Sand, sea and stairs. A visit to Newbiggin-by-the-Sea Parkrun.

I’m part of a Facebook group called This Girl Parkruns North East, a wonderful supportive and friendly bunch of women who play a major part in keeping my running going on those cold winter mornings when I’d much rather be curled up in bed. Once a month we do a tour, where those of us who can meet up at one of the many local parkruns. Today we were at Newbiggin-by-the-Sea. It was, to say the least, bracing!

Official time 33:42, not bad at all.

It was my third parkrun of the year, and the first I was able to run all the way since being poorly at Christmas. Well, I ran all the way except the short, sharp uphill section of sand, stairs, tarmac, stairs and muddy grass which I think almost everyone walked up. I think that section was my least favourite bit.

Apart from that, and the cold high winds it was a lovely course. It was my first time running on sand, although the sandy bits are short they are challenging. Most of the run is on the Promenade which I liked. I think I’d have taken in the beautiful views and public art a bit more had the wind not kept my hair in my face most of the time 🙂

Flying feet and face of concentration! Photo from Newbiggin-by-the-Sea Facebook page.

I had my iPod and listened to music as I ran. I only ever put one headphone in so I can hear what’s going on, but I find my music can spur me on if I’m flagging. I can get my legs going in time to the song, and if I notice I’m singing along I know I’ve got breath spare and can put a bit more effort into my running. When I first started running I struggled to keep a steady pace without music. Now I occasionally do run without any, sometimes because I forgot to charge my iPod and sometimes on purpose. Some of the official runs I’m planning to do later in the year don’t allow headphones, so I need to get used to occasionally doing without it.

Afterwards we went for chat and cake in Cafe Bertorelli, which is lovely but has some of the creepiest wooden dolls I’ve ever seen. I’m only allowing myself one cake a week as part of my healthy eating, so I have to make sure it’s a good one!

I swear that one in the middle blinked!!!


Not giving up…

According to Runners World and Strava today is the day most people give up on their fitness related new year resolutions. I’m determined not to, so I went for a run.

Not a bad pace considering I had to walk the last little bit.

It would be easy to use selective photos to make it look like I run somewhere pleasant surrounded by nature, and for some bits of my run I do. But a lot of it is alongside the metro line and I’m never out of earshot of the motorway. For bits of the run I dodge fly tipped furniture and daren’t fall because of the broken glass. I love that among the urban sprawl there are still beautiful patches of nature that I can run through.

Running over the motorway.

The run went ok, although my stamina is still not great. I had to walk the last little bit. I briefly toyed with the idea of stopping my tracker when I stopped running, and decided I’d only be cheating myself. If I don’t record the bad bits I won’t see how I improve. So I decided to consider the walk a cool down.

Once home I braved my first trial by scales of the year. As expected the combination of inactivity, illness and indulgence in December has led to a 6lb gain. This is frustrating. I feel like I’m doing so well since I joined Newcastle Can, but for it to work long term I need to maintain the weight loss. Hopefully now I’m active, well and eating healthily again my weight will start heading back down. I’d like to at least get myself into the “overweight” rather than “obese” BMI band this year. And to contribute a few more pounds to the Newcastle Can total!

Image from Newcastle Can Facebook Page.

However I’m not going to stress too much about the numbers. Keeping active and being mindful of what I eat have been the two biggest changes I’ve made in the last year. I’m going to concentrate on keeping those going, and hope the weight loss will follow.

I’ll keep on telling myself I can do this!

An end of year update…

Since my last blog post in November I’ve only managed another 3 parkruns. First I hurt my leg, and just as I was getting back from that I developed one of those annoying winter bugs which just keep on going. So only three parkruns and no additional running, similar lack of attendance at gym, and pretty certain to miss tomorrow’s double parkrun. If you’d told me this time last year how much not being able to run would upset me I’d have laughed at you!

Image from Newcastle parkrun Facebook page.

Other things that have slipped clearly include blogging. Updating here more regularly is definitely on my to do list.

Healthy eating has wobbled a bit. I have indulged over Christmas more than I have the rest of the year, and given that and the lack of exercise I haven’t dared step on the scales! However what I count as unhealthy eating now is still miles better than what I was eating just a year ago. Many of the small changes I’ve built in are still holding.

It’s hard not to end the year a bit despondent. I’m inactive, over indulging and feeling grotty. It would be easy to imagine myself right back where I started. So I need to recognise what I have achieved this year.

  • Eating healthier. I have completely changed the way I eat, with more meals cooked from scratch, greater understanding of what’s in my food and fewer unhealthy treats. I’ve got braver at substituting ingredients and giving things a go, and am calling for takeaways far less often. This doesn’t just affect me, the whole family are affected.

Cooking from scratch

  • Exercising. I’ve gradually increased my exercise from a daily dog walk to regular running and weights training, via dancercise. I’ve gone from unable to run for a bus to able to regularly run 5k and beyond.
  • Obesity. While my BMI stubbornly remains just within the obese rather than overweight scale I have dramatically improved. I’ve lost almost 2 stones, have changed body shape and am much healthier than I was.
  • Health. My bloods are no longer alarming my practice nurse, no more high risk of diabetes, cholesterol and heart disease! Obesity related back pain has vanished, a recurring skin condition has cleared up and I’ve had far fewer migraines than usual. Eating less highly processed food has also lessened IBS symptoms.
  • Mental health. Fluctuating. I’ve had bad spells and good spells, and I accept that this is how it’s likely to continue to go for me. I’m getting better about noticing the bad spells early and trying to stop downward spirals. And I’ve used good spells to push myself, trying new things and making new habits, which will hopefully mitigate future dips.

And looking forward? For the first time in years I’m starting a new year with concrete plans for improvement, rather than a vague “I must sort myself out this year.” In 2018 I plan to:

  • Join a running group. Through people I’ve met at parkrun I’ve been invited to several, and have shuffled evening commitments so I can get to one.
  • Get to 50 parkruns. This may be an ambitious target, I’m on 10 now, but I think it’s achievable.
  • Enter some races. My big goal is the 2018 Great North Run, a half marathon in September, but to train for that I’m intending doing some official races beforehand, building distance and trying new routes and surfaces.
  • Blog more. Keep myself accountable and track my progress so I can celebrate the highs and work through the lows.
  • Get creative. I’ve signed up for the 64 million artists January challenge, hoping it will get me trying new things.
  • Lose more weight. I’ll continue tracking my weight with Newcastle Can, aiming to get out of the obese bracket, and possible even into the healthy weight bracket!
  • Keep it sustainable. I’ll be attempting Plastic Free July again, but also trying to make changes throughout the year to reduce my impact on the planet.
  • Look after myself. While plans are great to have it may be my health, mental or physical, won’t let me achieve them all. I won’t be beating myself up if that happens, I’ll be putting myself first and making sure I’m strong and safe and have time and space to recover.

I’ve done a lot this year. I still can’t quite believe how much I’ve changed. I started with tiny baby steps, and I kept on going. Now I’m running, and I don’t intent stopping any time soon.

6 months in #NewcastleCan

It’s 6 months, near enough, since I signed up to Newcastle Can, a local initiative to get people healthier, more active and losing a combined total of 100,000 pounds this year. You can read the various posts I’ve written about it here. I thought 6 months in was a good time to look back and review my progress.

I feel healthier. I am healthier. I’ve upped the amount and intensity of my exercise. Prior to Newcastle Can I was generally managing 10,000 steps a day, but a brisk walk was the nearest I got to cardio. These days I’m at the gym at least once a week, building in weights as well as cardio. When I first started, in April, I struggled to manage 10 reps with the smallest weight on any machine. My arms are still not as strong as my legs, but I’m upping the number of reps and the weights and its definitely working. My body is changing shape, my stamina has improved and I come out after 90 minutes feeling more energised than exhausted. I have Newcastle Can to thank, their open day got me through the doors and showed me the gym was not the terrifying torture chamber of my imaginings. 

I’ve had to cry off my Saturday Dancercise class over the summer due to family commitments, so I’m wondering if I can find another class I enjoy or whether to add another gym session to my routine. I don’t want the gym to become a chore, but as cost is a definite consideration it may become the choice of necessity. 

During the first couple of months the weight dropped off quite quickly, and Ive lost over a stone. Although recently the weight loss has stalled I’m definitely continuing to change shape. My clothes are hanging off me and I’ve had to start buying things a size smaller. People are noticing and complimenting me on how much slimmer and healthier I look, which is lovely.

I’m not kidding myself. I was clinically obese when I started and despite all the weight I’ve lost I’d have to lose another stone or two to get anywhere near a healthy BMI. People are really complementary when they hear how much I’ve lost, but as a percentage of what I need to lose it’s not that great. I need to keep going. I know now that it’s not just possible, it can be fun too!

I’m cooking from scratch more, and I’m far more aware of what I’m eating and the impact it has on me. I’m not dieting. I don’t have a calorific value I’m strict about not exceeding, or any foods I can’t eat. I know from past experience that would just make me feel frustrated and craving “banned” foods. But I am far more mindful of what I eat, portion sizes, additives, fat and sugar contents. Nine times out of ten I will choose the healthy snack, but I’m not going to beat myself up the day I go for a cookie instead of an apple. And by making my own cookies I can be sure I’m not getting any hidden extras when I do indulge. 

I think it is this mindfulness, this drip drip drip of small changes that I can keep to rather than unsustainable massive changes that’s made Newcastle Can a success for me. I don’t know if I’ll hit the very optimistic weight goal I set when I signed up. If I did it would see me in the middle of the healthy BMI range for my height. I do know that I’ve made permanent changes for the better in the way I live my life, and that’s worth celebrating. 
What small changes have you made that have made a big difference to your life? 

Eating Healthier: Chips. #NewcastleCan

Until comparatively recently I rarely looked at the ingredients of the food I was buying. I was more interested in how easy it was to cook than what was in it. I had what now seems a naïve amount of trust in the food industry, who I was sure wouldn’t feed me anything unnecessary. 

My drive to get healthier has seen me paying a lot more attention to the labels, and doing a lot more of my own cooking rather than relying on convenience foods. I hadn’t realised how much I’d bought into the convenience food culture, believing cooking certain things myself was far too much trouble, without ever having tried it.

Until very recently having chips in our house meant either a visit to a chip shop or oven chips…

I mean they’re just chips, right? But quicker. Bung them on a tray, bung it in the oven and chips are ready in 20 minutes. No need for all that faffing about peeling potatoes, no worrying that the potatoes will go off before you use the whole bag, no dealing with roots or mud. And it’s just potatoes. 

Actually no…

This is the brand I happened to have in my freezer. Other brands may have different ingredients.

Call me fussy, but I expect chips to be more than 92% potato! Why do chips need two different types of flour? Why do they need colouring? And 4% oil seems a lot. 

So I decided I’d give making chips a go. Believe it or not I’d never made chips. As a child my mum made them, in a chip pan full of boiling oil that terrified me! As an adult I’d believed oven chips were healthier and more convenient. 

It turns out it’s not that hard to chop up a potato…

Skin on for healthier chips.

After chopping them I put the chips in a large bowl, with a tablespoon of oil and some seasoning, cover it up with a plate and give it a good shake…

Then pop them onto a baking tray and into the oven at 220°…

Depending how chunky I’ve cut them they can take up to 20 minutes to cook. They’re best turned half way through cooking. 

This is the way I make chips most often now. I can vary the size of them, vary the seasoning, and they’re very popular with the family. Apart from a couple of extra dishes to wash they’re not really an inconvenience. 

No flour, no starch, no colouring, no fuss! And a bag of potatoes is a lot cheaper than a bag of oven chips.

I’m not saying I never get chips from the chip shop any more, and we still have oven chips in the freezer for emergencies. But in general I make chips from scratch these days, and I’m surprised how easy a switch it was. 


Newcastle Can is a project to get my home town working together to get healthier and lose weight. You can find out more about the project here, and my other blogs on the subject are listed here

Book Review: Unprocessed by Megan Kimble

Megan Kimble was a twenty-six-year-old living in a small apartment without even a garden plot to her name. But she knew that she cared about where her food came from, how it was made, and what it did to her body — so she decided to go an entire year without eating processed foods

Unprocessed: My city-dwelling year of reclaiming real food by Megan Kimble (from back cover blurb)

It has taken me too long to read this book. That’s not down to the book at all, it’s well written, and informative without being dry or excessively technical. I started reading it a few months ago before my current bout of anxiety and depression. 

One of the first indications I’m getting ill is when I struggle to read. In general I’m a real bookworm, flying through book after book. But when I’m ill I struggle to concentrate for a paragraph let alone a chapter. Reading just becomes impossible.  

Contrawise it’s a good sign I’m on the road to recovery when I feel like reading again. Last week I read two pages. Over the weekend I read six pages. Yesterday I sat down and read the two and a half remaining chapters and finished the book. The return of my concentration is hopefully a good indicator that I’m on the mend. 

I spotted this book in the wonderful Quaker Centre Bookshop last time I was in London. It leapt out at me. I’ve been worrying about the amount of processed food my family eats for some time, both in terms of its impact on our bodies and in terms of the environmental impact of its production. Yet it seems impossible to avoid. Then here was someone who had avoided it, for a full twelve months, I could read about her experience, and possibly pick up some tips. I had to buy it. 

I enjoyed it from the start. It’s clearly well researched and referenced, without the level of excruciatingly complicated scientific detail which puts casual readers like me off. The style is chatty and cheerful. While I try and avoid processed food by avidly studying labels Megan Kimble actually visits food producers, from massive industrial dairies to small breweries and distilleries. She finds out more about how labels can mislead us than I’d ever have known without her. 

I hadn’t started the book with the intention to dramatically change the way I eat. One of the things Megan demonstrates is how much work an unprocessed diet is. I knew that for me completely cutting out processed food wouldnt be practical. But it did get me thinking differently. 

Some of Megan’s conclusions shocked me. Considering dairy for example:

I try to consume less, but better. By better, I mean whole — I eat eggs with all their yolks, milk with all its fat, cheese with all its curd. Not only do fat molecules help your body to absorb the nutrients in mill, but also fat is delicious. Fat fills you up, so its easier to eat less of it. 

Unprocessed: My city-dwelling year of reclaiming real food by Megan Kimble

 This is so counter to everything I’ve been told about low fat that it seems positively revolutionary. And I don’t know if I could do it. I’ve never had whole milk, unless they gave me whole milk at school in the 1970s (until it was notoriously snatched by Thatcher.) Its been semi-skimmed or skimmed all my life. Maybe I should give it a try?

In other areas her experiments in processing he food herself led her to realise why communities and eventually big corporations developed, as the time and effort taken to produce food was better spent when sharing roles. But the soullessness of these massive corporations is evident, churning out bland additive-filled food, caring for their own profits over their customers health, causing damage to the environment and seeing animals as commodities rather than living creatures. There are lots of good reasons to avoid processed food.

One of the compelling reasons for Megan, which she quotes more than once in the book, is the realisation that we as consumers have power, and can make changes. In the UK free-range eggs and various Fair Trade products are now generally available, all due to customer pressure. 

For me, living in the north east, one of the most deprived areas of the country, the argument about investment in the local economy also resonated. If I spend £100 on food at one of the big supermarkets most of that money will leave the region, going instead to shareholders and parent corporations. If I buy locally produced food with that £100 much more of it stays in the region, supporting the local economy. 

Unprocessed food is more expensive though, and we all have to decide where we spend our money. Whether its £5 or £50 it will make a difference. I try to buy organic and unprocessed, but its a fine balancing act between what I want and what I can afford. I often have to compromise.

If I had to have a negative, and its a very unimportant negative, the book was very much embedded in the American systems of agriculture and processing. This is only natural, it’s where it was written and the audience it was initially written for. But it let me wondering whether things are the same here, and how I would find out. And she just did food, a mammoth task in itself, but what about the chemicals we have around us all the time? Toiletries, cleaning products, plastic. I had unanswered questions. However I think inspiring me to look further into something is the mark of a good book, not of the author missing something out. 
All in all a good read, and one I’d recommend. 

You can visit Megan Kimble’s website to find out more about her year unprocessed. 

Trying new veggies: Pak Choi #NewcastleCan

My quest to eat helthier continues! This weeks veggie bag included another new to me veg, pak choi. This one I did at least recognise, but I’d never bought or cooked it before. Luckily a quick trawl of Pinterest turned up several recipes, and I decided to adapt this Stir Fry Pak Choi recipe.

I doubled up the ingredients, as we have 4 adults in our house. I was using what I had in, so substituted rapeseed oil for the sesame oil in the recipe. I also omitted the chillies, as both my son and I have no stamina when it comes to spicy food. As I was cooking a main meal rather than a side I added noodles too.

As the cooking time was really short I got myself organised and prepared everything before I started cooking. There wasn’t much to do, chop the garlic and ginger, separate the stems and leaves of the pak choi, and mix the soy oil.

All prepared!

Cooking was quick..

A couple of minutes for the garlic and ginger.
Another couple of minutes with the stems…
Add the leaves and carry on stirring for a couple of minutes more.

I added the noodles at the same time as the stock and soy oil and upped the amount of vegetable stock to 800mls. Let it bubble away for three or four minutes until most of it had absorbed. And voila.

Finished stir fry.

Quick and tasty. It used slightly more oil than most of the healthy recipes I’ve been trying, and because of the soy sauce slightly more salt too, but well within healthy limits. There was some initial reluctance from some of the family, due to the pak choi stems resembling celery. After establishing it didn’t taste like celery they got stuck in and pronounced it very tasty and definitely a recipe I should try again.


Newcastle Can is the project I’ve signed up to which is inspiring all my healthy eating and exercise. It aims to get the city healthier and help residents lose 100,000lbs over the year. To find out more click here