With the forest fires raging in Greece and weeks of record-breaking heatwaves spreading across Europe and afar, no one can deny that the climate crisis hasn’t really ramped up the weather. Clearly, the extreme temperatures felt in July and August last summer in the UK were not just a blip. In fact, the Met Office has issued a statement to say that the extraordinary temperatures felt in the UK last year will be regarded as being a ‘cool’ year by the end of the century. It looks like this year we have once again swapped the once traditional mild and slightly disappointing British summer for something more dramatic. We started with an absolute deluge of rainstorms and high winds which brought some areas of the country more rainfall in a weekend than expected in an entire month. And as we finish July we seem to be starting a trend of having warmer days but with some still surprisingly persistent rain showers that seem to come from nowhere.
Although no one would want to trade any of our overcast days of recurring drizzle for the extreme heat experienced abroad, the unpredictable weather makes it difficult for anyone trying to make plans to exercise and enjoy the outdoors. Because even if you’ve woken up to a forecast of bright sunshine, you simply cannot count on the weather lasting the morning. For runners, the rising temperatures and flooded trails make it difficult to know exactly what you’ll face en route and how to prepare for it.
Like many other people, I never really take it seriously whenever I hear the expression ‘Be careful what you wish for’. Mostly because it sounds just too much like another way of telling someone else to stay in their lane. But also because I know that when it comes to runners and their aspirations, I’ve yet to meet one who doesn’t wish recklessly. What runner doesn’t like to think about and share their lofty ambitions about someday running a marathon, doing an ultra or taking part in some crazy competition? Of course, I am no different and wonder what it would be like to run in a countless number of changing events. But there’s no harm in imagining doing something really difficult that’s way outside your comfort zone when you are sitting at home, safe in the knowledge that you don’t actually have to do it. That is, unless you somehow foolishly manage to enter something ridiculous…Which is exactly what I did. Yes, I went slightly further than simply wishing when I put my name down to try to qualify for the England Athletics Masters.
With the cost of living crisis affecting virtually every household in the UK, Mental Health Awareness Week couldn’t come at a better time. Although not everyone recognises the importance of being mentally healthy. Especially those that already consider themselves to be in top form. Because we all know how important it is to keep ourselves physically healthy but how many of us give the same attention to our mental health? Which is really odd because most people will experience mental health issues at some point in their lives or at the very least know someone else who has. And although there is now far greater acceptance and awareness of mental health issues it doesn’t mean that we are any better at knowing how to safeguard our mental wellbeing. Fortunately, there are 3 key steps that you can take that will help build your resilience and will ensure your mental health continues to stay in top shape.
If you read any running magazine or book about how to run a marathon, you will find out that it is pretty basic. You spend several weeks training and building up your mileage while practicing your nutrition and hydration strategy until you taper off in time for the big day. Next you show up for your event on the start line totally focused and prepared as you wait for the claxon to go off. Then you run past the start line, start your smartwatch and keep going while drinking and eating as required until you reach the finish, stop your watch and relax. That about covers it, right? Well…
For many people the commencement of Spring has been readily greeted with open arms because it marks the start of other good things to come. First, the changeover to daylight savings time means there are now more hours of daylight to enjoy, in weather that has mostly improved. With Spring temperatures now occasionally dipping into the double digits we can also spend more time outside without having to be swaddled in heavy winter woollies. Then there’s an abundance of seasonal produce now available on supermarket shelves which is welcome in most kitchens. Even though this new Spring veg has to compete for the appetites of those with too many leftover chocolate eggs. And lastly, the start of Spring also means that the Summer is not so distant in the future and so we are just a little bit closer to long summer holidays and lazy days ahead.
But not everyone is quite at ease as we begin a new season. There is another group of people who will are feeling slightly more nervous and even a bit anxious about the Spring. Some of them even wish that time had stood still for little longer. Because these people are now having to face up to something they did many, many moons ago. And just like Brexit, it was totally unnecessary. Alas, it was also self-inflicted. This group of people is made up of runners who intentionally signed up to run in a Spring event. And they all have the appearance of deer caught in the headlights of a double-decker bus, while the countdown to their race day rushes towards them at breakneck speed.
I was fortunate enough to visit the National Running Show recently where I grabbed a seat and heard one of the top Canadian ultra-runners, Gary Robbins, giving his fireside chat. But as I leaned in to listen to him expand on gnarly tales of training and competing in some of the toughest races around he made a shocking admission. Despite reaching a countless number of podiums and still holding the current record for the HURT Hawaii 100 miler for more than a decade he said that he didn’t consider himself to be only an ultra-runner. Because unlike many other world-class ultra-runners who sleep, eat and breathe running, Gary was happy to share that running is just one of the many sports he routinely does.
When it comes to foods that people hold dear to them, it doesn’t take much more than an imagined threat to strike a media storm. Which is why the recent comments made by Food Standards Agency chairwoman Prof Susan Jebb comparing the harm of having cake in the office to that of passive smoking could only be interpreted as a full-scale attack on cake. The fact that she made clear that her comments were made in a personal capacity and not on behalf of the FSA doesn’t seem to have carried any weight with the public. Neither did it matter that she was simply illustrating how an obesogenic environment directly influences our behaviour including her own. It’s no secret that the UK has a very high rate of obesity and overweight. But it’s too late. She has already been found guilty of the grievous crime of attempting to ban cake at work. It doesn’t matter that she never actually proposed a ban despite the false accusations being spread widely in the media. It’s already case closed. But should it be?
It’s all too easy to begin the New Year full of good intentions and fitness plans. Especially when you have spent the last days of your holidays getting through the cheese board and polishing off the last of the ‘sharing’ tins of chocolates. But we all know how quickly the same resolutions can be forgotten once the reality of daily life sets in. It can feel impossible to be motivated when you are faced with a couple of months of inevitably cold, wet and windy weather ahead of you. However, there are plenty of simple things you can do that will help you get back on track with whatever fitness or nutrition goals you are aiming for in 2023.
Now that we are in December, the countdown to Christmas has begun in earnest. But many people will be facing the festive season with a mix of emotions. There is the usual pressure of buying the right presents and preparing the big meal itself. Then there is the prospect of having to make small talk with distant relations you may not be quite so keen on seeing. And on top of all that, just to make things even more difficult this year, the increase in the cost of living means that you may well feel anything but merry. But somehow despite this, anyone young at heart will still be starting to feel the excitement of Christmas beginning to grow. There are plenty of things you can do to channel all of that festive energy. Luckily, one of the best ways to keep that holiday spirit high will reduce your stress levels and also happens to be free. There is no better way to build yuletide cheer than going for a run to see the dazzling colours and twinkling illuminations of outdoor Christmas displays.
With the advent of what looks and feels like ‘rugby weather’ and the earlier darker evenings, the prospect of venturing outside to go for a run is anything but inviting. But even in the daylight, you are still likely to be whipped by the wind and rain at some point and spend far too much time estimating the depth of puddles and getting it badly wrong. If you manage to return home without mud-caked soggy trainers, it will have been a good result. One thing you’ll be needing after a hot shower and warm, dry clothes is some nourishment and the sooner, the better. But not everyone knows what they should really be eating that will help them quickly refuel again and also promote their recovery.
Now be honest. If someone you trusted casually said the words ‘running holiday’ in a sentence, what would be your response? Because even if you call yourself a runner and have the stash of technical t’s and medals to show for it, you are still likely to have stopped them mid-flow with a ‘Hold on, what??!’ And truthfully, when you hear those words together for the first time, it simply sounds wrong. However, for runners of all abilities, a running holiday can be one of the best experiences there is.
Although to be perfectly clear, I am not referring to the kind of running holiday where you sign up for an organised training camp to work on improving your running and smashing your PBs. Sure there are plenty of luxurious resorts out there catering to all this that offer some serious coaching among an unlimited buffet of sport, exercise and wellness. But what I am talking about is slightly more adventurous and completely stripped down to the bare basics of running. Imagine a holiday where you spend several days running from one destination to the next along a beautifully scenic route so that by the end of your holiday you have travelled an epic length…
As the summer has neared its end and the never-ending heatwave has begun to subside, many runners will be starting to think about training for a longer event. Whether it is for an autumnal half-marathon or for something even longer in the spring it’s a good time to reassess how you are going to fuel it all. Because for many runners their primary focus is firmly set on the bare bones of their training plan and the necessary kit they’re going to need to get them through the upcoming weeks and months. And this is fine because at first you may be flying through the training and feeling slightly complacent about what’s ahead of you. But in reality, every runner knows in the back of their mind what is coming up. As you ratchet up the mileage in your legs you will inevitably have to face the prospect of doing some rather daunting long runs.
I was distracted the other day by the glare of someone’s massive smart watch and it reminded me of how old and basic my own version is. Despite my family’s polite suggestions of an upgrade whenever another birthday is approaching I have resisted retiring my simple model. So far, I am not even tempted. Because why would I replace my running watch when it’s in working order and has everything that I consider to be the essentials for any run? It measures the time, the distance and also the pace. And to be honest, I only really care about the first two. I would probably find out that there are loads of other things it also records if I could be bothered to look it up in the app but truthfully, I cannot. Though still, I am outnumbered in my family by the wearers of sophisticated mini-computers who collect a wealth of information about their health and fitness stats.
With the summer in full swing most people’s thoughts are firmly fixed on their upcoming holidays and the chance to finally unwind and take a break from their work…and workouts. And I am no different. It can be absolute bliss to be lazily soaking up the sun while sprawled out on a sandy beach with a good book and a cold drink by your side. But you will also probably not be surprised to hear that I believe that fitting in some exercise whilst on holiday can be the absolute making of it.
Now before you stop reading this and skip to the recipe bit of the blog, I am not at all suggesting that every holiday must be an ‘active’ holiday. Although I may be a massive proponent of multi-activity adventure holidays and even guilty of going on running holidays that involve racking up enough serious mileage to go well into the triple figures, that’s clearly not for everyone. I am not even saying that you are not entitled to take a break from your routine workouts, runs or training plans. After all, putting in sufficient recovery time from training is essential to prevent injuries and illness particularly if you have just run an event. If you can manage to time your recovery in with a planned holiday, it can be the perfect opportunity to fully recharge yourself. But if instead you are one of the masses of people who are just hoping to not lose too much fitness while taking a break somewhere scenic, you could have much more to gain if you take advantage of your different surroundings with a workout.
It would be hard to miss the newsflash the other day that Kirin Holdings and Meiji University have done it once again. In another new technological breakthrough, they have produced some slightly shocking results. The same Japanese partnership that brought us Taste the TV – the first “lick-able” TV screen to accurately mimic food flavours in real time – have come up with something even better. They have created a ‘chopstick device’ that can boost the taste of salt in foods while you eat them. The chopsticks are essentially connected by a wire to a mini-computer that is worn on a wristband and creates electrical stimulation waveform that works its magic to make lower-sodium foods taste saltier when eaten. In fact, the device is able to supercharge the perceived saltiness of foods by 1.5 times without changing the actual salt content of each bite.
Although the thought of voluntarily putting a pair of electrically charged chopsticks attached to a lead into your mouth might sound like a badly thought out dare, the charge is said to be too weak to affect the human body. Yet it is just strong enough to affect the perception of taste. Which means that it could be a useful tool to help people eat a diet that is lower in salt and healthier without missing any salty flavour. This joint project is part of an overall aim of Kirin Holdings to support lifestyle disease prevention and addressing the very high salt consumption rates in Japan is a good place to start. Because the evidence is crystal clear. High salt consumption is a real killer.
You may have noticed the recent outcry in the media about the new government regulations that have come into force requiring calorie information to be displayed on menus in England. You would be hard pressed to find many in favour of this initiative, at least publicly, as it feels like there has been a complete dogpile on any dissenting opinions. To recap, critics of this new law say that simply shifting the responsibility onto customers by giving them the calorie counts of meals and then expecting them to make healthy choices is hardly going make a dent in the obesity crisis. Displaying calories on menus may also cause anxiety and stress to those who are vulnerable or who are already suffering from eating disorders. As a Registered Nutritionist, I cannot disagree with either of these criticisms. But I am going to have to also stick my neck out to say that I am think cafes, restaurants and takeaways should display the calorie information of non-prepacked food and soft drink items that are prepared for customers. In fact, I would argue that the more readily available information we have about our food and drink, the better.
As I sat down to work the other week on an ordinary Tuesday morning, the small print in my diary announced that it was International Women’s Day. This year’s theme was #BreakTheBias which focuses on not just acknowledging gender bias, discrimination and stereotyping but advocates actively calling it out every time we see it. I couldn’t help thinking that this year’s theme couldn’t be more apt as it is simply not enough to only think about these issues on a dedicated day. In fact, after reading the results of a recent survey by the charity, Women in Sport, it left me in no doubt that our girls and young women need our support to excel every day.
With the recent back-to-back storms of Dudley, Eunice and Franklin battering the UK with increasing force as they tried to outdo each other in what must be the ultimate battle of sibling rivalry, there haven’t been many opportunities to exercise safely outside. It’s all very well to be told by some hardened Scandinavian veteran that ‘There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes’ but how exactly do you dress for 80mph winds without losing an item or two? I fear for the owners of small dogs who must struggle to grip their leashes while praying that they don’t fly away as the tail of a dog-shaped kite. I thought the gym would be the obvious workout solution to escape the wintery elements. But the extreme gym air con set to ice age temperatures and incoming draught of polar winds from outdoors only gave me a bad cold. A rest day was definitely in order. Although, as I hunkered down indoors and tried to catch up on some culinary reading I was only more distracted by the sound of the wind whipping the windows. As the wind circled the garden and violently toppled over every piece of heavily anchored piece of furniture almost as an afterthought, my thoughts quickly turned to comfort. After all, it was getting close to dinnertime…
For many people, the commencement of another New Year doesn’t just remind them that time is passing by far quicker than they thought and confirms the obvious, that they really are getting old. It also marks a time of the year when the masses devote themselves to having another go at making a big change all wrapped up in some fat resolutions. The majority of these resolutions always seem to relate to diet and exercise but it’s hardly surprising when they more than often resemble the same good intentions from the previous year. Nonetheless, every January the number of people who sign up to Dry January, Veganuary, start a new diet or weight-loss programme, join a gym or commit to running an extremely a long race seems to only grow.
It may only be November but with the onslaught of newly launched tv ads, the countdown to Christmas has begun, in earnest. Although with the leaves still clinging on tightly to the trees, it barely looks autumnal outside and seems a bit early to be thinking about mince pies and cosy log fires. Nonetheless, pre-orders for Christmas foods and delivery slots have reportedly sold out at several leading supermarkets leading many people to panic buy for a meal more than a month away. Whether this mad rush to be ready in time for the holidays has been influenced by last year’s largely cancelled Covid Christmas or by today’s unrelenting shipping delays that now also threaten late presents as Brexit takes back control, there is no avoiding the chaos. But at least while you try to source the last remaining turkey in the UK you can enjoy the unveiling of festive cheer between two slices with the commencement of Christmas sandwich season.
Food waste has always been a real bugbear of mine but like most people, I hold a particular bias. Although no one likes to discover some long forgotten food item in their kitchen that has clearly aged well beyond its use-by-date, I absolutely despair when something that was perfectly edible and especially tasty is needlessly wasted. Therefore, for purely selfish – or perhaps, more accurately – greedy reasons, it really pains me when the discarded foodstuff in question is something that I like to eat. Which is why when I read in the media about the recent arrest of a couple of spies for espionage-related charges I shuddered with horror. Not because they had been trying to sell secrets about nuclear powered US submarines in an eerie Vigil-like copycat. But that the spies had concealed an SD card containing highly classified information with a message wrapped in plastic inside half of a peanut butter sandwich. It was used in a ‘dead-drop’ in an outrageous abuse of peanut butter!
With life comes risks and that is never so true as when it comes to running. Because being a runner means that you have to accept the risk that one day, you may injure yourself. But all runners know that the benefits of running far outweigh any risk of injury. Otherwise they’d never lace up. However, that does not mean that being injured is any easier. In fact, as someone who has been forced to take a break from running due to a badly injured knee I feel like a grizzly with a sore paw. Impossible to reason with while equally despondent and impatient by not recovering soon enough. Who wants to RICE all the time when they feel in every bone in their body (apart from their sore paw) that they really should be running? Not this grizzly!