Preseli Beast – What I done learned

Ok so in the aftermath of the Preseli Beast last weekend I promised to follow up on a few of the thoughts I had.  This might not be as interesting as I’ve used up all my photos of the day (well mostly) but will act as a useful reminder next time I’m running this event or similar so bear with me.

Kit

I used my Inov8 Xtalon 212s and they worked superbly – I was pondering which way to go with shoes as they don’t have the most cushioning but I love them for the grip and stability they provide – They turned out to be comfortable all day and the grip while climbing and descending was fantastic. I always trust these if I want to do a technical run and they never let me down.

I used an Inov8 10 Raceultra pack with soft flasks at the front. I was originally going to use my Inov8 Racepak but at 4L capacity it couldn’t hold all the kit required for fellrunning plus enough food and water so this was an investment for the future. It’s an extremely comfortable pack, I didn’t even notice it was there most of the time and it didn’t chafe or bounce at all. My only gripe with it is that the softflasks come with long drinking tubes which can slip out of their shoulder holders while on descents and bounce around in your face but I just slotted them under the chest strap and no further issues.

The rest of the kit was standard stuff, asics tech shirt, sturridge baselayer shorts (although I cricket manufacturer in the main I find their shorts are super comfy) and hilly monoskin socks (no blisters no chafing)

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Hydration and nutrition

As noted earlier I took 2 inov8 500ml softflasks with me, normally I run with a bladder in the back but I preferred this as the weight of the water felt better off my back and didn’t contribute to pack movement. Plus i was able to judge how much I was drinking and was able to refill easily at water stations without removing the pack.  I remembered to keep drinking all the way which was easy when it was hot lower down but once up on the peaks it was much colder with some wind so I was happy I remembered to keep sipping away.

I took a fair amount of my homemade energy bars with me which always seem to do the trick and tucked into the jelly babies on offer at the aid stations – after all why not!  As with hydration I judged this pretty well I think, probably could have eaten a little more and need to teach myself to eat when feeling shit on climbs.

Pacing

I had a plan which I was determined to stick to and it worked out pretty well in the most. I started out deliberately near the back and just hung around there so I didn’t get caught up in the excitement and hare off too fast. I knew there was single track through the forest after a mile or so and moved up in front of the slowest runners so not to get bottlenecked there. This left me around two thirds of the way up the field which I stayed around most of the day.  After around 5 or 6 miles I was chatting to a few guys around me and they were also there just to finish and I almost just stuck with them but realised it was just a mental comfort zone I didn’t really need and struck out at my own quicker chosen pace.

I read somewhere some great advice – Never run something at the start that you wouldn’t run at the end. I had to modify this slightly as otherwise I wouldn’t have run anything over a 1% incline but its solid advice and keeping it in my mind meant that I didn’t overexert on the ascents.

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Descending

Descending gets a section of its own as it could well have been where the race was nearly over for me and was a major cause of pain and slowing down later on. I love descending, just as I love running quickly over rocks on the beach, it’s a thrill and a joy to speed along just at the edge of what my reactions and body can cope with.  However I’m not used to descents that last over a mile over rough terrain and so although it felt fine to fly down (And trust me I made up a lot of time and places doing this in the first 10 miles or so, everyone who went past me going up was caught going down) and it was sooooo much fun to descend quickly at the limits my quads simply weren’t used to this sort of extended pummeling. By about 10 miles I had a pain in my left quad that was making me start to alter my stride and the longish descent into the town suddenly switched to tarmac and I couldn’t sustain any sort of pace without serious pain in my legs.  This was then repeated for the next 14 miles – every descent was as painful as the climb. No rest for the wicked!

So I know I need to really work on my downhills to build up the muscles there that tend to get neglected. The next race in August also has a lot of climbing and descending though its coastal nature means shorter bouts of it.  I intend to identify places where I can do repeat hillwork – And everytime I get fed up of it then remember the pain and problems my quads caused last weekend and do it again. If I hadn’t suffered so badly with the quads I could have knocked a fair amount off my time and although the mission was simply to finish it’s always nice to give it a real go!

Mentality

I will quite happily admit I was nervous going into the race. I hadn’t run 24 miles before and certainly not in a fellrunning environment.  However I was coming in with a gameplan and a goal – finishing. The race had cutoffs too which was new to me and they added a little to the stress but in the end were happily immaterial. There were many times, especially once the quads were hurting, that I thought “I cant do this for many more miles” and each time I told myself to suck it up and keep going.  I cramped badly in my calves after the penultimate climb because it was so steep I was constantly on my toes and at that point I thought I was done (I’m not used to cramps) but I didn’t panic and just slowed to an amble and figured I could get by with a weird shuffle step until it passed – If it didnt pass I was on top of a bloody mountain so I was coming down one way or another anyway.  People passed me at this point and it didn’t matter, it was me versus my legs and the mountain. After a while and a bit of stretching the cramps faded and I could pick up pace again.

So if theres one thing I learned its DONT PANIC. Things will hurt, things will feel like they are so broken that you cant possibly finish. Get the pain under control until its managable, if you cant run then walk a bit.  At one point I had to sit on a rock to remove stones from my shoes, I sat for less than a minute. When I got up my quads were miraculously cured – for a short distance but it took a while before they reached def con fucking arghghghghhhh again.

Its a long day – its a long race and at the end of the day when you look at it time and places are immaterial. If you need to stop to regroup do so. There are no medals for running every step, there are no medals for breaking yourself to achieve a time or placing.

I hope I remember to read this and remember it before the next race. If I can do that plus add some hillwork I might just get away with pain instead of agony

 

 

Recipe time!

I thought I’d share a recipe I use for a trailrunning stew. It’s easy to make but requires exact ingredients, precision and timing.

Put a large pot of water on the stove and boil while adding any spices and herbs you have to hand. Measurements are based on how you feel at the time, whack it all in at this point. Add a healthy (in fact around half a dozen times whatever it says on the side of the tin) dose of gravy browning stuff ( vegetarian) .  Chop up a few pieces of fresh tumeric and wang that in as well, good for you =)

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Open the fridge. Take out everything vegetable. Chop up said vegetables into bitesize and smaller pieces. In this case I had cauliflower, potatoes, onions, peppers and mushrooms (mushrooms not chopped today as I like to see them bob about)

When water is boiling give it a stir and then chuck in all the veg and stir again.

Open your cupboards and find anything suitable from the bean family, in this case I used butter and borlotti beans.  Bung those in as well.

Add some pasta until the pot is kinda full enough so your stirring implement of choice can stand up in it unaided. Add more gravy so its kinda sludgey and thick in there.

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Give it a taste …. add some salt. Give it another taste and check the cupboards – pack of fajita mix will do, sprinkle the whole lot in and mix well.

I freestyled at this point and added chia and flax seeds mainly cos I wanted to see what would happen.

Try and find pot lid …. fail.  Find old dogs bowl in cupboard and have a moment then remember her having an awesome life and smile.

Find pot lid where it shouldn’t be logically. Remove cat from kitchen where it is attempting to eat everything not nailed down while you hunted for lid.

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Leave pot to boil then down to a simmer and slam lid on.

Timing is critical now, wait until you’re really hungry and then serve a gerneous portion and eat (minimum wait time around 30 mins)

Bon Apetit

Long beach & cliff run plus news!

How do you keep an idiot in suspense goes the old joke. I’ll tell you later.

Anyway today it was time to see exactly how much fitness I’d lost through injury, there was a reason for this test but first the run. As I knew I was likely to be going at least 10 miles I knew I’d need water and fuel so I cracked out the salomon squishy bottles and made myself some new fuel – I hereby announce to the running world the invention of the Honey Bomb!

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Working on the principle that you don’t eat with your eyes I present the first batch of Honey Bombs. I swear they taste so much better than they look … honest

Ingredients – all chucked in a bowl with no measuring.

Raisins, dates, flax and chia seeds and a dollop of honey all mixed together and placed carefully in scientific manner on a baking tray and then wanged in the freezer.

Result? I have discovered purest energy! Well I ate three of them on my run and they certainly kept my energy levels topped up. The only drawback being their incredible stickiosity. I wrapped them in silver foil so when unwrapping them I must have looked like the worlds healthiest junkie.

I was also glad to have taken a litre of water too as it started to get hot towards the end although I did actually hydrate myself all the way through which I’m disproportionately proud of. All this I packed away in my Inov8 race pack 4 which is just so comfortable I don’t even notice it’s there. The salomon soft flasks work great as once you’ve had a gurgle out of them they fold up and can be carried in a pocket until empty.

Anyway I managed just over 12 miles which didn’t feel like a struggle until the hill into Wick to my folks (another shout out to the folks) near the end which just felt like it was going on forever, plus it was half road and as we all know I hate roads. My body felt fine above the waist, the legs simply haven’t got the miles back in them yet but I’m sure that will come.

The beach was as usual beautiful even though I was going into a headwind on the way out and I managed to remember to breathe through my nose pretty much for the whole thing. This is becoming second nature which I’m especially pleased with as I know I’m no longer blowing myslf to bits early on.

Enough text they cry! Where are the photos?

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Outward bound – I tried to capture the headwind but failed :p
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Cliff stack – I’m waiting for this one to come down (as long as I’m not under it at the time) Also spot my superb accidental capture of a seagull
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Green! I knew I’d get some green in for CeeJayKay. This is actually a very rare phenonemon called cliff snot
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View from the cliffs again plus some green
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WARNING! Rockpool ahead!
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View running back along the cliffs (more green plus fluffy clouds for SRG)
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Foresty bit (included for its greeniosity)
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Field of unripened corn – Note colour!

Oh yeah so the news ….

I’ve signed up for a race in August. In Cornwall! It’s a trail run along the Cornish coastal path. A friend of mine and I are going to camp down there for the weekend as there is a bar and DJ and stuff to entertain him while I run on the saturday.

Thing is … the 20 miler I was originally going to do was full so I kind of ….. signed up for the 32 mile option. I have 6 weeks to prepare. I may well die (note to parents this is a lighthearted throwaway line I won’t really die)

Ultra or bust! Probably bust but I’m going to give it my best.

Preseli Beast – Debrief (no badgers)

A couple of days later I’ve had time to think about what went well and what didn’t at the Beast Mawr on saturday. So warning this is meant as something I can read an consider before my next race and hopefully before the same race next year too. Might give some thoughts to those just starting to enter events as I am.

What went well …. I’m here to type this so I didn’t croak on a hillside somewhere?

Seriously though, getting to the venue early was good, perhaps not the few hours I did but it did give me chance to chill out and relax rather than rushing off to the start line.

Half zip running tops work for me. I tend to get very hot as I run and the ability to open up the zip to allow more airflow was great to cool down.

Recognising I was struggling and forcing myself to slow down and accept I’d be passed a lot. I’m a competitive wee beastie by nature, no-one likes being passed in a race, I think that’s natural. Realising that I was going to have to slow down because of the foot injury meaning half the field was going to pass me was hard at first to swallow. I sucked it up and told myself I was doing well to still be running at all let alone trying to hold places. As it dawned on me I was doing all I could I realised how meaningless these places were, no-one but me cared where I finished, my friends and family cared that I DID finish, once I worked that out I felt fine. (For the record I was 120 out of 179)

My attitude to others out there was good, I didn’t feel much like being cheery, it’s hard to smile through gritted teeth but I’m so happy now that I thanked and smiled at every marshall and tried to acknowledge all the people supporting from their gardens and in the streets. None of them had to be there for hours to watch me limp past but they did and I’m glad I tried to repay their support at least with a gesture. Also as I mentioned earlier in the latter stages I got passed a lot – I took the time to gauge runners coming up behind me and then stepping aside and waving them through. It felt like courtesy and the vast majority said thanks, I think it took a few by surprise and for the one or two who didn’t acknowledge me – I hope you run up a hill on a screwed up foot one day … I don’t mean that but guys if there’s someone obviously struggling and in pain a word of encouragement or thanks for stepping aside means a lot.

Nutrition – My homemade energy bars seemed to do the trick now I think about it more clearly. I struggled early on but recovered well and I had no issues with energy later on, the lack of training was the issue so i’ll keep making them and hopefully I can judge their effectiveness on a course I know well soon.

Determination – I’m proud that I finished in some shape, I have that going for me, when I read this back before my next race I need to remember I can live with the pain, my head was strong on Saturday and it will be next time.

Things that didn’t go so well

Injury – I’m an idiot and I shouldn’t have run on that foot .. There I said it. I so so wanted to do this particular race that I risked further injury, have probably set back my recovery by a way and put myself through a world of pain just to complete it.  Would I do it again   – probably as sometimes I’m not very bright. But in retrospect there was a chance I would come through unscathed and I took it, a gamble that both succeeded and failed.

Hydration – It got pretty hot what with starting off at 12.30 in the afternoon, I took a Salomon squishy bottle with me so I could drink from it and then stash it in my flip belt. The problem being the water in the bottle got very warm as it was in my hand and carrying the bottle itself was a pain. I need to rethink how i’m going to hydrate in hotter weather as I tend to chuck a Nile full of sweat out.

Out too fast – It’s pretty hard in a race not to just stay in step with those around you even if they’re hitting a pace you can’t sustain. In retrospect with little recent training and an injury I should have skulked near the back but oh no I happened to be near the front of the pen and so that’s who I ran with …. Idiot (see an idiot shaped theme here?)

You know what – I’ll leave it at those three – To be fair to myself I’m not going to beat myself up, I did what I could and If I can address these three next time I’ll be improving and that’s really all I want to do.

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I forgot I took this one – That there in the background is the Beast! I’ll be back!

 

Ahhh so thats why they call it a beast

So yesterday was my second ever race. The Preseli Beast Mawr (little beast) – How hard can 11 miles be?

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I was up with the lark as I wasn’t sure how long it would take me to get there, those west Walian roads can be small and twisty. As it turns out it was a simple enough 2 hour drive in the trailmobile.

Yes thats right yesterday was also the unveiling of the trailmobile. no not a new car but a ad hoc conversion. The back of my battered old mondeo is now converted to a pre race nervecentre and also post race sleeping accomodation. This could be a fun summer!

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Note the carpet underlay with multiple sleeping bags. Also the stylish homemade curtains to block out sunlight. Also note the kit strewn everywhere and bottle of cider front right

So I was an hour or so early and just chilled out in the Trailmobile (now capitalised) and got ready while chatting with some friendly guys from Swansea who were next to me.

I had 3 main worries, the race started at 12.30 and it was getting hot and I don’t particularly like the heat, I was woefully undertrained having hardly run for two months due to my major concern my foot injury. Still nothing I could do now but give it a go!

The race started from the centre of Maenclochog with a quick prerace briefing from the organiser Caz the Hat and we all had to hug people around us in a pre race show of solidarity. When you run alone these things can be awkward but luckily I was stood next to some pretty ladies.

And we were off! I take my hat off to the locals from the village who cheered and clapped us and even banged drums and rattled tambourines. After a few hundred metres of road we hit a gravelled farm track which led us to a wonderful marshy forest with single track wooden bridges throughout it. I spent most of the time just enjoying being out and praying the foot would be ok which it seemed to be, there was a slight ache but I could cope with that despite forgetting to take painkillers before setting off.

Out of the forest and the first hill, all good feeling fine. Nothing to it! Then down through a farm and through an old slate quarry. This was a lovely technical section with lots of twists and turns, ups and downs. I’d love to run this alone at my own pace when fit but was content just to be sensible and hold pace with those around me. A nice touch around here was Caz the Hat who had obviously taken a sneaky shortcut waiting to greet, encourage and fist pump every single runner going over a stile. This man has class!

Then another hill and this is where things started getting tricky as I suddenly felt awful, this was only a few miles in but I think the lack of training was starting to show itself. The gradient wasnt really enough to force a walk but it felt like there was nothing in the legs and the heat was getting to me.

I slowed and unleashed my secret weapon – My homemade chia, flax, date and raisin energy bars! (see this post for details)  I admit I found it hard to swallow the first one – mainly because like an idiot I crammed it all in my gob at once and then found I had to chew it for about 300 yards – Well it took my mind off things!

After a while I started to feel better in myself and spied another serendipitous opportunity – a fresh mountain stream. Much to the surprise of the runners around me I leaped from the track straight into it up to my calves in lovely cool water. It was worth a few seconds to drench myself.

Invigorated I reached the top of the climb and then we sailed across a beautiful mountainside towards the aid station at mile 5.

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The views at this point were simply breathtaking (If I’d had breath to take) – As I didn’t have a camera I’m borrowing this photo from the Preseli Beast website so photo credit goes to them – I’m sure Caz won’t mind)

Aaaaaand this is where the foot went …. running down and sideways on this path meant I was unbalanced with my bad foot on the uphill side and running at an angle hurt it. By the time I reached mile 5 the pain was getting bad and I was now favouring the other foot and the limp had begun.  Well I guess this is trail running, it’s going to hurt and no turning back now.

The next stage was across the moorland in the photo above in a steady climb until we hit the Beasts Back.

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Again no camera so photo taken from the Preseli Beast website – to give an idea of the climb

This hill/mountain/evil incline of ultimate pain seemed neverending. Much of it we walked, some of it I could run by staying on my toes to reduce the pain but climb it we did and what views from the top!

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Last stolen photo I promise – credit to Preseli beast website

Annoyingly my legs had come back to life and my breathing felt as good as it could be considering but the pain in my foot was now crippling me. It was time to simply dog it out for the last four or five miles or so. There’s a saying that kept running through my head at this point – It’s not the size of the dog in the fight its the size of the fight in the dog. Does anyone else get random mantras stuck in their head while running? I was telling myself that despite the fact that physically I was undertrained, injured and in a lot of pain I still had my head going for me. Time for fight in the dog to show up. I’d rather forget the downhills from that mountain. Normally I’d fly them, savour them and enjoy them but I couldnt impact the foot at all and so had to brake all the way down meaning my toes were being slammed into the toebox of my trainers causing more grief – It never rains but it pours!

Once back on level ground it was back through the forest again and into the village. And what a greeting, I was dead on my feet by this phase and just wanted to walk to alleviate the foot pain but I couldn’t give up with these people watching. It was like the whole village were in their gardens and on the road clapping and cheering. At that point it meant a lot – the whole run the marshalls and supporters had been fantastic and I tried to thank every one in passing. I limped over the line and what a relief to collapse on the grass! Now I know why they call it The Beast -even fit and uninjured that would have been a challenge.

Afterwards I waited around chatting and relaxing until the presentations. There was tea, cake, cawl all dished up by some fantastic volunteers.  In fact I have to say the whole village should be proud of the day they put on for the runners. It really felt like a close community showing their warmth to a load of strangers who pitch up to run around in their beautiful countryside.

The organisation was top notch. I take my metaphorical hat off to Caz the Hat who clearly loves the area, running and his event. He’s created something special there and I would heartily recommend it for anyone with an interest in trail running. There were of course the full beast (24 miles I think) and a 32 mile ultrabeast too. If i’m fit I’d love to try the full beast next year.

The gory details

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Slow and painful – But on the bright side I forgot to stop my watch at the finish so I can knock a few minutes off that!

Oh and the goodies – I nearly forgot the goodies – an awesome tshirt and a fantastic slate coaster! So appropriate, I’ll never forget that quarry – I’m coming back one day at speed!

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Despite the personal pain I really had a day to remember. You don’t get to say that very often. Beasted but not bested!

Injury and energy bar update!

Figured I hadn’t posted in a while so here is progress of lack of.  Still getting a small amount of pain in the ankle. Feels like 2 steps forward literally and 1 back. I’m still resting it and showing a degree of patience which I didn’t think I had.  I’m deperate to go out running but something is telling me it’s not right yet and I stand a chance of doing further damage so rest it is.  There are days with no pain and then I walk on it for a while and the niggle begins.  I suspect it has something to do with my work trainers though.

Yesterday I had to make an emergency appointment at the dentists in Cardiff. As they say it never rains but pours, I had extreme pain in a tooth at the back of my mouth and normally I would have waited until my dentists was open after Easter but it was so bad I just had to do something.  So off I went and realised that my route to the hospital wasn’t easy due to the world half marathon running right past the hospital – So I had to park a mile away and walk, I was likely to be late so I tried a little jog – In my work trainers and instantly the pain was there in the sole of my foot. No jogging for me even slowly. However I tried a little shuffle run in my road Nikes earlier today and no pain – Is this a cushioning issue?

Anyway one tooth extraction later and I’m feeling a little sorry for myself and looking rather like the hamster that stole all the nuts. But speaking of nuts I have had my first attempt at making my own energy bars!

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My base ingredients – 1/3 cup of flax. 1/3 cup of chia. Half cup of raisins and half cup of dates. Plus some coconut oil to add some binding.  Slammed all these in a mixer and mixed away to my hearts content ending up with ….

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Gritty Dough ™ – How appetising!

Next up I used my inspiring culinary skills to make them into little bars.

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No-one said they had to be pretty fortunately.  Had the idea of using a rubber mould to make thinner versions too.

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After all a test run is test run, time to find out what works!

Into the fridge they went!

I’ve doen a taste test and they do indeed taste coconutty and seem to hold together well. However whether they hold together well on a run is another issue, need to find a way of wrapping them now. Was thinking of cling film but is that going to be a pain to open while running?

I want to test them of course while on the run but patience is holding up well.  I have another week at least in which I can take it easy – 2 weeks off for schools Easter holidays – I feel I have the best job ever sometimes.

Next saturday I’ve been invited along to the Afan Forest to test a new trail half course that the organisers of the Margam Hoka Winter Half I ran last month are devising. Sounds like a lot of fun and will be interesting to see how these things work. So hopefully another week and I’ll be raring to go!

 

 

 

Gels – Fuel or Fool?

As I’ve not been able to run I’ve at least been able to read about running and do a little research.  I’ve been eatily pretty healthily lately, plant based and non processed but it occurred to me that the energy gels and bars I use while on long runs are maybe not all they seem.  Why do I use them? Cheap, convenient and so does everyone else would appear to be my reasons. I know I need to fuel during longer runs so it makes sense right? These products are designed for athletes by sports scientists right?  So who do these sports scientists work for?  I’ve never paid one directly so they work for the companies selling the gels right?  So I would say they have a vested interest perhaps not in lying but embellishing the truth to increase sales?

I’m very wary when it comes to corporations, experience and just having open eyes is enough to tell me that the bottom line is profit for the shareholders. When it comes to running they couldn’t care about what actually happens to you but rather how much of their product they can get you to consume. Of coure its not just running products it’s endemic in virtually everything we buy. Never forget the bottom line is profit in the vast majority of cases (there are ethically run businesses of course)

Sooo energy gels – top ingedient is maltodextrin – Take a look at the ingedient list on Gu’s page  – What is it?

From wikipedia (Yes I know it’s not fact therefore but come on it’s close)

“Maltodextrin is used as an inexpensive additive to thicken food products such as infant formula. It is also used as a filler in sugar substitutes and other products”

So it’s essentially a sugar substitute and here’s the interesting bit – It’s not included as a sugar in the ingredient breakdown – sports nutrition companies label it as a carbohydrate

“Maltodextrin is a corn-derived oligosaccharide source of carbohydrates, and it is commonly added to commercial ready-made protein shakes and other products. Oligosaccharides contain between three and 20 linked sugars, but they qualify as complex carbohydrates. Some products include maltodextrin as a sweetener because it is not technically a sugar, allowing companies to call their products “sugar-free.”

Nice work guys!

So as I see it in order to drive profits we have a cheap as chips sugar subsitute being the main ingredient in energy gels and being labelled as carbs. No wonder gels give me a boost and then I fall off again quickly – Quick take another gel to keep running – Finish running spend more money on gels!

Am I being cynical here?

I came across this site 33shake  who have exactly the same thoughts but are selling their own healthier version. I haven’t tried their products I’ll admit but I was intrigued. Then I saw the gels were £2 a pop. Ok so even if I didn’t consume them at the same rate as other gels I’d still be coughing up probably over £6 per run and more!

My next step – I’m going to make my own using chia. I was intrigued by chia from reading books such as Born to Run and Eat & Run. Seems ideal and from the reading I’ve done it seems I stand a good chance (even with my culinary skills) of making somethnig edible, natural and likely to fuel me on long runs.

I’ve ordered a load of chia and will pick up the other ingedients this week and let you know how it goes!

If this post has bored you beyond belief it’s not my fault it’s my ankles – I want to be posting photos of beaches! But at least think about what you’re fuelling with on runs and have a think if you follow a high — crash — high — crash cycle due to instant sugar hits?