Running is Baaack!

As you can see from my blogging history, my last running post was a while back. March 2013 in fact. After that, it just trailed off, and eventually I just stopped writing about it.

It’s not that I stopped. I still did an odd 5km here and there. But I didn’t really feel the joy from going outdoors in my trainers from before. It had become a chore – I was obsessed about speed, intensity, distance, and when it didn’t hit the mark, I got pissed off.

So I took a break for 12 months, and just concentrated on plodding through.

But now, I’m optimistic that my mojo is finally back! The endorphins are buzzing, I’ve started timing my runs again, really pleased with the pace (though I’m never going to be a speedy bean). Now that the evenings are getting lighter too, I’m thinking of prolonging my distances, and hopefully entering an Autumn race if all works out. 🙂

Anyway, you know this blog is very much about the baking so I’m also going to post about these flowery fairy cakes. I made them a while ago for my work colleagues, and as an experiment in trying out ways of reducing butter in baking.

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Fairy cakes are really great, as they are just the right size for a few mouthfuls. This is based on the usual fairy cake recipe, but I replaced half the butter with natural yoghurt. It worked out beautifully, the cakes were texturally extra light, yet moist. I’d accumulated a lot of sugar flowers, so plonked them on top of the icing.

Yoghurt Fairy Cakes

Makes 16-18 cakes

For the cakes:

  • 65g unsalted butter
  • 130g caster sugar
  • 65g natural yoghurt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla paste
  • 65g wholemeal self-raising flour
  • 65g self-raising flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt

For the icing:

  • 100g butter
  • 200g icing sugar
  • splash of whole milk
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla paste
  • food colouring (optional)
  • sugar decorations

Preheat the oven to 180˚C. Line a bun tin with fairy cake cases.

Beat the butter and sugar together until creamy, then add the yoghurt. Beat this in well, then add the eggs one by one, followed by the vanilla paste. Then, add the flour, baking powder and salt, and gently fold together until combined. Plop a dessertspoon of cake mixture into each paper case, then pop into the oven for around 12 minutes until golden-brown, risen and springy. Put the cakes onto a cooling rack and wait until cold.

Make up the icing by beating together the butter and icing sugar until combined, then adding in a little milk, drop by drop, and beating in until creamy and spreadable. Add the vanilla paste and taste. Add more or less depending on how you like it. Pop a spoonful of icing onto each of the cold cakes, and ssing a small palette knife, spread it to cover the top of each cake completely. Decorate however you fancy – they went down really well at work!

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Back to (Running) Basics

As I said in a recent post, I have been finding it difficult getting out and running regularly. In the last week, there have been budding signs of improvement…I have managed to go out for a run for five consecutive days!

Anyway, nothing spectacular in terms of distances yet, but I’m just glad I’m throwing myself out there. What’s changed? Well, I did take quite a long break from my old running routine, and I’m not back into it yet. I’ve tried to take everything back to the way it was when I first started.

  1. Not caring about distances covered. 
  2. Slowing down, or walking for a bit up some steep inclines
  3. Going out when I felt most energetic and motivated – which isn’t necessarily first thing in the morning
  4. Not forcing myself to run in a tempest, or snowstorm, or pelting rain.
  5. Changing my music
  6. Not even wearing my normal running kit…just going out there in whatever old comfy clothes I happen to be wearing that day
  7. Mixing up my fitness routine – be it walking or cycling or dancing

I hope it’s working. I definitely feel refreshed, and the mental exhaustion that was plaguing me before seems to be slowly clearing. No marathons for a while though, that’s for sure.

Where’s my running mojo gone?

I’ve stopped running.

I’ve noticed this as a slow decline in mileage over the last couple of months, to the point where I am managing to complete a short run about once a week now. I feel awful about it.

It’s never a pleasant feeling going through a running low. This has been one of the longest dry spells I have ever experienced, and it’s literally like my brain is telling me I do not want to go out and run. 

Walking, that’s ok. Just about.

Running? Nahhhh.

I miss my trainers, but at the same time, actually, I don’t. My mind and body are torn.

I wonder if it is route exhaustion that I am experiencing, or whether I have to jazz up my fitness routine with something new instead. Is it because the weather hasn’t been that great? Is it because there is something wrong health-wise? I just don’t know.

I wish I could regain my enthusiasm for pounding the pavements.

I really do.

As for the marathon I was preparing for – well the decision has been pretty much taken out of my hands now. I haven’t trained for it at all. Disappointing, but at the same time, somewhat of a relief.

Running in Winter

It can be difficult to motivate yourself to keep running when it gets cold and dark. I certainly find it incredibly hard. But here are my top tips for keeping yourself going when all you’d rather do is snuggle up in your PJs, cracking out the Cadburys….

  1. Go running first thing in the morning, even if it’s dark. Think about how you’ll get to enjoy watching the sun rise as you run. Other motivating mantras at this difficult time include: “I will work up a wonderful appetite for breakfast” and “My boss will be incredibly impressed at how wide awake I am in the boring morning meeting, thanks to the exercise endorphins buzzing through my body…” Your muscles will also be nice and warm from being snuggled up under the duvet, instead of stiff and cold from sitting all day in a slightly chilly room.
  2. If you can’t run because you have to get to work too early, try making it part of your morning commute.
  3. Make it a fixed part of your routine. Don’t keep changing the times you head out. Then you’ll feel off when you aren’t actually running at that time.
  4. Wear lots of layers when running, including gloves, and waterproofs when it rains. Fewer excuses.
  5. Wear decent running shoes that cope with slippery, icy and muddy conditions. Those trail shoes may be expensive but they are worth it!
  6. Short runs, but often are the key. Tell yourself you’ll just do a quickie, and be back in no time, and see how you feel once you’re out there and warmed up.
  7. Play your favourite dance tracks as you run, to get you energised!

Now I’m just going to have to practice what I preach!

Scones

Anyone who knows me well will know that I love scones. I had a strong hankering after some today, and being rainy, it seemed like the perfect baking weather. I wanted to try out Dan Lepard’s recipe for his Everyday Scones, which changes the original method to mix together natural yoghurt, a small amount of sugar and some cream in with flour and raising agent. I didn’t have the exact ingredients available, so I used self-raising flour instead of adding bicarbonate and cream of tartar – and single cream was on offer so I used that instead of the double cream Dan Lepard states in his recipe.

I also made some fruit scones by adding a handful of sultanas to my go-to scone recipe. I used single cream here as I was trying to use it up but personally I would stick to milk as cream imparts too rich a flavour which is slightly sickening.

Although it is not essential to eggwash the tops of the scones before baking, they do go a beautiful golden colour which makes them look infinitely more tempting. The Dan Lepard scones came out looking a bit neater, but I think the lopsided nature of the fruited scones may have been thanks to the presence of the sultanas, which I imagine have have a distorting effect on the rise.

I managed to go for a run this morning. It was very difficult getting myself going, I was horribly congested, and I think a lot of passersby looked at me like I was mad, but I did it! Woohoo. Felt fine afterwards, no worse, but no better than before. I think being in a steamy kitchen baking helped a lot though! 😀

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Autumnal Weekend

After a very busy and stressful week, it was nice to sit back and take some time out at the weekend. 🙂 I made the most of the Autumn sunshine, and headed out for a lovely 18km run on Saturday. It was surprisingly quite dry, and I only got a little bit muddy, which is always good 🙂

On Sunday I was feeling a bit stiff, so I stretched my legs out and went for a nice long ramble in the morning, and a relaxing swim in the afternoon. There was just-baked crumble waiting for me when I got back – made with the windfall apples and some foraged blackberries – yum! It made a great post-workout snack with some Yeo Valley yoghurt. Shame I forgot to take a photo!

I still feel a bit stiff today after my long run at the weekend, and I decided to cut my workout short with  6.5km run instead, which was just about manageable! I’m hoping that it isn’t too wet in the following week as I do want to get a fair amount of running in, though I do wonder whether it would be worthwhile doing more of the other forms of exercise I also enjoy. I guess I prefer running because it’s much easier than having to travel to the gym 😀

I really feel like Autumn has arrived now – there’s a definite chill to the air and my coat is staying firmly on when I venture outdoors. I feel like the seasons have changed astonishingly quickly this year, I swear it was only moments ago that it was August and I was swelteringly hot – phew.

Mileage Freakout

I am one of those runners that gets worked up about managing to fit enough mileage into each week. I don’t set myself a particularly high bar – trying to total up 40km/week, but when you have hours like mine, it can make fitting them in quuuuite tricky.

Not being the most motivated of individuals after a hard day’s graft, I prefer getting my runs done and dusted first thing in the morning. However, when you’re getting up at 6am anyway, a 5am start seems a little too sadistic for my liking. So with the shortening evenings, I’m finding myself trying to fit the runs in the dark hours.

😦

Anyway, it’s terribly ironic that I took up running to deal with my stress, and now I’m getting stressed out by my running! I am obsessed by mileage, speed and my competitive nature getting the better of me. That unfortunately means getting into a tizzy when I see other people running longer, faster and further.

Anyway, it’s around 6 months until my marathon, and I’m having a mini freakout. That’s because the longest distance I’ve ever managed to run is 13.1 miles, i.e. half that distance. And I can’t even imagine the possibility of covering 20 miles, let alone the killer 26.2.

Eeeeeek!

A whole lotta love

Love.

You hear it being used all the time. I love that, I love this, I love her, I love him. I love you….

I love running?

There’s something so free about pounding the pavements, choosing whatever speed you want to go, where you’re heading, how long you want to run for. The escape from the indoors, outside, exposed to the elements, sweating in the heat, soaked to the skin, face whipped raw with the wind.

Oh my god, it’s just amazing, and I’m not even one of those runners who can claim to be any good at it either.

It keeps me sane, it keeps me happy.

And yet, I used to hate it with a passion. Cross country was one of the most dreaded activities of the school sporting calendar. Then I started exercising in earnest as a way to deal with my increasing stress levels as A-levels approached. Instead of a slow jog around the village, I was heading up towards the hills and hitting the trails. They weren’t long runs but they were just the right length for me. In London I missed the open emptiness that had characterised my previous runs, but I learnt to love running alongside the river, and the parks. I was spurred on by all the other people out there doing exactly the same thing, and I plucked up the courage to enter my first race.

Now I’m still here, running away, marathon training, and does it feels terrifying! There are always days where I don’t want to drag my legs outdoors, where I say I’d rather zombie out in front of the TV. But in the end, the bug always comes back, and the itch needs to get scratched! Because deep down, I know I love running, and I’m so glad for that first day when I laced up my trainers and headed out of the door.

Pretty Toes and Slinky Soles

Running has some drawbacks.

One of them is the affliction commonly known as “Ergh, your feet are really gross!” a.k.a “Ugly Runner’s Foot.”

Running is terribly unkind to your feet. Your feet become resilient to knocks by developing thick soles of skin, and your toenails get some hard knocks too.

But fear not – even though this is a common situation with runners clocking up hefty mileage – with a little bit of TLC, your feet will be perfectly pretty again.

  • Firstly invest in a good pair of running shoes and wear decent socks which are on the thicker side, or have two layers for anti-blister formation
  • Soak your soles in lemon juice, then use a foot file to remove excess hard skin. This is much more effective than using a foot softening cream (and those creams also stink).
  • Moisturise your feet
  • Paint your toenails a pretty colour to distract from the blisters, callus and the fact your toenail has actually turned black
  • Treat athlete’s foot ASAP. You can buy antifungal creams over-the-counter at the chemists

Fab Flapjacks

Today, I went to watch the Women’s marathon, and it was awesome! I walked around a bit to get several vantage points, and it was fantastic seeing the Ethiopians taking the lead, and what a wonderful sense of support from the crowd. Truly inspirational!

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Possibly in light of this, baking this weekend also took on an athletic sort of theme. Athletes like to fuel themselves with things like oats and bananas…so I made errm, unhealthified versions of both. I used the recipe for Butterscotch Banana Loaf in Dan Lepard’s Short and Sweet, and it turned out really well.

Then as for the oats, well, I made a big batch of flapjacks. I had no idea until I started food-blogging that flapjacks in the USA are a kind of pancake. This is an intriguing thought, as in the UK, flapjacks are as about as far from pancakes as you can possibly get.
 
It’s essentially a suspension of oats in a thick caramel. Incredibly sweet, rich and moreish. They are undoubtedly a great booster when your energy levels are flagging, though how much healthier they are in comparison with say, a banana, is somewhat debatable.
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