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  • Train Like A VIP: Running Hills

    The Virgin Money London marathon is weeks away – eeeek!

    My next blog post is going to be about injury, which is sadly having a set back on my training, but I wanted to write one about hill sessions first as when I was able to do them I felt the benefit straight away.

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    According to my trainer, hill running increases your aerobic capacity (you’ll need to use less oxygen at longer distances) and improves your running economy (you use less oxygen to run faster) – and as it’s high intensity it’s a great calorie burner. It builds strength in your glutes, quads and calf muscles – so is fantastic for toning and sculpting your bottom half.

    As  I live in South London, I decide to do mine in Greenwich Park. I did 30 secs uphill the ran down and did another 30 seconds uphill. I repeated this cycle 12 times.

    My top tips are:

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    • Don’t lean too far forwards and keep looking to the top and keep yourself upright. If you look down you’ll lean into the hill, which is less efficient.
    • Make your stride shorter and use a high knee drive.
    • Keep the elbows close to the body.
    • Push off the back foot – think antelope not elephant. And run on the balls of your feet.
    • Keep on running when you reach the top – only relax when your over the top.

    Downhill

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    • Relax – unclench your fists, let your arms go loose, and just let it happen – don’t put on the brakes – but don’t sprint either.
    • Your stride length increases as you run downhill, but if you’re running down lots of hills, conserve the strength in your quadriceps by shortening your stride.

    Downhill is equally hard as uphill, trust me! Relaxation is the key. If you overthink it, it will scare you and the more your brain is scared the less it can keep you upright!

    How’s your training going? Fancy sponsoring me? My Virgin money donations page is in aid of The Stroke Association, visit that here.

    Follow me on Twitter @livelikeavip

     

     

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  • Train Like A VIP: Gym

    Did you see my blog post last week about my first training session with Jamie Kerr?

    I explained that I am training for the Virgin Money London marathon and that I want a good time, which requires doing exercises to strengthen up as well as running. On my own, I enjoy running but gyms confuse me. That’s why I asked Jamie to help…

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    The best thing about training with Jamie is that no two sessions are ever the same. Check out what he had me doing this week

    This was part of a set with tricep dips and press-ups. I did walking lunges and star jumps in another set. My heart rate was just as high, if not higher, than I’d get from a run and I was working more muscle groups. I knew immediately that the lunges and split leg lunges would be great for strengthening my legs and help me avoid injury from too much running.

    Personally, I need a lot of motivation to go to the gym and stay in the gym when I’m there and I find that having Jamie there does this. Check out his website for more info.

    I’ll let you know what he has me doing next week!

     

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  • Crucial Nutrition Tips For Runners

    As a runner, it vital that you are aware of what your body needs, not just in terms of fitness training, but also in nutrition and hydration.

    Whether you have signed up for a major marathon or are taking part in your local fun run, it is important that you prepare nutritionally. Nutrition needs to be part of your on-going training and not something you only take note of leading up to a big run or race.

    You may not realise it, but training on a regular basis and improving your fitness level is not enough to make you a good runner. It is crucial that you also prepare your body with proper nutrition. You need to know what you should be eating, when you should be eating it, and how much of you need to eat – that is where we come in.

    For our simple guide to nutrition for runners, have a read of this.

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    1. Eat within two hours of finishing

    It is important that you eat within two hours of finishing a run or practice session. This is the time when your muscles are best able to replenish their carbohydrates stores.

    When you run, you burn some of the glycogen in your muscles (carbohydrates stores). Once you have finished your run, it is vital that you replenish these stores. The best way to do this is by eating protein and carbohydrates within two hours of finishing your training session.

    2. Eat lots of carbohydrates

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    Carbohydrates, like pasta, rice and potato are our bodies preferred choice of fuel – they are easier to turn into energy than other foods.

    Our bodies have smaller stores of carbohydrates than they do of protein and fat, so it is important to keep them topped up. To keep your carbohydrates store topped up, make sure to eat a portion of pasta, rice or potato with every meal.

    3. Keep a food / training diary

    Keeping a food / training diary is an excellent idea, as it will allow you to workout what foods and training times work best for you. While there are plenty of food diet guides available for runners, each body is different and requires different care.

    If you are unsure what your body needs to perform properly, it might be a good idea to seek professional advice. You can either get in touch with a dietician or the Denver diet counselling service.

    4. Avoid alcohol

    It is a good idea to avoid alcohol as much as possible. Not only will a night on the town leave you feeling delicate and unable to train, but it will also result in dehydration and low blood sugar levels. Making your training a lot harder to stomach.

    On a night out, alternate alcoholic drinks with glasses of water. This will help your body to cope with the alcohol more easily, and shouldn’t leave you feeling too rough the next morning.

    5. Replenish your carbohydrate levels on long runs

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    If, after running a few miles, you begin to feel exhausted, it is because your carbohydrates store is completely depleted.

    Instead of leaving it until you feel exhausted and unable to run a step more, make sure to take sports drinks and energy gels throughout your run. That way you will be able to maintain your carbohydrate store.

    There are less than 8 weeks to the Virgin Money London marathon now – I’m getting nervous!

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  • Running And Rest: Expert Tips

    While the running training for the Virgin Money London marathon is essential, it’s also important to take time to plan and to learn some tactics.

    Going out for a run without thinking and repeating that over and over is not going to make you faster. The difference is made by talking to the experts (like my trainers Gary Spencer and Jamie Kerr).

    Recently I got even more tips by sleep expert Sammy Margo and mental performance coach Andy Barton and things started to make sense further.

     

    Rest & Run Experts, Sammy Margo & Andy Barton @ Holiday Inn (Camden  Lock) 1 300dpi

    Here are their top 5 tips:

    Sammy Margo, Sleep Expert & Chartered Physiotherapist

    Wake up well…

    If you’re planning a morning run, it’s important to wake up feeling good. During the night you go through cycles of sleep, typically lasting between 90 and 110 minutes each, varying between light and deep sleep. It’s when your alarm wakes you from deep sleep that you feel groggy. Use apps or wearable technology to monitor your cycles so you can set your alarm to wake you when you’re in a light sleep and therefore more likely to feel refreshed and ready for an early morning run.

     Understand your sleep states…

    The first few hours of sleep before midnight are when you reach a deep slow-wave sleep, where tissues regrow, bone and muscles build and the immune system strengthens. So getting an early night after a big run is ideal recovery for your body.   

     Andy Barton, Mental Performance Coach

     Mental pain relief…

    Pain is inevitable when putting your body through 26 miles of running, but there are ways you can minimise it. Firstly, changing the word from “pain” to something like “discomfort” or “a niggle” can make a real difference. Pain is highly subjective and we tend to feel it more if we expect to feel it. Secondly, when people experience pain they tend to let their heads drop, looking at the ground as they run. By doing this, you can end up focusing on the pain more. By keeping your eyes up and expanding your vision, you become more externally focused and it’s much easier to distract yourself from any niggles that may develop.

    Fire up your imagination…

    When we imagine performing a skill, we fire up an almost identical pattern of neural responses to when we are actually performing it. By imagining yourself in the process of running a marathon you can train your brain to be more prepared for the race, so it feels like it’s something you have already achieved. In fact, our imagination is so powerful that studies have shown that just mentally rehearsing a workout in the gym can increase your muscle mass. If you want to be fitter, faster and stronger on your run, try using a little imagination!

     Stay in the present…

    Athletes perform best when they are in a state of flow or “in the zone”; where running feels easy and effortless. We get in the zone when we are trusting our unconscious, learned skills without any self-consciousness, distractions, fears or concern. To achieve this, it is essential for the mind to be in the present, but instead marathon runners often find themselves worrying about how far they have to go or whether they have done enough training. If you focus on what is in front of you, enjoy the crowds, the atmosphere and even focus on your breathing, you are more likely to get into the zone and perform at your best.

    Sammy and Andy have done a series of tips for The Holiday Inn, the official hotel partner of the Virgin Money London Marathon, which will be released on the Holiday Inn Facebook page in the run-up to the marathon.

     

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  • Train Like a VIP

    With the Virgin Money London Marathon just a little over 9 weeks away, I’m on a mission to get fit.

    I explained to you in my last running post update that I’ve got a training plan for the first time ever, and one of these is a gym session. It’s important to strengthen my legs so that my muscles don’t get fatigued over the 26.2 miles. As I find it hard to get motivated to go to the gym, I’ve enlisted the help of one of London’s top trainers, Jamie Kerr, and this is what he’s had me doing.

    Jamie’s aim is to make training fun for his clients so they find it easier to fit into their daily routine. It’s a lot more playful than repeating sets of squats or doing burpees and this makes you look forward to the sessions as you never know what to expect.

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    If you like the sound of this you can visit Jamie’s website, to find out more. He’s based in a very cool gym in London’s Shoreditch, but there are other ways to train. If you like being outside, then Jamie can accomodate that. But for me, I’m enjoying being inside a gym after a lot of marathon running sessions outside.

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    I’ve been taking my running quite seriously recently, so this fun but effective workout has helped me find my motivation again. I’m looking forward to the next workout because if this week was tug of war, the next one won’t be…

    I’ll keep you posted and don’t forget you can follow me on Twitter @livelikeavip

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  • Tuesday Tips: Marathon Training

    I am training for the Virgin Money London marathon. Last week, I introduced you to my trainer, the GB triathlete Gary Spencer. Now it’s time to report on my progress and share some tips.

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    The first thing we did together was make a training plan. How quick do you need to run each mile?

    Before I met Gary, my training plan consisted of going out for a run three or four times a week. I’d do a long run on a Sunday (10-15 miles), a 6 mile run and another 6-8 mile run plus a swimming session and a gym session. But I wouldn’t have been able to tell you how quick I ran these distances nor what my heart rate was. Gary asked me how I could expect to aim for a focused target of a 3 hr 30 marathon, requiring a pace of 8 min a mile on the day, when I was unscientific about what I was doing in training. Also, how could I expect to improve my fitness when I was doing the same thing each week?

    Therefore today’s key tips are:

    (1) If you have a goal in mind, then work out what pace you need to aim for on the day

    (2) Get a watch that can measure heart rate and pace. I use the Garmin Forerunner 15, which was £150 including the Heart Rate monitor from John Lewis. I have a purple one, but it comes in a range of colours. It’s not advanced but it does the job.

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    (3) Go out for a run, pacing something that feels fast but comfortable to you. Ideally, this should be something you think you can keep up for the duration of your race (depending if you’re aiming for a 10k, half-marathon or full marathon). NOTE: Make sure you warm up slowly before getting into marathon pace.

    Measure what your heart-rate was during this time. In a race, you need to keep between 65% -70% of your maximum or you’ll get a lactic acid buildup.

    (4) Go out for another run with a 10 min warm-up, 30 – 40 min main session and 10 min warm-down and keep your heart rate at 65%-70%. Is there a big difference in speed between that and the run you did when you were running at the pace you thought you felt comfortable with?

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    (5) The key to progression is to be able to keep your heartrate at this 65% -70% level while running faster, as close to race pace as possible.

    This can be done with: technique analysis (your stride may mean you work too hard while running), interval training sessions to improve your cardio fitness, hill-running to build up strength to help with your strides. You should incorporate one of each into your training plan. I’ll go into more detail about these next week, specifying what Gary’s advised for me with my training. But be aware that you need to achieve your goal pace without your heart rate rising too high. The interval and hill sessions help make you fitter and stronger so that when you’re on your long runs you’ll find it easier to stay within the heart rate limits.

    My progress is:

    I have to say I’m not finding it easy as I thought I would. On the plus side, I am motivated. I am obsessed by my 3 hr 30 goal and I am willing to do whatever it takes to get it.

    However, I have had to be strict with my diary. To add these sessions into my weekly routine means shifting things out the way and also running in the evening occasionally, and I’ve had to sacrifice some of my social life. My old program may have been a lot less effective than the one Gary’s given me but it was a whole lot easier to just go and run a few miles without really testing my fitness.

    I’m also learning about the importance of warming up and stretching. I have to admit, I strained a calf muscle during the initial heart rate / speed test as I set off as quickly as I could without warming up. I’m trying to recover by stretching every day, using a foam roller and making sure I ease into my top speed slowly, particularly if I’ve just woken up and its a cold morning. This may sound obvious, but in the past it wasn’t so important as I just used to do gentle jogs and never really pushed myself, so stretching was less vital to me then.

    The key thing is, I can currently run 8 mins 40 / 8 mins 30 miles at a comfortable heart-rate. The questions is, can I get this down to 8 min miles so that I’m happy on race day?

    Runners cross Tower Bridge during the 2008 Flora London Marathon.

    I have less than 10 weeks to go now and I’m feeling the pressure. If you have any good advice, please Tweet me @livelikeavip or comment below.

    I’ll being you some more tips soon from Gary and other training methods so keep checking out Live Like a VIP’s new running section.

    If you want to work out with Gary yourself, you can find him teaching indoor cycling classes at Edge Cycle in Holborn, London – visit the Edge Cycle website for more information.

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    VIP Fitness: London Marathon

     

    I’ve signed up for the Virgin London Marathon 2015 :)

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    Until a few years ago, the only running I did was to the bar when the barman shouted last orders. Then I was walking past a bar near my home in Bermondsey and stumbled across London City Runners – a free running club. I decided to join them and discovered that running could be an enjoyable way to de-stress plus it meant I could consume more champagne and chocolate as I’d be burning if off.

    I decided to sign up for my first marathon (these things are addictive)  because I was inspired by the celebrity runners, who were raising money for charity. My grandfather had just died following a stroke, shortly after my grandmother died after a stroke. I knew I wanted to raise money for The Stroke Association and I’d been aware of celebrities making money through running. As I’d just started running a couple of months previously it was an ambitious goal but I got round in under 4 hours. With more training I went on to do better times in the Istanbul and New York marathons, despite the hills and bridges on those courses.

    That’s the thing about running – the more you do, the more you learn. You learn about what trainers to buy, how to gradually increase training, how monitoring your heart rate stops you from hitting a wall, the importance of eating protein…I’m constantly finding out new things. This week – 12 weeks before the marathon – there was a lunch for the media at Roux, Parliament Square, the restaurant owned by marathon running chef Michel Roux Jr.

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    I grabbed the chef to get his top 5 running tips and rather excitingly, as I’ve always been a huge fan, I cornered Paula Radcliffe too. Paula ‘multiple marathon winner ‘ Radcliffe!

    Michel Roux Jr, photographed with me, advises:

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    (1) Eat fats! There is nothing wrong with butter or cream – your body needs this. (My body particularly adored his monkfish raviolo in chicken consomme – wow!)

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    (2) Avoid sugar at all costs. We’re starting to realise sugar is the worst food ever. I’ve known it for a while. It’s literally a killer.

    (3) Stretch. Before exercise, after exercise, when you’re watching TV. You can never stretch too much!

    (4) Stop as soon as you get injured or you can make it worse, speaking from experience.

    (5) Plan it into your weekly schedule. If you don’t commit to what days and what times you’re running, life will get in the way and you might get distracted from your running.


    Paula Radcliffe advises:

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    (1) Follow a training plan. You can find these online. Google your distance and time and ‘plan’ and you’ll find what you need to do to reach your goal.

    (2) Warm up and warm down. I know it sounds stupid, but if your muscles don’t warm up you are more likely to get injured.

    (3) Buy a foam roller – your muscles need relaxing. If you only do it for five mins a day its better than nothing.

    (4) If you’re training for a big distance then you need at least one sports massage a month.

    (5) If you’re aiming for a certain time then you need to include track running into your sessions to build up your speed. You have to do sets of 200m or 400m with a short rest in between. You need to practise running fast to achieve  it.

    The Virgin London Marathon will take place on 25 April 2015. Visit the Virgin London Marathon website for training guides and spectator information.

    Keep track of my progress by checking out the running section of Live Like a VIP. I’ll be writing a couple of posts a week about what exercises I’m doing with my trainer, the GB triathlete Gary Spencer.

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  • VIP Fitness: Train With A GB Triathlete

    Who do you look up to for fitness inspiration? If you’re not looking at anyone then how do you expect to improve? If you’re training in a class or with a personal trainer does the instructor have a figure that you want? Do they excel at a discipline that you want to get better at? If they’re a bodybuilder and you want to run faster then it’s not going to work…

    I’ve decided that it’s time to get serious about sport. I’m not looking to win medals but I am looking to move off a fitness plateau and see my body become leaner and feel it become stronger. I’m also aiming for 3 hours 30 in a marathon, which I narrowly missed in Istanbul two months ago. With these goals, I asked myself what I wanted in a trainer / fitness mentor and I wanted someone who was quick, lean, energetic and inspirational….and then I met GB triathlete Gary Spencer.

     

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    Gary is an instructor at Edge Cycle in central London, which is the only specialist indoor cycling studio to offer cycling bootcamp classes (spinning and weights and stretching) as well as fast-paced purely cycling sessions.

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    The reason I tried out Edge initially was because I am not very consistent when it comes to exercise. I once heard that to get fitter you needed to shock the body by trying new things and I took it to extremes. If a new bootcamp started in a park then I was there. I’ve tried every exercise class going – from a Playboy Bunny workout to HIIT to jumping on trampolines or pogo sticks.

    However, at Edge the instructors took time to get to know me. As well as Gary, there’s the stunning Belinda Shipman who has six kids and the most enviable figure in the world, so much so that you have to see it to believe it.

    It was after one of the 45 minute classes, where I was sweating buckets and feeling like jelly, that Gary asked me about my marathon training plan and I realised I didn’t actually have one. I just went out running whenever I could and did a little longer runs each week as well as some other fitness classes and a bit of swimming. He asked me about heart rate monitors and I confessed I didn’t have one ( and to be honest, I didn’t really know the difference between a GPS watch and a heart rate monitor).

    So I’ve done the sensible thing and asked Gary to train me to help me with my running goals because as a champion triathlete he’s knowledgeable about all the techniques needed to finish first. I’m quite looking forward to getting focused, Finally, I’m going to stop following the fads when it comes to fitness!

    This is the start of my journey. I’ll be writing blog posts each Tuesday – lets call it Tuesday Tips – letting you know how I get on.

    If you’d like to shape up your own training you can find Gary at Edge Cycle on Tuesday mornings and Wednesday evenings – there is a timetable on the Edge Cycle website

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  • 10 Reasons To Buy A Garmin

    Do you know how fast you are going when running outside? On a treadmill, you can pick a certain speed with a few presses of buttons. But you can’t tap any buttons on the roads or in the parks to determine how fast you are running and, unless I’ve been missing out, you can’t automatically program your trainers to carry you at a specific pace either.

    If you’re just running for fun then maybe this doesn’t bother you. It is a nice feeling to run in the open air without a care in the world and if you know how far you’re going and you know how long you’ve stayed out then you can sort of work it out at the end. However, I feel compelled to write this piece as wearing a watch for four weeks to prepare for the Istanbul marathon has been the biggest improvement to my running since I started running in 2008. I seriously wish I’d invested in one earlier.

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    The watch I used was the Garmin Forerunner 10, so keeping on the 10 theme, here are 10 reasons why I will never run without a Garmin again.

    (1)    If you’re training for a PB in any distance at all it’s vital. My aim was to get between 3 hours 30 and 3 hours 45 in Istanbul which meant I needed to run at approx. 5. 25 minute miles. There were no clocks at the side of the road in Istanbul (unlike marathons I ran in London and New York) and it’s not easy to keep adding 5 mins 15 up each kilometre and then run and remember what number you were previously on at the next kilometre marking. A Garmin works out exactly what pace you’re on at all times.

    As well as displaying the time and date, you have two other screens at your disposal with two pieces of info on each one and you can choose what info you want from a list available in the settings menu.

    Garmin-Forerunner-10-Pink-Ladies-Womens-Running-Watch

    (2)    It makes  it easier to fit in exercise around your schedule. If you only have 45 mins to go running then you can plan your distance and your pace and know that you will finish your run in 45 mins. In the past, I’ve said I’d go out for 45 mins and then got an endorphin rush and stayed out for 1 hr 15 or I’ve got tired and slowed down and taken 1 hour. If you can’t control how long you run for, it’s easy to use the excuse that you can’t possible go running because you don’t have the time. You do have the time, if you program your watch!

    (3)    You know exactly how many calories you burn. Sometimes it’s not as many as you think it is, so it helps you stick to your nutrition plan. You can’t get away with saying ‘I’ve exercised so I deserve it’ all day long…

    (4)  If you are really pushing yourself, it can become your own little personal trainer. You can set it to beep if you go too far away from your target pace.

    (5)    You can track your progress! The watch fits into a holder, which you attach to your laptop / PC by a USB cable

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    Automatically, the watch connects to the Garmin website, syncing all the data from the watch. You can track how far you’re running, how many inclines you’re running up and see how your pace improves over time.

    (6)    You can share your progress with your friends. This was useful for me as I was training for Istanbul with a group from my running club, London City Runners. Some of them had Garmins already and if they posted something on Facebook about how much they’d done it motivated me to go out and do better.

    The Garmin Connect screen automatically detected that I had ran the marathon and displayed the accurate time – 3 hr 41 – and the course map. This was better than you got on the Istanbul marathon’s official results page!

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    (7)    You can try variations on your existing routes without getting lost, going too far and accidentally running for longer than you thought. Before I had a watch, I had a 6 mile route that I liked to do. One day, I tried to extend it by running a bit further. I ended up running 2 miles more and 2 miles back, which meant I’d run 10 miles. If you only wanted to do 8, you could use the watch to measure when you’ve gone an extra mile and then come back without leaving it too late

    (8)    It’s really not as expensive as you think it is. The RRP is £99.95, but different websites have different deals meaning you can get it cheaper. A decent pair of running shoes cost more than £100 (mine cost £120) and running shoes only last 500 miles while the watch will last forever.

    (9)    I set it up in less than 5 minutes. Unlike other watches, which have tons of functions, it’s so simple to use! There are two screens that each display two stats and you can choose if you want these to be distance, calories, pace, time since the start or lap time. Then you choose if you want to measure it in km or miles and that’s it. Because it’s GPS the time/ date function works automatically.

    The only downfall is it doesn’t have a heart rate monitor, but do you really need one of those? As long as your heart hasn’t stopped and you’re running to pace then you’re fine.

    (10)It’s available in pink! Pink is my favourite colour so this excites me. However, it’s also available in purple, black, orange and green and I’d be happy with all of them.

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    What do you think to running with a watch now? Tweet me @livelikeavip if you have any questions!

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    The Istanbul Marathon

    Running marathons isn’t everyone’s idea of ‘living like a VIP’ but the benefits include burning tons of calories, toning up your figure and learning just what your body and mind are capable of. Every year, I’ve seen some celebrities do them including Gordon Ramsay, Ronan Keating, Peter Andre, Pamela Anderson and Katherine Jenkins and it makes me feel quite competitive. If they can do it then why can’t I? Also, I like the idea of training for something. The prospect of having to run 26.2 miles motivates me to do a run to practise and if I didn’t have the fear I probably wouldn’t do anything at all. vip-marathon-runners I signed up for Istanbul partly because I go to a running club called London City Runners and learned that 20 cool people from the club were also doing it. However, it was also partly because I like the combination of running and holidaying. At this point, I should probably admit that I have run marathons before (two in London and one in New York) and I loved combining exploring New York with running a marathon. I could party heavily afterwards and consume doughnuts, pizza and cookies without thinking of the calorific consequences. I’ve never been to Istanbul before and I hoped I would end up celebrating  a successful race over meat kebabs in a local venue with wine or champagne and my friends. Well, that’s what I hoped for, but you can’t always control some of the elements when it comes to running marathons so my attitude at the start of the trip could be summer up in one word – nervous! The group from running club was mixed as some people had run 12 marathons while others were running their first. Some expected to fly round in super quick times, while others were just hoping to get round without stopping. That’s one of the things I love about a marathon – anyone can do it and no matter how fast you do it it’s still faster than someone who is too scared to run. If any of you are reading this and think you’d like to try it and potentially combine it with a holiday in Istanbul then this piece will tell you everything you need to know. Let’s start with the travel. I decided to fly out with Atlasjet from London Luton, as the airport is within driving distance of my parents house in Hertfordshire. It’s also home to an Aspire airport lounge, which was just the tonic for my nerves. It’s impossible to feel panicked or stressed when you can wait for a flight in the comfort of a lounge, with a fridge stocked full of soft drinks and alcoholic drinks. You can help yourself to whatever you want, and although I decided to abstain I poured my friend a vodka. ist-lounge

    There’s a great selection of snacks but as I was running, I decided to be healthy and have some fruit with a glass of sparkling water. I just had a couple of pieces, not the whole lot! IMG_8641 At £18.99 for the access, which you can prebook on the Aspire Executive Lounges website, it’s totally worth it. By the time you’ve had a coffee and a sandwich in Pret you’ll have spent £10 and in the lounge you can eat and drink whatever you want and do it with free WIFI on a comfortable chair!

    Atlasjet is a low cost airline, which has operated daily flights out of London Luton since May 2014. The main draw for me was that it was £100 return, which is cheaper than a train fare to Manchester! For this price, I didn’t expect any frills but there was a 25kg luggage allowance and just as much catering as on a BA flight. You could have drinks pre-meal and during meal and they served three courses with meze to start, chicken with rice and peas and a chocolate cake. An hour before the four hour flight landed, we were served tea and cake. The only thing that I missed was in-flight entertainment as there wasn’t even one TV screen inside, but if you pay less than £50 for a four hour flight, you can’t expect to have everything. 6t81KuBERvwHzl_ofXUs2iOJTqMnWJf6jMk6LDdgbM5dKA6Ltc0E74gKU7scHfyT7cTvFJZBJF8cXMggecfNPQNh3ok85suFbA=s0-d-e1-ft

    Above is one of the photos I took of our accomodation. Istanbul has a mangnificent Four Seasons hotel as well as a Raffles and a comfortable Shangri-La hotel, but I wanted a place where I would feel comfortable in my exercise clothes and I could wake up at whatever time I wanted and get back whenever I wanted without feeling under pressure to behave. Air BnB was the answer and three friends and I chose a place close to the marathon finish line in Sultanahmet, which worked out to £80 a night (£20 a night each). It’s the first time I’ve ever stayed in an Air BnB place and the price made me feel wary. Would it be clean? Would it be quiet? Would the beds be comfy? Would the shower be clean? The answer to everything was yes and the owner even left the fridge stocked with breakfast items – juice, water, milk, eggs, cereal and bread. The best surprise was that my bed was twice the size as my bed at home, although the flat owner did like the colour purple :) a1964dbc_original

    The corner sofa was used a lot! We could easily fit lots of my friends on if we were sat up – usually about six of us.  After the marathon, we fit three of us on it, all lying down. I’d definitely recommend the place and the fact you can walk to the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sofia and cake shops in less than five minutes. Check out it’s listing on Air BnB here. zoe-apartment

    Now I should probably get on to the main reason I was in Istanbul – the marathon! It’s a busy time for the city of Istanbul as there are three races going on at once – 10km, 15km and 42km (marathon distance). The earlier you register in advance, the cheaper it is. I paid 60 TYL, which is less than £20. To put this into context, the entry for New York in 2015 is $358! You can visit the Istanbul Marathon website to sign up if you’re interested in doing it in 2015. There will be a registration form up on 1 January 2015 and its 60 TYL as long as you register before 30 July.

    So what does the entry fee get you? Firstly, you get you a bib and chip to attach to your trainers to get an official time, plus pre-race gifts from the sponsors of the race including  an Adidas t-shirt and a Tupperware water bottle. The Adidas t-shirt alone looks like it’s worth more than £20. The downside is this needs to be collected from an exhibition centre that is far out from the centre of Istanbul. This is 3 stops from the airport so I would advise booking an early flight so you can tick off the travelling and the race admin in the same day. Here I am with my bag at the expo. It’s a tired smile as I attended the day after I arrived and it felt like it took hours to get there. Don’t do what I did, plan in advance. istmarathon-expo-sign

    Marathon day itself was epic – it felt like it went on forever. If you stay in the Sultanahmet or Taksim areas of the city, you can get a shuttle bus to the start but you have to get on the bus around 7am as the last bus leaves dead on 730am. As a result, people panic to get on the buses and I spent the first half an hour of my race day morning, stood up on a bus, under the armpit of another runner. When the bus stopped suddenly, people trampled over each other. It was worse than the central line in rush hour, which was pretty horrendous. The same atmosphere prevailed at the start. You have to put your luggage on a bus, but nobody knew where the buses were.There are a lot of people to fight your way past to find out where anything is…the start line on the left is for the 15km race and the one on the right for the 42 km start – everyone crams in together! 10736500_10155468931340377_2087117535_o We had to clamber over the carriageways, jumping over road blocks to get to the luggage buses, which really could have caused injuries before the race started. I’m also surprised there were no injuries in the starting pen as there’s a complete lack of organisation. In New York and London, you tell the race organisers what time you expect to finish in and they divide you into places to start the race. In Istanbul, anyone can start wherever they want and everyone wants to be near the front even if they’re not hoping for a good time. This means that as soon as the start guns go off, people are pushing everywhere. You have to have your wits about you. It’s an amazing feeling to run across the Bosphorus bridge, which is normally shut to pedestrians, but the buzz is shortlived as I was focusing more on avoiding other runners and keeping my balance to avoid getting tripped up. 5fa09488-8a25-4b1f-a1ff-34c72ed68ef1

    The highs of the race are:

    1. Good water stations every 2.5km, with sponges so you can throw water over you as well as in you. Some stops also had bananas and oranges and sugar cubes. I expected New York to have these facilities given the massive race entry fee, but as Istanbul is much cheaper to enter it made the refreshment stations more impressive.
    2. Regular time checkpoints so you can look up your split times for each 5K after the race.
    3. A post-race goodybag containing a t-shirt, drinks, a chocolate bar and a good quality medal. (Wine not included!)

    istanbul-medal

    The lows of the race were:

    1. Lack of supporters. It was completely quiet from 2km to 41km. In London and New York, the supporters are encouraging you at every mile but in Istanbul there are only people on the last kilometre.
    2. A dull course. The second half of the race consists of running 7 miles towards the airport along a Coastal motorway and 7 miles back. When there’s no crowds it feels like it’s going on forever.
    3. An uphill ending. The last 2km are uphill, which seems unfair given that we’ve already run 40km! There was also a hill 11km in which lasted almost a kilometre. It was followed by the same distance downhill, but I find running downhill can damage joints, as you’re tempted to use the momentum of the hill, rather than cushion your landing.


    And the end result? I finished in 3 hrs 41. Anything under 3 hrs 45 is termed Good For Age to get you an entry into the London Marathon, so I’m happy that I’m ‘Good For Age’.  I’m also happy that I went with such a friendly group of people. If you’re in the London area and you want an England Athletics affiliated club that only charges £30 for the entire year, check out the London City Runners website.  I’d advise taking a watch if you want to achieve a specific time goal (I used the Garmin Forerunner 10 watch) This is because there weren’t kilometre markings at regular intervals so I relied on my watch to check if I was on schedule for a sub 4 hour marathon. It turned out I was way underneath! opplanet-garmin-forerunner-10-watch-pink-and-white-americas-010-01039-07-main Make sure you get good trainers and practise in them in advance. I learned this the hard way on my first marathon, running in fashion trainers rather than running trainers and suffering a severe achilles injury. Istanbul was the first time I’ve run a race in Adidas Boost 2.0 trainers and the first time I’ve completed a marathon with all my toenails and no blisters. Not one single foot or ankle injury is a real achievement for me and I think the fact that I’ve suffered injuries while wearing different pairs of shoes says something about how much well suited I am to Adidas running shoes. The first time I raced in these shoes I got a PB in a 5K ParkRun. Go figure! adidas-boost1

    It’s important to think about how you plan to fuel your marathon and practise in advance as you don’t want to try anything new on race day. The water stations on the Istanbul marathon course only served water and sugar cubes and this won’t provide all the energy you need for more than 3 and a half hours of running. I experimented with a few fuel strategies before the race but I found I enjoyed the taste (and benefits) of Clif shot gels and Clif shot bloks the most. The chocolate gel was really tasty so I started with that when I was feeling low around mile 10. Then I had a few shot bloks, which were a bit like a more flavoursome version of gummy bears, and I ended up with a double espresso shot to power me through the last 10km. The espresso shot was amazing – I felt invincible afterwards and I honestly don’t think I would have got under 3 hrs 45 without that much needed boost.

    clif

    And finally, I think it’s important to watch your nutrition so you don’t get ill. Before the marathon I wrote about drinking CherryActive and BeetActive  and I think they really helped as well as the Guarana powder and health food bars from Creative Nature Super Foods

    With the marathon out of the way, and no major injuries, I was free to make the most of the eating and drinking in Istanbul as well as see the sights. I visited some places I wouldn’t recommend but I enjoyed:

    Cemberlitas Hammam the-original-turkish Ok, it doesn’t look like much from the outside, but this is a traditional Turkish hammam and completely unlike anything you’ve ever experienced elsewhere in the world. It’s all done on a heated marble bed, which is ideal for post-marathon aching muscles. hamam But it’s not for the shy! You’re given knickers to wear…but nothing else. A local woman will bathe you all over, exfoliating and moisturising you with soap suds so your skin feels soft and clean but my face was just as flushed from the awkwardness at seeing so much nudity as it was from the heat. Boys and girls use separate facilities so it’s not sexual but it is pretty surreal. Visit the Cemberlitas hammam website for more info – at 90TYL (approx £30) for the full experience it’s worth doing once in your life.

    Mavi Melek restaurant  beyoglu-mavimelek This had a lovely outside area for the summer and even the inside felt cosy – like you’re eating in a family’s home. The full London City Runners crowd (more than 20 of us) visited the night of the Marathon and had a set menu. I’m sometimes sceptical when restaurants offer these and also cautious about group dinners when the chef is too overworked to think about flavours. However, they do catering for large numbers well in Istanbul. In the Mavi Melek set menu for 50 TYL a head, approx £15, the hungry group of City Runners feasted on an array of mixed cold starters, warm cheese, meat or seabass and a rich chocolate fondant. The food kept coming out – just what you need after running a marathon! 2006

    Ozi pizza photo-of-ozi-pizza-and As the City Runners crew celebrated hard the day of the marathon, the following day we may have been slightly damaged / hungover. Ozi pizza was just opposite our Air BnB flat and we ordered three of the most cheesey pizzas, heavy on the topping and light on the base, that perfectly hit the spot. Disappointingly they got out order slightly wrong with one of them and we ended up with seafood when we ordered chicken, but I can see why Ozi is rated 11th out of all the restaurants in Istanbul by Trip Advisor reviewers. It’s not somewhere you go for a fancy meal, but if you want comfort food it’s an alternative to the kebabs and kofte that are on every street corner. Don’t let the photos of the pasta and pizza dishes on the menu put you off!

    Hagia Sofia istanbul-hagia-sofia Simply stunning! It’s the oldest building I’ve ever been in, built in 526AD. There’s a fascinating mix of catholic and Islam history plus a shrine dedicated to Empress Zoe. It’s 30 TYL to enter, but you get a real sense of history and architectural awe once inside. zoa-hagia-sofia

    Blue Mosque ist-zoe-mosque This is on every postcard you see of Istanbul so you can’t leave without exploring it closer. Take a head scarf if you want to visit inside or you’ll have to borrow one of theirs. Also, you do have to take your shoes off when inside so make sure you have good socks. Finally, check opening times in advance as the mosque is shut 5 times a day at the Muslim prayer times. It’s pretty spectacular inside! ist-blue-mosque-inside

    Cakes by Sultanahmet tram station MB-TURKEY-Istanbul-032 I always knew Istanbul was famous for Turkish delight and baklava but I never expected the large, creamy cakes. Around the sultanahmet tram stop, there are lots of cake shops next to each other. I ordered the version of giant swiss roll below. It was so wide, there was a profiterole inside. I ate it all and enjoyed every mouthful. ist-cake Grand Bazaar delight-bazaar Yet more sweet treats! However, the Grand Bazaar is mainly the place to buy your tourist souvenirs like local pottery and glassware. Be prepared to haggle and beware of the fake handbags and watches and the sellers heckling you to buy knock-offs. Be strong!   ist-shopping
    A fish sandwich by The Galata Bridge galata-collage Paying 6 TYL (ie £2) for a decent sized sandwich? Get in! This area is full of fishermen casting rods from the bridge above or trawlers going out to see and the result is a sandwich that tastes so fresh it practically swam up to your mouth. I sort of wish I bought two as they wore very moreish, especially when drizzled in lemon juice. As you can tell, I really enjoyed eating in Istanbul!

    Would I go back to Istanbul? Absolutely. Would I run another marathon? Definitely. I am even glad I ran the Istanbul marathon as it made me stronger. I learned how to pace myself to beat the lack of signage and I learned to dig into the depths of my mind to keep myself going when there was a lack of support. As the Istanbul marathon is easy to enter, it’s good if you don’t get a place in the ballot of a big marathon like London or New York plus it’s cheap. If you’ve ever run a marathon in a interesting place please let me know – Tweet me @livelikeavip or email zoe@livelikeavip.com If we’re going to do exercise, we may as well do it in style and have fun, right? Xx

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