Today I decided to bake a Christmas cake. I used to get a bit hung up about baking the Christmas cake on a set day in November, but I decided it does not make any difference to the flavour so I just bake it a few weeks before Christmas whenever I can find some spare hours.
Making the cake is pretty straightforward – especially since I have started using a recipe recommended to me by my friend Sally at fitnaturally. Sally got this recipe from her neighbour and friend – Mrs Williams – sadly no longer around – and it is both the easiest and nicest Christmas cake recipe I have tried. I also like the thought of Mrs Williams skills in baking being shared far and wide, and enduring. That’s the lovely thing about baking and passing on recipes.
So Mrs Williams Christmas cake recipe is kind of an ‘all in one’ method – where you put the fruit, sugar, butter and spices into a pot then heat them up.
Then you add all the other ingredients to the cooled fruit mixture, give it a good mix and that’s it!
I find the hardest part of baking a Christmas cake is lining the tin, and with the long slow cooking, it is important to line it properly. But though it is a fiddly job – it is an enjoyable ritual of sorts – wrapping the cake in its jacket of brown paper and string. And there is something very comforting about the gathering of ingredients, the preparation and then the aroma of Christmas cake baking that gets me in the festive mood.
Before baking the cake – I went on my day 3 run with Alison. Today we went on another of our weekend routes where we run from Colinton to Stockbridge. It is around 6 miles and pretty much downhill all the way following the water of Leith – so lots of running through woodland. We then get the bus or a lift back, so it’s an easy 6 miles.
We could run there and back and many runners would do this by way of a longer Sunday run, but I am not training for any race at the moment and one thing I have realised over the years of doing run streaks- is that there is no point adding in extra mileage if you don’t have to.
As it was, we had a very enjoyable social run rounded up nicely by a breakfast of fried egg roll and coffee at the Water of Leith bistro.
Towards the tail end of October, I got caught up in one of my recurring running obsessions – chasing a target mileage for the month . Although October is blessed with 31 days in which to run, come the last week I was ruing my slacker behaviour of the preceding October weeks when I realised how far behind I was in miles covered to date.
But with five days of October remaining, all was not lost. I had covered a fairly respectable 60 + miles so was confident that I would at least manage to reach a total of more miles than previous months 64 and 70 miles respectively.
Although not currently training for anything – I am trying to keep up a decent amount of mileage each month because I don’t seem to be managing to fit in any other exercise at the moment. Is very easy to talk myself out of doing any exercise (even when I know how much better I feel when I do), without some sort of way of being accountable.
And having set off at the beginning of the year with big monthly numbers, I am motivated to keep running and recording miles as I am on track to reach an annual total of 1000 miles by the end of November ( barring injury ) – a whole month earlier than I did in 2017.
So that is a target of sorts.
I know there are lots of naysayers around tracking exercise, league tables, wearable devices and the like – but my view is that on balance, it is mostly a force for good creating as it does for me anyway, a positive reason to keep going when it may seem pointless otherwise.
Runners often have stated and secret goals usually where races are concerned – (aka the backup plan when the shit hits the fan) and so it is for me and my ambitions around exercise – I have a stated start of the month goal and as the month progresses and life intervenes I revert to my back up or secret plan of what will ‘do’ for the month.
Throughout the year my graph of exercise ambition would be a jaggy profile characterised each month by an early peak of optimism usually around the first day and then as the month progresses a few more high spots coinciding mostly with weekend days when post-run, I am filled with euphoria and misplaced waves of invincibility.
The contrasting troughs of run reality and dips in the graph would be plotted next to those weekday work mornings when I opt out of a pre-work run in darkness, trading it for more time under the covers and telling myself that I will just run longer at the weekend.
( if I was not so shit at creating graphs – I would ‘insert diagram here’ – but instead here is a nice pic )
Back to October mileage. For as long as I have been kind of seriously running, and it being my hobby of choice – I have recorded my runs on the Nike+ app. Like other running communities, you can opt to have friends who you share the details of your running achievements with. With Nike+ there is a leaderboard including the stats of your chosen friends – and this provides a degree of competitive edge and encouragement, as I monitor my run chums and their mileage totals.
While it is not really a contest I do check to see where I am in the standing of my own small league and yes I confess I have sometimes gone out running just to get ahead of a Nike+ ‘friend’ and wallow in the warm glow of satisfaction when I am top of the leaderboard.
So come the last week of October – I set myself the first goal of reaching 90 miles -more than the past 2 months and higher than any month since April. Then on Monday 30th I was at 87 and a bit miles so if I ran 5 or 6 miles my 90 mile target would be comfortably achieved, and anything more a bonus.
Monday morning and with a flash of inspiration I realised I could combine the objective of reaching 90 + miles in October with the workaday task of taking clothes back to Zara. So in one swift move combine two of my running loves – ‘running with a purpose’ and ‘running a set number of miles in a month’ – how lovely is that?
As I was running I was thinking about how to achieve one of the following mileage number – 90, 93, 95, 99.
So the run story goes like this – I did the run into town and got myself to Zara and exchanged the clothes – at that point by my calculations I was on track to do 95 miles.
After a meander round Zara – I set off to run far enough for 95 miles then after a run up to Calton Hill and down again and not quite knowing where I was mileage wise – my phone battery died. I just guessed that I was most likely at around 95 miles and that was fine by me.
Once I was on the bus home and had fired up my phone with back up battery – I discovered my Oct mileage total was at 98.4 – so from a happy with 95 miles I saw that a tantalising 1.6 miles would take me to the magic 100 for the month and while I ‘could’ have done this extra bit the day after- I reckoned getting this done and dusted on this day was the better answer.
I got off the bus 3 stops early and ran the remaining distance home – wishing as I often do that I did not live on top of a hill.
Anyhow – my end of Oct total was 100.1 miles. the running was not always pretty but I did it with a day to spare. And thanks as always to my running challengers for spurring me on 🙂
So after the irrational decision making and mild euphoria that accompanied signing up to do a marathon – some time in a land far,far away – and with the excuses of December excess and family celebrations behind me – I found myself at week 1 of training for the marathon.
AKA when shit got real – although I am way too polite to use that kind of colourful language 😉
So it is January 9 and a full 4 months or 19 weeks or 131 days till May 21. By any measurement , quite some time till I have to stand on the start line and ask the question “why I am doing this ?”
Knowing that it is both a serious undertaking and one that I am taking seriously, I was quite excited to read what Sally had in store for me.
Earlier Sally had asked casually – “so you have a Garmin do you?” – to which I replied that no, I did not own a Garmin and actually had a bit of a fear of sports watches.
I tried one a while back but could never understand how to set pace, time, distance, the final frontier – whatever – and furthermore I could not read the screen when I was wearing my contact lenses and as to changing the time when the clocks went forward in Spring – well that was never going to happen!
I am fond of a bit of statistical insight – loving as I do counting the miles covered using my Nike+ app and I am partial to some gadgets, but as my family will testify, I do have some ‘issues’ around technology.
Added to this – when I did run with a sports watch and heart rate monitor, it was constantly beep, beep, beeping at me in a panicky kind of way and I could never get my heart rate into a range that did not suggest I was about to keel off my perch.
But – it turns out that as part of the marathon training we are going to share data and Sally will then adapt my training plan for the following week, depending on how well or badly I am progressing.
She will watch my heart beating,and my little legs running from afar, and be my very own spy in the cab. In the nicest possible way, big sister will be watching me .
So I bought a Garmin.
I could easily write a whole separate post on the subject of the vortex you can descend into when trying to choose a branded sports watch – but let’s leave that for another time.
Back to training. Week 1 plan asked me to do as a start -10 steady miles wearing Garmin and HR monitor – to set a benchmark. I was not too fazed by the prospect of the distance, particularly as the term ‘steady’ sounds nice and cosy, but with hindsight, it might have been a smarter move to go for a short test run wearing the Garmin to get the hang of the controls before attempting ten miles.
Instead I took delivery of the Garmin at around 11am – spent an hour and a bit waiting for it to fully charge then set out on my run.
Sports watches have got better than I remembered and the Garmin Forerunner 25 does look quite smart – if you like that kind of thing. Importantly it has a nice clear face with big numbers and reasonably straightforward interface and menu.
Having never used a Garmin or completed this kind of techno enabled test before – I was not sure if it was OK to stop or if stopping would mess up the readings sent to Sally, or even worse end the run before 10 miles. And if I was pausing it all over the place as I tend to do on my regular weekend meanderings, Sally might think I was fitter, and faster than I really am.
And as this was the first time I was using the watch, I was not completely sure what button to use to stop and start it again !
Having this fear of technology did provide an unusual incentive to just keep running and at a decent pace. I had to abandon my usual whimsical pauses for photos or observations, as this was a serious training exercise 🙂 So I was very pleased to see that after 5 and bit miles I was managing an average pace of just over 9 min mi – fast for me.
post run fuelling
But at the turning point I took a risk and pressed the stop button- which it turns out does pause the recording, so I took a few minutes to eat a disgusting gel and then did the return 5 miles. I had opted for a known route – an out into the wind gradual incline , followed by a downhill with wind behind you, return leg.
On the return leg I felt I was properly running like a proper runner – and with the wind at my back and endorphins buzzing I was visualising breezing or at least managing to get through the marathon 26.2 miles ( after some decent training obviously). It was a good feeling to be fit enough to manage 10 miles at an OK pace having been mostly doing shorter runs in December.
Euphorically I reached the 10 mile distance and triumphantly pressed the stop button – kind of hoping for a cheer , but definitely expecting to see some kind of summary of stats. I was keen to see if my heart was working ( even tho obviously it was 😉 and my inner running nerd was firing up to get my report card of pace, cadence, elevation and the like.
But instead of a list of accomplishments – the screen went a bit funny and pixellated and the numbers were all mangled, the display was frozen and no amount of button pressing was making any difference. Even when I got back to the house – the screen was still set in the same way.
Looking on the Garmin support page – it helpfully suggested ‘if screen has frozen try resetting it – but THIS MAY RESULT IN A LOSS OF DATA
Luckily I was also wearing my Nike+ app – so proof that those miles really did happen,even if I still did not know if my heart was working as it should.
So 10 mile run done ✔️- but I did kind of fail the first attempt of training with technology and I sense this may be a recurring theme of this adventure.
Five days into December and running everyday verdict is so far, so good. This is not the first time I have taken part in the challenge, so I do know the score. But this year is a bit different for me as I recently left my job after 8 years, and have the freedom to run at whatever time I like and for how ever long I choose – which is a new sensation and one that is taking a bit of getting used to, but is mostly a good thing.
This being the 6th time I have taken part in the marcothon, and for once not needing to weave my daily run around work commitments – I did consider adding a bit of icing onto the December run challenge cake. Maybe trying to run somewhere different every day or completing my December runs in an appropriately advent themed costume – bedecked as a lycra Christmas tree or Santa. Or I could have perplexed myself with some kind of a curious run = number of days = phase of the moon mileage combination – but on balance I thought better of it.
Instameet and first selfie to mark the event with @occasionalscotland
As it happens my December running is already something of a challenge within a challenge – as I am attempting to run further in 2016 than I have in any other year since I took up running in 2009 – and have set a target of completing 999 miles by December 31st.
And it turns out that even though I don’t have a regular 9-5 to fit round, or business travel, office parties and the like to attend, December is still quite a busy month. Newly out of my work routine and between my next assignment starting – I am finding it very easy to fill my day before and after running in all sorts of ways, and very much enjoying catching up with friends old and new.
Weather has been cool, but so far no snow and ice and to my mind Dec 5th had the best wintry weather as temperatures dropped to minus 4 – creating a beautiful frosty landscape and a face tinglingly cold run.
Day 1 – combined my first December run with meeting my newish Instagram friend Linda (@occasionalscotland) for coffee and a walk round Edinburgh’s Botanic Gardens. Easy day one downhill run to the Botanics along the canal, then weaving through the New Town.
Mileage 4.03 Total 4.03
Day 2 – Friday run with running chums Alison, Lil and Emma . Did a new variation of a route ( Emma’s 10k route ) out along the Dell path by the Water of Leith then up a level to Blinkbonny for an uphill loop before rejoining the path and back along the Dell by the river.
Nice to do a variation and lots of opportunity for different conversations and pace.
Mileage 6.36 Total 10.39
Day 3 – Saturday run with Alison – one of our weekend regulars -out along the Dell then back up past the new equestrian centre and Campbell park to loop back to the start – nice out and back on a cool morning.
Mileage 5.07 Total 15.46
Day 4 – Sunday run with Alison – we did our other regular weekend route – the Balgreen – out through Craiglockhart woods , past the allotments to Balgreen then back via the canal. Cold with bright sunlight
Mileage 5.14 Total 20.60
Day 5 – cold, crisp and frosty run – as on my own I chose to run at midday , to get the best of the sunshine and did a circular route from the house down first to the Dell path, along westwards towards Currie then up towards the Pentland hills via Poets Glen and back home via Clubbiedean and Torphin reservoirs.
So as night follows day and day follows night and the calendar whirrs onwards to the end of another year, I get all Decemberist gathering up all my love of traditions and habits into the one month, and of course that includes me running everyday in December.
So December 2016 – everything is the same and everything is different. What a year this has been – us lefty and not so lefty liberals left reeling in a ‘WTF rabbit in the headlights’ kind of way. Dealing not just with worrying views of intolerance and lack of empathy, but with the news that those folk that were important touchstones or just hugely creative figures in our lifetime and who brought joy and pleasure to so many of us – kept dying.
Then Brexit, Trump – Syria, Jo Cox. Sometimes it just felt that 2016 was the annus horribillus to end all annus horribillus.
This is a blog about running , but beyond my cheery posts about running, I don’t live in a vacuum and like many people, in between going out for a run I have been processing all that is happening in the world this year.
And I get it – for us sheltered Western people – while we may now live in a low level fear of terrorism, fortunately somewhere in the background mostly my life goes on in a comfortable safe fashion. I am not hungry and I have a roof over my head. We are not ‘at war’ or in fear for our lives – but it can sometimes feel a bit shit.
So to segue clunkily back to running.
Running – my ever constant, trusty companion. There to let me get it out of my system whatever ‘it’ might be , there to let me keep loving the simple effort of putting one foot in front of another, of the joy of self propelling, of seeing the skies and the trees, of chatting to friends about all kinds of stuff, of hearing the birds and of just being aware of all of humanity that you notice when out running.
So December 2nd – 2 days of running✔️ ✔️ behind me,and looking forward to 29 more days of that tiny bit of life that makes the rest of life make sense.