Archive for April, 2015

I woke up this morning with a headache and it was pretty much downhill from there. It’s not that there isn’t enough food, but my body is clearly having issues with the lack of protein and vitamins. I’m eating plenty, but still I feel hungry, tired, depleted, down and unable to focus pretty much constantly. I burnt my hand twice within one minute on a hot oven and was strangely unable to navigate passing pedestrians while in town earlier. It’s like being drunk, without the enjoyable prerequisite of having ingested something tasty.

I feel as if I’m constantly wishing my time away, always waiting for the next meal, and above all, for Saturday morning. I hate that. I’m also trying to navigate an increasing sense of guilt as my work falls behind and my training slumps at the wayside. After an hour of walking today, I simply couldn’t find the energy for the hill session that was planned, and fair enough too; I’m secretly hoping to find enough power to get 16 miles in on Friday (and have budgeted for extra biscuits on that day), and there’s no way that I’ll manage that with the calorie deficit that I’m currently battling. Every single kilojoule of energy counts; another lie in and an afternoon nap have helped to bolster my stores.

Strangest of all, it got to 6:30 this evening and I couldn’t face the thought of cooking and eating anything at all. Knowing that more carbs were ahead – even in the form of my favourite basmati rice – was more of a burden than a relief. As it happened, tea was pretty tasty this evening, helped along by my trusty jar of value peanut butter.

Today’s total spend: £1


#BelowTheLine recipe of the day – Rice bowl* with chick peas and peanut butter, 44p

Serves 2

1 cup basmati rice (32p)
100g mixed veg (10p)
100g frozen broccoli (9p)
1 tin chick peas (33p)
Half tsp garam masala (2p)
2 tsp peanut butter (2p)

Warm up a large pan with the frozen veg and chick peas so that they thaw slightly. Add the rice and the garam masala, then pour in 2 cups of water. Bring to the boil, stir briefly, cover and then turn the heat right down and leave WITHOUT TOUCHING OR STIRRING for 25 minutes. After 25 mins turn off the pan and leave to sit for 5 minutes. Serve into bowls and then stir in the peanut butter.
*Known as rice bowl in our house, but generally termed pilaf 😉


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Today has been much better. I haven’t been as hungry or as thirsty (one strange aspect of yesterday that Daniel and I both noticed), but I’ve found it hard to get warm and concentration switched off outright at 2pm. I had a bit of a shuffle around with the budgeting, and am feeling a little more hopeful that I’ll be able to sustain myself well for the next three-and-a-bit days (and counting).

Two saviours: peanut butter and porridge oats. One provides taste, the other substance, and plenty of good energy to boot. Porridge is about the cheapest thing that I bought at the weekend, and a substantial 40g of oats comes in at under 4p. Paired with the remaining half banana from my breakfast this makes for an excellent mid-afternoon snack, and even gave me enough of a boost to get out for a 10k run this afternoon. I just hope I won’t regret that later.

The secret for me appears to be a really substantial breakfast – again, porridge and peanut butter is an absolute Godsend here – and a second cup of tea mid-morning, which keeps me going until lunch. Then if I eat my lunch mindfully (i.e. pay attention to the food rather than the article I’m reading or the latest amusing thing on Twitter) and slowly, I can just about make it through to a porridgey snack at 3:30. Yes, I can do this.

Today’s total spend: 92p

IMG_20150428_191514#BelowTheLine recipe of the day – Broccoli ‘Pesto’ with Spaghetti, 25p

Serves 2

200g frozen broccoli florets (18p)
1 garlic clove (2.5p)
1 tsp white wine vinegar (1p)
Homegrown basil (free)
200g frozen mixed veggies (20p)
200g spaghetti (8p)

Cook broccoli and then blend with garlic, vinegar, basil and a little bit of water from the spaghetti. Stir into spaghetti and mixed veggies. If you have room for oil in the budget this would be wonderful stirred in, too!

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Day 1 has been tough – much more so than anticipated.

The day started pretty normally, with a large bowl of porridge. Not quite the usual toppings of maple syrup and tahini with mixed berries, but it was a generous portion and I was pretty satisfied and feeling optimistic. But then 10am struck and I wanted/needed another cuppa and a snack, and by 11am I was experiencing the first proper sense of hunger in a very long time. I feel quite ashamed to admit this – it turns out that I rarely get hungry, because I rarely need to. I counted down the minutes until lunch.

The rest of the day has been spent in a daze. My appetite hasn’t been properly satiated since breakfast, despite eating a good amount of decent food. I’ve been distracted from my work – constantly thinking about the next meal – and feeling slightly off-colour, a little dizzy perhaps. I started to panic at around 3pm, when a digestive biscuit and half a banana simply did not suffice in curbing the ache in my gut. I had my final digestive biscuit for the day (which I’d intended on saving for a pre-bedtime snack), mushed up in warm milk from the remainder of my milk allowance.

Even a short run today has been difficult, as I set off with growls in my stomach and didn’t have anything to come back to until teatime a couple of hours later. This is my shortest running day of the week, so I’m going to need a back-up plan. I’m also too low on my daily calories, so to the question isn’t only how am I going to run, but also should I train at all this week – perhaps it’s not a good idea. I’m also lacking quite substantially in protein, though no surprise that I’ve had plenty of carbs today – at least that’s something I don’t have to worry about. I’ve also just about managed five portions of fruit and veg, which is a relief!

Today’s total spend: 92p

#BelowTheLine recipe of the day – Broccoli and Peanut Soup, 21.5p

150g frozen broccoli (13.5p)
Half an onion (3.5p)
Pinch of chilli flakes (2.5p)
10g peanut butter (2p!!*)

Boil broccoli and onion in water for 5-7 minutes until soft, then add chilli flakes. Blend, then stir in peanut butter.
Served with a homemade bread cake (8p).

*I got some Morrisons Savers PB which is only 62p for 340g! And it’s tasty and crunchy, too 🙂

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Food is one of my greatest pleasures in life, and I genuinely enjoy crafting our weekly menu, filling our shopping basket with a plentiful bounty of colourful and exciting ingredients. Creating new meals and trying out different foods and combinations is one of the things that I enjoy most, and so when it comes to our food shop we don’t hold back too much: it’s the one aspect of my outgoings that could be considered as an indulgence, and so long as no food goes to waste, I don’t ever feel guilty about spending more then I really need to on my weekly nourishment.

We prioritise buying food that is ethically sustainable, as unprocessed as possible, and wherever possible we buy from our local wholefoods grocery store. This sort of thing doesn’t come in cheap, of course, but once we started being able to afford to choose, it was an obvious move for us to spend a little more on the food we wanted to buy, as oppose to going out for meals more often or buying more clothes. But choice is a privilege that isn’t available to everyone, and having access to a wider range of products comes with a responsibility to make good and sustainable choices wherever possible.

For the past couple of years I’ve had the liberty of eating what I want when I want it. Often I eat when I’m not hungry, just because something is available, or just because I can. When I think of it like this, I feel quite ashamed: I’ve never gone hungry in my life, so I’ve never really valued what is always available to me, and never considered what it might be like to go without. Our fridge is always full, there is always a snack to be had or a cup of tea to return home to. We eat between 8 and 15 portions of veggies/fruit a day, get plenty of protein and vitamins, enjoy wholegrains and lots of healthy fats to keep us greased and gleaming. We sit on the sofa every evening with a mug of rather luxurious herbal tea and a square of posh chocolate, and at weekends I often make homemade breads and treats using a range of exotic flours and seeds. I really value the food choices I make. But I’m not so sure I value the fact that I have food.

Our fridge after the usual weekly shop

Our fridge after the usual weekly shop

So where is this taking me? Well, I heard about the Live Below the Line Challenge through Jack Monroe, who has done all sorts of awesome things to address food poverty both globally and locally. At first I didn’t even stop to consider taking part, since I love food and I want to eat as much of it as I can. But then I saw the challenge come up again on my Twitter feed, and this time I questioned my response: perhaps I’m just the sort of person who should be doing something like this? So I told Daniel I was going to try it out, and he agreed to join in. Five days, living on £1 of food and drink per day. Let’s see just how much we value the food on our plates, shall we?

This week's refrigerated produce.

This week’s refrigerated produce (non-dairy milk not included).

The menu is planned, and I have 12 delicious looking 8p-a-go bread cakes sitting on my worktop waiting for the challenge to begin. I did a shop yesterday and spent £10 on five days worth of food for two people: this is more than £50 less than what we’d spend in an average week! I don’t think we’ll be going hungry by any means, but there will be a few challenges:

  • Running. Will I have the energy to get all of my training done, with such limited access to snacks? Plan: I’ve bought lots of cheap biscuits – custard cremes will surely see me through!
  • Dairy/wheat. Daniel is wheat intolerant and I find dairy pretty hard to handle, but it’s rather costly to avoid both of these things, especially when wheat-free foods come into it. So we’re going to face our respective digestive irritants for five days: beware.
  • Milk. Normally we only buy organic dairy products. Organic is too expensive (see above about the privilege of choice) so we won’t be sticking to our usual happy cows on this one. Luckily we have some local happy hens who provide our eggs for an absolute bargain, so will be sticking with those.
  • Veg. I eat so many vegetables. Perhaps too many. But it’s going to be difficult squeezing in our five-a-day, never mind 12-a-day – veggies are actually quite expensive. It will be interesting to see whether this has any effect on me, and maybe it will be a good thing?!

I’ll be posting meal updates on my Instagram page and hopefully also writing a bit about it on here too. I definitely need to be kept accountable, and I’m sure this will help.

Bread cakes at the ready!

Bread cakes at the ready!

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When your hometown club puts on a race, it’s pretty difficult to opt out of taking part. Especially when it’s a comeback race to celebrate the club’s 30th anniversary. And when your parents are the main sponsors of the event. Whether or not I fancied running a half marathon in the first weeks of ultra training, circumstances left me with little choice, and so we showed up at my parents’ early on Sunday morning for what was to be a brilliant day out.

Unluckily for the organisers, but perhaps luckily for those who took part, the race coincided with the much heftier ‘Yorkshire’ half marathon, with thousands of runners flocking to Sheffield instead of the West Riding that morning. Corporate events aren’t my favourite, and though I do have a soft spot for the Jane Tomlinson Run For All events, you can find cheaper marathons with much smaller carbon footprints to boot. This was totally not the case at Ackworth: for a rather humble entry fee, runners were treated to a brilliant course, excellent support, FIVE water stations, TWO medals, and a goodie bag like none I have ever seen before (more on that to come).

I acknowledge that I’m a little biased in my review of this race – I do have personal interest in its success, after all – but all of the feedback I’ve heard and seen has been unanimous: it was awesome. We arrived at the start line – a big field on top of a hill next to the prominent local landmark of Ackworth water tower. It was freezing, and a bit windy, and husband and I huddled together for warmth as everyone got organised. There appeared to be a strong contingent of club runners, as well as lots of beefy chaps with lovely thick West Yorkshire accents (again, I know I’m biased) and people just out for a nice morning run. There were a few charity runners, and no one was in fancy dress. We stuck kind of near the middle, as I was in it for a PB, and I need the faster people to set my pace for me in the first few miles. Daniel was taking it steady, as he always does, and I was so tempted to stick by him and just enjoy the ride. I’d been up all night worrying about the race, and my nerves had taken firm residence in my stomach, which had not taken kindly to any attempt at eating breakfast. Still, I was determined to give it a good try since I was on home turf. I knew all the roads, so I kept in mind the bits to look forward to, and had a plan of action for the difficult sections that were familiar in the unfriendly sense.

Photo credit: Andrew Thrippleton

Photo credit: Andrew Thrippleton

The horn sounded, and we were off! It was strange to be running in a pack of people around local streets that I’d so often run alone, but the roads were closed and the day was still young (yes to 9:30am starts!), and I’d managed to gather a nice comfortable pace from the outset. Things were looking good, and despite the rather meagre chocolate coins that I’d managed to digest successfully, I felt pretty good, too. I managed to break the 5km point with an average pace below 8;30, by which point I felt able to keep it up for at least another four miles to my first gel. The hills came and everyone slowed, but every hill was matched with a downhill, and generally I was easily able to make up what I’d lost. We turned in to the village of Wentbridge and I knew we had a killer climb ahead, which I had done only once before. I’d forgotten exactly how killer it was – easily a match for the bigger hills at Keswick, even – and I began to question whether I should stop running and just walk for a bit. “You’re nearly at the top!” shouted a nearby onlooker, and as I looked up I saw the hill becoming a little more gentle in front of me; ‘nearly’ was a little optimistic, but the climb became easier and I managed to push it to the brow of the hill. No mountains to see over the other side, unfortunately, but there was a great view of the three local power stations, as well as the water tower, which would continue to bob on the horizon for the rest of the race.

Photo credit: Andrew Thrippleton

Photo credit: Andrew Thrippleton

The next bit was my favourite, as we left the main roads for a quiet single-track road that I’ve regularly followed both while cycling and running. At this point we were coming to seven miles, and I knew that I was in for a pretty solid PB if I kept it up – I hit mile 7 around the hour mark, and stopped briefly at a water station for a gel (which exploded and covered me in ickiness) and a sip of fluid. Stopping didn’t hinder me too much, and I felt good as I continued down the road. But then we turned left, and I knew what was ahead: the road of eternal gales. It lived up to its nickname*, with strong winds blasting us right in the face, making forwards-motion seem almost impossible. I got into a pack of other runners and ran along quietly, listening to their conversation to distract me from the discomfort. The winds picked up, the road climbed upwards and then down a bit and then up again and then a bit down (‘undulating’ always sounds so appealing, doesn’t it?), and I just kept pushing forwards with that water tower in the corner of my eye. We turned back into Wentbridge and it became apparent that what was just a chilly breeze a few miles back had become a proper bit of weather, and whichever way the route turned, the wind was never in our favour. Another hill, and this time I felt as if I were trudging, using everything I had to keep moving forwards; suddenly things weren’t going so well. The empty stomach that I’d set off on came back to haunt me around mile 10, as I bottomed out and felt totally unable to keep going: my pace was slowing but I didn’t care, I just wanted to stop. I had another gel and pushed and pushed, and just as I passed the 11 mile marker I heard a familiar voice behind me, and almost tripped over in shock as I saw my husband rushing past. I may not have cracked it that day, but he certainly had! I felt an overwhelming sense of pride, which was quickly scrubbed out with annoyance that he was so nonchalantly rushing past me. Oh well.

Photo credit: Andrew Thrippleton

Happier running times, around mile 7. Photo credit: Andrew Thrippleton

The last mile was a killer, but it was almost irrelevant as I was kept entertained by some ‘inspirational’ signs that someone had put up by the side of the road. ‘Humpty Dumpty had wall issues too’ was a particularly pertinent message at that point. I checked my Garmin, almost not daring to look, to see that I could still come in under 2 hours with time to spare so long as I kept moving forwards. With 200m to go I dared to push to a sprint, and made it over the line with relief, rather than joy. I spotted Daniel in the crowds and rewarded him with a sweaty, sticky runner’s kiss – he was the winner of the day, after all. My Dad had pulled out due to a calf problem early on so he was also frustrated, but none of that could distract us from the fact that it had been a resounding success: brilliant marshalling, loads of water stations, great course and a really fun local event. Just a shame about the wind!

Photo credit: Andrew Thrippleton

Photo credit: Andrew Thrippleton

The fun didn’t stop there, though, as we were handed lovely Ackworth AC goodie bags complete with two medals (both engraved), water, chocolate…and a set of false eyelashes. Apparently they make you run faster, so perhaps I will test them out at my next race – maybe they’ll help me get through those last three miles, next time.


*not actually an official nickname – it’s just known as Wentbridge Lane

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Embracing Breathlessness

The thing that really holds me back when running is getting out of breath. I can happily run for miles and miles at a steady pace, but challenged with a quick 5km run and I inevitably feel utterly incapable as a runner. I’ve never run a 5km race (I’ve never even tried a ParkRun!), and even 10km is too short a distance for me to feel like I really belong in that race; I just can’t find the necessary spark inside to push myself into the discomfort of running fast.

Paradoxically, I make intervals and hill sessions part of every training schedule that I undertake, and even more strangely I find that these are the runs that leave me feeling the most capable and all-around brilliant. I track my progress in every session, and can see myself getting faster every week as I overcome the fear and embrace the discomfort. On Wednesday I headed out for a hill session – 15 reps of my most local hill was the target – but I felt so sluggish and tired from 10 miles the previous day that I could hardly move forwards, nevermind pushing myself to run up and down a hill 15 times. So I promised myself that I’d just do three reps, and if I wasn’t feeling any better, I’d head home. It worked: as the air ripped from my lungs at the top of the hill, bent double I looked out over the view feeling amazing, and continued with a further 14 reps before heading back, full of energy and glee at my efforts.

But getting out of breath just doesn’t sit comfortably with my general running, especially longer distances; perhaps if I could get over this fear I’d achieve times that I can’t even dream of at the moment. And that’s what it is – fear. There’s something about giving your body over to faster running that is terrifying, and indeed my body has demonstrated this lack of control on a couple of rather green-gilled occasions. But it’s not just a physical fear; I’m convinced that a lot of what is holding me back from pushing a bit (or a lot) harder more regularly is a resurgence of past negativity. I’ve been running for over 10 years now, and have enjoyed it pretty much from the start, but still for the majority of my life I’ve been unfit, and as a result have seen exercise as the enemy. For far too long I hated being even slightly breathless, and got out of breath doing relatively normal things such as walking up stairs; running for a bus was such a nightmare that I always turned up to my stop unnecessarily early. I remember running for a train once, tickets in my mouth and bags in either hand, flailing all over the place and knowing that I simply couldn’t continue running (I missed the train). I passed a group of boys who all laughed at my efforts; the spectacle of my breathlessness wasn’t only physically uncomfortable, it was emotionally horrid, too.

Turning breathlessness from a negative to a positive is taking some doing. Embracing the feeling of being out of control and at the very outer edges of my physical capacity is surprisingly easy in the moment, but getting to that moment is the real struggle for me and my running. When I get to the top of the hill, with burning quads and lungs and absolutely no control over my spluttering self, I am on top of the world, and every time I decide that I’m going to push myself to get uncomfortable more often. It doesn’t happen. As with any fear, I guess that facing it more often, and in different contexts, is my only option if I want to overcome it. Running for a bus is no longer an issue for me now, so I guess I need to find new barriers to tackle and new boundaries to cross. And I suppose that, really, that’s what running is all about.

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Bloomin’ heck. This is getting hard already, and I’m only three weeks in.

It hasn’t been the best of weeks, running wise (or otherwise, actually). Nine miles on Tuesday – including four miles of horrendous 6 min: 2 min intervals – left my already dodgy ankle feeling even worse. Even after a rest day on Wednesday I wasn’t totally confident that I’d make my long run on Friday if I didn’t take another day off, so I missed Thursday’s hill session, opting instead for a healing glass of red wine in a pub garden. Two complete rest days in a row feels incredibly naughty when the word ‘ultra’ is constantly echoing in the back of your mind.

As it happens, this turned out to be the best choice I could have made, as on Friday I ran probably the most enjoyable 18 mile training run I’ve ever done. This was helped along by my favourite running weather (misty rain) and a packet of miniature Creme Eggs in celebration of Good Friday, which packed in such a whopping energy boost that I really have to question whether these should really be marketed as a general purpose treat or something stronger. After a really slow start (the great thing about ultra training: it’s ok to run really slowly while also eating biscuits), I picked up the pace quite substantially in the final 10km, and couldn’t quite believe the amount of energy that I found – I even managed a sprint finish!

IMG_20150403_100858 (1)

This leads me to question whether I should take my rest day on the day before my Friday LSR, rather than on the Wednesday. I might try to pack in a Mon-Tue-Wed flush with a rest day on Thursday, and maybe I’ll keep feeling as bright and energetic for my LSRs as I did yesterday (unlikely). As advised by the lovely folk on #UKrunchat hour, I also took the decision this week to do a marathon before the UT55. The Lakeland Trails Coniston marathon takes place three weeks before the big one, so I’ve signed up and booked a bed at the local youth hostel, and will be making my way up the the Lakes for yet another weekend in early summer. This gives me a ‘smaller’ goal to aim for with my training, and if it goes ok it will no doubt boost my confidence for the ultra a couple of weeks later.

On the topic of confidence, this is where I’ve really faltered this week. I made the mistake of looking at some ‘recommended’ ultra training plans, which left me doubting my ability to even get to the start line of UT55 – perhaps ultra running isn’t for me after all? Not only do I not have the time to be running ‘only about 74 miles a week’ (at my normal pace that’d be more than 10 hours a week of running!), but I also don’t have quite as much commitment as back-to-back marathons would require: I’m simply not interested in pushing myself that hard. 55km will be a big challenge, but I don’t feel the need to empty my life of everything that isn’t running in order to complete it. In my crisis I went through all the typical stages: doubt, fear, anger, chocolate muffin consumption, frantic research and sensible reasoning, and came to the conclusion that, hey, this is my running career and I’m not in it to imitate or be ‘as good as’ anyone else. So I’ll stick to my running schedule and enjoy my own challenge, using the experience I’ve gained from running 5 marathons (2 of them within 7 days) to direct me. And, as the awesome Bangs and a Bun said recently, “my [ultra]marathon, my journey, my way“. Yes.

The self-doubt continued when I embarked on a 12-miler with my hubby this morning. I had no energy left after yesterday, and I was tired, and perhaps also a little bored of running after my 18-mile epic. Six miles in we stopped at York Hospital for a loo stop and some more Creme Eggs, and I was pretty sure that I couldn’t do another 6 miles; my lungs hurt and my feet were burning and I was so hungry and irritable. But those Creme Eggs really do have magical powers because we made it in once piece, totting me up to 30 miles in 2 days and 42 miles this week. So we had lunch out as a treat: I am good for nothing for the next 48 hours, but once again I’m excited for this new challenge.

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