XRunner Wild Mud Run recap

So this weekend I was back up in Bristol again. As standard procedure, I stayed with Kate and Jamie and they cooked me another very tasty meal of make-your-own burritos.

I’m only just realising how much I enjoy Mexican (or at least, Tex-Mex) food. Tortillas, turkey mince, refried beans, guacamole, rice and salad… heavenly. I brought pudding. I was aiming for healthy without fruit, but that fell flat as I gave up and just went for lemon meringue pie with lemon meringue ice cream (yes, this is an actual thing).Biscuit flavoured ice cream (biscuit!!) with lemon curd and meringue pieces. I mean, you might have thought that that was a bit too much lemon meringue in one bowl but you’d be wrong.

So we were nicely fuelled for our next day’s adventure, the X-Runner Wild Mud Run 10k. Now this obviously isn’t great for marathon training but it is great for general fun and happiness. We were in the 11.30am wave (200-400 runners set off in half an hour waves) and had to be there an hour before. This meant leaving at about 8am as it was just north of Birmingham. The team consisted of Kate, Jay, Jay’s friend Alex, the lovely Katherine (who has done a lot of parkruns and the escape room with us), Kate’s sister Becky and me.Parking was easy (and £5) and it was a short walk down to the race village. As we got closer and closer we could see a lake and lots of obstacles. We also saw people who had already finished the race from earlier waves trudging past us, soaked and muddy. *Gulp*We picked up our numbers (not a bib, but a wristband – bibs apparently wouldn’t survive), our t-shirts (which we’d be wearing to run in – something I’d never do for a running race but strangely acceptable for an obstacle race) and signed a disclaimer. Then we wrote our numbers on our forehead.This was advised so that the photographers could identify us easily. Plus it made us look bad ass. Sort of. The race village had lots of food trucks (ahh the smell of food you can’t eat…), a bag drop and fire pits. Let me tell you, more races need fire pits. It was fairly chilly that morning and standing next to a fire pit while we were waiting to go to our wave was AMAZING.Then we were off. We weren’t aiming for a time, we just wanted fun. Obstacle races are never about finish times really because you want to “enjoy” them and there’s always a little wait for each obstacle anyway. There’s also a camaraderie element where everyone helps each other, roots people on and you wait for your team mates (or they wait for you). It’s just a fun thing to do and the running is far down the list of what it’s actually about.

The first few obstacles were things like hay bales and climbing over walls, which were good fun. Then we had to run up a bloody big hill which really separated the people in the wave. The beginning was probably where most of the running happened, from running up hills to running through trees, fields and woodlands. After a few minutes of running you’d hit another obstacle.

One thing that concerned me was the organiser’s stress of DO NOT DRINK THE WATER or get it in your mouth. This was due to bacteria within the water that could potentially make you ill. So every time we came near a water section or splashed through large puddles I held my mouth firmly closed.

The first water experience wasn’t too bad as we were quite warm by this point. It was up to your bum (quite a shock to the nether regions I must say!). We had to duck under barbed wire which was good fun and not that difficult.This was just as we were coming out of the water. I was feeling all happy and chippy. Barely a speck of mud on me!

A few more obstacles, a couple more stretches of running and then we hit some trenches of very muddy water. It was tough because you couldn’t see where you were putting your feet and I consequently ended up falling down a hole within the water so I was quickly up to my chest in water. My friends laughed and I found it very funny, though shockingly cold. Little did we know what was to come.

As we came round the corner there were long stretches of mud. A bit like a really muddy cross country route that had been run on several times over, churning up the mud. Running through seemed better as we were less likely to sink to our ankles. But as we got further through the mud we caught up with more and more people and realised why there was a bottleneck.The mud that was up to our ankles was now up to our knees. It was very thick and required a lot of strength to wade through. And as we wading through we got deeper and deeper. It was such a bizarre experience. I’ve never been in so much mud in my life. I was using my hands to comb through it and no longer cared about how muddy I was getting.

What was unnerving the most though was not knowing where to put your feet because some parts were a lot deeper than others. Some people decided not to follow the queue of people and headed out around them only to find themselves up to their chests in the thick mud and getting stuck.

I’m not exaggerating when I say it took like 30 minutes to get across about 15m of mud. It was just impossible. Lots of people had decided to skip the section by going under the course partition to avoid it because it was getting to be a bit ridiculous. I had to use the help of several people around me to pull myself out at times. And often having to use my arms to tug my legs out of the mud to keep moving. You could find yourself panicking a bit because it was rather scary being so stuck in the mud and sinking.

Several people lost trainers. After we finished the mud section (sorry, the swamp section), a girl was stood holding both her trainers (well, what looked like trainers anyway…they were completely coated in mud and looked like two muddy boulders) standing in her socks.

Eventually we made it to the part I was most dreading. The swimming part. This involved going up a ladder to a platform to then slide down into a body of water. I was quite cold by this point as the mud part had taken so long and I had lost the warmth I’d gained from all the exertion bits before. I was really not wanting to do this. But as my team were doing it so I had to man up.That there is the face of someone who has accepted her fate but is not one bit happy.The shock of the water took my breath away as we all slid down together and were fully submerged. And I couldn’t get out fast enough. A few swear words might have been said, I won’t lie.

Getting out of the water I was more numb than cold now. It was quite a strange feeling. But as we got running again I started to get very cold. Our next obstacle were monkey bars across more water. I gave it a good go and think I managed three before my slippery hands gave up on me and I dropped myself into the water. AGAIN.

Then we had to get across some floating yellow square things. It was tricky to balance.Then back into the water again. Enjoyment factor now was slightly lower as the cold was really hitting me. A large hill awaited us and I charged up it as fast as I could to get warm again.

We were then faced with a GIANT slippy slide which was just awesome. I slid down on my tummy all the way down a 50m slide-y mat thing and it was just brilliant.

We then had a few more obstacles to get through. The water had cleaned off most of the mud so that was somewhat of a plus!At this point we were nearing the end of the first lap (5k). I was starting to shake with col. It had taken us almost an hour and a half at this point. The thought of going round again (but this time now soaking wet and cold) wasn’t appealing to me at all.

We had a little team meeting as we ran to the next obstacle and decided to just do the one lap. It would take us probably almost four hours in total otherwise (imaging it would be about two hours for another lap as it had already taken 1:30 hours and we weren’t finished yet). This made me feel a lot better knowing we were almost finished!We climbed over things, jumped over some fire (as you do) and then had the final obstacle: jumping off a tower platform thing into a giant mattress. I was like, “pfft! This is fine”. Until I got up there.In the photo above you can see me turn away basically saying “I can’t do this”. Kate was lovely and gave me lots of encouragement but I was really quite scared. This surprised and annoyed me. The marshals told us we needed to land bum first rather than feet first and I was worried I’d cock up and then injure myself.

After having a word with myself, I went for it (after about four false starts). I screamed all the way down but it was actually good fun and the landing ridiculously soft. I felt really chuffed with myself! I thought I was made of stronger stuff, but this really tested me.

And then we were finished, whew!! Even though we didn’t do the two laps and only did 5k, it was the hardest 5k I’ve ever done. I thought this would be fairly easy – a few hay bales to clamber over, a few muddy bits to get a bit mucky in and la di da. But this was really hard work. The mud swamp was crazy, the hills so steep and the water FREEZING.

But that said, it was bloody good fun! Though I did get very cold at the end I don’t regret doing it and would do it again for definite. It was just a good laugh and a challenging day. I’m disappointed with myself that we didn’t do another lap but I’m fairly certain I wouldn’t have enjoyed it, knowing I had to do the water bit all again.We were given our medals, a hot soup and the foil blankets. I have never been so glad to see foil in my life.

Then we headed to the cold showers (otherwise known as hoses) and showered off as best as we could. The worst part was trying to find my bag. It was not an easy process and their bag drop system needs some serious rethinking. I was on the point of freezing despair when I finally found it.

We trudged back to the car and then had the almost impossible task of getting dried and changed without exposing ourselves to the world. We’d brought towels and a spare set of clothes…the process was not fun. I was so cold. But eventually we were in the car, heating on full and heading for food. Bliss.

We stopped at a services and, with our foreheads still branded and us all looking disgusting and dishevelled, we each grabbed our respective food choice. It was now 3pm and we were all VERY hungry. I went for a foot-long turkey Subway with a Starbucks. Oh that Starbucks tasted SO good. Life was good again.Then we headed home. I was staying the night again with Kate and Jamie and she kindly washed my clothes for me. Though we had to do a bit of hosing down beforehand…And then relax! Obstacle and mud runs are really nothing like road races. Or running races in general. No one cares about time (well, most people don’t) and you run as a group. It’s about having a laugh, getting muddy and helping each other out.It’s also about not underestimating how tough it’s going to be. I thought I was going to be absolutely fine because I can run faster than most of my team. But it’s 100% not about the speed you can run, or how many marathons you’ve done. It’s about grit, mental strength and the ability to keep going despite all your sense being assaulted at once. I was definitely tested and my ego took a beating – something which I think regularly needs to happen!

Have you ever done a mud/obstacle race?

What really challenges you?

If you had to choose what would you rather: be really cold, be really hungry or really tired? I think it’s the cold for me. Though I can become a right moody so and so when I haven’t eaten, I can survive. But a cold Anna is not a happy Anna at all.

Superheroes everywhere

I do love a bit of fancy dress, you might have noticed. I don’t know why, maybe because it’s good fun and a laugh. So when it was announced (though not too widely it seems) that for Netley Abbey parkrun’s 5th birthday they’d be a superhero fancy dress I was all game.

My friend Mike decided to go as Robin and my friend Geoff decided to go as Batman. Well, I’d been Batgirl before so I hunted online and found that superhero females were somewhat limited. I could be Supergirl or Catwoman it seemed. Catwoman’s outfit looked far easier to run in (streamline if you like) so I went with that.My friend, Tom, was also joining me for parkrun on Saturday so I skipped setting the course up and picked him up at 8.15am. So I had a bit of a longer lie-in which was nice. Tom is a fairly new runner and had been doing Lee-On-Solent parkrun so I was chuffed to be able to show him Netley. Though Netley is a harder course than the lovely flat LoS!We got there to find not many people had embraced the superhero theme, which was a shame but kind of understandable as a few people had asked where the notice of fancy dress had been posted as they weren’t aware. *Sighs*

Photo credit: Sheryl James

But I didn’t mind. I love fancy dress regardless. I was going to run with Mike as we’re kind of around the same speed at the moment, though I’m perhaps a little faster. I didn’t want to go to speedy so it would work out well. All week I’ve been being very careful with my ankle and though it was feeling pretty much back to normal I didn’t want to risk it. I say this, but really I didn’t fancy running fast and the ankle was a good excuse 😉

Catwoman, Robin and Batman

Anyway as we lined up I lost Mike in the crowds. Tom stayed with me and was planning on “hanging on” for as long as he could. His PB is around 25 minutes.

As we started I just decided to run as I fancied, which turned out to be a fair clip in comparison to what I’d intended. My other friend, Mark, caught me up with his buggy and ran with me which was nice. He’s a lot faster so running my speed with his buggy was probably a walk in the park for him.

Photo credit: Ken Grist

It was nice running with Mark as we could chat and I could take my mind off the fact that I was running faster than I’d planned.

Photo credit: Ken Grist

The final lap I stepped it up a gear… I was thinking of all the cake at the end. As it was Netley’s birthday a cake sale had been organised (that info had been far more widely circulated…) and I was keen to get a few pieces.

I finished in 22:43 which I was pleased with considering how windy it was. I scanned my barcode pronto and then headed to grab some cake.

Photo credit: Ken Grist

I love this photo because it shows me in my happy place 🙂 The cake sale was to raise money for the defibrillator that we’re trying to buy, so I was only doing my good deed of the day really.I had a slice of Victoria Sponge (exceptionally tasty I must say. I had spotted this cake on Twitter beforehand and was glad to be able to grab a slice!), a white chocolate fudge slice thing and a white chocolate cookie. Pretty good haul! Though nothing like the five slices of the week before. The cake sale raised just over £366!! This is fantastic. Well done to all the bakers! The real superheroes of the day.

Tom did really well, coming in around 27 minutes which he was pleased with given how much more hilly Netley is compared to LoS and how windy it was. He showed me the bottom of his trainer afterwards; the sole was coming off! I told him off for wearing such old trainers, tsk!

After parkrun, showering and all that jazz I met up with my dad later in the day for a spot of Nando’s and a cinema trip to see Logan. I decided to change my usual whole chicken order at Nando’s and be slightly more healthy and opt for half a chicken and a Mediterranean salad.The salad was delicious. It had huge juicy olives, lots of sundried tomatoes and good chunks of feta. But I was a bit disappointed with the size of the chicken (I KNOW, I told you I’m greedy). My dad had gotten half a chicken with a side salad and a cob so we both felt we could share five wings between us 😉

And then we headed to the cinema…where I met a few more superhero friends.Logan was fantastic. Very violent but really different to the normal superhero films. I mean, I love X-Men anyway but this was very different.

The next day I met up with Robin Mike and we headed out for a long run together. I’ve become such a fan of running with other people again. Normally I’m like a lone wolf but having people to run with is a nice change, especially my long run. Running a long run with Mike is also good because as he’s slightly slower than me it means he keeps my pace in check.

I ran about half a mile to meet him and then we did a 5 mile out and back route through some fairly quiet country roads. The route was quite hilly though so a nice challenge at times. It was a great run and the miles flew by, as they always do when you run with someone else. I must do this more! Then I added a little bit more on at the end as I ran home to get to 12 miles (8:38min/miles overall pace).

Happily my ankle felt absolutely fine (as it did the day before) and I enjoyed a normal run without issues. Ahh what a novelty eh!

As long as I remain running injury-free I’ve decided to do the London Marathon. I have a Good For Age place and was wondering whether to defer until next year as it was so close to Tokyo. But as Tokyo went well and, ankles aside, my recovery has been good I’ve decided to go ahead and do it. I’ll keep a watchful eye on any niggles that crop up or feelings of over-training but otherwise I’d love to do it. Again, no time goal but just to tick another Marathon Major off the list and FINALLY get London done.

How was your weekend?

What superhero would you choose to be?

Does your parkrun ever try and raise money?

Tokyo Recap – part 2

So to carry on with my Tokyo recap… (read part one HERE and the marathon recap HERE).

Warning: this is rather long post sorry!

The day before the marathon was really jam-packed. Because Chris (my new friend from the tour group) and I were thinking of running the marathon together we thought we’d better test out actually running together before fully committing. Basically to ensure neither of us were “Phoebe runners“. We met up in the hotel lobby in the morning and literally bumped into Wilson Kipsang and a bunch of other elite runners. I had a total fan girl moment by going up to him and asking for a photo.I did feel bad though as I didn’t recognise any of the other elites… so it was just Kipsang I had the photo or spoke with (he was lovely, more than happy to have his photo taken). They were then all herded off to a van with a guy who I assume was their coach/organiser where they were going for their own run.

Our run wasn’t quite as glamorous but still good. I was glad to have Chris with me as, let’s be honest, I could easily have gotten lost on my own or would have ended up doing a really boring out-and-back (with some cheeky undulations). Chris has a good sense of direction so I left the route to him! We were well matched in our pace and kept it nice and comfortable and chatted as we ran. We survived the run and decided we’d run together the next day – with the proviso that either us could ditch the other if the situation arose.

After the run and breakfast we headed out for the day. We started with going up the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building. It’s a super tall high-rise and has a tourist observatory floor (202m high!) that you can go up for free. There are two towers so you can choose either North or South. I actually can’t remember the one we chose but it had a longer queue (as we got there just before it opened) so we figured we’d go with the most popular one.

Photos from Chris’ camera as it was better quality!

The views were amazing. You were behind glass so it wasn’t like the New York Empire State building but it was pretty good regardless. Each window had an explanation of what you could see which was cool. And on a more clear day you could apparently see Mount Fuji (actually on the last day I saw it from my own hotel room).

Then we headed out to walk to Yoyogi Park which is one of Tokyo’s largest parks. It was a really lovely walk and it’s where you can find Meiji Shrine, which we wanted to see.It was really beautiful. I think there was a wedding happening (though to be honest I have no idea I’m that culturally inept). Basically there were people all dressed fancily and there was a woman having her photo taken in a white dress. Though not a typical Western dress…but it was white. Who knows.Then from there we walked to the Shibuya area. I got swindled by a fake Buddhist Monk who gave me a bracelet and then demanded money from me. I gave him some change and then a Japanese woman ran up to us and basically explained that we were being swindled by a fake. It was nice of her to intervene. I got a bracelet out of it and lost some petty change so wasn’t too bad – the bracelet now reminds me to not be so stupid (probably need more than a bracelet tho…).

On the tour the day before we’d heard about cat cafes in Japan. Actually I’d heard about these before from Lily’s blog (always a good read for travel tips and London adventures). So I really wanted to find one. As we came out of the park we saw one straight away. Well we just had to go.It wasn’t really a cafe per se. You could get a drink but it wasn’t the main thing. You pay for the time you’ll spend in there (we paid for 30 minutes) and then you’re given a bit of cat food to entice the cats over and you sit and play with them. Rather odd… but fun! The cats were beautifully groomed and basically queens of their kingdom. They really were living the life.
You got some slippers and cat ears to wear while you were there. Very fun! Though we met a super intelligent American scientist working on the Juno project and I sat there chatting looking like a twat in a pair of fluffy cat ears.

After the cat cafe we were nicely placed to walk around Shibuya, where there were lots of shops. There were Japanese brands but also Western brands like Next, Laura Ashley, Body Shop, Nike, etc. It was great. After doing some shopping we found the nicest Starbucks I’ve ever been to.It was right at the top of one of the smaller high-rise department store and it opened out onto this beautiful roof-top terrace overlooking the city. Beautiful!I also enjoyed their blossom cup, which is apparently unique to Japan during the blossom season, though I found it amusing that I had to pay extra for milk!

We then found the very busy Shibuya crossing (next to the Shibuya Station) and watched the madness of one of the busiest crossings in the world happen over and over. Apparently it’s even more busy at night.Then it was time to hunt out some food. As I mentioned in a previous post we found a very small and cheap pizza/pasta place in the area and got our carbs sorted for the next day. The pizza was cooked just behind the counter in a proper pizza oven and it was delicious.

After more walking around we passed through Harajuku where we found two very brightly dressed girls…Then we meandered back to our hotel. As it was about 5 o’clock it was too early for dinner and we were fed up of walking so we decided to head to a bar in our hotel that we’d heard about. It was on the 45th floor and though rather expensive a lovely place to grab a green tea (mine was infused with apple!) and watch the sunset.Bliss! After 36,000 steps this was definitely a nice way to chill. We’d booked for dinner in the hotel restaurant for that evening so that was nice and easy too.

Then the marathon happened…go check out the recap!

After the marathon it was time to fully relax and enjoy ourselves. Chris and I headed out to find some food and had a meal in a tiny little restaurant in Shinjuku. The only problem was we had no idea really what we were ordering…

There was a salad bar buffet with unlimited miso soup which was nice (below photo). But I ordered chicken and it came raw. The waiter then turned on the grill in the centre of the table (we were wondering what that was…) and with comical sign language directed us to cook the food on there.Though the meal was very tasty (we also had rice with a raw egg on top that the waiter quickly mixed into the rice in front of us to cook it), it didn’t quite hit the spot. Bare in mind we’d only had breakfast, run a marathon and it was now about 5pm (and I have a bottomless pit of a stomach). So we went on the hunt for some more crepes.

Instead of crepes we found a fabulous little pudding cafe in Shinjuku (seemingly the only one in Tokyo, they really don’t go for their sweet stuff!). We saw two girls sharing this epic looking bread-pudding thing and immediately knew that was for us. We ordered a chocolate banana one to share and I had a Royal Milk Tea. The tea was basically super milky tea but it was delicious! I’m going to try and recreate at home…so comforting.The pudding looked AMAZING. I mean it was massive. Basically very slightly sweet bread (kind of like iced bun bread? In fact I’m not entirely sure it was sweet…) filled with chunks of toasted bread, a scoop of ice cream, a bit of custard sauce, cream and banana slices.If I’m honest, it looked a lot better than it actually was. Don’t get me wrong, it was tasty and we enjoyed pulling it apart but it wasn’t that sweet – one scoop of vanilla ice cream, a tiny bit of custard and cream… it was more bread than anything. We left most of the sides because it was just bread at that point as we’d eaten the more tasty elements. It was nice to try it but it didn’t satisfy my sweet tooth or the marathon runger within.

[Also, random note, but I love that they give you a warm cloth before meals so you can clean your hands!]

Then we headed back to meet up with others on the tour group to go to an Irish bar for a few drinks. It was nice being on the tour because you instantly had a connection with the other people: everyone loved running, had similar goals of completing the Majors and basically were just nice people. It was nice because you could all chat about how the marathon went. Normally at this point I’d be home and my family would be fed up of talking about it. But everyone wanted to talk about it!

I enjoyed quite a few Coroners and had a really good evening. We stayed until closing and as we walked back, Chris, another guy and me decided to needed a bit more sustenance. McDonald’s it was!

Now I haven’t had a McDonald’s since I was about 14. They’re not really my thing, but honestly it was absolutely necessary. And it absolutely hit the spot.I ordered a chicken burger and fries with a Diet Coke (DIET COKE! I missed this!) and after seeing the other guy (for the life of me I can’t remember his name) eating a Chocolate Triangle Pie I ordered one of those too (“premium cocoa and almond in the crust with a chocolate cream filling” Source). Flaky, warm, deliciousness.

The next morning I woke up at 4am not being able to sleep (I actually sent in my Marathon Talk submission for their Listener Podium, which was probably unwise after hearing my jumbled submission on the show last week…. Though I happily came second on the podium – the first lady was the lady I shared a cabin with at the Run Camp, by the way she’s over 60!).

My roomie also couldn’t sleep so we sat chatting for a bit. I idly checked the BA app to see if I could check in to the flight (we were flying that morning) and spotted that it said the flight was delayed. BY A DAY! What?? Panic and a mad FaceTime conversation with my dad ensued (dad’s always know what to do, Anna’s never do).

After a song and dance we had breakfast, headed to the airport as normal and had BA tell us we were delayed by a day. We were given food vouchers for lunch at the airport, a room at a nearby hotel (with free bus shuttles) and dinner and breakfast taken care of. Not too shabby!

A group of us, led by a very savvy and chirpy American, quickly organised a trip to Tokyo Disney which was about an hour away. About seven us made a mad dash to grab the next bus to the hotel to drop our bags off, to then come back to the airport to grab the Disney shuttle.Whew! We got to Disney just before midday.We were like little kids when we got into the park (we went to Disney Sea as it had more rides and attractions for adults).All the females in the group bought Disney ears and we giggled our way round the place.Tokyo Disney is good fun. It was fairly busy – literally full of kids in school uniform everywhere. Most of the rides had an hour plus to queue for them. But we mastered this by doing the Single Rider queues and managed to get on a fair number of rides. The one ride was couldn’t single riders for was queuing inside which I didn’t mind at all because it was VERY cold outside. It was actually quite fun to be amongst so many Japanese kids – so many cultural differences! So fascinating. And we’d only have been waiting around at the airport anyway so really it didn’t matter to me.However as the day got later and the sun started to disappear, I just got too cold to stay for much longer. Chris kindly said he’d leave with me so we headed back to the hotel together. I fell asleep on the bus back – it had been a long day!

The meals (both dinner and breakfast) were amaaaazing. So much food to choose from. I honestly had about three plates each time. At dinner the pudding was pretty cool – the pink fountain was kind of like strawberry sauce?? There were waffles, pancakes, mousses and cakes as well as Japanese sweets such as Daifukus (I had to google…”a glutinous rice cake stuffed with sweet filling, most commonly anko, sweetened red bean paste made from azuki beans” [Source] – oooh er.).

And another interesting thing in my hotel room (I now had my very own room, thank you British Airways) were a pair of pyjamas left on my bed, apparently complimentary for me to use. How very strange!

The only thing to add is that on the plane back most of us had done the marathon and everyone recognised or knew each other. A super friendly flight 🙂

After that VERY lengthy recap (apologies), I have to say I enjoyed Tokyo far more than I thought I would. I saw far more than I thought I would! I thoroughly enjoyed both the marathon and the trip.

Have you ever been to Tokyo?

What cultural differences have surprised you in different countries? If I thought people in America went Disney-mad it was NOTHING compared to the Japanese. Everyone, literally everyone, was wearing something Disney.

Has your flight ever got delayed? This was my first ever delay. It’s nice to know I should get just over £500 in compensation from BA for it.

Tokyo Recap (with the Tokyo Marathon Expo) – part 1

I literally don’t even  where to start with my recap of the Tokyo trip. It definitely exceeding my expectations!

I‘ve decided to write this up in two portions: the first one a few days before the marathon, and then the second the day before the marathon and the after math. Sorry if I’ve waffled too much!

Yes I was looking forward to the trip – it’s Japan after all and I’ve never been to that side of the world. But I was concerned about the marathon and how that would go (no change there then…) and it was only a very short trip with a ridiculous 12 hour plane journey and nine hour time difference.

The plane wasn’t actually too bad. I’d had a nice big meal at Giraffe and had a plan to watch one film, then take a couple of melatonin tablets and then attempt to sleep.Yes it would be late afternoon UK time but I was keen to get into the time zone as soon as possible (it would be very late evening Tokyo time). Well it didn’t quite work out that way and I only managed three hours of disjointed sleep (the tablets did help tho to get me off to sleep gently). It was just too noisy and I was too uncomfortable to sleep long periods.

The plane, by the way, was completely full, which surprised me actually. And I’d say 80-90% we’re going purely for the marathon. Either to run it or to support someone else running it. Honestly you couldn’t move for people discussing their PBs, last races and marathon game plans. There were a lot of skinny people on that flight I can tell you!

It quickly became apparent that most people were doing exactly what I was doing: getting through the Marathon Majors (Chicago, New York, Boston, London, Berlin and Tokyo). I mean I guess it makes sense, it’s a long way to randomly run a marathon. I felt woefully inadequate with “only” having run two of them.

After the long journey, we arrived at Narita airport. I enjoyed my first Japanese toilet experience… I wasn’t brave enough to try the different buttons (yet!) but I did enjoy the heated seat 😉Our tour group met up (by the way, Sports Tours International was absolutely fantastic. I can’t recommend them enough for making everything easy and simple!) and I found I was standing amongst lots of people who had either made friends on the plane or were there with their support person… I had sat with a lady from another tour group on the plane so felt a bit alone. I started chatting to a guy who looked around my age and was also alone. It became apparent that neither of us were psychos and that we got on well so we stuck together. His name is Chris and we spent most of our time together on the trip, which was nice because I had visions of me wandering aimlessly around Tokyo on my own!

The tour company took us via coach straight to the Expo. This was actually perfect as the Expo is quite a way from the centre of Tokyo where we were staying and though the company provided transfers to the Expo on any of the days leading up to the marathon, it was nice to get it done straight away before the rush.I have to say as expos go, this wasn’t the best. It was fairly small and quite a sensory overload. I’m sure this is just a cultural difference but it was a lot Japanese being shouted at you while being handed leaflets you couldn’t read. Everyone was super polite but it was a bit crazy after my lack of sleep.There were a few samples of strange Japanese products (sweets, strange dried food, a nonalcoholic beer, etc.). And a stand of tomatoes…a big thing for aid stations apparently!The clothing section was just ASICS (the sponsor) and asides from the official jacket it wasn’t great. I was a bit disappointed as I remembered Boston and Berlin being amazing with so much to waste/spend your money on. I bought a jacket and that was it.Then Chris and I headed for some food in a food hall as it was lunch time.So my first experience of Japanese food wasn’t exactly the most authentic but it filled a hole and was quite tasty. I had a chicken steak and a burger steak with rice and vegetables. And it quickly became apparent Diet Coke isn’t a thing in Tokyo sadly!

After getting back and having a MUCH needed shower, we headed out to do some exploring. Our hotel (which was lovely! And also where the elites were staying) was really central in Shinjuku.

So we walked to the madness of the main area of Shinjuku which was just a craziness of colours, sounds and busyness. Honestly it was quite overwhelming on such little sleep! But it was fantastic. I didn’t know where to look. There were just so many tiny little restaurants everywhere and arcades screaming multi-colours and sounds. Eventually after walking around just soaking it all in, we found a tiny little restaurant for dinner. I say restaurant but really it was more of a cafe.And the meal was delicious. I found I was quite adept with my chopstick skills but that towards the end of the meal my hand would get tired! It was pork stir-fry with white rice, miso soup and dumplings. Very nice!Thankfully I managed to get a good night sleep that evening – which was good because I’d randomly signed up last minute to the Mount Fuji trip that Sports Tours International had offered and we were off fairly early. After a delicious buffet breakfast (there was a lot to choose from, from more Western options like scrambled egg and bacon, to ratatouille and fish – I went for a mixed bag)…We then headed to the beautiful Lake Ashi to see the mountain in the distance. Unfortunately the clearest views we got were from the coach as we drove alongside it…But the lake was gorgeous and you could still see Fuji in the distance, though with more cloud coverage. I tried my first ever matcha latte which was quite tasty though quite sweet.And then we headed off to a little town where we could do a bit of shopping (lots of little Japanese shops selling traditional Japanese craft work and food). There was also this shop that sold lots of Japanese treats and the best part was that you could try them all as there were tester boxes everywhere!! I was in my element.We then got lunch, which was another buffet – which I love as it means you can try everything!From there we headed to a rather odd but fun pirate boat which took us across a lake so we could see the views from there and then take a cable car to a volcanic valley (called Jigokudani: the Valley of Hell) in Owakudani, Hakone, where there was a huge crater and lots of sulphuric smoke rising up everywhere.The area of the crater was famous for its black chicken eggs, which are basically just normal chicken eggs but boiled for an hour in water containing sulphur and iron. Obviously I had to try it!Yeah they just tasted like regular boiled eggs and they looked exactly like normal eggs inside. But worth a try!

The day was fantastic! I’m so pleased I signed up to it. I found out a lot about Japanese culture as well as on the coach the tour guide was a lovely Japanese lady and she explained so much about life in Tokyo and how things were.

We got back about 7pm and so headed out to find some dinner. I was ravenous at this point and unfortunately quickly found out that Friday night in central Tokyo is a busy busy place and despite there being hundreds of restaurants everywhere, to get a seat anywhere was proving to be virtually impossible. Eventually we found a little restaurant. It felt like quite a hipster place (if that exists in Japan!). There were young Japanese guys looking rather fashionable and smoking. It’s so odd (and unpleasant) that people can smoke in restaurants!Unfortunately the waiter spoke limited English and after lots of pointing, hand gestures and facial expressions we were able to order. It was kind of like Tapas… you ordered a bunch of small things, like deep fried sweet potato, pork, a single chicken wing (yep, had to be done), tofu in broth and squid dumplings (in the photo). It was very tasty but it wasn’t quite enough for me. 

Luckily I’d already clocked a pudding spot on our journeys…We enjoyed a very tasty fruit, cream and chocolate sauce crepe. It made me laugh when the server asked if I wanted a spoon… like how would I eat this otherwise?? Then it was off to bed. The next day Chris and I planned to have a shake-out run to test the waters to see how running together would be (we were thinking of running the marathon together as we seemed well matched in pace and goals). Then we had a jam-packed day planned to hit several different tourist sites we wanted to see…

Have you ever been to Tokyo before?

What’s your favourite crepe topping?

Do you like Japanese food?

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?