Spread it, Dip it, Spoon it – coconut butter

Several weeks ago now I was asked if I would like to try a sample of products from the Cardiff Sports Nutrition website.  Since venturing out into the world as a running blogger, I seem to have developed a love for all nut butters.  It started out with peanut butter, – so easy to spread over toast and have alongside a cold glass of milk after getting back from a workout.  Then came the almond butter on bagels as a pre-race breakfast.  Now, I’m all about trying out ALL the nut butters!

I decided to opt for a sample of the All Natural Flavoured Coconut Butter in Vanilla Cupcake flavour.  (The title itself is a mouthful!)Sweet Spreads Coconut Butter Vanilla CupcakeI’ll be honest, when the jar arrived a few weeks ago I eagerly unscrewed the lid, dipped my finger inside and taste tested…before screwing my face up and wondering if it was supposed to taste the way it did…it caught me off-guard!

Work has been very busy the last few weeks and it wasn’t until yesterday evening that I pulled the jar back out of the cupboard for another go.

This time I read the back of the label.

‘Oil separation may occur.  Hardening is natural in cooler temperatures.  For a warm Sweet Sensation remove lid, microwave for 10-15 seconds and stir until smooth.’

I removed the lid and zapped the jar in the microwave for 25 seconds, before giving the butter a good mix with the knife.  Turns out, when I had dipped my finger in initially I had just scooped out a blob of hardened and settled coconut oil – not what I had been expecting at all!  The texture was much softer, smoother and super easy to spread on slices of bread after heating through first.  The mix of coconut and vanilla cupcake flavours were much more balanced too!

Sweet Spreads Coconut Butter Vanilla CupcakeI feel marginally less guilty about eating the vanilla cupcake spread on top of a slice of bread and butter than I do eating vanilla cupcake mixture from a bowl.  Lets be honest…we’ve all done dipped our finger in after a baking session! 😉

The mixture is gluten free, contains no preservatives, and has a manageable-sized list of recognisable ingredients on the back of the jar.  (Organic Unsweetened Coconut Shreds, Raw Pecans, Organic Evaporated Cane Sugar, All Natural Puyre Vanilla Extract, Organic Extra Virgin Coconut Oil, Natural Sea Salt and Vitamin E.)

It made a great pre-run snack between lunch and dinner yesterday evening and I can tell it’s going to feature again in the near future!

What is your favourite type of nut butter?
Do you ever re-try a product that you weren’t sure of?

A November break in Gower

Gower probably isn’t a place you would normally think of when taking a break in November, but the weekend before last, twenty-nine members of my running club (or partners) headed down to Rhossili in Gower on the Friday, ready for the EnduranceLife races the following morning. We had two runners entered in the 10k event, seven in the half marathon, twelve in the marathon distance, three running the ultra and five just coming down for a good weekend!
Rhossili - GowerAs has been the routine for the past few years, our club booked out three large cottages right by the start line of the race (although the start line had moved a little further up the road this year).  Working as a teacher, I couldn’t get the Friday day off, like most others headed down had.  So, I set off from Wellingborough at 4pm with another couple who had also worked during the day.  Knackered, but ready for the five hour journey ahead of us.  I’d actually been up and working at 3am that morning, so might have had a little snooze during the drive over!

The houses we stay at are massive – we had fourteen people staying in our house, and there was still plenty of room.  Rooms had already been organised, but as I was the last to arrive I slept on the floor of a twin room with two others who had already nabbed the beds.  It didn’t bother me though, – I was looking forward to spending the weekend running and hanging out with friends.

As I was headed over to Wellingborough for my lift on the Friday evening, I got a call from Gary, who had already travelled down during the day.  The EnduranceLife website was displaying the following message from the organisers…

Gower marathon noticeThe guys already over in Gower had walked over to the race start where they were informed that there was a good chance the race might not go ahead due to the weather.  As we received this message back in Northamptonshire, the winds had already picked up and it was raining hard outside.  We decided to make our way over anyway.  If the race didn’t go ahead, a run would still happen with so many from our club there and if it was unsafe to head out for far on our run, there was always the pub for entertainment!

The three of us met the other twenty-six at the pub around 9pm.  Absolutely exhausted following the long day at work and drive down.  Time for a quick drink (just water for me!) before heading back to settle into the cottages and get some kip ready for potentially racing the following morning.  Further updates on the site indicated that a clear decision had not yet been made as to whether the event was to be called off or not.

We all rose early the following morning.  Kev traipsed the 15 minute walk down to the race HQ to establish whether or not the event would be going ahead.  It would be, so suddenly our house was all systems go again!  Bottles were being filled, bags packed and layers added.  The wind sounded awful outside and the rain had been constant most of the night.  It was going to be muddy out there!

We left it quite late to go down and register, as standing around in a muddy field at stupid o’clock didn’t really appeal to any of us that morning.

Gower marathon HQ tent 2And it definitely got muddy…

Gower marathon HQ tent…you can see the mouth of the HQ tent to the left of the above photo, and this was still very early on in the day.  You can still see grass at this point!

The EnduranceLife registration always seems to be a smoothly run procedure, and we were quickly ushered along the line where we signed to say we would be responsible runners, to collect our numbers, timing chips, t-shirts and Clif bars.  There didn’t seem to be any pens out to write on the reverse of our numbers, but I doubt anyone’s fingers would have worked by this point anyway.  It was COLD!

Gower marathon HQ tent with Mark and JoThe ultra was about 15 minutes late setting off due to the extra safety notices in the race briefing.  Our race was next to begin and a little late getting going too.  We were told about how the race organisers might have to alter the course later on during the event so that we ran more road, and inland, rather than on the edge of the cliffs…no-one wanted to get blown off into the sea below!

Although we were shaking and shivering on the start line, I knew I would warm up quickly once the race began.  The wind was incredibly strong, but it really was not very cold at all.  Because the start of the race was at a slightly different point this year (I think there had been some issues with going through a farmer’s field near the beginning of the course) it meant that we hit our first hill very early on.  I do not have an issue with hills at all, and am quite strong when it comes to taking big strides and powering up past other runners.  What goes up, must come back down again though and the first big downhill was notorious for falls and injuring runners.  So much so that we were told they had even placed the medical van at the bottom of the hill to deal with any issues more quickly!

Gower marathon elevation

As you run downhill, a stream joins the path and so the grassy track becomes very slippery.  Not one you want to lean forward and throw yourself into at all.  Especially when you factor in all of the rocks sticking up out of the hill face at the steepest section.  I picked my way down fairly gingerly, although picked up speed a little as I gained more confidence.

Gower grassAt one particular soggy point towards the bottom, I opened up my stride too much, slipped on the wet grass and managed to bounce down onto my knee and back up again.  Somehow I managed to use the forward momentum to keep going, but I now had a soggy, muddy leg!

I got a large stone in my shoe here, so once at the bottom I paused to remove it before trotting off again.  The next section was a long one across the beach.  I had hated all of the beach stretches during the marathon last year – too much of the same, and not being able to see off into the distance messes with my head and causes me to break down into a walk probably more than I need to.  Last year we had set off as a group of five, with the other five runners much faster than me, leading me to feel pressured and probably push harder than I should have done along this section.  This year though, I feel a much stronger runner and at the start I had purposefully said that I wasn’t intending on running with anybody out on the course…that I wanted to run my own race, so the pressure was off.  That said, I ran most of the way either with, or just behind a group of three or more runners from our club.  But it was pressure free!

I ran the whole way comfortably across the beach.

The rise up off the beach was stunning.  The weather was so grey and bleak, that much later on good photos were impossible, so I’m glad that some runners from our club caught these images early on.

EnduranceLife Gower marathon courseYou can just about see me there, tagging along in the background carrying my water bottle!

The checkpoints had changed this year, with one being removed completely.  The guys on the first checkpoint had done a great job of placing plastic tubs on the side to shelter the food from the elements.  Rain was still coming down hard in a sideways motion here.  Because there was just me I was in and out of checkpoints very quickly, and would always bump into the group up ahead after going through.  As a larger group they took more time to get everyone through each checkpoint before continuing on their way again.

The worst part of the course was at mile 13.  Mile 13 was at the top of a tough hill that we had been climbing for what felt like forever.  As we reached the top, the wind was blowing me sideways, and I was holding onto my cap really tight, whilst still trying to move forwards.  The air all around seemed to be grey here, and I could see nothing further than a few meters to either side of me.  I passed a couple of ultra runners up here which I was surprised by, as they had been given at least a half hour head start on us.

Gower marathon awful weatherI took a picture, but it really does not show just how bad things were up there at the top!

Despite that though, there wasn’t one point where I didn’t enjoy the race.  I was soaked through by now, and covered in mud, but had been sensible, hadn’t fallen and was still eating and drinking well.

I rushed through the next checkpoint, catching a glimpse of Kev, Emma and Jo walking just up ahead so I joined them for a while.  This was the point where Kev and I had hung back from the group last year.  We headed sharply down through a wooded area and arrived at the bottom with just us three ladies.  Where was Kev?  We waited a few moments, incase he had nipped off to the loo but when another couple of runners came past and hadn’t seen any sign of him on the way through we got a little concerned and headed back up to look for him.  He soon bundled out of the bushes and joined us again though.  Just a loo stop!

The second beach was much worse than the first, and I walked a large portion of it.  The wind was full on blowing into our faces now and almost pushing us backwards as we power-walked across.  I could see the three ahead forming an ‘elephant chain’ to try and block some of the wind.  Kev, Jo and Emma had made up some distance running to the beach, but I gradually decreased the gap again as I pushed forward with my long walking strides as the wind forced us to break back into a walk.  I caught up with them just as we came off the beach and headed into the woods at the far side.

Then, came the steps from hell.Gower gully steps in the wood

This photo was taken last year, when it was much less muddy!

They went on and on forever…up and down…and up again.

We were soon back up along the edge of the cliffs and the mud and the wind here was awful.  At one point, the course was diverted inland by a few hundred meters, as the track was too unsafe that close to the edge to be out running on.  Here, we headed briefly up a grassy-now-muddy track which was so, so deep in mud!

Gower - all the mud!Turning back onto the main path again the wind hit and I was constantly fighting to stay upright on the narrow path.  I lost my cap completely at one point, and in my rush to catch it, slipped and dropped my water bottle in the mud.  Nothing for it but to wipe the mud on my already soggy, muddy tights and be thankful that it wasn’t my cap in the mud.  That, at least, had managed to get swept up onto the high bank above.

Beach number three was stony and difficult to run on.  I ran where I could, but had lost sight of the others here.  It went by fairly quickly, although halfway along I hoped that I wasn’t supposed to have turned off sooner, as I hadn’t seen any signs for a while!

Luckily, at the far end of the beach was an EnduranceLife sign and so I climbed up off the rocks and onto the tarmac path, where I saw the next checkpoint on the side.  I unscrewed my bottle ready for filling when I realised that the marshal was pulling people here.  It was rather disappointing to find that at mile 21, just like two weeks earlier, I was being pulled from a longer distance race.  This time it wasn’t due to cut-off times, but safety, and I understood completely.  Apparently, one runner had been blown over and broken her arm earlier into the course, and the wind had picked up a lot in the past hour.  Rather than reroute the course inland, the organisers had decided to pull everybody that was left out on the course and who had not yet made it to the final checkpoint.  I was directed to a minibus in a field up ahead, and here I found Emma, Kev and Jo who had also been pulled just minutes before.  We were soon joined by Tracey and half an hour later, Ian and Mandy also joined the growing numbers stood outside the van.

Because it was a van, not a minibus, there were no seats!  As warm as we had been whilst out on the course running, it was cold stood still in soggy kit.  We quickly began to shiver, and one of the other runners nipped off to find a key for the van.  Sat in the back of the van was not much better, and some of the smaller ladies took turns warming their hands in the cab.  I stuck it out in the back with the other members of our club.  Some of our club runners had thought ahead and had packed a little flask of whisky which they necked for warmth!

We were under the impression that the checkpoint marshal was waiting for just one more runner, and we would only be there for ten more minutes, but in actual fact we were there for closer to 80 minutes.  Every time the door slid open another runner that had been pulled would squeeze into the back of the van.  We were sat perched on boxes and crates and couldn’t shut the door completely, as there were no lights in the back.

We were really shivering by now, although morale was still high and everybody was getting on well in the back of the van.

Gower marathon in the back of a vanOne guy kept checking on us to see if we were OK.  Just as the last two runners were bundled into the back of the van, he popped his head in again to say that he hoped we all liked chips…he’d been for a walk further up and found a chip shop, so bought twelve portions for us to share out amongst us all to try and keep warm!  What a lovely gesture.  It turned out that he wasn’t a race organiser either, just another marathon runner like us who thought he would put the £20 emergency cash from his race kit to good use.  Hero of the day!

Chips at Gower marathonThe Race Director arrived to check that we were all OK and shut the door on the van so that we could travel back to the finish line.  We were in pitch black and couldn’t see to eat our chips!  Someone, I think Kev, suggested that we pull out our headtorches and shine them up at the ceiling to create light, so that is what we did…!

Chips at Gower marathonHappy runners!

Two of our three club ultra runners completed the course, running incredibly well in those conditions.  The third decided to drop down to marathon distance.  He finished along with the other five from our club entered for 26.2 (or 28miles as this race is!)  Our half and 10k runners had all completed their distances before the race was abandoned.

Once back at race HQ we were issued with more Clif bars and a medal.  I was a little frustrated when I received a medal – I didn’t complete a marathon distance, so in my eyes, didn’t deserve a medal!  Although I suppose the medal doesn’t distinguish which distance I ran, and I definitely completed more than the half marathon distance on the day.

Hot drinks were handed round and we sheltered under the race HQ tent.  The shaking was uncontrollable now, with hot drinks being spilt everywhere and the wind had picked up as well.  We saw a couple of the marathon runners finish whilst we were there, and I worried for the remaining two marathon runners and one ultra runner from our club still out on the course.  We had to head back, as there was no way for us to get warm whilst still stood out where we were.  I was very relieved to hear that everybody was back safe and sound an hour later though.

Super long post.  I’m trying this new thing where I try and recap my races in just one post lately! 😛  I’m going to recap the weekend away later in the week though, as the Gower fun didn’t end here!

Cook your way to a healthy smile :)

A few weeks back, I was contacted to see if I would be willing to take part in a campaign run by SimplyHealth called ‘Cook Your Way to a Healthy Smile’.  Having been told off by my dentist earlier in the year for eating all things bad for my teeth, I eagerly responded, saying that I would be happy to take part in the campaign.

I was sent a box of organic produce from Abel & Cole and asked to come up with a meal from the contents.  The items I received in my box are known for being superfoods for teeth and I was keen to whip up a dish using them.

Firstly, the delivery from Abel & Cole was fantastic.  When ordering, I commented that I would not be available to take deliveries between the hours of 6:20am-6pm on weekdays due to work, so would leave a large plastic container along the side of my house which the delivery could be placed inside for safe keeping until I returned in the evening.  The delivery rocked up a few minutes before 6:20am one morning, so I was able to take it inside before work!
Cook your way to a healthy smile - chicken saladIn the box I received a large bag of spinach, a pack of celery, some strong cheese, a carton of milk, a pack of sausages, one of chicken legs, walnuts, brazil nuts, some potatoes and dozens of good-to-eat apples.

For me, there is no better meal than a salad when it comes to eating healthily (or, not so healthily – I like to throw lots of items into my dish!) and quite often when I go out for a meal, it is a salad I choose.  Dan doesn’t eat any salad items, so I tend to save eating them for lunches or when we go out for a meal at a restaurant.  Or, like in this occasion, when Dan has swanned off to football for the afternoon and I’m just cooking for one!

* 1 chicken leg
* 1 large handful of spinach
* 1/2 stick of celery
* 1 small handful of walnuts
* 1 small block of cheese
* 1/2 an apple
* 1 potato
* a pinch of salt
* a sprinkling of pepper
* a blob of olive oil << is a ‘blob’ an official measurement?!

Cook your way to a healthy smile - chicken saladI rubbed the chicken leg in a little olive oil mixed with salt and pepper, before placing it in the oven on 200° for an hour.  Whilst the chicken was cooking, I scrubbed the potato, which I then cut into small, bite-sized chunks, ready to boil.  I left the skin on, as I like lots of texture in my meals.  I removed the stems from the spinach and cut the leaves into several pieces, throwing them into a large mixing bowl.  Once the potatoes were fully cooked I tossed them whilst still warm, along with the spinach in a little oil and salt, to taste.  At this time of year, I feel all salads should contain some warm elements!

The spinach and potato mixture lined the bottom of my dish, whilst I chopped the apples, celery and cheese into small cubes.  The walnuts were chopped into slightly smaller cubes, and then scattered over the top of my dish.  I removed the chicken from the bone once cooked and laid out over the top of my cheese, so that the cheese could get slightly melted.Cook your way to a healthy smile - chicken saladTa-da!  Salad as I like it best – with lots of different items and lots of different textures!

Annoyingly I’m never home in the daylight anymore, and I cannot take very good pictures in artificial light, but you get the jist of my meal.  There was enough left for snacking later on that evening too…!

Apples and cheese snackApples with cheese used to be one of my favourite snacks when I was younger and it’s one I hadn’t had for a while.

The infographic below explains why the six foods are ‘superfoods’ when it comes to a healthy smile and why it can be a good idea to incorporate them into your meals.

Superfoods for your smile


**(Infographic from https://www.simplyhealth.co.uk/sh/pages/healthy-you/six-superfoods-for-your-smile)  I received a box of organic goodies from Abel & Cole in return for this post.

What are your favourite items to include in a salad?
What are your favourite healthy snacks?

A soggy tourist!

It’s been a little while.  Sorry for my absence from the blog.  I have a lot to write about and a lot to catch up on, and I’m hoping to do just that this weekend.  I’ll start by telling you about my most recent parkrun tourism trip…
Not last Saturday, but the one before that (7th November), Laura and I headed off to Daventry for a bit of parkrun tourism. Daventry was the sixth parkrun course I’ve run, and was parkrun number 36 in total.
My usual parkrun courses are all a good thirty minutes away and Daventry showed as being 50 minutes away when I punched the postcode into the satnav.
After a week of 5am get ups, I had decided to set my alarm for 7:20am on Saturday morning so it ended up being quite a rush getting round, ready for leaving by 7:45am. I did it though…Only to discover that there were just 60 miles of petrol left in the tank of my car. I always do this…Leave buying petrol until the last minute and then not factoring in the time to purchase any on the way! Luckily I arrived with 10 miles to spare and there was a petrol station within sight of where I parked.
10 miles left
It was absolutely tipping it down when I arrived. I’d had my windscreen wipers going on full blast and after getting out of the car to change my trainers, I was soaked through within seconds. I’d arrived wearing road shoes, unsure of the terrain we would be running on.  I knew trail shoes would be a better option when I glanced up to see the muddy field in front of the car park where the finish funnel was being constructed though.
The reason we had decided to head to Daventry on Saturday was due to the first birthday celebrations that were taking place. Fancy dress and slotting in some parkrun tourism is high on the agenda this year and we both really enjoyed the Corby’s first birthday parkrun back in September.  The Daventry event was a black tie do and so there were plenty of runners in dresses and suits, slipping around in the rain. This included Laura, who arrived fully dressed up, including wearing accessories of a necklace and also clutching tightly onto a handbag, which she used to carry her parkrun barcode around in!
Laura at Daventry parkrun(Laura in her get-up post-race!)
There were some fab outfits, and despite the rain, loads of people were wearing dresses, full on suits, or like one guy who zoomed by me early into the race, wearing a suit jacket and dickie bow with running shorts on his bottom half!
Daventry parkrun in the paper
I bailed out of the fancy dress at the last minute, despite Dan intending on pulling out his tux tie for me the evening before. Waking up late, not feeling great, the horrific weather and the mad rush as I realised that the parkrun was actually 50 minutes away and I had limited petrol were all contributing factors to this decision. I felt a bit bad texting Laura to say I was just in regular running kit, but I think she let me off in the end!
When I arrived I was desperate for the toilet. I don’t think the noisy rain had helped. The rain, along with downing a pint of water just before leaving the house an hour earlier, meant that by the time I had changed my trainers, found Laura and asked where the toilets were,  it was 8:55, I was desperate for the loo and with no time to make it to the toilets and back before the start. Damn!
Not knowing the course, we lined up at the back and chatted to the other runners around us. I decided to keep my hoodie on as it was still really raining. It wasn’t cold though and I instantly regretted it when we started running.
Daventry parkrun
Although Laura had done her research and declared the route off-road, we weren’t sure if the course consisted of multiple laps or just the one lap.  We began on a pathway, gradually picking off other runners in front of us.  It was a proper Autumn day out there, with leaves on the ground everywhere you looked.  The heavy rain meant lots of mud to either side of the path, and there was a brief bottleneck near the beginning as runners slowed down to head through a water-logged gate one-by-one.
Daventry parkrunI really didn’t have a great run and realised early on that if you need the toilet before a run, it’s probably better to go, rather than to try and run with a short stride and ignore the sound of rushing water under the bridges you run across!
I hadn’t planned on a quick one, which was good, as it definitely wasn’t!  Laura and I chatted away for the first couple of miles, but I was even struggling with that towards the end.  I just wasn’t having a good day!  The course was just one lap in the end, and I really enjoyed the route.  One to go back for again for sure.
Mile 1: 10:46
Mile 2:
Mile 3: 10:22
Nubbin: 8:51mm pace
I removed my jacket and carried it after about a mile.  It was too warm and faffy to be wearing it AND run.
Daventry parkrunI told Laura to push ahead near to the end so she went off and left me for the last little bit.  I did the best sprint finish I could muster whilst needing a wee, and as soon as I crossed the finish line I thrust my barcode into Laura’s hand for her to scan so that I could nip off and find the loo!
Official time: 30:54
Gender position: 21/67
Category position: 4/7
A few minutes later, and with an empty bladder once more, Laura and I made our way to the post-parkrun cafe for cake and hot chocolate.
I did point out to Laura that it was looking like we were becoming the parkrun crashers – going from birthday parkrun to birthday parkrun and enjoying the birthday cake!  And it was good cake…
Guinness cake at Daventry parkrunAlthough not normally a Guinness fan, there was something about the density of the Guinness cake that appealed to me and I did not leave disappointed following a slice of this!
Laura and I stuck around for a long gossip after the run, and one of the main organisers came to chat to us about where we were from and ask if we had enjoyed our first experience of Daventry parkrun, which was really nice.  I do love the smaller events like this.  Parkrun is such a friendly community!

Do you chat to parkrun tourists at your event?  Our local event, Northampton, is so large I wouldn’t know who was a regular and who wasn’t.