This Woman’s Word is delighted to introduce Muireann Carey-Campbell, pronounced Mirren aka Bangs and a Bun. Bangs has made a name for herself as a professional writer, blogger and a motivational speaker. She is also an exercise fanatic empowering women along the way to lead a fit and healthy lifestyle via her running e-book for women fantastically entitled ‘Be Pretty On Rest Days’. Bangs is the better half of Run Dem Crew Founder Charlie Dark *a badass fitness power-couple if you ask me*.
I have been following Bangs via social media networking sites Twitter and Instagram for a while now and knew I had to interview her following her recent success of completing the Etape Du Tour. I was lucky enough to catch up with Bangs last week following her return to the UK after a well deserved Holiday Break in Canada.
As we share some of the same interests and outlook in relation to fitness, I started the interview with the following question.
Were you always the sporty type during school?
Oh definitely not! I went to a performing arts school and we didn’t actually do PE. I was a dancer all through school. I danced 3-4 times a week outside of school and was always performing, so I was active, but in terms of traditional sports, I didn’t do any.
How did you first get into boxing as your preferred method of keeping fit?
I always loved watching boxing. I just think it’s kind of the ultimate sport. You have to be at your absolute physical peak to be able to do it and it’s very mental too. When I decided to get into fitness, I was at a point where I was out of breath going up a flight of stairs.
I was in desperate need of some cardio and people had always told me boxing was good for that. I just decided to jump in the deep end and went to a session at a down and dirty boxing gym in Leeds. From the first session, I absolutely fell in love with it and it kick started my love of fitness.
Running various distances is also a key part of your training regime; did you find this natural to take up following the grueling demands of boxing training?
I actually started running probably about 3-4 months after I started boxing because someone asked me if I’d like to run a half marathon and blog about it. I don’t know if it would have occurred to me to start running if I hadn’t come to it that way. I found running very difficult, but I think it would have been much harder had I not been a boxer too. My fitness had really improved by the time I started running, so it really helped and in turn, I saw my boxing performance improve as a result.
Of the many 5k, 10k and half marathon races you have completed, what has been the most memorable and why?
I would say my most memorable run wasn’t even a race. It was my second ever run. I did a Parkrun, which is a 5 km run on a Saturday morning, they take place in parks all over the country. My very first attempt at running was at a Parkrun the week before and it was terrible. I could barely run for 30 seconds. I struggled, half ran, stopped, started, walked the whole way around. So I went back the following week, stood at the start line and said to myself ‘I will not stop’.
No matter how much it hurt, no matter how much my body wanted to, I just would not stop until I crossed the finish line. I repeated that like a mantra in my head the whole way around and I did it. That run changed my life. That’s when I realized that running is probably about 80% mental.
Learning the art of being able to talk yourself around in your head was absolutely vital and a major life lesson for me. So that was definitely my most important run.
You recently took on the challenge to take part in the Etape Tour back in July, what inspired you to step outside of your comfort zone and try something completely different?
Last year, I was training for the Amsterdam Half and really wanted to get a PB, so I’d really stepped my training up. I was getting really obsessed with times and my enjoyment of running was starting to wane. I ended up getting injured and not even being able to do the race, which was really frustrating. Rapha, the cycling brand approached me about the Etape.
I had no idea what it was, I didn’t have a bike, I’d never done any road cycling. I figured this was a perfect opportunity to try something out. Team Sky hooked me up with an incredible bike, Rapha sorted me out with all the kit, so I figured if I was going to try this, I’d be stupid not to with such an excellent support system in place.
How different is cycling to running and other sporting disciplines you have previously taken up?
I would say running is definitely a more taxing sport. You can’t cruise or free-wheel when running and it’s just more punishing on the body. With cycling I think your endurance definitely increases. You’re cycling endless miles so it’s a real lesson in pushing the limits of your body in a different way to running.
For those unfamiliar with the cycling terminology used, please can you explain the term ‘cadence’?
It’s basically just the rhythm you’re turning the pedals – the same with running and the rhythm of your steps. Getting into a good rhythm is important – I always find staying there to be the problem though!
Being mentally prepared for any race / fitness event is just as important as being physically prepared… What methods do you adopt to ensure you stay mentally focused?
Generally, just having an event on the horizon is motivation enough for me. I know if I don’t do the training, the event itself will be unnecessarily unpleasant. You’ve got to put the work in to make it worthwhile. I also follow a training plan so I know what I should be doing and when.
That makes it easier to keep on track and stay focused. Of course, everyone has days they just don’t want to do it, but I find even when I’m feeling like that, if I just get going, I usually feel better during the training session. But at the same time, if I just can’t get in it mentally, I call it a day and get back at it the next day with a fresh outlook.
Describe your intense six months cycling training regime in the build-up to the Etape Du Tour.
It was a massive learning curve. I cut right back on my running to focus on cycling. But, I know I train best when I keep my training varied. So, I did the 60 day Insanity workout. That was excellent for keeping me focused and motivated and really strengthened me in my legs and glutes – the main areas I needed to build up for the Etape, so it was perfect.
I did one session a week at The Altitude Centre where I did intervals on a spin bike in a room set to altitude conditions. These sessions were really tough ‘cause your lungs are working that much harder, but they were so important, since I’d be up in the mountains on race day, so they helped me adapt. I did long rides at the weekend which were an opportunity to work on pacing, gearing, distance and getting my nutrition right. All in all, it was pretty gruelling!
What part of the Etape course proved to be the most difficult?
The second to last mountain, for sure. I had read the incline map wrong and thought that it was supposed to be about 8 km long with a 6% incline. Turns out, the climb was 16 km long and was much, much steeper than I thought.
I freaked out about 9 km into it when I realized it wasn’t ending anytime soon. It took a lot for me to get back on track mentally. The final climb was even more gruelling and I was questioning my entire existence at that point, but somehow I got through it!
Crossing the finishing line at the Etape Du Tour must have been a pretty spectacular experience… what does this achievement mean to you?
It really means a lot. I didn’t take to cycling at all and there were more than a few times in my training where I just wanted to jack it all in. But I can’t start something and not finish it. There is also a massive issue getting women into road cycling, so I hoped that by my doing it, more women might be inspired to give it a go.
The Etape du Tour is not an easy event and to have gone from not cycling at all six months ago, to completing it feels pretty major. There were 13,000 riders on the day and only 600 of them were women. I feel super proud to be able to say I was one of them.
Running, Boxing and cycling aside, what other challenges / fitness events can we expect Bangs to take on in the near future?
Oh man, whatever the world decides to throw at me I guess! I just love being active and want to be as fit as I can be. I’d love to try some stuff with weights as that’s something I haven’t really explored yet.
I’m doing a marathon in October, so currently training for that and I’d like to try some more yoga and that kind of stuff. I need to balance out my intense exercise with something a little more relaxed!
If you could go back in time, what advise would you give to the Bangs that was 16?
Run! Run like the wind young Bangs! I wish I’d have discovered sooner in life the confidence, freedom, discipline and structure running can bring. I think I’d really have benefited from that as a teen.
As a resident of the Olympic borough, do you think the Olympic Legacy is currently being fulfilled?
Well, I was walking my dog in the Olympic Park the other day and it was empty, so if we’re talking about the park itself, there’s a ways to go I think. In general terms, I do notice a shift in the way we’re talking about exercise and I think that’s positive. We obviously still have a long way to go with that, but change doesn’t happen overnight. I think if we continue to make positive steps and lead by example, only good can come from it. There is a lot to be done.
Obesity is growing problem here in the United Kingdom, with many people not incorporating daily exercise into the daily routine. How would you tackle the obesity problem?
I think up to now, fitness has been discussed in a way that suggests you’re only fit if you’re spending two hours a day in the gym. Obviously, if you’re unfit or obese, that isn’t something you’ll be able to do right off the bat. I think we need to change the way we talk about exercise and highlight the fact that activity, simply moving more, will help. Activity comes in many forms.
Exercise doesn’t have to be a punishment. This isn’t school PE. Find an activity you enjoy and do it. If your starting point is walking the dog, so be it. If it gets you moving, that’s great.
Play with your kids in the park, if you like roller skating, get some skates, try Thai Chi, dance in your living room – whatever it is that makes you feel good and gets you moving, just do it. I don’t think one form of exercise is superior to another. We need to have a more inclusive attitude so that people who are trying to get into fitness aren’t put off by it.
To conclude this interview I have a burning question I would like you to honestly answer… In your opinion who is fitter, you or Charlie?
Me! Definitely! Charlie is without question, a better runner than me, but I think even he’d admit that I have better all around fitness.
After reading that interview you cannot help but be inspired to face your fears and try something completely new and outside of your comfort zone. It doesn’t take long to understand why so many women are drawn to Bangs’ energy and why so many look up to her for advice. Our society lack strong, focused and driven women and love the fact that she is striving to help women get into fitness.
To find out more about this inspiring woman, Bangs can be found online by visiting her websites Spikes and Heels and Bangs and a Bun , or by following her on twitter @spikesandheels @bangsandabun