This is the last London ETC for 2016 and what a last edition I have for you all. Meems is one of the best people I know. She is determined, whip smart, and so funny I usually spend all my time with her laughing until my belly hurts. I met her at a run and our friendship has been full of sweat sessions, coffee, and all the food in the world. She has battled with depression and is so vocal about de-stigmatising mental health issues. She is running her first marathon next year (hello London Marathon 2017!) and I can’t tell you all how thrilled I am that Meera answered my questions. All her answers are below the cut. ENJOY!
What is your favourite space to train in and why? This can be an outdoor or indoor space – or both?
Ah there are so many, but with London Marathon training in swing it would be a toss up between 1Rebel, Psycle and Hot Yoga Society. All provide me with completely different workouts and frames of mind:
1Rebel – I train only with Kim. She is old school run dem crew, ran London marathon and has the best beats. She gives me the confidence to run sprints and lifts heavy weights when I think I want to die. Also the showers there are lush, and that’s important after you workout that hard.
Psycle – I love the workout there. I always always finish dripping in sweat, knowing I have really dug deep. I have 3 favourite teachers: Sophia (I go to her classes to WORK HARD, she is a runner too and pushes me past my boundaries); Kaya (I love her music and energetic vibes) and Alana (her party on a bike and beautiful soul shine in each of her classes). I always leave happy, knowing that I have done something not only good for my body but also my soul. It’s the only space where I feel truly FREE and when the lights go low low I typically just release all my emotions and have a good cry on the bike and its really cathartic.
Hot Yoga Society – I’m not bendy, and I’m not zen. I hate a downward dog and I don’t do all this flow malarkey. The greatest thing about HYS is the consistency it provides me with regards to my routine. I know the 26 positions and I can track my progress through the evolution of each one everytime I go. The heat in the space is TOUGH and not for the fainthearted, but for me it provides me with the extra umf I need to know 1) that I am working out; 2) that the fat on me is melting and 3) that I am getting a good stretch to my muscles all at the same time. I also love the teachers there (Sasha, Kelly, Monde & Melanie are my favourites) and the space, unlike other hot studios is clean and not claustrophobic.
What is a typical training session for you like?
It depends on the day or my mood. Over the last year I have tried out many classes, I have found what I like (hot yoga, 1rebel, spin) and what I don’t like (pilates, HITT & dynamic yoga) and now focus on those. With London marathon training now in full swing, I will be mixing up my routine over the next 20 weeks: 3 run sessions (2 at 1rebel and a long run on the weekend) 1 cross training (likely psycle), at least 3 hot yoga sessions a week and maybe a gym weights session. It sounds a lot, but I have to be dedicated and rigid in the structure in order to get stronger. I am open to new cross training sessions however, as I love going with friends and encouraging one another.
Do you have a particular area of London or a route which always gets you out of the door whether to run or walk?
I live in Clapham next to the common, its extremely picturesque but has become very popular to the point where there are too many people. So when I’m on a long run I do the opposite and run as far away from it as possible. I have the best memories of heading from Clapham, up to Albert Bridge and then east to Chelsea, London Bridge, Tower Bridge and then back round on the other side of the Southbank. There are usually a lot of people running along the river which can be dangerous and annoying at times, but running by the water gives me life. It helps me to breathe and reminds me just how lucky I am to live in London. I usually try and go early morning when there are less people and its like I have The City all to myself.
In a world that’s becoming more and more health conscious, what does the word ‘healthy’ mean to you?
Healthy to me, maybe even just one year ago meant being skinny. It used to be all consuming for me. I have lost over 6 stones in weight but over the last year I have put about a stone on. I used to have panic attacks and weigh myself daily and just cry. I would look in the mirror at the fat and the skin and feel gross. And then I ran my first half marathon and I survived. My body that isn’t skinny managed to get 13.3 miles under foot and do something I never thought possible.
Over the last year I have run 4 half marathons and as a result my mindset has now shifted completely. Healthy is actually no longer about being skinny. In fact its not even about just being physically fit. For me its all to do with mental health.
Only recently I admitted publically that I have suffered from depression (I am a high functioning depressive) on and off for 10 years. I turned to running to prove myself that I could complete something that I used to see as a punishment. In the process I developed a love for it and it has become my coping mechanism to deal with life. It provides me with stress relief and when I run it’s the only time my mind switches off and stops projecting.
These days healthy means having a balanced healthy body but more importantly a mind that is PRESENT, not thinking about the past or worrying about the future. Weight will always come and go, so will being skinny (and many of us including me have lost weight in the most unhealthiest ways to satisfy social media and bow to public perceptions), but having a sound mind is so important and long term your health must not forget this factor. Maybe I’m old and maybe I’ve succumbed to the fact that I’m not ever gonna be the next Gigi Hadid, but a fit body you can get very easily, there is usually a formula. A healthy mind is far trickier to achieve and in the accomplishment of moving forward with this is far more beneficial for your life.
I know you’re running your first marathon in 2017! Can you tell me a little more about your emotions when you discovered you had a place?
I was in Berlin on Cheer Dem duty for a few friends that were running the marathon there that weekend. One of my friends Phoebe was running the marathon (her first) and we were strolling through The City doing some sightseeing the day before the race, when my emails started pinging. One had come through from Amnesty International (the charity I am running for) saying that they had received my application (it was the only charity place I had applied for along with the ballot), and although they were 3 weeks early before the ballot places were released, they had read my application and they were impressed with its strength and wondered if I wanted to run on their behalf (even if I got a ballot place and didn’t need to raise funds).
I literally stopped dead in my tracks screamed and started shaking. It sounds really dramatic but I’m that woman that used to be 100kgs. I don’t do fitness let alone running. My mum still tells me that she used to lap me on the sofa. The thought of running 5km was daunting enough and I genuinely never thought I would have ever found the courage to run a marathon in my life. People like me just don’t do that. And then I joined Run Dem Crew…and my life changed.
After running my first 10k and then my first half marathon I had kidded myself that maybe a marathon was possible (in like, two years) and I had hoped that I could run in Palestine (because frankly I’m only gonna run one and it might as well be a memorable one somewhere that is close to my heart). With all of the turmoil however in the middle east, this dream was becoming thinner and thinner. Then when I went away on a Run Dem Crew Bridge The Gap event my captain Charlie Dark said “so you’re gonna apply for London right, because I have to be there cheering for you”…(GULP no pressure then I thought). I of course applied for the ballot and wanted to increase my chances (the Risk Manager in me did a statistical calculation on it) so only wanted to apply via a charity with links to the same causes as I would have been raising funds for if I was running in Palestine. Amnesty was the one name that came up and when I found out they might have had spaces it was a no brainer to apply via them.
I’m now 20 weeks out till the London Marathon and training has officially begun. My excitement has turned into dread and worry and anxiety and at first I was thinking of it as my biggest test in life. But now I have to tell my mind to shut up and instead look at it as the biggest celebration of my life…or at least fake it till I can make it!
Which one restaurant or café (or any food place) would you recommend to someone visiting London for the first time and why?
OMG that’s like the hardest question you could ask me. You have seen what I look like and it’s clear I LOVE my food! For someone visiting London for the first time, its really important that they go to somewhere that captures all of what London is about.
It’s the MOST multicultural City in the world, it has the most amazing history and the inhabitants are just amazing! One of my go to places, especially on a Sunday is Ottolenghi (multiple branches around London). I have been going there for over seven years and it’s a staple in my life (you know you’re special to me if I take you there). It’s the perfect place for veggies and non-veggies alike. The food is DELECTABLE and you can see this from the moment you walk in. The glass window are piled high with giant meringues, the most moist and delightful baked good, pastries and cakes flavoured with orange blossom, pistachio and rose syrup.
You can have breakfast, brunch, lunch and dinner there and all of the food made has a Middle Eastern twist. The spices used and the freshness of ingredients is the main thing that stands out for me. Nowhere else in London provides me with that. Every single time I go to any of the branches of the deli or the restaurant Nopi, the service and food is magical. The people who work and dine there represent my London. The restaurant is vibrant, atmospheric and beautifully simple. The food is front and stage there and the quality never slips. Without fail THE PLACE to go to for any visitor.
Can you tell me a little about what motivates you to train that little bit harder and sweat that little bit more?
I work in The City in Finance (my official title is Risk Policy, Governance and Regulation Manager). My job is hectic, I work on average 12 hours a day over two timezones in an office full of geniuses and sometimes non-geniuses alike. I work with very important people and organisations globally, including the Bank of England and the European Commission. This all adds up to STRESS and the only way I can calm this is through exercise.
Gone are the days when I used to soothe myself with food. After losing 6 stone, because I used to be type 2 diabetic (PCOS with advanced Insulin Resistance) I got the shock of my life when my doctor told me if I didn’t fix up given my family history of the disease. The thought of going blind at a young age or even losing a limb or even just becoming heavier than I was (110kg at my heaviest) was so depressing.
A few years on and 6 stone down, working in an industry where appearances sadly do matter a little, although thankfully my brain is appreciated much more, balance for me is key. There are very few women in this industry and those that survive have to be healthy both physically and mentally to survive. We all want to feel comfortable in our own skin. I will NEVER be a skinny chick, I have boobs and a bum and I’m 5ft 11. I embrace the fact that I have large hips and a curvy figure. I have put weight on and it upsets me. I have thousands of pounds worth of clothes in my wardrobe that don’t fit, because I put on about a stone and so right now training has to be a priority for me to get stronger, lose some weight and shed the hate I have for myself.
Do I wish at times I was thinner, I had abs, I had perfect skin…yes. But I luckily have good genes and apparently I’m not that bad on the eyes, so weight can come and go. I used to be the girl who everyone came up and said “what a pretty face you have”… (shame about the body I’m sure they were thinking). Nowadays I want to be neither. I just want to be a woman that helps inspire other people to believe in their own ability. You can be big, small, muscular, lean whatever the hell you want to be, but HAPPY you must be happy.
I have body dysmorphia (officially diagnosed by my therapist) and when I look into the mirror I still see the fat girl. Most days I wish I could unzip my body and step out into the person in my head that I see, although I cant describe who that is, I just know this isn’t me.
I train for her. For the girl that was bullied and called fat, for the brown girl that was spat at and racially abused as a child and told that all I would ever be good for was doing sums and then growing up to be a good wife and dutiful mother. I train for the woman I want to be. I want to be a strong role model to other women of all colour, to show that we can do anything we put our minds to, to run businesses and balance families, we can run marathons, even if we are not genetically disposed to do that, and we can show this predominantly caucasian fitness community with women and girls that stand and take selfies that don’t really sweat and instead just pose in nice athleisure that this is not the message young girls and women need to pounded into their heads. That being healthy is a HOLISTIC goal: it’s being honest about how you really feel, it’s about not bowing to social media, it’s about chasing real dreams to achieve as opposed to thinking having 10k followers or being on TV is important. I train for me and my happiness and in the hope that I can one day truly find it, like I deserve.
As hectic as London is, I think it is one of the best places to take a breath and relax. Do you have a hidden gem, a secret hidey-hole, or a space which you absolutely love where you can relax and recover?
Well if I were to give that away then it would no longer be my place now would it…lol. Most people know that I travel a lot. I never leave London if it isn’t on a plane or a Eurostar and as boujis as that sounds, in the UK there is no other place I want to be apart from my beloved London.
When I’m not lucky enough to sit and watch the sunrise in lower Manhattan across from the Brooklyn Bridge or sit with a latte in Paris at the Jardins de Tuilleries, and just breathe and take in my life and all the blessings I have, I really really LOVE to just walk aimlessly by the River Thames.
I’m definitely that crazy woman that always has her ears in and is always listening to music (I wanted to be a singer as a child but my mother was having none of that) and whatever I am doing I always have something playing. My favourite thing to do, especially when the world is becoming too much for me is to head to the river early in the morning, usually when the air is cold and walk along the river breathing and singing to myself (and the birds). I don’t care if anyone hears me and I have no shame in how out of tune my voice can be sometimes, what matters to me is the freedom of the act. Watching my City awaken as the sun may rise and seeing how it comes to live invigorates my soul. Throw in a cup of the best coffee and a trip to Ottolenghi to pick up a breakfast pastry and this literally would probably be a favourite date.
I think as you get older (like me lol) it the simpler things in life that give you the most pleasure.
With London ETC I want the ETC part to go beyond this city. Is there anywhere else (and this can be anywhere in the world) where you love to be? What is it about this place that makes you smile when you think of it?
NEW YORK. EVERY TIME. Well not everytime, because before last year I had a love-hate relationship with The Big Apple. I used to have to travel there for work and so associated the city with that. Stressful and busy and dirty and just not me. And then this year EVERYTHING changed. I signed up and got into the Brooklyn half marathon. I needed a break from London and work and my life and so hopped on a plane with my mama to take an actual holiday there. Before I headed out my crew captain of RDC, Charlie Dark hooked me up with some runners from some of the crews there and even before I touched down my phone was inundated with messages from people wanting to meet up to run and chill and just LIVE.
On my week long trip not only did I connect with the running community there I got to experience a side of New York that I had never seen before. The art, the food, the culture of Brooklyn and the hidden gems that the City had to offer that didn’t involve a huge financial building and black coffee. Tasting pastries at Dominique Ansel, walking from Lower Manhattan up to Central Park and blistering my feet because I didn’t realise how far it was, being invited to dinner by a runner that I had known for a few hours, sitting in a bar listening to a jazz musician, and walking across the Brooklyn Bridge with tears in my eyes realizing just how god damn beautiful the city is.
I loved it so much that I scheduled this year’s work trip around my birthday just so that I could celebrate it in NYC with my friends. It was the first year that I had spent my birthday away from my mother and I was so up and down about it all, but in the end I had the time of my life.
After travelling over earlier this year I connected with so many people over Instagram and because I wasn’t able to hang out with as many people as I had wanted, the recent trip was extended in order to make up for that. I was there for work, my birthday and to cheer on all of my friends both Londoners and international crew, for the New York City Marathon and I don’t know if it was because I was alone, or just at a more fragile position in my life, by the LEVELS of love showed to me made me fall even more in love with the City and her people.
By day I was working, my office overlooking the Hudson and New Jersey. By evening I was either in a spin class, running with a New York Crew, trying out one of the culinary delights that the City has to offer, learning about the history of the City or shopping. I spent my downtime strolling through Central Park with new and old friends, visiting Harlem, strolling the neighbourhood and looking up at the beautiful architecture, and sitting down enjoying the soulfood at the historic Amy Ruth’s. I watched a Brookyn Nets basketball game courtside with a friend, enjoyed brunch with my sister-in-law (to be) at NYC’s newest opening, strolled through the streets of Soho dipping in and out of shops, and enjoying all of the goodness that comes with being a Brit in America. I ran through midtown with Nike on the streets (not pavements) of the City on a crisp Sunday morning, ending at one of the luxury hotels/bars in town and was greeted with a full spread of food and drink. I headed to Overthrow boxing and got the chance to spend a glorious Saturday afternoon doing some yoga with Claire Fountain. I headed to Lower East Side with my Bridge Runner family and vibed with running crews from all over town after a run on the east side along the river, followed by late night snacks at Katz’s Deli. I spent most mornings walking over to the river to watch the sunrise over Brooklyn from the shores of Manhattan.
I managed all of this in two weeks (plus a little more) and its no surprise that in a City as busy as New York I never feel empty or lonely. The City can be too much for some, but as someone always on the go, it’s my home away from home and the only place in the world I would consider moving to outside of London. If Trump were not the soon to be president, I would be looking now to how to get over there asap and start making the next chapter of my life come true, but for now the stars are aligned to keep me here in my beloved London.
After all, the adventures of TheCityFittie can be fulfilled in either City, but the essence of me is always in my beloved Big Smoke.
You can follow Meems on instagram – show her some love!
Meems, I loved having you as part of my LondonETC series and thanks so much for answering my questions! This is the last London ETC for 2016 and I will be back very soon with some more amazing women living in and loving London.
Images are courtesy of TheCityFittie