Monthly Archives: September 2017

Load Star

Blogpicload starMatt Fitzgerald is certainly a guiding light for runners blinded by science. In this book, which I have been poring over these past 10 days, he spells out a pretty tasty dietary plan for the week leading up to The Big Race.

I like Fitzgerald’s guidance. He’s a sports nutritionist and his writing always makes sense. Several of my running buddies are smitten by his advice on eating to prevent hitting the wall.

I’ve met that wall (my first ever London Marathon, 2009, tears at mile 22), and I’ve also swerved the other way in recent events (Beachy Head Marathon, 2016: 4 toilet breaks) by over consuming carbs and ending up in digestive distress. Both eventualities proved disastrous, so I’m hoping that this time round, the Berlin Marathon in four days’ time, I will have at least fuelled up efficiently.

Matt Fitzgerald advocates 10 days of messing around with your diet in various ways, and this year, during my taper, I’ve followed the Fitzgerald protocol. Having been hobbled by injury for much of the 16-week training period, the idea of preparing my body on the inside for Sunday’s physical test seems worth a punt – any port in a storm. I’m also happy to concede that many brilliant runners just carry on eating what they always eat and achieve a good time.

I’m currently in fat loading. This means that 65% of my daily meals have to be high fat. So that’s omelettes for breakfast, avocados and smoked mackerel for lunch, more fish and buttery sauces with green leafy veg for dinner, lots of nuts scattered throughout the day and a small amount of berries in my big fat Greek yogurt. And I cannot have anything lovely like bread, potatoes, pasta or rice to accompany these fat fests.

Tomorrow sees my switch to carb loading, so I dial back on fat and let bagels, bread and all things starchy back into my life. I cannot wait.

All the while, caffeine is not allowed. So it’s herbal teas (and decaffeinated builders’) and chicory based coffee-style beverage all the way.

The fat thing’s nearly over. Just as well because it’s not suiting me. Running feels difficult– everything feels more difficult – I fall asleep every time I sit down and I’m struggling to keep up to the speeds suggested on the 3:40 training plan. More amusingly, my fat load has coincided with east London’s big news: the Fatberg under the streets of Whitechapel.

A mental image of my insides all clogged with fat, just like the Victorian sewers, haunts me as I shovel buttery scrambled egg into my maw, while fantasising about toast. And real coffee.

Friday will be quite a test. That’s when I attempt the ‘Carbo Bang’, as recommended by a fellow Berliner who ran Manchester in 3.03 this year. It’s not as sexy as the name suggests. Basically you run a few fast intervals in a session that lasts about 20 minutes in total, before breakfast. Then you come home and chow down on high-energy treats, such as malt loaf, scones, soft pretzels and other load stars. Then you feel a bit bloated, but, apparently, you’ll be ready for anything come Sunday. Especially if you light the touch paper at breakfast on the Big Morning, by downing your first dose of caffeine in over a week.

Another friend (a doctor) advised Imodium. I see where she’s coming from. It’s packed and ready. Alongside the malt loaf. Berlin here I come.



My word, Hillyfields parkrun, how you’ve grown

Hillyfields parkrun birthday funnel

That finish funnel


When it was born, in 2004, it wasn’t called parkrun. It was the Bushy Park Time Trial (BPTT), a 5km race against the clock. I used to see it listed in Runner’s World and vowed one day to give it a go.

What I did not realise is that this time trial was becoming so popular that runners were fetching up from all over the place to gauge their 5k times. In the end, BPTT’s founder Paul Sinton-Hewitt, had the idea of staging other time trials in parks across the country. The rest, as he says, has made running history (and earned him a CBE for his services to grass roots sports participation):

‘The parkrun brand was conceived late 2009. We then formed the not-for-profit company – parkrun UK limited – which allowed all the events at the time to be rebranded as parkruns.’

It wasn’t until the summer of 2012 that a determined little band of Lewisham folk, who were fed up with having to toil all the way to Bromley for their free Saturday 5k fix, decided to apply to the council for permission to establish parkrun in their local park.

I can’t remember how I learned about these plans afoot, but I was in on the route testing, and came along for a trial run with the Hillyfields parkrun founders one summer evening. That gentle run, with people who would become friends, sticks in my memory for all kinds of reasons, the most significant being the fact that I brought my then 14-year-old daughter with me. She’d spent the past eight months in hospital, but by that time was well enough to come out for home visits. She wasn’t really allowed to exercise, but I sneakily brought her along and she loved it. Five years on, she has her own barcode, a clean bill of health and an ambition to join the runners at Forest Rec, or Beeston, or wherever the closest parkrun to Nottingham University may be when she starts studying there at the end of the month.

That first Hillyfields parkrun comprised about 40 runners. These days about 250 people of all ages, shapes, speeds join the merry throng. It’s not a race. Some people prefer to walk. It’s only nerdy obsessives like me who dream of a miraculous personal best, despite injury, hangover, lack of sleep or all three.

Today there were cakes aplenty and a party atmosphere to celebrate five years of Hillyfields parkrun. I wore my 100-parkrun T-shirt, jogged up the hill with my tin of flapjacks and once again coveted the green 250-parkrun T-shirt modelled so elegantly by one of the founders, Siggy.

Siggy (who shares a birthday with me), her husband Stephen, Sarah, Adele, Eric, Margaret, Andrew, Laura, David, Janette, John, Jen…

…the list goes on – are all friends I’ve made in the past five years, because of Hillyfields parkrun. Before I started jogging up the hill with my barcode every Saturday at 8.45am I had precious few local friends and a solitary weekend running habit. Now, whatever my mood on a Saturday morning, I know I’m going to be a beaming, sweaty bundle of bonhomie by the time I’ve had my barcode scanned.

And that one frabjous day (callooh! callay!) when I thundered down that finishing funnel to earn my (now two-year-old) Hillyfields parkrun PB? Euphoria.

The best thing about Hillyfields parkrun? There’s always next Saturday, and it may be the Saturday when my emailed result includes the longed-for words ‘New PB!’