A windy walk to Worm’s Head

The main reason so many of my running club traveled to Gower a fortnight ago was of course because of the races taking place, but we also used the time away to make the most of a fun, social weekend away!

After the race on Saturday we all took it in turns to shower before relaxing with some beers infront of the TV.  There was a curry ordered for us all which was meant to arrive at 7:30, but actually ended up arriving closer to 9pm.  It was a fun, but mad rush to find seats, plates and cutlery in the big house with so many of us there.  It reminded me a little of the pre-holiday pizza delivery in Home Alone!  After everyone was fed and had drank enough to celebrate, we scampered off to our separate houses where we relaxed before an early night.  Running in those conditions had been pretty tough!

The following morning I managed a little lay-in.  Until about 7:45am I think.  The lay-in was magic after a fortnight of pre 5am get-ups for work!  After some toast and showers a large group of us braved the wind to head over to explore the famous Worm’s Head.  Ian had hoped to get across whilst the tide was out to take some photos.A walk in GowerWe arrived at about 10:30, the sign informing us that crossing could not happen until 11:30 that morning.  We made the decision to turn back around and head onto the beach further around, where we were joined by more from our club.

Together, we moved rocks we found on the beach to draw out our club name on the sand.

WDAC do Gower beachWDAC do Gower beachSome of the runners headed down to test their toes in the water’s edge.  Another runner found a ball and someone else a large stick which they attempted to use as a bat!Playing around on Gower beach

After a quick stop for hot drinks (milkshake for me!) at the local cafe we headed back to the edge of Worm’s Head with the aim of making our way over to the very end.

Now, I wasn’t wearing the best footwear for the walk across.  When we’d left that morning I had been told that the walk we were headed on would be along roads and onto the beach – not climbing across slippery rocks that had been under the sea less than an hour earlier!  I’d thought about heading back to change into something more appropriate whilst the others headed to the cafe, but a) I really wanted a milkshake and b) I wasn’t sure I would have time to return to the house, change my footwear and get back again before they headed across the ridge.
So Converse it was then!  Converse have done me well in the past though.  In 2012 I took a group of year 11s on a school trip to Malawi.  My suitcase ended up not arriving until two weeks into the trip, so for the first two weeks I had to cope with wearing the same two sets of clothes and just my Converse for all activities – including a hike up a very rocky mountain!

I think there about fifteen of us that set off along the wet rock pools that had formed.  I found it easier to keep moving at all times…before my feet had a chance to slip!  Amazingly I didn’t fall once and my feet remained dry (no idea how that happened!)

The rock pools at Gower

We lost five or six people at the bottom of the first steep climbing section who decided not to continue on which was a shame.

Rock climbing at Gower

Especially when we reached the top and realised that there were a huge pod (had to look that up!) of seals down on the rocks below us.

Seals at Gower

We posed for some photos before beginning along the next section, thinking that we didn’t have much further to go now.  We’d already been out on the rocks for some time by this point.

Turns out, as we begun to head back down almost back to sea height again, we realised we were still a lot further away than we thought!  We cut down to just five of us here, and then I turned around and there were only two!  Tom, who I ran Dusk ’til Dawn with at the end of October, and Me.  Both outdoorsy people, we decided to carry on anyway, rather than head back for an afternoon of TV, which we later found out the others had done.

Tom very much led the way and chose the route across.  I continued to speed-hop my way across the rocks behind, tricking my legs into believing they could remain stable on the slippery rocks!  There was lots of white splats along the rocks around us – too large to be seagull poo and it confused me for a little while.  At one point we passed through a huge valley of rocks and large chunks of foam from the rough sea were being blown along the ridge.  Mystery solved!  It was like being in our own private foam party.  I got splatted right in the face!

We saw several more seals on the way round, and once more we climbed up high thinking we were coming to the end, only to discover that the journey was not yet over!

Worm's Head, Gower

There were lots of really beautiful sights on the way though.

Natural arch at Gower, Worm's Head

Worm's Head, Gower

Worm's Head, Gower

It was super windy as we got closer to the end.  You had to be careful not to get blown across the rocks in a number of places.  The final climb was quite tough, and once we reached the far end it was almost impossible to stand up fully as the wind was so strong!  After phoning the others to say that we had made it, we took a photo at the top.

Tom and Me at Worm's Head, Gower…although then realised that we could have been anywhere from that photo, so asked the group next to us if they would take a shot.

Tom and Me at Worm's Head, GowerI was amazed how many other people there were out there actually.  Loads of people were out on the Sunday lunchtime to attempt the climb over to the end of Worm’s Head.  Most of them wearing more appropriate footwear than me!  😛

Worm's Head, Gower

Perhaps it wasn’t the best idea to head out to the point the day after a race in the same area was stopped due to the incredibly high winds!

The walk back seemed like it went by much quicker, even though the wind had picked up even more by now.

Me balancing on the rocks at GowerThe wind was so annoying because it wasn’t even that cold.  I was so warm in my thick coat, and my scarf kept blowing out across my face.  Although the light was starting to fade by now, we could still see where we were heading and we found our way to the pub 90 minutes later for a late dinner with the others.

The three cottages we stayed at for the weekend were perfect.  They were very large, and it meant that you could flit between cottages, rooms and the people you saw over the weekend.  Even though organising a cooked breakfast was rather manic on the final morning, it was a fantastic weekend and I’m already looking forward to the next social running club weekend away!

WDAC Gower breakfasts

Have you ever been on any social trips with your running club?
Do you enjoy walks at the weekend?

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.
Halfway!

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 and for pulling my wisdom teeth out finally, 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!

Ingredients:
* 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?