Food For Thought
Project Trail's Clare Steel hopes nutrition know-how will help her
Well, as I’m writing this, the weather has really shown us that summer is gone and autumn is here and for the first of what will be many long, dark and chilly nights I am working at my computer with a hot water bottle on my lap. Although it’s only 9pm it’s already pitch black and the wind and rain are blowing against the window. Hard to believe that the last time I wrote my blog in August it was light at 5am and the evenings seemed endless.
I can divide my last six weeks into two halves. The first three weeks were part of the school summer holiday, whereas the last three have been the start of the new academic year. As a result the structure of my days, and hence my running plan, has changed considerably!
August was a great month as far as training and running went. After a fantastic time in Madeira, where I did some great runs in the sun, I came home and continued to run at least four times a week. Although I was in and out of school each week, I was able to fit my work around me and I had some fabulous early morning runs that I found really set me up for the day. One of the real highlights of August was the weekend Stephanie, fellow Project Trail runner, came to stay on the farm. Although we had only met on launch day, we had an amazing weekend and got on really well. We did a parkrun on the Saturday and then we did a long nine-mile trail run with my brother on the Sunday. Stephanie got a PB that weekend and I got one a few weeks later when I did 27 minutes 42 seconds. Breaking the 28-minute barrier was a huge achievement for me and it gave me confidence that my training was paying off and I was getting fitter and faster!
In line with my training plan I also booked a number of races to give me the longer runs with a bit more pace that I needed. One race I won’t forget in a hurry was the first Sunday in September. It was an eight-mile trail run organised by a local athletics club and was around a beautiful place called Woodchester Park, literally just up the hill from where I live. We have walked the route a number of times so I thought it would be fun to now try and run it! The details on the club website said that there was a cut of time of 1 hour 45 minutes and that, after this time, the marshals would go home and they would stop timing! It sounded a bit scary and due to the length and hills on the route I was concerned I wouldn’t make the time. However, I phoned the organiser who assured me they were a very friendly club and not to be put off by the comments. So I decided to give it ago with my son James. It was only a small field of approximately 50 runners and all looked extremely experienced and serious but I started positively, determined to enjoy it and not to worry about position or speed. Lucky that, because James disappeared from sight within two minutes and within 20 minutes I was at the back! Although I said I wouldn’t worry being at the back, it was disconcerting to know the only people behind me were the tail runners. I did suggest they overtake me at one point as it was really hard listening to their conversations as they breezed along comfortably while I was finding it all a challenge. There were a small group of runners just ahead but they remained just head throughout so for the first time I finished last! However, I did get in under the cut-off time, the marshals didn’t go home and everyone clapped as I crossed the finish line – so not all bad!
I went back to school the day after that race and my running routine has had to change considerably. I am getting up at 4:45am again and in school by 6:30am and, at least three nights each week, I will either be late in school or will have to work at home as well so no chance of more than one run between Monday and Thursday (I never run on Fridays – I go to Waitrose for some ‘nice’ food shopping and a coffee – my end-of-week treat!).
Back to School
On week one of the new term, I did well and managed a five-mile run on the Wednesday. On week two that dropped to three miles (and it felt like I was running through treacle) and then, on week three, I was so busy and so exhausted that I didn’t manage a run at all. However I have managed to keep up my long runs including the Cranham Mummy Beast Challenge on 18 September. I had told our coach Anne-Marie and the other members of the Project Trail team what I was doing. We decided to use it as a training weekend and they all came to stay on the farm. It was a fabulous weekend and we all learned such a lot from Anne-Marie. I thought I had some potential injuries to one Achilles and behind one knee and was surprised and relieved when Anne-Marie gave me a calf massage (extremely painful for the record!) and told me my niggles were all related to my tight calves – nothing serious and nothing a golf ball cannot cure! Anne-Marie also spent a lot of time discussing nutrition with us and how to prepare ourselves nutritionally before a race and help us replenish our tired muscles after a race. This was extremely valuable and made me realise that it’s not just what I eat on the day of the race but I need to be more careful, measured and sensible about my diet every day. I am afraid cake still appears too often in my daily diet sheet!
The nine-mile race on the Sunday was extremely challenging and was good preparation for the Hilly Half marathon (although I would not have managed another four miles that day, so still some way off target). After the race, Anne-Marie asked us what we felt went well about the race which was actually quite a hard question. The route was very hilly and I found it impossible to run all the hills and I reckon I must have walked about a mile of the race but that said I finished it in one piece (although a tumble at mile seven left me with sore knees) and I have said I will do it again next year!
We are now approaching the final six weeks before the race and I still have a number of areas of concern that I need to work on. One is fitting in my running around work and the fact my midweek runs are getting squeezed out. The second is that, although I am enjoying running longer distances, I am really struggling with energy levels part way through as I find eating too much before or on a run very difficult. Similarly drinking on a run – I love the HIGH5 electrolyte drinks, especially the caffeine one, but I can’t drink much at all as even a few sips is causing stitch and trying to eat a protein bar or even Jelly Babies doesn’t seem to work. The HIGH5 gels are good – I just wish I didn’t get so sticky!
So that’s my challenge for the next month – how to keep my energy levels up to keep me going for 13.2 miles. Last Saturday I did an 11-mile hilly trail run. I loved it but I was wiped out for the rest of the day! The day after the Hilly Half I will be back in school for 6:30am as usual, so I have to get to a point where after a long run I don’t need a day on the sofa!
I am sure nutrition is the answer so I am going to re-read Anne-Marie’s nutrition guide – Eat Better – Run Faster – and I will try to give up the cake – it really isn’t the answer to everything!