Adventures, Travel

A Weekend in Inverness & the Isle of Skye

Fellow wanderlust’s will understand the itchy feet travellers get once they touch down on home soil. Add in offer emails from numerous travel companies and you quickly find yourself on another flight jetting off to discover another corner of the world.

I did not hesitate booking a cheap flight to Inverness in the Boxing Day sales, having always wanted to visit the tranquil areas of the Scottish Highlands.

Having visited the bustling cities of Edinburgh and Glasgow on numerous occasions, I was rather looking forward to exploring this smaller city located in Scotland’s north east coast.

With stress free links to the city, via a 30 minute bus journey from Inverness airport, I was quickly transported into the centre and checked into my comfortable room. Booking the Premier Inn on the river Ness meant that I was a stones throw from the amenities of the city, with lovely views of the castle.

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I did not waste any time with exploring and, to be quite honest, with the city being rather smaller than others in Scotland I quickly saw everything that was on my list.

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After wandering along the banks of the River Ness, visiting Inverness Castle and strolling around numerous shops, I was ready to retire early for my day trip to the Isle of Skye.

Booking at day trip to the Isle of Sky with Viator proved to be fantastic value for money. Visiting in early March I expected the excursion to be rather quiet. What I did not expect was to end up having a private tour of the Isle and the surroundings.

When discovering I was the solo traveller on a day trip in excess of seven hours I imagined being told that it would not go ahead. I was rather delighted to be informed it would not be cancelled and soon enough we were heading off on my own tour if the Isle of Skye.

Our first stop was the infamous Loch Ness, home of the legendary Loch Ness monster. Sadly there was no sighting of Nessie herself, but the views were to die for.

Back on the mini bus we whizzed along taking in the picturesque views, taking advantage of the lack of tourists in the off peak season.

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We stopped for a break in Invermoriston, taking in the Thomas Telford Bridge before continuing through Glen Moriston and the Five Sisters Mountain range.

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Our next stop was the Eilean Donan Castle, taking time to explore the ruins along the banks of the Lochs.

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Continuing on we headed to the capital of the Isle of Sky, Portree. Stopping for a hearty lunch with fantastic port views.

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The perks of being the solo passenger here on out continued. Unrestricted by other travellers meant we were able to venture further into the Isle of Skye, allowing more stops. The knowledge of my guide was second to none. Despite not originating from Scotland, he provided a wide education around the area and it’s history.

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We saw numerous stops from Portree to Culnacnoc, back to Carbost and Kyleakin, all providing scenic views for which the camera does not do justice.

Before we knew it, we were heading back to the city with plenty of facts relating to the local areas en route.

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It was a long day with so much to take in. Without a doubt, it was one of the best experiences I have had to date. The private tour allowed me to appreciate an uninterrupted and peaceful tour of the Island.

Despite spending several hours on this glorious Isle, there was so much left undiscovered. We barely touched the surface of what this Island had to offer. So despite the tour being fantastic, offering many highlights, I feel there is a return trip on the cards to explore further.

Fitness, Health, Races, Training

Running to the Dark Side

As the hype of the London Marathon dominated my social media feeds I could not help but contemplate on the decision I made to defer my place to 2020.

Watching the stories of runners working their way around the course led me to reminiscing about my own race two years ago. Thoughts of those who came out to support me on the day (some no longer with us), the adrenaline on the day and the atmosphere created by the wonderful people of London cheering the runners on. There is a reason why they say the London Marathon is the greatest marathon in the world – the public coming together made for the most 26.2 enjoyable miles I have ever run.

It is no surprise that in watching this years race I decided to give myself a hard time. Yes, I had made the most sensible decision at the time, but I started to think maybe I gave in a little too easy.

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Hindsight is a wonderful thing and had I been feeling how I feel now, then, I would have been in a different position. But I wasn’t and instead I developed further issues beyond my physical injury that have kept me from running.

Since I developed the love for pounding the pavement and being outdoors, I have always been an advocate of the impact it has on my mental health. The more active I became, the more I was able to control my state of mind. If I had a good day, I ran to be free and active. If I had a bad day, I ran to shake it off. My mind could be controlled by the simplicity of running.

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But what happens when the one thing that keeps you balanced, becomes the one thing that makes you feel unstable?

My decision to defer came not only from the physical injury, but the anxiety I developed around running post diagnosis. I became paranoid. Paranoid that I would injure myself again, paranoid I was behind in training miles and paranoid that I would not be fit enough for the big day.

I believed in dialling back the pressure, in deferring my place, would enable me to ease back into a gentle running pattern. To learn to love running again.

Instead the anxiety became worse. A fear of running developed. My half marathon training races came and went without me attending, and my absence from running club continued. With the longer nights I promised myself I would get back to it, just starting with a short, solo run to remind myself I still can.

But I am still waiting for my moment.

 

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Everyone talks about the love of running, the mental and physical benefits. But no one mentions the dark place you can go to when your confidence is lost. I believed there must be something wrong with me. Despite some suggesting I should contact the running club for advice and some attempting to coax me out for a short run, I just wanted to retreat into the shadows.

Until one night several weeks ago I was contacted by a friend.

With a couple of weeks to go before the London Marathon, she was experiencing high levels of anxiety when faced with running. Especially the long runs. Like me, she was considering dropping out, with thoughts of the long runs and the missed miles, causing extreme levels of stress and doubt.

Despite being distressed that she felt this way, I was so relieved to find out I was not on my own. Weeks later, she made it to London and she crossed the finish line. Making me realise if she can get back out there and complete 26.2 miles feeling the way she did, then I can put one foot in front of the other to start again.

And that is what I intend to do. It may not be tomorrow, this week or next. But I will get back to running club, I will get to parkrun and I will learn to love running again.

With twelve months until the London Marathon 2020 I have a goal!

Adventures, Travel

City Break: Venice and Verona

After returning from the beautiful region of Tuscany last summer I quickly found myself missing the beauty of Italy. So I got set on planning my next adventure to the one country that captures my heart over and over.

The wondrous floating city of Venice was my destination.

After booking my trip I was rather sceptical after many friends and family advised the city was busy, smelly and often flooded.

I am never one to be put off by another person’s review or opinion. However, I made the decision to pick a date off season, to avoid the crazy tourist season and any extremities in weather. Early February proved to be spot on.

From the moment I landed at Marco Polo International Airport I was not disappointed. Whilst the weather in the UK was cold, wet and windy, I had arrived to blue skies, blazing sunshine and temperatures in double figures (though a jacket was still required now and then).

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Staying just outside the city in the Best Western Tritone, Mestre proved to be the perfect base to visit Venice and it’s surrounding areas.

Day One – Murano & Burano

No visit to the Venetian lagoon would be complete without a visit to these two remarkable islands. Booking a half day boat trip was a great way to experience what they had to offer.

Murano, renowned for a long tradition of glass-blowing, was the first port of call with a live demonstration at a glass blowing factory. The secrets of glass have been closely guarded for years. Even today, there is no official glass school – the skills can only by learned by apprenticeship to one of the glass masters.

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Wonder beyond the numerous glass shops and you can stroll along the tranquil Canal Grande with its 19th century iron bridge or the parish church of San Pietro Martire.

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A short sail away from Murano, is the explosion of colour that is Burano. According to tour guides, fishermen who live on the island painted their houses in bright colours so that they could recognise them from afar whilst out fishing.

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The cheerful island and its charming canals makes for a striking Instagram photo. Without a doubt, Burano has become one of the happiest places I have visited to date.

Day Two – Verona

When I knew I was visiting Venice I had to ensure a trip to Verona was included. Within easy proximity of our hotel base – the city best known as the home town of star crossed lovers Romeo and Juliet was a must!

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The medieval town has been declared a world heritage site by UNESCO due to its urban structure and architecture. On visiting, it is clear to see why.

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We spent the day gently strolling around, taking in the sights of Castle San Pietro, Ponte Pietra, the Roman Arena and Ponte di Castelvecchio, to name a view.

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We climbed the 83 metre tower of Torre dei Lamberti, for exceptional views, and spent time at Juliet’s house marvelling at the sea of love letters and taking in the visitors from the famous balcony.

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Day Three – Venice 

On our final day it was the perfect opportunity to take in the sights of the main attraction itself. Jumping on the Vaporetto we cruised down the Grand Canal, taking in the floating city, we took the lift to the bell tower of Campanile di San Marco to marvel at the sights from up high and we stopped for pictures on the Ponte dell’Academia.

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With its famous gondolas, waterways and picturesque views I struggled to understand how anyone could not fall in love with such a beautiful location.

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From San Marco Square with its impressive Basilica to the multitude of bridges – including Ponte di Rialto – there wasn’t a moment I didn’t enjoy. Come off the beaten track and you will find the perfect pizzerias, quiet alleyways and a general sense of peace.

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As I reflect back on my trip to the floating city and its neighbours, it is clear to see I was at an great advantage visiting out of season. Had it been at peak, when cruise ships docked in the height of summer, I don’t see how I would have been able to navigate the tiny alley ways and bridges without feeling frustrated.

Without a doubt, Venice has become one of my favourite locations. To see it all, to take it all in would take more than a few days. I was simply happy navigating the canals, enjoying the view and soaking in the culture, to put down the map and relax with gelato beside the water.

 

Adventures, Fitness, Races, Training

The London Marathon: Decision to Defer

When you enter into a challenge, no matter how big or small, the last thing you think about is the possibility that you will have to admit defeat and defer.

During the training for the London Marathon back in 2017 I found myself with a few niggles, strains and even a small groin injury that put me on a week long time out. But generally I ploughed through the pain and boredom of training with little complaint.

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Second time round it seems that I have been riddled with injuries. The beginning of my training schedule saw me struggle with the annoyance that is shin splints. Then, as documented several weeks back, as I attempted to increase mileage I hit a major stumbling block.

Diagnosed with Peroneal Tendonitis and ligament damage in my ankle put me on a serious time out. Easing off the training and instead resting, whilst carrying out a variety of strengthening exercises.

The last three weeks have not been easy. As I struggled to come to terms with “rest” and panicking about time slipping out of my hands, attempts to run were filled with stress and anxiety.

This weekend I had planned to spend it picking up the miles again. But yesterday morning I lay motionless, summoning myself to pull myself together and to get running. With my anxiety level through the roof I managed to get out the front door and pounding the pavement, only to find that dull ache in my ankle increasing and the sense of failure overwhelming.

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I knew right then I had to make a decision. Do I push myself through the pain when I am clearly not ready and hope that 10 weeks is enough to pick everything back up? Or do I make the most disappointing, but probably most sensible decision to defer my entry to 2020?

It is very easy to slap on a brave face and push through both the physical and mental pain. I am not one to admit defeat. I love the thrill and accomplishment you get from working hard to achieve things you never thought possible.

That said, at times you can do more harm than good carrying through when your mind and body just has other ideas.

So, after much deliberation and with a heavy heart, I made the move to defer my London Marathon space.

Instead I will be concentrating on building up strength, both physically and mentally, and most importantly I will be concentrating on learning to love running again. With the pressure off I can head back to the simplicity of running just because I can, not because I have to. To spend Saturday mornings enjoying the local parkrun and weekday evenings pounding the track and streets with Harlow running club.

It’s time to shake off the disappointment, to start loving running again and to focus on the London Marathon 2020!

 

 

 

 

Adventures, Fitness, Training

Climbing Pen Y Fan

Nestled in the Brecon Beacons National Park lies Pen Y Fan, the highest peak in south Wales. The gruelling mountain walk to the summit was the location for training at the break of dawn this Saturday morning, in preparation for another adventure to take place later on this year.

Not to be outdone with the London Marathon, I will be joining several others to complete the 84 mile walk that is Hadrian’s Wall; from Bowness-on-Solway in the west through to Walls End in the east.

Taking on two huge challenges in the space of a month may be incomprehensible to many. But for others, like myself, it is just about living life and making the most of every possible adventure.

Therefore, not only have I been attempting to add in the miles (with great difficulty of late) for the London Marathon, I have also had to keep up the long distance walking too.

So, Saturday morning saw myself and a fellow training buddy head off to south Wales at 3am. Less than 12 hours after I arrived home from a week away and with just four hours sleep I was waiting eagerly for the sunrise at the bottom of Pen Y Fan.

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Much to my surprise we were not the only early risers. In fact there were numerous vehicles parked up with enthusiastic ramblers and hikers ready to take on the challenge.

And a challenge it was. Not only were we faced with sub zero temperatures, meaning layers were key, but also over 30mph winds with a strenuous up hill climb to boot.

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As with most mountain climbs, the first 20 minutes is somewhat of a struggle. With the wind, cold and an almost vertical start we had to take our time and acclimatise to the conditions we were facing. In addition, the rickety paths along the route we chose (later discovering we had taken the tougher course) meant we had to watch our footing to prevent slips and falls.

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Half way up, and rather exposed to the elements, we found the wind speed picked up and as such made the sensible decision to get to the summit and back down again as quickly as human possible.

As we reached the top we found ourselves surrounded by many other walking enthusiasts, who had clearly chosen the quicker, easier path.

Had the weather allowed us to feel safe, we would have continued on to include the infamous “Jacob’s Ladder” that forms part of the Fan Dance route taken by potential members of the British Special Forces. Unfortunately we had to make the judgement call and return back down after a quick celebratory picture at the summit.

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We quickly descended, taking just a fraction of the time it took to climb to the top, praising all the hikers attempting to make it to the top en route.

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In just over two hours we had braved the strong winds, reached the summit and returned to the safety of the car, ready for hot Ribena and breakfast – all before most people had risen from their beds.

Before we knew it we were flying back down the motorway and home, elated by the mornings achievement.

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As we made our climb a part of me wondered why I put myself through such gruelling training. Why couldn’t I just stay in bed on a Saturday morning like the average Joe?

Why? Because when you get to the top and see the view, you feel so alive!!

Adventures, Fitness, Races, Training

London Marathon Training: Week Three

It has taken me some time to put words together that can summarise the third week in my London Marathon training – mainly because I have been a week long strop.

I began the week with the ultimate rest day, waking up at the Champneys resort in Henlow.

The temptation to book myself into high intensity classes and go for a country run was extremely high. However, with a slight niggle in my ankle from the previous weekends activity and a poor night sleep due to lack of heating in my room, I gave myself a stern talking to. Simply allowing myself to relax by the poolside before my treatments later in the day was the one thing I needed right there and then.

Tuesday, still in a rather relaxed state post treatments, I allowed myself a gentle day of walking before ramping up the mileage at the latter end of the weekend.

The rest of the week started well with spinning sessions and treadmill running. But on Thursday evening, whilst attempting to complete my long (10 mile) run that little niggle I felt in my ankle during the week got progressively worse.

Only 3 miles away from my 10 mile goal, running was no longer an option. I started to experience shooting pain all the way from the ankle joint to the hamstring – bringing training to a complete halt.

Hobbling home, I made a swift decision to book myself into the sports therapist the next day. Lucky enough, SV Therapy were quick to respond to my desperate messages and a tough session followed to determine the source of my pain.

The verdict: Peroneal Tendonitis.

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Not only did I have a touch of this painful condition, but I also had ligament damage and scar tissue from a previous ankle injury that had not healed correctly.

It is safe to say that my session with the therapist was not easy. The pain was intense and I left for the second time in two weeks feeling rather bruised and battered – but also relieved to have a action plan to strengthen my ankle.

First port of call? Rest. My least favourite activity. Meaning no running for a good few days. In addition lots of exercises and icing the affected area.

You can imagine the mood of a runner who has been benched, particularly when training for a big race. It was not great.

Riddled with another injury made me question, yet again, if I should be taking on such a enormous challenge. Despite many assurances by others that it was still only week three and I still had plenty of time to get the miles in – once I had recovered – I have spent every “rest day” since the diagnosis thinking I should defer my place. With loosing valuable running time I keep thinking of the long runs I would be doing had I not had this set back.

Analysing and overthinking the situation does nothing for confidence. So yet again I had to start then new training week telling myself to forget about the miles I have not achieved and take each day at a time.

And so, as I entered week four, my only goal was to take baby steps, to plan my training a day at a time and to find myself fit enough to run the London Winter Run this coming weekend.

But most importantly – I need to stop beating myself up about miles and training I have not been able to do.

 

 

 

 

 

Adventures, Fitness, Health

Time Out at Champneys

I have always been an advocate for experiences rather than things. So when the other half handed me his credit card for my birthday and said “book yourself into Champneys for the night,” I was in my element.

When you spend your life rushing around at high speed and training consistently, time out becomes precious. Even more so when it is time you can spend alone, with a book, and complete relaxation.

So last this time last week, after a long walk on one of the coldest mornings of 2019, I checked into Champneys at Henlow Grange for a one night spa break.

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Having been a spa day guest many times before I knew a overnight break, where the majority of my time will be spent in the famous white robes, was just I needed.

Checking in with ease just before 2pm, I quickly fell into the relaxed mantra that Champneys promote.

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Donning my robe I booked myself into a Thalassotherapy session – a warm salt water treatment rich in minerals that is ideal for re-mineralising the body and aiding the detoxing process. The session, lasting around 25 minutes, is designed to stimulate and tone tired aches and pains – perfect for those who are put through their paces with training.

After my session in the Thalassotherapy session, I took to the conservatory with a piece of cake, a hot drink and a book – admiring the sun setting on a cold, frosty day.

A light nap followed in my room, followed by a three-course meal (included in the package) and a bottle of wine. Although I know Champneys are very much into the detoxing and well-being, the dinner was somewhat of a disappointment. Not only were the portions incredibly tiny, but also some dishes were simply tasteless. You have the option to purchase extras – such as side orders – should you feel you need them. But personally, after spending a fair amount of money of a bottle of wine, I felt inclined to add further expense to my bill.

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On returning to my room for the evening I found myself disappointed further. I had no heating – on a day that hovered around zero temperature wise. I complained several times and was advised I would receive a portable heater – only to have to go searching for one when, at 10:30pm, I was still waiting. After heading to reception, to be given a broken heater and no resolution to my predicament I gave up on expecting any kind of service from the team that remained over night. I prepared for a cold night sleep – with extra layers.

Awaking early the next day, I removed all my belongings at 7:30am and headed to reception to speak to someone further. With treatments booked for later in the day, I had no choice but to hang around and see out the rest of my stay – soaking robe (not drying out overnight without heating) and all.

Although I received an apology, it did not feel heartfelt – the manager on duty knew there was no heating in my room before they left the night prior, but nothing was done. And the next morning nothing was offered to make up for it.

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After a very nutritious breakfast (much more satisfying than dinner), I spent the morning lounging by the pool waiting for my treatments. My original plan was to join a few classes in the morning however, after a disrupted sleep in the cold, I simply had no energy to entertain my original schedule.

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The treatments themselves were delightful. After a full body exfoliation, body wrap and head, neck and shoulder massage I felt extremely relaxed – though I wished I had moved the treatments to the day prior when I did not have to drive home.

Post treatment it was time for the final meal – a buffet lunch – both nutritious and satisfying, before heading home.

Leaving the resort in a mix state of relaxation and disappointment. Disappointment coming from the lack of customer care and service when it came to the lack of heating in my room.

However, a week after my stay, I was contacted by the new resort manager. Swiftly restoring my faith in their customer service – I was invited back to Henlow with a guest.

So I return to Champneys next month, for a little more rest and relaxation in the hope to test out more of their fantastic treatments.

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