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.

The Best Black Leggings

Black leggings are the core of my wardrobe, I wear them ALL THE TIME. To work. When I’m working out. Around the house. I always have a pair of black leggings on me when I travel and I honestly believe they’re the most useful thing I have in my wardrobe. You can get away with black leggings for pretty much any occasion (ok, maybe only at a pinch, but you see where I’m going with this) and I reckon it’s good to invest in one or two really good pairs you can wash and wear on repeat.

When I’m hunting for black leggings I have a few non negotiables - they have to be high waisted, not only for comfort, but because this means I can wear them with short and long tops easily; they need to hit my ankle, I prefer a 7/8 length as it shows just the right amount of ankle (how Victorian of me); the fabric has to be thick and crucially pass the squat test! My leggings get tested in all sorts of environments, from yoga classes to the gym and out on runs; finally they need to last, I have high expectations that my leggings can be washed frequently but still hold their shape.

Beyond my must haves I’m open to anything, as long as the leggings come in black! Here are a few of my favourites right now:

The Best Black Leggings - A Pretty Place to Play, London Running and Fitness Blog

As far as I’m concerned these are the best black leggings out there. The rise is spot on, they hit my ankle in just the right place and the copper colour zip is a nice touch but not too obvious. I’ve had them for nearly a year and wear them all the time, which mean they get washed around twice a week but are still in great condition! The stretchy cotton fabric maybe isn’t the best for sweatier workouts, but for work and out and about these leggings are my go to. Gap doesn’t stock the exact design any more (I knew I should’ve bought two pairs!), but I’ve linked to a close second.

Gap, £72.95

The Best Black Leggings - A Pretty Place to Play, London Running and Fitness Blog

Another pair from from Gap, these tights always get a lot of attention when I wear them! I love the black on black star print as it’s got loads of impact without being over the top, the fabric is super thick and supportive and they’re sweat-wicking which makes them perfect for hot yoga. The only drawback is that sometimes the waist rolls down when I bend, which is annoying but I’ll overlook it for the print!

GapFit, £59.95

The Best Black Leggings - A Pretty Place to Play, London Running and Fitness Blog

One word about these leggings, pockets! I think it must be something to do with how often women’s clothing either lacks pockets or, where it does have them, they’re totally useless, but I get really excited when clothing has big functional pockets. I love that these tights have two huge pockets, one on each thigh, to stash all sorts of bits and bobs, whether its my phone or a stray resistance band. The fabric is super soft and flattering, and there’s a nice big waistband which makes them perfect for after a big meal. Plus they pass the squat test.

Lululemon, £98.00

The Best Black Leggings - A Pretty Place to Play, London Fitness and Running Blog

Lululemon’s Wunder Under pant is pretty much legendary, and with good reason! These leggings are hugely versatile and are my favourites to throw in my bag when I travel. I particularly love that they’re reversible, so if you need to eek one more day out of them you can (I have no shame), and there’s a pocket on the waistband if you need to stash anything securely out of sight (like a credit card or emergency cash!). I’ve had my pair for years and they’ve washed and worn amazingly. Absolutely worth the investment.

Lululemon, £78.00

I know that all four of these picks are at the pricier end of the scale, but I’ve been wearing all of them for years (having bought them myself! None were gifted, and this isn’t a collaborative post), doing all sorts in them and the cost per wear has been exceptional. I’m always going to encourage people to buy the best quality they can afford, you don’t need 10 pairs of tights when one really good pair will do the job. Gap regularly does amazing offers and it’s worth signing up to their email list to be notified of discounts, and Lululemon do the odd sample sale which is well worth the effort to go to, plus you can pick up lightly worn items second hand on Depop and Ebay easily.

Do you have a go to black legging that I’ve not included? Let me know in the comments!






What It's Really Like to Cycle in London with B'Twin

This post is in collaboration with Decathlon.

It’s been two months since Doris came rollin’ into my life. Two months of navigating London on two wheels. Two months of learning how to be a cyclist in London. Cycling in London gets a lot of bad press, and concerns over cycling safety are one of the greatest barriers to people cycling in the city according the the Mayor’s office, but I thought I’d share how I’ve really found it.

What It's Really Like to Cycle in London - A Pretty Place To Play

The idea of heading out on busy urban roads is scary. There are lots of vehicles. Buses, trucks, moped, cars, other cyclists. Lots of street furniture. Lots of pedestrians. There’s a lot going on. Lots of potential to get spooked out. Lots of things that could happen. I remember the first time I cycled in London over 10 years ago, I was so spooked out I didn’t even contemplate cycling in the city for years afterwards. When I did start cycling again I made sure I was well prepared to deal with these challenges. I went to a workshop at a local cycling shop that focused on skills for cycling confidently in the city. I learnt how to cycle assertively, refreshed my understanding of my rights and responsibilities as a road user and brushed up on my road safety skills. It was an invaluable experience and really boosted my confidence, I came away feeling like maybe I could do this thing!

What it's really like to cycle in London - A Pretty Place to Play

The first time I dipped my toe into city cycling the infrastructure in London was not what it is now. While the city has a long way to go, but compared to a decade ago provision for cyclists is so much better. My favourite discovery so far has been quietway routes. Quietways enable cyclists to travel through safe, less busy streets across the city. I LOVE THEM. I love how they wind their way through back streets, helping you explore your neighbourhood and get to know parts of the city you wouldn’t have discovered otherwise. While the cycle superhighway is great, it can also be crowded and a bit intimidating at rush hour (I see you people in lycra with focus in your eyes!), and the Quietways offer a very pleasant alternative. Seriously, nothing beats pootling along a tree lined street of sweet terraced houses. Finally I love how the Quietways connect parts of the city that the cycle superhighway doesn’t necessarily reach. London is big, not everyone lives right by a main road, Quietways help connect the dots. It t

I’ve raved about it before, but CityMapper has been a game changer for me when it comes to cycling in London. Planning safe routes to get you from A to B is an overwhelming prospect when you’re finding your feet as a cyclist and CityMapper takes the stress out of it, especially when you can set it to show you only the quietest route to your destination. It’s a real confidence boost.

What It's Really Like to Cycle in London - A Pretty Place To Play

There’s a theme here, confidence. That’s the thing I’ve learnt about cycling in London, it takes confidence. It takes confidence to share space with vehicles bigger than you. Confidence to take up space when there are vehicles bigger than you. Confidence is hearing the stories and knowing the risks but doing what you can to manage them. That’s what city cycling comes down to, risk management. Bad things do happen. There are accidents. There are other road users who aren’t going to think about you. But there are things you can do to manage the situation. Making sure people can see you - that means getting decked out in hi-viz, having good lights, learning how to anticipate and indicate. Protecting your head with a good quality helmet. Taking time to plan routes. Sticking to cycle lanes. Stopping for traffic lights. Know the highway code and follow it. No, not everyone around you will do the same, but you are putting yourself in the best possible position you can to stay safe and enjoy cycling in the city.

Finally, the tip that has stayed with me the most - there’s no shame in getting off your bike and walking if things look hairy. Got my Mum to thank for that one.

*Doris was kindly gifted to me by Decathlon, but all opinions are my own.