The New Forest Marathon 2017

The New Forest Marathon was my 10th marathon. I ran it with my good friend, Mike, who for whatever reason has yet to get a sub four hour marathon in his previous two, despite his other race times indicating he should. On Sunday morning my alarm went off at 5.50am (actually not feeling that bad considering I often get up at 5am during the week to go to the gym).My dad was supporting and was going to drive so I’d stayed at my parent’s house the night before. We got going at 6.20am and I had my porridge, Beet It! shot and a flask of coffee en route (time-saving tactics so I could have more sleep). We picked Mike up and headed to the New Forest.We got there within plenty of time (thankfully though not the three hours beforehand that they’d advised!). We arrived about 7.15am, picked up our bibs and were ready for a 9am start. We saw a few others from my club who were doing the half or the full and we shuffled around in the misty, cold waiting to make a move to the start area.I went to the portable loos several times (as you do). Interestingly they were split into males and females, not that people really paid attention! I was cold but not overly so. In fact, I was happy I was cold because previous Sundays had proved very warm.
And then we headed to the start. After what seemed like a rather over-zealous instructed warm-up, of which we halfheartedly followed, we were good to go.We tried not to get carried away in the enthusiasm of the start and kept things nice and easy. There were about 1,000 runners in the full but separated into two different starts so it never felt too busy. As soon as we started running I realised I needed the loo AGAIN. Can you believe that? I’d been THREE TIMES. I told Mike I’d dash off for a wild wee in a bush and catch him up. The plan was to stay around 9-9.10min/miles so I knew I could catch him up without killing myself.Wild wee was successful (though I was in an area where there seemed to be quite a lot of ants so the risk of actual ants in the pants was quite strong). Mike and I chatted away easily and I checked in with him every now and again to make sure he was finding it easy. These miles weren’t meant to be challenging at this point. The elevation for the first 10 miles was relatively flat so things should be nice and simple here. Our first mile stone was at 5 miles when Mike took his salt tablet. He’s suffered from cramp in the past and found that taking salt tablets helps prevent this – one every five miles or so.The scenery around us was beautiful. Lots of huge redwoods, ponies and pretty foliage. I tried to snap photos where I could while also not be that annoying to Mike. But I figured that while he was in a happy place and things were going well, selfies were acceptable. I’d post them on Twitter and send a few updates to my dad as I knew he’d appreciate it. With no tracker it was good for him to have an idea of what was happening.Along the route there were lots of funny signs that said things like, “Run? I thought you said rum!” and things like that. It kept us entertained. There was also a sign next to a huge tree saying that it was the biggest redwood in the whole of the UK. Pretty cool! I tried to get a pic but kind of failed.At mile 9 I took my gel. I planned it badly as it was my thick GU gel (Maple Bacon flavour, delightful!) and needed a good amount of water to help stop the “cloying” effect in my mouth. But I decided to take it just before the water station so ended up having to do a sort of gel-then-water swallowing combo. I should have taken the gel a few minutes before the water station and then gulped down a lot of water to help it all down. Oh well!I was also very aware not to litter, not that I intentionally do, but in the race pack it was said that litter outside the aid station areas would result in disqualification so I had a limited area to get the water and gel down! I could hold a gel wrapper but not a cup as well.My dad was stood at the mile 10 marker, exactly as he said he would bless him, and he cheered us on which was a lovely boost. We were still sailing along happily so everything was very relaxed and cheerful.
Then from mile ten we had a a number of undulations, but they weren’t anything terrible so far.We were slightly unnerved that both our Garmins were out of sync with the mile markers, pretty much from mile three, by about 0.2 miles. We figured it was probably due to all the trees and as we were reaching the mile markers before our watches were beeping the miles it was quite an advantageous place to be (better it this way than our watches beeping way before). It gave us some comfort that we were kind of ahead of target.So from mile 10 to around mile 14 it was basically a gradual incline. There was a section along the road where we had to run within the confines of some cones and curb and it meant single file running. This wasn’t too bad but you couldn’t zone out as you’d drift into a cone and be taken out! It also meant I had to keep looking behind me to ensure I didn’t go too fast and lose Mike. The incline didn’t feel terrible but it did mean we had to work harder. I was hoping that because we’d found the first 10 miles so easy and had kept to a fairly quickish but sensible pace we’d be able to gain back time later when we had some downhills.Mike and I continued to chatter, but he was less enthusiastic and upbeat as before and I found myself trying to think of any random nonsense to keep him distracted. Underfoot the terrain was compacted gravel and not the easiest to run great distances over. We were always pleased when we hit some road where we didn’t have to focus so much on our foot placement or jumping puddles etc. There were lots of ponies hanging around on the sides of the course in the expanses of grass around us. Several times we had ponies gallop across the roads in a rather dramatic fashion (like a Lloyds advert…). It was fine until they charged across the road very close to us and I wasn’t sure where to go to not be trampled! I remember hearing someone behind me shout about how they were so pleased there were unicorns in the marathon which made everyone around chuckle.

At half-way I remember saying to Mike we were counting down now. The temperature was quite warm and it was somewhat humid. Nothing crazy – in fact, it was quite a nice temperature to run in, but I was getting more and thirsty between the water stations. I hadn’t taken water with me as I don’t normally do so in a marathon and the water stations were frequent and plenty, but I think there were about 3 miles between each one and this proved a bit too far for me.Thankfully there were some lovely people who lived in one of the houses we passed that had put out their own water station and we happily glugged some there. The course was fairly sparse in terms of supporters though. There were the odd few people who stood outside their houses with a cup of tea cheering, and when you got closer to the villages more people were out, but otherwise there were long stretches of no support.I decided to not take my gel at half-way as I’d planned as I didn’t think I needed it and decided to wait until 18 miles instead. As we got closer to 18 miles, Mike appeared to be finding it tougher. I’d frequently (probably annoying the hell out of him) ask how he was to keep in check. Our pace started to slow down and he kept looking at his watch and panicking a little about time. At this point I text my dad to say we were hitting the struggle train just to keep him in the loop. We were hoping to see him at mile 25.

A brief spell of light rain and wind hit us which was both a welcome relief but also an annoyance as it meant we were working against it. The cooling effect though was worth it in balance. Sadly the rain didn’t stay for long though.I saw my friend, Ben (possibly 21 or 22 miles?), and he cheered us on and helped encourage us. We got to another water station and both of us guzzled down two cups of water and Mike dumped another on his head. He mentioned he was feeling a bit sick and his fingers were tingling. I didn’t like the sound of this but I needed him to not focus on it unless it got really bad. I could see he was starting to drift into his head and go to a dark marathon place.
We hit some nice downhills which helped keep us going but he started to need to take a few walking breaks. I desperately wanted to keep him motivated and moving forward to his goal but there’s only so much you can do. I had to have another wild wee (weird, two wees in a marathon!) and then sprinted to catch up with him. It was quite nice to get my legs moving quickly – though it definitely was not sustainable at this point!

As we hit mile 23 Mike had really hit a dark place. Along with feeling dizzy and tingly he complained that his side was hurting (like his ab muscle). He luckily stretched away his knee hurting (another thing to add to his struggles!) but this side thing wouldn’t budge. Looking at his watch was just stressing him out so we decided to shelve the sub four and focused on finishing without injury and misery. This involved walking to a certain milestone and then running some more. I tried to encourage him as best as I could but I could tell it wouldn’t really help. We’ve all been there! But taking away the time goal now seemed to lessen the edge off the darkness.

I really didn’t know how best to keep him moving forward at this point. We got to mile 24 (I think) and he stopped. A fellow runner asked if he was OK and then Mike decided to sit down on a verge which possibly wasn’t the wisest idea as he immediately got cramp. The runner told me I could go on and get my time and he’d look after Mike. I was like “hell no, buddy, I’m running this thing to the end with him”. The guy said he’d stay with us as well and we’d run it to the end together and helped Mike to his feet. The runner did stay with us but for about five minutes and then disappeared which I thought was a bit odd considering he was so keen initially! But it didn’t matter as I wasn’t leaving Mike and we really didn’t need someone else offering empty words (I was doing enough of that!). It was kind of him to have helped us but in reality the only person who could help Mike was Mike.The final mile we were back to running more consistently as the end was in sight.
I spotted my dad and headed over to him to have a quick chat as Mike continued on. I explained we were struggling a bit. He said he’d see us at the finish and shouted encouragement to Mike.We ran all the way to the finish – so strange to be running the same path we’d been at four hours ago.
Sadly our time was 4:10:46 – not quite the sub four we were hoping for, but still a stellar time considering the hills and terrain. I mean, looking at the splits we only hit trouble in the last three miles really. It’s definitely an encouraging run for Mike. Had the course been easier he would have smashed it I’m sure. But such is life and such is the decision we made to use this marathon as the one to go for.
This was a very strange marathon for me as I spent about 90% of it not thinking about me at all. During the majority of my other marathons I’m constantly analysing my pace, thinking about how I feel, monitoring any niggles or weird feelings and just zoning out. For this marathon I had to be in tune with how Mike felt and constantly think about Mike. My own feelings were pushed back. I only remember one time during the marathon where I thought, “oof still a long way to go” (I think this was at about 17 miles). It was also really nice to be running at a very relaxed pace (for me). I didn’t struggle at all (sorry, Mike) and found that I was easily sailing along. Not only this but I felt I could have continued running rather than being in complete relief at the finish line. I felt good!I’m sad we didn’t hit Mike’s goal but I do think he did amazingly – and he really pushed through some tough times during those last few miles. He should be very proud of himself. I think initially he was quite disappointed but I guess that’s only because the last few struggling miles were so sharp in his memory. On reflection I believe he’s more happy now. As he should be!The New Forest Marathon was a great event. There were lots of other events happening on that day too at different times (children’s run, 10k, half). And to be honest it was mostly very smooth and well run. The medal and t-shirt are cool, and the goodie bag was reasonable with a few freebies, a banana and a water.

My only complaint was getting out of the car park. Everyone was parked in a field and it was a bit of a mess trying to get out. There were several streams of traffic from all different rows and the security wouldn’t let anyone actually exit. We have no idea why. We could just see the security team shaking their heads at each other and throwing their arms in the air… And yet there seemed no obvious reason why we couldn’t exit – there wasn’t anything blocking anywhere. People starting getting frustrated and started beeping. I think the lack of information was really annoying people as as far as we could see everything was fine to leave.

Eventually we were able to leave though! Hurrah!

We invited Mike to join us for some food but he declined (understandably not everyone thinks about food straight away after a marathon!) and we dropped him off. My dad and me headed to Coast to Coast as I had a 50% voucher and we needed some large portions and a “not too posh” restaurant.I ate to my heart’s content (that’s to say, I ate everything I ordered; chicken wings, fajitas and chocolate fudge cake) and then my dad took me home so I could pick Alfie and my car up and then head home. So, at 5pm after walking Alfie, I could finally shower! Lovely.

Do you like to eat straight after a marathon?

Have you ever run a marathon with a friend?

Have you ever gone to the Dark Marathon Place before?

Skid Row Marathon and another adulting fail

On Saturday I headed up to London just before lunch for a running-specific visit. However, there actually was no running involved…not even for a train!

I always seem to harp on about this in my blog, but I’m a big fan of the Marathon Talk podcast and have been on a few different of the events that they run. They tend to run an annual run camp located in the heart of the New Forest (at a place delightfully called Sandy Balls) which I’ve been to three times and really hope to make next year too. I’ve also been on the Austrian run camp that they trialled this year, which was FANTASTIC (even if I did come back injured from over-zealous running).

At these events I’ve made some fantastic friends who I’ve kept in touch with and hope to continue being in touch with for years to come. Running really does bring people together and, as I always always say, is just such a warm hug of a community.

So when I heard about a running-based documentary being shown in London and a few of my fellow Marathon Talk friends had decided to go I immediately signed up. The film, Skid Row Marathon, sounded interesting enough but really I just wanted to hang out with some cool like-minded people and geek out over miles, splits and races.

Through the magic of social media I arranged to meet up with a Marathon Talker, James (@Runeckers on Insta) who I didn’t really know in “real life” but knew vaguely through Twitter and Instagram. But I thought he didn’t sound particularly like a psycho and it would be nice to grab some lunch somewhere before the 3.30pm showing. If I’m going to go to London I might as well make more of a day of it.

We arranged to meet in Leicester Square and had a brief moment of funny awkwardness when I could see him across a busy crossroad but he couldn’t see me but I couldn’t get across the road. I was messaging him saying “I can see you!” only to watch him look around bewildered. Eventually he spotted me, but it did scream slightly of a weird stalker girl 😉

James turned out to indeed not be a psycho and we chatted easily, as runners do, about all things races, PBs, injuries and goals. As I’d run 16 miles earlier that morning I could feel my runger start to emerge even though I hadn’t had breakfast that many hours ago. So there ensued us walking around trying to chat but also trying to make our minds up on where to eat. As tempting as Nando’s was, we both decided maybe something a bit more original and found a lovely spot called The Hummus Bros. It was lovely.I must admit the portion sizes did look alarmingly small to my highly greedy eyes, despite having “gone large”. However it was actually incredibly filling. It was quite intensely packed with hummus (surprise, surprise), shredded chicken and guacamole. It also came with two lovely warm thick pitas as well. James had the beef stroganoff hummus bowl which sounded bizarre to me but he said was nice.

On our quest for lunch I’d spotted a fro-yo spot, Yorica, and as James had never tried fro-yo I pretty much demanded that we go there for pudding. You know, to spread the good fro-yo word.The fro-yo flavours sounded good and the lady behind the counter tempted me to trying a mix of chocolate with “mellow macha”. We saw someone having large chunks of brownie put onto theirs and immediately followed suit as well. They looked pretty tasty! It was an interesting spot with a machine for free sprinkles which was rather jazzy. Of course we had to have a little go.Though my fro-yo looks huge in comparison to James’ I actually had quite a big hole within the depths of the fro-yo which was somewhat disappointing but actually it was quite a decent portion (even for me). Then we ambled back towards the Prince Charles theatre in Leicester Square to meet with the others who’d arrived.Quite a few of the Austria run campers had come so it was nice to see them and catch up. Martin Yelling (one of the Marathon Talk presenters, who had organised the event to take place) and his wife, Liz Yelling, were also there and it was nice to say hi and briefly chat again. They also introduced us to the producers of the film which was very cool indeed.

I then bumped into Maria and had a nice chat briefly. She was far more organised than me and had printed off her ticket. I suddenly realised I didn’t have my ticket. What an idiot! I realised it would be on my phone in my emails but I was struggling with Internet signal. And suddenly everyone was going in! Ensue major panic. Luckily my lovely Austria run camp friend, Zoe (who incidentally was the one responsible for organising the cinema screening with Martin – they actually organised it while we were in Austria after Martin asked if anyone had any contacts for cinema screenings in London!) said she knew I’d bought a ticket so I didn’t have to struggle anymore. Thank God. Why am I not more organised!?

John (he’s just completed a ridiculous week of running silly miles every day, legend), James and me

The film itself was just fantastic. It was so interesting, so moving and so well made. I mean, I’m clearly no movie critic but I thoroughly enjoyed it and it deserves to be seen by more people. The film roughly followed four years of an LA criminal judge, Craig Mitchell, and a running club, called the Midnight Runners, that he helped set up. The club is part of the Midnight Mission which is a shelter and addiction centre in the heart of Skid Row where around 6,000 homeless people live (LA actually has 47,000 homeless people in total). It honed in on a number of real people who were trying to make a better life for themselves. They were previous addicts, criminals – even a murderer. A theme through the film, that the producer highlighted at the end, was that no single act defined a person and that people should be given a second chance. It really spoke volumes to me.

I could go on and on about how good this film was but I won’t. I will stress though that if you get the opportunity to see it (hopefully it will become available to stream) then you really must. It gave me a lot to think about.After the film had finished there was a Q&A with the film makers themselves, Gabi and Mark Hayes. They were lovely and were very generous with their time and patience to answer a number of questions. They shared a hilarious tidbit that during the Rome Marathon that the running club took part in, one of the main “characters”, Rebecca, stopped half-way for a pizza and a cigarette as she was struggling so much. I think we’ve all felt that pain before!

When we broke out into the foyer I hung out with other Marathon Talkers. Gabi and Mark were there too so we could ask them a few more questions. They were so willing to chat and so friendlyEventually a bunch of us headed off to grab a drink and food as it was now around 6pm. We stopped at a nearby Slug and Lettuce. A few of us ordered a chicken salad in a tortilla bowl (very tasty) and my lovely friend, Deni, ordered four portion of chips for us all to share.Runners know how to eat, of course!

After chatting away it was time to head back home. An easy train ride for me at 8.09pm to Portsmouth Harbour, which would stop at Hedge End where I’d walk the 15 minutes back to my flat. Easy peasy.

I got on my train (yep, it said Portsmouth Harbour, yep it was around 8pm) and happily chilled out. It was only when I got chatting to a lovely couple near me that I realised I’d made a mistake. Well, they highlighted to me my mistake. I was on the wrong train. The wrong Portsmouth Harbour train. I’d gotten on the one that didn’t go through Southampton! Why put TWO Portsmouth Harbour trains running at VERY similar times on neighbourghing platforms!? Don’t they realise they’re dealing with people with limited common sense, AKA me??

I quickly checked online on my phone and the couple were, of course, correct. This train did not go anywhere near Hedge End. Anna Standard Behaviour right there. So I made the dreaded phonecall to my parents to see if by any chance they could pick me up and take me home from Havant (a legitimate stop on this train), which was about 15 minutes from where they lived. As ever, they came to my rescue (and may I add, not at all surprised. After all, this is not unusual behaviour for me to be without my brain at crucial moments). In fact, my dad went as far to say that whenever I travel a distance away from home one of them won’t have a glass of wine that evening as they never can guarantee I can make it home safely alone. Jeeze.

What made it even worse was that the train was delayed by 45 minutes. My dad remarked when he finally saw me that only I could get on the wrong train and then have it delayed. The couple who I was sat near were lovely company though and we passed the time chatting away. Bless their hearts, they said they had a daughter “my age” too…she’d just finished travelling after university (she’s 23! Ha! I’m almost 30 don’t you know!). That said, this 23 year old could evidently make it safely and happily around South East Asia for six weeks without any issue. I can barely navigate two hours from my home.

*Sighs* but I made it home safely thanks to my life-saving parents. A silly way to end a fantastic day. At least I go to talk their ears off about the film that evening…

Have you ever got on the wrong train?

Do you enjoy documentaries?

Vegan delights, running late and too much cake

This weekend was both super busy and super chilled. A good mixture I think!

On Friday night I stayed at my parent’s house as I’d planned on running to Lee-On-Solent parkrun the next day in order to kill two birds with one stone. I haven’t done parkrun since before Austria because of my injury, but I wanted to get back to it. Equally I wanted a long run and as I’ve been playing it super safe only running three times so this meant combining the two on Saturday as I’d already run Tuesday and Thursday. Lee-On-Solent parkrun isn’t very far from my parents so was a safe distance to add on before the 5k.

I was feeling quite tired so decided that I wouldn’t set my alarm too early. 7.30am seemed about right. As long as I was running no later than 8.10am that would give me a good amount of time to run 5 miles and have a bit of a buffer just before parkrun. For reasons beyond comprehension, when I’d planned my run I hadn’t really spotted that it was longer than 5 miles to get to the actual starting area of parkrun. And, as always, I wasted a bit of time in the morning faffing around… meaning by 8.15am I was still trying to locate satellites and not having much luck.

But, ever the positive and optimistic, I set off without a care in the world at 8.20am. The run felt good and I zoned out listening to a podcast as I plodded along. Funnily enough one of my non-running friends said they saw me running and got confused why I was running in the opposite direction to the Lee parkrun. They didn’t understand why I didn’t just run directly there. I had to explain about trying to get the extra miles. They didn’t quite get it. Non-runners, eh 😉

As I was running a route I often do when I run a long run from my parent’s house I know how many miles roughly there was to go until I got towards the Lee-On-Solent area. I realised I’d made a mistake somewhere in my planning. It was now closing in on 8.45am and I still had about three miles to go. I sped up a bit. As I was running along the coast I could see in the distance where the parkrun would begin. I was still so far away!As it got to 9am I was about 0.5 miles away and started passing some of the marshals. As I legged it past I shouted “Don’t think I’m going to make it!” and they laughed and said I better hurry up. I was somewhat banking on there being lots of messages at the start to delay it a bit but it seemed unlikely to be delayed so much after 9am. When I got to the start area of course they had already gone as it was now almost 9.10am. I ran past my friend Rebecca, who was marshalling and celebrating reaching 100 times volunteering (!), and she laughed at my lateness. I debated not doing it and just supporting and then getting my extra miles by running home (which would be about three miles) but I could see the runners ahead and decided just to try and catch up as much as I could and have a slower time.By this point I’d been running a lot faster than I intended so attempted to slow down a bit. I was now at parkrun so could chill. It was a shame to be late because my friend Ben was going to run with me at parkrun. I saw him fly past me in the other direction as he’d reached the turnaround point ages ago. I shouted I was late and he laughed at me (a theme for this run). Though it was quite a satisfying run because I could pick so many people off and feel like I was really gaining on the field. I wondered idly how many miles it would take to catch up with people running similar speeds to me… more than parkrun I thought. In fact the maths of it confused me a little – could I ever catch up to people running at my speed? No, I’d need to run faster wouldn’t I? The random thoughts of a runner…Anyway, as Ben had finished a lot before me he came back for me and ran the last 0.5 mile with me. I was pretty puffed by this point as I was still running faster than planned. I was still feeling a bit stressed about the whole thing! It was nice though to feel a bit of speed in my legs and I tried not to dwell on how much I’d lost since getting injured. Such is life! I finished, on my watch, 23:26 which isn’t too shabby at all given the time off I’ve had (my actual time was 30:18 tho). And a total of 9.6 miles. I was tempted to run it up to 10 but by that point I was done. I chatted with Ben (he’s working his way up to 50 marathons!) and Rebecca. She’s such a lovely, lovely person and it’s such an incredible achievement to have volunteered so many times.She seemed to be under the impression that it might seem a bit “sad” but I fully disagreed with her. It’s a fantastic thing to do and she should be really proud of herself. Volunteering is so important in the parkrun world (and life in general). You could equally call runners “sad” for running so many of them too. So enough of that nonsense Rebecca!

As I headed off I noticed a vegan burger van and had to get a photo as it looked very quirky and I’d never seen one before – also selling churros randomly. I tried to discreetly take a photo but one of the vegan runners who was stood next to it spotted me and did a great pose. It was very amusing!My parents helpfully picked me up and then I had to race to get ready as I was meeting Andy for lunch and time was a’ticking! He picked me up with his parent’s adorable Cavalier, Tilly (the same black and white colouring as my parent’s dog Dylan). Tilly is very sweet and well behaved. And luckily the place we were going for food allowed dogs inside. To balance out our recent burger exploits, we decided to go to Off Beet in Wickham, which is a fully vegan cafe/restaurant. And honestly if you’re in the area and like good food – even if you’re not a vegetarian or vegan – you must go there. The food is INCREDIBLE. It’s so reasonably priced (£9-12 for a main meal), sustainably conscious and amazingly inventive with their ever-changing menu. I’ve been there before with the lovely April so I knew I was in for a treat.

Tilly chilled out (though was ever aware of any food that would come her way by ‘accident’ under the table) as we debated back and forth of what to get… it all sounded so good! In the end Andy went for tacos (with harissa charred cauliflower and blackbeans on handmade gluten-free tacos).And I went for the Thai Green curry and tofu-fried rice. We also got some polenta chips…just because!It was so tasty. Now though I know I always seem to be eating ridiculously amounts of meat, I’m a food lover in general and can appreciate good food, regardless of whether it’s vegetarian, vegan, dairy-free, gluten-free or whatever. If it tastes good, I’ll eat it. I’m always happy to try different foods and give things a go. Yes I love meat but I’m happy to not eat it if the dish is good enough without. And it was DELICIOUS. And very filling. Well, not too filling… there was still room for pudding.

There are so many different kinds of vegan cakes we were really spoilt for choice. When Andy went to the till to order I’d told him if the one slice of brownie cheesecake was still there I would have that otherwise a peanut butter-based cheesecake. Well, he came back with three options! Definitely the best decision right there.

We shared (yes I know, I SHARED. Can you even imagine?) the three pieces. They weren’t overwhelming sweet like regular cake but they were very tasty (no refined sugars and all that jazz). They had interesting textures from the crushed nuts and creamy bits. I can’t really tell you what we had… one was probably chocolate chip banana bread, one was Nutella based and the cheesecake looking one was the peanut butter. My favourite was last one I think. But it was a tough call!

After filling our boots, we headed out for a walk down the bridal path of Wickham. It was a lovely day and a lovely walk. Tilly was pooped by the end!

That evening I had my friend’s 30th birthday party BBQ to go to (well, my married couple friends were both celebrating their 30th if that makes sense). By this point enough time had passed and I was hungry again. There was a fantastic spread of food and I loaded up a plate of vol au vents, pulled pork (winner right there), sausages and salad. Later I also had a burger and more pork. I guess I kind of undid all the good vegan work I did earlier I’m afraid!

Then trifle and chocolate cheesecake appeared… Well the BBQ went on well into the evening so a lot of this food was spread over a good amount of time. And of course I had to have some of this AMAZING unicorn cake. Some of it was coffee-flavoured (not my favourite admittedly) and rainbow sprinkles ‘flavour’. It was incredible. I felt well and truly pudding’ed out by this point!The BBQ was such good fun with my friends. Lots of games, banter and chilling out. A perfect end to a great Saturday.

Sunday saw a gym visit, chores and finally some relaxing! Whew.

How was your weekend?

If you’re not a vegan, would you ever eat at a vegan restaurant?

Have you ever been late to a parkrun?

My favourite B’s – brownie and BBQ in Bristol

This weekend was my annual uni friends BBQ. We’ve been doing this for 11 years now, which just blows my mind.

It hasn’t always been a BBQ (one time we did a picnic in a park, though I didn’t listen properly and still brought raw food much to everyone’s amusement. Another Anna Stupid Moment), but invariable it is. The weather is usually always good, but annoyingly this year it rained. Ah well, can’t win ’em all.

I drove to Bristol on the Friday evening. It also happened to be the worst time to drive anywhere because there were so many family’s who’s kids had just finished for the year and were off on holiday. So my hour 40 minutes drive turned into 2.5 hours. Joy!

The evening was lovely. We had burritos (steak and chicken). Then followed by our amazing brownie.We’ve been making this brownie since our university days. It’s basically our way of throwing out the rule book and eating pudding exactly how we want (i.e. being a bit piggy and greedy). Straight out of the oven, with a spoon. I blogged the recipe before if you’re interested… this time we added lots of white chocolate and a KitKat Chunky. The KitKat didn’t really work, but it was still AMAZING.

I promptly went into a food coma. We then watched Naked Attraction (if you’ve never seen this programme it’s hilarious but also unbelievably cringey; people choosing dates based entirely on their naked bodies). There was actually a really sweet couple who got together and are still together post-show. Normally they never really work out but this was really cute how well they got on and liked each other. Ah romance 😉 It was a full-on rock and roll evening clearly!

Normally Saturday morning Kate, Jamie and I would go to one of the Bristolian parkruns but as I’m still  injured and Kate and Jay haven’t been running much we decided to have a lie-in instead. I did attempt a little run to see how the knee felt but it still pulled so I turned back after half a mile. Frustrating. Instead I walked to Starbucks with one of the others, Charlotte, and we enjoyed the nice weather (which was soon to turn) and a good old natter.

Then our other friend’s arrived with their newborn baby and the BBQ could commence! It was WEIRD seeing my friend with a baby. She’s the first in the group to have had one and it was just bizarre. She’s a proper grown-up now! The baby, Eloise, was very cute (that’s all you’ll get from me on babies). It didn’t change the dynamic of the group at all, which was nice. Eloise just slotted it like the new addition she is. Though babies do, in general, terrify me.I just don’t know what to do with them or how to speak to them… I held her once and then quickly gave her back. Whew. We survived. It was great hearing all the gory details of the birth though. You do need a close friend to tell you the truth about these things I think. Like I said, terrifying.

Then Jamie got ready with the BBQ. Check out the bag of meat!So. Much. Food. This is why I love going to Bristol. They feed me so well 😉There was a selection of chicken thighs and drumsticks, peppered steaks, lamb ribs, pork ribs, pork belly, sausages and burgers. Pretty damn good!Though the weather wasn’t great it was still a fun BBQ. We ate inside around the table which was nice, so we could all easily chat. And they no longer laugh at me when I take photos of food 😉

Obviously I ate too much, but what’s new? We followed the BBQ with Victoria sponge and salted caramel cake (it was recently Shell and Charlotte’s birthday – yes I had a slice of both…and maybe another later) and then BBQ bananas with chocolate sauce. YES.I’m not a huge banana fan but this was really tasty. The banana had gone all gooey and sticky and the chocolate sauce melted into it. SO good. Just slice a line into a banana, roll it up with foil and pop it onto the coals for 15 minutes).

I went home later that day very happy. I mean, ridiculously full but very happy.

The next morning…ah how I’d loved to have joined my friend Mike in his 20 mile run (I’m trying not to panic, trying not to panic) and instead went to the gym where I did 65 minutes on the cross-trainer at a quick clip. I was a sweaty mess by the end and somewhat satisfied with my workout. But not as happy as I’d have been having just done 20 miles! But hey ho, it is what it is.

I’ve found the perfect way to keep entertained on the elliptical machine; watching YouTube and films. I watched To The Bone on Netflix which was interesting. I’d heard about this through the Blogosphere and also on a film podcast. It’s about eating disorders, which isn’t an entirely fun subject but it was actually really good in a weird way. An interesting take on the subject and I thought Keanu Reeves in it was really good. The main female did annoy me a bit but I don’t think she was meant to be entirely likeable. I thought it addressed the issues well but it’d be interesting hearing from someone with more experience on the matter.

Anyway, it’d be nice to run again. My knee does seem much better so it’s frustrating that when it comes to running this isn’t translated. It feels fine in every other aspect but running. So who knows. Cross training is the way forward right now!

How was your weekend?

Do you have any annual traditions with your friends?

Have you watched To The Bone?

MarathonTalk Austria Run Camp – part 2

Continuing on with the Marathon Talk Austria Run Camp… 

*Catch up with part one if you missed out*

So Wednesday was the day I was probably least looking forward to. We had a planned “session”. Being a rather lazy runner who doesn’t do much (*cough* if any) speedwork, interval sessions and track workouts aren’t really my thing. It’s partly down to associating speedwork with injuries and partly down to not having a terribly strong desire to whittle down my PB’s. So the pain-gain balance doesn’t quite work for me.

Martin (Yelling – of MarathonTalk podcasting duo) was great at putting people (me!) at ease the night and morning before. It’s easy to big these things up and start worrying. He helped us frame things in in a way that meant we could go into the session relaxed and excited, using it as a way to challenge ourselves without freaking out.

We headed out in the morning after breakfast.We had about two miles of gentle running to the area where we were going to do the intervals. Martin led a warm-up routine (high knees, bum kicks, etc.) and then we had time to do our own personal preparations.

The session was 3×2 minutes 5k or faster efforts with two minutes static recovery, followed by about six minutes of rest and 10 minutes of 10k effort, followed by rest (can’t remember how long) and then 3×2 minutes again. I was dreading the shorter efforts as I’m a long distance runner and hate sprinting. Funnily enough though the shorter sections were far more preferable to me than the horrific 10 minute long effort, which reminded me of why I hate 10ks.

Suns out guns out 😉

Martin was great at shouting out the times and also picking us up on form, reminding us to keep our hips high, use our arms, raise our knees…stuff like that.For the 10 minute effort we ran five minutes one way and then turned round and ran five minutes back. This was horrific, I won’t lie. I was annoyingly in the middle of the groups so was on my own. The demons in my head telling me to slow down, not bother, decrease the pain…but I pushed on. It was nice to do a session like this in a group, knowing you weren’t alone in your pain. But it was tough. I thought I’d then struggle on the third session (the second set of short sprints) but actually I maintained relatively similar speeds to the first sprints.Then we jogged a mile to the little local cafe for some refreshments. Ahh it felt good to have worked hard! I say this ALL the time but I do need to do sessions like this more often. In the cafe I was able to spot a pudding that I knew 100% I needed in my life before I left Austria. Oh yes, I would be back.

After showering and lunch, Rob drove a few of us down to Mariazell for a little wander about as we didn’t do much exploring the day before. The little town is a popular pilgrimage destination and very pretty, and wasn’t far from the villa by car. Weirdly it’s known for its gingerbread and honey so lots of shops were selling this (including gingerbread ice cream).Alongside these shops there were lots of touristy stalls selling all manner of tacky memorabilia, like key-rings, postcards and even water bottles with the Pope on. Obviously.There was a lovely area where you could see the surrounding view as well as a hop scotch that demanded immediate attention. After meandering around a bit we decided to enjoy a nice coffee and snack in one of the cafes under the basilica.The coffee came with a chocolate marzipan which was just delightful. I gobbled it up quickly so I wouldn’t have to share 😉

Wednesday evening after dinner we had a quiz made by one of the run campers, Dave. It was hilarious. Bless Dave, he’d obviously given a lot of thought to it but it did unravel a few times, despite his meticulous eye for detail (“Data Dave”). Despite the bumps, it was a really good quiz with lots of laughter.Before coming on the holiday together we’d been asked to send our favourite running/motivational song to him and then we had to guess who’s song was who’s during the quiz. After spending a few days with each other it was a really fun thing to try and do. I chose Muse’s Knights of Cyndonia which I think surprised a few people (apparently Destiny’s Child’s Independent Woman seemed more my bag). Can I just add that I was on Martin’s team for the quiz and he was about 100% useless.

The next day we drove to the bottom of a mountain and got a chair lift up to about half way so we could run the rest of it up, then run all the way down (hi, I’m a runner and do pointless things).I thought we’d be in one of those enclosed car things, not actually sat on a ski lift right out in the open. I’ve used one of these before when I went skiing but it’s slightly different seeing hard rocks and ground below you rather than fluffy snow (though I do realise both would cause injury). But we survived!

Running up the mountain was more like run a bit, slow down, die a little, run a bit more, die a bit more, crawl. But the views more than made up for the lactic acid overflow invading my quads and glutes.We arrived at the top to find a play area. I mean, come on, what a fantastic place for a play area. Obviously a tester had to be done!So much fun. One day I’ll be an adult, but not yet!Then we began the descent down. Well, after a few photo opportunity moments, including Martin finally getting his “T-Shirt Around the World” photo for MarathonTalk. We also did a mini photoshoot where Martin took photos of us running past him with the beautiful scenery behind. Mine sadly didn’t come out too well!The run down felt fabulous after all the uphill running but after a while it became tricky in its own way. Getting your footing right on the unstable rocks and tiny trail paths required serious concentration.It was around 11k of running down to reach our destination, another lake. It was a fantastic run. I mean all you had to do was look behind you to see where you’d come and be blown away. And hearing cow bells in the distance as well and the smell of the pine and the all encompassing peace… it really puts it into perspective that not all runs are created equal.The lake was crystal clear. I think it took all of five minutes before a few of us had stripped off and gotten into the water. Luckily the busses had been dropped to the car park so I handily had my bikini and towel to hand. Then I enjoyed an ice lolly and coffee. Divine. What utter luxury.

That afternoon I did something I rarely (if ever) do. I got my kit back on and headed out with a few others for ANOTHER run. Double day running, baby! (Oh hey, Anna, maybe this is why your knee niggles now?) This was purely for cake though, I hasten to add. The others were going for 10k but all I fancied was a very gentle 5k and then a pit-stop for the mammoth cake I’d spotted the day before.My fellow run camper and friend, Sarah (super speedy, she holds the record for fastest fancy dress nun at London Marathon and has a marathon PB just over 3 hours) and I shared one of the monster cakes… Normally I don’t share food but I’m glad we did. Look at the size of my slice!Covered in custard, chocolate sauce and cream. I think we have a winner!

We went out for dinner that evening and the less said about that the better! I made a spectacularly bad decision on what I ordered and ended up with five fish goujons on a salad with a watery garlic dressing/sauce. The problem we had was that the menu was in German and we only had a few people to translate so it was a bit of a guess.

With my mediocre portion of disappointing food I decided the only way to improve matters was pudding. But lo and behold I fared badly in that area too. I was led to believe I was ordering a delectable strawberry cheesecake but received instead some suspect strawberry mousse. So, what does any normal person do? Order ANOTHER pudding. Obviously.I ordered the apple strudel and all was well again.

The next day, Friday, was less eventful as we’d be leaving for the airport (insert sad emoji here). Originally it was going to be a 10k time trial but no one was really up for a serious speed sesh after ALL the running we’d done so we headed out for a relaxed jaunt, some doing 10k and some doing 5k.

In true Anna style, I blithely ignored Martin’s map chat and directions beforehand because I assumed I’d always see someone ahead or near me. I’m rubbish with directions anyway so really there was no point me listening. Yep, I’m actually a 29 year functioning adult apparently.

Off we went and straight away I found myself alone again with the lead pack sprinting ahead. All fine, all fine, I can still see them. La la la plodding along. Wait, where’ve they gone? I’m sure they went down this road. *10 minutes later* wow this is steep. It looks like it’s going up this mountain. That can’t be right. I remember them saying there was a slight incline…but this is tortuous. Hey where’s everyone else?

*Sighs* I decided to randomly turn off from the main path to find my own little way slowly up the nearby mountain. Luckily I realised my error after hitting 5k and deciding the best thing to do was just turn around and go exactly the way I’d come. Worst case I’d bump into people coming the other way, best case I’d just get back to the villa.I arrived back to find the 5kers back and I was the first to return. I’m sure it must have looked strange me being the first back – the sudden rocket speed I’d gained! But turns out Martin’s route was longer than 10k whereas mine was pretty much dead on. I basically just clarified my stupidity. Though, no names, at least I didn’t have to hitchhike my way back after getting lost like someone else did… 😉

And then we were off to Vienna for a few hours before the airport. Vienna is infinitely less interesting than the Austrian mountains and lake so I won’t recap it, asides from a rather delicious slice of Mozart cake.I kind of don’t want to sing the praises of this camp too much. There will be a limited number of places for next year’s “proper” run camp and I’d love to go again. We were able to feed back a few issues (for example, for vegetarians, it was noted that more options were needed) but otherwise it was a pretty successful trial which everyone thoroughly enjoyed.I mean, it does kind of depend on getting a good bunch of people as well (of which we were supremely lucky. Everyone was just lovely and we bonded very nicely – I sincerely hope to keep in touch), but the scenery, the villa and of course the running was fantastic. If you can get there, I’d say GO.

Check out Sarah’s review as well here!

Have you been to Austria before?

Have you ever ordered badly at a restaurant?

Ever ordered to puddings?