Thursday, August 30, 2007


It's probably a good job I don't go to Italy too often. So many of my favourite foods, so little time. If you don't want to read about it, or you think low carb is a good idea, look away now.

Things started well before we even got there. As I was searching online for pubs near the M11 (we were flying from Stansted), I stumbled across this place. One look at the menu made the decision to go on a detour past Stansted very easy indeed, and what a good decision that was. I don't think I've ever eaten as well in England, or not for a long time. I had aubergine and feta filo parcels with a jacket potato and veg, followed by a shared portion of figgy pudding and it was divine. Mum's veggie tagine was fantastic too. We left the pub trying to think of excuses to head back in that direction sometime soon.

Then early the next morning it was off to Italy. Breakfast was standard airport fare, but we were in Bergamo in time for lunch, and I attempted to be vaguely virtuous with a plate of grilled vegetables and local cheese. There were lots of veg, at least. At this point I realised that (a) a 250ml carafe of red wine was cheaper than the equivalent amount of beer, and (b) you can't sit down for a meal without breadsticks and a huge basket of bread being delivered to the table. I wasn't complaining about either of these things. Mid afternoon was relatively restrained, consisting of juice, before an evening meal of pizza smothered in lovely mediterranean veg, followed by thick, sticky Italian hot chocolate.

The breakfast buffet at the hotel had huge bowls and plates of various fruits every day, which almost made up for following it with muesli and bread and honey. And maybe a bit of cake. And I had to work my way through some important Italian foodgroups of risotto, pasta and ice cream on Monday. I felt that it was my duty. We also tried fried courgette flowers as a starter, which I've heard about before but never actually seen on a menu. I think that mum thought I was mad for suggesting them, but they were pretty good. Remarkably, by Tuesday lunchtime I was actually craving salad, which I duly dispatched with ease. On Tuesday evening, after another mid afternoon ice cream we decided to venture into one of the local bars which did an apperitif plus early evening buffet for 6 euros. We could have made do with that, but melanzane parmiggiana (plus a side salad) was calling my name, so I made room for it.

Remarkably by Wednesday I was still going strong, making the most of the last opportunity to have pizza, and a tiramisu ice cream sundae, before buying some of the local cakes to take to the airport with us. I'm not sure whether they were a bit "paste" like inside, as my bag got searched when they went through the scanner... Sadly, there was one food group missing, but luckily we managed to pick up a bag of fresh gnocci to bring home and eat tonight to try to prolong the gastronomic experience a little more.

Every mouthful of food I had was delicious, freshly made and worth it. I know that I ate more (and exercised less) than I usually do, but I don't care. I don't go to Italy often enough to turn down the opportunity to try all the different things on the menu. Even though the quantities were substantial (and carby) it was good, relatively healthy stuff, and it felt nourishing rather than empty and devoid of nutritional value. The encouraging thing was that I actually turned to salad mid way through the holiday, because I was craving it. I don't think I've ever craved salad before now, but I've actually started to feel like I need something green and leafy in my diet on a regular basis. Strange.

And anyway, I had a way to stop myself getting too far off track. The summer this year has been awful, and as I was packing I realised that, not having had a reason to wear shorts all year, I didn't have any that fit. On Saturday we went to Wembley for a rugby match before flying out on Sunday, and to get there we parked at Brent Cross and got the bus over from there. That involved going near shops, and I decided to look whether there were any shorts left in the sales. It wasn't worth spending a lot of money on them, but if there was something cheap...

We went into Gap. I picked up a pair of shorts. They looked roughly the right size (I'm surprising myself with how well I can judge this). The only problem was the size. The label said they were size 8 (US size 4). I looked at the label and reminded myself that there was no way on earth I'm a size 8. But then I'd look back at the waistband and realise it looked like my size. I crept towards the changing rooms hardly believing what I was about to do. I tried them on, and they were perfect (and only about £10). I remain convinced that they are the biggest size 8s known to man and that size inflation takes place between my shopping trips, but there was still something quite cheering every time I realised that I was wandering round Italy drinking wine and eating pizza and ice cream in a pair of size 8 shorts, and not bulging out of the top of them or being unable to sit down. I knew that the shorts would soon let me know about it if I overindulged too much. In a bizarre way they even made me eat more, because I don't want to be a size 8, and the thought that I might be triggered thoughts like "must do everything in my power to stop getting too thin... more pizza please" I may need to frame those shorts for posterity just in case next time I have a reason to wear shorts they're on the wrong side of too tight, but for now I'm still in shock that I got them on.

The only downside about the holiday was more about what I didn't do than what I did. I feel guilty for thinking it, but I sometimes feel like when I'm on holiday with mum she cramps me, and I can't do what I want to do. I guess I'm too used to independence and being able to flit around doing whatever takes my fancy, whether that's a day of walking or a day in bed. With mum, although she can walk for long distances on the flat, she can't walk up hills, refuses to ride a bike, would die if you suggested climbing or swimming. I constantly feel like I need to make sure she's doing what she wants to do, even if it's not what I want to do. We spent a couple of days round Lake Iseo (beautiful, and far less crowded than some of the Italian lakes), and even in Bergamo could see the southern Alps rising behind the city. My imagination kept being captured by two things. Firstly the thought of heading up into the mountains, and secondly, how bike friendly it was. The road round the lake was pretty flat, and all the ferries which went from town to town had bike racks on them. I didn't want to follow the lycra clad cyclists on their road bikes up into the mountains, but there were plenty of people pottering round more sedately on hybrids with baskets, and I wished that I could find a hire place and spend some time doing just that. Even around town, we always got the funicular up to the "citta alta", whereas I'd have been quite happy walking up - in fact I even ran it one morning, so it can't have been too bad.

Where this leads to a bit of a conflict is that I've started thinking seriously about using a weeks holiday next year not to go to Gran Canaria, but to go on a walking/cycling/vaguely active holiday somewhere mountainous. It might even involve tents. This isn't through some masochistic desire not to take any time off exercise, but because that's what I enjoy doing now. I want that sense of achievement that comes with conquering a peak, or the feeling of slowing down that comes as you potter down the road on a bike rather than in a car. I love feeling closer to a place by being in it, unprotected by metal and glass, hearing it and smelling it as well as seeing it through the window.

I've been considering the Lakes or Scotland, although given the crummyness of our weather the Alps could tempt me. But Mum now also wants to go away for my birthday to somewhere different, and I'm trying to work out a gentle way to tell her that the sort of holiday she's thinking of and the sort of holiday I'm thinking of aren't likely to be the same thing. She seems to think that if I'm going away for a week I want company, and while it's nice to spend time with her, my holidays are a lot more precious to me than hers (on the basis that I get a limited number of carefully counted days, whereas she just takes off from the dive school whenever she feels like it), and even though I'm more than happy to spend a good portion of them with her, I sometimes feel like using them for something completely different, which doesn't necessarily involve her. I guess she looks for company during a holiday because she spends a lot of her "working" day either in the office pretty much on her own or walking up and down the seafront with the phone in case it rings. Whereas I look for escape and my idea of bliss is being somewhere where I can admire the view and do things without needing to make constant conversation. I don't know whether she thinks she's doing me a favour by being company for me, to save me going on holiday alone, but sometimes that's actually precisely what I want to do. I don't think she'd ever dream of trying to tag along with my sister and her boyfriend, but because I'm single it seems to be assumed that I want to go on holiday with my mother all the time. This year I've made a bit of a breakthrough in that she's not coming to New York, but I suspect that might be because of the cost more than anything else.

We'll see. My holiday plans for next year are all a bit dependent on (other people's) weddings and how much money I have left after New York anyway, but I get the feeling that our different views of what to do on holiday are going to have to come up against each other at some point.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Much better

Last night the weather was gorgeous, so I ran 17 miles. I'm so glad I didn't push myself on a day when I didn't feel like it, and instead waited for a day when the weather and my energy levels felt right. Running on Sunday would have demoralised me, last night went like a dream and gave me a lot more confidence (9 minute miles! The whole way!) So yay for listening to my body.

Anyway, this is just a quickie. Mum's here, and we're off to Italy (via Wembley) at the weekend. I will be listening to my body and seeing whether it wants to eat pizza. And if it does, I will of course be trusting its instincts ;)

(Also, I suspect my mother thinks I'm a freak. She offered to pick me up from work tomorrow. I turned the opportunity down because if she picks me up I can't cycle in because there would be no way to get the bike back home... I suppose I should really have gone for the lift to recoup the £250 I ended up spending on the car today. Once more, the sooner I get rid of that thing, the better).

Sunday, August 19, 2007


Yesterday I went down for a day trip to London to watch a rugby match. I didn't actually end up really going into London, other than going under it on the Tube. I didn't fancy bustle and shopping and crowds, so what I actually did was walking leg 6 of the Capital Ring. I got the tube to Wimbledon, wandered over to Richmond and then from there to Twickenham. I'd never been to Wimbledon Common or Richmond Park before and it surprised me how open they were. I guess I've been to London enough times now that I've done loads of the obvious touristy stuff, and fancied seeing a different bit of the city for a change. And I'm down in London again next Saturday, this time at Wembley, so that will be yet another early Saturday morning.

On the train on the way back I fell asleep. Proper, fast asleep sleepiness. I went to sleep at Newark, vaguely noticed Doncaster, went back to sleep again and woke up as we pulled out of Wakefield. I'm kind of glad that Leeds was the last stop. And then this morning I hit the holy grail, my body wanted to sleep, and for me to have a lie in. Sometimes it feels like I get up so early every morning, even at weekends, that my body wouldn't know what to do with the opportunity to sleep even if it had it. This morning it all came together nicely in a dozing few hours of bliss.

The only drawback is that I'd earmarked this morning to do a long run. I half dragged myself out of bed ready to do it, then had second thoughts. I know that I do need to do long runs for marathon training, but my body was finally telling me that it had had enough, that it wanted to sleep, and even though I wasn't injured or unwell, maybe the best thing to do was to just listen to it.

Targets and plans are all very well, but sometimes they make you focus on the wrong things. I shouldn't be going out for a run just because I'm meant to, I should wake up and do what I think will help my running most. A lot of the time that's running, as you can't train on rest alone, but this morning I felt like rest would be better for me in the long term than a run, so I'm not going to feel guilty about taking it.

mmm... duvet.


In other news, this is a newspaper article about the people I'm doing the Great North run with. what it doesn't say there is who the other former pros are. I had a big smile on my face when I heard the names. Kris Radlinski and Terry O'Connor are two of my biggest rugby heroes, and the fact that I could ever be participating with them on an equal footing in a sporting event is just mindblowing. I used to sit there, vastly overweight and watch them, thinking they were superfit athletes and at a level of physical perfection I could never even imagine. I guess they were. But now a couple of years the wrong side of retirement and with dodgy knees, they're training to do something for the first time that I'm pretty comfortable with, and I'm not at all worried that I'll be shown up or exposed as a fake when I'm running alongside them. Although that's the first time I've seen the word pushing used - I thought he'd be in an electric wheelchair like Matt...

All donations gratefully accepted for this and/or New York (same charity) - go to this website and include a note to say you're sponsoring me (Helen Goldthorpe). Thank you!


Yesterday's forray to London was yet another reminder that I'm just not a car person. I got the bus into town to get the train down, and the bus back. I have a car sitting outside my house. I have somewhere I can park the car near work which is not only free on a Saturday, but roughly as close to the station as the bus stop I get dropped off at. I didn't touch a drop of alcohol all day (I haven't since the rounders incident, strangely enough...), so was perfectly capable of driving the car at the beginning and end of the day. But driving just didn't even cross my mind. And I've got to take the bloody thing to the garage again on Thursday to get another creaking bit seen to, it's just a money pit and I'll be glad when I'm rid of it!

Thursday, August 16, 2007


This week I've discovered that photos still have the power to shock, and that maybe memories aren't as long-lasting as I thought.

Someone at work came into my office yesterday. She's been here way longer than I have, and has therefore seen me at a huge range of sizes, knows the story, and in fact constantly badgers me for tips. Which she then ignores. But anyway. On my noticeboard I have a copy of the photo of me and Mike Gregory that I posted on here at the weekend, as motivation for marathon/GNR training.

She looked at it, and asked me "who's that in the photo? Is it your sister?"

She knew me when that photo was taken, and she still didn't recognise me in it. Sometimes I forget that I've been a relatively normal weight for two years now, and that while I'm constantly aware of the change, maybe other people are just starting to think of me as who I am now. They might know that I've lost weight, but they can't picture it in their minds any more.

The other photo that shocked me was in a very different way. After the big Netball v Cricket rounders match on Tuesday night (of which more later), we took team photos of the netball team and the cricket team. That photo really did surprise me.

Not only am I standing bang in the middle of a sports team photo, rather than lurking on the edge, embarassed to be sneaking into shot, it also gave me the chance to compare my size with the other girls. It's one of those guilty habits I have, thinking "am I thinner than her?". Not in a malicious or fiercely competitive way - I wouldn't starve myself just to get thinner than someone, but more in a trying to get a true picture of my size kind of way. Sometimes it's hard to get a realistic view of how thin (or fat) you are (is it on How To Look Good Naked where they make people slot themselves into a lineup of differently sized women where they think they should be, then they usually get told they should have been several places towards the thinner end?).

Let's just say that looking at that photo I'm a lot thinner than I thought. You certainly can't tell from looking at it that I'm the one who used to weigh over 18 and a half stone. And (not that you can see it because of the people in the front row) my legs look surprisingly good in a netball skirt...

I did have to laugh after the rounders game though. I treated it as just a bit of fun, and did my normal exercise as well, rather than treating it as a hard workout (which it wasn't by any stretch of the imagination). The day after, a colleague came into work complaining he was sore. He doesn't know what a proper workout is! I was also speaking to someone else in the pub who has been here two years, and realised that she didn't know about the weight I used to be. I'd kind of assumed that most people at work did, because other people knew and that sort of knowledge spreads itself around. But no, it seems that there are distinct pockets of ignorance out there still. I kind of like it that way.

Did I just mention the pub? That was where the week started to go downhill. The game was quite a way away from my house, and someone had organised a car sharing list to get people home. So I didn't need to worry about it, but it did mean that I needed to stay in the pub until everyone was ready to go. And when you're in the pub, if you're me and the drinks are being paid for by work, there's that horrible temptation to drink them. On an empty stomach, and having played an hour or so of gentle sport. The first glass of wine was probably OK (although it didn't do much to hydrate me). I might have got away with the second. But the glasses I drank after that were definitely a bad idea. Oops. I woke up the next morning still fully clothed in netball kit, and feeling rather less good than I should have done.

That in itself wouldn't have been so bad, and I managed a gentle swim before work to clear my head a bit, but the problem was that we had organised an 11 mile recce run for the Leeds Country Way relay for that evening. I had no way of getting out of it (the route isn't marshalled and is quite complicated, so you need to know where you're going, and I didn't have the mobile numbers of the people I was meeting to do it with), so when all I wanted to do was take my weary body home after work and get into bed to sleep off the tiredness and hangover, what I actually ended up doing was running across fields and golf courses and hills, getting my legs stung by nettles, scratched by brambles and slapped by various crops growing close to the footpath, sliding through mud, getting attacked by bats, and generally wondering whether I was absolutely insane. Having been drinking water like it was going out of fashion all day in an attempt to rehydrate myself, I found it all sloshing around in my stomach during the run, just to add to the misery. The worst bit was that I knew that my discomfort was entirely self-inflicted, and that I had no real justification for complaining because I could have just stopped drinking rather earlier than I did.

Having got home late from that (for the third night in a row), I then collapsed into bed still spattered in mud (although I did get the worst of it off, and managed to take my running kit off this time), woke up the next morning and masochistically cycled the long route into work, getting there feeling almost as bad as I had the morning before. It's not so much that I'm hungover still, more that I'm just tired after three days with little more than 10 minutes at a time awake and in the house, and possibly still a bit dehydrated from the combination of exercise and alcohol. It's a sign of how ingrained my routine is though that every night, even after rounders, I managed to pack my gym bag and lunch for the next morning and remembered to put everything I needed for the day in it despite being rather less than fully on form.

One day I'll learn...

Sunday, August 12, 2007


How times change

This week seems to be one where I'm looking back at who I used to be and wondering what I'd have said if I'd known what would happen.

Take this picture. It was taken back in 2003, and dates from a spell where I used to have my photo taken with various people connected with rugby. I don't know why, because I hated seeing myself in the photos, maybe the real reason was that the person I shared lifts with to the matches always hung around afterwards to take photos and talk to the players, and joining in was something to do while I waited.

Anyway, one day I had my photo taken with Mike Gregory. He'd taken over as Wigan coach relatively recently at that stage, and had a bright future in the game. The next season he took us to the cup final, which turned out to be his last game in charge as he took long term sick leave, and then didn't have his contract renewed, when he was found to be suffering with Progressive Muscular Atrophy, a form of Motor Neurone Disease.

If you followed the link on my last post you'll know that I'm running the Great North Run with him this year. Looking at that photo would you ever have thought that four years later he'd be the one in the wheelchair and I'd be the experienced runner helping him round the course, using a half marathon as a shorter than normal training run? I'd have laughed at you if you'd suggested it then, but that's how it's turned out.

The second is more of a "has it really been 10 years" moment. I'm having one of my semi-regular but not as frequent as they should be meet up with some uni friends at the weekend. I had a bit of a jolt earlier this year on the 10th anniversary of the 1997 labour general election victory. Not because of any particular reason, but because I remember spending the day cycling round south Manchester trying to sort out a house to live in in the second year at uni, and finally signing up for something with two friends and a freak. We won't go into the freak now, but let's just say that three of us got on and one didn't despite our best efforts in the first few months, so after that we gave up trying to include her.

The three of us still see each other now, and I find it hard to believe that it's been 10 years. And how we've changed. Sometimes you don't notice it so much when changes happen bit by bit, but from those poor students living off pop tarts and supernoodles, buying the cheapest beer we could find and nipping to the pub for last orders after an evening studying, we've somehow all turned into vaguely responsible adults. We all have houses and mortgages and proper grown up jobs. One of us is pregnant, another is getting married next year (hint, neither of those are me). We drink nice wine instead of cheap beer, we sometimes cook for each other (using real ingredients, not processed muck), and we end up talking about carpets, fitted kitchens, gardening and DIY. We go out for a meal in the pub, go back to her house and go to bed at 10.30. We're hardcore party animals really...

I suppose it's just what happens when you get older, but it still comes as something of a shock to the system sometimes when you think back to how we used to live. Ah well, it might be different but at least it's still good fun.

The consequence of going to bed so early last night was that we ended up getting up surprisingly early too. Well, not early for me, and I'd been reading for a while before other people started moving, but early for staying at someone's house after a night out. That gave me most of the day to play with, so I decided to visit the Yorkshire Sculpture Park and have a bit of a walk round the country park. I wouldn't claim to know a great deal about sculpture or art in general, but it was still nice to get outside and have a wander round, stumbling across a sculpture every now and again. Oh, and the scone with jam and cream I treated myself to was very nice too...

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Great North Run

Details have been confirmed - click here to find out what I'm doing!

More info

Sunday, August 05, 2007


I've just called the breakdown people to come and look at my car, but the past week or so has been fantastic without it. On Monday morning I was slightly pissed off that it wouldn't start, but since then it's been great being liberated from it.

I've cycled 90 miles this week. I've also used the train to explore places I've been meaning to visit for a while but never got round to going to. It helps that summer finally seems to have arrived, and my longer bike rides have been rewarded by fantastic views, but let's go back a bit.

On Monday not having the car meant that I didn't run, but that was probably sensible given the state of my legs. On Tuesday I cycled to work which is what I always do on a Tuesday, but because of the nice weather I decided to come a slightly longer route home. When I did that I discovered some lovely country lanes much closer to my house than I'd expected, which kind of set the tone for the week.

On Wednesday I cycled to work, from there to running club, I ran, then I cycled home. Doing that is hard work, but it felt a lot easier than the only other time I've attempted to do that. On Thursday I cycled to work again, and on Friday I decided to do a long bike ride on the way in, instead of cycling to the gym and working out there. Oh the bliss. I worked out an 18 mile route, and the first 13 were almost entirely through countryside, I had the roads to myself, I had glorious views, and there wasn't a traffic light or bus in sight. In the evening I walked a mile or so down to the park to watch a free showing of Dirty Dancing, and then back again.

On Saturday I was due to do my long run. I'd planned to do the Keighley run, where I get the train 20 miles out of town and run back. Usually when I do that I drive into town and leave my car with a bag of clean clothes and food, but with not having that option I got the bus, dumped my stuff at the gym and set off from there. Getting the bus into town meant that it was better to buy a day metro card than separate bus and train tickets, and that's where the fun started. Once I'd finished my run, at about 12.30, I had the rest of the day to fill, and a ticket that would take me anywhere in West Yorkshire (for a mere fiver). I decided to head over to Hebden Bridge, as I've been meaning to go for a while. Although it was drizzling up there, and not the bright sunshine in evidence elsewhere in the country, it was nice to get up into the pennines, and remind myself that I don't need to trek into the dales to get some nice countryside. While I was there I found out about a couple of nice walks that I'd like to do some day, when my legs aren't recovering from a 17 mile run!

So, today it's time to get the car started. I'm almost disappointed because I've missed it so little. The main reason I'm doing it today (I could after all have called them on Monday) is that today I've got the opportunity to take it on a long run to recharge the battery, rather than a 3 or 4 miler which would do no good. The irony of all this is that although I was planning to go over to Warrington today anyway, if the car hadn't needed a bit of attention I'd have been going on the train! I did get in a 10 mile bike ride round some more country lanes this morning before calling them, I wanted to make the most of the sunshine so turned my trip to the shop for the newspaper into a bit of a longer exploring expedition - I quite like that I can find new routes on the bike when I can carry a map in my pannier bag, then I know whether they're options for runs in the future.

This has given me a lot more confidence that I can cope without a car over winter. In fact, I'm looking forward to getting rid of it. I'm starting to wonder whether I actually will buy a new one in Spring or whether I'll just find other ways round transport issues. The more time I spend car-free, the more I realise that I don't like sitting in a box, being transported from A to B with little opportunity to enjoy the journey. The distances I travel during the week just aren't long enough to justify the costs of car ownership, and it seems like the only reason I have a car is to get to the rugby. Now, I like the rugby, but do I like it enough to justify paying the sort of money a new car will cost me just to get to those Friday night games that aren't feasible by public transport?