoulder injury, busy weekends rushing into London for my Pilates instructor training course and most recently a lovely cold that really kicked my butt. All of this aside, I'm definitely feeling stronger already and I'm genuinely looking forward to ramping up my training to see what I can achieve.

I'll be documenting my Ironman 70.3 journey here so stay tuned!

*stock image from pixabay - I can't wait to take some photographs of my own come August!

Your Body is Not The Enemy

It's Valentine's Day and, to quote Hugh Grant, love actually is all around. It seems like this year so many people have taken today as an opportunity to show their love and appreciation of friends and loved ones, as well as partners. All this love stuff has got me thinking about self-love - and the lack of it (not in that way, cheeky.)

Working in the fitness industry, I come across a lot of people who hate their bodies. Who see their health and fitness journey as a means of waging a war on their body. 'If I could just get rid of this'... 'Ugh, look at that'... I think we can all be guilty of looking in the mirror and saying things about ourselves that we wouldn't dream of saying about a friend/loved one. (I honestly say the most horrible things about myself sometimes, so this is as much a note to self as it is to anyone who might happen to be reading!) Think about the last thing your inner critic told you about yourself. Now imagine looking someone you care about in the eye, and saying it about them - to them. It would feel awful and you probably wouldn't want to. It's time we prioritise treating ourselves with the same respect and kindness that, most of us, extend to others.

So what does this mean in terms of health and fitness? It means taking a moment to be proud of what your body can do. Reflecting on what your body is capable of - and what it could be capable of - rather than focusing solely on how much your body weighs, or what dress size you take. Self-love doesn't mean not implementing positive change. It means caring for your body and giving it what it needs. Getting to a healthy weight because you deserve to feel good. Eating well, because your body works hard and it needs the right fuel. Exercising, because there's nothing better than setting yourself a challenge and seeing what your body can do.

This love and kindness towards others that we throw around like confetti come Valentine's Day? We should be grabbing a great big bucket of it, throwing it over our heads and having a roll around in the stuff on the daily. Because us and our bodies - we're pretty damn amazing.

Your body is not the enemy. So stop treating it like one. Love it, care for it, respect it. Find that positive motivation, because it'll make that process of getting fitter, healthier and stronger so much more enjoyable.

Need some support? For more information about what I can offer - from personal training to beginners run coaching and ballet fitness classes - in and around Hitchin, Herts contact me at: jennifersophiefitness@gmail.com

My 2017 Self-Care Resolutions

As we make our way into the second working week of the year, I've been reflecting on what I want to get out of 2017. There's so much I want to do and so much I want to achieve this year. I've got so many plans and it's exciting, but it's also completely overwhelming. I'm taking on a half ironman triathlon, studying to qualify as a pilates instructor, attempting to write a children's book, growing my own little PT business... the list goes on. But I've realised that if I'm going to achieve all of these things, I need to take better care of myself. In a recent post I suggested that we all "make a resolution this January to be kind to ourselves [...] To take things one step at a time. To invest time into ourselves and to believe in ourselves." In the name of taking my own advice, I've decided to set myself a few self-care resolutions to try and live by this year.

1) To be less hard on myself
This is going to be a tough one. My inner critic likes to shout pretty loudly and I'm a perfectionist at heart. In 2017 I want to spend less time beating myself up and more time doing the things I love.

2) To take things one step at a time
This is advice I dole out all the time but struggle to actually do myself. I need to stop worrying about the bigger picture so much, because it quickly starts looking pretty vast and overwhelming. This year I'm going to do my best to break everything down into small steps so I can get sh*t done.

3) To doubt myself less
Oh hi inner critic, not-so-nice to see you again. I want this to be the year that I stop letting doubt and fear hold me back. Time to take a big spoonful of self-belief and go for it. *puts on superwoman costume*

4) To make more time for dance, books and music
Do more of what you love, and happiness will follow. Wise words from my better half there (who deserves so much credit for how ridiculously supportive he's been over the last 2 and a bit years). This year I'm going to read more, make time to play the piano/guitar more often and - the big one - I really want to fully qualify as a dance teacher. Anyone want to buy my liver so I can finance the training fees? ;)

5) To stop comparing myself to others
Basically, I need to scroll less and do more. Social media is great but it's also a bugger for making us all compare ourselves with snippets of others people's carefully curated lives. It's easy to spend so much time looking sideways that you lose sight of where you're headed and what you're working towards. 

6) To learn how to cope better with anxiety (and to be less afraid of talking about it)
I suffer from anxiety. And that's okay. I just need to get better at dealing with it rather than ostriching around (yep that's a real verb, honest...) pretending I'm okay 100% of the time, when sometimes that's not the case. Other than a couple of not so productive GP visits a few years ago, I've never really done anything to battle this particular demon. 2017 is going to be the year that changes.

What are your self-care resolutions? 

How to Set Yourself Up for a Successful 2017

Happy New Year! Hope everyone had a lovely festive season and you're all feeling ready to take on 2017 (after the surreal calamity that was 2016, it can only get better right!?).  Now is a great time to think about what you really want to achieve over the coming months, and to start making plans to make things happen. Read on for my top tips on setting goals and laying the groundwork for a successful year.

1) Set yourself achievable goals
When it comes to setting goals, it's important to strike a balance between aspiration and achievability.  Tasking yourself with something huge and unattainable sets you up to fail before you've even started. Take a minute to think about your lifestyle, figure out what's manageable and how it's going to fit in with your current commitments. You're far more likely to stick at something if you can slot it nicely into your routine.

2) Break it down and celebrate the little victories
Break your end goal down into stages, focusing on what you want to achieve in the short, medium and long term. Your overall goal might be to run your first 10k, but in the short term you just want to get into a routine of running a couple of times a week. Celebrate these milestones along the way and reflect on what you've achieved so far. It's a great way to stay focused and motivated.

3) Get excited!
In order to really achieve something, you need to be passionate and excited about it. There will be times when achieving your goal feels really tough and it's that passion that will get you through. Think about why you want to achieve your particular goal, and how achieving it will make you feel. If the excitement isn't there, it's fine to have a rethink. Life is way too short to waste time doing stuff you hate.

4) Step away from the fads! Forgo the detox teas! Eschew the dodgy supplements!
Some of the most common New Year's resolutions involve losing weight, toning up and getting fitter. Unfortunately, there's no magic pill (or teabag) that can truly get you long term results. And living off baked kale and nothing else for 6 week will just make you hangry and leave you reaching for the chocolate buttons the minute your sentence - sorry, diet - is over. The bottom line is, to really achieve a fitter, healthier version of yourself - and to maintain it - takes long-term, sustainable lifestyle changes. And as hard as it may be at times, that's awesome! Because you'll feel awesome when you can look back at how far you've come and celebrate everything you've achieved knowing that you didn't have to give yourself the runs with some questionable herbal tea in the process.

5) Don't give up the stuff you love
Hands up who swore off the booze for all eternity this morning!? But seriously, following on from my previous point, the changes you decide to make need to be sustainable for life if you want to see results. The minute you ban something, you'll crave it even more. Inevitably you'll crack (because, hello, a life without chocolate is a life that sucks) and end up bingeing on said banned thing - having more of it in one go than you would have if you'd allowed yourself to have it every now and then. It's all about balance.

6) Ask for help
Whether it's from family, friends or a professional, get yourself the support you need to achieve your goal. This is particularly relevant if your goal is fitness related - seek advice from a fitness professional to make sure your training is safe and appropriate for your aims. You'll get more out of your workouts, avoid injury and enjoy exercise way more! I've got personal training and beginners run coaching slots available so if you're based near Hitchin (Herts) feel free to drop me a line to see how I can help: jennifersophiefitness@gmail.com

Wishing you all a happy, healthy 2017. With everything that's going on in the world, it's important now more than ever that we all show kindness, generosity, tolerance and unity. Spread the love and enjoy life!

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