Friday, April 19, 2013

Hell and Back Apollo, update and training plan.

So it's 8 weeks until the big day! That is plenty of time to plan and put in the time and effort that'll be needed to make it through the course! The best thing to do is to realistically assess where you are fitness wise. I think a lot of people actually underestimate their fitness and tend to remain in a pretty stagnant fitness routine as a result. I am definitely a culprit of this! Pushing yourself to the limits is pretty uncomfortable and it's much more enjoyable running at a comfortable pace than at say, a race pace. This is something I've been trying to be conscious of recently and hopefully the added bit of effort will pay off dividends!

On a completely hypocritical note, I haven't been able to do a whole lot this week due to my final year college assignments being due in soon and well... a hangover. I'm not one to usually drink midweek but it happend and I paid the price! What I like to do before I go on a night out is get a good run in beforehand so I feel pretty good the whole night and the temptation to eat my face off with greasy burgers and chips is decreased!

This Weeks Tips


My absolute essential tip this week is to buy a decent pair of runners! I can't stress this enough, it really is a crucial element to running comfortably and reducing your risk of injury. I bought a brilliant pair of Asics last summer and they really have had their day! They're even ripped at the sides and they're causing some rather unpleasant side effects because of their wear and tear! I need runners with a support so I'll be looking for a pair specifically for my foot type. I recommend heading to an Elverys or any other running store to get a gait analysis done, it's maybe not for everyone but it was a life saver for me! I kept getting persistent blisters on my right foot and it was due to the wrong runners with not enough support, when I got a pair that was suited to my foot all my problems went away instantly. So with all this in mind I'll be popping into the city centre tomorrow on a mission to get a new pair. I want a pair of Nike ones I think, one because they do excellent running shoes and two because they're damn nice looking! Asics are pretty hideous in my opinion, kinda like having an ugly kid but loving it anyway.

Interval Training

Interval training might be the magic ingredient to push you over that Hell and Back finish line with a time you never imagined seeing! I love it because it's an amazing way to improve strength and performance and it gets your body used to working at a very high rate. Yes, it's difficult but because it's usually in 400-600 metres bursts it's not unbearable. Interval training is good preparation for racing as it tests the same mental and physical barriers that you inevitably face while racing! I could go on and on about interval training but here's an excellent article by the Irish Times all about it and how you can incorporate it into your routine! Do it, you won't regret it! On the treadmill it's easy enough to do this as you can track your pace and distance but what I do when I'm on the roads is I pick a point in the distance like a bus stop or a tree and I run as fast as I can to it and then go back down to my normal pace. Do this 4-5 times when you're running and you'll be flying!

Training Plan

I'm not one for sticking to a specific training plan and kinda prefer to stick with telling myself that I'll work out and run a certain amount of times a week instead. So that way if I'm not in the mood or still feeling the effects of the previous workout I can always have a rest day without deviating from a set plan! I'm the type of person who gets annoyed at myself if I say I'll do something and then don't so it's best to keep it this way! Here's what I usually do in a week! :

Main objective is usually run 4 times a week and strength train 3 times a week.

Beginning of week (Sunday or Monday) -

  • Run 10km on road.

Midweek (Monday and/or Tuesday and/or Wednesday) - 2 days

  • Run 6-7km on treadmill and weight session.
  • Interval training for 5km on treadmill (hill and speed work), weight session.

End of week (Thursday or Friday or Saturday)

  • 5km at race pace on treadmill and weight session.

I'm hoping to increase the 10km to 15km soon enough and would like to increase the 5kms to 6-7kms. I'll see how things go! Every time before I workout I assess how I feel, if my arms or legs are sore, if I'm feeling tired or any number of things that can make working out hard pretty difficult. Like I said in my last post it's important to listen to your body and sculpt your workout to your needs so you don't over do it. But when everything is working in harmony it's time to push yourself! My main woman and fellow Hell and Back blogger Jen Conroy explains her very own 8 week training plan in her blog post here! Check it out!

What I Did This Week

  • 10km on road


  • 10 mins warm up on cross trainer
  • 5km at race pace (12km/13km) 
  • 3 sets of 12 squats with 12.5kg bar
  • 3 sets of 20 push ups
  • 3 sets of 10 tricep dips on bench
  • 3 sets of 30 mountain climbers ((legs to chestx2, legs to opposite sidex2, legs to elbowsx2)x5)
  • 3 sets of 20 lunges
  • Various core work


  • 10 mins warm up on cross trainer
  • 5km on treadmill
  • 10km on bike
  • Assisted tricep dips and chins 
  • Various dumbbell exercises
  • Core work

I'll hopefully get a workout in on Saturday and Sunday too but time will tell!

That's all for now folks! Any questions or comments write them down below and I'll get back to you! Or ask them on twitter here, don't forget to follow me! 

Friday, April 12, 2013

Training Tips for Hell and Back Apollo

Hi there! That's me on the left, looking at you looking at me. This was taken mere minutes before I took part in the first Hell and Back Trojan race in January! You can see my lovely sinister devil fork that I got painted on my face! That did not last long, I assure you!

I had such an amazing time at the first race that I knew the second they announced the Hell and Back Apollo that will take place on the 15th and 16th of June, I just had to partake! If you click here you will see my original post all about my experience of the race and some tips I gave for the event! Here's a link to Hell and Back's official Facebook page and here's a link to their website that contains all the details about the race!

When deciding to run in an event I make sure I train adequately for it and although I'm not psychic I try to prepare myself for all scenarios! I'm not a fan of surprises but the very nature of Hell and Back Apollo is just that! Although we won't be sure what exactly the course entails we can prepare ourselves for all eventualities through training hard and no matter what is thrown at us we'll be prepared and ready to conquer it! When facing a seemingly daunting challenge like the Hell and Back Apollo it is important to understand exactly what your body is required to do and train accordingly. Planning is key! So throughout the next few weeks I will be structuring my training around completing the Hell and Back Apollo course by using my experience and the lessons I learned when I completed the Hell and Back Trojan course back in January! I will be keeping you all up to date with the training I do every week and I will let you in on all the training tips you'll need to help you complete the Hell and Back Apollo! Click here to read the post I wrote on my training for the first Hell and Back! For now, here's a quick synopsis of what you should include in your training:


This is fairly self explanatory, if you want to run a 10km course you gotta be able to run 10km! I would suggest running at least 3 times a week if you can, be it on the roads or in the gym. What I found with the last race was that because there are so many obstacles you are constantly stopping and starting so the actual running part wasn't too intense because you sort of get a break to breath before you get stuck into an obstacle. So if you're not up to 10km I wouldn't worry too much about it as it's more like running in intervals but ultimately the more you can run the easier it will be!


During the first Hell and Back, I realised that when I was running on the muck trails and on the steep grassy hills that I was completely unprepared for that terrain. I had attempted to run on grassy trails for some training before it but I didn't do enough of it at all. So this time round I will be hitting the fields around my house and doing laps on the hills to really get my legs used to it! If you have a field or a local park around you with a grassy hill I suggest running and sprinting up it a few times at least once a week! Failing that, if you're a member of a gym I suggest putting up the incline on the treadmill and doing some interval training! When your legs are burning you know you're doing it right!


I cannot stress enough how important your arm and leg strength will be for this race! If you haven't done any strength or weight training yet I suggest you get on it! You will be dragging yourself through, over and under many an obstacle and without sufficient arm and leg strength it'll prove very difficult! Great exercises for this would be the simple push-up and squat! Got a half an hour in the evening? Do a few sets of push-ups and squats! Push-ups are great for over-all arm strength, as well as serving as an all-purpose body workout! So what are you waiting for, drop and gimme 20! Squats are one of the best functional exercises that you can ever do! Here is an article I wrote about why they are so important and how you can do them properly! They should be a part of your training routine if they aren't already, they will help tone and strengthen the legs making you laugh in the face of any obstacle that comes your way!

If you're a member of a gym start hitting the free weights or some strength machines. What I've been doing recently is assisted pull-ups and tricep dips which are amazing for upper body strength. These are compound exercises that will work every muscle in your upper body. There's also the leg extension and leg curl machines for leg strength! I go into detail about these machines in my post about my training for the Hell and Back Trojan, here.


Saturday: I ran the Bray 10km Cliff Run last Saturday so I was very sore on Sunday! I should have stretched and done a short recovery session on a cross trainer but I didn't! Here's my synopsis of the event!

Monday: Legs were still too sore to run so I didn't run.

30 mins on cross trainer. 
20 mins on spin bike.
Free weights (dumbbell press, dumbbell curl, single arm row, tricep dumbbell curl)
Assisted pull ups and tricep dips.
10mins stretch.

5km road run.

20mins on cross trainer.
7km on treadmill.
10 mins on spin bike.
Core work 

20 mins on cross trainer.
Weights session. 
Core work.

It's very important to listen to your body and know when you can step it up or down a notch with training. The last thing you want is an injury that will lead to not being able to partake! Running is just as much a mental game as it is a fitness one, especially when you enter obstacles into the equation! Try to find the right balance in training where you are doing some form of cardio at least 3 times a week and incorporate some strength training! Quality consistent training is key! It's definitely not easy, but when you cross the finish line it will all be worth it! Thanks for reading!

Do you have any questions about training or the race? Write me a comment down below and I'll get right back to you! Or alternatively, ask me on twitter here:

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Sarah's Vegan Adventure!

I have embarked on a rather unusual food journey in the last few weeks which has resulted in my decision to try to go vegan for a month. I know what you're thinking, here she goes, ranting on about how we're all evil meat eating monsters but that's not what this is about at all. It's about finding what's best for me and eating in a way that makes me feel good and benefits my overall health. I'm not going to preach, I just want to share the experience and the knowledge that I have acquired about it over the last few weeks.

I have known all my life that dairy and me don't get on, I'm allergic to the casein that is present in cow's milk. I have had eczema since I was a baby and I'm always being told by my Mam that whenever dairy was cut out of my diet, it went away. In the last year or so the eczema on my hands and arms has grown worse and it really started pissing me off to be quite honest. I've never had an issue with it really, it could be worse and I consider myself very lucky health wise so I found it easy to overlook it. Looking back, I don't remember a time in the last 4 or 5 years where I have been truly eczema free. I can see now that I was just making excuses and in the last few months as its gotten progressively worse the stares and comments have been getting to me a little. Well more like a lot but when you feel powerless in a situation it's easier to just not think about it, believe it is out of your control and cover up the issue. The incessant itch and long nights I've spent awake scratching are just not worth it if something as simple as giving up dairy can prevent it. So, I decided to take proactive action and give up dairy to see if it makes a difference.

So Sarah, you're going off dairy for your skin because you want to get rid of your eczema, we understand, but why go off meat? Good question! I have had for as long as I can remember a very contentious relationship with meat. I've just never really been in to it. I've never liked pork, lamb or even chicken all that much. Eating meat is convenient and cheap and when you've eaten it all your life with every meal it's hard to know where to even start when you stop eating it. I was a vegetarian for about 6 months about two years ago. I didn't find it hard at all and really enjoyed it. The reason I stopped was because college was over for that term and I had to move home where my father cooks all the food and when I went back to college I didn't commit to it again fully. A poor excuse, I know. But my father loves cooking and really expresses himself through it and it's honestly insulting to him if you don't want to eat it. It's hard to see someone you love put so much care and attention into preparing a meal and then saying no to it. And ultimately I was lazy and wasn't arsed having to prepare my own food all the time. So I started eating meat again. It's been something that always remained on my mind though and I regularly go weeks in college without buying or eating meat without noticing. I've always wanted to return, you need to be in the right mind set though and when I decided two weeks ago to stop eating it again I was very much in the perfect one. Yeah I've craved meat and yeah I've wanted to eat a cheeseburger after a few drinks in the pub but these will fade eventually and they're perfectly normal. So when deciding to go fully off dairy, the desire to stop eating meat was present also so it just made sense to try vegan for a while and see how I feel!

I'm currently a week into my vegan month and it's going pretty well. My energy levels are unfortunately not great so I'm remedying that my introducing much more protein and iron into my diet. Have I noticed a difference in my skin? I'm not sure. Right now the redness, inflammation and the burning desire to itch is gone. Whether that is due to my diet I don't know. I've had many periods in my life over the last few years where I've been nearly eczema free and still on dairy so it's a hard one to determine really. Saying that, I don't want to admit too early that it might be helping and for it to come back with a vengeance later. So for now, yes, I am seeing quite a drastic improvement but it's early days. Will I continue after the month is up? I don't know. It's going to be a long process and honestly, I'm learning as I go along. I've been watching a lot of documentaries on the topic and I've been reading up a lot about it too. The more I read and research the better I understand why this is a good decision for my health and for wider ethical reasons. I won't get into any of that now because I know I'm going to be met by a lot of criticism so for now I'm going to focus on doing my month, reading as much about it as I can and hopefully improving my eczema! I've been keeping tabs of my shopping lists, prices and the food I am preparing and will hopefully have regular posts about what I'm eating and how I'm meeting all my nutritional needs through plant-based means! Wish me luck!

Monday, April 8, 2013

Bray 10km Cliff Run 2013

There I am at the back in black, probably
wiping snot off my face.
No one said running
was glamorous.
This was a thoroughly enjoyable and challenging race! It was a lot harder than I expected and it really pushed me to my limits. It was organised and executed with excellent efficiency and all the staff and volunteers were proficient, encouraging and helpful! The multi-terrain experience and the breathtaking scenery gave this race an edge that you can rarely find these days!

The day started on a rather unpleasant note as I had to get a troublesome root canal retreated. To make matters worse, my appointment was in Newry, Co.Down and I completely underestimated the amount of pain I would be in following the procedure so I spent the entirety of my bus journey back to Dublin trying not to get sick from the pain in my face. Life is cruel sometimes! But, four counties and a lot of painkillers later, I wasn’t feeling too bad! It was a beautiful sunny day so it was hard to be in a bad mood as I made my way into the city centre to meet my brother. We met at Pearse station and got the Dart out to Bray, the scenery was breathtaking as we meandered around the coast. We noted how the picturesque views didn’t quite add up to Ireland as it felt like we were looking at a different country.

When we reached Bray we made our way to the Martello Hotel on the Bray promenade to register and drop our stuff off. The registration was very quick and efficient and we were on our way back to the train station to get the Dart to Greystones within half an hour. It would have been quicker if I had wore my running gear in the first place but I had to get changed at the hotel. While registering you had to state whether you can do a 10km in under 50 minutes or over, if under you were put into the first wave and if over you were in the second. When running the race I realised why it made a lot of sense as the paths along the cliffs are very narrow and at some points can only be run in single file. I was in the second wave so I started at 7pm, whereas the first wave started 10 minutes earlier at 6:50pm.

I hate the wait before a race, I’m always filled with a lot of nervous energy, anticipation, excitement and worry! It was pretty windy and cold having to wait for the second wave to begin so it was hard to warm up and I felt pretty ill prepared. No point in dwelling on it I thought and when the siren rang, off I went! The start line was on the beach so you had to run for about 700-800m on sand before we hit road which was definitely challenging! The only way I can describe is it like running with two invisible cement blocks attached to my feet. You're constantly trying to displace the sand to make your footing but the sand is so soft and constantly shifting so there’s a constant drag on your feet. Just had a cheeky google of sand running and apparently it requires 1.6 times the energy that running on a hard surface requires. It definitely felt like an exercise in futility but I got there in the end and I’ve never been happier to see road before in my life.

After the shore, came the cliff path. This beautiful scenic track which is roughly 7km follows the train line along the cliffs of Bray Head. As I ran along its steep cliffs I was in awe of the stunning and impressive views, which was only intensified by the uncharacteristic beautiful weather. The uninterrupted views helped keep my mind off of the burning in my legs and chest as I was trying to overtake as many people as I could. Not that easy on a narrow track that at most can hold two runners abreast! The first few kilometres went gently uphill for the majority of the time and at other times, not so gently! There was a few steep inclines involving steps and there was a lot of rocks to navigate. The terrain on the cliff path is a bit dangerous if you weren’t careful, I saw one poor guy nearly buckle himself but he quickly found his balance! At the beginning of the cliff path I found it pretty hard to breath and I felt like my asthma was at me which has never happened before. I think there was a lot of pollen in the air that was the potential culprit but at about the 5km mark I started to feel a bit better and I picked up a good bit more speed. There was a water stop at the 5km mark which was rather glorious, the water was ice cold and it was just what I needed! I was going pretty much head to head with a girl the entire race, she had managed to stay ahead of me for the first 5km but then I decided to overtake her and we spent the next 4km leapfrogging each other until I finally took the lead on the downhill stretch into bray village. Man, I really flew down that hill, I love running downhill so I just let loose on it and decided to go as quick as I possibly could.

The final part of the race is something I don’t think I will ever forget in a hurry. In fact, I think it will be a recurring nightmare for years to come. I’ve went through a 60m barbed wire crawl face deep in mud, an electric shock pit and I’ve been plunged in freezing cold water and all of that was a cakewalk compared to the last kilometre of this course! The last part of the run was along the beachfront in Bray but the beach wasn’t sandy, it was rocky. Thousands and thousands of devil rocks. If I thought running in the sand felt like cement blocks tied to my feet, this was the equivalent of having two dead bodies strapped on there. Who were obese... and had eaten some cement blocks. I got halfway down the beach and I’m desperately trying to think about anything but the fact that I’m running, I have my ipod in my hand frantically trying to find a song that is metal enough to forget the pain. I refuse to look up and remind myself how much further I have to run so I fix my eyes on the ground straight in front of me. I chance a look up and I see it, a beacon of hope in an otherwise hopeless world. The finish line! I think cool it’s only there, I can do that no problem! So I get the inspiration I need to increase my speed and all is going well until I realise that people are running PAST the finish line and further up the beach. As I get closer I realise we have to run to the bottom of the beach, and then run back on the footpath to the finish line. It was a merciless realisation that made my heart sink into my runners. What else is there to do but run though! I was about 100m away from the finish line, my legs and lungs were burning with the fire of a thousand suns and I didn’t think I could go much further, until.... I saw the girl I overtook edge her way into my peripheral vision. I’m pretty sure I shouted “Oh hell no!” but I had earphones in so I have no idea how audible it was. Nevertheless, I mustered whatever energy I had left from the fiery depths of my burning body and I sprinted to the finish line and beat her. I meant to go up to her afterwards and thank her for a good race but I swiftly collapsed in a heap on the grass and died for a few minutes. So, on the off chance she sees this, thanks! I honestly thought I was one of the last people to come in and that it had taken me an age but I ran the race in 53.22 and I am absolutely delighted! I ranked 206th out of 341 which I’m very happy about! I ranked 23rd out 110 women, putting me in the top 20%. All in all, I am happy with my performance considering my horrible morning and dodgy chest! This hopefully means I should do a sub 50 minute 10km for my next race which will more than likely be the Flora Women’s Mini Marathon.

Here's a picture of my nice bloody sock
afterwards that I thought you might enjoy.