Thursday, 20 October 2016

On achieving your goal

On Sunday, I ran a sub- 2 hour half marathon.
You know, that huge running goal I'd been fretting about for months but didn't think I'd hit?
Turns out, I'd been so nervous to tell anyone about my goal, my real goal, not just "I want a PB", that even my parents didn't really get why I was so overwhelmed with my time.

It was hard. In fact, it was horrible.
It was one of the least enjoyable races I'd ever run.
After my anxiety wobble on Saturday I'd almost given up on the idea of sub-2 hours and was starting to be okay with pushing towards any personal best.
I knew I was going to be so close, seconds, that I was going to have to push at my limit for the whole race.

For once, I controlled myself for the first few miles. Not doing a classic "run the first mile like a maniac, shave a minute off your mile time but then die for the rest of the race."
I knew I had to keep a 9:10 pace, and I started out running negative splits.
To begin with, the pace felt good.

I decided to aim to hit an average 9:10 pace about mile 10 (I have my watch the show overall pace, not lap pace. I talked about that here), but when I started hitting pace at mile 6 I got excited. But then at mile 8 my pace started to flicker between 9:11 and 9:12 and I started to panic.

I was so in my head and constantly staring at my watch.
I didn't feel like I was "in" the race at all.
It was a world away from last year's "smiling the whole way round" half marathon.
I was pushing hard constantly but I knew I couldn't ease up at any point.

At mile 11, I overtook one of the 2 hour pacers, but I knew he'd set off a few minutes behind me, and the other 2 hour paces seemed so far away in the distance. And I was so tired.

I had moments where I just stopped caring. When I thought, you know what, if it's 2 hours 30 seconds, that's okay.
I was physically and mentally spent.

But then it was mile 12.
And cruelly, a perfectly straight, flat finish.
You could see the Finish on the horizon like a mirage.
It was torture.

As I got closer and closer, my watch got closer and closer to that 59 minute mark.
But I had nothing left in the tank.
I wanted to speed up for the last few hundred metres.
Had to speed up for those last few hundreds metres.
But I couldn't couldn't couldn't.

Finally, with one final push, I sprinted over the line.
And, after stopping my watch with a cursory glance at my watch, burst into hyperventilating sobs.

I'd done it. A sub 2 hour half marathon. The goal I didn't think I'd hit today.
I cried and cried and cried and cried.
And then I saw Phil, waiting for me just past the finish.
We were both cold and wet and sweaty and disgusting and I hugged him so hard and sobbed into his chest.

Two and a half years ago, I ran my first half marathon.
It was 3 hours of pain, drudgery and mental torture.
As much as I hate to admit it, I've always been embarrassed by my first half marathon time,
And I know that's terrible. Because I worked hard, I'd started running 9 months prior and I ran a bloody half marathon.

But I've worked so, so, so hard since then.
And yes, this race was hard and awful and I looked at my watch every 20 seconds and I still can't quite walk properly but it was worth it.
It was all worth it. 
Interval sessions I used to hate, tempo runs, all the parkruns and long runs and the slow running that you don't think will help then magically does.

I've gone from being almost last -one of the last people to finish in my first half marathon - to being in the top third for my age category. Sure I'm not elite or anything, but that is absolutely incredible (and something I hadn't even thought about until one of my colleagues made a passing comment of "I bet that's in the top third for females" and I checked it out).

For the first few days I still couldn't believe it. Kept checking my running app. Kept staring at my splits. Still not believing.

This was a huge goal for me, and I'm completely relieved now. All I can do now is work on getting better!

Thanks for all your support!

Charlotte x

Saturday, 15 October 2016

Running, racing and anxiety

Sorry for all the running posts at the moment. With my half marathon being tomorrow I'm overwhelmed with running thoughts, as I'll explain in this post.
I mentioned in my last post the nerves it's normal to feel leading up to a big race.
What I didn't mention is that this is the most anxious I've ever felt about a race in my whole time running.
I feel genuinely sick whenever I think about it.

I'm convinced I haven't done enough training - that my 11 days in Spain (where I came down with a cold and horribly chesty cough, but still managed to get 4 runs in) will have completely derailed all my hard work, that I haven't done enough speedwork to get a PB, that taking a couple of days rest this week because I could feel another cold coming on will mean I'll feel rusty tomorrow.

I'm having kittens about how we're going to get there. What if the tram is late? What if I don't have time to go to the toilet (again - this happened before my marathon)? What shall I do with my keys and money? What if I lose something? What time do we need to leave? When do I need to get up?

I've been sure all week I was going to get ill. In truth, I never quite shook off the cold I developed on holiday because I was so worried about missing my planned runs that I did them anyway, which made the cold worse for a few days. Everyone at work is coming down with a cold and I've been smashing Lockets and Cold and Flu tablets all week.

And worse of all, I'm petrified of not getting a PB. And I think this is the problem.

My last two half marathons - the first one I knew I wasn't going to do well but I just wanted to finish, and the second I knew I was guaranteed a PB because I struggled so much the first time.

This time a PB is probably going to be work, it's not guaranteed, and things not going perfectly on race day could completely derail my chances.

And I feel like not getting a PB is the end of the world.

And I know that's not true. That's 100% my anxiety talking. It really doesn't matter if I don't get a PB. But I don't want to feel like all my hard work has been for nothing (note: I know that won't be the case, but I know I'll feel like it's the case).

I think part of the issue is that I don't race half marathons that often, only really once a year. So it means if I don't get PB, it might be months before I run another one. I think I put this race on a huge pedestal, that's it's a "now or never" chance, which isn't true at all.

I don't care about not getting a parkrun PB every week, and I run enough 10Ks in a year to not care too much now if I don't always beat my time, so maybe the answer is more half marathons, so when I eventually stop getting a PB every time, it doesn't hurt as much.

I know this is my anxiety, but I can't help it.

When it comes to running, my anxiety helps in a lot of ways. It makes me very driven, means I find it impossible to deviate from a schedule and keeps me focused on my goals.

But it also means a change in my schedule can completely derail me, and the pressure to keep on top of the schedule can be overwhelming.

I'm always pushing myself to improve - to run faster, to run further, to run better. But I don't always know if that's good for me.

Do rules and restrictions help manage my anxiety or do they just feed into it?

I know it doesn't matter if I don't get a PB tomorrow. But I just don't want to be disappointed. I'm not even thinking about my original sub-2 hour goal because it seems so far away and the pressure to achieve that would drive me insane.

I always say I smiled the whole way around my last half marathon, and I know, really, that should be my goal.

Running helps my anxiety a lot, but I don't think racing is always good for me. But without a race on the horizon I lose my focus, and I have to have that goal. And I love to race.

My friend Amy wrote this in her newsletter this week, and it could not sum up my anxiety more:

"I may be mad but I'm a very high-functioning mad. It's something my most recent therapist could never get her head round – she'd ask me what my anxiety or depression would stop me from doing and I would say "Nothing". I volunteer to do the presentation, I go to the scary social engagement, I start the new job, I put myself forward and do the scary thing again and again and again. My crazy doesn't stop me from doing anything, it just makes everything I do do a little bit shit. It makes me worry and obsess and panic. It's a little voice in my ear telling me that I'm wrong, I'm bad, I'm doing it wrong, everyone hates me, I'm useless, I'm pathetic. But yeah, I keep going and doing it anyway because the alternative is not doing things and that wouldn't be much fun either."

And that's me, 100%. Racing might be challenging for me, but I don't want to stop doing it just because it's hard. I want to keep pushing myself, but I need to make sure it isn't doing me any harm.

And all I can do tomorrow is my best.

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

10 things that always happen during race week

On Sunday I'm going to be running my third half marathon. 

You'd think after two half marathons, a marathon and half a dozen 10Ks I'd be used to race week. 

But no, race week is always stressful and nerve-wracking and horrible.

And the same things seem to happen every time...

1. Phantom injuries 
Was that foot pain there last week? Why is my right quad hurting? Oh god is that hip injury flaring up? A whole host of weird injuries will crop up during race week, or at least seem to crop up. Don't worry that they're going to completely ruin your chances of a PB - they're probably a bit of nothing, or more likely, just in your head.

2. You become obsessed with checking the weather
Is it going to be too hot? Oh god what's the humidity like? Is it going to rain?

3. You will bulk buy safety pins
Even though you're sure you bought 100 last year. 

4. You'll start to feel like you're "coming down with something"
It will start with a sore throat, a slightly fuzzy head. Oh god oh god oh god. Honey and lemon, stat. All the cold and flu tablets. Do you miss you last run and have an early night? Thankfully, this is totally, totally normal. In fact, it's especially common to get ill during your taper as your body is finally getting a rest! Take it easy, skip your last few runs in lieu of a rest, and drink plenty of water!

5. You'll be sure you haven't trained enough
No matter how much you've trained, you'll beat yourself up about that long run you missed or not running your intervals at a faster pace or whether you should have been strength training more. Everyone feels like this! Even the best athletes in the world probably feel they could have done more! There's nothing you can do it your last week - just trust the process!

6. At least 5% of your brain is engaged constantly in running maths
So to hit a PB I need to be running a pace of this, but if I want to be under this time I have to be hitting this pace, and that means by mile 3 I need to be at this time, and maybe I should run negative splits, so what pace should my second mile be?

7. You'll panic over travel plans
What time do you need to be up? How early should you arrive? But maybe you should get some more sleep. What if the tram doesn't arrive? How long will it take to walk?

8. You'll make multiple costume changes (in your head)
Will it be too warm for leggings? Should I wear shorts? Long sleeved top or short sleeved top? Which sports bra? Which socks?

9. You'll probably make some kind of last-minute purchase
What if my Garmin battery isn't going to last the day? Maybe I should get a new one. What if I need leggings with pockets? Do I need a belt to store my gels? I'll get one on Prime.

10. You'll switch between excitement and fear and excitement again
The worst part of race week is the anticipation - there is no way of knowing what is going to happen on race day! You're constantly worried about doing something that might jeopardise your chances of a great run. But at this week you've done everything you can - so it's time to rest, relax and get ready to smash it!

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

On not getting a London Marathon place

Ever since becoming a runner, the London Marathon balloting system has bothered me.
Random selection does not seem fitting for something that requires as much time, patience, pain, fitness and hard work as training for a marathon.
It doesn't seem fair that people who have proven they can train hard for marathons or half marathons get the exact same chance as non-runners when it comes to getting a place in one of the world's best marathons. It's like randomly distributing As in a class when some people haven't put in any of the work and some have done everything they can - it just makes no sense to me.

Which is why, despite telling myself I wasn't going to, I applied for a place for 2017.

As soon as I started seeing my Facebook feed fill up with applications for the London Marathon, with a lot coming from people who didn't seem to run much, if at all, I found myself signing up. I couldn't help it! I was so frustrated! For me, signing up to the London Marathon when you can't even run a 10K is like wanting to skip to the last page of a book when you haven't even started it. Or a more appropriate metaphor, wanting to be at the finish line without the work.

So of course I applied. Despite knowing that this was not the right time for me at all, despite conveniently forgetting the hours and the pain and the exhaustion of training for my last marathon. Despite knowing that we move out of our flat in February and that February and March are probably going to be some of the chaotic months of our lives.

Now as you probably know, uncertainty is one of the biggest triggers for my anxiety, so not being able to make plans that a marathon place could affect started to drive me insane. Could I apply for the new Great Manchester Run half? Or what about the new Birmingham Marathon in October? The not-knowing started to bother me,

And then, last month, I decided to bite the bullet and sign up for my Diploma in Professional Marketing, a qualification I've wanted to do for years. I could start at any time, and dithered over whether to wait til we'd moved in March time, or until April "in case I got a London Marathon place", but instead I decided to sign up to start next week (coincidentally, the day after my half marathon).

And then after a 10 mile training run a few weeks ago, I burst into tears. 

My diploma is estimated to take 4-10 hours a week, and I suddenly had the horrible realisation that there was no way I could study for it and train for a marathon. I remembered the cancelled plans on Saturday nights, 5am get ups every day, Sunday afternoons where I could barely think straight, and I realised, this wasn't the time to be training for a marathon too.

See, I always want to do everything. If I had the choice I'd work full time, blog every day, learn Spanish, join a second choir, read two books a week, do marketing qualification after marketing qualification and run multiple marathons a year.

And sometimes I forget that I can't actually do that.

So after some kicking and screaming (almost literally), I decided that if I was to get a London Marathon place, I'd defer it for a year. So instead of dreading it, worrying about training and potentially sacrificing my career-boosting qualification, I could enjoy it.

But naturally, I worried about that too.

I worried that secretly hoping I wouldn't get a place would "jinx" it for the future and I'd never get to run the race. I worried about how to defer. I worried about justifying a deferral. And most of all I worried that I knew I would want to do it. I knew I wouldn't be able to say no.

So when I got home last night, and nervously checked the post, I was anxious to find there was nothing. Until I looked above the post boxes and found a red package. Addressed to me. 

It was thick and soft. There was some kind of clothing inside.

My heart sank, but simultaneously filled with excitement.

"I think I have news."

I carefully opened the package, ready to be flooded with nervous excitement.

But the magazine said "sorry."

I didn't have a place.

And suddenly I didn't know how to feel.

I was both relieved and crushingly disappointed. This was what I wanted, wasn't it? To have the freedom to run whichever marathon I want, whenever I want? To run a few more halves instead at the start of next year? To be able to complete my course without worrying about training?

But I was still disappointed. 

I know it wasn't meant to be. I would have killed myself trying to train for the run while studying, while working full time, while moving out of our flat and buying a house. I know it would have been too much and I would have driven myself into the ground.

But a tiny part of me thought I could do it.

And one day, I will. Today I'm going to sign up for the Great Manchester Run Half, which I've been hoping I'd be able to run, and once we're settled in our house and I'm into a routine with my course, I'll definitely start looking at autumn marathons.

But for now I'm quietly disappointed and partially relieved. 

Plus I've got a half marathon on Sunday to worry about first...

Sunday, 25 September 2016

Life lately - September

A little early this month as we go on holiday on Thursday (yasss!) and we're not back til 9th October, and I thought that might be a bit late to be looking back on September.
However, it feels very weird to be writing one of these already. Didn't I just do one of these?

As I did last month, I've been keeping a list in my phone of things I wanted to cover this month. I'm not sure it will be quite as long as August's update but September has been rather lovely and I'm excited to tell you all about it!

What I've been doing
Ooh I've done lots of nice things this month! 

A few weekends ago my auntie and cousin had a spare ticket to seee Sister Act at the Palace, so they took me out for dinner and then to the theatre. I had the most lovely, girly evening and was completely spoiled! I hadn't seen the film of Sister Act so I had no idea what to expect, but it was so much fun and Alexandra Burke was fab!
Then a week later, we went to the theatre to see A Streetcar Named Desire with Maxine Peake. This was Phil's birthday present to my Mum for her 60th, but we were a bit nervous about whether my Dad would enjoy it (he's not really into the theatre), especially when we saw a sign saying it finished at 11 (it started at 7.30), but we were all completely enthralled! Maxine Peake was unbelievable. I love the Royal Exchange Theatre (soppy fact, it's where Phil asked me to be his girlfriend nearly 3 years ago so it has special meaning to us!) and both Phil and I think this was the best thing we'd ever seen at the theatre.
The 10th September is two of my all-time favourite people's birthdays - my Dad and my former work wife, Riven. My Mum was taking my Dad out for the day, so I made sure I spoiled Riven! I decorated my house with balloons and stuck some to the door, baked her some coffee and walnut cupcakes, wrapped her presents, opened a bottle of prosecco and after a dinner of paneer curry, I lit some candles and sang Happy Birthday to her. We had a really lovely evening and I hope I gave her the birthday she deserves!

We've done a lot of visiting family this month which has been lovely. We don't live far from our parents or extended family at all, but we can feel quite far away in the city centre. A few weeks ago we had lunch with my Nan, went to visit Phil's Granny and popped in to see my Dad to give him his presents. Then today we've been to Phil's parents to see them and his Grandparents.

Oh and last weekend we did a 10K! Remember three years ago when I'd just started running and I signed up for my first 10K three days before the race? Thanks to injuries and training commitments I haven't been able to do the Stockport 10K the last few years so I was so happy to be able to run it this year! It's a really challenging course (they've changed the course and it's much harder than it was 3 years ago!) but I ran a PB of under 54 minutes so I'm incredibly chuffed about that! Plus the New Balance finisher's tshirt is one of the nicest I've ever had!
Then we finished up the day with a bitter shandy in the sunshine outside Home (one of my favourite places in Manchester) and an ice cream from MilkJam (more on that later!).
Where I've been
I mentioned in my On uni mates blog post that I spent last weekend in Liverpool with my girls from uni and I had such a great weekend! We went out for dinner and to a few bars on Friday, and on Saturday had lunch and spent a couple of hours in the Cavern Club! I absolutely love Liverpool because I feel like it's a mini-Manchester. I always say there's no city I love as much as Manchester, but Liverpool is pretty close!

What I've been loving
I'm already a little bit obsessed with podcasts, but I loved Michelle's post on her favourites, and downloaded Lore earlier in the week. I tend to prefer longer podcasts for running, but Lore is perfect for round the house and I already love it!
I also went full-on Pinterest dream the other week and bought loads of jars for my kitchen to organise my pulses, grains and nuts and I am obsessed with them. They make me way more happy than I should admit.

On a practical note though, they look nice and they've cleared so much cupboard space. Plus now I know exactly how much of everything I have left so I don't panic-buy green lentils "just in case" and then find 3 bags at home (you'd be shocked to know how often this happens...). Also if you want to do this, I got nearly all my jars from Wilko - the largest jars are £3 and the smaller ones are £2. Edited to add: THEY'RE IN THE SALE! Large ones are only £2 now and smaller ones are £1.50!

What I've been eating
I've already reviewed Vegan Bowls, but if you haven't read the post yet, just know that Vegan Bowls is an awesome book and you should just buy it right away.

I've added three Ottolenghi books to my Chirstmas list because I like to believe when we buy a house I'll become the kind of person who will spend Saturday afternoons cooking from Ottolenghi books. So in preparation (and to justify needing three of his books), I've been trying recipes of his that I've found online. So far we've had the grilled ziti (yum) and the ah-mazing puy lentils with tahini and cumin (or "posh houmous" as we call it) which we had with lots of nice bread (and I had the leftovers a few days later on toast with a fried egg). Really excited to try more of his recipes, and hopefully get Plenty, Plenty More and Jerusalem for Christmas.
Bake Off is back which means I have to make something to eat during Bake Off each week. I made a last-minute lemon cake (using this recipe) a few weeks ago because I was bored and had all the ingredients in. It was unbelievable and ridiculously easy (and I'm rubbish at baking!).
I mentioned our trip to MilkJam earlier, but I really need to tell you more about it. MilkJam is a DESSERT CAFE that is dangerously close to my flat (T- 5 minutes max). So what's a girl to do on a sunny day after running a 10K? I went for the malted soft serve with raspberry sauce and OH MY GOD IT WAS SO GOOD. The raspberry sauce is actually compote. God my mouth is watering thinking about it.
THEN on Friday they tweeted saying "the next person to come in and show us this tweet gets a free brownie", and Phil has to walk past Milk Jam on his way home. He wasn't home from work yet so...

What I've been reading
I was a bit disappointed to realise I haven't read much this month! I did read
The truth about the Harry Quebert Affair which I really enjoyed (and at over 600 pages, was the bulk of my month's reading), and We have always lived in the castle which was a quick, creepy read which I enjoyed a lot. 

I talked about my holiday books in this post, and how I was going to start reading them, shock horror, before holiday. So I've started my first Bukowski with Post Office. For holiday I've downloaded 7 books - Post Office, Ham on Rye, Burial Rites, The Shipping News, The Possibilities, His Bloody Project and Eileen.

(I'm super active on Goodreads if you want to follow me over there.)

What I've been watching
Obviously Bake Off, but we've also restarted Friday Night Lights after starting it two years ago (Phil is on his second watch) as we need something to fill the Game of Thrones-shaped gap in our lives.
I've only been to the cinema once (!!) this month, but Hell or High Water was one of the best films I've seen in months, so I think my Cineworld Unlimited card monthly membership was worth it just for that.

Last night we watched Gone Baby Gone which I hadn't seen before, and wow, just wow. Ben Affleck is such a brilliant director! Haven't stopped thinking about it all day.

Working on
This week we launched the Stagecoach Bus app, which I've been heavily involved with since joining Stagecoach in April and it's probably the biggest project I've worked on of my career so far! It's still so weird seeing it in real life and thinking "I wrote that app store description! I built that landing page! I worked on that creative!". If you live in an area with Stagecoach buses, please download it!
And obviously my next half marathon is looming ever closer! Today was my last Sunday run before the race, as when we get back from holiday there's only a week to go! I did 12 good miles and I'm feeling nervous but excited for the big day!

What I've been excited for
In case I didn't have enough going on, I've enrolled to start my Chartered Institute of Marketing Diploma in Professional Marketing next month! My start date is actually the day after my half marathon! It's going to be weird to going back to full-on studying, especially as it's distance learning, and I'll need to be spending 4-6 hours per week to get through the course. I'm planning on cutting my running down a bit and trying to simply my life so I don't drive myself too crazy, but let's see how that goes!

I'm so ready for the weather to cool down! Summer just isn't my thing, so I'm totally ready for snuggly jumpers and boots. I've got my eye on a couple of new pairs of boots that are smart enough for work, and I'm hoping to get a new coat at some point. We always go to Spain this time of year and I always see it as my "goodbye!" to summer, because it's usually just touching autumn when we get back.

And obviously, I'm excited for Spain. I've written before about how it's my happy place and I love having my internet off on my phone and totally disconnecting for a few days away. I'm looking forward to lots of time with my family and Phil, long walks, Fanta orange, endless patatas bravas and lots of time to read!

What I've written
On resetting your goals
Cookbook review: Peace and Parsnips
On uni mates
How using my Garmin less is making me a better runner
Life is too short to read books you don't enjoy
The Myth of the 10 minute mile
Cookbook review: Vegan bowls

What I've been reading online
I wrote last month about how much I love Vix Meldrew's blog, and this month I loved her 30 things I've learned by 30, and 30 things I hope for in my 30s. She's so wonderfully honest and relatable - I've been trawling through her archives the last few months!

I also loved my friend Michelle's blogging story, especially as I remember her journey from almost the beginning! I've loved each of her blogs, but I think her current one is my favourite. She's been a real inspiration for the direction my blog has moved into.

And finally, one that hit home for me a bit this month. From The Pool, why women should stop saying "I don't know" at work. I am absolutely terrible for this - I'm always saying "I'll just check that" or "let me ask" even when I know the answer. This was a real wake up call on being more authoritative at work.

And that's all from me til next month! I've got a super-busy week this week and I'm not actually home now properly til we go away, but I'm so ready for a long break!
See you when I get back!

Charlotte x

Saturday, 24 September 2016

Cookbook Review: Vegan Bowls

Vegan bowls.
It doesn't sound like an exciting book, does it?
Bowls of vegan stuff.
Visions of brown rice and mung bean stew and green stuff.

I'm pretty sure this was what Phil had in mind when I told him we'd be eating from this book for the next few weeks.

But if you're on Instagram, well, ever, you'll know that bowls are a thing.
(I mean, tbh, I've been eating my dinner out of a bowl since I was as uni and I've always been a fan of maximum gravy with minimum spillage).
The clean eating crowd seem to enjoy that it makes it look like they have "omg SO MUCH food" when they've literally just filled a bowl with 7 different kinds of zero-calorie vegetables, but in a lot of cases a "bowl meal" is a great way to make a complete meal of different veg, carb and protein components. I also like a bowl meal because it's a great way to throw together random bits of leftovers out of my fridge and make it into a meal ("Roasted veg? Avocado? Feta? Eggs? Ah I'll just make a bowl"). 

The beauty of a bowl is that there are no rules, but if you're like me, you need a bit of structure in your life. Enter Vegan Bowls.

First impressions
To be honest, I thought the structure of this book would be very much protein - veg - grain - sauce, but it goes so far beyond that. To the point that at first I was a bit disappointed as some recipes made me think "that's not really a bowl!" but because of that it's actually really innovative! Of course there are the classic protein-veg-grain combos, but also curries, soups, stews, pasta dishes and even breakfast bowls. I loved the variety of dishes in this book. Hungarian, Mexican, Spanish, Indian, British, Greek, Italian - there's something for everyone in this book!

I found about 25 recipes that I was excited to make from this book. First impressions of the book were that most recipes seemed relatively accessible - not too many strange ingredients, but my biggest concern was timings. I like to have dinner on the table about an hour after getting home from work (I usually get home about 6 so dinner is usually around 7) and there are quite a lot of moving parts in this book, so I wanted to be confident everything was do-able midweek so I didn't have to relegate this book to the "only for weekends" pile. There didn't seem to be many complicated cooking methods - the only challenge would be to be to stay on top of everything when there are multiple components on the go. There are "quick tips" for every recipe which give you help on how to get everything done more quickly. She reckons about 30 minutes for each recipe, but I tend to find recipe book authors can chop much quicker than I can, so I thought giving myself an hour each time would be about right.

Here's what I tried...

Sweet spicy eggplant zucchini bowl
Oooh this was good, but definitely spicy! I'd reduce the amount of hot sauce next time, and maybe swap the veg (aubergine and courgette aren't Phil's favourites) but the sauce itself was amazing. With this being my first recipe from Vegan Bowls I don't think I was ready for how intense it was keeping on top of everything - rice, nuts, vegetables, sauce - and I got a bit overwhelmed. It took about 45 minutes though, so now I've got the hang of this style of cooking a bit more I couldn't definitely make this again midweek. Absolutely delicious and can't wait to make it again!

Tex Mex risotto bowl
Until quite recently (as in, until I made the mint and pea risotto from Keep it Vegan), I'd never been a big fan of risotto, and I've never made it before. However I adore that pea and mint risotto (maybe I just really like vegan risotto as it's not as creamy as regular risotto? I hate cream and creamy sauces) and Mexican flavours are my favourite, so I had to give this a try.
This was another recipe that involved some juggling (spoiler alert: they all do, so I'm gonna stop saying it now), but came together relatively quickly with mostly store cupboard ingredients. I halved the recipe for two of us (instant regrets) and swapped out some of the veg, but this was one of the nicest things I've ever made! Phil said this was "up there" with the best things I've ever cooked. My only criticism is it was a bit salty, but I think that's my fault for making my broth too strong. Amazing, amazing, amazing - perfect for midweek but I'd even give it the biggest honour in my house and serve it to guests. I can't believe I haven't made this again yet!

Chickpea brasoi bowl
I'm going to Budapest with my Mum in November (it was my gift to her for her 60th Birthday in July!) so I was quite excited to try some of the Hungarian recipes in this book. This was my first example of "well that's not really a bowl" as it's a stew with a pickled veg side, but I realised more and more as I worked through the book that it's great to have so much variety in one book, not just traditional bowls. This is very garlicky (10 cloves!) and smokey (lots of smoked paprika - however I learned after that Hungarian paprika, which is called for in the book, isn't as smokey as smokey paprika, so this was stronger flavoured than I think it was meant to be!). I loved the pickled salad as a bit of a palette-cleanser - it was so perfect with the stew! I did find with this one there wasn't quite enough for four with it only really being a stew and salad without having any other veg or grain to bulk it out. It came together in about 40 minutes. Would I make it again? Yeah maybe! It wasn't my favourite but it was very tasty and easy.

Thai Panang curry bowl
This was a good way to use up random bits of veg in the bottom of the fridge. The sauce was absolutely delicious - even without the kaffir lime leaves. I added chickpeas for some protein as that was the one thing this seemed to be lacking. Really delicious and will probably make again.

Spicy ginger polenta bowl
I felt myself coming down with a cold the night I made this, so I definitely appreciated a bowl full of garlic, ginger and chilli! I don't eat much polenta but I'd had a bag in my cupboard for a while so I was interested in trying it. This wasn't my favourite, but it was still pretty tasty.

Sizzling Southwestern fajita salad bowl
Anything that involved tortilla chips is a winner in my book! I didn't realise this was a salad and ran out of lettuce before I could make it, so I substituted spinach instead. This was a big success and I would definitely make it again with a few changes. Phil isn't the biggest fan of lentils so next time I'd make this with black beans.

Everyday dal with potato cakes
I'm pretty sure every veggie recipe book in the world has a recipe for dal. As with the chana masala in the last book I reviewed, I already have a favourite dal recipe. This was quite involved - I needed 2 frying pans and 2 saucepans, and I thought the result was a little bit bland. However, I loved the potato cakes and will definitely be making them again, but I wouldn't make the dal again.

Seitan gyro bowl
I've never bought pre-packaged seitan, but I do make a big log every now and again (this recipe is my all-time favourite) and use it as an opportunity to work through the seitan recipes in my books! There were a couple of seitan recipes I wanted to try in Vegan Bowls, so I started with this gyro bowl. This was a gorgeous mix of Greek flavours - a garlicky marinade, cucumbers, red onion, yoghurt and pitta (I admit I didn't use vegan yoghurt) over quinoa with a mix of veg. I liked that this was another "clean the fridge out" dinner - we had courgettes, green beans and cauliflower to use up - and would definitely make it again.

Philly cheesesteak bowl
Yum yum yum. I used up the last of my seitan for this bowl of deliciousness, and made roasted breakfast-style potatoes in place of the tater tots (I don't really know what tater tots are...). I tried to make the sauce in my food processor at first, but the cashews were still a bit grainy, and I'm so glad I used my Nutribullet instead! I'm rarely convinced my vegan cheese-style sauces but this one was just like cinema nacho cheese! This took about an hour and like everything else so far, was very intense and hands on, but like nearly everything else, it was totally worth it.

Miso-cajun grilled sweet potato bowl
This was a bit more faffy than the other recipes, which is saying something! My grill is part of my oven, so I couldn't grill the sweet potato and roast the broccoli at the same time, so I just steamed the broccoli, but it would definitely have been lovely roasted. However it didn't matter once we tried the red pepper miso sauce - I want to smother this on everything! The only downside was I forgot the kidney beans! I remember thinking "this would be nice with some protein!". I am definitely, definitely making this again! Or even just the sauce!

Southern beans and grits bowl
I've never really had grits so I don't know how authentic this was! I used veggie sausages instead of carrots because if you're going to suggest veggie sausages as an alternative to carrots, I'm going to choose veggie sausages. This was nice but not my absolute favourite and I probably wouldn't make it again.

So of the 11 recipes I made from this book, there are 7 that I would 100% make again, and there are at least another dozen recipes that I want to try. I've been incredibly impressed with this book - in fact, I would say it's one of my absolutely favourites. Nearly everything I made was absolutely delicious but not only that, so many of the recipes were innovative and exciting and inspiring. 
I would recommend this book to anyone who likes to cook - vegan or otherwise. For me, 45 minutes to cook dinner is absolutely fine for midweek, but it is intense hands-on time. There are loads of recipes I would make for guests too, which is always a good sign.

Overall, this was a huge success and instantly one of my new favourite recipe books. I can't wait to cook more from this!

Charlotte x

Friday, 23 September 2016

The Myth of the 10 minute mile

I heard it this weekend at the start line of my 10K.
"My first 10K, I was so disappointed. I ran it in 1 hour 35 seconds - I really wanted to be under an hour."
"Here we go, off for an hour of running."

The myth of the 10 minute mile is everywhere. The assumption that a 10 minute mile is an average, or standard pace, particularly for a beginner.

"Got 20 minutes? You can run 2 miles." 
"I just want to be able to run this 10K in under an hour." 
"I'm slow - I can't run a 5K in under 30 minutes."

Hell, even Couch to 5K - which I swear by - only gets you to run for 30 minutes, which is not, by most beginner standards, enough time to run a 5K.

It took me over 18 months of running to be able to run a 10 minute mile.

It took even longer - almost two years - to be able to run a 30 minute 5K and then, a few weeks later, a 60 minute 10K. Which, let's not forget, is actually a 9:39 minute mile.

A 10 minute mile is decent, and 60 minute 10K is very good. It's not average. In fact, the average female finish time of a 10K is 1:04:47 according to this research. Plus a 5K at a 9:39 minute mile pace is completely different to a 10K - twice the distance - at the same pace.

I get it, we like round numbers, but this myth is setting runners up for disappointment, and I've been there.

The myth of the 10 minute mile was so ingrained in me when I first started running that I thought I was running half a mile if I ran for 5 minutes. The reality is, when I first started running, I was running about a 13 minute mile. And that's okay, but it's hard to not feel disappointed when everything suggests a 10 minute mile is a standard beginner pace.

But I had no point of reference except the myth of the 10 minute mile. You don't hear about people running 11, 12, 13 minute miles. I learned this even more when I got a Runners' World subscription. I love the magazine, but it doesn't cater very fairly for those that run anywhere below average.

The myth of the 10 minute mile made me feel bad about myself for a really long time. It made me feel like I wasn't a "real" runner. It made me preface every race time with "I'm really slow, but...". It made me feel guilty every single time I went for a run and saw 11s and 12s on my mile times.

So let's reject the 10 minute mile as the standard beginner pace. Let's embrace 11 and 12 and 13 minute miles. Let's encourage running at all paces. Let's stop calling ourselves slow and let's stop assuming that one pace fits all. Let's celebrate when we hit that 10 minute mile pace, not expect it.