Running the London Marathon 2016: January update

As you may have read in my previous post I’m hoping to run the London marathon in April 2016. The good news is that I’ve survived my first full month of training; read on to find out how I’m getting on.

Marathon training

The first month has been relatively easy, primarily because I’m running distances I’m already comfortable with. The hardest part is fitting the runs into the week and I know this is going to get much more difficult over the next two months.

My London marathon training plan consists of 4 runs per week. During the week I run in the early evening, which generally means I’m running around the streets during rush hour. I’m not convinced that breathing in fumes from cars spewing out exhaust fumes is healthier than not running. But I haven’t got the motivation to get up and go for an early morning jog.

My Saturday morning running route
My Saturday morning running route

At the weekend I manage to get out during daylight and run beside quiet roads and on footpaths. I ran 10 miles on Saturday and although the route was a tad muddy in places it was lovely to breathe fresh air and hear birdsong.

New kit

Thanks to Christmas and my birthday I have some shiny new gear. Most importantly, a pair of trainers; the most expensive I’ve ever owned. I had my gait analysed on a treadmill at a local running shop and this indicated I needed extra support. After trying on most of the shop’s stock I finally chose a pair of Mizuno Wave Inspire 12 trainers which were comfy the minute I put them on. Sadly, courtesy of the winter weather, they don’t look very new any more.

My 'new' Mizuno trainers
My ‘new’ Mizuno trainers

Trainers aside, I received a foam roller and running clothes too. I quite enjoy rolling back and forth on the roller. Primarily as it seems easier than doing all the strength exercises I’m supposed to be doing.

I’m also considering buying a Garmin GPS watch. I never thought I’d need one (and realistically I don’t) but my old iPhone has questionable battery life and no sound. The app I use on it also suggested I was running 7 minute miles; great if this was true but it seems to be missing a couple of minutes somewhere!

Nutrition and health

I’m attempting to eat healthier. Not cutting down on food but, with the exception of chocolate, trying to eat more nutrient rich options. So instead of crisps and biscuits I’m eating almonds and tubs of addictive Munchy Seeds. I’ve started taking a multi-vitamin with iron tablet. I think my diet is pretty healthy but I’ve had low iron levels in the past and as I’m also vegetarian and significantly increasing my running mileage I thought it best to pre-empt any problems.

Being of a certain age I was also able to take advantage of the NHS Health Check offered to people aged 40+. The test checks blood pressure, heart rate, cholesterol levels and general lifestyle factors to give you a risk factor of having a heart attack or stroke in the next 10 years. Mine came out at 0.8% which is obviously good news for the marathon run. I’m just hoping my creaky legs last long enough!

Into February

The marathon training steps up a gear this month. The runs are getting longer and I’m also supposed to be speeding up some of the shorter workouts. I’m looking forward to the nights getting longer and the opportunity that gives me to run away from the main road routes.

Are you training for any events this year? How’s it going?

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Mami 2 Five

A Cold War walk on Greenham Common, Berkshire

It’s hard to imagine that an area of heathland near Newbury once played an important role in the Cold War. The former RAF base at Greenham Common was controversially used by the United States Air Force as a storage site for cruise missiles. Those days are gone now and Greenham has a much more peaceful existence. We spent an afternoon walking from the Nature Discovery Centre at Thatcham, along the Kennet and Avon Canal to Greenham Common and then back to the start via Bowdown Woods.

Thatcham Nature Discovery Centre
Thatcham Nature Discovery Centre

When the kids were younger we’d often pop into the Nature Discovery Centre. There’s a great playground, handy cafe and a lakeside walk that’s perfect for little legs. As they’ve got older we’ve visited less. Tempting a 13 year old with the promise of feeding ducks just doesn’t work. Neither it seems does the suggestion of a 6 mile walk. Ignoring her assertion that she’d wait for us in the car we lured her out with a picnic.

The slight downside to our picnic suggestion was that the ducks assumed it was for them. As soon as we chose a bench waterfowl arrived from all corners of the lake expecting lunch. I read recently that feeding ducks bread is bad for them so happily kept my baguette to myself. Besides, there was a constant stream of small children walkng past with loaves of bread no doubt destined for the lake!

Along the Kennet and Avon canal
Along the Kennet and Avon canal

Heading away from the lake area we crossed the railway line and joined a rather muddy path alongside the Kennet and Avon Canal. During summer the canal is alive with pleasure boaters and barges but on a grey January day it was pretty gloomy. The water level was high, and at the first lock it reached almost to the top of the lock gates. I kept looking for a flash of kingfisher to brighten up the walk and although I’ve seen them near here before they were obviously tucked up warm somewhere else.

Bridge view along Kennet and Avon canal
Bridge view along Kennet and Avon canal

After a mile or so we crossed the canal and followed a farm track up to Greenham Common. I was a youngster in the early 1980s but vividly remember news reports about the Greenham Women’s Peace Camp. Women came from across the country and abroad to protest at the storage of American cruise missiles on the base. Whilst there was a hardcore of women constantly living in camps around the base many thousands would turn up to protests. In December 1983 50,000 women linked arms and formed a human chain around the fence perimeter. The missiles finally left Greenham in 1991 but the camp remained open until 2000, with women protesting against the Trident programme.

Alongside the runway, Greenham Common
Alongside the runway, Greenham Common

Today Greenham Common is slowly reverting back to nature. Now managed by BBOWT, the local wildlife trust, the Commons were reopened for public use in 2000. The large expanse of heathland supports nightjars, nightingales, dog walkers and small children learning to cycle without stabilisers. BBOWT are also creating wetland habitats although sometimes it was hard to work out the difference between ponds and big puddles!

Aside from a couple of obvious landmarks there is little to show for the many years the base was in operation. The old concrete from the runways was broken up (and re-used in the equally controversial Newbury bypass), disused buildings demolished and fuel contamination cleaned up. You cannot disguise the location of the runway though; at more than 3000 metres it was once the longest military runway in Europe. Following the long flat path along the Common you can almost imagine the roar of a plane taxiing along the runway.

Testing the puddles at Greenham Common
Testing the puddles at Greenham Common

Apart from the American fire hydrants the only other legacy we saw on our walk was the Greenham Common Control Tower. Whilst I can understand the desire to return the area to heathland it’s good to remember the historical significance of the Common too. Fortunately, the building has been listed and I believe there are plans to turn it into a visitor centre.

More recently, the old cruise missile silos at Greenham Common were used as a location for the Star Wars film, The Force Awakens. Don’t get too excited though as they’re fenced off and privately owned so it’s not possible to visit the actual site.

Greenham Common control tower
Greenham Common control tower

From Greenham Common we returned to Thatcham via Bowdown Woods. This involved a minor map reading mishap, as the walk leaflet I was following (albeit backwards) showed multiple routes through the woods whilst my OS map indicated that we should stay on one broad track. I have no inbuilt sense of navigation so although I can read a map I easily get thrown off course if it doesn’t agree with what I’m seeing on the ground. The other half was confident of the route, and we did end up in the right place eventually, even if I wasn’t convinced we’d gone the right way.

Thatcham Nature Reserve
Thatcham Nature Reserve

I’d hoped to to see a starling murmuration on our return to the Thatcham reedbeds. The sightings boards outside the Discovery Centre indicated flocks of 5000 birds but we were out of luck. Instead we contented ourselves with more ducks. I smiled inwardly as I saw a toddler heading towards them with yet another loaf of bread. I’d love to know how many loaves they eat each week!

More info:

  • Greenham Common, Bowdown Woods and Thatcham form part of the West Berkshire Living Landscape. Further details about all three reserves can be found on the BBOWT website. I planned our walk route independently but the 6 mile route is detailed in a leaflet which can be purchased at the Nature Discovery Centre for the bargain price of 10p.

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Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall

Travel Monkey

The beaches of Morar and Arisaig, Lochaber

What better way to cheer up January than with some pictures of the fantastic Scottish beaches we visited on our summer holiday last year. I’ve already written posts covering the days we spent on the Isle of Eigg and in Fort William. Now it’s time to reminisce over the beaches we visited near Morar and Arisaig, two small villages on the west coast of Scotland.

The Silver Sands of Morar

After travelling to Fort William on the overnight Caledonian Sleeper we hired a car to drive to Mallaig. We broke our journey near here, staying for a couple of nights in a B&B overlooking the Silver Sands of Morar.

Silver Sands of Morar
Silver Sands of Morar

The Silver Sands are aptly named. Even in heavy rain (as we can testify) the beach looks more akin to a Caribbean island. Although, as you’ll notice from our jumpers and jackets in the photographs below, the temperature is certainly not Caribbean. I’m pretty sure there are no midges in Barbados either!

Silver Sands of Morar beach - and dark clouds!
Silver Sands of Morar beach – and dark clouds!

White sand beaches stretch from Morar to Arisaig and are easily accessible from the road that winds alongside them for most of the way. Although beware of the golf course near Arisaig; a low flying golf ball almost hit us whilst we were parking in a layby.

A tree swing with a view!
A tree swing with a view!

It was only a short walk from our accommodation to the beach. Whilst I checked out the views the kids were happy to find the tree swing in the photo above. Possibly the most scenic tree swing in Scotland?

Port na Murrach beach, near Arisaig

This beach takes a little getting to but you can near enough guarantee you’ll be the only visitors. At least that was our experience on a sunny August day.

From Arisaig we took the single track road around to Rhu and parked in the layby near the old pier. From there it was a straightforward out and back route, following the instructions on the excellent Walk Highlands website. It’s only a mile or so to the beach, along farm tracks and through a boggy field.

Rhu beach
Rhu beach

The beach offers plenty of shells to sort through, rocks to clamber over and scenery to admire. The kids found a dead jellyfish which kept them captivated for ages. The water was freezing though, or maybe we’re just soft southerners?

Port nam Murrach beach, near Rhu
Port nam Murrach beach, near Rhu

Our walk back was made more exciting by the presence of a huge black bull, standing next to the gate, in a field that we had to cross. Fortunately he turned out to be a docile beast but my heart was in my mouth for a few moments. I’m not sure where he was on our walk down but if he’d been in the same place I don’t think we’d have made it to the beach!

Walk back to Rhu
Walk back to Rhu

Camusdarach Beach, near Arisaig

Camusdarach regularly appears in lists of the world’s most beautiful beaches. It’s a few miles south of Morar and forms part of the string of Silver Sands beaches. We parked in the public car park just north of Camusdarach campsite and then wound our way down to the beach through the dunes.

Camusdarach beach, near Arisaig
Camusdarach beach, near Arisaig

This beach was a little busier than the others we visited. It may look empty in the photos but when you’re used to seeing no-one it’s a shock to see other people. It’s popularity (ooh, there were at least 5 other people) is probably down to the nearby campsite.

Camusdarach Beach
Camusdarach Beach

We wandered along the beach from one cove to the next for a good hour, enjoying the views out to the Small Isles and exploring the rock pools. I definitely recommend a visit at low tide so that you get the full beach experience. There are also supposed to be otters but sadly we didn’t see any sign of them.

Camusdarach beach, near Arisaig
Camusdarach beach, near Arisaig

I hope these beach photos have cheered you up; it will be summer again before we know it so time to start planning holidays. Do you have a favourite UK beach that you’d recommend?

More info:

  • As you would expect these beaches have little in the way of facilities. They are best reached by car; Mallaig is about 10 minutes drive from Morar. Fort William is around an hour away. Alternatively you could walk from Morar railway station (infrequent trains) or cycle from Mallaig.
  • Arisaig village has an excellent small information centre and museum and a couple of places to eat. We had drinks at Cafe Rhu; the food looked good but the strong smell of chowder was rather offputting for a vegetarian.
  • In Morar I recommend the Thai Sunset takeaway. You’ll need to order early in the day as they cook to order and then pick up from the house at the pre-arranged time. We had great plans to eat our takeaway on the beach but rain and midges put paid to this idea!

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Mami 2 Five

 

Packing my Suitcase

Ideas for UK family holidays in 2016

Are you looking for UK places to go on holiday in 2016? Then look no further. I love holiday planning so below you’ll find some of my suggestions for 2016 family break ideas.

1. Lizard Peninsula, Cornwall

Kynance Cove, Lizard Peninsula
Kynance Cove, Lizard Peninsula

The Lizard Peninsula is the most southerly point of the British mainland. It’s a great place for a traditional beach holiday with sandy beaches at Coverack, Kennack Sands and Kynance Cove (possibly the most picturesque beach in Cornwall). The lighthouse at The Lizard is fun to visit and even a short walk along the coastal path rewards you with fantastic views.

We stayed at Henry’s campsite near The Lizard which is an ideal base if you enjoy quirky artistic surroundings. There’s plenty to do aside from the beaches; read about what we got up to here.

2. North Norfolk coast

It may be a travel cliche to write about the endless sandy beaches and wide open skies of North Norfolk but it really is an apt description. Although, as we’ve discovered before, a freezing wind blowing in from the North Sea is rarely mentioned in the tourist literature!

Two of the best beaches can be found at Wells-next-the-Sea and its neighbour, Holkham. Aside from the beaches, Norfolk is a good place to spot wildlife; take a boat out to see the seals at Blakeney Point or go birdwatching at RSPB Titchwell Marsh.

We’ve stayed in the small market town of Holt previously. It is a handsome town, with lots of good eating options, but a little way inland. If you’d prefer a more traditional seaside town head to Sheringham or Cromer.

3. Teen challenge in Snowdonia

I used to spend a lot of weekends walking in Snowdonia before children. Whilst I can live with the often wet nature of the mountains rain is not always conducive to a happy family holiday. However in recent years this part of Wales has reinvented itself as an underground adventure capital which will delight teens.

Adventure seekers can choose from abseiling and scrambling in disused mines at Go Below or underground trampolining at Bounce Below. Above ground why not climb Snowdon or fly through slate caverns at 100mph at Zip World Titan. Base yourself in Betws-y-Coed, an ideal central location for discovering Snowdonia with plenty of cottage rentals and several hotels to choose from.

4. Yorkshire Dales

A holiday in the Yorkshire Dales can be as active or as relaxing as you want. The Ingleton waterfall trail and Malham Cove walks are great for school age children, whilst Ingleborough Caves are a good wet weather option.

Alternatively sit back and enjoy the scenery with a trip on the Settle-Carlisle railway, watch cheese being made at the Wensleydale Creamery or learn more about the area in the Dales Countryside Museum.

There are many traditional and picturesque villages to choose between in the Dales but Hawes would be my choice for its good access, places to eat and range of accommodation.

5. A city break in St Davids, Pembrokeshire

This is a city break like no other. St Davids may be Britain’s smallest capital but you won’t be accosted by traffic fumes and harried commuters. Instead you’ll be able to enjoy surfing at Whitesands Bay, rock pooling at Caerfai Bay and gorgeous coastal views at Solva.

Solva, near St Davids
Solva, near St Davids

Time your visit right (May half term is perfect) and you’ll also be able to take a boat trip out to Skomer to see puffins, although be aware there are few facilities on the island itself.

6. Build sandcastles in North Devon

Stay in one of the coastal resorts on the north coast of Devon and enjoy some family beach fun.

Woolacombe beach is a perfect destination if you have young children. The large sandy beach is easy to get to and great for building sandcastles. If you fancy a more active beach holiday then Croyde Bay is a good choice to learn to surf or try out body boarding. In Ilfracombe you can enjoy rock formations and rockpools at the Tunnels Beaches, visit the local sea life aquarium or simply while away time at the harbour.

7. Visit a Scottish island

If you’re looking for something a little more unusual why not visit one of the islands off the west coast of Scotland. Mull, Arran and Skye are three of the larger islands with plenty to keep you occupied. The weather may not always play ball but if it rains visit one of the many castles or simply put your waterproofs on and head out to one of the many impressive beaches.

Glamisdale Bay, Isle of Eigg
Glamisdale Bay, Isle of Eigg

There’s plenty of smaller islands to explore too. We fell in love with the Isle of Eigg on our most recent Scottish trip. It won’t appeal to everyone but if you enjoy the simple pursuits of beachcombing, walking and wildlife watching it may be your perfect holiday destination.

8. Fossil hunting on the Isle of Wight

The Isle of Wight packs a huge number of family attractions into a relatively small island. Spend a day at the zoo, visit a castle or ride the Needles chairlift. The island is the Dinosaur Capital of the country so see what you can discover on a fossil hunt; you can read about our one here). And of course there are plenty of beaches to relax on too.

The Needles, Isle of Wight
The Needles, Isle of Wight

Our best IOW holiday was spent travelling around the island in a bright pink campervan back when the kids were small. Alternatively, it’s easy to discover the Isle of Wight by bus as we found when we used the Needles Breezer service.

The Isle of Wight has loads of accommodation options; I’d recommend Grange Farm campsite near Brighstone Bay which we thought was the ideal family camping spot.

9. Discover Northumbria’s history

Northumbria is the county with the most castles in the UK; many more than you can see in a week’s holiday! Bamburgh and the ruins of Dunstanburgh castle are my favourites and have impressive beachside locations. Alnwick is probably the most famous, particularly for its Harry Potter and Downton Abbey connections, although it is one of the more expensive options.

If you get bored of castles you can also explore the area’s Roman history at Vindolanda and Housesteads Fort. Walk beside Hadrian’s Wall and discover the ruins of a Roman garrison at Corbridge.

Northumbrian tourism is relatively low key, with the seaside towns of Seahouses and Craster and the inland town of Hexham being good places to base your family.

10. Adventure in the Forest of Dean and Wye Valley

The Forest of Dean has plenty of family attractions to keep you entertained for a week. Puzzlewood has starred in Dr Who, Merlin and most recently Star Wars so don your wellies and enjoy a walk in the ancient woodland. You can head underground and learn about mining at Hopewell Colliery Clearwell Caves, ride the Perrygrove Railway (best for younger children) or if you’re feeling adventurous kayak along the River Wye.

The Forest of Dean also has some excellent cycle routes, including the flat family trail from Cannop Valley which runs along disused railway lines. If this sounds too much like hard work just enjoy the cafe at the cycle hire centre instead!

I hope these suggestions have given you some ideas for your 2016 UK family break. If you have any other holiday recommendations please leave a comment below.

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Mami 2 Five