Book review

I recently downloaded the audiobook of Gary Taubes’s “Why We Get Fat”. It seemed like an interesting hypothesis on a major issue of our modern age. Not long into it, I began to warm to his main argument (carbs = bad) but something was still annoying me about his arguments……

I didn’t know much about the author and so Googled him in relation to this title. Then I came across this review of the book and I decided to delete my copy.

Taubes is anti the whole “calories in/calories out” equation. Some might equate it to him arguing “there is no God”.

I was willing to listen, but to a point. My own recent weight loss has involved the reduction of “bad” carbs but carbs are still necessary to a healthy diet. I never had a weight problem until my late 20s. Before then I ate whatever I wanted. I didn’t exercise much either. I ate lots of potato/pasta/rice/bread/sweets/cakes and didn’t gain weight. Then, when I hit my late 20s and had a sedentary job (with a long train commute), my weight suddenly piled on. However, (according to Taubes) that wasn’t as a result of my inactivity…..Erm….






Parkrun 2!

So, after last week’s debut experience, I went back and did the Parkrun again this week!

Up at 7.30am, which gave me enough time to get sorted and have breakfast (yoghurt and lots of fruit) before I left. Fortunately, it also gave me enough time to put some more charge into my phone as I wanted to use Runkeeper again. I hadn’t realised my phone had been left on for a while and could tell, by the indicator, that the battery wouldn’t last today’s distance….

Once again, my neighbour gave me a lift but this time, her teenage son came along with us too (he’s done a few Parkruns). On the way, he was explaining to his Mum how his Garmin running watch worked, so she could use it. We also spotted my husband as he ran to the park. He wanted to do 6 miles today, so treated the Parkrun as the second half of his required distance. 

Weather conditions were very similar to last week: bit breezy but warm with sunshine and showers. Generally, it was more overcast than not, and we’d had some heavy rain in the morning, so I was wondering how damp the ground would be underfoot. 

After doing some stretches, we assembled in the same start location and discovered our other neighbour had come along with her son. She’d told us she wasn’t doing it this week, but her son persuaded her to come along! See kids? You too can get your parents running the Parkrun!! 🙂

There seemed to be fewer people around, but it’s difficult to tell until right before the start. Meanwhile, a new group of “first timers” were getting their briefing. Seemed to be a good number of them too! Worth bearing in mind that being a “first timer” doesn’t always mean, someone who’s never run a Parkrun before. It can also refer to someone who’s not run a particular Parkrun before. Parkruns take place all over the country, so people can still rack up lots of runs but still be a “first timer” if they turn up in a location they’ve not been to before. 

So, whether it’s your very first ever Parkrun or your first ever in a particular location, it’s always worth attending the pre-run briefing. For the former, it’s important so that you know the route, how the timing system works and generally, where stuff is. For the latter, you’ll pick up information about the course as well as where to go once you’ve got your finish token. 

I almost felt nostalgic as I looked at the new group getting their briefing from the same hi-viz jacketed volunteer who briefed me last week…..

There were a few words of welcome from someone at the front, and then the air horn sounded and off we went!

This time, as well as running the Runkeeper app on my phone, I made the decision to listen to some music, which I’d not done last week. I have a dedicated “running” playlist of songs, with a specific bpm, which I’ve been using to try and keep me at a certain pace. 

Once the Parkrun started, I soon discovered that trying to use the music to stay at a certain pace, was a bit of a lost cause (for me, at any rate). Thing is, once the colourful tide of runners sets off, there’s a bit of jockeying for position where everyone finds their space. Once the pack thins out a bit, you can begin to think more about how fast you’re going and if you’ve got a running app or a watch, you’ll know what your pace is or should be. However, it’s easy to get carried away with just following the pace of the person in front of you. It’s a bit like listening to a song, and trying to sing a different song at the same time….

So, I found myself overtaking more people than I did last week. Of course, I was ever conscious of the “keep left” rule to allow faster runners through on the right (I’m sure one chap lapped me twice!!)

Conditions underfoot were damp, but not as wet and muddy as perhaps I was expecting, given the overnight rain. The woodland paths and grass were still quite firm to run on with no big puddles to avoid. The air was quite fresh, without being really cold and I remembered, every so often, to inhale big lungfuls of it through my nose. 

Runkeeper seemed to indicate that my average pace was getting slower and, on hearing a time check from a marshall, my heart began to sink as I thought “oh no, I’ve got another lap to go, I’ll never beat last week’s time”, only….I didn’t have another lap to go. I’d forgotten that the main route round the lakes were laps 2 and 3, and I was already on lap 3 and approaching the finish! By the next time check, I’d cheered up and felt ready for a strong run for the line. I must admit, I opened up my stride a bit and, while not sprinting, I at least sped up towards the line. My husband was, of course, already waiting for me, and managed to take a brief video snippet of me as I approached (with my red face).

Me and my neighbours, finished in the same order that we did last week and, as we trooped off to get our barcodes scanned, it started to rain….just as it did last week.

My debut time last week was 32:28. So, what was this week’s……?


A new Parkrun personal best!! 🙂

There were about a hundred fewer people running today and not so many families running together, but it’s possible the weather might have been a factor in that, as there was more cloud and rain around.

Well done to everyone who ran today and thanks to the supporters who cheered and clapped us on our way (and took photos) and the volunteers, without whom, Parkrun couldn’t happen!

See you again on the start line!


P.S: While I was lining up at the start and chatting to a friend, a chap wearing a fluorescent yellow top, tapped me on the shoulder and said “are you the person who wrote the blog post [about my first Parkrun], last week?” I said yes, and he said how much he’d enjoyed reading it. Fame at last! If that chap happens to be reading this – *waves* Thanks!!


Cyprus: Day 5 (25/5/13)

Woke up and went down for breakfast but the air had turned colder thanks to a stiff breeze that was blowing from the sea. For the first time this holiday, I actually shivered! My chesty cough was still irritating me so, after brekkie, D suggested I go back to bed. He took care of some hand washing and we listened to the latest ep of one of our favourite podcasts (The Bugle). Then D headed down to the pool and left me to laze about in bed.

I was aching all over and felt absolutely shattered. Clearly my body still had a lot of recovering to do!

D came back later in the afternoon and brought another bottle of wine to replace our illicit stash! Thoughts turned to dinner. Even though the rest of me felt a wreck, at least my stomach was ok, so I was getting hungry.

We’d decided to eat in at the hotel, this time opting for the Italian restaurant “Bacca” (which used to have celebrity guests):


Two courses per person were €43, so D wanted us to limit our drinks order (hence the bottle of wine in the room).

I began to perk up a bit and got changed into some smart clothes. As we were getting changed, D said he could hear raised voices coming from our neighbours (a British couple who I’d reckoned to be much older than us). We put our ears to the (locked) connecting door and could hear a woman yelling at her husband (who, in turn, didn’t seem to be raising his voice). We couldn’t determine what the argument was about but she seemed to be claiming, quite vehemently, that something he’d said was “NOT TRUE!!” and that she’d been insulted by him. Fortunately,  there was no audible indication of physical violence and we left them to it. Outside, in the corridor, were a couple of housekeeping staff who were stood by the door of the rowing couple’s room; looking concerned. With them was a large, blue-shirted man with a walkie-talkie, into which he was speaking. Had they had complaints? Were the rowing couple about get raided so the cleaning staff could do their job……?

“Right! Nobody move! You two, SHUT UP!! Hands on your head!! Okay, housekeeping, move in on my mark and deploy clean bed linen and toilet rolls. GO. GO. GO, GO. GO!!!”

The restaurant was situated outside, in a pretty courtyard area below the main entrance to the hotel. Flaming (paraffin) torches provided some atmospheric light while the flickering candles on the tables were actually battery driven.


The musical backdrop seemed to be an odd collection of 80’s hits, as sung by crooners in a jazz stylee. ABBA’s “Dancing Queen”, and “True” by Spandau Ballet got the alternative treatment, much to our amusement.

The food was wonderful. We were brought a selection of fresh breads to have with some olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Then we were served another appetizer (a “compliment of the chef”), some crispbreads and a thick, pesto-type paste which was very tart and lovely. D & I shared a starter (asparagus, parma ham & roasted mushroom on some crisp bread), but we each had the same main course: beef tenderloin (medium) with chunks of roasted potato and a salad. The meat was very tender and the peppercorns on top made it even more delicious. D & I shared dessert (ice cream), and we agreed that it had been thoroughly delicious.

After all that, I was properly ready for bed. D, however, wanted to watch the big European football match and went up the road, to an Irish bar that was showing it. I dozed and listened to my iPod and was eventually awake when D got back.

p.s: It was the annual celebration of “Towel Day” today. In memory of the late, great, Douglas Adams. I managed to surface and have a shower at one point in the afternoon, and tweeted my contribution to the celebration:



I don’t usually get up at 7am on a Saturday morning….well, not by choice anyway!

This morning I was up and at ’em at 7am so I could get ready to go to my very first ever Parkrun.

Last week, I ran round my local park and noticed that the arrow signs from that morning’s Parkrun had been left up, so I used them to guide me round. When I got home and mentioned this to my husband, he said “oh, I’d be up for a doing a Parkrun next weekend!” He’s done one once before and as soon as he made the suggestion, I agreed….

Parkrun began life in 2004 in the UK and now it’s a global phenomenon. Essentially, it’s a 5k time trial. It’s free to take part – all you have to do is register on the website and then collect your personal barcode (which you have to have otherwise you won’t get your time). Then, you turn up to your local event…and run! Simple! 🙂

In this case, my local event’s held every Saturday morning at 9am, a couple of miles down the road in a country park. It turned out that one of my neighbours was planning to go and said she could give us a lift (though my husband decided to cycle down as he was going elsewhere afterwards).

I had to be ready to leave by 8.30 and, having got up at 7am, it meant I had plenty of time to have some breakfast (I don’t usually eat at that time of the morning!) So I had a bowl of yoghurt and fruit and then waited in my running kit for my neighbour to come by.

Once we arrived (and located my husband), we realised that another one of our neighbours had come along too! There were lots of people milling about. Some were high viz jacketed volunteers, there to marshall the runners and time-keep, others were friends and family of runners who were there to spectate, and then there were the runners. All around, people were happily chatting with fellow runners (it’s meant to be a social event), and stretching and getting sorted.

A notice, on a nearby tree, indicated a meeting point for first timers where we had to be at five to nine for a briefing. There were quite a few first time runners (possibly about a dozen), in fact the high viz jacketed woman doing our briefing seemed quite surprised by the numbers! Anyway, she explained the course (told us to be careful of tree roots), explained the barcode/timing system and just told us to have fun!

There were timing markers at the start, so I placed myself by the 35min sign…..

Everyone gathered at the start and waited. People ahead of us clapped, and I realised it was in response to something someone at the very front was saying, but as I couldn’t hear what was being said, I had no idea why people were clapping. Anyway, it didn’t matter and shortly after, the lycra clad masses (close to 400 people), began to shuffle forward then break into a run.

One of the nice things about Parkrun, is that anyone of any age and ability can take part. You can walk it if you want! Some people were running with their kids or even their dogs. I nearly tripped over a little girl who must have been about 3 years old and who was running along with her Dad! People were quite bunched up for a little while as everybody found their pace but gradually things thinned out.

Signs around the course urged people to “keep left” and it soon became obvious that the reason for that was to allow the really fast people to overtake! These people tended to be wearing running club vests and I only saw them from behind…..

I didn’t listen to anything on this run. I didn’t use my headphones at all with my phone, I just set the Runkeeper app going. Had I been on my own, I think I’d have been bothered by that, but as it was, I was constantly thinking about where I was going, who was around me and checking my speed. That last one was actually a lot easier because of the presence of other runners as I found myself comfortably sitting behind people and using them as pacemakers. If I then felt I was faster than the person in front, I would put on a brief burst of speed in the “outside” lane, then slot back in behind someone else.

The other thing that helped, were the spectators and marshals who clapped and encouraged the runners. Shouts of “well done” and “keep going” were very nice 🙂

I’ll be honest, I also tended to earwig bits of conversation from the runners around me (well, those who were able to speak). I don’t remember anything that was said, but it served to provide another point of focus for my brain and help it fight the urge to make me walk.

Then, it came down to the final few hundred metres. Unsurprisingly, my husband finished first and was there to encourage me across the line. I collected my token and there I was, having completed my first ever Parkrun!

My middle neighbour finished a couple of minutes behind me and then my other neighbour followed on a couple more.

After catching our breath we trooped back over to the start area and got our finish tokens scanned along with our personal barcodes (the point being that they can then match you with your finish time).

And that was it!

A few hours later and my official finish time turned out to be 32:28 so that now becomes my Parkrun PB….

I enjoyed it and we’re already talking about going back next week! If you can find a local event to you (more are appearing all the time), do give it a go!

Back in the saddle

I went for a run today. I repeated what I did a few weeks ago and cycled to my local country park, then ran round it a few times until I’d done 3 miles.

Thing is, today’s run was the first proper outdoor run I’ve done for a few weeks. I went down with a cold before I went on holiday and didn’t run because I wanted to rest. Then, while I was away, the chesty cough I developed meant I really daren’t risk running much, if at all. In the end I did make one trip to the hotel’s gym and managed 3 miles on a treadmill, but that didn’t feel quite as much effort as running outside.


So, today’s run was my first “proper” one since 12th of May!

I was a bit slower today (avg. pace 11min/mi) but it was warmer and in any case, I wasn’t really aiming to push my time; I just wanted to do the distance.

In the end it was fine. I took a water bottle with me and sipped from it in the brief seconds when I stopped to walk. I didn’t feel too bad overall.

When I got home, I even had enough energy to mow the lawn (still in my running kit, though minus the shoes)!

Next week I’m going to do something different again. As I was running round, I noticed that the local Parkrun had left their arrow signs out, so I followed them. Very useful! Now I’ve gone and registered to actually do the Parkrun! My husband (who’s done it before), has offered to come with me. I don’t usually run with other people so this will be a new experience but I know there’s no pressure. It’s all about enjoying yourself and making friends. As long as the weather’s okay, it should be fun! I’m looking forward to doing it!

Cyprus: Day 4 24/5/13

Today we got up early for breakfast in order to go to the Tomb of the Kings. The “Tomb of the Kings” is one of Paphos’s most famous historic sites and the guidebook recommended that we visit in the morning (allowing 2 hours to get round), in order to avoid the main heat of the day. 

As it turned out, the Tomb of the Kings is only 5 minutes walk up the road from our hotel. It costs €1.70 per adult entry (guidebook an extra €4) and then you emerge into a vast open area, strewn with large, stone structures. The ground is dry, rocky and dusty (so you need a sturdy pair of shoes if you go).

No actual “kings” were ever buried in these tombs. Instead, it’s reckoned that high status people were put there instead. So much is unknown about the place and bodies and treasure were looted long before the archaeologists got to it. 

There are 8 main tombs and many smaller ones, all containing “loculi”, or alcoves recessed deep into the rock, that once housed bodies. Some tombs are little more than small caves


but a couple more were of grander appearance, with large stone columns:



I couldn’t help but be reminded of “Tomb Raider”. Many local pigeons have made their nests in small recesses in the rock. We saw two nests – one had some live baby pigeons in it:



and the one above had a pair of adults. Further along was another nest with an adult pigeon but a couple of metres or so below on the ground was a small egg:



How it got there we don’t know, but something inside was moving…. We left it alone though a group of American tourists briefly debated putting the egg back in the nest – though the nest was actually out of easy reach and anyway, as one of the group pointed out (probably rightly), that the mother may have rejected the egg or, at least, if it were put back, she might not want it. 

We spent about an hour and a half on the site and saw as much as there was to see.

Back at the hotel, we spent the rest of the afternoon by the pool. The sky filled with cloud and the wind got up a bit (blowing over a parasol) and eventually, spots of rain began to fall. We headed in and D and I discussed where to go for dinner. D wanted to try a well reviewed place called “The Lodge” which had an African themed menu but specialised in steaks.

To get there required 2 bus rides. So we bought a “day ticket”. These are great – they cost €3 and allow unlimited bus travel during the day. The restaurant’s on a busy strip of road with many other bars/eateries vying for attention. As we arrived, something called the “Exclusive Wedding Bus” pulled up. These are open-topped, red double-deckers (like the sight seeing buses in the UK), and are hired out to wedding parties. A bride and groom were visible on the open top deck and the guests milled about, waving glasses of something. The bus stopped right outside our chosen restaurant and my heart sank but thankfully the party (English), piled into the venue next door, which was obviously set up for a reception. My inner tacky-ometer was going off the scale…

The Lodge is lovely. Run by a very nice South African lady. The sturdy wooden tables have black metal bits on them (slightly Gothic):



Initially, we sat outside in the closed courtyard. Rush matting lined the fence, there were grasses and reeds growing in pots and in the corner was a silent widescreen TV showing the BBC’s “The Planet” series.

Our waiter was a young Scottish gentleman (picture actor Daniel Mays but Scottish and with glasses). He brought us some nibbles, which were strips of some sort of fried bread with a mango sauce dip. Very tasty.

D & I shared a starter of grilled mushroom and halloumi. By now, the wind was getting stronger so we asked to be moved inside (which was no trouble). For my main course, I had a grilled chicken fillet with “African rice” and “monkey gland” sauce (don’t worry, no monkeys were harmed in its making!) 

The rice was bright red! I asked how they’d done that and was told they use a Chinese spice, though she said they’d originally wanted to make it black but couldn’t figure out how:



The rice tasted delicious, as did the chicken and sauce (I forget the ingredients but it involved fruit and ginger). 

We both decided to skip dessert and settle up. There was a slight hiccup when it turned out that Alex (the waiter), had inadvertently charged us for a bottle of the house wine when we’d only ordered 2 glasses. The South African lady apologised, saying it was Alex’s first time entering stuff into the till.

Then back it was to the hotel and to bed. 

One Local Council’s Approach to the Obesity Problem

This is interesting. In the “big questions” section in today’s “Independent” newspaper, food writer Michael Pollan answers questions (presumably submitted by readers), about food and our attitudes to it. One question in particular stood out for me:

Q: “…Birmingham Public Health is talking about a ‘zero tolerance’ approach to the obesity problem. But is obesity here to stay?”

Mr Pollan addressed the main question by saying he’s a “journalist not a seer” but on the prior comment about Birmingham, all he said was:

“I just don’t know what zero tolerance means in practice. What do they propose to do?”

Yes, what do they propose to do? Seeing as Michael Pollan clearly hadn’t taken the time to investigate, I thought I would. One quick Google search later and I found the following link to an article in the Birmingham Mail:

The article begins with an alarming fact – namely, that Birmingham is “Europe’s fattest” city “according to statistics”. Turns out the statistics are from the Association of Public Health Observatories (now part of Public Health England), and were published in 2010. They claimed, at the time, that 29% of the adult population of the City was obese. I’ve dug around to find the original set of statistics and this seems to be them:

Another article, published in response to these statistics, highlights how “£15 million of NHS funds [were] being directly targeted at tackling obesity”. But that was before these stats, meaning the tactic failed.

Hence, it would seem, this new “zero tolerance” approach. But, as Michael Pollan says – what does that mean?

A working group of the Birmingham Health and Wellbeing Board is currently working on a Birmingham Childhood Obesity Strategy and some of the ideas (mentioned in the first article linked to above), include banning unhealthy snack vending machines from council leisure centres. It’s probably an obvious statement to say that kids are the most likely to use these and in Birmingham, the childhood obesity rate is shockingly high (a quarter of 11 to 12 yr olds) – so on paper, this seems like a good idea.

In fact, it’s not a new idea – a similar proposal is already on the table in California, which is aiming to phase out unhealthy vending machine snacks on state run premises by 2017. California clearly has an obesity problem, with one report claiming that the state’s obesity rate could double to nearly 50% by 2030!

This proposal is a controversial  idea, similar to the New York cap on huge soda drinks (which got blocked by a court before it could come into force). In the case of vending machines, some people are arguing that making them 100% healthy, takes away “choice”.

It’s not clear if the Birmingham idea would follow California’s gradual phase-in plan or would be 100% from the get go, but either way, it’s clear from the figures that something needs to be done.

If taking away someone’s “choice” to put money in a vending machine, on council property, in return for a snack that’s high in fat and sugar (and or salt), is what’s needed to help slow people down, then that’s a good thing right? Why should Birmingham City Council spend so many millions of taxpayers’ money trying to tackle its obesity crisis, and then facilitate it on its own property?  People still have the “choice” to walk to the nearest shop and purchase unhealthy snacks if they so wish – in fact, one might argue that the extra walk might be beneficial!

It’s not an idea to be seen in isolation though. Clearly more local incentives are needed to target not just children, but adults too. This is just one idea that will (if it’s adopted), be part of a much wider strategy for Birmingham but if it’s successful, it’ll doubtless become a blueprint for other local authorities that are desperately struggling to cope with heavier populations.