Category Archives: Nutrition

Luxury Trail Mix

Everything is nearly there. With less than a couple of days to go until I board the plane for Ouarzazate, I made last minute preparations measuring and mixing my trail run earlier. I suspect that many people have their own special ‘recipes’ for trail mix – a generic term for gathering together food into a bag which a walker, trekker or runner can periodically grab a handful of during the course of a route – so here is mine!

Luxury Trail Mix
Description Calories (per 100g) Comments
Goldenberries 302 Also called Inca Berries
Blueberries 275 Good for taste
Macadamia 739 Highest calorie density
Cranberries 331 Tasty dried fruit
Cashews 609 Roasted and salted
Pine Nuts 690 tasty with high calorie content
Pumpkin Seeds 565 Good omega oils
Sunflower Seeds 518 Good fibre, taste and calories


Trail Mix
Trail Mix

I think this is a good all round combination of fruits and savoury food which seems to go down very nicely (Yes, I’ve been ‘testing it over the last couple of months!) and the calorie to weight content is very high – in fact I reckon it couldn’t be much better. When compared to my freeze dried Expedition Foods which weigh in at around 425-578 calories per 100g, I don’t think I’m doing too badly with a mix of ‘real’ food which will be averaging 528 calories per 100g. I have a 100g bag for each day – i.e. 6 days, so I can enjoy my rest day trail mix in relative peace and calm – assuming I haven’t already eaten it by then of course, which is entirely possible 🙂

Obsessing over Weight

I am not normally one to obsess over my weight, but recently it has been foremost in my mind.

It is not my weight I have been overly concerned about, although this has not totally escaped my attention, but rather the weight of my backpack and the supplies I ‘might’ be taking for my week in the desert in under 5 weeks time.

Calories vs. weight
Calories vs. weight

Last time I was in the desert, I must’ve arrived with at least 11-12kg in my pack, much of which was carried along for the ride in a fundamental, but common first-time MdS participant error related to the terror of being self-sufficient for a week. My pack in 2008 included cameras, chargers, spare batteries, food, snacks, extra food, extra snacks, changes of clothes, extra clothes, trekking poles, flags, hydration tablets, isotonic powders, plus all the normal compulsory kit. With a backpack resembling a Rio Carnival float which was stuffed tighter than a haggis on Burns night, I still had to add the organiser supplied mandatory equipment, in the shape of a rather large emergency flare to pack, to which access was required at all times, so no squirrelling away inside the pack.

I can look back and laugh 😆 about my error now, but as a result have paid my debt to the Gods of experience and will therefore be returning to the desert with more knowledge of the appropriate levels of equipment and food required.

Balance of Weight
Balance of Weight

Nevertheless, I am still obsessing over weight, pouring over the smallest details, agonising over the merest grams of mass that I can shave out of my pack. Do I need that knife with ALL those blades? Can I manage without all that hydration fluid in the Sahara? Do I really need toilet roll, or will sand (which gets everywhere anyway) suffice? Surely, when the organisers say self-sufficient, they don’t really mean it? Surely!

The bulk of the changing weight clearly goes into food, although the organisers insist on a strict bare minimum of 2000kcal per day, remaining at the end of the day’s stage, i.e. 14,000 at technical checks, 12,000 at end of first stage, etc. Needless to say, 2000 calories for an adult male, using (conservatively) 2,500 kcal per marathon, of which there will be about 6, on top of a normal day’s energy expenditure, will leave a fairly substantial and hungry deficit by the end of the week. So here is where the compromises start, but each little extra food on a daily basis adds to the weight to be carried and since my experience is of having too much food, I don’t think this is going to be too much of a compromise.

Interestingly, post-race reviews have indicated that the Brits take excessive food and equipment while the French (the largest contingent) are prepared to accept a lot less in the way of what might be considered ‘luxury’ items.

Anyway, my daily pack weight currently looks like this, including the anticipated organiser supplied flare, etc.

StageFood (g)Stage weight (kg)

Stage 1 2721 7.0
Stage 2 2243 6.5
Stage 3 1806 6.1
Stage 4 1368 5.7
Stage 5 521 4.8
Stage 6 103 4.4

– this is based on the fact that my ‘static’ equipment weight is 4.3kg (including backpack, sleeping bag, Thermarest, headlamp, compass and the rest of the paraphernalia, but excluding water)

I will be trying to reduce my body fat content (BMI) from its current comfortably quiesent state of 11% down to a more functional 9-10%, which won’t leave me much contingency by the last day, but then as Marshall Ulrich said in “Running on Empty”, the story of his run across America, most people have enough body fat to get them most of the way across the continent! Given that he was eating enough for 4 people on his average 58 miles per day run across the States, I am a little dubious about his comment 🙂 but then he is a legend!

So, after a little more tweaking I’ll be ready, and at the end of the day, a few grams here or there won’t make that much difference.

Or will it? 🙂

Okay, I’m off to my spreadsheet….

LCHF – Dietary Chaos

Over the last week or so, we’ve been investigating a new dietary regime which, although by no means new, has recently been extolled by the likes of the legendary Prof. Tim Noakes, the author of the Lore of Running, to such an extent that he says everyone should rip out the chapter on nutrition in his best selling book, as it has all been turned on its head by his current research.

Lore Of Running
Lore Of Running

Noakes states that his family has a predisposition towards diabetes and he wanted to investigate what a change in his diet could do to reduce the risk of him also succumbing to the disorder, since he is now prediabetic.

To cut a long story short, he has investigated and, in his usual highly structured and methodical way, has come to the conclusion that those individuals who are carbohydrate resistant (CR) should be eating only about 5% carbohydrate, replacing the bulk of their current intake with fat, in something similar to what is known as the LCHF (low carbohydrate, high fat) diet. There are actually many variations of this which are all similar, including the Swedish diet, Paleo diet and the Atkins diet.

Clearly, this is somewhat counter intuitive in today’s world, but he goes on to support this with many facts regarding the way that the human body metabolises fat, etc, and that we are more like big cats who have a protein and fat high diet in the design of our intestinal tracts than, say, gorillas, who eat grasses and shoots all day.

His hypothesis is that a high carbohydrate diet, typical in today’s modern (western) world, forces the body to produce the hormone insulin at rates it was never designed to do, so with the starches and especially the sugars which are added to most processed foods nowadays, in order to feed the habits of a society that is essentially addicted to sugar, this is bad news. This is because the body’s finds it far easier to assimilate carbohydrate than, say, fat or protein, but this causes spikes in the body’s insulin production, as it tries to control the levels of sugar in the blood. However, because our diets have become so sugar rich, perhaps even dependent, we have had to reduce the amount of fat in our diets, mistakenly assuming that the fat was bad for us – which it is, but ONLY when eaten with excessive carbohydrate since the body chooses to store the excess calories as adipose. Our distance foraging hunter-gatherer nomadic ancestors simply could not get nearly enough grain, and certainly not enough fructose, prior to the advent of farming and the domestication of the staple grains, as recently as thirty thousand years ago. So, in short this is another case where human evolution has not had the chance to catch up with our ‘progress’.


While he has not gone as far as to say that everyone should follow this diet, he clearly intimates that this would be a healthier way of eating, irrespective of the individual’s predisposition towards carbohydrate reactivity. However, there are others, notably Mark Sisson, author of ‘The Primal Blueprint’ who advocate it for all.

So, Liz and I are investigating this further, but suffice it to say our dietary world has been thrown into chaos at the moment. I personally find it amazing to try to walk into a coffee shop, restaurant, or similar and find a mid-afternoon snack which ISN’T stacked full of carbohydrates, generally in the form of simple sugars, but even the ‘healthier’ starch laden, grain based snacks are prevalent. I haven’t a clue what we are going to eat while running yet, but Noakes and Sisson both commend the diet as healthy and appropriate for athletes as well.

I’m sure we will report back in a few weeks, and will let you know how things are going; alternatively, if you don’t hear anything from us for a few weeks, we may have suffered catastrophic symptoms from the sugar withdrawal after a 72 hour chocolate and doughnut binge 😯

If you want to read more here are some links, and the response from Tim Noakes in Runner’s World.


Starting to Get Real (and Exciting)

This is where it starts to get real for me.

With just over two months to go to the starting line of the Marathon des Sables, I have been going through a spurt of preparation recently. This is probably because I am also focused on my race on Saturday, the Thames Trot.


Five years ago (as scary as that now seems) I was toeing the start line of a similar race, the Thames Meander, which followed the path of the Thames from Reading, through Henley to Maidenhead, Chertsey, Walton and East Molesey. The Thames Trot is organised by a different group and takes in a different route as well, but the sentiment is the same from the point of view of myself and many of the other people who will be doing it – it is a trial for the long day of the MdS, or as close as you can get to the distance, given that rural England in Winter is significantly ‘cooler’ (to put it mildly) than Morocco in Spring.

Many of the other 350 competitors are also running the Marathon des Sables and so will, as with myself, be loading up their backpacks with ballast to simulate race conditions and gain further familiarity with the hardships of the long day of the MdS specifically, albeit without the heat, sand, and having completed 3 marathons on the preceding 3 days 😯 For us, the race will not be our fastest, but the psychological benefit to be gained from completing the distance, probably in the dark and cold, will definitely be worth while.

The Thames Trot, or ‘Boat Race’ as it is know, starts from a good 30 miles further back towards the source of the Thames in Oxford, or Iffley to be exact, and then snakes its way through Abingdon, Wallingford, Mapledurham, Reading, Caversham, Sonning and finally Henley, 50 miles later.

Freeze dried culinary delights
Freeze dried culinary delights

Today I also received my order of freeze-dried food from the Expedition foods team. These high calorie, low weight packs are perfect for the type of multi-stage event where ‘self-sufficiency’ is something which needs to be taken as a matter of course, since there are many other things to worry about which one would have little control over, including the environment and importantly, its effect on your feet, the heat and dehydration effects, etc. Having the right balance of food / weight is crucial to success.

I’ve decided on a variety of flavours for the evenings, and have even plumped for savoury breakfasts as well, after Liz’s reminiscing over forcing down porridge with strawberries on the last day reminded me of the contempt with which everyone regarded that particular dish by the end of the week. It has probably something to do with the body’s lack of salt, and over-reliance on sweetened snacks. Either way, the feeling seems universal.

So, my MdS menu will consist of something like the following: –

  • Chicken Korma with Rice x 2
  • Chicken Tikka with Rice x 2
  • Spaghetti Bolognese x 1
  • Sweet and Sour Chicken with Rice x 1

And then for breakfasts I’ll have these delights to look forward to every morning: –

  • Scrambled Egg, Potatoes and mixed peppers x 3
  • Porridge with Mango x 2
  • Porridge with Strawberries x 1 – for old times sake 🙂

Just add water!

My memory last time is that the savoury food was a lot more palatable than the sweet stuff, because of the snack bars, sweetened isotonic drinks, jelly beans and gels which I took during the races themselves. Still, as they say, ‘Hunger is the best chef’.

In addition to food, I’ve also order gaiters for sticking onto my shoes; essential to stop sand ‘ingress’ which would have a profoundly negative affect on the feet, and the progress of blisters. There are also many things on the ‘compulsory’ list which I am ensuring I have, such as the disinfectant ‘Tincture of Benzoin’ which I ordered from Bristol Botanicals yesterday, so with much of the kit I used last time (hat, compass, sleeping mat / bag, etc) and my new torch, I’m getting to the stage where it is all starting to get rather real. In fact, the plane from Gatwick Airport to Ouarzazate will be leaving in just over 9 weeks.

For now though, my focus is the weekend, and my extended ‘training run’ along the Thames! 😉

Les Arcs – Day 5 – Blizzard Day

A river flows through it.
A river flows through it.

I suppose we had been quite lucky with the weather up until this point. It had only really snowed on our journey into the resort.

Up until now.

We woke up this morning and it was snowing lightly, but the wind was quite fierce and whipping the drifts and any remaining loose snow from the previous day’s up in a bit of a blizzard. At this point we could still see though, and looking out of the window of our apartment, the scene actually looked quite idyllic.

Then we went downstairs and outside with our equipment to start school.

I managed to persuade Liz to get off to her school on time as I dropped off the little ones, but it immediately became apparent that they were not going to be able to manage without goggles, which up to this point had not been a problem. The instructor confirmed this a few moments later that if we thought it was bad now, on the chairlifts and the exposed slopes it would be infinitely worse! We rushed off to the local store and hastily chose some eyewear to make the day bearable; the choice in the second shop we found was good even for the little ones and they managed to get the colours they wanted 😉 I even got a pink pair for Savannah, which she was delighted with a few moments later when I gave them to her. Liz, ironically, was feeling guilty that she was the only one with goggles as she had borrowed some earlier from another member of the group, until I updated her on our recent purchases.


The conditions were the worst I’ve ever tried to ski in. I’ve been in white-outs before but not with this kind of wind; a biting horizontal wind that seemed to blow the sharp sand-like snow into your face irrespective of whatever direction you were facing and I only managed to get 4 or 5 runs in before it was time to fetch the children.

A moment of calm!
A moment of calm!

After some warming food we went back out to brave another couple of attempts at runs with the little ones, who to their credit were not complaining at all, but I suspect this was probably because they couldn’t get their faces out of their coat hoods for long enough to talk, let alone complain.  We therefore decided that it was getting ridiculous since we couldn’t even see a few metres in front of us at times and the upper lifts were being closed down, so at about 3:30, we called it a day.

We made our way back to the village and after dropping off our equipment yet again, warmed up with more waffles, Nutella and pastries (what a great excuse to eat yummy food – a bit like ultra-running really!) before returning again to the apartment.

The wind and snow had got steadily worst throughout the day, and conditions continued to deteriorate throughout the evening to the extent that we were often unable to see the lights of the buildings 50m opposite and the clear skies and brilliant full moon of the previous evenings was a distance memory as the snow careened around the village.

Thankfully though, we were snug in our warm apartment and could do nothing but hope the electricity supplies to the area did not fail and that by morning the worst would be over!

Les Arcs – Day 5

Viruses don’t like Brownies

No post yesterday as events kind of overtook us.

Liz has not been feeling well for the last couple of weeks – Savannah has had a cold and been coughing as well, so we suspect Liz has contracted a similar complaint although we subsequently thought she had pretty much got over her bout of illness, which has resulted in her resuming her training schedule for the Virgin London Marathon at the beginning of the week.

Trip to A&E

Unfortunately, it appear that all this effort caught up with her and last night we had to call the paramedics as she was panicking about how she was feeling and the unexplained symptoms were making her anxious. She was again feeling nauseous and light-headed, with tunnel-vision, the classic stars in front of her eyes and at times slurred speech (and only after a San Miguel and a glass of wine – cheap date 😉 ). The results of their checks and diagnosis were inconclusive, although they did rule out anything really serious like heart problems, which she is anxious about as her Father died at a relatively early age of a heart attack.

With the reassurance from the paramedics, she felt a little more comfortable, and so early in the morning we concluded that resting at home would be better that waiting in A&E for hours on a Saturday night, but this morning she had similar symptoms again, but with a lack of feeling in the right side of her face and tingling in her right arm to add into the mix!

Waving to Mummy

So a call to the out of hours doctor and a recommendation, as a result of the additional symptoms, to go to A&E resulted in her being whisked off in an ambulance to the Royal Surrey County Hospital, where they did the usual plethora of tests.

To cut a long story short, they still don’t really know what it is, but with some fluids and food inside her she was discharged after a few hours and I picked her up to rest at home.

So, we are really none the wiser, and although we have speculated, it is merely that at the moment and our best guess is a simple combination of factors; a virus, too much exercise, not enough food, body unused to alcohol (after a couple of months on the wagon) or unused to the sugar in the chocolate brownies we made yesterday. I hope not the latter, obviously, as I wouldn’t like to think I was complicit in making my wife feel the way she did last night, but sometimes it is difficult to know what those pesky viral bodies will get up to.

So, Liz is resting at the moment and although still ‘woozy’ is not complaining of any of the major symptoms which manifested themselves earlier and we will be getting her to the Doctor’s over the next couple of days.

10 miles and Corn Muffins

Long run planned for this morning.

Another milestone successfully passed as well, as this was the first time I’d done 10 miles since my ‘incident’ at Leadville – woo-hoo!. I completed it this morning although it wasn’t pretty; I am still looking to improve my speed by (at least) one minute per km to get back to the point of being competitive over the longer distances.

When I got home just after 8:00am, I was greeted by the divine smell of cooking muffins ready for breakfast, which Liz had been slaving away at 🙂 the children and I were very happy after that. Just what I needed after my run 😮

Christmas Thank You's

After breakfast, there were lots of things to do.

While I made bread for tomorrow, the children did their ‘thank you cards’ for all of their Christmas presents, Liz did an entry for Savannah for her class to record when ‘Pat the Cat’ came to stay with us, just before Xmas – for Savannah’s birthday, which seems like an eternity ago, but which was only 3 weeks or so.

Joshua also started to look up some facts about Mercury, which we researched from some of my back issues of Astronomy Now and other magazines I’ve bought in the past – we worked out that he would weigh about 10kg on Mercury as an interesting factoid for his school buddies.

Then, as it was Sunday afternoon, we all sat down and watched ‘Transformers: Dark of the Moon‘ which is the sort of thing that you can sit down and will keep the boys entertained for a couple of hours. Savannah was less entertained (until the Pink ‘Bumblebee’ turned up). The film doesn’t exactly stimulate the grey matter, in fact after the initial interesting hypothesis around the original moon landing (with a subsequent cameo role by THE Buzz Aldrin!), the story slows down as the ‘storyline’ is developed, until for the last hour of the film when, frankly, all hell breaks loose. However, it is an entertaining film, which as usual doesn’t take too much thinking about, but then anyone who expects any differently from a film of this genre is always going to be sadly disappointed.

Hopefully there won’t be too many nightmares of mechanical alien races bent on global domination by invading the earth after supper-time.

Oat Waffle Thursday

The boys and girls are back to school today, so it was back into routine with early mornings and school uniform. They all seemed to get up relatively happily this morning so I guess the rest over the holiday has done them all good – recharged their scholastic batteries, so to speak. As this is a short week, tomorrow shouldn’t be a problem either, but we’ll see how long it lasts after that 🙂

Collage Zebra

My wonderful wife was up early making more oat waffles for everyone this morning as well – we are experimenting at the moment; with honey, maple syrup, banana, etc to find the best taste, crunch rating and so on.

An uneventful day at work, a few emails buzzing about, document reviewing and a discussion with one of my team, who has just returned from maternity leave after 10 months, a necessary and useful exercise in recounting the events of the last year, as we are starting to go through an appraisal process and review last year’s performance at the moment.

An interesting run at lunchtime. An easy run scheduled, but I’d decided to do it outside as the skies were looking clear and inviting. Inevitably perhaps in the time it took me to change and get back upstairs, the clouds had descended and the rain was threatening as I emerged from the basement gym. I decided to carry on anyway and the rain held off as I wended my way through the windy streets across first Tower Bridge and then Back over London Bridge. I had forgotten how much I hated running the streets with the tourist and City folk, but I’m still just happy to be running again 🙂

As soon as I walked through the door this evening, I was presented with the fruits of Savannah’s first day back at school – a collage zebra which will no doubt take pride of place on my wall at work tomorrow.

Chia Seeds

So, you thought Gillian McKeith invented the concept of superfoods.

Think again 🙂

There are records of ‘Chia Seed’ being used as a food over 3,500 years ago and it was recognized as a superfood by the Aztecs, so much so that it was often used as legal tender for exchange of goods!

So what is so special about chia seeds, and why am I writing about them on a running blog?

Continue reading Chia Seeds