Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Fitness in pregnancy - Part II (+ 4 exercises)

A few more things I want to say about fitness in pregnancy, before I am through with this very unique period in every woman's life (for the time being, anyway!).

Fit, lean and healthy
First of all, it pays immensely to enter pregnancy as fit as possible. I don't care if you don't run 10Ks in your second trimester, but you'd better be as strong, lean and healthy as possible when you are starting out. The female body goes through so many changes over these nine months and a good level of fitness makes everything so much easier. You will be able to carry the load much better, maintain your posture, keep your muscle tone, and not succumb to gravity without a fight. As for the health benefits: from keeping blood pressure at low levels, to even having to cut through less layers of fat during a c-section (gross!), there is a lot to be said about being in the right form prior to deciding to have a baby.

Nagging sport injuries
It was interesting to see some of my old sport injuries flaring up and resurfacing during the nine month wait. 'What' s with this old pains', I was thinking a lot of the time, 'I mean it's not as if I've been exercising myself to death here!' Plantar fasciitis, a bit of knee pain, arch pain, and, worse of all, my sciatica pain going all the way down the right leg, have all made their appearance with a vengeance. Some of these pains have come and gone, but the sciatica has been steadily getting worse over the past few weeks, to the extent that really it is an effort now to even take Lisa (our dog) for long walks any more. I do hope that recovery is fast and smooth on many levels, beginning next week. In fact, I consider myself injured at the moment!

Pregnancy exercises post-partum
The pocket-sized book "Your Pregnancy Day-By-Day" by Professor Stuart Campbell, and Alison Mackonochie (Carroll & Brown Publishers Ltd, 2005) is full of pregnancy information for the ignoramus like me (for example, according to the book, a full-term pregnancy is 294 days exactly, who would have thought!).
It also offers a few fitness exercises (mostly in preparation for labour) that I have found could be of use later as well. I am going to be practicing them post-op, as soon as I can.
Here they are.

Tailor sitting
This exercise releases tension in lower back (so, a blessing for me really!) and improves pelvic flexibility. After placing pillows under thighs and sitting with back straight and the soles of feet together, you draw your heels towards you, using the arms to push down on your thighs. Relaxing your shoulders and the back of your neck (yes! I need that so much!), you breathe deeply and hold the stretch for a count of 12. Repeat every day. As one becomes more flexible, one can remove the pillows and push knees closer to the floor.

Pelvic rocks
This is a good way to relieve backache in late pregnancy and during labour (and after, might I add!). You aren't meant to let your lower back sag while doing this exercise. Get down on your hands and knees, with knees about hip-width apart. Keep neck in line with spine and the back flat. Then tighten abdomen and buttocks and slowly round shoulders and back and let your head drop down. Hold briefly before returning to the start position. Repeat 10 times a day or whenever one feels tension (which for me is indeed very often during the day, also what a great exercise after a tough running session!).

Modified squats
This exercise strengthens the thigh muscles and is a mild form of the squat, perfect for c-section recovery as well as for anyone just starting out on the whole squat exercise set. Standing with feet hip-width apart about 2 feet from a wall, back and arms flat against the wall, you slowly lower yourself down until your thighs are almost parallel to the floor. Make sure your knees don't go beyond your toes. Hold briefly, then slowly stand up. Repeat 12 times, twice a day.

And one strictly for the girls: 
Power kegels
These pelvic floor exercises are good for every female runner wanting to regain full bladder control post-preganncy (not always as straightforward as one might think). You can perform them sitting, lying or standing (but not while you're urinating, as this may cause an infection). Draw up and lighten the muscles around the anal sphincter; then hold. Slowly tighten the muscles around the urinary sphincter as well and lift up through the vagina (as though you were ascending in a lift). Hold for a count of 6, release with control, then repeat - beginning with 4 sets of 4 reps and working up to 4 sets of 6 reps.

Fitness in pregnancy - Part 1

I have been thinking quite a lot about the past few months and how fast really they have whisked by. It is something that surprises me. I would say that I had higher expectations from myself during all this time, especially in terms of keeping fit and active and in shape. I don't want to beat up myself here at all, but somehow the whole experience ended up being a bit different than I expected.
I had my running pregnancy books picked out, ready and waiting for me, namely Runner's World Guide to Running and Pregnancy, and Exercising through your pregnancy (a much-welcome gift from fellow sports activist and partner-in-crime Christina, currently at the beginning of this wonderful journey into pregnancy herself).
And I did keep running at the beginning of it all, even if it meant doing the Oxford Town & Gown 10K on Sunday 15th May (a week after that Stratford marathon that was never meant to be) in about 55min (and that included speeding up in the end, simply because I could not take the cautious running any more).

That was early on in the pregnancy.
But after that I never appeared to any of the Motavation race series around Oxfordshire that I had signed up for. I did keep up running, mostly half hour runs around Oxford University Parks, and I did do some of the easier HRR Thursday club runs.
But I was not enjoying it much. I was constantly aware of my body temperature changing, the niggles and pains around my growing bump, and worried about how the fetus was taking the bumping around.
Maybe I worried too much. Perhaps I did. But when it is the first time you are experiencing a pregnancy, you are perhaps a bit more cautious than the next time (s) round? I am not sure.

Given that an elevated body temperature (102.5 F or 39.2 C or higher) can damage the fetus and increase the risk of birth defects of the brain and spine, I was always conscious and sceptical. And then, the anemia kicked in and I saw my hemoglobin levels so low for the first time ever (9 gm/dl!!) that I was actually scared.
Just a few days before our wedding, in early July, I ran for the last time, 30 min on grass around the cricket fields near our house. I remember it as if it was yesterday.
On top of everything else, the side stiches were so intense and uncomfortable that I had to stop and walk a few times.
It was the last straw, more or less. I was five months pregnant and I had had enough.

Walking, swimming and cycling have been my staple fitness diet since then. I am so envious when I see other runners, being able to gliss through the streets of Oxford, some more gracefully than others.
I already know that my post-pregnancy present to myself is going to a brand new pair of running shoes - and I can't wait!
It will be interesting to see how I recover from the C-section (with baby being breech, at the moment this is the way to go) and see how I feel when I start running again. The when, I am keeping pretty much open as well. We will see how things go.

First things first. Boy must arrive, healthy and happy. Then everything else will follow. Including the running, that has set my mind free for so many years and hopefully will continue to do so for many more years to come!

Sunday, 4 December 2011

The circle of life

Yesterday morning my mother called me from Athens with the news that her father had passed away peacefully in his sleep during the night. He was a dog's hair away from living to 100, well taken care of and had a full life, spanning two wars, a civil conflict in Greece, exile - and even lived to see three great great grand children.

For the family, this has been a testing time, what with my beloved (and way younger) aunt also passing away just a few days after my wedding. This hurts so much that I can't really write about it still. It was a wake up call in the middle of bliss for me (being on our honeymoon when I heard the news).
Bad news that were even harder to digest when the person in question is a strong, sturdy, active woman, full of energy and determination. With everything happening so suddenly, there was no time to say goodbye.
The essence is that death, a vital component in the circle of life, has banged hard and loud on our family's door twice over the past few months. Which makes me think even harder about the power of giving life that will soon manifest itself in front of that same door.
As my mother said yesterday, "Others come and others go".
A reality harsh, unstoppable and unrelenting. With the baby on the way offering perhaps only some comfort after saying final goodbyes to beloved relatives who have been stable rocks of your life since its very beginnings.

My grandfather, as well as my paternal grandmother, who also lived to nearly a full century, were strong-willed people with a clear determination to live. They were always, even in their old age, interested in the lives of others. They wanted to know about you and what you were up to, and what the neighbour was up to as well. This genuine interest was what kept them going, as well as the constant recounting of memories of the past. Stories of war, of growing up amid wealth or poverty, of old family scandals and wasted fortunes, of political coups that shook Greece - they were all bound to come up in conversation, provided you had the patience and time to listen.
Sometimes I wish I had more time and patience to listen, and maybe even perhaps a tape recorder on me. You seldom realize at the time that when they go, they take with them all memories of past times and a sense of continuity that has influenced who you are as well.
They did have a strong sense of self, both my almost centuagenarian ancestors. Perhaps this is what lay behind their own commitment to daily routines and things they liked to do, no matter how frail or vulnerable they were getting to be. My grandfather insisted on shaving even when he was falling asleep in front of the mirror (and dropping his razor on him, at his danger), while one of my fondest memories of my paternal grandmother is eating her mid-day salty snack (olives, feta cheese, tomato) or fruit, in her own individual style (leaving out the hard bits that she couldn't digest).
My grandfather had his fair share of ouzo every day, and there was no way you could talk him out of it. It was his way of celebrating life, I guess.
They were tough cookies, not always easy to be around for others, but they were both innately experts at fending off for themselves in the face of time and adversity. How many of us will be able to claim the same? Only time will tell.

For my mother, these have been a challenging few months. Going from a wedding to a funeral and from another funeral to the birth of her first grandchild has a sense of inevitability ingrained in it that I can only begin to grasp.
Yet, there will be reasons to rejoice in this family soon, while also remembering those who will not be here with us to rejoice. The circle of life triumphant once more.
In a way, there is much consolation in the creation of life, I am thinking as I feel the baby's movements inside of me, as I sense his eagerness to get out in the world. At least enough to keep you going.


Thursday, 1 December 2011

Photo project I

My photography has been a bit rusty lately, a bit out of focus, I would say. No specific reason why, except that I have had so many things on my mind (not only pregnancy-, but also photography-related, including buying a new camera, which is probably a bit too late now for a pre-baby purchase).
But my beloved photography class has already had three meetings this season, we now have an ongoing project well ...going (which means I'd better start carrying my good camera with me again to places!), and I have just completed the first assignment after a long long time!
The theme was along the lines of a 'Costa coffee mug shot', trying to recreate the soft blurring and differential focusing of a Costa coffee (or Waitrose) food photo shoot.
I just love homework that you get to relish aftewards, that Christmas orange tart was sooooo delicious (πάστα φλώρα, for my Greek friends!) - definitely an added incentive to getting the job done!
I used my relatively new macro lens for these few shots, I love that close-up effect, though I still haven't gotten the hang of it and am finding it really tricky to focus sometimes (very stubborn lens that one is!).
But when it works, like in that fourth photo of the tart close-up details, I just love it!
So here are just a few samples from that sunny morning out at the Cowley Road Costa Coffee shop. Hope you like them!

This one and the next as an example of differential focusing, #1 on the mug, #2 clearly on the Xmas treat!

This is what a macro lens can do for you, i.e. make you wanna take a dive into Xmas heaven!

Monday, 28 November 2011

Music for a hospital bag

So, the time has come to pack my hospital bag.

Soon I will be heading to the JR, for the scheduled c-section, since baby is breech and that is what must be done now.

I have been putting things into my marathon running bag, which I have decided to take with me. After all, this is going to be a marathon - of another kind.
I know how to do this, I have prepared marathon bags in the past, this sort of emergency, hair-raising situation is something that I am familiar with and can relate to. I have also packed my first ever marathon finisher T-shirt, it is big and roomy, exactly what I will need for those days of staying in bed at the hospital. Perfect reminder to Never Give Up, necessary for the days ahead.
Then of course all the essentials as specified by the countless books and websites, each one with its own set of packing essentials.
The most interesting I have come up so far has been ice cubes in a cool box to cool yourself and absorb fluids during those long times of labor (OK so this will not apply in my case, but a most excellent suggestion courtesy of Virgil, my NCT antenatal class instructor). The most delicious tip on offer was the packing of smoothie drinks, delicious nourishment which always reminds me of baby food for grownups!

My bag will certainly include my favorite tunes of the moment, and I do hope at least a few can be played in the hours of waiting and the aftermath, hopefully even in the operating room!
I was pleased to find out that there are cd players in the delivery rooms of the JR, so I am not only taking along my updated MP3 player but also some of my most recent favorite Cds. I have been taking a closer look at them, and my goodness it doesnt sound like hospital music. Or does it?

OK, so here we go:

-Blink 182 - Greatest Hits.
Colin brought this one home one from HMV the other week and it got me jumping up and down in our living room within seconds (poor baby!). Released in 2005, it contains such great tunes as All the Small Things, Man Overboard and The Rock Show (that video also always makes me smile!). I just love the energy of these punk delinquents!

- The Vaccines - What did you expect from the Vaccines?
Expectations were high for the Vaccines' live gig here in Oxford at the O2 yesterday evening and apart from the disgraceful sound, they did not dissapoint! They are one of my newest favorite bands, just because some songs remind me of a more contemporary version of the Ramones, while others are more Brit pop sounding (and Family friend reminds me soooo much of the some low-key Jesus and Mary Chain). But all of them make me wanna boogie! I couldn't help doing a bit of dancing to their songs yesterday (OK I am 37 weeks, I know!). Not sure if the baby liked it though, he was eerily quiet (and woke up right at the end of the gig, as we were walking to the car, how strange is that!).

- Kasabian - Velociraptor!
I still can't pronounce the name of this album but when I heard it for the first time, I immediately had the feeling of bumping into an old friend. Something familiar but new, it was to me. I don't remember when was the last time I felt that for an album, what a gem this one is! Kasabian's 4th, released in mid September, and what I like so much about is its meta sound. It is like bringing together all theads of modern Brit pop and marrying it with a feeling of angst so appropriate to our times. It makes me wanna shout out loud "Hit me harder, I am getting rewired!". And don't let me get started on the haunting qualities of the chorus singing in Days are Forgotten, so mind-piercing!

-Ash - Free all angels.
I got this recently from the Poundland shop in Oxford, where everything costs, you guessed it, 1 pound! It is a second-hand copy, but I am relieved to say it works brilliantly. The name of the group reminded me something but I couldn't place them exactly, and then I listened to the album and I know at least half of the tunes in there! For the past couple of days, I have woken up with one of the songs stuck to my brain, so they have definitely affected me on a deeper level. The wake-up calls in question by the way were Sometimes, Shining light and Burn baby burn (the latter one appropriate for the occasion?).

- Dido - Life for rent.
This is one of my favorite albums ever for its comforting, like a nice home made warm soup, aura. I walked down the aisle in a Dido song last summer (Thank you, from the No Angels album). The entire Life for rent album fills me with nostalgia, warmth and a sense of going back home where I belong, wherever that is.

- Rhapsody in Blue -  Gershwin.
One of those 20th century classics that we all know more or less, but how many of many have ever really carefully listened to the whole piece lasting approximately 18 min (depending on the performer). For the past few months I had been listening to Gulliver Ralston, the music director at the University Church of St Mary the Virgin in Oxford, rehearsing parts of the solo piano version of this piece - over and over again. I took notice for the 'less well known' parts of the composition and realised how complex and difficult they are even for the more seasoned pianist. On Sunday, I also listened to Viv McLean's performance of the solo piano version in the Holywell Music Room, the oldest purpose-built chamber concert hall in Europe, a simple and beautiful space. The second half of his performance especially was brilliant. My fascination with Rhapsody in Blue continues, and I don't seem to get tired of listening to it. The cd that I will bring along features the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra with Leonard Bernstein, perhaps a more traditional approach to the performance of this piece.

So I guess that I am all packed now. Well, let's not forget the toothbrush!


Monday, 14 November 2011

Counting down days

There was never going to be an easy way to write about finding out I was pregnant and what this whole experience has been like for me. Even now, as we are nearing the closure of this phase and getting ready for the next one, the most challenging one for sure, it is still difficult for me to recapitulate. 

Just a few days before posting my Delphi photos, and as I was getting ready to run the Stratford marathon on the 8th of May 2011, I had the pregnancy test that confirmed what I had been half-suspecting since spending Easter in Athens. 
I had even told my mother, half-jokingly to be fair, that I was under the impression my period was a bit late and what did that mean, did it mean the obvious!
As a runner, the only reason I would keep a note of dates and days was so I could be aware if I would be running a race when I have my period. I absolutely hate running a marathon on one of those days as it gives me awful cramps and forces me to make pit stops. 
So I ended up having to remember when was the last race, and if I had my period then, and how long before, and after... Complicated stuff... And still i have no clear idea. Girls, just jot down your dates, please!

I more or less knew that it would not have to be that way in Stratford. But the race was coming closer and closer and still no sign of my period. Little did I know that I would be free of that worry for good for the next few months! 
The last (out of a total of three- just had to make sure!) pregnancy test that I took on the Saturday evening before the race, was again positive, as I said already! My goodness, by then, all concern about the race had seriously dwindled! This was the real deal! 
And anyway, do you run a race - a marathon or half-marathon, at that - one day after having found out that yes, you are definitely pregnant (and five weeks into it according to the digi kit!)? 
I guess if I had trained properly for it rather than rely on my previous fitness, which at that point was not in a bad place though, I might have faced more of a dilemma. 
But as it were, I wasn't. 
I was feeling ecstatic and overwhelmed - and completely lacking focus on the Stratford race, which was never meant to be. 

Fast forward six months later. What a whirlwind few months these have been. A pregnancy, a wedding, a honeymoon, quite a bit of work, a bump that has been stubbornly getting bigger and bigger, a few fears and many joys. And a boy that will be arriving soon. Not too long to go now! 

And no running since July. Do I miss it or do I miss it? What do you think?! Luckily, the counting down the days to motherhood, and then eventually to my return to action, has already begun!

A couple of weeks ago, Colin took this photo of me, my bump and my smiling Mum in the background. 

Thursday, 12 May 2011

Visiting Delphi

While back in Greece for Easter, we were meant to go to the pretty Cycladic island of Andros to get our first rays of summer. But the weather was really bad that week - it was pouring with rain and cold and so we opted for the mountain instead. Colin had never been to Delphi and so that was it!
We stayed in a hotel closer to Kellaria, the Parnassos ski resort, and as soon as we got there the hotel owner said to us: "Are you here for the skiing?"! Turned out the ski resort was open, with fresh snow and about to host some races that weekend! Talk about summer approaching! Pity we did not have our ski gear with us, but just being there reminded me how much I love mountains!

Visiting Delphi, the archaeological site and museum, was a revelation to me. I think I hadn't been since primary school and it was not at all as I remembered. The new museum is great - small, compact and informative. We toured all of the site, it took us nearly three hours, maybe even more. All the temples, the stadium, the gymnasium, the theatre - you name it. Maybe it was the spring, the wild flowers, the threatening cloud touching the slope, maybe the special aura of Delphi as a place of oracles and future telling - it was a unique experience.
Driving down to the village from our hotel, I remembered running on those curvy and uphill roads last time we were here with my friend Angel to do a review of local hotels for U.S. travel guide Fodor's. Running in a place makes it really come alive to the mind of a runner - I could even remember how exhausted I was after doing a set of uphill strides! And  having been here with my friend, who is now living on the other side of the Atlantic, -seeing the hotels we visited and the tavernas we ate in - made me feel so much closer to her.

I took some pictures from those few days, including some at the Osios Loukas monastery nearby (we had also edited that sub-chapter for Fodor's, but I had never been!). So here they are.

Monday, 9 May 2011

The travelling bug - Belgium

So we are now home in Oxford after spending 11 days on the road, in England, France, Belgium, Greece and back. I love the holidays!
We wanted to take our dog back home to Athens, so driving to Brussels (including crossing the Channel and spending a couple of nights in Belgium) was the most economical way to go about it. I always love this travelling option - 3rd time we've done it so far - there is something about small Flemish towns that I find particularly enticing.
This time we discovered Ypres, where we stopped to have a look at the First World War monuments like the Menin Gate and cemetaries - truly haunting. Perhaps more than I was prepared to absorb in such a short visit. In Ypres the Germans used poison gas for the first time, and the cost of lives was tremendous - it is estimated that in the surrounding fields close to one million soldiers from all sides lost their lives. The numbers are mindbogling and should always remain deeply engraved in collective memory.

Our next stop
Courtrai is a modern town close by, which seems to offer its inhabitants an incomparable quality of life. There was a fair that had spread all over the town when we arrived so we spent our evening going around and acting like children, tasting mussels and Belgian beer.
I was lucky to be able to run along the river Leie for about an hour and a half the morning after, and I couldn't help making the comparison with similar-sized (ie smallish) Greek towns, which seems overburdened by cement and half-finished newly-builts of dubious taste. Running on the cycle path, where dozens of cyclists and a few runners were bravely venturing out despite the premature heatwave, I had a sense of peace and a desire to move further along and discover what else is there. But there was a flight to catch so I had to turn around and join Colin and Lisa at the hotel, even though I managed to get lost on the way and run half an hour more than I originally planned! 

Flying out
Although Ypres was virtually rebuilt after the First World War with funds from Germany's war reparations (this is one of the periods of world history that I am now eager to explore more), and Courtrai's medieval architecture remains intact, they both looked rather new and remarkably well preserved to me. From the magnificent Cloth Hall in Ypres to the Broel Towers in Courtrai, this was one more short trip where I enjoyed immensely discovering sights in Belgium!
Needless to say, we will be back!

Friday, 18 March 2011

A message from Mara Yamauchi

Mara Yamauchi is not only one of the best British marathon runners (with a London Marathon victory under her belt) but the most distinguished alumna of the running club I have joined here in Oxford, the Headington Road Runners. She lives in Japan now, as she is married to Japanese national Shigetoshi Yamauchi. 
Last night she sent us in the HRR mailbox a message from Japan and for Japan, which I would like to reproduce here in its entirety. 

Dear Fellow Runners,

I’m sure you’ve been as horrified as I have about the scale of destruction and devastation going on in Japan following the earthquake and tsunami. Every day we see seemingly endless suffering and grief, but also incredible dignity and strength in the way the Japanese people are battling through this tragedy.

Here’s your chance to do something about it! You can dedicate one of your runs to helping Japan and donate the number of miles you run in pounds (or other currency) to the Red Cross Tsunami Appeal. You can do all this at:, a new fund-raising website set up by my friend, Martin Yelling, which I am supporting. And please let your fellow runners know, so we can raise a lot and support the disaster relief and reconstruction effort in Japan. I am currently injured so I’ve walked for Japan instead of running! So anyone out there who can’t or won’t run, please walk instead J!!

Best wishes & happy running!

I think this is a brilliant idea to help Japan in the way that we runners know best and love -running! I am going on my Run for Japan today! And I hope you do, too.

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Oxfam, Running and Japan

Wow. Sorry to start with an exclamation. But I can't believe it's been more than two months since I last wrote anything in my blog.

What happened is that I started working for the Oxfam Running Team, supporting runners who are running and fundraising for Oxfam. Supporting is a broad term and my work there is varied and ranges from writing weekly email newsletters to counting (!) and sending off running vests - and everything else in between.

I am totally new to the world of fundraising, even more so to fundraising through running, which is still sort of unheard of back in Greece. It can be stressful and requires a lot of hard work and resilience, but at the same time it is highly rewarding.

Because you know, at least in Oxfam, that for every 1 pound raised, 81 p goes to emergency, campaigning and development work (out of the rest, 11 p goes to running costs and 8 p used to generate future income).

And you know that the field workers out there rely on you to do all their good work, so you also have to give it all your best.

As you can tell, I am tremendously enjoying it and especially getting in touch with our Oxfam runners and seeing what is in their mind as they are counting down towards their races. They are doing amazing in their fundraising effort - coming up with creative ways to raise money and inspire friends, family, coworkers and even strangers, to sponsor them. Their resourcefulness never ceases to surprise me. Well done, you!

P.S. And as my mind is constantly in Japan's woes at the moment, Oxfam has also set up a Japan relief fund (see Oxfam Japan aid). In these times of crisis, a small donation is the least I can do to help.

Sunday, 2 January 2011

This is the time for resolutions

Yes, 2011 is finally upon us. 
Another year of hopes, goals, experiences. For me, I think this is going to be a year of consolidation and venturing further into my new life with more self-confidence, after the life-changing decisions of 2010. Moving to Oxford to set up home with Colin was certainly one of the most challenging things I have ever done and I am so much happier and wiser for doing so! 

So this is the right time to set new goals, after a maturing and more responsible 2010, and in many ways a transitional one, as my adjustment to Oxford life is still a work in progress! 

This are some of the goals I would like to dedicate my energy to in the, well by now 364, days to come! 

1. Staying healthy - fighting off colds and other mishaps and being pro active in doing so. This means regular doctor checkups and visits to the dentist etc., taking vitamin supplements and recovery drinks after exercise, and establishing a pattern of healthy eating. Yesterday in my First Day of the Year run I remembered a few years ago when an asthma outbreak held me from running for about three months. Now that that is under control, I still remember  how helpless any sort of health issue can make you feel, stopping you from enjoying the things that you love including running. I have no excuse to not do my proactive rather than reactive best in keeping me healthy and strong.

2. I was looking at myself in some photos recently and realised that I must have put on a few pounds since coming to England. Must be the change in diet (bacon and egg sandwiches anyone?) and 'married' life! Since I am in charge of the cooking in this household, and as it turns out cooking is actually something I enjoy, a healthier, lighter diet is up to me really. I wouldn't mind shedding a few (not a lot, about six would do!) pounds by the end of the year. OK so how about today's menu? I am thinking Spachettini with Checca Sauce. Yummy!

3. I am concerned about how as we get older we lose muscle mass. An average of 5 percent of our muscle mass every 10 years after the age of 35 if we don't do anything about it (for more info about how this happens, see here: Key found to muscle loss as we age ). This is against my plans to become a lean and mean machine by the end of the year! I intend to start doing at least two (that's a minimum of two!) fitness sessions a week, to complement my running. Running alone isn't enough. I need to get fitter and stronger (ie gain in muscle mass over the next year instead of lose out on muscle mass). One of my trusted resources to achieve this goal will be the 2011 Kick Start Workout Guide by the American Council of Exercise, a 12-week fitness program designed to build total body strength, enhance cardiovascular endurance, gain muscular definition, lose weight, improve health and increase energy (for the link to the exercise set, see: 2011 Kick Start Guide). 

4. The other day I realised that something good has come out of my recent marathon misfortunes. I have been now training continuously and without any sign of fatigue for the past ten months (I do still consider the Athens marathon a long run rather than a competitive race for me)! I want to stay injury-free to continue training uninterrupted and I am positive that this will help me very much in my next marathon. I can see the positive results every time I head out of the door to run as I can now easily do 70 minutes of running at a brisk pace as a regular, everyday thing. My aerobic base is good, and I need to continue doing this sort of runs for just a tiny bit longer, until I am ready to commit to a marathon schedule again. That will happen when I decide where to run my spring marathon - hopefully very shortly!

5. I plead to stay happy and appreciate every moment and every experience that comes along in my life! Happiness is a state of mind that most of us can train ourselves into. Control and even stop those negative thoughts and look at the positive things that we all have in our lives. Nothing is perfect but then nothing is meant to be perfect. I am not perfect. All I can do is fight with all the means that I have at my disposal for all the things I care for. As hard as I can. And knowing when to let go. But that is another story! 
Have a happy 2011, everyone! I want to hear all about your New Year resolutions! 

Me and Colin celebrating the arrival of 2011 at the Honey Pot in Oxford.

Partying was a Star Wars affair.