Monday, 27 July 2015


What follows is an entirely unscientific, unresearched exploration of a concept. It's a topic than can cause heated exchanges and I'm sure there's lots of science out there to completely annihilate my opinions. However, I'm just saying what I think, what my experiences are. Sometimes thinking aloud like this is helpful.

Junk miles- it's a phrase I see quite a bit on the interweb. I'm not entirely sure what it means. Some people say running with no set purpose is junk miles. You should always set out on a run to complete some specific training.  Other people say that doing the rounding up thing is junk miles- you know, wanting to finish a run or a week's mileage on a nice round number. Then there's running because you feel you should. Running extra because you ate far too much cake...

So where does that put the running I do when I'm not following a training schedule? In theory it's all junk then.

I'm thinking about this now because of a discussion I had with a running friend yesterday. I went out running with my club yesterday morning with the intention of completing 13-14 miles including the run from home to the meeting point and then back home again. In the end I did 11 miles because I had an invite for coffee and toasted fruit bread which was far more tempting than an extra 20 minutes with the club running up and down the industrial areas of my side of town. As I ran over to my friend's for coffee it rained. Hard, cold, almost wintry rain so I ended up soaked and freezing. The offer of a lift home after coffee was most welcome!

Much later in the afternoon I was getting twitchy. I hadn't done the miles I'd said I would run. I can't say if it was guilt, my natural inability to be comfortable staying still or my obsessive streak winning out. Probably a mixture of all three- I do have a strong work ethic so if I say I'll do a thing I'll do it. A running friend suggested I was being daft. 'Miles aren't don't even have a mileage target'. A fair point- I'm not on a plan so why make myself do the extra miles? But I do like to run about 35-40 miles each week. You've plucked that out of thin air, haven't you?' Well, that's just what I seem to run most weeks and I want to keep that consistency. No, it's not a scientific approach to running but I'm not a scientist nor a professional athlete. Surely if I just feel like a run why not?  'Beware the empty miles' . Hmph. Now I'm starting to get just a little bit cross. They won't be empty they will be fun because I like running off road and it's been raining so there'll be lots of mud and puddles. He meant well; he and few other running friends have been worried about me crashing and burning and I do appreciate their concern. But if you suggest to me maybe I shouldn't do a thing then more than likely I'll go and do it.

So more determined than ever,  I laced up my trail shoes and headed out into the late afternoon drizzle for 5km through the woods and heathland. I love the clang of the gate closing behind me as I step into the woods. And the smell of the damp leaves and pine needles. The feel of the ground there is really special- it's a mix of the usual woodland terrain: lots of mud when it's been raining, leaves, branches but also sandy patches which are either soft and dry or almost clay-ey when there's been lots of rain.

It was an aimless sort of run. Through the woods, over the heath down the steep steps, then turn around and go back up the steps because I like them. Then around a different bit of the heath before heading home.

It was worth going out just to see the rain clinging to the gorse seed pods like tiny diamonds. The colours were so beautiful as though the grey drizzle made everything more bright and vivid; the contrast of the bright yellow-brown sand and the almost shocking green of the grass. Spider webs sparkled with raindrops like tiny silver blankets draped amongst the gorse and broom. Droplets clung to the sedges transforming the unremarkable into foot-stopping beauty; you cannot run through all this and not pause to look and marvel. I felt restored after those 3.5 miles. Far more so than after the 11 'purposeful' miles I ran earlier.
So maybe they were the empty miles then.
You know what my friend? I think you're right.
So running isn't necessarily about completing training targets. If, like me, running is a complicated thing with mental, spiritual and physical aspects all intertwined and all equally important, then any miles can be nourishing and sustaining. If running is as much a spiritual exercise as anything else then physical improvement doesn't need to be the aim of a run. Of course there are the dangers of over-training, but perhaps we should talk more about soul miles.
Thanks to a certain someone for allowing me to use our conversation. You know I'm not cross with you, and maybe we both learned something from that exchange.

Sunday, 19 July 2015


epiphany- from the Greek epiphainein meaning 'reveal'

I have had something of a running epiphany. Not a sudden revelation that has sent me reeling, more  a quiet lifting of a curtain.

Here are some clumsy attempts to explain what has happened:

Last week's run at Stowe was the start of it perhaps. Or it might have been a trail run with a friend back on 21st June. Today's little 11 mile jaunt here and there made things clearer still. All the runs just mentioned were trail or multi terrain; none were done with speed in mind and although Stowe was a race I wasn't racing it and distance wasn't the focus of the other two runs either. They were all just because it was good to run. Bits were slow, bits were fast; today I got lost briefly and had to walk some because the vegetation was so thick and tall in places. And both mind and body  have loved every moment.

Everything about how I've run those 3 times has felt just right. Sure, I got tired and a bit achey, especially today as I'd done 10 miles yesterday afternoon, but with a change of terrain- woods to field, tree roots to sand, stones to packed mud- my energy levels and mental state would revive and it was easy to keep going. It was also easy to run the miles. Perhaps because I wasn't counting them- just going from one path to another, wondering what I would find over the next field. I know for sure that if I'd set out to do 11 miles on the road today it would have been a struggle and I'd have come home feeling wiped out.

So it's time to listen up to what these experiences are telling me.

 I guess for a while yet I'll still have moments of being a bit of a speed merchant on the tarmac, but I can't say I ever truly enjoy that. It can be cathartic and I quite like it sometimes but it's no match for the feeling of peace I get on the trails. On the redways I get frustrated if I don't achieve a certain mileage, keep up consistent splits or achieve a certain pace, and I get cross when there are obstacles to slow me down (people, bikes, dogs, whatever). On the trails if there's a tree in the way it's fun to duck around or under it, to jump over tree stumps, splash through puddles. It's fun getting scratched by gorse and ripened wheat; it's even fun negotiating shoulder high nettles. I don't mind stumbling on hidden dips and cracks in the ground and I don't mind wading through mud or head-high grasses. I don't count the miles because it's an adventure- discovering new paths, seeing unexpected things. I love the feel of the ground through my trail shoes- it makes my running more responsive instead of pounding along the redways in comfy road shoes.

Trails are in some ways kinder. If you pay attention to and accept rather than fight against where you're running, you just have to go with whatever the land gives you. It puts me in my place- just a small thing running through a world that is full of beauty and surprises. For me running off-road ticks all the boxes.

It's meditation and soul food for a terrible fidget who is never quite happy unless on the move.

Stowe-nly a Half Marathon

Last Sunday I was up at about this time feeling completely wiped out, bad tempered and really not in the mood for a race. I ached all over and felt that for once a run was very much not the thing I needed to sort myself out. Unfortunately I had a race to do- the trail half marathon at the Stowe Triathlon & Run event.

The previous evening various running comrades in Twitterland suggested maybe it was sensible to miss the race since I was feeling so tired. It wasn't one where I was going for a PB or anything anyway and people have twigged that when I say I'll run 'easy' for something what I actually mean is I won't go quite flat out! It was sensible advice but having paid to race I knew I'd only sit at home and get even more grouchy if I didn't turn up and amble round. So off I went to Stowe NT Landscape Gardens.

There were a few of us from Redway Runners running various distances. Several of us were doing the half and Andy, Jonathan and I thought we'd take it easy together and stop for lots of selfies along the way, given that Stowe has about 40 historic monuments around the gardens.

Of course things didn't quite go to plan...

Jonathan stopped for something but Andy and I didn't notice and kept running. We did what appears to be our usual thing of "We're going a bit fast really shouldn't we slow down a bit?". Stopped for a few selfies including one with the evil demon-pig:

It began to wake up as we did the photo, growling and snarling and showing its teeth... Run!!!
It was a hilly, mixed terrain course of 4 laps. I'd been dreading the laps especially the thought of doing one particular hill 4 times but actually it was a fantastic course. I loved the challenge of all the hills (nice hills, lovely hills) and in fact knowing what was coming next was great. I could focus on running each hill well, getting my speed just right so I could push right over the top and there was the mental discipline of keeping going even when I knew there was a particularly hard bit coming up.
Towards the end Andy was flagging a bit with a painful foot. Reluctantly I left him behind feeling a bit guilty- maybe I'd gone off a bit too quick when we started lap 4. But it wasn't long into lap 4 when I realised something wasn't right- we'd already done over 11 miles...
Without Andy I felt a bit lonely- what often happens to me is that I'm not fast enough to keep up with the super-speedy guys but am plenty quick enough for most people to not keep up with me so I end up running on my own (I've said that before, haven't I?!). That can be nice but sometimes having someone else alongside is really helpful- there can be a friendly, unspoken edging to be the one in front, but also when it gets tough just having someone next to you who is also finding it hard you just keep each other going. Luckily for me I could see the speedy Marcus a bit of a way ahead. Had to pick up the pace a fair bit to catch up with him but then we ran together for the rest of the race.

It was hard, I said bad words and shouted a bit. We'd run 13.1 miles and were still going. Where was the finish??

Stretching out my legs on the sweeping avenue down from the school I nearly collided with a cyclist and went the wrong way but there was the arrow pointing to the turn for the finish. Only thing was- we had no idea how far it was from the finish. The turning took us onto a rough path, shared with the poor triathletes on their bikes. In fact it was too rough for them to cycle on so they had to get off and push! It needed a lot of concentration on that last stretch to take care on the rough ground but at last we could hear then see the finish.

Sprint for the finish- I want to beat Marcus! Stop the pink Garmin device... wait a minute. What's that? That can't be right....

14.48 miles.

We waited for a few others in the club to finish then went our separate ways with our medals but no idea of finishing places or times.

4 days later the results are published. Initially I was down as 3rd overall (out of EVERYONE) and 1st lady, but eventually was relegated to 4th overall (although Marcus and I ran the race in the same time) but still 1st lady. Not bad!
There are some fab official photos from the race but I'm still choosing which ones I want. 

Thursday, 9 July 2015

Sweet talking

For those of you who have come across me in the twitterland running community what I'm going to be writing about will not come as a surprise. As much as I go on about running in general and hills in particular (I do love a hill), I also seem to end up talking food a lot. Especially cake talk.

Baking isn't something I get to do so much these days. My new job has slightly awkward hours so if I want to get some baking done I either have to do it super-early and sacrifice a morning run, or wait til a child-free weekend. Running, karate (I now usually train 6 hours a week) and my children's own sporting needs have rather taken over. Funny, I never thought I'd be living in a 'sporty' household let alone be so involved in sport myself! Isn't it odd how life turns out?

Anyway, I've promised a few twitter friends some recipes for cookies. Although the recipes come from a most reliable source- Dan Lepard's Short and Sweet book- a real life friend has been a most willing guinea pig. Some of the recipes I haven't altered at all, some are the sort where you can substitute one spice or fruit for another depending on your taste or what's in the cupboard. 

Cookies are great because they are portable, easy to eat (sometimes cake really does need a plate & fork) and keep well either once baked or as raw dough in the fridge. They are quick and convenient and as you'll see from these recipes they can also be reasonably nutritious, making them an ideal snack for a hungry runner or karate ka. I try to avoid processed foods as much as possible but I'm not perfect and we do have some shop bought cereal bars, Nakd & 9 Bars, but when I can I make big batches of these.

So here goes:

Spelt and Ginger Cookies

I love these cookies- the texture is nice and chewy and they are quite gingery. Probably not one to make if you don't like a pronounced ginger flavour.
  • 50g butter or spread (I use Pure sunflower spread usually)
  • 50g golden syrup
  • 30g crystallised ginger, rinsed and chopped
  • 50g each of caster and soft brown sugar
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 150g spelt flour
  • 1 heaped tsp ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp bicarb
  1. Gently heat the butter, syrup & ginger in a saucepan until the butter has melted. Remove from the heat the beat in the sugars, egg yolk and then the remaining ingredients to make a smooth, soft dough.
  2. Heat the oven to 200C/ 180C fan or gas 6. Line some baking sheets with non-stick baking parchment and place teaspoonfuls of dough onto the trays. Keep the balls of dough about 6-8cm apart as the cookies spread as they bake.
  3. Bake in batches for 7-8 minutes or until the cookies have puffed up and are golden at the edges.
  4. Allow to cool for a couple of minutes before carefully removing them off the tray and onto a rack.

Rye & Raisin Cookies

These are not the prettiest cookies in the world but are probably the most delicious. It's worth buying rye flour specially to make these although we usually have some at home as it's nice to add rye to plain flour when making bread.

  • 125g butter or spread
  • 100-125g soft brown sugar (doesn't matter if it's light or dark)
  • 125g caster sugar
  • 2 tablespoons cocoa (this is for colour rather than flavour)
  • 1 egg white (so you might as well make these as well as the ginger cookies!)
  • 150g rye flour
  • 1/2 tsp bicarb
  • 250g raisins
  1. Heat the oven to 180C/ 160C fan/ gas 4 and line baking sheets with non stick baking parchment.
  2. Using an electric mixer if you have one beat together the butter, sugars and cocoa until smooth then beat in the egg.
  3. Add the flour and bicarb and mix this together with a wooden spoon before adding the raisins.
  4. Place lumps of dough about 10cm apart onto the baking sheets and bake for 12-15 min until the raisins start to puff up through the dough.
  5. Let cool on the trays for 5 min before removing to a rack as the cookies are fragile when they first come out of the oven.

Oat and Cranberry Cookies

The Dan Lepard recipe calls for dried sour cherries but I've not seen those outside of the States. Probably I don't shop at a posh enough supermarket, but dried cranberries works fine or of course you could use another dried fruit.

  • 225g butter or spread
  • 375g light soft brown sugar + 50g caster sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 300g plain flour or 50/50 plain & wholemeal
  • generous 2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 2tsp bicarb
  • 200g rolled oats
  • 200g dried cranberries
  1. Beat together the butter and sugars until light and fluffy, the beat in the eggs one at a time.
  2. Sift the flour, spice and bicarb together then stir into the mixture. Finally mix in the oats and dried fruit.
  3. Heat the oven to 170C/ 150C fan/ gas 3 and line baking sheets with non stick paper. Place lumps of dough about 6cm apart on the sheets and bake for 12-14 min. Once again, leave to cool for a few minutes before removing to a rack.
One-a-Day Cookies

I really like these! Use whatever seed mix you have or like.

  • 125g butter or spread
  • 100g caster sugar + 100g muscovado sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1tsp vanilla extract
  • 50g each of rye and spelt flour (the real recipe says 100g wholemeal)
  • 150g of lightly toasted seeds of your choice. I use linseed, sunflower, sesame and chia.
  • 100g rolled oats
  1. Heat the oven t0 180C/ 160C fan/ gas 4 and line baking sheets with non stick paper
  2. Beat together the butter & sugars then add the egg and beat until thoroughly mixed.
  3. Stir in the vanilla then add the remaining ingredients and mix well.
  4. Place spoonfuls of dough well apart onto the baking sheets. These cookies spread quite a bit so you might only get 6 on a sheet.
  5. Bake 10-12 minutes or until light brown at the edges. Let rest for a couple of minutes before carefully removing onto racks.

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

What you've all been waiting for (or probably not)...

It's been referred to a few times now. The Episode of the Mighty Running Daff.

It happened because I had entered the MK Everyday Hero half marathon and in the weeks leading up to the race had a niggle that just wouldn't quite leave me alone. (I guess that's why they are called niggles- because they niggle.) I knew going for a PB (as I'd planned to do) wasn't on the cards but I also know my running self well enough now to realise that neither would I manage to run the race easy. As I said to a friend the other day, I'm stubborn, obstinate, bloody minded and can't always tell when to stop. Anyway, I racked my brains to think of how I could trick myself into running an easy race and just having lots of fun.

Dressing up came to mind. I just love dressing up. Being a very shy person ordinarily, putting on a costume seems to give me a lot of confidence. The race was on 4th May- so obviously a Star Wars theme came to mind but as the idea only came to me just a couple of days before the race there was no time either to make or buy a costume. Shame, as I'd seen a fab Storm Trooper morphsuit online. Social media and the lovely people at my running club came to the rescue- someone had a morphsuit I could borrow and did I want to wear petals on my head too. If you don't really know about them, a morphsuit gives complete anonymity if you wear it with the head piece and for someone like me who has precisely no curves a morphsuit also means no one can tell if you're male or female. That's liberating.

Wow! It was soooooo much fun wearing a morphsuit! I only did a tiny practise run in it before race day and it felt a bit strange at first, but the freedom once that mask is over your face!...

People thought it was hilarious; they thought I was a nutter; around the course there were lots of puzzled children asking 'How can that man see where he's going?'; and a few men really didn't like being overtaken by a daffodil... It was all fine except for the boredom of the actual route- up and down the city centre grids was really no fun at all and many of the main roads were sadly lacking in spectators. The people who were out and about on the route were great and it was really nice making people do a double take (was that a daffodil just run past?) or just laugh hysterically. I'd been warned that having the mask would freak out small children but fortunately I only made one cry.
Anyway, I was having a good time until about mile 10 or 11 when I was suddenly very hot and my legs were very, very tired.  Of course I hadn't run easy. Silly me to think a morphsuit would slow me down! Most of the race was actually close to PB pace but by those last few miles I was just willing my legs to keep moving. Certainly there was nothing left for the last little lap around the stadium. Can't remember what time I finished in, but it was way too quick for someone who should have taken it easy.
So there you have it. The Mighty Running Daff- proof that I'm not really serious all the time.

Monday, 6 July 2015

A Tale of two 10ks and a 1st birthday

Now we're as far as April.
Ok, so next up was a 10k race over in Flitwick. I did not feel well-prepared for it- it wasn't that long since the crazy duathlon of half marathon & karate and I'd been unsure of how to keep training without doing too much. Certainly I felt like I hadn't done enough tempo work. The night before and the morning of were pretty much the usual- feeling sick, struggling to keep food in, unable to sleep and being generally a bit bitey. The only thing that was a bit different was that this time I was taking my girlies along with me as they wanted to do the fun run after the main race.

As usual I got to race HQ far too early but it gave me plenty of time to warm up and the girls found themselves a playground and some new friends. Not so many runners from my club this time which was a bit strange- I've got so used to running amongst an army of green- but it was a friendly enough atmosphere. Also as usual I had no idea of the route, all I knew was that it was apparently 'fast and undulating'. I used to live near Flitwick so figured I'd probably be fairly familiar with the roads and didn't recall any big hills. Anyway the race started and off I went. Pretty fast for the first mile, but not stupidly so. Mile 2-3 I don't know what happened. I felt like I was focussed and running a good pace but turns out I really let my pace drop so mile 4 it was time to get my legs moving again. Fortunately the legs co operated and the second half of that race was my fastest ever 5k! Can't say I romped over the finish- that last 1k felt like it went on for ever- but I crossed the finish in 43:47, first in my age category, and a nice new PB!
So missing out the Mighty Running Daff episode for a bit (and little 5k jaunt around Marston Forest Centre) it's now Sunday 5th July and we're at Willen Lake for the Women's Running 10k. It is also my first running birthday- exactly a year ago I ran my first race, which just happened to be this one!
By now you know the drill- nerves, sick, blah blah...
Except this time I'd taken on too intense a training plan and had to rein it in as I was just getting exhausted trying to juggle that with work, children, karate, and life in general. Plus I'd not been sleeping properly (into week 3 of insomnia) and had lost my appetite as well as the 2.5 kg I worked hard to put on. So far from ideal race prep. And this time I definitely hadn't done enough running at race pace.
Hey ho, got to Willen, had a little pootle about to warm up- glad I did because I quickly realised how humid and sticky it was even though it wasn't nearly as hot as it had been during the week. A few of us Redway Runner ladies about so time for a team photo:
For the first time I started a race at the front. And it didn't bother me. I'm at the front, with the fast ladies. So? I'm quite fast too. I can do this.There's progress!
Set off waaaaayyyyyyy too fast though- mile 1 in about 6:52. Eased off for the next couple miles but I knew mile 1 would bite back later. On the second lap I felt good so picked up the pace a bit- lovely to have encouragement almost all the way round from Redway Runners who were helping out.
But once into mile 5 it stopped being fun and was just a battle. My breathing was laboured, my legs were tired, lactic acid was making me feel really sick. Nothing for it but to push on and overtake someone, so I did. That last few hundred metres I was almost in tears it hurt so much and I was so frustrated at having run in such an undisciplined way. But I finished. And finished in 4th place!!! Not with a PB but not too far off one.
The best bit was once I'd finished and lay completely splatted on the ground, a friendly smile appeared above me. That smile and a hug was better than any medal or goody bag.