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.

Neil Island, The Andaman and Nicobar Islands

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22 miles north east of Port Blair is Neil Island, a tiny island which was uninhabited until the mid-1960s and is referred to the vegetable bowl of the Andaman Islands. It is beautiful. Tiny, laid back and the perfect place to chill out for a week or so. It was exactly what we needed, not just after the chaos of Delhi, but also after over a year and a half without a break.

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We decided early on that we wanted to stay somewhere 'nice' during our stay on Neil Island, and although our first hotel fell through (a long story), we landed on our feet with SeaShell Neil. I couldn't believe our luck when we stumbled in to this lovely resort with its lush greenery, cute cottages and private beach with swings and hammocks. My idea of paradise. Actually, the whole island was paradise, you could walk nearly everywhere (or run! We managed to squeeze in a few sweaty runs in during our stay!) and the beaches were insane. The only downside was the lack of beer. Only a couple of very high end hotels (including ours) sell booze, and to say Mike was disappointed is an understatement. He survived. Just. 

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Neil is so little that it's easy to explore without feeling like you're working too hard. We decided against hiring bikes, partly because I'm a wuss, but partly because around where we were staying had relatively busy roads. However, there were lots of tuk tuks available and you didn't need to haggle around prices, which was a refreshing change, and meant that we could head off to explore all the beaches and check out some of the awesome local restaurants that were tucked away around the island. 

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A highlight of our stay was stumbling on the island's Mela - essentially an Indian take on Lambeth County Fair! It was awesome to see the whole island turn out in their best outfits and party together. There's something uniquely special about seeing people at play, and this was pretty magical. 

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Experiences and food are what make trips, and Mike's trip to a local barber was quite an experience, complete with a head massage that involved a certain amount of slapping (!) and saw him told to remove his top. Needless to say I spend much of that particular experience quite entertained! As well as hitting the local barber we made the effort to eat in local places - never be afraid of the hole in the wall, if there are loads of local people eating there then it's probably not going to kill you, and you might have some really awesome (cheap) food. The food at Sunset Point is amazing, and Mike became a huge fan, although keep in mind the stalls are only open for a few hours around the time the beach gets busy with people wanting to catch one of the Island's spectacular sunsets.

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I get the sense that Neil Island is seen as a poor second to the bigger, busier Havelock, but I'd beg to differ. Neil has a certain charm. No, there's not much to do, but it's the perfect place to relax, take things easy and not really think about much for a week or so. Although do remember to take cash, the ATM doesn't work. 

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Eat and Drink

The Dugong, SeaShell Neil - this restaurant was in our hotel and is one of the few places on Neil to get a beer. It does some excellent food, but it's definitely one of the pricier options.

Garden View - this place is so special. It's a tiny family run place that makes some of the best food on the island. Don't expect anything to be fast, but use it as an opportunity to sit back, have a chat, read a book or catch up with other visitors. 

Halder Restaurant - right in the middle of Neil Kendra, this hole in the wall is awesome. If you didn't know you'd walk straight past, but thanks to a tip off from the receptionist at our hotel we found it.

Sutapa Restaurant - another hole in the wall, this one gives you just two options (and none if you're a veggie), but it's good stuff! 

There are also various sweet shops around Neil Kendra which you really need to check out - Indian Sweets are my absolute favourite! 

Sleep

We stayed at SeaShell Neil, which is definitely one of the higher end options on the island. It was really lovely, and just what we were looking for - somewhere where we could chill out and not think for a week. However, there are options for every price point, including at the lovely Garden View which has cute little huts that make a great budget option. 

Agra and the Taj Mahal

APrettyPlaceToPlay - Taj Mahal

I can't believe it's taking me this long to share the next instalment of our Andaman Adventures, but since we've arrived home life has be a bit crazy and I've barely found time to think, let alone write! 

When we were planning our trip we knew that we'd be away over Mike's birthday and he had two requests for his celebration - he wanted to go on a train and he wanted to seen the Taj Mahal. Luckily Agra, home of the Taj Mahal isn't too far from Delhi and you can get there by train! Score! There are a few options when it comes to visiting Agra, but because we were a bit short on time we decided a day trip from Delhi with private guide was the best option for us. Private tours are a fantastic way to see India if you don't have a lot of time, it can be a very bureaucratic place and having someone with you who knows how everything works can be a real asset. Yes, it is a bit more expensive, and yes you might need to politely decline the hard sell at your guide's mate's shop, but generally we've had really good experiences. 

A day trip to Agra is totally doable, as long as you don't mind a long day! We were in a car by 7am headed to catch the Indian version of HS2, the Gatimaan Express, which speeds through the Indian countryside in a blaze of hospitality, from beautifully scented roses on arrival to continuous food and tea throughout the journey. It's the fastest way to get to Agra from Delhi, and quite a different experience to my past train experiences spent hanging out in cramped bunks on slow overnight trains! 

APrettyPlaceToPlay - Taj Mahal

Our first stop in Agra was the iconic Taj Mahal, and it never ceases to impress! There's something amazing about this beautiful structure which rises up from the dust and the dirt, it's pretty magical. Our tour guide worked out pretty quickly  that we'd rather take our time to wander around sites and explore, so while he was on hand with facts and history he also kept his distance and pointed out cool spots we might want to check out. It was lovely to take our time and really take in the Taj Mahal, it's a beautiful and slightly overwhelming place, so having space to digest everything was quite special.

Next up was the Baby Taj or the tomb of Itimad-ud-Daulah. Considered the inspiration for the Taj Mahal, this smaller tomb is less well known and has fewer visitors, but is just as beautiful. Surrounded by picturesque gardens it's the perfect place to take a moment and relax. Starting to see a theme? I think after the shock of Delhi's chaos I must have been craving some peace and quiet! 

APrettyPlaceToPlay - Taj Mahal Mehtab Bagh

Opposite the Taj Mahal is Mehtab Bagh, a Mughal built garden with some of the most spectacular views of the iconic tomb. Again, our guide left us to wander around for an hour or so, taking in the view of the Taj and relaxing alongside picnicking families and young couples after some privacy in the shade of the trees. Mehtab Bagh isn't generally on the tourist trail, but I'd definitely suggest taking some time out to visit, especially if you've been finding India a little overwhelming, it's a real escape. 

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Travelling back to Delhi late at night Mike and I reflected on our trip, visiting the Taj Mahal was something quite special, and something that will stay with both of us for a really long time. We really appreciated the time we had to explore and hangout together somewhere so beautiful, it was amazing. Oh and we also decided we really want a Persian rug, but that's another story.

Have you been to Agra? What did you think?