Edinburgh was bright and colourful and friendly: full of tattoo parlours, knitting shops and hog roasts. It was a beautiful weekend, the sun bouncing off the chimneypots. Locals were toasting themselves, flat out in the parks. I prepared for my half-marathon by –
- Walking up a mountain (Arthur’s Seat)
- Watching Eurovision with roast chicken, tagliatelle with pinenuts and sultanas
It would have been the perfect holiday had there not been 13.1 miles to run…
Walking through the cold grey streets at 6.30am, spotting runners one by one (snug leggings, bright T-shirts and a determined stride) then a tide of them converging, I started to feel like we were all brainwashed. Like the inexorable pull of the mothership was calling her people home. The zombies all advanced, lined up to pee, bounced up and down to the music.
My little brother, gave me one last tip while stretching inside-out. “Remember, when you drink the free water, run backwards so it doesn’t splash in your face!” (!!) (I didn’t.)
He ran a half-marathon when he was 16, in 1 hour 30 minutes, if you please. I thought he was mad then. He’s 22 now and a gymnast instead of a runner. His version of a flapjack includes protein powder, no sugar. We don’t have much in common. For a year he has been nagging me to race together. (He as an ulterior motive, but this I don’t find out until later.)
So we set off. The burst of excitement fades to a drum of feet downhill, down to the sea.
I keep the brother at my left elbow until, disaster, I really need to pee. By mile 3 I’m busting and dash into a portaloo. “You go on, I’ll catch up!”
Like a total girl, I wish I had asked him to wait. I wish he had waited anyway. But I run off looking for him, too fast, too much adrenaline in my throat. I really wanted to run it together. By mile 4 I finally see him ahead. I shout his name. He turns, waves, pushes on ahead. He has a time to make too, I suppose, incredibly disappointed.
By the time we make it down to the Firth of Forth, I forget about being alone, about the time. Glassy grey water. The sun comes out. I pass Sonic the Hedgehog and a giant banana. Then I run into a park bench. Ouch.
Still just running, clear and calm, if a little slower now after the stupid sprint earlier. Suddenly at mile 9, the little brother turns up again.
“What’re you … doing?”
“I wanted to make sure you got a good time.”
He hands over his ipod and my Emergency Back-up Plan. The song that got me through final exams.
I listen on repeat for a whole mile, give it back again. By now I’m, I’m plodding, the brother is practically skipping. The only time I dare to slow to a walk a runner with a broken arm snaps out, “this isn’t a walking race, lass, keep goin’,” with a warm Scottish burr. My legs are like jelly: one misstep and I’m wobbling over. Just one foot in front of the other.
The brother tries all kinds of Coach Julia-esque motivating tactics: “just pass 10 runners, nearly there, two more miles” and my favourite “you have to go fast, or you’ll miss the plane!”
I hate him.
I keep running.
Before mile 13 he gives me the ipod back. I don’t think I care about my time. After all the sweating and crying and hiding under the covers, I’m running. I’m back on my feet again.
Just on that last straight finish, a pair of legs go up in the air. My brother turns a backflip, then another for the cameras! That was why he came: he wanted to know if he could do it, after the pressure of thirteen miles. I laugh and see the final clock tick over onto 1:59. Maybe I do care about my time. Maybe I have that one sprint finish left in me after all.
Postscript: I don’t miss my plane, but it’s close. I tell the taxi driver about my weekend, proud. The little brother gets a train to London and heads straight to gymnastics class.
All the running and swearing was motivated by the lovely ladies at Up and Running. Coach Julia made detailed and demanding programmes, and Shauna loudly cheered us on. To them, this flapjack made to incorporate all those healthy-person loves: bananas and oats and nut butter. Also real butter, because it tastes good. Chocolate for endorphins. Almost powerful enough to make me run a whole marathon.
And they are good, these humble squares of oats. Stuffed full of nuts and seeds for extra texture, they are otherwise fudgy and chewy. Not sugary, nor rich, they taste of a subtle banana-caramel.
makes 16 flapjacks – use whatever nuts and seeds you most prefer, I had whole almonds, hazelnuts, sunflower and sesame seeds
40g dessicated coconut
80g dark chocolate (min 60%), chopped small
60g almond butter
60g muscovado sugar
60g agave syrup (maple would work as well)
2 very ripe bananas (peel and keep in freezer and they will go suitably squishy)
1 tsp cinnamon
Preheat oven to 175C.
In a small saucepan, melt the butter. Stir in sugar, agave syrup and almond butter. Mash banana and mix in too.
Blend about 1/3 of the the oats in a food processor to make a fine powder. (This will help stick the flajacks together, stop them crumbling.) In a large bowl, mix oats, ground oats, nuts, seeds, coconut, cinnamon and chopped dark chocolate. Pour over the butter/sugar mixture and stir well.
Line a square pan (22cm – ish) with baking paper, press the flapjack into it. Bake for 20 minutes until dark gold and firm.
When cool, lift the whole slab out of the pan by the paper and cut into 16 small squares. Keep in an airtight tin or wrap in clingfilm individually and freeze.