Category Archives: Fitness

How to Become A Morning Person

Auckland sunrise

I became a morning person when I moved to Austin, Texas; it was the only way to run without boiling in the hot Texas sun. It took a while – I even used to go as far as sleeping in my running clothes! – but eventually those early mornings became habit, and now I swear by the them. I feel incomplete if I don’t do some form of physical activity first thing. I like starting the day with a feeling of accomplishment. And I like doing it at a time when most of the world is asleep, giving me a sense that I have the whole universe to myself. 

David Long, the owner and head coach at CrossFit Cirencester, recently wrote about this topic on Facebook, and has graciously allowed me to share his tips here on my blog. I like his focus on GOALS. How badly do you want to reach them? 

Training early in the morning causing you problems?

Nearly everyone I talk to says that training in the morning is the best way to ensure that it gets done.

But of course, the problem is that most of us are faced with busy mornings. If you are a parent, you are dealing with getting children up and ready to get out the door to school. Getting yourself ready. Preparing lunches. Making breakfasts, walking the dogs. So many things are going on in the morning, and finding the time to train just doesn’t happen for a lot of people.

So, how are you to make a morning workout happen? You get up even EARLIER than you’re already getting up. And you are thinking that is not going to happen, and this is the moment that I lose half of you because you think getting up even earlier is just crazy.

I personally love training in the morning. When most of the country is still snoozing away. I wake up at 4:00 am almost every morning so that I can reach my goals, and I wanted to share my tips with you so that you can begin reaching your health and fitness goals. Waking up early is not always something that has come easy for me. I have always had to train early in the morning and didn’t used to be a morning person. This didn’t just come naturally to me. But, like everything else, after about a month of practice and work, I was able to say that 4-4:30 am was my new morning wake-up time. I have now been setting my alarm for 3:50 am for about a year now and couldn’t be happier about the few extra hours I get every morning just to train by myself.

Here are the tips I use in order to get up early in order to reach my goals. You can use these same tips to wake up early to work out.

1. Visualise Your Morning:

Before falling asleep, think about what your morning is going to look like. You’re going to wake right up when your alarm goes off. You’re going to put your CrossFit Cirencester training kit on, wash your face, brush your teeth, and then you’re going to do your mobility and your extra Met-Con for the day or get down to the box for your class. Obviously, this is just an example. You’ll have to use your own training plan and make it fit exactly to your schedule, but the point is that you want to actually visualise what your morning is going to look like from the moment your alarm goes off. This preps your mind for what is to come. I even visualise the time on the clock.

2. Think of a Consequence:

What is the consequence if you don’t train first thing in the morning. You’re going to be angry with yourself. You’re going to continue to live less active than you would prefer. You’re possibly going to go another day/week/month of not fitting comfortably in your clothes, if that is your goal. Or you could even go one step further and make it a physical consequence to yourself. You pay a pound into a jar that goes toward something that won’t benefit you at all if you don’t work out in the morning. Like CFC athlete Luke Cameron and his Good Deed Diary.

3. Be 100% Prepared:

Make sure everything is set up and ready. The last thing you want to be doing in the early hours is fumbling for your training kit, tooth brush, socks, or shoes. Have it all ready. All in one spot. I even prepare my breakfast the night before.

4. Put Your Alarm Across the Room

I know you’ve heard this one before. But it’s absolutely true. As annoying as it is to hear your alarm go off and know you have to actually get up and out of bed in order to shut it up, it’s probably one of the best pieces of advice I can give you for getting up and out if your nice warm comfortable bed to meet your training goals. Ask yourself what would Rich Froning do?

5. Drink Water Straight Away:

Put a glass of water right near your phone/alarm. As soon as you turn off your phone, drink the water. It will wake your body up. It’s going to make you get up and get moving.

It is simple. I know it’s a lot easier said than done. It’s all a matter of you just following through with the steps and turning it into a habit over time. But, it can be done. This is what it comes down to it. How badly do you want to reach your goals? Either you want it or you don’t. Prove it to yourself by getting up and making it happen. For me, I want to make a difference with CrossFit Cirencester and for it to thrive. There is no other option. I take my job as a role model for you all very seriously. So waking up at 4:00 am is a part of me getting to work on time. That is how I have to think about it. Getting to work on time so that I can reach my goals and help you reach yours. The consequence is that if I fail, we all fail.

Good luck everyone, 2015 is your year to start making a difference too!

Thanks David for letting me share your awesome tips with my readers. Readers, do give the CrossFit Cirencester Facebook Page a like – it’s full of motivation, whether you do CrossFit or not. And if you’re in the Cirencester area, do pop into CrossFit Cirencester for a session sometime. It’s super friendly, non-judgy, challenging in a fun way, and totally adaptable to ALL fitness levels. And David is THE best personal trainer / coach a person could ask for, definitely in an influence in helping me achieve my goals over the last year. 


Upping the game: Seeing a nutritionist

Quite good high protein #vegetarian lunch. Recipe from @BlueberryNutrit.

Healthy eating is a hugely popular topic, and there are loads of people out there who are praised for taking healthy eating to the mainstream. No doubt these people are doing great things by raising the awareness and the demand for “real food”. Most of us recognize that many of the nation’s health problems come down to eating processed junk and copious amounts of sugar.

I don’t eat processed junk or copious amounts of sugar. As much as I lament about my “blow outs” (fuelled largely by wine, cheese and more wine), for the most part I eat totally natural food that I make myself. And even when I’m having a “blow out”, the food is generally pretty healthy (just excessive). I also exercise every day, usually twice (once first thing in the morning and again in the afternoon), and walk as much as I can. I should be the pillar of athleticism. And yet…

Troubling symptoms

Symptom #1: In the last year my weight has increased steadily. Much of this is “good weight” – I’ve put on about 5lb of lean muscle mass (thank you CrossFit). But I’ve put on about the same amount of fat. The end result is that my favorite hiking trousers don’t fit comfortably, I don’t like what I see in the mirror and I feel constantly frustrated. I tried going back to basic principles, things that have worked in the past. As loathsome as it is, calorie counting has always been a helpful process. And so it was here, where I learned that my diet consisted of over 40% fat. Not ideal. Yeah, all that trendy healthy stuff that people think are so awesome – avocado, nuts, seeds, cold pressed oils, cacao nibs, and so on – had taken the place of loathsome carbs, resulting in an imbalanced diet and some ho hum results.

Symptom #2: Muscle fatigue. Cardio-wise I’m fine, “superb” in fact (according to my last VO2 Max test). But when it comes to anything that requires power and strength, my muscles tire very quickly. It also seems to take a while for me to recover (even after a weekend’s rest, I often find on Monday I’m still sore from the week before).

Knowing the problem ≠ Knowing the solution

Ok, I get it: I eat too many avocados, nuts, seeds and oils, and not enough complex carbohydrates. I’ve been trying to fix this for the last year, but I’ve gotten nowhere. It took me a while to realise that even though I know the problem, I don’t really know how to fix it. “Eat less fat”. But how much? And what should I eat instead? Carbs? Protein? When? How?

So I’ve decided to hire a nutritionist, which really seems like a no-brainer in retrospect. I may know a lot about “healthy food”, but I am far from a nutritionist. I also don’t know how nutrition should play into my training schedule. It seems silly now that I’ve been trying to wing it on my own, when there are qualified people just waiting to help people like me!

Hiring a Nutritionist

For the last week and a half I’ve been working with Ben Crook, the lead nutritionist at Blueberry Nutrition, who I was referred to by CrossFit Cirencester. Ben has worked with a lot of athletes, something which appealed to me. Even though I’m not competitive, I do consider myself a fairly active person and wanted a nutritionist who would take this into account. I also like Ben’s focus on science.


Ben has been working with me to create a food plan designed to achieve the following two simple objectives:

  • Gain muscle and lose fat (the holy grail of fitness!)
  • Increase my energy, especially during workouts

According to Ben:

The first thing to work out with any nutrition plan is – how many calories your body needs to remain at the weight you currently are. Once that has been elucidated the next step is to work out your macro-nutrient intake – Your Protein, Carbohydrate and Fat intake. It is crucial to work out your macro split in order to optimise your time in the gym. A good place to start is

  • 50% Carbs
  • 25% Protein
  • 25% Fat

This ratio – and the number of calories I consume – will be adjusted over time to ideally stimulate healthy weight loss while increasing my energy and improving my performance at the same time.

Ben’s theory is that my lowish carb / high-fat diet means that I don’t have ideal glycogen stores, hence why I get super tired when I’m working out.

How it works

Here’s how the basic process has worked:

  • I filled out a basic survey with my body weight / height stats, fitness goals, dietary requirements and foods I like / don’t like / can’t live without (Ben can tailor the plan to include things like avocado, smoothies, and even wine!)
  • I had a long chat with Ben on the phone to talk more about my goals and what I’d like from my nutrition plan
  • After Ben sent me the first food plan, we had another chat to talk it over and discuss any tweaks I wanted to make.
  • Ben has just sent me my second week food plan, which we’re again going to tweak a little. Ben has been really amazing with his communication and response to all of my incessant queries!

Smoothie bowl in context. (With green tea and top-up garnish.) I would like to open a smoothie bowl cafe with an all-you-can-eat garnish bar. Free refills on tea. Perhaps next door to our Paris jiggly shop, @grumblybean?

A few random thoughts so far

  • For the most part, each meal on the food plan consists of a list of food (e.g. “Edamame beans 200g, Watercress 20g, Beetroot 40g, Pumpking Seeds 16g”), so it takes some creativity to figure out what to do sometimes. A few of the meals include pre-defined recipes, which so far have been pretty tasty (see the recipe for the pistachio orange salmon below which I totally love)
  • The plan involves a lot of snacks, which I’m learning to love, particularly Nairns Oat Cakes!
  • There have been occasional meals where I feel like I’m “eating nutrients” rather than a cohesive meal. Those were a downer.
  • I’ve had to change up my smoothies, which has been a revelation – instead of avocado, I’ve been using oats and Naturya chia seeds (it doesn’t take much) to thicken my smoothies. It’s pretty great!
  • I’ve been enjoying savoury breakfasts again – on alternate days, I have scrambled eggs, which are particularly good with homemade sauerkraut!
  • I’m eating a lot of fish.
  • I’ve been getting through a lot of barley.
  • The plan calls for post-workout protein shakes. Until now I’ve shirked the idea of taking “supplements”, but I’m willing to give this a go, if only as an experiment. I haven’t started this yet as I’m still waiting for my protein powder order to arrive (I’m using the Impact Whey Protein Isolate from which I’ve used in the past and consider pretty good as far as protein powder goes). I’ve tried hemp and pea protein but found them intolerable unless mixed with juice, not ideal as I’m trying to keep the post-workout shake purely protein. Any tips are welcome!

How do I feel?

There are some recipes that I really miss – my favourite dal and red lentil soup come to mind. But I know it’s not forever. This is a learning process – I have to learn what “balance” really means! And contrary to popular media, “balanced” doesn’t necessarily mean putting cold pressed olive oil and pistachios and avocado and cacao nibs on all of the things!

It’s early days and it’s really too soon to say whether this nutrition plan is working. There have been days when I’ve felt totally shattered, but then again, this has been a very mentally taxing week so I’m sure that’s played a role.

In general, I actually feel pretty good. I’m definitely more motivated to push myself a little harder and see what I can do, which probably has less to do with my diet change and more to do with the mental boost that all of us get when we do something good for ourselves. In fact, when you put it that way, the nutrition plan has already proved successful. This is a state of mind I have to work at; it’s all too easy to be impatient and disappointed. I think it’s time to redefine “success”. Success isn’t about reaching an objective (that’s a “goal”). Taking action is success, and any one of us who are taking steps to reach our goals are already inherently successful. Go us!

More to come as the nutrition plan experiment progresses. In the meantime, here’s that awesome salmon recipe I mentioned…

Fav @BlueberryNutrit meal so far. Orange pistachio salmon. Barley. @Stevesleaves. Perfect lunch for post #crossfit.

Pistachio Salmon Fillets

Serves 4


  • 4 salmon fillets
  • ½ Cup of Shelled pistachios – crushed
  • 4 Tsps. Dijon mustard
  • 1Tbsp. Orange juice
  • 2 tsp. Orange zest
  • ¼ tsp. salt
  • ½ tsp. Pepper
  • ½ Cup chopped spring onions


  1. Put crushed pistachios into a shallow dish
  2. Mix mustard, orange zest, orange juice, salt and pepper into a bowl
  3. Brush the mixture onto each of the flesh of each salmon fillets.
  4. Press salmon into pistahios
  5. Place fillets onto baking tray and bake at 180°C for around 10-20 mins, until cooked through
  6. Place onions onto baking tray and drizzle with oil.
  7. Grill onions for a couple of minutes until they start to wilt
  8. Serve onions with salmon fillets

Per serving: 370 Kcal | 15g Fat | 9g Carbs | 39g Protein

Related links:

My 2015 CrossFit Goals

Victory! Finally did a proper box jump (20"). When I started #crossfit in April I could barely jump on a curb. Progress! And a happy achievement for 2014. Goal for 2015: to actually take on box jumps in the WODs.

It’s already February and here I am still thinking about “goals” for the not-so-new-anymore year. I’ve already outlined my 2015 adventure goals, but I need some things to keep me going in the interim. I’m liking CrossFit as a way to benchmark my fitness through clear-cut non-weight-related goals that are actually a measure of functional strength, the stuff that will actually get me through those adventures. At the beginning of the year we brainstormed our CrossFit goals. Here are mine:

  • 10 Double Unders
  • Strict Pullup
  • Box jumps on a 20″ box, for real (I’ve done one, but I’m far from being able to do them in a workout)
  • Ring Dip (CHECK – did that this week!)
  • 6kg Wall Balls
  • Handstand walks – OK this won’t help me walk the Pennine Way but it’s fun and would be a great party trick!

New 2015 goal to add to this list, inspired by today's @crossfitcirencester WOD: freakin 6kg wall balls. Come on! Also inspiring: seeing all the challenges that others have set for themselves. This year - our fittest year yet! Let's do this thing!

So far I feel encouraged. I’m not really in the mood to practice double unders (it feels like a summer activity to me!) but I’ve made progress towards pullups with completing kipping pullups in two recent WODs (Workout of the Day).

A video posted by Monica Shaw (@monicashaw) on

I also achieved a bonus goal that I hadn’t even thought of: toes to bar! 

A video posted by Monica Shaw (@monicashaw) on

This April I’ll be writing up a longer “year in review” of CrossFit, which was new to me last year and a total game changer fitness wise. Stay tuned!

See also:

An Easy 3-Day Juice Feast to Jumpstart 2015

#JuiceFeast Day 1 of 7. This being the season of Thanksgiving, this juicy bonanza offers a timely opportunity to give thanks for the abundance of fruit and vegetables we have access to in this modern world. Who knows, when the zombie apocalypse arrives, t

“I’m not really one for new year’s resolutions, “Dry January”, “New Year New You” or other such arbitrary means for betterment. But the fact is, I entered this year feeling not exactly my best self. Granted, I’ve felt worse on New Year’s Day. At least this year I well-rested and didn’t have a hangover (because I didn’t go out the night before, for various reasons). But my sobriety only made it all the more clear that the only trousers that fit comfortably at the moment are leggings.

I know: don’t panic. A little bloat is expected after a 10-day trip to France, and bonus: I know that a great solution to the over-indulgence blues is a juice feast. But I know from experience that this “quick fix” doesn’t mean much if there isn’t some forward planning to go with it. A little more on that later. In the midst of all my thinking and scheming, my friend and fellow smoothie addict Jacqueline Meldrum set out a challenge called Jumpstart 2015, the rules being as follows:

  1. A freshly made smoothie or juice (made of mostly veg) for breakfast and lunch
  2. Drink more water
  3. No alcohol (Jac asserts that this is optional but I reckon that for many of us it’s the key to feeling awesome)
  4. Eat more soups
  5. Normal meal in the evening

This is pretty close to my own plan for the coming weeks so I thought I’d overcome my cynicism and, in the spirit of camaraderie and support, join Jac and fellow bloggers in this challenge. (BTW, Jac notes that she isn’t medically trained and the challenge is based on common sense, but it’s worth noting that her challenge is pretty much on par with the Clean program, designed by an M.D., and which I can say from experience is pretty solid!)

3-Day Juice Feast

As mentioned, I’m beginning with a 3-day juice feast to bump start my jumpstart (not that kind of bump start). I am essentially following Jason Vale’s 3 Day Juice Program (you can find the program with recipes in full on The Fresh Network Blog). I found it very therapeutic to take some time to scrub my kitchen, and my appliances, and set up a little home juice bar in my kitchen. (In case you’re wondering, my tools of the trade are the Froothie Optimum 9400 blender and Optimum 600 slow juicer.)

Getting prepped for a juicy 2015 by giving the home juice bar a good tidy, stocking up on beautiful ingredients, and augmenting the bar with some inspiring reading materials! How is your awesome prep going?

Following this, I plan to follow the challenge pretty much to the letter, with some fitness goals thrown in:

  • Monday – Friday: Cardio training in the morning – either Swim or Cycle
  • Monday – Friday: CrossFit in the afternoon
  • A walk every day
  • Some kind of long walk or bike ride on the weekends

Some of my training may necessitate some solid food mid-afternoon (or mid-ride / mid-hike!) but in general the plan is to eat and drink super clean. And embrace soups!

Goals: What This is All About

This year I want to take on some big fitness challenges. Things that come to mind:

  • The Omm
  • The Pennine Way
  • The Pembrokshire Coast Path
  • Cycle tour in France
  • Multi-day wild camping adventures

I’m NOTE going to do all of these but if I did even one I’d be pretty stoked.

And I can’t deny that some of this is aesthetic. I want to comfortably fit into my trousers! I want to like what I see when people take pictures of me!

What worked in 2014?

But in writing all this, I think it’s important to remember my successes and what worked in 2014.

  • CrossFit – I am definitely way stronger than I was at the start of the year and I’ve met some amazingly supportive people as a result
  • Swimming / Spinning in the mornings – I just feel better when I bump start the day with some exercise, preferably cardiovascular
  • Juicing / Smoothies
  • Walking every day
  • How water with lemon
  • My solstice friends
  • Social activities that are active, either physically or mentally (i.e. not purely focused on food and booze, not that there’s anything wrong with that!)
  • Crafts!

So all of that is part of my strategy for the coming months. Then…

Why didn’t all of that work in 2014?

I’m pretty sure that my big downfall is drinking. Drinking means I eat more, I sleep less and I perform poorly (or at least at a sub-standard level) at all physical activities. I know I’m not alone on this one. I am very grateful that I know so many awesome people, and that the opportunities to socialize keep increasing! But it’s up to me to recognize that not ALL social occasions necessitate drinking lots of booze and having a cheese board.

Cheese shop in Hillsboro

I’ve recognized in myself that I’m a person of extremes: 85% of the time I’m an uber healthy, super clean-eating superstar. The rest of the time I’m the person obsessed with making cocktails, tasting all of the wines and making dutch babies, no matter how full we are after dinner. It’s a dilemma, because I actually LIKE that I go all out in the things I do. I just can’t do that all the time. And that goes for the uber healthy stuff, too, because I’ve been there and I was a total bore to be around.

For most of us doing Jumpstart January, or any other kind of New Year reboot deal, it’s all about changing our physical selves. But the problem is totally mental. But that’s ESPECIALLY why doing something like this is important: it takes clarity of mind to figure out how to overcome life’s challenges. And that’s what I love about Juice Feast: it gives me that clarity, and seemingly boundless energy, to plow through what’s bothering me and get to the heart of the problem and hatch a solution.

Over the next couple days I’ll be using this clarity to make some plans and set some goals for the year ahead. Two things I’ve found helpful is the Wheel of the Year book and YearCompass.

First #greensmoothie of 2015 (with garnishes), and fresh new note books for mood padding and getting things done. Feeling the fresh start vibes all around.

I finish with a quote from a friend that I keep coming back to for inspiration, especially when I find myself dwelling on past mistakes: “Nothing to fear. The reality will be what it is.”

Also, from Wheel of the Year: “These old parts of ourselves we banish now / what’s past is past / we look to the new.”

And finally, this song.


Be sure to visit these rad peeps who are also taking part:

Tinned Tomatoes
Fuss Free Flavours
Ren Behan
Elizabeth’s Kitchen Diary
Maison Cupcake
Veggie Desserts
Franglais Kitchen
Utterly Scrummy
Food to Glow
London Unattached

11 Immediately Gratifying Things You Can Do Right Now To Improve Your Health

Goals are hugely important and I’m a big fan of dreaming big and aiming high. But the thing about goals is that they involve time, and let’s face it, sometimes those goals seem so out of reach that it feels daunting to even get started. For that reason, it’s important to do little things on a daily basis that offer immediate gratification while also edging us closer to the self we dream of becoming.

Here is a list of things I do on a daily basis that help me keep my head on straight by reminding me just how good it feels to treat myself well. All of these things offer near instant gratification. They are also easy and inexpensive.

Morning ritual: hot lemon and water. And a groovy mug to put it in.

1. Start the day with hot lemon and water.

There’s already loads of hype around hot lemon and water – it aids digestion, stimulates the liver, boosts the immune system… this may all be true, but in terms of immediate gratification, I find a mug of hot lemon and water first things is refreshing, boosts my energy and seems to kick-start my digestion, thus keeping me regular (TMI?). You can still have your teas and coffee, but have the hot lemon water first and then move on to the hard stuff.

2. Go for a walk every day.

Fresh air, folks – we could all do with a bit of that on a daily basis. I find walks especially helpful if I’m feeling tired or ho-hum.

“I try to walk minimum 1/2 hour after school run, & second walk about 1pm for 30-40 mins…The walk itself is good though, fresh air, nature & lots of other dogs & there walkers, so social too:-)” – Jude McGee, A Trifle Rushed

3. Buy flowers instead of junk food. 

This is my friend Claudia’s idea and I love it. If you’re at the shops and you want cookies, instead buy some fresh flowers – they’ll be nice to look at and remind you how awesome you are.

4. Start the day with a bit of exercise. 

Walk, run, bike, skip, yoga… it doesn’t matter really. A bit of exercise first thing is totally energizing and starts the day with an immediate success that you can feel good about all day long.

5. Contain your drinking to three days per week max. 

Not so much a “daily activity” but a good guideline for keeping the booze in check. For me this rule is less about calories than it is about good sleep – I just don’t sleep as well if I have alcohol. Good sleep = energy and motivation to do the other stuff on this list, and everything else you want to do. Again, immediately gratifying. I never regretting NOT drinking. Think on that!

6. Limit sugar to one day per week. 

Do I really need to explain this one?

7. Do something every day to connect yourself with nature.

The aforementioned daily walk is a good place to start.

Get outside. Sounds silly but even 30 mins on my allotment puts me in an amazing mood and emotional health is just as important as physical.” – Urvashi Roe, The Botanical Baker

Sunday morning walk

8. Garnish.

Garnish your food with nourishing deliciousness. For smoothies, I like seeds, nuts, coconut flakes, oats and bee pollen. For soups, I like more seeds, boiled eggs, diced vegetables and of course, avocado. They make your food more interesting and tastier too. It doesn’t get more immediately gratifying than that!

Coming soon to the blog (I swear): my recipe for my go-to breakfast smoothie as of late. It involves lots of lime and greenery. And garnish!


9. Visualize Success. 

Spend a few minutes every day visualizing your desired outcomes, be it fitness, financial, professional or anything else.

“As we routinely and intentionally visualize a desired outcome, and step into the belief that it is possible, our brains increase the motivation to make it happen. We become more and more determined to do whatever it takes to achieve our goals.” – Marla Tabaka,

10. Reflect on daily achievements.

While I’m doing my visualizing, I also try to work in a little reflection on the prior day’s successes. This is way more better for morale than focusing on what you didn’t do. Cuz really, all of the smart people I know have so many goals and dreams and ideas and ambitions, none of us have time to do it all. But as long we’re doing something, we’re ahead of the pack – so let’s remember what it is we HAVE achieved (it can be something as simple as having that hot lemon and water!) and wear a smile on our face because we’re so damn awesome.

11. Focus on gratitude.

When temptation strikes, respond to this feeling by thinking about what you CAN have. The fact is you can have anything you want, but you choose to have the nourishing stuff and leave everything else for an occasional treat.

“If you say ‘I want but can’t have’ – you will suffer. If you say ‘I can but I don’t want to have’ – you won’t… An ‘attitude of gratitude’ moves you from the ‘I can’t have’ child-like mental tantrum to one of empowerment and fulfillment.” – Jason Vale

So that’s MY list. What would you add to it?

Goals 2015: The Original Mountain Marathon

In the last few years, my fitness goals have largely revolved around fixing injuries, but now I’m feeling pretty “fixed” for the most part (hurray!) and ready to set myself a challenge that will actually make use of my fitter better self and push me to, well, keep on pushing.

My friend James recently completed the Original Mountain Marathon (aka ‘the OMM’) and posted a video montage of the experience. I totally want to do this!

The OMM is a 2-day Mountain event, held in a different region across the UK every year (and other courses held in other countries throughout the year). It was first held in 1968 and continues today. Gerry Charnley, a skilled mountaineer and orienteer, designed the course to test orienteering skills in extreme circumstances; the full-length KIMM course is a double-marathon length race (there are shorter options).

There’s an OMM in France 19th-20th July which is appealing and well timed for my birthday. I’m looking forward to seeing when they set they 2015 UK date. It’s a little daunting and I’m not sure I’m capable of it – yet! – so all the more motivation to keep on CrossFitting, swimming, eating well and most of all: get out into the world and walk up some big hills and see some amazing places!

So, anyone want to be my OMM buddy?

Juice Feast: Harvest Edition

First of the Orchard Cottage Apples

Last Saturday I embarked on my third “Juice Feast”, a 7-day juice-only regime following the program designed by Jason Vale (you can read more about this in my previous post, Juice Feast in Review).

Having done this twice before, I just wanted to share a few observances so far from round three.

Why Juice? Why Now?

Why does anyone go on a “juice fast” (hefty note: this is not a fast!)? To look better and to feel better. Like many others who have juiced before me (!) I too have become increasingly bored with feeling “gunky”, and also increasingly frustrated with my own inability to achieve a few personal goals. I needed a “bump start”, but [definitely] not of the alcoholic kind, rather of the positive, life affirming kind. After my first juice feast last year, I felt better than I’d felt in a LONG time. So I’m at it again, chasing that high.

Passed the halfway point of my #JuiceFeast. Celebrating with one of my favourite blends: apple, pineapple, spinach, wheatgrass, lime, celery, cucumber & avocado.

But there’s an added spin on it this time around. It’s August, and we’ve just celebrated Lammas, the first harvest festival. The apple orchard is in full swing. My Riverford veg box is frequently laden with my favourite fruit and vegetables. And the nearby Organic Farm Shop is alive with their beautiful homegrown cucumber, carrots, spinach and more. So I’m trying to make this juice feast not only about ME, but also about a celebration of all that’s available this time of year, and how lucky I am to live in a place where I have access to such beautiful fruits and vegetables, some of which grow right outside my door.

The harvest aspect also plays to the “positive thinking” angle of Juice Feast. This isn’t something to “get through”, it’s a treat to my body and my brain. I say this, but in truth, this notion of being good to myself doesn’t come naturally to me at all. I am the worst when it comes to self doubt and self deprecation, and I can’t help but wonder if that’s part of why I’ve felt so frustrated with my goal progress as of late. It has nothing to do with food or exercise, it’s all about the mind, man!

So when work hasn’t interfered, Juice Feast has been all about mindfulness. Visualisation. And doing meditative harvesty things like picking blackberries and de-stalking elderberries (which I’ll be preserving as wild fruit wine, which I know sounds totally contrary to Juice Feast, but it makes sense to me!).

Picking green elderberries while I walk. Yes, I have a plan! #picklecult

I’ve also been using this as an opportunity to push my limits with the juice. On Day 2 I did an 11+ mile hike up Black Mountain in Wales (thank you, Jane and Jimmy) and felt totally fine the whole way. I did have an extra juice that evening, followed by an epic 9 hour sleep. Day 3, the legs were a little stiff but I managed to get out for some foraging and dog walks. Today I had my first CrossFit session of the Juice Feast; it all went as usual – I struggled with rowing and had fun on the rings, nothing abnormal there. I’ll be curious to see how I go the rest of the week. I did manage a “PR” (Personal Record) on the overhead squad (which didn’t take much – see, there I go with the self deprecation again!) and would love to PR on something else before the week is through.

Jane and I on Black Mountain

Finally, I’m also using this as an opportunity to test out my new Froothie Optimum 400 Slow Juicer and Optimum 9400 Blender. I’ve already posted a review of the blender. Watch this space for a review of the juicer, which is competing for counter space next to my trusty Phillips juicer, the thing that got me into juicing in the first place. Who will win in their battle royale?

Using the #juicefeast as an opportunity to try out the #froothie Slow Juicer. Juice it does. Slowly (and that's a good thing - maximum extraction action!).

Closing thought: this Juice Feast has been pretty easy – third time’s the charm? I’m loving the clear headed feeling I get when I do this – productivity at last! And since I’m not cooking, I have loads of free time to do fun Lammas-y things like forage, make plum wine, work on some make-more-money projects, write and walk up big hills!

Black Mountain walk, Brecon Beacons, Wales

Too many avocados? My macronutrient drama.

Requisite avocado...

First, a recap. Here is a brief summary of my smarter fitter journey so far, starting from roughly 12 years ago:

First I was kind of chubby.
Then I was a little chubbier.
Then I was pretty chubby.
Then I lost some weight.
Then I lost too much weight.
Then I gained some back again.
Then I gained some more…

Weight gain is not a bad thing, especially when it comes in the form of muscle. And in fact I have been making some big efforts to get stronger over the recent years (especially after the big muscle wasting debacle of 2009 that followed a really annoying kidney infection). My efforts include eating more protein, swimming, weight lifting and most recently, CrossFit.

But for anyone who’s ever gone through the hassle of losing weight, it’s a real drag and a little scary putting weight on again. I’m pretty sure that some of that weight is good muscly weight (as evidenced by my body fat and circumference measurements, thank you CrossFit Cirencester 30 Day Challenge). But I know that it’s not all muscle, and as much as I like to think I’m immune to aging, the fact is that since entering my 30’s, I tend to carry more blubber in those problematic hip and tummy areas. There’s stuff around my waist that wasn’t there a couple years ago when I felt at my prime. And it’s damn frustrating!

I feel like I’ve been trying all sorts of things but I can’t seem to get back to where I was. The measurements taken at CrossFit have been encouraging, but still, I feel like I’ve been trying at this for years and I don’t seem to get anywhere.

So recently I’ve gone back to basic principals. Back in the day when I first became really interested in my physical fitness, I counted calories. I know it’s mundane and it’s not for everyone, but it worked for me and was a major factor in my achieving my initial weight loss goals. Every so often I like to track my calories for a week or two just to see where I’m at. So, that’s what I’ve done for the past week, and the results kind of surprised me.

First off, what am I going for here? Well, there are so many school’s of thought on macronutrient ratios, protein intake and so on, it’s a bit tough to know which to follow.

The “Zone Diet”, which lots of CrossFitters seem to like, promotes a 40% carbohydrate, 30% protein, 30% fat ratio. On most days I tend towards a ratio of 35% carbohydrates, 20% protein and [a whopping] 45% fat.

Another way to look at it is protein: there are different school’s of thought on this but I tend to trust Mark Sisson’s advice which says that a moderately active person should consume about .7 or .8 grams of protein per pound of lean mass per day, or as much as 1 gram per pound of lean mass for active athletes. Now, I’m not training for the Olympics, but I am pushing myself to get “harder”, training most days per week so I can work towards doing things like hike around Scotland with a pack, walk the Pacific Crest Trail and do cool party tricks like walk on my hands. For me that’s about 60-90 grams of protein. My daily intake tends to be in the 50-60 gram range.

Whether either of these metrics are the end all be all to fitness and feeling awesome, I’m willing to admit that getting nearly half of your calories from fat is probably not ideal for anyone, regardless of how “good” that fat is. So, I should probably try to lower my fat intake and up my protein. This is kind of a bummer.

Despite adding more fish to my diet, I’ve actually found it a struggle to eat as much protein as I’ve been eating (thought I certainly feel better for it). And as for fat, well I love my avocado, not to mention my nuts, seeds and salads. I bemoan the idea of a life of steamed vegetables and egg white omelets. In fact, the whole point of this blog and what I’m about is figuring out ways to get fit and healthy without that boo feeling of sacrifice.

There is also an argument to be made that this line of thinking is totally mental and that I should just relax because I DO have my health already so why worry? Well, Scotland… trails… party tricks!

I had a thought the other day which helped dissolve the slow-progress blues. One of the problems with all this “get fit” shit is that you have this vision of success, and it sits out there way in the distance, and in fact may not even be achievable. So you spend all this time pushing for it, never really getting there, and perpetually feeling like a failure. But the real success is actually in the process. I am thinking about my situation, analyzing it, and doing something about it: boom, I am successful. Achieving the goal is just bonus.

So what is the goal? Well that’s another tricky matter. It’s not about weight loss for me. It’s about being strong, capable and – critically! – feeling comfortable in my own skin. So how to measure that? I’m still figuring that one out, but hope to explore this in the coming weeks.

In the meantime, any suggestions for yummy high protein, low-ish fat meals? Or ways to dress up steamed vegetables that don’t involve a beautiful oily dressing?

A few good ideas from the blogosphere include Jacqueline’s Veg & Lentil Stew (also 5:2 friendly), Dannii’s Bean Chilli (can’t go wrong with a good chilli), Michelle’s “picnic bakes” (akin to mini frittatas – I love frittatas), Kavey’s not-so-mini courgette and mint frittata, and, as Camilla points out, the ever versatile poached egg (not to mention hummus).

Any more?

P.S. I have no intention of giving up avocado.

Oh jeez, I’m doing a detox!

I’m just back from a really fantastic weekend of camping and revelry with friends from the Rave Coffee crew in nearby Minchinhampton: two days and two nights largely spent around a campfire or a picnic table engaged in good conversation fuelled by craft beer, barbecue, bread, pickles, cake and coffee (of course!).

One such conversation has inspired me to take on a 21-day detox following Alejandro Junger’s technique outlined in his book, Clean. I know very little about this detox cleanse as of yet, but two friends from Rave are doing it and I’ve decided to tag along for the ride. I’ve been feeling less than awesome for a few months now and try as I may to “get back on track”, I feel a little lost as to what that “track” actually is. I like the idea of having a system and a plan and knowing that there’s a couple other people out there I know doing it, too. (There’s much to be said for the buddy system.)

Today was going to mark my official start but as I’m learning what the cleanse entails, I realise I’m totally unprepared! For example, I am not to eat soy, bananas, tomatoes, eggs or dairy, just a few of many “off limit” foods that are currently taking up space in my kitchen. I am also suppose to eat one solid meal and two “liquid” meals per day. No tomatoes? Liquid food? What’s this all about?

Here’s the idea: Junger’s supposition is that much of the food we eat is toxic. The toxins are stored in our bodies, and our waste systems can’t get rid of them because they’re constantly bombarded with them. The 21-day cleanse is meant to give the body a chance to clean out the toxins and restore the body’s natural ability to heal itself. This means eating an alkaline diet of high pH foods, so certain kinds of vegetables and fruits, plus wild animal protein and gluten-free grains. And obviously, no “toxins”: processed food, dairy, eggs, soy, alcohol or caffeine.

Eating “clean food” is pretty much what I do anyway, but it’s those latter two liquid temptations that will be difficult to avoid. But it’s the effect of those temptations that have me wanting to do something about it. The last year or so has been extraordinary, with weekends (and sometimes weekdays) much in the spirit of the weekend I just had: visiting old friends, meeting new ones, talking endlessly, inspiring each other and, most importantly, celebrating. But at the same time, I do feel a strong sense like my body needs a “break”. So I’m excited about this. I’m excited to have a plan. And I’m excited that the cleanse allows avocados.

Not one to waste food, I’m going to use today to do some planning and to get through those few remaining low pH foods hanging around my kitchen. Tomorrow will mark Day 1 of the cleanse. I sense a lot of Vitamixing in my future!

Fitbit Review and a Giveaway


Lately I’ve been thinking lots about gamification and using game strategies to achieve goals, particularly those related to health and fitness. I’m the sort of person who responds well to numbers and data, and quite like the idea of attaching rewards to data-driven results.

So last December I decided I wanted to buy a pedometer to help motivate me to stay active while visiting Chicago over the holidays. A little research and some chatter with my sister, Stephanie, quickly saw my $12 pedometer lust balloon into something more sophisticated. And so we found the Fitbit One, a $90 gadget that tracks steps, distance, calories burned, stairs climbed and sleep. We both bought one (go Team!).

Fitbit - After

In the four months since owning the Fitbit, I find I’ve become – quite literally – attached to the thing.

It’s not just about the device – it’s the whole Fitbit website / web app package that syncs up with it. The app lets you set goals for various parameters (steps / miles walked, floors climbed, weight, etc) and then tracks your progress towards those goals on a daily basis. Feeling good is very much a one-day-at-a-time thing, and the Fitbit really does make the whole fit and active thing a lot more interesting. Who doesn’t like a good chart?

Fitbit Dashboard

The Fitbit features I like the most:

  • Good apps: The Fitbit web and iPhone apps allow you to track other things besides data recorded by the Fitbit, including weight, activities (handy for swimmers like me – the Fitbit is NOT waterproof!), and food. In fact I’ve even read on some of the Fitbit forums that there are people using the apps without actually owning the Fitbit – the food, weight and exercise tracking is good enough to use even without the Fitbit.
  • iPhone friendly: And speaking of the app, I especially like the iPhone app, which is almost exclusively what I use. Even the Calorie counting aspect is better than most I’ve seen.
  • Social: The web app lets you follow friends who have Fitbits, which I love because my sister has a Fitbit, too. Go Team Shaw!
  • Motivating: I guess this is the most important thing of all. The Fitbit really does motivate me to walk more and reach my daily target (currently set at 10,000 steps). What really shocks me is when I wear it on a day out in London and I realise how LITTLE I walk now that I don’t live in the City. Not that I’d give up the country idyl and working from home, but it’s a much needed reminder to get off my duff once in a while and go for a stroll.
  • Gamifying: Steps walked, floors climbed, calories burned, they’re all “points” in the game of getting fit, and Fitbit “rewards” you with various badges for different achievements (e.g. walking 40,000 steps in a day, getting to 100 total lifetime miles, and so on). I’d like to come up with a system for attaching these achievements to more interesting goals – it’d be nice if I could define my rewards in Fitbit, so it could tell me when I’ve earned, for example, something off of my Amazon wishlist, or a pint at the pub (though having said that, one of my goals in using the Fitbit is to find non-food / non-alcohol motivators, so I better stick with Amazon, or tattoos, or original art).
  • Hackable: The Fitbit API lets you program your Fitbit to trigger events. For example, one guy hacked his Fitbit to turn off the power to his fridge if he didn’t walk enough. You could do the same to turn off your TV, computer, Internet, etc. Hardcore, though I’d be more apt to use the API for good (reward) verses evil (punishment). This would, of course, require me to be a mad elite computer programmer, which I’m not. So I hope someone else will step up to the plate for me.

The Fitbit isn’t perfect, however…

  • It’s really easy to lose, but on the plus side, Fitbit has a very responsive and understanding customer support team.
  • In order to track sleep, you’re supposed to wear their Fitbit on your wrist using a velcro wrist strap thing. It’s kind of uncomfortable and is prone to fall off in the middle of the night.

My sister, who presents a slightly different use case, adds…

  • Android syncing only works with two phones: Samsung Galaxy S III and Samsung Galaxy Note II.  This is just crazy given there are over 70+ models available in the US alone.  Yes, iOS is more popular, but the Android share can’t be ignored! [You can read Fitbit’s reason for developing their apps this way on their blog.]
  • The Fitbit really should come with some kind of a security clip to attach to a belt loop…anything to secure it better. [Amen.]
  • I can’t track specific workouts unless I enter them manually. It means I often don’t enter them at all.  
  • Some activities produce false step counts.  Horse back riding, for example: it says I did x amount of steps, but obviously I didn’t.  Yes I burned calories, but it’s just not calculated right.  I have to remove the Fitbit if I want to keep my step count accurate.
  • It doesn’t track my average speed.


The Fitbit has a few flaws but what gadget doesn’t? I’m addicted to thing, which is really a testament to its worthiness as a great life hacking tool. Or maybe it’s just evidence of my geekiness? Either way, I do believe I’m actually fitter for owning a Fitbit. Or at least, I’m more motivated to keep my activity levels up, and motivation is often the hardest part. And looking at my monthly step average since owning the Fitbit, it seems to be working (this is why I love data):

Fitbit Dashboard - Yearly Steps

And for the record, Fitbit didn’t ask me to say any of this. But they did give me something groovy to give away. Read on.

Giveaway time…

The folks at Fitbit kindly gave me one of their Fitbit Zip Wireless Activity Tracker to give away. This is much like my Fitbit One but it doesn’t have the sleep tracking capabilities. You can read all about the Fitbit Zip on the Fitbit website. And as you can see, it gets great reviews on Amazon!

Bonus fitbit! I love this uber pedometer, & this one's destined for one lucky @smarterfitter reader. Thanks @fitbituk!


To enter, simply complete the Rafflecopter widget below (disclaimer: I’ve never used Rafflecopter so I hope it all works smoothly, but if you have any troubles just let me know).  There is one main way to enter and various ways to get bonus entries (which I will verify so please be honest).

This giveaway is open to everyone (fortunately the Zip is lightweight so I don’t mind shipping it overseas – Fitbits for all!). Entries close on May 21, 2013. The winner will be chosen randomly using Rafflecopter and notified by email.

Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway