A Runner’s Sunscreen Routine

Recently an article in the Daily Mail about our sunscreen habits caught my eye. The guidelines used coins to illustrate the sizes of the blobs we ought to be applying on different areas of our body and the implication was that many of us are just not using enough. The recommendation was certainly more than I’d been applying. It got me thinking that although I live in a hot, sunny climate and I’m vigilant about slapping sunscreen on every day, I didn’t know a great deal about it aside from always choosing a high SPF factor.

I wanted to know more.

UVA and UVB rays

UVA rays are associated with skin ageing leading to wrinkles, leathery skin and those ugly brown sun spots I’d noticed appearing on my legs.

UVB rays = sunburn. The sun protection factor (SPF) on a bottle of sunscreen measures the amount of protection we’ll receive from the sun’s UVB rays.

The SPF number correlates to how long you can stay in the sun without burning. So in theory, when wearing an SPF 30, you can stay outside for 30 times longer than if you were unprotected.

Both UVA and UVB rays can cause skin cancer.

One thing I hadn’t realised was the importance of checking a product for its level of UVA protection too. I use Nivea sun products and on the back of the bottle there’s a UVA star rating.

Four or five stars will give good protection from UVA rays. The little open lid container next to the UVA stars tells me I can use my sunscreen for 12 months from the date of opening.

It’s important to choose a high SPF as well as a high UVA protection with most experts suggesting that a sunscreen with an SPF of 30 and a UVA rating of 4 or 5 stars offers a good standard of sun protection.

As already mentioned, Nivea is my sunscreen of choice as I have never suffered sunburn whilst using it and nether did any of my children when they were growing up (and my son had fair skin and white blonde hair). Also, I find it doesn’t cause intense stinging if it drips into my eyes (which it definitely can do when I’m out on a run).

Here’s my sunscreen routine:

Pre-running, I apply sunscreen the same way each time. I tie my hair off my face and neck and then first I apply the product all over my face (not forgetting my ears), continuing over my entire neck and right down over my chest area. I use a high factor sunstick to cover my lips.

I then squeeze some cream on my right hand and apply it to my left shoulder, reaching as far across the area at the back of my neck and upper back as I can. I repeat on the other side, making sure I meet in the middle. I apply the cream to my arms, making sure I cover the backs of my hands (a friend urged me to do this a few years ago – our hands are one of the first areas to show those tell tale signs of ageing!)

Then it’s on to the legs. I then pull on my running gear and head back to my mirror. As my skin is now gleaming with cream, it’s quite obvious if there are any exposed areas that I’ve missed.

I live in a very sunny Mediterranean climate, so quite soon after I set off running I’m sweating buckets and I know that this will reduce the protective factor of my sunscreen so I’ll need to reapply. I used to squeeze a little sunscreen into a tiny plastic container and take it with me so I was thrilled to find that Nivea was now making its own mini versions.

It slots perfectly into my Flipbelt with my keys, money and phone.

Happy Days!

Daily Mail: How much sun cream do you REALLY need? It’s almost certainly more than you thought…as this clever ‘coin formula’ reveals.

Sunshine Struggles

I didn’t run as many times as I’d hoped on my recent trip to the US. Mainly down to my poor organisation but there was a wonderful reason not to run – spending every precious minute with my toddler grandson Harrison and his new baby brother Alfie who was born while I was there.

Descending the aeroplane steps back in Cyprus I was met with a wall of heat so I suspected that I might struggle on my first run…and I did.

All morning a thunderstorm had been crashing around the island so I laid out my running gear on the bed (ever hopeful) and when the blue skies began to peek through again I got changed and set off down to the coast. You’d think the cliffside paths would be slippery and muddy but here in Cyprus everything dries up incredibly quickly. By the time I emerged from my car only 10 minutes later the sun was already beating down. I ran at just above walking speed, my pace in double figures. Ten minutes in and my bra was digging in everywhere, my top was stuck to my back and, being out of the habit of hot weather running, I’d smeared sunscreen over my forehead that morning. (Normally I rely on my the peak of my cap to shade my forehead). The cream was now racing down to attack my eyes. My chest was heaving; I just couldn’t seem to get enough air in.

BUT.

Every cloud has a silver lining they say and as I gave up and sought shade under a lemon tree I spied a perfect, ripe peach on a nearby tree. Is there anything nicer than a sun-warmed peach?

I guzzled half on the spot and saved the rest to make this salad.

It’s packed with any fruit I could find in the fridge-strawberries, cherries, oranges, kiwi all mixed up with rocket and coriander and dressed in fresh lemon juice and olive oil. Topped with mixed nuts and my fave squeaky Cypriot Halloumi cheese.  And taking pride of place on the top=juicy slices of that fresh peach. Sigh.

Packing Cube Convert

Towards the end of April I set off for a 6 week trip to the US. I knew I was going to be in and out of hotels almost daily for the first 2 weeks so I decided to try packing cubes. To be honest, I’d never even heard of them before they popped up on Amazon when I was searching through travel items. They were billed as ‘the ultimate suitcase organiser’. Suddenly, I needed them.

As I was to be travelling through several states, the weather would be really varied too so I had quite a bit to pack. My running stuff was going with me too, not least because when I reached Utah I was determined to emulate Forrest Gump’s epic run! (Photo at bottom of this post :-))

I bought these PRO Packing Cubes:*

First impressions were that they were super lightweight, seemed durable and the zips glided easily (pet peeve is sticky zips!) There is a mesh panel which I initially thought would be useful for checking contents but you can’t really tell what’s in there by peering through that.

I followed advice from several Amazon reviewers who suggested using the different colours of the cubes to identify contents; so, jumpers in the red cube, underwear in the yellow cube and so on. This turned out to be a great idea as after a couple of nightstops, I soon remembered what items were in which colour cube and could put my hands on what I needed super quickly.

I used one cube to pack all my chargers and leads and another for toiletries.

Here’s my case just before I zipped it up to head off to Heathrow:

I thought the cubes were brilliant. I’d check into a hotel, flip open my case and just grab the handles and lift them out.

And more importantly, I could get hold of my entire running kit in seconds, before my ‘maybe I’ll give the run a miss tonight’ mindset had a chance to kick in. Pre-cube days, I’d be travel weary and rifling through my case making a huge mess trying to find my shorts, my socks, my Garmin and everything else. It’s easy (for me, anyway) to be tempted to give in when I’m tired, thirsty and faced with a run in a unknown place.

I ended up giving over 2 entire cubes for my kit but it was definitely worth it for motivational reasons.

I used one cube in my carry on baggage for glasses, kindle, medication and all those things I’d need on the flight. The manufacturer suggests using a packed cube as a pillow on an overnight flight … maybe next time!

And finally … couldn’t resist a bit of Forrest Gumping! Pulled my running gear out of the car, wriggled into it and just set off like a looney. Felt a total muppet but passing cars seem to be used to it 

* this is an affiliate link. At no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.

How Dumb Can You Get?

I did a really dumb thing the other day.

I went running in a dust storm. You won’t believe me but I honestly didn’t think it through. From my house on the mountainside I could see a heavy layer of what I assumed was a heavy mist cloaking the mountainside.  The sea had completely disappeared.

I laced up my trainers, headed down to the coast and ran hard (for me), drawing in huge lungfuls of air and – I have to say – a little surprised by how difficult it all felt. The dust cloud wasn’t visible down at sea level.

It was only when I got back and saw the news that I had the first few misgivings about my run.

I also had a message from my daughter: “Best not run today, mum.”

Several days passed, the cloud lifted and I forgot all about it, squeezing in two more coastal runs in that time. Then one night I woke with the shivers and a thumping headache. My chest was tight and wheezy. I didn’t have a sore throat or any signs of a runny nose. This was different from my usual cold.

Two days on when nothing had improved and I paid a visit to the doctor who expressed alarm at my chest congestion and wheeziness. I told her about my run at the height of the dust storm and I was promptly led to a chair in the nearby pharmacy, a mask popped over my mouth and nose and I inhaled from a nebuliser in an attempt to open up my airways. Customers came and went and peered around the counter, curious at the little clouds of vapour rising up in the corner of the store.

And so, due to my own carelessness, I’m forced to quit my running again (and any exercise, come to that) for a period. I’m so cross with myself.

I’ve now downloaded the ‘Cyprus Air quality’ app and once I get back on my feet again I’ll make sure I check it regularly. Air quality is usually very good in Cyprus but when those dust storms blow in from Africa, it’s a different matter.

So, it’s feet up for a few days. I’m sure I can find some gear I need on Amazon 😉

The Best Fitness Advice I’ve Ever Had

This post was inspired by my Facebook page; I was reading through the comments and noticed some tell-tale signs of doubt creeping in…

‘I’ve just started running, lovin’ it and hope I can continue’

‘Running is just amazing-if only I can motivate myself to keep it going’

Many people want to get into running, but for whatever reason they can never string enough successes together to gain any momentum. And it’s easy to see why. When you’re lumbering along the road with leaden legs and heaving lungs and generally having a difficult time, you’re bound to question yourself, ‘Why on earth am I doing this?’

And it’s very, very easy to let things slide.

Or maybe you’re a serial slider?

‘I’ve tried so many times, BUT…’

‘I know I need to get out of the door, but I just can’t find the time…’

‘I start off bursting with enthusiasm… this time I’ll crack it …but I just can’t seem to keep motivated’

‘I can’t seem to keep it going. I manage to run for 2-3 weeks but it doesn’t seem to get any easier, so I stop…’

If any of this sounds familiar, then stay with me.

What would you say is the first thing you should do when starting a running plan? Buy some trainers? Get the gear? Set your goals? Carve out some time?

It’s none of that.

Four years ago when I was 52, a guy on a train said 3 little words which changed my life.

I was a wannabe runner back then, dipping in and out all month long. On Monday I’d drag myself out for a 20 minute run and come back glowing and fired with enthusiasm.

‘I love this! It’s brilliant. I’ll go again tomorrow…no, not tomorrow that’s overdoing it. I’ll go on Wednesday.

And – quite often – I would go again on Wednesday. Whether I was still on a roll by Friday was another matter.

My train buddy said, ‘If you really want to run regularly, you have some work to do first. You have to Find Your Why.’

The reason you go running – your WHY – is the single most crucial aspect of your running plan.

It’s what will get you out of bed for that early morning gym session, what makes you stick to your healthy eating plan and what sees you disappearing out of the door for your 40 minute run when it’s cold, wet and windy.

If your WHY isn’t compelling enough, it’s more than likely that you’ll stick to your resolve for two, three maybe even four weeks at a stretch and then life will get right in the way and you will gradually come to a stop. We’ve all done it.

Your WHY will keep you going on all those days you’re on the verge of giving up.

Here’s how it works.

Basically, when you decide on a running plan you’re aiming to form a new habit. Habits are routine behaviours you do on a regular basis and you need to repeat them frequently and for long enough in order to make them stick. This is where we often come unstuck. We don’t run often enough or for enough weeks to let our brains know this is something to take notice of.

The habit: I want to start a running programme.

First, you have to discover the reason why. Why do you want to start running? Why does it matter?

This is really important. Not the superficial ‘because I want to get fit’ or ‘because I want to lose weight’ but the real, digging deep reason why.

Your ability to stick to your guns and change your habits comes from deep inside. Once you’ve uncovered it, you’ll realise that your WHY fulfils a basic human need of some sort; to be admired, accepted, valued, loved, free. Things like that. All, ultimately, a desire to be happy.

Your WHY is powerful, because it is strongly linked to your emotions.

Now, take a sheet of paper and at the top, write down the habit you’d like to start.

For example: I want to be a runner.

Then keep writing ‘why’ and answer that question.

Why?

‘So many people seem to be getting into it and I fancy having a go.’

Why?

‘I want to meet more people.’

Why?

‘Well, life is pretty lonely and I’m desperate to make friends.’

The WHY here is the desire to make friends.

Discovering your WHY and constantly reminding yourself of it, will help you to doggedly stick to your plan through the inevitable tough times.

Let’s look at another really common one; changing unhealthy eating habits.

‘If only I could lose a couple of stones,’ my friend Sue often wails. ‘But I can’t seem to stick to a plan for long.’

I asked Sue…’Why do you want to lose weight?’

She looked at me as though I was mad.

‘Why? Well obviously because I want to be slimmer!’

‘Yes, but why do you want to be slimmer? Just go along with me on this!’

‘I want to look nice in clothes.’

‘Why’s that?’

‘Well… I guess to be more attractive… Yes. To be more attractive.’

‘Why?’

She hesitated and gave it some thought before replying: ‘So I can feel more confident and meet someone.’

That is Sue’s WHY. I want to meet someone special… Ah ha! A WHY moment…

You too may have a goal of losing weight but what is the real motivation behind that? Look past the obvious, drill down and keep asking: ‘so what else will I get from this?’ until you can go no further. That is your WHY. Make sure you don’t forget it; write it down on post it notes and plaster them all over your house, your desk, your fridge.

Everyone has their own WHY. There is no wrong WHY, it just needs to have significant meaning to you.

You can’t take somebody else’s WHY and make it yours.  If your family, friends or doctor think something should be important to you, that’s their WHY, not yours.

Once you dig deep and uncover your WHY it will fire you up and drive you.

You will find it easier to stick to your fitness plan.

Finding my WHY is one of the best things I’ve ever done for my health.

WHY did I want to run?

I had decided to take up running because my doctor recommended it to help hold back osteoporosis. After leaving the surgery I’d done some googling and learned that the current average life expectancy of a woman in the UK was around 81 years. With the average age of menopause being 51, that left a hell of a lot of years to enjoy. And I wanted to enjoy them in the best health I could.

I dug deeper.

Why, exactly did I want to run?

I wanted to run to keep as fit as I could as the menopause set in. I wanted to stave off osteoporosis… to stop me breaking bones later on… to stop me from falling over. I was frightened.

It was fear driving me. Fear of illness. Fear of the unknown. I wanted to run away from middle age.

For me, fear is a powerful motivator.

But there was something more that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. Another reason lurking behind my newfound desire to run.

It was days before it came to the surface. I’d been reading up on races. I found the very idea of entering a 5 or 10K somewhere down the line very exciting. It gave me a thrill. It made me want to lace up my trainers and head out the door right away. Motivated! Bingo! Now all I had to work out was why I found the idea so motivating and I could use that as a great, big carrot.

For some reason I’d overlooked the obvious; that race results are split into age groups. Though I was astonished to discover that a veteran runner is ‘anyone over 35’ I decided to latch on to the happy fact that I could feasibly finish near the back of the pack yet still be well placed in my age group. I could never outrace a twenty, thirty or even forty year old but I was still in with a chance amongst my peers, with oldies like me. There would be bling. I was hooked. I wanted to win and I wanted medals. Glory.

I was ashamed. What a lightweight; so shallow. But there it is.

My WHYs…

Fear and Frippery.

I can’t do this running thing

I’ve just run the hardest race and it was only a village fun run – all 6K of it. After my disappointing performance last week I entered this little run thinking that things could only get better. They didn’t. I know I’ve only just got back on my feet after injury but why am I struggling so much? Nothing feels right; my legs, breathing – I’m simply flagging right from the start. Yes, there were hills in this one (this is Cyprus) but they weren’t that steep. Why was I so exhausted?

Waiting for the kid’s races to be over I felt fine. Well, fine by my standards; my stomach fluttered with nerves and I made two trips to find the ladies but that’s me every time.

The race turned out to be one of those there and back things so there were the usual bunch of fine young men who streaked off up the hill and were on their way back before I’d even reached halfway. All well and good and high five to them.

We ran past the village church then down…and down which meant there had to be an up somewhere along the line. And as I said, it wasn’t super steep. I was one of the last to start and that’s pretty much where I stayed. I hadn’t a hope in hell of overtaking anyone. Even the old black-garbed Cypriot ladies making their way home from the village were keeping up with me.

I can’t do this running thing

It’s just not getting any easier

I was shattered when I crossed the line:

I’m going to hole myself away now and work this out. Distanced now from the disappointment of the run I’m determined to carry on. I need a plan and a goal and a few gin and tonics to soften my misery.

I’m going to crack 5K in under thirty minutes.

Beer, Bananas and Burps

At the last minute I decided to enter the Cyprus Marathon event but ONLY for the 5K. I’d only just got back on my running feet after my fall before Christmas so I thought I’d ease myself in gently.

The minute we set off from the ancient fort my legs dragged and I struggled to breathe. Everything was leaden. It was so demoralising. And of course my dreaded inner voice started its attack:

How can you not even manage this?
You’re rubbish at running and are never going to get any better.
You might as well pack it in now.

And I felt sick-oh SO sick! All the way round it was a toss up between managing my ragged breathing and gulping down all the vomity burps of acid liquid.

There’s a picture of me at the finish actually leaping over the line. “Wow! Looks like you had plenty of energy left” everyone has remarked.

In fact, I leapt over the line, hit the ground and kept on running in a supreme effort to stop myself throwing up on the finish line. I was vaguely aware of someone trying to thrust a banana and a pint of beer my way. I went right up to the sea where I squeezed between two bobbing fishing boats and retched towards the water.

Of course within minutes I felt great and was climbing up onto the No 1 spot on the podium whilst it was still empty and brandishing my medal.

I’m gonna crack this 5K if it kills me.

Raw Energy Balls

I’ve never been very good at eating healthily.

You see because I’m fairly slim and like to go running everyone thinks I’m super healthy and super fit. But, I’m not.

Along with frequent respiratory infections, I get lots of headaches and bouts of the most intensely itchy scalp psoriasis which drives me half crazy.

I drink hardly any water and all of my kids think my diet is appalling.

‘A pork pie, bag of Maltesers and glass of wine? For dinner? Seriously, mum?!’

I began to wonder; what if I really paid attention to my diet? Would I notice any difference? Would I knock these colds on the head and morph into a super runner? Only one way to find out.

Have you ever wondered how well you’re ageing? I watched a TV show a few weeks ago about staying young and there was a 51 year old chap on there who struck a chord with me. He was slim and felt fit and healthy but his diet was poor. They did a battery of tests on him and his body age came out at 73. What a shocker. Like me he thought that because he didn’t put on weight, he was getting away with eating whatever he liked.

The good news, though, was that he was able to do something about it. By paying careful attention to his diet he knocked nine years off his body age in just 12 weeks.

I could do that.

I like the author Michael Pollan’s approach to eating. His two most quoted rules are:

Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.

Don’t eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.

Simple to follow – eat mostly fruit and vegetables and avoid highly processed foods.

Considering I love vegetables, porridge, yoghurt, nuts and seeds, beans and lentils you’d have thought I had it made. But I also loved chocolate, pies, bread and cakes. And wine. Lots of wine.

It wasn’t what I’d have to eat that would pose the problem, it was what I’d have to give up.

Anyway, whilst I’m still motivated I made these raw energy balls with dates, walnuts, almonds, cashews, coconut, cocoa powder and a dash of vanilla.

Since spending time in the US where my daughter lives I’ve become a cup convert. Measuring things in cup sizes really is a whole lot easier.

Here’s the recipe:

2 cups pitted dates

2 cups cashew nuts

1/2 cup almonds

3/4 cup cocoa powder

1/2 cup shredded coconut

1 tbsp vanilla extract

3 tbsp cold water

Place dates, nuts and cocoa powder in a food processor and pulse until coarsely chopped.

Add coconut and vanilla extract. Pulse again adding water a little at a time until mixture makes a moist but not sticky dough.

Roll the mixture into balls – makes 8-12 depending on how large you want them.

Chill in the fridge. I placed half of the balls in the freezer and left half in the fridge to encourage me to snack on them that week!

The Queen of Splats

I’m at the stage where I’ve built up YET AGAIN (eyeball raise) to running for 5K.

This is because I keep getting injured.

My last spot of misfortune came about when I joined in the Paphos Running Club fun run dressed as Elsa from Frozen.

We all set off running down the road; a baby with a dummy, two pirates, a soldier with rifle, a chicken, a naughty school girl, a witch and father christmas. I’d run a few metres when with a giant splat, I found myself nose to pavement. It was lightening fast; one minute I was grinning and waving, the next; flat out. I scrambled to my feet, the pain shooting through my right knee, hip and ribs. ‘I’m fine, keep running,’ I assured everyone. I felt a bit sick, as you do when something like that happens but I rearranged my princess layers and headdress and stumbled on. Flecks of blood appeared on my silky skirts.

Turns out I’d really smacked my ribs into the pavement. It was a whole seven weeks after my Elsa nosedive before I was ready to attempt a run.