Marathon Training: Facing the Sun

I learnt an important lesson yesterday about when it is sensible to train – that is, NOT in this heat!

The temperatures have soared recently, reaching a humid 31C at one particular measurement. Whilst this has made for some excellent beach weather, it is absolutely awful for any form of training or exercise. The sun was beating down relentlessly, my eyes scrunched up behind my glasses, feet slowly cooking in my trainers.

Usually I like to take Dexter with me as I run around the park. But on this day, he was laying panting in the cool shade.

“It’s far too hot to make you run, Dexter.”

Dexter - hot and bothered!

Dexter – hot and bothered!

Now, I should have thought then that if it were too hot for Dexter to be outside, then surely it would be too hot for me also. Unfortunately this did not occur to me at the time.

I set off for a long jog under the baking sun, through the beautiful park. One lap around – roughly 3 miles – and I found myself extremely thirsty, sweaty, tired, nauseous and struggling to breath.

I stopped and sat beneath a tree, trying to push away the dizziness. As a pharmacy student, I recognised the symptoms of heat exhaustion and after sitting and cooling down for 10 minutes I slowly walked back home to drink a few pints of water.

It was stupid. Heat exhaustion and heat stroke are serious but can be sensibly avoided. From this point onward, all of my training sessions throughout the summer will take place in the early hours of the morning or in the cool late evening. This includes the additional strength building exercises and interval training. There’s a time and place to push yourself, and it is not in the sun!

Push ups, anyone?

Push ups, anyone?

Dinner time!

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Preparing a quick, tasty meal of vegetarian bolognaise. For this meal I used the following ingredients:

1 pack of Quorn mince
2 peppers (green and red)
1 can of tomatoes
6 medium chestnut mushrooms
2 medium onions, roughly chopped
1 fresh tomato (vine ripened for its fragrant aroma)
3 garlic cloves, crushed
1 pinch of smoked paprika
-served with boiled spaghetti

As I was quite tired, I chose this recipe as it is very quick and easy to make.

1. When all of the vegetables have been chopped, they are all added to the pan to slowly cook amongst the garlic cloves.

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2. The tinned tomatoes are then added and the sauce is left to simmer for 10 minutes.

3. Pour around 2 thirds of the sauce into a separate, deep bowl – careful! Its very hot! – and then blended. The sauce can be as smooth as you prefer.

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4. Pour the blended sauce back into the pot, and then add the Quorn mince. Cook for around 12 minutes.

5. Serve with spaghetti.

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This dish is quick, healthy and delicious. I particularly love a good homemade spaghetti bolognaise shared with my family.

Cook Me Quick: Spicy Prawn Curry

Ingredients:
500g Cooked Prawns – marinate for an hour or more in lemon juice and a little chopped chilli
1 large onion, roughly chopped
1 green pepper, sliced into squares
1 red chilli, finely chopped – with seeds if you like it extra hot!
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 teaspoon ground tumeric
2 teaspoons curry powder
1 teaspoon tamarind paste (optional)
3cm root ginger, peeled and finely chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 tablespoons sweetcorn
400g canned tomatoes
200ml coconut milk

1. In a large, nonstick frying pan heat up the oil and fry on a low heat the chopped onions. Add the ginger, garlic and chilli and cook until the onion is nearly see through.

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2. Add the tumeric to the onions, stiring them thoroughly. Then add the tamarind paste – this provides a sweet and tangy flavour to the onions.

3. To the pan, add the chopped green peppers and allow to cook at a medium heat for roughly 5 minutes.

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4. Pour in the chopped tomatoes, sweet corn and then add the curry powder. Simmer for 10 minutes before adding coconut milk.

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5. Add the prawns and simmer for an additional 5 minutes. If the sauce is too thin, sprinkle in a little cornflour whilst rapidly stirring.

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Cooked prawns marinating in lemon juice and chilli

6. Serve with freshly boiled rice or warm naan bread.

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Timing : 10mins preparation, 25mins cooking

Pet Diaries: BooBoo’s Baby Jumpers

As a dog mummy, I am very sentimental about all the cute moments and silly things my little babies do. This includes holding onto old toys, collars, bowls, name tags and in this case jumpers.

Sleepy BooBoo in his first jumper

Sleepy BooBoo in his first jumper

BooBoo was only tiny when he arrived into our home last winter. His short puppy fur barely a fuzz over his small body, and quite underweight from poor care in his early life. Worrying so much about protecting him from the cold, I immediately rushed out and purchased a little woolly jumper for him.

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As it was close to Christmas time, absolutely every item available was printed and labelled with commercialised festivity. I wrapped BooBoo up in that powder blue, snowman jumper – probably intended for someone’s pampered Chihuahua – and fell so completely in love with his naughty schoolboy look that I also bought the Santa one too.

Dexter and BooBoo

Dexter and BooBoo

Within a couple of months, spring arrived. BooBoo outgrew his puppy jumpers and started sprouting a few hairs of his adult coat. I carefully folded and kept safely each of his tiny jumpers. Now, at 10 months old and weighing an enormous 48kg, I don’t think he’ll need one this year!

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A Review of ‘The Shock of the Fall’ by Nathan Filer

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I’ll tell you what happened because it will be a good way to introduce my brother. His name’s Simon. I think you’re going to like him. I really do. But in a couple of pages he’ll be dead. And he was never the same after that.

The Shock of the Fall is a breath-taking debut novel that intertwines the threads of grief, guilt and mental health with the powerful voice of Matt Holmes, a nineteen year old boy suffering from schizophrenia. It is no surprise that it won the Costa prize for best first novel! With beautiful clarity Filer brings to life the narrator within the very first sentence.

“I should say that I am not a nice person.”

Every word of the novel is precisely chosen and carefully constructs the inner universe of Mathew’s mind. We are welcomed into his thoughts, his flaws, his understated acts of kindness, and observe the chaos that slowly takes hold of his life. Filer has cleverly positioned every chapter, piece of dialogue, revelation of plot, to masterfully portray an unravelling psyche and the ever-looming sense of guilt-ridden grief. The Shock of the Fall is a work of stunning skill.

My illness knows everything I know.

Filer thrusts upon you a sense of helplessness, anger, resignation – our role as reader is to realise the societal failures with respect to mental health. These failures, the cracks within the healthcare system and attitude of individuals which entrap the characters of this novel, are reflections of the shameful treatment that is begrudgingly offered to so many today.

And yet, despite the harrowing undertones of mental illness, kitted together with grief, Filer manages to coax out a laugh with his humorous language. Matt’s wit in the face of his own illness peels back the layers of tragedy to show perhaps the one constant light within the novel: the strength of humanity’s spirit.

Not making excuses, but I am a schizophrenic

Beautifully haunting and with refreshingly unique characterisation, I am tempted to reread The Shock of the Fall. There are too few novels which discuss the consequences of mental illness and its treatment, and certainly none with such finesse.

SCORE: 9/10
RECOMMEND: Yes!

A Review of ‘Fangirl’ by Rainbow Rowell

I really wish I could give a better review for a novel I should have been able to relate to. Rowell paints a portrait of a socially withdrawn young girl – Cath – who is absorbed in a world of fanfiction, entering the jungle of university with her twin sister, a passion for writing… This could be me! I thought.

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You’re not the ugly one… You’re just the Clark Kent

Disappointingly, Rowell’s portrait of a protagonist is nothing more than a finger-painting, smeared across a train wreck of tearfully boring plot. I may have been more forgiving of the frustratingly poor quality of writing had the author not thrown Cath out as a scholarship student on a Fiction Writing course. Perhaps this was intended to create an intelligent female lead? Instead, it works to reveal her stupidity, immaturity and naivety. For example, in one chapter Cath argues with her Professor about plagiarism after submitting a piece of fanfiction writing for grading. Her pitiful “I just don’t think you understand” might provoke a little sympathy for her embarrassment, and yet such a monumental error would surely not have been made by a supposed genius. To drive in the nail of embarrassment and contradiction a little further, the consecutive chapters following read more like a string of pathetic excuses rather than intelligent arguments for the celebration of fanfiction.

Do you really expect an elderly English professor to be down with gay Simon Snow fanfiction?

The fetishisation of a homosexual relationship by the use of fanfiction as a awkward foreplay is demeaning to LGBTQA individuals. And yet aside from these long scenes mashing together two stories, the romance is pitifully absent.

Rowell’s disjointed, repetitive writing style stalls the movement of the story on every page. Even the chapters are interrupted with snippets of the focal fandom: Simon Snow novels – a cheap reflection of Harry Potter. No conversation between characters is allowed to progress far without Cath’s outbursts of rudeness that are excused as social anxiety or the traits of being “a weirdo”. Overall the topic of mental health is roughly approached and poorly dealt with. Rowell throws in the father’s mental instability like an afterthought halfway through and fails to represent his condition accurately or with empathy.

Dad? Call me.”
“It’s Cath again. Call me.”
“Dad. Call me. Or call Wren. No, call me.

As a light read, Fangirl is a forgettable novel with predictable plotline and irritating, dislikeable characters. The scattering of sarcastic humour reads like a Tumblr dashboard, with just as much youthful angst and directionless written outpouring. Its only saving grace is the inside illustration of characters, these kept me occupied as I struggled to reach the end.

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SCORE: 2/10
RECOMMEND: Reading some fanfiction to find better quality stories.

To a commuter, from a commuter

The Monday morning commute is something I, amongst most others, will always dread and despise. The day in itself is a reason to don a frown, the time almost unhealthy. I make this journey each week to volunteer at a London hospital, and then when term time arrives I will become again a frequent face on the city bound line. Though it may not be a very long journey, under one hour, it can seem like a major task to endure – twice.

I confess, I am in part responsible for the tense silence befalling my carriage. Not being extraverted, and minimally sociable, I don’t break the rule of No Conversation between commuters – aside from the occasionally mumbled apology for squashing another passenger as I shuffle into my seat. This makes me part of the problem.

The problem being that when passengers – on a mainline train, a tube, a bus – abide by their travelling rule we become disconnected from each other. If you avoid eye contact, purse your lips together, park your luggage in the adjacent seat, stare at your phone, plug in those headphones… anything to pretend its just you on the train. What does the person across from you even look like?

It may be difficult to break a smile when you have to stand for hours, being thrown about from the train’s momentum, and sweating profusely in the cloud of commuter stench. Or when nobody will offer up their seat, or allow you to leave the carriage before they board.

Perhaps these are the excuses commuters hold onto to pardon themselves of rudeness, aggression, irritability and a general aura of icy silence. I think it would be nice to try and break that silence, and perhaps get to know the strangers I travel with each day.

Marathon Training

Day 1

Although I have on occasion tried running, a lap around the park or maybe a quick jog up the road, I had never considered that I would one day begin training to run a marathon. Even 1 mile seemed too far in my mind, let alone over 26! But just a short while ago I stood on a station platform, my train delayed, and I was distracted by a new advertisement – the Chelmsford Marathon 2015. I don’t live in Chelmsford. I don’t play sports. Running? Blurgh.

And yet…

The idea planted itself firmly in my thoughts. For the entire train journey, throughout my jobs of the day, and when I returned home much later, I wondered. The date of the marathon would mark a year on from when I had been very ill in hospital. I realised then how health, indeed life, should not be taken for granted. They can both so easily be shattered without warning, reason or fairness. I had thought these things before but I hadn’t really known the feeling. That was when I decided to go for it. The marathon would be a strange anniversary of an epiphany.

I downloaded the training plan they sent for beginners and started with the first run. The personal trainer’s online advice was to be able to run for 30 continuous minutes, rather than focus on any distance. I’m quite competitive with myself and decided I would push myself as far as I could go, which turned out to be 4.4miles in 40 minutes.

It may not sound much, but it was VERY difficult. My side was in a stitch for most of the run and my lungs felt like they were bleeding. The hardest part wasn’t the physical challenge, but the psychological walls I had to break down. Or at least, start to break down some of them.

After my first real run today, I feel tired and just a little bit proud. I am ready for the challenge.