Running Lately and the Orlando parkrun

Soo I’m off to Tokyo tomorrow. TOMORROW. I can barely believe it.

I’m going on my own, though with a marathon tour group so technically not alone alone. Though I know no one. I know of people who’ll be there from social media but otherwise it’s just me, myself and I. What could possibly go wrong, eh?

Let’s just talk about my running of late as it seems pertinent to do so considering I’m running the Tokyo Marathon on Sunday.

I mentioned in my Orlando recap that I ran while I was out there. On the first day, as the jet lag worked in my favour gifting me five hours, I woke up ridiculously early Orlando time but actually normal time UK. This gave me lots of hours to play with in terms of getting in a long run right at the start of the holiday so I could chill for the rest of it without having a long run looming over me.

Dark and a little chilly at 6am

It was funny because I had two different people comment that I must be freezing with my vest and shorts on as I headed out to run. I told them I was from the UK and the current temperature was positively balmy! It was probably 16 degrees C. The Hard Rock Hotel concierge said there was a 4ish mile route around the hotel and I was a little disappointed to find that was actually just a road. And a very boring road following along some busy large roads (though I did get to pass near City Walk, see the Hulk in the distance, the new Toothsome restaurant and see Harry Potter on the horizon, so actually pretty good!).

Thankfully as I was leaving another lady was leaving to start her run and she invited me to join her as I wasn’t entirely sure where to go. She only wanted to do one ‘lap’ of the route and I was intending on doing 13 miles or maybe more depending how I felt.That first lap was great as she set a nice pace and we chatted about races and politics (she had a long moan about Trump – she’s from San Francisco so it was interesting to hear an American’s perspective up close). Then before I knew it we were parting ways and I was heading off for lap number two. I listened to a podcast and plodded on. I quite like laps because there’s a level of monotony that means you can switch off, and a great way to segment the long run into smaller easier chunks.

I felt so accomplished by the end of the run and so thankful that I’d gotten 16 miles under my belt before the holiday had really begun. I wanted to do one more long run later but as long as I hit 10 miles I’d be happy so nothing too daunting.I ran 4 miles a few days later and then 13.1 miles on the Thursday. Both runs went well. Though I have to say the food I was eating was not entirely conducive to feeling good on the runs! And it did feel like I slog sometimes. But it had to be done (both the eating and running…).

My favourite run was of course the Clermont Waterfront parkrun, which is about 30 minutes outside of the main Orlando tourist area. Originally Kate and Jamie were going to run it as well but Kate had come down a cold and wasn’t feeling it and Jay was only going to run if Kate did. Thankfully though they were still up for taking me there (I was dependent on them for driving). Even with a 6.15am leaving time!Of course I got the time wrong though. I thought it started at 7am but it was actually 7.30am. This was quite handy as we got there about 6.50am and still had to park. In the end Kate and Jay dropped me off and I raced tot the start…to find them still setting up. I was a bit bewildered until they explain it was a 7.30am start. Ah.

The course had slightly changed to the previous time I’ve run but essentially it was still the flat course that wrapped along the waterfront. You run one mile out, one mile back, then past the finish 0.5 miles out the other direction and back again.

Photo Credit: Clermont Flickr group

I felt quite good setting off and tried to maintain a speedy (for me) pace. I was overtaken by a number of females and was somewhat disheartened but decided to run my own race and just see what I could do.The sun was rising as we were running so I couldn’t help but fish my phone out of my running belt and snap a few photos. Some things have to be done!On the second mile, I starting catching up with the females who overtook me and this spurred me on to keep going and catch them. As I ran past the start I saw Kate and Jay had parked and were standing cheering me on which was nice. Apparently they were the only ones cheering, despite lots of people watching. They said it was ironic that in the UK you can’t clap enough at parkrun (at the start, before, after) whereas in the US it didn’t seem to be a thing…despite Americans being a lot more vocal and “good job”tastic compared to us reserved Brits 😉

Photo Credit: Clermont Flickr group

I managed to squeeze in to second female and had a cool sprint battle with a guy right at the end which definitely made me feel somewhat sick!

Photo Credit: Clermont Flickr group

I got 22:03 which annoyed me sooo much as I so desperately wanted to see 21:xx. But it wasn’t to be.I gave what I could. Thirty seconds(ish) faster than the last time I was there and a negative split so I’m happy with that!So back in the UK my running has continued to go well. I did my last long run on Sunday. Ideally a week before a marathon I’d do 8-13 miles… but as my training hasn’t been entirely stellar in terms of hitting long runs due to my pesky niggle, I decided to go out with the intention to do at least 13 but hopefully hit 16. I had a good route that would, at the last minute, decide how far I wanted to go so I could play it by ear.

Really I knew I was going for 16 miles but I tricked my brain a bit so the night before I didn’t worry too much. I’d had quite a late night and had made some poor food choices on the Saturday (a donut for lunch, then an early dinner…) which meant I felt tired and sluggish from the get-go. Mentally and physically otherwise I felt great though and just stuck with it.

As I reached my 13 or 16 point on the route I knew I’d push on to do 16… part of me hoped to do 18 miles as my legs felt so good – no niggle whatsoever! And in general I felt strong, but it was that awful lack of fuel and energy that ultimately made me take the sensible route of doing 16. I don’t normally feel like this on a run and I guess I’ve been very lucky with never hitting a wall before but it felt pretty rubbish. Especially as everything else felt amazing. I was also very thirsty so made the snap decision to stop at a petrol station and grab a water. Luckily they accepted Apple Pay as I only had my phone and keys with me.(Paces are everywhere as it was mildly undulating). I felt really tired after this run. Definitely down to fuelling. Normally I do all my long runs fasted and have no issues – and this is because the night before I eat dinner at a normal time and have something fairly substantially.

I ate dinner about 5pm, which is a lot earlier, and it was quite light as I was heading out that evening for drinks. Then getting back late… recipe for disaster. I felt a WHOLE lot better eating breakfast. It was literally like I was a Sim and my little energy bar was topped right up after eating (OK that analogy doesn’t work as that would be the hunger bar not the energy bar but you know what I mean!).

Like so many of the marathons I’ve done, I won’t be aiming for any specific time. Around 3:45-4 hours would be good. I imagine anything over 4 hours would mean something has gone wrong (dodgy sushi ;-)) as I’m pretty sure I can at least master 9 minute miles, and I believe the course is relatively flat. I’ll give it my best shot! I want to take some photos and take it all in rather than watching my watch. God I’m so exciting but so nervous. Twelve hour flight? Nine hour time difference? Only five days out there? Yep, not one of my greatest ideas! Wish me luck!

Are you training for any races right now?

Have you ever done a race abroad?

Do you eat before you run?

Marathon Talk Run Camp 2017 recap

So this was my third time going to the Marathon Talk Run Camp in Sandy Balls in the New Forest. Marathon Talk is a running-focused podcast hosted by two genuinely lovely and knowledgeable guys, Martin Yelling (running guru for lots of publications and races) and Tom Williams (MD of parkrun).

I love listening to the podcast on my long runs and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the previous two run camps I’ve been on so I pretty much signed up straight away as soon as it became available. I knew a few others who were going, though some of them couldn’t make it in the end which was such a shame 🙁 but I still got to see my running friend, Adrian, who went to the last one and I ran Fareham parkrun with a while ago.

I arrived on Friday night and met my fellow housemates. There was a married couple and two female friends who I was sharing with. What was nice was that I got a room to myself as the friends were happy to share their twin room.The cabins have a little kitchen, two bathrooms and a lovely lounge area with a fire. It’s very cosy but fairly basic. Sandy Balls is a holiday camp set in the middle of the New Forest so the scenery is beautiful with forests all around you.

That evening we headed out to meet other Marathon Talkers around a fire pit and toasted some marshmallows.It was nice to chat to lots of different people. I got to chat to Dan from Xempo, who does all the Marathon Talk clothinig. He was so lovely. A really nice and funny guy. I mentioned to him that I was considering running to the Moors Valley parkrun the next day as I wasn’t going to be able to stay for the Sunday long run. He said that his fellow housemate, Andy, was thinking of doing the same. Funnily enough I realised I knew the Andy he was talking about from Twitter. Though I found out he was a sub 2:40 marathoner so that concerned me a bit that I might hold him up a bit!

After chatting to Andy I managed to persuade him to definitely run it…and he handily said he’d figure us out a good route (the route I’d planned was all road and a bit dodgy with the traffic, true Anna-style planning of course!). He wasn’t entirely happy about getting up earlier than he’d need to for the parkrun but I won him round 😉

The next morning we met after 7am and headed out for the 9 mile planned run he had. This run was fantastic. The route was perfect. It went pretty much all along New Forest trails so off-road and through beautiful countryside. Over styles, along a river, through boggy areas… it was fantastic! We saw lots of wildlife and even had a dodgy moment of almost getting stampeded by horses but it was fiiiiiiine.

Though it was snowing when we set off, I’d worn too many layers and by mile two was feeling rather hot. The pace was good though probably faster than I would have run on my own – but that was nice to be challenged a bit. And there were several stops of jumping over styles and things like that. Though I did worry that I was going too slowly for this marathon pro!We arrived at Moors Valley parkrun with a good amount of time to spare. My pace is all over the place due to the trails and hills.Just enough time to lose our lovely warmth and get cold again! Our smugness of being nice and toasty while everyone around us was shivering quickly disappeared.We had a quick Marathon Talk group photo and then headed to the start. Moors Valley parkrun has definitely expanded since I last did (a year ago) as there were so many people – and not just the influx of 100 or so Marathon Talkers!

Source: Marathon Talk Facebook page

I was going to run with Adrian as he was semi-injured so would be going slower than normal (he’s normally a lot speedier than me!). We positioned ourselves badly though and the first 200m we were stuck behind a lot of people who were going slower than us. This was our fault not ours and we managed to politely (I hope!) navigate past them and get into a good stride.

A lovely woman, Pippa, ran with us too which was nice as did Andy. Then Andy dropped us as he speeded ahead, then Adrian and I peeled away from Pippa, then Adrian peeled away from me! It was quite funny how that worked out. I just didn’t have a sprint finish in me at all on my heavy legs.In the end I got 24:30 (151st! So many runners) which I was happy with after the 9 miles.Then we headed to the cafe to have some breakfast. I’d already decided on a fry-up because I was really craving one. And I knew I wouldn’t be eating lunch because by the time we got back and I got sorted we’d be heading out for another Marathon Talk chat and then interval session. I wanted to do the intervals (gently) as I wanted to increase my miles for the day. I’d done 12 already but I ideally wanted 16 as I wouldn’t be doing a long run the next day.The fry-up was perfection. I got to talk to Scotland’s parkrun ambassador, Terry, which was really interesting. He’d been to a previous Run Camp so he was a familiar face. it was interesting to hear about what an ambassador does and the differences with Scottish and English parkruns.

Then I thankfully got a lift back with Pippa and her husband and then chilled in the cabin with my housemates chatting about random running-related stuff. One of my housemates, Patricia, is also doing Tokyo so it was interesting to speak to her about it. She got a good for age place which I didn’t even know existed! This would be her final Marathon Major so she’d be picking up her amazing HUGE medal as well as her Tokyo one. How cool!

Then we headed to the conference area where we had a talk from Liz Yelling and Professor Andy Lane (one of my housemates!).
It was fascinating to hear Liz talk about her training, the mental and physical sides of being an elite runner and now being a non-elite and adjusting to that side of life. Professor Andy was really interesting as well, as he was last year. He talked about the psychological aspects of training and having several goals for a marathon rather than one. And not just having outcome goals but process goals so you’re hopes aren’t stacked against one thing that is in the hands of so many elements, not just your ability. For example, run with good form (like if you know the way you swing your arms needs correcting, focus on that) or focus on having fun and taking photos rather than I MUST GET SUB-4. Because ultimately a marathon is such a long way to go and there are so many factors that are out of your control that it is really setting yourself up for a fall if you just have one time goal… good stuff!Then we headed out for some intervals. I wasn’t planning on doing a full effort session but just wanted the extra miles and to “be involved”. We headed out a mile very slowly in convoy to an area just outside Sandy Balls. The views were amazing!We were divided into groups depending on our 5k time and I made sure I sand-bagged my time so I wouldn’t be tempted to go full effort. The session was 1k at tempo speed with 15 seconds break before a 300m full-on effort, then 5 minutes break – four times.In the end though I did run faster than I would have but it was nice to have some speed on my legs, even if it was fairly tough. I did feel a little bad as everyone was in pieces around me but I was OK relatively speaking.Then we headed back for a mile cool-down back to the cabins. So a total of 18 miles for the day! I felt pretty damn pleased with myself. I had a nice hot shower back at the cabin and then chilled out again next to the fire while chatting to the others about social media, races and life in general. It was great.

I was SO hungry though by 6.30pm when we all met up again for dinner. Annoyingly though we were one of the last tables to get called to go up and get our food. I was practically climbing the walls with runger. Yes, my own fault as I should have planned food better but there never seemed to be a great time to eat something – either having just run or about to get running. I did have a few snacks but obviously nothing huge.I made up for that by piling my plate high with chilli and chicken curry (weird combination but to be honest at that point I didn’t care) with rice and salad!We then had another talk from the truly inspiring and amazing Vassos Alexander who told us all about his ultra running craziness. Like how he ran around London ALL NIGHT before heading to his breakfast radio show in the morning. He said he stopped for an espresso but otherwise just kept running. He was such a lovely, lovely guy. I’ll definitely be buying his book! And he’s currently in the process of writing another one. What I liked was how he said he was offered money to write a kind of sports “tell all” book as he’s interviewed so many sports stars but he really didn’t want to as he wanted to remain trustworthy and genuine.I went up to him afterwards to speak to him and he was just so nice. I did have a bit of verbal diarrhoea though by blurting out how I didn’t actually listen to Radio 2 but was more of a Radio 1 listener and how my dad would kill me not getting a photo with him. He found this amusing thankfully!

I also got my usual photo with Martin and Tom… I do feel awkward asking for a photo from them but they’re so lovely that they didn’t make me feel like a silly fan girl.After a fun quiz, which our team (the Camp Runners) did terribly at, I had to go home. I had lots to do the next day and I needed a proper lie-in. I was sad to leave and sad to miss the next day’s fun but it had to be done. I loved the time I did spend though. I will be signing up straight away for the next one as it’s just so good. So much fun, so much good advice and information, so many nice people and a way to connect with other runners. I love it. I fully recommend coming if you can!

Have you ever been to a running camp?

Do you often do intervals?

Orlando food recap and how much weight I gained

Now if you’re anything like me, it’s all about the food on holiday. And when it comes to holiday recaps, I want to know ALL about it. So here we go. Get ready to feel a little bit hungry 😉

I’ll also preface this with saying that I pretty much ate whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted and lots of it. I wanted to include my weight into this post because I want to reassure people that it is completely NORMAL to gain weight on holiday. You’re eating completely different foods and you’re on holiday so there’s lots of treats and eating out.

During a normal week I’ll probably eat out once or twice (usually with pudding). I’ll eat treats through the week but in general I’m quite healthy and routine-based in what I eat Monday to Friday. I like what I eat and I don’t restrict myself any food but in general, yes, I eat fairly healthily.

So going to Orlando and eating everything was bound to have an effect. And I was fully aware of this and quite happy with that eventual outcome. I love food and I didn’t want to come home with any regrets about what I DIDN’T eat, not about what I did eat. Food is a big part of what I love and how I like to spend time with people (as it is for Kate & Jamie who I went with) and it was a major part of why the holiday was AMAZING. And on that note…

Starting with the absolute breakfast must for me before a holiday, the usual fry-up affair at the airport.Gatwick South doesn’t have a great amount of choice (and no Jamie’s Italian, which I think does the best fry-up) but we had a fantastic meal at Grain Store Café & Bar. Though I dislike the baked bean contamination going on!

Anyway, onto actual Orlando food. The first night (being five hours ahead it was like ridiculous o’clock in the morning UK time) we arrived at the hotel from the airport and headed to our respective rooms. I promptly ordered room service as it was dinner time in Orlando and I find it best to get into the swing of the time zone I’m in. Annnnd I was hungry so why not!Not the greatest photo but basically I had a chicken burger with chips though I was a bit disappointed as I really wanted was some overly fried crispy fries. And a huge pickle. God I love America with their love for pickles. And I ate it in my PJs in bed watching TV. BLISS.

One of our first proper meals was at Longhorn Steakhouse. I’m not usually a huge steak lover – though I do enjoy them. I wouldn’t have picked this restaurant myself but Kate and Jay raved about it and I was very relaxed this holiday about where and what we were going to eat that I went with their better judgement. I’m so glad I did!I ordered a fillet steak (rare) with a sweet potato. The sweet potato weirdly came with cinnamon sugar butter which I asked for on the side because it sounded wrong to have it on the potato. I didn’t touch it…just weird. The bread at Longhorn was TO DIE FOR as well. Now I’m fairly ambivalent about bread, but this bread was warm and delicious. So a very simple but a very tasty meal.

We followed this with a trip to Menchies for some fro-yo and I went a bit crazy on the toppings (all the animal cookies, the brownie bites, the cookie dough chunks, the turtle chocolate caramel things). So good.

Another top meal was at a Mexican restaurant called Chuy’s which we went to the last time we went to Orlando together. I had chicken fajitas and it came with all the trimmings.At first I thought I’d need to ask for more tortillas it only came with three. But after piling each one with so much filling that they almost exploded, I really didn’t need anymore! I didn’t need my rice either. The guacamole, sour cream, salsa, cheese, tortillas and chicken with onion and peppers were enough!

We then popped into Coldstone Creamery. Jay and Kate had a crazy ice cream concoction but I went for a candy apple because, well, see blog name.I had a rocky road one and it was covered with caramel, chocolate, nuts and marshmallow. Ahh it was so good. I’m not a huge ice cream fan so the apple was always the way forward for me.

After doing Busche Gardens one day we had a late lunch/early dinner at a lovely little Italian pizza place called Giovanni’s. Again, this is one we’ve been to before and we all loved it. I shared chicken wings with Jamie and had a gyro salad with pita bread. The chicken wings. Good God. They were amazing. Possibly the best of the holiday? It’s hard to say. You know me, I love chicken wings and would eat them every day if I could (I did when I went to Boston) so this is high praise indeed. Buffalo sauce and blue cheese dip. I can’t even.We followed this by going to the ice cream parlour next door and I had seven bars flavour and birthday cake flavour. The seven bars flavour is basically seven different chocolate bars within the ice cream – it literally rocked my world. The birthday cake (which was underneath) sadly didn’t compare but was still good.

And something I always get when I go to Orlando… the turkey leg. It’s one of my favourite things. It brings out the true carnivore in me. And why my friends call me a hyena. When we went to Disney we decided to have a more ‘snacky lunch’ as we were going to Chuy’s that evening (see above).I sniffed out where the turkey legs were and settled myself on a bench with the above view while Kate and Jamie headed off to find what they wanted for lunch. Kate, being the pudding pro, went for an ice cream sandwich while Jamie had a hot dog. They had to wait a bit in a queue so I sat on my own started munching away. Jamie said from a distance it looked like I hadn’t been fed for a week and had finally been shown food… smallish girl with giant turkey leg eating like a hyena. I was in my own little happy world, what can I say!What we tended to do is if we were planning a big lunch, then we’d skip breakfast. I would get a fruit salad and a coffee from the Hard Rock Hotel mini-shop and that would tide me over until lunch. We usually also timed this with the previous night having had a huge dinner so I didn’t really wake up that hungry. So most days we’d have one really big main meal (with pudding) and probably snacks either side. I will say though on the days we didn’t have breakfast by midday I was SO ready to eat. But then so were Kate and Jay. We had very similar stomach clocks so this worked nicely. They’re very food-focused so I knew I’d never be without 😉

One of my favourite restaurants we went to (which we went to twice as it was just so good) was a restaurant about 30 minutes from the tourist area called 4 Rivers Smokehouse.Now I know I eat a lot of ribs, but honestly this was PHENOMENAL. I had a full rack of St. Louis ribs (my favourite style of ribs) and it rocked my world a million times over (OK how often will I use this phrase??). I got two chicken wings on the side because as part of the meal you got a load of sides with it (like cornbread, BBQ beans and Mac & Cheese, Southern greens…things like that) but I just wanted the biscuit and wings. The biscuit was ridiculously soft and delicious. The ribs…so good. If you ever go to Orlando, look this place up. Seriously.

We also went to Cheesecake Factory one day. We don’t really have anything similar to this in the UK. The menu is ridiculous. PAGES upon pages of options. Basically we went purely for the cheesecake. I shared some chicken wings with Kate (see, addicted) and then had a chicken and guacamole salad (so much avocado…) followed by the white chocolate macadamia nut cheesecake (not as good as the Ultimate Red Velvet though).For a giggle I worked out how many calories I ate in this mealThat’s pretty insane, right?? I have honestly never felt so full in my life. Yes I ate all of it. While I was eating the cheesecake I was thinking, “I’m a bit full but I’m OK” and then suddenly within the last bite of it I hit the fullest I’ve ever been. We were all stuffed. I literally needed to lie down and curl up in the fetal position. I think in my future full scale in life that Cheesecake Factory moment will be right at the top.

Another day when I literally ate more than I really should have was one of the best meals of my life. MY ENTIRE LIFE. This is a bold, bold statement I know. I went to Orlando knowing I wanted this meal after seeing a YouTuber eating it. This was brunch after the Orlando parkrun (another post to come) at Hash House A Go Go.Fried chicken on BACON-FILLED waffles covered with fried leeks (random but it worked) and hot maple reduction. It was ENORMOUS. But I was in food heaven. I dream about this meal even now.Best meal of the holiday. Best meal of my life. I pretty much ate it all bar maybe one of the waffles and the two random cherry tomatoes they served it with (weird). Jay ate those.It said it came with eggs but I honestly can’t remember eggs being in there. Anyway I felt ridiculously full. We ate about 9.30am? I didn’t eat again (absolutely nothing – not even coffee) until after 7pm (and that was a salad). What do you do after you’ve eaten a ridiculous big meal and feel a bit ill? Go to SeaWorld and do the roller coasters. Ooof. Especially when we went on Manta which holds you horizontal and we got held there at the end for a good 5 minutes as they took ages boarding the next people. I’ve never been sick on a ride but honestly I was THIS close. Stupid, stupid idea.

And the best pudding of the holiday? The chocolate brownie milkshake I got from the new City Walk restaurant, Toothsome Chocolate Emporium. After *cough* chicken wings for starters (with an insanely good chocolate ale sauce) and a chicken salad, I had the best milkshake (and pudding) of the holiday.The brownie milkshake came with chocolate ice cream as the base of the milkshake but I changed to vanilla as I thought it would be a bit too chocolatey. They blend up a brownie in there too so this was a very wise choice. I was in heaven. I dipped the brownie in the milkshake and just floated away to heaven. Kate got the peanut butter one (far right) and Jamie got the Dulche Leche (middle). We all agreed it was AMAZING. My one regret of the holiday is not going back for the red velvet milkshake (they put a red velvet cupcake on top). But a reason to go back…

Other puddings worthy of a shout-out were the slices of red velvet and carrot cake at the bakery in 4 Rivers Smokehouse (can that place get any better?).Kate and I shared the slices as we couldn’t make our minds up. It worked out nicely as I found I preferred the carrot cake and she preferred the red velvet.

And then another candy apple that I got to choose the toppings for in the Disney Springs candy shop.It was a caramel base, a white chocolate covering, Butterfingers and Graham Cracker sprinkled all over and then a dark chocolate drizzle. Oh it was so good. But I felt incredibly sick that evening. Way too much sugar.

This obviously isn’t everything I ate on holiday, but it’s the real highlights. And the reason why I gained half a stone (7lbs)! I weighed myself before going on holiday and then after making a prediction with Kate and Jamie about how much I’d have put on, I weighed myself as soon as I got back from the airport. Half a stone! I mean to be honest I’m surprised I didn’t put more on but we did walk over 25,000 steps a day, I did lots of running and a few gym visits so really I came out quite well I think. I’m quite proud of myself 😉

But having weighed myself today (a week and a half later) I’m pretty much back to my pre-holiday weight. I DID NOT go on a ridiculous starvation diet. I just went back to my usual eating, running and gym visits (no more than usual). Honestly, I didn’t feel guilty or awful about what I ate or how much weight I put on. I knew when I got home things would readjust back. And they have done. I mean if I’m honest, I was craving my normal food and healthier ways of eating when I got back so it wasn’t that hard. Though I miss that milkshake and chicken and waffles every day. EVERY DAY.

So there we go. Go on holiday, eat all the foods, relax and think about the memories you make not the calories you’re eating!

Do you eat lots of holiday?

Best meal of your life?

What’s your favourite pudding you’ve ever had?

Things I’m Loving Lately

I’m fairly behind in my blog posting. I still have an epic food recap for Orlando and the MarathonTalk Run Camp to come, but while I work on those I have a quick post for things I’m loving lately.

Hard Rock Hotel: As I mentioned in my Orlando recap post, I stayed in the Hard Rock Hotel which was amaaazing. But yes fairly expensive. The room I stayed in was so nice. Oh the bed… the bed was super comfy! I actually had two beds which was amusing; which one to choose each night??And I don’t know if you can quite see, but on the mirror it has a measuring rule and then the heights listed for different famous people. I’m 5ft4(ish) so I’m around Madonna and Pink’s height apparently. Very cool.

And as the hotel was fairly expensive I had no issue in stocking up each day on the really fancy smelling bath products each day…I’m sure I’m not alone in doing this… because after all, these little shampoos and shower gels are so handy for when you next go away and don’t want to take a huge bottle with you!

Jam Bluetooth Speaker: My dad gave me this little speaker when he saw how I was playing music… through my phone and carrying it around the flat with me. He had one of these spare.The sound quality isn’t exactly Bose quality of course but it is a lot better than my phone! I love this little speaker as it means I can leave my phone on charge somewhere and still listen to music or a podcast. I usually listen while cooking so this is perfect.

Boots: During the winter I practically live in boots. I have a fair collection now, whether that’s ankle boots or more full leg boots. My mum recently passed these UGG boots on to me as she bought them on a whim and then found she actually didn’t like them (yes, my mum actually does this).Obviously it works out quite nicely for me! They’re so soft inside as they’re lined with sheep’s wool. But they’re suede so I have to be choosy when to wear them!

I also ‘splashed’ out on a pair of over the knee boots (they weren’t expensive at all!).But they’re great for the winter as they basically give you another layer over your legs over your jeans!

Chicken: It’s kind of become a Sunday tradition for me now to cook a whole chicken. I then carve it up and it gives me delicious roast chicken for the week. OK that’s a lie, it probably feeds me for four days… But that’s still pretty good.It may not surprise you that I love roast chicken so it’s always nice getting home from work knowing I have some in the fridge to throw into different meals that night.

And now on to a quick review…

Splat Blackwood Charcoal Toothpaste Review

Charcoal toothpaste you say? Doesn’t sound entirely pleasant, right? But withhold your judgement for just a bit…

So I was sent this charcoal toothpaste to review and was indeed fairly sceptical and a bit worried about the taste.

The company who made this, My Natural Smile, is a natural and organic teeth whitening and healthcare product specialists. My Natural Smile has been endorsed by the dental team at Visage, the UK’s best Private Dental Practice North as voted for at the Private Dentistry Awards 2016, as well as Avsan, one of the UK’s leading dental groups.

They argue that because your mouth is pretty significant gateway to your body and health, it’s probably a good idea to look into more natural and organic ways to strengthen gums, whiten, help sensitive teeth and bad breath.

There’s no alcohol or dodgy chemicals. The birch charcoal whitens enamel and absorbs odours, while juniper berry extract has antibacterial effect to ensure protection against bacteria and plaque formation. It helps normalise pH balance, it’s fluoride-free and vegan friendly.

But what does it taste like? Because let’s be honest, that’s a very key part of a toothpaste if we have to use it at least twice a day.Yes the toothpaste is actually black, which is slightly disconcerting. And it does foam up to be fairly grey. But it does taste like toothpaste, though you can tell it’s not Colgate or something seriously minty. It does have that kind of “natural” edge to it.

After using it now for over two weeks I’m fully used to it and quite happy with the taste. The only slight con is that the black colour can leave unsightly marks on your sink if you don’t wash it all away. It doesn’t stain but it does make your sink look a bit grubby if you don’t wash it all away, whereas normal toothpaste would just leave a white mark which is harder to see. You can check out more of their range of natural oral care products on their website.

What’s your favourite style of boot?

Do you listen to music or podcasts around the house?

Do you do any food prep on a Sunday?

**Full disclaimer: I was sent the toothpaste for free to review for my blog. All opinions are my own honest ones.**

Orlando Recap – part 1

So Orlando was pretty damn fun. I’d even go as far to say one of the best holidays I’ve ever had.

It was just such a non-stop fun time. I’m a huge fan of roller coasters and being “active” on holiday. When I say active I mean doing stuff, not lying on beach. There’s a place for that and I fully appreciate sometimes people need a holiday where they do nothing, but for me I need to be out and about. I can’t lie on a sun lounger or the beach for hours at end.

Anyway I won’t recap the entire holiday because I think that would be a bit self-indulgent of me and boring for you guys. But I’ll give you the highlights  (though it’s quite long, sorry!) – and I’ll do a separate post on the food because it was amaaaazing. And I have a bit to say about that!

So basically I went with my two friends, Kate and Jamie (they’re married). I get on so well with them and I’ve been on holiday with them before though I was with Ben at the time, so I guess this time there was a danger of me being their third wheeling friend. Thankfully they never made me feel like that for which I was super grateful.

The Hotel

We stayed in the Hard Rock Hotel, which was incredible. Ridiculously expensive but so cool. They have their own scent. I kid you not, the entire hotel smells AMAZING. Like an actual perfume – kind of masculine and not over-powering, just subtle and nice.All around the hotel they had music memorabilia – like pop star’s outfits displayed from different events. We were on the Tom Jones floor which was cool.

The great thing about the Hard Rock (asides from the smell) is that it is literally an eight minute walk to City Walk, where there are lots of cool restaurants, shops, crazy golf and an IMAX cinema. It’s also where you go to get into Universal Studios and Islands of Adventures. So extremely handy. There was also a lovely little boat you could get for a more scenic, albeit slightly longer, route.

The hotel itself has it’s own mini shop with a Starbucks and an amazing pool (which includes a slide, and an adult’s only hot tub – and water dispensers that are full of ice cold water with fruit in).

The Parks

We had tickets to a number of the main parks: all the Disneys, Universal Studios, Busch Gardens and Sea World. It’s an expensive holiday I’ll admit. The tickets alone to all those parks were £720. Yep. I was there for ten days (my friends for 14) and we went to all of them except the water parks. I’m not fussed with water parks as it’s all a bit too much of a faff for me. I prefer the roller coasters and attractions. In the end we went to eight parks (Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios, Animal Kingdom, Universal Studios, Islands of Adventures, Busche Gardens and Sea World). I loved them all for different reasons.Magic Kingdom is good for the experience. The rides aren’t amazing but they’re fun (it’s obviously a great place for young kids). The themes all around the parks are fantastic. Characters are walking around and it seems every little detail has been thought of. Thought we didn’t have to queue much because we were in the off-season and Disney have a fast pass system (which is free, you use an app – not as great as Universal but you pay for Universal…unless you stay in the Hard Rock and that comes with your room!), but the newest ride, the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, we waited about 40 minutes and the whole queue was cooly themed to be like a mine shaft.

We went to Epcot one evening for the fireworks and they were pretty good. We did a couple of the rides there beforehand (the Test Track was surprisingly really good!) but mainly just went for the fireworks. Epcot isn’t really a ride-focused place, it’s a great place for food and walking around looking at things if that makes sense.Hollywood Studios is good. You can’t beat the Tower of Terror (a lift/elevator that drops really quickly). The entire experience, from queuing, to the ‘cast’ who guide you to your elevator seats and the actual ride are just fantastic. I’m glad they haven’t got rid of such a classic as they did in the California version of the park.And the Aerosmith ride is really good too – you zoom forward so quickly in the first part and the set-up for the ride is really fun too with the band and where you queue. But in terms of other major rides it does lack a little bit. It’s probably the Disney park most needed to be given a bit of an uplift if I’m honest. But we saw the Beauty and the Beast show, the Indiana Jones stunt show and a herd (?) of Storm Troopers march past us so it was a pretty good day! And met Woody and Buzz 😉Animal Kingdom was my favourite Disney park I think. I’ve never been there before and it really outdid my expectations. The entire park was so well done. The different areas themed so well, from Alaska to the Far East. The rides were really good (not scary, just thrilling) and the safari was really good fun. We saw loads of animals like elephants (and a baby elephant!), lions, hyenas (apparently my spirit animal my friends say…), zebras, etc.I’m a huge fan of dinosaurs (weird, I know) so I was totally in my element in the dinosaur themed area and the dinosaur ride. We also saw the Lion King show which was so good! I can’t believe how good all the Disney shows are (OK that’s probably a silly statement but I was expecting something fairly half-hearted). Though I have to say, there is something slightly scary and manic about the people who work at Disney. They seem to have this full-on Disney mega-watt smile 24/7 and they’re all super super enthusiastic. Jamie said they probably go home each night and scream into pillows. I think I’m inclined to agree. No one can be that happy all the time.

One of the best roller coaster parks is definitely Busch Gardens. If you don’t like the whole ‘adrenaline enthused throw you all about the place’ kind of experience, then this park isn’t for you.

Busch is about 1.5 hours away from the main Orlando area but if you like your roller coasters this is the place to go. I was gutted that their newest ride was closed for maintenance but it still didn’t take away how good the other rides were. And it was great for Jamie who has since lost SIX STONE since last coming so he could sit at the front each time instead of the designated ‘larger person’ seats.

The park was so quiet. Well, no that’s a lie. The queues were basically empty for the roller coasters (which meant we went on each ride twice, sometimes three times) but the park itself wasn’t empty. It was actually full of, well, older people. Like really old people. Apparently it’s quite the destination spot for a day out – there are shows and music events that suit their tastes. It was quite bizarre as we sat on the little train that takes you from the car park to the park realising we were the youngest ones on there by quite some years… Though it was hilarious to see two very old chaps getting off the Cheetah ride (a very fast coaster) before we got on looking like they were having a whale of a time!

My favourite ride is Falcon’s Fury and it literally scares the hell out of me. You sit in a seat and are taken vertically up and then right at the top (so high!) they rotate you over so you’re looking face down, and then they drop you. I’ve never sworn so much in my whole life. I had to apologise to the older lady next to me for the language I was using… But it’s such a thrill!

Though I still have huge reservations about Sea World and their shows, I do like they’ve moved to more conservation focuses and it’s clear from the park that they’re moving more towards rides. Their newest ride, Mako, was AMAZING. I mean, super scary but really good. The scariest part was the fact that the only restraint you have is a lap bar. OK it’s quite thick and you don’t go upside down, but STILL. You feel very, well, unsecured as you’re being zoomed around Orlando’s tallest, fastest and longest roller coaster. The other rides at Sea World are really good too.I have to say I do prefer Universal Studios and Island of Adventures over Disney. I just love the mix of good roller coasters, thrills rides and what the parks look like with all the themes.And the two different Harry Potter areas in each park are just brilliant (And Jurrasic Park ride is a firm classic favourite for me). The new King Kong ride was quite good as well – more of a thrill ride. My favourite ride is by far Rip Ride Rockit which is great as it’s a proper roller coaster but you get to choose what music you’ll listen to on the way round.

While we were there it was the Mardi Gras celebration as well so on that evening we headed to watch a parade and collected lots of beads that were thrown from the floats. It was really good fun! Though the entertainment was a country and western singer who we really didn’t know (Trace Adkins?) so we didn’t stay to watch him.

Basketball Match

We didn’t just go to the theme parks though. We also went and saw a basketball match to see Orlando Magic play against the Toronto Raptors. I’ve seen an ice hockey match before but never basketball.

If you have the choice, go and watch a basketball game because honestly it was so much fun and so much happens! From the outside of the stadium where there is music, face painting free food and samples and a general party atmosphere…I’m a real sucker for face paint so to be honest it was a good job I had it done here otherwise I might have had a tiger done at Animal Kingdom 😉At the match I had a Bud Light (love Bud Lights) and a Mexican rice and chiptole pork meal, which was delicious. There were lots of cheerleaders, back flippers and of course a huge dressed up mascot (think it was a dragon?). The Orlando Magic won which was great! Though what wasn’t so great was when these “Dad dancers” came out and did a crazy little dance which was quite funny. However at the end of it when they headed off one of them literally just fell flat on his back. We thought it was part of the routine so we laughed… Until we saw someone race over and check him when he didn’t get back up. Then medics ran over. Honestly it was all a bit bewildering. We were just stunned and no one really knew what was happening. Eventually though he was taken off in a stretcher and raised his arm to give a thumbs up. I mean, I know it’s not funny but it kind of is – the dad dance was just too much for him!

Extras

As well as the parks we had two-ish days where we didn’t really do theme parks (I say ‘ish’ as one of those mornings we did go into Universal Studios just to try a few rides out in the morning before moving on elsewhere).

We did some shopping in the outlet mall and Florida Mall, which was great. I didn’t spend a huge amount at all. Just picked up some *cough* leggings…and had a mosey round Victoria’s Secret/Pink shop (love those shop). And a whole shop dedicated to jerky!We also went to Cirque du Soleil one evening and it was so good. I’ve never seen it before so I was really enthralled by the talent of the performers! So good, but very random and I wasn’t entirely sure of the story-line…

On the first day we went to Pig Fest again (a non-touristy BBQ festival about an hour away from the main area). We did this the last time we went and as big fans of BBQ food and meat, this was like a dream for us.

You swap dollars for ‘Pig Bucks’ and then go round buying little samples of ribs, wings, brisket, pulled pork… and lots more. I filled up on different kinds of smoked ribs, with different BBQ sauces and individual chicken wings and butter dipped corn. Oh it was amazing. My friend, Kate, who was the certified pudding pro held back a little on the meat and went to town on the more sweet options, such as a deep fried Oreo and a deep fried Pop Tart. I tried a bit of the Pop Tart but you honestly couldn’t tell it was an actual Pop Tart – it was more just a very sweet and mushy blend of everything good in the world. But I couldn’t have eaten a whole one, even me! Far too sweet.

Deep fried S’mores Pop Tart with chocolate sauce

On my last night we went to Twin Peaks (kind of like Hooters where the girls basically wear no clothes and are overly flirtatious) and had some dirty bar snacks and Bud Light while watching the Super Bowl.I had 12 (!) Buffalo chicken wings with that heavenly blue cheese dip (God I could bathe in that stuff) and we shared a plate of nachos. It was so good.

So basically it was a really jam-packed holiday. I ate far too much but loved every single bite. And every day was just amazing. The weather was great (lows of 22C and highs of 27C) and it was blissfully quiet. Take me back!

Have you ever been to Orlando?

What’s your favourite theme park?

Are you more of a thrill-seeker of an adrenaline junkie, or something a bit more peaceful?

FYI: If you wanted any more information regarding going to Orlando as a holiday, please email me. This was my fourth time going and I have a lot of tips and advice that I didn’t want to bombard this post with (anymore than I have done)!