Monday, 5 October 2015

Event Review : Run or Dye

I lent out of the car window, brandishing a ten pound note at the gentleman in hi-viz, for the privilege of parking in a field. "When you've parked up, head towards the pink flags over there", he gestured to the right. I peered past him into the fog. There were no flags to be seen. "They are there, I promise, put them there myself earlier!" he was apologetic but didn't give me any change from my tenner so I drove on, parked up and wandered in the direction he'd indicated, following other equally tentative souls.
Foggy castle grounds
It's 9:15am on a Saturday morning and I've forsaken my usual parkrun in favour of the 5k event Run or Dye at Hever Castle. Almost identical to the Colour Run, this is a non-timed 5km fun run during the course of which you pass through a number of colour stations and get pelted with coloured powder, turning you into a veritable rainbow by the end. I'd entered alone but most people were there in small groups, all ages, all abilities and all revved up to have a good time.
After what felt like a very long walk from the car park I arrived at check in as the warm up was under way. I collected my race pack; a drawstring bag, race bib, wrist band, temporary tattoo, dye pack and white cotton t-shirt with the Run or Dye logo on the front. I quickly changed and realising I didn't have enough time to get back to the car again headed over to the bag drop. As I approached I was informed that it would cost me £2 to leave my bag. There were no signs and I'd left my money in the car so I resigned myself to carrying it around with me. Ho hum.
To get into the spirit of the event I doused myself with the contents of the dye pack and got to the start area. The MC cranked up the music, threw some t-shirts, headbands and other goodies out into the waiting crowd and soon we were off! Although we were being set off in waves, it was all very informal, you weren't allocated a set time or divided up as such. I'd ended up near the front of the pack so had lots of room to actually run. I wasn't gunning for a time, I wasn't even wearing my Garmin, but it was nice to have the option rather than having to walk.
Channelling my inner Braveheart
The course wound around the grounds of the castle, through woodland and around a lake. I think at one point I did spot the castle but it was so foggy I could have been almost anywhere, which was a real shame but just one of those things. The colour stations were approximately every kilometre, the only way to track your progress around the course as there were no markers, and I found another benefit of being out in front was that you got the full force of the paint throwers! I *may* have shouted "give me your best shot" as I jogged through the stations, arms raised high above my head.
Enthusiastic paint throwers
Event the flowers seemed to want in on the action
It was all over far too quickly... but not so quickly that I was able to join the back of the pack and go round again, which I must confess I considered doing. In the race village the MC was valiantly trying to start building up to the after party as the first runner returned. Cups of water were given out, food vans touted their wares and finishers snapped "after" photos in all their multicoloured glory. No medal at this event, just the joy of having run and feeling a bit like a kid again.
Particularly unflattering post-run photo

I wandered back to the car, with mixed feelings. I'd enjoyed the experience, despite not being able to see the castle, but I felt unsure that it was worth the money. I'd have felt more comfortable with a £5 parking fee, and I'm aware that some of the entry fee goes towards Help for Heroes but still... it's not a cheap event. Fun for the kids, and groups who are newer to running, but next time I'll rack up another parkrun instead.

Friday, 2 October 2015

Courgette & Blue Cheese Tartlets

As a single person who often works until about 8pm, I'm saved from reaching for junk food by batch cooking. This isn't restricted to chili, soup, stews and the like, oh no! My latest batch cook has been delightful little puff pastry tarts, topped with seasonal fruit or veg, a little cheese and some nuts or seeds to up the protein balance. 
Served hot with a side of potatoes and salad or vegetables, these make a lovely easy dinner and cold with salad they're a tasty light lunch. I first made them for a picnic and they've been a go-to ever since. I tend to make 4 at a time to have warm for dinners and cold for lunches. They're super quick and easy and very versatile.

Courgette & Blue Cheese Tartlets

1/2 pack of ready-made puff pastry
50g blue cheese, crumbled
1 medium courgette, sliced
Handful of walnuts pieces
Salt & pepper

  1. Preheat the oven to 180C 
  2. Flour your work surface and roll out the puff pastry into a rough square, about 2-3mm thick. Cut into four smaller squares (these will be your bases) and transfer to baking trays.
  3. Score a line about 1cm in from the edge of each base with a knife. Prick the base all over with a fork, avoiding the outer scored border.
  4. Lay the courgette slices over each base, and season. Sprinkle over the cheese and the walnuts.
  5. Bake the tartlets in the oven for 12-15 minutes until the edge is puffed up and golden and the cheese has melted a little.
  6. Serve with a side of salad or vegetables of your choice.
I've experimented with different combinations of toppings including:
  • Apple, blue cheese, red currants and walnuts
  • Pear, smoked cheese and pumpkin seeds
  • Peppers, goats cheese and pine nuts
Try adding some herbs or perhaps some chilli flakes, whatever takes your fancy. These keep in the fridge for 4-5 days in a well sealed container.

Got any other slightly unusual batch cooks to share? What would you top your version of these with?

Wednesday, 30 September 2015

I Can't Get No Satisfaction

There sometimes comes a time in a person's life when you have to admit that some things are just not for you. For me that would seem to be obstacle course races, or OCRs.

You see I was meant to do Spartan Beast at the weekend; 13 miles and around 25 obstacles. But I didn't. I spent some time during the week um-ing and ah-ing about it, and in some respects I'm grateful that a silly injury (sprained fingers) meant I couldn't do it, but ultimately I had to admit to myself that I didn't *want* to do it and I'd have gotten no enjoyment from it. I didn't train specifically for the event and although it would have been a great thing to have accomplished, I'm resigned to the fact that obstacle course racing is just not for me. I don't really enjoy anything more than Grim or Gung-Ho! style events, that are predominately muddy or just plain fun. And that's ok.
Gung-Ho! finisher's garb
I think the reason I kept on signing up to OCRs (and then dropping out) was because I felt like I needed to push myself further and I was searching for a different sense of accomplishment. I've had a lot of fun with my events this year, but am I proud of any of them? Maybe Ultra12 and the Brighton Marathon but it doesn't feel like enough.
Jam jar wisdom
I want to train for something and be proud of accomplishing it. I've got a few events in the diary for next year, as you'll see from the side bar, but none of them feel like my A-race, my big event for the year. I'll need to build up my mental strength for the polar half, work on my hill running for Leith Hill and build up the distance again for Cakeathon and Stour Valley Marathon but that doesn't feel like any great shakes. It probably is. I'm probably skewing this in my mind. It doesn't help that a few people I know have signed up to or just completed big events such as ironman. Which to some extent is why I'm trying not to book too many events. I've said before that I just love taking part in events, I like the atmosphere, but by entering lots, without thought for how they fit together, I rarely leave myself room to train specifically.

So following on from last week's update post, I'm still changing up my training focusing on strength and building my running towards the Polar Half but I now need to work out what's going to give me the satisfaction I crave in terms of events.

With that in mind, last week's training looked like this:
Monday: Boxercise
Tuesday: Rest day
Wednesday: Strength training
Thursday: metafit
Friday: Rest day
Saturday: parkrun & Gung-Ho!
Sunday: 5 mile run

What kinds of events give you most satisfaction and which do you avoid?

Monday, 28 September 2015

Vik's Picks : September 2015

Gosh it's the end of September already. All hail superb early sunsets, misty mornings and the return of base layers! Here are the things that have been getting me through my month of events.
  1. I have long been a fan of the smoothie breakfast and until now have always used my jug blender to make them, decanting them into shaker bottles for on-the-go. The down side to this was the extra washing up and the fact that my jug blender sometimes left bits. SO I decided to try out the Breville Blend Active, and wow, I wish I'd bought one sooner. Retailing at around £22 it's very affordable, takes up little space and has so far dealt admirably with frozen fruit, ice and even those pesky dates and prunes that my jug blender refused to blend. Winner!
  2. My parents bought me a pair of Dirty Girl Gaiters for Christmas last year but it was only on Tiree that I actually got to use them. Attaching to any pair of trainers with a hook and velcro strip these kept all the sand and stones out of my trail shoes and looked funky to boot. I have a set in Shaggadelic Purple but there are many, many to choose from.
  3. I'm trying to keep educating myself so that I don't become stagnant in my teaching or training and my current read is Which Comes First, Cardio or Weights? by Alex Hutchinson. It's a great book that you can easily dip in and out of which answers all those sorts of questions like whether running really is bad for you and does stretching make any difference at all. It's based on scientific studies, broken down into themed sections and admits when we're really not sure of the answer. Not just for PTs!
  4. Whenever I'm in France I pop into the supermarkets to see what treats there are that we don't find in the UK. Along with the kilo jar of nutella (because why not) and proper baguettes I picked up a box of this bulgar wheat, pea and lentil mix from Carrefour. It's a dry mix that you boil up and each sachet makes around 4 servings. I've not seen a mix quite like it the UK and it's been fab with heaps of roasted veg to up my protein intake.
  5. I've finally started foam rolling! I can't always afford or schedule in a sports massage after my longer events and it's a good habit to get into anyway so my Tela foam roller has been coming out of an evening while I watch Special Forces - Ultimate Hell Week on the iPlayer. I feel their pain ;)
Any idea where I might be able to get packet mixes like this in the UK? Any recommended reading or podcasts for me to top up my knowledge?

Friday, 25 September 2015

The Early Bird Gets Better Snacks Than Worms

It's said that the early bird gets the worm... which is all well and good if you like worms but there is an alternative. Early Bird are a new snack box provider, delivering a selection of nutritious snacks to your door every Monday on a subscription basis. So far, nothing new. But there's a little more to this one.
Early Bird aim to bring together food, music and art into their boxes with the aim of it being a little festival in a box. Just add your own wellies, mud and wet wipes. Each box contains five snacks, tea and/or a dip, artwork inside the lid and a ticket with details of tour dates, links or a free download.
This week the box featured a cool gorilla sketch by Jessamy K, a really cool hour-long music mix, two teas (Bollywood Chai and Darjeeling Early Grey) and five snacks:
- Bakewell Tart (nuts and dried fruit mix)
- Berry Berry Nice (dried fruit mix)
- Corn Shot (chilli salted sweetcorn)
- Cheese on Toast (cheese cashews and bruschettas)
- White Maltese Me (white chocolate, peanuts, pumpkin seeds)
The box itself is really funky; no rectangular or square box here, hexagonal and funky is the way these guys roll. The snacks were all really tasty, although similar to those I've had in other snack boxes, and I especially enjoyed getting to listen to some new music. It was a really fun thing to arrive on my doormat on Monday morning and I'm going to continue with them for a little while as a treat. The art is the weak link for me at the moment but I'm basing that on one box only.

The boxes cost £4.50 each on a weekly or fortnightly basis which isn't bad value compared to other snack boxes I know of. You can rate your snacks and choose not to receive those that contain things you don't like and pause your subscription without question.

If you're an artist and want to get involved, email or if you're a musician and want in on the action get in touch at

Want to try a box for free? Head on over to and use the code chili-3986 to claim a free box!

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Changing Focus for Autumn

Much as I have loved travelling, running and being sociable it's been nice to get home and back into the rhythm of life as I now know it.
The nights are drawing in now but I'm treated to lovely night skies as I leave the gym.
Turns out it takes quite a while to travel to and from Bordeaux by car so we'd split it over two days, meaning that I didn't get home until late on Monday night. Spending the two days after a marathon mainly sitting in a car isn't the best way to recover really and I was feeling a bit fidgety come Tuesday so it was nice to make up numbers at RunFit and take part in the intervals set, all be it at a slightly more sedate pace than my gang.

It wasn't until Thursday that I got out for a proper run of any sort and my legs rebelled. I set out to run as far as I wanted to, at whatever pace was necessary which turned out to be fairly slow. Knees and hips were fine but shins started to complain and the 2.5 miles took a lot of effort to complete.  After this weekend I've got no more races of note booked until the New Year so I'm taking the opportunity to do a little less running and do more strength and conditioning work. The running I do will be more focused and I'll be taking part in more classes at the gym as well as doing my own sessions to build strength. I started as I mean to go on with metafit, yoga and a Strength and conditioning class last week, all of which I enjoyed even if they weren't easy. The yoga was especially good for my poor runner's body.

My "free" time last week was spent planning sessions, classes and my own training and getting stuck into some books that I bought with the money my old company gave me as a leaving gift.
Always learning! The answer... it depends on your goal.
My diet has been atrocious recently. Of course there was a lot of cheese and wine in France and although I have eschewed cake since Tiree I seem to have replaced this with biscuits and chocolate. This simply will not do. My meals are getting under control, with a return to smoothies )made even better with my new smoothie blender) and fruity porridge for breakfasts, salad-heavy lunches and veg-laden dinners, but it's the snacking/desserts that are letting me down so this week I'm focusing more on resisting those and watching out for the triggers that set off my cravings. It's so easy to eat well really, given how much fruit and veg I'm getting from the allotment, hedgerows and in my veg box.

Last week's activity looked like this:
Monday: Rest day
Tuesday: Rest day
Wednesday: Rest day
Thursday: 25 minute run, metafit
Friday: Rest day
Saturday: Parkrun, yoga class
Sunday: Strength & Conditioning class

What is your fitness focus for Autumn? Have you been struggling with an aspect of your diet recently?

Monday, 21 September 2015

Buddy Box : A Lovely Pick-Me-Up

Our mental health and well-being is just as important as our physical health. When it comes to talking about mental health, it's a topic that still has a lot of stigma around it and there are a lot of false beliefs and misconceptions about depression, anxiety, stress and so on. 

I am in no way an authority on the subject but I do understand how difficult it can be to talk about depression or know how to show your support. Which is why I think that the Buddy Box from the Blurt Foundation is such a lovely idea. Each month they put together a box of treats designed to help, inspire and comfort; they call it a "hug in a box". They can be bought as a one-off or as a monthly subscription for someone you know or yourself. The contents aren't revealed in advance so even it you buy for yourself it will be a surprise. It's a thoughtful way to show support of a little self-care. Blurt kindly sent me this month's box to review, which arrived last week.
First impressions were good. The box is sturdy and was visibly jam-packed with items, as the lid wouldn't quite fit on. Inside, surrounded by jaunty orange tissue paper were six items, all of which made me smile.
The box contained:
- A book of smile-inducing, inspiring and uplifting messages
- A tub of indulgent looking hot chocolate
- A set of postcards, to send or keep
- Some energising pulse point oil
- A set of dog-themed colouring in sheets
- Some beans printed with messages to grow

Of course these might not tick the boxes for everyone but I was thrilled with it all. I've already got a couple of colouring in books that I use (as well as the Colourfy app on my phone) so I may pass on the colouring sheets to my godson. My favourite items (apart from the hot chocolate) are the aromatherapy roller ball and the beans. Much as I love the beans though, I may pass on them on to a friend who I think would love them too as my windowsills are full of salad at the moment.
My favourite items
A look inside the book of kinds words and wisdom
I have never been diagnosed with depression, although I know many who have, and I wouldn't wish it on anyone. But we can all have our darker days when things feel that bit harder and you don't know where to turn. Exercise, good food and a little self-care is usually my go-to when I'm feeling down but I know that receiving a box like this would really help too. The Blurt Foundation do a lot of great work in helping to raise awareness of depression, to educate and support those who suffer from it as well as the friends and families of sufferers. 
Buddy Boxes start from £18.50 as part of a years' subscription. I received mine for free thanks to The Blurt Foundation, in return for a review. All opinions are honest and my own.