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.

My third Bristol parkrun and a tough long run

It seems like I’m in Bristol at the weekend more than I am in Southampton at the moment. I drove up there on Friday after work to stay over with my friends, Kate and Jamie, so Kate and I could then drive together to Cardiff for my other friend’s baby shower.

I never really need an excuse to go to Bristol if I’m honest. I love it there and Kate and Jamie are brilliant hosts. And Jay always cooks a mean dinner! We had roast chicken, salad, wedges and wraps.He’d used a BBQ rub on the chicken and it was delicious. I was in charge of pudding, which is always a bit dangerous. I bought a dessert pizza (I only recently found out this was a thing!) and some ice cream.Ben and Jerry’s Blondie Brownie is my absolute favourite (it has that salted caramel core and big chunks of blondie and brownie in it, divine!) and Jude’s was on offer (brown butter pecan) so I thought, ahh why not.The dessert pizza was actually quite disappointing. This might have been because it defrosted on the way to Bristol and then we over-baked it. It was just a bit dry and boring. However, with the ice cream it worked very nicely. Needless to say we all felt very full and slightly sick and I had memories of Orlando…

I’d managed to persuade my friends to go to a different parkrun the next morning rather than Pomphrey Hill that we usually go to. I’ve never been to Ashton Court parkrun and a (very speedy) friend from Southampton was coincidentally also going to be there so it seemed nice time to test it out.It was a beautifully sunny morning but still fairly cold. I didn’t take a coat with me and was feeling very chilly, though the sunshine definitely helped. Kate and Jamie brought their lovely little pug, Doug, with them as their parents were popping down to watch us run so could look after him. I also met a very lovely blog reader. Hello Liz!Ashton Court parkrun is a very interesting parkrun. The course is basically 1.5~ miles straight uphill and then 1.5~ miles straight downhill. My Southampton friend gave some good advice on how to run it, basically saying that you needed to push it on the first half as this is where you got your time. Going downhill is easy so there’s no worry about effort level there. So give it hell for the first bit and grit your teeth through the pain!

It was quite a busy parkrun, surprisingly given how intimidating the course was (over 500 people). I decided to listen to some music to get my head in the zone. Annoyingly I hadn’t got myself to a decent spot in the start (which was very busy) as I was faffing around and I hadn’t found satellites on my Garmin either, which meant my run was messed up on Strava.

But anyway, I got going. The beginning is on the flat so you can sort of get yourself going before you then start trekking uphill. It really was a grind. I just kept pushing, feeling the good vibes from my music and letting people overtake me.

Then, disaster, my music went from rocking motivating tunes to… Bear’s Den. I love Bear’s Den. But I love it when I’m chilling out not when I’m trying to maintain a hard effort level. Arrrrghhh! So I had to ferret into my FlipBelt and get my phone out to change the track – no idea why Bear’s Den was on my running playlist! But on the plus side, it meant I could snap a photo as I was running.

As ever, the photo doesn’t do justice to the hill

Though the hill was hard, I knew it would be over fairly soon. As we got past the steepest point and headed to the turnaround bit (the speedier runners now hurtling downhill, including my friend – who by the way did this in around 18:40!) the end was in sight. I reached the halfway turnaround and headed back downhill…but now the wind was in my face. Luckily this was only really because we were quite high and had no shelter, so as we got to the steepest downhill section the wind disappeared.

Photo Credit: John O’Brien

And the fun began. I’ve never run so fast in my life! I’ve never looked at speed bumps with genuine concern that I might fall over one if my foot was placed wrongly. I managed to overtake quite a few people who had previously overtaken me which was nice. And then we reached the last flat bit before the finish…ooof this was hard because suddenly I couldn’t maintain that super fast speed anymore but had to hang on as best as I could.

Photo Credit: John O’Brien

I came in at 22:39, which I was buzzing about because it was faster than last week’s Netley!And I was happy with my fastest ever mile on that downhill. I’ll take that!

Kate and Jamie enjoyed it too which made me happy. They’d recently done the Bath Half Marathon and hadn’t enjoyed it that much so it was nice for them to feel the love of running again. Where better than at parkrun, eh?Kate and I then had to get sorted and showered and sorted fairly pronto as we were driving to Cardiff for our friend’s baby shower.

We arrived at midday and found Shell making her own sandwiches for the baby shower (tut tut, Rob!) so we quickly took over while Shell could relax and look her lovely (pregnant!) self.It was a lovely afternoon. We ate lots of really tasty food; I love a buffet, and the food was rather posh! (Think M&S).And played lots of fun games that her sister, Rebecca, had organised. We did a baby-focused quiz which was actually quite tough and then a crafts-focused game. We had to design baby socks for a career that we were given on a piece of paper. Mine was a baker.I’m actually quite impressed at my craft-skills. Basic but not entirely terrible!Everyone did really well: (L:R) teacher, movie star, astronaut, baker (I did two socks for some reason), musician, vet, athlete and doctor.

Then we wrote advice on the back of puzzle pieces for the baby to read later in life. Here are mine:Wise, I think 😉

Then I headed back to Southampton. The next morning I was up at 8.30am to run a long run with my friend, Mark, and a triathlete called James who joined us. Both are a lot faster than me but thankfully they were happy to go around 8 minute miles. They wanted about 13 miles and I wanted 16 so I ran over a mile to our meeting point and planned to run a mile and a bit back. It was a very sunny and warm morning and for some stupid reason I was wearing long sleeves.

The run was really very hard. The pace wasn’t crazy but there was a gusty wind coming from all directions which tested me. The temperature didn’t help and, let’s be honest, the food over the past few days and just my general fitness wasn’t the best.

I started to struggle from about eight miles I think but it was an overly mental thing rather than my legs not working. It helped chatting to James and Mark and this took my mind off things. But as we got to around 10 miles I realised I was quite thirsty.

Mark was great at keeping me going and tolerated me moaning (he has withstood many of my moanings at parkrun, bless him). He’s aiming for a sub 3:05 at Brighton in a few weeks so he’s in great shape right now…whereas I felt like I was crawling at times.

When we got back to the starting point, James had a bottle of water and was so kind to let me guzzle down a load. I felt a lot better! I also felt a lot better knowing I had about 1.5 miles of running on my own, which meant I could slow down if I wanted to. Surprisingly though I kept the pace up. Though when I was finished I really was finished.The rest of the day was like a sleepwalk. I was tired, lethargic and just hazy. I made sure to drink lots of water (with electrolytes) and eat good solid meals but I went to bed that night drained.

(I didn’t forget Mother’s Day. I’m taking my mum to London in April for lunch at Jamie’s Fifteen. She spent the day with my sister seeing Beauty and the Beast. I was grateful to have the day to myself if I’m honest – I know, terrible daughter – because I was just so tired. I wouldn’t have been great company!)

So a good weekend which left me exhausted!

How do you recover after a hard long run?

What’s the most interesting parkrun course you’ve done?

What’s your favourite Ben and Jerry’s flavour?

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?

Orlando Recap – part 1

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

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

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

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

The Hotel

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

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

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

The Parks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Basketball Match

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

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

Extras

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

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

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

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

Deep fried S’mores Pop Tart with chocolate sauce

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

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

Have you ever been to Orlando?

What’s your favourite theme park?

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

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

Stubbington 10k race recap

I’ve been wanting to do this race for about three years. It’s ridiculous because this is a race that literally runs past my parent’s house and the route is one I’ve often used on many a long run.

Finally this year I wasn’t injured (well, coming back from injury but not injured) and it worked well into my marathon training plan (I say “plan” rather loosely). Happily my friends, Kate and Jamie, had signed up too. This was to be their first ever proper road race. They’ve done parkruns and we’ve done an obstacle race together but never a road race.

Unfortunately the weather was predicted to be awful. I mean it’s hardly surprisingly really considering it’s a) Britain and b) January, but us Brits are always so shocked when the weather is in fact terrible. Running in bad weather isn’t so bad but in a race setting there’s a fair amount of hanging around and getting cold before you actually start running and none of us were thrilled at this prospect.I stayed at my parent’s house (it made sense as the race start was a short walk away) and woke up early on Sunday to run two miles before Kate and Jamie arrived after driving from Bristol. I wanted to do the extra miles so I could have a total of eight miles for the day – my longest run yet. It wasn’t ideal having a break between the two miles and the race but I wasn’t going to desert my friends to run the miles just before the race began.

Just one mile out from my parent’s and then one mile back. Fairly easy. The weather was pretty grim but not as bad as expected – a bit drizzly and cold. I wore long leggings to keep myself from getting too cold and as I headed back down the lane Kate and Jamie passed me in the car so it was fairly good timing.

We were all feeling rather grumpy and not up for the race. It also didn’t help that my dad had decided to cook a fry-up for breakfast. Always nice to smell bacon cooking that you won’t get to eat.

We left as late as we possibly could to avoid hanging around in the cold too much. It was only a 10 minute walk, if that, to the race HQ and as we had no bags to drop off (my parents were kindly going to take our coats for us and put them in a big bag they’d brought especially) and we didn’t need the loo, we just huddled inside the community centre.Stubbington 10k is a very cheap race (think it was £16-17?) but it has quite a few of the perks of bigger races, such as a really nice technical t-shirt (which actually fits me!), chip timing, a big inflatable finishing arch with a time-display, lots of marshals and lots of support round the course. It also has waves for the start. As I’m a little faster than Kate and Jamie I wished them luck and headed to my starting area. My neckline felt really tight and I realised I had my black base layer on backwards. Smooth, Anna, really smooth. Luckily, realistically only I could tell.I saw lots of people from my running club which was nice. It’s a very clubby race so there were lots of local clubs from the area. It can feel a bit intimidating because they seem like “proper” runners, as Kate said, but I reassured her that there would be a range of running experience and paces and she wouldn’t be at the back (she wasn’t).

I had the vague time goal of finishing in under 50 minutes, maybe around 46-48 minutes. I didn’t want a hard effort but I did want a sustained effort. I haven’t really done any speed work so I wanted to see what I could do over six miles.

I found the start quite hard going, mentally and physically. I was overtaken quite a lot. And as nice as it was getting lots of hellos from people in my running club and people I knew, it was somewhat demoralising. But I just told myself it didn’t matter, yes I’m not in a great running shape right now and I’m not racing this.

The first mile has a bit of an uphill and then a very steep downhill so it was a mixed bag in terms of pace. A girl I knew ran up next to me and asked what time I was aiming for. I gave her my vague time and she mentioned she wanted to stick with someone. Now usually I don’t mind running with other people or chatting away during a race but I really didn’t fancy it. I wanted to sort of hide away in my mind and just auto-pilot the miles. I didn’t want to offend her though so I slightly slowed down and eventually after some chatter she headed off. It was nothing personal to the girl, she’s lovely, but I just wasn’t in that mood, you know?

There is a fairly sharp incline which seems to go on forever which took a bit of a graft to get up. Then it was plain sailing – I knew this course so well I could just switch off and plan little milestones in my head. A few other people tried to chat to me but my monosyllabic responses discouraged further conversation. I must have seemed grumpy but really I was just wanting to get the race done. 10ks aren’t my favourite, the weather was fairly miserable and the sustained effort was taking its mental toll on me. It sounds like I had a horrible race but in truth I quite enjoyed it; I enjoyed zoning out and letting my legs carry me forward.

The course is fairly scenic, going past lots of farmer’s fields and country lanes and then eventually running along the seafront. It was grim and grey but thankfully not windy. There was a lot of support from the locals and I made sure to smile and thank everyone I could – it must have been so cold for them!

Photo credit: Alan from Denmead Photos 

As the miles ticked off quickly I increased my pace a little and started picking off people in front of me. I managed to pull back some people who had overtaken me at the start and that bolstered my confidence somewhat.

As I reached the last 400m I saw a group of guys from my running club (super speedsters) who were cheering the club in. My running club friend Chris was just ahead of me and they all enthusiastically yelled at me to overtake him (or “chick” him). I tried my best to catch him but I just couldn’t and annoyingly managed to burn myself out before the final sprint. Such a stupid thing to do!

Photo source: Netley Abbey Runners

Anyway I finished strong. I worried I might have pushed it a bit too hard (and at the same time wondered how I managed to pull any of those paces for my last marathon…!).My official time was 46:26, which I’ll happily take! I’m around four minutes off my PB but in reality I’m a million miles from that sort of speed! I’m just happy that my calf/shin felt good (not perfect but decent) and I was able to put in some effort towards the end. A very happy result indeed.There was no medal but we got a lovely technical t-shirt so I’m happy enough. My parents were waiting at the finish line to cheer us in (they’d had a nice coffee in the village while we were running) so it was nice to get my coat quickly back on and to grab a takeaway Costa coffee which was right next to the finish while I waited for Kate and Jamie.Kate finished (1:05) before Jamie (1:05:22) which no one expected – only because Jamie normally beats Kate. Jamie said he didn’t have the best race while Kate said it’s helped re-motivate her for her training for the Bath Half.And then we quickly headed off back to mine where we showered and got ready and headed out to a lovely local pub called the Fox and Hounds in Burseldon. I’ve recently been and had the most amazing sundae when I went out for dinner there (some things are not always blogged about… ;-)) and wanted to recreate the experience with Kate and Jamie, who I knew would appreciate it. I also really wanted something that wasn’t available on the menu the last time I was there.I went for a sharing platter with Jamie (very tasty) and then a hog roast burger topped with gammon and pulled pork. Oh my good Lord this was amazing. Now normally I don’t get burgers as I always feel that the ratio of carb:protein is not at my preference. However, this was a fully stacked burger. My bun could barely contain it. And it fully rocked my world. And of course, the salted caramel sundae for pudding (containing bits of brownie and cheesecake).

Kate and Jamie also enjoyed theirs and ordered the sundaes as well (Jamie refused to give a normal face for this photo FYI).

We had this at 1pm and honestly I could not eat a single thing for the rest of the day (OK that’s a lie, I had two apples). I actually felt a little unwell in the evening and my stomach was making all kinds of crazy noises that night. But it was worth it.

So like old times, a good race and good food!

What do you never normally order at a restaurant?

What’s the best sundae you’ve ever had? Hands down, this one was probably the best I’ve had. The cream on top was proper whipping cream and not from a can.

Do you enjoy chatting to people during a race? Normally I do!