Race refreshments around the world

Salted cucumber, so Sweden
Salted cucumber, so Sweden

While picking up my Mumbai marathon race number a few years ago, I met a couple from Sweden and the wife told me that she has stood on the sidelines of the Stockholm Marathon for the last ten years, handing out refreshments.

And the refreshment of choice for Swedish runners?  Salted cucumber.

Genius, I thought.It begs the questions, just how different are race refreshments around the world?

In Paris, I’ve been given bananas and oranges, in England it’s all about sports drinks, while Mumbai was sweets and biscuits, as was Lake Garda  (sadly, as I was hoping for some genius pasta variant).

It begs the question, what would the refreshments be like at the Angkor Wat Half Marathon, or the Great Wall of China Marathon.

Have you eaten anything unusual during a race? Which country do you think provides the best enroute refreshments?

Girls Run the World Guide to…Strava

Channel your inner Jo Pavey when you hit a Strava segment

The list of running apps is endless but we champion the use of Strava. With its talk of leaderboards and course records, it may seem too competitive to some but it’s great for motivation and being part of a virtual community

Strava is super easy to use, open the app, tap the big record button, and off you go. When you finish, stop, press save and hey presto, you get a little outline of your route and it has recorded your data. So far, so like every other app but it is in the way that the data is presented which is the real key to Strava’s appeal.

Virtual Medals

I don’t know about you, but I can NEVER remember how fast or slow I ran a certain distance from one month to the next, let alone from last year (I even struggle to remember the ‘big’ races like marathons). Strava does it all for you, on every single run. So, if you’ve just started running and sticking to the same route, day by day, you’ll be able to see whether you’re getting faster. Just tap into the saved run and scroll down, where you’ll be able to see little medals, with 3, 2 or PR (personal record) depending on your run.

Community

One of the best things about Strava is it helps you to connect, share, and be motivated by other runners. You can follow others (if they accept your request) and see their routes, speed, distance they run and give them kudos by clicking the thumb button. Alternatively, click the speech bubble and write a message.  It’s so supportive when you get a comment from someone else, so don’t be afraid to do it.

This also means that, you can find others to run with in your area. It might sound strange contacting a total stranger, but you can soon build up a picture of someone from following their running and seeing the comments they post, to figure out whether you’d want to run with them and vice versa. I’ve increased the number of people I run with (I ALWAYS have days when I don’t want to run, so having a big pool of other women to go and run with is invaluable) means I’m never without a running buddy.

Segments

‘Segments’ are small sections (anything from 100metres upwards – see the first image) of popular routes, like parkrun, hilly sections or well known parts of races that have been created by other Strava users. When you run it, Strava automatically places you on a ‘leaderboard.’ If you place high on the leaderboard, you might even get a little golden cup with a number, to show your place. And, if you’re really fast, you could even get a course record, denoted by a crown. (Girls Run the World will soon be creating our segments for our runners around the UK – to find them, login on your computer, go to explore, find segments and search).

Leaderboards

‘Huh, who cares, I’d never place on a leaderboard?’ I hear you say.  But, even if you’re a beginner, seeing if you can move up the boards can help motivate you to run faster. Or, if you’re part of a Strava club (such as Girls Run The World) you will be able to see where you place amongst runners in your area from the club on certain sections.

Of course, sometimes, you just want to go out and run chat. But if you are running on your own and need some motivation, choosing one with a segment on it which you can try and run faster is a way of refreshing your running training.

That’s just a very brief background to why we love Strava at Girls Run the World and how it could help you. To set it up, we’ve created a brief video which highlights some of the other benefits and added extra that Strava provides.

And don’t forget, if you don’t want Strava to record your stopping time, turn Auto Pause on. Do this by pressing record, and then tapping the top left hand corner (1). Then choose Auto Pause (2) and toggle this on (3).

 

 

 

 

Chicken & Prawn Pho

Last winter (December 2015) I returned to the backpacking destination of my twenties, Cambodia and Thailand, to take part in the Angkor Wat Half Marathon. It reminded me once again how fantastic the food is; tasty, cheap and brilliant nutritionally for runners.

It combines lots of fresh spices and herbs to boost the immune system as well as protein to help the muscles repair and recover. This recipe is simple and very quick to make. If you’re vegetarian, you can replace the chicken stock with vegetable stock and just pack with vegetables instead.

Ingredients

Chicken stock

Thai chillies, chopped (I used 2 but I love spice!)

3 cloves of garlic, chopped

1 stick of lemongrass, chopped

1 inch piece of ginger, chopped

1 tbsp Nam pla (fish sauce)

Juice of one lime

Handful of cooked chicken

Handful of prawns

Wide rice noodles

Chopped spring onions

Roasted peanuts

Pour the stock into the pan with the chilli, ginger, garlic and lemon grass and boil briskly. Taste, adjust seasoning if necessary and leave to simmer. Then add the chicken, prawns to heat, add fish sauce and lime juice and adjust seasoning again. Then pour over cooked rice noodles, top with spring onions and peanuts and serve.

This is delicious and takes literally five minutes if you already have the stock and chicken cooked. It’s great as recovery food but is also a great pre-race food containing lots of medium release carbohydrates in the form of the rice noodles as well as plenty of protein.

Race Review: Fort William Marathon

Kilts, killer single track and whiskey chasers mark this inaugural Scottish marathon in the highlands as one to try out

Kilts, midgie spray booths and downhill mountain bikers in full body armour. It’s not what you’d expect to see on a marathon start line, but it’s the scene that greeted me as I registered on the morning of the inaugural Fort William marathon.

With just 293 runners (the race is capped at 1000 due to restrictions on the route, so apply early for next year’s event on 31st July 2016 ) this was a small race. Yet the nationalities of runners milling around at the start beneath the Ben Nevis cable car was like a meeting of the UN; Bulgarian, American, Ukrainian, Australian, South African and of course Scottish. Not that the locals were wearing kilts, just the runners from Boston, US of A.


Registration was quick and easy in the cafe, perfect if there had been a rainy start although fortunately, the morning had dawned warm if a bit cloudy. And being at the chairlift meant that there were plenty of toilets and no need for portable toilets (although for once, there was a queue for the men’s toilets and not the women’s – hurrah!)

Other than a midgie spraying tent, there was little entertainment resulting in a subdued start to the race five minutes behind schedule. But what it lacked fanfare, the event made up for in terms of the beauty of it’s scenery.
The first six miles were stunning, along undulating fire roads, with Ben Nevis etched against the skyline, the last remaining patches of snow winking icily from the summit, while summer wildflowers nodded their heads below as I ran through the dark pine trees of Leanachan Forest.

Chatting to others as I ran, there was an American living in London who’d decided to run his first marathon in August and found a race to fit the date. ‘It means my family and I get the chance to visit Scotland too,’ he said.
Alongside him, a Bulgarian runner who’d lived in Edinburgh for the past ten years, was trialling a method of running for 8 minutes, walking for two. It seemed to work until mile 9 when I didn’t seem him again after playing tag with him for the first third of the race.

With a well sign posted route and cheerful marshals, I never had to worry I’d miss a turn while chatting. Just as well, as otherwise I may have thought I’d taken a wrong turn as we ran down a boggy, overgrown single track section.

After following a disused railway track through a flower strewn valley, the route veered towards the Commando Memorial, dedicated to men who fought in the Second World War for the British Commando Forces at mile 11, before hitting a quiet country road with a welcome downhill.

Over the Tolkien sounding Bridge of Mucomir, and past a few clapboard houses which would not have looked out of place in a Coloradan meadow, we hit the Caledonian Canal for the next seven miles.

A historic waterway which opened in 1822, allowing vessels to enter from the Atlantic Ocean in the North and exit into the North Sea at Inverness, the 60 mile canal which cuts through the Great Glen is now a major tourist attraction, where you can sail it’s length or cycle and walk along its towpath.

With the mountains reflected in its still waters, it was so quiet, it added to that marathon feeling of time slowing down as I eked out the miles. There was nothing to break the dreamy monotony except the wake of barges and boats that rippled the watery reflections, along with the occasional walker or cyclist who cheered their support.


I don’t like noisy marathons (to the point that London Marathon overwhelms me) but I couldn’t help wishing there was a bit more fanfare to keep me going along this stretch. Instead, I had to content myself with chatting to the runners I passed.

Finally, we left the canal, followed a main road before turning back into the forest back to the finish, a punishing final few miles, ascending by about 300 foot along rock strewn paths that saw many runners slow to a walk.

I’d started at the front and knew there were three women ahead of me, but had decided before I set off that I was going to run for fun rather than a place. So I was dismayed rather than happy to spy the third placed woman up ahead through the trees. Having seen her, I knew that couldn’t NOT try for third place. I also knew that it was going to hurt. I was right.

I passed her at the mile 24 mark and felt immediately stressed at the thought she now had the advantage of sticking close and sprinting past at the final hurdle.

Just a little bit of MTB single track to go
Just a little bit of MTB single track to go
As I ran under the high wires just near the Ben Nevis car park, I could hear the loud speakers hailing the finish. Expecting a left turn through the car park, I was horrified to discover the final 500 metres went up and a long a piece of single track MTB trail (thanks to the man on the corner who told me exactly how far was left of this track).

To sprint over that finish line to take third place in 3 hours 39 minutes was a relief. I didn’t care that the race ended short at 25.8miles, which may have been because the route was short or that I had just taken the inside of every bend.
A beautiful race in parts, this event is in it’s infancy and with a few tweaks to create more atmosphere at the start and finish, this can only add to what looks set to be a popular Scottish marathon which attracts running tourists from around the world.

Race footwear: Brooks Pure Cadence road shoes. It was dry and so there was no need to trail shoes. But even if it had been wet, most of the trails are rock strewn or it is tarmac road so road shoes are, in my opinion, the better choice.

Race Goody Bag: Haul It or Hoard It?

Loved the chunky medal with a runner etched against the mountains to make it look like we’d actually run up the mountain. Plus a Tunnock caramel wafer and an airline trolley-sized bottle of Ben Nevis whiskey gets my thumbs up. It also includes some jelly beans and a banana.

The only duff note? A technical race t-shirt in a man’s medium. Far too large.

Verdict: Hoard

The Good

Stunning scenery for a beautiful explore and run marathon

Seven well placed water stops, so there is no need to carry water

Friendly race where you can meet runners from all over the world

The Bad

Little atmosphere at the start or finish. A few bands, or even a Scottish bag pipe player, would have lent the event an incredibly atmospheric start

The canal slog. Both good and bad. Beautiful, meditative and flat, so great for increasing your pace. But if you’re hoping it’s all off-road trails, twists and turns, be prepared for a bit of monotony.

The Ugly

Pre-race pasta party. I usually NEVER go to these because I expect the food to be poor. This confirmed it. £20 for a plate of pasta (although it costs £12 to go up the Ben Nevis chairlift which is included in the ticket price), with the a celidh at the summit which was as flaccid and an unexciting as the pasta.

(This was a review of the inaugural race in 2015).

Race Review: Angkor Wat Half Marathon

Paris, London, Berlin, Mumbai, Istanbul are all impressive cities to run a race in. But none have offered the spellbinding magic of running around the 12th century ruins of Angkor Wat, the former centre of the Khmer Empire

I arrived in Siem Reap, the town on the outskirts of the Angkor Archeological Park a few days before the race to acclimatize to the humidity and heat. Although it is held in Cambodia’s cool season, temperatures can still reach 87 F with over 80% humidity. On the plus side, it meant I wasn’t shivering on the start line.

By the time I arrived at 5am, following a 15 minute moto ride, a covered cart with cushioned bench seats pulled by a motorcycle, the start was buzzing with runners from all over the world some running the half marathon and others the 10 km. Now in it’s 20th year, the Angkor Wat International half Marathon attracts up to 10,000 runners from all over the world with its start and finish in front of Angkor Wat.

Checking in my bag, I made my way to the starting pen and watched as the rising sun etched the iconic silhouette of Angkor Wat against a reddening sky. Milling around were expats from Europe and US who had flown in for a short visit from jobs elsewhere in Asia, along with holiday makers like myself, who had included the race as part of their travel itinerary with the country now opening up to tourism beyond just the capital, Phnom Penh and the temples.

Once the sun had risen everyone was keen to get going but if there’s one thing that you have to remain sanguine about in Cambodia, it is that time is a fluid concept. Thirty minutes later than the advertised 6am, I crossed the start line.

The first 8km followed an out and back route along the approach road to the archeological park, tracing the 190m wide moat that surrounds Angkor Wat. At 10km, I began to pass the Cambodian wheelchair racers who had begun the race earlier, which served as a stark reminder about more recent history. Torn apart by the rule of the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s, Cambodia was also heavily land-mined and has over 25,000 amputees, the highest ratio per capita in the world. A proportion of the race profits go to help those affected.

With the sun overhead, everyone was grateful for the shade cast by trees and for the supporters. Some were tourists cheering friends and family but there were just as many Cambodian children all eager to high five the runners. Water stations were plentiful and I poured as much over my head as I drank.

The Angkor Archeological Park is over 400 square kilometres and contains much more than Angkor Wat. The race passed the magnificent entrance to Ta Prohm, four enigmatic faces believed to be of King Jayavarman VII who built the temple. It is a particularly popular site as it was used in the filming of Tomb Raider. I was torn between wanting to explore while it was quiet and the desire to finish the run before it got hotter.

Although the route does not take you into any of the temples, you do get the chance to run under Victory Gate, one of the gateways to the ancient town of Angkor Thom. Not that I felt victorious with 7kms to go as I ran towards it down the approach road flanked on either side by carved figurines, thousands of years old and some exhibiting bullet holes as a result of fighting between the Vietnamese and Khmer Rouge.

Running out of the shade into the open at The Terrace of the Elephants was like running into an oven. The 350 m long stone platform features carved elephants and was originally used to view victorious returning armies by the King. It was hard not to feel overwhelmed at the echoes of the many people who had trodden these same roads thousands of years before my own feet had pounded past.

The final stretch was more difficult as our race merged with the 10km (which had started 30 minutes later) as many participants were walking four or five abreast. Thankfully, the finish was not far off and when I heard the cheering supporters and Angkor Wat came into view, I managed a final sprint to finish in a sweaty heap.

After collecting my medal and a banana, I walked out of the finish area to be offered a beer and fresh coconuts by the many industrious hawkers but I declined both in favour of returning to my hotel and a cool swimming pool.

Most of the runners at the Angkor Wat Half Marathon are expats and tourists and so this race doesn’t offer the same experience of meeting runners from different countries like those I’ve done in India and Turkey. But it more than makes up for this in the extraordinary opportunity you get to run through ancient Khmer ruins. Combine this with a country that is fast becoming one of the hottest new travel destinations and it’s a holiday race that is well worth putting on your bucket list.

For details of the next Angkor International Half Marathon visit http://www.angkormarathon.org

The Good

Seeing the sun rise over Angkor Wat on the start line of the race is going to take some beating.
Lots of water and marshals.
Very useful race bag contents (see below).
The Bad

Poor race bag pick up at registration. The bags had to be assembled as you registered slowing up the volunteers and leading to big queues.
Thirty minute delay in the start time.
The Ugly

It was hot, hot, hot! And humid. That’s not anyone’s fault but you may want to consider this if you’re not a fan of the heat. I am, and I still wilted.
The Race Bag: Hoard or Haul?

Good race t-shirt, very useful sun visor and a traditional Khmer scarf were great. The race bling was a bit of a disappointment though.

Verdict: Hoard

 

Race Info Essentials

How to get there: Fly via Bangkok to Siem Reap with airlines such as Singapore Airways.

Stay: Siem Reap is 7km away and offers affordable boutique guesthouses. Avoid the busy Pub Street and opt for places by the river or the boutique http://sokkhak-boutique resort.com.

Recover: You can get foot massages for as little as one dollar but try a reputable hotel for a good quality sports massage.

Celebrate: Re-cover with lemongrass chicken or Cambodian Amok curry and a celebratory cocktail at the Chanrey Tree, a favourite of David Beckham when he was in Cambodia. http://chanreytree.com

(This review is from December 2015).

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