Sunny Scotland!

For half term we headed up to Scotland for a bit of a whistle-stop tour. We could not have been any luckier with the weather. My theory is that if you go to Scotland (or the Lake District, or pretty much anywhere north of where we live) then if you get rain, then that’s what you expected, and anything better is a bonus. After work on Friday we had dinner, packed up the car and headed up north.

Andy had diligently researched hotels close to parkruns – originally we were going to stay in Leeds on the Friday night so I could go to Temple Newsam, but our route in Scotland changed so we stayed in Warrington. A few weeks ago they announced on their facebook page that the event wouldn’t go ahead on Saturday due to a community event taking part in the park- annoying, but I was glad I knew in advance. It meant we set off fairly early the next morning. We stopped in Sizergh castle (a NT place) to stretch our legs and of course sample some cake- we shared a piece of sticky toffee cake (a local speciality apparently) and it was so good although I think if you had a piece to yourself the sugar crash would be epic.

I enjoyed watching the goslings, and we had a good wander around the grounds before heading to Glasgow.

All the sunshine!

It was such gorgeous weather, and so after dropping off our bags we walked through the town centre out to one of the parks (Glasgow Green) and along by the river. I was also very excited to find that the Hotel Chocolat had a cafe, so we had to share a hazelnut hot chocolate.

On the Sunday morning I went on a run, to the same park,enjoying the somewhat quieter streets.

After breakfast we walked along the river in the opposite direction to where we went on Saturday, then drove to the botanical gardens for a walk and picnic lunch. The park was rammed!

Then it was time to head off to Loch Lomond- another place crowded with people out enjoying the spectacular sunshine.

We walked along the lake for a bit, and then also through a loop in some woodland.

Our hotel was on the shore of the loch with more amazing views. It was light until so late in the evening too.

On Monday we had a longer drive to Inverness. We broke it up by stopping in Aviemore for lunch- we’d been to the amazing Mountain Cafe last year (possibly the same day) so we were keen to go there again. I had a delicious falafel and hummus sandwich, but the slices of bread were about a thick as two normal pieces of bread- we didn’t need dinner that day!

We did however have room to share a piece of caramel shortbread- it had the thickest caramel ever- so good.

One of my friends lives in Inverness, so I had asked her for recomendations- she told us about the Ness Island Walks, basically paths linked by bridges going over the river, up to the town. Again, beautiful weather and such a fantastic place for an evening walk.

On Tuesday we had arranged to meet up with my friend and her two little children. We went to middle school together, and by a weird coincidence moved up to Scotland the same week that my family moved to St Albans. Despite only knowing each other for three and a half years, we kept in touch and often used to visit each other in the holidays, although as we have got older it has become harder to meet up. We had arranged to meet in Nairn (apparently the Brighton of the north) but the sea mist (I forget the Scottish word for it) had rolled in, so after a walk up and down the prom, we headed to Logie Steading, a farm with a cafe, shops and art gallery in the old stables, next to a river with lots of marked footpaths, where we had lunch in the cafe, a long walk by the river to the canyon, and then back to the cafe for ice cream. It was so lovely to catch up- of course we are in touch via social media and all of that, but in person it is different.

From there we drove to Aberdeen, although we didn’t end up seeing much of the town. We parked in the centre and went for dinner, but our hotel was on the outskirts and as we were headed to Edinburgh the next day, we didn’t go back into the centre in the morning.

In Edinburgh we visited the botanical gardens before heading to the centre. It was a bit overcast that day, but still warm.

As it was rather overcast, of course we went to the Hotel Chocolat cafe, this time for a mint one (we shared a large each time but I am very sure that the Edinburgh large was bigger than the Glasgow large).

On Wednesday morning I had a run in Edinburgh- stupidly I was remembering my run in Glasgow, thinking I’d be out before it got busy, but of course forgetting it was a work day. The run had a lot of stop-starts as I had to wait to cross roads, but I still managed to do around 4 miles looping around the city centre. It was so misty that morning that I could hardly see the castle, although it did clear during the morning.

Then it was time for my favourite- breakfast (well, brunch really by the time I’d had a shower, we’d checked out and left our bags in the car and walked there..) at Loudon’s.

I love French toast, and so of course had to have it- I went for banana, salted caramel and toasted coconut. They do special blends of tea too, so I had one with black tea, cocoa nibs and coconut, which was delicious.

After a final walk around the park, it was time to head south and leave Scotland behind. We stopped off in Alnwick for a bit of a walk, and then drove to Newscastle for our penultimate stop.

The blue skies were out in force, and it was enjoyable to wander around by the river, remembering when we were last here (for the Great North Run).

I’ll save our final stop for another blog post as it involved some parkrun tourism.

Have you ever been to Scotland? I suppose having a friend living there meant I had a reason to visit, but I have been a fair few times. It always surprises me when people haven’t been when it’s so close (and easy with options for going by plane, rail, even bus).

Working in the garden and lots of nature

After parkrun on Saturday I went back to my parents house for pancakes. Once we had finished breakfast, we headed into the garden to have a look at some plants that mum has been growing for us in the greenhouse. As we went outside, we could hear some chirping from one of their bird boxes, and then we saw a great tit flying in and out of the box- the chirping got so loud each time the bird came back.

We moved away a little, and then while we were watching that we saw two red kites courting (is it called that? sort of flying into each other and then away), and then a buzzard really low, being chased away by two jackdaws- it was all go!

When I got home I was so chuffed to see a goldfinch on the nyjer seeds- I’ve only seen them being eaten a handful of times, but it seems at long last that the finches have learnt that there is food here, as I’ve seen one or two every day for the past week, sometimes for a good ten minutes at a time.

Any had been busy cutting up the final pile of wood and moving it off the circle of paving slabs in the middle of the lawn, and then he’d moved some plant pots onto it- it has made a huge difference.

We headed off to the garden centre, thinking it might be empty (according to Andy, people that like garden centres probably like the royal wedding, so it would be emptier than usual, but of course ignoring the fact that we like garden centres and not the royal wedding….)- anyway, we have been planning a garden project for a while so wanted to get a few plants to add to the project. I then had a few hours of work to do before the day was out, so we left the actual garden work until Sunday.

On Sunday I went out on a lovely run- in the end I did 9.5 miles and although it was warm, there was a light breeze which really helped.

I passed this field with an amazing streak of purple flowers in it- I could not work out what they were as I couldn’t get close enough, but it looked so pretty.

Once home, I quickly had a shower and breakfast as it was time to get on with the garden project. We went to B&Q to get some soil and trellises, and then did a few hours of work but it got so hot, so we had a break and headed into town to get a few bits (and use my Starbucks free drink voucher) and then went back into the garden once it was a bit cooler- we didn’t stop until 7pm when we were both totally shattered.

It doesn’t look so big here, but this is the root that he finally dug up- it left a bit of a crater!

My parents had given me a pot with an olive tree, buddleia and foxglove growing in it- they wanted the pot but not the plants so I divided that up and planted them (which involved poor Andy digging holes in very solid ground). We filled in the big hole left when he finally dug out a huge tree root, and then added loads of plants including a little fig tree, lavender grown by my mum and a few plants we bought on Saturday. The tulips and winter pansies in the pots had finished flowering so we dug those into the ground. Mum had given us a load of bedding plants so we planted them around the garden and in a few of the pots- I’ve put some in the stump of the willow tree as it’s a u-shape so I thought that might look good (at the foot of the bird bath).

Clockwise from top right- geraniums in the willow tree stump, patio pots ready for the trellis, view from the living room, pots moved to the middle of the lawn.

I’d been given lots of garden things this year including a little ladybird, thermometer and bird box, so we put those up.

As well as a load of weeding, we also got on with the garden project of putting up the trellis (although we finished that on Monday night) and planting out some climbers in pots so they will cover the wall.

The plan is to fix the mirror above the bench- we are nearly finished!

On Monday we finished some of the bits off, and had a nice walk in the sunshine in the evening. I started sneezing a bit on Monday afternoon, and on Tuesday was feeling a bit more cold-like. I was OK at work so decided to have a gentle run on my own instead of going to the club run, which I think helped to clear away the cobwebs in a way. When I got home, I made a drink (iced tea with some of the salt drops) and then sat on the bench in the garden and enjoyed it- we definitely need to sort out the ratio of working in the garden to actually just using it.

Do you like gardening? I find it very satisfying seeing all the changes. Do you have much wildlife where you live? The fox cubs have been back in our garden which is always lovely to see.

A parkrun countdown t-shirt!

(sort of)

Last Monday evening we went to the cinema to see Tully, which was good, but also a hard watch.  When we got back I saw that I had my email from parkrun saying that I could claim my 100 t-shirt! I celebrated my 100th parkrun back in March 2017, but under the old system, each time they were in stock they didn’t have the size I needed. For the new ones I had read that they had changed the female sizing a bit, so I checked the size guide which gave a measurement across the t-shirt. Compared to my 50 top (which is a small and perfect for me with a big of room), it seemed the medium would be the one to go for. All that was left was for me to wait for it to arrive!

Tuesday I wasn’t home in time for the club run, but that turned out to be lucky because I did around 4 miles but felt awful the whole way- I kept thinking “once I get going I’ll feel better” but I just felt sluggish and a bit sick at times. It was hot and I wonder if I didn’t drink enough on the Monday. I was very glad when I got home.

Wednesday was yoga- too cold this week to be outside! Lots of twists and some pretty tough poses which made my legs ache a lot- the final relaxation was very much needed.

On Thursday I was going to have a run, but then I got stuck in traffic and by the time I got home it was late, so I had a shower, we had dinner and then went out on a nice 3 mile walk in the evening- it was so much warmer than Wednesday.

My t-shirt arrived! It’s lovely fabric, but it is really long.

It’s a good few inches longer than my 50 shirt, but I would rather something was too long than too short. As I had exactly 100 to go until the next milestone (the next one is 250 which seems years away- 2 years at the absolute quickest if I go every weekend and only volunteer roles where I also get a run credit) it can be my countdown t-shirt. It will need to last me a while…

On Friday I had a massage booked as my shoulders have been getting worse and worse. I also had a few bits to pick up in town so afterwards I popped in to a few shops and got my errands sorted.

I spoke to Dad on the phone and we decided we would go to Heartwood Forest- it’s in St Albans and probably the closest to where they live, but it was stopped during the spring to let the paths recover a bit. It’s a gorgeous setting with wood carvings dotted along the route. It’s a very new forest, so the trees are only a few feet high in most places at the moment. The route it one and a half laps- you walk along from the finish to the start, half way up a hill, run to the top, around the top in a sort of p shape (with gorgeous views across the countryside), down to the finish and then do a complete lap.

You can’t park by it, so I parked about half a mile away, and heard Dad cycle up next to me as I was running to the start. When we got there and he took off his cycling jacket, he revealed he had his 100 top on too!

As we walked up to the start one of the two photographers asked if he could take our photo. We chatted to him and it turned out that although he now lived in St Albans, his home parkrun was Linford Wood, up in Milton Keynes, where my Dad’s cousin runs.

We set off at a fairly good pace, but the start is uphill so it wasn’t too fast. We were busy catching up- Dad had run on Wednesday and found it pretty tough too (and he’s cycled something like 50 miles last Saturday).

It was lovely to be there- the views are just fantastic up at the top, and the course is varied, twisting around so you can never see a long way ahead. In my mind the hill was as hard as Westmill, but it’s nowhere near that steep.

Last time I had forgotten to start my Garmin until partway in, so I made sure to press it on the start but then didn’t look at it again until I finished. We did a good negative split with 9:39, 9:01, 8:18, with a nice course pb of 27:38 (last time I ran 29:03)- I was pretty pleased with that. I don’t often get pb’s at parkrun!

Dad has a much faster sprint that me- I always tell him to go ahead and that I’ll try and catch him, this is just coming up to the final corner, but he then slowed so I crossed the line first anyway.

They also had their highest attendance (as far as I can see)- with  168 runners. It’s such a great course, and as the paths are pretty wide at the start there isn’t that stop-start you get on some courses.

After that it was back to Mum and Dad’s for a shower, pancakes and watching birds in their garden. I’ll save the weekend for another post.

Which milestone are you closest to now? Do you enjoy visiting different parkrun courses? I think this one might be a summer favourite for us.

Hitchin 10K 2018

A while ago my dad mentioned that he fancied doing another 10K run, but he just has so many weekends booked with tennis things, so the few that I knew and liked (like the fab Ware 10k/ 10 mile) were on days he couldn’t do. By chance I was chatting to a member of our running club and she mentioned the Hitchin 10k. It turned out to be a day we could both do, so we signed up and ran it together.

It was the best kind of race in my opinion. You could either collect your numbers the day before, or on the morning of the race. On the Saturday and and I headed to Wimpole so I could spend my vouchers (I got a nice mirror for the garden and a little bird bath) and on the way back we stopped off so I could collect them. The guy said to me “it starts at 9, so get there at about ten to”- so much better than the races that say to arrive 90 mins before.

After I had a bit of toast for breakfast, Dad picked me up and we drove to Hitchin (which according to Balcony Shirts, is “Bitchin’). We got slightly lost trying to find a car park – we kept seeing signs but then it would not appear, so we drove around in a circle 3 times before deciding on another little car park instead. It was around the corner from the town centre, and so we had half an hour to wander around in the sunshine and chat to other runners.

We were aiming for under an hour, so I kept an eye on my watch for the pace. The first mile went through the town and along a narrow path, and so it was a bit busier and we were slower, but it’s no bad thing to begin slowly (and it was slightly uphill so it was fine to slow a bit). At one point we ran along a residential road with one of those speed cameras with the smiley faces- it was smiling green at all the runners and either showing 5 or 6 which was pretty accurate. I tried to take a picture as we ran but it was a bit blurry.

After the residential bit we were out in the countryside for nice views and a very enjoyable run. Hitchin is known to be in a hilly area, but the route was meant to avoid all the big hills, and I think it did a good job. You could call it undulating, but there were no huge hills and nothing too bad. There was one little p shaped section where runners were on the other side of the road- we had to run downhill slightly so we knew we’d be heading back up again soon. There was one water station and as it was fairly warm we stopped to have a quick drink (they had cups which always pleases me- I know some people find them harder to drink from but I feel the waste element and environmental impact of bottles only used for a sip is just so awful, plus I hate them being all over the road and tripping on them) but I was glad I only had 2 sips as I started to get a bit of a stitch after. The final mile was back down the narrow  path (but the field was more spread out) so we got up a good amount of speed. As we got into the town centre I told Dad to sprint off and that I’d try to catch him, but he is way too fast at the end for that. He had finished and turned around just to cheer me in- I’m giving him a thumbs up in the photo below (he’s in his apricot parkrun t-shirt).

The photos were emailed out to us soon after

Our splits were so close to the royal flush negative split (10:53, 9:22, 9:27, 9:16, 9:10, 8:50 and then 8:18 for the final sprint). As soon as we had finished we could collect a bottle of water from the side, get a medal and then queue up for the t-shirt. I’m actually holding Dad’s one in the photo, but I went for the female medium and it’s a good fit- loose but not too baggy. 58:41 was my chip time, with Dad being a bit ahead of me at the end, so nicely under the hour like we had hoped for.

I love the medal too- it’s black metal with funky colours.

We were going to get a drink before heading home, and on out way we walked past a little cafe, so decided to sit down and in the end both ordered marmalade on toast alongside our drinks. I put the t-shirt on over my top as there was a bit of a breeze and we were sat in the shade. As we sat there loads of runners kept walking past wearing their medals and t-shirts. It had such a nice feel to it- so relaxed but also well organised. I think it started a few minutes late, but I wasn’t bothered by that as it could have only been a couple.

After getting home and showering, we needed to walk into town and once there I realised how hungry I was. We were going to get our free drinks from Starbucks and when Andy suggested sharing a cinnamon roll I could not resist!

For lunch our options at home were yet more toast, so I popped into M&S and picked up one of their lovely salads to have as a treat (they do a lovely one with roasted veggies and a sort of carrot hummus dip thing).

Then it was time for more gardening.

I had to build a little brick tower for the bird bath as it was just the bath bit. I did a lot of weeding, and then planted these seed balls- they are clever little balls with bee friendly seeds in them, coasted in chilli powder so mice and birds won’t eat them before the seeds germinate.

I think all the moving about after helps to combat the post-race stiffness, but I was pretty tired by the evening- I think the crouching down whilst weeding is the most painful thing to do after a race!

How do you normally recover from a race?

Things I’ve been loving lately including parkrun number 150!

First- a recap of the week:

A four day week is always confusing because Tuesday feels like Monday and so on, and this was made more confusing by yoga being on Tuesday instead of Wednesday this week (the hall was booked for Wednesday)- I had no idea which day we were on!  We had to lock up earlier than usual on Tuesday and as I had worked solidly through lunch I thought I’d have a walk after work.

Andy met me at the lakes and we had a lovely walk before heading home. Yoga was great- as it was so warm we had a short warm up inside and then took our mats outside to the grass and did most of the class outside.  We did loads of rounds of sun salutations- there is something quite hypnotic about doing them, especially outside when you can feel the softer ground under your feet. We also practised hand stands in pairs- my shoulders aren’t strong enough to hold me up, but it was fun to have a go. I had to rescue a worm off someone else’s mat, and then later on someone else put a big spider outside as there was one when we went back in. All the bugs are coming out at this time of year.

On Wednesday I went for a run- I decided to go down the old railway line for a bit and go up and down a hill a few times. I’d got home later than planned so I didn’t do too many, but it is always good to do some hills.

I’ve started trying this after my runs to replace the nuun tabs. I do like the nuun tabs and they are portable, but they do contain artificial sweeteners- as it’s the only thing I have with them, it’s not too bad but they are also pretty expensive. I tried this liquid in plain water and it does taste a little salty, but in coconut water I can’t taste it at all.

On Thursday it was yoga at work- we did work on backs which was very helpful as my shoulder had been bothering me since the weekend. We also practised sitting, which sounds so easy but was the hardest thing we did- sitting on the floor with a straight back and legs out straight in front.

On Friday at lunch we went to Starbucks, and after seeing they had fruit toast I was sold (I was going to have it last week when we went for my birthday, but they had none). Then after work I had a lovely 4 mile run, working out a new route which I should be able to do in the winter too. As we are at the top of a hill I get a bit fed up with finishing on certain hills, so going in a different direction helped with the finish.

Onto things I’ve been loving:

I’ve been loving my new tea cup this week!

I’ve also been having some matcha in the mornings. A while ago I bought a sample back from Bluebird (now Bird & Blend). The winner for me so far is the cocoa matcha, which is just matcha blended with cocoa, but mixed with a little milk really tastes like chocolate milk. Even though I use a whisk, I still get little lumps though.

Coconut Collaborative also make the most amazing little dessert pots- the mini chocolate ganache pots are just so good, and I found this week double pots, which are basically two layers (one of mousse and one of ganache)- such a good treat.

Onto parkrun!

Because I was doing a race on Sunday I’d volunteered to tail walk at parkrun on the Saturday. It is one of the most popular roles so I had to get in early!

I realised a few weeks ago that all being well, it would coincide with my 150th parkrun- what a way to celebrate.

Even though it’s an unofficial milestone (e.g. no t-shirt), they still gave me a mention in the briefing which was nice. There was also someone doing their 250th- very impressive. They mentioned that a calf had just been born so the cow gates might be closed (they weren’t) as there are heritage breeds in one of the fields that you run through. I think one was born last summer on their 1st birthday too.

The weather was a bit overcast, but not too cold, and although I’d worn a top over my t-shirt, I took off one layer after the first loop. I was going alongside a lovely lady who is a regular at parkrun- she was going to be running for 10 mins and walking for one, but in fact we ended up chatting and she ran for 20 mins before her first walk break.  I really enjoy tail walking as you get to complete the whole course (the woods were so green this week) and see all of the marshals on the way around. I have been trying to persuade some people at work to come along to one, as I really think they would enjoy it and get a lot out of it, but no-one believes me when I say that you can walk the whole way. I finished in just under an hour, but I have taken longer than that before and it’s all good. I’ll keep trying anyway. Tail walking is a good way to stretch the legs before a race too.

What are you loving lately? Which roles at your parkrun are the most popular?