Archive for the ‘Food’ Category


I don’t want to waffle on for hours about this, as it might stop you from reading all the way to the end, but it could be difficult not to, so bear with me a little. That’s me at the start, by the way, looking like the rainbow love child of Ron Hill and Pan’s People. I quite like this picture of me, it looks like I’ve been dragged through a hedge backwards and then kidnapped by hippies. That’s the look I aim for on a really long run, I find it scares off any leopards and bears – I have a clean slate in the leopard and bear department. The photo was taken by the remarkably fine Lee Nixon, the Outlaw Photographer.


That’s the map, well, that’s my map, or drawing I guess, it’s a pretty poor map as maps go, so let’s call it an infographic of the route? That chap in the middle is St Cuthbert, the first British ultra-runner, and some say the person who started the whole ultra-running movement. In-between being pious and fighting vikings, he liked to get out for a bit of a jog. However, he was also a bit of a Forrest Gump character, and found it difficult to stop once he’d found his running mojo. I think we’ve all been there, right?

He set off from his house in Melrose, over the Eildon Hills, hung a left just before reaching Jedburgh and then passed through Kirk Yetholm before heading over the Cheviot Hills (he liked a bit of hill training) to Wooler to re-supply on jelly babies before continuing on to the beach. As luck would have it, he came out at Lindisfarne and skipped over the causeway, discovering that someone had built an abbey there, so he decided to stay for a bit.

Virtually none of that is true, but it’s a grand story that I made up while running St Cuthbert’s Way in the wrong direction. You might ask why the wrong way? Well the thing about causeways is they get a bit damp at times, and the 60-odd people starting would all be finishing hours apart, so better to get the time-critical bit out of the way first and avoid wading.


And that’s me heading over said causeway – the boxy thing is a refuge in case you get caught out trying to finish an ultra marathon in the right direction and the tide comes in…

As photos are cool, here’s one more, of everyone at the start on Lindisfarne:


Grand bunch of folk too. I got to see the back of most of them heading off as I headed into my familiar almost-last-tending-to-last place early on.

As far as runs go, this one was a doozy – it really has it all, even a volcano! I don’t think James Bond could come up with finer plot.

You start with a causeway off the island, head across gentle meadows and some fun minor hills on the way to Wooler. The last hill into Wooler is a cracker, just to get you in the mood.

So, that’s me to the first main checkpoint at Wooler Bowls Club, and I’ve already overlooked the fantastic marshalling at the checkpoints on the way to Wooler. The organisation was ace, everything I’ve come to expect from a Trail Outlaws event – seriously, I’d say they’re doing a cracking job of single-handledly turning the North East into an even more stunning venue for some mighty fine running. St Cuthberts Way, the Kielder Dark Skies Marathon and I’m sure the upcoming Sandstone Way Ultra are all immense, even the Penshaw Pieces of Eight half marathon turned out to be a gem of a run in a location I’d never realised was quite so well stocked with trail.

A not-so-quick turnaround at Wooler, and my first chance to try my novel refuel choice, sushi! If you’ve read the last few posts running up to St Cuthbert’s Way, you’ll know I tried a thing or two out, and my key strategy was built around cucumber maki (cucumber rolled in rice and surrounded with seaweed – I hold onto a hope of getting sponsorship from Yo! Sushi one day – when I was buying a shed-load of cucumber maki to take away and explained it was to fuel me through a 100km run they seemed bemused), gluten-free vegan chocolate oaty biscuits and diluted Irn-Bru. First pack of sushi and it felt like a good choice with a spot of soy sauce, they shook hands with my tummy and agreed to all get on.

Out of Wooler and into the second big chunk, and it’s time to introduce some hills. The Cheviots to be exact, and they manage to pack a lot of hill into what looks like a short space on the map. But beautiful, really, really beautiful. Eventually you reach the border between England and Scotland, which looks a bit like this:

Still looking jolly at this point. From the border you get the first view of the Eildon Hills, the volcano you have to scale to get to Melrose on the other side and the finish. From here it looks both small and not that far away. Neither of these facts turn out to be true…

More hills, more hills and then a few more hills just for good measure. There was a bit of woodland in there, with a confusingly vague track through it, but we made it through.

Eventually you reach Scottish civilisation in the form of Kirk Yetholm (or maybe Town Yetholm, I can never remember which is which) the starting point for the Pennine Way.

Along to Morebattle, the next main checkpoint and more sushi. Sushi was still good, as was the Irn-Bru.

There’s a hill, called Wideopen Hill that hides just outside of Morebattle. It’s the mid-point of St Cuthbert’s Way, apparently and also the highest point (there’s a sign to tell you this, I’m not full of St Cuthbert’s Way trivia). The top of it looks like this (complete with sign)…

However, as it’s the highest point, it’s also a crazy long climb, and it’s one of those hills that just looks to keep going. You’ve just congratulating yourself for having reached the summit when another summit appears, and you’ll never guess what’s behind that? Uhuh…

Onwards we go, and we’re half way now, so there’s no point in turning back – on to Bonjedward, and the first hand-powered car-wash in Scotland (as far as I know). We picked up the sweepers here, or maybe they picked us up, that’s probably more like it. You cross the road here and drop down to follow the river then we’re on the back half of the Jedburgh Ultra, the wee church at Maxton, St Boswells, then on to the Eildons.

I haven’t mentioned the time yet – this caper kicked off at 8am in the morning on Saturday. By now it was getting dark, so head torches were the order of the day.

Up, up, up the slope of the Eildons – luckily it was over the saddle – the Jed Ultra goes right up the side of the biggest one, so I was pretty thankful that wasn’t called for. It still felt like quite a climb.

Eventually, and it felt like forever, but the top of the saddle was reached and the first view of Melrose. Just a mega-muddy downhill and a slight direction malfunction and into Melrose itself, and a lone figure in a car which turned out to be Phil Turton, one of the Outlaws-In-Chief and probably the most welcome sight of the day. A stagger to Melrose Abbey to mark our cards (literally) and then the extra mile or so through town to the finish at the village hall.

The light was starting to leak back into the day, the birds were getting their act together and the most amazing 68 mile (that’ll be 100km) adventure was at a close. I reckon I looked OK, all things considered…

Still. Bloody. Smiling.

I think I thanked everyone in the room fairly indiscriminantly and often, I babbled about how fantastic the run was (quite rightly too), then headed back to my tent back on the edge of town to try and get some sleep. I went to sleep wearing my finisher’s medal on, some things are important and should be held on to.

Time? Well, the time at the finish was 4:30am on Sunday, so that’s 20.5 hours on the hoof. There was a lot walking in the second half. A lot of good chat with other runners along the way, which surprised me as I always think I’m a solitary runner, but I honestly think the people was what got me through – the other runners, the marshalls the whole bloomin’ lot – Phil, Tim, Lee, Flip, Tony, just a grand family of people. The Munros too – Helen and John, who I know more from the Scottish ultra scene, so a lovely surprise to see here – Helen seemed to be at every checkpoint in her role as the Angel of Chivvying to try and make sure there was a minimum of Messing On. John, along with Dave Hetherington as the Grim Sweepers from Bonjedward onwards to the end, always with a subtle suggestion of “mebbes run a bit, it’s downhill after all”.

Would I do it again? For sure, but I think it would only work if I could find the time to properly train for it, which is tricky. All the core work with Chris at NUCAS has paid off, but I hadn’t put the miles in to be honest, and I think it showed. One for the future perhaps, more shorter ultras first. I did feel bad about finishing after the official 18.5 hour cut-off, the marshalls and everyone involved have given up their time and I don’t like the idea I’m keeping them up.

Speaking of marshalls and the Trail Outlaws, I did have a thought as I was stumbling through Melrose that those hi-vis jackets would look minty with a logo on, something to continue the fab cowboy theme, sort of like this…

If you’re going to be an outlaw, best be a Trail Outlaw.

Best. Race. Ever.


No, honestly, Irn Bru – I think all the ultra-running north of the border has rubbed off.


It’s vegan too, which is pretty cool, or I wouldn’t be drinking it, would I?

Knowing what stat-monkeys you are, here’s the low-down on the numbers…

Per 100ml

  • Calories: 42kcal
  • Fat: NONE!
  • Carbohydrate: 10.3g
  • of which sugars: ALL OF IT!
  • Protein: NONE!
  • Salt: <0.01g

I reckon I used about 400ml of the 500ml bottle (which is two servings, apparently), after shaking it well to get as much gas out as possible, and topped it up with water. It was still, well, a little frisky as I started running, and the bite valve of the water bottle started farting (I can think of no better way to describe it) every now and then as the last bit of gas built up and escaped.

It was quite tasty diluted, a bit like cream soda, if you know what I mean, and seemed to sit fairly well in my stomach. A lovely happy orange colour, which I reckon will come in pretty handy when I’m 60+ miles into next weekend’s run. If I have a bottle at the start and at each drop-point, that’s say 1200ml which will be 504 calories and 123.6g of sugar. Is that good? Every calorie is a good thing, not so sure about the sugar but hey. Teamed up with sushi and biscuits, how can it be anything other than a kick-ass nutrition plan?

I have a sneaky plan to see if I can jam an apple in my pocket, and figure out if that works or not – I’m a bit worried about it, but if I can add that to my existing fruit-running-family that consists entirely of “banana”, then I’d be doubling up on the options. Also, bananas don’t like being shoved in a pack and jounced, they’re much more demure than that, whereas apples are hardy derring-do fruits, and like a ride in a microscopic backpack.

Rock on!


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.


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.


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 hadn’t intended to run this race, I thought I was going to be busy, so it was a bit of surprise last Wednesday that I found myself looking at a free evening.

The day started well, a quick message on Facebook showed that there were some places left on the night, so the stage was set. Almost.

The race started at 7:15pm, registration for those last few places began at 6:15pm.

I left work in good time at 4:30pm for the half-hour journey home to get ready and get down there. And then disaster struck.

The motorway was crawling, seriously inches at a time, and it took me a gut-wrenching two hours to get back – only a blast of Pink Floyd’s “Shine on You Crazy Diamond” on the iPod stopped me from boiling over, but eventually I got back. A quick change and out we go – the race is only a few miles from the house, so I drove down, rushed in at 6:50pm and discovered there were still three places left in the 200 line-up. Handed over my pennies, grabbed my number and a few safety pins and headed out.

In all the excitement I hadn’t really twigged to the fact that it had been tipping down most of the day, and was still raining now. Now the imminent stress of getting a place had passed I started to wonder what I was up to – a 6 mile run in the wet and the mud. Then I remembered, I’m a hardy northerner, unfazed by precipitation, and mud is something to enjoy. So that’s fine then, just the race, eh?

I bumped into the marvellous Andrew Callcott, member of the PBF Running Club who were organising the event. He’s looking very trim and hill-ready, a proper fell-runner if I ever beheld one. A bit of a chat and I discovered he was running sweeper for the race.

Turned on my GPS, only to see a “low battery” message. Hmm, maybe it’ll last, perhaps I left it turned on after my abortive run the other night?

Announcements, count down and off we go! Pressed ‘start’ and the GPS turned itself off. Good start.

I sped(!) off up the path with the other runners, heading up the beautiful Derwent Valley. The choice of crisps for a mid-afternoon snack started to show itself as a bad one, as I soon developed stabbing pains in my stomach that resolved themselves into an almighty stitch, the like of which I’ve never had before. Still, stitches are stitches, eh, and on you go, the end isn’t going to get any closer.

When I ran this for the first time last year, I was stunned with how lovely it is, just a mile or two from the Metrocentre and hiding away from the main road. Up the old train line that forms part of the Coast-To-Coast cycle path and across the viaduct over that spans part of the valley. The first few front runners came past the other way, with a cyclist in front to clear one side of the lane.

I remembered there was a bit of a hill after this, thin, muddy and I remember holding another runner back last year until I realised then letting her get past as I gasped up. Not so bad this time, though I did walk a bit as I think I’d set off a bit too excitedly, and when I reached the top it was down the other side, a mixture of the fun of running and the stabbing of the crisps working through my gut.

Half-way point and you turn back down the valley – there’s a water station that was belting out music, just as there was last year. As I came up it changed to Harold Faltermeyer’s “Axel F”, which made me laugh like an idiot – you don’t hear that song much these days, but it was straight back to memories of watching Beverley Hills Cop. 🙂

Down, down, down to the floor of the valley and through meadows. Along by the river through puddles and mud and then a turn up another hill.

I wonder how many shorter races include kissing gates? It’s an interesting feature, and while it didn’t bother me so much, I wondered how the front-runners had managed, and whether they’d wasted valuable seconds saying “after you”, “no, no, after you”, “oh, I couldn’t possibly”. It would have been the right thing to do.

Back up onto the track now and after a wee while the stabbing was bad enough that I had to walk a tiny bit and clutch at my sides – a couple of finished runners heading back up enquired if I was OK, which I pretty much was, then off again.

It’s about two miles down the track to the finish, though it feels like longer, round the corner, back into the cricket club and Bob’s you uncle. I checked with a lad who came in at the same time as me and he reckoned about 53 minutes.

Better than that, the results the next day showed 51:48 – slightly slower than the previous year’s 48 minutes, but then I doubt I was stupid enough to eat crisps then, as I was planning on being here that time. I was pretty happy with the result, and wandered back to the car to drive home.

So, we can add crisps to the list of things not to eat while running or in preparation. So far the list contains:

  • Peanut butter
  • Crisps
  • Dried apricots
  • Muesli

Actually, the dried apricots is a simple never, ever eat, they are like tiny hand grenades to my (clearly delicate) digestion and muesli is much the same. If only I had the constitution of the chap eating pork-pies and custard mid-way through the Glasgow to Edinburgh Ultra I might be fine.

Next up, Blaydon Race. One of my favourites.

Rock on!

I recently found that a local company had started producing gels. Being a fan of local produce, I ordered a trial pack to give them a go.


They duly arrived (very quickly!) and I opened the box to find three citrus gels, three berry gels and two cola gels (with added caffeine).

Tonight the plan suggested a four mile run, so that seemed like the perfect example to try out step one of what we will call The New Gel Procedure. There are only a couple of steps, but they go like this:

  1. Take gel before short run – this is the barf test. If I can go for a short run and not feel ill, “Go Windy” or feel generally unsettled then they pass phase one and progress to step 2.
  2. Use a few on a longer run and see if they do the job.

You should know straight off that I’m pretty picky about gels. They need to be vegan for one thing, which is always a bit of fun, but I got a very quick response to my question about the ingredients that they were fine. I also like my gels thin. To date I’ve stuck with High 5 gels because they’re easy to neck when you’re running with minimal water. In fact, the only thing that has drawn me away from the High 5 gels are Isogels by the same company, if anything even thinner and properly easy to take without any water at all. On one memorable run where the shops were shut, Isogels saved the day as I had a couple left that got me home when I ran out of water.

So, I chose a citrus gel – everyone makes a citrus gel, so they’re a good test. The tops are nice and easy to open, which is great once you’ve lost your senses on a long round, and the consistency was pretty much on a par with the High 5 gels, which is another big thumbs up. The taste was pretty good – not too sweet, not too tart – pretty much the baby-bear-porridge of gel tastes.

In it went, and off I headed. As I was feeling pretty good I had a bit of a turn of speed (for me, it’s all relative, 9 minute miles counts as speed) and figured this would jounce the contents of my stomach sufficiently to cause any upset of explosion.

To cut a long story short, they worked well, no undue effects, no discomfort, no feeling like I was going to be sick or otherwise jettison. I ran a tasty 9 minute mile, which is pretty good for me in the woods – could this be due to having the gel at the start? Quite possibly – we’ll find out the answer to that at the weekend when I head out for a longer run with a clutch of the blighters to keep me going.

I might even try the caffeine ones – I like a coffee, but I’ve always avoided caffeine gels as I have suspicions they’ll cause an unwanted effect.

So far so good, really happy with the gels. Watch out for the next instalment, the full Road Test.


NOTE TO SELF: Never, ever, ever attempt to eat peanut butter mid-run again. It is a bad idea. We shall call this afternoon’s run “The Peanut Butter Experiment” for the purpose of this post, then we shall agree to never, ever mention it again in polite company.

Seriously, I thought I’d experiment with mid-run fuel tonight, and having found some individual-portion pouches of organic crunchy peanut butter in Sainsbury, I figured that would be a good plan. All that vegan goodness, it couldn’t go wrong, could it?


It was not a good plan.

Frankly, it was one of the worst plans I’ve ever come up with, and that’s saying something.

Firstly, it was virtually impossible to eat. The stuff does not play ball in coming out of the packet. I think that’s the ‘crunchy’ coming to the fore.

Secondly, it sticks to the inside of your mouth like glue. You simply cannot carry enough water to swill it out.

Thirdly, it somehow sucked all the running ability out of me and left me walking through the woods back to High Spen – I’m claiming this is “not my fault’, OK I’d run 17 miles by that point and was ‘a little tired’, but clearly that can’t be it, right?

Consider yourselves good and warned.

Next time: deep-frying tofu on-the-move.

I think I’ve tried Gu* gels before – certainly the shape of the pack is familiar. I remember them as being unbelievably thick and very difficult for me to swallow or digest. Clearly, this is not the ringing endorsement that might be hoped for. For preference, I use High 5 gels, as they’re as thin as I can find, sit comfortably in my stomach and seem to do the trick.


In my quest for gels at the weekend, I picked up a pile of my usual High 5’s, was ready to head off to the counter (which would bring it’s own bit of fun if you’ve read the post below) when I noticed a GU Salted Caramel gel. With a picture of a yeti on it. On which basis I bought one, I mean, it’s got a picture of a yeti on it, that alone makes it worth a go, and I’m not totally averse to caramel, apparently.


Today was my last longer run before the ultra, turned out to be around 12 miles, when I’d head out for about 6. Still, it gave me ample time to have a go with the Gu as it were. So, about eight miles in, about to head off up a hill, a little knackered and I thought “it’s now or never”** and tore the packet open. A gentle squeeze and what looked like actual caramel started to ooze out. Hmm, looks like the consistency is the same, but for some reason that makes perfect sense when it’s caramel flavour, as that’s like food, rather than like a drink, you see? It was rather nice, sweet, caramelly goodness. If Augustus Gloop had been looking on, he would have wept in envy, I swear.

I finished it off, feeling like I’d just ram-raided a sweet-shop, and kicked back into running at my go-to ultra-shuffle pace. Hmm, no ill effects, that’s pretty good. A couple of miles further and still no bother – this might be a winner. I even felt mildly energetic, though whether this was from the gel itself of the indulgent taste is up for discussion.

In short, I would recommend these to anyone who like caramel and is prepared to slow down to ingest their gels – I couldn’t have coped with it at a run, I think I would have smothered myself in gel. I might pick up a couple more to stick in my drop bags for the ultra – can’t hurt to add caramel to the tank, eh?

* Not clear on whether it’s ‘Gu’ or ‘GU’, so I’ve used both indiscriminately in order to cover all the bases.

**I could have done it another time, say five minutes later, tomorrow or in 2016, but a bit of drama never goes amiss.