Wednesday, 14 August 2013

The Online Fitness Revolution

There's no doubt that technology makes us lazy. In the first instance, there's no need to forage for food now that shopping can be conveniently accomplished from the comfort of your sofa without moving a muscle. On-demand films, online entertainment and social networking, to name just a few, have meant than we can socialize and amuse ourselves with minimum exertion required. Although perhaps I should mention that according to the Telegraph, smart-phone induced thumb injuries are on the rise!

That said, technology has a flipside. The wealth of health and fitness apps and videos has meant there's an abundance of accessible and free resources, albeit some with more dubious credentials than others. This lyrca-overloaded sample of workout videos bares testimony to that.

In the absence of a gym membership, I've been seeking out other ways to keep fit to complement running and I stumbled across a particularly handy resource.

Fitness Blender is run by a husband and wife team of personal trainers who create an enormous range of workout videos for every fitness level, completely free of charge and using very little extra fitness equipment. The website allows you to search for a workout based on length, difficultly, training type etc. Many of the workouts follow a simple formula of High intensity interval training (HIIT)or "Tabata" which allow you to focus on shorter exercises sets in order to increase strength and stamina. Filmed against a white background with clear and motivating instructions, Fitness Blender has avoided the amateur-ish looking workout videos awash on YouTube with tinny background music and confusing information. Excellent news when you need a gentle prod in the back to do some exercise.

I gave the 33 mins HIIT training a go this morning.   What felt like several hundreds of burpees and press-ups later, I pushed myself hard. But I'm not feeling guilty about technology making my life more sedentary for the rest of day.

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Post exercise treat: Courgette, Orange and Carrot Cake

Until recently I was very sceptical about vegetable-based cakes. I like courgettes, carrots, beetroot and the like as much as the next person but that's not to say I want to find them baked in a cake.

That said, we are inundated with home-grown courgettes and having been vigilantly picking them, they have formed a staple part of our diet in the last few weeks. So fritters, roasted baked and stir-fried courgettes exhausted, I went on the hunt for a recipe to use them up.

After heading out for a steady 6 mile run this morning, this treat definitely hit the spot as well as stopping some of those courgettes in their tracks from becoming marrows. The courgette is very subtle but definitely adds texture to the tangy crumbliness of a traditional carrot cake.

I suppose the important part is not over-compensating and remembering that I haven't run an ultra-marathon by any stretch of the imagination!


250g butter
200g Demerera sugar
250g self-raising flour
3 eggs
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 grated nutmeg
1 tsp mixed spice
Zest of an orange
100g carrot, grated (about 2 medium carrots)
100g courgette, grated
4tbsp sultanas
250g Marscapone
2tbsp icing sugar
Juice of 1 orange, plus extra juice for taste

1. Preheat the oven to Gas Mark5 /190 Centrigade and grease two 20cm diameter tins.
2. Place the butter, sugar, flour, eggs, nutmeg , spice and orange zest in a large mixing bowl, and using an electric mixer, combine all the ingredients. If the mixture is still a bit heavy and doesn't fall off a spoon when tapped aginst the side of the bowl, add a dash of milk to loosen it up.
3. Stir in the sultanas, grated carrot and courgette.
4.Split between two tins and cook for approximatley 30 minutes until a skewer comes out clean 6. Whilst the cake is cooking, combine the marscapone with the icing sugar, orange zest and juice. You can add more icing sugar or juice to taste. Mix until the mixture is smooth and leave in the fridge to cool for half an hour.
7. The cakes come out crumbly so leave them in their tins to cool then they are ready to ice!

Sunday, 12 February 2012

A 7 course meal and 12k trail run in 24 hours...because you only live once

It seems unthinkable that a few weeks ago I was milling around in a t-shirt at midday and feeling smug about not wearing a coat in January.

Corisca has not managed to evade the blast of freezing weather gripping Europe at moment. But with l’ospedale, just a stone’s throw from Porto Vecchio, visibly caked in a layer of fresh white snow, I was reluctant to turn down the opportunity to run in mountains and make the most of the cold weather.

But rather like buses, invites tend to come all at once. I was invited me to eat at a Corsican restaurant the evening before.

It certainly wasn’t a meal for vegetarians or anyone of a delicate meat-eating disposition. The Corsican proprietor proudly explained how they hunt and butcher a wild boar on Wednesday in preparation for opening the restaurant on Friday and Saturday evening.Course one was , pâté de tête, (brain pâté) followed by figatelli (liver sausages) then boudin,( near enough black pudding) followed by pork ribs, then lamb stew served with pasta...needless to say I was glad I had heeded my friend's advice.

I held onto that age-old cliché “You only live once” as several “digestifs” later, I returned home at 2.30am and set my alarm for 7.30am.

The sky was filled with drifting snowflakes as we arrived at the foot of Cartalavonu
, a track usually used for the downhill mountain biking. To our left, a group of camouflaged hunters crouched with their rifles in tow warming them by the fire.

Running in the winter feels a lot like putting your shoulders underneath the water; you know once you get underway you’ll be warm enough but its not much consolation. We started climbing the hill and sure enough ten minutes later my lungs were breathing heavily and my cheeks were glowing.

Whole-heartedly embracing some thigh-burning ascents was key, especially on 5 hours sleep and the very strong chestnut liquor still lingering in my the system. With my eyes focusing ahead, I concentrated on shortening my stride and distracted myself with the patchwork of scenery overlooking the gulf of Porto Vecchio.

An hour and a half later we were weaving through the heavily snow donned paths in a Narnia-like scene, cascades of snow tumbling from the pine needles as we brushed past.
The descent back took around an hour, I opted for bringing up the rear so that no-one would see me fall over, a wise move incidentally.

14km later and back home, I can honestly say I discovered a new level of tiredness. After recuperating with some pasta I crawled straight into bed.

Running through the forests of l’ospedale made for the perfect cold weather antidote; sunday would have otherwise been spent contemplating how much I ate the night before and considering when it would be acceptable to start eating meat again.

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Le Trail Blanc de La Restonica

A hike in Corsica’s mountainous interior was the perfect anecdote to long winter evenings.
Set in the breathtaking backdrop of the Restonica Valley, this year marked the third “Trail Blanc de La Restonica” organised by the cancer charity “Le Marie Do”

Since I am new to the trail running scene and on a more serious note, I didn’t fancy the shame of a rescue party carrying me in an exhausted heap from a mountain, I opted out of the gruelling 14km run in favour of a more leisurely 8km hike.

We left Porto Vecchio before sunrise, my 30 litre backpack in tow with a fail-safe supply of tuna pasta, although not in the least bit appetizing at 6.30am. Poised between the breathtaking slopes, the early morning sunlight illuminated the grandiose buildings and narrow streets as we passed Corte, the snow donned mountains in the horizon.

We waited for the buses to take us up to the starting point, my British orderly queue-forming instincts left us ousted from the crowd piling onto buses. In a similarly unprepared vein, The “Be bold, go cold” mantra, which in normal situations avoids peeling off layers in a cold sweat 20 minutes later, soon left me shivering with no feeling in my feet. But with everyone in good spirits, an hour and half later we finally climbed onto the bus and made the ascent to the start.

The narrow and twisting road snaked upwards with mercilessly sheer drops to the river flowing hundreds of feet below. I felt my stomach turn as, with true Corsican motoring audacity, we sped across an unforgiving one way bridge. Suffice to say I bounded off the bus at first the available opportunity.

You couldn’t have asked for a more congenial start: nestled in the verdant pine forest, a hospitable fire and the smell of spuntinu. As the runners scaled the uncompromising steep road, the walk behind began and the feeling quickly returned to my feet.

The route took us along a meandering road etched through the forest and leading toward the shoulders of snow-fed mountains. A soul-warming Vin Chaud greeted us at the refuge an hour in; the perfect pit stop before another couple of hours of walking, passing a, glacial gorges carved into the granite cliffs.

No convivial occasion in Corsica would be complete without a good spread, a delicious array of Corsican sausages and cakes at the finish to recuperate.

Despite losing all feeling in my extremities for a good deal of the day, the kaleidoscope of sights and wonderful atmosphere left me with heart warming experience. And I might even run it next time.

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Le cross de Lecci

Christmas has passed with the usual ritual of over eating, drinking and more eating again. It was impossible to bypass the kitchen without taking a mit-ful of roasted nuts or surreptitiously cutting a morsel of Christmas cake, usually justified by coming back for seconds.

So on my return to Corsica, there was definitely no excuse to not take part in a cross country in Lecci, just a short drive from Porto Vecchio.

I appreciate cross country may not be everybody’s cup of tea. Perhaps the memory of being frogmarched through knee-deep mud by sadistic P.E teachers is an unwelcome blast from the past enough to put anyone off willingly partaking. But it is a shame, cross country competitions in England have always been a jovial affair; the odd man down in the mud and the camaraderie that ensues restore your faith in human nature, not the mention the extremely generous spread of sandwiches and cakes which follow suit.

What’s more, the loneliness of a long distance runner does not apply to cross-country, it’s rarely about elbowing your way to the finish line. But perhaps the ultimate joy of cross-country running is the freedom to run off road and enjoy the beautiful trails and parks which are often otherwise unbeknown.

With Christmas having taken its toll and not feeling particularly “en forme”, I couldn’t have asked for a better race to ease back into the cross country season: a flat 4.8k, 2 laps on a bright, warm January day....and a distinctly mudless course. That said, it was a struggle to find a pace which I knew I could maintain, especially with gazelle-like runners in the front of you gliding effortlessly through the air. By the end of the first lap my lungs were breathing heavily and approaching the slightest incline was beginning to fill me with dread. I finished in a respectable position; certainly not the best run I’ve ever had, but the friendly atmosphere and clement weather made for an enjoyable debut in the Corsican cross country scene.

I even had my photograph taken in the local paper; although it’s a shame they couldn’t quite get my name right. Anne-Sophie Marechal the Belgium, whoever she may be, seems to have stolen my moment of fame!

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Back in the Motherland for Christmas

Returning home this week reminded me how much I appreciate Christmas in England.

There’s certainly plenty to write to home about Christmas in Corsica; strolling around in a t-shirt in December, not having the car de-icing ritual every morning and avoiding weaving through Christmas shopping crowds.

But being a secular country, Christmas in French schools seems little austere without festive decorations or nativity plays; I couldn’t help feeling a little nostalgic for shepherds dressed in old sheets and the child who doesn’t want to be a camel.

And as for the food, it was perhaps unfortunate that I decided to try a traditional winter Corsican meal 3 hours before a very twisty three and half hour road trip to Ajaccio. From now on, I can only associate figatelli, sausage made with pork liver, fried egg and chestnut pate with holding my breath round every sharp bend to try and keep the waves of sickness at bay.

Taking in a panoramic view of London as I landed at Heathrow gave me goosebumps. An awash of Christmas lights illuminated the urban landscape adorned with iconic landmarks and a flurry of cars circulating crossing bridges and roads.

So for the next few days I will be making up for lost time and soaking up Christmas in England to the max, starting with my fist mince pie of the year, better late than never I suppose. And like it or loath it there will be no escaping the likes of Slade or the gin-soaked lament that is “Fairytale of New York” playing in every high street store.

After getting home from a last minute Christmas shopping trip with a bright red nose, surely a look that's fetching only on reindeer, I felt truly back in England.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Les Restos Du Coeur

I am in the fortunate position of having free time on my hands, something which I’m sure I will be very nostalgic about in years to come so I decided to get involved with “Les Restos du Coeur.” Started in 1985, every year this charitable organisation distributes 109 million meals to nearly 1m people living in poverty in France. Food for thought when you consider that France is hardly a third world country.

So last week I headed to the Restos du Coeur headquarters in Porto Vecchio. For three months of the year, a ramshackle former garage is turned into a food distribution centre for people struggling to make ends meet. Strategically placed buckets in the event of heavy rain, a cacophony of christmas decorations and copious amounts of strong coffee capture in essence Restos du Coeur: it doesn’t claim to be a panacea for poverty with big patronizing gestures but it’s about people doing what they can, to make light of a difficult situation.

Voluntary work has a habit of restoring your faith in humanity. As I arrived looking dishevelled and very much a foreigner (I am still resisting wearing a coat, its 19 degrees in the daytime which I consider tropical) I was warmly greeted by a truly Corsican man who waved and shouted emphatically at every utterance and a woman who spoke four languages within ten minutes,
It’s easy for poverty to hide behind the façade of luxury villas, yachts and throng of four by fours tearing through a town sometimes referred to as Corsica’s St.Tropez. The increasing rich poor divide is certainly not a predicament unique to Porto Vecchio; but perhaps the problem here is sharpened by flocks of tourists descending on the island every summer with their bottomless bank accounts. The double edged tourism industry has undoubtedly created extraordinary wealth whilst pricing out those left behind.

Food shopping is no exception. I struggle to spend less than 35 euros a week on basic items and having managed to track down tinned tuna for 30 cents last week, it’s fair to say I’m not someone with especially extravagant tastes. Admittedly I’m yet to open it, if the truth be told I’m scared about what may lie inside.

The diversity of people signing up for food donations bares testimony to how indiscriminate poverty can be: a woman whose husband walked out leaving her and her four children, , young families unable to pay for rent let alone wrapping paper this Christmas and immigrants trapped in a social security catch 22.

Whilst climbing inside a chest freezer to scrub down the sides and developing mild repetitive strain disorder from lifting 100 cartons of milk from the back of a van, I realised there is a tendency to lose touch with other real living, breathing, human beings. Self checkouts, computers, email and facebook don’t lend themselves to interaction and opening our eyes to problems sitting on our doorstep.