Sunday 29 January 2017

Introducing the "Why I love..." Series: Running

A lot of people hate running. I absolutely love it. I'm not amazing by any stretch of the imagination, but I can run, and I love doing so.

I love knowing that because I've included running in my fitness regime for a number of years now, I wouldn't be phased if someone said I was running a half marathon tomorrow (a marathon would be a completely different story, FYI).

I've written about running a few times on here before (a few links here , here and here if you fancy it!), but wanted to talk about the main reasons I'm a huge advocate of it, and why I genuinely enjoy putting on my trainers and getting out to run.

If you categorically despise running, are new to it, or literally love it like I do, I hope that this post inspires you to get out and run, no matter how small the distance. The endorphin's will thank you!

So, why do I love running?

Taking my cardio to Thailand...
Me Time

For me, going on a run is a place where I can focus on myself. I used to run a lot with friends, and maybe every other week James and I will run together but more often than not, it's just me.

This gives me time to be with just myself to gather my thoughts. It doesn't always feel like a conscious decision either - even if I've gone for a run with nothing specifically 'on my mind', I come back feeling clearer, refreshed and more focused (even if that focus gets directed to sitting on the sofa for the rest of the afternoon watching Netflix).

It also gets me out of the house and spares me from having that 'cooped up', restless feeling I can sometimes get if I've not got much planned over a weekend.

I used to be an avid music listener when running, creating playlists that reflected different routes etc, but I found that after a few years I'd get so used to knowing how many miles in I was depending on the song, and that bugged me.

Now, I mainly listen to Podcasts. I find it such a good way to listen to something without being distracted (I don't know about you but even when I'm watching something really interesting on TV my phone always sneaks a way into my hand and distracts me...), and I feel like I'm learning something new, rather than just the same old songs. Some of my favourite podcasts include: TED Talks, TED Radio Hour, The Inquiry, Serial and My Dad Wrote A Porno (funniest audio yet.. try listening to it and running - laughing whilst running makes you look mad.)

Clear My Head

Following on from that, I think this deserves it's own section as I really do find that running massively helps with stress relief. When I go on a run, 'something' just clicks and puts everything into perspective, which allows me to clear the 'fuzz' in my head and prioritise things that need to be done. I can literally run off stress, which never ceases to amaze me.

10k in Cornwall


I love being on holiday and getting out for a run in the mornings to explore my new temporary home. I know for a lot of people running on holiday would be seen as an absolute chore but I really, really love it. I find it such a great way to explore new surroundings and run on different ground, whether that be in the countryside, on a beach or a new city.

Running to explore Barcelona
Running in the Algarve
Running along the Promenade des Anglais in Nice

Portuguese running

Portuguese Running

Fitness Levels

I love running because it keeps my general cardiovascular fitness in tact, allowing my body to consistently perform and keeps me fit. It's a great weight loss 'tool' and has 100% been behind the weight loss I've seen on myself.

For me, running is my 'bread and butter' exercise, along with HIIT training, circuits and cheeky resistance workouts. I know that I need to incorporate more stretching in to my routines, and I'm working on this (via yoga...) for this year.

Movember 10k


Aside from the cost of your kit, running is absolutely FREE. No memberships or contracts, just yourself and the terrain you choose to run on. That's one thing I massively respect about Parkrun. It's a free 5k run that happens in hundreds of parks all over the UK every Saturday morning at 9am.

I've done it in Bristol, Manchester, York, Sheffield & Keswick and think it's an amazing way to get the community into running. The atmosphere is incredible and really psyches you up - hats off to the incredible volunteers who give up their Saturday to make it possible for us. Parkrun definitely inspired my parents to get back into running, so much so that we were 'that' family who ran 5k all together on CHRISTMAS DAY. I can't express how unlike our family that was, and if you'd have told me that a year / two years ago I wouldn't have believed that we would've done it. But there we are.

Who would've thought this was MANCHESTER?


I cannot stress enough how powerful post-run endorphins are. That wash of happiness as you hit 'end workout' on your running app, or come to a stop when you've hit your mile marker, is one of the best feelings in the world. The sense of accomplishment is immense (which is only heightened if you do this in the rain, hangover free on a Saturday when most people are still in bed..!). Seriously though, I love how good it makes me feel.

Buttermere Lake

Treadmill or Outdoors?

As you've probably guessed from the rest of this post, I'm a huge fan of running outdoors. I find running on a treadmill S-O- B-O-R-I-N-G and dull; I constantly look at the clock and find myself wishing the time away, something I never do when I'm outside (mainly because I'm so nosy at everything going on around me).

That being said, I absolutely loveee doing sprints on the treadmill. I try and do one or two sessions a week where I'm running at full speed (around 17.5kph at the moment) for 45 seconds, then 30 seconds rest, and do that for 20 minutes. I find the speed so invigorating, and a perfect way to shake the stress of a day away, release steam and feel really really powerful.

Running outside in Cornwall
The 'Why I love...' series is something I've started here as a way to share my personal highlights and favourites of particular things- at the moment I'm keeping it to exercise but might do food and just general healthy lifestyle posts too...

Sunday 15 January 2017

Jamie's Italian - The Best Superfood Salad?

If you know anything about me, it's that I like to eat out. A lot. It's not unusual for me to eat out twice, sometimes three times a week - I absolutely love it.

I love the atmosphere, catching up with family & friends over gorgeous food that someone else has cooked for you, the choices... if I was going to define 'hygge' for me it would definitely include eating out!

On my 'about' page, I used to talk about the phrase 'buon cibo, buon vino, buoni amici' which is Italian for good food, good wine, good people (in fact, this was on my Instagram bio for a long while ~thinks back to a hundred other screen names I've had in the past... oh if only I could tell my 13 year old self that MSN names don't need to include Ashanti lyrics...~), but this phrase is genuinely something I really believe in - it encapsulates everything about a great evening for me.

As well as loving the indulgence of eating out, this month I've also been trying to keep it healthy.

I've been booked in to review Jamie's Italian restaurant in Manchester since December, but I was too ill to go, so was really looking forward to last week, when James & I were re-booked.

I'm surprised at myself for not having been into this restaurant in years. I think it's because I thought it was 'just another chain' and there are so many restaurants around King Street. However, the building is absolutely beautiful (a grade II listed former bank - with lots of original features and a gorgeous split mezzanine floor), so even if you're not out for dinner, the bar area is perfect for a unique place for a drink.

How beautiful is the ceiling?

As I'm doing dry jan, I opted for their 'refresher' mocktail which was lush, fruity but not sickeningly sweet like some cocktails can be.

James opted for a pint.

We started with some gorgeous olives, served on ice (which I've never seen before, and they were gorgeous - buttery and really juicy), and their bread selection with balsamic and olive oil (because James and I live for that combination). I was being mindful not to go 'HAM' on the bread as we'd also ordered the 'classic meat plank'.

I love the way it's served, on top of 4 tins of chopped tomatoes and a wooden board. The waiter built our construction in front of us and we dived in.

Usually, with sharing platters I'll pick and eat straight from the board, but I wanted to be a little more mindful about not overeating on the starter. I found putting my selection on a small plate encouraged me to eat less as I knew exactly how much cheese and meat I'd chosen. Firm faves included the mozzarella, pecorino cheese (it had a blob of chilli jam on top of each slice - such a nice combinatioin), and the proscuitto.

For my main, I went for the superfood salad with chicken. In all honesty, I really wasn't expecting great things as I've been disappointed with 'superfood' salads from restaurants before, however, I'd say without thinking twice that this is hands down up there in the top 3 salads I've had at a restaurant.

Seriously, they know exactly how to cater for someone who wants a healthy main here. No limp lettuce, soggy Cesar-dressing coated peppers or crutons here. Oh no.

The salad consists of a bed of mixed pulses and grains (think quinoa, lentils, wild rice), half an avocado, roasted beetroot, sprouting broccoli, pomegranate, light harissa dressing, cottage cheese and crunchy seeds. I was intrigued by the addition of the cottage cheese as I wouldn't ever add this to salads but it worked really well - there was only around a tablespoon in the whole dish but added a welcome 'creamy' touch.

I added free-range chicken to up my protein content.

I was soo full, and couldn't finish the whole thing (which is unusual for me when ordering a salad...).

James's dish looked insane, too. Despite not having the superfood label, it wasn't too unhealthy either.

Lamb cutlets with a selection of toppings.

We loved the unique way in which it was served, again on the chopped tomato tin base, with lots of little dishes so you could pick and choose the flavour for each mouthful. The little dished included a chilli and yoghurt dip, crushed nuts, mint leaves, pickled shallots and slaw. A hearty portion of Parmesan coated polenta chips finished this one off nicely (they were delicious, too).

We really shouldn't have, but we shared dessert. We opted for the 'epic chocolate brownie' with chocolate sauce, salted caramel icecream and caramelised popcorn.

Not so healthy, but fricking delicious (#balance). I'm glad we shared though, it was really rich!

If you haven't been, I'd definitely recommend it - not just for the gorgeous food but the building itself; it's stunning!

Jamie's Italian kindly contributed to some of the bill however all thoughts and opinions are my own

Sunday 8 January 2017

Reflecting on 'Dry November'

It's been an insanely busy, crazy six weeks - hence the lack of blog posts here. I'm sure as I slip back into routine and the festivities feel like a long lost memory, I'll be back blogging regularly, but the last few weeks were mad with work, social & family life, and splitting my time between Manchester, Bristol & Sheffield!

Anyway. I wanted to publish this particular post during the first week of December, but never got round to doing it. If you know me, then you'll know that I did 'Dry November', and wouldn't shut up about it! I shouted about it loud and clear.

I learnt a lot during those four weeks.

Don't worry, this isn't a lecture on drinking. I still love red wine, gin & prosecco (in that order, please) but I saw a number of benefits of not drinking and it highlighted a lot about our culture so I wanted to share with a like minded audience.

If you're doing Dry January or are a little bit curious about how I was for four weeks without alcohol, keep on reading.

In summary:
- I looked (and felt) a lot leaner.
- I drank a LOT of fizzy drinks
- I slept SO much better
- Energy & motivation levels soared: no groggy feeling from Monday through to Wednesday
- My skin looked the clearest it has done in months
- Nights out are still fun
- People will laugh at you
- But equally, people really don't give a sh*t if you're drinking or you're not.

The main reaction from people when I said I was doing Dry November was hesitation followed by " that a thing?". The very fact I had to justify my abstinence from alcohol as a 'thing' showed to me just how ingrained alcohol is in our lives.

So, in a bit more detail, here's what I found:

What I found...

I didn't change my diet at all, and ate out at least once or twice a week (sometimes more), and yet still managed to look a hell of a lot leaner (especially compared to my current post-Christmas gAiNz). The thought of posting transformation pictures literally still fills me with a cold wash of fear but maybe one day I'll feel comfortable doing so, as I really did notice a difference in my abs and lower tummy particularly!

Sleep & energy
My sleeping improved dramatically. On the weekend, I can't tell you how nice it was to wake up feeling fresh and deeply rested (and the levels of smugness on not being hungover are incomparable). Even if on a Friday night I only had half a bottle of red and didn't think it had affected my sleep or how I felt the next day, in comparison to a month's sleep without it, I realise how wrong I was!

Possibly the best affect with sleep though was how I felt during the week - that horrible hazy, groggy feeling that hung around me on Monday's and Tuesday's was no more. Giving up alcohol isn't going to completely stop you feeling tired, but it really, really helped me.

I'm thinking about doing a separate post on skin as over the past 12 months I've really struggled with my skin, suffering with the worst red blemishes, random lumps and painful spots I've ever experienced. However during Dry November my skin notably improved. It was clearer; less red and 'angry' looking, less grey and hallow. I would definitely say alcohol has a negative effect on my skin.

Why I think our culture falls down in regards to alcohol:

- A lot of what we do revolves around alcohol: celebrating anything, meeting friends for a drink, drinking with food, birthdays, commiserating something (a hard day at work, bad news...), the list goes on. This gets ingrained in our lives as something we 'do' subconsciously, and adds to our intrinsic sense of belonging in our friendship and peer groups.

-  Weather. I know we can't control this, but if you look at places like Australia, South of France, Germany etc which are renowned for their 'outdoorsy' lifestyles, alcohol just doesn't really feature in the same way. Sure, you can find alcohol in these cultures (blush rose at sundown is religion in Europe I swear), but there's so much more to physically do, explore and see. We are very lucky in the UK to live where we do but we coop up in pubs when it rains and go HAM in a beer garden when the sun rears its head. I wish there were more activities for young people that weren't centered purely on drinking.

What I didn't find...

I didn't find that I saved too much money as like I said, I was out a lot with friends in both Manchester and London, and split the bill most times I ate out with those that were drinking. I also didn't save too much as it was the month before Christmas so had to stock up for that...

Fizzy drinks
I struggled to find a good selection alcohol free 'grown up' drinks that weren't full of sugar or loaded with artificial sweeteners (lime & soda water gets a bit boring after a while), so I was conscious that I was still racking up 'empty' calories from the soft drinks (I don't drink them normally, other than very occasionally). I'd really appreciate any genuinely nice soft drinks that aren't ginger beer or elderflower!

People don't give a sh*t! (thank god)
I think I also worried too much about people's opinions of me not drinking. At the end of the day, if someone can't support what you're doing, or consistently takes the piss or makes you feel uncomfortable about it - they aren't worthy of your time, and need to get a grip and reassess their purported ignorance. I found that 99.9% people didn't care either way, which was really refreshing.

Nights out are fine
Since doing a month off booze, it's also encouraged me to have more alcohol free or limited alcoholic drink nights out too. I know that I can have an amazing night without being pissed. When I was on nights out, people didn't even know I wasn't drinking ~I'm just so fun~ but seriously, every one is just out to have a good time - who has the time or energy to give a shit whether you're drinking lemonade or rum & coke?

I want to stress that this doesn't mean I want to be that person raising their eyebrows to people at the bar doing shots, or being pushy with my views on a night out. My point is that no one should judge anyone's reasoning for drinking or not drinking. That person downing their drink 'too quickly' might have had the worst time at home over the past two weeks, and feels like they need it - it's not your place to tell them otherwise, especially right there and then.

November fun ;)
November weekends

Have you done Dry January? Maybe the thought of not drinking on a weekend is something that you just can't see yourself doing, or, maybe you're t-total?! I'm genuinely interested to hear your thoughts!

So as you might have guessed, I'm trying to replicate November and stick to doing Dry January, and thought writing all my thoughts down would help motivate me throughout the month!
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