Three years ago I ran a marathon and 2 weeks ago I ran for 8 minutes as I embarked once more on the couch to 5k journey.
It’s running Groundhog Day on my quest to regain my fitness and be able to run like I used to pretty much every weekend for the past 10 years.
I used to run so often that even I was bored of my Facebook posts – yes, guilty as charged- I was that person who just had to share my post-run,endorphin filled euphoria with you, regardless of whether or not you might care.
But the past couple of years the wheels have kind of fallen off my running bus as a combination of injury, lack of opportunity then latterly recovery from surgery, meant my running mileage dwindled.
During lockdown after developing a serious case of runners envy – I acknowledged that if I wanted to get back into running I was going to have to start over.
So in June, like many others before me , I downloaded the Couch to 5 k running app and with the mellifluous tones of Jo Whiley guiding me I started to make progress .
All was well until week 7 run 2 when disaster struck and my knee gave up the ghost and I had to hobble home. So once more running was abandoned and as we were still in lockdown it was tricky to see a physio, so I had to put running on the back burner.
Wind forward to October and I was back at the gym – swimming but not doing much else and eventually made the effort to get an online consultation with a physio. He diagnosed my dodgy knee as a tendon problem – gave me some exercises and more importantly the ok to go back to running.
So after a few trial runs – I reset the app and started right back at the beginning.
Let’s see if I can make it to the week 9 finish this time.
I do see the start of a new year as a time to review and reflect. I don’t make resolutions as such but I usually think of a few ‘goals’ or things the old me might like to achieve in the next 12 months. This loose collection of paths to self-improvement might include some new activities to try in the coming year and will always include an optimistic commitment to trying to get better at some of the things I do already.
Practice makes perfect and all that.
Getting back into writing regularly is on my list, having pretty much kicked this blog into the long grass in the past year. I have got out of the habit, and now my writing is reduced to social media posts, work emails, and the odd business report.
Aside from an intention to keep writing, following on from a recent batch of marmalade making – next on my list is a quest to get better at making jam- not with a view to becoming a professional preserver, but more to crack the elusive nut of getting my jam to set.
On paper, making jam and marmalade is an easy process – you combine the right ratio of fruit, sugar and sometimes water, heat it to the temperature of jam setting point then Ta Da! It sounds simple, but while my jams and marmalade usually taste good, they are often very runny and the process of knowing when it has reached setting point is a bit of a mystery.
Some of this is a fear of the pan boiling over – and so to avoid this, I don’t have the temperature high enough – or when it is boiling a fear of letting it boil too long in case it overcooks,( having once made blackberry jam that was like industrial strength glue).
Recipe books offer instructions and guidance, but rarely give much detail around timings. I suppose it is because as with most cooking, there are unknown variables relating to your own kitchen and equipment so success comes through trial and error and accumulated knowledge.
Apparently, there is a magical knack of knowing when the bubbles in the pan have changed – and recognising this I imagine only comes with practice. As I only tend to make jam or marmalade once or twice a year – reading the jam bubble runes is a skill not yet mastered. This year I had to reboil marmalade when after cooling it still looked more like orange soup than a breakfast conserve. So after that near disaster, I bought myself a jam pan and a thermometer.
Today I gave my new pan and thermometer combo a test drive – making scarlet chilli and red pepper jam, a recipe from Diana Henry’s book Salt, Sugar Smoke. Intrigued by the prospect of making the evocatively named scarlet jam, I set forth on a new path in my preserving journey – as I have never made jam with peppers or attempted any kind of savoury relish before.
chopped and cooking
setting point reached
scarlet chilli & pepper jam
It was an easy recipe to follow, with only a few ingredients and it looked beautiful bubbling in the pan as the peppers and chilli transformed from raw ingredients to jam. As always it took longer than I expected for it to reach setting point, but this time I persevered, even letting it rise above the mystical 104.5 C. Using both my thermometer and the wrinkle test as guidance I studied the bubbles, stared into the glossy pot and followed my instinct 😉
I don’t imagine I will ever win any jam making contests – but it tastes good and looks like it will set. Bravo to me !
I was prompted in part by reading Tom Hunt’s Waste not column in Feast in the Saturday Guardian.
Each week in the Feast food supplement, Tom Hunt highlights various ways to reduce waste in the kitchen focusing on a different ingredient each week. This week it was chillies.
To make the most of chilli waste, you can save discarded seeds and dry them to season other dishes, and in something of a revelation to me, it turns out that the green stalks of chillies contain the beneficial bacteria lactobacillus and can be used instead of a starter to make yogurt.
I had chillies that I was using to make Menemen ( Turkish egg dish) for brunch and lots of milk – so was looking forward to trying out this eco tip.
So far so good – except I had not read to the end of the recipe – where I noticed it asks for 10-15 chilli stalks.
While I do like my Turkish style eggs spicy – 10 chillies is a bit too spicy !
Having decided to make yogurt I did a quick trawl of the internet for yogurt recipes – more by way of a reminder of quantities, as I have made yogurt in the past.
In my teenage years, I went through a phase of making soft cheese ( crowdie) and yogurt. I would like to say I was ahead of the artisan foodie curve but probably closer to the truth is that I lived on a farm in a small Highland village & was just a bit of an oddball.
Making yogurt is not complicated – and sometimes can happen by accident as I found out when I left a carton of milk on the windowsill of a Premier Inn hotel room on a business trip a while back. Reader – I ate it.
So back to my yogurt making – having gleaned the essential facts from the internet and reminded myself of the steps and quantities – this is what I did.
1. Gently heated up a pint of full-fat milk.
2. Left milk to cool to the temperature of a hot bath ( 45 degrees C )
3. I then took a couple of tablespoonfuls of Greek yogurt – from an existing tub, to use as the starter.
4. To warm the starter, I mixed a couple of tablespoons of the warmed milk into the Greek yogurt to make it runny and less cold before adding it back into the rest of the warmed milk.
5. I used my slow cooker to heat up the stoneware container so that the mixture went into something warm. If you don’t have a slow cooker – the important thing is to put the mixture into something that can retain heat – a thermos or just a sealed container than will keep the temperature even.
6. Having warmed the container – I put the yogurt ( that I had warmed a bit) into the warm milk then put the starter + milk mixture into the warmed slow cooker pot.
7. I switched the slow cooker off and took the stoneware container up to a warm room where I covered it in a thick blanket and left it for a few hours.
About 5 hours later it was well on the way to becoming yogurt but I decided to leave it overnight.
The next morning TA DA !
It tasted ok – quite mild, but I thought it was a bit runny and as I eat a lot of Greek yogurt I thought I would try straining it to see how it turned out.
I put the yogurt into a muslin lined sieve over a bowl and left it to drip in its own time.
I was heading out to a show at the Edinburgh book festival so I just left it dripping.
We ended up staying out later than planned and going to some more stuff at the Fringe so the yogurt had been doing its dripping thing for about 9 hours by the time we got back.
The result was a small ball of thick yogurt – maybe closer to fromage blanc than Greek yogurt in texture – but with a lovely mild flavour.
As I don’t have any pigs I drank the leftover whey – the strained liquid. No idea if it’s good for you but it was a refreshing slightly tart drink.
To make the yogurt a bit creamier I added back in a couple of spoons of full fat milk and the end result was quite close to the shop bought varieties.
It’s a fairly easy thing to do. I don’t think it gives any better result than buying a tub, but it’s quite satisfying making your own.
I might experiment with different types of milk ( e.g. Jersey or unhomogenised ) and also the length of time I strain it to see if that makes a difference to the end result.
Meanwhile, I have started saving my chilli tops in the freezer ( which I hope does not destroy the lactobacillus) and when I reach 15 I will give the chilli yogurt a whirl.
In between the mostly grey January days, there has been the odd bright interlude – a winter gem of crisp, eye-watering cold – blue skies, glistening pavements and low winter sun that almost blinds you.
Just as my summer memory is filled with long soft sunny days of peachy light ( yes, even though I grew up in the north of Scotland), the winter I remember is always frost filled with steamy breath clouds and icy air that catches in your throat.
When I first moved from Inverness to Glasgow to study, I was surprised at how warm it was in winter and wet. It took me a while to adjust – and I missed the easterly cold.
Last week I was out in Edinburgh on a proper east coast winter’s day and looking up saw what seemed to be a circular rainbow around the sun. I took a pic with my phone and thought it might just be sun flare but on checking with Google I found out my half rainbow was a parhelion or sundog.
The name parhelion comes from the Greek ‘parelion’ meaning beside the sun and sundogs so called because they follow the sun like a dog follows its master. How sweet is that? The rainbow effect is caused by sunlight being refracted through ice crystals.
I took a few more pictures and added this to my encyclopedia of meteorological facts, then spent quite a bit of time looking upwards for a better example – or as I had understood might just be visible on these cold icy days – nacreous clouds.
It was a bit low level for proper cloud investigation and I did not have the time or if I am honest the footwear and knees to climb Arthur’s seat – so I stopped off at the Museum of Scotland on Chambers street and headed to the rooftop.
On my way, I came across an exhibition on Scottish embroidered samplers – framed samples of stitches cross stitch, french knots etc. creating alphabets, motifs, and family pictures. It was serendipitous that I came across this exhibition, as I had opted for a quiet side stair to quickly reach the roof. I imagine the museum building was designed in this way to encourage accidental discovery.
What incredible skill was evident in the samplers produced by girls as young as six. The craftswomanship and patience in evidence was a reminder of how young women often had to channel their skills and intellect in different ways when not included in formal education.
Well, that’s one thing I took from it – but mostly I was in awe of the dexterity and neatness of the handiwork. My own attempts at embroidery or any sewing being rather slap dash.
No more sundogs spotted when I reached the roof but the views across Edinburgh and the skyscape from the building were worth the trip to the top.
Every now and again I do one of those geeky calculations around how many hours I have spent commuting or sleeping or running.
According to my Nike+ app, my total miles run since 2009 is 6697 miles and based on my average pace, it means I have spent 1116 hours running and of those, I imagine that for around 80% of that time I will have been running alongside my good friend Alison. That’s over a month of talking.
Fast and slow runners ask how we can run and chat – but that’s the main ‘raison d’ être’ of our running. It is a social occasion and mutual therapy rolled up with exercise and fresh air.
Someone should bottle it and make a fortune!
Given all these minutes we have spent in a moving conversation, we have covered quite a few topics even though there are recurring themes. We have shared and supported each other through some tricky times but mostly we have had a lot of laughs and the comforting ear that friendship brings.
Recently we have been talking quite a bit about the books we are reading and sharing recommendations. We are both fans of crime fiction and have now read the Lin Anderson Rhona Macleod series of novels. I would love to say we have made an insightful critique of the literary merits of the genre – but the truth is we are much more absorbed by the two main characters than the writing or the plot – appreciating their believable and familiar flaws and wondering about the ‘will they /won’t they’? chemistry between them.
Alison belongs to a real book club, but I think our running book club could catch on as it nicely ticks off two life-affirming habits in the space of an hour or so.
Some days it’s just so good to be outside and yesterday was one of those days.
I did a short lunchtime run – or more accurately half run /half walk – in the hills close to where I live. Autumn is such a beautiful season, the light was perfect and after a weekend of blustery rain, it was lovely to run without a breath of wind and alongside mirror flat waters.
These are the days when anything seems possible and being outside is a joy.
Unusually for a Monday morning at 9am, I was queueing to get into BBC’s big tent in Edinburgh to watch the recording of Janice Forsyth’s Radio Scotland show. Was a last minute thing to do when a friend asked me to join her.
Each day the magazine showcases a tiny but eclectic mix of what’s on at Edinburgh Festival and Fringe, and I had no idea who we might see. As it turned out – this ‘chaos of delights’ as described by Janice had a loose theme around ‘finding your voice’ featuring – impressionist Jon Culshaw, a Capella singer Kate Dimbleby, all-round Renaissance man and ball of energy Robin Ince, each providing small snapshot of their shows with a light touch and laughter to start the week.
While I knew both Jon Culshaw and Robin Ince – the beauty of this format is discovering something unheard of. Today for me from the official festival Geoff Sobelle’s theatre piece – Home- described as ‘a spectacle and illusion, choreography, storytelling and music’. Geoff and his musical partner Elvis Perkins talked us through the idea behind Home and shared short musical taster.
More music came from the contrasting styles of Super Furry Animals lead singer Gruff Rhys, and blues band ensemble Blueswater – providing toe-tapping playing, stellar singing and a harmonica virtuoso.
A smorgasbord, an amuse bouche, a carefully portioned taster of just a few of the shows on in Edinburgh at the moment.
Janice Forsyth holds it all together with an easy grace and humour. Would be nice if all Mondays could start this way.
bit of a story follows so maybe get a cup of tea first 🙂
It is 9 years since I started running – by that I mean it was in 2009 that I started running regularly and called it my hobby – in May of that year I ran my first race. In the ensuing 9 years my relationship with running has been a good one – and through running, I have found great friendships both in real life and online. Over the years, me and my running pastime have had our ups and downs but largely my love of everything to do with running has been an enduring one.
Throughout this time – running for me has been first and foremost a social activity with an exercise bonus. I do enter races – but usually with a level of ambivalence and a love/hate relationship with the training regime. I enjoy having a goal to focus on or a challenge to complete and have done a few run streaks.
Following a few years of running 10ks and half marathons – last year I trained for and completed a marathon and found the experience of training for the distance and the race itself quite a watershed in how I felt about running.
During the months leading up to the race, I realised that running could no longer be mainly a social thing – 26.2 miles is a long way for anyone to run and for someone of average fitness and the wrong side of 50, I knew I had to take it seriously and respect the distance.
I had to selfishly focus on my training schedule and sideline the running I enjoyed the most – so I put my social runs on the back burner or when I could I weaved them into my training schedule.
While this was a bit of a blow, as the weeks passed I did start to appreciate the feeling of gaining in strength and confidence as I followed a progressive training plan and listened to my coach. Over time I saw that I could run distances of 15, 17, 19, 20 miles and feel OK the next day. I started to see it as fairly normal to train 4 or 5 days a week – and to rattle off a 9 mile session with some speed work ( YUK ) or a hill rep sesh. I loved how when I went to a Body pump class or Pilates I felt a strength and confidence in my body I had not experienced before.
While adhering to my training schedule was mostly motivated by fear of failure – as the weeks passed it felt good to feel strong. This was a first for me – up till then – I would describe myself as a reluctant sportsperson, and one lacking in any competitive edge. In May of last year – marathon day – I am pleased to report I had a largely storybook ending – completing the 26.2 mile distance in a decent time of 4 hrs 40 minutes and joining the club of marathon runners.
After the months of marathon training – it was lovely to return to running without a purpose and to be back running with friends and without goals.
Freedom to run or freedom to not run – how joyous !
Post marathon – I got back into my regular weekend run routine – but had no desire to enter any races, despite the voices saying – run a half marathon after a marathon and you will get a PB – but the thought of having to push myself to run at pace just held no appeal.
And so it continued – the longer I was from the marathon the less inclined I was to set any goals, and my mileage dropped.
I think there are runners who on completing one challenge immediately look for the next one – whether that be to improve on a time or increase the distance – but not me. Others find the time post marathon to be a tough one, feeling a bit directionless and struggle with motivation and this has been my experience. Not only have I have lost the motivation sometimes to go out for a run but I have no inclination to put myself through any racing challenge or test.
Trying to shake this off, earlier this year I entered the Edinburgh half marathon thinking it would give me the incentive needed to reignite running love – only to bail out the week before.
So a bit late in the day, I am declaring 2018 the year of not racing – and perhaps acknowledging that I am going through something of a 9-year itch with my running relationship.
I do run – just not very far and not nearly as often.
Then about a month ago when on holiday I was out for a hot, slow run on a stony path and twisted my ankle, spraining it badly enough to mean that running was off the menu for a full 2 weeks.
Well of course when I was not able to run due to injury – I felt bereft and missed my dear old friend. I wondered what I would do if I could no longer run, and of course, there seemed to be runners everywhere and I had a massive dose of runner’s envy and FOMO all rolled into one.
It seems that absence makes the heart grow fonder – even where running is concerned.
Have you experienced a loss of running motivation – and any tips for getting through it ?