Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Hell of The Ashdown - Devil's DeTour

I've had... issues with cycling and hills.  So I decided to get over it and sign up for the silly annual hillfest that Mr TOTKat has done a couple of times before.  Slightly annoyingly, there is a longer and a shorter route.  And being completely lacking in perspective around hills, I decided to do the shorter route just to be safe.

The shorter of the two routes of the Catford Cycling Club annual large-sale sportive is the "Devil's deTour".  I thought I might manage 03:15:00 and did some maths on the 2011 results to see what the mean time for women over that course was and at 03:34:00 I thought top 1/3rd was a reasonable target to aim for.

R/L/SO 'Devil's deTour' Challenge '50K' (53.5K) Route  Route Kilo Mile
START  Biggin Hill, Kent - H.Q. Charles Darwin School, Jail Lane   00.0 00.0
L Leaving HQ - Jail Lane - Bear R - Down Berrys Hill - Climb Church Hill      
R 'Cudham Test Hill' (Church Hill) - At Top Dismount - CARE turning R (M) 2.1 1.3
   Cudham - Cudham Lane - The Nower      
R Onto Hogtrough - DANGER steep descent - CARE hidden side roads   5.6 3.5
L  Brasted - CARE turning L into High St. (M) 8.3 5.3
1st R Chart Lane - Brasted Chart - Toys Hill(long/steady ascent)   11.7 7.3
  Toys Hill - DANGER steep descent   12.4 7.7
R Into Green Lane - CARE at junction B2042 (M) 14.8 9.2
L  Four Elms X roads L Into Clinton Lane B2027 15.6 9.7
2nd R Into How Green Lane B2027 16.9 10.5
  In How Green Lane bear left at bend and follow road      
L L at Fork (110k route goes R) (M) 18.7 11.6
L L at T junction into Hever Rd (M) 18.7 11.6
R Bough Beech At T junction CARE turning R onto B2027 B2027(M) 20.3 12.6
1st L Towards Blore Place - S/O at next junction (NOT to Ide Hill)   22.3 13.9
L At junction keep bearing L into Bowzell Road   26.8 16.7
R Bayley's Hill (long/steep ascent) At top of hill turn R into White House Lane   29.4 18.3
1st L Into ? Gracious Lane   30.0 18.6
L At B2042 onto Wheatsheaf Hill   32.3 21.1
1st R At Car Park/ Toilets CHECK / Feed then L towards Ide Hill Village CHECK 32.7 20.3
R Ide Hill Village - R at Green/Roundabout   33.1 20.6
R Fork R towards Sundridge - Church Rd   43.2 21.3
SO Sundridge Straight over Traffic Lights into Chevening Road B2211 36.8 22.9
Exit 1 At Roundabout turn L into Star Hill Road   40.6 25.2
  Climb Star Hill (long/steep ascent)   41.9 26.0
1st L At 'The Harrow'   43.2 26.8
1st L Knockholt Pound L at the village green into Main Road   43.5 27.0
L At Scotts Lodge t junction L into Cudham Lane   46.6 29.0
1st R Into Grays Road   46.8 29.1
R At Hawley's Corner ('Spinning Wheel') extreme R into Buckhurst Rd   49.6 30.8
1st L Into Berry's Green Road (care Potholes!)   50.8 31.6
1st L At T junction then bear left at top of hill into Jail Lane   52.2 32.4
FINISH HQ - Charles Darwin School on R in Jail Lane Distance 53.5 33.2

Mr TOTKat was down for an 09:02 start for the 100K route, me 10:22 for the 50K route, so I had over an hour to kill after he and Mupps headed off for some hill-related fun.  Luckily, my overshoe decided to have a zip failure, so I spent a good 20 minutes looking for ways to stop it from flapping about and unravelling.  It was cold enough that not wearing them would have been probably a bad idea.  A cable tie was the first option, but I didn't like the fact that I couldn't get it off in a hurry, so I ended up with two elastic bands knotted together and threaded through the loop on the back of my cycling shoe to help it stay in place.

I ran into a Thames Turbo member and had a bit of a chat before a group of us headed off for the 10:22 start time slot.  Thankfully for me, I was pre-warned about the first hill being utterly ridiculous; "Major Climbs Cudham Test Hill – New in 2009, this literally gives a short sharp shock in the first mile or so. Don’t worry if you have to walk the 1 in 4 stretch at the top because in any case we ask you to dismount to turn right at the T junction."  That and the words of warning from Mr TOTKat prepared me for the silliness that was the first hill.  4 of the others in the same starting group, however, had no idea what was in store for them, so when they rounded the bend and started up the incline, three of them wobbled into the middle of the road, one of those fell sideways and got off, the other two zig-zagged in front of me a bit until I passed them in the first couple of metres and the last one disappeared behind me in a fit of giggles.

I powered up really very slowly, but knowing that was the worst of the steepness over, got to the junction at the top in one piece and only had to unclip at the top briefly before turning right and getting on with the ride.  Very pleased with the steepest bit over with in the first few minutes, I wasn't sure if that hill counted as one of the four main ones on the shorter route nor how the others would compare.

Annoyingly, MapMyRide doesn't consider the whole of Star Hill due to a plateau before the summit...

Long story short, I didn't hold back like I have been on my long rides.  I chased down two guys who were ahead of me and descended better than me, but I caught them on every ascent; the big hills and the rolling rises too.  I gritted my teeth through the big ascents and hung in there, was a bit cautious on the descents due mostly to worrying about oncoming traffic and the narrowness of some of the roads.  Next time I'll know better.  Also, I stopped a bit long at the feed station and ended up chatting to a guy who is to my right in this photo and making me grin like an idiot... (note the elastic band around my left ankle ;o))

I didn't intend to spend long at the feed station, but ended up there for over 5 and a half minutes mostly due to chatting.  If I'd just crammed in the two gels and swigs of water I'd've been out in a minute or two, tops.  And at the end, I really wish I had!

I don't remember this hill/photo point... but it looks pretty steep to me.  Note the guys behind me, out of the saddle.  I still can't do that on hills; fine on the flat though.  More bike skills practice please!

And here I am, giving out to the photographers part-way up Star Hill...  I was pretty chuffed at this point having spent a good few km chasing down a slightly large bloke all in Castelli gear with red pants underneath that were grinning through the black of his tights.  He'd passed me at a point after I'd messed up my gearing and was slower than I should have been, with a cheery "well done!".  I wasn't having any of that, sorted my gears out and proceeded to have him up the next hill.  Then he beat me down the next one.  So I beat him up the next.  Repeat for 3 hills and then I lost him, or he lost me I can't remember which now.

4km from the end, I was pumping down a gentle descent, really picking up speed, passed the first of a pair of cyclists, slowed a bit for a bend and then hit something big in the road.  I didn't see what it was but I yelled out "shiiii-i-i--i-i-iiit!", almost lost the back end of the bike, veered across the road and fought the bike back vertical underneath me.  Poor bugger behind was worried he was going to hit me, the guy in front yelled out to check I was OK.  I quickly made it known I was fine and carried on sawing at the pedals to get my speed back as I was almost at the finish and really wanted to get a decent time.

Round the final few bends, up the tiny little hill to the finish and I stormed over the finish line to the squealing of the timing mat.  Starving hungry at this point, I forgot about the planned recovery meal in the car and headed straight for the cafe for a sausage and bacon baguette and two teas, via picking up my finisher's certificate hot off the press.  02:26:14 - little did I know at that point it was only 00:01:47 behind the first woman!

Once I'd stuffed a ton of food in and cooled down a bit, I nipped back to the car to pick up Mr TOTKat's trainers as he was due to do a 15 minute run at the end of the ride.  There were loads of sociable people chatting away so I ended up talking to two guys who were quite half-decent cyclists with lots of stories. Mr TOTKat and Mupps turned up and Mr TOTKat changed into trainers for a quick trot around the block before coming back to a sausage and bacon baguette.  I scoffed another two teas and a hunk of carrot cake before we packed up to go home.

As we drove home, I thought more and more about last year's results for this event and the fact that the first woman over the line for the short route did it in 02:20:xx.  I thought I was in with a shot of placing top three... and had to wait for hours for the results to go up.  Hitting refresh over and over until I got bored, and was eating dinner when an SMS came in from Mupps that I might want to hit refresh again.

4th place overall for the shorter route and 2nd woman by 1 minute and 47 seconds.  If only I'd yapped less at the feed station!

Saturday, 25 February 2012

I think coach gets it now

I'd been a bit worried about coachJez potentially not understanding what this year was about for me. It was clear that he knew I was doing IM Wales, but I was pretty sure he'd not taken in the rest of the schedule with any real understanding.  So when he sent me the next 21 sessions of training programme, I replied with an email with the dates of my races so he could schedule for recovery around those.

The next time I saw him, Thursday this week for a cross-train session, the first thing he said to me was "You... are nuts!".  And then we had a long talk about my race schedule.  He gets it now.  Really gets it.  CoachJez has trained people for Ironman before, and people who have a couple of long races in a season, usually one near the beginning and then Kona at the end, but not someone who is doing four of the things in 3 months.  So, he's started to get some advice elsewhere on how we manage this so I get through the season safely.  I'm a little bit worried that he's going to go the other way too far with the training, i.e. wind the hard sessions right back in favour of endurance/base fitness stuff and be overly cautious with recovery - he's already said "no training for 2 days after a Sprint, 4 days after an Olympic..." which, OK I know you put a huge strain on your body with a proper Sprint but... not even gentle spinning or jogging for 2 whole days or 4 after the Olympic?  The other thing is that he's gone really heavy on the rolling regime.  I've had to get some mad, knobbly rollers to use after -every- training session and/or -every- day for 15-30 minutes.  Plus, quite sensibly, Jez wants me to categorise my races as A, B and C so he can work the Cs in as training sessions, the As in as you'd expect and I'm not sure what he's going to do with the Bs.

I'll try to sit back and wait to see what the new programme looks like - coachJez said to throw away the one he just gave me - and trust that he knows what he's doing even though this is new territory for him.  It takes me right out of my comfort zone, though I'm really good at putting all of my trust in professionals, I don't have 100% faith in coachJez(yet).  Probably because I've not seen any results yet, even though I've been training with him for 6.5 months... there haven't been any events to benchmark it.

Monday, 20 February 2012

Ultimate Ironman Challenge

As if Ironman Wales by itself (with Wimbleball as a warm-up) wasn't enough of a challenge for our first year going long...

Originally we were going to do Ironman Wales, with UK 70.3 (Wimbleball) along the way as a pre-amble.  We were planning and training for that and everything was exciting and a bit scary, but not all that scary.  Even now I can visualise a 70.3 distance, maybe not with monster hills, but the distance itself doesn't hold any real fear already.

 Then Mr TOTKat came across this...
"Dan James, Operations Director for IRONMAN UK, explains: “After launching the Ironman Ireland and Ironman Wales events last year some people started to talk about the ultimate test of completing our four races in one season. We thought this was incredibly hard but knew we had to recognise the achievement if someone could succeed in finishing all four in the same year.”
This is no easy feat as it will require an exceptional effort to complete over 420 miles of racing inside three months. A number of athletes, like Charlie, have already put their names forward for the challenge and Ironman have responded to the idea enthusiastically. The UK organising team have agreed to provide some extra reward for athletes who are attempting the extremely difficult task." 
My first reaction was "you're crazy!".  We've not even done a 70.3 yet, have no idea about recovery times or even how we'll cope with a 70.3, never mind a full distance.  Plus, the last two are two weeks apart!  So, I suggested that coachJoe be consulted to see just how crazy it was. The response came back pretty much as "do it!" (with a bit more about the practical and sensible bits).  So I thought about it and...

Here we are.  Signed up for 4x Ironman events this year:-

"As a result athletes embarking upon the ‘ultimate’ will receive special race numbers and a commemorative package including t-shirt, jacket and a unique medal as part of a special awards ceremony. A ‘Wall of Fame’ will also be created online to honour the success of those who can overcome the odds to finish all four races in the same season. "
So far, there are 9 people signed up for the challenge, and we're two of them.  Now I'm appropriately excited.  I think this has now got to its logical conclusion. There is no more we could realistically do in 2012.  It's not going to be easy, but then it never was doing "just" the two.

Friday, 17 February 2012

Good week, great ride!

Sunday's long ride (with short run afterwards) was a bit on the scary side, thinking about it beforehand, what with all the snow that's going on and the ice warnings...

Still, I set off a bit later than planned but with a belly full of porridge and tea, with Percy Pigs, a cereal bar, my phone, an extra thermal top and a flask of hot tea in my rucksack,  a bottle of water on my bike, and a decent length route plumbed into the Garmin.

The route was a good idea. A really nice change from the usual tedious routes and a few hills in it for good measure.  In theory, looking at the profile and the description, there were 3 hills on the route.  One and two were un-named but number 3 was Box Hill.  Demonised and scare-mongered that hill is, but I decided to stop being a wuss and go for it anyway.

Having trundled in to Kingston and taken a left where we normally turn right to go to the Thames Turbo races, I ended up on a long, straight, quiet road by the side of the river for quite some time.  This is where I hit the only patch of black ice I've ever come across and in the first split second, I had no idea what was going on, almost lost the back end of the bike, felt a weird gyroscopic effect and the struggle of my feet trying to fly away from the pedals but being clasped firmly in place by my cleats.  Not fun. but I didn't go over and it was finished in less than a couple of seconds.

The route carried on into villages, past a church where, at the one hour mark, I stopped for a minute to cram in the first five Percy Pigs.  They are great.  Seriously.  Then came the first hill.  It was a bit hard, but nothing terrible, nothing more than Wimbledon Hill which isn't so bad really.  Then came the second hill, which was a bit harder than the first.  Really quite a bit and I was slogging very slowly in the lowest gear, getting a bit worried about falling off due to moving so slowly and the piled up snow at the sides of the road forcing me more into the middle of the road with there being a couple of blind dips for oncoming vehicles.  It got so steep at one point that I was properly worried that I might go over into the road with no way for a car to see me, so I got off and walked up a little bit, before getting back on at a shallower section and finishing the climb.  Having passed through a few places where there were National Trust car parks and other sites, I decided to stop at the next one as that'd be 2 hours in to the ride and I wanted to have some tea and a cereal bar and hopefully a wee stop.  I got the tea and the cereal bar, plus some more Percy Pigs, but I'm afraid I had to make some yellow snow as there were no loos.  Two hills down, one to go.

Having got up the first two hills, I was genuinely worried about what Box Hill had in store for me especially having had to walk up a section of one of them.  If these hills were not named or publicly feared, how was I going to get up the one people talk about?  The tens of metres passed on and on with no sign of another hill...

Then I came to the first road that was coned off and  marked as "CLOSED", I trundled through, thinking "naaah, they don't really mean that, it looks fine to me.  It was a gentle downhill to a hair-pin bend at which point I was faced with this:-

And a lady out for a walk in the snow with her walking stick.  We chatted for a bit about the state of the road.  I think she thought I was crazy.  We headed off on our separate ways and then the road got worse and became this:-

The difference is subtle, but enough that the bike was going sideways and over bumps and even after I'd got off to walk, I fell over while wheeling my bike along.

Thankfully it cleared quite quickly and I was back on the wheels again and off for a lot more km before I came to the dreaded, revered, much-famed Box Hill.  I took the turning to the bottom of Box Hill, found the right hand turn that starts the climb to find, yet again, "ROAD CLOSED" and, just for fun on a hill, speed bumps.

Box Hill.  What a let down!  I was expecting some monster of a steep hill that would put the burn into my thighs and lungs, but nothing of the sort.  It's a set of fairly pedestrian switchbacks at a civilised gradient and even with speed bumps added in, it's just a very long, very shallow climb.  Unfortunately for me on Sunday, the reason for the road closure became apparent as I neared the top it got icy like that last photo again.  This time I didn't get off and walk up the last little bit, I just cycled purposefully onwards.  Easy on the handlebars, not fighting the bike and not putting a whole lot of power into the pedals.  And I almost got to the top, before I skittered sideways over a particularly lumpy, rutted patch of ice and lost the back end, ending up lying on my side, pedals still clipped in due to the low speed with my bike flapping between my legs. Ohboy did I feel silly in that position.  As I was just getting back on again I was passed by someone on a (far more appropriate for the condition of that road) mountain bike who said "that was fun wasn't it?" to which, the only appropriate response was "not really, no".  I now have a mahousive bruise on my right hip.

At the top of Box Hill, there's a National Trust cafe thing with benches outside where I decided to have more tea and Percy Pigs.  My poor bike was a teensy bit snow-bound from the trip up the hill...

...but the tea was still hot and the last 5 Percy Pigs a bit sweaty and sticky from being in my back pocket so long.

With a bit of help from a friendly mountain biker from Wimbledon, the packed-in ice in my cleats was dug out with a stick so I could get back on my bike for the last stretch home.  To be honest I was a bit naughty and turned up the gas a bit much for the final stretch.  This was supposed to be an easy ride, and it was apart from the scary bit up the earlier hill where I had to get off and walk, but the call of the home stretch often proves a bit much for me to resist.

Last week was a good un' and the ride at the end was just great.  I loved it, despite falling over a couple of times. Again! Again!

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

The joy of spelt

Spelt is lovely.  It's a grain that fell out of fashion a long time ago, overtaken by common wheat in the main for breads, cakes, puddings, breakfast cereals etc.  But over the last couple of years, with the focus on healthy eating and the rise of intolerances and faddy diets, it has started to make a comeback.

I came across it first with Dorset Cereals and their "Tasty Toasted Spelt" muesli.  They use toasted spelt flakes to give added crunch and nuttiness to an otherwise quite soft grained muesli - most mueslis are quite soft textured with little crunch provided in the form of nuts, but that's a different sort of crunch.  Dorset have a really good cereal there and I really do like it.  Onto the scene now comes Sharpham Park with their range of spelt based products; biscuits, pasta, flour and cereals.

Spelt is a natural grain which was brought over from the Middle East around 7000 years ago, and become common in southern England from around 500BC. A cross between Emmer wheat and Goats grass, it has a distinctive, naturally nutty flavour and unusual and pleasing texture. Unlike common wheat, natural spelt has not been hybridised or chemically altered, and it remains as simple and hardy as it was when it was first introduced. British spelt is versatile, delicious, nutritious, and easy to digest, making it a fantastic alternative to other conventional grains.alt

There are a large range of products that can be made with British spelt, including bread, pasta, crackers and biscuits, as well as flour for you to make your own tasty creations in the comfort of your own home. It can also be distilled to make beer, gin and vodka, popularly practised in Poland and Bavaria.

As the gluten in natural spelt is soluble, it can be used by people with wheat intolerance or IBS, which can be difficult disorders to cater for and have become increasingly common in today’s society. British spelt has many attributes and benefits for everyone to enjoy, and provides particularly nutritional benefits for athletes, vegetarians and children. Natural spelt is a healthy and highly nutritionally beneficial choice as a sustainable wholegrain for the twenty first century, and will no doubt prove popular in the years to come."

I was pretty interested as I've been dabbling with spelt based cereals and adding spelt flour into breads and malt loaf for a while, so decided to try their muesli.

The thing that hit me first about this muesli was the taste.  It is a -lot- stronger and nuttier than the Dorset Cereals one; and in a really good way.  The down side is that based on the description of "light and crispy", I was expecting crispyness and crunchiness, but again compared with the Dorset Cereals one it was softer and most definitely not crispy.  That was a real disappointment.  But, in truth that doesn't really matter.  Putting aside the description, putting aside an expectation of crispiness, this is a really nice muesli.  Where Dorset Cereals have produced something more of a cross-over between muesli and (corn/cereal)flakes, Sharpham Park have produced a really good muesli here.  I've recently been having my muesli with milk and whey protein mixed in and any cereal that can cut through that flavour is pretty impressive in my book.  Sharpham Park Miller's Muesli does just that.

Overall, as a muesli, I think this is the nicest tasting one I've had.  The strong nuttiness of the spelt is very clear as an overtone and the other ingredients are enhancements and extra notes of sweetness, tanginess and a softer crunch.  I'd be happy to replace any other muesli with this and despite it being £3.99 for 450g vs. £3.04 for 560g No Added Sugar Alpen in the "consumer" range of muesli, or £3.99 for 690g of Dorset Cereals Tasty Toasted Spelt in the "fussy bugger" range of muesli, it's probably worth it for the taste.  Plus you know where it's come from and it's produced under the Soil Association Organic standards.

I'm now really rather tempted by the spelt porridge that Sharpham Park does, the only annoying thing is that nowhere I buy food from stocks any Sharpham Park products - hint hint @AbelandCole and @ocadouk!

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Planning planning and preparation

I'd be buggered if I didn't plan and prepare.

Every week, I make sure I have the week's training schedule laid out in advance.  Yes, there is room for flexibility and shuffling sessions about if it needs to happen due to work and real life not being 100% predictable, but the week has a shape and set sessions from coachJez's programme (or mine if there isn't one from Jez).  Without a plan and a schedule in place, my training would be directionless in general (which, by itself, is an enormous long term problem) and on a day-to-day basis I'd have no idea what to pack in my sports kit bag.

The same goes for food.  Breakfasts are relatively easy and cookie-cutter (no, I don't have cookies for breakfast!).  Lunches and daytime snacks generally have to be sorted in batches in advance; making lunch and snacks every morning for that day at work is a heck of a drag and relying on that energy being there every day just doesn't work.  So, every couple of days I make lunch base of all the vegetables and fruit and the protein gets added on the day.  I have a couple of snacks in the fridge at work and pots of portioned out nuts and a pile of fruit alongside a big plastic box of other safe snacks like wholegrain and seed breads, mixed nuts and seeds, cereal bars etc.  And dinners are planned on a daily basis, to a rough weekly cycle to cover getting in some oily fish, red meat, white meat and eggs.  But again, if left to when I get home from work to think about it there's a requirement for a big surge of emotional energy required to think it through and sort it out, when I'm just tired and hungry and likely to just go for whatever's easiest at the time.  There's weekend batch cooking that covers a couple of meals a week and the rest is quick to cook from scratch (usually 30 minutes or less, e.g. omelettes, frittata, salmon fillets with couscous & veg, steak and veg, sausages and root veg mash).

Without that planning and preparation I'd fall by the wayside; I'd train less, I'd eat badly more, I'd get stressed out by it all more often, I'd make much less progress.  There's so much energy needed to do the training and the showering and the working and the eating and the cat feeding and the recycling and the commuting and the washing and the sleeping and the putting the washing away and the shopping, any savings that can be made by bundling planning and preparation up and doing things when the energy and inclination is there in advance of when they're actually needed are well worth having.

It sounds a bit bloodless and mechanical, but it's not.  There is always room for spontaneity, it's just not compulsory to get through every day.  Spontaneity is hard to do all of the time.  Planning and preparation is what successful people do to be successful.

Monday, 6 February 2012

Healthy living: My Vitality

There are a bajillion diets and self-help books and web sites on how to lose weight out there and they're mostly the same; do this thing or that thing, count this or that and you'll lose weight and feel better etc. etc.  If you've read any of my stuff on weight loss, you'll know my views on all of that.

So, when I was asked if I'd like to try a new site, I thought "bah, it's going to be more of the same old crap", but thought I'd try to have an open mind and read the press release at the very least.

It’s Not All About Weight Loss

With the New Year comes a national obsession with trying to get rid of those ‘extra few pounds’, we all put on over the Festive period, as quickly as possible. It sees thousands of us signing up to gyms, weight loss groups and websites and sales of supplements, promising instant weight loss, soar. In the rush to drop weight however many of us forget that it’s not all about losing weight and let the rest of our health slide. A new ‘healthy lifestyle’ website hopes to counter this trend by offering a member’s site with a difference…

MyVitality.com ‘can’ certainly help you lose weight, but it is so much more than that and is a must for those whose New Year’s resolution isn’t just to drop a few pounds, but to give their general health and wellbeing a boost.

MyVitality is effectively a nutritionist, life coach, beauty therapist and chef all in one. When you sign up to the site you fill in a health questionnaire that asks about your lifestyle and symptoms. It follows this up by asking what your health aims are over the coming months; it’s ok if you just want to lose weight, but what about wanting to get a better night’s sleep, clearing up your skin, beating that bloated belly or having more energy when you come home from work?

Designed by health experts, the system then creates a 24 page profile created specifically for you.  This is no common profile shared by hundreds of people, because the experts behind the site understand that someone who wants to lose fat, but also has issues with energy is going to need a totally different diet plan to someone who wants to get fitter for sport, but struggles with stress.

The profile that is created tells you what your nutritional priorities should be, which foods to eat and what supplements could help you achieve your goals. Alongside these dieting tips the site also helps with ‘lifestyle actions’, whether that’s getting more sleep, deep breathing exercises or getting a better sleeping regime.

Alongside this the site also has a huge resource database to help you achieve your goals and suggests recipes that can help, provides information on herbs, spices, supplements and herbal teas, has a ‘daily action log’ and a ‘hunger scale’ to print off, and even sends you e-mails to steer you in the right direction.

It still looked a bit "we're different from all the rest, honest!", but why not give it a go?  So I filled in a few details and signed up for an account.  The first thing that I was initially confused by was the fact that there was a one month signup after which your account expires, but you could choose to sign up for a rolling monthly subscription thereafter.  Odd, so I thought.  How on earth can you track things and get trends and all the lovely statistics I usually love?  Again, swallowing my preconceptions, I got on with getting started.

The first thing you do is fill in some basics, name, height, weight, measurements and then there's a mahousive, long, long, long questionnaire.  The questions cover all sorts of topics in fine detail... form how often you eat cruciferous vegetables, red meat, dairy, nuts etc. to "do you have loose stools or get diahorrea?(sic)", "do you remember your dreams?"

There are questions about how you feel, physically, mentally and emotionally and whether you're happy with certain things or have feelings of guilt...  in all, somewhere around 200 questions to profile how you are doing in general.

Once you've waded through the quite extensive questions, you are rewarded with the results and a full profile. (I've completed four over the last month; you'd normally only see one listed after your first run through the profiling).

The summary gives you a nice precis of the full 24 section/page report:-

And then you can dive into the full report.  I did get confused at this point as all there is on the site is your report(s), some daily action log sheets to print out, the ability to take a new questionnaire and access to the (rather pathetic) recipe database.  I was expecting other things to log and track, like what I ate or weigh or -something-.  There isn't though.  But... this site is different, so it doesn't matter.  They're proposing a different way of looking at things.

The full report covers a huge range of topics.  All the way through there are reminders that the recommendations on each section don't need to be worried about in isolation - some will say "do more of $x" where the next section says "do less of $x", so in the conclusions at the end there is a final recommendation as to what to do about $x on balance and that's the one you need to take heed of.

Sometimes, it can be a little confused...

There are additional factors that it takes into consideration, such as whether you are involved in heavy exercise:-

Having had a lot of information from you on a range of subjects, there are calculations and decisions made to give you your top 3 areas to target.  God knows if you try to tackle too many things at once, you're quite likely to fail, so it's good that the report gives you the priority areas overall.

The results of the first questionnaire I took targeted these as my highest priorities...
As you can see, it's really not about weight loss, gain or the basics for someone who is very much adrift with the state of their physical health in terms of being heavily overweight.  There is a strong focus on reducing stress factors, getting more sleep, incorporating relaxation and "me time" as well as hitting any areas of nutrition that are weak.

My main recommendations from the first questionnaire were to eat more nuts and seeds, drink peppermint tea and liquorice tea (thanks to TeaPigs and the delicious mint and liquorice tea for hitting the spot there!), and take some time to relax in every day.  It also suggested some supplements (which there's no questions about so there's no data for it to know whether you are or aren't taking them already - which I was for the main one suggested, EFAs or CLA).  There does seem to be a lot of clevers behind the suggestions in each category.  I get the feeling someone has paid for a lot of data and science to populate "the system" with good algorithms and data,

In the report there were suggestions on which were nutrients to hit by priority:-

And where to get them from, naturally, i.e. which foods.

There does seem to be quite a focus on reducing wheat... though I eat very little of it anyway as we only eat bread at the weekend, we almost never eat pasta - sticking to unpeeled root vegetables, couscous, wholegrain rice sometimes.

And the usual red meat hatred, though, hilariously, it's also in my "superfoods" recommendations.

It's nice to see that herbs and spices are also included in the profile recommendations as important and powerful sources of nutrients.  Often when people make the choice to cook as much as possible from raw ingredients, they forget about herbs and spices and they not only make a heck of a difference to the flavours and variety in dishes, they can be pretty handy for plugging some of the vitamin and mineral gaps for minimal effort.

The weakest section, I think, is the recipe and meal suggestions.  It feels half-hearted and a bit of an after-thought.  You can't search on particular ingredients, nor my recipe name.  A bit of a waste of time really and I'd have left it out completely if I were the guys behind myvitality.

So once you've finished the questionnaire and read through the report to learn what the recommendations are and how to improve your overall score and hopefully your wellbeing, you then get motivational emails in your mail box once a day.  They are reminders of things to do and try and a little "uplifting" thought for the day.  Sounds a bit twee, but I quite like them.

Sometimes there are ones with nothing related to food/eating:-

Over time you may well feel differences.  I wasn't expecting to, but I was good and I followed a couple of the main target recommendations... I've added 20-30g of nuts into pretty much every day's eating and I've started to drink mint and liquorice tea and a few other of the recommendations and over the first 2 weeks I -did- notice feeling perkier.  I took a new questionnaire and the score had gone up!
And if you look at the individual factors, you can see where the changes have been made:-

Checking in periodically every couple of weeks, with the little changes I had been introducing, I could see improvements:-

Each time following a couple more of the recommendations and... well... after 4 stages of adding in little changes, I've gone from a pretty good start:-

...to a really strong finish:-

I really do feel better, less prickly in the head, my skin wasn't bad but it's almost great now, I feel perky even when I've not had enough sleep and mentally really rather positive (though there are a couple more reasons for that to be the case).

In conclusion, I think this is a great resource for people who already have an open mind to food, nutrition and lifestyle changes.  Someone looking for a quick way to lose weight, or a quick fix for their life problems really isn't going to get far.  And that's why I think it's ahead of it's time to make a great success of itself.  The market is certainly there, but I don't think it's all that big.  There are plenty of people in the world who are a lot more tuned in to the "diets are not the way" modern thinking.  There are lots of people who understand that in order to look/feel better/different you really have to make long term, permanent changes.  This site really is for those people.  I'm just not sure there are enough of them who need or want to pay for the sort of help this site provides for it to make a whole lotta money.