Rail to Trail Essex

Muddy trail shoesMy plan of racing more sensibly after an injury hit few months lasted all of about a week, the lure of the trails was too strong. After hearing about Rail to Trail via some twitter chat I decided to sign up for the first race of the series in Newport Essex. Basically all the locations are within roughly an hour from London (depending on where you are I suppose), so easily accessible and a great introduction to trail running.

Not having worn trail shoes since February, or run on anything off-road or even anything resembling an incline since July I settled for the half marathon option! I also believed that the half marathon was 13.1 miles until the night before the race when I discovered it was 15 (and actually ended up being 16 thanks to a navigational error!), pretty glad I didn’t realise that during the race!

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It was a reasonably early start for me from Greenwich, but the journey was pretty easy and I got a train straight from Liverpool St. to Newport, where I discovered that the race start was literally less than 100m from the train station. Win. Nothing worse than having to shuffle miles to a train station after a long race.

I caught up with some old and new running friends, grabbed my bib, and chip which we had to dib in at the 2 checkpoints along the route, dropped my bag and was all set to run! For a first time event the organisation was excellent, it was only a small race with around 30 odd people doing each distance 10k, half and full, the marshals were brilliant and it was very well signposted, although I think there was a problem which was quickly sorted on the marathon course.

We set off up and over the train bridge leaving behind civilization and headed out for a few hours of glorious trail miles. The weather threatened throughout but it stayed dry, however you could see how much rain had fallen throughout the week. The farmers fields were boggy and some of the puddles along the route were insane, I went shin deep in one, but didn’t lose my trusty Inov-8 trailrocs thankfully! They held up pretty well to the task once again.

I settled into a comfortable rhythm chatting away with Emma and Jen for the first few minutes and following the person in front. Number 1 rule of trail running don’t just follow the person in front- I was guilty of this at Longman in Feb and ended up doing an extra 1.6 miles- we missed the big red cross sign completely as we weren’t paying attention and ended up at a fork in the road with no signs- definitely the wrong way! We headed back along the path we had followed to discover we had totally missed the direction sign, and added about a mile onto our race! Getting lost was actually a bit of a blessing in disguise as I had really bad stomach cramps and a dodgy tummy before that point, which seemed to settle when we stopped and attempted to navigate (ie. all of us looking at a map like we had any idea what to do with it!).

I lost Jen and Emma at some point after getting lost and I settled into an easy maintainable pace with one woman on my shoulder up until the 9 mile point when she sped off and left me and my marathon legs for dead! It was a long time until we saw anyone else thanks to us getting lost, although we did catch up with a few people after a while. The course was pretty flat throughout and not particularly technical, a lot of the route was out in the open through farmers fields, which would have been fine had we had dry weather, however it was so muddy that it required a lot of effort just to keep trudging forward, and by the midpoint my shoes were so caked in mud and everything else I had picked up along the route it felt like I was wearing moon boots- seriously lead heavy!

My legs started to go around the 8-9 mile mark, and I dropped my pace considerably here. I spent a long time alone, and at times questioned if I was going the right way when I didn’t see a course marker for a while. It was quite isolated, but I didn’t really mind this, in fact I quite enjoyed it. I didn’t take my iPod so went music free, just quietly alone with the sounds of nature, my camelbak sloshing, my feet trampling through the mud, and my breathing heavy! The route was perfectly peaceful, and I enjoyed the freeing feeling or being in the middle of nowhere with just my thoughts.

It’s funny what goes through your mind, when you are running for 3 hours or so largely alone, I tend to have an internal dialogue going on, with the occasional deep and meaningful thought. I was trying to figure out what kept me going forward, why I carried on putting one leg in front of the other, what was driving me on- I never got to the bottom of that one.

The last 5 miles were tough, my legs were tired and heavy and there were 2 killer hills, the first I ran a large part of, but had to walk it in when I realised I could walk up it quicker! The downhill in-between the two hills killed my ITB, it hates running downhill! The second hill was insane, it was about 14-15 miles in, and it would have been tough at the start let alone here, I nearly had to scramble up it, my legs just couldn’t move. I noticed my pace on the hill was 33 min miles!

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I was so glad to reach the top and after a brief stop and chat with a marshal I headed on the last mile for home! One last time over the trail bridge and across the line, muddy, my body was knackered but my soul was refreshed and rejuvenated! Best of all there was a Vegan food truck, Rupert’s Street, with a load of delicious offerings, I went for the chickpea lentil curry. Hit.the.spot.

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I just love trail running, and although I hadn’t done any training for this, and wasn’t feeling entirely hot on the run, I just didn’t care. Time is out the window on the trails, there’s no pressure, it’s just you and nature, and it’s liberating and just a little bit life affirming. I love road running, but it just doesn’t compare to running trails.

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I was quite keen to do the next in the series at the end of November but I’ve just realised I’m not actually in London that weekend, boo! Hopefully I can get to one of the next ones in the new year! I loved how small and intimate the race was, everyone was so friendly and it was great to chat and meet lots of other runners including the inspirational marathon man Rob Young who is taking part in an absolutely incredible challenge of running a marathon a day for a year! Pretty amazing stuff!

Om Yoga Magazine October

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I fell a bit behind on my magazine reading this month as we have been so busy with house stuff! I finally caught up with Om Yoga magazine and again there was lots of great content from the benefits of yoga when taking part in other sports, to how to improve your sleep and boost energy levels-which is always key at this time of year. I was particularly interested in their sports nutrition article, as I’m currently studying nutrition and this is an area I’m very interested in.

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It’s a very basic guide to getting your nutrition right pre, during and post exercise to maximise repair and recovery. It wasn’t really anything I didn’t already know, but it’s always good to have a refresh and I’m sure it’s a pretty helpful guide if people don’t really know a lot about how to fuel for sports. I think good nutrition is key to recovery, and performance and fuelling with good quality whole foods is a good way to achieve this.

The article discusses fuelling before exercise, personally I have changed this around a bit this year, and I used to always fuel before any distance run (a few dates or 1/2 a banana) but now I do anything under 6 miles-as long as it isn’t a speed workout-with no fuel at all. If I do eat before a workout, I like a mix of slow and fast release carbohydrates alongside some good fats, my pre race breakfast is oats, chia seeds, coconut oil and a banana. Protein is not ideal pre-workout as it takes a long time to digest.

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During activity hydration is very important. For anything under 6/7 miles I go without water unless it is a very hot day and I am losing a lot of fluid. Anything over that I take my hydration pack with usually with a mix of water, some coconut water and Viridian sports electrolyte fix. Replenishing electrolytes is key, as you aren’t just losing water, but all your mineral salts during exercise, which are vital for so many functions in the body. I try to minimise fuelling during longer runs to avoid any GI problems, but I like to use Nakd bars, dates, Ella’s fruit pouches, and Vega and 33 shake chia gels.

Post exercise there is a suggestion that we have a 30 minute window to refill glycogen stores efficiently. Eating a good ratio of carbohydrates with a little bit of protein is a good way to do this. I tend to have a smoothie with some Sunwarrior or hemp protein mixed in, or some porridge with a little Sunwarrior mixed in if it’s breakfast time.

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Later it’s important to eat a decent amount of protein to continue the repair process. Whether lunch/dinner I like to have a veggie heavy meal with some sort of bean/legume, like salad, stir fries, chilli or lentil soup. Antioxidants are also key for repair, so I love to eat lots of veggies and some fruit particularly dark berries to get these in.

I think eating well around your workout program can have a massive impact, and I feel like I recover pretty quickly day to day by focusing on whole plant based foods.

How do you fuel your exercise?

Cacao Coconut Energy Bars

I’m trail running this weekend, so I wanted to make something that I could have during and post race, as a good energy dense snack that also tastes delcious. I am trying my best (a.k.a not trying very hard!) to save money and budget at the moment, so my expensive snack bar habit needs to stop, and now that I have a fridge and fully working kitchen I can start making big batches of bars again!

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This recipe is pretty simple, I would say just make sure you have really good quality soft medjool dates, otherwise soak them beforehand and drain. You can use coconut butter instead of the cream probably 2-3 Tbsp, I prefer the cream as it’s way cheaper. Just skim off the separated coconut oil bit which you can use for the recipe and use about 1/4 of the leftover hard block.

Cacao Coconut Energy Bars

  • 200g Medjool Dates
  • 1/4 block Creamed Coconut
  • 2 Tbsp of Coconut Oil
  • 2 Tbsp Chia Seeds
  • 2 Tbsp Cacao Powder
  • 1/4 cup Shredded Coconut
  • 2 Cups Oats

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First whizz the medjool dates in a food processor, do it until they come together into a sticky ball and keep going a little bit longer, until it separates into a paste. Add the creamed coconut, and coconut oil and continue to process, until it comes together in a big gooey ball of deliciousness. Add chia, cacao, shredded coconut and oats along with a dash of water and whizz until the mixture comes together. Press into a greased or lined pan and whack in the fridge for a few hours to firm up, then slice into bars.

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This makes 11-12 good size bars or 9 large ones. It’s perfect for during or before a run or race with a good mix of quick release and slow release carbs and essential fats. It brings together 3 of my favourite running fuels: oats, chia seeds and coconut oil! In fact that is my usual pre-race breakfast combo, with a few added extras, this makes for a delicious whole food energy bar that will hopefully see me power through the mud and hills on the trails over the weekend!

What’s next?

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It’s been two weeks since Berlin and I’ve now had time to reflect on the race, and I guess my running year as a whole. In some ways it doesn’t feel like I’ve just gone through another marathon training period due to my enforced lack of training. This is nice in a way as I’m not fed up with running at this point, but in another way I actually really missed doing those long training runs!

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Berlin was not a race I really had on the agenda for this year, with the main focus the Ultra and Manchester marathon earlier in the year. Had I not got into the ballot, I don’t think I would have been rushing up to sign up for another autumn marathon. I am now realising that 3 marathons and an ultra within a 6 month period is pretty tough on the body, and mine has broken down several times throughout this year which reflects that.

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That’s not to say I wouldn’t consider doing the same again, I’ve learnt a lot from all the different races, and up and down training periods, and injuries to deal with. If anything it has taught me to focus more on run specific strength training, as well as my pre/post run routine. It’s something I’ve always just taken for granted, but I realise now-especially with all the longer distance stuff-I can’t really afford to mess about, and keep avoiding these things. I’ve also come to realise that I can’t follow tough training programs like the Fat Burn Revolution, or Insanity alongside marathon training, and I’d say doing so was largely to blame for my injuries too. Trying to cram in too much causes my body to break down, and I end up knackered all of the time as well. I will be looking to try and fit in programs like this during the time I am not training for long distance races to build some strength, and then focus on running and more run specific strength stuff during race training.

The body has recovered OK since Berlin, I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel, given I hadn’t run over 13 miles for months, and my training had been all over the place. My ITB has actually been pretty good, it’s the rest of my body and mind that have been struggling post race. Some days I’ve been suffering with ridiculous fatigue, I think it’s a combination of all the stuff we have had going on lately with the move etc, plus pushing my body to somewhere it wasn’t really trained to go! Some days are better than others, but some I can’t even haul myself up the stairs, I guess it’s normal to feel tired post marathon and it does seem to be easing as the days go by.

I don’t know what’s next, I feel like I want to continue the long distance stuff, but be a bit more sensible about it. The injuries this year and time out have made me realise how much I love running and that I need to do everything I can to minimize injury risk and look after my body so I can continue to do it!

There are two races I really want to do next year, but they are both around the same time, so I think I will have to choose between the two. I didn’t get into London, so I am still debating whether I want to do a spring marathon and probably won’t decide until early next year after taking a few months off of proper training.Muddy trail shoes

I am hoping to do a few of the trailscape events including the half in Essex this weekend. After 3 trail races this year I realise it’s absolutely where my heart lies with running, and is something I want to do more of. After that I have the Brighton half in Feb, and I would really like to train properly for that as I haven’t trained for a half since I dipped under 2 hours at Cardiff last year, and would like to have a crack at beating that again.

What events do you have lined up?

Vegan in Berlin

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I was super excited to return to Berlin, mostly for the marathon, but also as I found it to be right at the top of my list in terms of Vegan friendly cities. I already had some favourite places from last time that I wanted to revisit, as well as some new places I wanted to check out. A lot of these places aren’t solely Vegan as the other half is an omni and I feel bad dragging him to loads of all Vegan places, so this is more like a guide to the best places to eat in Berlin if your a Vegan and your other half isn’t!!

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Dolores

I adored this cute California style burrito cafe last time we visited and felt the same again this time. They serve up a big array of mexican food, from burritos, burrito bowls, chip, guacamole, salads and more. They have plenty of Vegan options on the menu, so you can customise or choose one of their put together combos. Both times I went I had the Vegan friend burrito bowl, with extra guac of course!! It was absolutely massive, and a total steal too- as pretty much everything in Berlin is!

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Dada Falafel

This is another place we visited last time, they have a takeaway shop with an outdoor area and a sit down restaurant next door. As it was pissing it down we chose the latter option. I went for the falafel plate, the falafel here is some of the best I’ve ever had, it’s not dense, heavy or greasy, it has such a lovely light texture and is packed with herbs. I also enjoyed the tabbouleh, and hummus alongside. Nick had the mixed plate, which had a bit of everything- meaty and veg!

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Good Time

This is on the fancier and more expensive end of the spectrum for Berlin, and we went here in the evening for our post marathon meal. I had an absolutely massive tofu and veggie dish, which absolutely hit the spot. There isn’t a huge array of choice on the menu for Vegans, but that dish is so good. Also they are very willing to accommodate to dietary needs and requests.

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Schiller Burger

Again another quick cafe style place, they have a huge selection of meat and veggie burgers as well 2 vegan burgers on the menu. To be honest I have no idea what the one I had included, but I think it was tofu, it was covered in loads of different dressings, although mine lacked the vegan cheese which they had run out of-not that I minded as I’m not a big fake products fan! Anyway the burger was OK, but the sweet potato fries were out of this world amazing! Just go here, and get the fries!

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Oh La La

We stumbled upon Oh La La on the way back from Schiller Burger late one evening, it is an all Vegan French-style patisserie- for reals! We grabbed the Indiana dessert, and shared it, it was absolutely amazing, and tasted exactly like a snickers bar. We visited again for the famous weekend brunch the day prior to the marathon. There was loads of great savoury fare on offer, with a spinach curry, tofu bourguinon and lots of salad options. I was a bit dissappointed in the dessert offerings considering the aforementioned amazing treat, so we bought a chocolate eclair and the Tresor which was like a giant ferrero rocher and shared them post marathon- amazing! A bit of a splurge, but when in Berlin….

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Funk You

On our final day in Berlin I was totally craving a smoothie or juice and so we decided to go for breakfast at this all veggie cafe. They have loads of options, Nick had french toast and I had the muesli which had a vegan option, we both had delicious smoothies alongside. I think they also do savoury fare and raw cakes later in the day.

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Zeus Pizza

Zeus pizza is a winner, because they have an enormous omni menu, and an equally large Vegan one. I really liked the pizza because it had an extremely thin crust-almost non-existent in the middle!-so it wasn’t too heavy to eat. It could have done with more veggies on the topping, but overall for the price and the selection I can’t complain.

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I also managed to grab lots of healthier vegan options from stations along the way, we had a few picnics during days out and managed to easily pick up Vegan food while out and about. Almost everywhere in Berlin seems to offer vegan food, even sandwich bar Le Crobag in the train stations offer stuff. It’s amazing just to know that you can grab food wherever and it’s no problem, and if you are stuck you can always get beer and a pretzel! I ate stuff in Berlin that I hadn’t eaten in years, and I genuinely think it was because I had a bit of a carefree attitude to the marathon that this happened. Getting injured was a bit of a blessing in disguise, because I wasn’t so focused on the marathon, and was actually able to enjoy the holiday without stressing about doing too much walking, drinking too much beer and eating unfamiliar foods.

There was loads of places I would have liked to have tried in addition, and I never made it to the all Vegan supermarket either, but I guess they will have to go on the list for the next trip!!