Thursday, 27 January 2011

Running For My Life

  • Running For My Life
  • Ray Zahab
  • ISBN 978-1-897178-44-7
  • Ultra Running
  • RRP - Canada $21.95/UK £9.95/USA $15.95

"I smoked that last cigarette down to the nub....four...three...two....I threw my smoke down on the floor and butt it out with my foot. I told myself to remember that image-that symbolism-because I knew it was going to be a long hard process. But I also knew that as long as I kept with it I would be happier and stronger for! The crowd went crazy. It wasn't just any new year; it was a new Millennium! Everything was fresh and new. I felt good. I was ready to change."
This was no half hearted New Years Resolution, like the one you make, where you say I won't eat Chocolate again, and by the Second of January you are sitting on your sofa with your hand in a bag of Peanut M & M's! No this was the moment when Ray Zahab left behind a life of Beer and Cigarettes for a new life of Self discipline, dedication and a voyage into the world of super fitness and Ultra Running.

It's not that Ray was a 'bum' before his change of direction in life, far from it, he was a successful equestrian rider but you get the impression had little Self esteem, would always beat himself up over things and like a lot of people fell back on drinking and Cigarettes to help him along the way.

The first five chapters give you a background through Ray's life from the 70's through to the 90's. As with all the Chapters of the book they are short which is good because, yes you want to get some background of the character' but essentially you want to read more about what you probably brought the book for, in this case, Ultra Running.

It is clear the admiration Ray has for his younger brother John, who he enjoys the pursuits of Rock Climbing and Bike riding with. With his new found love of fitness it is these pursuits that lead Ray even further away from his previous partying lifestyle. And it was cycling that filled up Ray's life for the first year competing in races, until by chance while sitting in a Doctors waiting room, Ray read about the Yukon Artic Ultra event in a magazine article.

Although he had previously trekked for 50K, The Yukon was an astonishing 160K consistent running race. This was Ray's first serious Ultra race, not any old race but an Artic race in freezing conditions, and 160K. So a first time runner, where would you expect them to finish? In the bottom third of the field? Nah! You go and win it. That's what Ray did.

Obviously this is a man who was born to run, he maybe didn't realise this in his earlier years, but winning your first Ultra Race you enter clearly justifies this.

One race that fascinates me is the Marathon des Sables. A famous race that takes place across the Sahara Desert. 246K over six days in the searing heat of the dessert and it's dunes. Ray finished the race in 2004 placed in the 40's but was the first of the North American runners. This was a real contrast to Yukon event and is fascinating to read Ray's account and what he learnt from this experience.

From the Artic to the Dessert to the Amazon Jungle and the Jungle Marathon. An eighth place finish and on returning home a Parasitic infection.

The remaining chapters chart Rays progress at the Trans 333 ultra race and probably the Worlds Toughest road race 'Badwater'.

Chapter 18 ' The Race of Failure' follows Ray's attempts to complete this famous Ultramarathon, but I won't spoil the book and say no more about this fascinating Chapter.

Also running through the course of the book is the relationship with his wife Kathy, how they met and how the support of his wife helps Ray achieve his dreams.

The book is a truly Inspirational read, and Ray gives a very modest account of his achievements in his new found love and life of running. This is what I really love about the book, Ray is so modest and that comes across' so you are not reading an account of someone saying "Look what I've done and how well I've done it".

The only criticism of the book I have is that it is too short.

Maybe some of the chapters about the events could have expanded on, because they are so fascinating.

As I have said this is an Inspirational read and when I'm moaning of the pain I think I'm feeling on my 4 mile run along a flat path, I think of Ray's adventures to give me a little more perspective.
  • 9 out of 10. Inspirational, Fascinating and if a little longer would be close to a 10 out of 10.

Sunday, 16 January 2011

The Grim

Despite the Race number stating the event date in 2010, It actually took place today 16th January 2011. Due to the adverse weather conditions of last month the race was postponed and rescheduled. But with the recent down pours over the last few weeks, the course was very well prepared with a few surprises along the way!!!

The 8 mile course takes place on the Army Vehicle Training ground in Aldershot, Hampshire. Fortunately only a few short miles from where I live. With this being the case it meant a relaxed preparation and being able to get up and have breakfast at a sensible time.

I was running the race with my friend and work colleague Brian and boss Bert. Brian lives local too, so we arrived together. We were surprised by the amount of participants, and when we arrived most of the 2500 race field were here, this meant trying to find our boss was like finding a needle in a haystack.

We made our way to the start line for the 10.30am start. The main area and start was very well organised, plenty of portaloos,changing tents,food stalls and more importantly plenty of medics!!

The count down began and we were soon on our way. The start of the course was fairly narrow and trying to make any head way proved difficult. The early part of the course is best described as undulating, with the first signs of water appearing in the form of large puddles, about ankle high that gave you a nice cold wet reminder that this was not going to be your normal Sunday morning run.

Brian had done well to get ahead early on, so I was left to do battle with the course that lay ahead on my own.

It was difficult finding any sort of consistent pace in the race, the crowds early on caused problem, then there was a series of cattle grills across the route where you were forced to carefully walk or risk breaking your ankle between the grills. Then of course there is the water that slows you down.

By now the puddles were coming thick and fast, and deeper, getting nearer knee height. At this point you did have the option to pussy foot around the edge, but I like most got into the spirit and ploughed through.

Around mile 4 there was quite a steep hill although fairly short and also a rather pointless cargo net that you scramble under, before continuing.

Now the puddles were becoming deeper and soon was the Daddy of all puddles!!! From what I can remember, I think this was called 'The Crater' The course dipped down and another cargo net, this time forming a canopy to hang onto overhead, and the water? Oh this time it was above waist level! Bright Orange water from the clay ground underneath. This stretches for several metres and by now anyone who had avoided the water before was in for a cold muddy bath. With the ground uneven and slippery below many people (Brian included) went under! You could clearly see all who had been submerged later in the race, They were the ones with bright orange clay faces.

Eventually the lakes puddles became less and then the course for a couple of miles consisted of wide pleasant trail through the woods.

After that it was quite a hilly and undulating couple of miles across land at the back of Farnborough Airport.

The last mile seemed to go on for eternity and there were rumours at the end of the race that the course was nearer 9 miles according to distances on peoples GPS watches.

Of course before crossing the finish line there is one more stretch of water to plough through and then it's all over before collecting a very nice T shirt and decent Goodie Bag.

One last Water Stop before finishing!
Did I mention there was Water En route?
 I didn't take my Garmin watch with me. The organisers warn you before hand that Ipods and watches will get wet, so I relied on the Chip Timing and finished with a time of 1:22:07.

Race HQ and Finsh

"Goodie Bag Anyone?"
To sum up the day, I was glad to experience the event, It is different, fun but it's not a run that you can set yourself a PB as it is impossible not to have to stop in places to wade through the many water spots.
I went into this treating it like a good training run, which it is both mentally and physically. Now I've done it and got the T-Shirt (literally!) I don't think I will be back again but that said I had a great morning doing something a bit different. The course is well marshaled, There is a Water stop half way and the overall set up and organisation was very good.

Brian and Me at the end (I'm the good looking little one on the left!)
The Water DID get as high as my number and as you can see DID reach Brian's head!!!

Knackered Faces!

Gladiators Ready!

Turn your Reflective Lights Down!

Grim and Bear It!

Sunday, 9 January 2011

Keep on Running

I didn't want to run today, I was still feeling good from my 12 miler on Friday. 12 miles is a good distance, OK it's not a Marathon, it's not even a half Marathon, but never a less it's a good distance for anybody to be able to run. It was also a tough run in the fact that I got up at 5am to run at 6am, and it was cold and dark and sleet was falling from the sky. I felt good and after months, my longest run complete following Achilles Injury. Believe it or not the injury is still there but with stretching and self massage I seem to be managing the injury.

It was the first time I had run with a head torch, I brought this the other day for £7. A bargain compared to the price of a lot of head torches. It was lightweight, bright and after a few minutes of getting used to, I didn't even realise it was on. It's a strange sensation running with the Torch in complete darkness. You are totally disorientated and it feels like your world only exists with the couple of metres that you can see ahead of you.

Anyway back to Today, I donned my recently purchased Winter running Kit and got myself out the door. At the end of the day you can't live off a good last run.

I feel like I'm putting on a Superhero's outfit when I put on the tight fitting kit, but after years of battling through Winter months in my Shorts it's been a God Send and I wouldn't swap it for the world despite feeling like Spiderman!!!

Spot the Difference!

So this Hero got out the door to keep the City safe from the Super Villains!!! My 14 year old son came with me on his Bike, the Sun was shining and I dug out a 53 minute 6 miler.I needed the run also because a week today I have my first race of the year the 8 mile Grim

I will post a race report on the blog. See you in Seven Days :) 

Monday, 3 January 2011

Chitty Breaded Chicken Breast Burgers wrapped in Parma Ham and Peppered Potato Wedges

This is my favourite recipe that I have come up with, and when you enjoy eating your own cooking, you know things are not so bad! 
Despite this being 'Burger and Chips' This is quite a healthy version and not a deep fat fryer in sight!!!
Plenty of Protein and Carbs and tastes as good as KFC with half the fat!

Serves 4


For the Chicken Burgers

  • 4 Chicken Breasts
  • 4 Slices of Parma Ham
  • 1 egg
  • 200g of Natural Breadcrumbs
  • Dried Basil
  • Salt and Pepper
  • 4 Wholemeal Rolls
  • Lettuce
For the Wedges
  • Potatoes cut into Wedges with skin left on (Amount to suit own requirements)
  • Vegetable Oil
  • Salt and Pepper


For the Chicken Burgers

  • Lightly beat the egg into a bowl
  • Wrap a Chicken Breast with a slice of the Parma Ham and dip into the egg insuring the Breast is fully coated.
  • With your Breadcrumbs poured out onto a plate, Fully coat the Breast in the Breadcrumbs
  • Set to one side on to a baking tray and repeat the above for the remaining Breasts.
  • With all 4 Breasts lined up on the tray, sprinkle over the Basil.
  • Next sprinkle over the Salt and Pepper to taste.

For the Wedges
  • Par boil the Wedges in salted boiling Water for a few minutes
  • Remove and then pat dry the Wedges to remove the excess water
  • Next spread out the Wedges on a baking tray.
  • Drizzle over the Vegetable Oil
  • Grind over the Salt and plenty of Pepper
  • Give the tray a little shake to ensure the Wedges are fully coated.

  • Place the Chicken Breasts and Wedges into a preheated oven (220 degrees C)
  • Bake for approx 35 minutes, or until the Wedges are browned and the Chicken is cooked throughout.
  • Serve the Chicken Breast in a Wholemeal Bun with lettuce and any sauces of your choice. (A little Mayo and Ketchup is good)

Sunday, 2 January 2011

Chitty Celery Soup

This is the Best Soup in the World, Simple, Easy, Totally Nutritious...and Delicious! And all credit goes down to......My Mum x.

Serves 4

  • Bunch of Celery (About 14 sticks) chopped
  • 1 Onion (Chopped)
  • 2 Cloves of Garlic
  • 1 Potato (Cut into small Cubes)
  • 600ml Chicken Stock (or Vegetable Stock)
  • Tsp of Vegetable Oil
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
  • Heat the Oil in a large Saucepan
  • Add the Celery,Onion,Garlic and Potato and fry for 2-3 minutes
  • Add the Stock and bring to the boil
  • Add Salt and Pepper to taste (Quite a lot of Pepper tastes good!)
  • Let simmer for about 40 minutes.
  • Carefully pour the mixture into a blender or use a hand blender, and blend until smooth.
  • Serve and Enjoy!