Thursday, 25 August 2016

On going with your gut

Last night we went to a second viewing of a house we loved.
Loved as in telling everyone at work, everyone in my choir, my parents telling all our family. Loved as in Phil couldn't sleep on Sunday night because he "couldn't stop thinking about it". Loved as in referring to it as "our house". Loved as in planning where we'd put our furniture.

It was perfect.
It was bigger than we needed, and more expensive than we could afford.
This three storey beauty, all shiny and white and brand new.
Four bedrooms, three bathrooms. 
Big kitchen. Manageable garden.
Parking spaces.
Good sized rooms.
Light and bright and wonderful.

It was love the second we walked in the door.

We told everyone about it. I posted about it on Twitter and Instagram.
We were in a perpetual state of anxious excitement.
There were lists of big, scary, adult-y things to do.
Ring the mortgage advisor.
Calculate payments.
What are interest rates like?

I imagined us living there. I imagined our future there. I could see us living in this beautiful house.

It was the one, it was the one, it was the one.
We were so sure.

We arranged a second viewing. Mostly so we could show Phil's parents around our future home.
We were smitten.
I almost didn't go the second time. I was so sure.

We'd uttered phrases like, making an offer next week. And how much can we afford for a deposit.

It was all going so fast and exciting and wonderful and scary and lump in the pit of your stomach and intense and brilliant and terrifying.

We walked past the house while we waited for Phil's parents.
Which road is ours again?
Oh look we'll be right by this new restaurant.
Our house, our house, our house.

We were so excited. We half-listened to stories of how townhouses can be difficult to sell and ignored the faint roar of traffic in the not-very-distant-distance.

We opened the door and...

I don't know.
Something was different.

The house hadn't changed. So why did the living room feel smaller?
Why did we notice little things we hadn't seen before?
The ball in the pit of my stomach grew.

We asked all the questions my Dad told me to ask.
Will the carpets be included?
Fixtures and fittings?
Tiling in the bathroom?
Yes, yes yes.

So why wasn't it feeling right?

We showed them around. This would be our room. This would be the spare room. 
Maybe we'd put a desk in there too.
Three storeys, yes! Let's show you upstairs.
That's the wet room.
We don't even know what we'll do with these rooms yet.
Cinema room? Maybe a gym?

I couldn't shake it.
It didn't feel right.
I started to feel my eyes well up.
The confusion. Disappointment.
This was the one, wasn't it?

I don't know who felt it first.
I don't know who was the first to say, it doesn't feel right, does it?
We both knew.
This wasn't our house.
This wasn't going to be our home.

They say when you know, you know.
But do they say when you don't know, you also know?

But it's perfect, I kept saying. 
The kitchen is the biggest we've seen.
The bedrooms are huge.
The garden is exactly what we want.

And we loved it on Sunday.
Didn't we?
We loved it on Sunday.
Maybe we should sleep on it.
Yeah, let's sleep on it.

But we knew. Right in our guts we knew.
This wasn't going to be our home.
And we don't know why. 

I'm a rational person.
I can't put something down to "just a feeling".
But this time I knew we had to listen.

The same way I knew the second I walked onto the University of Birmingham campus.
The same way I knew that jobs and boyfriends and friendships in the past hadn't been right.

We had to listen.
Our hearts were saying no.
This isn't your house.
This isn't your home.

And already we've accepted it.
It wasn't the one.
We're exhausted and disappointed but mostly relieved.

Buying a house is one of the biggest decisions we'll ever make.
And when we find the one, we'll listen to our guts.

Saturday, 20 August 2016

Cookbook review: Leon Happy Salads

Before I write this post, I feel like I need to be really honest with you.
I love Leon.
I've loved Leon since the first time I wandered into a branch in London while on work experience six years ago.
If I get the chance, whenever I'm in London I get Leon (especially now there's one in Euston), and when Phil and I went away to Birmingham in April we ate there four times. In three days.
And almost every time I go to Leon, I take a photo of my food (duh) and tweet them incessantly asking when they're opening one in Manchester. And EVERY TIME they tease me by saying "soon". It's been two years, come on guys.
Anyway, I digress. 

This is actually the third Leon book I own, after Leon Vegetarian and Leon Friends and Family (actually, I own one of their minis too, but the least said about that the better - it's basically just a collection of recipes from other Leon books, most of which I already had). I've actually been really disappointed with my other Leon books which is such a shame when I love the brand so much. I haven't been able to pinpoint what it is I've not liked, but many of the recipes I've tried have either been a bit dull or a bit uncreative, which aren't words I associate with Leon at all.

But I was really excited to hear about Leon Happy Salads. Salads are, pretty much, my favourite thing to get from Leon (except for the sweet potato falafel hot box which is my all-time favourite, but is that kind-of a salad?). I honestly really tried to resist buying this but let's face it, I have no willpower when it comes to buying recipe books.

First impressions

First of all, like all Leon books, this book is gorgeous, with thankfully more photos of food and less photos of people compared to the other Leon books. 
I was excited from the get-go with loads of yummy-sounding vegetarian recipes and several recipes that could easily be made vegetarian or pescatarian.

My first thought though was, "will salad be enough for dinner?" and I thought there was going to be a section at the start with ideas of what to serve with some of the salads. I definitely found a mix of salads that seemed "enough" for dinner (those with a main protein or grain) and some that seemed like more of a side.

I was disappointed to find most of the recipes only serve 2 as I like to have leftovers for lunch most days to save me having to make extra lunches for work. I also found a whole section called Lunchbox of salads that only serve 1 - and some of these are a lot of work! I would have preferred a section called Lunchbox to have recipes that made several portions and kept well during the week. Both the Lunchbox-section recipes I tried I ended up tripling!

There were plenty of recipes I fancied though - absolutely loads for vegetarians and many that could be easily adapted. I filled three post-it notes (signs of a good book) with recipes I wanted to make, and planned to cook from the book almost constantly for two weeks. Things I noticed were:
- there was a lot of use of feta (which is great because I LOVE feta)
- lots of fresh herbs to purchase
- the odd few weird ingredients (some I hadn't even heard of!)
- very few salads had a lettuce base (which is good because lettuce is sooooo basic).

Just to note - I'm pretty sure this book isn't designed for you to have salad every night for two weeks. But there was so much variety in recipes it definitely didn't feel like we were having salads every night. Some were hot, some were cold, some had grains, some we had with pitta bread. There's absolutely loads of variety, and I really believe there is something for everyone in this book. But onto the recipes...

Prawn cocktail hour
As you might expect, prawn cocktail is super easy to throw together. I served this on a lazy Sunday evening with sweet potato wedges (prawn cocktail on its own really didn't feel like enough food). I skipped the radishes, watercress, and brandy in the dressing, but it was the fresh herbs (chives and dill) along with the tabasco that really made a difference. It was nicely spicy and refreshing with the avocado and cucumber. So much better than a normal prawn cocktail, and would be lovely starter if we had people over for dinner. Really tasty and filling - definitely a hit in our house!

The Original Superfood Salad
The following night we had the Original Superfood salad, which I'm sure I've had at some point in Leon. I was absolutely crazy about this salad. It was so wonderfully delicious with the feta, mint, peas, herbs and a simple vinaigrette. Next time I would up the herbs and avocado, and cut the broccoli into smaller chunks but I can definitely see this being a regular in our house, and even gets the high honour of "would serve this to guests." Only one negative - it's misleading to say it only takes 5 minutes. That is only the case if you already have pre-cooked quinoa, which I didn't have, but nevertheless, quick to throw together after a long day at work. Potentially my favourite from all the salads I made from this book.

This was a slightly selfish move on my part, as Phil doesn't really like cucumber or raw tomatoes (when I make a quick salad for with dinner, he usually just gets a handful of lettuce!) but I was hoping to win him over with fried feta. FRIED FETA. This was really quick (I was working in London and got back late and managed to throw this together in less than 10 minutes) and I really liked it, but it wasn't Phil's favourite. He had a pitta but I wasn't too hungry so had it alone. I'm not sure for a normal dinner if it would be enough without a grain or protein. It was pretty standard as far as a greek salad goes, but I loved the addition of the fried feta, and I'll definitely be trying that again.

Squashed chilli, houmous and feta
This salad was effectively a lot of my favourite things in a bowl. Instant winner. The squash pieces were way too big and I have no idea how a whole butternut squash cut into 4 would be cooked in just 30 minutes. I might have cut them wrong, but it didn't make it clear how best to cut them. There's quite a few things to do - roast the squash, fry the chillis, onion and garlic, make the feta dressing, mix up the houmous topping - but it came together pretty quickly. I added some roasted chickpeas because... well they're delicious. This was so tasty - definitely a new favourite - and I loved all the flavours. I actually had my cousin over for dinner the night I made this, so it's already been guest-approved! We got 3 large portions, although it's meant to serve 4.

Holy moly, this was good. I've only made tabbouleh once before, and tend to avoid it because I kind-of resent buying herbs just for once dish. In this instance, I didn't have enough parsley and tried three supermarkets before I got hold of any. But it was so, so, so worth it! Phil was a massive fan of this, which surprised me! One thing I couldn't work out was, what do you serve with tabbouleh? I had roasted chickpeas and parsnips and Phil had becon, and I had the leftovers the next day with houmous which was obviously amazing. Is it meant to be eaten as part of a mezze-style meal? With houmous and pitta? Or just on its own? Either way, this was very quick and tasty - 100% making again.

Tomato, feta and lentil salad
This is one from the silly lunchbox section, so I had to triple it to have enough for dinner for two and lunch the following day. Another recipe where the time to cook is misleading - it doesn't include the time to cook the lentils which can be over 30 minutes! This was quick and tasty, but not quite as mindblowing as some of the other recipes we'd had.

Fried halloui and avocado
I should have loved it. I should have been shouting from the rooftops about how much I loved this. Halloumi, avocado, houmous - I love all of those things! But I found all the flavours together to be too cloying, too sweet, just too much. Just way too much going on. Maybe it's because I only had balasmic reduction, not actual balsamic, which added to the sweetness instead of cutting through it. I'm not sure. I also don't really get putting almonds in dressing, rather than just in the salad. A bit of a disappointment.

Moroccan quinoa salad
I've wanted an excuse to buy a bottle of pomegranate molasses for ages and I finally had a chance with this recipe! Although it's worth adding - this book doesn't do much in the way of substitution suggestions. Pomegranate molasses is really tricky to get hold of, and that would definitely put people off (it put me off!), however I've seen many people say lemon juice is a good substitute, so why not suggest that? Anyway, I digress. I found this a bit challenging as I had no idea how much dried quinoa resulted in 100g of cooked quinoa so I kind of had to guess. I subbed in chickpeas for the edamame beans as they're a pain to find and chickpeas felt authentic. This was tangy and tasty and would be lovely on the side of something summery. However it did take a good 35 minutes, not the 10 minutes it suggests.

Karen's squash salad
I really didn't get this salad. In the intro, it says "Karen made this salad for a family lunch and Rachael, who works in our marketing team, loved it so much that it's made it way into this book." So I'm wondering if Karen threw this together from a random mix of leftover ingredients and called it a day? First of all, this serves one and took ages. Why would you go to so much effort to serve one? Two, the flavours just don't go well together. Peas, olives, chickpeas, almonds, sundried tomatoes... these are all nice things, but not together! Three, why would you bother roasting a third of a butternut squash? I had to treble this to make enough for us, which meant trebling the amount of garlic and chilli, which made it way too hot and bitter. It wasn't the worst thing I've ever eaten, I just found the combination all a bit weird.

In conclusion, I really loved this book, but the salads we had the first week were far superior to the ones the second week. My mouth is watering thinking of the superfood salad and the tabbouleh, but the least said about the halloumi and avocado salad the better. 

I think there's a really great mix of recipes here. There's hardly any lettuce in sight! I think it would be a great book for someone who wanted to include more vegetables in their diet to open their eyes to the amazing options there are for salads. I do think a few recipes would be better as sides or starters, but most of them could be a full meal.

I loved that most of the recipes were quick and easy to throw together, and I didn't have to make side dishes, except the occasionally toasted pitta. It was perfect for the summer and there were plenty I'd be happy to serve to guests.

It does assume some cooking knowledge, and some ingredients were a bit unusual so some recipes might put off a total novice, but I think there are enough simple, easy recipes with a few inspired elements for an unusual twist.

One criticism I've heard is there is a lot of chopping. Well, I'm a vegetarian so 90% of my kitchen time is chopping, so I'm certainly used to that, but bear that in mind if you prefer a more hands-off cooking experience. There isn't a huge amount of down time.

Overall, I would definitely recommend this. There are a few recipes I can't wait to revisit again and loads more I haven't tried yet. A real hit from Leon (and should hopefully tide me over until they open in Manchester!).

Charlotte x

Saturday, 13 August 2016

Runners - stop calling yourselves slow

Up until about a year ago, my Twitter bio used to include "slow runner". This wasn't any kind of false modesty or humble brag - for me, it was just the truth. I knew I wasn't very fast, and while I wasn't really okay with it, I'd accepted it.

I held onto this "slow runner" thing for a long time, too long really. I let it define me. I used to caveat my race times when asked with "I'm really slow, but..." I used to hate telling people I finished my first half marathon in 3 hours. I was embarrassed even though I trained hard and ran 13.1 miles when only 9 months previous I hadn't been able to run for a minute. If I'm honest, it made me think I wasn't "a real runner."

I'm not sure when the point was when I realised I wasn't slow anymore. My friend Kris was the one to point out my Twitter bio and asked me to change it. "You're not slow anymore." I knew she was right, and it was then that I started to realise how negatively this simple two-word phrase might be affecting other people.

Slow is subjective. One person's slow is another person's "god I would love to be able to run that fast." I'm not blaming the word slow here, no more than I'm blaming the word fat for all the negative connotations around that, I think in reality I'm blaming society for making us believe that only speed matters in running, but I digress. When we call ourselves slow, we make other people feel inadequate. and that's when people give up running, stop running for the joy of it, or when we even give beginners reason to not even start. What's the point if you're going to be slow, right?

But we're all "slow" when we start out. Of course we are. We're not going to be Olympic athletes when we go for the first run since the bleep test. And that's okay. In fact when anyone asks for my advice when they want to start running, the most important piece of advice I can give anyone is "run slowly." Speed and times should not matter when you're starting out or trying a new distance. Just get there, it doesn't matter how long it takes.

And slow running is important. What about the traditional long, slow run? Or the midweek easy runs that are part of any training plan? They are absolutely essential, and they're not meant to be done at full pelt. Constantly running in our red zones is what causes burn out and injury.

I don't want this to sound like a pearl-clutching think of the children! piece, because that's not my point at all. I just think we should all stop the self deprecation, stop beating ourselves up if we don't run a PB every single time we lace up our trainers. 

We're all working hard. I know I'm not slow. I'm not fast, but I've worked bloody hard these last few years. My 9-10 minute miles might not be breaking the world speed record, but they're amazing for me who was running 12-13 minute miles a couple of years ago. I've run two half marathons and a marathon in that time and I'm pretty proud to be oh-so-slightly above average now. I know there's an argument to just focus on you, but we all know that's hard. I'm glad that my friends who run 7 minute miles never make me feel bad, and I'm careful to never refer to my runs as slow.

It's hard. I hate myself a little bit that I only felt I could be truly proud of my running when I finally ran a "decent" second half marathon and I could put the pain of my first three-hour half to bed. I hate that I'm embarrassed by my old race times on swelteringly hot days or unexpectedly rough courses. It's going to take time, but I'm trying.

So let's stop calling ourselves slow. Hell, let's stop calling anyone slow. We're lapping everyone on the couch. And don't forget, a 6 minute mile is just as far as a 20 minute mile.

Thursday, 11 August 2016

How to become a morning exerciser - update

Back in 2013, I wrote a blog post called "how to become a morning exerciser".
At the time, I'd been running about 4 months and exercising before work for about 2 months.

I'd been planning to update the post for a while - it was nearly 3 years ago - but when I went to refresh it, I actually found that not much has changed, and a lot of my old advice actually still stands.

And yes, I've been sleeping in my running clothes roughly three times a week since 2013.

Being a morning exerciser is as big a part of who I am now as my blue eyes and my short legs. It's absolutely, 100% ingrained in me, and I cannot imagine anything different. 

If I didn't run before work I would never, ever have made it through my marathon training.

Don't get me wrong - it's an absolutely pain in the bum 90% of the time. I never, ever wake up at 5am and think OOH YAY IT'S TIME TO GO RUNNING NOW. I am tired all the time. There is not a time of the day when I could not happily nap.

If you think I don't have a moment every single morning where I think "I could just stay in bed", then you are wrong, my friend. 

But it's changed my life for the better. Running in the morning gives me no fewer excuses. It means there's no planning, no moving plans around, no rushing home after work to get my sportswear straight on. I've already done it. Some days I forget that I've done it.

It's even more important to me now I run a home. I get home from work about 6pm now, and I'm hungry. I have dinner to make, I have a flat to clean and tidy, I have a blog to write. I am not going out for a run, having a shower, and then starting to cook dinner.

So here's everything I knew then, and what I know now, about exercising in the morning.

Why I love exercising in the morning

  • It's convenient 
What else would I be doing at 5am? I never have to change my plans or rearrange my day or worry about missing my workout if I have to work late or if I'm working away. I don't have to worry about squeezing in a workout after a busy work day - I've already done it. This was particularly important to me during marathon training. I'm not going to pretend a 8 mile run was easy before work, but it was much better than having to go for a 90 minute run after I've already had a long day.
  • It's quiet
I live in the city centre now. If I try to run in the evenings after work I can barely get around people the pavements are so busy. I'm stopping at every crossing for cars. I just can't get momentum. First thing in the morning, the roads are quiet and I have the pavements nearly entirely to myself.
  • It's out of the way
I don't have to spend the day worrying about whether I'll have time to fit my run in. Most of the time I've forgotten I even went for a run by lunchtime.
  • I love having achieved something before most people are out of bed
There's something so satisfying about already having done your workout before people are even up for work. And you can be proper smug about it.
  • It's way cooler in the summer
Urgh running in the summer is the worst but doing it in the morning means it's oh-so-slightly less terrible.
  • You can totally justify more treats
Brownies at work? Well I already ran 5 miles this morning so...
  • I'm already a morning person
Just something to consider - I am a morning person anyway. I love to be in bed before 10pm, and I have absolutely no issue leaving a night out early to get in some zzzs for my morning run. So if you're a real night owl, I can't guarantee this will work for you (but it might!).

How I learned to exercise in the morning
  • I give myself a ridiculous amount of time to get ready
If I'm planning to go for a run at 6am, I'll set my alarm for 5.30am. I'll give myself 15 minutes to wake up, check my phone and slowly ease out of bed, then another 15 minutes or so to put in my contacts, get my stuff together and eat something. I'm not a jumping-out-of-bed person.
  • I sleep in my running clothes
Yes. Including a sports bra. I've been doing this for three years because it works. There is no motivation stronger than already being dressed, and no guilt worse when you know you're already dressed for a run and you roll over. Especially in my freezing cold flat in the winter. There's no way I'm taking my clothes off at 5am. It's my number one trick and an absolute game changer.
  • I have a little snack
For me, it's a slice of malt loaf. I find I really struggle without something if I'm doing anything over 30 minutes. Takes 2 minutes to make and eat and for me, makes a massive difference in my performance.
  • I try to be in bed as early as possible
Except for Mondays, when I don't get home from choir til 10pm, I try to be in bed before 10pm as much as possible when I'm running the next day. We try to avoid doing anything late midweek as a result, except on Thursdays because I don't run on Fridays (Thursday has become our designated cinema night). I'm still tired in the mornings, but it helps to try to squeeze in as much sleep as possible.
  • I have two midweek rest days a week
I run/exercise Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday. I rest on Mondays and Fridays. It makes me really appreciate Mondays and Fridays (and I get to sleep in my pyjamas!)
  • I give myself enough time to do my workout and not be late for work
Sometimes my Garmin will take 5 minutes to find my location. Sometimes the run will take longer than I expected. I try to give myself as much time as possible so it's not a mad rush when I get back. You just don't need it in the morning.
  • I try to stick to easy-ish workouts
I can never go as hard in the AM as I can at the weekends, so I try to make sure at least two of my workouts are easy midweek. This isn't always easy to do - especially not if I'm doing something like Insanity - but I try not to beat myself up too much if I'm not as fast as I am when it's not pre-dawn.
  • I do as much as I can in advance
When I have a run followed by a strength workout, I get my yoga mat and weights out, put the dvd on and have it ready to go as soon as I get back from my run. Minimise anything you need to do when you're already tired.
  • I always have a goal in mind
It's so so so easy to roll over when you don't have to run, so I always have a goal race or a training plan in place to keep me motivated. I always have something to work towards to make a 5.30am alarm worth it.
  • I enjoy my evenings
Even if it's just a quiet one blogging or watching TV. I'm always grateful that I got up early to do my run so I can enjoy having my evenings to myself.

Some caveats
  • Missing runs will happen
It's not fool-proof. I work away a lot now and sometimes I can't help but miss a run if I have a 6am train (I do bring my trainers if I stay anywhere overnight, though). Last week my alarm didn't go off. Sometimes you'll just feel drained or have a cold or you had a great night last night and fancy some more sleep. You will miss workouts sometimes.
  • Safety first!
With it being quieter first thing, it's also more dangerous. Make sure you always wear something reflective and use an app like Glympse (which I love) so your loved ones know where you are.
  • You have to have your morning routine down
You can't be late just because you're exercising early! I know if I'm washing my hair I need to be done by 7.05am at the latest, and if I'm not washing my hair I need to be done by 7.15am latest. This guides when I get up and when I set my alarm, depending on the length of my workout. Make sure you know exactly when you need to be finished, especially if you're doing something like a specific-length run or a DVD.
  • You will always, always be tired
But you'll feel like a superwoman so...

I know this isn't for everyone, but I do think a lot of people could give this a shot and might love it. If you have kids, ignore all of the above! but right now this works really well for me, and I've even convinced Phil to get on the morning exercise train.

Convinced and want to give it a try? More questions? Let me know on Twitter.

Charlotte x

Monday, 8 August 2016

How running taught me how to go out without makeup

This is one of my favourite photos of myself in the world. I don't have a scrap of makeup on. BECAUSE I'D JUST RUN A BLOODY MARATHON! My bare face was the last thing on my mind!

I've worn makeup almost every day since I was about 13.
I don't feel like me without makeup. I don't feel pretty. I don't feel myself.
And I know that's terrible. I know just by saying that, by thinking that, the patriarchy are winning. That I've bought into every mascara advert and magazine cover and beauty myth.
I know that makes me insecure and uncomfortable in my own skin and a victim of my own internalised misogyny. I know that it makes me shallow and it makes me sound like all I care about is being pretty (which isn't true at all).
I know that. And I know it's terrible. But I can't help that.

I used to be unable to go out of the house without makeup.
I remember when I was at uni I wouldn't even go get milk from the shop across the road.
I was in constant fear of going out without it. What if I saw someone I knew?
Foundation, mascara and blusher were my shields. My protection.

I remember my first parkrun wondering whether I should put a little bit of makeup on. Just a tiny bit. I even remember my Nan saying "you could probably put some foundation on."
It was the first time I'd ever been out in public, around people, for a run, and I didn't know what to do.
I knew putting on makeup for a run was silly. I knew that. But I was scared to go out without makeup. To lay myself bare like that.*

But I did it. And once I'd joined the first-timer's chat and lined up and tackled that first hideous hill at Bramhall parkrun, it was the last thing on my mind.

So I didn't wear makeup to parkrun. And then I didn't wear makeup to my first race. But I wasn't quite brave enough for bare-faced photos. I wore sunglasses the whole time to hide my naked eyes.

In fact, that was my security blanket for a while. Not to protect my eyes, but to shield them. Particularly at races where I knew there could be photos.

I remember my second 10K. Phil was coming to support me, about 5 weeks after we'd started dating. He'd seen me without makeup by this point, of course, but never in the cold, harsh light of day. I almost, almost put makeup on then too.

I started to get used to it. But only for running. Anything else, makeup was on at all times.

Things started to change when I moved in with Phil. We started to do our food shopping after parkrun, which meant I was suddenly going to Aldi with no makeup. Then I started marathon training and started to really, really not want to do anything after a Sunday long run, so I stopped wearing makeup on most Sundays.

I'm getting there. It's taking some time. Yesterday I came back from a run, had a shower and put a new set of running clothes on for the food shopping so it looked like I'd just come from a run. I know it's silly, but it made me feel better, but it also felt like progress to actually choose to go out without makeup. 

I still love makeup. I love it because it makes me feel good, but I don't want it to be a crutch. Running has helped me to be able to go out without makeup for the first time. I can go to the shops or out for a walk without worrying about not wearing makeup. I can have a lazy Sunday without getting properly dressed and still feel okay enough to go get some milk. I'll never stop wearing makeup. I'll never stop wearing it for work or when I'm out for the day. It makes me feel good about myself and I like to present the best version of myself I can.

But if I can go to the shops without a full face of makeup, that's progress. If I can post photos on Facebook without makeup, that's progress. If I can feel like myself without makeup, that's progress.

*I just want to say, if you want to wear makeup to exercise, you do you. I just really wanted to face my personal demons and challenge myself to go without it. Wearing makeup to exercise isn't wrong, and it's nothing to feel guilty about and you shouldn't be judged for it. But for me, I wanted to push myself to go without.

Sunday, 7 August 2016

Garmin 10 vs Garmin 220

When I first started running, I tracked my runs using my phone and the Endomondo app. It was when I ran one of my first 10Ks that I realised, due to my terrible iPhone battery, I was going to need an alternative for my upcoming first half marathon.

Phil bought me my Garmin 10 for Christmas 2013, and from day one I adored it. It's the perfect first GPS watch. It's not overly complicated so it's easy to use for a beginner runner. It has your distance, your time and can be co-ordinated to show your pace or calories burned on the second screen and can be easily linked with Garmin Connect (which can then be linked with Endomondo, or whatever you running app of choice is) through connecting the cable to your computer. As a beginner-to-intermediate runner, it had everything I needed and I adored it.

But as my distance started to increase throughout marathon training, I started to have issues with the battery life. I was starting to find I was getting a "low battery" warning some of my longer runs, even if I'd just unplugged it from charging before the run, and after doing some research learned that the battery life for the Garmin 10 was about 4-5 hours, with many users reporting it was closer to 4 hours. I realised, with only a few weeks to go until my marathon, that with a goal time of 4.5 hours, there was a chance my little Garmin might die at some point during the race.

I started researching options, and at first considered the Garmin 15, which had a lot of the same features as the 10, but with a longer battery life, however, I decided if I was going to pay for a Garmin upgrade I should probably really upgrade. Along with the battery life, there had been a few little frustrations I'd found with my Garmin 10 - I couldn't set intervals so was forced to used my Endomondo app for interval runs, it was a pain to upload my workouts by plugging it into my laptop, and sometimes it felt like it took forever to find my location.

Nevertheless, I was really reluctant to spend £100+ on something I didn't really need, just because of the battery risk. I considered borrowing Phil's GPS watch for the race, but after trying it on one run really didn't love it. I dithered for weeks, but eventually settled on the Garmin 220, and then dithered for a few more weeks as the price suddenly jumped up on Amazon. I ended up purchasing it elsewhere (I can't find the email and can't remember where it was from!) for about £120.

But as soon as the watch arrived, and as soon as I tried it out, I was in love. It is a huge step up from the Garmin 10. 
First off, it's really smart to look at. A few weeks ago I was wearing it after parkrun and Phil just said "your watch it really fit". I would definitely wear it as a regular watch!

When I first took it out for a spin, I admit it took some getting used to. Unlike the 10, you can actually start tracking if you haven't found GPS signal, but I learned the hard way that this isn't a good idea, and one day definitely ran about 1.3 miles with my watch saying it was only a mile. I have to admit I haven't found it that much faster than my 10 when it comes to finding signal, but I live in a city centre with a lot of tall buildings, so it's always a bit slow.

The Garmin 220 has three data screens on the home screen, compared to my 10s two, so it took me some time to figure out what the best layout of these screens were. I also learned from my first run that the "auto-pause" function, which I always used on my old watch for crossing the road or stopping to tie my shoe, is really buggy and sensitive and stops ALL THE TIME, so I've had to get used to manually stopping my watch whenever I stop, which isn't all bad.

It's definitely a watch for data geeks, which is perfect for me. I love being able to see my current lap pace right on the screen when I glance down (you can also have average pace and current pace) but I admit this can be a blessing and a curse if you're on an easy run and are trying to take your pace easy! I found this absolutely invaluable during my marathon though when I knew I had to keep a specific pace to hit my goal. It also saves me from all the running maths I used to do in my head while running. It also has a second data screen, so you can have up to 6 different data sets at one time. I do find the pace is sometimes a bit all over the place for the first two or three minutes after it resets from a new lap, but you get used to that quite easily. 

One thing I will add here is this can get in your head a bit. I find it quite tricky not to keep constantly checking my pace, even on easy runs, and if you're anything like me, this can make it quite hard when you're trying to keep a gentle pace. No matter how easy you're trying to take it, it can be hard not to speed up when you see your pace dropping! Just something to bear in mind if you're a bit obsessed with numbers like I am!

Another feature I love is that it vibrates as well as bleeping when you hit a your lap (in my case, every mile), which is perfect if you have headphones in and might otherwise miss the lap pace.

It also collects loads of data you can't see on the watch once you connect it to your Garmin Connect app, WHICH CAN BE DONE VIA BLUETOOTH!! This is an absolute game changer for me, and probably my favourite feature. It takes less than 30 seconds to update my Garmin Connect app, which connects straight away to my Endomondo account. I love looking at things like cadence and elevation within the app.

And of course, there's the battery life, the whole reason I bought it. Unlike the 10, it actually has an "off" button, which means the battery lasts miles longer as you can turn it off when not in use, and because the battery life is shown as a percentage it's much easier to see when it needs a charge. 

Unlike the Garmin 10, the 220 has an intervals function, which I LOVE right now as I've just started training for my next half marathon. Previously, I had to put my Garmin aside and use my Endomondo app in order to run intervals. With the Garmin 220, you can create the intervals within the watch (not, as I previously thought, just on the Garmin Connect website). You set whether or not you want a warm up and cool down (you don't set the time of these, instead you just run as press the "lap" button when you're ready to start your interval) and then set your intervals by distance or time, rest periods by distance or time, and how many reps. It counts down how long you have left to run, rather than counts up - which I really like - and bleeps in the last few seconds before your interval or rest ends, and then vibrates when it's time to start your next interval or rest. I've tried this a few times and it's great. It's also really easy to see your splits in the watch afterwards. The only downside is you can only set one interval at a time, so when I move from 5 x 400m to 6 x 400m I'll have to update the one I have set, but even as I type this I realise that will take a maximum of 20 seconds to do.
Overall, as you can tell, I'm really glad I upgraded. I would definitely recommend the Garmin 10 to a beginner who doesn't need to level of data that the 220 can give you, but if you're an intermediate runner who wants a bit more from your GPS watch, I can't recommend the Garmin 220 more.

Just to add, this post is in no way sponsored! I just wanted to give an honest review of the 220 and I know I always benefit from reading a thousand reviews before a big purchase!

Thursday, 4 August 2016

parkrun and me

For the last three years, I've spent almost every Saturday morning surrounded by hundreds of strangers.
Come rain, come shine.
We're there.

I remember years ago - who knows how many years ago - walking past the park near my parents' house and seeing them. Alien to me then. Hundreds of them. Florescent. Bright eyed. What overachievers, I thought, standing in the rain waiting to trudge through the mud for pleasure. Crazy.

I don't know when I first really heard about parkrun. I don't remember learning about it. All I remember is that it became a goal. All I wanted to do when I first started running was to complete that 5K course.

parkrun became my family. I would go every week - never speaking to anyone - but I would see the same faces every week, recognise the same people around me, feeling part of something bigger. We all went every week with this shared goal. It wasn't competition, at least, not with the people around us. It was about being better than you were last week. That was all that mattered.

And sometimes you were. In fact, for my first month or two it was PB after PB. So it was hard when they eventually dried up. It was hard being near the back, sometimes getting lapped. But it was habit, it was routine, it was discipline. It was every Saturday morning I could.

parkrun is my fit test. It's my one run per week when I push myself to my limits. And it's hard! I've run a marathon and I'm still exhausted when I cross that finish line every Saturday. 

parkrun pushes me. I ran my first parkrun in 38:39. My current PB stands at 25:36.

It's community, it's family. 

It doesn't matter if you're first, or last, or somewhere in the middle. It doesn't matter if you're a beginner or an athlete. It's your run and yours alone.

I will do anything to avoid missing a parkrun, whether it's leaving a night out early on a Friday night or finding one nearby if I'm away for the weekend. If I'm injured, I'll volunteer.

This week marks 3 years since my first parkrun. I received my 50 runs tshirt in February and I'm currently on 66 runs. I'm on a great streak at the moment - I've only missed two runs in the last 12 weeks.

parkrun is part of my life now. Part of our routine. It's what we do on a Saturday morning before the food shop. The best way to start a weekend. Phil started joining me a few years ago and he's working towards his 50 at the moment. It's something we do every single week. I joke about parkrun for my future hen party. I talk about bringing my future kids. When Phil and I look at areas to move to, we always ask "which parkrun would we go to?"

Nobody "wins" parkrun. Of course, there's a first finisher and that's an amazing achievement. But nobody "wins". Because we all win. We all win because it's 9am on a Saturday morning and we could be in bed. We all win because sometimes it's cold and it's wet or it's hot or it's humid. We all win because every time we're trying to beat past-us. We all win because we're trying to do better, each Saturday at a time.

parkrun is home. See you at 9am.