Category Archives: Sports nutrition and children

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. With this in mind, we regularly reminded our son that a half marathon is just over 21km and is not exactly a skip in the park. However, he could not be deterred and after a bit of research, he announced that he was going to run his first half-marathon 2 days after his 17th birthday took place. On hearing this, his previously concerned father leapt at the opportunity to run alongside him and immediately began weighing up training plans. They had almost 6 months to train before the race took place, what could possibly go wrong?

Well, let’s just say that when you are a teenager, life often gets in the way of intentions and that includes training for a half marathon. In other words, our son spent the 6 months keeping himself very fit by playing and training for a number of sports and working out regularly at the gym. However, he didn’t devote much actual time to running and getting some needed kilometres under his belt. This didn’t improve even as time moved on and the day of the big event began to creep nearer. Our polite suggestions to him, that maybe he should go for the odd run and the occasional offers of joining him fell on deaf ears. As did his father’s opportune comments about the risk of injury of running such a distance untrained. Nothing could get our son to train. However, as determined as he was to avoid any specific training for the half marathon, he was just as dedicated to running it due to his supportive siblings. What else could cement his commitment other than by being given a clear vote of no confidence that he had any chance of finishing the race by his siblings. As parents, there wasn’t much else that we could do other than keep trying to convince him to do some training until finally, it was too late.

It was the week before the half marathon took place. My husband, by now in peak condition and raring to race, was enjoying some rest time. Meanwhile, my son, prepared himself by focusing his daily gym sessions on his upper body to ‘save his legs’. I, on the other hand, carried on with my usual weekday workouts as normal but had decided to go for my long run a bit later in the week. I may have even been inspired by the imminent half marathon because I ran slightly longer than usual, over 16km. I had the weekend ahead to rest, or so I thought…

But disaster struck less than 2 days before the half marathon took place, when my husband injured himself in his final easy run. Shocked to find that he could no longer run the half marathon with my son, I was faced with some very difficult questions. Do I let my son run his first half marathon – on his own – having had very little training? Or do I attempt to run the half marathon with him which I haven’t prepared for, physically or mentally, in less than 2 days? Will I even be able to run a half marathon when my legs are still knackered from my long run and the subsequent workouts I foolishly did in the days that followed?!! Do I actually have to run a half marathon on what is supposed to be one of my ‘rest’ days? Of course, I had no choice but to step up to the challenge.

With one day to go, my son and I sat down to prepare ourselves to face the Buckingham Half Marathon. I decided to do a quick assessment, starting with the positives. On the plus side, my son was extremely fit and had youth on his side. At 17, he could get away with a lot in terms of physical challenges. He was also very confident and determined to finish the half marathon, no matter what. As for me, I was also very fit and had been doing some long runs very recently. I was also an experienced half marathon runner, having clocked up 3 races previously. However, we did have our negatives. On the minus side, my son had never run longer than 16km before and had only done that once on a whim, many, many months ago. I was also not sure if he truly realised just how far 21km really is when you are running. Especially because he could effortlessly cycle over hundreds of kilometres. Come to think of it, his cycling mentality now explained why he was so crestfallen when I broke it to him that the 4 water stations on the Bucks Half course were not actually ‘feed stations’ and they did not serve coffee, either. Among my minuses, I was pretty tired from my recent workouts and my most recent half marathon took place over a year ago. And the memory of running the Milton Keynes Winter Half Marathon during a storm of biblical proportions, was still fresh in my mind. I was more than reluctant to repeat the pain.

We realised that the only way we were going to get through the Bucks Half would be to adopt a fun run strategy. That is, instead of racing we would sit back, take it easy and focus on enjoying the race. We would also completely disregard the time it took to run our 21kms of ‘fun’. Our Half Marathon aim would simply be to finish it together without any injuries. The plan seemed not only sensible but doable because we could take a break to stop and stretch whenever we wanted to. No pressure, no problem. With the fun run plan in mind, we joined the starting line of the Bucks Half the next morning.

As we waited to start the race amidst a crowd of 300 excited runners, we learned that it was the inaugural launch of the first ever Buckingham Half Marathon. While I wondered if this meant that we would be running the course as half marathon guinea pigs, we surged forward at the whistle start. At least my son and I would be familiar with some of the roads on the circular course route as we had cycled on the very same tarmac before. However, we were also well aware that the ‘undulating’ described course would likely be extremely hilly and there may not be much time spent running on flat ground.

However, the first 5km of the Bucks Half flew by very quickly as we spent our time chatting and catching up on the week while we ran. We even managed the hills expertly, recovering from each with just as much spring in our steps. As we passed the neon mile markers, I glanced at my watch and saw that we were running at a speedy pace. But we both felt great and were actually enjoying it.

In fact, we liked running the next 5km just as much as the last and after a couple of sips of water at the drink station, we were as good as new. Our legs were still strong and we carried on chatting, sharing funny stories and having fun. Although many of the scenic country lanes were isolated with the only spectators being farm animals, every now and then we would turn a corner and find a handful of eager spectators with offers of sweets and drinks. We also began to play a game of ‘Where’s Wally?’ with my husband, who frequently popped up when we least expected it, en route. He was by far, the most enthusiastic cheerleader of all spectators, shouting advice to us like a veteran pro on the inaugural course.

Another drink station later, and I could see that we were beginning to tire as we approached the neon 16km. My son now entered the danger zone of the unknown as he passed his running milestone. There was no telling what his legs were going to do. We carried on running and tried to keep to a steady pace and I noticed that the conversation started to get a little bit one-sided. I suggested that we take a break to stop and stretch. Admittedly, I also wanted to remove a painful rock from my shoe that I had picked up several kms ago. But my son’s legs were by then starting to cramp up. He feared that if we stopped, his legs may give up entirely. So we carried on sluggishly trying to shift ourselves forward again.

Just in the nick of time, we spotted my husband again as we came to the bottom of another mammoth hill. By now he was cheering wildly to everyone who passed by with shouts of ‘Not much farther!’ and ‘Looking good!!’. Another runner asked me, ‘Is he talking to me?!’ but I replied, ‘No, that’s just my crazy husband’. And as we started to slowly climb the hill we were spurred on by his words of ‘You’re almost there! One more hill after this!’.

Unfortunately, there were a further 5 more hills. As we ran on, I could not get more than monosyllabic answers out of my son and I realised then, that he had literally run out of ‘fun’. I spent the remaining kms giving a running commentary of the course to my son like a self-appointed motivational coach. I used my last reserves of energy to try and sound enthusiastic while guiding him with ‘OK, another hill coming up. We can do this!! OK, let’s just aim for that tree and take it easy…’ But I realised that my inspiring words weren’t what was driving my son forward. With gritted teeth and the end not quite in sight, my son revealed why he had no intention of stopping. Sibling rivalry trumps all when it comes to motivation and he was savouring the moment when he could tell his brother that he had run the Bucks Half. We kept going and at km21, we sprinted the final metres to the finish, crossing together and completely delirious with relief. We had made it together, finally, and in one piece.

We relaxed and refuelled while commiserating with fellow tired competitors whose wide smiles matched ours. After some time, I remembered to check my watch and saw that we had clocked a very respectable 1.52. But the real bragging rights were saved for home and for siblings who had dared to doubt. I stood back and enjoyed listening to my son replay the ups and downs of the Bucks Half while I tried to put my feet up. I hoped that my son had learned an important lesson about the importance of training for endurance events. However, I am not so sure…

The very day, before the stiffness in his legs had set in, he suggested that we do the next half marathon on a flatter course so that we could really get the time down. My only response to him could be to wonder if there might also be some merit in doing some training for it. As for me, I have learned the hard way that supporting your children only gets more challenging as they get older because their ambitions reach even greater heights. Which means that when it comes to teenagers, be prepared. There really are no limits to what you may be required to do.

And now, at last, the recipe and what could be better after a long run than a smoothie to recover. Why not try one of these?

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Bucks Half

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.

About a year ago, I made the mistake of going to my first spin class at a different gym with one of my children and the members of his cycling team because I thought it would be a ‘fun’ thing to try out. However, what I hadn’t bargained for was a class of sweaty, highly competitive alpha males lead by a teacher who shouted at anyone that he thought wasn’t pulling their weight. It was difficult enough for me to understand what we were actually supposed to be doing without falling off my bike so I just tried to copy my son. Unfortunately, his long legs and speed didn’t match mine so in addition to tipping my water bottle all over the floor, I spent the entire time lagging behind everyone while counting down the minutes until I could finally stop.

Of course, when my son joined my gym, like all teenagers, he instantly knew the run of it and began to tell me things about it that I hadn’t noticed in all the years that I had been going. He also quickly established that there was a spin class and insisted that we had to try it out even though I was extremely reluctant. In retrospect, I think that he knew that if he ignored my replies of ‘We’ll see’, I would cave in if I believed that he wouldn’t go on his own. Before I knew it, we were heading into a class, trying to find a bike amongst the crowd. I claimed what I thought was a good bike as it had been left in the centre of the room, which also saved me from hefting over another one. However, as the class quickly started with the blare of the music, I realised that I was starting to fall off my bike as my saddle tilted sharply. I was quickly identified as the newbie as I ran to swap my wonky bike and start again.

Finally sorted out on a different bike, I pedalled away and tried to listen to the rapid fire instructions being shouted out. We did a series of short sprints to warm up but this rapidly progressed into racing and climbing imaginary 3rd category hills in the Tour de France. Unlike the professionals, I didn’t feel that I was gliding past anyone as I tried to pedal out of the saddle as if I was climbing a never ending ladder. It was quite bizarre to be cycling hard in an indoor peloton, sweating to loud techno music trapped in what felt like the worst 90’s disco. Looking up, you could see our pained reflections on the mirrored walls, like some grimaced Tour spectators. The class seemed to last forever but just when I thought I couldn’t pedal anymore, I finally felt a wave of relief as we reached the cooldown and I lowered the resistance on the bike to nought.

I was a fool to think that after a shaky start, I could get out of the next spin class because the following week only got worse. By then, my daughter had also decided to join the gym on the premise that she had injured her knee playing rugby and needed to cycle to help her recovery. And what better way to do this but in a spin class! So pressured now by two persuasive teenagers, I didn’t really have a chance to get out of spinning. This time, the class was even more packed and the bikes were bunched up into a peloton. However, I managed to grab a good bike and squeeze it into the gap between my two offspring. Once again, the blaring music announced the start of the class and instructions were shouted out as we started to pedal. I thought that this time, I had a good chance at not standing out quite so much as I struggled as at least I was hidden in the middle of the pack. Besides, I wouldn’t be the only one at the back of the pack as my daughter would have to be taking it easy with her knee. But as expected, an injured teenager is still stronger than any adult having a Beroca day. The instructor only urged us to go faster with shouts of ‘If it doesn’t hurt, you’re not going hard enough!’. I tried to pedal at a manic pace but glancing aside I soon realised that my ‘hard enough’ is quite different from my children’s. They pedalled possessed as they effortlessly soared past imaginary cyclists on the steepest mountain climbs and left me behind in their wake. They seemed to only get stronger as they accomplished the never ending sprint intervals and they almost looked like they were enjoying it.

By the end of the class I had reduced to crawling on my bike until we finally reached the cooldown. We left the class sweaty and exhausted and unsurprisingly, my children absolutely loved it. They have already signed us up for the next one and so this spin class agony is only going to continue. I know I should be happy that at least they are getting the minimum one hour of physical activity a day but unless I can stop them from trying to meet the maximum then I am afraid that I am going to have to continue spinning. Which means that unless my children get bored of it, I am just going to have to get better at it.

But perhaps that is the key to keeping children active and upping these depressing statistics? Find them an activity or sport that they enjoy and even better, one that takes full advantage of their natural abilities and competitiveness. In other words, if you can find the physical activity that ‘fits’ your child, it will hook them as long as they keep enjoying it. The long list of physical rewards they will get in return from taking part such as feeling good, relaxed and stronger will help to encourage them to do it again. Of course, it is easier said than done to find the Holy Grail of an activity that they enjoy, you have access to and can afford. But no one said being a parent is easy. And be warned, once you find the sport that fits, you may also find yourself joining them for the ride.

All that spinning has made me hungry so here’s the recipe for a great recovery snack. This Pecan and date bread is very easy to make, very easy to eat. Enjoy!

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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)

Duathlon 2.2Duathlon 1.1
 

Turkey time

Last Sunday marked the launch of the first World Obesity Day and it felt slightly uncomfortable to me as I was about to spend the entire day cooking and thinking about food in our preparations to celebrate Canadian Thanksgiving. Technically, we celebrated it one day early but living in the UK means we have to just fit it in when we can. Therefore, in order to produce our traditional Thanksgiving dinner, it takes forward planning and military precision to do it amongst the regular sports training and fixtures, homework and unexpected time wasting activities of the weekend. In effect, it starts the week earlier when I face the challenge of trying to source some of the Thanksgiving ingredients to actually make it.

Like that ‘other’ Thanksgiving you may have heard about, central to our Canadian Thanksgiving dinner is the big turkey with all the trimmings. However, trying to find one in the UK in October is probably the biggest hurdle I have to overcome every year. It is impossible to find a fresh turkey at this time of the year so you would think that this would be an easy online click & collect 5 mins over a coffee to find a supermarket still selling frozen turkeys. But for some reason, I just can’t risk it. I don’t know if it is because my past bad experiences of receiving supermarket orders with frankly, comical substitutions of vital ingredients in time has made me a bit sceptical. I think it is more likely to be because there is something about the Thanksgiving turkey that makes me truly believe that I have to check out its worthiness, in person, before committing to its purchase that you just can’t do online.

I am, of course, making a rod for my own back because this means I have to scope out various supermarket frozen foods aisles until a turkey of sufficient size but without the pre-basted nonsense is found. In addition, being frozen means that I have to get the timing just right so that when I buy the turkey, our fridge is depleted enough so that it will accommodate it in time to defrost sufficiently before we need to cook it. I cannot describe the feeling of relief I get if I have bought the turkey in time and also managed to fit it in the fridge. Like a massive turkey weight has been instantly lifted from my shoulders, I know that everything is going to be ok now because there will be Thanksgiving turkey.

Luckily, I have become more adept in the annual turkey hunt because there have been some close calls in past years when it seemed impossible to find a frozen turkey in time. I remember an especially desperate time when my teenagers were toddlers and the absence of any frozen turkeys reduced me to considering constructing a turkey out of the only parts available in the shops—turkey mince and legs. Fortunately, a last-minute visit to long-forgotten supermarket that must have only existed to house the last frozen turkey in the UK meant that we managed to avoid roasting a mutant-like turkey beast and possibly mentally scarring our 3 children.

The second main player in the Canadian Thanksgiving dinner is, of course, pumpkin pie. Unsurprisingly, it requires some pumpkin and in October it is not difficult to find pumpkins on all of the supermarkets shelves, especially since they have readily adopted the lucrative Halloween market. However, to make a pumpkin pie, you have to peel, scoop out, cook and mash a fresh pumpkin and can be very time consuming, not to mention, messy. Growing up in Canada, I was spoiled by the availability of canned pumpkin which is as ubiquitous on supermarket shelves as finding tins of baked beans in the UK. And the truth is that in pumpkin pie, it tastes exactly the same as using fresh pumpkin but without all that work. Therefore, whenever I knew someone was travelling to North America, I used to ask them to bring me back a couple of cans of pumpkin until in recent years I began to notice that occasionally in a couple of supermarkets, cans of pumpkin would appear. Ever since, whenever I shop at those same supermarkets, I routinely visit the aisle where the cans of pumpkin normally sit lined up, expectantly. As soon as they arrive, I buy a couple of cans for Thanksgiving and Halloween pumpkin pies and maybe another for some pumpkin muffins. Admittedly, I buy the odd extra can just in case there is a pumpkin shortage or last minute pumpkin pie disaster. Alright, I might buy another extra can if they’re still there the next week—you can never be too sure.

The only problem this created was finding a place to store the cans but then I found the perfect place—an old wardrobe in our garage where we stored other miscellaneous items. However, I was soon replicating a supermarket shelf of canned pumpkin, all lined up. It wasn’t until the cans of pumpkin had comfortably reached the double figures and I saw the look of incredulity on the face of one of my children who had accidently cracked opened the wardrobe that I realised that I had reached a pumpkin tipping point. When the said child asked if their father knew of the pumpkin wardrobe and I found myself saying ‘No, and don’t tell him!’ that I realised, it had to stop. Of course, my secret pumpkin stash was eventually exposed but I have since restricted myself from storing above single digits, if only to avoid adding canned pumpkin unnecessarily (and some would say, inappropriately) to recipes simply to beat the use by date.

But this year we seemed to have found everything in time and Thanksgiving was pulled off without a hitch. Although it was ironic to be producing a meal of biblical proportions when it happened to coincide with the first World Obesity Day, at least we were doing it to celebrate the harvest (and not obesity, as some sarcastic teenager might have suggested). And to continue the celebration, we will be eating the leftovers for days to come…until the remains are magically transformed into a final turkey vegetable soup.  But before then, another Thanksgiving recipe and since my supplies are up, it has got to be Pumpkin Scones. These scones are perfectly suited to eat as a before sports breakfast or snack or you may want to fuel up for your own turkey hunt…

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The wacky races

Last weekend went by in a blur to me because I think I spent the entire time driving to faraway places to watch my children take part in different sporting events. Like most parents, I know that this is all part of supporting and encouraging my children in doing something they really enjoy and I am well versed in the multitude of benefits of doing sport. So although at times I really despair at the thought of driving on yet another motorway to continue my ongoing argument with an ancient and slightly passive aggressive Satnav, I continue to confirm that my children are available for their upcoming fixtures.

In effect, I have joined an unofficial club made up of a small group of veteran parent spectators who wait, watch and cheer on their children, no matter the weather. Over the years, we have experienced the highs and lows of competition and seen a lot but every now and then a completely new sporting event comes along. This happened to me once again last Sunday when I spent the entire day watching my one of my children take part in the Solihull Sprints pedal car races.

The ‘Sprints’ were actually a series of 3 races as I have discovered that pedal car riders are far too committed to the sport to settle for just having one straightforward, all-out event. I mean, why else would they have three races, one right after the other? And just to make it interesting, the three subsequent ‘sprints’ were 3 hours long, 2 hours long, followed by a final one hour fight to the finish.

When I heard about this event, I thought to myself that it was a slightly insane number of hours to be pedalling all-out in what looked like a really uncomfortable, rickety seat on wheels around one of the fastest pedal car courses. Given that our 4-member team was made up of teenagers who were not only devoted to beating the other youth teams but also annihilating some of the adults, they wouldn’t exactly be pacing themselves. However, I thought that at least the enormity of this challenge paled in comparison to their recent 24-hour pedal car race in the pouring rain. In a sense, they would be getting off comparatively lightly so if my child wanted to help cycle as fast as physically possible for 6 hours around a track in an attempt to destroy the competition, I definitely wanted to witness it.

I have to say that experiencing pedal car racing first hand was quite an eye-opener and being new to the sport, I thought I would share the 3 things that I have learned so far from these wacky races.

1: Not all pedal cars are created equal. Yes, it may seem that this is stating the obvious as you would expect a bit of variation in craftsmanship and customisation by each team. However, unlike the range of bikes that you see in amateur cycling races that differ in the essential specs but essentially look the same, pedal cars are completely unrecognisable to each other. The basic model looks like a 4-wheeled recumbent bike that has a bonnet wedged on the front and some side panels thrown on for protection, almost as a second thought. Some of the pedal cars are slightly more sophisticated looking with added windshields, enclosed wheels and go faster stripes. However, other top end models have been modified to become sleek, aerodynamic space capsules that zip by like submarines on wheels. And like the pedal car version of a time-trial bike, every time they noisily rumble by, everyone stops in their tracks and stares in admiration. They simply look like another species and unfortunately for the basic pedal car, these races are a survival of the fittest.

2: This is dangerous sport to be a spectator. You would think that racing at your top speed around a tight course in an unstable pedal car that threatens to flip over every time you try to manoeuvre past your rivals would only be precarious for the drivers. However, it can be equally risky for the spectator who foolishly decides that they need a break from watching the same pedal cars continuously circle around. Generally, pedal car circuits are lined by each team’s tent and pit stop where drivers are switched over during the race. But the tent/pit stop combo is perhaps not very well thought out. During the previous 24 hour event, my son ended his first shift on the pedal car by forgetting to break into the pit stop and he ploughed into the tent, stopping only by colliding into another parent.

Naively, I thought that I only had to watch out for my own child’s reckless driving and during the 3 hour sprint, I temporarily relaxed and attempted to sit down in the tent. I had rested assured that my son was not driving and dodgems is very much frowned upon among riders. However, before I knew it, two battling pedal cars locked wheels and veered off course, taking out a neighbouring spectator and crashing into our tent and finally ramming into a lamppost next to our chairs. It was a near miss for us but the other spectator had suspected broken ribs! So the lesson is, don’t even think about having a break.

3: The fuel of pedal car riders is surprisingly stodgy. Like most parents, I am very accustomed to the typical array of meals on offer at most sporting events which is generally a disappointing selection of expensive fast food. However, the complete lack of any catering at all at pedal car races means that bringing a picnic is essential. But I have witnessed food combinations devoured by young and old, alike, that I have never seen or imagined before which makes me think that the concept of sports nutrition has yet to make an impact here. Pre-Sprints, I did not know that puff pastry was so popular or that junk food mash-ups existed, let alone that it was the standard fuel of riders. Anyone for sausage rolls filled with ketchup, baked bean and cheddar cheese ‘slices’ or all day breakfast scotch eggs? If not, the lesson to be learned here is to always bring plenty of food and be prepared to get funny looks if your picnic lacks lots of packaging and shiny wrapping, looks ‘homemade’ or contains any fruit, veg or wholewheat items. You have been warned.

At the end of the final Sprint, the points earned in each race were tallied and I am proud to report that our Team Bike Bus triumphed to come 1st in the youth category and a respectful 7th overall out of all 40 teams, including adults. We didn’t beat our nemesis—the Flying Penguins—but maybe with a bit of an upgrade of the pedal car, some nutritional input…who knows?

Go on Number 5!!!

Go on Number 5!!!

Now for the recipe, step forward a hearty Rice & carrot beanie wrap that will properly fuel up any endurance sport and completely embarrass you at a pedal car race. It also makes a good lunchbox addition but smaller versions of it can be eaten as a snack.

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Keep on moo-ving

The other weekend, my daughter and I faced the last challenge in our trilogy of girl power sporting events for the summer—the MK Midnight Moo Walk for Willen Hospice. This women-only walk consisted of 10 miles of a seemingly endless trail of pavement and footpaths routed throughout the city centre, numerous housing estates and stretches of parkland. As the name suggests, the Midnight Moo set off at midnight and when we originally signed up for it we thought it sounded great and we imagined it was also be really exciting to walk in a dark, empty city at night. We didn’t think that it sounded too daunting as it wasn’t nearly as long as London’s famous 26 mile MoonWalk. Ok, so we weren’t exactly night owls but surely we would be able to stay up a little later than normal because after all, it was for a great charity.

Therefore, it was with that in mind that we mindlessly ticked off the days in the calendar until it was the day of the Midnight Moo. Being a weekend, we had a busy day and didn’t give much thought to how we would actually stay awake past midnight. By the evening, we were full of anticipation and waited impatiently for the time to pass until we could leave for the event. However, by the time we got there we were suddenly overcome with tiredness and felt ready for bed. So with heavy, sleepy eyes we decided to fuel up on some caffeine in the form of hot chocolate and coffee and we quickly downed them at the only open café which was heaving with like-minded individuals. As the café was strategically located next to the Midnight Moo start, we had just enough time for the caffeine to kick in before we needed to take our places.

Joining thousands of participants, we were all dressed in the official yellow Midnight Moo logo tops and wearing glow-in-the-dark wristbands to reflect this year’s ‘neon’ theme. Being ‘newbies’, we were perhaps slightly underdressed with our glowsticks and head torches in contrast to the gangs of women sporting brightly lit tutus, illuminated hair bands, flashing cow noses and sparkling trainers. As the official warm-up finished, everyone scrambled to find a good spot at the start among the sea of yellow. Once the air horn blasted the start of the Midnight Moo, we did not regret our lack of accessories. We were more mobile and hands-free and nimbly manoeuvred our way through the scrum. We weaved and scurried past marchers, striders and dawdlers as we attempted to move ahead of the congestion. We spent the first mile simply trying to avoid pedestrian traffic jams and bottlenecks but by going a bit off-piste we successfully managed to find some space to stretch out.

Over the next mile, the reality and foolishness of what we were doing began to set in and the yellow herd began to thin out. Behind the face paint and neon accessories, the walkers began to reveal themselves as those who were veteran Moo-ers and those, like us, who did not have a clue what they were in for. Among the veteran Moo-ers, there were clearly some who were intent on setting some new PBs but the rest of the vets looked equally confident of powerwalking throughout the night. My daughter and I were naïve enough to be persuaded by their enthusiasm which spurred us on to increase our speed. We were already working on the theory that if we walked at a good pace it would force us to stay awake, finish the walk sooner and ultimately, we would go back to our duvets earlier. We even had a back-up plan to be used as a last resort if we were really tiring: we would run a bit by stealth to speed things up. But full of energy, caffeine and in good spirits we carried on into the night.

Miles 3, 4 and 5 seemed to fly by at a record pace as we chatted about everything under the sun but then things started to take a turn downhill as we both grew more sleepy. We knew that there was an official halfway point coming up but where was it? It was already past 1am and we couldn’t get our weary heads around how many metres were in half a mile and we continued to trudge along becoming more and more desperate to find it. Luckily, we were revived by a fellow walker who shouted, ‘It’s around the corner and they’ve got chocolate!’. Well that was all we needed to hear to energise us and with a sudden sprint in our step, we arrived at a half-way point in no time.

The half-way point was based in a school gymnasium and as we entered into the stark brightness and noise it felt as if we were dreaming, or at least sleepwalking. It was chock full of smiling volunteers who clapped and thanked everybody for taking part in the walk and like zombies, we followed them to the water station positioned next to a massive table piled high with chocolate treats. As the continuous procession of hands grabbed bars after bars the table seemed to replenish itself with a perpetual supply of chocolate. I had also remembered that I had been carrying some bananas for us and despite being a little worse for wear, they made a good combo with the chocolate.

After some stretching and refuelling we went out into the dark night, wide awake again and motivated to get to the finish line the quickest our legs would take us. We quickly stacked up some more miles until mile 8, when things began to go downhill again. By this point, many more people were limping, cow paraphernalia had been abandoned or was now resentfully being carried and chocolate wrapper scraps were left behind like footprints. Tiredness hit us hard and I felt that our bodies were now running on banana power. Neither of us wanted to put our stealth running plan into action but I knew that if we could just get to mile 9, we could trick ourselves into believing that it was almost over.

What felt an eternity later, we saw the big 9 and knew that there really would be a finish. We began to recognise our surroundings which gave us a second wind and we geared up the powerwalk a couple of notches. By now the only topics of conversation alternated between: When we would get to the finish, How good our beds were going to feel, What time did we have to wake up the next day and Whose crazy idea was this again? With the end finally in sight, we geared up the powerwalk to full throttle and in effect, we ran across the finish line into a crowd of spectators, volunteers and other walkers. We were absolutely elated to finish but so sleepy that we could scarcely believe that we were still awake. The coffee shop was still going strong and full of walkers refuelling but after collecting our medals we could only think of getting home and tucking ourselves into a long overdue slumber. At last, we had met all 3 of our challenges! I wonder what else we can do…

Because we were propelled to the finish with a bit of help from banana power this week I have come up with a banana-inspired recipe. These Banana Pops are good for an afterschool snack but are also perfect to be eaten as a recovery snack after a good workout. They are extremely quick to make, can made in advance and stored in the freezer so they are easy to grab in a rush.

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