Salomon Citytrail and X-Scream Review

From time to time we all reassess our fitness goals, and recently I’ve been considering doing less road running and more trail running next year – taking a break from road marathons, thinking less about times and distances and more about just enjoying the ride. So when the lovely folks at Salomon kindly sent me a pair of their new X-Scream to try and invited me to their Citytrail event in York it was like serendipity – a perfect opportunity to dip a toe into trail! I have many trail and ultra running friends who are completely devoted to their various Salomons, so was really looking forward to trying them out.

My first impression of the X-Screams was that they were very pink – and I don’t normally subscribe to the ‘pink and shrink’ school of women’s sportswear. But I can make an exception for this pink, as it’s a bright, flouro one rather than a pale, girly one. And many of my friends were very jealous I’d received them, which was a bonus! X-Screams are the nearest thing Salomon has ever produced to a road shoe, designed for gentle off-road running on urban trails. The upper is very light and breathable (like a road shoe), but the sole is really supportive and grippy (like a trial shoe). It’s a kind of crossover shoe! The Salomon Sensifit/Sensiflex system combines with the unique Quicklace closure system to provide a really snug fit. I recently had a stressed joint in my upper foot, and my sports therapist said I should wear a shoe with plenty of arch support; the X-Scream certainly offered this and has felt really comfortable on the runs I’ve had in them.

Salomon’s Citytrail events are a brilliant way to try their shoes. Basically they come to a venue near you, spread out lots of different shoes and offer expert advice – then you can test the ones you like by going on a short guided run. It’s much better than just trying them on in a shop. The York event was held in association with Up & Running, which is coincidentally where I bought my first ever pair of proper running shoes about five years ago. The run was a lovely trot along the river in the city centre. 

York Parkrun

I would definitely recommend the X-Screams for anyone who does most of their runs on gentle, off-road trails – They’d be ideal for a parkrun too. The combination of comfort, support and grips is perfect for this sort of terrain. They are sized quite generously, so bear this in mind when trying or ordering them.  I also imagine I’ll be wearing them quite a bit when I’m not running too, as they also look great with ‘normal’ clothes! And I can’t wait to take them on my holidays to the Pyrenees in July. Steve is doing L’Etape du Tour, but I’m hoping to find lots of great mountain trails to fit in some Berlin Marathon training runs.

Happy trails…

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Running Away From The Comfort Zone

I meet a lot of people who tell me they’d like to start running but can’t – for various reasons. They’re mostly wrong, just lacking in confidence. So I asked lovely local lass Claire Streeton, who only took up running late last year, to write me a guest post about her running journey so far. As it turned out, a lot of it sounded very familiar from when I first started running! I hope it will inspire others to take the plunge.

 The memory is still etched in my head… going back to school for summer term and seeing those fresh white chalk lines circling the green field. Cue panic at the thought of having to spend the next few weeks of ‘attempting’ athletics during PE and consistently being picked last in teams. The one big fear though was the running, any running; it was not my thing at all. As the years whizzed past I still pushed the whole running malarkey out the way. I used to see runners (who never looked happy) and wondered why they did it. Then a combination of two babies and a pretty sedentary lifestyle resulted in the rising of the muffin belt and extra inches. I didn’t feel good emotionally or mentally. I was quite honestly a mess. Over the years I became a serial gym member. I shimmied with best of them in Zumba and kicked ass in body combat; but the weight and self-esteem issues continued. Any attempt at running usually involved a treadmill or a feeble jog for all of a minute before I got bored and breathless, jelly thighs wobbling, and returned home. My head was still resigned to the fact that I’m not a born runner, it’s not my thing, I am useless, blah blah blah.

Then, cue an unexpected house move away from the big city of York to a cottage in the Wolds countryside. Something changed, something shifted. The open spaces helped me to relax, and I knew deep down that if I wanted to tone up, get fit and lose weight, now was the time. Again, I never set my mind on running, even with the beautiful scenery and abundance of running routes on my doorstep, so a home exercise DVD was the start. I went straight for the big guns, we are talking INSANITY! Let’s just say the fit test alone nearly killed me, but I followed the plan every day for twelve weeks. I was supported by my husband and children, who sometimes did the DVD with me. It was the first time I had ever committed myself to exercise and I started to see results. I was getting fitter and losing inches; it was slow, but it was happening. I began to gain a mental clarity that I hadn’t had for a long time. It felt good. I felt proud – whoa, that was a new feeling!

One of my friends in the village had started running and asked if I wanted to join her. I chickened out; I was so fearful of looking like an idiot gasping for breath and not getting any further than the end of the road. She continued to ask and I continued to chicken out, but eventually last October I decided to try a run by myself; a dummy run, if you like, to prepare for a run with someone else. To my surprise my feet keep moving, my legs were working and my breathing was good. I actually managed to run 3K without stopping! Whoa Nelly, what happened there? Maybe it was a fluke. I tried again the next day and it happened again. I was actually able to run far enough to be comfortable to go running with someone else. I put this down to twelve weeks of increasing my fitness with Shaun T and Insanity.

So, the running with someone else turned out to be the best thing ever. Ruth was supportive yet helped me push myself at the same time. She is what I would call a proper ‘runner’; she is quick and makes it look effortless (unlike me). We ran together in rain, wind and ice, and it still felt good. The distances increased and the times got a little better. We had another friend join us too. Marcelle was also really supportive if we were running without Ruth. We enjoyed plenty of good conversation (whilst we could talk) and one day this turned to the subject of maybe signing up for a race. Panic stations! Race? What, me?! Nah… don’t think I could do that. We decided to wait another few weeks to make a decision.

One of Claire’s favourite running trails.

I hit a bit of a low point over Christmas when my running plateaued and I just couldn’t do it. I was struggling with my IBS and had no energy to run or push myself because of my diet. I did a little research and signed up for some kinesiology sessions to help. I needed to be better, I wanted to keep running. Who’d have thought it! After a few sessions the running slowly came back and I was able to get the distances in without struggling. We were currently hitting 7.5K at this point. We had some great routes to run, both on and off road and including hills. I decided that I love to run in the rain! I was able to join my husband for a run which was great, although he pushed me a little further than I liked! The conversation loomed again about the race. I really wanted to do it, but we were looking at going straight for 10K, no 5K practice. How on earth would I do a 10K? But we went for it and signed up. On Easter Sunday we would be running a 10K undulating course in Helmsley which had 2.5 miles of hill! I continued to panic over the next few weeks. How would I ever accomplish this? We upped the distances. We didn’t follow a plan, we just got out as often as we could, including rolling out of bed at 7am to go hill training and mixing it up with a bit of cycling. Never in a million years did I think I would be willing to do that! We completed our first 10K distance, then our second. I tried not to get hooked on times, I just wanted to complete them. I still refused to believe that I would make it round the ‘real’ course with other ‘proper runners’. I would soon find out.

I didn’t sleep the night before the race. I had stressed the whole day before about what to eat and what the weather would be like, praying it would be raining and not sunny; after all, I run a little better in the rain. Race day loomed and we arrived with families in tow. To say I was nervous is an understatement. I am in no way competitive, I have never had an inclination to race so why was I here? What if I cry at the end? I don’t want to cry! A few supportive words from my husband and Ruth and I was kind of OK. I decided I was going to achieve something that I never thought I would be able to… oh, yes and to get an Easter Egg and a mug for my effort!

Claire (left) at the Helmsley 10K.

 I was prepped for the race. I had uploaded all my music to help me run. I discovered over the past few months that if I have music to listen to (in one ear for safety) it stops my head getting in the way and making negative comments. I tried to visualise finishing, whether that was walking or running, and told myself it was OK if I had to walk. The weather was dry – a little windy, but actually was perfect to run in. Looking back on it now the race seems a bit of a blur. It felt almost surreal; I still question whether it was me who took part in it! The worst bit was the start, straight into ‘that hill’ – I honestly thought I would die! I can’t even begin to imagine what it would have been like if we hadn’t done any hill training. We got to the top and the track got better, off road terrain just like we were used to. I felt comfortable; slower than I wanted to be, but still moving. We hit 7K and my chest was hurting, but Ruth kept me going. 8K passed – not far to go! I imagine most people would be thrilled to see the markers and know they were almost home, but oh no, not me, I would rather not have seen the distances. The 1K sign was the worst –  only 1K left, but it was the hardest kilometre I’ve ever done. I wanted to give up, it was torture, my chest was hurting so much (later realised that I was suffering from exercise induced asthma) but Ruth kept me going, over the last hill and nearly home. I didn’t want to embarrass my family, I wanted my kids to be proud of their mum for finishing. I don’t think I was smiling when I finished, but I did! Our time was 1 hour 8 minutes; by no means fast, but I got my Easter egg, a mug and my first 10K under my belt.

 I spent the next week in meltdown. It sounds ridiculous, but I didn’t know how to deal with the accomplishment. I have never competed in anything before. Then I started to feel angry at myself for being so slow and not good enough, and resigned myself to not racing again, deciding that it wasn’t for me. I would keep running but nothing else. We had a 5K fun race looming, but that was fine; there was no pressure or serious runners at this, so all was OK. The Colour Me Rad 5K at Harewood House in Leeds was the complete opposite of Helmsley. Full of giggling, music, tutus, cool sunglasses and getting paint bombed – it was such a fun experience. But I realised that even though we didn’t have to get a personal best, we still ran and were easily able to run the distance. 5K used to be such a long way for me to think about running; now it’s our short run during the week. We will definitely do Colour Me Rad again!

Claire and friends at Colour Me Rad.

 So, here I am having completed my first 10K and 5K races, all in the space of six months. It just shows that it is possible for anyone. I have had wonderful support from my husband and friends; my husband especially knows how hard I have worked and how far I have come, and for that I am grateful. At this point you may be wondering if I want to increase my distance and sign up for a half marathon; the answer is no. I am more than happy to keep at my 10K distance. I didn’t think I would want to run another race, but now that my chest pain has been resolved and I am able to run better with the help of my inhaler it has made me want to push myself and get a better time. I have lost inches, toned up and a few pounds have disappeared, which is a bonus; but the strange thing is I am now more interested in the running than the weight loss. I feel so much healthier and more focused. It’s an ongoing lifestyle change and hard work, but I am not going back. I will keep moving forwards and maybe one day it will involve a half marathon, or a 50 minute 10K. We have even talked about an obstacle-style course like the Spartan Sprint or Tough Mudder, so watch this space!

 Claire’s Top Tips for Beginners

  • Run with others if you’re able to. It’s much more sociable and you can push each other (not literally!).
  • Get proper trainers and running clothes. I refused to put on Lycra running tights to start with, but it makes for a much more comfortable run.
  • Make sure you have rest days; recovery is important. I still feel guilty for having rest days, but I know I need them. Heck, sometimes I even have two rest days!
  • Whatever distance and time you run feel proud that you have accomplished something.
  • Eat well and healthily. Don’t scrimp on food portions, it won’t help.

Good luck with your running journey!

A runner!

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Team Shepherd for Children with Cancer UK

It’s a long time since I’ve done a run for charity, mainly because I discovered that you can only ask your friends for money so many times before they start to cross the road to avoid you! But as me and Himself are both now in the year of our half century we thought we should do something special to mark it – and make it worthwhile at the same time.

In July Steve will be taking on L’Étape du Tour, the amateur stage of the Tour de France. The 148km route incorporates two huge classic Tour climbs, the Col du Tourmalet and the Hautacam. I like cycling, but rather him than me on this occasion – I’ll be following in the camper van! In September I’ll be doing the Berlin Marathon, which is (happily) completely flat and probably the best shot I’ll ever get at a sub-4 attempt. We thought we’d like to combine our efforts for charity – but which one to choose?

 Our local paper, the York Press, has recently featured several stories like this one about young children who’ve sadly died after battling rare forms of cancer. Apparently around 3,600 children are diagnosed with cancer each year in the UK. This touched a chord, so we’ve decided to raise money for Children with Cancer UK, the leading national children’s charity dedicated to the fight against all childhood cancers. CwC aims to help find cures and provide care for young people suffering from cancer. Every year it invests millions of pounds in essential research, welfare and campaigning programmes to save young lives. We think it’s a really worthwhile cause.

 Steve’s already well into his training for the Étape, and my training programme for Berlin will begin properly on 9th June. The thought of raising money for Children with Cancer will definitely motivate Team Shepherd to do as well as we possibly can! You can find out more about CwC’s work and read some really inspiring stories about how they’ve helped sick children on their website. If you’d like to support us (and them) by making a donation you can do this on our Virgin Money Giving page.

Thanks for reading and watch this space for training updates!


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Race Report – Milton Keynes Marathon 2014

I wasn’t really supposed to be at the Milton Keynes Marathon. As some of you will know, I was meant to take part in Manchester in April, but succumbed to a nasty tummy bug the day before – the story of that nightmare is here. But after all my training I still wanted to do a spring marathon, and Milton Keynes seemed to fit the bill, being just four weeks after Manchester. I wasn’t really sure what to do to prepare in the month between the two events, but in the end settled for another two weeks of training followed by a two week taper.

Definitely not built for sun!

The bank holiday weather forecast was glorious, which made me a little apprehensive as I’ve never run a marathon in warm conditions before. We gingers tend to perform better in the cold! I did my best to keep well hydrated in the few days leading up to the event and applied plenty of sunscreen. The start of the race was a pleasantly chilled affair – a relief not to have the usual manic mass-start warm-up where they attempt to get people with cold muscles to do static stretching. I found the four hour pace man, and my plan was to stick with him for as long as I could and see what happened.

 The first few miles seemed quite fast for four hour pace, which should be 9:09. The pacer was a little ahead of me, but not getting any further away, yet the mile split times on my Garmin kept coming up at under nine minutes. I felt slightly uneasy when I remembered what had happened when I set off too fast at the Yorkshire Marathon (I got a stitch around mile 18), but felt OK so decided to stick with it. The sun was blazing down, but I didn’t feel overly hot and tried to drink as much as possible. We were certainly well provided for drinks-wise, with water every three miles and Gatorade Perform energy drink at three stations. There were also two High 5 gel stations at miles 12 and 18. I’d tested both of these in training and had also taken an SiS Go gel of my own at six miles.

I saw Steve at mile 8 and felt great. However, a couple of miles later my belly began to feel a bit odd – I’m not sure why. It’s something that’s never happened to me before and felt really uncomfortable. Perhaps it was the combination of all the different energy products! I started to slow down a bit and the four hour man began to recede from sight. I still thought he was going a bit fast though! “OK”, I thought, “I can only do my best now. Maybe I can still get a PB”. The next few miles were a bit tough, especially as the course was much more undulating than I’d expected; however, the scenery was lovely. Milton Keynes is a very green place, and the course took us through some beautiful parks and along off-road tracks and paths. Crowd support was fantastic in the second half, with people cheering us on and offering water, orange slices, jelly babies, flapjack and cooling hosepipes.

 When the sun went in for a while I began to feel a bit better and rallied slightly from about mile 20 onwards. I had to stop once to stretch a bit of cramp out of my calves towards the end, but otherwise felt OK. The final part of the race in the MK Dons stadium was fantastic! Running in through the tunnel and around the track to the finish was brilliant, with people in the stands clapping and shouting encouragement. It was almost worth going just for that – I felt like a proper athlete! In the end I was a couple of minutes outside my PB at 4:09, but still really enjoyed the event.

Sweaty and dishevelled but happy!

 I’d really recommend this marathon to anyone who isn’t a PB-chaser. For those who find road marathons boring, the course is more interesting than most, especially in the second half. Everything seemed really well organised, with efficient bag drop and changing facilities in the stadium – and plenty of toilets! Quite a nice bit of bling too, for those who like that sort of thing. My only very small gripe is that the four hour pacer finished in 3:55. Not that it mattered to me in the end, but it might have to some, especially on such a warm day. For anyone for whom time really matters I would say Manchester is the better course for a PB. But on the whole I had a great time – thank you Milton Keynes!

I’ll be taking things a bit easier running-wise and doing more cycling until mid-June, when I start training for the Berlin Marathon. Hopefully that one will be a bit cooler and flatter!

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Down But Not Out

So yesterday’s Manchester Marathon was my first DNS. Not a pleasant experience, but I guess it had to come at some point. I’m normally a very healthy person (touches wood) but on this occasion managed to succumb to a nasty stomach bug. To be ill at the exact time I had to run a marathon seemed like very bad luck! It was particularly annoying as I felt my training had gone well and I felt really positive. Just goes to show!


Sadly unused!

On Saturday morning I didn’t feel quite right – a bit achy, like when you’re about to get a bad cold. I tried to ignore it as I packed my race stuff, joked about the horrible weather forecast on Twitter and then set off for Manchester with my husband. Later in the afternoon I felt a bit more achy – and warm too – so I took some paracetamol before wandering over from my hotel to look at the race start; still trying to ignore it. Later when we went out for dinner I managed to eat my pasta OK. “I’ll be fine after a good night’s sleep” I thought. “I don’t do illness!”. I took some more paracetamol and went to bed.

The good night’s sleep didn’t exactly go to plan. I woke up at 1 am with a churning stomach and subsequently (sparing you the graphic details, gentle reader) spent most of the night in the hotel bathroom. There were periods when I felt horrendous and thought “There’s no way I can run tomorrow” and periods when I didn’t feel so bad and thought “Ah, it’s going away now, I’ll be OK after all”. Unfortunately these didn’t last long! When my (somewhat unnecessary) alarm eventually went off, after what seemed like one of the longest nights of my life, it was time to make the call. I was aching to my bones, alternating between boiling hot and freezing cold, and my stomach felt like someone was twisting a knife inside it. There was no way I could eat anything. I already know that running a marathon is hard enough when you’re fully fit and fuelled. Yesterday I felt like I could have barely made it to the end of the street, never mind round 26.2. Manchester was most definitely off!

I looked out of the bedroom window and, despite the awful forecast, it wasn’t even raining. I watched lots of other happy (and healthy!) runners making their way to the start, feeling very sorry for myself. Four months of training wasted, not to mention the expense of the race entry, travel and hotel! I was driven home with my tail very much between my legs. Later, on social media, I began to read what a great time everyone had had, which made me feel even worse; and the finisher’s t-shirt was even in my favourite colour, turquoise! People sent sympathetic texts and messages, but the best was from my lovely friend who’s an Ironwoman, saying that I should enter another marathon, and soon. “She’s right” I thought, “that’s exactly what I need to do!”.

Today when I woke up after a much better sleep I’d stopped aching and I didn’t have a temperature any more. My belly still feels like someone’s stabbing a giant fork into it from time to time and I still can’t eat proper food or move too far from the bathroom; but I’ve sure as hell found another marathon. Milton Keynes on 5th May here I come!

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Nutrition for Marathon Tapering and Race Day

Those spring marathons are really creeping up on us now aren’t they? This coming Sunday it’s Manchester (mine), Paris and Brighton, then the week after it’s the big one – London. Where did all that time go?!

So, we’re all tapering now. It’s a funny time, when you kind of feel you should still be training at full pelt but actually need to cut down and focus on recovery so you’re fresh for the big day. Nutrition plays a really important part in this, fuelling up the body for the challenge ahead. For the moment you should still be following the guidelines in my previous marathon nutrition post, maybe just cutting down a bit on the amounts you’ve been eating now you’re not burning as many calories. It’s certainly not a time for dieting though!

Y’know, stuff like this!

But what about the week leading up to race day? Here are a few foodie pointers.

  • Eat good, nutritious food in the week before the race – lean protein, good carbs, fruits and veggies. Just like a car, your body will perform much better on high grade fuel. Try to avoid alcohol and junk food – it will make a bigger difference than you might think.
  • Three days before the event start to fuel yourself up on good carbohydrates such as wholemeal pasta and bread, beans, pulses and brown or basmati rice. There’s no need to eat loads more than usual, just adjust the proportions of your meals to include more carbs and less protein. These carbs will provide your muscles with most of the energy they’ll be using as you run.
  • On Saturday, switch to simple carbohydrates. I would never normally recommend these, but this is a special case, as you may not have enough time to properly digest wholemeal stuff before the race. Eat carb-based meals and snacks today – pasta with tomato sauce is a favourite, but also consider rice, potatoes and bread, with maybe a little light protein such as chicken or fish. Avoid anything too fatty or fibrous, as these types of food could make you feel heavy or bloated for the run. Don’t have a massive evening meal, which may still be hanging around in your system on Sunday morning, but spread your intake throughout the day.
Buon appetito!
  •  On marathon morning you’ll need a breakfast that will provide you with some good energy but not take too long to digest. Different things work better for different bodies; hopefully you will have experimented in training. Many people favour white toast or porridge with something sweet on top like honey or jam. My personal favourite is porridge with maple syrup, as my system seems to digest oats much more quickly than wheat. Have breakfast at least two hours before the race so that it has time to leave your stomach before the start. About an hour before kick-off have a light snack such as a small banana or an energy bar.
  • Consider carrying some energy gels with you to take during the race. Your body will probably have used up most of its own energy stores after about an hour and a half, so supplementing with an energy product should prevent you from ‘bonking’ (running out of steam) by giving you a boost. If you are going to use gels it’s really important to make sure you test them out before race day just in case they don’t agree with you. On my recent long runs I’ve been using Clif products, which they give out at Manchester, and they’re pretty good.

  • Hydration is obviously very important, especially if the weather is going to be warm. In the week before the race make sure you drink plenty of water. There is no set correct amount, as everyone’s body is different, but try to keep it at a level where your wee is a very pale straw colour, almost clear. Don’t overdo it on the morning of the race! The best way to avoid having to go for a wee en route is to have a big drink of water as soon as you wake up, then don’t drink any more until just before the start. You then have time to go to the loo and get rid of any excess before you set off, and the drink you have just before the gun will be sweated out, hopefully avoiding the need for loo stops!

I hope everyone enjoys their taper; but if course it is difficult not to feel/lazy/nervous/germ-phobic at various times! Please feel free to share any of your race day nutrition tips with me, I’d love to hear them.

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Greater Manchester Marathon Training 2014

I’ve been so busy recently I haven’t had time to blog for ages *guilty face*, but just thought I’d share a few thoughts about how training has been going for the Greater Manchester Marathon. It’s on 6th April, so exactly a month away – eek!

Some of you will know how frustrated I was after I took part in this event last year. It was my first marathon and I was going quite well until I reached mile 24 and got cramp in my calves! People said to me that 4:07 was a great time for a first attempt at my age(!). Initially I was pretty pleased just to have completed an actual marathon, but I soon started thinking about how I could avoid the dreaded cramp in future and maybe get closer to four hours.


Manchester 2013 euphoria!

Then a few months ago a massage therapist I visited suggested I might have an imbalance of calcium and magnesium – i.e. too much of the former and not enough of the latter. Apparently calcium makes the muscles tense up and magnesium makes them relax, so too much calcium and not enough magnesium can cause cramp. I read up a bit on this and began to see the sense in it, so have been taking a magnesium supplement since I started this current cycle of marathon training to see what happens. I guess I won’t know if it’s worked until race day, but obviously magnesium is also good for muscle recovery in general anyway.

 I’ve also worked on strengthening my legs more this time. My favourite way to do this is by attending a weekly flow (or vinyasa) yoga session at York Yoga Studio. Anyone who thinks yoga is all about lying down, breathing and chanting should give one of these classes a go – they are hard work! Poses are put together in sequences and synchronised with the breath, really raising the heart rate whilst stretching and strengthening. It’s brilliant core work too, which is really important for running. My arms often feel like jelly by the end, but it’s well worth it and good fun too.

A class at York Yoga Studio

The running part of my schedule has been going pretty well so far, fingers crossed. I’m following the Women’s Running improver’s plan again, and my six weeks running up to the marathon look like this:

As you can see, I did a half marathon (of my own devising, not an official one) last Sunday, which was supposed to be at PB pace. It was far too windy to get a PB, but at 1:56 it was actually quicker than my time at the Brass Monkey in January – which was both pleasing and annoying at the same time! Usually after a race I would rest for a few days, but there’s no respite during Monster Month, so I did a threshold session today and I must admit my calves now feel a bit mashed. And of course there are the two longest runs scheduled for the next two Sundays, so it will be interesting to see how it all goes. At least it’s a good excuse to eat carbs on a Saturday night! I’m a big fan of doing a bit of cycling to recover from long runs, it seems to work well for my legs.

 I would really love to squeak in at just under four hours at Manchester, because that would be a Good For Age time for me and I’d love to get into the London Marathon – I’ve tried via the ballot for a few years now with no luck so far. Hope everyone else’s spring marathon training is going well – I’d love to hear how you’re getting on.


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Race Review – York Brass Monkey Half Marathon 2014

I’ll be honest – the thought of entering the Brass Monkey scared me a bit. All the races I’ve done so far have been big ‘mass participation’ events where I could hide away, trotting invisibly at my own pace. But the Monkey is a proper club event, organised by York Knavesmire Harriers and featuring lots of serious runners – you know, the sort of people who are fast enough to wear shorts and vest even in the depths of winter! And because it’s held at a time of year when there isn’t much else going on it’s always oversubscribed. But it seems daft to pass up the opportunity of taking part in such a great event that’s right on my doorstep. Getting onto the entry system and securing a place is a feat of endurance in itself, however, also involving a certain amount of luck. I actually entered for the first time last year (having first checked the 2012 results to make sure the organisers probably wouldn’t have packed up and gone home before I’d finished) but unfortunately the event was called off due to icy weather.

Starting line chic

 Race day morning dawned… miserable! This was a bit of a surprise as the forecast had been great. A steady rain had been falling in York all night, so bin bags and massive puddles were the order of the day on the starting line, but at least spirits didn’t seem dampened as we set off. Apart from a couple of short inclines the route is as flat as billed, and there seemed to be hardly any wind. The rain stopped after a while – hard to say exactly where as the first few mile markers were way out – and conditions were great. I wondered whether a PB could be on the cards. My race preparation hadn’t been ideal; I had a nasty cold over the Christmas holidays, and although I managed to get in all my longer Sunday runs I’d had to miss a few threshold sessions, but I felt OK. Steve and Milly were waiting to cheer me on in Appleton Roebuck, just after the halfway point, and it was good to have an opportunity to dump my cap and gloves.

Rain? What rain?!

However, for some reason I only managed to pull off a rather mediocre time of 1:58, some five minutes off my PB set at last year’s Great North Run. I can’t really explain why. Maybe I’m still not back to full strength – or maybe I’m just making excuses! I don’t know. A Monkey friend who was also disappointed with his time told me it wasn’t a good time of year to get a PB – maybe we’re still too full of mince pies! It would have been a great time for the first half of a sub-4 marathon – but could I have kept it up for four hours? Again, I don’t know. What I do know is I need to knuckle down for the Manchester Marathon, which is now creeping up fast!

(Mediocre) job done!

 On a practical note, the Brass Monkey is a great event. It starts and finishes at York Racecourse (also the venue for this summer’s Tour de France départ) and there’s plenty of free parking. With efficient bag drop, minimal toilet queues and brilliant support from the Knavesmire members/marshals, I would definitely do it again and recommend it to others. I loved the finisher’s t-shirt, a hi-vis long-sleeved top that is actually a pretty good fit for once! I’m now actually considering joining Knavesmire Harriers so I can do their summer 10K race series, which I think would be good training for the Berlin Marathon in September. Watch this space!

Not sure who’s more knackered here, me or him!


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Christmas Eating – A Guilty Pleasure?

Eating and guilt seem to be permanently intertwined in our culture these days, and never more so than at Christmas. It starts in the autumn with Little Black Dress Diets (the winter version of the dreaded summer Bikini Diets), then in December it moves on to making people feel bad about eating festive food. The latest thing seems to be exercising like a maniac every time you have a mince pie in order to ‘work it off’. Enough already!

 To remove the guilt from Christmas eating, let’s take it back to basics. In days of yore, when Christmas was more about Christ than consumerism, 25th December was still a feast; but it’s important to remember that back then most people didn’t pig out for the other 364 days of the year. There were no takeaways or ready meals. The folk of yesteryear ate natural, seasonal, unprocessed food, had the occasional sugary treat on high days or holidays and for the most part didn’t drink themselves stupid at regular intervals. And – importantly – they didn’t own cars so walked a lot. In other words, they deserved a feast once in a while! But these days some people feast all year round and go everywhere by car.


Now I’m not necessarily saying we should all adopt the diet or lifestyle our ancestors had hundreds of years ago (although it would probably do us no harm). The point I’m making is that it’s fine to have a bit of a blowout at Christmas if you’re pretty healthy the rest of the time, i.e. eating good, healthy food most days, exercising regularly and having the occasional treat. If you do that you won’t need to go on a diet to fit into your LBD and shouldn’t feel bad about having a bit of Christmas pudding. Eat and enjoy all those lovely festive foodie treats without guilt! A turkey dinner is actually a pretty healthy meal. Sure, you might put on a couple of pounds over the holidays, but it will soon come off in January when you return to your normal habits. And if healthy eating and exercise aren’t your normal habits, make them your new ones!

My mother-in-law makes the best pastry in the world, so there’s no way I’m going through Christmas without a few of her mince pies. I know her pastry is so fab because she uses lard, but IT’S ONLY ONCE A YEAR. I also buy a really good quality locally-made Voakes pork pie as a Christmas treat too. Yes, pork pie – so shoot me! However, I do also try to make a few gestures towards health to try and offset some of the overindulgence. You might like to take them on board too if you’re being made to feel guilty. 

  • Keep exercising! There’s no reason not to, especially as you’ll probably have more free time than usual. You’ll feel loads better for a bit of fresh air after days of sitting in overheated rooms stuffing yourself like the proverbial turkey. I’ll keep running because I’m training for a half marathon in mid-January. This focuses the mind a bit when the After Eights come out.
  • Don’t buy those giant tubs of poor quality chocolates, they just lead to mindless chomping of empty calories. Someone will probably buy you some chocolates for Christmas anyway. I ask family members to give me dark chocolate, medjool dates (which I love as much as choccie) or Jelly Babies (i.e. running fuel) if they want to buy me edible treats.
  • Instead of a bucket of Quality Street, get some nuts and satsumas in and put them out on display to encourage healthy grazing. They’re traditionally Christmassy and offer some nutritional value amongst all the sugary rubbish.
  • You don’t have to get drunk every single night of the holidays. Step away from the Bailey’s and have a couple of days off at least to give your liver a break.
  • If you’re off to a party have something healthy to eat before you go. Buffet food is often just a sea of pastry, batter and bad meat – having a lining on your stomach will mean you eat less of it.

     Most of all enjoy yourself without guilt. And remember that having a few treats doesn’t mean you have to give up on healthy eating completely for the whole of the Christmas holidays – it’s all about balance. Food is a great pleasure that’s always best when shared with family and friends and there’s no better time to do that than Christmas.



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Race Review – Leeds Abbey Dash 10K 2013

I’ll start this review with the caveat that no proper training was done in the run-up to this race! The Leeds Abbey Dash was the first event I’d done since the Yorkshire Marathon in October. In the four weeks following the marathon I’d had some ‘recovery’ time, just doing two or three short-ish runs each week. It’s amazing how easy four or five miles feels after marathon training, really enjoyable! Then the Sunday before the Dash I thought I’d better remind my legs what 6.2 miles feels like, although not very quickly. So that was my race preparation! I set my 10K PB of 51:17 at the Abbey Dash last year, but hadn’t done an autumn marathon then, so wasn’t stressing about the fact that it probably wouldn’t be improved this year. My younger (and faster) brother Mike was also taking part, having done lots of cycling over the summer but not much running.

The race start arrangements had been changed this year to accommodate more runners – around 10,000 as it turned out! Instead of setting off on The Headrow next to the Town Hall as previously, runners were penned according to predicted finishing time in a car park before (theoretically) being set off in waves to the start on Wellington Street a short distance away. This was a good idea, but didn’t really work well in practice. The Elites and sub-45s set off from their pens, but nobody bothered to close them off afterwards, so all manner of random people jumped in behind, with the result that the different abilities became all mixed up. A couple of extra marshals would have come in handy there. We couldn’t hear the official start from where we were being held, so it was a case of start jogging, go round a corner and oh, there’s the starting line! Bit of an anticlimax, but at least runner traffic was flowing fairly freely.

Setting off I felt pretty good – better than last year in fact, when I felt a bit sluggish for the first couple of miles. For those not familiar with the event, it’s basically an out-and-back course from Leeds along Kirkstall Road to Kirkstall Abbey. Not the most scenic of courses, but billed as fast, flat and perfect for a PB. However, there are definite undulations, especially on the approach to the abbey itself, but nothing too troublesome. The repositioning of the start meant that this year there was a new loop around the Cardigan Fields leisure complex, complete with sneaky speed bumps that almost caught out a few people! Support along the route is sporadic, possibly due to the early start. There was one water point at halfway, although I didn’t stop there as I was well hydrated to start with. Some runners were clearly not very well up on race etiquette, chucking their empty plastic cups all over the road for others to slip on – a word to the wise on this subject in next year’s race instructions might be useful!

As expected, this wasn’t to be a PB day for me, and I came home in a very mediocre time of 54:07, just a few seconds faster than my time at the York 10K in August. Mike came home in a much more respectable 44:27. I think I might actually benefit from doing more of a proper running warm-up before a 10K race rather than just a few stretches, as it sometimes seems to take me a couple of miles to get into my stride. Something to bear in mind for next time! The steep-ish flyover just before the final approach to the finish line, which also features in the Leeds Half, is always a bit unwelcome. As I was going up there I passed a guy in a wheelchair who was really struggling. I was so tempted to stop and give him a push, but thought that would probably get him disqualified, so hoped a few words of encouragement would help instead. What a great effort.

All in all the Abbey Dash is a really good event. It’s well-organised, there’s always plenty of parking in Leeds and enough portaloos so that you don’t have to queue for more than a few minutes. And now it’s also part of the Runbritain Grand Prix series there are some really top-level runners in the field. Driving into Leeds we were listening to Radio Aire for race news, and I became increasingly annoyed at their describing the event as a ‘fun run’. As far as I could see everyone taking part was striving to do their absolute best at whatever level, and the winners’ times of around half an hour are certainly seriously good results!

 Next up on my schedule is the Brass Monkey Half Marathon here in York on 19th January – something that will (hopefully) keep my mince pie consumption to a minimum over the festive period. If only my mum-in-law wasn’t so good at making pastry this would be a lot easier!


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