So here’s the deal – I’m rubbish at nutrition while running. Truly dire. I’ve always considered eating to be one of my finer talents, but when running long distances I’m about as effective as trying to eat soup with a fork*.

It turns out that lots of other people are only mildly better at this than I am (who knew?) so as a bit of a public service, I’m going to run about a bit, eat things, run a bit more, and let you know what happens (to a more or less graphic degree depending on what happens, if you know what I mean).

I’m sort of hoping other people may take up the baton, or even the French stick, and give it a go too and maybe we can come up with some useful information. That’s highly unlikely, even on my own the information is mildly amusing at best, but you can aspire, can’t you?

The key attributes of any stuff that I’m going to try are these:

  • They should be light
  • They should not make huge mess when in a bag
  • They should not require further prep once I’ve finally remembered to eat
  • They should not have acres of packaging to then be secreted in the various pocket of my shorts
  • They should not be gels – recently discovered that gels are why I always feel nauseous part way into a run…
  • They should be tasty (this should be number 1?) if I can’t be bothered to eat them then they’re no good to me
  • Ideally they should be quite savoury as I get really sick of sweet things really quickly.

That enough criteria? I think so, I can always make more up as I go along.

First up then is these beauties:

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See, I can tell you’re liking the idea already. Oaty, wheat-free, vegan, CHOCOLATE, all the main food groups are represented.

(Almost) seriously though, I saw these in my local health food shop and figured why not give them a go? But first, a little about their nutritionalishnous. Per oatcake (and let’s be honest, I’m not going to start weighing out 100g of oatcake on the trail, so no need to worry about that) you get:

  • 45 calories of chocolatey-biscuity goodness
  • 1.7g of fat, of which 0.8g is saturates
  • 6.4g of available carbohydrates, of which 1.9g is sugars (which is 40% less sugar, it says so on the packet)
  • 0.7g of fibre
  • 0.8g of protein (that’s where the vegans are getting it from then, eh?)
  • 0.08g of salt

I make that 9.68g per biscuit, but the comparison to 100g suggests it’s closer to 10g, so I can only suggest the remaining 0.32g is magic-fairy-running-dust. Fingers crossed that one turns out to be right…

It’s a minor aesthetic note, but my biscuits were oblong, with rounded ends, not the circular jobbies you see in the picture. In some sense that’s a good thing, as it means they’re less likely to roll away down the mountainside I’m undoubtedly sitting on to have a well-deserved summit-reached snack.

Ingredients-wise, they contain wholegrain oats (59%), dark chocolate chips (9%), (sugar, cocoa mass, cocoa butter, emulsifier, soya lecithin, natural vanilla flavouring) , sustainable palm fruit oil, Demerara sugar, dark chocolate powder (5%), (sugar, cocoa mass, fat reduced cocoa powder), dietary fibre, partially inverted syrup, potato starch, barley malt syrup, raising agents (ammonium bicarbonate, sodium bicarbonate),sea salt, natural flavouring.

Sounds tasty, eh, I mean, there’s nothing that isn’t improved with a little added dietary fibre, is there?

Anyhow, that’s not getting to the nub of this wildly dangerous vegan-ultra-snack-food testing, is it?

For this inaugural, death-defying, snack-food attempt, I went for a lovely 20 mile gambol up the Derwent Walk. I’ve never been that far up it before, and discovered you run through Blackhill (home of one of the hilliest Parkruns in the WORLD) and then on to Consett – famous once for it’s mighty steelworks, but now mostly for the Tesco car park with the nicest view in the North East. Seriously, it’s a cracking view over to Weardale once you’ve got the hulking supermarket out the way.

Right, well, I headed off, full of the excitement of an adventure, and mostly enjoyed the sun, the discovery, the dog walkers, the flowers, you know, all that kind of stuff. It was ace – I can highly recommend a trip up the Derwent Walk to anyone in the area.

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Ooh, it’s lovely, eh?

Ten miles up to Consett, vague though of a coffee but couldn’t be bothered, so turn around and back we go – there are little picnic areas at Shotley Bridge and Ebchester, but I’d decided to hang on to about 15 miles in before checking out the snacks – the idea being if I had a replay of what is now known as the Unspeakable Peanut Butter Incident, then I wouldn’t be too far from home.

Fourteen and a half miles and I was feeling a bit peckish, so I got out a packet of the biscuits. The come in four little packs of four, each set in a plastic wrapper. So only moderate points for lack of rubbish, but they scrunch up well and fit in one of the gel pockets I no longer need since realising gels are bleargh to me.

The biscuit was crisp, crunchy and not too bitty – you know how sometimes oat biscuits (I’m looking at you Hob Nobs) feel like they’ve got tiny splinters of wood in them? Well, there was none of that. Chocolatey, and pretty much a fun snack. Goes well with a swig of water after, though as I’d only been able to find one water-bottle before heading out I was running a bit low by this point, so it was a very small swig.

In fact, it was so nice I ate all four (in the packet, not all four packets, that would be greedy this early into a run, surely).

And waited.

The trick with these things is the wait. Something can seem perfectly edible until you get half a mile further and suddenly your guts attempt to escape from your body. Or the contents thereof. Ick!

So, I plodded another couple of miles, and it all seemed quiet on the digestive front. This is good. I felt a bit of a lift from the biscuity goodness and the chocolatey masterfulness of the snacks, so all good so far – no gut-pixies emerged from the undergrowth, ready to cast unpleasant curses on my nethers, so I chalked it up as a win.

In fact, I chalked it up as so much of a win that at mile 16 I ate the other pack I’d brought, all four.

Still no unfortunate events, or even a funny tum-feeling, either.

I got all the way home, I had a shower, I wrote this, I fed the dog, I took him for his walk and then I went on the bus. All went well, so I’m considering this a BLISTERING SUCCESS!

In something approaching a summary, which as good as you’re going to get, they’re light, don’t make much mess, don’t require additional prep, have a bit of packaging but not overkill, didn’t make me nauseous, were quite tasty and not too sweet. On that basis, they have a place in my bag – as they’re light I reckon they’re a carry-with rather than a drop-bag item. A single pack of four gives you 180 calories, and 25.6g of available carbohydrate, compared to the 95 calories and  23g of carbohydrate in my usual gel so it’s not a million miles away. Who wouldn’t prefer to eat biscuits than neck gels?

Right, off to think about the next ill-advised vegan food challenge – anyone for sushi?

*For editorial accuracy, I tried eating soup with a fork – it’s really difficult, unless you have very thick soup of an unduly spoony fork, some might even call a spork.

Right, so there’s a few weeks to go until my next big run, and I figured it’s the right time for an honest-to-goodness appraisal of where I need to put in a bit of work to round off my planning.

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The raw material – one older, portlier-that-hoped-for runner with bad feet and a dreadful attitude to nutrition.

So, in no particular order, the bits I need to concentrate on are:

1. Uphill

Yes, it may be a bit of a cliche, but I’m not that good at going up hills. In fact, that’s not true, I’m dire at uphills. When I was running at Jedburgh I had to stop as the static-vision started in at the edges, and I realised I was about to faint. So I stopped had a bit of a worry while my heart calmed down and then on I went, plod, plod, plod. So, more uphill practise, I think.

2. Downhill

So, what goes up must go down. I thought I was canny at downhills, not fell-racing-mad good, but not that bad, either. Well, I’ve seen the person in front of me disappear from sight the last two times I’ve been to Parkrun, showing that I could definitely get a little better.

3. Flat

I don’t mind the flat, but it does rather go on, doesn’t it? The Glasgow to Edinburgh run was canny in its own way, but it took its toll on my feet – not sure they’ve ever recovered. I could certainly improve on my ability to run on long, flat stretches.

4. Undulating

While we’re on, that’s not so much fun, either, I mean, you can’t get yourself in a rhythm, can you? The run around Kielder Reservoir is one long undulation – it’s around 26 miles, not that much elevation change overall, but it just can’t make it’s mind up, one minute it’s up a bit, the next it’s flat, then it’s down a bit – after that, guess what, it’s up a bit again.

5. Walking

I never thought of walking as an important part of running. But it is, though, especially when you’re going a long way. I spent part of the Glasgow to Edinburgh run being leap-frogged by a couple of walkers – I ran past them, then walked, they walked past me at super-speed, I ran past them, and so on. I think (though I don’t know for sure) that my feet hurt more for walking than for running. If I tried to get better at walking then I might be more effective overall, you never know.

6. Standing still

I know, how could you be bad at standing still? Check points, drop bags, it’s all the fun of the fair – at Jedburgh I was 28 miles in and only a 10 mile stretch to go – got to the check point, bent over to get something out of my bag and CLURK! my back went a bit ouch. See, even inactivity can have it’s dangers…

7. Nutrition

You’d think if there was one thing I would have a god-given prodigious talent for, it would be eating. I mean, normally you’d have to hit me over the head with a brick to stop me from eating things, but when I’m running I kind of figure I’ll have something in a while, maybe another mile, maybe when I get to the top of that hill, eh, it’s always easier to eat going along the flat bit. Before you know it, I’m a bit hungry, but still struggling to sort myself out. I also can’t find good things to eat – as a funky vegan I’m already on a short list of things, and lo-and-behold most snack food joy is not vegan.

I managed samosas mid-way through Glasgow to Edinburgh, which were canny, and I’m in an experimental phase right now, with plans to try spring rolls (thank you Guy), pasties, sushi and maybe some kind of vest made out of knitted noodles so I can wear my dinner?

8. Navigation

Well, I can read a map well enough, from the comfort of my own living room, and imagine with excitement the majestic sweep of the landscape, that tarn up there, the funny way that fence dog-legs back onto itself  and forces you to run an extra mile if you’re not a fence-leaping-goat. But, I’m a bit pants when it comes to staying on the right course. Sometimes this is down to me, like at Jedburgh, where I ran an extra 1/2 mile, taking another three runners with me before we noticed no-one was following. Sometimes it’s because I blindly follow the fools in front of me – at the Dark Skies run at Kielder, I followed a confident-enough-looking group of runners along the wrong path then the scuttle back to the right path across the undergrowth.

I’d love to try a mountain marathon one day, but I’m scared I’d be found upside down in a ditch looking at the underside of my compass and wondering what had gone wrong.

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Maybe I just need to zoom in on the map a bit?

So, in conclusion, I think that if I can just nail uphill, downhill, flat, undulating, walking, standing still, nutrition and navigation then I think I might be in with a chance.

Did I mention choice of clothing? I’m not that good at that either…

I went to pick up my race pack for this year’s Blaydon Race at lunch time – at the Fleming Business Centre, where the Speedflex Gym is to be found.

It was only as I was dawdling my way back to the car to head back to work that I realised the business centre is a refurbished hospital, the Princess Mary Maternity Hospital, as it goes, where I was born.

Funny, eh?

North Tyneside 10k 2015

Posted: 06/04/2015 in Uncategorized

Easter Sunday, and what better way to celebrate the impending consumption of chocolate rabbits than with a brisk 10k?

The North Tyneside 10k is a bit of a special event for me – it’s the first ‘proper’ race I ever ran, I work in North Tyneside and I used to live in Whitley Bay, right by the sea front where the race goes.

Now, however, I live a bit further way, so a trip in the car to get there. It was cloudy up Blaydon way, so I took a few tops in the hope the right combination would jump out at me once I arrived.

When I got there, the weather was this:

  

Very nice, so no need of the waterproof then. I got my Metro ticket, checked there was a train coming, then relawed in the sun, pretty sure I’d make it to the start on time.

  

There’s no real justification for such a huge photo of my ticket, but there may be some collectors of northern light railway memorabilia, so who am I to deny you a small pleasure?

Anyway, arrived at the start, had the obligatory pre-race wee (they won’t start the race if you haven’t been) and joined the back of the runners.

  

The horn went and we were off! Along the street, right turn and down Borough Road, the only real descent in the race, and people tend to go really slowly down it. It may be a bit odd to see a grown man windmilling past with his arms out making aeroplane noises (it’s a road race, so aeroplane is the order of the day, if it was a trail race we’d be talking The Sound of Music) but I couldn’t say, I’ve never seen anyone else do it…

Through the Fish Quay and the sun was lovely, it’s great to have a warm run, and along the banks of the mighty Tyne. At the mouth of the river you head up past the priory on the only serious hill of the run, but it’s a good ‘un. Lots of people walk the hill, sometimes the path snarls up, but a bit of patience wins the day and a gap opens up.

At the top it’s three miles of beautiful coastal running along the sea front, past the Sea Life Centre, along the top of Tynemouth Longsands, past the cafes at Cullercoats and through Whitley Bay past the Spanish City. Onto the Links at last and the final mile to the lighthouse and we’re done. Fifty two minutes, forty-five seconds, apparently, but it felt like a good run, the core training is definitely making an impact.

Next up is the Kielder Dark Skies Marathon with the Teail Outlaws in a couple of weeks.

Rock on!

Deer, oh deer…

Posted: 25/03/2015 in Uncategorized

Into the woods tonight, trying to up the number of runs per week, even if I’m not increasing the mileage noticeably.

It’s a while since I’ve seen the deer, but I got a present in the dusk this evening. First of all, running down the hill to the road I saw the big brown deer, he (I think of him as a he, I could well be wrong) crossed the path, saw me coming and ambled off. I’m always amazed they don’t run away with more effort, and I have two thoughts why this might be the case.

  1. As a card-carrying (no, really) vegan, the deer can scent the lack of meat-eatery and cheese-guzzling and realise I’m not about to eat them, not even a tiny bite, or steal their eggs. This thought always makes me laugh, thinking of the “Vegan Police” scene in Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World. And then I forget to watch where I’m running and almost trip over.
  2. After two years of watching me stumble around the woods in the sun, the rain, the dark, the light, the hail, the snow, the morning, the afternoon and most of the bits in-between, the deer have realised they could snap me like a twig if they wished, and so they see no need to flee, staying around instead to snicker. I sometimes think I can hear them snickering, but it may be me replaying the Queens of the Stone Age video (it’s at 1:24 if you don’t want to watch the whole thing…) in my head and giggling, it’s hard to tell.

Sorry, back to the story… later on I turned a corner up by the deer penthouse and all three were there, one on each side of the trail and the third one (the little one, I think, but it was getting very dusky by this point) standing on the path. As I got closer I reckoned it must be a dog, because it was just standing looking at me – but no, deer it was and when I got closer it wandered into the undergrowth. As I went past, I was flanked by two deer, both about 20′ away and just… watching. Clearly Vegan Power won the day again, and that certainly wasn’t guffawing from the bushes…

Love the deer, love the woods, love the dusk, love the running. All in all a canny jaunt out.

Rock on!

OK, this could get a little whimsical, so you might want to look away now.

I went for a bit of a run this evening, starting off as dusk was working it’s pink magic on the world. Up the road and onto the football pitch. Normally this is where I spark up the head torch and bimble off to the woods via the golf course.

Tonight though, as it wasn’t properly dark yet, I left the torch off and managed not to trip and impale myself on a damp flag. It may not sound like much to you, but let me tell you that my co-ordination is non-existent when I can see where I’m going, never mind when the light’s out.

Into the woods and it was getting darker – but I kinda know where I’m going, so maybe hold off a little longer? And then a bit more – into the closed in trees now, but there’s a bit of a glimmer, right, so maybe chance it?

Cut back, through the Secret Village and down the hill. Onto the trail past the giant leaf (no, really) and then further down to the bottom of the wood and the muddy path past the Highland Cattle (didn’t see ’em, it was dark, you see).

Over the road, up the hill, and onto the old railway track. Now normally I should turn left and head to Rowlands Gill, per the plan, but I wanted to see what was in the other direction – I’d gone a little way along a couple of weeks ago, though that was in the light.

It was proper dark now, with only the light pollution to see me right. And the car lights coming over my shoulder – what? I’m on a disused railway, why is there a bright, white light? Hang on, that’s the moon! Popping out from behind the clouds it lit up the path for a minute or two, then scuttled away again – it was catching the odd silver birch something rotten and lighting them right up.

A bit like this (only the moon is better at drawing than me)…

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Maybe a bit less light pollution, I don’t know, I’m not that good at the drawing thing.

I got to the road through Hamsterley Mill, went a wee bit further then turned back – realising I was going to be a little longer out the house than the hour I’d reckoned.

Back along the railway and towards Rowlands Gill, and part way an early contender for magical moments of 2015, running through an avenue of silver birch in the dark with the moon lighting them up. Just fab.

Rowlands Gill now, and the street lights were a bit blinding to be honest – turn off onto Hollinhill Lane and the Hill of Doom . It’s easier, it turns out, plodding up a steep hill in the pitch black as you can’t see (even if you know) how much further there is to go.

Up the hill, and the world opened up – above Rowlands Gill and I could see across to Burnopfield and the TV mast at Pontop Pike. Imagine if all of a sudden all the myths, folklore and fairy stories became true, and you couldn’t be sure if that glint in the hedge was a redcap watching carefully, and you’re sure there are wizards out there in the woods. The ruin on the side of the hill looked like something out of Arthurian legend, not the tumble-down house mouldering into the trees. Even the sprawl of Newcastle, light-polluting monster that it is looked twinkly and exotic, like the start of Blade Runner, perhaps?

(OK, that’s the whimsical bit done, you can look again now).

I’ve done a wee bit of running in the dark and moonlight before, but this was a good nine miles of it, some on new trails I haven’t run before, and I’m fairly chuffed I came out alive. I reckon I might have another go again, it was exhilarating, and I think I’ve found another stupid thing I enjoy. Saves on the batteries too… :-)

Rock on!

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Image  —  Posted: 18/01/2015 in It happened in the night, It's bloomin' art!, Tree hugging, Uncategorized, What's in the woods?
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