Category Archives: Sports nutrition

Day 5 Brickhill Woods Hill Race 3.2km

With two more days of the Tour, we would be returning to the woods for another cross-country leg. On paper, it sounded great because a nice, short race on some soft woodland trails would help our legs to recover before we had to run the longest race, on the final day of the Tour. However, I also knew by then to expect the unexpected and so I once again, sought out the opinion of a Tour veteran. The good news, he told me, was that it really was only 3.2km of a trail lined by pine trees in a pretty forest. But the bad news was that it was the toughest race of the week and consisted almost entirely of several extremely steep climbs followed by some treacherous downhills. I couldn’t help asking why there were so many races in the Tour that were renowned as being the toughest of the week? However, the Tour vet assured me that this race really was the absolute worst and included a climb so steep that it was known as ‘vomit hill’. Well that’s just great, I thought. At least it didn’t sound like there would be any repeats. In any case, I decided that race plan would be similar to that of Day 2: Go slow and just finish.

When I arrived at the woods, I found that I had another reason to follow this strategy as my stomach was a bit on the dodgy side. I knew I didn’t want to literally be running up vomit hill, so the order of day would have to be to take it nice and easy. However, it was clear when I ambled up to the start of the race that there were those with other ideas. As it became abundantly clear to everyone that it was going to be another uphill start, many of the runners started regrouping and manoeuvring themselves into a good starting position. Several runners even set themselves strategically off piste among the ferns, ready to sprint with a clear path. I, however, concentrated on standing somewhere where I could see the ground in front of me as I knew there would be plenty of things to trip up on.

Off we went with the whistle and the mass of runners surged forward while others seemed to spring out from different directions in the trees, like speedy ninjas. As we started to climb, everyone was funnelled together into a narrow trail. It became so congested that I couldn’t see what I running on and could only hope that I wouldn’t stumble over a tree root. The trail started to get even steeper and before long, the bunched runners began to disentangle and space out. The race then turned into a survival of the fittest and the natural climbers ran far into the distance. Like the rest, I struggled on and continued to climb what felt like a never-ending hill. I attempted to up my speed in an effort to finish climbing sooner. However, this only made me feel like I would be creating my own vomit hill and I quickly slowed back to my previous pace of dead slow.

Eventually, I made it to the top of the hill but if I thought that I would get some much-needed relief, I was mistaken. Down we went thundering on steep, uneven trails full of forest debris scattered about, almost inviting a fall. I tried to slow myself down without losing my step as I skidded on pine needles and fallen leaves. But I felt myself speed up again and was nearly knocked over by another runner who careered by, apologetically, but out of control. I somehow managed to regain control of my legs again and made it to the bottom of the hill in one piece, but barely.

The trail levelled off temporarily and I tried to catch my breath before we began another uphill ascent. But the flat was hardly a relief as the trail became uneven and thick with sand. I trudged on still trying to avoid tree roots with a slow and heavy stride. At least I was achieving my aim to take it slowly. It wasn’t long before we approached another hill, which looked even steeper than the last. I knew that my stomach had met its nemesis full-on and I braced myself to begin another climb. Up vomit hiIl, I went, slowly and steadily but at least I wasn’t alone. This hill wasn’t one for overtaking and all eyes were firmly focused down as we shuffled upwards in a long queue of grunting runners. Every now and then a runner abandoned the queue and walked up almost in defiance of the impossibility of the course. I only reached the top because I was so tired that I feared if I stopped, I would tumble downwards, knocking the other runners over, like dominoes.

I tried to catch my breath but before long there was another downhill to contend with. By this time in the race, everyone’s legs were knackered which meant that it was even more difficult to control them. I hurtled down with several other jelly-legged runners at what felt like breakneck speed. I managed to weave around several collisions of other runners who had attempted to slow down by windmilling their arms. I glanced at my watch and saw that we were finally nearing the end of the race. However, as I looked back up, I missed my step and landed awkwardly, twisting my ankle in the process. I tried to ‘run it out’ as I knew that there wasn’t much choice other than continuing on, as it was the shortest route back. I carried on running with a slightly uneven gait until eventually I could hear that the end was near. I ran down the last bumpy descent as slowly as my wobbly legs would allow until I finally crossed the finish line. The relief of being able to stop was almost overwhelming and I completely forgot about my ankle as I began to commiserate with the other runners.

This truly had been the toughest race of the Tour so far and I cannot say that I enjoyed it. But it was also another day under my belt and in the end, I had managed not to christen vomit hill. With one day to go of the Tour and Pretty Muddy in sight, the end of my 7 days of crazy races was approaching.

But now for the recipe and to fuel up for the final days, it has to be more bread! Here’s one of my favourites, Olive bread.

 

Bread web

Day 4 Campbell Park 8km

Day 4 of the Tour meant a return to a longer race and a second 8km course through some very hilly parkland. With the weather turning slightly colder, I was beginning to dread the event but at least it wasn’t meant to be routed through another stream. I went into this race with slightly low expectations after the miserable mile but I reasoned that at least, I could only go up.

I arrived with barely enough time to glance at the map of the course but it looked like yet another race running twice around a loop. As I made my way to the start, I couldn’t help wondering if I was the only one who struggled with repeats. Does everyone else really like the mental torture of running the same course twice?! But before I could continue whinging, the race began with the whistle.

Off we went over a grassy field like a stampeding herd of cattle until the course started to veer towards a steep downhill. Down we all ran in a thumping unison of heavy steps and I tried to not collide with the rest of the runners who were packed in beside me. I began to pick up more speed as we ran en masse and I started to feel like a running machine. However, I also realised that the faster I ran, the more I was starting to lose control of my sprinting legs. There began my attempt to put on the brakes by flailing my arms while shouting warnings, that I was incoming. After nearly tripping myself up (and others), the hill thankfully started to level out and I finally slowed at the bottom. I continued running but by then I was also laughing at the sheer ridiculousness of it all.

As the race went on and stretched out as the leaders sped ahead in the distance, the rest of us began to migrate into smaller groups. I soon found myself settling into one where I could run at a comfortable pace and as the course weaved through pretty parkland, I realised that I was starting to enjoy the race. Despite this, in the back of my mind was the recent steep downhill because like all runners, I knew that there had to be some payback. I ran on, taking my time and trying not to think about the inevitable uphill climb. But before long, the course started edging towards the beginning of a modest incline. Although it did not seem to be very steep, the runners seemed to slow to nought. The reason why was clear to me at once. It was precisely at that point in the race that every runner could feel just how much effort their quads had made in the previous day’s mile race. Despite coming last in my mile heat, my quads told me a different story.

I carried on slowly and dug in deep as I headed up more inclines and the final long hill before reaching the end of the first loop. But as I glanced at my watch, I was surprised to see that it had only recorded 3.6km of what I thought would be a 4km loop. Looking around, I wasn’t the only one doubting the distance as I heard a runner query the marshal as we passed. He replied that the race was in fact, 5½ miles long. That was an extra 800m or two more laps of the previous day’s race!  Although surprised, I was grateful to know this and knew I had better save some energy to run much further.

In the meantime, I had another loop to run and I began the second one knowing what to expect. This time, I mostly managed to control my downhill speed and kept up a steady but conservative pace for the next kms. However, there was much less movement between different groups of runners and it felt as if no one was going to change tack on the second loop. I enjoyed it so much that I almost forgot I was running a race as I relaxed and let my mind wander. I spent the next kms thinking about what to eat for dinner and whether it might rain or not. But I also kept wondering where the extra 800m of the course was going to come from. I prayed that it wouldn’t turn out to be an extra hill or a partial repeat of the course.

There was no sign of the missing 800m as I carried on up the inclines. But I began to gear down as I approached the last steady hill. I glanced at my watch which confirmed that at 6½ km, I had well over 1km to go. Oddly, I could see in the distance that the runners ahead of me were ramping up their speed and starting to increase the gap. I didn’t worry about it because I knew I would soon catch them in the extra 800m. Just like yesterday’s race plan, I decided that I would start my sprint with 100m to go. Strangely, as I carried on up the hill, I saw a crowd of runners really cheering everyone on. I didn’t know why they weren’t standing closer to the finish as we still had the extra 800m left. I carried on up at my steady same pace with my extra energy safely stored for the final sprint. As I reached the top of the hill and followed the course route, I suddenly realised that I was only 20m from the finish line. I quickly sped over it not knowing if I had truly finished or not. I looked at my watch which showed that the race was only 7km! But as I looked around, I could see others who also seemed confused and kept looking at their watches. However, there was nothing I could do but smile and feel relieved because I had made it to the end.

And the missing 800m? Well, after speaking to some Tour veterans I found out that this leg was simply a distance anomaly of the Tour. It wasn’t a secret and I would have known about it if I had made more of an effort to study the course map. Fortunately, because I hadn’t, I ended up saving some extra energy and I finished Day 4 feeling slightly less exhausted than on previous days. Which made we wonder if perhaps going slower is the best way to get through the remaining days? With 2 more days to go, I was getting closer to the bigger finish line.

In the meantime, for an easy dip that works as a perfect recovery snack, try this recipe for Beetroot hummus. It works with any dippers and if your children do not demolish it as quickly as mine did, the leftovers make a great filler for a sandwich, wrap or jacket potato.

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Day 3 Stantonbury Track Mile race (1.6km)

Although I finished on a bit of high after Potterspury, I was still a little intimidated by the prospect of running the next leg of the Tour around an athletics track. Considering that I hadn’t run a track race since I was a teenager, and never for anything over 800m, I had absolutely no idea how to approach the mile. The fact that I was going to be running 4 laps of the same thing also put me off because I couldn’t imagine it being anything other than boring. Even worse, there is no escape on a track. How could I enjoy my workout if everyone would be watching my every step?! I realised that I was probably the only runner who didn’t actually want to race anybody and who truly preferred the mile to be run en masse. I wondered if there was any way that the mile race could be run for fun? But I reasoned that even if some people were really racing, it was a short distance to contend with. It should be possible to run a little mile without succumbing to the pressure of competition. After all, it’s all in your head, isn’t it?

I wasn’t feeling so certain as I arrived at the track on race day, so I decided to ask my teenage daughter for some reassuring advice. After considering things for a mere millisecond she waved away my concerns and said I would be absolutely fine and wouldn’t have any problem, at all. She explained that all I had to do was simply run at a good pace and then speed up for the last 100m. The race ‘plan’ sounded pretty easy and I relaxed because if she wasn’t worried, why should I? Besides, as the race was ordered into several heats of runners, there would be many chances to watch how it should be done before my own race.

As I watched several faster heats set off and finish before me, I noticed that many of the runners were running really slowly around the track. At first, I thought that they must be following a different race plan from my own. However, even as they sprinted to the finish, they seemed to be putting a lot of effort into what looked more like jogging. I couldn’t understand how they could be getting such fast times when they were hardly sprinting. The more I watched, the more convinced I was that this mile business was going to be just fine.

Unfortunately, I found out that it is extremely deceptive to estimate speed when you are watching others running on a track. As soon as I started my race, I knew that I’d massively underestimated the speeds of the previous runners I’d watched. My mile race was being run at a fierce sprint from the go. In fact, it was impossible to keep up with the other runners and it didn’t get any better as the race went on. Despite the cheering for No 1 from the trackside spectators and my family, my legs simply would not go any faster than my breath allowed. It felt as if I was running in slow motion and I had to keep looking down to see if my legs were still moving. I suddenly remembered why I had never done a mile race before, because I had always hated sprinting for races longer than 100m. My brain was swiftly flooded with all the worst swears. As each lap went by, my legs seemed to shift down into even slower gears and gradually, I slipped to the back of the race like an abandoned caboose. I then faced an internal struggle to carry on running and with many eyes upon me, I knew that the mile could not finish soon enough. I prayed that when I reached the last 100m, I could find just enough speed for a final sprint. But I had nothing left in the tank, so to speak, and my number 1 could only cross the line, last of the pack. However, if I felt slightly downhearted, it didn’t last for very long. As the next heats of runners were up, like the rest, I cheered them on knowing that it was going to be tough for them. But as I watched them I also couldn’t help wondering to myself, why they were running so slowly?

It has to be said that I definitely found out the hard way that without question, the mile race cannot ever be described as something that is ‘fun’ to run. It is a highly competitive 4-lap mad sprint and running it on a track only increases the pressure of competition, ten-fold. Personally, that is not something that I would like more of. I may have finished Day 3 surprisingly tired for such a short race and a little frustrated but at least I was officially half way to the t-shirt.

Well, another day means another recipe so here’s a great one for Oatmeal soda bread. Be warned. The smell of this bread baking will tempt any teenager out of their room so you would be advised to bake two.

Oatmeal soda bread blog

Tour de force? Day 2 Potterspury Cross-Country 8km

After the baptism of fire on Day 1 of the Tour, I was slightly apprehensive about what was to come. This time, I would be prepared and what better way to do this other than simply asking someone who had done the Tour before. It was easier to find a Tour veteran than I thought and they were more than willing to share some vital course information. They advised me to wear my oldest trainers for the race as the course was not only mucky, but involved running through a stream three times and climbing stiles. This sounded tricky enough but I knew from my past cross-country experience that the 8km course would also feel considerably longer on such terrain.

I decided that the only way I would be able to complete Potterspury in one piece would be to run the race at a much slower pace so I could watch my footing. I would have to focus on finishing and run it more as a fun run, so I would enjoy it as much as possible. I tried not to think of the fact that I would be running another race of repeated loops, even if there were only 2½ of them. And I was really dreading the stream…

But before I knew it, I joined a long queue of other runners walking to the start which was at the base of a very steep muddy hill. I couldn’t believe it! We were starting on a hill?! Before I had time to question the injustice of it all, we all went off at once, albeit at a slightly slower uphill pace. The course, itself, was very hilly and uneven and it winded itself around several muddy fields. After circling for some time, we ran through a forest trail and of course, in and out of a murky stream. However, this managed to help me slow my pace as I followed other runners who dodged verges, clambered over stiles and leapt over logs. As for the stream, it was very mucky, indeed, but at least it was not too cold. My attempts to clear it, however, were futile. Each time I geared myself up to leap, my tired legs only landed me in deeper water. But with my trainers literally squelching as I ran, there was no point in worrying about the time or distance. Unlike the previous day’s race, it felt less like a fierce competition and I was surprised to find that I was starting to enjoy the race. I continued to run past another field, another climb then a steep downhill before the finish was in earshot. The course rounded the perimeter of a grass pitch for the final sprint to the finish. However, it also circled all of the speedier runners who had hung around after finishing to cheer everyone on. It felt more like a victory loop as I ran and unlike the previous day, there wasn’t a mad scrum to get over the line. I finished Day 2 enjoying running at a slower pace, without any pressure and I felt more confident that I would complete the Tour. With two races down, I was almost halfway there.

In the meantime, I could only think of recovery and mainly, nourishment. With that in mind, here’s another easy one-pot recipe for Fruity cauliflower pilaf to try.

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Tour de force?

Well, it certainly feels like the summer has wound down with the damp weather, slightly cooler air and just a hint of autumnal leaves about. With the return to school and start of the new sports season, there is a sudden flurry of activities at home. Adjusting to the new routine whilst being presented with some looming deadlines have managed to stir my sleepy children, who act more like grumpy bears, woken from their endless summer of hibernation. I also had a slow start and was reluctant to remember our schedule of coordinating meals with drop offs and pickups again. I can’t say I take great pleasure from also being landed with some homework, hidden within the influx of red flagged emails and communications from my children’s schools and sports clubs. The sheer number of them is slightly overwhelming and only makes me second guess whether I have actually managed to finish filling in forms and ticking boxes before I pass them back again like a hot potato. At least there is still a little breathing space on the weekend left to catch up on things before we become fully entrenched into rugby and cross-country season. Or at least I thought there was…

Unfortunately, like my children, I was also woken up from my summer hibernation to realise that I had signed up for some running events in September. Ones that I conveniently put to the back of my mind after signing up, believing that they would be ‘fun’ and a great way to finish off the summer. Why wouldn’t I want to take part in a 6-day running tour of my local area that included 6 races of different distances and mixed terrains? The longest race was only 11.2km, so how hard could it be? Sure, there were two races of around that distance and a couple of 8kms but the remaining two days were far shorter. Sounded like it would be a week of good workouts among like-minded runners without the pressure of actually ‘racing’ and the chance to add to my collection of technical t-shirts. This year was the 35th anniversary of the Tour and rumour had it that the t-shirt was going to be in ‘Hawaiian blue’.

That alone, was enough to sign myself up to the Tour several months ago and I should have stopped there. But in my summer haze of naivety, I also signed up for the Cancer Research UK Race for Life Pretty Muddy 5km event with my daughter and her friend. As minors, they needed an accompanying adult and after enjoying the event in the past, I didn’t hesitate in signing up. I knew that it would take place the day after the Tour finished but did it matter if I extended my own Tour and finished on a very muddy 7th day? It was for a good cause, after all.

Unfortunately, I have found out the hard way that you should always read the small print. Especially, when it comes to running events. A couple of days before the Tour took place, I began to realise that I may have underestimated just how difficult it would be. As my daughter read out the description of Tour races to her brother, the reality of it all began to set in. When I overheard her say that the event was one that ‘local running club members simultaneously dread and look forward to’, I felt like I might have signed up to the wrong Tour. What happened to the week of relaxed workouts?? It was too late to bail out but I was starting to feel a bit out of my depth. The only option seemed to be to go forward and so I stepped up gingerly to the first event.

Day 1 Tattenhoe Park 11km
On the first day of the Tour, I arrived to register amongst a large crowd of mingling runners who were also collecting their race numbers. When I reached the front of the queue I discovered that they had been allocated alphabetically, which meant that for the Tour, I was number ‘1’. Now probably many people imagine that they would like to be wearing this number thinking that they could tell everyone with impunity that they were, in fact, numero uno. However, wearing this number also invites plenty of comments from others before you’ve even started running. Thus, began a running banter of variations of ‘She’s in the lead!’, ‘Look out for her!’ and ‘No pressure, then!’. Now this is fine if you are a confident runner and are feeling good about an event. However, if you are at all a little nervous, overwhelmed or intimidated by the whole series of RACES then it does not bode well for a week of being number 1.

Nonetheless, with my pristine number 1 pinned to my chest, I stepped forward to the start of the race. I knew that if this went well, it would help to put things into perspective and could herald the start of a really ‘fun’ Tour. But I began the race packed into a crowd that struggled to unfold. Gradually, we began to spread out as we faced the 3-loop course that alternated between tarmacked footpaths and parkland. Before long, I found a place to run alongside some friendly faces and I reminded myself that this was just a workout. However, it became abundantly clear that most people were opting to race. At the time, the race felt like it was a little bit speedy but I had no idea what pace I was running at as my watch’s GPS could not pick up any signal.

After the first loop, I was already tiring and I realised two things: I was running way too fast for a ‘workout’ and the course was not as flat as I had hoped. I started the second loop dreading the same again and now with legs that were starting to feel like blocks of wood. I focused on relaxing and managed to engage a couple of other runners in conversation for a km or so. But they didn’t have time to chat in the middle of a race and soon outran me. I somehow finished the second loop but then I began the mental torture of repeating a third and final loop. By then my watch had started to kick in but it was far too late to tell me anything useful. My legs had also transformed into concrete slabs and I felt like I was running through treacle. I could only grimace to cheers of encouragement and shouts of ‘Look, it’s number 1!’ from spectators. I grumbled on and wished I hadn’t won at the alphabet. It seemed to take days before I finally saw the finish area in sight and it couldn’t come soon enough for me. I was pipped in the final metre of the finish by another runner which only made me feel more knackered and frustrated. The first day of the Tour didn’t feel anything like ‘fun’. After commiserating with fellow tired runners, I heard that the first day was supposed to be the worst of the 6. In fact, runners were supposed to improve as the week goes on as long as they don’t start out too fast and overdo it. I also knew that you had to do all of the races to get the t-shirt. And I really wanted the t-shirt. Which meant that despite my low mood, I knew I would continue with the Tour. I mean, how much worse could it possibly get?

While you wait to find out, why not make a Spiced plum loaf? It makes a great snack to fuel up on before a run (or another race…) Or you can just relax and enjoy a slice with a cuppa.

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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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