The other day, Facebook merrily reminded me that it’s four years since I ran the London Marathon.

FOUR YEARS!

As well as sending me into a silent panic about how quickly time seems to be passing now I’m a proper grown-up, this information also got me thinking about why I started running all those years ago.

The simple answer is heartache (yep, time to get your violins out people). When I first started ‘proper’ running, rather than just the odd 15 minute tootle round the park, it was during a messy on/off relationship, where my emotional energy and self esteem were dipping, and I suddenly found myself craving an outlet for all my ~feelings~ (really, there was only so long I could wang on at my poor flatmates). 

Running became a means to channel my feelings – whether it was anger, stress or just plain ‘waaaah I’m sad’ – into something physical and productive. It sounds weird, but I felt that I could almost fuel myself on the energy of my emotions, like each chunk of heartache was a coal I chucked on the fire, making me run further and faster than I ever imagined I could. 

Running was also a means of proving my strength to myself. When relationships get messy, it can really knock your confidence, which is where the endorphin boost comes in mighty handy. The little sense of achievement at the end of every run, plus the greater glory at reaching bigger goals (a 5k, a 10k, a half marathon), reminds you that actually, you’re just fine thank you. Curating a break-up running playlist featuring Alaina Morrisette You Oughta Know and Beyoncé’s Irreplaceable helps too.

Now, whenever a friend is going through the pain of a relationship ending, I always recommend exercise to help them recover emotionally (all this #revengebody stuff is all well and good, but post break-up exercise is about so much more than that). Whether it’s running or boxing or yoga that floats your boat, the simple act of making time for yourself and accomplishing physical feats will help restore emotional equilibrium. 

My broken heart was long in the past by the time it came to my marathon training, thank the Lord. By then, I was leading a fun but hectic lifestyle, working full time as a journalist, going out out every Saturday night and dating like a trooper during the week, which meant a whole lot of booze and probably not enough rest and recuperation.

My weekly long runs, always completed on a Saturday morning, became my weekly headspace. It was a time when hitting work deadlines and wondering whether some boy was going to text me back became irrelevant. Instead the focus was all me, myself and I – a time to reflect and test my physical capabilities. As a woman, you’re often so obsessed with how your body looks that it’s liberating to instead focus on what it can do, and during those months, I didn’t give a crap about whether my legs looked hot in a miniskirt, but took pride in how they withstood constant training sessions and smashed out PBs at a rate I didn’t think possible (my 1hr40min Reading half marathon is still one of my proudest achievements, especially because I was nursing a Six Nations hangover). 

I ran the London Marathon in 2013, and completing it was real proof to myself that I had mental strength, as well as physical stamina, that I hadn’t really appreciated before. It seems completely apt to me that the charity supporting the marathon this year is Heads Together – I’ve experienced for myself the emotionally soothing effects of running, and can well believe that the sense of purpose marathon training gives you is an antidote to all kinds of mental stresses and strains.


Nowadays, I see running as a kind of mental escapism; an opportunity to switch from emails, tweets, WhatsApp group threads etc. Whatever particular stress I’m having at the time – and as an anxious person, there are a lot – running gives me balance and a boost of happiness, even if sometimes of the thought of pulling on my trainers and leaving the sofa is mildly horrifying. 

To me, running is as much about training the mind as it is your body. Both have surprising reserves of fortitude, and both need to be given equal amounts of attention in order to have a happy and healthy life. 

digme-fitness-review-1

What is it?

Digme Fitness offers indoor cycling classes with top-end equipment – most notably the Keiser M3i bikes, which connect with a screen at the front of the studio and allow you to visually race through the mountains and compete against your fellow riders. It has recently joined forces with Barrecorre to open a swanky new studio in London’s Moorgate, which is where I tried out a class.

My experience:

I’ve tried spin classes with screens and leaderboards before (oh hey The Pack), but this was by far the most impressive bit of tech I’ve experienced.

digme-fitness-studio

We were all given the number for a particular bike when we walked in, and once we started riding cute little characters with corresponding numbers popped up on the screen in front of us, pedalling their way through a picturesque hillscape. Unsurprisingly, being able to see where you ranked in the group of characters was a huge motivating force throughout the class!

Our instructor was very careful to make sure all the bikes were set up properly and that we understood what the various measurements on the screens – including watts, speed etc – meant before we properly got going, which I realised was quite rare for spin classes.

Once we started cycling is was full-on, with plenty of hill climbs and sprints, as you can probably tell from the picture below (that’s me, far left!)

digme-fitness-review-1

The leaderboard element definitely added some interest to the class. At one point, we were given a ‘3 minute challenge’, where we basically had to see how far we could get in three minutes, with everyone’s realtime results and rankings beamed onto a screen at the front,.

As my long-suffering friends and family will know, any activity that taps into my competitive side is bound to get me working harder than I would otherwise, and I think most sporty types would say the same.

However, I was quite surprised to look up and realise that I was actually top out of all the girls there – really wish my year 10 P.E. teacher had been there to witness it tbh, and I look extremely hideous but happy upon learning the news:

digme-fitness-review-1

I was even more shocked when the final leaderboard was revealed at the end of the class and I was second out of everyone (including two male instructors who were in the session – HOLLLAAA). If anything, I think this is a reflection of sheer bloody determination more than talent, although of course I took a photo of the leaderboard to prove that I’m secretly a professional athlete.

leaderboard-digme-review

All in all, a fun and challenging class, particularly good for those who thrive off competition!

Fitness level:

Any fitness level, although if you’re a bit rusty, prepare for the whole class to know it.

I burnt:

258 calories in a half hour taster class.

More info here.

Images: Luke Ayling


As you can probably tell from this l’il blog, I’m a huge fan of a fitness class, and regularly attend everything from aerobics to boxing classes, trendy HIIT sessions to spinning at the local leisure centre.

While the classes and environments may change, one thing is always constant – the kind of people you find at a fitness class.

Whether you’re into Zumba or pilates, barre or body attack, here are a few types you’ll probably be familiar with!

1. The teacher’s pet

This person is absolutely always found at the front of the class. In fact, they’re so well-established that they actually have their own spot, which no one else dare stand in.

To cement their teacher’s pet status, this individual will always be the one to fetch a mat for the instructor, and is relied upon to laugh loudest at their jokes. If it makes them happy…

2. The permanently confused one

Not everyone has great coordination; in fact, some people will literally never get their heads around the class routine, no matter how many times they attend it.

This person can normally be found accidentally walking into other class-goers as they bound the wrong way, or doing their own sweet thang as everyone else performs a perfectly synchronized routine.

I kind of love this person, as long as I’m not exercising next to them.

3. The noisy one

While most of us like to keep a low profile at fitness classes, there’s always one person who likes to scream/bellow/grunt their way through the whole affair.

Most commonly found at boxing-inspired and HIIT classes, these people are seemingly unaware of the surprised looks they’re getting from everyone else.

4. The competitive one

Whoever said it’s the taking part that counts clearly had not met this class-goer, who treats every workout session as if it’s the Olympic Games.

Whether they’re proving that they can sprint across the room fastest, do burpees at twice as fast as everyone else, or hold a plank for 15 minutes, this person is all about showing they are THE WORLD’S GREATEST.


5. The gossipers

Is it an exercise class, or a coffee shop? This pair genuinely aren’t sure. You’ll see them use the class as an opportunity to catch up, only putting in a leisurely effort, because really the most important thing is having a chinwag. Fair play.

6. The perfect girl

While you are sweating and gasping your way through an exercise class, this girl remains absolutely perfect-looking throughout: smooth, swishy ponytail, golden tan, not a drop of sweat on her and toned abs peeking out under her crop top.

On the one hand, she serves as inspiration – if you keep working out, you might look like her one day.

On the other hand, you kind of want to punch her.

7. The newbie

We’ve all been this person at some point – the one wondering around in confusion while everyone else knowingly grabs their equipment, or trying to work out how the hell to do some complicated routine that feels like second nature to regular class-goers.

Be a good person and help them out – it’s no fun feeling like the clueless one!

8. The token bloke

Okay, this is not true of ALL fitness classes – some of them have a fairly even gender split.

However, the vast majority of classes are very much a female affair, although in my experience, there always seems to be one man who doesn’t give a crap about going to a ‘girly’ class and bloody well does some aerobics anyway.

Token blokes – I salute you.

bxr-skills-london-review

What is it?

Located at the (dead swanky) new BXR London gym in Marylebone, Skills is a pay-as-you-go class designed to hone your boxing skills and get you fit along the way. Each day of the week, the class focuses on a different technique, so by the end of it you’ll basically by professional boxer Anthony Joshua (who, incidentally, is on the committee of the new gym).

My experience:

First of all I’d just like to toot my horn and let you all know that I woke up at friggin’ 5.50am to review this class for you guys – YOU’RE WELCOME.

By the time I arrived at 7am, I had just about woken up, which meant I could pay attention while our instructor demonstrated the correct way to punch the bag and move your feet around (amazing how few box-fitness classes actually bother with this).

Once we’d mastered the technique (I use the term ‘mastered’ loosely in my case) it was on to a fast and furious warm-up, involving burpees, press-ups and all manner of exercises that no one in their right mind would do at that hour of the morning.

bxr-skills-london-review

When we were fully sweaty, it was on to the boxing, and, similar to 1Rebel’s class Rumble, this involved slowly building up a sequence of punches until we were, essentially, beating the shit out of our punch bags.

The only slight issue I had was being able to see our instructor at the front of the studio. The nature of the class means there are whopping great punch bags hanging everywhere and – like all trendy workout classes these days – the lights were dimmed, so several times I really couldn’t see what he was doing, and had to rely on copying those around me instead.

 

bxr-skills-london-review

However, in general I would say the instruction was good and there was more focus on technique – for example, how to kick correctly – than I normally get at these type of classes.

Perhaps the most memorable part of the session was when we were told to partner up (always terrifying for awkward people like me) and told to punch each other in the stomach. Yep really, partner one had to stand with their hands above their head and brace their abs while partner two repeatedly punched them in the stomach. This was fine until the instructor decided that my partner wasn’t whacking me hard enough and took it upon himself to beat the crap out of my abs while I stood there like ‘Umm actually, I don’t entirely agree that this is pain-free’.

All in all, a fun and educational class, but probably not one to try while you’re on your period…

Fitness level:

Any fitness level, as long as you don’t mind getting punched.

 I burnt:

300 calories

More info. Classes start at £15.

 

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F45 Tottenham Court Road London

What is it?

F45 is a fitness phenomenon that started in Australia, home of fit people (in every sense of the word). Since launching several years ago it has spread internationally, with the a new UK studio opening in London’s Tottenham Court Road. Imagine circuit training but with trendy studios, tonnes of good equipment and upbeat, knowledgable instructors and you get the idea.

My experience:

There are 27 class ‘programs’ available from F45, but I tried Athletica, which promises to get you leaner, faster and more agile in 45 minutes (all music to my ears).

I was a bit wary when I arrived at the press taster class and saw a couple of huge, muscly male instructors, not because I have a problem with big, muscly men – quite the opposite – but because in my experience that tends to mean ridiculously heavy weights, testosterone-fuelled competition and lots of bootcamp-style shouting in your ear, which is meant to be encouraging but I just find aggravating.

F45 Tottenham Court Road London

Luckily, I was completely wrong. In fact, what struck me most about the class was how welcoming and inclusive it was. Sometimes it’s nice to have an instructor who’s cheers you on rather than screaming in your face, and weights that are challenging but still actually lift-able (if I go to one more class where they assume that EVERYONE can run around swinging two 30kg weights off their arms I will scream).

That’s not to say this isn’t hard work. In small groups of three or four, we moved our way round a series of exercises including kettle bell squats, Russian twists, TRX pull-ups, battle ropes and pushing a weighted sled up and down a track. By the end I was about 85% sweat. But there was a fun, upbeat feel to the class and a good camaraderie among the groups, which helped everyone get through the intense exercise (we did three 20 seconds bursts with a short break in between each, before moving to the next exercise).

F45 Tottenham Court Road London

I’ll be honest, the only not so great aspect of this place is the changing rooms. F45 is not alone in this; the problem with lots of studios that offer classes is that everyone hits the changing room at the same time, which means there’s not enough room for everyone to shower/get dressed/dry their hair at the same time. A warning for shy types: the showers at F45 are pretty open (one girl kept screaming to her friends outside “I can see everyone naked, it’s horrible” while I was also in the shower, which was flattering).

However, changing room gripes aside, I definitely recommend this class – it’s a great way to set yourself up for the day and I never felt like I’d deserved a breakfast more!

F45 Tottenham Court Road London

This is the kettlebell I accidentally swung into my crotch. NOT ADVISABLE.

Fitness level:

Average to good, although it’s a really encouraging class so even if you’re crap someone will help push you on!

I burnt:

510 calories (woohooo!)

 

From £25 per class (7-day trial for £20). More info here.

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