Soo Kim, travel writer.ritten by
Huffing and puffing along Victoria Embankment, feeling the crisp cold air fill my lungs and my heart thumping, all I could think was: "When will this all be over?"
“There is one small difficult bit - last one,” I was told as we approached a steep side street.
Running through the streets of London on a rainy day is not ideal, especially for a non-runner like myself. I don’t particularly enjoy running or lengthy bouts of cardiovascular exercise and try to get away with doing as little of it as possible, if I can help it, preferring shorter high intensity interval training (HIIT) sessions instead.
The only running I have done in recent months has been on a mental treadmill, unable to get off a train of stress, anxiety and everything in between.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t avoid running on this day, as a ‘fasted cardio’ [more of which to come shortly] session was part of a fitness retreat I was testing at the Rosewood London, devised by Harry Jameson, fitness and wellness expert (plus certified nutritionist and accredited sports therapist/masseur), who has worked with celebrity clients and as a consultant for clinics on Harley Street for the past 10 years.
“Fitness goals should be about performance rather than aesthetic results,” he told Telegraph Travel. In a bid to go against the wave of gimmicky fitness trends and extreme diets, Harry’s programme aims to go back to the basics of health - a combination of fitness and nutrition tailormade to optimise an individual’s performance with the help of scientific physiological data, including heart activity measured by a FirstBeat electrode monitor.
I wore the device across my chest for 48 hours before the retreat and during the first 24 hours of the programme, while I logged all of my activity throughout the three days, including when I ate, slept and exercised.
I nervously approached the hotel’s newly refurbished gym for my first personal training session with Harry, which began with a warm-up run on the treadmill.
“You should be able to hold a conversation relatively comfortably, but not too easily,” in terms of the intensity during a warm-up, Harry noted as he cranked up the speed and incline on the treadmill.
Apparently, the best time of day for a run or any cardio exercise is about 3.30pm, if you’re after peak performance results. Why? Because you will have had your lunch (which should always include some carbohydrates to give you the fuel to blitz through a cardio session), he explained.
Most of us can relate to that familiar lethargic feeling at around 3pm or 4pm, but this “energy dip is down to a sugary diet and not having had enough carbohydrates for lunch to give you energy for the rest of your day,” he advised.
Harry put me through my paces with an hour-long course of full-body strength training and muscle toning moves, from burpees, lunges, push-ups and planks to bicep/tricep curls and rope exercises, which saw me pumping my arms up and down, and from side to side, while holding the ends of two heavy ropes to create both vertical and horizontal waves.
This adrenalin high was dialled down by an hour-long yoga session, with plenty of slow but challenging poses to stretch out my heated muscles.
My first day ended at the hotel’s Sense spa, where I gently drifted away in a 45-minute deep tissue massage using relaxing, moisturising and vitamin-rich essentials oils from Australian skin brand Sodashi, which includes avocado and grapeseed oils.
Refreshed and famished, I was ready for a well-deserved dinner in the Mirror Room restaurant. The evening’s menu, devised for the retreat, featured simple but flavoursome dishes of protein and vegetables, including grilled organic chicken breast and roasted onglet (hangar steak) served with scallop carpaccio, aubergine, peppers, pattypans, chervil and a fresh roasted sprout and crayfish salad.
The meal was nicely rounded about with refreshing fruity puddings just sweet enough to give me a sugar fix, including violet-infused sherbet with berries and low-fat vanilla ice cream.
After learning about my busy lifestyle over dinner, Harry challenged me to try meditation before I slept that night, guided by the app Headspace, which he uses on a daily basis.
I dived into my soft hotel bed - a stark contrast to my squeaky old mattress back in my humble East London abode - and opened the Headspace app on my phone. There were three, five and 10-minute meditation sessions available, I tried the 10-minute option.
I followed the app’s instructions, eyes closed, breathing in through the nose and out through the mouth and “allowing my mind to wander”. But the more I tried, the more difficult it was for me to focus. I became frustrated not even halfway through the session, unable to focus and doubting whether any of this was doing any good.
After my non-meditative session, and an hour or so of tossing and turning, I finally drifted off to sleep.
The next morning, I was up just before 7am for my “fasted cardio” session with Harry, meaning I wouldn’t be eating anything before my workout. The point of this was so that my body will be forced to burn fat to fuel my workout.
Due to heavy rain that morning, we did a fasted indoor gym session first, with a focus on cardio exercises including running on the treadmill, peddling both backwards and forwards on the elliptical machine and cycling on a stationary bike.
Impressed that I got through it on an empty stomach, I strutted back to the yoga room where I was allowed to refuel on a vitamin-filled fresh juices (but still no solid food) before another hour-long yoga session.
Finally, around 9am, it was time for breakfast, which included lots of fresh fruit and vegetable pressed juices, including the Grove 3 - a spicy citrus juice made with turmeric, cayenne, and black pepper, which are great for their anti-inflammatory, detoxifying, and metabolism-boosting qualities.
Food options included eggs, grilled bacon or avocado on toast. Those with a slight sweet tooth could opt for a bowl of granola with bananas, goji and acai berries (good for antioxidants) and bee pollen (rich in protein, minerals and nutrients). Or the chia seed bowl made with dates, cinnamon and baobab powder (made from the African fruit of the same name, which is rich in vitamin C and promotes slow energy release to reduce energy crashes).
After a lazy breakfast and a brief break, it was time for an outdoor run. Harry traced a route through Holborn, towards Somerset House, over Blackfriars Bridge and along the Thames past the Mondrian hotel.
As we ran along the South Bank, I asked Harry (who has a few marathons under his belt, including the challenging New York Marathon) about what goes through his mind when he runs. He noted that often it's things pushed to the back of his mind that come to the forefront during these runs. It got me thinking about what thoughts I’d locked away in my own mind and perhaps it’s another reason why I found running - being alone with my thoughts - so difficult.
Running up the steps of the Hungerford Bridge, I tried to channel my inner Rocky as we approached Victoria Embankment. Harry had warned me about the approaching hill off a side street near the Savoy hotel. He sprinted past me as I did my best to follow him. It began to rain as we circled back to the hotel. I was breathless, nauseous and ready to collapse, but felt extremely proud to have seen it through to the end.
Following a lunch of grilled dover sole on a bed of quinoa, courgettes and pine nuts, and a citrus salad with orange blossom and manuka honey sherbet, I sat down for a final consultation with Harry and debriefing of the data from the FirstBeat heart monitor, which had thrown up some interesting results.
Stress is a good thing
Harry pulled up a graph off my data on which I saw red - lots of red - with tiny bits of green. The green denotes periods of rest and recovery, while red indicates stress, which I’m told is not necessarily a bad thing.
“People tend to think stress is always bad, but if our body was in a no stress mode all the time, you’d the lack motivation to move. Equally, your body can’t recover if it’s in a flight or fight mode all the time. It’s all about balance”, he explained. We want our bodies to be in the active go mode 60 per cent of the time and in recovery for 40 per cent of it.
The device also measured my heart rate variability, which is how regular and consistent the gaps between the heartbeats (when the heart is resting and not beating) are. So essentially, how much the heart rests is almost as important as how well it beats.
My resting heart rate was recorded as 54 beats per minute, which is good and not too far from that of endurance athletes, who tend to have a rate of about 50, Harry said. This indicates good cardiovascular health and that my heart doesn’t need to work as hard as the average person’s heart to pump blood across my body (the average resting heart rate being 70, so anything below 60 is considered pretty great).
At the other end of the spectrum, my maximum active heart rate was 187 beats per minute, which showed whatever workout routine I’d been doing over the past few days has been beneficial.
So from a fitness perspective, I am in good shape, even managing to walk around 9,000 steps a day, which isn’t too far from the recommended 10,000, Harry noted.
Sleep deprivation is not
Unsurprisingly, sleep was what I lacked most. According to the data, I experience a lot of broken sleep, especially between the hours of 2am and 6am, resting in spurts but inconsistently throughout the night.
Surprisingly, however, during my first night at the hotel, even after an exhaustive workout, a relaxing massage and sleeping on a comfy bed, it appeared I hadn’t sleep well at all, with lots of red indicated on the graph. How can this be?
“There may be a number of potential reasons for this inability to rest during sleep, from lots of unresolved issues in our lives to thoughts we’d avoided or hadn’t processed creeping into the subconscious mind preventing us from sleeping.”
I had clocked up around five hours of sleep per night in the previous days. Harry advised that I should be aiming for eight and noted: “Just because you are sleeping, doesn’t necessarily mean your body is in a recovery state.”
“You need to fall into the deeper parts of your sleep cycle for your body to fully recover,” he added.
However, there was one very tiny sliver of green in the earlier part of my first night at the hotel, just around 11.30pm, which coincided with the few minutes I attempted to meditate using the Headspace app. As useless as that session might have felt, amazingly all of the rest and recovery I achieved that night took place during those 10 minutes of striving to meditate, Harry explained.
Another unusual moment of rest was achieved earlier in the week, during 12pm and 2pm on a normal day at the office, which is when I would have been writing an article at my desk and probably listening to some classical music in one ear.
“You must have been concentrating on something that somehow put you into a relaxed state for that period. You were somehow able to tune out everything else around you, on a subconscious level, and put yourself into a rest mode,” explained Harry. So it is possible for my heart to rest, even in busy environments like work, but it requires great focus.
“I’d like to see you do longer, slower cardiovascular exercises in the morning, something that is rhythmical and helps to reduce stress by forcing your mind to slow down, like running,” Harry suggested.
My current training routine scored an average of 93 out of 100 in terms of how optimal it was, which is a good score. But while the HIIT training sessions clearly help relieve stress, that heightened state of adrenalin may actually be causing me more stress and preventing me from sleeping, he explained.
And my level of rest during sleep only averaged at 25 out of 100, so there is definitely lots of room for optimisation at the recovery end of my daily fitness regime.
“Consistent lack of sleep will elevate stress hormone levels and tiredness in your body which will affect your performance. While you might be able to survive on this reduced level of sleep, it will be detrimental for your long term health."
“You have a very strong, resilient heart that can cope with a lot of stress. But you don’t allow it to rest and recover, so it won’t be sustainable in the long run. And life isn’t about getting by, it’s about thriving, so you want to be better than alright,” Harry noted.
I wish I could say that every day since has begun with a 5K morning run before work and getting into bed by 10pm at latest. I’m still struggling with both, but I have managed to incorporate slower exercises that force my mind to unwind, including yoga and a bit of meditation (five minute bursts whenever I can during the week), after literally seeing the benefits of it on a graph. I recently signed up for swimming too.
But the greatest encouragement has been the reminder that I have a strong and resilient heart. While the stresses in my life haven’t gone away, I know I’ll be alright - or better than alright as Harry says - and for that I can finally begin to put my tired heart to rest.
The two-night Jameson Retreat at the Rosewood London costs from £2,399 per person for single occupancy (or £1,999 per person in a double). The offer includes all meals, training sessions, two full body massage treatments, access to the spa facilities, testing and analysis using the FirstBeat kit and a five-week follow-up period during which guests can consult with their assigned trainer on nutrition and training plans.
The Jameson Retreat is available from August 10-12 and from November 23-25 this year.