Friday, 31 January 2014

Clap Along If You Know What Happiness Is To You

In the words of Pharrell Williams, I’m happy! That song has been played a lot on the radio lately and seems the perfect antidote to the January gloom and making the past week one of my best. I’d even go so far as to say it’s been glorious, apart from the pesky 8 hours every day I’ve had to spend in the office! There's only so much e-learning one can do in a day and I’ve felt fizzy with anticipation everyday as I watch the clock tick towards 5pm.
A slow and muddy park run on Saturday was punctuated by comments on my funky leggings and followed by an indulgent afternoon and evening in London eating quantities of cheese, drinking cocktails out of ice glasses and enjoying a delicious dinner with lashings of vino. Hey, 80/20 rule, right? I may also have bought a rather fantastic little black dress on impulse but we’ll gloss over that…

This week’s delicious adventures in food (I DO love my food) included egg white muffins/tortillas that tasted like mini vegetable pizzas, a frugal but extremely tasty vegetable curry, some more amazing smoothies and the discovery of lemon pie sustain squares from wholeplus that I had in my latest saviour snacks box. Oh my word they are divine!
Blackberry, avocado and almond butter smoothie - so yum!
Cranberry Orange Almond Ginger smoothie
I’ve seen all of my local friends in the past 7 days for tea, belated gift giving and the occasional geek out over protein shakes, race plans and training regimes and I had a real treat of an evening with my folks and fella at a vintage vinyl night at a very cool little bar that specialises in rum! I was designated driver so stayed relatively on track… track! Ha! Ahem…
The final pair of new leggings from the Christmas haul and a new sports bra got christened at the gym and in Body Combat. I’ve run and got my very first medal of the year through the post for the Virtual 10k race I completed a couple of weeks back. On top of all that my energy levels have been right up… so much so I’ve been a little upset at not being able to get to make a couple of extra gym sessions. I had all good intentions of a long run this evening but it's bucketing down and I've been offered a meal out so now I have to decide whether I double up on parkrun and gym tomorrow or just do a longer run instead.

First medal of the year!
How’s *your* training going? Breathing a sigh of relief at the end of Janathon or raring for more?

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Bananas, a Fruit for all Meals : Breakfast and "ice cream"

If you're not into bananas there's probably nothing for you in this post. I'm sorry, I'll try and do better next time. But if you're still with me, read on...

I’ve almost always got bananas in the freezer. They’re in my top 5 fruits and despite eating one a day when I have them in the house, some of them don’t make it. I sometimes get bored of banana and yogurt and muesli or they get bashed about in my kit bag as I fail to eat it in favour of whatever was in the race goody bag and they start looking bruised and unappetising. Rather than throw them out I either make banana bread or break them into quarters and pop them in a freezer bag, specifically for smoothies. BUT! There are other things you can do with them and the most delicious is possibly the following.

Banana "Ice Cream"
This is a super cheats ice cream that you can make up on demand and for as big or small a serving as you want. Take your frozen bananas (1 banana is a nice after-dinner serving), put them in a blender and blitz until they become creamy. Ta-da! It's barely a recipe. It's amazing with all sorts of additions or like nut butter, salted caramel sauce… I would recommend around one tablespoon of sauce or nut butter blended in with your bananas or drizzled on top. This is really what you make of it. Nuts, meringue, chocolate chips, raspberries... anything goes.
Banana "ice-cream" with 1tbsp maple caramel sauce and 1tbsp chopped pecans
If you happen to have a banana that is still good and you're looking for a new breakfast idea, may I suggest the following:

"Weekend Porridge" (so called because I only seem to eat this on weekends as a treat or before races)
Make your porridge according to your preference on the hob or in the microwave. I use 1/3 cup oats to 1 cup liquid.
Stir 1 tbsp Nutella (or other chocolate spread. The Hotel Chocolat spreads are AMAZING if you happen to have been given one as a gift) gently into the bowl and top with a sliced banana.
The heat from the porridge turns the Nutella all melty and the closer you get to the bottom of the bowl the more chocolate and hazlenutty goodness there will be. I haven't tried this with chopped nuts as well but I reckon that'd be pretty good too.
I haven't shared my banana bread recipe here but if you would like it I'm happy to do that another time. Just let me know in the comments or on social media.

Monday, 27 January 2014

Revisiting the Past

A colleague of mine is climbing Kilimanjaro in a couple of weeks. I’ve lent him the duffle I used on my trip and we’ve had a few conversations about routes and kit and so on. He’s doing the same route I did but in a much smaller, self funded group. It prompted me to look back over my blog from 2010. I hadn’t really given much thought to how long I’ve been writing this blog, almost five years now!
Just about to set off. I was determined not to get lost.
I rather enjoyed reading back over what I’d done in training and my experiences of the climb. It was good to see how far I’d come and what I’ve achieved over the years, which I suppose was one of the intentions when I started writing. Likewise when I re-read posts from this sort of time last year, when I was tackling 15-milers in the snow and eating All The Food In America in Chicago. There is always plenty to write about when I’m training for something specific. Writing’s been a bit more of a challenge lately, probably because I don’t have much of a focus in that respect. My energy levels aren’t predictable or stable enough to tackle speed with any gusto and my studies are just coming along in the background.
Breakfast at Spanglish. Man it was good!

It’s another reason I’m looking forward to February and beyond, as I have races in the diary and will be able to write a couple of reports. I love writing, but it's always better to have things to write *about*. Speaking of which, is there anything anyone would like me to write about specifically? Which type of posts do you like reading most?

Friday, 24 January 2014

Lightness and Brightness

It’s definitely starting to feel more spring-like this week, even if it is still very cold. The evenings have been getting noticeably lighter, there’s been some let up on the rain and I’ve even heard bird song when I’ve been out and about.
Light skies after work
The week has gone both quickly and slowly. I’ve travelled around quite a bit and my days at work have been fairly full but it seems like an age has passed between each time I’ve managed a work out. Rather than tackle parkrun on Saturday I managed to do my 10k virtual race. I felt so pleased to have managed it, even if it was nowhere near fast. It was my first encounter with the app Strava that was recommended in the comments on another post. It’s similar to RunKeeper in many ways but it feels smarter.
Screenshot of Strava
Another recommended app I’ve been playing around with this week is Pact. The idea of this one is that you make a pledge in up to three categories, workouts, meals and veggies. Your pledge is to log a certain number of workouts, food diaries or vegetarian meals during the week. The workouts and food diaries are tracked by linking to apps like RunKeeper, MyFitnessPal and FitBit or by checking in to your gym. Veggie pledges are tracked by photos. You link your paypal or bank account and get paid for meeting your pledge or fined for missing it. I’ve pledged to workout three days a week and track my meals for four days. Home workouts don’t count, which is why I’ve set my pledge at three. I’m on track to get paid this week!
Screenshot of Pact
I checked in to my gym twice this week, for a Body Combat class and a gym session. I've been wearing my crazy print leggings, which got a few compliments, and vibrant vest tops and am the brightest in the gym by far. This makes me happy. My arms are starting to become a lot more defined and my strength is definitely improving. I’m going to try offsetting my body weight by just 20kg on the assisted chin/dip machine next time, rather than 30kg. In December I was offsetting by 40kg! 
Snazzy or what?
As it’s not due to rain I’m looking forward even more to parkrun tomorrow. I’m starting to work towards my 100 t-shirt, but I’ve got a long way to go.

I’ve also started to make arrangements for the Nice 10 Miles du Carnival race next month with Alex. The medal looks awesome and we get a fancy ribbon if we run in costume so we’re going to discuss possible outfits over the weekend. Any suggestions?

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Smarter Fitter Smoothies

If my twitter feed is to be believed, January has been all about the cleanses, juices and smoothies. I’ve even posted a couple of smoothie recipes on here myself so I’m just as guilty, and so it seems a fitting time to give a big up to the latest addition to my recipe book collection.

Smarter, Fitter Smoothies is the brainchild of Monica Shaw, a Chicago-born, Wiltshire-dwelling foodie. She writes an excellent blog and this is her second book, the first being Vegan Breakfasts (available as an e-book for just $0.99).
Mango, Mint & Kale
Even before you get to the recipes, this book is a wealth of information. Monica explains her background and some of the nutritional aspects of her approach to smoothies. As I’m currently studying nutrition I found this really interesting. By using a mix of healthy fats and proteins (nuts, avocado), fruits and vegetables you’re getting a good balance of nutrients. The only thing I might dispute is the fibre content. I’ve read that blending reduces the fibre content and changes the sugars from intrinsic to extrinsic, but other than that I’m well on board. The “5 Elements of a Great Smoothie” section will give you all the tools you need to start experimenting with making your own concoctions, something I’m yet to do.

The rest of the book is jam packed full of recipes and scattered with tempting photos. There aren’t loads of weird and wonderful ingredients; I think the most outlandish ingredient called for in the recipes I’ve made were ground flaxseeds. Tahini makes a brief appearance alongside coconut cream, neither are items I usually have in, but that’s the extent of it.
Green Mango Lassi
You don’t need to stock up on lots of fancy milks and fresh fruits and vegetables; although fresh is nice you can quite easily make these with frozen purees and fruits. I have a stash of frozen chopped banana, apple and blackberries in my freezer as well as an ice cube tray of pumpkin puree from times when I had gluts of fresh produce. The only things I have bought are avocados, because a lot of her recipes call for it.

I’ve made several of the smoothies so far:
  • Melon, mint and kale (substituting melon for mango)
  • Green mango lassi
  • Strawberry and mint
  • Pumpkin apple and ginger
  • Churro

I’ve made all of these using a stick blender, proving you don’t need a fancy gadget to do this, and all of them have been absolutely delicious. The recipes make generous servings and have been surprisingly satisfying. If you want to try smoothies I would highly recommend getting your hands on this book (via blurb) to get started with.

Thanks Monica, look forward to more recipes!

Monday, 20 January 2014

Like a Blister in the Sun...

I got an email from a friend of mine who is in training for a marathon. This will be her second one so she’s no stranger to the world of running so I was quite flattered to be asked for advice about blisters. Seriously, I was. Running publications often run articles on blister prevention and treatment so what follows may be common knowledge to a lot of you but I figured a post on what I have found effective might be useful to some of you.

  • Let’s cover the very basics first. Wear appropriate footwear for what you’re doing. If you’re running trails, wear a trail shoe, if you’re running roads wear a road shoe. There is a reason for the existence of different types of shoes. A road shoe that gets soggy on a trail will chafe more than a trail shoe that’s had some water proofing treatment and stays drier. Plus your foot should move around less if you’re in the right shoe. Even better if it’s fitted properly
  • I'll assume you're already wearing proper running socks as opposed to everyday socks. Do not underestimate what difference that makes! If you don't wear them then you can get pairs for around £5 in sweatshop or the cheap sport shops. You don’t need fancy.
  • If your shoes do rub, there are things you can do to help. I have a pair of trail shoes I bought on a whim and didn’t get fitted for. First one shoe started rubbing, then a few months later so did the other. I put patches over the offending areas. These were great and I've had great success with gaffer tape :)
    Purpose-made anti-rub patches 
    but gaffer tape has a multitude of uses!
  • I’ve never used vaseline or body glide on my feet but I’ve heard that some people do that so you could give that a try.
  • Deal with hot spots before they turn into blisters. If you feel one starting, put a plaster on it right away. Decent fabric ones tend to stick best but DO get hold of some compeed or similar.

Coping with:
  • I’ve only found one way to effectively deal with a blister once I’ve got it, namely by lancing it and then slapping on a compeed plaster. A normal plaster won't do the job here, it'll just cause more friction but compeed protects, cushions and starts to heal the blister. I've run on blisters like this for miles in comfort.

These are things that have worked for me. If you have any other tips please feel free to share!

Friday, 17 January 2014

Two Steps Forwards, One Step Back

Despite reporting that my iron tablets seem to be taking effect and the blood tests are showing some improvements I’m still suffering from “low days”.

It was pretty disheartening this week. Just as I felt I was making progress I stumble. I had a good week  last week in terms of exercise and I did make it to parkrun on Saturday. I was slow but I ran and I enjoyed it and felt as though I could get back to my previous best in a couple of weeks. Parkrun was followed by a dog walk and a 2 hour stomp through the forest with no ill-effect. Then after an hour long gym session on Monday and a bath I felt pretty dizzy. I drank some water, ate some dinner and sat down for a while; thought little of it. Tuesday was another story. I felt so tired all day, in both the sleepy and worn out sense. I cancelled my Group Kick class even though I was torn between wanting to go and try and push through and worrying that I’d push too far. I sat on the sofa and studied instead so as to feel I’d done something useful.

The rest of the week hasn't been so bad. I did some sun salutations on Wednesday, a dog walk and an hour in the gym on Thursday and I've just been out for a 3 mile run this evening.

I’ve gone back to marking these lows in my diary to see if I can make any sense of it. The thing I’m struggling with most is knowing whether these feelings of tiredness are real or just in the mind. It doesn’t feel like an illness so sometimes I wonder whether I’m just using it as an excuse not to train, even though I’m frustrated when I hold back, worried that I might do too much and annoyed that I won’t be able to make progress if I can’t push myself.

When people at work ask me if I’m ok I don’t feel I can answer honestly because they won’t understand. I mean, come on, if a colleague said to you “I’m feeling really tired” wouldn’t you most likely think they should get more sleep and that they shouldn’t let it affect their work? This last low isn’t as bad as some I’ve had before but it’s still horrible and writing about it is one of the ways I’m finding to deal with it. It feels pretty lonely.

I have a virtual 10k race (in aid of MAMA Academy, the chosen charity of the Run Mummy Run group) to do by the end of next week. When I signed up it didn't feel like much of a challenge but it does now. I think I'll pick a parkrun course and do it twice tomorrow afternoon just for ease. I won't be park running in the morning as I'm taking my godson to the cinema. That'll be quite lovely.

I'd really like to hear your tales of when you've suffered set backs and how you coped with them. The comment box is always open.