Category Archives: Sports nutrition and children

Give junk food the Red Card

It’s hard to believe that it is already May and we are well into the Spring. Although there is one thing that reminds me that despite the unpredictable weather, change is in the air. Or rather, there has been a ‘change of air’ as there is something that is now, thankfully, absent. No longer am I greeted with the unmistakeable thick stench of abandoned muddy rugby boots every time I cross my front door. Strangely, there always seems to be more pairs of boots and empty gumshield cases than children in my household. But I don’t dare open any unfamiliar looking boot bags among the heap, lest I disturb their murky contents.

For now, though, it is safe to breathe in deeply and enjoy the Spring air. Rugby season has finally finished, which means some temporary relief from the particular ‘rugby smell’ that can assault your nostrils when you least expect it. It will be almost 5 months before the season begins again and one of my children will be forced to delve through the dirty kit in search of their missing gumshield. But this doesn’t mean that I will now be able to put up my feet and try to remember what we used to do on the weekend before spending it on the sidelines. For my family, the end of one sport always kickstarts the next and since it’s Spring, it can only be athletics and the beginning of track season.

Tropical bars blog 2

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How not to run a half marathon

Have you ever done anything before that was so ridiculous that you had to question how you got there? It was Monday again, and I was a bit more on the tired side than usual and had a couple of sore toes. Then the reason for this started to hit me…The previous day, I unexpectedly ran a half marathon race. And how I let this happen should be a word of warning to all parents.

As readers will know, I am a runner and I like to enter the odd event for fun now and then, albeit with mixed results. I am also married to runner and so it’s probably no surprise that taking part in sport is the norm in our family and our 3 children are very active. In fact, for some time, our middle child had repeatedly declared to anyone who would listen, that he wanted to run a half marathon. In fact, he wanted to run one as soon as he reached the required entry age of 17. Now as all parents know, there can be a big difference between what your child says they want to do and what they really think once the reality of the actual ‘doing’, sinks in. Which is why sometimes simply sleeping on it for a couple of days, months or even years is a parent’s saving grace. I cannot count the number of times this technique has worked to avoid unwise purchases, club memberships, hairstyles and piercings. At the very least, buying parents more time can help them make sure their offspring really understand what they are asking for or can give them the chance to come up with the least worst Plan B.

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A spin on children’s exercise

I read with interest, the other day, that a recent international study has found that British children are some of the least active in the world. Rather than getting their minimum of an hour a day physical activity that is the official government advice, the majority are spending their time watching box sets, playing games consoles and texting while they eat their weight in sugar. As a result, the alliance of health experts has awarded England and Wales a grade of D- for ‘Overall Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviour’ while Scotland was one of 5 countries to come joint last with a big, fat F.

However, I found this really hard to believe and could not help thinking that they must have got it wrong. How could this be true when the number of my children’s sports fixtures for school and outside clubs was increasing lately, causing an even worse nightmare of co-ordinating the taxiing to and from pitches. Every weekend we had to sit down together with the home diary and I attempted to broker a negotiation with 3 teenagers about who was being picked up when, who could get the public bus and if we could ride share with anyone. From the arguments that entailed and the complexities of trying pick up at the same time in three different locations you would think that I was trying to settle a peace agreement between rouge states. In a sense, I was because inevitably, agreements were reneged when fixtures were unexpectedly added or cancelled causing the whole plan to fall by the wayside.

Therefore, I could not relate to the news that children were not getting enough daily physical exercise. In fact, I was beginning to wonder that if this continues, my children could singlehandedly up the stats. To top all this off, they have now invaded the gym I go to which has had an unexpected effect on my own level of physical exercise. I have been roped into joining them in a weekly spin class, despite promising myself never to get back into that saddle.

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Spring fever

While out running the other morning, I could not ignore the feeling that Spring was finally in the air—at least for the moment. All the signs were there and I hoped that this meant that we would finally get some relief from the cold. Although I couldn’t ignore the chilly wind biting at my neck, it was so unusually sunny and bright outside that everything seemed to shine. The early daffodils which had looked so out of place in recent grey weeks were now carpets of vibrant, glaring yellow and almost looked unreal. It was such a contrast to the rain and floods we’ve experienced lately. It didn’t seem possible that a couple of degrees in temperature could work so quickly to reduce the tide level of the usual puddles on the trails. I was unaccustomed to running on less swampy ground and I realised that I was running in areas that had not been intentionally trodden on since the autumn. I am always amazed at how running conditions can be affected by just a tiny change in the weather and a winter weary slog can quickly transform into a springy trot. But clearly, I was not the only one who ventured outside and had caught a bit of spring fever.

Normally when I go for a run I pass by several familiar all-weather dog-walkers and spy the same couple of runners who are doing their regular workout. However, when Spring is in the air, we’ve all got company as it seems that everybody is outside. The parks and trails quickly become busier as they fill with more runners, walkers and cyclists. Which means that running becomes a little like a game of dodge and swerve played against many different opponents with a diverse range of abilities. This time I was up against people walking excited dogs and puppies, parents walking toddlers with sticks and the most dangerous and difficult sort to contend with—children learning to ride new bikes. After a near-miss with a parent who was attempting to navigate a pushchair whilst holding back both a child and dog on tangled reins, I nearly ran into a hedge. I also had a slight collision with a little dog that ran straight towards me who lost our game of ‘chicken’ but perhaps it didn’t know we were playing…

Of course, the improvement in weather that often marks the beginning of Spring can only mean one thing…Time to sign up for some new events! And this is easily done because when the sun is shining, we readily convince ourselves that it will last and can already imagine enjoying some never ending sunny days ahead. However, if we are honest, a small part of us will know that we are deluded. Spring may equate to beautiful sunny days with bright blue skies and warm breezes somewhere else but in the UK it just means we get a slightly warmer winter, sometimes with less rain.

It is no different in my family as we have also caught a bit of Spring fever and logic has once again taken a back seat to enthusiasm. For example, there has been a lot of talk about signing up for various duathlons, triathlons, half-marathons and some ‘fun’ events. One of my children announced that they were doing a triathlon but then remembered that they don’t actually like the pool-bound swimming leg of it. Now they have decided they want to do an aquathon! Another child lobbied us relentlessly until we allowed him to sign up for a last-minute duathlon that takes place ‘a couple of hours’ away. Despite some rushed training, his head is still in a Spring fever haze because now is also talking about wanting to run a Half-Marathon with me when he reaches the minimum age requirement. Which is odd because he actually prefers cycling…

Of course, being aware of Spring fever madness doesn’t make you any more immune to it and I am just as susceptible as my children. I have come to the conclusion that there is no point in trying to resist it because even considering the brutal reality of training and participating or the likely weather you will encounter on the day doesn’t seem to help. I have already signed up for a Cancer Research UK’s Pretty Muddy event despite the fact that I cannot bear being wet and cold. I am looking at summer half-marathons, cycling sportives and also considering doing a triathlon although I share the dislike of the swimming part with my child. Maybe we should do it together?? I have no resistance to Spring fever so I think I might as well embrace it and sign up for these ridiculous events. Because although it is sunny and Spring-like for the moment I also know that this weather will not last. But at least in the following months I will be joined on the trails and pavements by others who have signed up for things in a moment of Spring madness. Maybe we can spur each other on in the rain?

And for the first recipe of Spring it has got to be Spring chicken with lemony veg. It is another easy family recipe that makes a great sauce and if you mop it up with your favourite bread, it makes a great post workout meal. Just don’t expect your children to leave you any leftovers.

Spring chicken blog

 

How not to run a duathlon (and still succeed)

I am probably not the first person who has found themselves unthinkingly signing up to things for which there is no cooling off period to reconsider when you eventually come to your senses. Whether it is a favour, a request for help or an invitation, sometimes we impulsively agree to do things that make us stop and question ourselves later and say, what was I thinking?! If you are a runner then you will recognise that this typically happens to you every time you finish a race, whether you have done well or not. As long as you have finished the thing without killing yourself, you enter into a sort of suggestive bubble where you are extremely vulnerable to any suggestions of ‘the next one’. It is as if the endorphins that are released when you  cross the finish line and get your goody bag make you utterly agreeable to take part in any upcoming event whether it is realistic or not. In that first 24 hours post-race, the idea of entering a marathon, half ironman or even the full whack doesn’t sound so insane because we still feel invincible. But what happens when the bubble has burst and you come to your senses to realise that maybe you have bitten off more than you can chew?

Last month, after taking part in the Leighton 10 road race and surviving after battling it out against participants from every running club on the planet, I entered that suggestive bubble and promptly signed up for the Althorp Duathlon. I had run the same duathlon once before a couple of years ago and had fond memories of the good atmosphere and very flat course in pretty surroundings. My husband also entered as did one of my sons, who was keen because he had finally reached the minimum age to enter. I knew there was less than 3 weeks to train for it, but I reckoned that the running was mostly sorted and I just needed to get in some cycling training.

However, what I did not factor into the equation, was finding myself ill two weeks before the event. Judging from the many online running forums, there seemed to be a runners’ code which said that if you are ill from the neck up you can safely workout but from the neck down you shouldn’t. With a bad sinus infection, I was technically in the ‘safe’ zone but as I was having to drag myself through work and family life commitments, I decided to opt for just hoping that I could recover in time to train. But it didn’t happen in time so last Saturday, I went to the Althorp Duathlon en masse, not completely confident about starting let alone, finishing it.

This year the Althorp Duathlon was oddly, not at Althorp but took place at Holdenby House but we assumed the course would be of similar difficulty. The unfamiliarity of the new location meant that we arrived a little late and we barely had time to set up our bikes and gear in the transition area before the race briefing began. Minutes later, the Standard distance competitors of the 10km run, 40km cycle and 5km run lined up at the start and they were quickly off before the rest of us in the Sprint category of the 5km run, 20km cycle and final 5km run were corralled to the line. Although I felt miserable, already had a cold sweat going on and knew that this was the last chance to bail the race, I stayed put. Ultimately, I didn’t want to disappoint my son and I was only encouraged further by the race atmosphere. Besides, I had spied t-shirts for sale with all of the names of the participants on it and how could I possibly wear one if I hadn’t done it? So irresponsibly, I decided to give the duathlon a go, full of antibiotics and over-the-counter medication.

I began the 5km ‘traffic free’ run that was routed through the Holdenby Estate but I didn’t realise that it would consist of incredibly hilly farmland only accessible by tractor. It was a cross-country race of extraordinary measure and I could not believe what I had got myself into. By the second km I was already spent and breathing like Darth Vader. Now what?!, I thought. What if I can’t finish? I had no choice but to keep going, being literally, in the middle of farmland. I tried to focus on the runners ahead and but soon the hills approached. My breathing got even louder as I struggled to run up but I was beginning to notice that others were (quietly) suffering, too. Some more hills later and eventually, Holdenby House and the transition were in sight.

At transition, I was spurred on by the cheers to quickly gear myself up for the cycle leg of the duathlon. Upon leaving with my bike, I grabbed a cold lozenge strategically left next to my helmet, but as my hands were still frozen, I had to shove it in my mouth with most of the wrapper still attached. I’d worry about that later, I thought, as I ran with my bike out of transition.

Attached to my bike with the death cleats, I began the cycle route which was routed through several Northamptonshire villages and surrounding countryside. However, like the run, this included many more hills than I expected. The first 10km were extremely challenging and caused me to swear out loud in frustration to no one in particular at several points. I soon dreaded every bend in the road because I expected it to finish with another hill. I thought that I had hit rock bottom upon reaching the top of a particularly steep hill when I was still crawling at the summit and saw a sign that read, ‘Slow—junction ahead’. I was convinced that the sign was mocking me as it was impossible to be going anything other than slowly. But it got worse.

The next 10km had more hills and descents with rarely a flat road to catch my noisy breath. I still sounded like DV and the effect of the cold lozenge meant my nose was also dripping with more frequency. Fragments of the wrapper were finally starting to become unglued from the lozenge and were making me cough as I tried to rid myself of them. I desperately needed to dismount to blow my nose with two hands but before long, my cycle computer told me that I was approaching the last km. I was relieved when I spotted a couple of marshals ahead who directed me towards the transition with a ‘Sprint—ahead, Standard—take a left’. I cycled forward with a last push and as my cycle computer displayed more than 20km, I knew transition would be just around the corner. But after another 2km, I was still in the middle of nowhere and when I passed 24km, I started to panic. I became convinced that they had sent me on the 40km loop and I slowed down to nought as I struggled to hold back my tears. I went over and over again the options of turning around or continuing on the longer route but after wasting several minutes deliberating, I spotted another competitor. Luckily, she confirmed that this was the right direction for the Sprint distance and after continuing another half km, Holdenby House and the transition were finally in sight. After completing almost 25km of the supposed 20km route, I hobbled off my bike to begin the last leg of the race.

The last run of the race took the same route as the first leg but the familiarity didn’t make it any easier. In fact, this is always the most difficult part of a duathlon because your legs are always too tired and wobbly to control. In effect, you do the running equivalent of ‘Dad dancing’ and since everyone else has the same problem there is no point in copying their running coping strategies, especially as it is prime time to get muscle cramp. You just have to carry on and not make eye contact. I cannot describe how tired I felt running the last 5km but I was also starting to feel incredibly relieved because I now knew I was going to finish, even if I had to walk. I crept up and down the hills, through the mud, over the ridges until finally I saw the finish line. I approached half sprinting and saw my son shouting for me as I ran through. I was so happy to finish at last that I didn’t even clock my time.

Many snacks later, we followed the crowd to hear the results of the Sprint distance as we knew that with very few young competitors, my son had a chance at placing. Sure enough, he managed to snag the trophy for his age group but as we were leaving, they started to announce the winner of my own age category. We paused just to hear what the winning time was and it took me a couple of seconds to register that they had announced my name. I was in complete shock to realise that I had actually won my age category because I have never won anything before. Suddenly they were giving me a little trophy as well and the two of us went away with the biggest smiles on our faces. Suddenly, I didn’t care about feeling tired or ill and we couldn’t wait to tell my husband once he finished the Standard race. We had to wait a bit longer than expected, though, as it turned out that he had cycled forward instead of taking the left.

Back at home and resting in the suggestion bubble again, we promptly signed up for a winter half-marathon. Some people never learn…

Now for some food…one of my favourite things to eat at the moment on a cold autumn day is Grilled polenta with spinach and tomato. It is easy and quick to prepare and full of the right kind of subsistence to make the perfect recovery meal.DSC01896 (1)

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