Invigoration and innovation in the jungle

Running was something I missed while on Raleigh. I had only been for one run in Nuluh, which consisted of running laps around the local football pitch (which also acted as the village cow field), dodging piles of cow dung and leaping over puddles from that afternoon’s torrential rain shower. Although the view of the sleepy orange sun setting into the valley was not unimpressive, as runs go it wasn’t a fantastic one. However in Imbak there was a dirt track across the existing suspension bridge from our camp and it had running potential. So, one morning Jill and I rose early so that we could get a run in before the day’s work. The light was pale, blurred by the mist rising from the ever-transpiring rainforest, and the air was cool. We warmed up by jogging up the stairs on the other side (made by previous Raleigh volunteers) and then set off along the track.

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It was extremely muddy, much muddier than we remembered from when we had been up there transporting the bags of gravel. We did not go particularly fast, as that would probably have resulted in a fall and thus our entire bodies being coated in the thick sticky yellowish mud, rather than just our shoes. However, after 10 minutes or so, the ground became firmer and it felt more like a proper run. It was hilly. It was HARD. But I was kinda pleased about that as I wanted to strengthen my legs again, especially to prepare for trek (the next phase). Running underneath the twisted semi-embrace of the forest canopy was ominous as it was alluring. I kept fervently glancing upwards for the possibility of a clouded leopard crouched among the clouds in the highest treetops. Alas, it was not to be although on return to camp we discovered that our honey had been stolen by a civet cat.

This might not sound like a huge deal, but we were living on rations. The vast majority of what we ate came out of a tin, rice and noodles in plastic packages and ‘cheese’* in foil and cardboard. Food was a big part of our lives on Raleigh and when wildlife (whether it be civet cats or local dogs or wild boar) stole things, it was the absolute worst. Food was also something that awakened the innovators, designers and engineers in all of us.

On Raleigh, there’s a team called ‘The Loop’ who visit all the project sites, giving people their mail and offering volunteers the opportunity to buy stuff from the Raleigh shop (again, this mainly consisted of food). In return, they expected to be treated like (I quote) ‘kings and queens’ and there’s a competition in which the various groups compete to give the Loop the best time possible. Unsurprisingly, most people did this by trying to make our rations appear vaguely gourmet. We wanted to push the boundaries. We wanted to do something that no alpha group had done before. We wanted to show the Loop luxury in our lost world. (We also wanted ice cream, which was the prize for the winning group).

We were pretty ambitious, as our plans did not just include a stunning meal, but something that pretty much amounted to a spa (at least in these conditions). The group was split in two. One team was in charge of the spa, which we contructed in the river running below our camp. A lost path down to the river had become overgrown, reclaimed by the jungle, and the team spent a good morning clearing it. We then used parangs (Malaysian machetes) to cut up wood from fallen-down trees so that steps could be constructed down to the river where we had built stone baths. We had planned for a volunteer to be close on hand so that the Loop could have a massage should they desire. Could they really ask for more? But we had more for them.

Part of my menu for the Loop’s evening meal involved a starter of garlic pizza bread, but the army ovens were going to be used for cooking another part of the meal. There was one solution. To build a pizza oven. We went down to the river to find a big flat stone on which the pizzas could be cooked on and we balanced this on smaller stones over a fire pit that we had dug out. For the roof of the oven, we cut up a biscuit tin with garden secateurs and bent it over the top of the flat stone. We used tin foil for the back of the oven. The end result was pretty impressive, if we may say so ourselves. We should have won the Loop competition solely for our ingenuity.

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But there was food. How can I not talk about the food? I spent the entire day of the Loop’s visit in the kitchen. I made dough for the pizzas and left it to rise. I made fresh egg pasta (the rangers had brought us eggs) and left it to rest in a biscuit tin that was probably marginally cooler than the humid jungle air outside. I made a bolognese sauce from corned beef and a béchamel sauce from powdered milk. I panicked when I realised that we would run out of butter. Improvised and used oil instead. I made sponges for ‘tiramisu’. I rolled out the pasta into sheets and layered up my ‘lasagna’. Breaked for lunch (I hadn’t sat down all day). I made scones, which I shaped as nicely as I could and put them in the oven so that the Loop could have afternoon tea when they arrived (one legend had brought Yorkshire tea). I made a kind of chocolatey coffee sauce for my tiramisu and layered that up, topping it with a thick dusting of Milo. I then made gnocci with the help of Lucas who is half Italian.

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And somehow, SOMEHOW, it all came off. I couldn’t quite believe it. Even the scones, which really should not have worked in the ridiculous heat they were made in, tasted pretty good. Four courses later, everybody was stuffed and satisfied. I was quite frankly exhausted. It was definitely one of my favourite moments on Raleigh and something I never ever considered that I would do, especially in that wild place. It is these things, the unexpected, that we keep with us and why we should all get out of our comfort zone, whether that be in Britain or Borneo, and do something spontaneous.

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*I refuse to believe it was truly cheese. No cheese can stay solid in that heat.

Photo credit: Robin Tess Bolland (2nd and featuring image) and Catheline de Slegte (last 3 images).
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18K & Technicolour Toes

The great wheel of time keeps turning, bringing the looming prospect of my half marathon ever closer. A half marathon is just over 21km (13.1 miles) in distance which (fun fact) is over three times the average migration distance of a Galapagos tortoise (although they complete this in 2-3 weeks…a record I shall hopefully beat in my own endeavour). So far in training, I have mainly been doing speed training, hammering out 5Ks and trying to do a longer run at least once a week (although I’ve been slacking slightly in recent days). However, I hadn’t ran further than 15K, over 6K shorter than the full distance, and so I decided to push myself the other weekend to run a longer distance of 18K.

I planned the route the night before. I like to know where I’m running before I set off as firstly all you have to concentrate on is running and secondly you can’t give up and loop back home (well, you can, but you feel a bit guilty). I had filled my groovy water bottle with Lucozade (mango & passionfruit – nice) to replace the carbohydrates and electrolytes I would be losing as I ran. I had also arranged for my sister to meet me with some water at the approximate halfway point, as it was a pretty hot day and dehydration was not on my to-do list. I set off with confidence but to be honest I wasn’t feeling that great – my stomach was churning slightly and I was concerned whether the stewed plums I had made tartlets with the previous night (and which I had spooned a tiny bit of mould off) had been such a good idea. But 5K in, and not feeling hugely better, I couldn’t exactly turn back, so took a swig of Lucozade and plodded on. By kilometre 7, I think the fresh air and sunshine had worked a little magic and I didn’t feel quite so rubbish. Running-wise, all was groovy too and butterflies flitted around brightly coloured wildflowers in the midday sun. I was passed by quite a few cyclists who were also out enjoying the weather (although sweating significantly less than I).

Just before I reached the 10K mark, I turned onto a busier road that looped around back to Haxby, leaving the fields and flowers behind. In hindsight, running on this road wasn’t a particularly good move and I wouldn’t do it again (but I had mapped it out as 18K exactly and wanted to hit this distance milestone). Before then, although I felt a bit churn-y, my legs were still fresh and I wasn’t particularly out of breath, despite the heat. Now my legs were starting to feel the distance but running down that road was SCARY and to be honest the adrenaline kept me going and not wanting to get squashed by a car kept me alert. A couple of kilometres into this bit, Gem came to meet me and I swapped my bottle for a fresh one, rather like handing over the baton in a relay race.  Just after the woman in my headphones informed me that I had run 13K, I arrived back into civilisation and off the B1363. Before I reached the end of my run, however I had to make a detour to run ‘the Moor’ to make up the full 18K before I arrived back home. It was a bit depressing, as this route is my usually 5K jaunt and I was running quite a lot slower than I’d normally run on it. Saying this, it was also reassuring that I knew exactly how much further I had to run and I finished at a decent pace.

After downing  some water at home, I set off on a cool-down walk around the block to try and get rid of some lactic acid so my legs didn’t hurt too much the next day (this is a good habit to get into after running). Even though I was tired, I wasn’t in too much pain, which was good, but there was a throbbing sensation coming from my left big toe as I walked. Lo and behold, when I removed my shoe, blood had started to blossom under my nail, turning it a deep purple to match the adjacent toenail that had already gone black. Unfortunately, your feet often have to suffer for your running. I had to enlist the help of my Aunt Fiona to release the blood from under the nail to ease the pressure that the nail was under (as it was actually quite painful to walk – it didn’t help that I’d worked an 8hr catering shift after my run). She cheerily informed me as she did so (with a sterilised needle I might add) that they used to do this by poking a red hot paperclip through the nail. I count myself lucky.

The Storm

Sometimes running is hard. Other times, it is exhilarating. A 14K lope into the Peak District was one such occasion and one that I won’t forget.

I was visiting my Grandparents who live on the edge of Chesterfield, a stone’s throw from the Peak District. I wanted to go for a long-ish run, so decided to run a little way with my uncle and sister and then carry on into the Peaks when they split off. The weather had been a bit erratic that afternoon, so we waited until a violent downpour had passed and then set off, hoping that the clouds had rained themselves out. It was not to be.

I was ascending into the purple heathers of Holy Moor out of Holymoorside when the rain started. And oh how it rained. Big fat droplets of rain hit the floor so hard that they danced right back off again. I was grateful for the plastic bag that my Granny had given to me to protect my phone, for the sky had transformed into nature’s version of a power shower (although without the pleasant temperature). It wasn’t long before I was soaked to the skin – it must have been tempting fate to complain about the mizzle a few runs ago, for this was nothing in comparison. I was also running uphill and, with over 10K still to go, my spirits were as damp as I was (which was dripping).

Then the sun came out and the landscape was transformed. As the rain cascaded down, the road turned into a ribbon of molten silver that flowed through an ocean of shocking violet heather. The long grass turned to gold with glints of vibrant green as the sun’s golden rays set fire to every colour in sight. Even the greyness of the clouds seemed to glow golden with hints of forget-me-not blue and rosy pink on the far horizon. In short: it was magical.

The rain hadn’t gotten any lighter. As I climbed the final raise, flocks of sheep regarded me with mild amusement as I sploshed past. My phone was counting off kilometres but I had stopped listening, living utterly in the moment as I continued putting one foot in front of the other. As I reached the crest of the hill, the rainstorm increased in intensity. Then I saw the rainbow, clearly defined, arching effortlessly across the sky, colours vivid against its grey backdrop.

I began to run downhill, now past the halfway point, letting gravity take over as I chased the waterfall of water down the road, dodging the rocks it tossed into my path. When the hail started, I wasn’t surprised. Thunder rumbled and crashed in the distance, bringing with it thrills of fear between flashes of lightning. I was laughing out loud to myself at this point, as the weather was so completely mad. Cars tentatively speeding past me in the downpour probably thought I was completely mad, both for venturing out in this weather and for the huge smile on my face. I didn’t care; I felt infinite.

As the kilometres fell away, the deluge started to subside, until I could hear my trainers squelching wetly as they splashed against the tarmac. And in the bright sunshine I saw a second rainbow hanging delicately above the first. At which point, the heavens opened once again. It was just hilarious. I had reached the outskirts of Holymoorside by the time the storm subsided again and I was running strong. I hammered up the other side of the valley, passing my uncle’s shiny black truck as I went (my sister and uncle had driven out, presumably to check that I hadn’t drowned). I meant to greet them but all that came out was an unintelligible whoop and a thumbs up. By the time I reached my Grandparents’ house, I was jubilant. It was the best run I had ever been on.

Although running is difficult and sometimes wearing on the soul, it never fails to surprise me and when it rewards you with moments like this, it makes it all worth it. This is why, ultimately, I love running. And would wholeheartedly encourage everyone to get out there, despite the weather, because you don’t know what glorious moments you might get in return.

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New Shoes, New PBs & Nepalese Food

Your relationship with your running shoes is a bit of a mixed bag. Sometimes you hate them looking accusingly at you from the shoe rack, judging you; making you feel guilty that you’re not getting out there training enough. Sometimes they’re supportive friends, giving you the bounce you need to run that extra mile. On the whole, I had grown quite fond of my shoes. But they were getting pretty knackered and the time had come to say goodbye.

It’s important to change your running shoes every so often. If they become too worn, your shoes become less supportive, thus increasing the risk of injuries. For me, the bottoms of my feet had started to blister – just another pain to add to the aches and pains of running which I didn’t want to deal with. They say that you should change your shoes every 450-550 miles as a rough guide, but it does depend on other factors, such as whether you run on the road, your weight, etc. You can also look for signs such as asymmetric wearing (I run weirdly, so I had this problem) or for tears in the upper part of the shoe.

Running shoes are pretty pricey if you want some decent ones (which you really should if you’re training for a big event), but if you’re sneaky you can get some decent deals. So: the makers of running shoes churn out more shoes every season. However, more often than not, they are essentially exactly the same shoe (give or take a few enhancements) as the last season, or the one before that. So if you know the shoe type that works for you (I like Asics GT-2000) you can look them up online and buy an older model, or previous season’s colours, for a decent price. I think I saved around £20 on my shoes, and that was upgrading from the GT-2000 v2’s to the GT-2000 v3’s (I know – I am crazy). I’ve seen savings of over £50 off RRP on the web but you’ve probably got to have a bit of a shop around.

New shoes arrived the other day and it turns out they’re GLITTERY. I half expected them to have the flashing sides, like the kind that were THE THING TO HAVE when I was about eight (although I never owned a pair as my feet were weird…childhood traumas). But they’re good and I bounced along as I took them for a 5K spin. Well, I bounced for about 3K and slogged the rest. But that wasn’t the shoes’ fault. It was a hot day; I probably set off too fast and pushed myself to maintain that pace, which I did for most of the run and then died a bit in the last kilometre. I felt pretty sick actually. BUT I obtained another 5K PB of 00:23:04 and have since ran a sub 23 minute 5K. No pain, no gain. Good old shoes (well, new shoes).

After I returned, I had to rapidly de-sweat as I was meeting friends to go for a meal in York that evening. We went to the Yak & Yeti (Gurkha) Restaurant, which is a Nepalese restaurant that I’ve been wanting to go to for ages. I’d never had Nepalese food before and I was excited to try it. My sister went to Nepal earlier this year and said it was the best place she’d ever been to. Beautiful place; amazing people. She was also there for the April 2015 earthquake (another worthy cause #prayforNepal). I suppose that’s a different story and one that is still unravelling.

But cuisine-wise, Nepal is such an interesting country, due to both its cultural and geographical diversity. This is something that was reflected in the Yak & Yeti’s menu, which ranges from traditional dumplings, to rich daal, to stir-fries, to hearty curries, many of which were named after trekking feats such as Everest or Annapurna. We decided to order a load of dishes and share them so we could try a bit of everything. We started with the traditional dumplings ‘momos’, which tasted so beautiful – fresh and tangy yet with depth of flavour and spice. We then had the Everest lamb, a chicken and a beef dish, with a creamy Maakso Daal (black daal) and Bhuteko Bhat (Nepalese style rise fried in ghee with cumin, garlic and vegetables). All the food was served on little metal plates and the serving sizes were perfect. The flavours were complex and aromatic and I thoroughly enjoyed the meal. I would definitely recommend going there as an interesting alternative to your classic curry night or just for a good quality meal. You won’t regret it.

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PETE (aka Pre-Expedition Training Event)

No this post isn’t about a bloke called Pete (although I’m sure it would also make for an interesting entry), but about the Raleigh training event that I attended the other Saturday. The purpose of the event was to further our understanding of the commitment and challenges of going on expedition as well as meeting other venturers who would be going on the same expedition. I learnt a lot and thought I’d take this opportunity to dedicate a post explaining more about what Raleigh is about and, to past and potential sponsors, what your money will be going to.

So, as I mentioned a few posts ago, Raleigh is a sustainable development charity. ‘What is sustainable development?’ you may ask. Although sustainable development can be interpreted in various different ways, the Sustainable Development Commission defines it as ‘development that meets the needs of the present, without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs’. Something which we, the Western World, didn’t exactly do (climate change, financial crises, etc). And so now we are trying to make sure that those countries that are currently developing don’t make the same mistakes that we did. Along with a host of both governmental and non-governmental organisations, this is where Raleigh comes in.

Raleigh International is a registered charity that aims to harness the passion and energy of young people (of which I will be one!) to effect positive change in sustainable development. They work in remote, rural areas to improve access to safe water and sanitation, build community resilience, to sustainably manage natural resources and to protect vulnerable environments. Their work is delivered through young people who work alongside local communities, partners and volunteers from a wide range of backgrounds, nationalities and life stages. They operate in partnership with communities, non-governmental organisations and governments in Borneo, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Nepal and Tanzania. Since their foundation as a charity in 1984, Raleigh volunteers have become a global community of more than 40,000 people committed to building a sustainable future.

As I’ve mentioned previously, I will be joining one of Raleigh’s expeditions in Malaysian Borneo. Previous programmes have included raising awareness of health and sanitation issues, engaging local youth groups, and building projects relating to local schools, libraries and medical centres, sanitation projects, and water supply systems. In addition to this, due to its location in some of the most ancient rainforests in the world, Raleigh also works with both local conservation organisations and the scientific community to help build and maintain vital infrastructure within protected areas to support conservation work and preserve biodiversity. As a zoologist, this is something I am super excited about – I might not be leaving science behind after all!

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All participants are asked to fundraise to support Raleigh’s work. Any donations will help Raleigh to continue to create lasting change and to transform lives in some of the world’s poorest communities. But donations and volunteer fundraising aren’t the only thing going into Raleigh’s pot and going on expedition certainly isn’t the only thing going out. As you can see from the infographic above, the money raised goes to all sorts of different things, from programmes to bursaries to research. Just to bust the common misconception that the money raised will fund my individual placement: it goes much further than that. And to all of those who have sponsored so far, I am truly grateful. I know I’ve said this before, but it’s true – it’s certainly something that’s keeping me going through the sweaty affair that is my half marathon training. If you haven’t and would like to donate, you can do so on my JustGiving page, or post me a cheque written to Raleigh International (message if you need my details). Also, if anyone has any questions whatsoever about Raleigh, please do ask, or you can find out more on their website.

#RallyForRaleigh

Cumulonimbus, Curd Tarts and Chia Jam

I don’t know where you live in the country (or the world for that matter), but in York last Friday it was mizzly. In fact it was MISERABLE; the rain just didn’t let up all day. But, being the hardcore runner that I am (haha) I ventured out in it for a cheeky 7K along the River Foss to New Earswick and back. Firstly, the river was not a good choice for a run in the rain – the banks were pretty much a mud bath and my shoes got wrecked, thus providing the perfect opportunity for blisters to develop. In addition the low-hanging branches, into which I consistently blundered due to the rain being in my eyes coupled with trying not to fall into the mud, did not make for favourable conditions. But apart from all of that, it wasn’t a bad run, especially from a time point of view. It was my fastest 7K at 00:34:16, so after all that moaning about the weather, I can’t complain too much.

On Sunday, the weather cheered up a bit, which we were grateful for because it was my Mum’s birthday. Cue another Tour d’Hayward. This time the Hayward entourage cycled to Beningbrough Hall, which I’ve blogged about before. We took with us a very Waitrose picnic, complete with hummus, stuffed roquito peppers, smoked salmon sandwiches and profiteroles. I have to say, it was pretty great. Plus a cow in the field next to us went on a bit of a mad one while we were eating, which provided some lunchtime entertainment. We didn’t stay too long at Beningbrough, however, as we had to prepare for Mum’s birthday dinner (as if the picnic wasn’t enough). I was on dessert duty and decided to make orange curd tarts. The curd took quite a while to make but it was well worth it – it tasted amazing and was silky smooth, although I could have cooked it a bit more for a firmer consistency. The pastry was a dark chocolate pastry, which really worked with the orange. I served them with orange slices which I had caramelised earlier in the day. And I think they were a success – at least I reckon Mum enjoyed them as I caught her eating the leftover curd with a spoon later…which is all that matters.

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And finally a note on chia seeds. Who is on the chia bandwagon? For those that haven’t encountered the mighty chia seed (binomial name: Salvia hispanica), they are an energy rich seed which were used by the ancient Mayan, Inca and Aztec civilisations so that their messengers could run all day. In fact, ‘chia’ actually translates as ‘strength’ in the language of the Mayans. They are high in omega and are a good source of protein and fibre. Others say they’re a bit of a rip off (it’s true that they’re quite expensive; I bought a 500g bag from my local greengrocers when I was at uni for £9.99…but I still have over half the packet left so they do last). But whatever you think about their nutritious properties or price, chia seeds have this magic power of going all gummy when wet. And so they are great for making a really speedy jam, which I did on Monday evening. I whizzed up a cup of blueberries and raspberries (although you can use any berry you like or have in) with a tablespoon of chia, put the mix in a jam jar and into the fridge overnight and BOOM. You have jam. HEALTHY jam. Which I made peanut butter and jam porridge with the next day (slightly less healthy but I loved it). It only lasts a few days but, to be honest, it’ll be long gone by then.

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Tour de Hayward, Jelly Babies and a 5K PB

This Saturday was my Dad’s birthday and, being the manically active family we are, we decided to celebrate by going on a 30 mile bike ride. Mum & Dad on tandem; me and Gem on road bikes. The weather was gorgeous; sunny as you like with the light changing to a soft golden as we neared the end of the ride. We meandered our way from Haxby to Easingwold and then back via Aln and Tollerton, losing our way slightly due to a diversion but obviously having lots of banter about this.

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The next day, I went on one of my longer training runs: 15K. With one of the those groovy waterbottles-with-a-hole-in in hand, I secured my extremely fashionable bum bag, containing my phone (to measure distance) and one of the most important long-distance training fuels you will come across: jelly babies. When your strength is sapping, pop a jelly baby in your mouth and the rush of sugar will give you the energy kick you need – trust me. (Just make sure you have a gulp of water after so they don’t glue your tongue to the roof of your mouth). I probably ate a jelly baby every 5K and they fuelled me round the whole 15K in 1:22:49. And, surprisingly, it wasn’t actually too bad. There was a fair amount of cloud cover and it wasn’t too hot – so not bad conditions to run in. I am optimistic for a good time in September – I am aiming to run the half marathon under two hours.

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After a couple of rest days, I decided to smash out a 5K as fast as I could – according to Dad, this is called tempo training (where you push yourself aerobically to your limits) and is something I’m doing as part of my half marathon training. And, apart from being pretty aerobically hard (which, really, was the point) it was rather successful. After having slogged round 15K, the fact that I only had to run 5K was more than enough to keep me running at the pace I was going. And I actually got a PB: 00:23:22 which I am really pleased with (‘smashed itttt’ as my friend Hannah would say). And to top it off, our team came 2nd in the pub quiz that night, which we were very happy with as we got a free bottle of wine out of it (plus whoever came first was miles ahead). So a good week, both for training and fun!

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