My trip to Dubai

I’ve never been to Dubai or in fact anywhere in the Middle East before so I was quite excited about this trip. I was going to go on my own but my mum said she’d like to come and join me as she’d never been before either. I get on really well with her so this was fine. My dad couldn’t take the time off so it was a girls only trip. A flying visit but a lovely little holiday in the sun.We flew with Emirates, which let me tell you was amazing. So much leg room, so many movies, a very cool camera to see outside of the plan and great service. The flights weren’t ridiculously expensive either. I watched A Ghost Story (very melancholic), Wonder Woman and most of Home Again and the time flew by.

We arrived in Dubai in the evening Dubai time (they’re four hours ahead of the UK). We got a taxi to our hotel, freshened up and did a bit of exploring in the nearby area: the Dubai Marina and the Jumeirah Beach Residence (JBR), where there are lots of restaurants, cafes and a few shops right on the beach front. We were quite tired so decided to head to bed. It was past midnight now Dubai time as well, but still everything was open and people were out and about like it was early evening!The first day it was tough waking up at 9am because it felt like 5am but we cracked on. I’d decided to get a short run in because that’s one of my favourite things to do in a foreign country. I kept it to 5k and just ran down random roads near the hotel. It was lovely and warm and I got to wear a new top I’d bought a while ago but hadn’t been able to wear because…winter. We got a taxi to the Marina again (only ten minutes away and very cheap) and meandered down the beautiful path marveling at the giant skyscrapers and yachts while deciding where to get brunch.It was so lovely and warm. coming from a very wintry Britain into such sunshine was just incredible.We decided on a Greek restaurant and had a delicious medley of halloumi, lebnah (soft cream cheese), eggs, olives, pita bread and this amazing chickpea lebneh mix with gyro meat at the bottom.We were absolutely stuffed afterwards! From there we headed into the Marina Mall where we were amazed to find very British shops like Boots mixed amongst American and European shops, like H&M and adidas. It was quite amusing to find a Waitrose as well, so I made sure to stock up on some apples 😉From there we headed to the Dubai Marathon Expo. I say “expo” lightly here. It was literally just a conference room to pick up my bib and my t-shirt.There were no more than three small vendors alongside but really it was just a big empty room. This was quite disheartening as this was neither a cheap nor small marathon. You’d expect a bit more. I mean it doesn’t have to be London-style, but it could at least have done a bit more. I picked up my bib and was informed that the marathon was to begin half an hour later (7am not 6.30am).The woman cheerfully told me that would mean it’d be more in the light. Well yes, but also sunshine and heat… The expo helped alight the fear in me though of what was to come: that boring course. Considering we’d also been stuck in traffic on that road a few minutes ago and seeing how dull it looked in reality as well as on paper did nothing to make me feel excited about the upcoming race.From there we headed to the nearby beach to walk along the sands, take some cool photos of the Burj Al Arab (oh how I would come to hate that building in a few days time…) and then dip out feet into the water (quite cold despite the general heat of the day). And get my Marathon Talk Photo From Around the World done as I had my MT t-shirt in my bag ready (now my fifth photo I think).After a day of exploring and moseying about, we had an evening booked in to go up the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa. This was about 20-30 minutes drive from our hotel and being Standard Anna I only gave us 40 minutes to get there. I thought I was being clever giving us contingency time but no I forgot there might be traffic because apparently everyone’s not on holiday like us. Now you might think here that my lovely mother might have stepped in with the organising but no. Where do you think I get it from? She happily let’s me direct the day.So there ensued a very stressful time in the taxi in stop start traffic. The time ticked closer to 6pm, our allocated slot, and meant we had to do some serious power walking (my mum doesn’t run) through the Dubai Mall to get to the entrance. I was STRESSED (my mum wasn’t. She very chilled about life). Thankfully nobody seemed to care we were ten minutes late and we got on the lift for the 124th (in 60 seconds no less).The views were, as you can imagine, phenomenal. I mean it was just incredible and felt unbelievably scary looking down. We had a great time taking photos, peering through the windows at the different views and seeing the beautiful lights of the buildings around us. My one complain however is that it takes SO long to actually get back down. You can’t just take the lift, you have to queue for the lift – not a quick process!

After finishing our viewing and getting down to the Dubai Mall again we were starving. We hadn’t had anything since brunch. We did that very touristy and stupid thing of literally ending up in one of the first places we saw within the mall as we were so hungry. We hadn’t expected it to take as long as it did to get down the Burj Khalifa and it was now close to 7.30pm.

However despite falling into the first place we saw, it was actually fantastic! I can’t remember the name but it was Labanese and delicious (and actually didn’t feel like a “mall restaurant”). And the great thing eating out with my mum is that she often doesn’t finish what she eats so I get her leftovers (which is both a gift and a curse…).Wednesday morning saw my mum and I heading over to an area in front of the skyline and water to do two hours worth of yoga. We’d signed up to this before going on the trip (through AirBnb) and it sounded great. My mum has regularly being doing Pilates so she was very keen to give yoga a bash.Iskander, the yoga teacher, appeared and it turned out we were the only ones in the class that day – a kind of private tuition! He was super friendly and a fantastic teacher. He gave my mum easier poses when she struggled and was very relaxing to listen to. My mum even fell asleep in the Savasana at the end. If you’re ever in Dubai and fancy yoga, check out IskanderThen Iskander guided us back to the JBR and gave us some great Dubai insider’s tips. For brunch we went to Eggpectations which is a Canadian restaurant and, wouldn’t you know it, had a lot of egg-themed dishes. Perfect!We also visited the Gold Souk in Deira later on to explore a bit of Old Dubai. A “souk” is kind of like a market. This area was basically full of shops selling gold. There were so many jewelers it was quite astonishing. There was also a Spice Souk nearby which was cool. But yeah the gold… so many necklaces and chunky pieces. And lots of men trying to sell you fake handbags and watches!If I’m honest it wasn’t really our scene. Neither of us were wanting to buy anything and we more just wanted to wander around. It became quite exhausting though having people constantly come up to you though and (probably because we’re British) we didn’t want to be rude so it was just constantly us verbally batting them away as politely as we could.After that we decided to head back to the Dubai Mall where we could wander round the shops in peace. Don’t get me wrong, it was fascinating and interesting to see that area of Dubai but in reality it wasn’t really somewhere we were going to stay for too long.

In the Dubai Mall we decided to stop for a pick-me-up in The Chocolate Bar. I went for a cake ice cream medley. It was delicious but ultimately somewhat disappointing.It had a few chunks of sponge, marshmallows and two blobs of ice cream covered in chocolate sauce. I guess for a normal human it would be a perfectly acceptable pudding but for me it was just a bit unsatisfying. I wanted to be smacked in the face with the full force of a sugar overload and need to take a small nap on a nearby bench to recover. Instead I was left wanting. So in order to rectify this, as any other greedy individual would do, I went and bought myself some “Camel Cookies”. These were a very curious treat. I thought I could just buy one (there were lots of different flavours) but actually you had to buy the selection box with ALL the flavours. Oh go on then, you’ve twisted my arm.
They were quite small though thankfully and didn’t look like cookies in the traditional sense. They were like little closed cookie cups encasing different fillings, like white chocolate chunks or Nutella. I had a bit of each one and called it a day. The beast was now satiated.
For dinner we popped back to the Marina and had a fantastic Persian dinner. I was feeling really cold and tired – thinking the days of lots of walking and lack of sleep were catching up with me. The dinner was delicious though. I loved that we got salad, dips, pitta bread and Turkish tea afterwards as part and parcel of the meal. With the beautiful view of the Marina next to us, it was a lovely evening.
Sadly though I woke up the next morning having had a bad night’s sleep and a cold. Uh oh! This wasn’t in the marathon plan. I actually don’t normally get colds so this was somewhat annoying. Having my mum (who’s also a nurse) was helpful as she suggested we grab some paracetamol, ibuprofen and Vitamin C.Handily Dubai has Boots so this was very easy.
After a morning of brunch and meandering around the Marina and JBR, in the afternoon we were picked up and taken to the desert for a fun afternoon out there. We were driven in a 4×4 with some lovely Danish girls and an American guy where we had an exhilarating time bouncing over sand dunes in the desert clinging on to dear life. It was all safe but it did feel rather scary (but in a fun way).

We then stopped at a camel farm and were lucky enough (though I say this lightly as actually it wasn’t my thing to see…) a camel giving birth. Then we headed off to through the desert again to a campsite where we had time to have a camel ride and a go on a 4×4.The camel ride was hilarious as the camel standing up is just terrifying as you’re literally thrown about. I did have some worries though about how fair this was for the camel to be continually giving people rides.
After that we tried some Turkish coffee with a fried doughnut thing covered in syrup (soooo good and so fresh). And then I had a go at quad biking through the desert which was mad. Just mad.I got a henna tattoo, saw some crazy dancing and belly dancing and ate copious amounts of food. Heyyyy not like I have a marathon the next day or anything. Yeah sure let’s just eat lots of different random foods. It’ll be fiiiiine. Weird combinations of spices? Yeah load me up.It was a fun trip – and nice to see a different part of Dubai and the culture. It is quite a touristy thing to do to be honest. There are lots of tour companies that do this and it did feel a little bit of a “tick box” activity… ride a camel, get a henna tattoo, see a belly dancer (we used Sand Trax Tours). That said, it was a really fun experience and my mum thoroughly enjoyed herself. Though towards the end of the evening I started to get nervous about the next day’s marathon. I really needed my dad there to  help calm my nerves as he’s very good at knowing what to say – especially regarding my running. My mum…ehhhhh, she means well but her advice was “well, just think of it like the parkruns you do. You do them all the time and it’s fine”. OK. But having my mum there still calmed me regardless of her perhaps not great advice.Well, the marathon went OK (read my post here) – albeit dull, hot and I felt very ill afterwards! But Dubai itself was a great trip. It was a very accessible city with most people speaking English and taxis being so cheap and it had a lot to offer. However, I don’t think I’ll be hurrying back soon unless it was just a stop-over between somewhere else. A very fun holiday nonetheless.

Have you ever been to Dubai?

Have you ever ridden a camel?

Do you go on holidays with your family?

The Dubai Marathon 2018

The alarm went off at 5am. I was aiming to be in a taxi between 5-5.45am. The journey to the start-line was only ten minutes away and we were advised to get there 90 minutes before the beginning (7am) – but I thought an hour would be more than enough time (very glad I did this!). The race was originally supposed to start at 6.30am but I found at the Expo they’d changed it to 7am which was good in terms of having more sleep but not as good in terms of the temperature.

In the morning I got my kit on, including my dad’s jumper to throwaway at the start as it was cool in the early morning, popped my porridge in the microwave that I’d prepared the night before (we were staying in an apartment with a kitchen), went to the loo and said goodbye to my mum. She was heading down to the finish area around 7am to mosey about and catch me running.I had a mini porridge meltdown, literally! My amazing container I’d gotten from Waitrose (yes Waitrose) the day before had melted a bit! (I had no milk but brought a sachet of chocolate protein powder which helped make it taste a bit less bland).
I had no time and no other breakfast options so I just took it with me and hoped I’d not die from plastic contamination.

I got a taxi (they work 24/7) and asked him to take me to the marathon start and after he looked confused I clarified with the Dubai Police Academy. As we got closer to the start area he said to me the roads were closed and couldn’t go any further. He still looked confused when I explained I knew and it was due to the marathon. The marathon was not really known about to people who weren’t involved. I jumped out and surveyed the start area.It was super foggy and dark. It wasn’t that cold – maybe 12-15 degrees Celsius? Positively balmy for us Brits 😉 I ate my porridge (didn’t taste of plastic. Win!), drank my Beet It! shot and then decided to find the loos. The loos (not portable loos but more like posh proper temporary loos) were literally a 10 minutes walk away from the start.There were no loos near the start. I went to the loo, then walked back to the start. It was 6.15ish… 45 minutes to go. So I turned around and walked back to the loo again. Might as well! Nothing else to do.What I really didn’t like was that as the start is right next to the finish we could see all the boxes of medals and could see the finish-line. In fact we had to walk through it. I was getting very bad joujou! What was odd as well was that there were non-runners in this area supporting their runners. So you’d see people clearly not going to be running the marathon (in jeans and flip flops etc.) just hanging around the start area. I guess that’s not too odd but it felt weird as normally you’re separated at this point.Then they opened up the proper start but where we could see the start funnel thing. As we walked along there were barriers keeping us in and on the other side of the barriers and road I spotted more loos… a couple spotted them too and conspiratorially we all decided to hop the barriers and use them quickly. The security didn’t look very happy and when I tried to re-hop back over the security tried to stop me but I begged them to let me through rather than walk all the way back round. Very cheeky I know. They kindly let me through, telling me to go quickly. Whew! I ran across the road and then did a Tom Cruise barrel roll over the final barrier and felt like a superhero 😉 I got a few chuckles from other runners.There were lots of different nationalities. Lots of Americans and Brits. I saw some Poles, some Swedes… a good mix! And then we were off!I’d been worried about my calf but as I started running it felt fine. Good good. But we’re only on mile one. It was less foggy now as the sun was rising. The first “chunk” of the race was the 10k out and back. This was the route that the 10k race (starting a few hours later) would be doing.I’d broken the race down in my head in the most obviously way: 10k, then the two loops (another out and back that runs up the Jumeriah Beach Road). I assumed the loop was around 10 miles.As I was running I felt mentally in a very bad place. I had a lot of anxiety in my tummy that I’d never felt before. Normally I’m really excited when the marathon actually begins. It’s all “oooh” and “ahh” and fresh and lovely at the beginning. You’re running a marathon! This is cool! Look at me go! But not this time.I was dreading the course. I had no major milestones to get excited about, no major variations in the course to prepare for. Just a lot of long roads. As I’d felt this way leading up to the marathon in the days before (especially after seeing the road I was going to run along) I’d prepared for this by creating a “feel good” playlist. Normally I only listen to music in the last 10k to power me through to the finish.But I decided I’d have some music to power me through the first boring bits – but not “go go go” music. Just music I enjoyed and could zone out to.I made myself wait until the first 10k was over though before starting it. I wanted to make it really worth it after a chunk of silence. I really needed a wee (yes another one) but there weren’t many loos on the course. I saw people dash into nearby bushes and I realised I’d run out of bushes soon as we got onto the main loop as it would be buildings and shops on the sides, whereas the first 10k was going past fancy hotels with big foliage areas and the beach. I was clearly umming and arr’ing about it as he man next to me laughed and said “just go and do it!” So I dashed off and under what I can only describe as a very light coverage had a quick wee. I imagine several people probably saw my bum. Hey ho.As I headed to the first loop I saw my mum ahead. That really boosted my mood up! I was so chuffed she’d gotten there safely and I’d seen her! She’s not quite my dad’s levels of support (physically I mean, my mum supports in other ways too of course).So I finished the first 10k, whacked the playlist on and zoned out. Ahh just what I needed. I felt much better – music and seeing my mum. My calf felt absolutely fine – hurrah! I still didn’t feel well tho. I could feel I wasn’t quite right – but I kept an eye on my heart rate to make sure it didn’t start to spike really high. It seemed OK.There were no mile markers, just kilometres. I tried to work out how the first “out” of the first loop was but my brain couldn’t do it. This frustrated me as I wanted to know how far I’d be running away from the finish. It didn’t help that because it was two laps the km markers were mixed up with the laps.I tried not to think too deeply that I’d be back on that same stretch after a few hours… The Burj Al Arab (above photo) was basically at the point when you’d start the next lap. It’s a fantastic building but ultimately quite dull after you’ve seen it once. And literally the only landmark on the course (there’s probably more and this is very narrow minded of me to say).What I noticed a lot of was runners who had friend(s) cycling next to them keeping them company. There was enough space on the wide roads (nothing like the closeness of some other big marathons like London or Berlin). It seemed bizarre them being there. But I guess nice for people to support in this way. I also saw a guy running while kicking a football which was fun to watch! Turns out he was trying to break the world record. I don’t know if he managed it and I’ve tried Googling but to no avail!A cool sports car thing drove past and I tried to get a selfie next to it as it was driving slowly.Finally I started to see people running down the other side of the road and this gave me some indication that the turning point was coming up. I tried to do the maths again by using the km markers on the other side of the road to work out how far it would be. It made my brain hurt.Finally I reached the turnaround point. It was a relief to be heading back down towards the end of the loop, though I knew I had a way to go yet.The sun was now shining and it was warm. Every water station I grabbed a water (mini bottles), took a gulp then tipped it over my head, arms and legs. This helped keep me cool for a chunk of time. I was glad I’d decided to take my sunglasses with me as there was no shade. Speaking of the water stations, they were quite disorganised at the beginning. Some of them by even set up and the volunteers scrabbling in the plastic to grab the bottles and get them set out in time. There were energy drinks in cans but I didn’t try any, and no gels or fruit. They did have sponges and buckets of water tho. There were Nike cheer groups (I think they were Nike!) and other local running groups tho who were great and waved flags, clapped and cheered and handed out extra water and trays of fruit.As I got to 13 miles I decided to switch to a podcast (to maximise the effect of my music at mile 20). That helped pass the time. The road was so long and the fact I couldn’t see the Burj Al Arab ahead further clarified how I’d be on this same road for a good chunk of time. The buildings on either side were just shops. I made little milestones in my head (Starbucks, KFC, Costa…). I spotted a guy taking a photo of his friend (neither of them running) in front of the course so I’d dived behind and photo bombed it. They laughed and cheered me which was good! Finally I got back to the Burj Al Arab and knew I’d be turning soon (my 3rd turning it of a total of 4 in the entire race FYI).I spotted my mum again which was great. And then as I hit the turnaround bit I saw her again as I started my second loop.It was nice to see a friendly face and I updated her that I felt hot and tired but was OK. Just over nine miles to go.Whew, second loop. Last time I’d run on that road now. But jeeze did it go on and on. I worked out I’d have four miles to run up it. Four miles in a single direction is flipping awful by the way. With every step forward I knew would mean one step further away from the finish that I’d have to run the other way. It was mentally destroying.As I hit 18 miles (that’s me trying to show my watch in the selfie above) I was mentally struggling. The road was killing me. It was just so long and straight. The sun was beating down. There weren’t many people around me to latch on to. It was tough.I tried to grab some energy from the spectators by waving and smiling and clapping – that always helps get them cheering you which boosts you along I find. Plus it’s nice for them rather than you just being another miserable looking runner 😉 I hadn’t taken any gels yet as I hadn’t felt completely right but now my energy had dipped I decided to have one. I threw the other away – I wouldn’t use it and didn’t want to carry it. Any extra baggage was draining right now.I couldn’t wait to get to “just a parkrun to go”. I was using road signs, spectators ahead… anything to break down the distance. I started counting down the kilometres and they seemed to crawl by so slowly. Despite this my pace had picked up. I went past a man and he asked where my energy had come from. I replied I just wanted to finish.I took the above selfie at “one parkrun to go”… that was my thinking with the single finger ha! Around me a lot of people were walking. Though a man overtook me looking strong and peeled ahead so I kept him in my sight and tried to use him to drag me along. We were both overtaking quite a few people. It was so hot. I was still pouring water on myself to keep cool. I got a notification on my watch saying my dad had text saying “just a parkrun to go” from my dad which was JUST what I needed. Yes he was slightly out of sync as I only had just under two miles to go now but it was so nice to know he was tacking and spurring me on.

I saw the bloody Burj Al Arab again and then the sign for “To the Finish”. Yes! Less than a mile to go and I was on the edge. My legs felt like they were going through porridge. Surprisingly my pace was still good… just hold on! It was literally a case of mind over matter. One foot in front of the other. The final straight to the finish was the WORST. The finish funnel seemed miles ahead. There were spectators either side of the road but not vast numbers. I just tried to not stop. My legs were struggling! And then I finished. Whew.

My god. Stopping I felt dizzy and exhausted. I lent on the barrier and just thanked everything holy that I could finally stop running. My time was 3:39:58, just dipping under 3:40. Very pleased indeed!I shuffled along with the other runners, got my medal, some water, a banana, a protein bar, some vitamin water and then tried to find my way out. It was really confusing and I had no idea where to go. I mean, I was post-marathon confused so that didn’t help! I decided to ring my mum as that would be the most sensible thing to do to find her. Bless her she hadn’t realised I’d finished, despite sitting in the stands at the finish-line.Thankfully we found each other fairly quickly. We decided to head to the Souk Madinat Jumeirah which was nearby so we could sit and take a moment. We knew there was a Starbucks in there. It seemed a fitting place to collapse – it’s exactly what we did when I did the Boston Marathon!I also wanted to meet up with the lovely Lily who writes the blog Lily Lipstick who currently lives in Dubai. She was actually the one that first got me thinking about doing the marathon and originally she’d even offered to let me stay at hers. But then my mum fancied joining and it seemed sensible to get a hotel. Lily has helped me so much with all my Dubai related questions (what I could wear, where to go, what plugs I’d need etc.). She was doing the 10k which started at 9am and we were going to meet and have lunch but annoyingly my mum and I had to check-out of our hotel at 2pm (originally we were told 11am, which wouldn’t have been possible at all but thankfully we negotiated 2pm before I booked). 2pm was still this was pushing it as I needed to get back and shower. I messaged Lily telling her we were in Starbucks and she said she’d come and join and have a coffee with us.Lily brought her boyfriend and the four of us sat and chatted with iced coffees. It was lovely. It was so nice to chat and hear about Dubai from them – as they both live and work there. But we were both hot and shattered from the run!

My mum was tired too, bless her. She’d walked a long way as well. It was the hottest day so far. After the coffee we parted ways and my mum and I had a tricky job of trying to find a taxi to get us back to the hotel. The roads were only just opening up after the marathon and the road the marathon took place on is quite a busy one so hailing a cab is very tricky. A car, that didn’t look like the traditional taxi, stopped and said he was a taxi and we jumped in. Reading that sentence… yes I know. Absolute idiots the two of us. I told him the hotel name and area and he said OK, though unlike most of the other taxi drivers he didn’t speak English.

He took us on an unfamiliar route but it made sense at the time as the roads were still closed in different places. At one point we went over a dirt track and I suddenly felt scared. Where were we? He could do anything right now. We were very, very stupid looking back. We did that ridiculous British thing though of not saying anything and waiting it out rather than questioning where we were going. When he eventually stopped we were not in our hotel area at all. I was like “er no this isn’t it”. So he made me type into his phone on Google Maps the hotel name. Thankfully we weren’t far away. When we stopped outside the RIGHT place this time he asked for 50AED. Now from the area we were in to the hotel I knew it should have been around 20AED had we gone straight there. I point blank refused and said “no way, I’ll pay 30”. He argued with me and honestly I would have only give 30 had I not had only two 20s. It was his lucky day. We got out of that taxi very fast.

The rest of the day… I won’t bore you. We had a long day ahead as our flight was at 2:50am. I had a fairly rough time of it as I was getting some seriously bad stomach cramps and starting to feel the effects of running through not being well. Thankfully I was able to eat (when am I not, let’s be honest) and topped up my calories sufficiently through the day. To be honest, the choice of restaurant was just the closest one. I’m not a huge Italian fan (not liking pasta…) but we ended up in an Italian restaurant purely because the host mentioned they do burgers. SOLD!I had a double burger with fries. Bliss. Later on after we meandered around the Jumeriah Beach Resort area and then down the Marina we chilled out in another Starbucks with a coffee and a giant doughnut (for me). Perfection.So in closing, I don’t recommend the Dubai Marathon. It is mentally tough with the boring course and physically hard with the heat (it was a hot heat and not a humid heat thankfully). It didn’t have the glamour of the Majors despite being a bigger marathon and it felt rather lonely at times as the course was so wide and the numbers not big enough. But it’s done and I’m pleased. And the calf survived! It feels fine… though the real test will be when I get running again.

Have you ever been to Dubai?

Have you ever run a boring course? How did you get through?

Have you ever run when ill?

Done being sensible

I don’t really believe in New Year’s resolutions or “new year, new me” mantras. But I do think it can be useful for people for motivation and some self-reflection.

I’ve definitely done a bit of self-reflection the past few weeks. There’s nothing like being single during Christmas that can make you think a bit more about yourself, I assure you.

In general, I’m quite a positive person. I don’t allow myself to wallow or sink into dark thoughts. I find other things to focus on and I have a solid family and friends unit who pick me up (or tell me to stop being so self-indulgent). I say this a lot and I truly believe it, I’m very lucky and have a fantastic life. I have a family who I can always fall back on emotionally and financially. My mum makes me feel beautiful, loved and boosts my self-esteem. My dad gives me sound advice, supports my crazy running adventures and will always be honest with me (he’s never afraid to tell me when I look rubbish, am being a pilock or need bringing back to earth). My sister is always there when I need those ‘girlie chats’ – boys, beauty and life, you know what I mean.

But I’m only human. Being single is pants. Granted, I haven’t made a huge amount of effort to “get out there”. I’m not a clubber, I don’t go to bars, I don’t use online the free dating apps and I’m not quite at the point to pay for the more “quality” ones. And in this day and age, you won’t bump into your soulmate at the supermarket. Sometimes in my lowest and most self-indulgent moments I wonder, “what’s wrong with me?”. I know, I know, it’s pathetic and I’m not asking for pity or people to say “oh but Anna you’re lovely!” like my mum would. I’m just genuinely reflecting on the fact that I’m not a complete mess of a person and have a solid life, yet I’m sat watching everyone around me jump on a train I don’t have a ticket for. I don’t even know how to buy the damn ticket.

So this year I’m going to become a bit more of a “yes person” and stop following the straight and narrow road.

Basically, I’m a sensible person. [I say “sensible” here but I know a lot of past events have shown I’m actually not that sensible because I’m quite the idiot. What I mean is I’m not a spontaneous person]. I don’t really do crazy things (New Year’s Day aside…). I work hard and I save, something I’m very lucky to be able to continue to do now I live at my parent’s and have rented my flat out despite being on a smaller salary. I have goals and plans for this year but mostly surrounding running (Dubai… New York… Jersey ;-)). But I think a lot before I plan on going anywhere and over-analyse everything to the nth degree. I cost everything up, I work it into my budget, put it in my spreadsheet, ponder and hesitate.

Above all, I make sure my savings remain solid. Other than my unruly leggings habit, I really hate spending money. My father would call me “tight” but being single means you are your own means. If I lost my job I lose my income (well, not strictly true now that I’m renting my flat out but you know what I mean). I know my parents are there for me, but having a large savings is my safety net and cotton wool.

But I’m fed up of doing everything by the book and being sensible. I need to go and do something a bit “non-Anna” and throw caution to the wind. I don’t mean spend all my money and live life without a thought for the future of course…but I also shouldn’t sit on a pile of money that is essentially doing nothing. I don’t have any plans to upgrade my flat or move out, buy a fancy car, have a baby.  Without getting too morbid here, I could die tomorrow. What am I waiting for? Clearly I have no ties, no children and am armed full of independence. The time is NOW.

Basically what I’m saying is, I want to stop waiting for something that might not happen and just go and live life to the full. On that note (and trying, but probably failing, not to be have a stereotypical “omg need to find myself” moment), I’m off to Bali in April. A non-running, chill my mind out kind of holiday. Go alone but with a group of strangers. Find a bit of peace in my buzzing brain without using running as a distraction. But in general, for this year, I intend to take each day as a precious gift that I’m alive and I’m a strong, independent woman. My life is now and I’m not waiting for anyone or anything.

*Cue Beyonce*

Have you ever felt a bit… lost?

Have you ever been to Bali?

Are you a saver or a spender?

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?

MarathonTalk Austria Run Camp – part 1

Marathon Talk Austria Run Camp… well what do I say? Having been on three Sandy Balls Run Camps previously I knew as soon as I got the email invite this was a trip for me.

Described as a sort of ‘tester trip’ to see if the camp would work next year as an official MarathonTalk run camp, 14 of us headed out to Austria to joining Martin Yelling and a lovely guy called Rob to Rob’s luxury villa in the middle of nowhere somewhere outside of Vienna to run, chill and just have a good time. Martin, for those who don’t know, is one half of the running podcast MarathonTalk (if you don’t listen, do you even run?). He’s also married to the super fast Olympic elite runner, Liz Yelling. He’s not too shabby a runner himself either 😉It wasn’t a training camp per se, of which I was happy about as I prefer a more relaxed environment for these sorts things. It was very much similar to the previous Run Camps where you could run as much or as little as you’d like. More like a meeting of like-minded people in a beautiful setting with a bit of running thrown in.

The week started with my running club friend, Michelle, and I being picked up by Martin at a motorway services on route to the airport (he was coming from Bournemouth and handily Michelle knew one of the other guys going on the trip who was also being driven by Martin so we were able to blag a lift as well). At the airport we met up with more of the run campers and had breakfast.Standard procedure for me pre-holiday! Especially when you don’t know when you’re next going to eat. Go big or go home.

It was nice to actually meeting Martin properly. At Sandy Balls there are over 100 people and you don’t really chat to him or Tom Williams (the other podcaster). Martin’s a lovely guy – very relaxed and fun. Pretty much like he is on the podcast, but with fewer censors 😉 All the other run campers seemed very nice too and straight away I felt relaxed and happy. It was going to be a good week.We arrived at the villa to find a table spread with Prosecco, beer, soft drinks, water and fruit and had a bit of a refreshment before being shown our rooms.

Now when they described the villa as luxury they weren’t joking. It used to be a hunting lodge owned by a rather posh Austrian toff back in the day. Lots of wood panelling, fur rugs, antique furniture and deer antlers hanging from the walls (and a pinball machine because obviously…). There were three floors and each floor offered a different style of room. Some rooms had their own ensuite and some shared bathrooms between a couple of rooms. I was lucky to have a room with its own bathroom, though to be honest it wouldn’t have been a hardship to have shared. After the Sandy Balls Run Camp anything is an upgrade! 😉After dumping our stuff, it was time to stretch the legs out and have a little run around the beautiful lake just a stone throws away. The loop around the lake was 2.5k and for the first two loops we stuck together as a group, chatting and basically just gawping at the incredible scenery. The third lap Michelle and another run camper, Stuart, peeled off ahead. Michelle and Stuart are fast runners so I got caught up with their speedy pace while we were chatting!It was a fantastic group of people and amazingly we all just got on straight away. The common link of loving running obviously helped this, but despite all being different ages, with different backgrounds, lifestyles and experiences we just meshed. Of course I knew Michelle, and I also knew three of the others from previous Sandy Balls Run Camps but even with those who I didn’t know I found I could relax and easily chat to straight away.There was a good mix of people and downtime often involved meandering conversations and debates regarding interesting topics such as social media, minimalist living, favourite foods and hot pants (I’m not even joking).Dinner was prepared for us by the lovely staff (they did a fantastic job of taking care of us for the week – even providing us with a seemingly never ending Milka and Haribo supply). We all sat on a long table together for meals and it made for a very social and open environment.On the first night I did get somewhat confused and thought we were only getting soup and had a mild panic, only to relax when I realised a main course of fish and apple strudel pudding would be coming too. Whew. I was very well fed in the camp!

The next morning we met for breakfast (a continental affair) and prepared for the first proper run. This was to be a longish run following a route Martin and Rob had rec’ed for us on a previous trip. The plan was to stick together as a group and stop for a coffee halfway at lovely Austrian village before heading back.We were all of mixed abilities, from the super speedy Michelle (~18 min 5k PB) to the less cheetah tendencies. But despite this we stuck together, regrouping often, admiring the views and having impromptu photo shoots 😉The run was fantastic. We stopped halfway in Annaberg (my hometown) for a quick refreshment (Diet Coke and an ice lolly for me) before continuing our loop back to the villa. 14 miles in total. The day was ridiculously hot and after the run the obvious thing to do was jump in the lake. It was chilly but once you were in it was perfection.Lunch was hoovered up at rocket speed, the run having taken three hours! All that stopping, all those photos… I mean it was impossible to just run and not gawp. The terrain has been mixed; road, track, off-road, hills, declines… a bit of everything.

It’s certainly hard to say for sure but I think this was my favourite run… but it’s a close call.
That evening we ate al fresco with a BBQ of recently hunted local venison. Not being much of a drinker normally I found myself enjoying a cold Austrian beer each night. And pudding of course!Tuesday a few of us woke up early to get in a quick lake swim before breakfast. I’m not actually that keen a swimmer ordinarily but I love swimming in fresh water (but not arctic British dodgy lakes). I mean, it was pretty chilly I won’t lie but it didn’t half wake us up.After breakfast it was hard start with running uphill. I found this run quite tough and challenging. I let the demons in when I felt myself slacking behind the faster group but it was a good motivation to keep pushing. The risk of being left behind was never a reality as the other slightly slower group were behind me with Rob and Martin. Some of the second group preferred to do more walking, and this was fine. There were no judgements, no leaving people on their own. You felt very safe and un-pressured on the runs to go at your own pace and distance.Again, lots of stopping and taking photos. It wasn’t like the runs were non-stop. Though that terrain was challenging, it was never insurmountable, whatever your ability. The faster runners like Michelle and Stuart would run further ahead and then turn back to collect back with us. Everyone could get out from the run what they wanted.We ran through some gorgeous scenery and eventually reached the top part of the run. There was a chair lift option but a few of us decided to walk (or run!!) to the top. It was almost two miles and when I say uphill I mean some serious uphill.We arrived at a lovely little cafe right at the top where there was a beautiful tower you could climb up.After a quick refreshment, it was time for some fun downhill running all the way to the town, Mariazell, at the bottom.As always, the views were amazing and it was fun to stretch the legs out after such a punishing climb to the top.

We reached a beautiful view just before entering the town and the bells of the basilica were ringing, seemingly welcoming are arrival. All very magical.This required a celebratory ice cream and Diet Coke of course!

When we arrived back at the villa of course another lake swim was in order. One of the run campers, the lovely Becci, brought her GoPro so we had some fun lake pics. Such a great way to finish a run. I need to find me a lake…

And that will finish part one. Honestly it’s so hard whittling this down as there’s so much to say. I wish I could literally tell you everything but I’ll be getting to sound a bit like, “this one time, in Run Camp”… But anyway, part two to follow eventually!

Have you ever been to Austria?

Do holiday training camps appeal to you?

Do you swim much?