Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Asics Gels and perfect toenails - what a miracle

It has been full week now since the Flora London Marathon. The kids have gone back to school today, I feel totally recovered and a bundle of energy as I have not run for a full 7 days... and I finally have time to write a post.

The past week really has been a flurry of birthday parties, kids sport, feeding the hungry hoards and supporting my daughter with her GCSE work (i.e. lots of tea and chat, very little actual work). I did feel extremely tired and rather stiff on the Monday and Tuesday after the marathon and found it hard to function on all cylinders (admittedly, living in a 5 storey house doesn't help one bit), but by Wednesday my legs felt good and I managed to produce a wonderful meat fondue followed by a double chocolate and rasberry gateau for my son's birthday treat. Not ideal running food, but very delicious all the same. In fact, my body was crying out for a good dose of protein by Wednesday and a meat fondue certainly provided that! I treated us to some very tasty, melt-in-the-mouth organic rump steak from Sheepdrove (http://www.sheepdrove.com/) for the fondue which, luckily for me, was on special offer.

I am really very relieved that my new asics gels (nimbus 9) have worked.....no black toenails this time, so I will be able to wear my pretty sandals this Summer without having to disguise any dead nails with nail varnish! What joy...

I am starting to get a little jittery now, rather like a caged animal, so I really think it is time to get those running shoes back on and start pounding the streets. I am thinking of the next challenge and I must say that I am rather tempted by the Biel 100km run in June. It might be just a little too close to the London Marathon for me, but I am going to start training for it all the same and I will see how it goes....just as long as I can keep those toenails in good shape, I'll be happy....

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Date, Apricot and Walnut Flapjacks and Mincemeat and Orange flapjacks

I made two varieties of flapjack for us all to nibble on during the run-up to the marathon. Date, apricot and walnut and mincemeat, raisin and orange. Both varieties were wolfed down by runners and non-runners alike. They are both very tasty, not too sweet, wonderfully moist and full of goodness and carbs. If you leave them in the oven for too long, they can get really quite brittle, so I take them out while they are still soft - they tend to go harder in the tray when they are co0ling.

Date, apricot and walnut flapjacks
3 oz butter
2 tbs golden syrup (dip the spoon in hot water before using so the syrup is easier to pour)
1 tbs light soft brown supar
7oz rolled oats (the unrefined porridge oats make great flapjacks)
3 oz chopped walnuts
3 oz mix of chopped dates and apricots
zest of 1/2 lemon

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 170 C. Lightly grease a shallow 7 to 8 inch square cake tin.
  2. Melt the butter with the sugar and syrup with the heat down low. Add the fruit, nuts and oats and mix well. You may want to add a handful more oats if the mixture is a bit sloppy.
  3. Turn the mixture into the tin and press down.
  4. Bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes until golden. Remove tin from oven, set on a wire rack and leave to cool slightly. Mark into fingers or squares with a sharp knife.
  5. When the flapjacks are cool and firm, remove from the tin. No doubt several will have disappeared by this time....

Mincemeat and orange flapjacks

I found this idea in a book by Sue Lawrence called On Baking when I was looking for ways to use up some mincemeat from Christmas. I was really surprised at how delicious these flapjacks were and I have slightly adapted the idea to include more raisins, as bought mincemeat can be a little short on these...

225g (8 oz) mincemeat

175g (6 oz) butter

280g (10 oz) golden syrup

large handful raisins

grated zest of two oranges

425g (15 oz) rolled oats (unrefined porridge oats)

  1. Prepare as above, adding the orange zest, the mincemeat and the porridge oats when the butter and syrup have melted. This quantity will fit beautifully into a swiss roll tin (23 x 33 cm).


During the week leading up to the marathon and especially from Wednesday to Saturday night, I tried to make sure that my diet was about 70-80% carbohydrate, making up the rest in protein, a little fat and vitamins. My aim was to take on about 7-10g per kg of body weight per day. For me, that meant between 385 and 550g per day, ie. an awful lot of carbs! When you run, your body burns a mixture of carbohydrate and fat. The harder you run, the higher the proportion of carbohydrate you use; the slower you run, the higher the porportion of fat you use. If you race a marathon, appproximately 75-90% of the fuel you use is supplied by the breakdown of carbohydrates. 'Hitting the wall' when running a marathon usually means that your body has run out of carbohydrate to burn. This makes you slow down and is really annoying because there is very little you can do about it at that stage.

To keep up my carb intake this week, I focussed on foods which were easy to prepare, which had a low to medium G.I. (ie. slower-burning carbs) and which did not make me feel too bloated, so that I could fit as much into my body as possible! These were my main meals, which I topped up with snacks of fruit (kept a homemade fruit salad in the fridge to pick at), seeds, nuts and raisins, toast made with homemade seedy wholemeal bread and copious quanities of flapjacks.
I tried to drink at least 3 litres of liquid (water, redbush tea, lucozade, fruit juice) everyday, starting off the day with two pints of water 'down in one' before my morning cup of tea.

Breakfast - Porridge with crunchy demerara sugar, grapefruit, wholemeal toast, orange juice
Lunch - Lebanese herby wholemeal couscous salad with loads of salad veg from the fridge
Supper - Tom Yum hot and sour soup with salmon, thai basil and buckwheat noodles (really delicious, will add the recipe later)

Breakfast - Fruit and nut muesli with fresh blueberries and natural yoghurt, granary toast.
Lunch - Smoked salmon, cream cheese and rocket sandwich on my lovely homemade bread stuffed with sunflower and pumpkin seeds.
Supper - visit to local Indian restaurant - heaps of delicious pilau rice with various higher carb vegetarian dishes including dhal (lentils), sag aloo (spinach and potato) and a little of my husbands lamb dish.

Breakfast - Porridge again but this time with black treacle (extra iron!)
Lunch - Fusilli pasta with a mushroom sauce
Supper - Chilli con carne with basmati rice, fruit salad

Breakfast - yes, you guessed, porridge again, fruit salad, more toast
Lunch - en route to London - punnet of strawberries, ham sandwich, banana, several flapjacks
Tea - hot cross buns
Supper - Hummus and pitta bread, Spaghetti with pesto, parmesan, fresh basil and toasted pine nuts, blackberry and apple crumble (crumble made with ground almonds)

Sunday morning, the big day:
Just a bowl of porridge with crunchy demerara sugar, a slice of very heavy seedy/nutty bread with lashings of manuka money, fruit salad. Took another honey sandwich to the start line which I ate with a cup of sweet, weak tea they were providing, as I could not face drinking any more carbo drink.

I took a bottle of lucozade caffeine boost on the run with me and I had a High 5 gel every six miles, plus a few dextrose tablets with magnesium at mile 21 to give me a boost when I started to slow down. I think something with even more sodium would have been good for me, as I really craved something salty afterwards.

Flora London Marathon 2008 - 3 hours 37 minutes!

It has been a few days since my last posting, as the Marathon weekend has been pretty full-on to say the least. Below is a description of the marathon - I will write details of the pre-marathon supper, breakfast and snacks on a separate post.

I am really, really pleased with my new Personal Best of 3 hours 37 mins (in bold because I am just so incredibly chuffed). That is actually 7 minutes faster than my previous PB, so it just proves that at the end of the day you do get out what you put in. I won't talk you through every mile as I have already bored the family and friends with all the details, but yes, I beat Gordon Ramsay and Adam Bardsley (who is really my ultimate running hero and had already run 40 m iles before he started the marathon on Sunday - see world treadmill record http://gofasterfood.blogspot.com/2008/04/bonkers-running-friend.html). If you want to see my splits, click on the title. I find it hard to believe that I came 675th out of all women runners and 134th in my age group, but it is true! I felt that I was holding myself back in the first half, so maybe I could have got myself a better time...who knows, it's too late now!

The day started out beautifully and I set off from the Green Start, the special good for age section (with Gordon and the celebrities!) . The start was unlike any start I had previously experienced. It was fast and not crowded, with everyone in my section running at more or less the same speed, so you did not have to weave in and out of people. I was just getting absolutely boiled when the heavens opened with ice cold rain. It was quite welcome for a while but unfortunately it carried on for about 5 miles and the wind got up too…yuk. I have to say that the highlight was running with the Masai warriors chanting African rhythms. I also ran with a guy in the nuddy (I think he was Borat) and lots of bananas. The course was nice and flat - much easier than New York - and I have never experienced so much cheering, music and general support. It really was amazing and so very well organized, much more so than any other marathon I have done before. And the great thing is that with my time, I will get another automatic entry next year, so I can experience it all over again!

Friday, April 11, 2008

Gordon Ramsay's Pre-race Meal

I am pleased and quite flattered to say that my choice of pre-race meal is incredibly similar to that of Gordon Ramsay. Quite rightly, Gordon says that the night before a marathon is all about loading up on carbs and not making complicated dishes. He also says that he avoids fatty foods before a race. (I must say that I try to avoid fatty foods all the way through my training, as I feel that they tend to make you feel quite lethargic and play havoc with your digestion). There really is nothing worse than feeling bloated and heavy on race day, which is what happened to me before the New York Marathon when I just did not get the eating thing quite right and ending up stopping four times at the portaloos along the course!

Gordon's recipe for succes - see www.runnersworld.co.uk/news/article.asp?UAN=3319&v=1 - 57k - -is Pancetta Spaghetti , which is a pretty similar idea to my Spaghetti, toasted pine nuts, basil and parmesan pesto topped with pancetta - see Pre-Race Meal. I do like the generous helping of spaghetti he suggests of 225g for 2 people.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Tagliatelle with walnuts

Walnuts are a great superfood. They are high in omega-3 fatty acids and anti-oxidants. My parents have a walnut tree in their garden in France, so I am constantly trying to find uses for them. It is much easier and just as healthy to buy them ready-shelled but unfortunately for me I have to spend hours cracking them, trying to get through the enormous bag my parents bring home for me. We had this tagliatelle last night. It was nice and light and a good way of getting some more carbs into my system. I am starting to feel full of energy - I am eating really well yet I am not running the mileage that I am used to (yes, I am feeling a bit like a dog that needs to be taken out for a walk this afternoon!)

I used green spinach tagliatelle...

Tagliatelle with walnuts
Serves 4
4 servings tagliatelle - about 400g
1 large shallot
1 clove garlic
4 handfuls walnuts, broken up but not chopped up too small, gently roasted
large bunch of fresh parsley (flat-leaved)
zest of a lemon plus its juice
freshly ground black pepper
25g parmesan cheese
olive oil (extra virgin)
  1. Cook the tagliatelle according to pack instructions.
  2. Meanwhile, gently fry the shallot in a large pan in a good amount of olive oil. Add the garlic, parsley, walnuts and lemon zest.
  3. Transfer the pasta to the pan with a pasta spoon and toss the pasta and the walnut mixture together. Add some pasta water and some tasty extra virgin olive oil to keep the mixture from becoming sticky.
  4. Season with salt, black pepper, lemon juice and serve with a good helping of parmesan shavings.

Adam Bardsley - Bonkers running friend

A work contact of mine is doing the most amazing thing. Not only is he the Managing Director of a successful telcoms software company, but he also runs marathons really quickly (I think he did Berlin in 2 hrs 40). This time he is doing a non-stop 48 hour treadmill relay with 11 other runners directly before the London Marathon. That means that each of them are going to run 40 miles in about 4 hours, finishing at 8 a.m. on Sunday morning. They will then run London "as a warm down"! See his charity website -
I think that this a seriously impressive thing to do (if a little bonkers). If you want to cheer them on, they are running on a treadmill in the window of the Lillywhite's store in Picadilly Circus.

Monday, April 7, 2008

BIg Race Countdown

Diet during the week before the big race should have a huge effect on performance, so I am being extra vigilant this week as to what goes in my body. The aim of this is to fully replenish my glycogen stores and to keep well hydrated.

To keep hydrated, I intend to drink 3 litres of water a day for the next week. I am quite happy drinking water, but I am trying to drink a carbo sports drink every day as well to keep up my carbohydrate intake. I am currently sitting at the desk with a bottle of Taut, which is a little lighter on the stomach than lucozade sport, but still contains 25.5g carbohydrate in a 500ml bottle. I am also going to try to stay off the booze this week, although I expect I'll have a glass or two of red wine the night before the marathon to help me sleep!

In terms of diet, there is an argument for completely depleting your body of glycogen by doing a long run on the Sunday before the marathon and then just eating mainly from Sunday to Wednesday. This means that your body is then ready to store an extra supply of carbohydrate when you eat a high carbohydrate diet during the last three days before the marathon. (See the discussion on the Runner's World website with former London Marathon winner, Mike Gratton Hard Training Q&As: Nutrition). I am not going to do this as I am not prepared to risk doing such a long run so near to the marathon and I don't want to avoid carbs for three days. I did 10 miles on Sunday and am just going to try to eat my normal high carb diet and taper my running. During the last three days, I am going to try to eat about 4-500g carbs per day (about 7-10g/kg body weight is recommended) and just do a couple of short, slow runs.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Pre-Race Meal

Just 10 days left to the BIG DAY...April 13th is looming fast and I am starting to feel like I have recovered from the skiing holiday.. I am meant to be at the peak of my fitness and I managed to do a 7 mile run yesterday, with 3 x 1.6 miles really fast, but I am having the old negative thoughts that always creep in at about this stage before a marathon...Have I done enough training? Should I have done more long runs? Why, oh why did I go skiing 2 weeks beforehand? I know I can run 26 miles, I've done it three times before, but can I do it under 3 hrs 40 and can I keep the pace steady so that I don't blow up at mile 18? Only time will tell and I'll just have to leave it to careful pre-race preparation and fate now. I'll do a separate post on my pre-race prep and my race day strategy tomorrow.

I think I have decided what to eat the night before the marathon - Spaghetti, toasted pine nuts, basil and parmesan pesto topped with pancetta. I tried it out last night and it was not only delicious, but also dead quick and easy to prepare for a group of people (I think we will be about 6 or 7), it is foolproof, easy on the stomach, very calorific ( good calories, however) and full of goodness and slow-burning carbohydrates - guaranteed to make you sleep like a baby and run faster the next day (I hope!). We also had some very tasty oven-roasted peppers as a starter. Peppers are a great source of antioxidants such as vitamin C and vitamin A, fibre, lycopene and folic acid and we try to eat them as often as we can (in fact, my son steals them from the fridge and eats them like an apple). We then had a fruit salad for pudding. What a healthy meal!

Oven-roasted peppers - serves 4
4 red peppers, or a mixture or yellow, orange and red peppers cut in half with seeds removed (count on one pepper (i.e. two halves) per person)
4 medium tomatoes, diced (or some Sugocasa)
2 cloves garlic, crushed
4-6 anchovies, chopped finely
basil leaves
black pepper (no salt needed because of the anchovies)
extra virgin olive oil and good balsamic vinegar
  1. Place some tomato, garlic, chopped basil and anchovies into each 1/2 pepper (I did not have any tomatoes last night, so I used a dollop of Sainsbury's Sugocasa in each pepper and that was really delicious)
  2. Add about two tablespoons of olive oil to the peppers and some black pepper and place in a really hot oven (about 220 C)
  3. Roast for about 20 minutes, or until soft and caramelised (they should be going a little black around the edges to be at their best)
  4. Take out of the oven, sprinkle over some fresh basil leaves, some more black pepper and and a little balsamic vinegar (you could also add some feta cheese here) and eat, scooping up the juices with some chunks of crusty bread.
Spaghetti, toasted pine nuts, basil and parmesan pesto topped with pancetta - serves 4
400g spaghetti
pot of pesto (I used Sainsbury's Taste the Difference pesto last night which I really liked)
lots of fresh basil leaves
50g pine nuts
parmesan shavings
pack of pancetta or smoked bacon cubes
  1. Gently roast the pinenuts in the oven until golden (180 C for about 5 minutes) - keep checking them as they are really easy to burn.
  2. Cook the spaghetti according to pack instructions.
  3. Meanwhile saute the bacon and warm the pot of pesto.
  4. When the spaghetti is cooked, spoon it into a big bowl with a pasta spoon. Add a ladle of the cooking water to stop it sticking. Add the pesto, tear in a couple of big handfuls of basil leaves, add the pine nuts, some black pepper and as much parmesan as you want and toss the spaghetti. Top with the pancetta, some parmesan shavings and a few more basil leaves and serve. It looks really attractive in a big bowl in the centre of the table. (Sorry no photo!) Let people add more parmesan and black pepper to taste.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008


Back from skiing, I feel incredibly guilty that I have only two weeks until London and I have not been able to run for a whole week. Yet my legs feel tired from the skiing and sitting in a car for 10 hours. I bet Paula Radcliffe wouldn't go skiing two weeks before a marathon. My body also feels different from 10 days of a very 'German' diet....I took some porridge, but that ran out pretty quickly and I had to face white rolls, cold meats and cheese for breakfast, and then something very heavy and meaty for lunch and supper. Not an ideal runner's diet....

But now I am home and back to the running. I did the 16 miles that I should have done on Sunday yesterday and it was really, really hard. I just hope that this was because I had spent such a long time in the car the day before and that my legs start to feel a bit fresher as the week progresses.

I have just been introduced to a really funny thread on the Runner's World website about completely crazy runners who are addicted to muesli - Muesliholics - see http://www.runnersworld.co.uk/forum/forummessages.asp?URN=4&UTN=121663 .

I really love to eat muesli for breakfast too, especially in the summer before big runs. I do find porridge difficult to eat in hot weather, so muesli is a good, healthy, low G.I. option for a runner's breakfast. I often make it myself with jumbo oats, dried fruit, seeds and nuts, but I find the sugar-free natural muesli selection in the supermarkets is pretty good toothese days. My current favourite is Dorset Cereal's, 'simply delicious muesli', which is a delicious blend of raisins, sunflower seeds, dates, hazelnuts and brazil nuts with multi-grain flakes - see www.dorsetcereals.co.uk . I tend to eat my muesli with natural yoghurt, which I thin down with a little milk or water and I often add some fresh fruit (strawberries and blueberries are my favorites) and an extra sprinkle of seeds. Muesli really is packed full of good nutrients: the oats are good for your heart and lower cholesterol, the other multi-grain flakes are full of fibre, as is the dried fruit; the nuts are rich in omega 3 fatty acids and then you have the added protein from the milk or yoghurt you eat it with. Muesli has a good low glycaemic index and should keep you going until lunchtime. The other good thing is that you do not have to add any sugar or honey as the fruit sweetens it naturally.

The only problem with muesli is that it is so full of yummy things that it is quite chewy and can take a while to eat. The answer to this is to make Bircher Muesli, which is basically muesli which has been soaked for a few hours. I often make this the night before a long run, so I can just get up and eat it without having to prepare anything too compicated. Bircher muesli was introduced around the turn of the last century by the Swiss physician Maximilian Bircher-Benner for patients in his hospital, where a diet rich in fresh fruit and vegetables was an essential part of therapy. It is traditionally soaked overnight but a couple of hours is enough with modern ingredients. The original Bircher-Benner muesli recipe contains condensed milk but you can really use any liquid you fancy. Apple juice is popular but I find this too sweet. It really is a question of taste. I like to use skimmed milk or natural yoghurt and skimmed milk, but you could use cream, flavoured yoghurt, greek yoghurt or even water.

Bircher Muesli
This is my ideal recipe to serve one:
1 1/2 cups of natural unsweetened muesli with fruit and nuts or make your own with a cup of jumbo oats, a handful of dried fruit (raisins, green raisins, dates, figs, apricots, cranberries etc), a handful of nuts and seeds (walnuts, hazelnuts, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds)
  1. Pour over enough liquid (in my case. skimmed milk and a splash of apple juice) to cover generously. Sometimes I add a sprinkle of nutmeg or you could try cinnamon or even cardamom. Leave for a couple of hours or overnight in the fridge.
  2. Grate or chop an apple into the bowl before eating. Add more fresh fruit. some toasted seeds for a bit of crunch and a dollop of yoghurt.