Why ‘me time’ matters

Try to do one thing each day that nourishes you.

This was the takeaway message from a yoga event I attended this week at the Shard in London. The event, sponsored by California Walnuts, saw me and my good friend Sophie getting up at 5:30am to join a group of yogis for a 7am yoga session with Mandy Jhamat from Yogasphere, a wellness talk by Julie Montagu and delicious breakfast, hosted high above the city on the 69th floor of the Shard. It was the perfect start to the day: a relaxing vinyasa flow class suspended above the hubbub of the city below, followed by a feast of smoothies, mini pots of overnight oats, fruit kebabs and vegan flapjacks, all enjoyed from a room with a spectacular view.

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Image with thanks to California Walnuts

The event finished at 9:30am and we left with a free yoga mat, a bag full of goodies (including a big jar of delicious California Walnuts!) and that warm fuzzy feeling that I can only describe as the post-yoga glow.

While I’ll admit that I found myself reaching for the coffee by 3pm (I’m a morning person but even I concede that 5:30am is that bit too early) the feel-good factor from going to the class and spending some time with Sophie stayed with me until bedtime.

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Image with thanks to California Walnuts

While this was an exceptional day, the message from the speaker, Julie Montagu, was that you don’t need a special event to feed your physical, mental and spiritual wellbeing. Instead, we should find a little space every day for those acts that make us feel more like ourselves and contribute to our overall sense of wellness. Whether it be a 15 minute yoga practice, a short walk or lunchtime run, curling up with a good book, wandering around an art gallery, taking a hot bath, going for a cup of tea with a friend, calling your mum, listening to a podcast or baking a cake, it’s amazing how just a little act can quickly change your mood and the course of your day.

While (as regular readers may have gathered!) I find my greatest sense of self through exercise, another very different area in which I have found nourishment is while drawing. It’s amazing how taking the time to really look at figures and forms and then attempt to replicate them in graphite on paper, can be so meditative. To this end, a friend and I recently established a life drawing class as part of a wellness initiative. It is amazing how quickly the two hours of the class pass as we work on a series of 5, 10, 15 and 20 minute poses, working in silence, looking, sketching and being present in the moment. While I’m not the greatest artist, I’ve learnt to use the lessons from my yoga practice of leaving my ego at the door, focusing on my easel and working within my own parameters. When I began drawing I found the process more frustrating than therapeutic, but now I have evolved my practice, making it a much calmer space for engagement and self development.

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Image with thanks to California Walnuts

It is so easy to forget to spend that little bit of time feeding your mind, body and soul and to find that you’ve spent a day racing around with little to show for it. I’m now taking the message of this week’s yoga event and aiming to dedicate a portion of each day to self-nourishing acts as I know that by feeding my own soul I feel stronger, richer, fuller and more able to give back to those around me.

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10 reasons I love London

It’s really easy to take various elements of your life for granted. Whether it’s your home, job, friends or even the city you live in, you can get so bogged down in day-to-day life that you stop seeing the wood for the trees. You may see the beauty in other places but overlook all of the amazing things right on your doorstep. You may praise the art, architecture, cafe culture or music scene in another city but then fail to acknowledge how great all of those things are in the place that you live.

So over  the bank holiday weekend I took some time to slow down and really enjoy my city.

Whether you are a fellow Londoner or just thinking of coming for a visit, I wanted to share some of my favourite elements of London with you (and I’ll admit to cheating and squishing lots in to keep to just ten points!)

1. The art galleries and museums

IMG_4295The National Gallery, the NPG, the Royal Academy, the Courtauld, Tate Modern, Tate Britain, The British Library, The British Museum, the V&A, Dulwich Picture Gallery, the Foundlings Museum, the Design Museum, Museum of London…the list goes on, and on.

London has some of the world’s greatest museums and art galleries, with blockbuster exhibitions and incredible permanent collections, many of which can be accessed for free.

Being able to mooch around the permanent collections and the National Gallery or NPG, seeing a show with my dad at the RA, or enjoying a Friday late at the V&A with my pals is such bliss and something I feel so lucky to be able to do.

2. The river and the canal

IMG_5574A run or stroll along the Thames is still one of my absolute favourite things and 9 years after moving to London I’m still totally in love with the view of London from the river.

Whether it’s the approach to St Paul’s while crossing Millennium Bridge, the skyline of the city from Tower Bridge, gazing across at Parliament and Big Ben from the South Bank at Westminster, or the bright bridge at Chelsea viewed from Battersea park, there are so many beautiful and ever-changing vista across London from the banks of the Thames. I still love the hectic south bank and packed pavements from the Royal Festival Hall at Waterloo, past the Globe and into Bermondsey. I love St Catherine’s dock and Wapping to the north and the quieter stretches out at and Putney and Richmond to the south; no trip to London is complete without a stroll along the river!

A close second to the Thames is the canal, with beautiful stretches from Regents Park to Camden Town, around lazy Little Venice, and from Angel to the Olympic Park at Stratford, all worth exploring. I’ve spent so many Sundays running along the tow paths, dipping in and out of the parks, admiring the boats and soaking up the blissfully serene canal-life atmosphere.

3.  The transport

airlineThe tube, bus and over ground system in London is so efficient you can easily travel from one end of the city to the other without even thinking about getting into a car (which suits me very well!).

From Brixton to Walthamstow on the Victoria line takes little more than 30 minutes and this stretch can now be navigated 24 hours a day with the new night tube. The over ground means that from Highbury to Peckham is only 35 minutes and from home I can be at the Olympic Pool in Stratford in little over 20 minutes! If you want a more scenic view of the city river buses run from Hampton Court out west to Woolwich Arsenal in the east and the Emirates Airline provides the most stunning views over Greenwich. Who needs a car?!

4. The parks

IMG_5037Whether you are looking for sculpted flower gardens, parks with play areas for children, open heaths, swimming ponds or just a little green space to lounge in the sun with a picnic or barbeque, London is rich in areas of green space. Londoners treat the parks as an extension of their own gardens (normally as so few of us actually have gardens!) and in the summer they are packed with people enjoying the sun in their lunch breaks, out running, cycling or enjoying a glass of Prosecco after work.

I’m so lucky that my office in situated in Green Park, with St James’s Park, Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens only minutes away. A run along the river can quickly see me in Battersea Park, while my running route home allows me to pass through Regent’s Park and onto the tow path past London zoo. From home I can wander down to Clissold Park, where there is a children’s play area, petting zoo, cafe and plenty of green space to lounge and run around, and just beyond is the newly opened Woodberry Wetlands nature reserve. Highbury Fields is only a couple of minutes’ jog away, where there are tennis courts, as well as a weekly Park Run, which R and I attend, and Finsbury Park is not much further away. Perfect park life.

5. The theatres and cinemas

Whether you are looking for a musical or comedy show, a blockbuster-play or small independent production there is no shortage of theatres in London. From the West End to smaller venues in all boroughs of the city, there is so much choice and diversity for live shows and performances.

If it is a movie you are looking for options range from summertime outdoor screenings to secret cinema productions, and from independent cinemas such as the Picture House and Everyman, where you can enjoy a glass of wine in your seat, to the mainstream VUE, Odeon and Cineworld centres.

6. The pools and lidos

olympic poolFrom Hampstead ponds to Brockwell Lido and from the Olympic Pool in Stratford to the Serpentine in Kensington, there are plenty of options available for indoor and outdoor swimming.

The ‘Better’ gym company, who manage many of the council pools in London, make sure that access to most of the pools in the city is affordable on a ‘drop in’ basis, meaning that you don’t have to be a member of an expensive gym to have access to a 50m pool.

7. The architecture

IMG_4294 (1)From the Shard to the Globe and from Tate Modern to the Tower of London, London’s architecture is diverse and beautiful. Combining new buildings such as the Millennium Dome, the ‘Gherkin’ and the ‘Walky-talky’ with historic structures including Westminster Abbey, St Paul’s Cathedral and the Banqueting House at Whitehall, and rich in palaces from Buckingham Palace and St James’s, to Kensington Palace and Hampton Court, London offers a beautiful and rich array of architectural structures.

This is city with so much history, but also so much innovation and vibrancy, all of which can be read through its architecture.

8. The cafes, restaurants and markets

IMG_1553Once you’ve exhausted yourself running in the parks or along the river, seen every exhibition, been to the theatre, caught a movie and strolled through the streets taking in all of the architecture you might fancy a bite to eat. London is replete with restaurants and cafes, with cuisine from all over the world, serving everything from early morning breakfasts, lazy Sunday brunches, quick working or leisurely lunches and intimate suppers. Whether you want cocktails and small plates, afternoon tea and cake, or just a coffee and a place to sit with the paper or a good book, I honestly think you could eat and drink at a different venue every day and never run out of options.

And if it’s food to go you are looking for, the market culture is also rich and delicious, from the now well-trodden slabs of Borough Market, to the crowded stalls of Camden lock and Covent Garden, and from the real food market at Waterloo to the stands at Old Spitalfields (where you can also pick-up clothes, crafts and antiques) or just off Brick Lane.

9. The diversity of the people

You can go out in London wearing a bin bag and wellies, with bright purple hair and a hundred piercings and no one will bat an eyelid. The city is so diverse that nothing seems to shock, and even the most bizarre ensemble is met with nonchalant acceptance.

This sense of diversity isn’t limited to fashion; every country seems to be represented through the people, shops and cuisine in London. You rarely get on a tube without hearing another language spoken or visit a restaurant without reaping the benefits of the cultural diversity of the city. My friends come from all over the world and I feel that my life, and the life of the city, is richer as a result.

10. My pals

IMG_5023All of these amazing elements are made all the better by having my pals around to share them with me.

Whether we are wandering around an exhibition together, watching a rubbish movie with popcorn, lingering over brunch well into lunchtime, buying over-priced vintage clothes, running along the canal, picnicking in the park with cans of g’n’t from M&S, or watching the sun set over the river from a rooftop bar or balcony, I can’t imagine London without all of my wonderful pals around for fun and nonsense.

5 Little changes that could just make your life that little bit better

I often find myself naively drawn in by articles promising the secret of an infinitely better life: 5 steps to total mindfulness, 3 intense fat burning workouts, 10 steps to the perfect relationship, that sort of thing. Unsurprisingly, what I regularly find is that these articles just offer a series of commonsensical points, which often align with the things I’m already doing, and I’m left a little disappointed that I’m no closer to secret of perfection in mind, body and spirit.

So rather than promising 5 revolutionary hacks that will give you the ultimate life, I’m offering a series of little adjustments and lifestyle tweaks that I’ve found work for me, and which have made my life just that little bit better everyday.

1. Morning yoga

IMG_3576I’m not really sure how I got into my morning yoga routine, but now I can’t imagine starting my day without it. It’s amazing how getting up and showered and then spending between 15 and 30 minutes on my mat can transform my mood and the way I approach the day. I’m certainly no bona fide yogi, but spending some time stretching out my limbs, syncing my movement and my breath, doing a bit of core and arm work and playing around with headstands, bridges or shoulder stands wakes me up (even if I’ve had a glass of something I shouldn’t the night before) and puts me in the right headspace for the day.

Some days I’ll listen to classical music and follow my own yoga flow routine, other days I’ll watch Yoga with Adriene on YouTube and follow her, but either way, no matter what my day holds, I try to corner off at least 15 minutes of my morning to dedicate to my practice.

2. Lunchtime exercise

IMG_5074The realisation that I could kick the 3:30pm slump by just going out and doing something physical at lunchtime was a revelation. My lunch run often negates my need for that dangerous afternoon coffee, which I know will play havoc with my sleeping patterns, or for the 4pm mindless snacking, often undertaken out of boredom or a need for a distraction rather than real hunger.

I know that I’m really lucky in this regard – that my boss and colleagues are very understanding of my need to get out in the fresh air and run off any stresses – but I also know that getting the oxygen circulating around my system makes me so much more productive in the afternoon and in a better mental place to respond to those emails that require a bit more thought or diplomacy.

Moreover, on the days I get to meet my running pal Lou for a quick dash around Kensington Gardens it’s a great opportunity for a catch-up or a space to vent and, come 6pm I’ve already done 5 miles and I can take the evening off guilt-free if I fancy.

While I know running isn’t for everyone, taking a lunchtime walk, or making the most of the summer sunshine and doing some yoga outside are also great alternatives. If you have a work gym you might even sneak a quick HIIT session between meetings.

3. Walking or running part of my commute

IMG_4349About a year ago I made the decision to add 4,000 steps to my day by walking to and from the tube station, rather than jumping straight on the train that leaves from practically outside my house. A year on and I’m still doing it, now less for the extra steps and more for the pleasure. In the morning getting just ten minutes of fresh(ish) air (this is London after all!), natural light and, in recent weeks, a vitamin D hit in the sunshine, really sets me up for the day. In the evening, having chance to decompress after a day at my desk is invaluable and strolling back the long way through the park rather than cramming myself into a train is definitely the best way to do this.

On the days I want to sneak some extra exercise, especially while the weather is good, I’ll walk the full 4 miles home, or, if I’ve not had chance for a lunch run, I’ll jog home, either directly or via Regent’s Park to add an extra 3 or 4 miles to my route. It’s not just the exercise but the benefit of being outside in the world that never fails to boost my mood and allows me to arrive either at work or at home smiling.

Living in the city where we are set up for walking and cycling a commute I know this is easier, but even elsewhere you could consider parking your car a little further from your house or office, or using public transport for part of the trip and walking or running the rest. Making exercise a functional part of your day – i.e. a means of getting from a to b – makes you more likely to do it on a regular basis and it also means that you have plenty of free time to spend with friends and family rather than squirrelling yourself off to the gym.

4. Tuning into my appetite

IMG_1619Like many people, I’ve been through phases of eating too much, not eating enough, eating through stress, through boredom and through sadness. However, recent GI issues have forced me to take a more careful approach to eating and there have been many benefits to this.

Slowing down my eating, selecting foods mindfully, with an eye to what will nourish me without causing stomach upset, pain or sluggishness, and eating in line with my hunger, rather than unconsciously nibbling throughout the day, has vastly improved my approach to and enjoyment of food. I now focus on three meals a day, or two on a Sunday/my long run day, without snacking in between (if I can help it!). If I’m doing a double workout – a lunchtime run followed by an evening swim for example –  I might add a banana or nectarine in the  late afternoon to keep me going until I get home, but otherwise I hold on until supper.

Following this routine I’ve found that I will naturally feel hungry at around 7:30am once I’ve finished my yoga, and again between 1 and 2pm in the afternoon. Evening hunger usually strikes around 6:30–7pm so I know if I’m going out for supper later than this and don’t want to over-eat because I’m famished I’ll have a more substantial lunch or eat a little later. I also make sure I stay well hydrated throughout the day so I don’t confuse thirst and hunger. I have moments of weakness of course – on weekends I could keep on munching through oats, granola with berries, avo on toast, smoothies and coffee indefinitely if I don’t make a conscious decision to stop and in the evenings if there are nibblies in the house, like grapes or cashews, I am often tempted to them. But knowing when these moments of weakness come I’m learning to avoid, resist or keep them at bay.

5. Accepting I’m not a night owl

IMG_3388I’ve spent years in denial and harboured a lot of guilt around this point, but the fact is, I like my sleep, and I like it at night. I tend to rise early regardless of my time to bed, which means late nights leave me exhausted and grumpy.

Accepting that I’m not going to be the last man standing on a night out, or that I’d rather head home than out to a night club without feeling guilty has been a long time in coming, but as I’ve gotten older I’ve become increasingly at peace with this fact. I’ve started scheduling breakfast dates and lunches over late-night drinks and I try to arrive early to longer events so that if I duck out before last orders I’ve still had plenty of time to catch up with my pals. Just like not everyone gets up at 6 to fit in a pre-work yoga workout, breakfast and blog writing session, not everyone can keep their eyes open and enthusiasm up past 11pm. And that’s ok.

Accepting yourself doesn’t have to just relate to sleeping habits and I’m sure we all have traits that we try to fight against. Just take a moment to reflect on how good or bad these elements of your personality really are and if they are essentially harmless maybe it’s time to embrace them.

It’s like riding a bike

I had warned R that I couldn’t remember the last time I’d ridden a bike. Ok that’s not strictly true, there was the tandem we took out on my birthday the year before last, (which I crashed), and I vaguely recall cycling in Centre Parcs as an adult, although whether that trip was five or ten years ago now I really can’t be certain. Anyway, the point is, I’ve not ventured beyond the stationary bikes in the gym for quite some time now. Moreover, anyone who has had the pleasure of seeing me behind the wheel of a car, go-kart or quad bike will know that me and vehicles that require steering just don’t get on all that well.

But despite all of this, the thing is, I really do want to cycle more regularly. It’s a great low-impact exercise, it allows you to get outside (my favourite thing) and you can cover some serious distances in a relatively short amount of time when compared to running. In the back of my mind I have this romantic vision of me and R cycling along country lanes, picnic hamper at my handlebars, bathed in the sunshine of an endless summer, a slightly unrealistic dream, I know. And, of course, there is the idea that all that stands between me and a triathlon is the bike element. And it’s not that I want to enter a triathlon necessarily right now, but I want to know that, should the mood take me, I could.

Anyway, it was with all of this in mind that we took the opportunity of this weekend’s sunny Saturday to take out some Boris bikes and cycle in Battersea Park.

I had requested that my first foray into cycling didn’t involve any roads and, as it instantly became apparent, this was for the best. On the bike I felt a lot further from the road than I can remember feeling, and I struggled to reach the ground when I stopped (possibly we should have lowered the seat a little more!).

As it happened, we were not the only ones to have the idea of cycling on that sunny Saturday, and the park was full of children meandering wildly, other people negotiating the clunky Boris bikes and more adept cyclists whizzing past us as we went. And then there were of course the dog walkers, pram pushers and pedestrians all trying to share the same pathways.

Although not the pastoral idyll that I had initially imagined, after a couple of laps around the park I felt comfortable enough to let R ride alongside me rather than in front, and I was happy to skirt around obstacles rather than stopping in front of them.

It seemed crazy as I cycled regularly as a child, but it took some serious laps to get my confidence back and I was still a fair way from feeling I could tackle the London road system.

Still it was lots of fun and I felt a certain pride and satisfaction as the rain came and we swapped our bikes for drinks in a nearby pub while we waited for the downpour to cease.

I’ll be back in the saddle again soon I don’t doubt; it’s just like riding a bike you know.

 War and Peace 

I started writing this post on Tuesday on my way back from work and it began something like this:

‘Now I’m back to work and the weather has taken a turn for the chillier, following an unseasonably warm Christmas, it now really feels like January and that the New Year is truly here.

And 2016 has started pretty well.

New Year’s Day saw us enjoying a late breakfast with an Ella recipe of baked apple and cinnamon oats (totally delish and like eating pudding for breakfast – recipe below) and a NutriBulletted kale, strawberry, blueberry and chia juice, before heading out for a 6 mile stroll across Hampstead Health. Although it was pretty grey and drizzly, that only made the cup of tea and browse of the books in Waterstones at the end of the walk all the more pleasurable, and that evening we especially enjoyed our sofa-for-two at the Hampstead cinema, where we curled up and watched the latest Star Wars movie.

Saturday saw us at Park Run first thing (although I admit to putting in a shocking performance, hampered by a very runny nose!) and in the afternoon, while R went to watch the football, I booked into a Vinyasa Flow class at a yoga centre near our house in north London. This was just what I needed to reset post-Christmas and I finally feel like this year I’m making peace with my body, accepting it and working with it (rather than against it) to get stronger.

On the way home I picked up the ingredients for my favourite winter butternut squash, parsnip, chilli and ginger soup, a vat of which I had ready for R’s return from the rather cold and wet Bradford match.

On Sunday I…’

The post stopped there, rather abruptly, as this was the point at which I was mugged, and my phone, where I draft many of my blogs, was stolen.

And so from an (almost nauseatingly) idyllic start to 2016 to a really rather horrid turn of events.

It was quite a surreal experience: one minute I was hot-footing it down the road, racing back from work to get ready for running club, the next, a motorcyclist had mounted the pavement alongside me and snatched my phone from my hand.

He was accompanied by two other helmeted figures on bikes and the three of them revved away, glancing back at me on the pavement. My immediate instinct was to run after them (not easy in heels and with a handbag), yelling at them to come back. I don’t know what I thought I’d achieve, but I wasn’t prepared to just let it go. They even circled back round the roundabout, causing the cars around to beep, and for a moment I thought they were coming back towards me; that they would give my phone back; that it was all some awful prank; but they sped off seconds later.

I was only moments from my front door and luckily R was home. He calmed me down as by that point I was shaking and crying in disbelief and rage, panic and shock.

Someone had seen the incident and had called the police, so when I called them they were already in the area. When they arrived they were so kind, patient and generous with their time and really helped to put me at ease (a massive thank you Met Police!).

I won’t go into the details of all the subsequent time spent changing passwords and trying to protect my data, as although I immediately alerted my phone company that my phone had been stolen, they said it could take up to 24 hours before the phone and sim were blocked. Needless to say it was not the Tuesday evening I had planned.

I didn’t sleep well and kept replaying the incident in my mind, thinking of all of the things I could have done differently – what if I’d left work a little later, or not decided to add to my step count by walking from Highbury and just got on a second train? What if I’d simply not taken my phone out of my pocket at that moment? I wondered if, in my wedge-heels and with a handbag, as opposed to my usual pumps and rucksack, I looked like an easy target. I even searched online for advice on ‘how to avoid being mugged’ so I could see if I’d left myself too open to attack. I also looked up self defence classes in the area, not because realistically in that situation I could have done anything, but because right now I feel like a victim and I want to feel re-empowered.

I didn’t want to leave home on Wednesday morning, but I was determined not to let the incident phase me and I took my usual walk to the station. Heading out in the light was ok but the walk back in the evening wasn’t great; I was jumpy and my ears pricked up at the sound of every motorbike.

Over the past few days my emotions have fluctuated between feeling incredibly angry, particularly whenever I see a motorbike, suspicious that it is them again, stomach-sink-ingly frightened, and horribly vulnerable and helpless, expressed in spontaneous moments of crying.

I know that I’m incredibly lucky that it was just an opportunistic mugging, that I wasn’t hurt and that it was only my phone that was taken, but that doesn’t detract from the sadness I feel that there are three people out there in such a bad situation, and with so little compassion, that they would steal from someone on their way home from work, leaving them feeling victimised. I suppose my overriding feeling is a sadness at a loss of faith other people and, that from a perhaps rather naïve optimism in the inherent goodness of others, I suddenly feel suspicious and defensive.

I’m sure these feelings will pass, and the year will get back on track soon.

Until then, stay safe.

A run in the park – learning to run cross country

As my last few posts have been a bit philosophical it’s nice to come back to a good old running post.

This Saturday marked the first race in the cross country season. When the fixtures were initially announced R had coaxed me into signing up with the promise that it would be ‘fun’, when Saturday came around however, I was a little sceptical about how much fun it would actually be. As much as I love running, I’ve never been able shake my event anxiety and every race day I find my stomach churning with nerves (some days it’s so bad that I can’t even do a Park Run without feeling sick before). On top of which, the hip-opening 1 hour 45 minutes of yoga that I’d done the night before had left my upper ITB pretty sore, and I didn’t have any racing spikes, an apparent pre-requisite of cross country running.

New running spikes
New running spikes

The resolution to two of these problems came with a brisk walk to Runners Need in Kings Cross – the walk loosened up my limbs before the race and the shop offered some comfortable Adidas spikes at not too higher price.

It was actually the most perfect day for running, not too hot or cold, with just enough sunshine to see everyone in good spirits. The race was in Claybury, a place lost somewhere on the outer reaches of the central line, and consisted of two and a bit loops of a 3km course through woodland with two smallish hills.

Once I’d arrived and met with the other runners from my club I started to feel more at ease – not least as Petra, one of the girls that I train with, was there and it was her first cross country race too. Anna took us on a little warm up run together and by the time I reached the starting line I was actually rather looking forward to the race.

It was strange running in spikes at first, more as I was forced to avoid any spots of path rather than to seek them out as I would normally do. Although I’m used to running in minimal shoes with a forefoot strike, in my spikes I could feel each lump and bump of the course and my ankles were certainly taking more of a hit than usual. Still as the race went on I got more used to them and they did instil me with more confidence when running down the muddy hills.

Running cross country, showing the strain!
Running cross country, showing the strain!

In cross country women and men run separately and having the men cheering us on as we went was so nice and really gave me a boost when I started to flag. On the second lap the second hill really hit me, but with an encouraging cheer from the sidelines I managed a reasonably strong finish and, although it wasn’t the fastest I’ve ever run, I have to admit I really did enjoy it. It was so nice being outside and off the roads and the team atmosphere made for such a nice run.

There were a few minutes to grab a drink before the men’s race started and Petra and I found a good spot from which to cheer them on. Their race was slightly further – 8km rather than 6km – and you could see the strain on everyone’s faces on the third lap, as the knew what was coming up. However, everyone finished well and with some home-baked cakes and flasks of tea waiting at the end it was a jolly occasion all round.

I had scheduled a run on Sunday morning with my running buddy John, also from the club. My legs were surprisingly weary, given that the race had only been 6km, but the 1.5km from my house to meet John helped to ease them out a little. It was so nice having a commitment of someone to run with to get me out of bed and into my trainers.

We truncated our usual route, covering just 11.5km at a steady pace, but it was such a beautiful run along the canal in the morning sunshine and certainly made my bowl of porridge on my return all the more delicious.

Aquatic Centre
Aquatic Centre

Post-run, after a brief stopover at home to shower and gather my things, I enjoyed a trip to the Aquatic Centre at the Olympic Park with my pal Katie. The pool there is so beautiful and a good 40 minutes or so in the pool certainly helped to ease out the kinks of the running and yoga of the past couple of days. I love gliding through the water, stretching out my limbs and helping to re-balance my body after putting it though its paces elsewhere.

All in all it has been a perfect weekend of exercise and early nights, let’s hope it has readied my body for the onslaught that is the Frankfurt Book Fair next week!

Runaway success: why not escape real life this weekend? 

Escape route

When weekdays and weekends seem to get lost in a sea of work, weddings, exercise and life admin, it’s all too easy to forget to set aside some time to relax and enjoy yourself with close friends, indulging in each other’s company and allowing yourself to unwind.

Last weekend, I took a step off the (metaphorical and literal) treadmill of day-to-day work, training and chores to spend what was a much needed weekend with some of my closest pals. The result was not only a perfect weekend of fun, relaxation, good food and the best company, but also a panoply of tasty recipe and cafe tips, pampering recommendations and activity ideas.

The weekend started with g&t’s at my friend Helen’s house. Made with elderflower tonic, this offered a deliciously summery twist on a traditional favourite and one that I’d strongly recommend. For supper we cooked courgetti with an avocado sauce. Vegan-friendly and super-simple the recipe and method is (vaguely) as follows:

Serves 4:

  • Blend two avocados with two garlic cloves and a couple of glugs of olive oil.
  • Meanwhile, chop up a bunch of spring onions, a couple of handfuls of mushrooms and a pepper. Cook in a large pan with a little olive oil and season generously with salt and pepper.
  • Using a vegetable peeler or spiraliser create courgette strips from 2-3 courgettes (depending on how hungry you are!)
  • Add the courgetti to the vegetables in the pan and heat for a few minutes.
  • Stir in the avocado mix.
  • Add good few handfuls of spinach and allow them to wilt. Put another handful of spinach in each bowl and serve the courgetti mix on top with a sprinkling of toasted pine nuts and some chopped parsley.
  • Eat!
Freshly-picked strawberries

On Saturday morning I got my first use of a NutriBullet. Helen had stocked up on an array of fruits, coconut water, nut butters and soya milk and we all whizzed-up our own favourite combinations. I made a pear, strawberry and banana shake with cashew butter and coconut water, which was totally delish! The NutriBullet was really efficient, much better than our regular blender (which requires a certain degree of cajoling to blend anything) and it was really easy to washout after use. I now desperately want one of my own!

Full of fruity-goodness we headed to have a manicure and coffee at London Grace, a nail bar in Putney. It’s a really beautiful salon with a coffee shop that encourages you to linger with a drink and cake, or else a glass of wine if you are visiting later in the day. The manicurists were so lovely and put up with my indecision over which colour to have, as well as our communal girly over-excitement at having our nails done. I’d definitely recommend the salon if you are in that part of town, either to indulge yourself or to visit with friends (they also do party bookings).

Jurassic Adventure Crazy Golf
Jurassic Adventure Crazy Golf

From there we went to play ‘Jurassic Encounter Crazy Golf’ at course in Beverly Park, in New Malden, Surrey. It was totally ridiculous but blissfully fun and so nice to enjoy a sport like golf (crazy or otherwise) where you can just lose yourself in the task-in-hand and forget all of the other things you need to do.

We drove on to the beautiful village of Esher to go fruit and vegetable picking – bucolic bliss! I picked beans, broccoli and strawberries, all of which went down very well at home, the former in risotto and the latter in porridge.

On Saturday evening we went to see Swan Lake. The theatre was beautiful and the ballet was totally mesmerising. I loved watching the ballerinas as they moved with such grace, energy and precision, like perfectly formed coiled springs – strong, lean and athletic.

The performance was stunning and so moving and gave me such a deep hankering to return to dancing.

Picking brocolli with pals
Picking brocolli with pals

On Sunday morning we went to a new cafe and yoga centre in Putney where we enjoyed granola with coconut yogurt and a delicious array of vegan smoothies.

Alas we had no time for yoga however as the rest of our morning was dedicated to the most ludicrous but fabulous thing.

Helen had discovered a place on the Thames where you can hire boats to take out into the river. However, the boat she had booked for us was no ordinary vessel: it was a hot tub.

Yes, dear reader, that right, a hot tub. And so it was that six of us sailed down the Thames in a bath of hot water, with a little fire to keep the water toasty and wearing nothing but our swimsuits, unsurprisingly eliciting some interesting looks and remarks by other passing boats. The situation was more absurd when I tried to steer and we just went round in circles (something which anyone who has been in a car with me won’t be surprised to hear!). I soon let Mark, who had become somewhat of an expert, re-take the role as skipper!

Vegan smoothies
Vegan smoothies

The whole experience was too much fun and so ridiculous! It was so fabulous to spend time all together and to know that we all love the same nonsense! I would strongly recommend it if you find you are taking yourself too seriously, or just want to sale down the Thames in a hot tub!

The weekend was a breath of fresh air and a fabulous escape from real life. It’s really easy to miss out on all of the amazing things just on your doorstep and to get bogged down in the daily grind. It’s also all too easy to go for weeks without seeing your closest friends just because they are close at hand and you assume that there will always be an opportunity to catch-up.

So why not break with your routine this weekend? Skip the run for some crazy golf, or the yoga for a dance class with friends and see where the weekend takes you!

Hot tub!
Hot tub!