As you know, this year I made one of my dreams a reality: I ran the Canyon de Chelly Ultra in Arizona. Simply put, it was amazing. I managed to get a prize (a lovely jacket) that I keep wearing all the time (I am actually wearing it now while I am writing as it’s freezing in bloody London). What is the Canyon De Chelly Ultra? Well, in case you don’t know, it is a 34-mile race in the Navajo nation, where you first run in the sand and then climb up a canyon, and finally go back to where you started. You can read about it here: http://frenchyummymummy.com/running-in-the-wild-wild-west-the-canyon-de-chelly-ultra/ I have run several marathons, ultras and 100k races over the last couple of years. Yes, despite my ripe age (and two children, a business and a husband who spends all his time travelling the world, but hey, we’ve all got our own stories). I keep being asked how we ultra runners do it. The thing is, I have no idea. I am just an average runner (serious runners who read this are probably way faster than me). My only edge is this: I don’t give up. This made me wonder: what do ultra runners do differently? Are we really made of sterner stuff? Here is what I could think of:
1 For us, distance is relative: a 5k run is a not even a run, and a 10k run is a short run. A short long run starts at 10 miles. A long run is anything up to 100 miles. A friend of mine told me that she was a bit tired and had only run 4 miles that day. That’s just us.
2 We are eternal optimists. Or at least I am. For instance, when I found out that I was going to run in the sand, I trained in Hyde Park, in London, where the Royal Horse Guards train their horses. Needless to say, I was way undertrained: the sand in Arizona was much, much softer (and lasted slightly longer than the 300m in Hyde park). But I didn’t worry. I should have, but I didn’t. That’s just me. My calves survived. Just.
3 We don’t take ourselves too seriously. We know that we are going to face at least one massive low, and want to quit at some point during the race. We push through. It’s alright, we just have to accept it and get to the ‘other side’. For instance, I was convinced, during my first 100k and after 8 hours of run, that I was going to die of pneumonia there and then. Before you judge me, you need to understand that I grew up in the sun and that London isn’t well-known for its warm climate. And my mind was probably playing up. Needless to say, I was completely fine. In Arizona, I had a panic attack while climbing on top on the canyon (I am not very good with heights). I stopped for a couple of minutes right in the middle of the climb. Took a few deep breaths. There wasn’t much I could do except carrying on. So I carried on;
Before I start this post I feel like I need to come clean: I like Prince Harry, and I have bumped into him a couple of times at my local Waitrose (if you must know, he was wearing a hoodie and had a couple of bodyguards ). Last week (in case you have been hibernating), he announced that he was going to marry his girlfriend Meghan Markle. I am very pleased for them and I wish them luck. I am, however, appalled by the general coverage of their relationship.
Why? Well, for starters, the tabloids don’t miss a single opportunity to remind all of us that she is (in no particular order) divorced, American, of mixed heritage and an actress. They could have mentioned that she is a modern, talented, gorgeous woman and has worked for numerous charities but no, let’s face it: it’s all about bringing her down. In fact, I don’t think that it is even about her. It’s because they think that she is the ‘weak link’. Attacking her is a way to attack Prince Harry and the monarchy. How brave, right? Surely they could pick a better target. Come on, guys! If you want to attack the monarchy, why don’t you just attack the monarchy and criticise the Queen or maybe the British Government?
This pattern is indeed quite disturbing, but somehow keeps repeating itself: recently, it’s Malia Obama who faced a wave of abuse because she had been filmed smoking and (dear oh dear) kissing a boy while at uni. Seriously? Don’t we have anything better to report? Malia Obama is a private citizen and can do whatever she likes. Are there laws against smoking and kissing? Once again, it wasn’t about her, it was about discrediting her father’s legacy. How is she responsible for her father’s actions and decisions? I don’t understand. In the same vein, there were attacks against Barron Trump (a child!). How low did we fall? It just never stops: using whoever is perceived to be the ‘weak link’ is becoming the trademark of lazy reporting. Overtones of sexism and racism seem to be back in fashion. It’s clickbait writing. And don’t you dare reply, because you will be told to lighten up. After all, ‘it was just some light-hearted dig’. Don’t you get sarcasm? You simply can’t win against a certain London elite, as Prince Harry found out when their relationship was disclosed and he dared complain. Unbelievable! Doesn’t anyone remember that Prince Harry’s mother died while being chased by paparazzi?
I might be French, but I could totally live without wine or cheese. But not without chocolate. Chocolate is the one thing that I need to get going. And coffee, come to think of it. I have always loved chocolate. And I always will. That’s just who I am. I have also learned, over time, that quality matters more than quantity. So when I was offered to try To’ak aged chocolates, I didn’t hesitate and went for a try. It didn’t disappoint. Simply put, it was a fantastic start of the day!
But I need to come clean first: I didn’t know that you could age chocolate. I thought that chocolate had to be eaten, you know, as soon as possible. But no, chocolate is a bit like wines (well, fine French wines obviously): some flavours reveal themselves over time. It’s all about knowing how to appreciate them, and also taking the time to do so.
So here it is: before you scoff all the chocolate in your kitchen, you need to take a moment to learn how to get the best from your tasting experience. In fact, every stage of the chocolate making process has an impact on the final flavour. Natural factors such as the cocoa variety, soil conditions and climate are just the beginning. How the cocoa farmer treats the beans during the fermentation and drying process can have a marked impact on the flavour of your chocolate. And then roasting the beans can have an even bigger impact.
These little differences are one of the great things about small batch bean to bar chocolate. Every batch will have subtle differences. This is how I found myself, on a cold Tuesday morning smelling and eating cocoa beans, and cocoa aged in various types of wood. And I wasn’t trying any type of chocolate, I was trying the Nacional Ecuadorian beans. I had always thought that the Mayan had invented chocolate as we know it, but apparently I was wrong. This one cocoa bean was even older.