Rave, rave, rave

I was thinking of doing a Rants and Raves post but actually I couldn’t really find much to rant about. What a problem eh!

I am in such a happy place right now. My life seems to be floating along so nicely! I know this is mostly due to changing jobs and changing up my routine but it really has made me a much happier person.

Rave: Speaking of routines, so as you probably know along with running, I love going to the gym as well. I enjoy the different type of workouts I can get; focusing on strength training and making myself stronger. After moving into my parent’s house I realised I needed to change my gym as it was now too far away to make logical sense.

I did a bit of hunting. I briefly, VERY briefly, considered joining a ridiculous expensive gym right next to work…and then found a far cheaper and 24/7 gym on the way to work. This was perfect because a) I don’t want to spend a fortune on some fancy shmancy gym which probably will have a ratio of 10:1 cardio to weights ratio and b) I like to go SUPER early. I’m not an evening gym person and I like starting the day with a workout. Plus going early means beating any crowds.So the gym I found (called 24/7 Fitness) is SO good. It has several different rooms, which I quite like. A room that’s like a Crossfit room with hanging ropes, TRX’s, a rower and a climbing frame type thing and lots of mat areas with free weights and dumbbells. It has another room focused on chest presses and chest isolation machines. Another one focused on leg weights with squat racks etc. and then a room with just free weights and benches. It also has a “women’s only” area… lots of machines, all pink (*sighs*) – at least it’s not just full of cardio machines, eh! And a few other rooms with more machines and then cardio equipment. It is a bit shabby but I’m not there to admire the paintwork so it suits me fine.I drive there after walking Alfie, do my thing and then shower and get ready there. Other than making me get super organised the night before with packing what I need to take with me (so far no forgotten bra yet) but it’s saved me so much time sitting in traffic as I’m past all the busy stuff before the gym and then it’s a quick 10 mins from the gym the rest of the way. What a win!

Rave: Finding the most comfy and well-fitting jeans! As a runner my legs tend to have problems with fitting into jeans (hey there strong thighs). It’s mainly just the ratio of my body I guess. I’m sure non-runners feel this exact pain as well because, let’s be honest, we all have different shapes, lumps and bumps.I don’t regularly shop in Top Shop as it’s a bit…young?… for me. It’s like when you scroll too far on the Forever21 website and you go, “really, who actually wears this?”. But Top Shop have consistently done be well when it comes to jeans. I like that they do a waist measurement and a leg measurement. I popped quickly in there one day after work (SO MUCH MORE TIME IN LIFE!) and saw a pair that looked nice along with a lovely jumper and didn’t bother trying them on as I was heading to Nando’s with a friend. I could return them at the weekend if they didn’t fit so it wasn’t an issue.

BUT MY GOD. They fit like a glove, AND are super comfy. I love them.

Rave: Muffin market research… it was such a stroke of luck that this happened on the Wednesday. Any other day and I probably wouldn’t have seen it. But on a Wednesday I go downstairs to the Starbucks and was thus able to spot the market research table that had been set up…Muffins! Muffins galore! They had a load of different samples for people to try of either lemon, chocolate or blueberry muffins. You had to give your preference of muffin in terms of texture, taste and appearance. I mean, it was a tough job but I stepped up to the bar. I probably ate about four muffins in total. I was surprised at how much I quite enjoyed the chocolate muffins. Normally I’m not a big fan (well, actually I’m normally not a big muffin fan in general but they were free…). Some of the chocolate muffins had this delicious chocolaty oozy middle which worked against the dryness issue that muffins often face. Delicious!

Rave: New trainers. To put my work discount to good use I bought a pair of these ASICS Gel-Exalt. I get on well with ASICS and they’re a great colour.It’s funny because as I was packing before I moved back to my parents I actually found a pair of Adidas Boosts (Supernovas I believe) that have barely been worn so despite buying a brand new pair of trainers I actually don’t need them just yet. Always handy to have a few pairs to rotate with too!

Biggest rave of all: If you follow me on any form of social media (Instagram, Twitter, Strava or Facebook) then you’ll probably already know that the Bournemouth Marathon went very well for me. I’ll be (hopefully) getting my recap post up this week. I’m SO glad it went well and I can now look back at Bournemouth fondly and wear the marathon t-shirt with pride.What do you look for in a gym?

Have you ever taken part in any market research before?

What do you look for in a muffin?

My marathon plans for Sunday and charcoal beauty

My 11th marathon is on Sunday. The Bournemouth Marathon. The only marathon I’ve previously done before.

I don’t tend to like to do the same marathons again as I think that, because they’re so epic, it’s nice to do different ones. Experience a new place, carve out new memories from the blood, sweat and tears… but Bournemouth is a little different for me. I have a few “heebie jeebie” feelings about it because it’s the only marathon I’ve done where I’m not proud of my performance and I really didn’t enjoy.Bournemouth marathon 5I felt something not quite right in my knee around mile eight and by mile 12 I was really uncomfortable, and mile 16 in pain. By mile 22 I was run-walking and mile 24 just walking. Barely. I was crying as I crossed the finish-line. Not out of happiness or relief, but out of pain. I was then injured for a significant amount of time after that race. To continue running the race was a stupid decision. One I hope not to recreate in any race going forward.IMG_5016So I have some bad vibes with this race. I wanted to re-do it to erase those bad memories and, well, unfinished business and all that. Like I’ve said in previous posts, I’m not sure how I’m going to run it (one foot in front of the other’s a good start…). In terms of paces…ack, I don’t know. I want to have an enjoyable experience…but I also want to see where I’m at. I’ve had a *fairly* good lead-up to this marathon (albeit with the snaggle of an injury) and I do feel like I have some good endurance strength in me. Speed? Not so much.

One day I promise I’ll actually train with the intention to go into a marathon and bravely say, “I’m going to go for a time near my PB” but, being 100% realistic here, that is not this marathon. I would blow up by 14-16 miles. So I have a conservative approach of aiming for around 8.20-30s to start and see how I feel as I get past half-way and towards the 18-20 mile area. If I feel like it’s too hard, I’ll drop the pace back (by mile 10 for definite) but if I feel good I’ll give it some welly in the last 10k and hang on for dear life.

But, as I always say, you never know with a marathon. I may not even finish. I may crumble. A marathon can chew you up and spit you out, however well or badly you’ve trained. Such is its beauty. So I’ll go into it giving it the respect it deserves. I’ll take nothing for granted and listen to my body, my heart rate, my breathing and mentally what I’m feeling. The rest is in the hands of the running gods.

Activated Charcoal Products Review

So it seems that charcoal products seem to be very “in vogue” right now. Activated charcoal sounds all rather posh and interesting. Basically charcoal becomes activated when acid or steam are combined with carbon rich materials such as wood, coal, rye starch or coconut shells and then these “unlock” the billions of tiny pores within the carbon materials. This makes it really absorbent and helps pull impurities from the skin and remove bacteria effectively. I was recently sent some “home-made” charcoal supplements, charcoal toothpaste and a charcoal face mask.

Ecodenta Extra Black Whitening Toothpaste with Black Charcoal & Teavigo 

I’ve tried charcoal toothpaste before and though it wasn’t unpleasant and I did get on with it, the taste was something I needed to get used to. Happily this brand tasted far better! Very much more similar to regular minty toothpaste.My teeth felt and looked lovely and clean after brushing. It’s hard obviously to compare to regular toothpaste but my mouth felt clean. What I will say, however, is that the blackness of the toothpaste has slightly coloured my toothbrush’s white bristles a grey colour and it can make a bit of a mess in a white sink. But it doesn’t stain, it just requires a bit of care.Sukin Oil Balancing + Charcoal Anti-Pollution Facial Masque 

I was also sent a face mask. I’m really not that great with beauty or skincare regimes. Literally all I do is wash my face in the morning and evening with water. I don’t cleanse, tone, moisturise or wear make-up. Actually that’s a lie, I’ve recently been using an eyebrow pencil to keep my eyebrows tidy (they’re quite dark so if I’ve been a bit too keen in the eyebrow plucking department then filling in the gaps makes things a bit neater). So a face mask isn’t really something I use. However, it is something I always think looks quite fun and my skin would probably benefit from doing once in a while. A “once in a while” style regime is my kinda bag for beauty.It’s also ridiculous therapeutic and fun to apply. It goes on lovely and smooth and dries quite quickly. Then you just leave it on and go about life for 10 minutes (in the confines of the safe environment where no one will witness). It’s got a great natural looking list of ingredients as well, which I always appreciate.It easily washes off as well which is a relief. I used a flannel and only took about five minutes to get off. My skin did feel cleaner afterwards and “fresh”.

Holland & Barrett Charcoal Supplements

I was also sent some charcoal supplements.I literally had no idea what these were for. I Googled it to find that apparently they can help treat flatulence… well, what do you know eh! They absorb the excess gas apparently and can reduce bloating. OK then!I don’t have bloating problems (or excessive gas, just to be clear here) but I was intrigued. I will hold my hands up and say that though I don’t bloat or fart excessively, when I’ve had maybe a few too many sprouts or vegetables in general (onion really does a number on me weirdly) I do bloat. I think this is normal for most people, right? Anyway, I’ve been taken these tablets regularly and those sorts of moments of vegetable over-consumption have produced less bloating than ordinarily would. I mean, I’m no scientist but I do  think it helped a little. I can’t promise it would work though for people with chronic bloating issues or after a mammoth curry. WHO KNOWS.

All these items can be found from Holland and Barrett.

Have you ever tried charcoal products?

Do you always a strategy going into a race like a marathon?

Have you ever done a race again to erase the bad memories you’ve had before?

**Full Disclaimer: I was sent these products for free in return for a review post. All opinions are my own honest ones.**

A gentle nudge for parkrunners

As you may be well aware by now, I’m a huge parkrun fan. parkrun is a big hug in a mug for me. I love the concept (free 5k events all over the UK, and indeed the world!). I love the community. I love the non-competitive nature of it. It’s inclusiveness. I love the fact that you can go to different ones and almost “collect” them and build up your stats.

Yes, I am a parkrun devotee. I love my home parkrun, Netley Abbey. OK the course can be tough; three laps meaning three inclines, the terrain can be tricky (compacted gravel and grass) and it can get a bit hairy when a lot of people show up (shouts of “keep right!” can be heard throughout). I’ve been going there now for a good number of years and I’ve become a fairly regular member of the set-up and close-down team for those years too. It’s a great way to volunteer and still be able to run. I love chatting and laughing with the crew and often feel guilty when I can’t make it because I’m heading off somewhere else that weekend.

Now, volunteering is a crucial part of making parkrun work. Without people giving up their time it wouldn’t work. People can volunteer and not be runners as well. It always amazes me when people become part of the parkrun community this way despite not wanting or being able to run. Run Directors, barcode scanners, course marshals, timekeepers etc., are all so integral to a Saturday’s parkrun.But often forgotten are the set-up and close-down crew. I obviously don’t know what happens in every parkrun, but at Netley we need to be there an hour before the 9am start. We need to get out the signs and parkrun paraphernalia from the store cupboard, which is  no where near the start (it’s the only safe place to store it on the park grounds) and then walk the course and set it up. I suppose at smaller parkruns or more obvious routes don’t require that many signs or that much walking in order to set the course up but for Netley we basically have to walk an entire lap (a mile). We usually don’t have enough people to make this process as efficient as possible. 
Now this is all fine and dandy during the summer months where it’s warm and sunny but when autumn and winter hit, it can be a rather miserable process. It sucks when you wake up for parkrun and see the weather outside. Rain battering against the window, frost, mist, COLD. It’s more of a struggle to get yourself to go. If you “just” run parkrun then you might hide in your car until the last possible minute and then dash off to the start at 8.55am. But the set-up crew have been out there for a good hour in that weather. I can’t speak for everyone else, but normally I’m rather cold, wet and a little grumpy. Peeling off my layers and heading to the start is a hideous process. I’m not overreacting when I say that during the winter I do tend to dread that hour before parkrun. We normally don’t get time to warm-up with a nice jaunty jog around the park.

OK I’m whining and moaning and this is out of the spirit of parkrun – of which, despite all this, I still adore. My moan is no one’s fault – it is what it is. We’ve tried to streamline things as much as possible of course but the weather and time of year can’t be helped.

So this year I’m going to take some time off at winter in setting the course up. It just wears down my love of parkrun and I don’t want that. I also want to explore other parkruns. I want a lazy Saturday morning, getting up at the last possible minute to race down to the start. To hibernate away in my car until the final second. Or have a bit of time to stretch my legs and get the blood flowing before I need to run.

What I will ask though please is when you’re next at parkrun, give a thought to how those signs were put there, who set the barcode table up, who placed each cone on the course, how the finish funnel is where it is…. parkrun fairies don’t exist. parkrun devotees and volunteers DO. Maybe consider giving up that extra time in bed and heading down to help them out. Or when you’re finished, how about clearing the course away instead of dashing home to the warmth or to the coffee shop for a post-run hot drink? It really does help.

Right, moan over!

Do you go to parkrun?

Do you volunteer?

Is your local parkrun course a simple set-up or more complicated?

All the running and all the food

Two things in life make me very happy (amongst other things of course, but in general these two rank pretty high). Food and running. And these things have been going nicely hand in hand over the last few days.

So you know I said I love my new job? Well I REALLY love my new job. On the last Friday of the month Wiggle organise a run and a cycle for everyone to join in with, if they want. For the last couple of months I haven’t been able to join in, either due to coming back from injury or just not fitting in with my running schedule. But this month I was good to go finally!

They had a few different events you could sign up to: a speedy cycle, a mountain bike session in Queen Elizabeth Country Park, a gentle 5k, a trail 7k I’m QECP or a scavenger hunt walk. So it’s very inclusive. You didn’t have to do any but it was all free and started at 2.30pm Friday. I signed up to the trail run and was feeling excited. I had actually won an internal competition as well so had some brand new season dhb gear to test out too.Friday was also the national Macmillan bake sale so there was a ridiculous number of cakes floating about the office too. Happiness all round! I’d already come pre-prepared with cash ready to donate and invest in some solid pre-run fuel. I actually wolfed down my porridge at double speed when I saw them putting the cakes out as I didn’t want to miss any of the good stuff (I have s genuine fear of food running out. It’s a symptom of being the greedy person I am).So before 9.30am I’d already eaten my porridge, a peanut butter brownie, a questionable vegan brownie, a sausage roll and a GIANT scotch egg (with bacon in it). It was incredible.My work colleagues laughed at me in wonder. I like food, what can I say! 

By 2.30pm everyone who wanted to get involved was changed and ready to share lifts to their destination. We arrived in short time to QECP and got going. The group was a nice mixed bunch of men and women, some super speedy and some less so. The pace was nice and easy though the hills were sharp and frequent. We actually followed some of the parkrun route. We’d stop and walk for a but so people could catch up or catch their breath and it was a lovely amble through the beautiful countryside. The trail was a bit muddy and slippy with some tree roots and rocks about but nothing too technical. I got to know a few more of my work buddies better and chat to people I didn’t know, which was just great. Some were avid ultra marathoners, some occasional parkrunners so it was a nice mix. I find it so easy to chat to people who I already have the common ground of running with.The 7k flew by and I felt great. A few of the guys suggested another 7k loop and after a moment’s deliberation (and a quick calculation of mileage) I decided to join. I think there were about seven of us in total that did the second loop. I was a bit worried that they’d shoot off as they were all quite speedy but hey promised not to leave me behind. And asides from the first 1km straight up a giant hill, it was fine and I felt quite comfortable running.We didn’t push the pace to any extremes but we didn’t stop this time. I actually felt really good. I forget how much I love running off-road and should really do it more.At the end we grabbed a quick drink in the cafe and then one of the guys drove me back to the office to collect my car. It was a lovely way to end the week!

I got back to my parent’s house (which is now where I live) and had a lovely hot shower and a light dinner. I say a light dinner only because my lovely mum and brought me back a few pieces of cake from her bake sale at the hospital where she works. A scone, a slice of Victoria sponge, a slice of lemon drizzle cake and a chocolate crispy cake…well I was done!The next morning I was up early to catch the train to Reading to meet up with my friend, George, who I used to work with at my old job (I also did the Tough Mudder event with him a while ago) and his fiancée. He’s such a nice guy (and his partner is lovely too!) and we’re very likeminded in our love of food. In fact they have a blog which they’ve recently just started (check out their CookNoBook Instagram). The plan was to do the Reading parkrun and then go for lunch. They’ve never done a parkrun before so I was more than happy to introduce them to it.Amazingly I got to theirs without a hitch and we headed to Thames Valley Park where the parkrun was held. It was super busy and cars were parked all along the road. We parked a little walk away and got there just before the first timer’s brief.The course is nice and flat and relatively simple. A straight run out over a small bridge and then two laps around the country park bit. It goes alongside the Thames and the rather was thankfully just a little chilly but the sky was blue.

Ala, George’s partner, isn’t a regular runner so was a little nervous but we were all looking forward to it. George is like a Duracell bunny and has tons of energy. He’s in good shape from lots of martial arts. I wedged myself towards the front so I wouldn’t get too crushed or held back and George and Ala headed further back. I wasn’t sure how my legs would feel after the run the day before by as soon as we got going I felt good and decided just to see what I could do.

The first km or so is on grass and it was a little slippy but then you get onto more compact trail and it was fine, although with a few muddy patches and puddles to jump over.  As we got through the first loop I worked out what kind of speed I could hold onto and planned when to push the pace a bit more. It’s nice having two laps because you can be a bit more strategic about how you can pace without rinsing yourself too soon.As we came over the bridge again and headed on the finishing straight back to the beginning it did seem to go on forever however and it took a lot of effort to keep pushing. I managed to overtake a couple of people at the end and finished in 21:46 with a negative split. Very happy indeed. George, who I thought would overtake me at some point, was just behind in 22:01. Damn those two seconds! For his first parkrun and his first crack at running in a while that’s insane!! Nicely done indeed. Ala came in not too long behind us around 28 minutes. Again, this is amazing for her first parkrun and her not being a regular runner! I’m so happy for them! And they enjoyed it too 🙂 they said they felt very accomplished.From there we headed back to theirs to shower and get sorted. Then we headed out for some coffee, followed by lunch. The lunch spot, Bluegrass BBQ, was everything and more that I could have dreamed for. BBQ fodder at its best.We were eager beavers and actually had to walk round the block before the breakfast menu turned over to the lunch menu at 11:45. When it came to ordering, I went for the Boss Pit Platter with a side of frickles (fried pickles).My god it was good. I was glad I ventured away from my usual safe bet of just having ribs and having a platter of different things to try. There were baby back ribs, brisket, pulled pork, burnt ends, 1/4 chicken, cobs and a mountain of chips. I traded George some brisket for one of his St. Louis ribs and I was all set!
I couldn’t manage all the chips or frickles but everything else was hoovered up. God it was good. No room for pudding though for once! We did a little bit of walking after lunch (an absolute necessity to help digestion…) and headed to a lovely local event called Reading Town Meal. It’s a great event supporting the local community and fresh produce. It had chefs in training from the Reading University cooking a two course meal FOR FREE for people to munch on. It was first come first serve. Obviously we didn’t need a meal by we did get a fruit crumble to share between us…though I could only a mange a couple of bites!
There was lots going on, like face painting, free cake decorating for kids, vegetable stands, bread and things like that. It was great! But I couldn’t even think to have any more cake sadly…as good as it looked! In fact, on my way back to the station I couldn’t even manage a free Hotel Chocolat chocolate! Who even am I?? I was a very full and happy bunny in my train back home (and for once, the right train!).

The next morning I met up with fellow Bournemouth Marathon trainees, Mike, Matt and Joe, and we headed out for a 10 mile run. It was quite humid and warm but otherwise good weather to run in. We all agreed that it might be nice to have a day like that for the marathon next week… But who knows eh!

We kept the pace conversational and it flew by. When we finished the 10 I wanted to carry on and do two to three more miles afterwards so waved goodbye to everyone.I just like to do 13 miles the week before a marathon, it just works for me doing half the distance. I also wanted to see how my legs felt running solo after a long run. I really don’t know where I am with my pace for this marathon so it was nice to see what my legs naturally felt like doing. I don’t think I’ll be running near the 8 mins though! But I’m just going to see how I feel on the day. If anything at the beginning feels too hard, I’ll slow it down. I’m not aiming for a PB (that would be foolish considering I’m not in that sort of shape!) but equally I think I can do a bit faster than a four hour marathon. We shall see.

How was your weekend?

Have you been to Reading recently? It’s got quite a nice selection of coffee shops and restaurants.

Do you enjoy a platter at a restaurant? I quite like a meze board for the variation.

Oxford parkrun review

It has been AGES since I had a parkrun review. I really must get back into them as they’re quite handy and I’ve done so many more since. I have my lovely friend Michelle (from the Austria Run Camp and used to be part of my running club) to thank for this post as she’s kindly written up a review of the Oxford parkrun. She’s now a DOCTOR (not only is she super fast but she’s super smart) and so this is now her local parkrun. Let’s get to it. (All photos are from CJ Photos found on their Facebook page).

Location

Oxford parkrun takes place in Cutteslowe and Sunnymead Park which can be found on the far north of the city, just outside the ring road. The park itself is the largest in the city and has received a Green Flag Award.The 42 hectares of parkland are split into Cutteslowe Park to the north and Sunnymead Park to the south with a bridge joining the two. During World War II large parts of the park were used to grow vegetables and afterwards continued to be home to allotments. More recently this area of land is managed to provide community woodlands and a semi-natural wildlife area.Parking

There are two car parks available at the park; Harbord Road to the north edge of the park and the other at the south just off the A40 if you’re heading towards Headington. Both are pay and display however charges don’t come into effect until 10am.

The two main entrances to the park are also where the car parks are for those travelling by two wheeled or two footed transport. Oxford Parkway/Water Eaton park and ride is approximately a mile down the road so ideal for any keen bean wanting a mile warm up and cool down. From here you can then get either the bus or train into Oxford city centre and spend the rest of the day exploring oxfords colleges, shopping streets and cafes. The park and ride costs £2 to park for 11 hours and then bus is £2.80 return (although train is only £1.90 if you have a railcard!).

Amenities

Okay I’ll start by ticking off the two most important things…firstly yes there are toilets within the park. Secondly post parkrun coffee and cake is within eyesight of the finish line. The San Remo cafe located within the park is where everyone tends to head (I can’t vouch for it personally though having not been). If you’re feeling a bit more adventurous then there are several lovely cafes and bakeries in Summertown which is very close by (walking distance).Within the park itself are several children’s play areas, table tennis tables, a miniature railway, beach volleyball courts, a skate park and outdoor tennis courts. There are also cricket and multiple football pitches which are used by local football clubs on a Saturday morning. For hide and seek lovers there are several geocaches hidden within the park and a marked 18 point orienteering course. Or if you just want to be outdoors with nature there are areas of wildflowers, oriental flower beds, allotments and community woodland.

As well as the parkrun course there is also a 1 mile course marked around the park.

Course

The course itself starts in a northerly direction on an area of grass, your run 1 and 3/4 loops of the small grass field (marked with posts which you go around, a bit like a rounders pitch) and then you leave the field at the southernmost point to head out and complete 2 large laps of the park.The large laps start with a slight downhill on tarmac and then you turn left to follow the southern perimeter of the park on the grass. This is where you need to be careful as there are some rabbit holes and mole hills as well as the grass being slightly banked. After a short stretch of gravel path you turn onto the main open field which you follow the edge of for 3 edges of the square. Again, this is grass with a trodden “track” and signs marking the route. When I ran the course it was soft underfoot due to recent rain but I can imagine during winter to can become very muddy so don’t wear those new shiny trainers!!
When you get to the final edge of the field the grass track turns to a gravel path. This is the only real uphill on the course but is not steep and only about 200m long. At the top of the track you turn left onto a tarmac path which you then follow through a sharp right then an almost 180 degree left turn to complete the first large loop.Once you complete the second of the large laps you head back onto the grass after the tight left turn and straight into the finish funnel with just enough distance to get a sprint finish in.

Elevation

The graph below shows the overall elevation of the course.As I mentioned above there is only really one uphill and that last for approximately 200m but isn’t steep. Only thing is you do it twice. Otherwise I’d say the only thing slowing the course slightly is that it’s mostly grass underfoot and there are a few tight turns!

Number of participants

The largest turnout is 405 but on average there are 165 runners so it is a small parkrun for being located in a big city.There are often families, runners with buggies and runners with dogs taking part and the other facilities in the park make it an ideal family morning out!

Check out their Twitter and Facebook pages for updates and information!

Thank you Michelle, a fabulous review 🙂

If you’d like to do a parkrun review, please email me (annatheappleblog@gmail.com) and I’ll post it up!

Have you ever been to the Oxford parkrun?

Have you ever been to Oxford? I love it there. So British and lovely.