Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Running rucksack

Quite often during my marathon training I went out on long runs of up to 18 miles with no water whatsoever. Yes, I know, very silly. But I don't like carrying a water bottle and I wasn't prepared enough to place bottles in strategic places en route so I either went without or dived into a pub to scare the barmaid. I have a camelback bladder that I use in my full size rucksack when I go hiking but the cover it originally came in is only designed to attach to a rucksack rather then to be worn as one so when I found this little running pack at the Trailblazer event a while ago I was very happy..
It is the Camelbak Aurora, last season (but still available at Amazon or on eBay) usually £55 but on sale at the event for £27.50 - a bargain! There were several different packs on offer but I was drawn to this one for its combination of non-pink colour, slimline design but impressive capacity; 2 litres of water and 3 litres storage.

The women's specific straps are slightly padded, adjustable and have a nifty velcro strap with which to tidy away the excess so it's not wafting around all over the place. It has a sternum strap and a loop into which you can tuck the bite valve for easy access. The flap that hides the bladder opening also has a good sized zipped pocket with key clip and mesh dividers. Just below that is a mesh pocket that can be tightened to close with straps and another zipped pocket with more internal mesh compartments and loops along the bottom into which I imagine you can tuck various bits of clothing you're not in the process of wearing.

I've used this twice on runs of 11 and 12 miles and found it to be really comfortable once I got the straps right. It does rub on one part of my collar bone but that's a fault with my body rather than the pack and I'm trying to work out a solution. I used it to carry my iPod, phone, keys, tissues, map and a couple of gels and there was plenty of space. You could easily stash a light base layer in there. It's a little too small to use on a work commute unless I had left a change of clothes at the office the night before (I reckon I could get my travel towel and toiletries in there somehow) but excellent for longer runs when you want a few more things with you.

Sunday, 28 July 2013

Italian Spiced Chickpea Burgers

I was pointed to this recipe from Total Greek Yogurt by PTMollie. You can find the original here but I've adapted it slightly for my own taste below. These do make 4 very good sized burgers and they're freezable too. I must confess to having eaten them 3 times in the past week, rather than freezing them, as they're just that good!

I reckon you could also make these into falafel sized bites to go in pitta or with salads. Now there's a thought...

Italian Chickpea Burgers

For the burgers - makes 4 large
4 tbsp greek yogurt
75g breadcrumbs (I used frozen)
2 x 400g cans chickpeas, drained well
25g bunch basil
1 tbsp green pesto
3 tbsp tomato puree
2 cloves garlic, crushed
Pinch chilli flakes, optional

To serve:
125g greek yogurt
Fresh mint, chopped
Salt and pepper
10-12 cherry tomatoes, halved
1 small red onion, thinly sliced
4 rolls or gaps, split in half, lightly toasted
Salad leaves

  1. Put the breadcrumbs, chickpeas, basil, reserving a large sprig, tomato paste, yoghurt, garlic and chilli, if using in a food processor. Whizz well until everything is well chopped and coarse. Season and whizz again. Shape into 4 large patties (you can .
  2. Spray a large frying pan with oil and heat to a medium heat. Add the patties and cook for 5 minutes each side until deep golden and piping hot.
  3. In another pan heat a little oil and fry the onion and tomato for a few minutes until softened.
  4. Meanwhile, mix the mint, salt and pepper into the yogurt. Set aside.
  5. Add a few salad leaves to each bread roll, add a burger, then top with the yogurt dressing and tomato/onion mix.

Friday, 26 July 2013

Half way through already

I took a bit of a step back from my weekly training updates after I completed my Charity Challenge as I wasn't sure how interesting summaries of my weeks would be after that point. The results of my reader survey (still not to late to register your opinions and requests - just click here) suggest you kinda liked those and since I'm certainly still spending a large portion of my time outside of work exercising I thought I'd start bringing them back alongside the event and kit reviews.

I'm actually 9 weeks into a 19 week training plan for my second marathon, Bournemouth in October, which I signed up to under the influence of peer pressure and post-marathon euphoria. It doesn't feel like I'm 9 weeks in; it's been a slow build up and interwoven with long weekends away, house moves and so on. If I think too much about the fact I'll be running a marathon in 10 weeks time I get a bit scared, so I just think about the next week's worth of sessions, pull on my trainers and get on with it. I think it's helping that I have a good amount of residual fitness from the Spring. I'm feeling fitter than I've ever felt and the events I've taken part in for fun recently i.e. run without a time in mind, have helped to renew my enjoyment of running.
bournemouth marathon
As usual I seem to have signed myself up to many other things including two triathlons prior to the marathon (more about that next week when I will be accepting comments on the levels of my stupidity) so I'm not just running. In addition I have two long weekends and a study weekend to work around - aye aye aye! Now I'm in full flow a week's worth of training sessions look a bit like this:
  • 1 x  strength/gym/PT 
  • 1 x swim focusing on front crawl
  • 1 x bike (hoping to increase to two)
  • 3 x run (1 track/speed, 1 tempo, 1 long)
I tend to do my swims in the morning, before work and have developed a habit of dropping in to Waitrose on my way to work to pick up a free skinny latte with my MyWaitrose card as a bit of a treat. This week I swam on Monday (600m), struggled through an 8 mile run on Tuesday, had a PT session (treadmill intervals and weights) followed by 30 minutes on the stationary bike on Wednesday, self-inflicted a half marathon on myself yesterday and have squeezed in a home work out of press ups and so on before I set off for a weekend of camping in the New Forest (no training, just a few walks, a few halves of ale and campfire food - can't wait!).
New vs Old (6 months old)
I went out in a pair of new (but same) trainers last night and gave a running rucksack I got recently a second try. I'll do a full review on that soon.

I think I'm finding training in the summer easier. Although there's the heat to contend with the lighter evenings means my long runs don't need to be confined to the weekends and I have confidence to explore a little more. Getting up on a dark morning, finding motivation to go out in the dark after work and battling with rain, snow and winds on well trodden routes was not enjoyable. What's the general opinion - do you prefer summer or winter training?

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Achy Breaky Legs

I was reporting a particularly hard run to a friend the other night and mentioned my achy legs, to which they responded "achy breaky legs?" and I thought "ooo I could write that version"... so I did just for a bit of fun... and this is how it turned out.

This goes out to all you runners who always find just one more race.

Monday, 22 July 2013

Event Review : National Lottery Anniversary Run

Aw now come on, who wouldn’t want to run in the Olympic Park and finish in the Stadium where Mo Farah and Ussain Bolt ran? Thousands of people shared in my excitement and jammed the website in the effort to get one of around 12,500 places in this event. My mum and I were lucky enough to get in without going through the ballot system and had been looking forward to running around the newly named Queen Elizabeth Park, with some trepidation given the recent weather, for months.
The Orbit. You can see the park looks a bit industrial.
Our packs arrived about a week and a half in advance containing our technical t-shirts (size small but men's cut, so we were swimming in them), numbers, info packs and spectator wrist bands. We were both in the green wave which meant we didn't have to stress about where to seat my dad and whether one or other of us would be able to get into the seating area post-run. The information packs were quite informative and any questions were answered via twitter. For anyone not a runner looking for a time, the twitter feed could have been quite nerve-provoking, as there were a lot of re-tweets of people reporting training runs and expected times. Good for them but for those looking to enjoy the experience as a run not a race it could have left them worrying that they'd signed up to something beyond their capabilities. In the end there was a great mix of abilities and the atmosphere was one of excitement and friendliness.
That is Chris Hoy... honest!
Sunday came around and was gloriously overcast. Perfect running conditions. Our route to the park was mercifully easy being able to hop on the Jubilee line from North Greenwich. Once off the tube there were plenty of marshalls on hand to direct us and the security we'd been warned about was a cursory bag check. Toilets were plentiful, concessions stands provided sustenance for spectators and getting a seat in the stadium was straightforward. The marshalls could have been briefed slightly better on the layout of the stadium as we were sent the long way round to the start but we got there in the end. There was a warm up, which we missed but generally the start area was organised well and we were underway only a couple of minutes later than expected. Runners were set off in waves according to ability (we were in the third of four waves, green) by the great Chris Hoy, of whom I managed to take a snap on the way through.
Couldn't resist taking a snap of this.
The route took us around the park, much of which is under development so not much to look at, doubling back on itself in a few places which allowed us to high five runners coming the other way. There were a few inclines but nothing to be concerned about. A couple of points early on where the route narrowed and caused bottlenecks that brought us to a momentary halt but that said it didn't affect the atmosphere and it was still a great run. There were loos en route, as well as a well stocked water station and a mist shower.
It was hot but the atmosphere was electric.
The miles ticked by quite quickly and soon we were running through the tunnel under the stadium to the sounds of Chariots of Fire anticipating the moment we emerged onto the track where so many great athletes had run before. I'll never forget that moment. The sun finally broke through the cloud and I had to hold myself back so as not to sprint off and leave mum. We managed to spot my dad in the stands and we held hands as we ran over the finish line to the sounds of string quartet Bond playing on stage... truly incredible, unforgettable experience, and a real achievement for my mum with a brand new PB.
Unforgettable experience
It was crowded on the other side of the finish line but that was to be expected. We moved, slowly, back under the stadium to collect our goody bags containing a hefty medal, water, pistachios, biscuits, crisps, heel balm and foil blanket. Finding dad afterwards was easy thanks to the colour zoning and numbered blocks. We could have stayed and listened to more bands but decided to meander homewards, our route back towards the tube again lined with marshalls. The tube wasn't particularly crowded despite the volume of people and so all in all it was a very enjoyable experience, which I felt was worth the entry fee.
We did it! We was there!
Pros: easy to get to, good entertainment, amazing finish, decent goody bag and hefty medal, loads of loos
Cons: no female cut shirts, warm up not repeated for people not in the first wave, route a little dull and narrow in places, not all marshalls briefed sufficiently.

Obviously this won't be held in quite the same circumstances again but I would consider entering again if it were, and running for a time. It was an incredible experience and I'm still getting goosebumps thinking about running on the track now...

Did you take part? What did you think of the organisation and the route? Did you run for a time or for fun?

Friday, 19 July 2013

Strength Challenges

Recently I was encouraged to take part in three challenges which work towards improving strength. Strength training is something that is often overlooked by runners yet an area that is pretty important if you want to improve and reduce the chances of getting injured.

The three challenges I took part in were 100 Push Ups, 30 Day Squat Challenge and the 30 Day Crunch Challenge.The beauty of these challenges are that they only take a few minutes out of the day a few times a week, you can do them whilst watching TV, you can adjust them to suit you ability level (by picking the most appropriate banding for the press ups or adding weights to squats and crunches) and you really do see progress.

I joined a group on Facebook, in which we logged our progress and successes, to give myself some accountability. It's also been a great way of getting a bit of a boost when I've felt like giving up, particularly with the press ups. I've I've finished the squat and crunch challenges but I'm still finishing off the press ups challenge which is 6 weeks rather than 30 days. I've definitely found this the hardest and although I'm wondering if I'll actually manage the full 100 press ups by the end of week 6 I know I'll be able to do significantly more than when I started and that in itself is a real achievement.

The developers of the 100 Push Ups program also offer 200 Sit Ups200 Squats and 150 Dips with a 25 Pull Ups program coming soon. All of these last 6 weeks and are based on completing a number of sets three times a week.

Have you ever tried one of these challenges? How did you get on? Would you consider adding one (or more) of these to your schedule?

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Dinton Pastures 10k – July

Last week I took part in the last of the Dinton Pastures 10k series of runs organised by Barnes Fitness. I've been seriously impressed by the whole series, the organisation has been really good with a pretty, fast route, a good atmosphere and some nice touches like results available to print right after the finish.
This month I ran with a friend... At least we turned up and started together. She's always been a bit faster than me but is better on hills so this being a flat course meant I was only 2 minutes behind her. It was a scorcher of an evening but thankfully much of the course, by nature of being in a park, was shaded by trees so I was able to give it a good try and only came in 30 seconds over my previous PB.
One of the better race photos of me...
As this was the last in the series the organisers had put on something a bit special post-race. Not only did we get a chance to try a little open water swimming in the lake but there was also a BBQ! Choices of burgers, sausages and salads (including a vegetarian burger and lashings of fried onions, ketchup and mustard). We spent a very happy half hour devouring our burgers, making friends with the canine companions and soaking up the atmosphere, not to mention enjoying the start of the sunset over the park.
Keep it going lads, runners get hungry!
I do have a soft spot for local, mid-week races and this series has become one of my favourites. I urge you to check out your local race listings (try looking at the running club websites) to see if there are any mid-week races near you. They tend to be cheap, intimate and a great way to break up the week. I'll be dipping my toes into the Yateley 10k series next month for their last race of the season, partly because I felt a bit sad I wasn't doing the whole thing this year and partly because I've been told they have very cool medals this year...

If you've missed my previous posts on the series you can find them here for May and June.

Have you run mid-week races before? If so which one, did you enjoy it and how did it compare to weekend racing?

Monday, 15 July 2013

Event Review : London Colour Run

For about a year I’ve been aware of a race series in the US called the Colour Run. The premise is that you run a 5km course wearing as much white as possible and at different points along the course you get bombarded with coloured corn starch by spectators. By the end you’re a veritable rainbow and very happy indeed.

This year they’ve brought it to the UK with races in London, Manchester, Brighton and Belfast. I may have been the first one to sign up to the London one, I was that keen to get in! The event cost £25 plus £4.99 (not optional) and includes your Color Run t-shirt, headband, poncho to protect the world from you on the way home and a temporary tattoo. The London event was held on Sunday at Wembley Stadium and was due to start at 2:30pm with participants going off in waves.
In the days leading up to the event the pre-race information was pretty good but my race pack didn't arrive (I feel I should be refunded my P&P charges) so I had pick up a pack at the venue. We were warned that there would be no bag drop and no parking. Not being able to take wet wipes or a towel or indeed many of the usual things I take to a race was a definite negative. There was no way I was going round the course with a rucksack!

The journey to the event was kinda fun, as I went via Waterloo and saw all the British 10k-ers heading home. As I got nearer to Wembley the more Color Run participants got on the tube until we;d all but taken it over. The sense of camaraderie and anticipation was fantastic. The event was due to start at 2.30pm but I don't think we actually got underway until closer to 3pm. The start area was pretty packed and it was a very hot day. There was nowhere to get water before the start and the longer we waited the less we were amused by the lovely Virgin Active ladies trying to get us to "warm up".
Tide marks
I've been deliberately avoiding the use of the words "run" or "race" because this really isn't an event designed for running. This is a get together, a moving party, and not timed in any way. If you're trying to get a PB you won't and you won't get much colour either. I did jog between colour stations and it was liberating to run without a Garmin or with any goal but to have fun. Once we got underway the going was slow and it became apparent this wasn't a route designed for scenery. You're effectively herded around the back streets and industrial parts of Wembley, which I can understand from a clean up point of view. To be honest the course is so short and I was so excited about getting painted that I didn't really mind too much, but the course definitely felt shorter than 5k.
Yellow haze
You could see the colour stations from someway off due to the coloured haze hanging over them, as well as the big archways. They were quite short though, and there wasn't as much paint slinging as I'd hoped. You had to get right up to the volunteers (who I really felt for actually) to get splattered. A lot of people resorted to flinging paint at each other or rolling on the floor to get coloured.  The water station did get mobbed as it was so hot but I don't think in usual circumstances any more were necessary.
The after party was good fun, with music, 15-minute colour bomb calls and plenty of vitacoco to be had. You could get hosed off it you wanted or buy official merchandise before making your way back to the tube to go home. I had to resist hugging people in light coloured clothing and relished the confused looks.
Pros: Really fun event, easy to get to, inclusive, lots of loos, good warm up crew
Cons: No parking or bag drop, no water at the start, pack not arriving before the event, long wait to cross the start line
I think the colour stations could have been longer, perhaps some bands on the route and a more scenic route would have been nice but not necessary.  I really did have a fantastic time and would almost certainly do one again despite the downsides. As this was the first one I'm inclined to chalk it up to teething problems and I hope the next one goes off with a bang.

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Reader Survey : Have Your Say

I thought it was about time I let you guys have a bit of a say in what direction this site should take. It started out life as a diary about my training to climb Kilimanjaro and an accessory to my fundraising, then it turned into general fitness rambling, then back into a training diary and now I'm trying out different sorts of posts.

Would you like me to carry on with my training updates, write about my PT course, do more event or equipment or nutrition reviews, introduce a few more guest posts? A mixture? Let me know what you like and what you'd like to see more or less of and I'll see what I can do!

Click here to take survey

Monday, 8 July 2013

Aspire Drinks : Trial Verdict

I have reached the end of the Aspire Drinks Challenge that I started two weeks ago. That's 14 days of two drinks a day, keeping tabs on my food, drink, exercise and feelings.

I currently weigh 60.5kg, have a BMI of 19.3% and a body fat rating of 25%. This is what I look like on the final day of the challenge (excuse the tired expression, it was somewhat early when I took these. 

In short it appears to have had the opposite effect than the manufacturers were hoping. I've not lost any weight or size (in fact I appear to have put some on) despite taking the drinks and eating and exercising as I would have normally done. So it's been somewhat disappointing. Last week I wrote about how taking the drinks sometimes made me feel dizzy and faint, which I put down to when I took them. This, unfortunately continued on occasion throughout the second week, despite being more careful about when I took them, with the worst case being last Monday when I had to leave work early and didn't feel able to drive safely.

However, I don't want to dis the product completely. I was aware of it having a reducing effect on my appetite at the beginning of the trial and I would find myself eating the same types of foods but a little less than I would usually, without feeling hungry. I really couldn't say if it lived up to the promise of increasing my metabolism, or if I'd have put on even more weight had I not been taking them. I suspect part of the benefit comes from prompting one to think more carefully about what to eat, drink and do, much like keeping a food diary does. If you're taking something that's meant to assist in weight loss I think you're more likely to think about what you're consuming. 

But ultimately this was not a good product for me. I didn't see any real result and even if I had I''m not sure I'd have felt it worth suffering the effect it had on me. I'm sure it works for some people but I won't be recommending it.

Disclaimer: Although this is not a sponsored post I was sent the drinks to trial free of charge but am under no obligation to write a review, positive or otherwise.

Thursday, 4 July 2013

What's in my race bag?

What do you take with you to races? I have a bag that I take to just about every race I ever run which whatever I think I'm going to need for the event. Some things change depending on the weather or distance but the basics stay the same. These are the things I deem pretty much essential:

Race pack or confirmation of entry
ID and some cash
Car and house keys
Safety pins! - I keep a few sets of 4 pinned to the inside of my bag often end up loaning them out.
Bottle of water and/or recovery drink
Post-race snack
Small towel - for sweat and mud removal
Lip balm - blisters or chapped lips, I'm not sure which are worse
Hand gel - I favour the mango one from Body Shop at the moment - smells so good!
Plasters and anti-septic wipes*- in case of injury or blisters
Wet wipes - for more mud removal

* On a long race I'll carry these things with me in a bum bag along with some gels

Optional extras
Hat - if it's threatening rain
Carrier bag for dirty kit
Change of clothes

What are your race essentials? Do you go minimal?

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Aspire Drinks : One Week In

I've now been using Aspire for a week and it's time to give some mid-challenge feedback.

The sensation I reported on day one after taking the drink hasn't happened everyday but I have suffered from it on three further occasions, particularly when I've eaten early or lightly the night before. It's a horrible feeling, leaving me feeling dizzy, lethargic, unable to focus and exhausted, which makes me nervous of using it. Although I didn't consider myself to be sensitive to caffeine I'm clearly sensitive to something in the drink as on day one, having had my second drink at 8pm, I was wide awake until about 2am! There's a reason they suggest drinking this stuff before work outs and at breakfast and lunch as opposed to with dinner... On day two I had one at breakfast and one at lunch and felt a lot more balanced.

I've grown to enjoy the taste of the drink and don't find it too fizzy. I have definitely noticed it having an affect on my appetite. I've occasionally wanted elevenses or a snack, but not as often as I may normally do and I seem to be making healthier choices. Overall I've been taking on less calories but not felt it having a detrimental affect on my energy levels for working out (aside from the days I've felt dizzy), which was my main concern; I was slightly worried that I wouldn't be taking on enough fuel.

I've just returned from a long and slightly indulgent weekend in Bath, but when I took my measurements this morning I found I was exactly the same weight and size as I was last Monday in spite of cream teas, ice cream and alcohol. It's hard to say whether Aspire had any influence in that respect... I should be able to give a more definitive answer regarding that at the end of the week as I'll have no disruptions to my usual eating and exercise regimes.