Friday, 28 February 2014

Windsor & Eton Winter Fun Run

Dorney lake is starting to feel like a second home. In the past year I've taken part in three events there and last weekend was my fourth. The site lends itself well to open water swims, duathlon and triathlon but this was the first time I'd taken part in a plain ol' running race; one of the Windsor and Eton Winter Fun Run series organised by F3. I'd chosen the 10k distance. Unusually for a race, the start time was at 12:30 and we were under strict instruction that we would not be allowed on site until 11:30 at the earliest as there was a duathlon taking place in the morning.

Dorney Lake is not a complex site. However it turns out that what a marshal who's been there since some ungodly hour that morning means by the instruction "follow the road" is in fact "bear right where the road splits". This slight misinterpretation meant that I spent the first 10 minutes on site driving up and down the outer road trying to find somewhere to park that wasn't a kilometre from the start. Never mind.

The registration and start area, though tiny compare to all the other events I'd attended here, was perfectly formed. I was in, out, branded (with felt tip), goody bagged up, ankle tag in hand and waving the smell of the catering table out of my hair in around 5 minutes. My warm up took the form of walking backwards and forwards to the car twice to drop of my bag and then retrieve the ankle tag I'd left in my fleece pocket and then doing some stretches in the toilet queue.

The small number of entrants meant that the race briefing cold be given without the need for a megaphone and soon we were all marched across to the start line. No timing mat, no inflatable start, just a virtual line and an air horn. Simple but it seemed to work. It didn't take long for me to realise I was seriously overdressed for the occasion. I'd left home early to volunteer at parkrun and hadn't anticipated how warm it would get later in the day. Thermal leggings and a long sleeved merino top were a bit over the top on what was a sunny and warm, all be it breezy, day although I was glad of the sleeves… if there was no breath of air in the rest of the country I reckon it would still be windy across the lake.

The course was wonderfully flat, with the only inclines being over the bridges on the path that runs down the interior spur of the lake. It's the kind of course you could well expect to run a PB on and that's what I was aiming for. Despite my lack of training I was psyched up to give it a shot. Running the 10k distance involved running 2 laps which meant 5k of sheltered running and 5k of running into a headwind. I paced myself against other people, picked a few people off, thought it wise to take a short walk break to drink at the halfway mark and was focusing and so hard on the finish line in the last 2k, pushing my legs to keep on going, that my vision went a bit funny. A recovery shake never disappeared so fast nor tasted so good as after that.
Toffee Fudge… my new favourite flavour. I'd keep racing just to have these.
It was all worth it though. I knew I couldn't have run much harder without doing myself a damage and I am in love with my wonderful chunky medal. It wasn't until two days later that I realised I'd exactly equalled my PB, something I'm incredibly happy about, all things considered, and I'm not disappointed to have come 48th out of 77 ladies running the 10k.
Bling bling!
A phenomenal number of events are held at Dorney Lake every year there on top of providing a training ground. Human Race organise a lot as do F3 so if you're keen to try something new or aim for a PB any event here would be ideal. Check out the organiser sites for upcoming races. My event was the second of a series of four, the next ones being on Sunday 23rd March and Saturday 19th April with the choice of running 5, 10, 15 or even 20km so you still have a chance to enter one if it takes your fancy.

I got my race place thanks to the wonderful Write This Run team. My result here gave me so much reassurance and confidence. Thank you.

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Healthy Hydration

It's easy to remember to drink the Government recommendation of eight glasses of water a day in the summer when it's sunny and warm, but it can be tricky to remember to do the same in these cool and dark months. Even more so when you want hot drinks to warm up. But it's easier than you think to get your fluid levels up.

Water accounts for about 60% of an adult’s body weight and is crucial in helping to carry nutrients to cells, helping to remove waste products from our major organs and helping to regulate our body’s temperature. It is constantly being lost from our body, even through our skin and when we breathe. Our brain is 73% water, so poor hydration can also affect how it functions. We don’t have a real water storage in our body, so it must be replaced regularly by water from our diet.

The National Hydration Council, a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to researching the science and
communicating the facts about healthy hydration, have produced this handy infographic to help you understand your choices when it comes to hydration. Water is clearly the best options but I was surprised that tea and coffee ranked so high. Remember you can always supplement your water with something like nuun to make it a bit more interesting!

Monday, 24 February 2014

Renegading on Promises

I swore I’d never do anything like this ever again. I promised myself, as I plunged through icy water, crawled through pipes on bruised knees, heaved logs around and ran through torrential hail, that I would never, ever do anything that even remotely resembled an obstacle/adventure race as long as my legs could move.

And yet, here I am, having parted with £50 that could have been happily spent on books, theatre tickets… food! Anything more enjoyable than what I’ve actually just spent it on, which is an entry to Tough Guy in January 2015. January! 2015! That’s a very cold month a year away. What on EARTH am I thinking? You saw my review of Tough Mudder last year right? Don’t be fooled, the smiles are merely a reflection of how happy I am to still be alive.
Happy it's over
It turns out that I’m an easily influenced and suggestible soul when it comes to running and events. Even more so now I’ve got a couple of marathons and some back-to-back triathlons under my belt. My brain takes one of two routes; either “I’ve done those”, I say to myself, “I can easily do this” or “oh sod it, what’s the worst that can happen?” The latter usually when someone else is suggesting the event. I’ve got a reputation to maintain as “the crazy one” you know.
Part of the Tough Guy course. Photo by Tough Guy.
I actually entered Tough Guy a few years back, in its Nettle Warrior incarnation. However I didn't go through with it because I had to go to a wedding in the States. And this isn’t the first time I’ve been swayed back into entering something like this. Last autumn I was entered into The Major Series with Anita but she got ill and I was damned if I was going to do another event like that alone so I bailed.

This time it’s Alex who’s suggested the event. Soon-to-be-running-her-second-marathon Alex. Fire-walking, 10-miles-carnival-du-Nice Alex. Do I have any sane friends? The night before we flew to Nice we went online and entered the Fresher Mudder, a paired down version of the Full Brutal Jacket that fits 180 obstacles into about 12km. You miss out some of the biggies that the full course has but still get some kudos. In return she’s entered the Equinox24 event with me. I think she gets the better deal.

We have a whole year to pretend we’re not doing it, which is some comfort. Now I just need to quiet the voice in my head that’s saying “You should have entered the full event… how much more pain can an extra 3km and 20 obstacles really be..?” At least this time I won’t be alone.

Friday, 21 February 2014

Hermit Essentials : Food, Books & New Kit

As any of you who follow me on twitter will know, I’m still managing to keep up with the 100 Happy Days challenge. This week I’ve been really grateful for it as it’s helped me not to go into a complete fug of gloom. My outlook has been less than positive since mid-morning Tuesday. The possibility it’s anaemia related is at the back of my mind (next round of blood tests next week) and so maybe physically over stretching myself and less than optimal diet over the weekend may have contributed, not to mention being plunged back into rain after a vitamin D surge.

Despite falling into one of my exhausted hermit moods, I can’t deny that the positives have vastly outweighed the negatives. I was saved from post-holiday food shopping by a well-timed Hello Fresh delivery, I won a three month subscription to Saviour Snacks and discovered a new favourite protein shake so my foodie side has been satisfied.

I met a friend for a drink, was reminded of how wonderful my friends are when I missed a train connection by a minute and another friend dropped everything to save me from a 90 minute wait. Plus the train travel gave me the opportunity to devour the Brownlee’s Swim, Bike, Run book in a day. Social and cultural ticks!
I need to make the effort to walk here more often
I got a Body Pump session in and the girl who runs Body Combat is also doing a Massage therapy NVQ and needs to practice so I’m having a girls massage night next week. I’m opting for a hot stones massage! Also I got to work from home today and it was sunny so I spent the morning watching the squirrels in the trees and the woodpecker and finches on the feeder and then went for a walk around the nature reserve at the back of the house. Wellbeing, check.
Can you spot the grippy strip?
On top of all that I received some brand new kit thanks to Women’s Running magazine; a pair of Infiniti Capris and Love To Run EZ Tee by Brooks. I wear Brooks trainers but have never tried their gear. That said I’m loving the new Equilibrium SS II t-shirt… 
The t-shirt isn’t in a colour I would normally choose but I actually rather like it. The material is really soft and comfy and the fit feels good; it doesn’t pull anywhere, is long enough on me and skims in the right places.
I’m dead impressed with the capris though. I’m fairly tall and sometimes capris stop in the wrong place i.e. on the knee joint but these end a comfortable few inches below the knee. The wide waistband hides a drawstring and a large zipped pocket at the back. I have no time for teeny pockets or pouches on the inside of waistbands. There’s some nice reflective detailing on the leg and a patterned grippy strip on the inside of each hem so they stay in place. Most importantly, the fabric is substantial enough not to embarrass you if you need to bend down to retie a shoelace (why aren’t you using elastic laces yet?)
Both pieces are wicking… obviously. So I’m really chuffed. Even though I have no need for new kit whatsoever it doesn’t make me less happy to have it.

What’s made you happy this week and what gets you out of a funk?

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Race Review : Rock 'n' Roll 10 Miles Carnival du Nice

"Bravo! Bravo les danseurs! Bravo les danseurs plus belle!"
"Un peu de chocolat??"
"Merci beaucoup"
"We all live in a yellow submarine…"
Oh I do like to be beside the seaside...
It's a sunny 14 degrees, and I'm running along the cote d'azur seafront in a tutu next to Alex, similarly attired, being pursued by The Beatles and eating chocolate. As Sundays go I've had far worse, but maybe not many that feel as surreal. Dressed in my jazziest running gear, face painted with eyeliner, I was running 10 miles on an amazingly sunny day that faded to overcast greyness just 15 minutes after crossing the finish line.
The 10 Miles Carnival du Nice race is part of the Rock 'n' Roll series and makes up part of the annual Nice Carnaval. With around 2,400 entrants, it's relatively small but it's low entry fee draws people from all over, not least the UK and America (so many Americans!). Fancy dress is strongly encouraged with prizes for several categories and all attempts rewarded with a fancy ribbon for your medal instead of a plain orange one. I saw batman, teenage mutant hero turtles, many many rockers, grass skirts and tutus were in abundance but the best I saw was the Mona Lisa.
Mona Lisa
The field is far from frivolous though. I was really pleased with our time of 1:44:24 but were very much towards the back of the pack; even in fancy dress people were very speedy! The mayor of Nice even took part, finishing in 1:28:22! Being set off in three waves meant the course never felt crowded and there was none of the awkward jostling for position, a real treat!

Mile markers spotted whilst out sightseeing made it suddenly feel very real
Entry ranges from 22€ to 35€ depending on how far ahead you enter and this gets you a technical t-shirt, fantastic medal and a fabulous race experience. I was already somewhat familiar with the French approach to races and marshalling. The water stations were not only well manned but had a buffet of orange wedges, banana pieces and squares of chocolate. Marshals were plentiful and did have words of encouragement but crowds were more reserved than the English counterparts. 

Of course, being a Rock 'n' Roll run there was music. There were four bands on the route, which doesn't sound like many but given it's 3 miles out and back in one direction then 2 miles out and back in the other you get to pass them all twice. The ingenious use of speakers means you actually get to hear them for longer than the 10 or 20 seconds we were treated to at RTTB in London.
Not quite the Salvation Army...
The warm up and after race zumba party were extremely well done, although I was disappointed that I didn't have enough energy to take part in the zumba, even after scoffing cake, chocolate and banana in the race village. The atmosphere is infectious and I challenge anyone taking part not to grin like a loon, even on the hill that runs up the edge of the park near the port. I didn't want the race experience to end but eventually we tore ourselves away from the party and shuffled back to the hotel, still pointing out costumes that caught our eyes. All participants were treated to an extended happy hour at a bar in the old town which we took full advantage of, stuffing ourselves with nachos, quesadillas and cheesy chips washed down with lashings of Long Island Iced Tea and worked off on the dance floor until we were kicked out at closing time.
Post race feeding frenzy!
I would seriously consider going out to do the race again. I'm getting quite a taste for travelling to run and Nice is a lovely place, especially at Carnaval time. It's also a good intermediate distance between 10k and half marathon. We made a long weekend of it, easily done when there are so many inexpensive hotels in the centre and plenty of great places to eat, even with me being vegetarian. It's also given me a taste for the other Rock 'n' Roll races. I know we have a few in the UK but I've got my sights set on Vegas. I saw a 2011 Vegas t-shirt in the melee and I know Angry Jogger has done the full marathon but I would be happy doing the half. I have so many great photos and memories of the weekend… sigh… can I go back now please?

Have you run abroad? What was your favourite race or which would you like to do?

Monday, 17 February 2014

Coconut Oil : What's The Deal?

I keep hearing about coconut oil. On twitter, blogs, facebook, all over… but I don’t really *get* it. I don’t understand why it’s suddenly so popular or what the health benefits are. So, as much for my sake as anything, I decided to do a bit of investigation.

I was all over the coconut water trend last year, mainly because it was handed out at just about every event I took part in, and it was pretty good. It refreshed me, hydrated me and was tastier then a regular sports drink. I’m not quite on board with this new superfood trend though.

Wikipedia’s wisdom informs me that coconut oil is high in saturated fats and so keeps well but also means many health organisations actually advise *against* consuming a lot of it. It’s been used for thousands of years but has gained popularity in the health and natural food circles recently.

It’s white and solid at room temperature and is less damaged by heat than many other oils so is considered healthy to use for frying and so on. It doesn’t appear to be cheap but as it keeps well and a little goes a long way it might be a worthy investment.

The list of health benefits that coconut oil provides is miles long. It seems there’s very little it can’t help with. Hair care, skin care, stress relief, cholesterol level maintenance, weight loss, boosted immune system, proper digestion and regulated metabolism, relief from kidney problems, heart diseases, high blood pressure, diabetes, HIV, and cancer, while helping to improve dental quality and bone strength... the list goes on and on.

But why? Well coconut oil contains lauric acid, capric acid and caprylic acid, which have antimicrobial, antioxidant, anti-fungal, antibacterial and soothing qualities. What does that mean in layman’s terms?
Well the saturated fats it contains are, for some reason, considered less harmful than those found in vegetable oils and don’t lead to an increase in LDL levels (bad cholesterol). It’s easy to digest and improves the metabolic rate resulting in more energy being burnt. It’s also good for the immune system, helps to improve the digestive system and helps to prevent conditions like IBS.

I’m yet to try coconut oil myself yet but here’s a plethora of recipes out there involving it and I have to say I am curious. I’m not sure how much difference it would make to me, as someone who already eats a fairly healthy diet, but who knows!

Do you use coconut oil? Do you rate it or is it just another fad? Got a favourite recipe you think I should try?

Friday, 14 February 2014

Roses v Medals

Noses are red,
Fingers are blue,
That's what February running
Does for you

I am not celebrating Valentines day as such this year. Not because I don't have anyone to celebrate with, it's just that as you read this, rather than looking forward to a romantic meal for two, or even a run with my OH, I am hanging around in Gatwick Airport waiting to board a flight to Nice where Alex and I will be running the 10 mile Carnival du Nice on Sunday.

I'm probably regretting choosing the smaller suitcase for the trip and having second thoughts about the kit I've packed. The weather report has gone downhill a bit since mid-week, meaning there's a very high probability that it'll be raining for most of the time we're out there. It's meant to be a bit warmer and less windy than in the UK but the weather isn't the only thing giving me cause for concern this weekend.

Not only have I developed a cough and snotty nose which might hamper me a little, I've done very little actual running lately. My energy levels haven't been too bad this week but I've not felt like braving the storms to run outside. I've got a 7.5 miler under my belt which should see me through as I'm not looking for a time. I've done quite a bit of incline walking on the treadmill recently, working from 1-15% gradients, and lots of cross-trainer work. I've done Body Pump and Combat this week, some yoga and an all-over gym session so I've been active but not necessarily in the right way.

I don't want to let Alex down; we said we'd run together and enjoy the experience but I just hope I don't hold her up too much. Maybe I'll surprise myself. In any case it's a weekend away with a friend and the chance to get a cool medal. Fully report on my return!

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Instant Porridge Pots

Breakfast. Quite possibly my favourite meal of the day. There’s almost always time to make something more interesting than a bowl of cereal or toast. Smoothies, porridge, pancakes, yogurt and eggs all feature regularly on my breakfast menu. I’ve even made my own yogurt in the past, which is surprisingly easy and requires little effort. Many’s the time I’ve gone to bed at night full of anticipation for the meal I’ve planned to start the next day with. I always make time for it and try to make it a moment of calm; sitting at the table looking out at the birds and squirrels or curled up in my big wicker chair with hands wrapped around a bowl of something, coffee made in a cafetiere and served in one of my favourite cup and saucer sets.

If I’m not hungry before I have to go to work, I’ll take breakfast with me to eat when I get there, rather than eat before I’m ready as this usually just means I get hungry again about an hour later anyway. What I don’t do is skip it. Ever. Bad things happen when I do.

I recently had a smoothie phase but at the moment I’m in a porridge phase and in particular portable porridge. I expect most people are familiar with the sachets of porridge you can get that just require the addition of milk, bowl and microwave. These are great but these can be expensive and sugar laden and of course require access to a microwave. What’s even better is a porridge that will work with just the addition of hot water. Ok, I know some people make up their porridge with water anyway but I usually like at least half the liquid to be milk, so I’ve been trialling three different “instant” porridges that only need you to add hot water, stir and wait a couple of minutes before eating.

First up are the porridge pots from TheProteinWorks. These individual pots come with a spoon in 4 delicious flavours, plain, chocolate and banana, apple and cinnamon and mixed berry. I've tried mixed berry and banana chic chip are bothvery tasty, not too sweet and extremely filling. It kept me feeling full for about 5 hours – virtually unheard of! They have a very high protein content which accounts for this. You can only order these online and they cost £1.79 each but they’re nutritionally balanced and certainly serve a purpose. You can find similar, lower protein porridge pots that just require the addition of hot water, in the supermarkets.
There were no chocolate chips in this banana choc chip porridge pot
Next up is a porridge pot designed by my OH. Having examined several recipes he came up with his own concoction which he gave me a sample of. He uses old pasta sauce tubs for transport/serving which work a treat! This concoction has a mix of regular porridge oats and rolled oats, some cinnamon, brown sugar and milk powder. It takes a while to soak up the liquid once added and isn’t as creamy as I like. It didn’t fill me up as much as my usual porridge but it was good for a standby with a handful of raisins thrown in. A squeeze of maple syrup would be a grand addition and it did taste fantastic with a spoonful of morello cherry preserve.
Portable porridge with raisins
Finally we have Jack Monroe’s (aka A Girl Called Jack) recipe. I left out the sultanas as I wanted the flexibility to add different things (and not everything goes with sultanas). I found I needed to add slightly less liquid than I would when making porridge normally but the consistency was great although not as filling as TPW pots. I added a tablespoon of apple and blackberry jam on this occasion.
Porridge with apple and blackberry jam - NOM!
The benefit of making up your own instant porridge is that it’s really cheap and the basic mix is plain which provides a great base to get creative. As someone who rarely eats the same thing two mornings running this is perfect. I can add fresh or dried fruits, nuts, seeds, honey, maple syrup… chocolate chips! Some of the fruit and seed snack packs I get in my subscription boxes are perfect for adding interest to a plain porridge pot and add variety without having to buy lots of packets of different things.

What’s your favourite porridge topping or other portable breakfast?

Monday, 10 February 2014

Protein Powder Comparison

What do you talk about with your friends when you meet up? Jobs? Holiday plans? Love life? It seems a certain set of my friends and I can spend the better part of an evening geeking out about health and fitness. One of the reasons I love the twitter and facebook communities I’m part of is that I can talk about these sorts of things with like-minded people and not bore them to tears. It’s even better that I can do this in real life too!

Aside from discussing our training goals, race plans and the January over-crowding in the gym we got on to nutrition; a subject which is at the forefront of my mind these days. Specifically we started discussing the merits of different protein powders. I use products from MyProtein and TheProteinWorks. My friend uses MonkeyNutrition and I’ve recently discovered Pro-10 and TheNatural Whey Company. It got me wondering about the merits of different brands and the comparison between whey and soy proteins. I’ve written a number of articles about soy protein for TheProteinWorks but have never looked in detail at the differences between the products. So I’ve put together a handy table comparing five brands of whey and soy protein that I’m familiar with and reproduced it below for you as a handy resource.

 Whey Protein

Soy Protein

I included Holland & Barrett to represent the high street as I know not everyone buys online. Neither Monkey Nutrition nor The Natural Whey Company stock a soy protein at present (that I could find) so we can’t compare them on that count.

It truly depends on what your priorities are, as to which you think is best. At the top end of the price bracket online we have Monkey Nutrition and Pro-10 pretty much level pegging on calories and protein content with Pro-10 Whey Protein Isolate coming in at around half the price. However MyProtein’s Soy Isolate just about pips them both to the post considering cal/protein content and value for money. If you want something low-fat and low-carb then I’d say Monkey Nutrition’s the one to choose but MyProtein Soy Isolate is the best value for money.

Across the board, where a brand stocks both a whey and a soy protein, the soy protein gives you a bigger protein hit with less fat content and is around half the price by weight. The soy comes in slightly higher on calories but you’d need to consider the carb and sugar levels… some brands soy protein are higher in these than their whey counterparts, some aren’t.

It’s certainly made me consider what I want from my protein. I currently use Whey Protein 80 from TheProteinWorks most frequently. They do an amazing range of flavours and the carb content doesn’t bother me. I’m just trying to get some more protein in my diet. I may switch brands in the future if my goals change but it still has to taste good!

Was this article helpful? What brand of protein do you use (if any) and what are your reasons for using it?

Friday, 7 February 2014

Doom And Gloom Has No Place Here

Tube strikes, floods, gales, these have all passed me by this week and I'm grateful for it. It's meant that I haven't wasted energy on being negative but have, instead, had a really wonderful week. My real highlight was going to Nordicana to spend around 5 hours watching amazing Scandi drama and taking part in Q&A sessions with the stars. It was held in an appropriately cold and stark brewery building near Brick Lane but I was warmed by vodka and my down jacket.
Sophia Helin aka Saga from The Bridge
Another highlight was staying up to watch the Superbowl for the first time ever. I think I probably annoyed my OH quite a bit with the incessant questions about the mechanics of the game but hopefully I made up for it a bit by providing some rather nice homemade brownies. There was beer, nachos, popcorn and marshmallow fluff. Doesn't get much better! Apart from that we had both booked Monday off so after an indulgent lie in we went to the zoo. Everyone should take the odd day off work to do stuff like this. It's great for a treat.
Two cute porcupines
I've realised that this is the first in a series of three 4-day work weeks as I have next Friday and the following Monday off as well, not for a valentines jaunt but for the Rock 'n' Roll Carnival du Nice. Tutu's have been bought and all my brightest kit has been sought out in preparation. I've even painted my toenails in festival colours. Let's get the party started!

I had an abundance of energy this week, from Tuesday onwards so I've taken advantage of it and worked out every day. I did Body Combat again but on advice from the instructor, wore gloves this time. It may seem odd as you don't actually hit anything but it encourages you to make a tighter first which activates the arm muscles more. I certainly felt the difference. I followed this up the next day with my first Body Pump class in aaaages. It wasn't the usual instructor but I really liked him. Singing, countdowns and "BOOM"s were all encouraged and the session left my arms feeling so weak I could barely wash my hair. My chest still aches. I snuck in a quick half hour on the cross trainer yesterday and did yoga and core workouts from the NTC app this morning. My local parkrun seems to be going ahead tomorrow so I'll be doing that unless I wuss out and go to the gym instead due to heavy rain. I'm susceptible to cajoling on twitter though so you never know...
Packing up. Glad I removed the heavy weights earlier.
It's also been a good food week. In the process of trying to use up things in my fridge I've made cous cous and falafel salad with olives, cous cous salad with pomegranate seeds, almonds and red onion, butternut squash and sage risotto, amazing veggie burgers, mushroom muffins and kidney bean, carrot and cumin burgers. Nom! I may also have made a lavender and lemon drizzle cake involving swede. Don't knock it 'til you've tried it!
Mushroom Muffins
So yeah I'm full of positivity right now and can't wait to see what next week brings. Soz. What have been your highlights this week? What amazing meals have you stumbled upon in the process of using up leftovers?