Body Image, Weight Gain and COVID

Oh hello, it’s been a while.

Apologies for the radio silence on here! I’m ashamed to say that I haven’t posted in over seven months.

Why not, I hear you ask?!

Self-doubt, angst, social anxiety, the usual. Fear has been holding me back, and we all know that the biggest obstacle to success is fear. Luckily, I am now fearless like a lion (I’m not, but I have missed blogging, so here we are). Without further ado…

Weight gain has been a focal point of the COVID lockdown; you’ve probably heard jokes about the “quarantine 15” or terminology such as “lockdown bod”. Unsurprisingly, I don’t find jokes with underlying messages of fatphobia particularly amusing.

I have previously written about why you shouldn’t comment on someone’s weight (whether that be weight loss or weight gain), and this is relevant now more than ever.

Not only have the jokes about weight gain (i.e. fatphobia) increased considerably over recent months, the COVID lockdown has seen a sharp rise in eating disorders. Humour that relies on weight stigma masks diet culture’s connection to body shame, misogyny, and classism. “I need to socially distance myself from the kitchen LOLZZZZZ” might seem like a light-hearted, throwaway comment, but it further stigmatises weight gain and is highly triggering for many.

I’ve experienced varying levels of negative thoughts about my body for as long as I can remember, and like many, this has been amplified over lockdown. Every anxiety has been intensified, and comparison is at an all-time high.

It takes time, patience, and conscious effort to undo the body shaming that has been picked up over the years. Having previously been diagnosed with potential hypothalamic amenorrhea (potential as my contraception at the time may or may not have been masking an underlying abnormality), consistently working on my relationship with food, exercise and my body is a priority.

I know that I’m happier and healthier at my current size vs. four years ago, but the constant influx of “quarantine 15” posts have brought up old insecurities and shame.

As always, I’m curious to hear your thoughts on this (unless your thoughts are steeped in fatphobia, in which case I would kindly ask you to bugger off).

Has lockdown had an impact on your body image? How have you dealt with this?

Mell x

72 Days Meat Free

The decision to end my consumption of meat was not quick or impulsive (unlike most of my decisions). It is something that I have been working towards for almost four years, with periods of great success and periods of complete and utter failure.

A key learning it that the worst way (for me) to cut down on animal product consumption is by making a sudden switch to a fully vegan diet. I have tried this approach multiple times, lasted a couple of months, and then gone on a mad weekend meat binge (not a euphemism).

About a year ago, I decided to try a different tactic; I ate a plant-based diet Monday – Friday. More recently (72 days ago to be precise) I stopped eating meat completely, although I am still currently eating fish twice per week.

As mentioned in previous posts, my reasons behind this lifestyle change are NOT health based – I don’t believe that veganism or vegetarianism are necessarily healthier lifestyle choices, nor should they be used as a weight management tool. I have many issues with ‘documentaries’ such as What the Health and Cowspiracy (don’t even get me started on The Game Changers) as I do not support proselytizing by pseudo-Science and spreading ridiculous misinformation.

HOWEVER.

To put it bluntly, we are destroying our planet. There is a clear link between food and the climate emergency, and we are all aware of this; the consumption of meat is one of the most environmentally damaging actions that we carry out. That, alongside the fact that I simply enjoy eating a plant-based diet and it makes me feel GOOD (plus plant-based food was already making up 90% of my diet) are compelling enough reasons to commit and make the change.

I want to re-emphasise my initial point; from an ecological and ethical standpoint, it’s clear that a plant-based diet is the way forward. My issue is the pseudo-science behind the so-called nutritional and health benefits of following a plant-based diet (for example, The Game Changers conveniently omits the fact that the majority of vegan athletes supplement heavily with protein powders), and an unhealthy obsession with the all or nothing approach.

Food is an extremely multi-faceted and complex topic, and there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Whilst I can’t see myself eating meat again, I would never shame anyone for doing so. You can care deeply about humanity, the environment etc. without devoting all your time and energy towards pursuing the perfect plant-based diet.

Diet Culture in the Health and Fitness Industry

Having recently received yet another targeted ad inviting me to take part in an ‘eight week summer fat blast challenge’, I wanted to share my thoughts on why I will always say “no thanks” to diet culture.

Diet culture is all around us. It’s plastered over social media, at the gym, on food packaging, in conversations with friends… it is EVERYWHERE. This is an industry that needs you to doubt yourself, simply because there are billions of £££ to be made from our insecurities.

What is diet culture?

Diet culture describes a society that places value on being a certain size and weight. Essentially, it promotes the concept that health = thinness, and it oppresses people who don’t match up with this image. It displays itself in numerous ways, some more subtle and sneaky than others. A few examples include:

  • Food advertised as ‘guilt-free’
  • ‘Clean eating’ social media accounts, and the epidemic of ‘clean eating’ in general
  • Fit teas/ skinny teas/ detox teas
  • Our language around food, e.g. labelling foods as good or bad
  • Demonising food groups, e.g. ‘I’m not coeliac but I won’t eat gluten because it is THE DEVIL’

Why is diet culture problematic?

You may view a fat blast challenge or a ‘guilt free’ chocolate bar as being harmless, and I understand why; we’ve been conditioned to believe that health = thinness. That thinness = happiness, success, superiority. That our self-worth is directly linked to our physical appearance.

I used to have a very unhealthy relationship with exercise. Five years ago, my sole reason for exercising was to burn calories so that I could drink all the wine and eat all the pizza without feeling guilty. Essentially, I was exercising because I hated my body.  

80 – 90% of the time I now have a healthy relationship with fitness; I fully appreciate that there are so many health benefits that exercise can have that aren’t directly linked to aesthetics. My mindset has shifted from ‘having’ to exercise to choosing to exercise, but of course this took time – a LONG time. I don’t want to oversimplify it by using phrases such as ‘exercise because you love your body, not because you hate it!’ or ‘just practice radical self-love!’ – not only is this patronising, but learning to navigate the pressures of diet culture is a lot more complex than this.  

How can you remove yourself from toxic diet culture?

The diet industry’s focus is (almost always) appearance based. This industry does not care about your physical health, and it most definitely does not care about your mental health.

Here are a few things that have helped me:

1.          Have a social media clean up

Unfollow the accounts that focus on dieting, ‘toning up’, or anything else that makes you doubt your self-worth. Basically, try not to consume content that impacts you in a negative way.

2.      Stop engaging in diet jokes

This is probably not the best example, given the fact that it is the middle of summer. However, I get sent this every year without fail, and it makes my blood BOIL:

I have also been tagged in the below meme three times this week:

I simply refused to engage in these discussions, regardless of whether it is a light-hearted joke or not. I will either leave the conversation or change the subject, because quite frankly it makes me uncomfortable.

3. Educate yourself

Take the time to educate yourself about the true links between health and weight. If, like me, you are a thin, white, cisgender, able-bodied person, I would encourage you to learn about the experiences of those who do not fit into diet cultures ‘ideal’.

Here are a few of my book/podcast recommendations:

Happy Fat by Sofie Hagen

Fat is a Feminist Issue by Susie Orbach

Food Psych Podcast by Christy Harrison

(Please do let me know if you have any further recommendations!)

Acknowledging that diet culture exists and that it’s an issue is the first step. This is just a tiny part of a much wider discussion, but I hope that it provides a useful insight into a culture that is so entrenched within our society.

Five Worst Pieces of Marathon Advice I’ve Received

With less than two weeks to go until London (WHATTT), I have rounded up the worst pieces of marathon advice I’ve received over the past couple of years. Whilst I am by no means an expert on this matter, quite frankly, sometimes the experts are also no experts on the matter (absolutely terrible use of the English language, my apologies).

So, here are the top five worst pieces of marathon advice I’ve received:

  1. Don’t drink until you’re thirsty

I understand that I shouldn’t drink an excessive amount of water in a short period of time. However, if I followed the rule ‘don’t drink until you’re thirsty’ then I genuinely wouldn’t drink once throughout the marathon! I rarely feel thirsty when I run, no matter what the distance. I definitely experience signs of dehydration (headache, dizziness etc.) but I don’t actually have the urge to drink – therefore, I will definitely be discounting this piece of advice and taking on the recommended 400-800ml of fluid per hour.

2. Don’t do strength training, just run more

It goes without saying that running will be the primary focus of my marathon training. However, I find it bizarre that there are still people who ‘don’t believe’ in strength training for runners.

I must admit that my strength training is currently verging on non-existent, and I’m feeling the impact of this. I’ve had a few injuries since decreasing my strength training, and whilst I can’t claim that it is solely the lack of strength training that has caused these injuries, I would be surprised if there wasn’t a link between the two.

3. Don’t run, just do strength training

A slight contradiction to point number two; I was advised by a Personal Trainer to solely focus on strength training throughout the duration of my marathon training. NO RUNNING. I genuinely almost fell for it (he was very persuasive), before realising that he was probably trying to con me into purchasing additional PT sessions…

4. Lose weight to run faster

I’ve mentioned this one in a previous post; not too long ago, someone attributed my (alleged) weight loss to my increase in running speed. I’m not denying this as a concept; there’s certainly evidence that weight effects speed!

However, I don’t think a fixation on weight loss is healthy, and I have no interest in getting wrapped up in body image. I also don’t find it a particularly helpful comment, thank you very much Hortencia.

5. Don’t run a marathon, it will ruin your knees (bore off)

I’ve saved the most popular piece of ‘advice’ for last – I’ve been passed this bit of wisdom at least 186 times. I know there is quite a bit of controversy around this, but I am yet to find any compelling evidence that running long distance will damage my knees.

Therefore, I shall continue to run run run until I’m 86 years old. Or 96 years old. Who knows…?

The 20-Mile Dread

This Sunday, I will be running the Thames 20; a paced 20-mile race along the River Thames.

Although I have tackled the 20-mile beast previously (plus I took part in the Thames 20 last year), it still fills me with dread, uncertainty, apprehension and all the other bad things.

This doesn’t make a lot of sense, given the fact that I ran 18 miles a couple of days ago and genuinely enjoyed it (apart from the bit where a cyclist simultaneously ROARED and swore at me when I was running along the canal. That was frightening, and I’m still unsure as to why he was so raging – get a grip). However, I know a lot of runners who feel the same way; it seems that many people have a mental hurdle when it comes to tackling the 20-mile distance.

I don’t think it matters how many marathons I run – I say this because I plan to run many more in the future – there will always be a little voice in my head that says ‘of course you can’t run more than 20-miles, you’re not strong enough, you don’t know what you’re doing’ etc. I know this is a very negative and unhealthy thought process, and for that I apologise, but that’s just the honest truth of how my mind works sometimes.

Of course, it’s natural to experience anxiousness around particular workouts or distances. However, I don’t want this to hold me back, and most importantly I don’t want this to sap the fun out of running. I’m keen to run an ultra this year (even though I was recently told by a non-runner that I will be putting myself at risk of hallucinations and potentially DEATH), therefore it’s important that I learn how to shift my mindset.

I have a few mantras, although these seem to be more effective during shorter, faster runs. I’ve created a rather spectacular long run playlist, which definitely helps. I plan out my post-long run meals (plural because there are so many, most of which involve me inhaling copious amounts of sweeeet, delicious, crunchy peanut butter) which ALWAYS helps.

All the above, plus a number of additional techniques, are things that are helpful to me during a long-run. However, it’s the pre-20-mile nerves that I want to focus on, which on this occasion I seem to be experiencing almost a week in advance of the run.

How do you tackle the 20-mile beast, or any distance/workout that you find intimidating? Now, more than ever, your suggestions would be ever so helpful!

Hampton Court Half Marathon and 10 Week Countdown

(As always, this is not a 68,263-word race review – DON’T WORRY).

I entered Hampton Court Half Marathon last minute, due to experiencing extreme FOMO. A brief recap of the race:

Hampton Court Half was a brilliantly organised race and hands down my favourite half marathon thus far. The course was varied and scenic, the pacers were fantastic (shout out to Phil), it was perfect running weather, I nabbed myself a PB and of course, I got to run with some of my favourite people.

My only complaint is that the promised high-quality medal that I was looking forward to (because I am a medal fiend) was of such poor quality that as soon as I put it on, it ripped in half. The same thing happened with my replacement medal, and others were clearly experiencing the same issue as the volunteers began collating a pile of all the broken but beautiful sheeny shiny medals. First world problem’s aside, it was a great morning and two days later I’m still on a post-race highhhh.

With sub 10 weeks to go until London Marathon, I’ve realised that I feel significantly stronger (both mentally and physically) vs. this time last year when training for Brighton Marathon. This will be my third marathon, and something feels different this time.

This is partly down to nutrition and hydration – for the first time, I feel like I’m eating and hydrating properly during my long runs (when I say properly, what I mean is that I’ve finally found what works for me). This will be put to the test next weekend when I run the Thames 20, and there is an 86% chance that I’ll be eating my words/vomiting on a friendly marshal by mile 16.

It’s also down to the simple fact that I’m taking my marathon training a lot more seriously this time around. Instead of scheduling in tempo runs and interval sessions and then deciding seconds before my run that I am ABSOLUTELY NOT capable of running that fast, I’ve just been getting on with it.

However, arguably the most important factor is that I have a stronger support network and am lucky enough to be surrounded by people who will push me when the going gets tough. I believe this is particularly important when it comes to endurance running (which I would class as marathon distance and beyond) when often the struggles can be more mental than physical.

I guess what I’m trying to say, in a long and slightly convoluted manner, is that I’m really excited to run the London Marathon. This is the first time that I’ve truly believed in myself, in terms of my running ability, and despite the ridiculously early starts and dreaded long runs, I’m looking forward to the final 10 weeks of training.

Are you running London? Do you have any tips? (I recently asked someone this and they told me it was the most underwhelming race of their life and that I would probably hate every second of it. If you are going to come up with any similar helpful tips, I would politely ask that you keep your thoughts to yourself. Thank you and goodnight).

Why You Will Never Catch Me Drinking Celery Juice

CELERY JUICE…yet another obscene health craze that has taken over my Instagram feed. I tend to ignore ridiculous diets and alleged superfoods, but upon overhearing a teenage girl on the train proudly stating, “I had celery juice for breakfast and I’m not going to eat until 6pm”, I felt riled up enough to blog about the holy celery.

After carrying out some extensive research, it seems like the supposed benefits of drinking celery juice are as follows:

  • Clears skin and reduces bloating
  • Aids weight loss
  • Great for hydration
  • Acts as an anti-inflammatory
  • Boosts your immune system
  • A useful remedy for mental health problems (?!?!?!)

From speaking to medical professionals, including a friend who is a nutritionist, it appears that celery does indeed have anti-inflammatory properties, therefore could be beneficial for those with digestive issues. Given the fact that celery is 95% water, it goes without saying that it’s hydrating…and the rest is elaborate pseudoscience invented by Anthony William, founder of the celery juice ‘movement’.

William, also known as The Medical Medium, has no medical expertise and is most certainly not a nutritionist. William was ‘born with the unique ability to converse with Spirit of Compassion who provides him with extraordinarily accurate health information that’s often far ahead of its time.’ This is the opening line of his homepage (I wish I was joking) …need I say more?!

Of course, this post is not just about celery, nor is it about the fraud that is Anthony William. It’s about how we, as a society, perceive certain foods and abuse the concept of healthy eating.

I could have picked J.Lo’s recent no sugar & no carbs ‘challenge’ or any of Kim Kardashian’s ridiculous meal replacement shakes. There are hundreds if not thousands of moronic celebrities, irresponsible pseudoscientists and various other ‘experts’ you shouldn’t trust – far too many to name and shame!

I can’t believe we are STILL having this conversation in 2019. There are no miraculous superfoods, there are no healing foods, and celery is certainly not ‘truly the saviour when it comes to chronic illnesses.’

Please don’t take nutrition advice from a man who recommends such bizarre and questionable health solutions.

Please don’t feel that you must drink juiced bitter stalks on an empty stomach and then starve yourself for the rest of the day.

I am, obviously, not a nutritionist or a medical professional. However, one thing I do know is that ultimately, we should be eating for pleasure, thus the conversation I overheard on the train genuinely upset me.

As with all health trends of a similar nature, one must always question the source.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this matter! Equally, I’d love to hear whether anyone genuinely loves the taste of celery sticks smushed together first thing in the morning!

My Thoughts on Veganuary

I’ve read multiple articles recently referring to Veganuary* as ‘the latest trend’, ‘a celebrity fad’, ‘great for a New Year detox’ etc. This irritates me for obvious reasons, and in honour of my fourth year of Veganuary, I felt compelled to delve into this further.

I think Veganuary is a fantastic campaign, and a fantastic charity. We’re all aware that we should be reducing our meat consumption, therefore focusing on more plant-based foods. We know that eating vegan is a great way to address animal welfare and environmental issues (climate change, greenhouse gas emissions and saving water to name a few).

What I do have an issue with is extremist propaganda (ahemmm the What the Health documentary) and the claims that following a plant-based diet will automatically lead to weight loss and a variety of perceived health benefits. I could write a whole post about What the Health**, but I’ll save that for another time!

So, why am I partaking in Veganuary?

I’m not a vegan, but over the past four years I have considerably reduced my animal product consumption; I don’t eat dairy, and in general I eat meat once or twice per week. I say in general because over the Christmas period, I definitely did not adhere to this!

The reasons behind reducing my animal product consumption are predominantly all those that I mentioned above, plus the fact that cutting out dairy has significantly improved my eczema. Also, 95% of my favourite foods are vegan which definitely helps!

I am NOT taking part in Veganuary as a form of ‘cleansing’ or ‘detoxing’ my body, and I don’t approve of Veganuary being labelled a fad regime. Detoxing, of course, is a scam…and it’s a scam which should not be linked to veganism.

To clarify, I’m not claiming that the health benefits of eating vegan are redundant, in fact quite the opposite – the fact that cutting out (some) animal products has improved a skin condition that I have suffered from since birth definitely highlights this! My point is that a vegan meal is not necessarily a healthier option. There are healthy and unhealthy approaches to a vegan diet, just like every. single. other. diet.

There are PLENTY of compelling reasons not to eat animal products but using Veganuary as a ‘detox’ is absolutely not one of them.

*Veganuary is a non-profit organisation encouraging people to follow a vegan diet throughout the month of January.

**What the Health is a Netflix documentary promoting a vegan diet. I’ve watched some compelling documentaries on veganism and vegetarianism, but this documentary is full of inaccuracies, questionable claims and pseudo-science.

My Top Three Podcasts of 2018

In the listening versus reading debate, I am far more partial to the latter – thus finding a podcast that truly engages me can be quite a task. That being said, there are so many fantastic podcasts out there.

Here are three of the best, in no particular order (that’s a lie as number one is definitely my no. 1).

1.Table Manners with Jessie Ware

This is my absolute favourite.

Table Manners has been described as ‘an ode to food’, which it is, but it’s also so much more. Jessie, along with her mother, Lennie, cooks a three-course meal for their celebrity guest. Whilst each episode is predominantly centred around the guest, what I love most about this podcast is the way Jessie interacts with Lennie – their relationship is so endearing and authentic.

Some highlights include:

  • Mel B
  • Ed Sheeran
  • Paloma Faith

A little suggestion for the next guest – PICK ME. I may not be a celebrity, but I do love delicious food, plus I think we’d have a really great time.

2. The Guilty Feminist

Feminist podcasts are becoming a crowded space, but every single episode of The Guilty Feminist (that I’ve listened to – which is most of them!) has been thought-provoking, humorous, sad and infuriating all at once.

Deborah Frances-White explores a wide range of topics including female friendship, toxic masculinity, diet culture and gender stereotypes. There’s nothing more relatable, and in my opinion, there’s no better podcast that explores the complexities of modern day feminism in an honest but light-hearted manner.

Some highlights include:

  • Feminists Don’t Wear Pink and Other Lies
  • Repeal the Eighth with Helen Linehan
  • Mental Health with Milly Thomas

3. Stuff You Should Know

Hosted by Josh Clark and Chuck Bryant, this podcast is essentially about how things work. This covers politics, sociology, history, current affairs and many other topics.

I have a love/hate relationship with Stuff You Should Know. Josh and Chuck go off on a tangent frequently, and whilst some might view this as authentic (i.e. it sounds natural and conversational), I find it sloppy and irritating. I don’t want to listen to 45 minutes of unengaging banter and inside jokes (sorry Josh and Chuck).

However, I really enjoy learning alllll the things, and this podcast has taught me many things!

Some highlights include:

  • How Grief Works
  • How Search and Rescue Dogs Work
  • How Kleptomania Works

If you have any podcast recommendations, please do let me know!

Why You Should Never Comment on Someone’s Food Choices

(Just me with a bread roll, you’re welcome.)

Last week, over a period of three days, I received 12 comments on my food choices. These comments came from the same three people – here are a few of my favourites:

“Mell’s eating chocolate! Bet that makes a nice change from all the rabbit food? HMMM?”

“Do you weigh out your water too?”  (This comment is made to me every morning when I weigh out my oats, followed by said person laughing hysterically at his own joke. Every. Single. Morning.)

“Oh, for god’s sake, what’s the point in you coming if you’re not going to drink?!”

A few years ago, when I first began making changes to my diet, I would simply laugh these comments off. Sometimes I would panic and make up excuses regarding my food choices – “I’m not drinking tonight as I’m taking antibiotics” was a classic.

The truth is that I no longer wish to drink on a regular basis, and I weigh out my food because I want to ensure that I’m eating enough to fuel my running – it’s as simple as that. Obviously, I shouldn’t have to justify my eating habits. I’m genuinely curious, why do you care what I eat?! Perhaps this is a cultural, gender or generational thing?

Weight loss/gain comments come under the same remit. I was recently congratulated (?!) on my weight, informed that the reason my running has improved is due to apparent weight loss, and advised to “keep up the good work.”

Just a polite reminder: “You’ve lost/gained weight” is not necessarily a compliment; in fact, this comment made me feel extremely awkward. I know that I’m not alone in this, and I’ve had numerous conversations with friends who have been put in similarly uncomfortable situations.

This may sound like a trivial issue, but it is closely linked with harmful societal norms about women’s bodies.

Criticising somebody else’s food preferences, or their weight, is an invasion of their privacy.

If you are genuinely concerned about someone’s eating habits, then, of course, that’s a completely different issue. If you are simply projecting your own negativity insecurities onto others, then I would politely (but not that politely) ask you to mind your own business.

Some people love to judge and condemn others (shout out to Hortencia), and I still haven’t worked out the most effective way to deal with these comments. Any tips on this would be much appreciated, as the festive period is rife for “OOOOOH should you be eating that?!”

Malawi Diaries Part 3: Kayak Challenge & Rainbow Hope Secondary School

The third and final challenge was a 25km Kayak on Lake Malawi, around Cape Maclear and Domwe Island.

I have never kayaked before, much to the amusement and disbelief of my wonderful and very patient kayaking guide. In fact, I haven’t been in a boat since 2003; 15 years ago, I went on a school trip to France, and the ferry journey was so unpleasant that I dramatically vowed to NEVER set foot on a boat again.

I was (definitely) not a natural on the kayak, but I was given some great tips from my guide and teammates, and eventually we got into a strong, comfortable rhythm. The Kayak challenge took around 4 and a half hours, and despite my initial concerns I found it rather therapeutic and of course the views were spectacular.

After the excitement of completing (and surviving!) the final Sport with a Purpose challenge, we visited Rainbow Hope Secondary School.

We were treated to a fantastic but heart-wrenching drama performance, which highlighted some of the issues that Malawian women face; serious gender disparities are prominent in Malawi and the play touched on just a few of these – education, marriage, and violence against women.

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Over the past five years, Rainbow Hope has developed from what was essentially a piece of derelict land to a functioning secondary school with three classrooms and 130 students. The aim is for the school to sustain itself by fee paying students, therefore most children must be sponsored to attend.

The Sport with a Purpose Team have sponsored 25 children, who will now be able to attend Rainbow Hope for their four years of secondary school education. * I am really excited to be a part of this!

It’s difficult to sum up my experiences, and actually I don’t want to, because I feel like I am still living it. I don’t want to come across like a pretentious moron, but I genuinely feel like a different person as a result of my time spent in Malawi. I hope that I have brought that person home with me, and I hope to continue to spread the word and inspire people to visit Malawi; friends, family, colleagues and strangers have asked me many questions and displayed a real curiosity, which was quite unexpected and very heartening.

Zikomo to everyone involved for the most challenging, emotional and inspirational trip.

*If you are interested in sponsorship, please do let me know and I can provide further details. It only costs £140 – £175 per year, and your sponsorship could make a HUGE difference to a potential pupil who will be so keen to learn.

Malawi Diaries Part 2: Cycle Challenge & YODEP

The second part of my Malawi Diaries will cover our visit to YODEP Village Community Project and our next challenge – the 55k Zomba Plateau Ride (climbing over 6000ft!)

I am a (very) nervous cyclist, therefore I anticipated that this would be my biggest challenge of the three. However, this brutal mountain bike was tougher than I ever could have anticipated, both physically and mentally.

Much like the Mulanje Mountain run, the route was very technical and therefore tricky to navigate. There were two options for the cycle, 35k or 55k, and in my head I was always going to complete the shorter ride (which was still an ABSOLUTE beast.) However, upon approaching the 35k split (whilst gripping onto my handlebars so tightly that I was beginning to lose sensation in my fingers), I was encouraged by my wonderful teammates to go for the 55k.

My biggest cycling fear is riding downhill, and this was downhill like I had never seen it before; steep, rough terrain with large rocks, holes and various other obstacles. We cycled through forests, streams and picturesque waterfalls – the views were INCREDIBLE.

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Although I wish I could say that I began to relax as the ride progressed, my honest feedback is that I felt anxious for approximately 90% of the Zomba Plateau challenge. Anxious is probably an understatement – I was sweating like a pregnant warthog.

However, it was an incredible experience, and I am very proud of everyone that completed it and so thankful for all the encouragement and words of wisdom from our fantastic guides. Despite my fear of the bike, this will not be the end of my cycling ‘career’ as I am far too stubborn/motivated/crazy to give up – plus, I’ve committed to take on my first triathlon next year!

Another highlight from my time in Malawi was our visit to YODEP Village Community Project.

YODEP (Youth for Development and Productivity) is a nonprofit community based organisation, established to help address socio-economic issues encountered by orphaned children, women and youth.

We received a very warm welcome upon our arrival at YODEP including allllll the singing, dancing, smiles and laughter.

A 5k run around the village really highlighted the strength and resilience of these amazing children – some ran in flip flops, some ran in odd shoes, and some ran in no shoes, but this most definitely did not stop them! These kids are SO fast and so talented, and with the right support and opportunities, could potentially go on to become world-class athletes.

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This was another eye-opening experience, and one that I will never forget. It was a pleasure meeting the kids at YODEP, who not only displayed exceptional sporting talent, but were also so welcoming, curious and kind-hearted.

If you are interested in helping YODEP, please let me know and I can provide further info!