Attack of the sunrise alarm clock

It's been three months so time to answer the question… sunrise alarm clock: SAD Saviour or Overpriced Lightbulb?

Sunrise

First I should disclaim that I don't really suffer from SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder). I find it difficult to scrape myself out of bed all year round; it's just so much harder when the sun doesn't show its face before 9AM. If I appear depressed in winter it's usually due to the usual end of year what am I doing with my life moody musings… or I'm lost in Christmas menu planning. Mmm, trifle.

As previously reported I finally bought a sunrise alarm clock after eight Scottish winters of dithering. If you're not familiar with them, they're also called dawn simulators and are basically an alarm clock with a lightbulb inside. It wakes you with a gradually brightening light, like a mechanical sunrise in the dead of winter.

I got the Lumie Bodyclock Starter 30 – the most basic Lumie model but still a hefty £59.99. More pricey models allow you to awake to faux birdsong or FM radio, but the Starter 30 offers sunrise with an alarm beep, or just plain sunrise.

Gareth was amused when I took the hunk of plastic from the box, "I can't believe you paid sixty quid for a lightbulb! Bwahahha!" etc etc etc. I really wanted it to work just so I could say, "In your face!"

To my satisfaction, it has. It is so much easier to get out of bed now. Half an hour before the alarm goes off, the room starts to fill with a gentle, slowly brightening light. By the time the alarm actually bleeps I feel ready to get up.

How does that work? The Lumie website says it's because, "the sunrise effect is a natural cue for your body to reduce the production of sleep hormones (e.g. melatonin) and gradually increase the levels of those that help you get up and go (e.g. cortisol)."

To me, it somehow feels like the light lifts me out of the deepest layer of sleep and gently pulls me up towards wakefulness. Just say the deepest level is when you're really gone and dreaming that you were at a press conference in which Johnny Depp announces he's retraining as a chef*… then the light starts to seep in… and the dreams fade. I start to feel more aware of my body… thoughts of today's tasks creep in… it's like being awake with my eyes shut. Increasingly I'm waking up a few minutes before the alarm goes off, and I don't feel cranky and resentful – I'm ready to go. Not in a perky somebody-punch-that-insufferable-morning-person way… just in a matter of fact kind of way.

Just to recap my sleep habits before: on a work day, my alarm would go off at 7.15 and I'd hit snooze over and over and over til 8.15. Then I'd be in a frenzy to get to the office for 9. I started small with my reforms: a 7.30 am wakeup. A couple months on I routinely get up at 7am and have even managed a 5.30am when I had some particularly nutty deadlines. I'm not one of you crazy morning people yet, and I can't fathom the idea of morning exercise just now (I hope to get there some day), but I love getting some stuff done before I go to work. The quiet time before the day whacks you in the face is just dandy.

The progress is not all down to the clock – I've also worked on getting to bed earlier – 11pm instead of midnight or later, and reading before bed instead of computering. But I still think that the gentle light from the clock has made all the difference on the dreary winter mornings.

The best moment since getting the alarm? When Gareth opened his eyes at 6am and said blearily, "Oh man, time for work already? Hang on. What time is it? AAARRRGHHHH STUPID FAKE SUN! FOILED AGAIN!"

* I was disappointed to realise yesterday this was only a dream. I think Johnny Depp would look good in chef's whites.

Winners of the Up & Running e-course giveaway

Thanks to all who entered the Up & Running giveaway. I dare anyone to read your answers to the What's the best thing that happened to you last year question and not feel at least a little bit full of the joys of life. I've bookmarked the post to re-read on grumpy days!

The random number generator declared the following winners…

#31 – Kathleen
#18 – Suzy
#47 – Frances
#34 – Tor
#17 – Lauren
#70 – Rose

Why are there six winners? Those comments put me in a cheerful mood, what can I say! 😀

Congratulations ladies! I've emailed you all so please get in touch to claim your prize.

If you missed out this time round there's still time to join the team. Team Sweat… Team Good Times… Team Occasional Bitch & Moan!

The 5K Course starts next Monday 5 March and the 10K Thursday 8 March. The Half Marathon course can started at any time.

By the way, both the 5K & 10K Courses conclude with a race on Sunday 6 May (your choice of "real" race or virtual), which is the same day as the Julia Jones Running Festival (how to cool a race named after you, crikey). If any Eurogals out there fancy a visit to Bologna, a bunch of Up & Runners will be taking part so come join us! There's a 6km and a 10km race.

I'll be huffing along for the 6km… I was having a whinge to Julia that me and my dodgy knee would be on the sidelines babysitting everyone's bags, but she assures me it's okay to walk the race. So I'm in training baby, and pootling around the village with great enthusiasm! My aim is to get as speedy as possible and not be dead last.

Thanks everyone who entered the giveaway. Have a good week!

Up & Running

WIN! A place on the Up & Running 5K, 10K or 21K Course

Shauna Reid & Julia Jones

Me and Coach Julia

It's been a whole year since I first asked if you guys wouldn't mind having a look at This Running Thing We Made, and I'm so chuffed that Up & Running is now alive and thriving. A year ago Julia and I had just met in person and had only a skimpy website, an empty forum, one lonely 5K e-course and a bellyful of excitement (okay, mild terror too). But today there is so much more to look at:

Keanu Reeves whoa!

I just noticed a comment on the ye olde Introducing Up & Running post from a girl named Jo: "Arghhh… I'm so tempted to sign up, but… is this actually possible???". Jo did sign up, aced the 5K, is about to start the 10K course, and this May is coming all the way from Australia for our first ever Alumni Retreat in Italy. Jo, you crazy cat!

I could tell 100 similar stories of women doing things they didn't know they could do but I know you're busy people and would not want to miss anyone out. But to all the Up & Runners out there, thank you for showing me day after day what happens when you figure out what you want, make a plan, then get off your bum and go for it :) 

Up & Running

What's next? Our next 5K Course starts on Monday 5 March and the 10K Course starts on Thursday 8 March, and each run for eight weeks. Our brand new Half Marathon course runs for 12 weeks and is self-paced, so you can dive in to that one at any time, whenever it suits you and your race date.

So… fancy joining us? This is an brilliant time of year for a new challenge – Spring is on the way in the Northern Hemisphere, and it's cooling off down south. Just think how smug you would feel crossing the finish line at your first 5K or 10K come May?

I'm giving away three free places, with the winner choosing the course they'd like to do. All you have to do is leave a comment on this blog post and tell me, What's the best thing that happened to you over the past year?

  • Entries close 11PM GMT this Friday 24 February
  • There will be three winners and they have their choice of 5K, 10K or Half Marathon course
  • The winner can gift the prize to a friend, so you can enter if you choose not to run but know someone who would like to!
  • Winners will be randomly selected.
  • Winners can be from anywhere in the world. Remember the Courses are for women only.

Winner will be announced this Saturday 25 Feburary. Woohoo!

Friend of the Knee

Knee

I wanted to say a big thanks for your comments and emails on the Dodgy Knee Update! It was a knee nerds delight and I learned so much from all the links and information shared.

Among the goodies, P posted three really interesting articles from a website called Aligned and Well. This article articulates with lovely bluntness what the osteopath always says about knee problems being connected to other things going on in your body (hello tight calves and hips). And this Movement IS Medicine post reiterated the need for consistent, low-impact movement… as opposed to yo-yoing between high intensity and the couch. Ahem. Thanks P!

So I'm re-learning how to be a Friend of the Knee. It's totally manageable when I stop going out of my way to harm it. Much of the damage came from nutty attempts to keep up. There were countless kickboxing, running, hiking moments etc where the knee was so painful and hot and crunchy and I couldn't straighten my leg properly, but I pushed on because I didn't want to look wussy. I didn't want to miss out. I didn't want anyone thinking, "Fat gal can't keep up". (Sure everyone would have been lost in their own sweaty thoughts, but sometimes there's no stopping the Paranoia Express!)

But now I'm pushing 35 and understand that you only get one life and two knees. The new motto is: What Would Wilma Do?

Way back in 2006 I got an email from a wonderful woman named Wilma who said that she'd had knee troubles all her life but she worked hard to manage them,  and as a result was still able to do the activities she loved. She had a comprehensive list of stretches and exercises she did to strengthen the muscles around her knee. She performed these consistently every day. She was a Friend of the Knee!

I bet she is still doing that six years later. Are you out there Wilma? I hope you are well!

At the time I took her advice very seriously… but not consistently. I'd modify my exercise routine and religiously perform the exercises… those tedious moves like squeezing a cushion between your knees that feel so utterly pointless and dammit I'd rather be at BodyPump… but they made a difference. My legs got stronger. But then I'd get frustrated and bored and throw myself into a high impact activity. Then I'd get hurt. Then I'd crawl apologetically back to kneehab. Repeat nauseam for half a decade.

Those days are gone, old chaps. GONE!

Current Friend of the Knee habits:

  • Stretchy stuff:
    • Daily stretch routine
    • Yoga class
    • Pilates class
  • TRX class – with modifications.
  • Lots of Omega-3s
  • Wearing sensible shoes – no flimsy flats, no high heels. Zzzzzz… but makes a huge difference.
  • The Stork exercise – Up & Runners will groan in recognition… standing on one foot. Brilliant for activating the feet and working the calves.

Things I'm working on:

  • Adding in more walks – on even, joint friendly surfaces. Just plain ol' walking seems to help.
  • Making sure I don't sit down for too long – that's when it locks up and gets painful
  • Look at my diet – I'm reading up on inflammation (thanks for your recommendations!) 
  • Consistent daily kneehab exercises – dreary, but must strengthen those muscles around the knee. Squeeze that cushion! BE LIKE THE WILMA.

I feel very conscious of being a knee bore, especially knowing that some work colleagues read this (sorry fellas), but this accountability really helps. Thanks for your tolerance!

L’Étape, Oh Crap! – Part 2: Just Like Starting Over

Guest post from my husband Gareth. He's writing monthly training updates as he heads towards his Étape du Tour crazy Alpine cycling adventure.

Onward, G!

John-lennon-bike

I've always been really lucky with my health but last year I got sick and it pretty much kept me off the bike from July until New Year. When I tentatively hopped back on the spinning bike to assess the damage I found it fairly depressing. Half an hour in, I was dripping sweat and puffing like an old train.

A trial run on the real bike wasn't much better, ending with thigh cramps five miles from home. I'd gone from a fairly competent and fit road cyclist to someone who was struggling to ride five miles without stopping for a breather!

I was already feeling pretty bad then I read this warning about the level of preparation required for the Etape:

"Try to imagine 2500 cyclists, that’s like an entire UK Sportive not making the finish line – it can be for various reasons – they get swept up by the Sag wagon because they are not fast enough or they physically just cant make it – but as I came up Ventoux in 2009 and the Tourmalet last year, the roadside was littered with bodies of people walking; lying in gutters asleep; people seeking shade; people who had just fallen off their bikes with exhaustion.

It may not be what you want to hear, but so many people are ill-prepared for the difficulty of the Etape or they're simply not fast enough to avoid the Sag Wagon – the Sag is a series of coaches filled with Gendarmes and they hold no mercy for those deemed too slow. If that’s you, you get dumped off your bike, it gets chucked in the back of the truck and you have quite possibly the most depressing coach ride of your life…"

Emily

There are around 10,000 cyclists in the Etape so 25% won't finish? Cue moaning to Shauna: "Bloody hell… how am I going to finish this thing, I can't even ride for 30 minutes on the flat without stopping. What's the point?"

Around the same time I was watching the American version of The Biggest Loser. One of the contestants is Emily, is a former champion weightlifter. For various reasons she gained weight and is now learning how to lose the pounds and deal with the issues which led to her weight gain.

During the episode Emily was not happy with her weigh-in result. She was struggling to come to terms with the fact that she used to lift enormous amounts of weight and now she could only lift relatively baby weights. She started to cry up there on the scale, until the brilliantly crabbit Bob Harper gave her a piece of his mind!

I'm paraphrasing but he pretty much said, "I don't care what you were or what you used to do. I don't care what anyone else thinks! All that matters is where you are now so get on with it!"

(Or as Garth Algar would tell you, "live in the now!")

Garth

The man is wise

Emily and Bob's exchange really struck a chord as I realised I was in one of those strangely exhilarating situations where you only have two choices:

  1. Try your hardest and give it a red hot go, or
  2. Give up!

Has to be Choice #1 really.

There really is no point beating yourself up for the situation you find yourself in. Nothing will change; you'll still be where you are.

So whilst fighting every fibre of my Scottish "snatching defeat from the jaws of victory" being, I experienced a rare bout of positivity. At that moment I couldn't ride 70 miles or batter through a Sufferfest training video. So what. When I got back into cycling twelve years ago I was 30 kilos (65lb) overweight, still smoked and after riding four miles my legs were shaking so much I couldn't get up the stairs! It's all relative.

Lo and behold, we're midway through February and things are getting easier. I can now ride the spinning bike for an intense hour. I still sweat and puff but it feels much better. I'm back to completing Sufferfests and at my pre-Etape medical check last week the doc told me my resting heartrate was nice and slow. It's still a bit too cold and icy here to ride outside regularly but I'm feeling positive and am looking forward to getting my fitness back and ramping up my training for the race.

I'll sign off with a nod to the moral message segment at the end of He-Man and leave it to the brilliant Scott Walker and his brothers to say,"Make it easy on yourself". Au revoir!

 

Walking in Barcelona

Last weekend I went to Barcelona to hang out with my pal Coach Julia Jones. We had a great time eating tapas and working on our new Up & Running half marathon e-course, which we're launching next week (squeak!). 

After our Brussels work-a-thon last summer, I was awed by how she packed her running shoes and exercised and ate mindfully… rather than seeing a few days away as time for sloth and scoff-o-rama. Six months on I reckon I'm getting there too! I enjoyed my tapas and some incredibly decadent chocolate pastry thingos but whoa baby, I savoured the whole shebang. Half the fun is hunting down the perfect thing to eat – following your nose through the narrow streets, oggling fancy treats in the windows, taking a photo or ten before finally tucking in. That's how I did it til I lost my way… be selective, then savour. It feels good to get back to what works.

Sagrada Familia

Pigeons near the Sagrada Familia

The exercise went well too. On Sunday Julia suggested we each head out for 40 minutes – a run for her and a brisk walk for Granny Knees me. It's been years since she coached me but OBEY JULIA remains a mantra… I cranked up the GPS and Walkmeter on my phone so I'd be able to show her proof that I'd walked and not just sat under a tree eating cake. Again, it is very useful to know what really motivates you – in this case, a need to please and a love of gadgets! 😉

Walk

In my eagerness to "make good time" some how I got a bit lost on the way back!

Monthly Check In: January 2012

Each month I’m checking in with my 2012 plans.

A month is a most excellent unit of time. Long enough to make things happen, but short enough to correct your path if necessary. I was trying to convince Gareth of the merits of the Monthly Check In when he said, “I have done feck all this month.”

“Bullshit!” I declared, then rattled off half a dozen things he’d done, including taking his Etape training up a notch, entering his first homebrew competition and going to see the Turner in January exhibition. Sure we just walked into the Gallery, peered at half a dozen paintings before simultaneously freaking out, “Arrgh! Too many people!” then absconded to the pub. But the point was, he had a good January.

Mine was pretty good too:

January highlights

  • Starting a TRX suspension training class – wonderfully tough! The tricep move in particular burns like no other tricep work I’ve ever done. And it seems I can do squats with the TRX without irritating my knee. Lunges are out though.
  • Going back to BodyPump – I can’t do the squat or lunge tracks at all (any substitute ideas?) but the back/hamstring and upper body tracks are bloody awesome
  • Bagpipe yoga – at the end of yoga class, right after the relaxation bit when the lights were off and the mood was mellow and silent, our teacher said her Quote of the Week which was something about the serenity and joy of life when… BURRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRHH! A bloke down the hallway started blasting away on his bagpipes. I love Scotland, I do.
  • Two pounds down on the scale

January lowlight

  • Knee news– I hurt my knee in 2005 and it has been a bastard on and off ever since. Mostly on, but I have tried to spare you from too much of the whining around here. I finally took the osteopath’s advice and got a referral to the orthopedic specialist bloke. After much poking and scanning the verdict was osteoarthritis. Great, my knee has a real age of approximately 85.There is not much to be done for that. All I can do is not make it worse. So the “plan” of the past few years – denying, ignoring, gaining a shitload of weight; doing exercises that make it worse – has been tossed.

    Orthopedic Man said I am a long way from needing surgery, so I need to be sensible and be so very very careful. Kickboxing, running, squatting, lunging and other high impact stuff are out. I am going to skip Zumba for now – the twisting and turning always makes it hurt for days afterward. Spinning is my main cardio. Maybe I’ll get a punch bag. You don’t need good knees to punch, right? And I will keep working on slowly losing this extra weight.

I gotta say I have been really bloody emotional about this knee verdict. It is hard not to beat myself up for all the things I did to get to this point. I am seriously mourning squats and roundhouse kicks.

But I must let go and focus on what I can do. So onward to February! My aims are: kneehab,  continue the astoundingly consistent exercise routine, and be more disciplined with the food diary.

The Winners! – 11th Birthday Sell Out

Dietgirl 11th Birthday Sell Out!Once again the Random Number Generator has spoken. Here are the 11th Birthday Sell Out Winners. I've put the commenter number beside the name as some commenters share the same name and we don't want any trouble!

  1. 'An Honest Kitchen' magazine
    92 Ellen K, 62 Krista, 67 Catherine, 12 Hannah, 52 Sarah, 37 Paula, 36 Gabby, 14 Donalda Bint, 79 Tessa, 75 Carol
  2. $100 Cathe Downloads voucher
    42 Lizz
  3. Weight Loss Resources three months membership
    21 Anne
  4. Less Bounce £45 sports bra voucher
    77 Mandy Kohlfeld
  5. MizFit's My Trainer Fitness cards
    10 Andrew
  6. Total Greek Yogurt + Zest mag subscription
    27 kelly
  7. Cardio Coach MP3 workouts
    Grand prize: 63 MelShoe. Runners up: 43 Nerida, 87 Rosemary Riveter, 32 Brenna, 8 Abby, 1 Tanja Kuttig, 3 Andrea, 28 Jennette, 11 Penny, 25 Miss Lynn, 26 Cassidy

Winners have been notified by email. Don't forget if you missed out this time, there is still a 25% Cardio Coach discount available.

A huge thanks once again to all the Sell Out prize donors for your generosity. Thanks everyone who entered and cheers for reading!