Category Archives: Getting fit

A journey of bum-tightening and ab-sculpting

Geordie Pride: Great North Run 2013

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It doesn’t take much to draw out the Geordie pride in this Northern lass, so a huge global event like the Great North Run just sets me to almost bursting. In fact, this 55,000 field race, from over 100,000 applicants, makes it Britain’s biggest participation event, and the Geordies LOVE to host a big party.

But why is this Great Run so universally loved, attracting people from over 40 countries to the North East of England?

Could it be the weather?

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Probably not!

Could it be the joyous fun of running long distances?

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Hmm…. curious stuff. Yet doubtful.

What could possibly motivate 55,000 people to get up on a chilly Sunday morning, the North sea breeze cutting at their scantily clad bodies, to run 13.1 miles of tarmac roads only to get a medal and short term fear of stairs?

collage gnrThe glee of running 13.1 miles with 55,499 friends at the Great North Run

Today, as my mother and I waited on the banks of the South Shields coastline, gloomy skies above us, surrounded by fellow wrapped up Geordies, we marvelled at this wonderful event on our doorstep (and literally on the doorsteps of many). Catterick Garrison soldiers marched along the final 200m to guide and cheer the elite runners in.

We watched David Weir destroy his fellow elite wheelchair racers as he powered through the finish line to yet another victory. We saw the legendary Dibaba stripped of her 11-year winning streak as Kenya stormed through the tape. Jeptoo crushing her opponents. And then we watched what is being pitched as the greatest finish in the history of this Great British competition. Sticking together for 10 miles or more, Mo and Haile battled along the route with Bekele sitting just behind them. Then as the end drew near, Bekele made a run for it, and it seemed Haile and Mo were left stranded, aghast. But no, in the final 800m, The Mo-Bot, cheered on with a surge of crowd participation (we nearly burst some blood vessels), grit his teeth and gave it some welly. If you were not there, you missed a treat. We were jumping up and down as they fought it out with only metres to go (check out my photo finish above). Mo came in a close second, and this effort of cheer and sheer will to drive him through almost finished off the audience. Then, with a sigh of joy, a rustle and a jiggle of pride, we looked out to the North Sea. A shared pride in being British.

5 minutes later, partially recovered from the exciting drama that had just got us screeching for another British win, we rallied our viewing neighbours to cheer on Dr James Kelly, PhD Chemist, international runner extraordinaire!

“Go James!” we all shouted. “GO JAMES!”

1003927_10100601624052983_896829386_nDr Kelly. The magnificent.

He took only 1 hour and 6 minutes to run 13.1 miles. Placing 22nd! Mind boggling stuff!

It is particularly mind boggling to me in fact, as I continue to battle with my very conservative half marathon time of 2 hours this year. 3 times I have tried to become a runner. And 3 times I have slowed to an almost stop as 9 miles rolls in and Beth’s quads say NO MORE NOW! I ran a Central Park half (twice) and I ran to Brooklyn (slowly), and each time I took 2 hours, or thereabouts. I even got beat by a baby yesterday. A BABY. This is no joke. I should add here that his dad was pushing him in a perambulator, but still. OUCH. All summer I have been loving the camaraderie of a wonderful nationwide venture: Park Run. A weekly 9am jog around a local park, mine is Saltwell Park in Gateshead, but you can find more convenient runs all over the country. To me, after repeatedly hitting a 9 mile wall, 5K always seems more doable on a Saturday morning when the day is my oyster (is that a saying?). I have seen little progress, but I always finish with my heart pumping effectively (phew) and my legs feeling like they don’t much like the idea of long distance but will at least humour me in this resolve. As long I go nice and slow.

So to me, a loser to babies and almost anyone else, anything near the 1 hour mark is genius. Bravo James.

Once the elite runners ran (in the actual sense of the word) towards the warmth, a shower and a long sit, the fun runners began to filter through. And I like to call this time “when Beth comes into her own”. I can clap loudly for England. Oh yes, and the cheering. I go at it like there is no tomorrow. If your name is on your shirt, I’ll scream it. If you have a crumpling frame, I’ll squeal to distract you as you approach the end. And if you are standing next to me. Apologies.

What a day. What a northern Geordie filled day. Can I be any more proud of my people?

Nope!

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Fish and Chips for lunch, home, and a lie down. Too much excitement for this Geordie.

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Last Summer Series. The top meal revealed

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Now that I am back in force and whipping through the blogging posts, here is a post you have all been waiting for. What has been voted the top meal of the summer so far? What meal encompasses all that is youthful summer holidays and homemade creations? And who in the world is voting for all of this?

All will be revealed. First, who is voting? Well mother and I are voting (Dad gets a what’s app picture message so that he feels included but he cannot always vote without taking obligatory “taste test”). I am the official and unofficial “taster”. I sit at the kitchen table, waiting for my meal like an impatient child (still in my 20s so I am surely getting away with it). And then the plate arrives. The winning plate of Summer in Kibblesworth 2013.

Grilled lemon chicken with lemon jus and lemon gremolata with a side salad

IMG_1013What? Is that a cup of tea on your tray? How British am I!?

marinade
lemon juice,
olive oil,
wholegrain mustard,
and pepper

chicken (sliced into generous chunks),

side salad
see Baby Sister’s Steak Salad and then add sliced radishes from your neighbours allotment (or a shop)

lemon jus
remainder of marinade + chicken juices from grill

gremolata
finely chopped parsley
crushed garlic
and lemon zest

First marinade the chopped chicken for up to 12 hours (or however long you have). Slot the chicken onto skewers and grill in oven or on BBQ (and with this summer weather I suggest the latter). Prepare salad as previously described and mix the ingredients for the gremolata. Promptly make jus with the remaining marinade and grilled chicken juices and bring to boil in a pan until it has reduced to a jus-y goo. Place 3 skewers on each plate taking part, along with a side salad helping and pour over copious jus-ness. Sprinkle with gremolata to finish.

Munch away.

Loving the skin you’re in

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After my eventful few weeks with the dermatologists of New York City, my appreciation of sunscreen is now off the charts. Which is why this morning, on reading the latest developments at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center on skin protection, I just had to re-post their article on the matter.

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Skin Cancer Expert Steven Wang Discusses FDA Sunscreen

Label Changes

For many years, the US Food and Drug Administration required that sunscreens sold in the United States indicate the extent to which the products protect consumers from sunburn-causing ultraviolet B (UVB) radiation, noted through a sun protection factor (SPF) value designated on the label.

On December 17, that changes. Under new labeling requirements, all but a handful of manufacturers claiming that their product provides a broad-spectrum SPF of 15 or higher will have to demonstrate its effectiveness in shielding people from the sun’s longer-wavelength ultraviolet A (UVA) radiation as well. Though UVA radiation is less likely than UVB radiation to cause sunburn, it has been linked to skin cancer and early skin aging.

In an interview, skin cancer expert Steven Wang, head of the dermatology section at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Basking Ridge, in New Jersey, explains these changes and what they might mean to the general public.

What is sunscreen, and why should people use it?

Sunscreen is an over-the-counter medicine sold in the form of lotions, ointments, gels, and other mediums such as sprays to protect skin from ultraviolet (UV) radiation emitted by sunlight. An estimated 90 percent of the nation’s 3.5 million cases of skin cancer diagnosed each year are caused by exposure to the sun’s UV radiation. When used in conjunction with other sun protection measures, sunscreen can decrease the risk of skin cancer and prevent wrinkles, freckles, age spots, spider veins, and other signs of aging caused by the sun.

What does a sunscreen’s SPF really mean?

SPF is a standard way to measure the degree of protection that a sunscreen provides. To test for SPF, individuals in a controlled laboratory environment have a part of the body (usually the back) exposed to UV light. Initially this is done without sunscreen applied, to establish the smallest UV dose that produces visible redness of the skin with clearly defined borders at 16 to 24 hours following UV exposure. A repeat measurement is then performed to determine the smallest UV dose producing skin redness with sunscreen applied. The SPF value is the ratio of the UV dose producing redness on unprotected skin to the dose producing redness on sunscreen-protected skin.

What is changing with the new sunscreen regulations?

For the first time, the degree of a product’s protection from UVA as well as UVB light will be measured and integrated into the label indications. The measurement of UVA protection will be related to a product’s ability to shield the skin from a particular wavelength of UVA rays — greater than 370 nanometers. Only the products that protect against these wavelengths will be allowed to claim that they provide broad-spectrum protection.

In addition, products will no longer be allowed to designate themselves as “sunblock,” which I think is good because the term overstates what it can do. For much the same reason, you won’t find products labeled “waterproof” or “sweat proof.” To get a designation as “water resistant,” a product will have to show effectiveness for 40 minutes in a testing laboratory.

How should I change the way I select a sunscreen under these new regulations?

Look for the designation of “broad spectrum” to indicate protection from both UVA and UVB radiation, and always choose a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15 — though I recommend an SPF of 30 or higher for daily use, and an SPF of 50 or higher with an indication of “water resistance” for sports or other outdoor activities.

Whatever product you select, make sure that you like the way that it feels and smells, so that you actually use it.

What should I do with the sunscreen that I have already purchased?

As long as the sunscreen hasn’t expired, you don’t necessarily have to throw it all away. According to my research and that of others, 75 percent of current sunscreens actually meet the criteria for protection from UVB as well as UVA. To check for UVA protection in the products you have now, look for one or more of these ingredients: avobenzone, titanium, zinc, or ecamsule.

How much sunscreen should I put on?

Use an adequate amount to attain the level of protection stated on the product. For an average adult, the ideal amount is 2 milligrams of sunscreen per square centimeter of skin. This translates to about three tablespoons (1.4 ounces) to cover the back, torso, face, and arms. When used appropriately by an adult in a swimsuit, a typical 6-ounce sunscreen container will be finished in a little over four uses. Put it on 30 minutes before going outside and reapply every two hours if you are staying outdoors for a lengthy period.

If I only use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF value of 15 or higher, will I be protected from sunburn, skin cancer, and early aging?

The answer to this is no. Don’t rely exclusively on sunscreen to protect yourself from UV rays. Your first considerations should be to avoid the sun especially during the peak hours of 10:00 AM to 3:00 PM, seek shade, and wear sun-protective clothing. In fact, clothing is superior to sunscreen in several ways: The protection is constant, the product is cheaper in the long run, and it shields you from UVA exposure.

Golden Tan Conundrum?

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Spray-tanning may be the answer?

Isn’t it lovely to have a golden tan? After a couple of summers in almost constant sunny weather, I am well kitted out in the light dress garment. So, despite the steamy humidity of New York City, I am able to flounce about in next to no material, and in a variety of shapes and colors. With my hazel eyes, however, my Northern Hemisphere skin tone, my British looks; I probably should be covering up. I know that of course. This knowledge has been imparted many times over and I cannot feign ignorance. I am a cancer biologist working in a cancer hospital. So on a level, I do make a concerted effort to protect myself. On the tennis court, I roughly layer my face in Factor 60. I spray my shoulders and give a quick rub on my arms and neck. On weekend wanders, I cover my cheeks, for the superficial fear of wrinkles, but throw that cardigan in my bag soaking up the UV light on my back.

I am 29 years old this week and just days ago I was lying on my tummy in the dermatologist’s office having pinprick biopsies taken of several unsavory features scattered across my back.

I remember thinking, over and over again in my youth, I am never going to get sunburnt again. Never. I remember the searing pain as the dried out, raw skin was layered with cool plain yoghurt (unknown brand). My school friends and I, released after final exams for our first unsupervised trip abroad, returned to our villa, after Day 1 in Rhodes, with painful red patches all over our backs and arms and legs. It was Lucy who returned with the useless advice (we would consider anything at this point). Spread yoghurt, any brand, all over the burns. She had been told it worked wonders as her sores had motivated sympathy and suggestions from her beach-y peers. It will cool the skin and moisturize the burns. We did it. We bought a bucket load of plain, flavorless yoghurt and we caked ourselves in it. The smell was quite unbearable, the giggling was definitely memorable but the pain remained unresolved.

After the first couple of days of our summer holidays this year I thought, ooh my skin is a bit tender. It looks more pink than tan and so tomorrow I will cover up with a t-shirt. But the vain pull of the golden tan won out. And sun cream was applied without zest and I allowed my skin to darken. A few more freckles appearing on the exposed parts.

According to the Skin Cancer Foundation there are an “estimated 2.8 million cases of basal cell carcinoma (BCC) diagnosed in the US each year. In fact, it is the most frequently occurring form of all cancers. More than one out of every three new cancers are skin cancers, and the vast majority are BCCs.

Cancer is a scary word. It is a routine word in my daily work but it is always referring to patient A and never ever reflected back at me. So today I am scouring the clinical websites for information. Not my usual academic journal pool. Working on the molecular level, the intricate detail of the cell and its genetics won’t help me understand what is coming up next for me.

I tap away at the keyboard. Basal cell carcinoma is mostly non-malignant. In fact, the Skin Cancer Foundation website tells me that “BCCs are abnormal, uncontrolled growths or lesions that arise in the skin’s basal cells, which line the deepest layer of the epidermis (the outermost layer of the skin). BCCs often look like open sores, red patches, pink growths, shiny bumps, or scars. Usually caused by a combination of cumulative UV exposure and intense, occasional UV exposure, BCC can be highly disfiguring if allowed to grow, but almost never spreads (metastasizes) beyond the original tumor site. Only in exceedingly rare cases can BCC spread to other parts of the body and become life-threatening.”

Well that is a relief. I keep hearing “it is better to be safe than sorry” and of course I agree wholeheartedly but I am already sorry. I am sorry I ever nurtured my skin to that unnatural tan I have always so craved. I am sorry for that and as I sit back on the sterile, paper covered examination bed, waiting for my ruthless dermatologist to return, I find myself slightly flushed with the worry of what is coming next. And mainly, dear readers, it is entirely the dent to my vanity. I know she is going to cut these unsavory growths out. She is going to cut nice and deep to be “safe” and “not sorry” and she is going to sew me back up and then onto the next. I pride myself on a strong racquet sports playing back (well I do now. Now that I have had a little think about it) and I definitely don’t want any more war wounds to count. Appendix removal left an unsightly blemish, hockey injuries pockmark my legs and knees and general clumsiness, as the overzealous child I once was stumbled about grazing and scratching and sometimes slashing my smooth skin.

When it is over. When the local anaesthetic begins to wear off and my shoulder aches a little bit, more biopsies taken for good measure, I am feeling very determined. Is it worth it to have a gloriously brown glow to take you into the white winter months? Does anyone really care but me? I know the answers of course and once this is finally over, in a few stabbing weeks or months (if she removes one every two weeks we could become quite the bosom buddies), I will be viciously vigilant in my sun protection regime. I promise. I promise myself.

Run Forrest Run!

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So I did it. No one is surprised right? Well you better not be.

I wandered up to my starting point, at the back, and jiggled my legs about in an attempt to appear organised in my warm up protocol.

1 mile down. Easy. 2 miles check. Loving it. I am cruising. Now where is 3 miles? Turns out the distance between the mile signs were playing tricks on me. I almost gave up on sightings of mile 4, 5 and 6 signage and at this point it was quite clear that with only half of the first lap of Central Park completed, my main obstacle was my doubtful mind. A mile is quite far. So 13. 1 in a row is like.. really far.

I had expected rolling hills throughout, after all I had been warned by people in the know (including the race website), and yet by mile 7 and nearly one full run through of the course, I felt like I had spent most of the first hour freewheeling downhill. I like a bumpy course I think. No flat roads to force me to propel myself. I enjoy the hike uphill because I know it will be closely followed by the inevitable drop at the other side. By mile 8, I was happy as a clam. The legs were on autopilot and I was only occasionally wiping the “glow” from my brow.

By mile 10 I could almost taste victory. But entertaining myself was becoming more tasking with every stride. I had seen a man running barefoot, I had watched oncoming traffic of horse-drawn carriages leaving their stinky mark on my path towards triumph, and I had been lapped by the speedy front runners who look like they have done this before. I am bored and I can distinctly feel a tightening in my legs. I have just over 3 miles to go and I need a better target than simply THE END.

I set my sights on light blue shorts. I noticed light blue at around mile 4 I think. We were similarly paced, her Cambridge-esque light blue kit caught my attention, if only for comfort, as we journeyed together around the Park. So this was the key. Sit behind light blue and then jog past her to roaring cheers (in my head). But now I am at mile 11. She is holding strong and my quads are starting to fail me. I am positive I have sent pulses of information to the muscles indicating my desire to run forward, and yet they are slowing down. I must not stop. It will be the end of me. What I need now is a long winding downhill. What I need now is a cheer from the crowd to encourage me. Tick and tick. Off I go. Pick the feet up, move the legs forward. Let Newton’s gravity do the job and pass my secret opponent. Mile 12 and I am not feeling any love for the sport of running.

I have defeated my arch nemesis (should have found dark blue shorts in hindsight, but she served her purpose) and now all I need to do is bring it home. The final strip is lined with spectators. I hear my name and I have an almost minute burst of speed until my legs remember they are not happy with me and go back into a grump. I fear I have not hydrated well. At the first two water stops, way, way back in the early days of this Sunday morning I had gulped and not sipped. It was not a good tactic and it scared me to drink anymore. I had upset myself, in particular my sensitive tummy. Now, with exhaustion and the dizziness of thirst I have 200 yards to go and I am probably going to be sick. Not an optimal choice of venue as my exit path is blocked by an applauding audience. I must…. continue. I can’t stop now. Who walks the last 100 yards after running the previous 13 miles? Losers, that’s who. If I have 13 miles in me, I can find something, somewhere. I hit the final banner and immediately crawled into a corner to avoid vomiting all over someone’s illuminous yellow Nike shoes.

No, not a good idea. They pounce on me. Wheelchair is rushed over and I am lifted against my will into the rolling seat. Please no. I ran this whole thing I can definitely walk to my friends.

Don’t be embarrassed miss.

Too late mister!

After convincing them, with my absolutely lucid speech, that I was just feeling just a bit motion sick and they could send me on my way with a bottle of water and a bag of salt, I found my wonderful and encouraging friends and we hobbled to brunch.

In summary, salt in water tastes awful. Grilled cheese sandwiches (otherwise known as “the toastie”) taste marvelous. If only I could depart my seat in this UWS resto and make my way home.

I think I am going to pay for this in pain tomorrow.

Worth it? Definitely.

The Superficial Checklist

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Central Park circa 5pm this evening.

From the rooftop of the MET I faced tomorrow’s challenge. Must admit, it looks pretty big from up here, and that is just the bottom bit.

I was feeling contemplative as I sunned myself this evening. Reminds me of a time in my youth when I decided, surprisingly with no opposition from my parents, despite my less than fit, chubby state, to run a mile. One solitary mile around Bamburgh Castle. Seems trivial now, but at the time I distinctly remember the sheer unadulterated pain as I paced up the steep incline overlooking the North Sea. To my family, eagerly waiting at the finish line, running parallel to the cricket ground, I was lost. Or having a long, luxurious rest at the very least. Until a time when finally my bright red round cheeks appeared along that final straight. My younger sister, desperate to help her elder survive this terrible ordeal, jogged, with ease, the last few yards in support, probably keen to spend the last few moments with her flailing sibling before she departed this earth.

Fortunately, I dragged myself heavily to the tape. I was not a fit young thing back then. I was carrying some puppy fat, except this puppy was one of those British Bulldog types. Those really chunky monsters. That was me. And I was probably slobbering by that point so the metaphor works on a couple of levels.

 

I may have been round but I was darn cute!

 

Tonight, however, as I place all the necessities for tomorrow’s 13.1 mile “jog” on the table, I reminisce about my running experiences to date. That one mile run and that other time when I really really wanted to catch the train. No, only kidding, I have done a half marathon before, but that was slightly shorter than Central Park twice-and-a-bit-more, and it was almost entirely flat. Having read the course description for my stateside attempt, for the first time this week (erroneously), I become fixated on one section:

Almost all of the course is run over curving roads and undulating terrain, except for one straight, flat half-mile stretch along the East Side that you’ll run twice. Major uphills are at approximately 1.5, 3, 4, 7.5, 9, and 10 miles.

Have I done any hill running yet? I certainly have not. I tend to find running up hills a bit exhausting and painful and have chosen to avoid them at any opportunity.

It may be too late to prepare in any appropriate way so all I have left to do are the superficial check list items: have a hot bath, eat a truck load of pasta and hydrate away. My shoes are now adorned with the timing strip that I will probably ignore so that I can lie through my teeth “Paul Ryan style” when anyone asks me how long it took me to complete. Furthermore, being a New York marathon qualifying race, I propose that digestive biscuits and orange squash will not be on the menu. I predict that my peers will have done some hill running and won’t be taking tomorrow’s “stroll” lightly. And I suppose I am going to suffer a great deal.

But I will do it. I have been talking to myself all day on the matter. I will drag my slightly less rotund butt around that manmade green space and I will earn some running respect. From whom, it is unclear. But by that stage I will be quite delirious and expecting some knight in shining armour to carry me home (maybe I am already delirious. It certainly sounds like it).

Wish me luck!