I haven’t written much about running for a while – the main reason being I haven’t done much running for a while! Since the Calderdale Ultra in June I’ve been injured and, although I tried to struggle on for a while, it soon became obvious that my body wasn’t going to allow that.
I’ve seen three different physios during the past six months. The general consensus was that I had a problem with my upper hamstring tendon, but they all suggested very different ways of treating it. The first encouraged me to keep running (I was attempting to train for the York Marathon at the time), whilst giving me massage treatment and getting me to do hamstring strengthening exercises. After a particularly miserable 16 mile run I decided that wasn’t working for me. The second physio had me taking a month’s break from running whilst manipulating the injured area, but after several weeks I felt no better. Then I saw Martin Higgins of ProSport Physiotherapy, who has an entirely different approach to things. He specialises in a technique called Postural Restoration, and after testing my range of motion (and thankfully not judging me when I couldn’t touch my toes!) said that the root of the problem was that my pelvis was misaligned, so one side of my body was basically doing all the work. Also, most of my running shoes weren’t giving me enough arch support, which was exacerbating the problem. After stopping running in my Brooks Adrenaline and using only my lighter, more supportive Brooks Pure Cadence, I’ve felt barely any discomfort during runs. I can still sense some tension in my right hamstring, but the difference is amazing. There were times over the last few months when I thought I might never run properly again, but now I can see light at the end of the tunnel.
Not being able to run was miserable and I’m sure that at times I haven’t been much fun to live with! I’ve tried to keep up some aerobic fitness with turbo training on the bike, but it’s not the same. I actually didn’t realise how much I loved running until I couldn’t do it. Plus I’ve had to miss several events I’d hoped to do over the last few months; apart from the York Marathon there was the Yorkshire Wolds Half, the Princess Ultra and the Leeds Abbey Dash. I did take part in the York 10K in August, but was really just jogging round to make up the numbers. I was particularly worried because I’d already entered the Paris Marathon next spring, and had also got my Good For Age place for London, but was starting to think I wouldn’t be able to do them. Now, thanks to Martin, I’ve started to train for them at last, but am being cautious and following a beginner’s programme for now. I’m so happy just to be back running and am now looking forward to the Brass Monkey Half Marathon on 17th January, even if I’ll still be a long way off full fitness. If that goes OK I hope to be able to do the Harewood House trail half marathon in February. I’m being careful not to get too carried away and count my chickens just yet, but am at last feeling cautiously optimistic.
Being able to run again is the best Christmas present I could have hoped for. I wish you all a very happy Christmas and a healthy new year, and hope all your running dreams come true in 2016 xx
Yes, it’s that time of year again… although I’m not going to mention the C word! We all know that’s coming soon, but what really interests me is the run-up to the festive season. Everyone talks about the massive consumption of food and drink at this time, but I actually think the excess starts long before the big day. The works lunches, the mince pies, the tubs of choccies in the office – and of course, the alcohol. There aren’t many of us who aren’t presented with numerous opportunities to drink more than is strictly good for us at this time of year – and sometimes, in the face of peer pressure, it seems more socially acceptable to indulge than to abstain. Nobody wants to be branded a party pooper!
The amount of alcohol people drink was highlighted to me and several of my colleagues when we attended a training recently on Alcohol Brief Interventions (or ABIs). The idea of this was that if we come into contact with members of the public that we suspect are drinking alcohol at ‘hazardous’ levels, we’ll know how to broach this appropriately and signpost them to help. Not exactly easy, but doable in the right way. What really shocked me was learning about the amount that many people apparently drink and the harm this is doing to both themselves and society in terms of crime and the strain alcohol-related illness places on the NHS. Levels of liver disease have rocketed in recent years. I used to think the type of person who gets liver disease is someone who can’t get out of bed in the morning without swigging vodka straight from the bottle, but it can actually happen with a much lower level of drinking over a sustained period of time. And, despite what we see on the telly, those who are drinking the most aren’t young people out on the lash, but middle-class affluent sorts who most nights of the week might have a G&T ‘to relax’ when they get in from work and then a bottle of wine with dinner.
The amount you drink can easily be at a harmful level without you even realising it. The recommended daily allowances are pretty small really; 2-3 units per day for women and 3-4 for men. That’s official units, not individual drinks of the size you might pour yourself at home! A large glass of wine (250 ml) has a staggering three units. And saving up your weekly units for a binge on Saturday night isn’t good for you at all. If you think you might be drinking more than you should, check out the Change 4 Life website, where there’s some really useful information, including a helpful (and possibly eye-opening) booklet called Don’t Let Drink Sneak Up On You. It also gives advice on how to relax without resorting to drink, which might help the many people who say they drink alcohol to relieve stress. The Drink Aware website is also a great resource and features the fascinating (and somewhat enlightening) alcohol unit and calorie calculator, as well as an app that allows you to track your drinking.
I’m not a Christmas killjoy. Aargh – I said the C word! I like a glass of wine (Pinot Noir if you’re buying) as much as anyone – and we all overdo it a bit from time to time over the extended break from work. But if you keep an eye on your drinking levels for the rest of the year and you’ll really be doing yourself a favour. You wouldn’t want me staging an intervention, now would you?!
It’s not often I write about things I’m doing in the course of my work on the public health team at City of York Council (maybe I should?), but I just wanted to tell you about a project I’ve been helping with recently.
Launched this week, Breathe 2025 is an initiative supported by Public Health England and various local authorities with the ambitious aim of creating a smokefree future for the next generation of children in Yorkshire and the Humber. The idea is that in ten years’ time smoking will be unusual, and hopefully a thing of the past for young people.
Breathe 2025 is asking people and organisations to show their support by going to the campaign website or Facebook page and signing up to one or more simple, practical actions. This could be pledging to watch and share the Breathe 2025 video, or promising to display a Breathe 2025 poster. There are a range of simple actions to choose from, as individuals or on behalf of an organisation such as a school, GP or local business.
Smoking is still the greatest single cause of early death, killing around 100,000 people in the UK each year – an astonishing figure! And of course, the strain this puts on the NHS is huge. As most people start to smoke before the age of 18, it’s vital to target potential smokers at an early age, before they take it up and it becomes a habit. Although Yorkshire and the Humber has the highest adult smoking prevalence in England (20.1% compared to an England average of 18%), the good news is that only one in eight 15-year-olds smoke and the proportion of young smokers is dropping. Within the next decade there could even be a generation of children that don’t smoke. How amazing would that be?
I think Breathe 2025 is a great idea and am happy to be supporting it. You can do the same by visiting its website.
A special Christmas edition of Foodies Festival, the UK’s Biggest Celebration of Food and Drink, is coming to Harrogate on the 11th-13th December, and the organisers have kindly given me two pairs of tickets to give away!
The big draw at this year’s event is Great British Bake Off winner Nadiya, who will be joined in the Chefs Theatre by acclaimed chefs from all over the UK, including local Masterchef finalist Sara Danesin Medio. They will be sharing their favourite recipes and top tips to help visitors create the perfect Christmas banquet.
Other highlights of the festival include:
It’s the perfect place to get in the mood for some festive food – there’s even a Champagne Ski Bar where parents can enjoy a chilled glass of bubbly as the kids take part in their own Elf Cookery School! I’m hoping to make it along there myself to pick up some festive treats. There’s more information on the show here.
To be in with a chance of winning a pair of tickets, just retweet any of the tweets mentioning the competition. A winner will be picked on the evening of Monday 23rd November.
Because I’m a runner people often ask my husband Steve why he doesn’t run too. The truth is he’d love to do some running, but is unable to because he has a dodgy ankle. He can cycle til the cows come home – and indeed recently did that quite literally by riding a 178 mile coast to coast route in a single day – but the impact of running on the legs means it’s not really an option for him. He has a problem with the cartilage in his ankle, and despite having had an operation on it a few years ago, which improved the situation slightly, it still gives him grief if he runs or even walks too much. So when the folks at Flexiseq contacted me to ask if I’d like to review a new product that claimed to help with wear and tear on the joints Steve seemed like the perfect guinea pig.
Specifically aimed at athletes, Flexiseq Sport is a product that claims to treat the cartilage in joints and relieve the discomfort caused by wear and tear or injury, improving impaired joint function. It’s applied topically, targeting the affected area directly, rather than simply masking the problem as oral pain relief does. This obviously also avoids the gastro-intestinal issues that some people face when they take strong pain killers. Here’s the science bit: Flexiseq contains tiny lipid phosphospheres called Sequessome vessicles. These are small enough to pass through the skin and into the joint, where they lubricate the cartilage, allegedly reducing friction, stiffness and pain. It’s supposed to be particularly good for osteoarthritis. You can read a lot more about exactly how Flexiseq works here. People generally see an improvement after a couple of days, and the difference is said to be comparable to certain oral pain killers.
So, how did the guinea pig fare? Steve’s now been on the Flexiseq for a couple of months, applying it first thing in the morning and last thing at night, and has found it very easy to use; it just takes a few minutes to dry completely before you can cover it with clothes or bedding. Although it hasn’t taken away his problem completely, Steve has definitely seen some improvement over time, feeling less pain in general – although he does still have better and worse days. I should say that Flexiseq isn’t cheap to buy – a 100ml tube is currently on offer at Treatments Direct for £29.99 – and you do have to keep using it to maintain the benefits, but I daresay if it helps you and you don’t fancy the idea of living on pain killers it’s worth splashing out on. Steve’s keen to keep using it, and coming from a Yorkshireman that should tell you something about its value!
For more information on Flexiseq, including testimonials from athletes, visit their website.
I should point out I was not paid to write this blog post or endorse the product.
Foodies Festival, the UK’s Biggest Celebration of Food and Drink, is coming to Harrogate on the 21st, 22nd and 23rd August, and I have two tickets to give away!
The festival celebrates Yorkshire produce and transforms Ripley Castle into a foodie heaven with a feast of Michelin-star and celebrity chefs, award winning artisan producers, food and drink masterclasses and more street food than you can shake a satay stick at! From experienced gourmands to amateur home cooks, there’s something to tantalise everyone’s taste buds.
Highlights of the festival include a Wine and Champagne Theatre, a Tasting Theatre, Street Food Avenue, Cake & Bake Theatre and an Artisan Producers Market.
The Aga Rangemaster Chefs Theatre will feature celebrity and regional chefs including Rosemary Schrager, Lionel Strub and Sara Danesin Medio, who will cook their favourite summer recipes. After a day of feasting and fun, foodies can relax with live music from the Entertainment Stage and perhaps a glass of bubbly or refreshing cocktail from the Giant Pimm’s Teapot or Captain Morgan Mojito Galleon.
To be in with a chance of winning the tickets, just leave a comment below telling me what is your favourite Yorkshire food or drink and why. I’ll choose the best on the evening of Wednesday 19th August.
I love breakfast. It might even be my favourite meal of the day. I love it so much I sometimes have two breakfasts when marathon training is at its peak! But I’m not a big fan of breakfast cereals, mainly because they generally aren’t very healthy. I like porridge and muesli (with Greek yoghurt), especially as you can always ‘pimp’ those to make them more nutritious, but most cereals are made from highly refined carbs and contain added sugar; sometimes, unbelievably, more than 30%. Not only does this give them a very high glycaemic index (GI), but they don’t keep you satisfied for very long. I once checked in my local supermarket to see which cereals didn’t have any added sugar, and it pretty much came down to Shredded Wheat. So when I was offered the chance to test a new breakfast cereal claiming to be much healthier than the norm I was very interested to try it. Apparently two years of research has gone into the development of new Keep Me Going from Freedom Cereals. Its aim is to be a wholegrain cereal with a low GI plus added health benefits that actually tastes good!
You certainly can’t argue with the health credentials of Keep Me Going. It’s composed mainly of whole grain barley, oat flour and rye, so is wheat-free (for those who are concerned about that sort of thing). It also has added vitamins and minerals, including chromium (which helps to balance blood sugar), magnesium and biotin. I was particularly pleased to see the magnesium content, as many people are deficient in this important mineral, which can cause fatigue. I usually take a magnesium supplement myself when I’m marathon training. Even the salt used in it is a special low-sodium sea salt. Yes, it does contain some sugar, but far less than most cereals, and this is probably offset to some extent by its low GI of 50 (compared, for example, to a GI of 82 for cornflakes). If a food has a low GI it releases its energy more slowly, so keeps you satisfied for longer. Out of interest, here’s how Keep Me Going compares nutritionally to some other popular cereals.
There’s lots more information here on the Keep Me Going website if you want to explore this further. Here’s what it looks like out of the pack.
But what does it taste like? Actually it’s surprisingly tasty in a malty sort of way. The texture is quite crunchy, but not too hard. I liked it. And does it really keep you going? I tested it by having it for breakfast on a morning when I knew I’d be really busy and probably wouldn’t get a chance to have elevenses, and it was probably about four hours before I began to feel peckish again. I wouldn’t say it kept me as full as, say, muesli and Greek yoghurt, but it certainly contains a lot less fat than that. If you’re trying to moderate your fat intake it’s probably a decent option for breakfast.
A lot of people seem to give their kids cereal for breakfast – probably because it’s quick and easy on a school morning – and the manufacturers of Keep Me Going have gone to some trouble to try and make the product appeal to children. Each pack contains some trading cards that can be used to play a Top Trumps type of game based on countries of the world, and you can go onto the Keep Me Going website to download a world map and mark the countries you’ve collected. There’s also a secret code cracking game to play.
I wouldn’t say Keep Me Going is a cereal children would choose for themselves, but if you’re the sort of family that already eats quite healthily I’d say they’d probably enjoy it. Weaning kids off the likes of Coco Pops or Frosties might be more of a challenge!
At the moment Keep Me Going is available via Ocado, priced at £2.65 for a 375g pack. Not cheap, but it is made with top quality ingredients. Apparently there’s a high protein version called Keep Me Strong in the pipeline, so it will be interesting to see how that turns out.
Does anyone else have any thoughts on breakfast cereals? What are your favourites and why? I’d be interested to know.
Being able to do what we usually do is something we probably all take for granted until we’re unable to do it. I’ve been running for six years now, and in all that time I’ve never had any problems doing it. But recently a couple of things have happened to interrupt my running. Nothing major, but enough to disturb my training, making me frustrated and annoyed.
After the Calderdale Ultra I went on holiday to Cyprus and didn’t run for about two weeks. I thought a rest would be good for recovery and I’d just pick things back up afterwards. When I got back it was 16 weeks until the Yorkshire Marathon, so I decided to restart the Asics Sub 4 plan that had served me so well at Manchester. But on my first post-holiday run I felt a tweaking in my right buttock. It didn’t get any better as the run went on, and I could feel it with every step. I thought I was just a bit rusty, massaged it and carried on as normal, but it didn’t go away. I saw my sports therapist, Colin at Muscle Management, and he suggested it could be either a hamstring insertion or piriformis problem. Frankly I didn’t like the sound of either of those, especially when someone at my yoga class told me it had taken her a year to get over a hamstring insertion problem!
In the meantime I’d been called up by York Hospital to go and have a wisdom tooth removed. I’d been on the waiting list for a while, so it shouldn’t have been a surprise, but it was quite short notice when the appointment came. Anyway, I thought it would be good to go and get it over with. I was a bit apprehensive about the general anaesthetic and had no real idea how it would affect me, but it had to be done! In the end it wasn’t bad at all. A couple of days later I attempted to go for a gentle trot, but felt a bit dizzy after about a minute, so thought I’d better return home rather than risk faceplanting on the pavement! About a week after I’d had my tooth out I found I’d picked up an ear infection somewhere, for which I was prescribed antibiotics – another setback! Because of all this I had to miss the Yorkshire Wolds Half Marathon last week, which I’d really been looking forward to. I was gutted when I saw the souvenir mug, which was turquoise – my favourite colour!
So my marathon training has been pretty much derailed for the last couple of weeks, and I feel like I’m losing a little bit of fitness every day. It’s missing the speed work that’s bugging me the most, as the York 10K is coming up on 2nd August, and I always like to have a good crack at that, even though it isn’t a great course for a PB. I certainly won’t be breaking any records this year! I hope that if I’m sensible about recovery I can get back to proper marathon training soon, but I’m also thinking of the bigger picture – I have Paris and London marathons to look forward to next spring, and I certainly don’t want to jeopardise those. I’d also really love to do a longer ultra next summer – perhaps 100K – and a couple of shorter ones along the way. I’ve been inspired by reading people’s accounts of the Race to the Stones this month, and am thinking of entering – all being well. And I do fancy the Hardmoors Princess Challenge in September! I think I’ll possibly just be doing the York Marathon for fun in October, but don’t feel too bad about that now I have my Good For Age qualification.
So that’s where I am for now. If anyone has any tips for dealing with the frustration of not being able to run properly I’d love to hear them. Me, I’m off to stretch my piriformis – again!
Last Saturday was a big day for me – I ran further than 26.2 miles for the first time, so am no longer an ultra virgin! I did this at the Calderdale Way Ultra. It took me a while to decide which ultra to enter as my first. I eventually settled on Calderdale because it’s not too far away from home and, at 28.5 miles, the short version is billed as ‘a great introduction for runners looking to make the step-up into running and competing in ultra-marathons’. Spot on! I knew the course would be very hilly, so after completing the Manchester marathon in April I tried to do a bit more hill work. We aren’t exactly over blessed with hills in York, but I did some hill rep sessions at Holgate Windmill and also took part in the Ravenscar Coastal Half Marathon about a month ago to get in some practice. Probably not enough to prepare me properly for the inclines of Calderdale, but the best I could do under the circumstances! As the day approached I realised that the thing that was worrying me most was not so much the distance or the profile of the course, but navigation and the possibility of getting lost. Still, nothing ventured… I like to get out of my comfort zone now and again!
You can view the route map here.
The long version of this event (50.5 miles) is a circular route starting and finishing in Todmorden, beginning at 6am. For the short version you sign on at Todmorden, then decamp to the village of Shelf, which is about halfway along the course, to set off at 12:15pm and finish back in Todmorden. A bus service from Todmorden to Shelf is provided for those who need it. Around 30 of us lined up at the start. I thought there would be more – I don’t really know why! I believe there were about 48 entrants in the long version, but by this point they were almost all in front of we ‘short’ runners. Weather conditions were dry, but there was a really strong wind blowing. A friend who lives in Shelf came to see me off and warned that there would be quite a wind chill on the tops of the hills. After a short race briefing we were away bang on time. Aware of my rookie status, I started at the back, not wanting to get in the way of other runners, who mostly looked like hardcore trail folk! After a mile or so I settled into a group of half a dozen or so people all running at around the same pace. It was nice to have some company.
The first section of the course is a good warm up, with some downhill and gentle undulations; but after a while there are some BIG hills! It’s certainly not an event for the faint-hearted. The first checkpoint is at around eight miles, and it was well stocked with sweet and savoury snacks, Coke and water. I filled my bottle, ate some flapjack and took a couple of Jaffa Cakes for the road. I saw a guy who’d been leading our little group using a map setting off fairly quickly, so I decided to leave too and stick with him for as long as I could to minimise my chances of getting lost! Of course I had a map with me, but to read it I would have had to get out my reading glasses too, which I can’t run in, so this just seemed like an easier option. This lovely man, who I later discovered was called Paul Feasey, was an Absolutely Top Bloke who assured me he didn’t mind me tagging along with him and actually quite liked navigating as it gave him something to think about along the way. Last week I read somewhere that your aim for your first ultra should just be to enjoy it, and I must say if I hadn’t found Paul on Saturday my race wouldn’t have been half as enjoyable as it was. With only 30 folk in the field we were very spread out, and it could have been a very lonely day – but perhaps that’s just part of ultra running?
After some long climbing and welcome descending we arrived at the second checkpoint at just over 14 miles. I must admit I was feeling a bit tired already by this point. We’d had a cross wind to start with, but now it was hitting us full on, and it was hard work to move against it! Obviously we’d done some walking on the steep bits, but at times even that was tough. Moving in a predominantly westerly direction, the wind would be against us all the way to the finish. However, it’s amazing what a difference a couple of minutes’ rest with some Jaffa Cakes and flat Coke can do to revive you! It was brilliant to have Paul for company, chatting on the hard bits where we had to walk and trotting along in silence where the terrain and wind allowed. Paul had done around 30 ultras, so it was great to benefit from his experience and interesting to note that he considered this one quite hard. Just after halfway it started to rain, and continued to do so on and off until the finish. I was really glad of my jacket; as my friend had warmed, it was indeed quite chilly up on the moors in the wind and rain.
I actually felt a bit better as time went on. After the third checkpoint at 21 miles the finish seemed quite close, even though we weren’t actually moving that quickly due to the energy-sapping wind! My fastest mile split time for the day was 9:30 and the slowest was over 18 minutes, which tells a tale in itself! The course plays a cruel trick near the end, taking you into Todmorden and then out again, up and down a massive hill that’s a bit like a fell run – harsh on tired legs! But at least you know you’re nearly there at this point. I thought I’d finish in about six hours, but in the end it was 6:39. I’m sure we’d have cracked six hours without that wind though! Boy, was I pleased to be back. However, I did enjoy it, which was the aim and – as a bonus – I wasn’t last! In the end I was 20th out of 25 finishers, less than an hour behind the winning lady and the only V50 woman to finish – I’m happy with that for this particular event! As another bonus, I got a t-shirt that is actually girl-sized, rather than just a men’s small.
So, was the Calderdale Way a good introduction to ultra running? I’d say it was more a baptism of fire! If you’re considering it then make sure you a) do lots of hill training and b) are good with a map. There are parts of the route that aren’t particularly well marked, especially through towns, and you will need to orientate yourself – unless, like me, you’re lucky enough to be with a Paul, but you can’t really rely on that. I am so thankful to Paul for all his help and encouragement, and would have loved to buy him a pint at the end, but he had to drive home. Would I do Calderdale again? I’m not sure, as there are so many other events to try and my old legs can only take so much. I actually quite fancy trying another ultra that’s a bit longer but maybe not quite so hilly, perhaps in September. Am I glad I did the Calderdale Way Ultra? Definitely! Even though my quads are still hurting so much I’m considering moving into a bungalow…
As you may know, I’m undertaking my first event of beyond marathon distance this weekend, the short version of the Calderdale Way Ultra. I’ve been feeling slightly apprehensive about it – not so much the distance as the navigational aspect and the possibility of getting lost! Whatever happens, I’m sure it will be a big learning curve. So to inspire me (and maybe others) here’s a guest blog from my friend and super-runner Kirsty Harvey – a review of the recent Dukeries Ultra in Nottinghamshire. Enjoy!
Under new management this year Dukeries offers a choice of three distances: 10, 30 or 40 miles and I chose to do the 40 – partly for the challenge but also because I’m doing a multi-day in July where the long day is 42 miles, so I felt that this would be great practice. My race started at 7.30 so I stayed in a nearby Travelodge (so I didn’t have to get up too early) and with a surprisingly sunny morning (why do I ever check the forecasts?). Everyone was in very good spirits on the start line.
The circular course meanders through Sherwood Forest, where you get a glimpse of the famous Major Oak tree, visits the beautiful Cresswell Crags and also goes through Clumber Park before working its way back to the start/finish at Walesby Sports Club. There were checkpoints at 7, 18, 24 and 34 miles with snacks, water and juice available and lovely helpful marshals. The weather remained perfect for running and I found myself enjoying the run and gradually catching up and even overtaking several runners who had set off quite a bit quicker than me which was a lovely boost. Whenever I saw someone in front it encouraged me to try a bit harder to catch them – it wasn’t always successful but you can always hope! The course was very dry but with about 13 miles to go I took a little detour round the only bit of mud on the path and promptly fell over a tree root, stubbing my toe very hard at the same time. Fortunately it didn’t stop me running although the air was a bit blue! After the last checkpoint at 34 miles I realised I was slowing down a bit and despite my best efforts it took me a bit longer than I hoped to do the final few miles, finally finishing in 7:15 – about 30 minutes faster than last year, so I was still happy with the time.
The new organiser Ronnie had promised a well marked course with no navigation issues, and he certainly delivered – I missed one turning which added about five minutes but it was entirely my fault as once I retraced my steps there was the red and white tape, clear as day! There were also marshals on some of the less obvious turns just in case. The race is changing its name next year and will come under Hobo Pace I understand, but if you fancy a very scenic tour of Nottinghamshire then choose your distance and give it a go next year.