Merry Christmas!

  • A scattering of joggers
  • A very well-dressed gentleman on horseback, galloping across the Heath
  • The usual cheery dog-walkers, and
  • A man in a crazy Christmas hat (a chimney with Santa’s legs sticking out!), in his own words: “a one-day-a-year hat”

Not a very festive scene on the weather front (see below!), but today is about people and the above put a big smile on my face on my Christmas morning run.  Enjoy your day!

Frosty winter morning on Hampstead Heath

Frosty December morning on Hampstead Heath

I’ve been waiting for weeks for a perfect winter sunrise; a glinting, silvery scene with frosty white trees.  This time last year we were ankle-deep in snow, so I’ve been holding out for a quintessential Christmas card photo from my early morning runs.  No luck so far, but this morning did deliver a light frost and a crisp winter sky, and I left my usual route and ran uphill over crunchy frozen blades of grass.  This moment was my first sight of the rose and gold sunrise.

 

Peak performance: nutrition for early morning running

Peak District 27 November 2011

New Balance Minimus trail shoes

This weekend, my new running shoes and new early morning nutritional regime got tested out in the wild and windy Peak District.  My shoes (the New Balance Minimus trail shoes – see left) are recovering after an ankle-deep mud bath. More on those later.

I mentioned on this blog a few weeks ago that I was keen to find out a few simple but effective ways to prepare for an early morning run without falling back on Lucozade as an energy boost, and to recover and get ready for a busy day without slumping mid-morning.

Enter fellow early-morning-runner, Jo Scott-Dalgleish.

Jo is a nutritional therapist specialising in sports nutrition, and here are her expert pointers for getting the best start to the day:

EARLY MORNING RUNS – HOW TO EAT FOR ENERGY AND RECOVERY

Getting up before dawn for an early morning run, it’s only too easy to pull on your trainers and head on out of the door on an empty stomach.

But this approach isn’t going to allow you to make the most of your run. To exercise effectively, your muscles need to be well topped up with glycogen, for which you need carbohydrate. The best pre-run carbohydrate is quickly digested and delivered to your muscles. A banana is a good bet or half a toasted white bagel with honey. If you prefer to drink something, try diluting 125ml of fruit juice with 125ml water. Grape juice, pomegranate juice or blueberry juice are good choices to drink before a run as they contain more anti-oxidants than other fruits.

Once you are back, it’s best to eat breakfast within 45 minutes as this is the ‘window’ to replenish the glycogen you used up in your run. It’s also important to eat around that time to prevent a blood sugar crash later on, which can result in making unhealthy choices such as pastries, croissants and muffins. Including a slow-release carbohydrate with your breakfast will help to sustain your energy levels throughout the morning. A great post-run breakfast choice is porridge with a couple of tablespoons of nuts or seeds (which provide healthy fats and protein) and a handful of fresh or frozen berries. Other ideas would be low sugar baked beans, boiled or poached egg with whole grain or rye toast, or low sugar muesli with semi-skimmed milk or natural yogurt.

Putting new shoes and Jo's nutrition tips through their paces on a muddy trail through the Peak District

I have to admit that I put a Yorkie bar (when in Rome…) in my pocket just in case – it seemed appropriate in case of emergency!  

But otherwise I didn’t miss the Lucozade and Jo’s tips are much more natural and healthy, so I will be sticking to them from now on.

Jo Scott-Dalgleish BSc (Hons) MBANT is a Nutritional Therapist practising in Chiswick, West London. She specialises in sports nutrition, energy management, weight loss and digestive health. Please see www.nutritionsolutions4health.co.uk for more information.

Will you be running on Christmas morning?

There’s something extra-special about seeing Christmas Day in from sunrise, and having a quiet moment of reflection before the chaos!

To some who see you pass by, it might seem ridiculous: that you’re such a fitness freak you can’t even give yourself a break on Christmas Day.  Or that you’re so concerned about the coming mountain of turkey and roast potatoes and pudding and mince pies and cake that you have to kick off the day with a fat-burning run in order to cope.

To me, it’s nothing to do with any of that.  It’s a positive choice to get outside and appreciate a special day from the beginning.

I’ve always liked how everyone makes an extra effort to greet people they pass in the street on Christmas Day, and there’s even more of a feeling of solidarity when you pant a ‘Merry Christmas’ to another runner, a sense that you’re in on the same secret.

I’ll be posting photos of my sunrise Christmas Day run here, come rain or sun or even a few feet of snow!  It would be amazing to see other runners’ Christmas morning photos too.  If you’re running on Christmas Day, and you don’t mind taking a compact camera or an iPhone with you, capture the scene and share it here.  If you’d like to send in a photo, please email me at the6amjogger@gmail.com

Early morning flat white

The bleakest autumn mornings have their own artistic beauty.  The early light has been flat and white every day recently, and today was a perfect example.  Wreathed in mist, the trees took on a feathery quality and the landscape was as shades of black ink on a grey wash.

The barest outline of the sun is visible above the trees through morning cloud.

A mosaic of green and gold in an otherwise monochrome scene.  I liked the contrast between the stark, black branches set against a white sky and the dapple of autumn colour.

Making sense of modern life

I’m writing this on an early morning train from London to Birmingham.  The train is passing the misty Buckinghamshire greenbelt and, just a moment ago, a man standing in the middle of a field.

He isn’t running, and neither am I, so technically he doesn’t belong in my early morning running blog.  It would have made an amazing photo though, and the image struck me for the same reason that I’m inspired by early morning running.

The field is a very ordinary, flat, featureless, open expanse.  At a distance, in all directions, are housing estates and small communities, and he might have walked early this morning from any one of them. 

Within his house, wherever it is and whatever his life is, there are dramas and crises and challenges and stresses and elations and disappointments and relationships and hopes and fears and dreams, and there will be a whole set more at his office.

But just for a moment, there’s open space and sky and grass and fresh morning air and November mist and silence (shattered briefly by the passing 07.43 to Birmingham).

The above with thanks to Rich Gibbs Photography http://www.richgibbs.co.uk/index.html because I don’t have my camera and anyway couldn’t take a photo from a speeding train, but I found this image of a misty morning field and it’s very nice 🙂

6am high to 6pm crash

This is my first post about nutrition.  I love the subject of nutrition. I absolutely love the idea of learning how to have more energy, feel better, run better, recover faster and prevent problems in the future.  I love the idea of understanding the impact of everything that goes in and how fundamentally it affects us and how we think and feel and perform.

In theory.

But as a subject, it also makes me a bit fidgety.  There’s just so much to learn, and you only have to scratch the surface for it all to become quite technical.  In the same vein, I’d love to know more about wine so that I could expand my choices, but really you can’t hope to learn more than a smattering about it without years of study, and you end up feeling more ignorant than when you started. 

I’ve always felt that once you get into nutrition, you really have to get all the way into it.  If you know a little bit about good nutrition, then you’ve got to know all about good nutrition.  And you’d have to absorb it into your life totally, morning to night and everything in between.

And that’s what makes me twitchy and sends me back to my regular diet and emergency rations of Snickers and Lucozade.

It’s not that I eat badly, far from it.  I love to cook from scratch, and I enjoy fruit (although I’m SO bored with bananas and it’s hard to get anywhere with good sports nutrition without them) and vegetables, and I have a near-fetish for dairy products so there’s definitely no problem with calcium.  But I know I could do so much better, and I know there must be a better way to avoid the 6pm crash than Snickers, or needing a pre-run Lucozade.  And the unavoidable truth is that getting up early and going for a daily run does take a lot out.

So I’d like to try and adopt the same approach to nutrition as I do to running in general. 

I’ve never followed a training plan.  I decided to start running one day about three years ago, so I invested in some trainers (and a good sports bra – most important), and ran a bit.  And that was it.  I ran a bit and walked a bit, and ran a bit further and walked a bit less.  And then I reached that magically happy point where I could sustain myself and recover on the go, and then I could run a lot further. 

Most importantly, I LOVED it.  I enjoyed being out in the open air in the early morning, and the natural high of moving.  There are far better runners who’ve studied the best and latest guidance, but I only need to be able to do what I love doing.

And therefore I will endeavour to seek out the essential ingredients to enable me to run early and run well, and not slump later on, and share them in a series of posts here.  The “basic trainers and sports bra” of running nutrition if you like, and the rest comes naturally. 

Nothing that’s a chore, definitely no seeds (meh) and not too many damn bananas…