Best places to run abroad (and a couple not to)

I like to fit in a run whenever I’m in a new city. Its a great way to see the place and to enjoy a bit of time alone. Yes, people may think I’m nuts but I love it so here is a summary of the places of tried, which ones were great and which ones made me wish I hadn’t bothered to walk out the door in the first place

Great

Buenos Aires: I was intimated by the city at first but the roads are quiet and temperature manageable in the early morning, lots of people run and the nature reserve (the Costanera Del Sud I think) is perfect with miles of trails close to the centre of town

Chilean patagonia: beautiful towns with well maintained and marked lakeside paths. My favorite running in South America.

Stockholm: lovely big parks and weather was perfect
Helsinki: nice temperature, lots of lakes and a long river path to run along

New York: Central Park is iconic and there are loads of places to refuel afterwards. There are a lot of other runners so you don’t feel weird

The hotel gym: no brainer

Portugal: along the algarve in spring. It’s hilly and rugged but beautiful

Bath: great scenery and a good path along the canal

Reykjavik: ran with my friend Dave and the scenery was incredible. Cold too, nice and bracing before breakfast

Derby: you can run for miles along the canal, it’s lovely

Not

Swiss alps: ridiculously step, I made it about 500m. It was fun running downhill though and the view is amazing.

Budapest: soooo hot. Like 40 degrees hot. Also, everyone stays out really late so when I headed out at 7am I saw plenty of people out at clubs or having an end of night kebab.

Cusco: The altitude is a killer and I didn’t see anyone else running which put me off. Also, narrow streets and hoards of tourists don’t make it easy.

Sucre: There were actually several locals running here but again, the altitude got me.

La Paz: unexpectedly, I found a large park with lots of runners but wasn’t in running gear and found the hills at 5,000m altitude difficult even when walking.

Venice: this may be worst place I’ve ever run.  Loads of tourists even at 6am and I got totally lost on the windy streets which don’t seem to conform to any maps of the city.

Palau Tioman, Malaysia: so hot I got a migraine on finishing, and people looked at me strangely

Koh Tao: pretty but the heat got me again

Nicaragua: I tried a few times while there as I was bored but it was just so hot. I considered it a good day when I made it 2 miles. Pure in Granada has a few treadmills and is quite shady – I did 5k there a couple of times but stopped as I got nauseous afterwards.

Costa Rica: this was actually ok with a slightly more manageable temperature than nicaragua and more shade but the drivers were crazy

Fine

Oslo: not much to see but clear paths and decent sized parks

Copenhagen: we were staying out in the sticks so a bit boring but totally doable with plenty of routes and nice weather

Singapore: hot but lots of people out running and the temperature is manageable at dusk. Pretty good running in the botanical garden and by the river too. Just try not to fall over and gash your knee like I managed.

Valencia: hot but lots of locals out running and an old river bed come park in the centre of the city where I managed 13 miles without trauma

Bocas del Toro, Panama: got up early and made it 8k here, I enjoyed the long road around the island and relatively little traffic.

And the places I didn’t even try

Panama (too hot and the pavement was horrendous/non-existent)
Toronto (too tired and cycling was more interesting)

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Healthy snacks

I sometimes struggle to come up with healthy snack and resort to the biscuit jar. If you’re anything like me, here are a few ideas to keep your snacking fresh which are easy to keep in the work fridge or your desk drawer:

Rye bread with peanut butter and optional yoghurt

This is leftover from my marathon days when I would always, without fail, have  piece of rye bread toast with peanut butter and dried cranberries the night before a long run. You toast the rye bread, spread on peanut butter then you can mix in some natural yoghurt if you’re feeling adventurous. It sounds strange but gives it a nice, creamy texture. I also sometimes put dried or fresh fruit on top to add a little something sweet.

Chopped fruit with nakd bits and nuts

Simple! Slice up some fruit, I like apple, pair or figs, then add in a few nakd bits (they’re like the bars but tiny versions that come in a small bag) and some nuts. I like to put in salted nuts, I know its bad but it tastes so good!

Raw cheesecake

I’ve been taking in this recipe to work all week: http://poppycross.co.uk/recipes/raw-salted-caramel-cheesecake-from-raw-cured/, and planning to take my own blueberry vanilla mousse (recipe to come) next week.

Healthy snack bars

Nakd bars, trek bars and so on. Easy and reasonably healthy although I try not to go crazy as they give me a massive sugar rush.

Welsh cakes

Ok, not technically healthy but I love them! They’re made with butter and sugar but are less sweet than a cake and I find them very satisfying. I like them best toasted with some peanut butter. Its definitely not traditional but it is delicious.

Bagels

A half or whole bagel (depending on whether I’ve run) with cream cheese, peanut butter, hummus, avocado or a mix of the above never fails to satisfy.

Recipe: Mostly raw blueberry vanilla mousse

I’m really into making raw and vegan desserts at the moment. It’s fun to try strange combinations of ingredients and see theme come together into something that doesn’t taste bad at all (although admittedly often nothing like the thing it’s trying to copy!). I also love that they’re usually easy to whip up with not too many ingredients. Perfect for everyday sweet cravings or when you want something different to take to work as an afternoon snack.

A few days ago I made a raw salted caramel cheesecake I find on another blog (it’s here and tasted yum!) And had some cashews left over so decided to try another cheesecake recipe. When I started though I couldn’t gave the painful process of blending up the nuts for the base with my less than adequate blender so decided to just make the ‘cheese’ portion as a kind of mouse. That got me wondering whether some leftover sweet potato would enhance the result and I’m happy to say it did! The result was a perfectly sweet, beautifully textured mousse type dessert.

To make it I soaked

100g of cashews and
6 dates

in water until soft (I blitzed in the microwave to speed up the process this time but have previously left overnight).

Next I put one small sweet potato in the microwave and blitzed it until soft, putting it in a bowl of cold water to cool then peeling off the skin.

I then chopped the cooked sweet potato into small pieces, added into the bowl with the dates, cashews and just enough water to cover the mixture (I partly drained the dates and cashews, retaining some of the water to use in the mix). Next I blended the whole lot with a hand blender until smooth.

The final step is to add your mix ins, this is the fun bit! I mixed vanilla essence into the whole lot, then split half between 3 glass pots that I’d saved from Gu desserts. Into the other half I blended some blueberries, again keeping going until smooth, then added this into the pots on top of the original mix to give a fun layered look. Once done I popped then into the fridge to set overnight. All done in 15 minutes!

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The picture really doesn’t do it justice, it tastes good I promise!

Yoga teacher training

As part of my travels in the Spring I spent three and a bit weeks in a tiny beach town called Ostional training to be an Ashtanga Vinyasa yoga teacher. For the uninitiated, Ashtanga is a physically strong form of yoga that is practiced in a set sequence. It focusses on aligning breath with movement, creating a moving meditation.

Rather than write up what I did for the entire time, which was pretty similar day on day, I thought I’d keep it short and q and a style.

What were the other people like?
Really cool and fun. Everyone was around my age give or take 3/4 years and we were all on the same page with what we wanted to achieve.

What was the food like?
Breakfast was oatmeal, fruit and a selection of nica style items (always including rice and beans obviously!). Lunch and dinner were variants of raw vegetables, fish, maybe a stew, a dip or a soup with rice and beans on the side. I loved it!

What was the training like?
The training itself was what I expected and as expected I loved it. It was awesome to spend all day practicing and learning about yoga and our teachers Caterina and Edwin were kind,  enthusiastic and knowledgeable. Throughout the training we all got the attention we needed to develop our practice and teaching. We were a smallish group of 10 which was the perfect size. I appreciate this even more now as I’ve heard a couple of stories of huge training groups and poor teaching on other trainings!

What did a normal day look like?

Wake up, practice, breakfast, lecture, lunch, free time, lecture, practice, dinner. Morning practice was always Ashtanga, afternoon practice was Rocket.

Why I chose ashtanga

I’d already taken a very lovely 100 hour Anusara immersion and hope to complete the follow in 100 hour teacher training at some point. However I decided to start my journey into teaching with ashtanga for several reasons:

– I love getting on the mat and knowing that thousands of other yogis around the world are doing the same thing, practising the same sequence in the same tradition. Its nice to think of how the practice has existed for years before me and probably will for many years to come.

– I was nervous about creating my own sequence so the set series appealed to me. That feels like a bit of a cop out but it’s actually a really important thing to consider before you decide on a programme.

– The emphasis on developing a consistent self-practice: Before I left for traveling I’d become very haphazard with my practice, maybe starting an online Vinyasa Flow class and quitting halfway through, or fully intending to go to class after work but working late instead. My training focused strongly in developing the discipline to get on the mat every day and I hope to keep it up when I’m home

– It really is a moving meditation! The strong focus on the breath and ultimately being able to flow through the poses without thought really helps to clear my head. Along with that the discipline of completing the sequence means I go through a tonne of emotions while I’m at it: frustration, anger, joy, tiredness, you name it! I figure that if I can be with them and stick with it until the end, I can do the same in life outside the mat

Why ItsYoga

– The ItsYoga ethos: I loved that there was a big focus on modifying poses so that they’re accessible to everyone. They support local projects including the school in Ostional and a turtle sanctuary.

– Connection with the teachers: I contacted other training providers but Caterina was the one I felt most comfortable with. Her emails felt personal and like she was excited for me to be there. I got a sense from them that I’d like and learn from her, and I did!

– Location and timing: The training fitted in perfectly with my trip and was set on an isolated and beautiful beach in Nicaragua. Perfect.

– Rocket: This is another form of yoga based on Ashtanga but developed by Larry Schultz to give a fast track to doing funky arm balances and inversions. Its so much fun (even though I can’t get into inversions ok my own) and we got to practice every afternoon.

Why an intensive

I wasn’t sure (and I’m still not) whether I wanted to teach after the training. My main reason for signing up was to deepen my own practice and understanding so an intense suited me best. As a secondary reason I also decided I wanted to be able to give the course my full attention rather than fit it in around work. When I went away I’d had a couple of experiences with life becoming overwhelming when I tried to fit in weekend/evening courses around work and I learned from that mistake!

I also thought it would be a nice break from traveling, kind of like a retreat…..

….but yoga teacher training isn’t a retreat!

Of course you get to practice a lot, there is great food and plenty of time to think but there the similarities end! For me the main differences were that I was nervous about teaching and that hung over me until I finally got up and did it (and actually kind of enjoyed it!). Aside from that, being with the people on the course while everyone is going through something life changing is intense when it’s pretty much 24/7 for 3 weeks. Finally, I’d forgotten how hard I find it to pay attention for more than 30 minutes at a time! Its actually one of my favorite things about yoga – when I get on the mat in class I commit to stay on it to the finish no matter how tough it is – with lectures, not so much. I found myself drifting away several times and letting the heat and discomfort of sitting on the floor take over.

That said, it’s incredibly rewarding and provides so much opportunity to challenge yourself and grow as a result. I’m so happy I did it! 

Will I teach?
I’m not sure about starting a career as a yoga teacher yet but I would like to give teaching a go. Maybe with friend and through volunteering first. Let me know if you’d like a class!

What I’ve been eating lately

I’ve had a lot going on the last couple of weeks and its been lovely. Lots of catching up with people I haven’t seen in a while and finally sorting out some DIY tasks in my flat. Here’s a post summing up the foodie high points of the last few weeks:

Eating out

Benugo at the BFI

Unlike other Benugo’s which seem to all be sandwich shops, the one at lobby at the British Film Institute on the South Bank is a sit down, fine dining style restaurant. We ended up here during the tube strike a couple of weeks ago as it was halfway between all our stations. It ended up being a perfect place to catch up with friends – nice lighting, unintrusive service, interesting but well priced food and a good (but not overly noisy) atmosphere. I am definitely getting old but its rare in central London to find somewhere you can easily hear what everyone on the table is saying and this was one of those places. The only downside was the super laid back service – we were there for 3 hours which was fine for us as we had a lot to catch up on but would be painful if you’re in a rush.

Arancini Brothers, Old Street

We dropped in here after work as Ben is a big fan of arancini and I’d heard a lot about the branch in Kentish Town. It conspired that we were in the area so we came here for dinner. I had the chicken wrap which was really good, you get a selection of interesting salads plus arancini plus chicken and it is a delicious combination. I think it cost about £6 which was great value. Unfortunately they don’t have a loo (its more of a lunch place) so we had to eat pretty quickly then run to get to somewhere that did. I’m keen to head back at lunch/when we aren’t thinking of our bladders as much!

Talay Thai

We checked out this place on Streatham Hill for dinner last week and it was great. I had Pad Thai and Ben had Thai red curry, both of which compared well to the food we’ve had in Thailand. Service was friendly and very efficient, we were in and out within an hour! Definitely recommended if you’re in the area.

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The Bull

We love the Bull and have visited twice in the last couple of weeks. The first time was for a Sunday roast when my mum and Aunt visited, the second on Bank Holiday Monday with Ben’s family. On the first visit I had the delicious vegetarian wellington which was bursting with mushrooms, vegetables and goats cheese. The second visit I had a halloumi “salad” with friend potatoes and roasted red peppers. The food has been consistently good since the Bull opened and the service is great, we’ll keep going back for some time to come.

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Other things we’ve eaten

Green and black’s cheesecake brownie

We baked this in aid of Ben’s family coming round for afternoon tea. Its the first things I’ve baked in a while and it turned out really well. We’ve frozen a couple to break out next time we need a chocolate fix.

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Choux buns from POP Brixton

I visited Brixton’s new box park with a friend and on a whim picked up two beautiful choux buns to take home for me and Ben. They were the best things I’ve bought in ages and I’m going to try to recreate them soon! At £3 each or £5.50 for two I initially thought they were a little expensive but trust me they were worth it. The orange one is mango and passion fruit which was full of flavour without the passion fruit’s sharpness overpowering it. The other is pistachio and cherry which was my second favourite but still very nice. Unfortunately I didn’t get the name of the place I bought them and can’t find it on google! I will try to go back and write a favourite places in Brixton post in the near future.

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