Tuesday, 28 April 2015

This could get ranty.....

So.... there are many opinions floating around in the social media about this sporting lark – what it is and what it isn't.

There are people who started sporty blogs which have now turned into feature length adverts and reviews for various products.
Sport very rarely gets a mention.
Don't get me wrong – there are some people who manage to review products very honestly, are selective about how often and what products they will review. These people manage to maintain their integrity.
Some are less selective.

Anyway... that's one of my many gripes.

Another one?

Well, here goes, and I hope I can convey what I want to and get the balance right.

Last weekend while walking a chunk of Manchester marathon with Sarah (@SazzyMCH), probably around mile 23, one of the wonderful crowd shouted very loudly 'keep going you've almost run a marathon'
I thanked the lady for her words of encouragement but told her that I wouldn't be a marathon runner as I was walking.
I didn't have much run left in me at that point and wanted to save every ounce of run I could muster for the last mile.

And I meant it.
I can't call myself a marathon runner – I haven't run a marathon.
I have completed one, so I am a marathon finisher.

That's what it says on my t-shirt I got at the end too.
Marathon finisher.

If I had run the whole 26.2 miles at a pace of 12 minute miles, but run them all – then yes, I would call myself a runner.
If I had run them all at 6.30 minute miles, then I would call myself a runner.

I think by calling myself a runner takes away some of the achievement from those who run hard.
Those who give everything to do a 3 hour marathon – those that run hard to do a 6 hour marathon (but run all of it, not walk a bit here and a bit there)

Running a whole marathon requires proper training and proper dedication.
There are people who go out, week on week, and give it their all at park-run, those who will never run more than 5km every Saturday morning, but run with all their heart and soul on a weekly basis.

There are those who are sponsored – be that via nutrition or kit supplies, proper professional athletes who train every day, for multiple hours a day.

GB runners, those who do nothing but run, cross train so it benefits their running, recover thoroughly and scrutinise everything that goes into their body as fuel.
Day in, day out.
They eat, sleep and breath running.
These are runners.

There are recreational runners who train every day and have sponsors – these are runners too.

I don't want to take anything away from anyone, and include myself in that statement.
Don't get me wrong 26.2 miles was a big deal for me.
And yes, I trained for it.
I trained hard (not hard enough) - but it wasn't my primary goal.
My first 5km was a big deal.
I know the exact spot on the canal where I turned so I could complete my first 10km run ever.

Were it not for triathlon, it is very unlikely I would be doing any running at all – and for that reason, I feel a fraud in calling myself a runner if this detracts form others who work harder at it than I do.
I don't even consider myself a triathlete – I am someone who does triathlons.

Just because you lace up a pair of trainers, doesn't necessarily make you a runner – for some running is something they do – it doesn't define who they are.

It doesn't mean they enjoy it any more or any less than someone who does it more often or faster or for longer distances.
Someone very close me is a very talented runner, has great fitness, good speed, good endurance, but openly dislikes running – it is something they do.

It is just different – it serves a different purpose for different people and there are lots of people out there, in running circles, in media circles who could do with thinking about it in this way.

What was it Paula Radcliffe said on Sunday 'I run because I am a runner. I am a runner because I run'
While I respect everything she has done and am more than a little bit in awe at her achievements, bounce-back-ability and determination, this statement is only true for some.

My next area of shouty rantiness could go in any direction – I know what I want to say, again, whether it comes out the way I want it to is another matter..... but here goes.....

When the 'This Girl Can' campaign came out, I had a watch of it and a read about it and thought 'I LOVE the 'I jiggle, therefore I am' and yes, I thought 'this girl can' briefly about myself, but equally and more often, I thought 'what about the blokes who jiggle and can?'

Why wasn't it 'you can'?
Regardless of your age, shape, speed, size, jiggly bits, limb structure, skin colour – it should be 'you can' or 'I can' or 'this person can'

Because there are men that need some gentle encouragement too.
Lots of men.
Without going into detail or derailing myself, its worth mentioning the male suicide rate and the positive links between sport and depression at this point.

I regularly see the rants about 'women in sport' and needing to get more women taking part – we need to get more people in general taking part (the flip side of more participation being the complaints about events selling out 12 months in advance / being overpriced due to demand etc etc)

The same people who want women involved in sports, who vote for women only marathons and triathlons, equally whinge and moan about the 'pink it and shrink it' approach and complain that they don't want that – that women don’t want that.
Some women must want it, else it wouldn't sell.

Make your mind up... do you want specialist treatment cos you're female? Do you want sport in isolation so its all soft and gentle?
No – we want it tough..... ok... so why can't it be mixed with the blokes if that's the case? Ah, well, there is everyday sexism too.....


I love the idea of Race for Life – I really do, but why can't men take part? Men suffer from cancer.... ah well, its breast cancer.
Yeah – they suffer from that too.
Show me a man who hasn't been affected by cancer.
How pink is that?
And exclusive.
If men organised a male only event there would be utter uproar.

Men had Movember as A Thing of their own for prostate cancer– but the women have gradually infiltrated this and leapt on board with cries of 'we're supporting our men folk'
No really, well done. 
Last time I checked, the prostate helped with the production of sperm and women don't have that – but men do have breast tissue.

See my problem?

I want more people in sport.
I want kids passionate about it – and have the opportunity to try all the sports and have access to them all so they fall in love with whatever it is that floats their boat.
I want men and woman of all ages and abilities to have access to welcoming and supportive clubs and facilities.
I want people to be proud of what their bodies can do.
I want people to realise how glorious life can be when it is coloured with endorphins.
I want everyone to be encouraged to be the best they can be – at whatever they chose to do.

Other opinions are available.

Saturday, 25 April 2015

Manchester Marathon

I would love to write a mile by mile, blow by blow account of how the marathon went.
I would like to write about how I smashed my goal time into bits.
I didn't smash it to bits.

My original goals were

A) Finish
B) Sub 5 hours
C) Sub 4.30

Sub 5 hours would be a push - i knew that before the day came.

When the gun went off and i crossed the start line, my goals for the day very quickly became

A) Finish
B) Don't shit yourself 
C) Don't be last

These all seemed like fairly achievable goals. 
Much more realistic than my first set of goals - although 'B) Don't shit yourself' came into question for a few of the middle miles. 

I think I would have liked to have blogged about my training that led into the marathon. But in all honesty, it wasn't that glamorous and in all honesty, some days, I called getting out of bed and getting dressed a success, let alone going in the outside and running. 

I can summarise the training part fairly quickly, I missed 6 weeks at the start of the build to the marathon - I found a lump in my left breast on New Years Eve, the first biopsy left me sore and not able to do very much for the first week of January, the second biopsy left me very sore and unable to do very much of anything for about 5 weeks.  I was unable to swim (arm movement hurt) unable to run (jiggle hurt far too much) and unable to bike (downward pressure was agony regardless of how much strapping I used) 

Lack of exercise, let alone significant training, also compounded the SAD that had already taken a tight hold. Overall, at the beginning of the year, most days I had the motivation of a sloth. 
Happily, I only had to have 2 biopsies and some poking about.

I did train when I could n February saw me racking the miles up - running became my happy head space and suddenly, the drop in heart rate I had been promised for so very long, finally arrived.  

The week before Manchester, I cheered Paris marathon, found myself giddy high and ready for it to be my turn.

Manchester wasn't a 'run' for me in the same way it was for many others.
It was a training exercise for Ironman Japan.
Yes the distance was a bit early, but I needed to tick off the distance. 

I needed to know what 26.2 miles of running would feel like.
I needed to know how far it was. 
I'm aware that sounds stupid, but until I completed it, I genuinely didn't know. 

And now I do.

I learned a lot while running my first marathon last Sunday.

I learned my mates are awesome. 
Really they are.
It makes my face hurt and my insides squish a bit when I think about the fact they stood in the cold for over 5 hours to cheer for me.

I learned that 26.2 miles is hard work.
It hurts your legs, your joints, your head and if you're not careful your stomach. 
I need to practice running longer distances.

I definitely need to practice pace control - even though I KNEW this and tried my best to curb my enthusiasm, I still went out harder than I should and this made the second half harder than it needed to be. 

Did I mention that I bloody loved it?
As in properly loved it.
I smiled the WHOLE way round.

And I high-fived EVERYBODY
I even found myself crossing the road to high-five kids!
That counts as extra running right?

I BEAMED all the way (apart from the photo below which was taken before the gun went off and I was still full of all the terror - also slightly pressured and confused, but mainly touched, by the fact my swim coach had come to watch me run.)

I was promised pom-poms at mile 26.
Couldn't really miss them!!

My biggest fan

And a new friend who helped me through the last 5 miles. 

The biggest thing I learned though was from looking back at the pictures after the marathon and knowing how much my knees hurt during the last miles and in the hours and days after I had finished.

If you look at the picture below, you will notice 3 things
1)  One of the loves of my life is hanging over the fence on the left of the picture.  I love her lots.  Signe covered miles on the course so she could cheer and squidge in multiple locations!! She's ace.
2) I am still smiling.
3) My legs are all over the shop.

The pressure that is placed on my knee when I connect with the ground is visible.
My whole leg is at an angle, with my foot tilted out to compensate and balance the weight.
I rock my hips from side to side.

If this happened for every stride during the whole 26.2 miles (which it did, cos this is how I run), no wonder my knee was grumpy with me.

I knew my run was 'distinctive'
I've been told I can be very easily identified in a crowd of runners.
And I kinda knew it happened.
I just didn't know it looked like this!!

Other than looking like a very happy version Quadzilla, there looks to be no roll in my left foot - it appears that I land flat, my hips seem to roll (although not as emphasised) 

Its certainly fair to say, I don't look like this 


There is much work to do.
No amount of work will make my legs that long. 
Orr lean.

I have been experimenting with my running form since the marathon - I have been working on aligning my hips and knees, not rocking my hips, keeping my feet facing forwards, shifting my body weight, altering my stride length. 
All to see which feels best. 

What it feels like, what it looks like and how efficient it is can all be very out of sync with each other.
And like swimming, having someone watch can be invaluable. 

So... for me, I need to work HARD of my running form - mainly so my knees don't die a slow and painful death just as i'm starting to love running. 

Any hints, tips, drills will be appreciated - I know there are lots of running coached out there. 

Ideally, I need to have some proper analysis and some proper coaching.

I shall add it to the list of things to do.....

Monday, 13 April 2015

Macaroon making

I have only discovered these little magical clouds of loveliness since coming to Paris.

I was asked if I would like to join a friend of Bear's at one of the many cooking schools in Paris for an afternoon macaroon making.
How could I say no?

My place was booked at La Cuisine, Paris.

Having never baked in public, and not being in a cookery lesson since I was 14 (so 20 years ago), I was slightly apprehensive but looking forward to it. I love both baking and eating the finished product.

When we arrived at La Cuisine, we were welcomed by the reception staff who were clearly passionate about food - we were given a map of Paris with various restaurants, cookware shops and specialist food shops highlighted - told the best paces to buy marmalade and the famous beurre bordier
We were informed about their market tours which take in local markets and specialist shops, buying local produce then returning to the kitchen classroom to rustle up some tasty treats with the help of the chefs.

After being introduced to Eric, our chef and instructor for the afternoon, the group of 6 of us went into the cellar, scrubbed up and found our work stations. The kitchen was used standard kitchen ware so that those attending classes could be sure they would leave with the ability to replicate at home.

We would be making 2 different types of macaroons - Italian and French. 
We were talked through the differences in the 2 and the science needed for both - there is a very specific failure point from over mixing and too much moisture.
Turns out, macaroon making is quite an exact science.  

We set to work making the different fillings first (so they could sit in the fridge while we made the macaroons)
Me and Cas were allocated fruit filling. There was also coffee butter-cream, vanilla patisserie custard and dark chocolate ganache made by others in the group.  

We were all invited to have a look at the science of making the other fillings, every step was explained and monitored.
When we had all filled the piping bags and sent them to cool, it was time to make the Italian macaroons (the harder of the 2 to make)

The sugar solution had to be heated to exactly 118*C - while this is warming, start to whisk the eggs

Add the sugar to the eggs when it reaches temperature and continue to whisk until the mixture is no longer hot.
While this is happening, sieve the ground almonds and caster sugar.

once sieved - add remaining egg whiles and mix until combined - add any food colouring at this point

Add powdered food colouring rather than liquid so as not to mess with the humidity.
We voted to make purple and the blue colouring got everywhere. I looked like I had been shaking hands with a smurf.

Then its time to combine the 2 mixtures together.

This is a very important part of the process. Its easy to over mix then and ruin the whole batch.
Consistency is key. Its important to add the egg whites and sugar mix a third at a time and fold in gradually while checking for a 'ribbon' consistency.

Pop the mix into a piping bag, pipe small rounds onto a pre-prepared baking tray.

Bake at a low temp for approx 12 mins or until the macaroons 'don't wiggle' (technical term)

Once cooled, the macaroons should slide from the sheet easily, leave to cool and then pair with their soul mate macaroons
Fill with the prepared fillings, squidge them together and allow to stand in the fridge for 24 hours to get the best results (if you can leave them alone for that that long!)

The jam filling ones should be eaten soon due to the liquid content affecting the stability of the macaroons - same with the custard. Eat these first - let the coffee and and chocolate ones stand.

We then made French macaroons, which was a very quick method - and while the macaroons looked different and tasted different when they had just been made, after a few days of standing - they tasted exactly the same as the Italian version.

If you ever fancy an afternoon of learning something 'typically French', and happen to be in Paris, I would recommend this.
Eric, our chef, was friendly, helpful, and had obtained a pastry degree while living in France - his knowledge and passion shone through.

I had a great afternoon and may return to have a bash at croissant making in the future (although that may prove very dangerous for my waste line)