Running through the news

Like many people in Britain, I woke up on Friday morning in shock at the news that the country had voted to leave the EU. I’m not British, but it is my adopted country. I moved here to study in 1999, and have worked and paid taxes here since 2002. I was devastated by the news.

I went for a long run only on trails to clear my head. I saw first hand the bucolic beauty of the Cotswolds, the watery tracks and ancient paths. I saw very few people but plenty of wildlife and flowers. It reminded me that a country is so much more than a sum of its inhabitants and politics. And that like the wars and strife of the past, this too will fade into the distance. I know that the life I lead now will not be the life I will lead in five years time. Nor do I have the life that my parents had open to them, many ladders have been withdrawn for my generation and younger.

But I have my strength and can run for hours through the green wilderness. On that day, it was enough.

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White Peak trail race, a win and top ten overall 


After having nearly a month off running, followed by a big jump back into 50+ miles a week in Lanarote, I finally raced again this weekend. I had entered the 26k White Peak trail race mainly to get a chance to look at the terrain and landscape, as my “a” goal for this summer is the Peak Skyrace in August. I didn’t realise that the two sides of the Peak District are quite different and this race didn’t really expose me to the area that I will be racing on for the Skyrace. 

That aside, it was a great fun run, with a few quirky elements, and I came away with the win, which always gives a good feeling about a race. They were running a long and a short course, of 26k or 11k, and had around 400 entries across both races. The race was started as a time trial, with runners going off at a time of their choice within a certain window. This meant that it was very hard to know where you stood in the race, as most of the time there wasn’t actually anyone to race against. I’m not sure I liked this, but it did remove the chance of congestion on single track paths. I prefer to actually race, and at the finish, I had to wait for a number of hours for the results to be confirmed as I went out at the earliest time possible. 

The other quirk was that they had advertised a surprisingly detailed list of kit for a non technical race in summer. Even the short race participants had to carry waterproofs, and we had to wear race vests with water and full sets of waterproofs in our packs. This was hugely over the top as the race was not technical and never more than a few kilometres from a road or access point, didn’t climb up much, and was at least half on a flat paved footpath. 

I got there early and chose to set off at 8:30 with the first group. I quickly was at the front, with two men leading me. After around 4K on an old railway track (now a footpath), we then headed off along a pretty riverside track. The first big climb was a hands on knees job, but not for long. There was a good 6k of fast running along the old railway track, which I wasn’t really ready for- I hadn’t planned on running at 10k pace for such a distance. I felt surprisingly ok, and was able to keep the pace up and make good time over this section. 

Next we joined the short course for the final 5k, which was a bit more fun as it was on a narrow trail with plenty of stiles and some sharp climbs. Luckily the short course runners were really gracious and let us racers go through. There was a final hands on knees short climb, and then the finish came quickly. 

I felt good. I didn’t push the pace, not knowing how my foot would hold up, but it didn’t cause any problems.  I could have gone much harder but there didn’t seem to be much point, especially as I wasn’t being pushed in a race context. At the finish, I was the first woman by a long way but I had no idea who had set off after me. Luckily the race organisers had laid on plenty of tea, coffee and food, and it was good fun watching the other runners coming in. 

In the end I was first woman by some distance and 10th overall. It was a good confidence boost after my injury, especially as I wasn’t tired at the finish and could have gone at least 5 mins faster if I had been pushed. My descending skills are so much improved, but I do need a bit mor climbing stamina- my homework for the next few weeks. 

It was my first race in my Altra Lone Peak 2.5 and they were amazing, grippy, comfortable, and just brilliant. 

The things we are told, the things we believe, and reality.

Nutrition is something that I’ve become increasingly fascinated by recently. I listen to a lot of podcasts, mainly while I’m out running or in the car. Among my typical runner’s collection (Marathon Talk, Talk Ultra, Runners Connect, TrailRunner Nation), and BBC staples (Friday Night Comedy, File on 4, Analysis), I’ve added a few podcasts that are aimed at endurance athletes who embrace what has been called the “primal” approach. My favorite of these is Endurance Planet, hosted by an American triathlete and coach. She can get a bit woo on occasion, but in general she’s quite on the ball and I like that she is not completely dogmatic about the diet and health effects that she advocates. Sometimes it all gets a bit much, and it begins to sound like another way of getting athletes to feel bad about themselves.  I enjoy the ideas put forward by people like Mark Sissons, the main force behind the Primal Endurance Podcast. He was a high level triathlete, an early advocate of a low carb/fat adapted style of training, and a proponent of heart rate regulated endurance training, which I think has a lot of benefits for the amateur endurance athlete.

I have learned a lot from listening to this type of thing. I know I do my easy runs too hard and my hard runs too easy, and being made aware of the concept of Phil Maffetone’s theories of endurance base building has helped me to change the way I train (I hope for the better, we will see).  One thing that I have learned is to be more aware of nutrition, and to be alert for the hidden pitfalls in certain processed foods. However, it is so easy to start to feel guilty and find yourself whether the apple you ate at lunchtime is sabotaging your diet by carrying too much sugar, or feeling anxious because all you could find to eat at an airport was a processed salad with grains. I eat healthily, and rationally I know I do. But even I get confused at times and start doubting my own choices.

On the other hand, the basic ignorance about nutrition among so many people still shocks me. I have a few friends who have been on the “Cambridge diet”. This is a meal replacement diet – so instead of normal meals you eat their ready made shakes. Now, of course you will lose weight on such a diet: you will be cutting calories. However, I saw the ingredients in one of these shakes. Maltodextrin (a polysaccharide derived from starch, and nutritionally void), other saccharides, artificial flavourings, colourings, and artificially fortified with vitamins. Quite simply, a nutritional car crash. Even if you lost weight on such a diet, your insulin will be all over the place, and as soon as you start eating again you will pile the weight back on. Just awful. Yet one of my friends, who is a CHEF, and not a stupid person by any means, followed this diet for a number of weeks.

It makes me sad that as a society we are so divorced from the ability to eat food as fuel and something that gives us health and pleasure. On the one hand, there are people like me, who want our bodies to be able to do difficult things, and try to fuel them in the best way possible to achieve this. But our “best way” is such a difficult thing to define and even more difficult to achieve in a world dominated by food fads, quick fixes and conflicting theories. On the other hand, there are so many people who simply don’t have a clue what they need, and are so caught up in a cycle of junk food, they have lost sight of what food actually can do. People react with such shock when I say I don’t eat refined grains – cake, biscuits, bread, cereal, sweets – but I don’t because I don’t like the way they make me feel. I probably eat far too many nuts, biltong, apples (yes, I love apples) and Greek yoghurt. I could live on yoghurt, apples and almond butter. But until quite recently, I would have reacted with sheer horror if you told me I’d have dinner without any grains. Pearl  barley, bulgur wheat, brown pasta were my staples. I’ve weaned myself off them, and don’t miss them now. But am I really more healthy? I genuinely don’t know.

On another topic. When I was a child my mother would only use Mason Pearson hair brushes. I was told to brush my hair 40 times morning and evening. As an adult, I have awful hair – 20 years of dying, styling, neglecting, bleaching, and it is dry, frizzy and not very nice. My lovely partner bought me a Mason Pearson brush set as celebration for my London Marathon performance, and it has completely transformed my awful hair into something almost passable for shiny and frizz free. Magic brushes! Sometimes the old fashioned ways are indeed the best.

Lanzarote!

 

I spent last week staying just outside Playa Blanca on the south of Lanzarote. I got there having not run more than 15 kilometers in the previous four weeks, but came home having covered 80k, and well over 2000m of climbing, and feeling pretty good.

We were staying in a house right at the bottom of the Montana Roja, a volcano and crater that is a focal point of the area. It was the perfect place to get some climbing and descending practice, and to try to get some running in my legs and test out my foot.

I managed to do three runs of over half marathon length, and plenty of shorter ones just up and down our “local volcano”. My final run took me up to the highest point on the other side of Playa Blanca, from which I could see down the east coast towards the capital city. I wasn’t particularly keen on Playa Blanca itself, which is a very touristy resort town. I felt like something from another species running along the promenade in my hydration pack and trail running gear, dusty from a day in the mountains, dodging the tourists eating burgers and chips by the sea front. But once out of the town, the trails were incredible, and I could run for hours without seeing another soul. It was impossible to get lost thanks to the clear sky and distinctive mountains, and while I did end up off trail on occasion (not easy to run off trail through a volcanic landscape), I never felt worried or unsure.

There is such complete freedom in packing a bag with a towel, some water and a bit of food, and running out into the mountains. Swimming to cool down, then packing up and running on further, climbing hard, and descending as well as possible, never wanting to stop. I know how lucky I am to be able to do this – both physically, especially having been injured, and mentally – having the will to just head out into a foreign landscape on my own, something that I know not everyone would have the confidence to do.

Training wise, I got a lot of benefit from the week, feel fitter already and happier on the uneven terrain and much improved in my downhill skills. I have a 16 mile trail race in the Peak district this weekend, so we will see how I get on. I can still feel my foot but it help up well to the miles, I just hope it can cope with a bit of road running, and the softer, boggier off road that I will face in the UK.

In December I will be back, staying at Club La Santa on the west of the island for another training week and possibly to run the Lanzarote marathon. I wish I could go back sooner.