Monday, June 23, 2008

Fell runners are made of tougher stuff - A gruelling 14 mile Brecon Beacon 3 peak Challenge organised by the British Heart Foundation

Where are these 3 peaks then?

There's nothing like a mountain (or 3) to bring you straight down to earth with a big bang. I consider myself to be a pretty fit mother of three. I ran the London Marathon this year in 3:37 with a swift recovery time, I regularly run my training runs doing under 8 minute miles and, living in Bristol, I feel fairly accustomed to hills. Well, that was my opinion before I recklessly decided to put my hand to fell running.

I ask myself now what made me get up at 4.30 am on a Saturday morning to arrive in time for the early 7 am start of the 14 mile 3 peak Brecon Beacons Challenge? Was it the promise of the free Salomon XT Wings and the Nokia GPS? Was it curiosity and the need for another challenge now that I know that I have mastered 4 marathons.......or was it just plain insanity?

As we approached the Brecon Beacons Mountain Centre my stomach started to churn. Shrouded in mist, the view of the 3 peaks over which we were about to run looked unbelievably daunting. Thank goodness we had to stick in teams -I knew I could rely on my ex-army superhero team mate, Andy, for his impeccable map reading skills (no, I hadn't had time to work out how to use the Nokia GPS, and quite frankly even if I had trusted it, I couldn't have used it as it isn't water-resistant).

The turn-out was low due to the vile weather - pouring rain, high winds and fog - there must have been about 100 of us die-hards waiting at the start line at 7 am. I was slightly concerned that there was only one other female runner - and she looked super-fit and half my age. I instinctively knew from the first mile that my training around the hills of Bristol had been positively laughable compared with what I was about to experience. The hills, for a start, are steep and relentless. Then there is the terrain to cope with, which on Saturday was not only rough (no track or path in parts) but also boggy and slippery. There are rocks to climb, streams to jump, tufts of grass to leap over and great areas of bog land to negotiate. I also knew it was not a good day physically and mentally - I had had several bad nights' sleep, a dodgy stomach and my legs had not felt strong all week. Despite my desperate attempts to look after myself and eat the perfect runner's diet, I was just not 100% and there was nothing I could do about it.

And then there is the navigation in the fog! No mile indicators here, just the odd safety check point. The Nokia, had it been waterproof, would not have been great for running up in the mountains - retrieving it from the backpack with frozen fingers (my fingers do not function properly during endurance runs at the best of times) would have been too difficult. I have to say that I relied entirely on my team-mate, chief motivator and running buddy, Andy. Expert map-reader he may be.....but he had left his glasses behind because of the rain! We only took a wrong turn at one point - at the top of peak 3, Corn-du. The wind was really howling here and I was frozen. We had reached the summit and last peak of the run, but I was still feeling pretty low. Up on Corn-du, if you err too far one way you drop off the edge. We were slightly too cautious and took a path too far away from this drop. In doing this we added an extra mile onto our run (and the steepest and rockiest, of course). It also meant that having been in third place until mile 10, we dropped down to fifth place. Never mind, we'll just notch it up to experience! We'll know which way to go next time (the winners had already paced out the course in training...clever!).

So...2 days afterwards, Andy and I have decided to give it another go in August. The target? To run all the way up to the top of Pen-y-Fan without walking....I had better get down to some serious training.

We were hoping to gain time on the downhill section of the race, and I have to say that it felt good on the legs. The Salomon XT Wings worked quite well here and had a certain amount of grip, but it was really too slippery and racing down was not an option unless you were after a couple of twisted ankles and a sore butt. We noticed that the team in front of us had spiked fell-running shoes - we could see the marks in the mud. Those spikes were probably ideal for the conditions. My XT Wings were incredibly comfortable - they have been since the first time I put them on. The special pull-string laces make it really easy to get just the right fit around your foot. They were, however, not at all waterproof, and there were times when I could feel and hear the water/mud squelching inside the shoe. I suppose this is the price you have to pay for a breathable shoe and I am sure they would have been perfect for a less boggy trail.

The GPS on the Nokia, as I have said, is not suitable really for fell running as it is not water-resistant. I did use the Sportstracker which monitors your speed and mileage and will download this to the PC, but I feel happier with the Garmin on my wrist - easy to access and accurate, it also motivates you to run faster because you can monitor your actual speed so easily. The camera and video on the Nokia , however, is absolutely brilliant - 5 mega pixels and really easy to use and download. I think these photos really portray the miserable weather of the day.....

It was also the first time I had run with a backpack. I bought a super lightweight original mountain marathon backpack from Up and Running. It sat on my back very comfortably, weighed virtually nothing and had lots of easy access side pockets to stuff in your waterproof etc quickly. I'm very pleased with this purchase and will probably use it for skiing and cycling too.

Recipe for the Chocolate Biscuit Cake which saved me on my return to follow in next post!

Friday, June 20, 2008

Iron Rations

Less than 24 hours to go. My legs still feel tired and I had another bad nights' sleep, despite the energetic rounders tournament last night. (I have to say that I am definitely more cut out for running than rounders - that little ball hurts when you try to catch it...and fail)

I actually believe I am also nervous and excited about my first fell-running race. I now have all the fancy kit - the Salomon shoes just brilliant and I have finally worked out how to use my Nokia N82 GPS phone. The camera on it is dead easy to use and it has 5 megapixels, which is pretty amazing for a mobile phone. I am looking forward to getting some good shots of the run if it is not raining too hard. I have also bought myself a fancy running backpack for all the compulsory kit and iron rations you have to carry with you.

Talking of iron, I think my legs might also be tired because I have not been eating enough of the stuff this week. Not many women are aware of this, but pre-menopausal women from the age of about 11 to 49 need almost twice the amount of iron per day than men - about 14.8 as opposed to 8.7 mg for men (11.3 for 11-18 yr old boys). And women who exercise need even more because iron stores are depleted when you exercise. People like Paula Radcliffe need to be really vigilant about iron in their diet - apparently Paula not only has a supply of Cadbury's chocolate - a good source of iron - shipped out to her training base in America, but she also uses a supplement and eats red meat, the best source of iron, at least three times a week (including ostrich and venison). This picture was taken by John Hardy, a friend and Consultant Specialist in Orthopaedic and Trauma Surgery (luckily I haven't had to use his professional services yet!) and photographer extraordinaire - I think it was the 2006 Bristol 1/2 marathon.

Although I have been trying my best to keep up my iron intake this week (hence the steak and the lamb), I am wondering whether I need some more. I made myself some porridge (with unrefined organic oats...much tastier) this morning and drizzled over two or three spoons of molasses, which has a high iron content. Vitamin C is an 'iron enhancer', so I had 1/2 a grapefruit to help my body absorb the iron more easily. I have not yet decided what to make tonight for my pre-race meal, but it will definitely involve pasta. And I will keep on munching at the 70% chocolate...full of iron and very yummy. Mark and the boys are going canoeing/camping down the Wye Valley for the weekend, so they will certainly need some sustenance considering the grotty weather forecast.

I am writing another article for the Sunday Times aboutdifferent types of iron and women who exercise, including some iron-rich recipe ideas, so more of this later.....

Monday, June 16, 2008


I have been tapering my running this week, in preparation for Saturday's hard slog. In fact, I think the taper has been a little excessive, as I have run a total of six miles since Monday, but that is all I have been able to fit in. I'm a bit worried because today my legs felt like lead today. I did not sleep well and I just don't feel great. Let's hope things perk up for the school rounders competition tonight! Total rest on Friday is in order, I think.

I have changed my allegiances and started buying the majority of my meat from my local farm shop - Gatcombe Farm (no website for a link unfortunately). The meat is deliciously tasty and most of it is from the farm. They do the best bacon and sausages too, but last night we had some lamb chops - any carnivorous readers will know what I mean when I say that we chewed every last morsel from the bone, it was just so tasty. The kids did not seem to bat an eyelid when I mentioned that it had come from the sweet little lambs over the hill. We ate these with some spaetzle, a German wheat flour and egg pasta, which I had bought over in Germany in April (Original Hausgemachter Grossmutters Kueche). Spaetzle is great running food - low GI, quite substantial with at least 68g carbohydrate per 100g pasta. I just boiled it for 7 minutes and then served it with some herbs, farchioni extra virgin olive oil and plenty of salt and pepper. We ate the lamb and the pasta with a fresh organic green salad with a dijon mustard dressing and a bottle of rioja (between 3 and I only had two small glasses, so not too bad). A pretty balanced meal, all in all.

Salomon challenge

I have finally received my Salomon XT Wings - just one week before the big day: my 14 mile 3 peak Brecon Beacon run. I was contacted way back in April with this fantastic offer of goodies (shoes and a GPS system) in return for talking about training for the challenge on my blog. They have been so popular that my size was completely out of stock in the whole of Europe until now. I can see why. I have now run about 12 miles in them and I have to say that they feel good. They are supportive, very comfortable, are nicely cushioned and they fit like a glove. The colour, however, is not good - as a neighbour commented - they look like I have vomited over them!

I have also received my Nokia GPS with 5 mega pixel camera, which I have been given to log my training. Well, it is a bit late for that, but I will work out how to use it over the next couple of days, and hopefully I should manage to get some good shots of the Brecon Beacons and the progress of my run.

I am not sure whether I am fully prepared for this fell run, as I don't really know what to expect. If I were to run 14 miles on Saturday, I know that I would be absolutely fine. But 14 miles up and down three mountains....who knows? I really don't want to have to walk and I am feeling a bit apprehensive...

Friday, June 13, 2008

Thai Green Mango Salad Thai Basil Chicken with noodles

I have just made a great discovery. I am starting to gear up to the race on 21st June and thinking about increasing the carbohydrate in my diet. While searching (still in vain) for some cassava to make some sweet potato and cassava patties (a recipe from Yasmin Alhibi-Brown I want to try), I nipped into Wai Lee Hong, our local Asian supermarket and found something else I had been looking for since my holiday in Thailand - green mangoes. Green mangoes have a firmer flesh and are not as sweet as the ones we are used to eating here in the UK. Unripe mangoes are prized in many South-East Asian countries and in Thailand they are often used to make the most delicious salads. You can probably buy them quite easily in London, but this is the first time I have seen them here in Bristol, even in the Asian supermarket. I bought some immediately to make a green mango salad as a starter before our Thai basil chicken. If you have the ingredients, this meal really takes no time at all to prepare. It is fresh and healthy and provides a really good balance of carbohydrate, protein, vitamins and minerals - great for running, great for anything really!
Green Mango Salad followed by Thai Basil Chicken with noodles - A delicious and healthy way to carbo-load...

Green Mango Salad - serves 2

Mango is one of those fruits which seem to have everything! Rich in dietary fiber and carbohydrate, it also contains antioxidants like vitamins A, C and E, B vitamins, potassium, copper and amino acids. It is a pain to peel and ripe mangoes can be really very messy to eat, but it is definitely worth the effort... Don't worry too much about exact quantities, just throw it all together. if you want to make this salad more substantial, you could mix in some prawns or thin slices of roast duck or serve with a fresh tuna steak.

2 green mangoes
1 tbsp lime juice
1 tsp thai shrimp paste
1 tbsp finely ground roasted peanuts (you can use peanut butter or satay sauce for the sake of speed)
2 tbsp thai fish sauce
1 tbsp sugar (palm sugar or soft brown sugar)
1 tbsp chilli paste
a little finely chopped fresh ginger
bunch of mint, chopped
bunch of coriander, chopped
small fresh chilli, chopped finely
2 finely chopped spring onions
Crisp green salad leaves (Romaine or Cos for instance) to serve
  1. Peel and core the mangoes and slice very finely into thin shreds.
  2. Gently combine all the ingredients and tasted to see if you need a little more sugar, lime juice, fish sauce or chilli to balance the flavours.
  3. Serve on the salad leaves and sprinkle with chopped peanuts.

Thai Basil Chicken with Noodles - serves 2

Our Asian supermarket sells two different varieties of basil - Holy Basil and Thai Sweet Basil - both are delicious and have a more aniseed flavour than the mediterranean variety. You could use either in this recipe. If you use the med. variety, you will not get an authentic flavour but it will taste nice all the same! As a vegetable, you could use green beans, or chinese greens. I used Heen Choi, which is very much like spinach.

2 tbs oil
5 tbs fresh thai sweet basil leaves
2 cloves garlic, sliced finely
1 tsp freshly chopped red chilli (add more, plus some whole chillis, if you want it hot)
2 inch piece of fresh ginger, cut into very thin strips
4 chicken thigh fillets or 2 chicken breasts (I pefer to use thigh, as the meat is darker, more juicy and contains more iron)
1-2 tablespoon fish sauce
1 tablespoon oyster sauce
1 tsp sugar (palm sugar if you have some)
50g chopped peanuts or tbsp satay sauce
2 handfuls of green beans, cut into pieces, or a couple of bunches of chinese greens
125 g noodles - amoy bean strip is good- cooked according to pack intructions
  1. Heat in oil in a frying pan or wok. Add the chilli, ginger and garlic and fry for 20-30 seconds.
  2. Add the chicken and stir-fry for a minute or so until sealed.
  3. Stir in the sugar, satay sauce or peanuts and the fish sauce and then fry the meat until it is cooked through. Add a little water or stock if it looks a bit dry.
  4. Add the vegetables and cook for a couple of minutes.
  5. Stir in the oyster sauce and the noodles and then add the basil leaves. Taste for seasoning. You may want to add more chilli, fish sauce, sugar
  6. Serve garnished with basil leaves and a wedge of lime.

If you are stuck for the ingredients, my local oriental supermarket has a website - - and does home delivery nationally. Take a look at the website - there are cooking tips and really useful information about all the different exotic ingreadients.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Pork and Apricot Tagine

It has been hot and circumstances have been such that even doing a short run has been a bit of a struggle...yes, my children have caught some kind of sick virus and I have been stuck in the house for a couple of days.

However, this weekend they made a swift and magical recovery (!?) and were suddenly up for a trip to Devon to my sister-in-law Sally's wonderful house in Salcombe. It is a former hotel/guesthouse which they have converted into a most beautiful holiday home (it sleeps about 17, plus there is an annex for the staff, or more guests!). And luckily for us, my sister-in-law lives in the States and is incredibly generous - we can basically have use of the place whenever we want.

For me, the best thing about Salcombe is the kitchen - it has, loads of worksurface, every gadget under the sun, an aga, a conventional oven, a big fridge etc etc. And while you are cooking, you can look out at what must be one of the world's the best views. There is a herb garden to die for, with every herb you could possible want. Yesterday, we caught some pollack (my heart always sinks when I see pollack on the line, rather than mackerel) which I livened up with a mixture of fennel fronds and lemon grass from the garden.

We were chased off the beach on Saturday by a thunder storm, so I delayed my long run until the evening. The coast path around Devon really is one of the most perfect places for training. What could be more delightful than running along a cliff top with the sweet smell of gorse mixed with the freshness of the sea air, wild rabbits hopping out of the way as you take them by surprise. Before you know it, you have clocked off miles of hard, uneven and hilly terrain. I was running along writing my blog in my head like this when suddenly....BUMPPP...SPLATTT...I had fallen on the ground, still slippy from the thunder storm - straight down, headfirst, catching my left knee and chin. It is a bad feeling when you fall during a run, especially when you are on your own. There is always that fear that you might have injured yourself. I sat on the ground feeling rather sorry for myself for a while, until I caught sight of another runner in the distance and immediately pulled myself together, jumped up and continued, too embarassed to be seen in my misery! In fact I was fine, just a little shaken.

Back in the super-duper Salcombe kitchen, my mother-in-law had been preparing supper for the whole extended family (I think there were 20 of us). Little did she know it but she had put together a perfect runners meal - a simple but so very tasty stew of pork with apricots which she served up with some fusilli pasta and a delicious green salad. All I had to do was to make the salad dressing! It is great being a guest sometimes!

Pork and Apricot Stew
This is a hearty sweet and sour stew which goes very well with a fresh green salad and pasta, couscous or even mashed potato. It tastes nicer the next day. If you make it in advance, leave adding the fresh herbs and almonds until you serve it up.
1 tbsp Olive Oil
½ tsp Ground Turmeric
½ tsp Ground Black Pepper
½ tsp Ground Ginger
½ tsp Cayenne Pepper

1/2 tsp ground cumin
pinch of ground cloves
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 kg boned shoulder of pork, cut into cubes
2 Onions, sliced
Chicken stock , cider or water
300g Dried Apricots
1 tsp Honey
splash of Orange blossom water
1-inch Cinnamon Stick
2 tbsp toasted Almonds

Bunch of fresh parsley or coriander, roughly chopped
  1. In a plastic bag combine meat with some seasoned flour and shake about to cover the meat.
  2. Heat up a tagine or casserole dish, add a splash of olive oil and brown the meat.
  3. Remove the meat and set aside. Add a splash of brandy if you like, to deglaze the pan.
  4. Add some more oil and then gently saute the onion until it is nice and golden. Add the spices, the garlic and the pork and then top up with enough chicken stock to cover the meat.
  5. Bring to the boil, cover and then simmer gently for about 45 minutes, until the meat is tender.
  6. Add the apricots and the cinnamon stick and cook for 10 minutes or so until the fruit is tender. If the sauce is too runny you may have to add a little flour to thicken it slightly.Ad
  7. d the orange flower , the honey and the herbs and toasted almonds. Taste for seasoning. If you think it is too sweet, try to add something sour like a spoon of dijon mustard, worcester sauce or some lemon juice.
  8. Serve with some plain pasta shapes or couscous and a green salad, dressed with lemon and some tasty olive oil.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Warm salad of seared tuna steak with butter beans then 14 hilly miles

The great advantage of hosting a dinner when you are training is that you can be sociable but you get the opportunity to decide on the menu - ie. you can choose food that is going to help, rather than hinder, your Sunday morning run. The disadvantage is that you cannot dictate when your guests leave and you have to clear up. Also, no matter how hard I try to be virtuous, I always end up having a few glasses of wine and going to bed in the early hours.

This Saturday night was an exception, as one of our guests slipped on the way down the hill to our house, broke his arm and smashed up his elbow and the rather nice bottle of wine he was carrying. Mark, my husband, fetched him in the car and took him to casualty, where he was kept in overnight and then operated on in the morning. So, no guests to eat all the food!

When Mark finally returned from casualty at about 10pm, we decided to eat the food anyway, as it was too tempting to leave and would not have frozen well. The kids ate the leftovers the next day, much to their delight!

Fresh local asparagus with some delicious italian cured ham, pecorino shavings in a lemon/white balsamic dressing
Seared tuna on a warm salad of butter beans, preserved lemon dressing(see below, very good running food) Lovely plate of cheese including a prize winning caerphilly cheese - gorwyyn I think?
Seville orange tart (recipe to follow)
Homemade almond biscotti with Vin Santo (not so good for running!)

Warm salad of seared Tuna with butter beans
My husband refuses to eat canned tuna and refers to it as cat food, but fresh tuna is in a totally different league. It is really delicious and is particularly high in omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins, protein and minerals. It is very important to buy it really fresh and use it on the day you buy it. Also don’t overcook it as it will turn into a tasteless rubber lump! Wait until the pan is really, really hot (I start to heat it up at least 10 minutes before cooking) and just sear it on both sides for a minute or so. If you can’t get hold of fresh tuna, a piece of salmon fillet is a good alternative. The white beans (use butter beans or canellini beans) are a nice summery alternative low G.I. carbohydrate to rice and pasta, high in low G.I. carbohydrate, and are also a good source of fibre, protein, potassium, iron and other minerals…all good stuff for running.

Serves 4
4 thick tuna steaks
160g butter beans, soaked over night and boiled for about 30 minutes or 3 cans butter beans, drained
small pack of pancetta cubes
2 cloves garlic, crushed
large handful fresh chopped parsley
1 preserved lemon, sliced very finely, pulp removed, plus a little of the brine for the dressing
Bunch of rocket, watercress or spinach
Tbsp extra virgin olive oil for the bean mixture plus 2 tbsp for the dressing
8-10 sunblush sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
salt and pepper to taste
juice of ½ lemon
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar

  1. Saute the pancetta gently in a little oil for five minutes until cooked. Add the garlic, butter beans, tomatoes, lemon juice and half of the parsley and heat through. Season with salt and pepper.
  2. Make the dressing by mixing together the balsamic vinegar, olive oil, the preserved lemon the rest of the parsely, salt, pepper and the preserved lemon brine (1tsp) to taste.
  3. Arrange the rocket or watercress on 4 plates (it looks good in really large flat-bottomed pasta bowls) and spoon on the white bean mixture.
  4. Lightly brush the tuna with oil and heat the griddle pan or frying pan. When it is really hot, fry the steaks for a couple of minutes on each side. Don’t overcook them. They should be pink inside and they will continue to cook slightly after you have removed them from the pan.
  5. Place a steak on top of each bed of white beans and generously drizzle over the dressing.

14 mile hilly run

This wasn't too bad until the last 2 miles, when I really started to run out of steam. I was running with my "fast" buddy, who was luckily not in the mood for hill reps, so we only had to go up the hills the once! I think after 12 miles, the earlier hills, the Vin Santo and the late night started to rear their ugly heads. Also, I had not managed much of a breakfast - just two weetabix, so enough for an hour's run, but not for any longer. Anyway, that's one long run out of the way for the training for the Brecon Beacons run on 21st June. I'll do one next weekend and then start to taper.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Sunday Times

What to eat when you're training for a run
When you are training, give your body the food it deserves

I am very pleased to have finally had my article printed in the Sunday Times Style Section (page 41). Let's hope there are more to come like this, as this has increased the clicks on my website enormously. The editor has changed the wording slightly on the piece which is mostly fine, but I was disappointed to see that it states that you should up your protein intake the night before a run - this should read carbohydrate! They have used a fantastic photograph, though, and some nice recipe suggestions...

Welsh Cawl

It has been a week or so since my last blog. Sorry about that, but the half-term week has been spent on a very wet and windy campsite in Pembrokeshire, no mobile connection, definitely no internet, and to add insult to injury, no showers. However, if you are going to camp, you may as well do it properly and get "away from it all". Pembrokeshire is a very beautiful place, even in the rain....

My running has taken a nose-dive over the past week also. I had had romantic plans of doing my 12 mile training run along the Pembrokeshire coastal path in my new Salomon shoes, but I could not face returning to a damp tent, soaked through the the skin, tired and windswept with no hot bath in which to recover and my shoes still have not arrived because they are completely out of stock of my size. A hardy walk with the kids, finishing in the cosy local pub for a bowl of Cawl was much more enticing. Cawl is a delicious traditional welsh soup/stew, made with best end of lamb or shin of beef , leeks and other root vegetables, guaranteed to warm the cockles after being out in the wild welsh weather. I think it is the sort of dish for which every welsh housewife has her secret recipe, but I have just found a fun blog recipe for cawl with recipes from a local welsh WI cawl supper meeting- see for some ideas. If I had done my run, I think this soup would have been a perfect recovery dish...

We have also had plenty of fresh mackerel, which I reckon to be one of the most healthy fish around, packed with omega-3 fatty acids for a healthy heart, brain, skin, eyes, the list goes on and on. It is just so delicious eaten plain, straight from the grill or barbecue. We ate some like this one pleasant evening when we didn't have to resort to the pub, with chunks of fresh bread and some salad. Then I bought some more when we got home (from my fish man Barry) which we ate with lemon and parsley, jersey new potatoes and broccoli. It is most certainly the kids favorite fish of the month. It is cheap and very good brain food as well to help them with their end of year exams!