Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Falmouth Half Marathon 2014 Review

Prior to committing to the Falmouth Half marathon, I did some research. Various accounts of previous years led me to develop two firm expectations of the race:
1) There would be hills. 

2) A pasty and a pint would be waiting on the finish line.

The promise of the latter was so appealing that I thrust the threat of hills to the back of my mind, went straight back to the Cornwall Hospice Care website and paid my entrance fee. I convinced my Dad to do the same, luring him with the promise of finish line treats, and we started to get excited.

At 05:50am on Sunday 16th March, my alarm went off, and it was race day. I drank a cup of coffee and ate the same breakfast that I do every single other day (wholemeal muffin, peanut butter, banana - a creature of habit if there ever was one) and got into the car to head to Cornwall. It was early, too early, but the sun was bright and we were hopeful. 

On arrival in Falmouth, we headed to the Wetherspoon’s pub where registration was apparently taking place. Sure enough, the pub was full of lingering runners, drinking water and stretching and fiddling with safety pins to attach their numbers. It was a rather different scene to how a Wetherspoon’s usually looks on a Sunday morning, full of the hungover masses devouring fried breakfasts and clutching pints of water.

Soon enough, we were told to head to what was referred to as ‘the moor’. Not being familiar with Falmouth, my Dad and I wandered in circles for a while before realising that the moor was in fact the concrete square in the centre of the town. We were told that, unfortunately, due to technical difficulties that there would be no official warm up, and to get ready to start. We headed to the start line and, after a couple of minutes of hopping from one leg to another to keep warm, we were off.

Here is where I realised I had made my first mistake. Being a small race of under 500 competitors, everybody started together, rather than in time-based waves. Almost by accident, simply because we happened to be standing close by, myself and my Dad started the race right at the front of the pack, with only one row of other runners in front of us. I am by no means a fast runner, and this meant that I spent almost the entire race just being overtaken, only falling into a group with those running at a similar pace at the very end. Although not a huge issue – indeed, at least for the first few miles, this probably encouraged me to run faster than I would have otherwise – it was slightly demoralising.

The beginning of the race took us around by the coast on a reasonably flat path. As somebody in the midst of a lengthy and intense love affair with the sea, I enjoyed this section of the race. The sun was out, it was scenic, and it felt like it might all be okay. However, I have to admit that this was probably the only part that I enjoyed in any way. From here on in, it became a battle of wills and nothing more.

We soon left the sea behind us and moved onto the road, and the rest of the race continued in this way, running along the edge of country lanes and avoiding being run over by the meandering Cornish road dwellers. And, as we headed onto the road, we started to encounter the hills – the ones which had been warned of, but I’d chosen to forget all about. The course was almost completely undulating, and after every stretch of downhill recovery came another daunting uphill gradient to tackle.

At around five and a half miles, having already tackled a number of these beasts, I overheard a man behind me, who had clearly ran the race before, telling his friend, who clearly hadn’t, that the next hill was the last big one, and that it became easier after this. I took this as a sign of huge hope, and started to think that I might actually be able to do it after all. Sure enough, the next hill reared its ugly head, and stretched on for what felt like a horrifying amount of time. It was gruelling and it hurt but, when it was over, I breathed a sigh of relief, think that was the last of the vertical challenges.

It turned out that the man had lied though; to me, to his friend, to himself. Several more uphill stretches awaited us, including a horrifying one at the end that felt almost perpendicular to the ground below it. Many times, whilst tackling these hills, it felt like I was running so slowly that I might as well have been walking. Any vantage I did gain by refusing to walk was also soon made redundant by the runners who overtook me as soon as we hit the flat again, slightly less exhausted as they’d chosen to rest and walk.

Perhaps tactically, I might have benefited from being less stubborn going up those hills, but I’m not sure finishing a race of which I have walked sections is ever going to give me much satisfaction, so I don’t regret my approach for a minute. It was exhausting though. As we looped back into Falmouth, back towards the moor, I was done, completely and utterly done. I didn’t have the energy for any kind of sprint finish and, when I crossed the finish line, I’m not sure I could have ran a single step further.

But, sure enough, as I stepped away from the finish line, shortly after having a medal placed over my head, a pasty was pressed into my hand and, oh my, it was a glorious pasty. I’m not sure if I was just very hungry, or if it was really that delicious, but it was probably the best pasty of my life. Sadly, however, there was no beer this year, but I think I enjoyed the cup of fresh orange juice that I was given even more.

Falmouth proved a tough location for a race, that’s for sure, and I’m not sure anybody who has ran it could disagree. Was it worth it though? Definitely, and not just for the pasty, but for the fact that my faith in my own ability to tackle hills, however slowly, has been utterly cemented. I even managed to get a new PB, knocking ten minutes off my half marathon time, and that’s not something I’m going to complain about on that course.

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Clean Apple and Almond Brownies

Today I'm back with yet another recipe.  Whilst back visiting my childhood home over the past week or so, boredom seems to have led me to the pantry, armed with a wooden spoon and a desire to experiment whilst not to falling too far off the wagon.  Today, I concocted these, and finally my belief in fat-free, sugar-free baking is beginning to be cemented.  

125g ground oats 
25g ground almonds
50g cocoa powder
3 small apples, grated
2.5 tsp baking powder
2  - 3 tablespoon chopped nuts
180ml milk
3 tbsp honey
1 egg

1) Preheat oven to 180˚C.  Line a muffin tin with paper cases.

2) Add all ingredients to a large bowl and stir until thoroughly combined.

3) Add one tablespoon to each paper case.

4) Bake for 20 - 25 minutes or until firm and a skewer comes out clean.

And that's it - healthy brownies in just four simple steps.  You can use any nuts you wish (I used sliced almonds but walnuts or pecans would be delicious too) and either buy ground oatmeal or simply blend whole oats yourself.  A word of warning though, these are one of the few baked goods that I think are actually nicer when cooled than they are oven-warm.  A completely guilt free treat to startle your friends and family with.  

Sunday, 2 February 2014

Healthy(ish) Carrot and Oat Muffins

This morning, at 8am, I awoke with an urge to bake.  Having done my long run yesterday (14 beautiful miles in the mud), I guess I was just at a bit of a loose end as to what else to do on a Sunday morning.  I didn't want to make anything deadly though, so I browsed Pinterest and stumbled across a recipe for carrot and oat muffins.  A little adaption later - mostly due to the limitations of my pantry - I had a batch of breakfast muffins which I will definitely be making again.

2 cups wholemeal flour
1 cup oats
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon mixed spice
1/2 teaspoon ginger
2 eggs
1/4 cup coconut oil
1 1/2 cups yoghurt
1 - 2 grated carrots
Handful chopped walnuts

1) Preheat oven to 180ºC/350ºF

2) Combine all dry ingredients in a large bowl (flour, oats, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, salt, sugar, spices).

3) In a separate bowl, whisk eggs then stir in yoghurt and melted oil.

4) Add egg, yoghurt and oil mixture to dry ingredients and mix well.  Stir in grated carrot and walnuts.

5) Line a muffin tray with cake cases and add a level tablespoon of mixture to each.

6) Bake for 20-25 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean.

I ate mine with peanut butter and sliced banana and they were delicious.  Next time I might try an alternative sweetener that's a little healthier but these were a great starting point.  Enjoy!

Friday, 17 January 2014

Trail Running, or Anti-White Trainer Syndrome

I have been complaining for several weeks that my new trainers, purchased as a treat in the Boxing Day sales, were still too white.  I've taken them for several wet and windy runs through the park, yet they still looked as sparkling as they did the day I brought them home from Sweat Shop.  Today, however, that all changed, as I dipped a toe into the murky waters of trail running for the first time - literally.

Plymouth University offers a free trail running session every Friday morning so, bored with my usual route and at a loose end after my ice skating lesson was cancelled (but that's a story for another day), I decided to go along.  There isn't any coaching involved, although the lead is there to offer guidance, but the main benefit is free transport to destinations which are slightly further afield.  As much as I love running by the sea, something I'll miss hugely when the time comes to leave Devon, it's nice to change things up a little.

This week, we headed to the trails around Saltram park.  Views of the beautiful Devonshire countryside lay either side of the trails but things were slightly less scenic inside the paths, as we slipped around through muddy puddles and scrambled up steps covered in hazardous leaves.  After less than a mile of running, my new trainers were definitely 'worn in', so to speak.

As, I must admit, was I.  Whilst I have certainly ran trails before, I've never done so in wet winter conditions, and a mile of concentrating so hard on your footfall and dodging puddles is very different to a mile on hard ground.  Factor in that I was already extremely sore from a weights class at the gym earlier in the week and it's safe to say my calves were burning.

Yet, despite the trip hazards, the muddy legs and the sodden socks, trail running was the most fun I've had in a long time.  It was the kind of running that makes you feel alive.  I once heard a quote that was something along the lines of 'I don't enjoy running, but running makes me enjoy life', and trail running shed an awful lot of truth on that sentiment.