Running in the Dark

Last night was a proper run in the dark – pitch-black, no streetlights, darkness. I have mentioned my dislike of running with a head torch before as I fear it makes me look like a bit of a fool, but on Wednesday night, along the Thames Path, it was an absolute necessity.

Slowly but surely, as I take on bigger challenges, vanity gives way to practicality.

I went with an ultra-runner from my workplace.

He recently dropped out of a race at mile 27. We had a discussion about it that morning and we agreed that this is an inevitable consequence of setting yourself proper challenges. To take something on that is actually hard, where there’s a very real chance that you might not actually finish, is great and motivational, but the flip side of that is that you sometimes fail.

I would rather push myself and fail several times in a year than stay in my comfort zone for the rest of my life.

Anyway, needless to say, he is much fitter than me, and so he pushed me to actually train properly. I quite often take a cheeky little break on training runs, slowing down to a really slow jog for a bit, or maybe even a walk.

But there was none of that nonsense with RB3 (running buddy number 3!) He had me doing 8.5/9 minute miles for six miles straight, and told me that I really need to pay more attention to my stats. (I still don’t have a Fitbit or equivalent.)

I did manage to keep up though!

So it seems I probably should be training a bit harder anyway. I thought my legs would hurt the next day but they didn’t. After taking it easy from November onwards, I think I am getting back into the swing of things.

Chilled Synth Running List

This is a response to Eve Emilie’s comment on my post Mid-week Run:

“Wishing you all the best in overcoming these challenges! I would love to find out what songs you enjoying running along to- it would be an interesting blog post to write listing your favorite ones!”

But before I begin, I would encourage you to visit her blog where she gives a thoughtful list of songs that have inspired her in 2017.

I posted about my Zombies, Run! inspired playlist before.

This is a very different playlist, designed on a whim for a chilled evening run:

  • Running Up That Hill – I used to think Kate Bush was a bit of a one-hit-wonder who only did Wuthering Heights in the late 70s, but my brother has been telling me that she’s worth listening to for years; it turns out she’s got an incredible back catalogue and a bit of a cult following as an experimental artist. I particularly enjoyed her latest album, Fifty Words for Snow. It has one or two overly pretentious moments in my opinion but it’s worth it for the overall beauty of her jazzy piano and vocals. Running Up That Hill is right up my street because it is a classic laid-back 80s synthesizer track from Kate’s Hounds of Love album, with a great vocal and unusual lyrics.
  • All In One Night – this isn’t really synth heavy or anything but the general mood of this song just seems to fit the playlist. It’s from the latest album by the Stereophonics. (Quick Stereophonics story: I saw them at the Isle of White festival 2004, which was also one of David Bowie’s last ever concerts, and they were fantastic. The only trouble with that festival was that the music stopped after 11pm, so we made a camp fire and I kept getting passed a guitar, so one of the guys we were camping with gave me what he said was Kelly Jones’ plectrum at the end of the weekend for “entertaining us all festival long”.)
  • Push The Sky Away – this is the final track on the Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds album of the same name. It builds slowly and creates a lot of atmosphere: “And if your friends think that you should do it different, and if they think that you should do it the same, you’ve gotta just keep on pushing, and keep on pushing and push the sky away.” This is definitely not a song that will get your heart rate up, but I like it.
  • The City – just in case that last song put me to sleep, mid-run, this really changes up the pace. My favourite album by Patrick Wolf remains Wind In The Wires, but this song from Lupercalia is just so joyfully exuberant.
  • Heartbeats – this is the original version by The Knife. The Jose Gonzalez cover is truly beautiful but this is a great track in its own right.
  • Only This Moment – quite a cheesy, poppy song in many ways, this is by the band Royksopp and does the rounds on coffee shop sound systems but I like it. (Then again, I am someone who still digs Faithless in 2018!)

That’s it – the playlist is a work in progress. Suggestions to expand the selection are more than welcome!

 

A different kind of training – part two

Wow, mountains are really steep! 

I mean, there are steep hills and then there are…mountains! 

I know you are probably now thinking “No shit, genius!” but I haven’t done this for years and I forgot what it was like. I think I got complacent because it’s “only walking”.

But I was as out of breath as anyone climbing Sugar Loaf in Wales this Sunday. 

It was so tall; we were in the middle of a cloud… 

The view from the peak

…an actual cloud, for goodness sake! 

It was cold up there too so thankfully stopping for lunch didn’t last long (thankfully because I left my sandwich in the car). At least I had proper boots this time, North Face and heavily reduced in the January sale. 

I tested their waterproof aspect by trying them on at home and running them under a tap to see whether my socks stayed dry. (Some people seem to think this is odd behaviour but some of the best product reviews I have seen put the manufacturer’s claims under vigorous testing.) 

As a group we did the mountain in four hours. We then got a reality check that one of the peaks with 300m more elevation than that one has to be done in the same timeframe. 

Better keep training! 

Today’s lesson: mountains are really tall. Next time: lakes are really wet and marathons are really far. 

ps. Doesn’t this just look like something out of Game of Thrones? Really cool! 

A different kind of training

One of the things I have agreed to take part in during 2018 is The Three Peaks Challenge. This involves climbing the tallest mountains in England (Scafell Pike), Scotland (Ben Nevis) and Wales (Snowdon). 

But here’s the kicker: you have to do it all in twenty four hours. 

Why would anyone want to do this? I don’t know. I’m too young for a mid-life crisis, too old for a quarter life crisis (yeah, seriously, that’s a thing now). Maybe just plain stupidity…

“…sign me up”, I said. 

And so it was that I found myself a few weeks back heading out in totally inappropriate footwear on the one and only day of 2017 when we got any real snow. Needless to say my non-waterproof trail shoes (not even boots) got soaked. 

I had been shopping for boots the week before but got stingey at the last minute and decided “one more pay cheque first”. (I tend to do that: put off buying things I need when I see the cost of them. After a year of living in my current (unfurnished) house, I still don’t own a bed frame (the mattress is the important bit after all, isn’t it? Who needs to be raised off the floor?) 

Nevertheless, the walk was only six miles, and I really had no choice but to suck it up. 

We went along a section of the Ridgeway in Berkshire. It looks a bit like this, not a mountain, but still undulating: 

The original plan was to climb a proper mountain in Wales but the conditions were too severe, both for driving that far, and for climbing. 

We did make snowmen though: 

(Mine is the one on the right, with a face that looks as if it had been modelled on a Slipknot mask.) 

A quick trip to a pub in the village of  Goring with an open fire completed the day:

Thoughts on running nutrition and weight loss

This post was inspired by The Story of my Treadmill on the Yuvi’s Buzz blog. It is a really good account of the emotional ups and downs of dieting. I recommend that you read it first and then (hopefully) return and read the rest of this post. You can read it here.

I hope she won’t mind me saying this but I fundamentally disagree with the idea of dieting. (Yes, I said it. I don’t follow diet plans.)  Instead, I think the way forward is to embrace long-term, sustainable changes. This embraces a number of ideas, such as healthy food swaps, portion control by stealth, and small adjustments.

Let me explain further…

Healthy food swaps

This is stuff like replacing beef mince with turkey mince in your cooking, replacing refined sugar with honey (sugar is still sugar, but honey hasn’t been stripped of it’s natural, fibre-containing, context), replacing soft drinks with sparkling water, and so on. These might not seem like too much of a big deal but could add up to a lot less fat and sugar in your diet. The jury’s still out on fat consumption but reducing sugar intake should contribute to weight loss.

Portion control

This one is dead simple: buy smaller plates, preferably attractive looking ones that will complement your food presentation.

My partner and I used to eat portions that were really far too big. For instance, those microwaveable rice packets that you get that they recommended to serve two people, well, we used to have one each. As rice is a carbohydrate, I decided to use only one pack for the two of us. I then upped the amount of vegetables on the plate so we didn’t feel that we were on a diet. (I always put butter on our vegetables by the way because a nutritionist at the gym told me that butter is not a problem. In fact, news stories have come out lately saying that margarine may be more harmful than butter. Seriously, search that one in your browser. And it makes a huge pile of vegetables much more palatable.) I try to have at least two different colours of vegetable if I can; it makes the meal look more attractive and gets more micronutrients onto the plate.

Cutting down the plate size is a well-known trick and really is portion control by stealth. A larger plate that’s half-empty always looks a lot sadder than a full smaller plate, even though there may be the same amount of food on each.

Below, you can see a picture of our old plates and our new plates, which are black and make the food you serve look more fancy!

IMAG0453

Small adjustments

Do you take sugar in tea or coffee? Could you cut the number of teaspoons/sugar cubes you take by one?

I challenge you!

It may take you a while to get used to the new taste but in the long run it will reduce those sweet-tooth cravings and reduce your teaspoons of sugar per day by the number of hot beverages you have everyday. That means if you’re like me, and drink three to four coffees a day, you will reduce your sugar intake by three to four teaspoons per day, everyday, FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE. No diet plan. No calorie counting. Just one simple change. What’s more, if you try going back, you will find that your taste has adjusted and having your previous number of sugars now makes you feel a bit sick. (A sweet-tooth really is more of a habit than a pre-set disposition.)

Upgrade your nutrition

There is a lot of emphasis out there about eating less. It seems to me that a lot of people think the way forward is to just keep reducing their calories. In the short term, this may work, but you inevitably cannot sustain eating fewer calories than you need. It has been shown that a staggeringly high percentage of yo-yo dieters not only re-gain the weight a few years later, but they normally put more on as well.

I think a lot of people need to eat more: more fruits and vegetables, more protein (not if you’re already on protein supplements), more healthy fats. So instead of thinking in terms of cutting back, it may help to think in terms of cramming as much nutrition into a dish as you possibly can.

Porridge made with milk and honey is good. It’s got oats, it’s got protein in the milk, and it avoids empty-calorie refined sugar.

Porridge made with milk and honey, and added flaxseed, is even better though. Now you’ve added omega 3!

And porridge made with milk, honey, added flaxseed and added blueberries, is even better still!

This is a breakfast that will really set you up for the day, and should satisfy your appetite so that you aren’t craving a bag of crisps or a chocolate bar later on. (If you buy fruit and can’t manage to eat it all before it goes off, a cheaper option is to buy frozen blueberries and take out a small portion to defrost overnight. I know this is starting to sound like hard work but it’s really not.)

Food really isn’t something to be scared of.

In fact, it’s essential for your life, energy and wellbeing.

Eat well, enjoy your food and give yourself the fuel you need for an awesome run!