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.

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!

An April Reading List

This month’s reading list is filled with adventure stories and beautiful editions. They say “never judge a book by its cover” – but sometimes you just have to have that beautiful book. And they make amazing gifts. I have had more than my fair share of stunning books as presents, they sit proudly on my shelf and I love them. All hail beautiful covers, we need more of them around.

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*For a timeless story: The Wind in the Willows, Kenneth Grahame. I rarely write about a book that I haven’t actually read here on the blog, but I feel pretty safe to do so with this one. One of my New Year’s Resolutions was to read the classics I’ve never got round to picking up. It’s not going that well, to be honest. The Wind in the Willows seemed like a safe one to start with – I’m excited to follow the adventures of Mole, Rat, Mr Toad and Mr Badger! Also, quick note on just how beautiful this edition is. The Penguin Threads covers are made to look like a work of embroidery, with the threads running through the inside cover. There are loads of classics in the collection, so take your pick and treasure it.

*For a dark, nineteenth century New York: Church of Marvels, Leslie Parry. I have just finished this book and it is such a unique story. I picked it up thinking it would be like The Night Circus but it ended up reminding me more of Les Miserables. It follows three separate narrators – Sylvan Threadgill, a night soiler who discovers an abandoned newborn baby, Odile Church, who’s twin sister Belle has disappeared following a devastating fire and Alphie, who wakes up groggy and confused in Blackwell’s Lunatic Asylum. These three lives become entwined through the events of one night, and the story gradually unravels the secrets that bring the narrators together. The plot twists and turns and keeps back the biggest surprises right until the very end. Definitely worth a read.

*For the original greats: The Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm and The Fairy Tales of Hans Christian Andersen. Everyone should read the original fairy tales. We all know and love the Disney versions, but did you ever realise the liberties they took with the original stories? Ariel didn’t just lose her voice, she had her tongue cut out. In Snow White, the Queen is forced to dance to death in red hot iron shoes. Sleeping Beauty is raped! You can understand why Disney had to exclude these elements from children’s films, but now it’s time to grow up and find out what really happened. We’re always on the search for a horrifying thriller, but really we need look no further than the original fairy tales.

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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A March Reading List

Supposedly spring is on its way. As far as I’m concerned, it’s still freaking freezing outside. There may be daffodils and even some lambs about, but they are hardly basking in the spring sunshine. So I’m continuing my winter hibernation and, if you are too, these are the books I suggest you occupy yourself with…

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*For something a little special: When God Was a Rabbit, Sarah Winman. I’ve just finished Sarah Winman’s new book, A Year of Marvellous Ways, and to be honest I didn’t love it. The prose is completely beautiful, to the point of being poetic, but the story was lost in the words and I didn’t feel anything for the characters. Happily though, I was reminded of how much I loved her debut – When God Was a Rabbit. Set in two halves with the protagonist Elly as first a child, and then an adult, it follows the lives and loves of her, her brother and their family and friends. The story is  beautifully told and completely captivating, Elly’s voice will stay with you long after you turn the final page.

*For a slice of history: A Dangerous Inheritance, Alison Weir. Anyone searching for historical fiction will be directed straight to Philippa Gregory, author of The Other Boleyn Girl and The White Queen. I love Philippa Gregory, but after devouring her entire Cousin’s War series, I was left wanting more – which lead me to Alison Weir. A Dangerous Inheritance follows both Lady Katherine Grey, rival to Queen Elizabeth I’s throne, and Kate Plantagent, bastard daughter of Richard III, who are linked by history’s most famous murder mystery, the Princes in the Tower. It’s a completely absorbing story and you just might find yourself learning something along the way.

*For a bit of excitement: The Bones of You, Debbie Howells. I have just finished this new(ish) psychological thriller and I’m still reeling. Set in an idyllic village, The Bones of You is told from the point of view of Kate, a local mother, as she comes to know the Anderson family following the disappearance of their eldest daughter. Debbie Howells creates and tears apart her characters in a complex story of twisted minds and destructive relationships set against a beautiful landscape. The cleverness of the story and her characters is what makes it such a thrilling read, rather than constant action. But, believe me, there’s still plenty of fast-paced action to keep you on the edge of your seat until the very end.

A London Bucket List

As you all know from my 2016 Goals post, exploring London is one of my resolutions. There’s just so much to do here, you can never run out of inspiration. As promised, I am blogging all of my adventures, but I’ve been creating a mental list of ‘places to visit’ for quite a while now and I thought it was about time I shared.

Whether you live here, are planning a trip or just need some inspiration for your own hometown, I hope this comes in handy!

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*26 Grains: This is top because it was my obsession with wanting to go here that inspired this blog post! Neal’s Yard is a little crook of Covent Garden that I’m desperate to explore anyway, but 26 Grains serves up London’s prettiest porridge. If you like Instagramming your food, bookmark this one.

*Bob Bob Ricard: This wonderfully eccentric restaurant is decorated in the style of a first-class dining car of an Edwardian train, with Art Deco booths and the infamous ‘press for champagne’ button. It’s a little pricey so best saved for a special occasion.

*Columbia Road Flower Market: A blogger’s favourite. If you haven’t admired pictures of the blooms at Columbia Road, I strongly suggest you do. East London’s flower market is open every Sunday and with independent shops and cafes also lining the street, there’s plenty to explore after picking your bunch.

*Madison: Famed for it’s incredible view of St Pauls, I am cheating a little bit here because I’ve already visited this rooftop bar. But that was a few years ago and I’m itching to go back! With an amazing cocktail menu and plenty of tapas to choose from, this is the perfect stop for evening drinks.

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*National Portrait Gallery, Vogue 100: A Century of Style: I love the National Portrait Gallery, it is easily my favourite museum in London. Their Audrey Hepburn exhibition caused quite a stir last summer (and it was amazing), but I’m now desperate to visit Vogue 100. Celebrating British Vogue’s centenary by showcasing its photography through the years, this one is a magazine junkie’s dream.

*Duck & Waffle: London’s highest restaurant and open 24/7 – I’d love to get up super early and watch the sun rise over London from here. The lift is almost as well known as the restaurant itself, glass-sided and ‘express’, it whizzes you up those 40 floors in unbeatable style!

*Modern Pantry: Apparently, this is the spot to eat amazing eggs. Though to be honest, it was the seating thar first caught my attention. Set in a traffic-free courtyard which acts as a suntrap, it sounds like the perfect place for a casual, alfresco brunch one summery weekend. 

*Go to the ballet: When I was younger, I was a very keen dancer so I’ve been lucky enough to see a few ballets in London. It’s been a few years though, and I’d love to go back. My preference would be The Nutcracker (because is there anything more festive?) but I’m keeping an eye out for anything that looks interesting before next Christmas.       

A Healthy Sunday Breakfast

Sundays are for lazy breakfasts, right?

This morning, Tiarnan and I fancied whipping something up rather than eating yet another bowl of porridge, but with New Year’s resolutions hanging over us we passed on the traditional fry up. Instead, we created an entirely guilt-free feast which (and here’s the best part) is a complete doddle to make! Say hello to our resolution-friendly-but-still-delicious Sunday breakfast creation: tropical smoothies and banana pancakes.

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*TROPICAL SMOOTHIE

If I’m honest, yellow smoothies are more Tiarnan’s thing than mine (I’m all about the pink ones, which I shared in A Super Simple Smoothie) but a cup of sunshine is undoubtedly the best way to start a Sunday when it’s miserable outside. This one is super thick and creamy, so you could just blitz up extra and have it for breakfast on its own. However, Sunday is for feasting, and it makes the perfect accompaniment to the pancakes.

For a smoothie that can serve two, all you need is one banana, a couple of handfuls of mango, an equal amount of pineapple, a dollop of vanilla yoghurt and a splash of apple juice. Blitz it it up and you’re done!

This smoothie is a really thick one, as mango and banana are good as smoothie bases alone and yoghurt really bulks it out. If you don’t love that so much, skip the yoghurt or just add more apple juice or pineapple.

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*BANANA PANCAKES

These pancakes take just two ingredients. Two ingredients. (Although we cheated and used three). However, they are still deliciously light and fluffy and taste like banana bread and french toast rolled into one. They are also super quick and easy to make. And they don’t need to be reserved as a Sunday treat, have them every day if you want!

All you need is one extra ripe banana and two large eggs (and that’s it!).

Mash the banana well until there are no large lumps, then whisk in the two eggs. If you like you can add vanilla (for extra flavouring – we did), baking powder (to make them super light and fluffy) or anything else to flavour them, like cinnamon, honey or cocoa powder.

Pour small amounts of the batter in to a hot frying pan, and flip when the first side is done. Wait for the other side to cook and you’re done! You should manage 6-8 small pancakes. Top with whatever you feel like. I personally love maple syrup and blueberries, but extra banana, honey, cinnamon, granola or whatever takes your fancy will also be delicious.    

A January Reading List

Got a New Year’s resolution to read more? Yeah, me too.

Reading is such a funny thing. It is so wonderful when you actually get round to doing it, but most of the time there is something else to occupy your attention. Today I’m offering up some inspiration to hopefully get your nose in a book this month and kick start those resolutions!

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*For city inspiration: Eat Like a Londoner, Tania Ballantine. This is a book to dip in and out of rather than read cover to cover, but if you live in London or are planning a trip (or just want to admire from afar!) you need to get your mitts on this. It suggests the perfect place for every occasion, whether you are popping out for after work drinks or planning a full blown birthday surprise. You will never be stuck for ideas again! Be warned though, you’ll be left with a ‘to visit’ list as long as your arm.

*For a thrill: I Let You Go, Clare Mackintosh. If you struggle to pick up a book, choose one that won’t let you put it down. This book is as good as Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train, but it (undeservedly) hasn’t received the same hype. The book starts with a horrible accident in which a little boy gets hit by a car on a rainy night. It then switches into Jenna Gray’s narrative as she escapes to the Welsh coast to start afresh after the accident, but it all too quickly starts to catch up with her… This book is so addictive and, just a heads up, it has the best twist I have ever come across (and I’ve read a lot of these books).

*For a health kick: Deliciously Ella, Ella Woodward. Everyone has heard of Deliciously Ella at this point. She has a blog (that I occasionally read) and an app (that I haven’t downloaded) but it’s her book that I love. Not only is it filled with inspiring recipes (some I’ve tried, most I haven’t if I’m being honest) but it is packed full of nutritional information which is so interesting and, most importantly, not preachy at all. She’s bringing out her second book this month, Deliciously Ella Every Day, and I can’t wait to get hold of it!

*For a classic: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll. If your resolution stipulates reading more classics, start with something short and fun. I love this book because of how inventive it is, and you should always remember that most of these classics (particularly the Victorian ones) are loved because they are great stories. Don’t get bogged down by what everything means, just enjoy the characters and the plot lines, because they are what make these novels wonderful.

2016 Goals

Yes, this blog post is a little late. But I figured that these goals are meant to apply for the entire year, so the fact we’re 10 days deep shouldn’t really matter.

I usually make resolutions, but then I also usually completely forget about them by spring. I can’t remember what 2015’s were but I’m guessing they were a similar selection to this year’s because, let’s be honest, they always follow a theme…

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*Get moving: I’m pretty good when it comes to exercise (though I certainly couldn’t claim saint-like status around Christmas), but it does tend to come in fits and starts. For the last few years my exercise has only consisted of hitting the gym, but this year I really want to include more variety in my regime so I don’t get bored. I’ve started with the 30 day squat challenge (which was a killer to begin with) and taken up yoga, and I’m planning on running outside more and attending a few more exercise classes alongside my usual gym sessions. It’s so important to mix things up a bit to maintain interest, so hopefully 2016 will be the best year for exercise yet.

*Get reading: When I finished my English Literature degree last summer, I felt so exhausted I couldn’t bear to look at another book again. Thankfully, I’m over that now but so far I’ve stuck to easy reading and it has completely lost my interest. This year, I want to always have a book on the go, and read some of the classics that I’ve managed to miss so far. This includes 1984, The Catcher in the Rye and Dickens (but I’m saving the massive tomes for a summer holiday). I want to keep things fun though so I’ll mix in some lighter reading, I’m currently making my way through the third Game of Thrones. 

*Get drinking: … water, of course. This is an ongoing thing for me and doesn’t need much explanation. I often forget to drink anything, and can go the entire day without a drop. This is very bad and absolutely must stop. I’m going to get a glass now…

*Get exploring: This is by far my favourite one. I’m so lucky to be back in London, and now is really the time to take full advantage of it. Tiarnan and I have promised one another that every month we will try something or somewhere new, and we’re already planning our adventures. While we wait for winter to pass we are scouting out cosy cafes for the best flat white, but come summer we’ll be exploring the parks and seeking the best alfresco dining spot. I’m sure our adventures will be documented right here, so watch this space!

How to Spend… January

January, the month that sees gyms full and bank accounts empty. I always find January a bit of an odd time, a strange mix of misery that Christmas is over and excitement for the year ahead. If only the weather would perk up it could all be very merry. Here are my suggestions to see you through to spring (or at least February).

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*Set yourself a tough resolution for January: New year resolutions tend to spark mixed opinion. Are they (like rules) only something to break or are they a worthwhile challenge? Personally, I quite enjoy them. They’ve seen me stick to a proper skincare routine, drink more water and actually run in the past, so I’m not going to knock them. But this year, I’m trying something new – a tough resolution just for January. Dry January is the classic example of this, but mine is all healthy work lunches. Chocolate gets passed around like oxygen in my office and PRs send us all kinds of delicious treats, which is all good and fun, but it’s time to make some healthier choices. We’ll see how I go! Rather than setting yourself a huge challenge for the whole year, try it in a bite-sized chunk just for this month. You get the feel good moment of achievement sooner, and it just might push you on for the rest of the year.

*Get creative with your workouts: Skip the gym this January. The novelty wears off, it gets boring and you’ll be done with it by spring. Or, join the gym like the rest of the world but don’t stop there. Have a go at running outside. Try yoga. Do the 30 day abs challenge. Join an exercise class. It is so difficult to sustain repetitive exercise, so mix it up! There are so many apps, YouTube videos and classes out there to help you, and it is the best way to really enjoy exercising. I’m currently in love with the Nike Running app, which tracks your runs so you have something to analyse proudly at the end. I also love Cassey Ho’s Blogilates workout videos on YouTube. There are so many, they are really creative and entirely free!

*Get planning: The best way to be productive is by planning your day properly. So treat yourself to a new diary/planner and go to town. This doesn’t just have to be boring, worky things though. I’m busy planning as many fun things for January as possible at the moment. It can seem a bit miserable with the festivities over, so gather up your friends and go to all of those places you meant to visit in 2015. Shop the sales, eat out and have fun.

*Finally, go easy on yourself: New Year’s resolutions are all well and good, but they shouldn’t make you miserable. You don’t have to be productive 24/7, go to the gym everyday and just eat leaves. Down days exist for a reason, use yours to recharge and your productivity, exercise regime and general health will really benefit. So spend an afternoon watching films, have a bath and eat a slice of chocolate cake. Everyone deserves a break – use yours well!