2018

2018 was a life changing year. I went from working a 9-5 job to being a full time student, a change that I’d been working up to for a couple of years, and one that couldn’t come soon enough. Although this change was a big one, it’s not been the only awesome thing to happen this year, and I think it’s important to remember all the awesome. So here’s my year in review.

A Pretty Place to Play - London Running and Fitness Blog

January

The real highlight of January was our trip to India. Twelve months later and we’re still raving about the Andaman and Nicobar Islands and the experiences that we had - seeing the Taj Mahal, touring Delhi, snorkelling, running through the jungle, having a blast at an island Mela, eating at holes in the wall and sleeping at the palatial Imperial Hotel. Just looking back at these posts gives me all the feels, it was a a really special trip.

2018 Year in Review - A Pretty Place to Play, London Running and Fitness Blog

February

London Winter Run is one of my favourite running events, and this year it really lifted me from the shock of returning to the cold dark winter in London! This year I ran with Elle, one of my very favourite people, and it was wonderful. You can read my recap here.

2018 in review - A Pretty Place to Play, London Running and Fitness blog

March

March was such a nice month. Nothing huge happened but I got to spend time with friends, train for Edinburgh Marathon and generally do things that I enjoy. All while secretly squirrelling away on my PhD proposal and getting ready for the ‘little chat’ (ahem, massive grilling) that stood between me and my goal to study full time! I didn’t write much about it at the time, I didn’t want to jinx things, but it’s probably why this month was a little quieter!

2018 in review - A Pretty Place to Play, London Running and Fitness blog

April

This month was a biggie when it came to all things academic. Not only did I submit my PhD application, an application for funding and make it through my interview in one piece (sort of), but I also graduated with a Distinction for my MSc AND an award for the best dissertation in Birkbeck’s school of management. It was truly amazing, and I’m so glad Anna was there to take some beautiful pictures.

2018 in Review - A Pretty Place to Play, London Running and Fitness blog

May

A huge part of 2018 was taken up by marathon training. Hours in the gym and on the road working with coach to get me ready to run 26.2 after a few years out of the game only to have my plans foiled by a chest infection three weeks before the race which saw me DNS. It was a tough one to deal with, although in my heart of hearts I knew it was for the best. I wasn’t in the place I needed to be to respect the distance and it was better that I sat out Edinburgh. My consolation prize however was a lot of fun - running the Edinburgh Marathon Festival 5km, which I think might be my new favourite short run! You can read about it here.

June

So much fun stuff happened in June! We headed out to Ibiza where I explored the island’s trails, Mike DJ’d and we both partied with friends. Ibiza is the most amazing island and hopefully we’ll be back in 2019 because I’m keen to do some more exploring!

I also had the opportunity to visit the French Alps with Quechua to hike and swim with a fantastic group of women. I’d not been hiking in so long and having the opportunity to explore somewhere so beautiful was amazing. I love looking back and my pictures from this trip and remembering how much fun we had! You can catch up on our adventures here.

Ok, so June really was the month of travel, and my final stop was Haarlam, just outside Amsterdam in Holland for the Grachtenloop 10km and a catch up with the other 361 Ambassadors! I love Holland, it’s such a friendly country and it was so lovely to be part of an event that clearly means a lot in Haarlam. We raced, we drank 361 beer and we learnt that chocolate sprinkles are excellent on toast.

2018 year in review - A Pretty Place to Play, London Running and Fitness Blog

July

The adventures continued in July when Mike and I headed to Menorca to snorkel, run and relax by the sea. We are both massive beach people and spend a disproportionate amount of time exploring beaches and drinking gin! You can read about our favourite beaches on the island here.

Back in the UK we found ourselves partying in a field and taking on the Beer Mile Challenge at Love Trails Festival, our new favourite festival! Mike rediscovered his love of running and I realised quite how weak my legs were when it came to hills. Oh and our tent was covered in glitter.

August

August was a bit of a quiet month. There was a lot going on in my personal life as I wrangled with my first major mental health crisis in a long time while also managing a tricky relationship with a former tenant and planning how I was going to handover the job I’d been doing for a number of years. It was a tough month emotionally, but I got there in the end.

2018 in Review - A Pretty Place to Play, London Running and Fitness Blog

September

This was a huge month for me - I QUIT MY JOB. After years of hard work I’d managed to secure funding to study full time and essentially live my dream. It was a crazy exciting time, but Mike and I still managed to find some time to head down to the south coast for a little trail running adventure around Thorney Island, a former military base that is fantastically eerie and cool. You can read about our run here, it was the perfect way to wind down before the crazy of my first term as a PhD student kicked off. Also I can’t forget that this was the month Doris came into my life! Who knew a little red bike could have such an impact on a person. You can catch up on all her adventures here.

2018 in Review - A Pretty Place to Play, London Running and Fitness Blog

October

After the disappointment of a DNS at Edinburgh I was so excited to make it to the start line at Bournemouth! This marathon was a learning experience, a test ground and really really hilly. It blew my mind that I could travel on my own two feet for hours and come off strong at the end. This was a race I ran for myself, and it felt amazing. My full recap (aka a list of things I learnt) is here.

Outside of running I spent most of October trying to get used to my new life studying and working part time. It was a steep curve, and although I knew that the change would take some adjusting I hadn’t really banked on how much. I shared some of my thoughts on the process one month in, which you can find here.

2018 in Review - A Pretty Place to Play, London Running and Fitness blog

November

In November I started training for my next big goal - The Speed Project 5.0. Being brutally honest the thought of training for this race was utterly overwhelming. How the hell do you train to run a relay across Death Valley? Initially I was relieved when the guys behind TSP shared a plan, but I quickly realised that it wasn’t going to work for me, the milage was far more than I was used to having followed the principles of Power Speed Endurance for a year and with term drawing to a close papers (and paperwork!) were taking over my life. Training went on a back burner and I focused on school.

2018 in Review - A Pretty Place to Play, London Running and Fitness Blog

December

Erm how is it December already?! With term over I was all up to start training in earnest with my new virtual coaches at Run Namaste Eat, and then I got a concussion. The smack on my head (well chin if you want to be specific) saw training take a backseat again as I recovered, remembered how to use big words and stopped feeling quite so dizzy all the time. I think things are pretty much back to normal now, but it was not a fun experience! I’ve written all about how I dealt with it here.

Spending weeks at a time chained to your desk reading philosophy makes you make some strange choices, not least the decision to try cold water swimming! Turns out I loved it, although my toes did get very cold!! I’ve explained exactly why it felt great here.

And, just like that, the year is done. 2018 has flow by, upturning my life in the process. It’s not a year I’ll be forgetting any time soon. What were your highlights? Let me know in the comments below.

*images: Anna Rachel Photography, Alex Dixon Photography and Max Willcocks Photography.

Crisis Icebreaker at Brockwell Lido

Crisis Icebreaker Cold Water Swimming Challenge - A Pretty Place to Play, London Running and Fitness Blog

F**k. F**k that’s cold. Bloody hell. Christ it’s freezing.

Just a few of the phrases yelped by myself and fellow swimmers as we leapt into Brockwell Lido on Saturday afternoon. It was really bloody cold. And it was raining. And I’d definitely do it again, because it turns out there’s nothing like the rush of immersing yourself in cold water.

Huddled by the side of the pool wearing all the layers I was getting nervous about what I’d signed up for. I’m used to pushing myself out of my comfort zone, but maybe a dip in a freezing pool in the middle of December was a challenge too far. What if I wussed out and couldn’t do it? What if I froze (metaphorically) and just couldn’t face the jump? What if this was all a really bad idea? I tried to remember why I’d signed up, as I mentioned in my last post you do some funny things when you’re a couple of thousand words into an essay and have been indoors for much to long, but there was more to the decision than that. I was doing this to support Crisis. If I was cold from the half hour I’d been outside, knowing that at the end of the day I’d be going home to my safe, warm flat, then how must someone who’s homeless feel in the middle of winter as the temperatures drop? I wasn’t pushing my boundaries for myself, I was doing it so at least four other people could spend Christmas somewhere safe and warm where they can access support and advice to begin the journey out of homelessness. I don’t know these people, but I had them in my mind as I plunged myself it to the icy pool.

Ok, plunged is probably a bit much. It wasn’t that elegant. Think of it more as tentatively throwing myself in alongside a reindeer and an elf I’d made friends with in the changing room (I love the camaraderie that doing dumb sh*t creates!). My skin stung as I hit the water and a gasped for air as the people around me swore and cursed. Pushing off into breast stroke other people waded across the pool, staggering through the water to where friends and family were waiting with towels and hot drinks. I kept pushing, but it’s shocking how poor your form becomes where your freezing your tits off. The side of the pool was in sight and Mike was primed with a towel and my big down coat, ready to start operation warm up. I kept paddling, each stroke more and more effort, hauling myself to the wall as my shocked body felt around for the steps out. Shuddering, shaking and beaming I’d done it. I’d broken through my comfort zone and it felt AMAZING.

Crisis Icebreaker Cold Water Swimming Challenge - A Pretty Place to Play, London Running and Fitness Blog

As soon as I got out of the pool we started working on getting me warmed up. Following Adam’s advice I dried my feet and clumsily attempted to put on my warmest socks. It was insane how quickly my feet froze up once I left the pool. I’ve never felt anything like it, my toes burnt with numbness and it was really difficult to get them into my socks. Next up Mike threw me a hat to pop over my swimming cap (which didn’t come off until I was in the bath about half an hour later!). I layered up gradually, hoodie, leggings and coat got thrown on over my cossie as I sipped herbal tea from a flask (points to Mike for thinking to bring that along!). Other swimmers darted in and out of the sauna, but it was packed out and I was too chilly to wait.

As I thawed out I realised that I felt amazing. After a week of not really being all there following a concussion I suddenly felt brilliant. My mind and body felt alive. I’d always wondered why people did this - the obvious reaction when someone tells you they like to dunk themselves in cold water is to call them a nutter - but now I understood, there’s a crazy rush that comes with both putting yourself out there and braving the elements. You feel invincible. It gets your blood pumping and your energy surges. You become capable of anything. I don’t think I’ll be becoming a a regular cold water swimmer, but I will definitely take the plunge again. Everyone should, it’s amazing!

There’s still time to sign up for upcoming Icebreaker events, or to DIY your own, you can find out more information here. Try it, you might like it (and either way you get a swimming badge, which is epic!).

My sponsorship page is still open, you can find it here.


Preparing for the Crisis Icebreaker Swim

In collaboration with realbuzz.

Cold Water Swimming Tips - A Pretty Place To Place, London Running and Fitness Blog

You do some funny things when you’re a couple of thousand words into an essay, funny things like deciding jumping into a freezing swimming pool would be an awesome idea…I think maybe I’d been indoors for too long and it was my body saying it needed fresh air! Whatever it was that got me thinking it would be a good idea doesn’t really matter because I’m doing this to support a really important charity - Crisis.

There is no reason why anyone in a country as affluent as the UK should be homeless, but around 160,000 households in the UK are, and rough sleeping is forecast to rise by 76% in the next decade unless the government takes action to tackle it. I’ll be really honest, I’m not convinced that’s going to happen, at least not in a meaningful and effective sense. Which is why I support Crisis. Crisis works side by side with homeless people, and these people influence the charity’s campaign for permanent change. In the short term Crisis supports people out of homelessness and gives them access to basic services, in the long term it lobbies for change. Crisis also gives homeless people a place to go for Christmas, which can be the start of their journey out of homelessness. A place at the Christmas table is £28.18, and I’d like to make sure a few people can celebrate and access everything Crisis has to offer. Want to support me? You can find all the details here.

Cold Water Swimming Tips - A Pretty Place to Play, London Running and Fitness Blog

So. The Swim. The Icebreaker is a pretty simple idea - jump in an lido and swim a length, no big deal. Except the water will be cold, really cold. Brockwell Lido reaches highs of around 8 degrees this time of year. I’m no stranger to outdoor swimming, but normally I swim in warm places, not South East London in the middle of winter! With this in mind I thought it might be a good idea to hit up my expert contacts at realbuzz and get some tips so that I am as prepared as possible to brave the cold for Crisis! Here’s what Adam Walker, realbuzz swimming expert and the first person to swim the Ocean’s Seven, had to say…

swim somewhere safe

It seems obvious, but making sure you swim somewhere safe is crucial. Brockwell Lido has lifeguards, which is really reassuring as while I’ve been cleared to swim following a head injury I still need to be supervised pretty closely! However, if you’re looking to swim in the wild then one of the biggest battles will be ensuring that wherever you plan to swim is safe.

Adam suggests that “there are often many lakes and open waters which have organised sessions and have suitable safety in place. I would recommend you swim in one of these locations and there will be other like-minded swimmers there who you can buddy up with and swim in pairs or a small group.” Adding that “Not only is it a good safety measure but it makes training easier and is an opportunity to make new friends too.”

acclimatise

As I’ve mentioned, the thing that sets this event apart is the cold. It’s cold by the side of the pool, it’s cold in the pool. I’m anticipating the water is likely to feel colder than it actually is and that it might cause me to catch my breath, and while I don’t have time this time around Adam suggestion that “by doing small frequent dips you will soon find how much easier and longer you can comfortably swim each time and you will feel more confident too.”

He adds, “on entering the water, I recommend wetting the face and back of the neck, which will prime the body for entry as these are sensitive parts of the body. As you immerse yourself up to your shoulders, I suggest exhaling on entry as the ribcage contracts it will make it easier to get a second breath without gasping, particularly if it is very cold.”

after your swim

There is nothing worse than feeling cold all day, and when you leave the water it’s important you get warmed up – quickly and correctly. Adam suggests that “the first thing to do is dry your swim hat and put a woolly hat over the top to keep the heat in. Only take the swim hat off when you have suitably warmed up to your normal body temperature.

“When getting changed, dry your feet off and put your socks on first,” Adam adds. “Once you are fully dressed, taking on a warm drink can also help insulate your core, however be warned if you have been in colder water, what seems lukewarm to other people can be volcanic to you when your body temperature has dropped.” Sounds like a good excuse to head to the Lido Cafe for post swim coffee and cake!

* This post is in collaboration with realbuzz.