Category Archives: Sports nutrition

Mis-apps

I couldn’t help noticing the recent news reported in several newspapers that Sydney has become the latest city to install traffic lights in their pavements. The ‘in-ground traffic light technology’ was not fitted for artistic effect or as an aid to help guide dogs and children navigate crowded streets. The traffic lights have been mounted in the city’s business district to stem the growing number of accidents caused by distracted pedestrians who walk while using their smartphones. This was prompted by research that found that pedestrian deaths in New South Wales had increased by 50% from the previous year with many being caused by those who attempt to speak, text and listen to music on their phones while walking. Unsurprisingly, it was found that pedestrians who are engrossed in telephone conversations are less alert to their surroundings. But even worse, pedestrians who text and stroll are less likely to walk in a straight line while those who listen to music are four times more likely to take risks when crossing a road. Basically, when pedestrians use smartphones they begin to walk and behave like an average toddler and I am no different. In fact, on three occasions when I have texted and walked through cities, I have looked up after finishing a lengthy text only to find that I am completely lost. And I really do mean lost, as in not having a clue which direction I should be walking in to get wherever it was I was supposed to be going.

But at least many governments are starting to recognise this because using our smartphones to manage our lives while walking has become an accepted cultural norm. In effect, it is too late to try persuading us to put away our mobiles when we walk and look where we are going and far easier to find innovative solutions that will help to prevent us from causing so many accidents in busy cities. Because, after all, the multitude of different apps available that help us organise our work, children and home from our smartphones seems to grow every day. As we begin to use increasingly sophisticated apps in more aspects of our lives our smartphones are becoming essential to us and are involved in our daily decisions. Should I go for a run? I’ll just check my weather app (rather than look out the window or venture outside to check the temperature). Then I’ll use my running app to record it, rate it and share it with everyone I’m ‘friends’ with.

To be clear, I am not saying that there is anything wrong with using apps and it is amazing how technological advances have allowed us to carry around what is essentially a mini-computer in our pockets. Maybe not all apps are useful or work perfectly but even if my running app annoyingly measures my runs as being shorter than my husband’s whenever we run together, I continue to use it. However, I think our app habit has now become so endemic that our smartphones are a central part of our lives. Which means that we depend on them and are still distracted even when we are relaxing at home. But this also means that we are just as likely to cause an accident as when we were on a city pavement. Unfortunately, I found this to be never so true as in the countryside, where distracted smartphone apps’ users have been causing me some cycling mishaps.

Reluctantly, I have had to get back in the saddle again as I have started to train for an upcoming triathlon and duathlon that I signed up for. Although I had been keeping up the running throughout the winter months, I hadn’t swum or cycled since last autumn and wasn’t exactly looking forward to doing either. I thought I would start out slowly and I began to go out cycling with one of my sons who had offered to retrain me in how to clip in and clip out of my bike’s death cleats. The first ride went very well and apart from almost falling twice, I finished it feeling slightly more confident. However, last week it did not exactly go according to plan.

We left home cycling on our usual route but after only 15min, we could no longer ignore the random rattling noises of my son’s bike that clearly had some ‘issues’. At a crossroads in many ways, he abandoned the ride while I decided to keep going, thinking that I really should be able to do this cycling thing on my own. And for a while I was doing great and even starting to imagine enjoying it. But as it was unusually nice weather I was, of course, not the only one out there. In fact, there were several groups of cyclists on the roads riding in mini pelotons while many other people were running, walking their dogs and children or just outside enjoying the sun. However, they soon reminded me of the distracted city pedestrians I had read about, and I wondered if they had left the pavements and invaded the countryside. Because absolutely everyone I could see outside and in the parks, gardens and trails was either talking on their phone, texting, listening to music or taking selfies. For a nervous cyclist, such as myself, this frequently became a little bit hazardous.

Instead of cycling through every village on my route as I normally did without worrying about unclipping my cleats or losing my grip on the handlebars, I had to slow down to a crawl and negotiate past people who were too distracted to hear or see me approach. Every time I got closer to another built up area, I tried a different strategy to warn anyone nearby that I was approaching but it always failed to catch their attention. Even when I rang what is probably the only bell in existence to be actually mounted on a road bike, no one seemed to register the sound with an incoming cyclist. It was as if my bike was a moving smartphone magnet, compelling their users to walk towards me as I approached. Judging by the startled reactions and flying arms that almost careered me more than once into hedges or lakes, clearly no one had expected me to be cycling past them. Certainly the dog walker whose dog had decided to pull their extra-long lead across my wheel at the last minute was not impressed by my sudden interruption to their walk (and my language).

As I got closer to home, I left the villages behind me and I relaxed, knowing that there weren’t too many areas left where I would have to compete with distracted pedestrians for space. I stuck to the cycle paths as the rush hour traffic started to congest the roads with impatient drivers but then I encountered something even more dangerous than a pedestrian with smartphone—a cyclist using one. In the near distance, I could see another cyclist ahead and realised that the cycle paths would soon be filling with many commuters returning from work. But at this moment there was only one to contend with and this cyclist looked pretty experienced. At least that’s what I assumed, based on the fact that they were cycling with one hand, which I certainly couldn’t do for any length of time. However, on getting a bit closer I realised that they were only cycling with one hand because they were smoking. I could see that they went back to the standard two hands stance after they flicked the remains of the fag into a bush and pedalled on.

Now getting closer still, I considered whether I should try to pass them or not as they seemed to fill the width of the wide path by wavering left and right. I prepared myself, sped up slightly and rang a warning bell and added a ‘On your right’ after I didn’t sense a flicker of a reaction. But somehow this only seemed to pull them over to the right as well. I had to quickly brake to avoid ploughing into them but managed to keep control. I slowed behind the cyclist and decided to try again thinking that I must not have been loud enough. So I rang my bell and tried a ‘ON YOUR LEFT!’ but now they almost instinctively wavered to the left and blocked me, forcing me to brake suddenly, again. ‘Are you kidding me?!’, I thought. How could they possibly not see that I was trying to pass them. It felt like I was playing a crazy version of the childhood game, British Bulldog, on bikes. I thought I would give it one last go before having to resign myself to following them in their wobbly wake for the next 5km but this time I was really going to go all out.

I geared myself up, rang my bell at full ping, shouted ‘ON YOUR RIGHT!!!!!’ and attempted to cycle by like a bullet. This time the cyclist started to waver again towards the right but then finally pulled back as I levelled with them. Passing them at last, I looked at them with the unmistakable face of ‘Why didn’t you hear me?!’. However, I was met with the startled expression of a zoned-out cyclist wearing headphones and listening to their iPhone who was completely shocked to see me. With them soon safely in the distance, I carried on home without incident but I wondered if the distracted cyclist had had the sense to turn down the volume of their music.

As my cycling training continues in the coming weeks while the weather is improving, I know that there will be many more distracted people outside using their smartphones. I can only hope that I get better at cycling and more skilful at manoeuvring around people, dogs and other cyclists. Because if the use of smartphones apps in our daily lives is only going to further increase in the future, then the potential for mishaps will inevitably multiply. So like Sydney’s in-ground traffic lights, it seems that we will still have to come up with more innovative solutions to keep us safe while benefitting from new smartphone technology. I wonder how long before they make an app for that..?

Now for a recipe that reflects the better weather and includes some apples. Use your favourite apples in this recipe for Apple slaw to make the perfect addition to any meal, picnic or BBQ.

Apple slaw blog

Mother Nature vs the Winter Half

Some time ago back in October, whilst still on a bit of a high after the Althorp Duathlon success, I foolishly agreed to take part in the Milton Keynes Winter Half-Marathon. At that moment, the event was so far ahead into the future that I didn’t consider how exactly I was going to train for something leading up to Xmas. It is not just a problem of finding time to train amongst the usual Christmas preparations and extra busyness of school plays, activities and inevitable December exams. I had forgotten that any outdoor training would have to contend with the combination of wetter, windier and cooler days and earlier darker evenings that would make running outside more of a challenge. You may be familiar with the famous Scandinavian saying that gets bandied about by outdoor clothing companies and hard people, alike, which goes something like ‘There is no such thing as bad weather just bad clothing’. But that is just insane. I cannot count the number of times I have gone out for a run for the weather to turn dramatically halfway through and I have arrived home soaked to the skin and shaking like a leaf. Sometimes the weather is simply so hideous that there is no combination of Goretex, merino wool and fleece that can save you from the elements. And unfortunately, I was reminded of this very fact on the morning of the Winter Half.

I knew that it was forecast to rain light showers on the day of the Winter Half and so I decided to dress strategically in several layers of what I thought was the best combination of warm and waterproof gear. I also donned my favourite Goretex trail shoes which have always managed to keep my feet dry. However, with my mind only focused on the weather of the actual day of the event, I hadn’t appreciated that it had been raining for several days prior and the ground was waterlogged to swamp-like conditions. But as they say, ‘the penny dropped’ for me as I walked towards the race registration area in a large field, as several race marshals handed out bright plastic shoe covers which everyone was putting on. At first I thought that it was a bit over the top as I didn’t see the point in trying to keep my shoes dry for a couple of minutes before the start of the race only to have to run 21km in the pouring rain. But as I stepped further onto the grassy field and immediately started to sink into the squelching mud, I was grateful to be wearing them. After checking myself in and reluctantly removing some of my outer layers, I headed to the start. I huddled, sandwiched between the throngs of other wet competitors who were trying to hide from the rain while we waited to set off.

I was feeling both nervous and apprehensive about the Winter Half as I had originally planned to run it with my husband who had decided that we should try to run it in 1hr 45min. I don’t know why or how he had come up with the 1.45 but I was very skeptical about being able to do it because it was simply too fast. Sure it would be great if I could run a PB but doing things with a time in mind takes all the fun out of it and I always hate the pressure. Therefore, I very carefully agreed to ‘see how it goes’ on the day without actually committing to the 1.45.

However, a last minute clash with my daughter’s rugby match meant that only one of us could do the Winter Half and it was decided that I would run solo. Believing that my husband had got the short straw, I felt badly that he was missing out but admittedly, at least a part of me was a little relieved to not have to stick to the 1.45. But my husband was one step ahead of me and had thoughtfully printed out a paper pace-band for me to wear. The pace-band was basically a paper bracelet that displayed the time at each mile marker that I would have to meet in order to finish the Winter Half in 1.45. He must have registered the growing look of overwhelming panic in my eyes as he explained how to use the pace-band and reminded me to think in miles rather than the metric system I was accustomed to because he followed this with the caveat, ‘You don’t have to wear it if you don’t want to’. Of course, I waited for the start of the race wearing the thing and hoping there was a way I could run a 1.45 but not believing for a second that it was possible.

After more waiting, we were finally off in a massive surge forwards under the starting banner and hundreds of runners struggled to stay on the paved path while avoiding the soggy grass. Bin liners worn as rain ponchos were ripped off superman style and abandoned whilst the shoe covers long forgotten and still worn by distracted runners flew off left and right. I tried to dodge runners (and their paraphernalia), get ahead of the pack and gain some ground while clearing massive puddles. I could not help but get splattered with mud and soaked with rain and thought that this must be a new weather low and possibly the worst conditions I have ever run a race in. There was nowhere to go but forward and I soon spotted the first mile marker in the distance. This would be my chance to check if I was running at the right pace for the 1.45, but I didn’t even need to glance at the pace-band as I had already memorised the time I needed to meet. As I passed the first mile marker, I checked my watch and my heart sank as I realised that I was going almost a minute too slowly. I knew that I was being slightly held back by the crowd and couldn’t run at my normal race pace so I tried to remedy it by speeding up and weaving even more between runners and puddles. The conditions got worse and the puddles grew but the alternative of running off piste didn’t look any drier.

Eventually I approached mile 2 and this time I anxiously consulted the pace-band to check the required time. It was only then that I realised that I couldn’t read it without my reading glasses or even keep my arm steady enough to make an educated guess. So beaten by my dodgy eyes I just continued to keep on running while swearing to myself without a clue to what pace I was going at. The rain continued to pound down even more and the crowds of cheering spectators thinned out more until only the committed family members were left to witness the paths becoming even more flooded. The next miserable miles went by in a blur of wetness which was frequently pronounced by the sudden, sharp chill of my feet being completely submerged in icy puddles. It was if Mother Nature had taken one look at the hundreds of expensively kitted out weather-proofed competitors and said, ‘Bring it on!’. My Goretex trainers really had no chance.

It was still raining when I reached the half-way point of the race and I could see the second drinks station ahead and out of nowhere, a large crowd. Upon getting nearer I could see what was attracting all of the attention; the path went directly through an enormous 3m wide puddle! There was no way to avoid it and as I got closer I slowed as I was absolutely dreading the wave of cold that was about to engulf me. It was even worse than I imagined as I ran through the mini lake that almost reached my knees. I came out of the other side utterly furious, like a swearing drowned rat. Mother Nature had crossed a line with me and as I passed the drinks station, scowling at the cups of rain splattered water on offer, I decided right then that I needed to end this race asap. I ripped off my illegible, soggy pace-band and was now determined to get to the finish as fast as I could.

What I didn’t know is that anger can be a good motivator when it comes to running because before long, I passed miles 10, 11 and eventually 12. It certainly wasn’t easy and at times I came very close to stopping when I couldn’t breathe and literally slowed to crawling pace. But I was far too wet and angry to stop and wanted the horrible Winter Half to be over. With no indication to how much further ahead the finish was other than yet another person promising ‘not much longer’ I suddenly found myself at the beginning of the final 100m stretch. I tried to sprint with the tiny bit of energy left in me without tripping over my wobbly legs and practically collapsed upon crossing the finish line. I have never been so relieved and happy to be finished a race before and it took me several moments to remember to check my time. I couldn’t believe it—1.44! It didn’t seem possible but it was confirmed by the timing chip to be my new PB!

I was extremely shocked and happy with my time and couldn’t stop smiling for days but I don’t know if I can ever imagine facing another Winter Half again. Mother Nature came out tops again as it was definitely the hardest event I have ever taken part. But my complaints seem to be falling on deaf ears at home because my husband keeps mentioning various events in the New Year and has already mentioned a Summer Half. I have a bad feeling that I haven’t seen the last of the pace-band…

But now for the recipe and it has to be something warming. These Cornmeal and cranberry muffins will help you last the distance of any winter workout but maybe think twice before considering a Winter Half.

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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…

Pumpkin bannock1

Survival of the fastest

It was a bit of a sporty weekend in our household recently with the Rugby World Cup kicking off and there have already been some big surprises. What a comeback for Japan to narrowly beat two-times champion, South Africa, and one of the favourites of the tournament! The fact that Japan had not won a World Cup game since beating Zimbabwe in 1991 and were only ranked 13th out of the 20 teams taking part in this year’s World Cup is a measure of just how far they have come. The game was especially inspiring to watch, I think, because there is nothing more satisfying than witnessing an underdog triumph against all odds. After all, most of us have experienced being an underdog at some point in our lives…

In fact, the very next morning after that big rugby match, I was the underdog once again when I took part in the Leighton 10 race. This 10 mile race was organised by the Leighton Buzzard Athletics Club but despite this, it never occurred to me that the vast majority of participants would also come from many other well-established athletics and running clubs. As I had taken part in several 5km and 10km fun runs over the years and even had a couple of half-marathons under my belt, I assumed that the Leighton 10 was just another race, albeit, one that was a funny distance. So I had expected my fellow participants to range from ‘just trying to finish it’ to ‘going to kill my PB’ with the large majority being the usual very fit but not very Olympian runners. I had enjoyed these different races mainly because of the great atmosphere and camaraderie of the spectators and participants, alike, who encouraged everybody to finish in a mass survival of the fittest.  Therefore, it was only when I strolled up to the Leighton 10 start that it began to dawn on me that this was going to be different.

I looked around me at the crowd and quickly realised that I was virtually the only person not running for a club and wearing their club t-shirt. As I scanned the names of the different clubs, it began to sink in that some of these people had travelled pretty far to do the Leighton 10. Where were the novelty costumes? The funny wigs? Face paint, anyone? Everyone just looked really serious and to be honest, slightly fierce. I finally managed to spot a single person wearing a hat with a small stuffed turtle attached to it but the club singlet he was wearing and his look of concentration revealed that he was less of a tortoise and more of a hare. I knew then that I had entered a survival of the fastest.

As my husband and daughter said goodbye before the start, I realised that it was too late to bolt. Upon hearing my daughter’s final words of advice and instructions to beat a teacher that she had just spotted in the crowd, I continued forward with the rest to listen to the race briefing. Like the safety demos performed by all airlines, I felt my eyes glaze over as I watched the Race Marshal speak and so I didn’t take much in other than that the course was ‘undulating’ and there was a hill at mile 9.

Off we went suddenly, without delay, and with a massive surge forward, all of the arms were pumping and elbows were out. I couldn’t feel my legs but I seemed to be moving ahead with the rest and so I tried to carry on until I realised that I had forgotten to breathe. I attempted to gear down a notch to more breathable pace and tried to ignore the passing turtle man who seemed so calm. This was already becoming a serious race without talking or running banter and the course was sprinted in silence apart from the pounding sound of many feet hitting the pavement. I continued at my steady pace as more people passed me and slowly, the miles started to clock up.

The course began to climb and it was quite steep in places, in fact, there were some definite hills. What was that they said about it being undulating? Strictly speaking, I guess it was true but as I ran past more and more cycling teams who were training on the same roads and struggling up the same ascents, I knew it was turning out to be the hilliest race that I had ever run. I was also beginning to dread the hill that they admitted was coming at mile 9.

I carried on and passed mile markers 5, 6 and 7 and as I did, I began to notice that the crowds had thinned out to a trickle and now we were running in 1s and 2s. I realised that no one was passing me anymore and now I was even passing a couple, myself. I couldn’t understand it because I was only running at the same pace I had started with. My mind wandered back to the rugby match and I thought, maybe I am Japan? I passed several more people, especially on the hills, and soon I was at mile 8 with the turtle man in my sight. I got closer and closer without even trying and I could hardly believe it when I passed him and carried on to pass even more.

Before I knew it, I saw a mammoth hill in the distance with a long line of runners slowing right down. Some of them were walking and as I got closer, I understood why. I thought of my daughter’s advice which was to count kittens to get through the tough parts of the race. This worked at first but by halfway up the hill, it only made me sleepy.  I tried to think of Japan again and the mountain they had to climb against South Africa. By now my legs were burning and I was feeling quite sick but I more determined to get to the top. I shuffled along and kept moving upward until finally, I made it. And with no time to recover, I had to carry on, a bit breathless, down the much deserved descent.

I was now past the 9 mile mark and the end was in sight. Feeling slightly more confident, I wondered, could I catch a couple more runners before the finish? Remembering my daughter, again, I tried to recall what that teacher looked like. I was really tiring by now but like Japan, and perhaps countless angry kittens, I gritted my teeth and dug deep. I attempted to up my pace, just a little, and ruthlessly, I began to focus on the next person I aimed to overtake. I ran faster and began to pass people who had been miles ahead of me earlier. Incredibly, I began to pass people I had never seen before. I soon saw the finish line in the distance and thought I had just a tiny bit of energy left. I ramped up my pace to full power and despite the growing sound of thundering feet behind me of like-minded runners, I sprinted to the finish, triumphant.

Of course, unlike Japan (and many kittens) I hadn’t really won but I felt invincible. I don’t think it was simply because I had beaten turtle man or anybody else but because I had succeeded to stay in the race running as an underdog among so many top dogs. And ultimately, doing anything as a true underdog is a good reminder of the importance of doing things outside your comfort zone, especially when you do not know if you will succeed or not. In other words, unless we are pushed to our limits, we will never know our capabilities. Isn’t that one of those things we are supposed to tell our children? But how often do we take our own advice?

Unfortunately, Japan was pushed to their own limits yesterday when they were defeated in their following World Cup match by the mighty Scotland. But they still showed true spirit throughout the match and despite their loss, they remain a truly inspirational team. Let’s see what happens in their upcoming matches. Perhaps a little help from some kittens will do the trick…Watch out Samoa and USA!

Now for the recipe: Under the circumstances, perhaps some porridge was in order but I still wanted to make something Japanese inspired so I made some Japanese noodles with tofu and vegetables. They really hit the spot after a big run or workout.

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Breakfast on the run

I have had a couple of weeks’ vacation from work, blogging etc. whilst on holiday in Mallorca recently and although I haven’t yet readjusted to our life at home, my teenagers’ established summer routine has already kicked in. It’s funny how quickly they can revert to their default mode of trying to sleep in until almost lunchtime but then again, why wouldn’t they when there is no beach to motivate them to get out of their beds and eat breakfast any earlier? It is more of a culture shock for me to suddenly begin a working week getting up early, having a quick bite and madly rushing out the door. It only makes me pine more for the warmer Spanish weather and lazy breakfasts al fresco eaten only days ago. Although there was that one unforgettable breakfast on the run that I hope will quickly become a distant memory…

But before relaying this saga, I must first confess that running is in my genes and as I married another runner, we tend to go running on holiday and have done so in many other countries. In Mallorca, we ran most mornings along the beautiful coastline of Port D’Alcudia, next to a never ending beach that was quiet except for the few locals working out or going for an early swim amongst the bustle of the cafes opening up. However, after meeting up with a Spanish friend who told us about a nearby natural park that he uses to train for various races, that was so amazing that he happily travelled the hour it took him to get there from his home in Palma, we knew that we had to do it.

Off we went early one morning for what we hoped would be ‘The Run’ of the holiday. But Spain was experiencing a heatwave unlike any seen for years and as the temperature would be heading again towards 37-39˚C, we knew we had to start early and come well prepared. Therefore, we both drank copious amounts of water beforehand until we were bursting and we packed an extra 2L water each and some watermelon in a cool bag for afterwards. We were so keen that we arrived at the park before it was officially open but we snuck in with a couple of locals, studied the park map and decided on doing a straightforward 11.5km loop.

But we didn’t get off to the best start because as soon as we began running we were confronted by a nearby park official who told us that there was no running in the park. She explained that we could stroll, powerwalk and even cycle but as she corralled us back onto the trail she said that there was just no running. As my husband was born and brought up in Spain, this was not a case of something being lost in translation so we began our powerwalk very confused but at least down a beautiful trail, lined with trees and wildflowers. There was not another person in sight although the park was teaming with incredibly noisy wildlife as every bird and cricket competed in a sound off.  Maybe it was the din that spurred us on but we began to powerwalk faster and faster until we realised that we were running. But with no one around and with the assurance that our friend regularly ran here, we continued to run by stealth.

As the kms began to grow and it got hotter, I noticed that we had been running for some time alongside bushes of bright yellow flowers of wild fennel that was growing weed-like in every corner of soil. I couldn’t resist pinching some fennel and the overwhelming liquorice-anise scent was only matched by its taste which was incredible.

We ran on and started to stick to the shade as the heat was becoming more powerful and we were beginning to tire. Unfortunately, at this point we came to a fork in the road and with no signage to aid us we could only guess at the likely direction. We carried on for several kms until we began to pass houses with allotments and acres of fig trees. The aroma of figs was sickly sweet in the intense heat but surprisingly, the unripe fruit still clung firmly onto the branches. On we went, getting hotter, thirstier and starting to get a bit hungry. We were also getting a bit fed up as it was now obvious that we had chosen to follow the wrong trail.

We were finally forced to stop and backtrack when we came across a very angry-looking dog that was guarding a house and field where the trail narrowed. Just as we turned around I spotted a couple of very ripe figs drooping off of a branch over the road. Without thinking, I greedily snatched them as the dog started barking like mad and my husband swiftly led me away. He only told me further down the trail that as the dog was not on a lead and the gate was open, we were lucky to not be set upon. Nevertheless, it was the sweetest, juiciest fig I have ever eaten and my hands were covered in sticky syrup.

After several kms, we were finally back on the right trail but by now we were both starting to become dehydrated. There was virtually no shade and the trail started to line a marsh which only made us thirstier. We weren’t carrying any water with us as  we should have finished the run by now but the ‘diversion’ and heat had slowed us down so much that we were now running on empty. I kept looking at the marshy water, willing it to turn into something drinkable when I realised that the fields of mammoth clusters of little spongy green fingers was actually samphire. I couldn’t believe that something I have only ever seen behind the fish counter at posh supermarkets was growing in such abundance and feeling absolutely desperate, I chomped on a couple of salty stems. But unsurprisingly, this only made me thirstier.

On we ran, past more marshes and then alongside farmers working in fields full of juicy ripe peppers and tomatoes. By this point I was demonstrating all of the textbook symptoms of dehydration and feeling absolutely terrible. But with no shade or refuge, we had no choice but to carry on through the intense heat. I failed miserably to distract myself from the fact that I was overtired and was burning up and with still more than 2km to go, I was beside myself with anger at the stupidity of getting into such a reckless situation. But just at the point of really losing it—or to be honest, a little after that—we spotted some blackberry bushes and thirstily devoured the jammy berries like bad tempered grizzlies. Those berries managed to get us to the end of the trail, with just enough energy to stumble to the car where we down our drinks in seconds.

As we collapse in the shade drinking, eating and trying to recover I notice a sign for the entrance to the park that we had not seen earlier. It contains numerous icons depicting forbidden activities at the park including fishing, lighting fires, camping and of course—running. But in the corner I notice another which clearly shows a hand and a flower symbolising ‘no picking’ and I realise that our breakfast on the run had broken not just 1but 2 park rules. Feeling like a greedy Bear Grylls outlaw but knowing that we would have been in a worse state if we hadn’t helped ourselves to nature’s all-you-can-eat, we sheepishly head home. We are still none the wiser about the running ban and perhaps it was sheer arrogance to disregard the park official even with our friend’s assertion but at least half of the run would qualify as staggering. In any case, I will not be repeating this breakfast on the run anytime soon.

Now for the recipe. I thought I would come up with something that combined at least some of the flavours of the wild breakfast and what better way to do this than in a bread. This recipe for Blackberry, fig & fennel bread is very easy to make and does not require you to illegally forage for the ingredients although, I suppose that depends on where you pick your blackberries…

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Are ‘fun runs’ contagious?

It was beautiful, sunny weather on Easter Monday and I could not resist going out for a run on one of my favourite routes. But being a warm Bank Holiday, I wasn’t on my own and competition for space on the trail was fierce in places among the many dog-walkers, families, cyclists and other runners. Where the trail narrowed or crossed a bridge, there were a couple of polite stand-offs and ‘After you’ gestures and more than once I found myself playing ‘chicken’ when trying to anticipate the oncoming traffic of strollers and scooters. The trail finally stretched out when it came to a lake and it was a relief to have more space to run.

But an odd thing happened as I ran along. It began with some warm smiles and nods of ‘hello’ from people I didn’t recognise who were walking around the lake. ‘Someone’s in a good mood’, I thought. Then I heard what sounded like a ‘Well done!’ called out to me. As I thanked them, I thought that the good weather must really be making everyone really happy but then things became a little bit surreal. Around the corner, I received a ‘Keep going!’ and then somebody actually clapped for me! Did I really look so knackered that total strangers were feeling sorry for me? Yes, I was being passed by some speedier runners but I happened to have taken over one or two, myself.

The longer I ran, the more I noticed that there were now lots of us out running around the lake and we were starting to outnumber the walkers. It was only after I overheard a ‘Not much further!’ behind me that I finally looked over my shoulder to see that almost all of the runners behind me were wearing numbers for the Enigma Strikes Back Marathon. There was nothing I could do but look ahead and continue to keep running until I managed to detach myself from the ‘fun run’ where the routes diverted again.

Looking around as I ran, I noticed that the runners of the marathon were a diverse pack made up of all ages and shapes with various running styles and speeds. However, what they all had in common was the face of determination, mostly expressed in smiles or grimaces and this created a growing sense of camaraderie as we ran. But what always surprises me is how effective and even infectious it is to be spurred on by spectators and other participants, alike, when you are trying to do something really challenging. Maybe that’s why we keep signing up for these races, because the encouragement of the spectators and participants is slightly addictive. After all, as adults, it is one of the few times in life when we are encouraged and cheered on by simply doing something that we really enjoy. Or is it just because we get to wear a fancy medal at the end of it? Whatever the reason we do it, there is nothing like experiencing a ‘fun run’, even unintentionally, to give you the running bug .

Whether you have caught the running bug or not, this recipe for Super greens soup will help to put a spring in your step. It is a great meal to fuel up on before doing sports—just add some chunky bread for dipping. Like the name, it is bursting with fresh green vegetables and will give you lasting energy to tackle any hurdles or ‘fun runs’ you are facing. I made this rabbit food over the Easter weekend when the weather took a dip and although it may now feel too warm out to want to eat soup, you know the chilly British weather is probably going to return at some point…DSC00783 (1)