What the hell?

Last week we introduced our Spark Plod Ambassadors to the benefits of strength training for runners. Otherwise known as the 'What the hell' effect, the grind and balistic nature of kettlebells mean they are a fantastic way to build strength in the key muscle groups used for running - making you faster and stronger. This week Sarah reflects on her newfound training tool, running in warmer weather and eating to fuel her body to take on the demands of increased training...

Over the past couple of weeks things have been pretty hectic and I've been struggling with a lingering cold, but I've managed to get out there a handful of times and I've now been introduced to kettlebells!

Late February saw some unseasonably warm weather so I decided to take advantage of this and get out there for what should have been a 5km run. I had plans to meet some of the ladies for a run round Heaton Park. Only went and slept in!! Sunday morning fail!! For an hour after I got up I procrastinated doing ANYTHING but think about going for a run on my own to get my exercise in. Even got into my running stuff and thought - hmm this is comfy just to chill out & nap in today! It took a couple of friends and a search for motivational quotes (yes really) to get my ass outside.

So glad I did - absolutely gorgeous weather that lifted every part of my spirit & felt proud of myself for getting out there when my mind was saying not to. Made running in the heat tricky though so I did 20 mins quicker pace which is part of my training plan. The original plan was to do 5km and I got to less than 3km so I also added a walk until my Fitbit got to 10,000 steps to make up for it. Super happy as I could have easily stayed at home and vegged out all day!

Therefore my advice is - whatever you do, try and force yourself out to do something! Listen to your body and if you have to cut it back that's fine - you're already lapping everyone on the couch! I felt so much better and way more accomplished heading into the afternoon having forced my ass for a plod than if I hadn't!

Afterwards, as it was such a beautiful day, I decided to go on an adventure and got lost in woodland which was beautiful, especially when the sun was shining through the trees and I spotted a couple of eager daffodils in bloom which genuinely made my heart smile. And BUDS!! Signs of beautiful flowers to come - feels like winter is over and fills me with enthusiasm and excitement for the summer to come. Fantastic mindset to end the weekend.

Head onto my Instagram page thereluctantyorkshirerunner for woodland videos including the wonderful birdsong and relaxing trickle of a stream. What a wonderful wander!

I've also started to focus a little more on what I eat. I haven't cut anything out, nor calorie counted but I'm trying to make healthier choices in what I feed myself. In all honesty I downloaded a calorie counting app, used it for half a day then gave up as I didn't feel it would have the desired effect of helping me with my eating - it more made me feel a bit guilty when I had to enter something 'naughty', so I scrapped it so it didn't dominate my eating.

As an example, I was a little bit proud of myself one night recently - I left work at a time where I would usually go to M&S or Tesco on the walk back to the tram and grab a pizza or ready meal....not today! I had cooked some chicken breasts and roast veg the night before so it was just to heat up with all the other items in the picture below cooked in the microwave!

Delicious, quick and easy! I felt much better for eating more healthy than planned/usual and I've continued to make little changes where I can in my hectic weekday schedule. I'm not saying I've stripped out pizza or other takeaways as that would be a lie (and a very sad life!!) but I have tried to research easy to cook recipes and choose lighter options for lunch etc. Check out my Instagram page for a lovely salmon recipe done completely by microwave and some other examples of easy, delicious and nutritious meals I've cooked or salads thrown together which are comfort food and super quick and easy!

I also had a wonderful mid week plod pick me up this month too which was SO needed! I'd had a headache most of the day and was actually napping at 6pm....took a lot of willpower to get myself off the sofa and running with the ladies at 7pm!! Glad I did though - running with the plodders always cheers me up and it helped clear my headache which was a bonus! I've been pretty tired recently as work has been busy so the 5km literally felt like I was dragging two dead horses for legs the whole time. I also didn't seem to have any tigger spring in my feet so it was a real toughy. This made it hard mentally as I felt like I was forcing something that wasn't working, letting myself down as I should be improving and basically was having a bad day!

However, as is the Plodders' motto, I was 'picked up' by the Plodders and helped to finish the 5km which did make me feel good. Also, as I'd gone too quick the previous weekend, I decided to try and get a pace of 8m30 per km tonight... 8m29 it came in as woop woop!!

So I just want to say THANK YOU to the plodders as without your unwavering support I would have packed it in and just walked back home probably 2km in!

February also brought my first ever kettlebell class! Maggie invited us to her studio and took us through some lovely stretches (which I've used outside of exercise!) before we were introduced to the basic form and techniques that underpin all kettlebell exercises.

What I loved most about the session was I genuinely didn't feel like it was exercise we were laughing so much. Maggie was really clear in her description of what we should be doing in each of the exercises in a way that is understandable and relatable. For example when preparing for the deadlift, you have to imagine you're shutting the car door with your bum whilst picking up shopping bags. I've never had it described like that, but it absolutely makes sense!! Made the preparation really easy as I could visualise what I should feel like. Check out my Instagram page for a little video of me in action!

Following on from the 1 hour session that day, I felt it in every leg muscle I have for literally about 4 days afterwards!!! It was a good pain though - one that says I must have been doing it right and something has actually worked my muscles which means they're getting stronger type pain. I don't mind that sort of feeling and it makes me feel accomplished :D

I enjoyed it that much that when Maggie sent me my strength training plan, I went out to buy a 8kg and 12kg kettlebell so I can make a go of it at home. The plan today was to go out for a 5-6km, but the weather was absolutely pouring down and gale winds! Usually that would be the end of that! But I went and brought my new kettlebells in from the car and started Maggie's strength workout!

Best thing?? My sister even joined in!!! We did stretches together - ones I've learnt and ones she does at her gym, before running through the session Maggie gave me. Turned into 100 SQUAT SUNDAY!!! Having a workout buddy made it super fun and I had proper jelly legs by the end. It was great to share what Maggie had taught me with my sister and we both had fun whilst exercising which has to be an amazing thing right??!! I know I'll feel it in the legs tomorrow but I can't wait as it proves I did something good on a rainy Sunday. It's also been International Women's Day this week and my sister and I kicked ass!! :D

I'm really excited to see the impact strength training has on my running. Maggie explained how exercising with kettlebells builds power in the same muscle groups which provide the strength and power used for running, so it's a perfect workout combo with my running training. I'm working in three cities this week with an overnight stay in Glasgow - made sure I've booked a hotel with a gym as want to get myself either on the treadmill or back with kettlebells! I'll keep you updated!!

Have a good week everyone!

Sarah x