Month: September 2012

Vegan Experiment Day One

What would a vegan do? Hmmmm – good question. And what am I doing even pondering this question, you might ask? Well, here’s the thing …

Although I’m extremely healthy and my weight and BMI are all well within a healthy range, my knees suffer tremendously with few pounds that I waiver away from my ‘ideal’ weight. I’ve gone off track and had a few binges and ridiculous eating weeks and have been struggling for the last few weeks to stop eating garbage (albeit in between healthy mealtimes!). I’m just losing the plot and the final straw was last weekend’s ultra injuries, which were not only due to, I believe, a ‘glute’ problem, but also the extra pounds I was carrying.

Enough is enough, but I’m a very weird game-player when it comes to dealing with my health. I know exactly what needs doing but I’ve been trying this for the last few weeks and have failed miserably. If you continue to do what you’ve always done then you’ll always get what you’ve always got, right? So something has to change – radically – and what’s the last thing in the world I ever thought I’d do? Yes, that’d probably be ‘eat vegan’. So that’s what I’m going to do for a couple of weeks. I’m going to eat vegan. Because it’s alternative (to me, anyway), it’s different, it’s a million miles away from what I normally eat and it’ll force me to re-think what I’m eating, to look carefully at food and to take a massive interest in my nutrition to ensure I understand what I’m doing and I’m getting all the nutrients I need! Fascinating, huh? No? Well, I think it is.

Today has been Day One and yes, I’ve spent most of the day wondering ‘What would a vegan do?’ It’s a long time since I’ve carefully examined the nutritional content of almost every supermarket food I picked up, with the exception of all the fresh fruit and veg. I’ve had so much fun. It’s been enlightening, too. Granted, the idea came to me after reading Scott Jurek’s book Eat and Run ( I’ve mentioned this book quite a lot recently but I think that’s only testament to how much I’ve enjoyed it. The drive and determination of this man is nothing short of inspirational and it’s hard to read it and not want to get up and go for a run afterwards. Of course, the book also heavily advocates a vegan diet and yes, that’s where the inspiration came from for my radical nutrition challenge, but I’ll readily admit that I certainly have no intention of ‘going vegan’! Firstly, I’m far too fussy an eater to be able to sustain the diet for any length of time – and secondly, I have no intention of giving up wearing leather shoes/boots or being quite so radically environmentally-friendly. I do my little bit but I’m far too shallow to commit to the whole vegan ethic.

So I’ll stick to my own personal challenge to try something totally different. I’m a great believer in thinking that the magic happens outside the comfort zone and it occurred to me that I’ve always thought of this in physical terms – but why not nutritional? A vegan diet, I can assure, is certainly well outside MY comfort zone, but I’m looking forward to new knowledge, a real shake-up in my eating habits, reinforced awareness of the food I’m putting into my body and the effect it has, and plenty of fun (and hopefully energy) along the way.

Today, I tried soya milk for the first time ever!! Yes, really! I’ve always had a mental impression that it would taste revolting. I think it’s the idea of getting ‘milk’ from beans – what an odd concept. Well, I was thrilled to discover how wrong I was. It actually tastes rather like a sweetened cow’s milk – or not too far off it. Discovery No. 1 of the day has been positive.

Discovery No. 2 was the fact that I could actually survive a whole day without dairy. Blimey, I never realised how much dairy I actually consume.

I kept my food very simple today. I had a smoothie for breakfast, soup and bread (gluten and dairy-free) for lunch, fruit for snacks and roast veggies and wholemeal rice for dinner.

Looking forward to what I’ll discover tomorrow lol

Paras 10 training begins

And so it begins … training for the Para’s 10 Challenge on 21 October. Who’s stupid idea was it to do this, I ask you (although that wasn’t a question, really)! Yes, I admit the prospect of training for a ten-mile race was rather appealing – a bit of a break from distance running which my head adores but my body not so much. And the prospect of meeting up with some fellow runners from the London to Brighton challenge also sounded like fun. But the button was right there in front of me on the entry form to enter the standard race. It was right there! It really was! So why couldn’t I press it and go and have some fun running a 10-mile course like most other runners who enjoy 10 mile races? I couldn’t, could I? Nope! I had to ignore that button and move my hand slightly to the right and press on the adjacent button – the one that said P Company Entries and hey ho, with one little click I’ve signed myself up to run the 10 miles in military boots and carrying 35lbs/16kg on my back! What an idiot!

And so training begins. Well, it’s different, I can tell you that. Interesting, too. I sought out some expertise before buying any boots (thank you, Bob!) and finally became the proud owner of a pair of Magnums which I can neither eat on a sunny day nor point at anyone and say ‘Make my day!’ Either of those would be preferable, but no, these ones go on my feet. Is there a foot-size restriction in the army? Jeez, you should try finding a size 5 in any of these boots. Almost impossible. They still feel big (to be honest, I think they stuck a size 5 label on size 6 boots just to keep me happy lol) but we’re starting to come to terms with each other. I’ve found a way to stop my feet moving around in them, I’ve sucked it up and dealt with the rubbing and skin off around the back of my heels and we are beginning to get on. I’ve definitely cracked the code for walking/running in them, too. For me, at least, it’s 100% psychological. On my first tentative couple of walks I was aware of the weight and relative discomfort all the time. Then it occurred to me that I was spending too much time thinking about it. I decided to try imagining I was simply wearing my trainers. Absolute bloody magic! No problem at all after that. The ‘walking-in-the-boots’ challenge box is well and truly ticked.

The bergen, however, is a whole other story. Bring on the challenge!! Massive thank you (again) to Bob – for going to the trouble of conjuring up a bergen AND camos for me. The training plan supplied by the Paras (no doubt for us beginners to this lark) suggests a combination of building up running in boots with what I call ‘weighted’ runs in trainers – in other words, either doing sessions with boots on or sessions with the bergen – but not both at once. It also suggests building up from 15 lbs in the bergen to 30 lbs (no sessions with 35 lbs – I wonder why??). Anyway, I’ve sorted my own training plan now – based on the suggested training ideas and knowledge of my own capabilities. Now I’m even more worried about that weight!! I’ve done a 5 km trot with 20lbs in a ‘normal’ rucksack – and an 8-mile walk. 20lbs is not too bad. Today, however, it was my first outing with the bergen – a very different feel altogether. I was also determined to take the worry away about the weight by doing 10k with the full 35 lbs – just to know that it was possible. At least 10k would give me a feel for what it was going to be like. Well, what can I say? I did it! Am I any less worried? Erm …. No! Jesus, that’s HEAVY!! Compared to my 20lb rucksack, the Bergen is also HUGE – much harder to carry on my ‘relatively’ small frame. Packing it is going to be key. Yesterday, I played around with a 10kg sandbag in it – thinking that’d be a good start, but there’s no way to stabilise it and it also means the weight is going from top to bottom, whereas I’d rather have more weight higher up and away from my lower back. I ditched the sandbag. For my 10k walk this morning I settled on a sleeping bag at the bottom with 2 x 6kg dumbells cushioned between sleeping bag ‘layers’. I didn’t have time to weigh it but I figure that it was close enough to 16 kgs with the bergen and the sleeping bag – and by the time the bergen was truly SATURATED with rain I’m sure it weighed more!! This still needs work. The sleeping bag’s too soft and over time the weights found their way further and further down my back.

The bergen weighting game continues …
The problems:
– what to put at the bottom to keep the heavier weights closer to the top;
– What to use as weights – any alternative to dumbells?

What I’ve learned today

1. It’s f***ing heavy
2. The thought of running with it is a lot worse than the actual act! It’s manageable (just).
3. It’s f***ing heavy
4. My glutes are definitely NOT doing the work they should be. Action required.

High Peaks 40 Mile Challenge 2012

(Post-script: I’m laughing my head off as I realise I’m writing this tale of woes and troubles while beside my laptop is a copy of my current read: Scott Jurek’s Eat and Run … which puts everything into perspective! In short, the following ‘harrowing’ tale is, in reality, akin to having a tantrum because I had to run down the road for the bus! Here goes, though …)

FINAL RESULT: My first ever medal 🙂  2nd place … wait for it …. SUPER VETS (isn’t that fab?? I love it!)  10 hrs 30:46 – room for about 3 hours of improvement!!  Here’s the story:

My second foray into ultra-running and once again I was blessed with perfect weather – blue skies, warm sun, light breeze. Good start. In terms of comparison with my first ultra experience, however, that’s where any similarities ended. In fact, the difference between the two ultras was akin to the difference between a 5-star hotel and a room over the pub. There was no spoon-feeding here; no cotton wool wrapping. Somehow it made it much more real – and more natural; more challenging and also more daunting.

I bumped into Loxley Crawshaw in the car park – a fellow 100k-er from London to Brighton. A friendly face was most welcome at the start line although I knew he wouldn’t be around for long. We had two very different race plans – his being to go out hard and keep going, mine being to go out slowly and just do whatever to get to the finish, ever wary of my inexperience. I learned a lot during my first 100km race but I had a feeling this High Peaks 40 Mile Challenge was going to introduce a whole new meaning to the term ‘learning curve’. I wasn’t wrong.

A vague hand wave (there may have been a whistle, who knows …) and we were off. I felt good – and I loved loved loved the real ‘trails’! There was no warm-up to the first hill, though. Those peaks came thick and fast, the views were jaw-droppingly gorgeous and I was feeling on top of the world. My body, I’ve learned, will moan, shriek and howl like crazy over the first 15 to 20 km of any run, so I was quietly ignoring all the complaining and pacing myself perfectly, but it didn’t take long till I realised that one particular niggle was not something that was going to go away. Not five miles in and I was forced to stop and stretch my IT band. I was gutted. Demoralised, demotivated and downright pissed off. I hadn’t had an IT problem for months. Now? NOW? It had to surface NOW? In hindsight I figure it was those blasted initial downhills. Descents had reigned in those first few miles and the combination of hard surface and my obviously rubbish downhill technique now left me facing the entire rest of the race with an injury that was only going to get worse. I was angry and upset and bitterly disappointed.

But neither anger, upset nor bitter disappointment were going to be of any practical use in my quest to finish this race ‘no matter what’, so I adopted a philosophy of stretch, run what you can, concentrate on the ascents and limp/crawl/stagger all the downhills. At least I was not alone in my world of injurydom; fellow racer Kelly Thorn and I decided by the 10 mile mark we might as well introduce ourselves since it was becoming quite apparent that we were going to be spending a lot of time either together or within yelling distance. The company was hugely appreciated as the course got more and more demanding (in beginners’ terms, at least). The ascents got steeper and the terrain definitely ‘difficult’ at times. Mam Tor – the first biggie of the day – made Ditchling Beacon look and feel like a speed bump. Accessed by innumerable gigantic steps, I was very grateful for the hours I’d spent on Jacob’s Ladder in Brighton! At the top, our running duo became a foursome as we were joined by two MDS trainees on their first MDS training run – and who’d already put in a couple of ‘alternative’ kilometres … all in the name of training, of course LOL The subsequent and partly sub-conscious boy v. girl competition worked wonders for the rest of the course and proved excellent distraction from shooting pains up my right leg, now accompanied by a nostalgic childhood sensation of drying blood around the gash in my left knee where that ‘difficult’ terrain had scored a definite few points.

Mam Tor was swiftly and cruelly followed by Cave Dale which was, in short, brutal. Was it because I hadn’t trained enough? Was my nutrition already off at this point? Was it because it came so quickly after climbing Mam Tor? I still can’t answer that but if Mam Tor was steep, Cave Dale was Energy Sapper Extraordinaire – something that didn’t escape the watchful eye of a cute 4-year-old picnicking with his parents who summed it all up when he piped up as loud as can be ‘Ooooo, it’s really ‘ard werk, isn’t it? The observation brought all four of us to a walk, as we just couldn’t muster the energy to laugh and run at the same time!

It was soon after that that Kelly asked me straight out ‘Will you finish?’ I’d been really struggling, over-compensating with ‘alternative’ running styles and God knows what else! It was a defining moment, however, that moment when she asked that question, because it was the moment I realised I’d learned something about myself that I was quite proud of: it dawned on me that the idea of stopping or not finishing had never once crossed my mind. I’d thought of stopping to stretch, maybe even resting, perhaps stopping and eating something half-decent from my backpack, or attempting to tape my leg …. but I had never considered not completing the course. Perhaps that makes me an even bigger fool – it was a proud fool who kept going!

From the halfway point onwards, it got tough – somehow tougher than the 100km, which I thought was fascinating (and a wonderful distraction!). I can remember how tough it was because I stopped looking at the scenery. My entire concentration was taken up with placing one foot in front of the other (don’t think, just do!) – and ticking off checkpoints. Little did I know the highlight of the race was yet to come. My sincere gratitude goes to the elderly man who proffered the QUOTE OF THE DAY which I can honestly say lifted my spirits so much that I know I got at least another 5 miles out of them! In ten seconds of pure, absolute sheer magical genius, this gentleman pulled to the side of the trail and stood leaning on his walking stick watching us pass. As I limped up the trail, he hollered to his wife, a little further down the track. ‘Oi! Marge!’ he shouted. ‘I thought the paralympics finished last week!’

I wish I’d felt well enough to tackle the final 10 miles of the challenge with some of the passion they deserved. Not having a running buddy – or indeed feeling competent enough to run with anyone (!) – my off-road ventures tend to be short or, if not that short then it’s only because I’m lost – again! It was wonderful and exciting and exhilarating to explore what I suppose can only be described as my first experience of a real ‘trail’ run. I had no idea how to deal with the varied terrain underfoot. I’m sure it wasn’t that tricky save for my lack of experience and even an ounce of knowledge as to how best to ‘run’ over it. Being at the back of the pack has disadvantages other than simply keeping checkpoint marshalls from afternoon tea/dinner/sleep? It also meant that I couldn’t learn by watching how the ‘real runners’ actually went about covering these sections of the course. As a result it was slow and arduous instead of slow and exciting – or even fast and exciting! Besides which, I was distracted by a whole new sensation, namely the waves of nausea and trailside vomiting. Body was definitely saying ‘Noooooooooo!’

Thankfully, at the last-but-one checkpoint there was a HOT DRINK. It must have been the heat that enabled me to finally keep some fluid in my stomach. Just as well, as the MDS lads had set off quickly with renewed energy knowing that the finish line was close, and that meant only one thing: they had to be caught. They were caught. They were caught crying – or was that Kelly who was crying? I know it wasn’t me because I didn’t have the energy (much less enough fluid in me to create tears lol). Just 3 miles to go and look what appeared around the corner … the most lethal and horrendous gorge. It hadn’t looked like that on the map – it had just looked like a little hill, but it did (it really did) reduce competitors to tears!! OMG it was scary. I’d love to have gone down it on my bum but the path was only wide enough for half a bum-cheek! There was bugger all to hang on to and …. one wrong step and it was a long way down. Oh yeah! Scary times! But the bonus was that I didn’t give a toss about the ascent on the other side – the relief of reaching the bottom still upright was all the boost that was necessary.

The last mile was predictably interminable and I confess that terrain, nutritional errors, hydration hiccups and injuries had definitely taken their toll by then. The agreement with Kelly to sprint the last 100 metres together was torn up and replaced by a 50m pledge – which was subsequently also shredded. I think the final sprint was the length of 5 large paving stones which led to the finish line checkpoint.

So what’s next? Well, I’m off to google some videos on downhill-running. Right after that I’m going to google how to run on different types of terrain – although I have a feeling the answer will be something like ‘You’re supposed to just know how to do that, duh!’ Finally … well, me and the High Peaks have unfinished business, so next year …

Meanwhile, wishing the MDS guys an amazing experience in 2013. And Kelly Thorn? Thank you for your company and wishing you an incredible 5 days of running in October in the Himalaya 100 (yes, I’ve looked it up – wish I hadn’t )

Next: Paras 10 (October)
GRIM (December)
42-mile Peak District Night-time Team Challenge (2013)
Hadrian’s Wall (2013)
High Peaks 40-Mile Challenge (The Return!!) (2013)

Hmmmm … best get training 

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