Friday, 20 September 2013

Living in the trees with peacocks: a secret country hideway

After my half marathon adventures I headed out to East Sussex with the boy for some country-style R&R! Being Scots we miss the green stuff and fresh air, and need our regular fix or we resort to Mel Gibson-esque blue-face-painted warriors screaming something about freedom. Not pretty for anyone...

We had booked one of the eco lodges at Fair Oak Farm after reading a great review online, and we were not disappointed. Our home for the next three nights was small but perfectly formed wooden lodge on stilts, built in to the trees and situated on an ancient tree line.

Eco Lodge at Fair Oak Farm. Boy not included.
Not only was it absolutely gorgeous inside and out, but the farm had some lively residents in the form of five or so peacocks, one of whom had just had three chicks! When Penny, the owner of the farm, showed us to our lodge she mentioned that we might hear some tapping, but "that'll just be the peacocks!" haha - we laughed - very funny! She wasn't wrong... before long we had these two guests at the door:
Darling, there's some peacocks at the door...
That view (sometimes with peacocks, sometimes without) was what we woke up to every morning. Some mornings we just sat in bed with a coffee marvelling at the view, it was so beautiful.

The weather was fairly grim over our stay - typical after the glorious summer we've just had! - but we managed a few country/hillside walks in the area, and there were some paths with signposts around (although without a map it's not that intuitive, so we will definitely take one next time!). We also ventured to Bodiam Castle, a 14th century moated castle that's only a 30 minute drive away from the lodges. It's quite something to behold...

The lodges have a small but perfectly formed kitchen for all your self catering needs, but we ate out one night at the nearby (10 minute drive away) Middle House Hotel - a perfect, traditional country style pub with a great atmosphere and rustic, hefty portions of locally sourced food. What more could you ask for?

We loved our stay, and are already planning our return trip. With various self-catering options from the lodges to 6-person barnhouses, we might even let our friends in on the secret and invite them along! These lodges really are a hidden gem, so shhh!, don't tell anyone...

Katy | City Girl Fit

We paid for our trip to Fair Oak Eco Lodges and all opinions are my own.

Monday, 16 September 2013

A half-marathon monster is born!

Last Sunday I ran my first half marathon. After 13.1 miles of weaving through a sea of green Run to the Beat t-shirts I was sure I'd say never again! Why, then, am I planning my next half already?! The bug has not just bitten; oh no! It has chowed-down, torn off a chunk and spit it out with gusto!!

Readers of my previous posts will be aware that I only had 4 weeks to train for Run to the Beat (RTTB) after winning an entry from Vita Coco. I only managed one long run of 11.5 miles in training, but having a base level of fitness would (I hoped!) see me through... Despite surviving (evidently, as I am writing this post!) I do recommend that you give yourself at least 6 weeks to train for a half and, ideally, don't get drunk too often during that time. As mama says: do as I say, not as I do!

When I rocked up to Grenwich Park last Sunday the first thing I saw was the 12 mile marker and the long 45degree incline hill beyond it. I was already panting a bit after just walking up it to the event village!! That hill was going to hurt, and proved to be the nail in the coffin for many later in the day. At least I knew it was coming now, and so I stored my lucozade gel pack in my zip-pouch ready with a mental note to take it at mile 11 for a pre-hill boost!

        Lining up in the pens at RTTB

After a delayed start, we were on the move and my aim was to keep a steady pace of 9.15-9.20 per mile for the first few miles to ease myself in. It was a perfect crisp but sunny day and I trotted along feeling fine. Until mile 4...

In their infinite wisdom, the race organisers decided to set up one of the rehydration stations on a 400m loop inside a car park for which there was only one entrance and exit gate. Now, I'm pretty sure that a high school maths student could tell you that fitting 20,000 people through a 6-foot wide space would be a logistical nightmare. And they'd be right!! We were in a mass ball of people queuing to get in for about 3.5-4 minutes and again for 2 minutes trying to get out the other side. This really knocked my pacing off, and so I tried to speed up a little to get myself back on schedule - I'd now lost sight of the 2-hour pacemaker. After the rage subsided I pulled myself back in to a rhythm and settled in at a slightly quicker pace than planned for the remaining 9 miles.

Some parts of the course were a bit derelict but by the time we hit 8 miles in the crowds had begun to gather and the cheering was a real motivator. Parts of the route were a bit narrow, only space enough for four people side by side, which made overtaking difficult and dangerous - I witnessed a few jostles and falls, but managed myself to pass by without taking anybody out!

Just after mile 10 I spotted the lovely Leah, handing out jelly babies and words of encouragement in spades! Seeing a friendly face really lifted my spirits, and knowing I only had 3 miles left (in my head I was saying: it's just a 5K. Man up!!) I guzzled my gel down and pushed hard. Talk about keeping some in the tank, my fastest mile was mile 11!

Entering the park, I knew that hill was coming so I got my head down, pumped the arms and willed my legs to keep going as gravity started to pull on the up-hill. Most people had stopped to walk by that point, so the hardest part was keeping moving while weaving in among everyone! 

At the top was a cruel teaser: like at Disneyland, when the entrance of the ride seems really close then they send you round a winding queue system for an hour, the finish line was about 200 meters away from the top of the hill, but we had 1 mile of winding course to go before glory!

Although the legs were quickly jellifying (a real word?) I managed to kick hard and finish with some sort of sprint-flail finish, coming over the line at 2h10 - I crossed at the start at 0h07 so completed the race, with set-backs and all, in just over 2 hours.

That's me crossing the line with my sprint-flail on the far left, behind the girl in black shorts. Flail!

Anyone who knows anyone who did RTTB last week will have heard the grumbles about delayed start times, huge bottlenecks at 4 miles, and the hill of death. Yes, these things were annoying (bar the hill, which is just part of a course and to be expected at some point!). Yes, I had a mild tantrum when I was forced to queue for 5 mins at mile 4 and then crossed the finish line 3 mins over my 2-hour target. But y'know what? 'Official time' can take a long walk off a short cliff - according to my Nike+ app I nailed that 2-hour target by a good 3 mins!!


And despite it all, and people telling me that it was a hard course and not the best half event, I had a ball!! I really enjoyed the distance, loved the atmosphere and was chuffed to bits with my bling:

Only one conclusion can be reached, therefore: If this wasn't the best half marathon then how much will I love other half marathons?! So I am now planning 2014 - a year of half marathons (and triathlons, of course!). And yes, I will be back at RTTB. Like your first love, your first half should always have a special place in your heart. 

Thanks again to Vita Coco, Women's Running and Nike for the competition that enabled me to run this race. But know that you've created a monster - a half marathon monster!