Birthday celebrations – friends, running and ALL the food

This weekend was a scorcher! I was so pleased the weather was good as I was off to London on Friday afternoon to see my friends to celebrate my birthday (which is today…booo! On a Monday!).

I headed up to London on the train and met my lovely friend, Charlotte, for dinner. We decided to go for a Mexican meal and it fully hit the spot! Charlotte’s just changed from being a veggie to eating meat, and this still blows my mind. She ordered a chicken skewer and chicken tacos, while I ordered chicken wings and chicken fajitas.It was SO good. It fully hit the spot of what I wanted that evening. I even got to finish off Charlotte’s skewer as it was just a bit “too meaty” for her (she’s still adjusting to being non-veggie) and she’s also a normal person who doesn’t eat stupid amounts like I do! And of course, a cheeky frozen margarita was in order.

And what finishes dinner perfectly? Some pudding of course! I was on the hunt for something tasty…and found a lovely little waffle and dessert cafe to satisfy my cravings.From there we headed to some bars for drinks and then met our other friend Laura, who lives in London, and headed to Camden for some dancing. It was such a fun evening. I’ve been feeling a bit stressed and a bit frustrated with a few things so this was EXACTLY what I needed. We got to Laura’s, where we were to be staying overnight, at 2.30am. Pooped!

Now being the running-obsessed person I am, I had my alarm set for 7.30am to head to Wormwood Scrubs to meet our other friend, Kate, for some parkrun tourism. She’d driven down from Bristol and had found Wormwood Scrubs parkrun was the easiest for her to get to and a good spot for her to leave her car without paying a fortune. Also, she spec’ed out the place and found that the local running clubhouse had showers! So she brought me a towel and some shower gel to use, bless her.

When my alarm went off at 7.30am I was a little worse for wear but got myself together to leave by 7.45am and onto the tube. I was a bit of a walking zombie but got there on time and with no issues. Have I finally become a real adult!?Wormwood Scrubs is next to a huge prison (you can see it in the bottom left photo above). I had no idea but it was literally right next to the park. Interesting!Wormwood Scrubs parkrun is all run on grass and is 2.5 laps. It’s a bit uneven underfoot and though it appears flat, does actually have some deceptively sneaky inclines. I was having some serious hay fever issues that morning (damn Stingy Anna for buying Tesco’s own hay fever tablet) so this was giving me problems. Lots of sneezing and my eyes were SO itchy. Being in the middle of a field didn’t help.Nothing huge or could be called a hill, but it does increase the effort level. Considering I was feeling a bit, er, tender and the temperature was already at 23 degrees I made the sensible decision to go easy. Actually, that’s a lie; I couldn’t have gone faster even if I tried!!

I finished drenched in sweat and glad to stop. That was a tough one! I got 23:07 and was happy with that!

Sadly my friend Kate lost her footing a bit and hurt her calf. She had to walk a fair bit of it. But she powered through. Hopefully it’ll heal up quickly – we have another obstacle race soon!Wormwood is a really small parkrun. They regularly get less than 100 people there each week (it was actually a course attendance record on Saturday with 107 people). It was very friendly and felt very welcoming. It was nice to go to such a small one. It gives it a nice community spirit feel.

Thankfully we were able to find and use the showers in the nearby sports area. They were very basic but they did the job! Very grateful for Kate bringing her shower stuff as otherwise we’d have had to have been sweaty all day because we weren’t going back to Laura’s. Instead, after showering, we headed to Covent Garden to meet Laura and Charlotte again. They had had a lie-in (very jealous) and were feeling a bit more refreshed than I did when I woke!

We then headed away from the main Covent Garden area to look for somewhere for brunch. It was now past 11 and we were all hungry. I spotted a nice looking place but it was heaving and had no seats so we headed to a pub across the road. It was empty. I was dubious. But with no other nearby options we decided to go for it. I am SO pleased we did. And, to be fair, it wasn’t exactly peak pub time so you can’t really blame it for not being busy!

I ordered a Full English (of course) and honestly it ranks as one of my top three Full Englishes, EVER.It came with home-made hash browns. Normally I’m not a hash brown fan but home-made? I thought I’d give them a go. And I’m so glad I did!

The whole meal was incredible. Te beans were homemade and had a slightly spicy kick. Everything tasted amazing. I was definitely well refuelled!

We then walked to Green Park (with iced Starbucks, it was SO hot) and relaxed. We passed through Leicester Square and saw them setting up the premier for the new Transformers film. Very cool (though I don’t actually like the films. Urgh Michael Bay).It was such a beautiful day and so nice to catch up and chat with my friends. We weren’t a full group as one of our friends has just recently had a baby (this blows my mind) but it was nice to see the other girls.

Then we headed back to Covent Garden to indulge in a very tasty treat. This was my only request for our time in London, having seen these bad boys on Instagram and heard about how tasty they are. Freakshakes from Maxwell’s. Oh. My. God.A salted caramel milkshake with a salted caramel donut on top. My gawwwwwwd it was So good.I mean, I was covered in stickiness trying to eat this but it was phenomenal. And yes, I finished it! A perfect end to what was a really lovely, lovely birthday celebration. Even without all the amazing food, it was just so nice to have a beautifully sunny weekend chilling (and dancing!) with my friends. I went home very happy (and possibly in a deep sugar coma).

Have you ever had a freakshake?

If you had good weather, how did you enjoy it?

Have you ever seen a film premier?

The Botanist – Reading

When you love food as much as I do, getting invited to a restaurant launch is probably up there with a dream evening. A new restaurant has just opened in Reading, called The Botanist.

The Botanist is a chain but with only a few locations. I first heard about and went to The Botanist in Chester after the Chester Marathon. I was blown away by the look of the restaurant interior – so pretty and adhering to its botanical-theme.  So I was curious to see what the one in Reading would be like.

I invited my friend, George, to join me as he lives in Reading and is a fellow lover of food. It was a Thursday night which was somewhat of a bummer but hey I’m not complaining! We headed there straight from work, hungry and ready to go. Being the keeners we are, we arrived ten minutes too early so decided to ‘waste some time’ in a delightful Turkish cafe down the road. I had a freddo cappuccino which rocked.

Anyway, back to The Botanist. On arrival we were offered Prosecco or beer. We went for a glass of bubbly and enquired about what the event would entail.Apparently lots of free drink (an open bar, anything you want) and then canapes at 7.30pm. I was somewhat disappointed that the food would “just” be canapes (check out the menu, so many tempting options!) and seemed so far away. But hey we rolled with it and decided to do a lap of the restaurant to check the scene.

The restaurant is so beautifully decorated. I just love how they keep to the theme! Flower pots, plants, flowers…so pretty.It was filling out quickly with lots of people so we decided to head to the outside area and chill with our bubbly. The restaurant has a small but lovely outside area which was delightful to enjoy in the evening sunshine.We also noticed lots of cool looking cocktails being handed out. Some of which were in plant pots!! The Botanist is well known for it’s very cool cocktails, again all botanically themed.The barmen and ladies were lovely and friendly and, as you can see very happy to have their photo taken. Anyway, sadly as I was driving I couldn’t partake in much drinking but had insane amounts of Diet Coke instead…love that stuff.George and I grabbed one of the above cocktails after a bunch were made. I tried a sip (divine, so tasty!) and gave the rest to George. Lucky guy, he lived just down the round.We were sad not to be able to try the plant pot cocktails but these were very tasty.

And then finally we saw canapes being brought out. By this point, George and I were VERY hungry. The waitresses (who were working very hard indeed that night! And were super friendly and helpful) were bringing out these boards of canapes and putting them on tables. We didn’t have a table and they were walking straight past us. Cunning work needed to be done.

I saw a waitress with a board and asked her if I could have one “for our table”. She gladly handed one over, yesss! George and I quickly found an edge of a table to perch it on and like locusts attacked. The canapes were DELICIOUS.

And from then we seemed to score big time on the canape front. After three more boards we decided to head outside again for some fresh air as it was quite busy inside. We luckily found a table and I chilled with my Diet Coke while George sipped a beer. And then a waitress came over and gave us another board. Amazing.We rated our favourites (now serious canape connoisseurs). The chicken lolly pop was the best, hands down. Followed by the pork belly skewer (neither shown in this pic annoyingly). The quails egg Scotch egg rocked our world too. A fellow patron came over and asked to have one of our Scotch eggs as she’d seen them and hadn’t been able to try one yet. George and I looked at each other, both clearly trying to think of a polite way to say no (yes, even though this was our fifth board…), when another board passed by and we told her to grab it. Whew! Crisis averted 😉

Basically the food was amazing and worth the wait. I’ve never been so full on canapes before in my life! It was great being there with George who was as food-centric as me. Then we headed back into the restaurant and enjoyed the live music and the free drinks (well, Diet Coke for me).The music, the food, the drinks…all made for a fantastic evening. I’ll definitely be finding myself in Reading again soon to go back for a proper meal. I’m really pleased this one has opened up closer to me as I was sad when I realised there were none nearby after I had such a great meal in Chester.

We eventually left, goodie bags in tow, and headed for a some pudding at a local ice cream parlour. It ended the evening perfectly.Cookie dough ice cream and fudge brownie. Delightful!

Have you ever been to The Botanist?

What’s your favourite canape?

What’s your favourite cocktail?

**Full Disclaimer: I was invited to the opening of The Botanist in Reading in exchange of a mention on my blog. All opinions are my own honest ones.**

A wobbly parkrun and my divorce party

Bank holiday weekends are such a gift. That one extra day just makes it seem to last forever.

I definitely needed it after a very poor night sleep on Friday. I was woken up at 2am by some bad hay fever, so took an antihistamine and eventually feel back asleep. Then at 4am there was a thunderstorm. Alfie hates thunder and lightning; he gets very scared and freaks out. For whatever reason he decided that sitting on my head would be the safest place for him. And then intermittently barking. It seemed to go on forever, so we were awake for quite a while.

When my alarm went off at 7am I felt like I’d barely slept. I’m normally the type of person who gets up straight away with their alarm, but it was the first time in ages where I desperately wanted to snooze. But parkrun waits for no one!

I didn’t feel particularly great or 100% when I got to Netley. I’d felt very sick the day before for some reason so wondered if that, with lack of sleep, just made me feel rubbish. The weather was very oppressive as well, humid and close. Anyway, I helped set-up and decided today was not the day to push it.As soon as I started running I knew it was going to be a bad one. I was running far slower than normal and yet the effort level seemed the same. People who I normally run with or ahead of were overtaking me and I just couldn’t seem to catch up. I would occasionally surge forward but then found this shattered me.

I also didn’t feel right in that I felt hazy and foggy and a couple of times lost my footing. It felt really quite awful. Several times I wondered if I should drop-out of walk. But being the stubborn idiot I am I just pushed on, trying to get to the finish-line as quickly as I could.As I got closer to the finish I started getting more and more foggy and when I finished and stopped running I completely lost my bearings and stumbled to the floor. I can’t tell you how embarrassing this was. I just suddenly felt so dizzy and out of it. Luckily someone helped me and got me some water. I was very grateful, though hugely mortified. A lot of other people were also feeling the humid and oppressive weather conditions too so I didn’t look like a complete loon. I should have just stopped when I started feeling off.I somehow managed 23:07, but it felt so ridiculously hard. I helped clear up and then had a hot drink at the cafe. I still felt quite hazy so sitting and taking a moment helped. I had quite a busy day ahead so needed to have my shizz together!I got back home and was so busy sorting stuff I wasn’t able to focus on feeling under the weather, which I actually think helped (tho I had a moment in the shower where I found myself exhausted and wondering if I should just go back to bed…). I had my divorce party planned for 1pm at my friend’s house and needed to get myself together. And as I was in charge of the food, I needed to have that together too.

The day before I’d made a beef chilli (I used this Jamie Oliver recipe and slow cooked pieces of beef shin for over five hours and it smelt amaaaaazing).I was also planning on making some guacamole and had lots of snacks to take too. After rushing around like a mad thing I eventually made it to my friend’s house. She’d made the most fantastic cake! Red velvet…divine!We got the food prepared and spread on the table. I made guacamole using avocados mashed with some spices and low fat Greek yogurt and lime juice – delicious! And we were ready to go.The reason for the party was just to have a fun little get-together to take light of the fact that I’m now officially divorced (well, I have been for a few months now but haven’t really been that free at the weekend to do something like this). Yes being divorced sucks (oh the failure I am, how sad and pathetic my life is, woe is me… blah blah blah) but I’m a half glass full kind of person and wanted to just have a bit of fun with it. You can’t sit in a dark corner and be sad about life events that happen, you just gotta pick yourself up and try and move forward. I think I’ve consistently tried to do that and Saturday was just a way to enjoy myself with cake. My marriage wasn’t a mistake and I don’t regret it, it just had a fixed time limit and that’s that!To be honest, I just wanted a reason to eat lots of food and have cake 😉 I made a divorce playlist (think N*Sync ‘Bye Bye Bye’ and Destiny’s Child ‘Independent Woman’) and a love/hate themed quiz (Round 1: Connect the famous exes…to Round 4: Connect the song with the singer – again themed as breakup songs). It was good fun. I obviously ate far too much (two slices of cake and copious amounts of chilli and dip).Now I know people hate this word…but the cake was so moist! It was very tasty. Louise, my amazing baking friend, did herself proud!

As Lou and Tom, the hosts, had a wedding party to get to that evening we all vacated and reconvened later for, er, more food and some drinks at Portsolent. Some of the friends hadn’t eaten (or eaten as much as me) whereas I, unsurprisingly, wasn’t that hungry but I still fancied going out. We went to Wildwood and I ordered the lightest thing I could find. Just a “superfood salad”. On any other occasion it wouldn’t have been enough, but it was just perfect.I also enjoyed a nice refreshing Sol beer and then Bud Light at the next bar (I love Bud Light!). It was a great evening of chatting, laughing and generally just chilling out. I don’t tend to do much drinking but it was a nice change.

I’ll leave my weekend recap there!

What’s your favourite cake? I keep changing mine, from carrot cake to red velvet to lemon…

Have you ever been to a divorce party? It’s quite an obscure thing, granted!

Have you ever felt a bit dizzy or odd at parkrun/running?

A weekend of running and vegan food

I know, vegan food and me. I’m like the biggest meat-eater and meat-lover alive…but first let’s start with parkrun.

I was back at Netley parkrun this Saturday which was nice. The weather was lovely, though there were some loitering dark clouds overhead which thankfully didn’t come to anything during our time there.I helped with set-up as usual. We were on the summer course…three laps with three hills, oh joy. I actually don’t mind this course as it breaks up the running monotony that can come with a flat course.I’ve recently been sent some SIS products to test out so I thought it the ideal occasion to test out their new caffeine shots. I gave one to my friend, Mike, as well for him to try. We toasted to a good parkrun and downed the 60ml shot.I had the tropical flavour, which has a very sweet and sour flavour to it. It contains 150mg of caffeine so a hefty dose for such a small bottle. I really like the taste of these (though they are quite sour) and I’m keen to test it out in other scenarios, like pre-races and pre-early morning gym sessions when I need a kick up the backside.

Photo credit: Chris Stapleford

I did feel, whether psychologically or physically, ready to hit the ground running at the start. I gave it my best but it was tough having become so used to the flatter courses. The hill kind of breaks your flow a bit but I do prefer a three lap course and mentally it’s a lot more interesting.My time was 21:30. I gave it a good effort and with the hills I’m quite happy with this time. Though looking back the last time I was on the Netley summer course I got 21:38 so the progress isn’t that great! I’m not too bothered about parkrun times in general but it’s nice to keep track of my times and see progress being made. I do feel that my running has become somewhat lazy recently though. I will run the majority of my runs all the same pace. I need to get back into doing some speed work if I do want to get a bit faster. Maybe once every two weeks? That’s the intention anyway.After parkrun, and scoffing down half a large slice of cake that my friend’s daughter was eating (she needed help, I was more than happy to assist!) I headed home to get ready to head out to have coffee with my mum, dad, sister, her fiance and my nieces.We had a lovely coffee and then mooched around the shops. I got some nice pieces from H&M, including a £7 leather jacket! I don’t actually understand why it was so cheap and thought it was marked up incorrectly. There’s nothing wrong with it but I won’t argue with the price! I now have a good outfit sorted for my birthday trip to London next month with my girlfriends. Whoop whoop!

I’d planned to do a long run from my parent’s house the next day, around 10-13 miles, but then via my running club Facebook group I heard a couple of people heading out at 9am for around 10 miles which sounded perfect. It’s always nicer to run with other people so I tagged on with them.

I’m so glad I did as the miles just fly by when you’re with company as you’re chatting away. Also I didn’t have to think about the route as they already had something planned. It was a lovely route through Manor Farm, which is a local park/woodland area with lots of off-road trails and a couple of hills.

Unfortunately one of the guys felt ill and decided to stop at 4 miles. After checking he was OK and him pushing us to carry on, we continued on. It was just the two of us then, a lovely lady from the running club and myself, and it was just such a nice run, both in company and the route.

After the run I rushed back home to shower and get ready to head out to meet my lovely friend, April. She’s a fellow blogger who’s mum lives in Southampton so was down for the week. We’ve been meaning to catch up and she knew of a very cool-sounding vegan restaurant, Off Beet in Wickham. I’ve seen her numerous Instagram posts for this cafe but have never been myself so it seemed like the opportune moment.Located in the old mill, it’s quite hidden away. It’s a small set-up, with only a few tables so booking is necessary, and the menu is quite small but everything is home-made and beautifully presented. I was quite hungry by this point so I was won over by the beetroot burger with polenta chips.

It was really tasty. The burger was made up primarily of beetroot with lots of vegetables and salady bits in a portobello mushroom “bun”. There was also cashew cheese on the burger! The sauce was a home-made sugar-free BBQ sauce with polenta chips.It was very tasty (like like the plate tasty) but I wasn’t quite full afterwards. You know me, big appetite and all that. Thankfully April is the same so we decided pudding was a necessity.

We both had the brownie cheesecake (yes, still vegan!) and I went for a 70% hot chocolate made with almond milk. WOWZA. Rocked. My. World.It was so creamy and tasty. Not hugely sweet like a Cheesecake Factory cheesecake but sweet enough to be very yummy indeed. This certified meat-eater approves! See, I can forgo meat occasionally 😉

It was a lovely afternoon catching up with April (both of us discussing all things running and our wanderlust desires of travelling and seeing the world…). And the sun was shining which just made it perfect.

Do you enjoy vegan food?

Have you ever tried a caffeine shot?

Do you do intervals or speed work regularly?

Finally a sub-21 parkrun and the Lavender Tea Rooms

On Saturday morning I headed to Netley parkrun as per usual. For the second week in a row it was the cricket pitch course.

The cricket pitch is only used when the other field has an event going on. The course is 5.5 laps of a cricket pitch so has been named as the “Marmite Course” because though it’s super flat, it’s very dull and mentally a tough run. It’s great if you’re going for a fast time, but the enjoyment factor is low because it’s so monotonous. It’s also actually quite tough to remember how many laps you’ve done!

It’s recently been slightly amended to ensure it’s an accurate course as previously it’s measured about 130 metres short. I intended on giving it my best that morning but when I ran across the field to the store cupboard to help with getting the signs and cones out to set the course up (I was running late…) my legs felt heavy. I felt myself immediately back-tracking on my desire to beat last week’s time (21:38).The good thing about the cricket pitch is that it takes far less time to set everything up so this gave me a bit more time to actually do a proper warm-up (well, one lap of the cricket pitch) and get me more in confident frame of mind. The weather was also fairly cool and sunny but with a slight breeze. So conditions were good!

My friend, Mike, also wanted to aim for a good time and though we’re around the same times at the moment I decided to run with my music. I know Mike likes to go like a bat out of hell at the start whereas I’m now more of a “builder upper”. I didn’t want to toast my energy right at the start. There were pacers as well which was good but I knew I needed to run my own game rather than depend on someone else.

Though I’d had limited confidence earlier that morning, as soon as we started and my music got playing it was like I had an injection of energy. I no longer felt heavy or slow. At around half a mile I checked my pace and saw I was running around 7 minutes. To beat last week’s time I knew I needed to stay there abouts around this speed to get under 21:38. The pace felt tough but not impossibly so so I just hung on and kept going. I saw the sub-22 pacer ahead and slowly pushed ahead of him as the laps went on.

Photo credit: Chris Stapleford

This photo makes me laugh because it looks like I’m side-eyeing the photographer. I really wasn’t in a “let’s wave and smile” kind of zone!

I started confusing myself with how many laps I’d done, despite keeping count on my fingers. I didn’t know whether I needed to do 5 laps then finish or 5 laps then another to finish. Basically my brain felt a bit addled with the exertion!

Photo credit: Chris Stapleford

OK I lied, I did do a bit of smiling. Sort of! I felt myself gaining in confidence as I overtook people. Sadly I overtook my friend Chris who is usually so much faster than me who wasn’t having a good run. He’s been aiming for a sub -20 for a few weeks and by rights should be there but it just hasn’t panned out yet. I also noticed Mike a fair way behind me – I wondered if he was having a “bad” run like Chris (it turned out he too didn’t have the parkrun he wanted unfortunately).

Photo credit: Chris Stapleford

And the pain was setting in now… I worked out from my time and who was in front when I’d be heading to the finish and just pushed through the last bit. As I crossed the line and stopped my watched I was shocked to see 20:57. A 20!!! I haven’t seen one of those in a good long while.And a negative split! I just prayed and prayed that my official parkrun time would be sub-21 too…After finishing I immediately laid down to catch my breath. I gave everything and I’m really proud of myself. I feel myself getting more and more back in good shape. I just hope I don’t get injured. To be honest though, I’m just loving running at the moment. parkrun times naturally coming down is such a bonus, but just running without issues is literally the best thing ever right now. And the email later from parkrun confirmed that I did indeed get 21:57, and second female! Not too shabby 🙂 Injury free and a speedy time (for me)!

I felt buoyed for the rest of the day and fully enjoyed some tasty treats for lunch at the New Forest Lavender Tea Rooms with my parents.I ordered a cheese scone with a salad, followed by a Mint Aero rocky road slice and a pot of tea. It was divine! If you’re ever in the New Forest area, you must go to the Lavender Farm as it’s such a beautiful place. A small garden centre with an absolutely fantastic tea room serving home-baked treats and delicious light bites.My cheese scone was absolutely SUPERB. Warm, crumbly and delicately cheesy without being overwhelmingly so. My Mint Aero rocky road was obviously divine as well. My dad ordered a Lavender scone with cream and jam and only ate half (he’s being so good with his healthy eating) so I got to nibble on the rest. You could taste the lavender but it was a nice subtle taste rather than being overpowering or strange. All round delicious!We had a mosey round the garden centre and then headed off to Beaulie for a little walk and more moseying round another garden centre and little shops (so quintessentially British right? Looking round garden centres in spring after tea and cakes).It was a lovely way to spend a sunny day! And to prepare me for Tough Mudder the next day which I had only found out I was doing only on Thursday…

Do you prefer a savoury or sweet scone?

What’s your parkrun goal?

How did you spend your weekend?