And the cycling begins!

I received an awesome email this afternoon:

We’ve got some exciting news about your order: Your bike is being assembled!

That’s right – I will soon be the owner of this awesome speed machine:

I’m way more excited than I probably should be .. Cycling, wooo !!

My new job is currently a 1-hour commute – only 1 stop on the train, but there’s a long walk to and from the station. However, I worked out that it’s just 6 miles from home to my office – which means I can cycle there in under half the time it takes me to travel there at the moment! 

And as an added bonus, whilst I was too impatient to wait 3 months to get the bike through the ‘ride to work’ scheme – i.e., discounted – the sale price of the bike is actually less than I would have paid for 3 months of train tickets (yes, for just one stop .. which is costing me £6.40 a day. With my railcard, which theoretically offers 1/3 off the cost of train tickets, it would cost me £12. SouthWestTrains, I will never understand you).

I’m excited to add some regular, non-negotiable cross-training to my schedule each week, especially given the problems I’ve been having with my knees lately, thanks to the last few uber-long training runs.

Now I just need to stop slacking on the running, and I might just survive Brighton Marathon next month!


Here’s to Healthy Eating

I came across a post in Runners World the other day: Nutritious Smoothies for Runners. I’ve always been a fan of smoothies, and have become a bit of a smoothie fiend since getting a hand-held blender for Christmas last year (they’re so much fun! You can whizz up practically anything!)

I always thought I was being pretty healthy, mixing low-fat yoghurt with various fruit (and maybe occasionally almost always some cocoa powder or dark chocolate), but after doing a little research, I’ve realised that there a ton of other ingredients I could add, and most are healthier – less sugar, for starters, and often more protein. The protein, of course, is key for muscle recovery after a tough run; and at this stage in marathon training, I’m sure you’ll agree that all of the runs are getting pretty tough!

Blueberry, raspberry and vanilla – tasty!

So, inspired by the articles I’ve read recently, I decided to look into the most commonly recommended ingredients, to see what benefits they really offer – and I realised that I’ve been underestimating a lot of them!

I was on the right track with some things, at least: cocoa powder is a great source of anti oxidants. In fact, according to a study conducted by the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry, it contains a higher amount of antioxidants than red wine and tea. Pretty impressive!

Other good sources of anti oxidants are blueberries, kiwi, raisins and mangoes. Strangely enough, cinnamon also makes the list – and boasts other benefits, like potassium and anti-inflammatory properties. Banana is another ingredient that seems to keep appearing, as they’re rich in potassium. I personally love bananas in smoothies, as they go with nearly anything, and thicken it up nicely.

As for protein, there are a number of ways to add a little extra. The obvious choices are yoghurt and milk, but there are other, less obvious options: soybeans, tofu, almonds (e.g. almond butter or almond milk) and peanuts are all great. If you fancy being a little adventurous, egg whites apparently also work well – though I don’t think I’ll be trying that any time soon.

I might’ve drizzled a large amount of honey over this ..

Now for me, it’s been brilliant to learn about the nutritional benefits of things that I eat all the time – and I’ve realised that my usual breakfast is quite a bit healthier than I gave it credit for. Most mornings, I’ll make a bowl of porridge, mixed with cinnamon, raisins and honey, and occasionally topped with sliced banana. If I’m feeling lazy, I’ll just have plain porridge with a drizzle of honey. I thought that this was kind of bad, given that porridge + honey is basically just carbs + sugar (not that this made me any less lazy), so I was pretty happy to stumble across this article, which cites a number of ways that honey is actually good for you! Drizzle on!

To coffee, or not to coffee?

So instead of my mammoth gym session yesterday, this happened:
Hazelnut mocha, with whipped cream. Heaven in a mug.
And it got me thinking. Living and working in France, I very quickly got used to the idea of café culture. During my first placement, I ran a bar at a small holiday centre in rural Charentes (département 17). I assumed I would mainly serve alcohol and cold drinks, but it was the espresso that people really visited for. It was such an integral part of the day that the owners offered each guest a free espresso in the hour after lunch – dozens would descend on my tiny little bar, crowding together, all at once. Nobody ever ordered coffee, which I learnt had to be distinguished from espresso by specifically asking for café au lait (colloquially known by the French as a noisette, due to the colour the milk makes when mixed with the espresso). As far as tea went, all they served was a variety of tisanes – or infusions – and I was the only one that ever really drank them. My personal favourite was pomme cannelle, with a little bit of brown sugar. Amaaazing. I haven’t been able to find that flavour here, unfortunately. Might have to pop back to France!
Charentes is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever visited. Sunflower fields, traditional French villages, and long sandy beaches – heaven! 
I saw coffee as part of the French culture; a reminder of the days of Sartre and Hemmingway; of Left-Bank cafes, frequented by artists and literary types. When I got to Paris, I wasn’t disappointed. I occasionally spent my lunch hour sat at a table outside a café on the Avenue de l’Opéra, sipping espresso and watching the world go by. To me, that was the quintessential Parisian experience – away from the groups of tourists on the Rue de Rivoli, at the Louvre and the Arc de Triomphe (and of course, the Champs Elysées).
In fact, thinking about it, I didn’t visit the Louvre once in the whole six months I lived there (though I did visit as a tourist a few years before). I climbed the Eiffel Tower just once, and that was because my boyfriend visited me from England and asked me to take him. By living and working in Paris, I experienced it in a completely different way. I discovered the hidden shopping arcades by the Palais Royale; I cycled a vélibthrough the centre of Paris in the middle of the night, weaving through crowds of people during the Nuit Blanche. 

The Tour Eiffel sparkling with hundreds of tiny lights, and the Hotel de Ville covered in LED signs with ‘Love Differences’ in dozens of different languages – the Nuit Blanche was spectacular.

So there I was yesterday, sat in Café Nero, thinking about the differences in café culture here and in France. The English may not be big on espresso – they may prefer the big American chains to little independent cafés, unlike in France (I’m generalising) – but there seems to be an overlap. The Anglo (American, really) café culture is spreading across Europe – there are as many Starbucks in Paris as there are in central London, although the French haven’t warmed to them quite so much! I’ve seen plenty of French articles over the years referring to Starbucks coffee as ‘jus de chaussettes’ and ‘pipi du chat’ (rough translation: not proper coffee) and most of the Starbucks I went to in Paris were full of Asian tourists. 

Whilst we may not place as much importance in a good quality cup of coffee as the French do, we certainly drink a heck of a lot of it. It seems to be something people do without thinking – they queue at Costa or Nero when they get to the train station in the morning, and swig from a takeaway cup as they rush for their train; they put the kettle on the minute they get into work, making a coffee for anyone else who fancies one (pretty much the whole office, usually!); an hour later, someone else will fancy a coffee and the office drinks round begins again. In every office I’ve worked in, drinking coffee seems to be the way to meet people and make friends; the kitchen is the social centre of the office, as making a coffee is often used as an excuse for a break and a chat.
I’ve never been much of a caffeine junkie. When I’m at work, I’m perfectly happy to just drink water throughout the day. But I’ve realised that by not drinking coffee (or, of course, tea) I’m almost excluding myself from the social side of things. I accepted that in France, whether you drank coffee or not, the after-lunch espresso was compulsory, but I had always assumed that we had a different mindset here. In reality, the only difference is that we don’t (usually) drink espresso.
I’ve started joining the drinks round just to draw attention away from myself. In my first week, when I declined a coffee in front of my boss, I was jokingly asked if I was a ‘robot that didn’t drink’. For a moment it took me right back to my first week in Charentes, when my boss, astounded, exclaimed ‘Tu bois pas du café? Putain, tu bois quoi, alors?
It seems that in some ways, we’re not that different at all.

Goodbye, winter – hello .. snow!?

When I signed up for the marathon, we were getting towards the summer and it seemed like a great idea. I figured that whilst I would be training through the winter, once the miles got really high the weather would be getting better and better, and my last few runs – given they would be done in the spring – might even be kind of nice.

Now obviously last weekend’s long run went entirely against that reasoning, and was awful (torrential rain, biting wind, mud ..) but I thought nah, this weekend is officially a few days into spring, so the weather should at least be reasonable. And we’ve had a couple of lovely crisp, sunny days this week, so it was looking promising!

But when I looked out of my window this morning, what did I see?

Heavy snow.

I’m not even kidding – it’s white outside, and still coming down heavily.

Welcome to spring!

I think I might be doing my long run at the gym this afternoon – 9/10 miles, short break on the bike, then another 9/10 miles. I’m going to need to rework my running playlist – 3.5 hours is a looot of music.

I just can’t imagine being at the gym for that long .. Though it’s better than slowly freezing on my own out in the snow, I suppose!

Then again, there’s always tomorrow.

Rain, rain and more rain ..

Looking out of the window at 10h00, all I saw was dark grey clouds and drizzle. Not the most inviting weather for a long run, has to be said. But I’d committed myself to it, and eaten half a ton of (amazing) Chinese food the night before, so I had to burn some serious calories – at that point, running seemed as good an option as anything else. 

After a breakfast of yoghurt (with chopped strawberries and a drizzle of honey) and poached egg on toast, I headed out. It started off ok, with the rain staying quite light and the temperatures quite mild. I headed up from West Molesey to Hampton Court, where I crossed the bridge and made my way to Bushy Park. I had set off a little faster than I meant to, at around a 10-minute pace .. For some reason I found it quite hard to pace myself today! I took a quick pitstop at the loos, and then begun doing laps around the park. It’s a gorgeous place to run, though the weather meant the paths were full of puddles, and there was lots of mud:
(This is the state of my trainers AFTER torrential rain cleaned them off. They’re still soaking wet).
Having slacked on my mid-week training (it’s becoming a real habit that I should probably break) my legs were quite lazy today, and I took a few miles to really get into it. I’m so used to running on pavements that the varied terrain in the park was quite a challenge – I definitely had to work harder! It was great for my joints though, and a previous niggle in my left knee didn’t flare up once. The shin pain started up a couple miles in, but a slight adjustment to my posture made it go away. Score!
I took a gel at mile 5, and started to quite enjoy the run – the rain eased off, and the sun (just about) made an appearance for a little while. My Uncle caught up to me on his bike just after 8 miles, which meant I got to take my mind off the aches and have a nice chat – which also helped me pace myself properly. The path took us quite close to a big group of stags, which was pretty cool! It was all going really well until 9 miles in, when I suddenly got a sharp pain in my right knee. I’m thinking this was related to my right hip, as the muscles around my hip and upper/outer thigh have been really tight since my last long run. From then on I had to take occasional walking breaks .. The pain would ease off to a dull ache for a while, which was great, but occasionally the sharp pain would come back. Only briefly, but still. 
(You can see where the pain kicked in!)

We decided to give ourselves a change of scenery and headed out of the park and along the toe path, past Hampton Court (what an amazing view!) and back to the bridge. Whilst I’d had a bit of a break from the rain for a few miles, by the time we got to the toe path the rain had really picked up again – for nearly 2 miles it was absolutely torrential, and the wind picked up too – horizontal rain is SO not fun. I tried to take a gel at mile 10, and had to open it with my teeth because my hands had gone numb (yes, whilst I remembered my hat, I thought that the weather wasn’t bad enough for gloves. Note to self: Never underestimate the crappiness of English weather. Ever.) but it gave me a little boost which helped me to dig deep and push past the knee pain. 

We got back to the bridge and I sprinted up and over, and it felt great to take longer strides and stretch out my legs. At the end of the bridge my Uncle went on ahead and I slowed down to a comfortable (well, comfortable when compared to a sprint) jog. The rain began to ease a little but given that I was already soaked and absolutely freezing, it didn’t really help! I sped up again for the last hundred meters or so, and then hobbled back to the flat.