Thoughts on Being a Runner

A few months ago I confessed that I’d signed up to the British 10k. I’d spent the day watching the London Marathon and if the London Marathon doesn’t inspire you to put on a pair of trainers, then nothing will. Watching those many thousands of people of all ages, shapes and walks of life running that incredible distance, you can’t help thinking “maybe I could do that too…”.

Well, in my blogging absence I did it. I didn’t run a marathon (God forbid!), but I did run 10k. Ten whole k’s. I used to only run for the bus. Then I met my boyfriend – my Strava-addicted, trainer-obsessed, marathon nut of a boyfriend – and in my attempts to hold an intelligent running conversation with him, I got a bit interested. Now look at me! I’m a changed woman.

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Going from the sofa to a 10k finish line is not impossible. Far from it. Most people have run at some point in their lives (even if, like me, it was only for the bus). For a 10k that just needs little refining. If I can do it, you can too.

*Sign up for a race: Give yourself something to aim for, it’s the easiest way to keep motivation high. I’d recommend a local race but with as many participants as possible so you have the excitement of a large event but without all the stress of travelling. Don’t be put off if the entry fee is a bit steep – it usually means you’ll get a good t-shirt and medal at the end.

*Get the kit: Everyone knows that a new hobby opens up a whole world of shopping opportunities. Embrace it. You don’t need to buy huge amounts, and running kit can get very pricey, but I would recommend a few items. First and foremost, a good pair of trainers. Did you know that some trainers are ‘fashion trainers’ and not meant for any proper physical activity? AVOID those trainers. Places like Sweatshop analyse your running style so they can recommend the best trainers for you. This is quite scary, but definitely worth it. Secondly, proper running socks. Seems silly but normal socks will rub your feet. And lastly, if you’re a girl, a sports bra. A great one is truly life-changing.

*Get a running buddy: Talk one of your friends into signing up with you and then support each other through the whole process. Go shopping together, drag each other out for runs in the rain and hold hands over the start line. It’s the best way to keep motivation high. Preferably, find someone to run with who is better than you. If they really know their stuff they’ll be able to pace you properly, recommend the perfect pair of trainers and encourage a little healthy competition – noone likes being left behind.

*Remember that it’s OK to hate your running buddy: The aforementioned marathon nut of a boyfriend was my running buddy. We had some tough runs. He lied about distance, tricking me into running 2k further. I told him I wanted to punch him in the face. He ran off without me. Expletives were hurled. He quoted Muhammad Ali at me (irritating), he didn’t need a post-run shower (devastating) and he foam rollered my legs until I screamed in pain (entirely unnecessary). Just remember that running you and rational you are two entirely different beasts. And know when to say you’re sorry.

*Create a running plan: Draw up a plan of all the runs you want to do leading up to the race. Remember to taper the week before the race. This is the best week where you don’t have to run and, instead, eat as much pasta as you want (apparently it’s good for you). Include some interval sessions, long runs and short, easy runs. Think about what you want to achieve from each run – for the longer distance ones forget about time, they are just about upping the kilometers. You don’t need to do the full 10k before the race, but if it’ll reassure you that you can actually go the distance then do it.

*Don’t stress out too much about said plan: Sometimes it’s raining. Sometimes you’ve had a bad day. Sometimes it’s raining and you’ve had a bad day and there’s a pizza in the oven and a new PLL episode on Netflix. Treat your running plan as a guide rather than strict commandment. Missing a couple of runs won’t kill you. If your running buddy refuses to get on board with this attitude, see above point that it’s OK to hate your running buddy.

*Get involved with Parkrun:  Parkrun is the absolute best. Granted, the 9am Saturday morning start time doesn’t feel so wonderful but the fun, community atmosphere and encouragement does make it all worth it. Parkrun is all over the country and is simply a free, timed 5k. There are the super-keen fast runners but the huge majority are just there to have a good time and run the best time they can. And a volunteer runs at the back so you will never come last. Genius.

*Enjoy it: Running can be fun. It’s so good to get outside after a long day in the office, feeling yourself improve and getting involved with the sportswear obsession. And to run a proper 10k race and have a proper medal at the end does feel like a huge achievement. Just remember, the day after the race, that noone has ever died from a pulled muscle. And that you’re entitled to not take the stairs for at least a week.

New on the Block: Farmacy, Notting Hill

There’s a new kid on the block in Notting Hill, and it’s one of my favourite recent discoveries.

Farmacy opened just last month on Westbourne Grove. It is open throughout the day for breakfast, lunch and dinner and already causing a bit of a stir. Their philosophy is ‘clean indulgence’ – something I’m very willing to get on board with.

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Their menus are all about healthy choice comfort foods, no rabbit leaves here. It is incredibly rare that I look up a health restaurant’s menu online and decide I’d rather go for dinner than brunch. I’m all about the healthy brunches – homemade granola, smoothies and (if all else fails) avo on toast – but Farmacy’s evening menu was unmissable.

The menu is still a little small and rather pricey, but with delicious options such spelt sourdough pizzas, a clean curry and the Farmacy “burger”, I was willing to forgive those drawbacks. I opted for the porcini mushroom spelt pasta, which was delicious. If you’ve never tried spelt pasta before, then definitely do. It doesn’t have the grainy texture of other wholewheat pastas, but remains all the health benefits.

They also have a really interesting drinks menu (again, I’m never particularly fascinated by drinks menus, my interest can only be slightly piqued by cocktails). I went for the lemon-aid, an alkalising lemon juice, apple syrup and coconut water. It was amazing. I’m normally a bit scared of those kind of lemon drinks, as often they are too sharp. This was nice and sweet, but not sugary, as well as being healthy.

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If you’re in the area be sure to swing by (and don’t under any circumstances miss the lemon-aid!).

London’s Farm Shop: Daylesford

Being in a city doesn’t mean you can’t have farm fresh food.

Last Saturday the sun put in a very decent appearance in London (hallelujah!) so to bask in the warmth and find a delicious breakfast, Tiarnan and I took to the streets of Notting Hill.

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Westbourne Grove is a little like the Portobello Road’s big sister. Slightly more refined and much less crowded, it offers an escape from the never ending throng of tourists. Don’t get me wrong, wandering down the Portobello Road is one of my favourite activities but sometimes you don’t want to fight the crowds. Westbourne Grove has plenty of delicious breakfast options, but we settled for Daylesford.

Daylesford is essentially a farm shop given the London makeover. You won’t see any muddy wellies there, but plenty of farm fresh food. It began as an organic farm in Staffordshire and is now one of the most sustainable farms in the UK, with another one in the Cotswolds as well as various London greengrocers and restaurants. They also have a cookery school and hold various events throughout the year including supper clubs, masterclasses and a summer festival.

Daylesford’s menu is made up of fresh, seasonal produce from the farm’s market garden, cheese and bread from the creamery and bakery and meat from their animals. And if you eat something you really love, it’s pretty likely you can pop into the farmshop and buy it to take home with you.

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How to Spend… May

We’ve had our first sunny snap – summer is finally on it’s way!

I love how the sun instantly lifts everyone’s mood. Suddenly we’re planning BBQ evenings, sharing round the Pimm’s and remembering what it feels like to sunbathe. Of course it won’t last, but the promise that summer is coming is more than enough to keep me smiling throughout May. And I’ve got plenty of suggestions for when the rain inevitably returns and we have to put away the sunglasses again…

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*Go for a bike ride: When it’s nice out, it’s really nice out. There are still some lambs frolicking in the fields, but otherwise there’s a real sense of summer. The parks are filled with picnickers, flower beds are blooming and the unmistakable scent of BBQs fill the evening air. Now is such a lovely time to go for a bike ride. You can explore so much with relatively little effort, and always stop off for a sunbathe halfway round. If you’re in London definitely set a date to explore the parks on the Santander bikes – there’s no better way to spend a sunny May day.

*Make rainy day plans: But, May is a bit unpredictable and sadly the sunny weather will not be a constant. Rather than mope around inside when it’s miserable, make plans specifically for a rainy day and save them for when the weather turns. There are so many good things on at the cinema (cannot wait to see The Jungle Book!), but you don’t even need to leave the house to have fun on a rainy day. Bake up a storm in the kitchen, soak in the bath with a good read or do some of that spring cleaning you meant to do in spring (if you feel really productive). Miserable days really don’t have to be miserable.

*Set a summer fitness goal: By this I do not mean to get bikini-body ready. But summer does mean clothing gets skimpier, so set yourself a fitness goal and start to dedicate some real time to it. It doesn’t have to be anything major. From signing up for a marathon to deciding to take the stairs, making a conscious effort to get moving will have you feeling so much more confident when summer rolls around.

Healthy Chocolate and Almond Spiced Cookies

Since working in an office, I have become much more interested in what I’m eating.

I’ve never eaten particularly badly, but I would always eat what I wanted without giving anything a second thought. It turns out that attitude doesn’t cut it in an office. When you’re sat at a desk all day, burning those calories is so much tougher. And therefore, I have entered the wonderful world of healthy snacking (and it really is a whole world of deliciousness).

While I usually make a beeline for WH Smith’s ‘nutritional snacks’ stand, these cookies are one of my first homemade efforts. They aren’t the sugar explosion you expect when you bite into a cookie, but that is part of their charm. You can eat them all day and not feel sick! The banana really sweetens them, and the spices make your entire house smell incredible while they’re in the oven. I followed this recipe – they are so easy to make and turned out really well.

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YOU WILL NEED:

  • 2 cups ground almonds
  • 2 heaped tbsp coconut oil
  • 9 small squares dark chocolate
  • 1 1/2 tbsp maple syrup
  • 1 small banana
  • 1 tbsp almond butter
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger, nutmeg, salt and baking powder

TO MAKE:

Preheat the oven to 170C. Mash the banana together with the chocolate.

Heat the coconut oil on a low heat. Add the syrup, spices and salt and stir until combined.

Mix the ground almonds, baking powder and almond butter together with the banana and chocolate. Add the melted ingredients and stir until combined.

On a tray, take a tablespoon amount of mixture and press down to form a cookie. Bake for 10-15 mins and enjoy!

Bank Holiday Brunching: 26 Grains

It’s been a little while since I last ventured into London on the blog, but today I’m making up for it with a great recommendation.

With the bank holiday weekend happily freeing up a sunny Friday, I decided it was about time I started ticking off some of my London bucket list. Neal’s Yard is a colourful corner of Covent Garden, tightly packed with health food eateries and, of course, Neal’s Yard Remedies. It’s only small, but there’s more than enough to keep you occupied.

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For this trip though, we had to sample London’s prettiest porridge. Absolutely dominating Instagram, 26 Grains is a teeny tiny little health cafe serving wholesome, grain based dishes. Don’t be put off by the health side though, everything they serve is ridiculously delicious.

They aren’t limited to enormous bowls of steaming porridge either. As they source their fruit and veg from local producers, their menu changes seasonally. Currently they have an enormous array of porridges (sweet and savoury) as well as bircher muesli, a winter smoothie bowl and lunch bowls if you’ve already had breakfast. They aren’t preachy about health either, and will enquire whether you want almond or whole milk in your coffee (a nice touch, I thought). Definitely worth skipping the main drag of Covent Garden for.

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Homemade Tropical Granola

I love granola. I love it on yoghurt, I love it on smoothie bowls and I love it straight out of the packet. Those little nutty clusters are just so satisfyingly crunchy and sweet.

The problem with granola is it’s usually absolutely filled with sugar. It also tends to be incredibly expensive. So, to crack both problems I have a delicious homemade recipe for you.

Granola is one of the simplest things to whip up, it requires only basic equipment and it’s so customisable. One of my all-time favourite granolas is Sainsbury’s tropical granola, with coconut and dried pineapple chunks (and a ridiculous amount of sugar). This is my sugar-free recreation, which tastes just as incredible! As I said though, anything goes with granola – so add and remove whatever you feel like.

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YOU WILL NEED:

  • 3 cups plain rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup flaked almonds
  • 3/4 cup honey or maple syrup
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 cups mixed seeds
  • 2 cup desiccated coconut
  • 1 cup dried pineapple
  • Generous pinch of salt

TO MAKE:

Preheat your oven to 180C.

Place everything but the pineapple into a large mixing bowl and mix really well.

Put the mixture into a tray (with sides) lined with baking parchment.

Bake for about 30 mins (or until golden brown) while mixing every 5 mins, so it doesn’t turn into one enormous granola bar. Add the dried pineapple two minutes before you take it out of the oven.

Remove, and leave to crisp up. Enjoy when it’s super crunchy!

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How to Spend… March

February really dragged, didn’t it? The tail end of winter is always my least favourite time. Everything is grey and bleak, and it feels like a lifetime ago when we last saw some sun. But with Easter arriving early I feel as though we are suddenly fast forwarding into spring. The weather needs to get the memo (where did all this rain come from?) but there are chocolate eggs and bunnies everywhere and you can buy tulips and daffodils on every street corner.

So from celebrating Mothering Sunday right through to eating all the chocolate over the Easter bank holiday weekend, I hope you enjoy the start of spring as much as I will!

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*Spoil your mum on Mother’s Day: This year, skip the standard flowers and a card. Actually spending some time with your mum is what really counts, so take the day out especially for her this weekend. Take her out for lunch, go shopping or just stay at home and bake a cake, play board games or do a puzzle. And this doesn’t have to be exclusive for the two of you – get the whole family involved for a fun day together. Even if it isn’t Mothering Sunday where you live, no excuses… Our mums always deserve more of our time, right?

*Try yoga: As my job has got busier, my time in the gym has significantly decreased – something I’m not overly thrilled about. Now we’re past the “new year, new me” health kick, some extra motivation is needed. The secret lies in doing things that can fit easily into your routine. I’m not really one to get a sweat on before work (how many of us really are?) but yoga is such a gentle introduction to the day whilst also doing great things for your body. While it won’t burn major calories, it’ll help you feel energized and focused for the rest of the day – definitely worth hopping out of bed a little early for.

*Spend a Sunday at the farmers market: You always hear about the joys of farmers and fresh food markets, but the winter wind and rain hardly makes for an enjoyable Sunday outdoors. Now the weather is improving (supposedly), now is a great time to get down to your local one and bag some bargains. The buzzy atmosphere of a market will put the weekly supermarket run to shame, and discovering the best local honey, jam and breads (or whatever takes your fancy) will leave you desperate to return for more!

*Set up an Easter egg hunt: With the long Easter bank holiday weekend to look forward to, now’s the time to start planning with your family and friends. And you don’t need little ones to make an Easter egg hunt fun. Buy one of those cute kits with the little signs, split up into teams and get competitive! And don’t forget the obligatory rabbit ears for a ridiculous group photo…

How to Spend… February

Can anyone else feel that sense of spring in the air? Temperatures are still pretty low, but the days are getting longer, brighter clothes are starting to pop up in the shops and there are even some daffodils blooming. I don’t know about you, but I’m ready to wear something other than a jumper and jeans. And there’s plenty to be getting on with until spring fully arrives. With pancakes to be eaten on Shrove Tuesday, cards to be sent on Valentine’s Day and a whole extra day on the 29th – have a great month!

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*Buy yourself freshly cut flowers: You don’t need a Valentine to have flowers in your house this month. Treat yourself! There’s just something so uplifting about having flowers around, they give a sense of life when the weather is still bleak outside. And, when you’re buying flowers for yourself, you can pick your favourites. Skip the clichéd (and extortionate) red roses for some daffodils to remind you that spring is on it’s way.

*Rethink your resolutions: Now is about the time that the New Year’s resolutions become a distant memory. If they are too hard don’t admit defeat, just alter them. Perhaps going to the gym every day was unrealistic, so change it to every other day. If that is what it takes to keep you on track and doing something positive then it’s a good thing, not a failure. Or, perhaps they are a little too easy, so with that confidence the first month has given you – amp them up!

*Create a new bedtime routine: January tends to be a bit crazy, adjusting back into work after the Christmas break, but we’re firmly back in those routines now. With the peace of Christmas (and the large food babies) it was easy to drift off to sleep, but with the worries of work, emails buzzing around our heads and plans forming for the following day, it can be harder to get some proper sleep. Spend some time creating a new bedtime routine to make sure you get to sleep when you need to. Turn off all those electrical devices (resist the temptation to check Instagram before bed!) and have a bath, read a book or make a cup of tea. A proper night’s sleep makes the world of difference the following day.

*Take something up for Lent: Ah, Lent. Just as we’re halfheartedly trying to keep our resolutions on track, we throw Lent into the mix. I always find that giving something up is quite a negative attitude. Telling yourself you can’t have something is guaranteed to make you want that one thing. So, rather than giving up chocolate, take up having fruit instead. You can still have chocolate when you really want it, but you’ll probably find yourself eating a lot less of it. Instead of giving up alcohol, take up making mocktails. Take up running, cooking or even an earlier bedtime. This kind of positive attitude to achieving something will make those 40 days and 40 nights fly past!

A Few Favourites: January

So there it is, the first month of 2016 done and dusted. We began the year setting off fireworks at midnight, comparing New Year’s resolutions, taking down the Christmas decorations (sob) and heading back to work.

Despite threats of a serious case of January blues setting in, it’s actually been a fun and busy month. Temperatures have dropped, we’re thanking the high heavens for the car’s seat warmers and even awoke one Sunday morning to a dusting of snow. Tiarnan and I were lucky enough to escape on a spa break, and having massages, chilling in the Jacuzzi and generally being waited on was more than enough to banish any post-Christmas sadness.

So onwards and upwards to February – the month of all things lurve. I plan on spending it under a duvet waiting for winter to pass…

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*Turtlenecks: I have always had two clothing obsessions: white lace and stripes. After banning myself from buying anything stripey (because it really did get that out of control), I seem to have developed a new love… Turtlenecks. They are everywhere at the moment, and with good reason. There’s just nothing warmer! And somehow they manage to keep you feeling toasty while still looking good. I do enjoy a good blanket scarf, but they can leave my hair looking somewhat mad professor-ish. With the turtleneck, you don’t even need a scarf. All hail the turtleneck!

*Kindle: Ah, my Kindle. I’ve had it for over two years and we have a bit of an on-off relationship if I’m honest. It always comes out for summer holidays, but most of the time I just want to hold an actual book. But a combination of countless train journeys and getting back into Game of Thrones (hello enormous books) has made the two of us best friends. I can take it everywhere without even noticing I have it and any book I want to read is only a tap away.

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*Back to basics make-up: After all the glitter and excitement of festive make-up, I thought I’d be sad to see it go. As it happens, I’ve gone completely the other way. Heavy on skincare, light on make-up has been the way of January. For a polished but minimal look I’ve been absolutely loving my Urban Decay Naked Basics palette. The shades are mainly matte, but still beautifully creamy and so easy to blend. I’ve also been loving my Dermalogica skin smoothing cream, it feels like such a skin treat after a long day!

*The Mae Deli: One of my New Year’s resolutions is to explore London more, and this has to be my favourite January find. I wrote all about it here so I won’t bang on, but it’s such a friendly, welcoming place and everything is super healthy and so delicious. Deliciously Ella has generally been on it this month with her new book as well, and I’m excited to get recipe testing in February!

*The fit life: This month has been all about counteracting the festive indulgences. I’ve been hitting the gym and really enjoying it for the first time in a while. I also took on the 30 day squat challenge and I’ve absolutely loved it, I would highly recommend doing a 30 day challenge to feel great about yourself! Tiarnan and I have been creating healthy dinners together each evening and visiting juice bars to decide on our favourite (I’ll report back on that…) It’s very typical to be all about fitness in January, so let’s hope it continues.