This sounds like an inspiring week doesn’t it? So why was I dreading it?
Much as I love my job, and the sporting challenges I set myself, I sometimes think I wish my life away to get through the tough bits.
At the end of 2017, feeling at a bit of a loss after my Andes adventure, I had set myself the target of completing a half-ironman triathlon. What hadn’t yet been set in my calendar at that point, however, was the delivery of a major event (The Women’s Sport Trust ‘Be A Game Changer’ Awards) or taking part in a team time trial with my cycling club. In fact, about this time last year, having watched a time trial I remember categorically saying that “I will NEVER do one of those!”
The half-ironman challenge actually harks back to something that I put on my list of things to do in my 40th year, but had been scuppered by a broken arm (due to another 40th activity - learning to ice skate). And so this challenge had rolled into my 50th year. (Where did those 10 years go? Frightening). In fact, my first choice triathlon had actually been Marbella, which had sold out, as had the Cotswolds event. It seemed serendipitous that the event with places available was actually the one I was originally signed up to do in 2008. The curiously named ‘Swashbuckler’ takes place around Bucklers Hard in the New Forest and although not part of the ‘ironman’ brand (read: not ridiculously overpriced), had a reputation as a friendly triathlon. If I am going to half kill myself, I want to be around nice people doing it, thank you.
I threw myself right into training, wondering how long I could hang onto the ‘Andes effect’. I signed up with cycling/running coach Gareth Pymm who set me training sessions via an app called Training Peaks.
I (grudgingly at first) realised that I would need to invest in a turbo trainer to consistently train through the winter months. Here was another thing on my “I will never do that” list that I had caved into! I was also going to have to get back into my running big time given that I had laid off it quite substantially towards the end of 2017 due to a niggling hip injury. I love swimming, and am a member of a masters club, but how was that going to fit into my calendar with the other 14+ hours of training a week?
With factors like ‘The Beast from the East’ thrown into the mix, I ended up embracing (not literally) my turbo, and one day doing a 3 hour session on it, telling myself it was ‘character building’, not demoralising and boring as hell. Other low points included the Gravesend duathlon - surely one of the wettest, most miserable things I have ever done, and trying to squeeze in a 60km bike ride, followed by a 10km run before a friends’ leaving party (and promptly almost keeling over after 2 beers). But the high points were that I was feeling stronger, that I had managed to keep my running fairly consistent, and that I had a fantastic new wetsuit courtesy of my lovely LIV team cycling friends. Gareth kept me on track, as I experienced ‘Training Peaks Anxiety’ (fear of the training sessions not being completed and turning red!).
I would add comments into my training sessions along the lines of “Couldn’t wear my HR monitor today, it’s chaffed my chest”. At this point, I hadn’t even met this man yet…
But if there was one saving grace about now being in full flow organising the Women’s Sport Trust Awards, it was that it distracted me from thinking too much about the triathlon. In fact I hadn’t even booked my accommodation until 2 weeks’ before, and this was going to be essential for the 5am start!
My journey to the New Forest for my pre race briefing happened to be on the day of the Royal Wedding, which was an unexpected coincidence as the roads were clearer than usual. Bags packed with all manner of paraphernalia, including energy gels, talc, race number belt, wetsuit, spare goggles, hats, water bottles, inner tubes and goodness knows what else, I arrived at my B n B. One other key thing in my kit bag was my trusty pre-race breakfast of oatcakes, jam and peanut butter, as apparently they didn’t cater for a 3am breakfast. One of my LIV teammates, Gemma was also doing this race, along with her boyfriend Steve and so we compared notes nervously over our early dinner of fish and chips (carbs and protein, can’t be bad, right?) Then it was off to bed at 9pm.
The alarm went off at a time that I have usually only seen at that time on a Sunday when I have been coming home from a flamenco club. One thing I hadn’t packed that might have been useful I realised was a head torch as I tried to reassemble my bike in the pitch-black race car park. Surely I should be questioning my sanity right about now? As a sea of neoprene clad people nervously gathered at the waters edge we were advised that usually they would consider setting people off in waves, but due to the tide timings in this inlet, we would need to move swiftly and all 270 of us were set off at once. Now I love swimming, and have done my fair share of it in the freezing lochs of Scotland, but this was something else! Arms and legs flailing, I was kicked, hit and ducked for pretty much the whole way round the 1.9km. I quickly realised you can’t swear and swim at the same time and so dug in and got on with it. Cue a song at this point, and I drew on a song from my ‘Swashbuckler’ playlist which was ‘Girl from Mars’ by Ash which had the right type of crazy guitar beat to be the soundtrack to this leg. On the plus side, there was a PB time of 33mins – must have been the fear of death! A sprint (kind of) up the hill whilst trying to peel off my wetsuit and then it was onto the bike. As it was only just starting to get light, there was a moment of quandary…do I just wear my trisuit for the next 90km? No, best take that extra minute to pop on my cycling top too.
All suitably ‘Liv branded’ I was feeling quite good on the bike, and played a game of cat and mouse with a few riders until I surged away and set my own pace. The first 40k or so was quite an eerie experience as we cycled across the moors avoiding errant ponies and cows in the mist. It was after all still only 8am on a Sunday morning. I fuelled myself on my trusty jelly baby/malt loaf combo as I thought, “this would be a lovely weekend if I wasn’t having to kill myself out here for 7 hours”. Song time? Billy Idol’s ‘Dancing by Myself’, some Jesus Jones and bit of Embrace amongst others kept me going here.
There was a bit of a demoralising moment as I came towards the end of the 85km bike to see a number of people already out on the run. Oh no Denise, just don’t embarrass yourself and come last, was my aim at this point. Much as I had been moving on the bike for 3 hours, I realised as I changed into my trainers that I really didn’t have full feeling in my feet. Perhaps for the best as I set off on the 14mile (well that’s NOT a half marathon!) run.This was the biggest worry for me, after not getting a puncture on the bike. My running had been so sporadic that anything might happen. It was also now trying to get quite hot as the sun finally came out, and it was hilly (why do I continue to say I like the ‘element of surprise’ on events??). However, much to my amazement, I was actually overtaking people on the run, what was happening here? The only downside was that this was a double loop course, so at the end of the first lap, with a steep uphill run past the finish, I knew exactly what was ahead of me the next time. I was now starting to wonder what time I might do though as it looked like I might already surpassed my first goal of ‘don’t die’. My next goal was to try and complete the event under 7 hours. I didn’t have my watch on for the whole race, and so was trying to gauge my combined elements so far. I breathlessly shouted at a marshal “What time is it?” and when he replied 10.40am I started frantically calculating what sort of time I might do. What, I must only be a mile or two from the end…we started at 5.15am….what could this mean? I must be confused! As I attempted a strong sprint up that last hill to the finish (who was I kidding) I realised that I had finished in 5hrs 44mins!! And I actually didn’t feel like I was going to die or be sick, result!
I met up with Gemma and Steve who had both done amazing times and we did a sweep of the food and refreshments tent collecting all sorts of food that we didn’t feel like eating (who wants a chocolate bar when you have spent most of the morning eating sweet crap?). We gathered at the prize giving to soak up the sun and hear of the crazy times that some people had done. Fastest man? 4hrs 10mins!! But here is the real shocker, 2nd Female Supervet (don’t you just love that category name?) Denise Yeats! Wow, I was amazed and had to do a weird little roll in the grass to be able to stand up and go over to collect my funny pirate trophy. I was now reminded of two songs that I had in my head during the end of the run ‘Song 3’ by Blur (woo hoo!) and M People ‘Proud’.
We shall gloss over the 3 hour drive back from the New Forest that day as I move onto the next part of my inspiring week….
The #BeAGameChanger Awards are an initiative run by the Women’s Sport Trust, who I am proud to be a Trustee of. These awards showcase the irresistible nature of women’s sport; they highlight success stories, connect decision makers with one another and put a spotlight on inspiring role models.
I had been working with them over the past 4 months to project manage this event and just 4 days after my half ironman, it was the big day. The event had been held at the Troxy in east London for the past couple of years, and hosted some of the great and good in women’s sport, including Clare Balding, Tanni Grey Thompson, and Helen and Kate Richardson Walsh. This event really does belie the size of this tiny charity. Over 400 people gathered to celebrate some amazing award winners including footballer turned boxer Stacey Copeland, and double Olympian and Commonwealth gold and silver medallist Lorna Boothe. This also formed the launch of Sky Sports' #ShowUp campaign, encouraging people to show up to watch some of the amazing women's sport that is taking place this year. There were several really standout moments at the event for me though. One was when the Local Inspiring Initiative was presented to Crawley Old Girls (COGs), which aims to enable older women to learn to play football. The work they do in the community is so inclusive and life changing, but yet they were so modest about their achievements. I felt really quite emotional to see Sarah Williams’ reaction to winning the Media Initiative of the Year for her ‘Tough Girl Podcast’ series. She really is a woman after my own heart with her personal tales of challenge and endurance. I would highly recommend giving her podcasts a listen. The standout moment then surely had to be when the award for Outstanding Contribution to Women’s Sport was presented to former England captain and founding member of the Rugby Football Union for Women Carol Isherwood. There was a really moving build up to this award as various female rugby players were spotlit as they told of their personal connection to this wonderful woman. She was truly taken aback, goodness knows how we kept this one such a secret!
So yes, we are still in the same 7 days....
Buoyed, and knackered in equal measure from this week, I realised that I had previously signed up to take part in a team time trial with my Team Liv Giant Camden club mates. Although I had vowed just a year ago that I would never take part in such madness, well, what could I say to a new challenge? With just one day to recover from the Awards event (and six days on from my half ironman), there I was on the outskirts of Cambridge with seven of my teammates nervously registering as we observed some of the most expensive bike/aero helmet combinations I have ever seen. Oh dear I thought, I don’t even have tri bars - so much for aerodynamics! The amazing Amy who is our Liv Ambassador and all round cycling and triathlon inspiration was going to lead our team of four. “Am I in the wrong team...can I change?” I nervously whispered to her when we arrived. She confirmed that no, I was in the right team and couldn’t change.
I was to stick as close to her wheel as possible, with Kim and Eva behind me to push me on. I had been casually joking earlier in the week that this would be just like our Regents Park lap training…..but was about to realise that it would be NOTHING like it!
Our very precise start time for this 25miler was 2.06pm, with our other team of four starting about 20 minutes after us. There was a few miles to cycle to the start, and event before we got there I found myself shouting “gap!” at Amy to alert her that I was slipping off her wheel. This was not looking very encouraging! My next anxious moment came at the race start as I realised that the officials/marshals would hold our bikes whilst we were fully clipped in and then push us off at the start. The last time I felt in this vulnerable position was when I was four years old and my dad was teaching me to ride my first bike, and that ended up with my face in the gutter full of gravel. Suddenly though, we were off and I was determined to stick onto that wheel in front. Oh but almost immediately there was a bit of a hill, followed by some sharp bends, and once again I was shouting “Amy, gap!!”. Bless her, she expertly judged the pace, at around 35km/hr! Well you know how I love to have a song in my head, and this was definitely time for Sia’s ‘Chandelier’ as I had in my head the lyrics “I’m holding on for dear life…”.
The only upside to the headwind as we went one way was the tailwind as we turned the corner. I snatched a gel and downed it (I never take gels unless desperate, so you get the picture). It was a hot day, but not really an opportunity to grab your bottle and take on any water. One lap round and I had to tell myself I could do this, ‘only’ another 12.5miles to go! As we came round the bend to the final climb to the finish I was desperately clinging onto Amy’s wheel, with Kim behind me shouting ‘Go on girl!’ We all knew that we had to finish together for our time to count. And there it was, the finish. I was hoping for more I have to say than a chequered flag stuck in the ground. Surely a man should be in the middle of the road, triumphantly waving it, if only to herald the fact that I hadn’t died. As we slowed down I lifted myself from my drops for the first time in over an hour and realised how much my buttocks hurt! This was a weird pain like I had never experienced before, and must have been caused by this over-exaggerated attempt to get into an aero position (which you can see from the pic above wasn’t even successful). Ah, but it was worth it, as we cycled back to the race HQ, we realised that we were the second female team, coming in in a time of 1:09
(I would normally do about 1:19 for that distance!). Our second Liv team came in fourth, and so we were all totally chuffed. Especially when we saw our speedsuit clad competitors.
Sunday was definitely a ‘lying down, eating ice cream’ kind of day. But yet here I am arranging to have tri bars fitted to my bike in anticipation of my next triathlon on 8th July. What is wrong with me…..
When I was developing the nnoodl business model I hosted a few focus groups where I invited people to critique the idea and contribute to some key words which summed up the concept. This is where the phrase "for the bold, the brave and the curious" came from. I was keen that the concept didn't instil fear in people though, or lead them to think that all of the activities were adrenaline led or sports focused. The word 'brave' though was one which came up again and again as people identified it as being aspirational. Attending an event on your own for a start, many of them thought required a certain amount of courage. Putting yourself in the hands of someone else also required some bravery, and trying something new, whatever it was, certainly did.
But what does 'being brave' actually mean? The dictionary definition of brave is 'ready to face and endure danger or pain; showing courage' The origin of the word brave come from the Latin word barbarus. The Spanish then developed this to bravo which translates to courageous, untamed or savage. Let's go with courageous!
I really enjoy getting feedback from people who have come to my events and experience that rush they get from pushing themselves out of their comfort zone. I loved the year that I spent trying new things out for myself. I definitely felt a sense of fear in some form before each activity I did. I remember turning up to climb over the O2, and wasn't so much fearful of the activity as the fact that I was there on my own doing it. Well, along with a stag doo of 14 guys it turned out! I love water, but how did I feel before my first attempt at paddle boarding in the Thames? Filled with panic. And the biggest challenge must have been my first singing lesson which I almost cancelled. My life would be very different now without singing!
People have often described me as brave, but despite all of the above, I still feel far from it. I have never had the desire to do a bungee or parachute jump, and my fear of cycling downhills is pretty well known.
I was keen to know what the word 'bravery' meant to other people, and here are some of the responses. They range from people who are facing personal challenges in life, to some of my cycling buddies...
One thing that has struck me in the people I have spoken to is the perspective that women have about bravery. The more digging I do, the more I think I realise why females can have a very different approach to it. A friend recently shared this YouTube link below with me about a Ted Talk from Caroline Paul. She explains how girls are often told to 'be careful', whereas boys are encouraged to climb trees, skateboard etc as the norm. This very much resonates with me. As a child I was quite 'sickly'. As a baby I was in and out of hospital with breathing problems. Sadly, a year before I was born, I had a brother who had died as a baby. My parents were naturally protective of me. My memories of my childhood are were very much of being 'looked after' and protected from harm. I'm not a parent, but I can understand this. Ironically, as a child of about 5 or 6 years old, I was secretly latching onto my older brother and his friends and doing activities such as jumping off garages and rolling down hills of stinging nettles to be 'one of the gang' to show I wasn't scared. I remember one particular incident where I was tasked with trying to get something out of a tree by throwing a brick up at it. Obviously this resulted in the brick landing back square on my forehead. I bore that egg shaped lump on my head for about a week. Surely this sort of activity should have set me up for life as a 'brave person'? Well in theory yes, but as soon as my parents got wind of my behaviour, along with worried reports from neighbours, well this sort of activity was well and truly quashed as 'too dangerous'. So whilst my brother continued to play on building sites (one of my favourite things of the time), I was encouraged to 'be careful'. At the age of 10 I developed asthma and even passed out having the blood test for that! It seemed my life was destined to be one of caution.
Have a look at Caroline's Ted Talk below where she talks about getting out our comfort zone, calling on resilience - and how these are the elements of bravery. She cautions against instilling fear in our children, as if this is the primary reaction we won't push ourselves out of our comfort zone. Bravery, she says, is learned, and like anything else it needs to be practised. 'Risky play' teaches hazard assessment, it teaches resilience and it teaches bravery.
Someone else championing the idea of bravery, especially in women and girls is Lee Craigie. As the figurehead behind The Adventure Syndicate, Lee aims to increase self-belief and confidence in others. She also sites one of her own fears as "..getting to the end to the end of my life and thinking "if only I had....".Having produced the documentary film 'Divided' with Rickie Cotter about their emotional attempt to do the arduous 'Tour Divide' event, Lee said "My hope is that this film will show camaraderie, cooperation and collaboration, and show women who are not following the traditional model and are going against the flow and having a ball. Not listening to the people who say it is not possible and that it is a bit dangerous, and I think that is a really powerful message for teenage girls".
And so the subject has come back to cycling again, a pastime close to my heart. But when I think of the things that I did on my first self supported cycling trip last year in South America, what were the things that I consider to be 'brave'? Was it cycling down that scary as hell road of many switchbacks? Or the accidental rerouting down a dual carriageway, narrowly avoiding passing lorries? Or possibly the 'non-avoidance' of traffic when I was knocked off my bike by a bus? No, none of these things were undertaken deliberately, but put in our path as the route was changed out of necessity. One of my travelling colleagues said he thought that the 'braver' elements of that trip were probably the fact that I went on my own, only knowing one of the of the group; the months of organisation and endless preparation. Setting up my own tent for the first time even. I do remember in the run up to that trip that although I had a slight concern about being at altitude for the first time, it was the thought of actually getting myself, a bike in a cardboard box and 35k of kit halfway across the world to the starting point via the various flights that gave me anxiety dreams.
For me though, the thing that really fills me with fear is the thought of looking stupid, or publicly failing at something. I have shied away from many a public speaking opportunity, and despite my love of flamenco guitar, have made myself feel physically sick at the thought of just playing on my own in front of my peers at flamenco workshop opportunities in Seville. Having built up to my first singing lesson two years ago, I have made an excuse for every open mic singing opportunity that has come my way. This year, I decided, it was time to step off that scary ledge and perform at my 50th birthday party. My wonderful friend Cath and I had been talking about a song that meant a lot to both of us for various reasons - 'Titanium' by David Guetta and Sia. It is a song about overcoming fear, and so resonated with us both. Why not go one step further I thought and try to do some arpeggio style guitar playing at the same time? Oh hell, let's add another song, 'Losing my Religion' by REM.
And so, despite working myself up into a frenzy before the big night, and (kind of) jokingly asking one of my friends if she still had beta blockers, I DID it.
OK, so I wasn't on my own, but having the attention of about 70 people focussed on me was a big deal. The feeling afterwards was quite euphoric. It made me feel that I could achieve more. (Important to point out that the actual performance was of course MUCH better than the quality of this video, which is thankfully so dark you can't see the fear on my face!)
So to sum up the the reason for bravery, it is something which will help you grow and develop to accomplish your life goals. As Caroline Paul said, bravery is something which needs to be practised.
Am I brave? No, but I am definitely going to practise bravery more!
As is customary with my blogs, I will finish off with a couple of songs which I think sum up the mood. One is 'Not Afraid' by Eminem, and the other, a favourite of mine which reminds me to be braver on those hills, 'Driving with the Brakes On' by Del Amitri.
If you are thinking about doing something just a little bit brave this year, sign up for the next nnoodl event on Saturday 9th June. I can assure you it will NOT be scary, or involve you being put on the spot, just a great opportunity to meet with fellow adventurers, and give yourself that tiny push out of your comfort zone...
I like to offer a nice mix of activities with my nnoodl adventures. Having previously done axe throwing, singing, beekeeping and fencing to name a few, I thought it was time for a creative challenge.
Something I'd been looking into for a while was stop motion animation. This is a technique that physically manipulates an object so that it appears to move on its own. The object is moved in small increments between individually photographed frames, creating the illusion of movement when the series of frames is played as a fast sequence. Think of things like Morph, or 'The Trap Door'. One thing I have noticed, however, is that art and craft type activities can often make people feel more anxious than physical ones. The idea often brings up memories for some of being told they 'just weren't artistic' at school. So when I found Jennifer Kidd,from Ctrl+Art+Del and had a chat to her,she seemed exactly the type of person who could lead our group of unsuspecting participants in this activity.
I instructed our adventurers to meet at Canning Town station,which I know had already caused a few murmurs of what exactly might await us in this outlying area of east London? I had to manage expectations as we gathered on a grey Saturday morning that we weren't going to get a flight from London City Airport (sorry!) A short walk and we were at the London City Island Gallery. Now this on itself is a little hidden gem,a collection of eclectic art all sourced from the locals in the area. The perfect backdrop to this creative pursuit.
Jenny explained to the group what we would be doing, which is always the moment I personally feel most nervous. Will anyone say they don't want to do it, or have they done it before, and want to take up their 'pass card'? Thankfully there was a ripple of excited noises as everyone seemed up for it. The first part of the day would involve us splitting into small teams and creating characters from plasticine. The brief was pretty wide here, but Jenny advised us to consider maybe having a villain and a victim. Considering I was the only one of us who knew what we were doing in advance, you might have thought that I'd come prepared with some idea...but no. I decided to see what my fellow teammates, Lee and Andy were producing, and then see what I could add to it. Lee started modelling an octopus, whilst Andy was hard at work with a scary villain. The idea of water always appeals to me, so I thought 'a starfish!'
Talk then turned to the recent story of starfish being washed up on the beaches at Ramsgate, and so immediately my little character became the victim in our yet to be developed storyline. It was heartwarming to see how engrossed everyone was in this childhood modelling fabric for almost 2 hours. It made me wonder if I should invest in some plasticine to use at the end of a busy day! I could also hear random snippets of conversations about the different groups character names and personalities. We were then encouraged to develop this further and think about what the characters fears might be, and how they would interact with each other.
Our group found ourselves developing a story with a conservation message about the villain being a litter lout and the sea creatures being caught up in this, leading eventually to the death of the starfish by ingesting plastic. It's quite poignant that this storyline wasn't actually my idea, despite my current work with WWF. In fact each of the teams ended up creating a moral tale - with one story about protests and fur during fashion week, and another about a child using her imagination to play creatively.
Time for a short lunch break to have some tapas type food (all included in the price don't you know!). Interestingly though, everyone seemed keen to crack on and continue their storyboarding ready for the camera work that afternoon. Sign of everyone having a good time!
Jenny explained some things we should think about when we did our storylines, such as should we communicate certain messages with speech bubbles, or would the story be self-explanatory? There is also the option to add sounds and music in of course, but we realised we were up against time.....
You soon realise the work that goes into these animations as Jenny explained that we had 900 shots available to us! You have to think about continuity if you are trying to replicate a scene with a moving character in it (so try to avoid kicking the camera tripod Denise). Yet she also advised us not to get too precious when the characters inevitably got a bit 'remodelled' or discoloured during the process of moving them. Yes, we spent many minutes readjusting eyes and mouths which had fallen off our characters. As we set up our scenes I was amused by the dialogue coming from the other teams "Let's get more blood there when she gets hit!" for example. All a bit dark....
The time just disappears when you are acting director for these animations. Trying to frame the shot just right, and get the perspective and continuity. I can see why in the credits of Pixar films there is always a long list of 'Pixar babies' who have been born during filming. Apparently a frame in one of these films can take 24 hours to render, and a 90 minute film will have on average about 130,000 frames!
Once we were happy with our shots, we joined Jenny to talk through the final editing of them. This is when you spot any inconsistencies, or wonder if you should have worn your glasses after all? However, we were actually pretty pleased with the results, especially from character creation to completion, this was all done in one day. We all agreed we felt pretty tired! So it was time for a glass of celebratory cava to toast our creativity. Have a look at the final animations below and see what you think....
Oh and if you are now inspired to come along to a future nnoodl adventure, the April one is sold out, but our next one on 9th June is now booking up, go to the 'Packages' page here to snap up your place before it sells out!
Following on from my own challenges last year, I had been asked write a blog post about goal setting.
This is of course a popular time of year to make a new start and think about initiating some healthier lifestyle choices, and perhaps setting yourself some challenges. Having a goal to work towards can be an ideal way to stay motivated, but it is important to choose the correct objective for you. We can be overwhelmed in January by the marketing of various charity challenges ranging from 5k runs to marathons; ultra cycling events to open water swims. Then there is the peer pressure as you see your friends on social media bragging about what they have signed up for. The key is to choose something which is enough to stretch you from where you are at, but that is still achievable, so that you stay motivated, and don't get disheartened. As we enter March, I am hearing from people who are feeling a bit deflated by their progress. It could be that the goals we set in January have fallen slightly by the wayside. Perhaps we over committed with our goal, and have found that bad weather and inevitable sickness bugs at this time of year have hampered our progress. Well the important thing is not to get disheartened!
I have worked with Mark Maycroft, the personal trainer behind 'Marine Phys' over the past 18 months to improve my fitness, strength and flexibility, and to help me towards my own triathlon and cycling goals. Mark believes that health and fitness is made up of multiple components including flexibility, mobility, posture, muscular strength, cardiovascular condition, mental strength and health (reduction of stress, and negative thoughts) and equally important nutrition. Mark served within the Royal Marines for 8 years, with 4 years of that time as a part of British Special Forces. He left the Royal Marines to develop his knowledge of health and fitness by studying a BSc Honours in Sports, Fitness and Coaching with Exercise instruction as his specialisation. He has gained a wide variety of qualifications within the fitness industry, but not following the mainstream training approach, he decided to embrace his working background and coach outdoor related fitness, taking clients away from the mundane repetitive atmosphere of the gym.
In this blog I have worked with Mark to share some of his insights into goal setting. However, we decided that it was important to highlight that exercise and challenge setting is not always geared towards the extreme end of the scale. In other words, I realise that not everyone will be setting their sights on a 900km cycling challenge in 2018! To demonstrate this, we wanted to share a case study with you about someone who is overcoming a health issue to achieve her own personal goals.
Gemma is a 50 year old woman who has, throughout her life been active, though not following any particular exercise regime. When she was in her late teens she played a lot of basketball until she suffered a lower back injury, which went undetected for a number of years. She enjoys exercise which has a sociable element to it, such as hiking, or team based activities. In the second half of 2017, however, she was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent two surgeries and is currently completing a course of radiotherapy. Thankfully, the prognosis is looking positive, but the whole process has been quite physically as well as emotionally draining. Also, the surgery involved removal of lymph nodes, which has led to some loss of feeling in the arm on that side. Gemma has been doing exercises to help with this, and so recognises the importance of flexibility based exercise such as yoga. She is also considering the idea of doing some marshal arts based exercise, seeing the psychological benefit this could offer. Her diet, although never bad previously, has improved dramatically since diagnosis as she recognises how fuelling herself correctly will help her recovery. We asked Mark to suggest some strategies to help Gemma to achieve her personal goals of getting her body back to full function, whilst incorporating some elements of structured exercise which will benefit her both physically and emotionally over the next few months.
So over to Mark....
"What is a goal? A goal is a specific aim which has personal meaning which should be realistic with a rough timeframe to it. In terms of health and fitness, I try to categorise them into short (daily or weekly small tasks), medium (1-3 months in length but is focused on during your week) and long term goals (which come about from the combination of short and medium goals over 12 months or more). Then I use the acronym SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Time specific) to see if the goal is suitable.
I'll cover this in more detail so you can see how its used (I find it helpful but it isn’t essential).
Is there any benefit to setting goals? Most people think of new years resolutions when you ask them to set goals and without real thought or meaning, most let them slip within 2 weeks of starting! We tend to set ourselves goals on a daily basis, without even knowing it, for example the goal of waking up at 7am to get to work on time, this is known as a short-term goal. Or one that related to exercise could be as simple as complete an hour of exercise today.
So what type of goals should I set? I like to categorise them so I can focus on different aspects of my life, this is particularly useful if/when something unexpected happens like an injury, illness or even pregnancy. Having different goal categories means you always have something focus on no matter what your current situation is and will help keep you motivated during a potentially unpleasant or hard part of your life. Below I’ve listed in my order of importance the types of goals I set.
Below are the goals I have created for Gemma which show how diverse you can be, these aren’t something she has set or needs help with, I’ve just used her as a case study:
Emotional well-being Goals
A long-term goal could be to not let her breast cancer experience affect her daily life (specific) within 12 months (time specific), this means not to check for problems or consider it on a daily basis in fear or regression and to just undertake routine check-ups when advised to (it’s hard to measure by mental well-being and thoughts, but a mood diary or even a negative thoughts change jar could be used with this.) It’s achievable and realistic. Making this a smart goal is quite hard, but with medication post treatment it will bring up thoughts and memories and so trying not to live in the past and focus on the positive will help with the recovery process.
A medium-term goal could be something to do with mindfulness and living in the moment, getting through something like this can provide you with deep gratitude for life and the simple things. But the treatment and use of Tamoxifen will bring on early menopause, this isn’t a pleasant experience for women, but look at the positives and embrace this because every day is an opportunity to be happy that may not have been around had her fighting spirit and cancer treatment not gone so well.
Research has shown that eating a low carb diet can lead to Autophagy which can aid healing but also has a lot of other health benefits. Gemma’s diet hasn’t been too bad but she should aim to eat a lower carb diet (under 100g a day) on days when not doing any intense exercise, she should do this by doing alternate days to start and within 1 month be following it daily for the duration of her recovery. Her focus should not be on calories but instead on a variety of quality foods. Her protein content (around 60-90g per day from varied sources and organic/ wild/ grass fed if financially feasible). She should aim to eat 25-30g of fibre a day from fruits and vegetables (aiming for up to 12x 80g portions a day, with most coming from vegetables and then berries to keep carb and natural sugar content within a sensible range). She should aim to consume 2 litres of water a day and add 1 litre for every hour of exercise she completes.
A short term health goal which is applicable to nearly everybody is to reduce stress and tension within the body, this can be done from aiming to get 8 hours of sleep a day, turn off all screens 1 hour before bed, use a meditation app daily (benefits of meditation) such as headspace. From her back injury and treatment Gemma has pain in her back and shoulders, she should seek to be pain free in these areas within 1-2 months by trying to commit 15 minutes a day of meditation and mobility work for any tight muscles. Our aim for her is to be pain and medication free within 1 month, but it may take a little longer and that isn’t a problem.
Just because you aren’t an athlete doesn’t mean you can’t set some SMART performance goals. I try to always have short, medium and long-term performance goals to keep me working hard in my training. For Gemma, I have set her the task of achieving a 5 mile walk once per week, I’d suggest getting up first thing and just doing it no matter the weather, this is a goal based on consistency and aimed at reducing stress, improving cardio vascular and heart health which also links to a health goal. This is short term goal because we are looking to achieve it right away.
A medium-term performance goal is for Gemma to be able to hold a normal plank for 3 minutes within 6 months, this will help improve core strength and posture but also assist with her love of gardening, walking and want to start a martial art. I suggest she starts performing a max effort plank 3 times a week, maybe as part of her morning routine after using headspace! Start the day with a positive focus!
A long-term goal would be for Gemma to be able to complete a particular yoga move that she currently finds difficult - the aim is within 12 months and if she practices yoga as a minimum once per week for 60-90 minutes I am certain this will be achievable.
Body Image Goals
As I have mentioned, I don’t like these as I think they can cause issues with anxiety, depression or eating disorders. But as most people’s exercise habits have an aesthetic purpose they can be used positively. According to BMI (which isn’t always the best judge of somebody’s body composition, since I’m around 95kg and apparently verging on obese with around 12% bodyfat. So those who are athletic I’d never advise BMI to be a definitive guide) Using this gauge, though, it would class Gemma as slightly overweight and she could benefit from losing a small amount. I am setting her the target of losing 3.5kg of fat, so this doesn’t mean the scale must go down that much, but if it does, it would put her in the healthy BMI category. This is a medium-term goal and should be easy to achieve within 6 months of just becoming more active, I am using this combined with the goal of doing 30-60 minutes of activity at least 5 days per week which will be from walking, yoga, a martial art and gardening. This increase in activity and focus on a lower carb diet will see her naturally shift back to a lower body weight within the time frame. So, the real goal is to be consistently active for 6 months and the body image goal will happen naturally!
As you can see goal setting can be very diverse and should always be unique and something you really want to do for yourself, not because it looks or sounds impressive. The use of short medium and long-term goals can link together between the four categories and are useful no matter what stage of your fitness journey you are at! Remember that although achieving your goals is important, health and happiness comes first, and so emotional wellbeing is for me the most important thing to focus on."
Thanks Mark, and hopefully there is something in there for everyone. The main take away to remember is that it doesn't matter what starting point you are coming from, you can benefit from setting a goal, whatever it may be.
As is customary, let's finish off with a song, here Alicia Keys' "Empire State of Mind", an anthem to overcoming challenges and achieving your dreams.
In this blog post I want to talk about the natural high we get from experiencing new things, overcoming challenges and also in true nnoodl style, embracing the unexpected. Interspersed with the usual smattering of themed song choices of course!
Each of us has our own “comfort zone” which, more than an actual place, is a psychological/emotional/ behavioural construct that defines the routine of our daily life. Being in your comfort zone implies familiarity, safety, and security. It describes the patterned world of our existence, keeps us relatively comfortable and calm, and helps us stay emotionally even, free from anxiety and worry to a great degree. Creating a comfort zone is a healthy adaptation for much of our lives. But so is stepping out of our comfort zone when it’s time to transition, grow, and transform.
But experiencing a little stress and anxiety now and then is a good thing, too. If all you ever do is strive to stay wrapped up in your little cocoon, keeping warm and cosy, you may be missing out on quite a lot, maybe no new experiences, no challenges, and no risks. And looking at the bigger picture of life, if you can’t step out of your comfort zone you may experience difficulty making change or transitioning, growing, and ultimately, transforming; in other words, all those things that define who you are and give your life personal meaning.
Very simply, what we fear most about challenging ourselves is that we may fail and/or get hurt in the process. But truth be known, most of us have the ability to rise to the occasion, overcome hurdles and obstacles, and actually succeed in accomplishing something new and challenging. So for my first song, it's '11am (Daydreamer)' by the rock band 10 Years who challenge the concept of the comfort zone... (Speaking of challenges, this video seems to keep changing location, so may be worth a 'Google'!)
The Neurochemicals of Happiness
Life in the human body is designed to be a blissful experience. Our biology insures that everything necessary for our survival makes us feel good. All animals seek pleasure and avoid pain. Therefore, our brain has a plethora of self-produced neurochemicals that turn the pursuits and struggles of life into pleasure and make us feel happy when we achieve them. Let's look at some of our brain molecules that are linked to happiness and simple ways you can trigger their release in your daily life.
Through daily physicality and other lifestyle choices we have the power to make ourselves happier. One of the side-effects of living in a digital age is that we are increasingly removed from our physicality and each other. Our biology is short-circuiting. The balance of neurochemicals that evolved for millennia has been disrupted by our modern lives, making us more prone to depression, anxiety and malcontent.
I've always been someone who is more naturally drawn to artistic and creative subjects, but I find the science behind what happens in your brain from different activity quite fascinating. So here is some insight into what goes on...my secondary school science teacher would be proud (if a bit surprised) at my enthusiasm for science :)
Endocannabinoids: “The Bliss Molecule”
Endocannabinoids are self-produced cannabis that work on the CB-1 and CB-2 receptors of the cannabinoid system. Anandamide (from the Sanskrit “Ananda” meaning Bliss) is the most well known endocannabinoid.
Recent studies have shown that endocannabinoids are, most likely, the cause for the so-called 'runner's high'. A BBC documentary recently carried out a mini-trial to test this theory. They recruited three volunteers from local running clubs who did a 30 minute run. Small blood samples were taken before their run, immediately after the run and also at 15 minutes and 1 hour afterwards. Professor Dave Barrett and Dr Catherine Ortori in the University of Nottingham’s School of Pharmacy analysed the samples and recorded an average increase of 30% of endocannabinoids in the bloodstream of the volunteers. Now that's got to be a good enough reason to go for a run?
Time for a short musical interlude and this one came to mind, a REAL blast from the past! Well, having said that, it was resurrected much to my delight in the recent film 'La La Land'
Dopamine: “The Reward Molecule”
Dopamine is responsible for reward-driven behaviour and pleasure seeking. Every type of reward seeking behaviour that has been studied increases the level of dopamine transmission in the brain. When we get something we want, whether it’s a promotion, an ice cream, or a kiss from a loved one, our brain releases dopamine. This chemical is also often known as the “feel good” neurotransmitter because it does just that.
There is also evidence that people with extraverted, or uninhibited personality types tend to have higher levels of dopamine than people with introverted personalities. To feel more extroverted and uninhibited try to increase your levels of dopamine naturally by being a go-getter in your daily life, and flooding your brain with dopamine regularly by setting goals and achieving them. Goal setting is something I will be covering in my next blog in more detail, but in the meantime, here's a classic from Bon Jovi. It's a song I often have in my head when I have a big challenge coming up - I love the line "I just wanna live while I'm alive"...
Oxytocin: “The Bonding Molecule”
Oxytocin is a hormone directly linked to human bonding and increasing trust and loyalty.
In a cyber world, where we are often ‘alone together’ on our digital devices, it is more important than ever to maintain face-to-face intimate human bonds and ‘tribal’ connections within your community. Working out at a gym, in a group environment or having a jogging buddy is a great way to sustain these human bonds and release oxytocin.
This is something that I have also found that people react well to in my nnoodl events. So often people have been waiting to try a new activity but have been depending on friends who aren't available to join them. The one thing that all of these events have in common is a group of people coming together with the same interest - trying new things with interesting, like-minded people. A lot of the comments I receive after these events is how people have perhaps been nervous about coming along on their own, but leave having forged new friendships.
So many songs could have been appropriate for this dopamine rush that comes from being with groups of supportive people. It reminded me of choosing music for the 'stings' of music that would be played as people would walk onstage to as they collect their awards to at some of the big events I have worked on. These really are moments that are very special and emotional, as people are surrounded by loved ones cheering on their achievements. Here is one that reminded me of the 'Place2Be - Wellbeing in Schools' Awards where I met some truly inspirational people...
Serotonin: “The Confidence Molecule”
Serotonin plays so many different roles in our bodies that it is really tough to tag it. For the sake of practical application, let's call it “The Confidence Molecule.” Ultimately the link between higher serotonin and a lack of rejection sensitivity allows people to put themselves in situations that will bolster self-esteem, increase feelings of worthiness and create a sense of belonging. To increase serotonin, challenge yourself regularly and pursue things that reinforce a sense of purpose, meaning and accomplishment. Being able to say "I did it!" produces a feedback loop that reinforces behaviours that build self esteem and make you less insecure, creating an upward spiral of more and more serotonin.
I can totally identify with this one, as I feel at my best and most confident when I am challenging myself to new things. OK, so cycling across the Andes might seem a bit extreme in terms of day-to-day challenges, but this type of feeling is very easily replicated. When I am feeling a bit under par I know it is time to try something new, take the recent example of my trapeze skills workshop, which left me feeling exhilarated. Again, definitely something which nnoodl embraces - get out there and feel the rush from trying a new challenge!
Another classic from the 80's here, and worth it for the oh-so-cheesy video that I had forgotten about.
But I am balancing it with something a bit more recent from the inimitable Eminem and 'Lose Yourself' which is a favourite of mine for some pre-challenge energy. It is an anthem to hard work and 'carpe diem'.
Adrenaline: “The Energy Molecule”
Adrenaline, technically known as epinephrine, plays a large role in the fight or flight mechanism. The release of epinephrine is exhilarating and creates a surge in energy. Adrenaline causes an increase in heart rate, blood pressure, and works by causing less important blood vessels to constrict and increasing blood flow to larger muscles. An ‘adrenaline rush’ comes in times of distress or facing fearful situations. It can be triggered on demand by doing things that terrify you or being thrust into a situation that feels dangerous.
A surge of adrenaline makes you feel very alive. It can be an antidote for boredom, malaise and stagnation. Taking risks, and doing scary things that force you out of your comfort zone is key to maximising your human potential. This doesn't need to be throwing yourself out of a plane, skiing down a black run or swimming with sharks, however - it can be the smallest push to do something different.
Again, cue nnoodl where your challenge can just be the fact that you are putting your destiny in someone else's hands (mine!). When I did my own research for nnoodl, I used one of these little things below to randomly choose my activity for that weekend. I ended up kayaking down the Thames at 4am, climbing over the O2 Centre (with a stag doo!), becoming a barista, and creating a graffiti artwork.
Was I apprehensive about doing these things? Always. But how did I feel afterwards? Amazing!
So let's sign off with a feel good song that embraces the sentiment of trying something new and surprising yourself, with this one from Jack Garratt. Definitely another one worth watching for the video as they track a group of individuals as they challenge themselves. On that note, if you feel inspired to surprise yourself, we still have some early bird places left on the next nnoodl adventure on Saturday 10th March. So go to www.nnoodl.co.uk/the-packages.html and select the 'Mad March' event. Enter the code SURPRISE30 to get a whopping 30% discount off this full day event.
I promise there is nothing scary about it!
As bookings have just opened for the next nnoodl event on 10th March, I thought it was about time I re-embraced my inner adventurer and undertook a little challenge myself. It’s been a while since I did this, but as I looked for activities that I could do on the only free afternoon I had, I already felt excited, and of course a bit apprehensive. I stumbled upon a Trapeze School called ‘Circus Glory’ who are based in Primrose Hill and had a Friday afternoon trapeze training workshop. Static trapeze is described as 'a fun blend of sport and art, where regular training will improve your strength, flexibility, and agility as you learn to manoeuvre and create beautiful shapes in the air. Trapeze training is recognised as a great stress-reliever, energy-booster, and a wonderful reminder of the importance of play and creation'. Flexibility and heights are not great areas of strength for me, and so I was slightly apprehensive, about committing to this, but when I emailed the head of the school, Genevieve Monastesse, I immediately felt reassured by her response as to how welcoming the school was to people of all levels. Genevieve has taught circus arts for over 30 years, is respected as one of the best aerial teachers in Europe and currently teaches the Degree Programme at the National Centre of Circus Arts, one of Europe's leading providers of circus education. She worked in Cirque du Soleil for two years on their very first show, and has had a successful career as an aerialist performing films, theatre, and even doubled for Kate Moss as her stuntwoman! I knew I would be in safe hands. She also features in the video for the George Michael song ‘Spinning the Wheel’. So, it seems like a timely moment for a song...
Turning up to events on your own, I realise can be one of the hardest things to overcome for many of my nnoodl adventurers. I still feel the same myself as you wonder what the people will be like. Will everyone know each other? Will they all be really experienced? Without exception these fears are unfounded, and my trapeze afternoon was to be no exception. We were a small group of six, ranging from people who had been training for eight years, to others who were relative beginners. They immediately put me at ease - all of them super-friendly and encouraging. Genevieve started us off with a warm up on the mats, which involved a lot of abdominal work such as planking etc. This set the tone for what was to come, as I realised how a strong core will really benefit you on the trapeze. We then did a small circuit of equipment-based warm up exercises. Genevieve came round with me as I tackled the first one – a tuck. Now this looks really easy, as she demonstrated, hold the bar above your head and then tuck your knees up above your head to meet the bar. I could only get them about halfway – what?? I was encouraged that apparently that was really good and can take a while to achieve. Next I was to attempt a straddle with the rope. Again, hands above your head on the rope, but this time, taking your legs above your head in a V-shape over your head. I think the last time I was on a rope like this I was about 8 years old wearing navy blue gym knickers, getting rope burns on my legs. Well leg strength to climb the rope was not applicable for this element – it was all about arms and core strength. Again, this is a lot trickier than it looks and so Genevieve demonstrated a version from the mat, arms over head on the rope, and pulling your legs over from there. The wobble board on one leg was a station here I felt I could do, and I was to find out how strong, not wobbly legs were to help me later that afternoon…
Then we were onto more focussed work on the trapeze. Genevieve was brilliant at making an assessment on what level people were at as she demonstrated the exercise she wanted them to try. It was wonderful to see the more accomplished students demonstrating some lovely shapes. My manoeuvre was to be the candlestick which involved standing at one side of the bar and pulling your legs up onto it, then with one knee over the bar, and one leg up the rope, dropping your upper body underneath the bar. I found this one slightly easier to pull myself into and felt an immediate rush from my first hanging move. Genevieve reminded us to all remember to keep our eyes open and focussed on what your legs or arms were doing, as the tendency can be to close them. Hmm, I wonder why, is it so that you can’t see the ground rushing towards you? Next was a sideways move on the bar. The first challenge on this one for me was actually getting my legs up onto the bar. I realise that muscly cyclist’s legs are no advantage in this form of training, they are just more weight to pull up! Once up and sitting on the bar though, Genevieve talked me through how to move yourself to one side, on one buttock, and how to balance there whilst tying to point your feet and stretch out to the side and down with one arm. I have a feeling should look a lot more graceful than this, but it’s a start (yes, that's me on the right below obviously)! One thing that I thought I would feel a lot more self conscious about throughout the afternoon was the fact that everyone else watched as we practiced our moves. But everyone was so encouraging that this really wasn’t an issue. It was also a great opportunity to watch some of the more advanced students demonstrate some more difficult shapes, which was really inspirational.
My final move of the day was one that got my heart racing just watching the demonstration as it involved climbing up to standing on the bar – I immediately was thinking about how much higher I would be from the ground! One of my fellow students was also fairly new to this training though and said that ‘fear is your friend’. She explained that the concentration involved to go though the moves meant that you actually achieved more than you expected to, as you were distracted from everything else. I could totally relate to this. As Genevieve talked me through each step, I found myself standing on the bar (toes only, use them like fingers she explained) and then stepping off with one foot to wrap the rope around one leg and then the other. (I could now understand why there is a ‘leggings, not shorts’ rule for this class as the movement of your legs along the bar and rope could cause some of those primary school type rope marks I am sure). Then it was a case of lowering yourself down the ropes into a suspended seated position and then finally dropping underneath the bar, supported by your feet on the bar and ropes around your lower legs, arms outstretched. This felt amazing! Of course after that it was down to the abs to pull myself back up to seated, but adrenaline was my friend by this point!
I was on an absolute high as I finished the class – this was supposed to be a ‘recovery day’ from my triathlon training, but my heart rate was right up there. In fact as I skipped out of the class to get to my singing/guitar rehearsal, my friend who was picking me up asked me “Have you had a drink of Irn Bru or something?” And so, with abdominal muscles that hurt every time I laugh (which is quite a lot), I find myself totally hooked on this new activity. What started off as a one off experience I know will be added to the ever-growing list of hobbies I am collecting via my nnoodl research which includes paddle boarding and singing. I would totally recommend Genevieve at Circus Glory if you would like to try this wonderful activity. I will be incorporating it into my training regime for sure.
If hanging upside down isn’t your thing though, rest assured it won’t be the activity at the next nnoodl activity, though I feel it may be included in the future….
So, if you are inspired to take part in the next nnoodl adventure, there are still some places available on our early bird offer for the event on Saturday 10th March. Sign up here using the code SECRETS30 for a whopping 30% off this adventure, which will have a little creative, rather than physical twist.
My next blog will look at what happens in our brain when we try new things, and how it can really develop us in all sorts of ways when we push ourselves out of our comfort zone. In true style, let’s sign off with an uplifting song. This is one I was listening to a lot this week, when I was looking for songs about trying and not giving up. Well, lo and behold, when I was looking for a video clip of it, Pink is only doing an aerial performance to it. Surely a sign!
In my last blog post we looked at the positive effects of music and singing on our mental wellbeing. Excuse the pun, but this seemed to strike a chord with many of you as I received messages from people who had decided to take up singing, and have seen it as the perfect antidote to January. Let's hope it lasts for the rest of their year too!
This post will look at some more of the positive effects of music, specifically around it's impact on exercise. This is an area very close to my heart, as I love exercise and I love music, so can it benefit my performance? Looking at running, not everyone benefits from sound tracking their sessions, many prefer to tune into their own rhythms, and find music distracting. However, lots of research has linked listening to music with improvements in performance. In 2003, a study published in the International Journal of Sports Medicine found cyclists finished a 10k time trial significantly faster when listening to music. And in 2010, research at the University of Southern Queensland found music could increase runners' energy efficiency by up to three percent, and lower perception of effort. A further study done in 2014 published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that runners recorded faster 5k times when they listened to music before and during their runs. However, interestingly, and slightly counter intuitively, those who ran to slow music recorded the fastest times of all. This illustrates the fact that when it comes to your exercise playlist, finding what works for you is more important than any set formula. We'll come back to the whole area of music tempo and style later...
Nowadays of course, many races have imposed headphone bans on safety grounds, and so I personally have adapted from previously being an avid iPod user for training, and I now run (and of course cycle) without one so that I can emulate race conditions. However, as was demonstrated on my recent Andes cycling trip, I found myself with my own internal playlist that helped focus me on those long rides.
So can music benefit us if it is played before we exercise? Well research by Science and Sports suggests that listening to music during just your warm up could indeed boost your performance. In a study, sprinters did 10 minutes' race prep, either with or without musical accompaniment. Their legs then registered a greater mid-race power output after the music session, although perceived exertion stayed the same.
We just have to look at the pre-race rituals of some of the finest world class athletes to see them appearing pool or trackside with their headphones on. But what are they listening to?
Well, apparently Sir Chris Hoy's chosen track is 'Escape Velocity' by the Chemical Brothers, whilst Michael Phelps prefers 'I'm Me' by Lil' Wayne. Our own sporting hero, Jessica Ennis-Hill listens to Massive Attacks 'Unfinished Sympathy' to fuel her medal performances, and the woman who inspires me most, Ironwoman Chrissie Wellington listens to 'Tonight, Tonight' by the Smashing Pumpkins. I have to give a special mention, however, to someone who you might not have on your Olympic radar, but Steven Lopez, a Nicaraguan Taekwondo Olympic medalist is a big fan of one of my favourite motivational songs, 'Titanium'. And so in true style, here is that track for your listening pleasure, accompanied by Shaun White, Olympic snowboarder's choice of 'Paradise City' by Guns 'N' Roses. Another classic...
So we come onto the technical question around what is the best type of music to increase performance? Research above would indicate that it is purely personal, given that slow tempo music can help some people as much as the upbeat. Again of course there has been extensive research done into this. The University of Cumbria are in fact currently undertaking a major survey of what type of music people prefer to listen to when they exercise, which you can find out more about, and participate in here. Studies have shown though, that you should ideally base your playlist around the type of exercise you are doing, as well as the different phases of your training. The first, warm up section should involve bass-heavy tracks, as it is shown to make people feel powerful. This makes it ideal to get you on the right mindset pre-event or competition. For the mid-section of your workout, it is suggested that you should be looking for something around 130bpm - this is particularly useful for running as it will motivate you to keep time with the beat. It is also a good tempo for strength training. It is also suggested that you look for music that is in a major key, known as 'the happy key'. There are some types of music to be avoided too. Don't choose music that changes time signatures halfway through, an example being 'We Can Work it Out' by the Beatles. Also, syncopated music, such as salsa or jazz can make bipedal activities quite challenging as the emphasis is on the off-beat. I can testify to this, as much as I like flamenco music, anything other than a rhumba style is very distracting. A good resource to use to find what tempo your favourite tracks are is Songbpm or get some inspiration and sort by genre etc with RunHundred. I gave this site a go and made up a little playlist for my cycle/turbo training session (don't judge me, I didn't think I'd be a turbo person either!). It included The Killers, 'Human' , The Jesus and Mary Chain, 'Head On' and Pink 'U + Ur Hand'.
Give them a try and see how you get on, I definitely got my heart rate up, and hit a new 'power output PB'!
Also,music with lyrics is apparently a better performance aid than instrumental only tunes, according to research by the Psychology of Sports and Exercise. At the end of the day of course it is down to personal preference, but a poll done by Runner's World produced a top 50 list of workout songs as voted by their readers. Interestingly, there are only a handful of more contemporary songs in this list, including Franz Ferdinand's 'Take Me Out'; 'Stronger' by Kanye West and 'Happy' by Pharrell Williams (am I the only person who gets irritated rather than happy listening to this song?) The rest of the list is dominated by hits from the 70's, 80's and 90's including 'Back in Black' by AC/DC, 'Teenage Kicks' by the Undertones and 'Killer' by Adamski ft. Seal. But what was the number one track I hear you ask? 'Eye of the Tiger' perhaps? No, but it is in the top 20. It's actually 'Don't Stop Me Now' by Queen - just showing that some things never go out of fashion. Here is a little taster of some of the other favourites that made the all time classic cut of tracks....
So it seems that you don't have to be a slave to headphones whilst you exercise to get the benefits of music - try getting yourself into the zone before you train or race by listening to a selected playlist and see if it makes a difference. Runner's World actually publish a monthly blog with a 90 minute playlist each month which you can find here. We have probably all had that 'earworm' moment when the last song we hear before we leave the house is the one in our heads for the rest of the day? For me there was a lesson learned when I did a 118km sportive recently and had 'Gangsta's Paradise' on an internal loop in my head for over five hours as it was on the radio as I left the flat. I mean I like the song, but not THAT much!
So here are a few of my personal favourites to plant in my brain for a positive training session.
Enjoy, and I'll see you for the next blog post, which will be around goal setting.
As we are officially in the throes of ‘Blue Monday’, I thought that it was timely to do a blog post about something uplifting – music. How poignant then that as well as being a ‘National Day’ based around the post-Christmas depressive state of the nation, ‘Blue Monday’ is also of course an iconic song by the mega-band New Order. I digress slightly, but I am reminded of meeting the late Tony Wilson, about 16 years ago and being struck by how down to earth this legend behind Factory Records was. The truth is I didn’t actually know who he was at the time, and he was very humble when I asked him what he did…(oops).
And so now to look at the positive effects of music. Recent research shows that listening to music improves our mental well-being and boosts our physical health in surprising and astonishing ways. There are so many facets to this amazing medium that I am going to be writing a two-part blog - covering the benefits of music and exercise, and the mood enhancing qualities of music and singing. For anyone who followed my blogs from my Andes trip, they will have noticed how large a part music played in the trip. From the singing at night after a days cycling, to the ‘song of the day’ that was planted in my head and kept me going. Music has of course been shown to increase performance in exercise too, and that is an area I will cover in the second part of this blog.
For today though, I am going to look at the mood enhancing benefits of music, and in particular singing. Research proves that when you listen to music you like, your brain releases dopamine, a “feel-good” neurotransmitter. Listening to music you enjoy also decreases levels of the stress hormone cortisol in your body, which counteracts the effects of chronic stress. This is an important finding since stress causes 60% of all illnesses and disease. Further studies show that playing various percussion instruments and singing, boost our immune systems even more than if we passively listen. Adults who learn to play instruments or sing, can see improvements in their hand-eye co-ordination, memory for sounds, and fine hearing skills, such as the ability to track different voices in a noisy room. Anyone who plays music regularly has a quicker and sharper brain response to sound and music. This is a transferable skill that goes beyond musical tone. In some cases it can allow musicians to respond quicker to subtle changes in emotions when they are expressed through any sound. This may mean that some musicians are sharper at detecting emotional upset in their friends or family, although this idea has yet to be proven beyond doubt.
I also come to this from a personal perspective. Just over two years ago I spent a year researching activities for the new part of my events business, nnoodl. As the business idea was that people give themselves over to surprise experiences, I decided I needed to embrace the concept myself. This involved pulling together a series of activities, which I catalogued in a box with a number and colour and then left it in the hands of friends to call the activity I would do that week. From my blog posts, you will see that I undertook things ranging from a seafood foraging/cookery class; paddle boarding, and graffiti spray painting to name a few. But one of the experiences which I most feared was when I pulled out the ‘singing lesson’ card. I think many people found this surprising, as I have played guitar on and off since I was a teenager, so surely that goes hand in hand with singing? Well sadly not classical or flamenco guitar playing. I also have a bit of a dread around public speaking, and try to avoid this when possible. So when I chose my singing teacher, Matt Thompson, I had to act quickly and book a lesson for the next day before I lost my nerve!
I have to say, though, my trepidation was completely unfounded and it is one of the best things I have ever done.
At this stage, as is my want, I felt I should include a musical interlude, and so decided to include the first song I sang at my lessons. No, of course I’m not going to include my version, but the original of ‘More than Words’ by Extreme…
I left that first lesson on a complete high, and have continued to embrace singing, now also being part of Matt Thompson’s choir. This brings me nicely on to the subject of singing in a group and the positivity that singing with a group of people brings. Over to Matt to tell us more about it....
“Many of us already know that singing either individually or as part of a group makes us feel elated and uplifted, but what’s really going on when we sing?
Singing generates vibrations which reverberate through the body transforming both our physical and mental state. When we sing endorphins are released giving us pleasure, joy and a sense of euphoria. As Denise has said, studies suggest it can lessen the feelings of depression and anxiety. The good news is you don’t even have to be a good singer to benefit from these positive effects. Singing also plays a fundamental part in social bonding. Research found that it can unite people more effectively than any other activity.
I run a beginners pop/rock choir and group workshops for beginners to advanced level. I’m always blown away by how much my members/students enjoy these sessions and leave feeling energised and empowered. We start each session with a vocal warm-up then get straight to the fun part, learning songs, generally consisting of two or three part harmonies and perfecting them over several weeks. It’s so rewarding when it all comes together. Singing is a fun way to learn and develop a new skill with other like-minded people. There’s nothing quite like de-stressing after a busy week forgetting everything else that’s going on in our busy lives and concentrating solely on the voice.
For me, it’s a real joy arranging popular songs into 3 part harmonies, and then taking it to the choir to learn. After a little trial and error, members become comfortable with their parts and then the magic happens.
One particular song I really enjoyed working on in one of my vocal workshops was Andra Day’s, Rise Up. This song is about overcoming the moments in life that seem impossible. It was a perfect choice to inspire and motivate my students and the feedback was amazing too.
For those of you who are thinking about joining a choir you shouldn’t think twice. It’s not as scary as you think and it’s so much fun. Experience the benefits of group singing. You’ll wonder why you didn’t try this years ago!”
So if that has left you feeling inspired to embrace some positivity, you can find out more about Matt’s 121 singing lessons, workshops and choir at http://www.singtheeasyway.com, or on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/singtheeasyway
And if you’re looking to embrace a surprise challenge in 2018, why not sign up for a nnoodl adventure at www.nnoodl.co.uk Denise’s full blog post about her first singing lesson is here
So let’s leave this ‘Blue Monday’with that uplifting song suggestion from Matt…
I thought that in time honoured tradition I would share a round up of some of the highlights for Denise Yeats Creative Event Production in 2017. It has also seen the end of the first year of nnoodl, my new fledgling company which delivers surprise experiential events. A huge thank you to all of my clients - the charities, businesses and individuals who I have worked with this year.
I was honoured to be asked to work with the inspirational Ocean Brothers, Jude Massey and Greg Bailey, who are planning to row 3000miles across the Atlantic Ocean in January 2018. I worked with them to develop their fundraising proposition for corporate sponsors and individuals to raise £100,000 for the British Skin Foundation. I'm delighted to see their progress as they prepare for their grand departure in two weeks' time.
After a pilot event in December 2016, I held the first official nnoodl event of 2017. A team of intrepid adventurers went axe throwing, followed by a truly unique brunch at the wonderfully quirky Mayor of Scaredy Cat Town. Take a look at this great slo-mo video of Cat and Bob both landing a bullseye.
I was delighted to be back working with Place2Be, the children's mental health charity to deliver their biennial Wine Dinner. This was held in Middle Temple, the perfect backdrop for such a special evening, which surpassed it's fundraising total raising vital funds to support children's mental health in schools.
It was also time for another nnoodl event, and this time we had a truly uplifting time with a singing lesson in the recently opened Grand Hall of the little known gem that is the Brunel Museum.
It was back to my homeland in June to deliver 'Ms Frontiers' in Edinburgh. MS Frontiers is an event which brings the cream of the research community together to share knowledge to stop MS, and featured some truly inspirational speakers. It was also an opportunity to use the fantastic Mansfield Traquair for the celebratory dinner.
On a note of personal achievement, I also did the Olympic distance triathlon at Dorney Lake. Having done this one for the first time in 2016, I was delighted to take 17 minutes off my previous time, to complete it in 2:54, and secure 1st place in my age group!
In July, my colleague Joe Mearns of challenge events company Greenrock, and I spent a productive day in the Peak District doing a recce for a bespoke event we were creating for the Tesco National Charity Partnership with British Heart Foundation and Diabetes UK. We had already built a rough framework and were now trying out some parts of the route. We had a really busy, fun day, though I had to reign Joe in at some points on his idea of a 'scramble' as I hauled myself up a cliff face and thought that we could end up with a lot of Tesco employees with a sense of humour failure.
July also saw another nnoodl event, and this time our curious adventurers were met at Victoria station and taken to Sutton in Surrey. This one had them flummoxed, and a little anxious when I said we were going to be trying our hand at beekeeping at the wonderful Mayfield Lavender! Everyone embraced it though, especially once fully suited up, and they also had an opportunity to take part in a photography tutorial and enter the Mayfield Lavender photography competition. Have a look at some of the stunning pics on their website here.
Although not work, a real highlight of the year took place in August when I took part in a recce event at the Lee Valley Park Velodrome in Stratford. This has been on my radar as a potential event venue for a while, but I never thought I would have the courage to actually cycle on it myself. Thanks to the fantastic Team Liv Giant Camden Cycling Club though, we had a team of 15 female cyclists having a go at track riding on this most iconic of Olympic venues. Far from being stuck on the bottom as I thought I would be, I LOVED this experience and was whizzing around the top of the wall, what a rush!
Continuing the cycling vibe, at the beginning of September I co-led the first overseas cycling trip for Team Liv from London to Paris. Using part of a route suggested by my colleague Joe at Greenrock, we navigated a team of 14 women to Paris via Portsmouth and Le Havre over 3 days. This was the furthest that most of the team had ever cycled (including me) and I was so proud of everyone as we took our numerous photos at the Eiffel Tower.
The next nnoodl event also happened in September and saw a group of 12 people taking part in a fencing challenge at the London School of Fencing. This is an aerobic workout and a half - I can see why the matches (bouts) only last 3 minutes. With all of that gear on it seems like a lifetime!
This was a busy month for events as we finally delivered the Tesco National Charity Partnership Survival Challenge. Ten teams of 8-10 intrepid challengers set off to navigate across the 17.5km course whilst conquering abseils, scrambles and weaselling. We had also set some special navigational challenges for them to find hidden books along the way, inspired by the crazy Barkley Marathon.
I also delivered a very special event for the MS Society. As it had been 30 years since the passing of world renowned cellist Jacqueline du Pre to MS, her former husband, Daniel Barenboim had agreed to deliver two fundraising concerts at the Royal Festival Hall with the magnificent West-Eastern Divan Orchestra. This was an outstanding success, not only culturally, but more importantly, raising over £1million for the charity.
What can I say, without a doubt the most memorable event of 2017 had to be my cycling trip with Greenrock across the Andes. Challenging weather conditions meant that the original route had to be changed twice, but our intrepid team achieved a ride which started in Salta, routed via Mendoza and ended up in the amazing Santiago. The full blog can be read in various instalments underneath this one, in the December archive folder...
My return to reality in the UK was helped by the announcement of my role as a Trustee with Women's Sport Trust. We had our introductory board meeting the day after I returned from South America and I was honoured to be in the company of such inspirational people.
The final nnoodl event of the year took place in December. Although the spirit of these events is that participants don't know what is in store for them until they turn up, on this occasion I had let them know that it was more of a celebratory event with food and drink as the overriding feel. And what better theme than South American? We had arepas, empanadas, and Peruvian soup, accompanied by Pisco sours and Micheladas to drink. The group got into the Latin spirit with some Cuban salsa lessons to the backing of the wonderful Rey Crespo and his Cuban Ensemble.
And so a new year begins. I am looking forward to working with some inspirational organisations, and also to be setting some more of my own personal challenges. Watch this space....
So here we are on the final instalment of my Andes Cycling Adventure, and thank you for sticking with me! In fact, I have actually been really surprised by the reaction to my little blog. What started as a bit of a diary for myself to catalogue this adventure, has turned into something much bigger. I have been really surprised to see how many people have been following it, and have been overwhelmed by the lovely comments I've received. It has also served to renew old friendships with some of my great sporting friends from years gone by, as well as introducing me to some new ones. Many people have been offering some helpful suggestions for future endeavours, so thank you! Although this will be the last part of the blog about this trip, I have been encouraged to continue some more blogs along different themes of sports and inspiration, but more on that later... For now, here we are at:
Part 9 - Uspallata to Los Penitentes
There was no putting it off any longer, this was the day we had to get to Puente del Inca, or as close to that as we could, just before the final climb over the pass into Chile. Joe advised that we might want to stop at a place called Los Penitentes just before that as it was a ski resort where we might have a better chance of a refuge or similar 'accommodation'. I planted the ear worm of 'Movin on Up' by M People in everyone's head before we set off. What is it about that band that just loved a motivational/power song (Proud, Search for the Hero etc). So here we are, try and get this out of your head today...
Although the wind had died down slightly from yesterday, it was still pretty strong on the first section of open roads, and as the ever present lorries whizzed past us, the backdraft they caused was pretty scary. Apparently this was another day of making some ground height wise, and the first 10km or so was indeed uphill. Then came some rolling sections, and a few more frightening tunnels thrown in for good measure - I was ready with my lights today, but it was still slightly terrifying. We made a short stop in a place called Polvaredes where the only helpful feature was an abandoned building site type area which at least offered a place for a sheltered toilet stop. Ah, it's the simple things. We had now done about 40km and I think pretty much as I said "It would be good if we could keep going like this before the strong afternoon wind kicks in", well then the strong afternoon kicked in big time, doh! This was hard going, we were now constantly climbing and the headwind was intense. I adopted my 'head down and get on with it' approach, which was frankly killing me. I was relieved when I heard Stu say "Denise, it's not a sign of weakness to stop every now and then!" Phew, 'permission' to stop. I tried to make us feel better by counting down the kilometres, especially when we got to 10km away from Los Penitentes, which felt just about achievable. But then about 4km further on, and with my chain having come off, we saw a sign that said that it was still10km to Los Penitentes, arrrgh! The wind was now so strong that we did a stint of about 10 minutes walking with the bikes as it seemed quicker. Time for a song interlude, and it matched the mood perfectly, 'Don't Give Up' by one of my favourite artists, Peter Gabriel, with Kate Bush.
It appeared that the road signs in this area were seriously messed up, and I didn't really know how much further we truly had to go. And just as things were getting seriously depressing battling against the wind, hooray, literally an oasis in the middle of nowhere - a small building that said 'Bar' on the outside. Really??
As we drew in front of the building we were at least sheltered by the wind, even if there didn't seem to be any sign of life. But then, literally minutes later, a man drew up in a car who apparently owned this place and it was a refugio where we could stay the night. A quick look inside to see that there were enough bunk beds and a fridge with beer in it and we were sold! As we kicked back out of the wind and had one of the beers with some crisps (late lunch!) Joe and Andy arrived, equally feeling the effects of the strong wind and relieved to see us. Again, I think Joe was amused at how happy I was with this very basic place - toilet and shower combined, mattresses that had definitely seen better days and sharing a room with three guys, I didn't care a bit! The stats below tell a story, see close to the end where we were averaging just 5 or 6km/ph!
Stu tried to tune up the guitar (another selling point!) with a set of pliers as it had lost it's tuning pegs. Top marks for perseverance here and he also managed to get a few tunes out of it. Dinner that night was one of our dried camping meals, and I noticed they tasted slightly better when you took the small silica gel packet out of them (oops, I realised why my last one just seemed to keep getting drier and drier as i ate it!) As we were now at about 2,500m, we could feel the temperature drop pretty quickly as the sun went in. Enter our able teammate, Andy ready to light the wood burner. We all gathered excitedly around it as it all started with such promise. Very quickly though it appeared there was some ventilation blockage though and we were all smoked out, adding to our already omnipresent 'Argentinian Coughs'. Always an opportunity for a beer though, and we indulged Andy with his playlist for a little bit, and I must admit I love this song, 'Slave to Love' by Bryan Ferry.
Part 10 - Los Penitentes to Los Andes
This was going to be an 'interesting' section - 23km of climbing to the top, and then an obligatory lift through a 2km tunnel that takes you to the Chile border. This really was hard as hell, the wind was already against us and the climbing was relentless. We passed through the small town of Puente del Inca, which is famed for it's hot springs, but as we couldn't actually see them from the road, even that wasn't a distraction. We passed the Aconcagua National Park and thought for about 30 seconds about going off road to cycle up to Christ the Redeemer - but at 12km away, we decided we didn't have anything that needed redeeming that badly.
As we got to about 15km and were going up a soul destroying section of road around a concrete wall I started to question whether Joe had said 23km or 23miles....please don't let it be 23miles!! I asked Stu if he had a song for the day in his head and his reply was "I have nothing for this!", which said it all. The only thing I could draw on was one of my favourite little tomes from the 90's, Baz Luhrmann's 'Everybody's Free to Wear Sunscreen'. I love the lyrics in this, definitely ideas to live by, and for this instance, it would have to be "sometimes you're ahead, sometimes you're behind, but in the end the race is long, and it's only with yourself".
A little further along the road we came to a tunnel which we couldn't see the end to. But surely this wasn't far enough on to be THE tunnel? We were discussing our strategy (try to squeeze along the narrowest footpath at the edge of the tunnel, and push our bikes for safety, possibly?) when a man pulled up in a tiny car and seemed to be offering us a lift. But as we motioned to our bikes and the amount of kit, we despondently pointed out that we had too much stuff. "No, I follow behind you, it is too dangerous" he said. We set off as quickly as we could as our escort driver followed behind us with his hazards on - it was such a relief as the tunnel was uphill and we could hear lorries slowing down behind him. What a lovely man, and we shouted our thanks as we waved him off at the end of the tunnel.
Just after that we came to the actual tunnel in question and here was a truck ready to take our bikes and us through to the other side. First challenge, how do you pass your bike laden with 35kg of panniers up to the man on the back of the truck? Ah but when we were in, what a special few moments. The driver firstly put on Frank Sinatra's 'My Way' followed by Simon and Garfunkel's 'The Sound of Silence' as we all sang along and he excitedly pointed out the Chilean border halfway through the tunnel. I particularly like the Simon and Garfunkel song, as I remembered that 'El Condor Pasa (If I Could) being on the soundtrack of the inspirational film 'Wild' - the true story of Cheryl Strayed's emotional trek across the Pacific Crest Trail.
It was like another world when we emerged from the tunnel, and our helpful driver offered to take some Chilean border shots for us. And it was suddenly freezing! We layered up and set off on a downhill to the border. Ah but the real surprise for me was yet to come. I famously prefer uphills to downhills, and so just past the border control, when I was faced with the scariest road I have ever seen I had to have a real word with myself! This road is pretty infamous for its 29 switchbacks, and of course the ever present lorries and yet more tunnels to navigate. The guys were all stopping along the way to take photos as I screeched my way down, worried that if I stopped I would lose my nerve. By the time I got to the bottom of this epic run I could hardly prise my hands off the handlebars and brakes. But I had done it! Suddenly we were back into 30deg heat and so it was time for some sunscreen and a giant empanada for lunch. The final 45km + into Los Andes were pretty much all downhill. Again, great for most people, but mostly a test of mettle for me. The landscapes were quite a contrast to the previous few days as we passed vineyards and waterfalls, but with the heat and wind rising, there were few photostops on this stretch, and instead a concerted push to our hotel in Los Andes. In fact we were so focussed that just a few km from our hotel I misjudged the traffic and got knocked off my bike by a bus, arrgh. To be fair, the driver did stop and check I was ok as I lay on my side, pinned to the ground by the weight of my panniers, and with my feet still clipped in. A few scrapes and covered in dust, but mostly just dented pride! The quirky little 'Residencial Santa Rosa' was another welcome sight, and the staff were super helpful. It is in this town, however that we became aware that there is not an 'afternoon drinking culture' in South America like there is in the UK. We were desperate for, yes, you guessed it, a beer. We finally found a nice hotel tucked away down a side street where we sat outside near a little pool and proceeded to drink our way through the local beers on offer. Not content with that, our lovely hotel staff were on hand when we returned to set up some small tables in one of our (massive) rooms, so that we could have a 'nightcap'. Had we known what was ahead of us tomorrow, I can't help but think we might have taken it a bit easier on the premature celebrating!
Part 11 - Los Andes to Santiago!
We had received various pieces of information both online and via our helpful hotel staff about the best way to cycle into Santiago. The fact was that this was of course never in the plan, but part of our necessary re-route to take this busy road into Chile's buzzing city. We were told it was basically the main trunk road - "Be careful, you may get stopped by the police", and also that there was another one of THOSE tunnels which we would need to be driven through. What we weren't expecting though was just how bad the start of this road was. We were basically cycling up a strip of gravelly tarmac about 50cm wide next to a dual carriageway that was an uphill drag with lorries and traffic shooting past. At just 9am, the temperature was already creeping up to 30deg and we were being squeezed into traffic barriers by unforgiving drivers. As we got to the top of the first climb we were stopped at the mouth of a tunnel where a driver loaded us onto his truck. As we waited at the other side for Andy and Joe to join us, I was hoping that Joe would tell us to give this idea up and thumb a lift. Ah, but Joe isn't like that, and neither am I really I suppose, but he did advise us to get as far as we felt we could cycle safely, and that we might well get stopped by the police. Apparently they had got chatting to a road cyclist, who was also a policeman, who had told them that there was an opportunity to get off the main road, but it would take us on a hillier route, which would be hard going with panniers. Cue for a song in these slightly depressing circumstances, and a favourite of mine, from one of the best bands - The Smiths and 'Please, Please, Please (Let me get what I want)'. I didn't realise that this song was only actually a B side, as we coincidentally also heard it later in trip.
Well I think the roadsign below says it all here. We had cycled along this road for about 40km, and every time a vehicle pulled over to the side we secretly hoped they were going to stop us. But no, we continued to where the road branched off to Colina where we stopped for our lunch and a look at 'mappy map' to consider our options.
Joe and Andy arrived just after us, and Andy plugged the walking route suggested by Google into Santiago. We decided we would see how far we got and book into the first suitable hotel on the outskirts of the city. Well this was another experience and a half! To start with, the minor road was just an excuse for lorries not to pay a toll and so it was a case of yet again dicing with death along a narrow road edge. We ended up basically 'off-roading with panniers' as we navigated another 20km along dirt tracks which were supposed to be pavements. All the while we thought we must see a hotel soon, although at the same time, we were in the deepest industrial part of the outskirts of the city. Ah but tenacity pays off, and hats off to Andy, he only navigated us into one of the hippest and buzziest parts of Santiago - Bellavista. Oh, how happy we were, we had actually cycled into Santiago, which I can, on reflection only compare to cycling into London down the M1!
For this final part, as we cycled into this mecca of a city, I was feeling pretty pleased with myself and had one of my favourite feel good songs in my head, 'Fantastic Shine' by the wonderfully named 'Love of Lesbian'. Some might associate it as the soundtrack of the Estrella Damm beer adverts, and that's fine and appropriate too...
We landed on our feet with our hotel that night - a bed so big that I almost lost myself in it, and a full set of complimentary toiletries. We then had one of the most bizarre nights of the trip as we went to a Peruvian Restaurant (proper food, and vegetables, and Pisco sours!) and then happened upon a bar which is apparently legendary - La Piojera. (Credited as 'Santiago's oldest and best dive bar'!). Here we made friends with some hilarious Chileans who gave us some advice on how to look after our personal safety, and what to drink (NOT such good advice it turns out with this jug of luminous Terremoto - translating to 'earthquake'!) It seems by the look on Joe's face in the picture below that he could see what was to come and so made a hasty exit....
There was still another 10km or so to cycle the next day, to our final destination at the Best Western Hotel in Los Condores. Well done again Joe, a touch of luxury for a couple of days at the end of the trip! It was now time to unwind, pack our bikes and generally get to know Santiago. This involved:
- an overexcitable night of trying out cocktails at the hotel bar, and then, not content with that, drinking our minibars dry, whilst listening to more favourite 80s and 90s tunes from my playlist (see below)
- buying something new to wear that wasn't encrusted in dust (felt like I'd been released from captivity)
- an open top bus tour around Santiago (this is some city - it takes over 2 hours to see it all!)
- a spontaneous midnight trip to Bellavista involving some near death taxi driving
I felt SO sad to leave Santiago. This trip represented so many firsts for me - the furthest place I had been to; the longest and hardest bike ride I had ever done, and of course the independence of carrying all of your own kit and camping. I made the best group of friends there in Joe, Stu and Andy, who kept me laughing and inspired me that yes, I could do this. A quote from Andy that sticks with me is "If anyone ever tells you that you can't do something again, tell them to.....(fill in the blanks!)"
Huge thanks to you guys, and in particular Joe, for making it actually happen against all the odds. I had the best time!
So, as I said at the beginning of this final episode, I have actually been asked to do some more blogs around things like 'Goal Setting' (note to self - should you sign up for a half ironman when you have had a couple of beers?Possibly not) and the 'Power of Music', so look out for those in the new year!
Although it was approaching Christmas in Santiago, it was weird to get your head around the heat, but also the reindeers and Christmas songs in the shops, and so I will leave you all with one final piece of music as I wish you a Merry Christmas, or should that be 'Feliz Navidad'. And if you're going to choose a cheesy song, who better to sing it that....Boney M? I laughed out loud when I found this version!
Meanwhile I am trying hard to embrace Christmas, and have set up a turbo trainer in my living room where my tree would normally be. Well, I'd better get training for the next trip! Maybe put a bit of tinsel or some lights on it.....
Denise Yeats is an events professional with over 18 years of creating inspiring events ranging from arts events at Tate to Tower Running races. She recently undertook a personal challenge called 'The Secret Life' which involved doing a new pursuit every week which is chosen at random by an allocated colour and number. This has led onto the creation of 'nnoodl - discovering your secret london life' where people are led on surprise activities...