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In 2018 one of my major goals for the Too Fat to Run movement was to showcase more of our wonderful community of runners….because for as much as I front up this brand, it so isn’t about me anymore.

Of course, we have our runner of the month feature but I didn’t think this went far enough to highlight what incredible things are happening amongst our ranks, and I know as our on the ground programmes grow you will want to hear about what is going on in your local area.

Plus you all know so much about me and my views on the running world, surely it would be more interesting to get the view from the field from others instead….don’t worry though, I am not going anywhere, you will still get the occasional rant from me but moving forward I want to start handing over much of the content to our users to give them a chance to tell their stories, celebrate their wins, share their learning with you all.

We will be trialing this throughout March with 20 fantastic women from The Clubhouse and then if all goes well from April when the new and improved Too Fat to Run website and YouTube Channel is launched expect to see far less of me and more of them…a lot more of them, and maybe even you too.

Got something you want to share with the world on the topic of plus size running?

So let’s kick of today with a guest blog post from Victoria Alison, a relatively new Clubhouse member who I was lucky enough to meet at the recent National Running Show, the Winter Run and at last weekends Hyde Park Training Day…she takes a mean photo and is a brilliant advocate for the sport…so I figured she would make the perfect person to go up first.

Hyde Park Training Run 17/2/18 – By Victoria Alison

OK so after a nervous day Friday ahead of a planned training session in Hyde Park coached by Julie Creffield. I woke up looking forward to meeting some more of the Clubhouse (Our online running club) ladies #toofattorun, however there was a certain amount of anxiety too, would I run too slowly, what if I couldn’t keep a continuous pace, what if my injury played up etc. You see the problem of running on your own, or with your dogs like me is that it really doesn’t matter you get to choose to cut a run short, walk when you need too or add on an extra half mile if the running is good, and I know my dogs don’t care they are just thrilled to be out running.

It was an early start on Saturday morning a 5am wakeup call so that I could be at the station on time for our 6:59am train into Waterloo. Arriving in London at Waterloo I set off across the Thames having decided to walk to warm up my legs ahead of the run, it was quiet something to stroll through an empty Trafalgar square at 8:30am and them wonder past Buck Palace with only the really enthusiastic tourists around, plus I added an extra 7000 steps to my tally for the day☺. The group met at Hyde Park Corner, 12 of us in total, I must admit I certainly had butterflies upon spotting the group, but they were quickly put to bed upon a friendly hello from Julie and the other ladies that had arrived. After initial introductions a quick discrete check on our most recent 5km times so that Julie had a rough idea as to how much of a time spread we had as a group, and a chat we headed off into the rose garden to warm up and stretch.

Julie explained the plan for the morning a 5 mile lap together, no one left behind with the faster runners looping to the back of the group, we would be stopping to carry out challenges at intervals on the way, then after a refuel a second lap 5 miles continuous effort, but with opportunities to run a shorter lap if needed. I knew it was going to be a challenge, my longest run since last summer had been the Winter 10k at the beginning of Feb and that had been tough. But the sun was shining and I felt good!

All my fears were quickly put to bed, it was lovely to be running in a group of likeminded ladies several of which will be running London marathon this year, and it was even nicer that I managed to regulate my pace so that I could hold a conversation on the way round. Lots of giggles throughout and a sprint finish to one of the challenges I’m not going to spoil it and tell you everything Julie had us doing, if you want to know you will need to sign up yourself! I will say there one tree in Hyde Park has now…. in our minds at least been permanently renamed .

The second lap after an opportunity to refuel, I decided to run a slightly shorter route, so after heading off with a group of 3 ladies I took a left turn across the park to cut out a bit, I found the giant heart balloon that we had spotted earlier in the day so had to stop for a quick selfie.

I hoped to run up to about 8 miles in total but as unsure as I’ve been about my injured foot anything over 6 was a success. I actually ran 8.5 miles and covered a total of 15.5 miles during my day in London. Add on another 10 miles and a whole heap more running and I’ll be somewhat near feeling ready for my 2019 London marathon… maybe.

As someone who has never before attended a group training session would I do it again … defiantly! As a girl who let’s face it, is a long way from resembling twiggy or my running heroines of Paula Radcliffe or Jessica Ennis-Hill, having the opportunity to run with likeminded ladies with similar running goals was wonderful, and receive support and advice from the fantastic Julie Creffield was certainly worth the early start. I know that there are many ladies like myself who find turning up to an organised training session or event overwhelming, even intimidating, but the benefits of running in a group for me out weighed these. It gave me accountability and motivation not only to turn up and overcome my anxiety but to keep going, hit my target and not take the walk breaks that I might of otherwise. I also believe I pushed myself a little harder because I was running as part of a group.

It’s not just me though Caroline who is currently marathon training posted

Saturday gave me the courage to get to the 10 mile milestone this morning. I think the double digit mile thing for a first timer is a bigger thing than you think. The training session on Saturday gave me was the true inclusive feeling – being short and slow I was at the back but I never felt I was a burden or “shamed for being the slow one” and the support Kath gave me in such an the lake challenge made me quite emotional on reflection on the train home.

Dorinda who is also currently marathon training also posted

Ladies, I had an absolute blast today thank you so much. Special thanks to Julie for making it fun, I even found the shouting out at speaker’s corner quite liberating. Also to Audrey for being a fabulous running buddy. The weather was on our side today and it was worth the 5.00am start and 4 hours on a coach. Was just the boost I needed for my London training.

I know I will be booking onto another training session, and I feel more excited about my Marathon journey and running than I have before.

Look out for information about our Too Fat to Run 2018 Roadshow, we are currently looking at dates for London, Bristol, Nottingham, and Glasgow. If you would like to join our awesome community, get involved in our meetups and training days, and even become a Too Fat to Run coach or guest blogger why not consider joining The Clubhouse today. Memberships start at just £5 per month. Find out more here

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Just like I have never been a great runner, I have never been too good at swimming either.

I mean I learned to run like everyone else did as a kid, and I was happy enough splashing around in my local pool and at the seaside…but as I progressed into adulthood it became clear I was more of a breaststroke up and down the pool rather than a dynamic open water crawler.

I’ve always liked swimming…but if truth be known I have never quite LOVED it.

In 2006 I took some adult lessons to learn how to swim front crawl in advance of the London Triathlon, and I saw improvements both in my technique and my enjoyment of the sport…I even had a hilarious experience of testing my wetsuit in the sea on a hot day in Brighton with a friend…I ended up looking like a beached whale after tripping on some pebbles and not being able to get up due to laughter.

Shortly after that race though, my swimming went back to the occasional trip to the pool with lackluster lane swimming…even when the epic London Aquatics center opened across the road to me, therefore becoming my local pool…I still couldn’t find the motivation or effort required to swim properly…until recently that is.

Because last month I became an ambassador for the 2018 Swimathon…thinking that swimming would be a wonderful crosstraining addition to my London Marathon training and all of a sudden I have a new found love and respect for the sport….seriously the change in my confidence and ability is shocking…and I have put it down to one simple thing.

I have started approaching my swimming just how I approach my running.

I just didn’t think to before and maybe you haven’t either…so here are my top 10 tips ways to swim like a runner.

1.Set yourself a goal

I saw improvements with my swimming when I had my Triathlon to train for, but I haven’t done a swimming event since, hence the slight lack of motivation and focus. I am training for the 2500meter option of this years Swimathon, which is going to be challenging…and likely to take me well over two hours. I always say if I don’t have a race in the diary I don’t train, and the same applies for swimming…choosing a goal which is scary forces you to up your game and not just try to wing it.

2.Buy yourself some new kit

Luckily we were kitted out with new swimsuits and goggles from Zoggs, but I know there is nothing worse than having to dig out your faded and out of shape cozy…so treat yourself. New flip flops, new swim cap, new fluffy towel, new swim bag…whatever is going to encourage you to get to the pool.

3.Have a plan for each session

Just swimming lengths without a plan is a bit like just popping out and plodding the streets aimlessly….it leads to boredom and little to no improvement. There are loads of good training plans online, and technique drills to give a go. My 3 go to sessions are 30-minute swim as far as you can go, 1000 meters as fast as you can go, and 1 hour swim as consistently as I can. Knowing what I am attempting to do helps me get mentally prepared for the session, and to see improvements week on week.

4. Track your progress

I think this has been one of the most powerful motivators for me. I treated myself to an apple watch for Xmas and didn’t know it had a swim function. Being able to track my progress in the pool means I don’t have to remember how many laps I have done, but more importantly than that, I can review my stats from my phone once home and dry. For example, on the 23rd Jan it took me 41.32 to cover 1000 meters, and a week later I did it in 36.37…come on that’s exciting right?

5. Think Logistics

Swimming can be a bit of a faff for us women. It involves packing and unpacking, changing into a costume is a space hardly big enough to even just stand in…then there is the showering and making yourself look respectable. I schedule my swim sessions at the beginning of the week to fit in with the rest of my training, work and social commitments. I mainly swim first thing or last thing…although morning swims seem to suit me better. During this period of intense training I am letting slip any desire to look a certain way…woolly hats, no makeup and google marks are my go to look at the moment and I have made peace with that. Having a swimming bag with all your kit helps…you just have to change your towel and costume each time, I have 3 on rotation so that I don’t use that as an excuse.

6.Get some coaching

This was absolutely the game changer for me. At the launch of this years programme with all of the other swimathon ambassadors, we were treated to coaching from Olympic swimmers Keri Anne Payne and Duncan Goodhue. Keri ran through a theory based session about body positioning and then in the pool got us breathing right. In the space of one 20 minute session, I went from being able to swim one 50 meter length front crawl to being able to swim 10 without stopping. I am now up to 1000 meters of front crawl swimming….this is as big a shock to me as it might be you…the improvement has been phenomenal, with just a tiny bit of good coaching.

6. Think about your fuelling

I am still working on this one. Today when I went for a swim at 4.30 in the afternoon I struggled with energy as it had been a long time since lunch. I really struggled. I also struggle with fatigue towards the end of my long swims, just like I would when half marathon or marathon training. Next week I will take a sports drink or gel to the pool with me, to see if I can move my swimming up to the 80-minute mark. Don’t forget you can get dehydrated in the pool too, it might be harder to spot as the water disguises your heat and sweat.

7. Share your progress.

Just like in running I am motivated by sharing my journey. This is great for ensuring you don’t skip training sessions and for seeing and celebrating your progress. I am in a facebook group with the other ambassadors where we share how we are getting on and I have a Too Fat to Run FB training group too (if you are doing swimathon this year feel free to join)

8. Accept the good and the bad

Not all swims are good. Some will be boring and hard. Some will have you wondering why you are even bothering. Some will involve idiots who get in your way, or pools being closed for events shifting you to the training pool…some will be so busy you barely manage 15 minutes before getting out. Accept the rough with the smooth and learn from each situation.

9. Don’t compare

It is really difficult not to compare yourself to other athletes, whether running or swimming…and is the downside of accountability groups. We are each on our own journey. Have your own plan and stay in your own lane (see what I did there?)

10. Put in the effort

I often complain that I am a crap runner and that my speed never improves, but that is often because my training is inconsistent or I don’t put in the effort. Whether your focus is distance, speed or consistency…quit the excuses and execute your plans to your best ability. Today I really didn’t fancy going for a swim and I didn’t have much time either…but my 30 minute/700 meter swim was just enough for me to feel like I am still on track. I will save the two more intense swims for later this week

Swimming is a great addition to marathon training and a great sport in it’s own right…why not give it a go and sign up to one of the Swimathon Challenges for this year? 2500 meters with me, or maybe the 400-meter option…there are distances for every ability.

Enter Swimathon 2018 and join Cancer Research UK and Marie Curie to raise as much money as possible for two causes close to the nation’s hearts. Swimathon 2018 will take place Friday, April 27 – Sunday, April 29, with distances from 400m to 5k, there is a Swimathon challenge for you. Choose to take part in an organised Swimathon session or take part at a time and place which works for you with MySwimathon.

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Let me ask you a question?

When did you go on your first diet and why? Can you even remember?

For me, it is all a bit blurry.

I can remember when I was still going to dance school at the age or 10 or 11 hearing the mums of other children discussing our changing shapes and talking about “Watching what we were eating” and “being careful that we didn’t get fat” and it’s not like any of us were destined to be ballerinas…we did dancing school in a church hall for goodness sake, most of the time so our mums could have a couple of hours to themselves on a Saturday morning.

I was never a petite child, looking back at old photos it is clear to see though that I wasn’t overweight…but I was tall, and because of this I never really felt comfortable in my body, and would often compare myself to the more slender smaller girls.

I have a really clear memory of having a strop in C&As aged 10 in a bikini feeling completely naked (bikinis will do that to you) and mum refusing to buy it for me because it “Didn’t suit me” which of course I read as “Oh, I’m too fat”

I can remember doing slim shakes with my mum and going to my first weight watchers meetings at some point in my early teens, and can remember feeling like a grown-up all of a sudden, like I was one of the gang. I remember seeing my mum doing exercise for the first time too, following fitness videos at home, and going to a weekly aerobics class in an attempt to lose weight.

I thought this was normal. I thought all teenagers dieted with their Mums because this was my normal.

Do you remember when at some time during the 80s there was a spell of “your mum is so fat…” jokes, and boys would take any chance they got to call you fat in front of everyone, whether you were or were not wasn’t really the point…they just knew it was an insult and would make them look big in front of their friends.

If only I knew then what I know now

That my body was fine, it was more than fine.
I didn’t need to go on a diet
The food I ate was perfectly healthy
My attitudes towards food were too
And I needed to know that my body would go on to do brilliant things without it ever being skinny

Yesterday my 5-year-old daughter came back from Gymnastics at school desperate to show me her progress. She told me they had done step-ups onto a bench for 15 minutes to build strength in their legs, and I commented that her legs were looking really strong to which she replied,

Do I look skinny???

She is 5!!!

She recently got weighed as part of the governments initiative to measure all reception age children and now she is super aware of body size. She came home telling me the nurse told her she was healthy (not sure if this did or did not happen)

I mean she is healthy…although just like her Mum she is tall

She regularly tells me that fried food is not healthy, but fruit is…oh and recently she doesn’t want to eat fish…which kind of coincided with us buying pet fish (go figure right?)

She tells me that being fat isn’t healthy, but being skinny is in one breathe and in the next that it doesn’t matter what size you are as long as you are healthy….talk about mixed messages??

And every day I have to check my language and check my behavior around food and exercise to make sure I am not passing on any of my bad habits.

Yeeeeeesssshhhh where does it end?

On Sunday night I held a webinar in my online running club with Kate Tonkin the Australian food consultant behind the company Real Food Real You. It was a really interesting 45-minute discussion with Q&As from my ladies…but one of the things which came out of the webinar was how many of us had actually been out on a diet by our mothers.

Now I am not bashing mothers, including my own because in most cases, they were doing what they thought best at the time, and they had their own body confidence issues going on, probably learned by their post-war time mothers experience of food and the changing landscape of the food and diet industries.

I haven’t been able to get this out of my head though.

Are we conditioned to put our own kids through hell, under the premise of we don’t want them to have the struggles that we did, when there may not even be any evidence of any real problem in the first place. At what point do we intervene? How much do we listen to the doctors? Or how much do we use our own sense of common sense and judgement around what is best for our kids?

I started asking the women in my groups yesterday what they thought? I also started a poll to find out how widespread early dieting practices were…the results were shocking

In The Clubhouse 67% of women had been put on a diet by their mother before the age of 16, and on the Fat Girls Guide to Running Facebook Page 69% had.

Now that is shocking enough, but the stories that came with it have literally had me in tears

Sent to school with salad in stork margarine pot at 10 years old.. looking back I wasn’t even chubby… but I didn’t size up to my mums friend’s daughter

About 11 for me and bullied by my own brother and sister for being fat !!!!!! Have been on a diet ever since

Being ‘on a diet’ has been in my vocabulary since I can remember and I was put on my first ‘diet’ when I was 10 just before I went to high school . I wasnt overweight, my parents monitored what I ate for health reasons. I wasn’t allowed crisps, chocolate or anything with lots of fat or sugar.

Saturday at our house was weigh day and our weights were marked on a graph stuck to the fridge.

My mum put me on a diet aged 10 coz I was getting ‘chubby’. I started my periods around the same time and I remember being so hungry I started hiding food and binging. I’ve yo yo dieted ever since

My mum used to call me fat related names because the doctor told her to shock me into losing weight. I’m sure that’s not what he meant but it’s what my mum thought him to mean

My mum was always talking about me being overweight even though I wasn’t looking back. I just got boobs and hips early!!!

I don’t really know how to make sense of all of this, because I know for many of us dieting has been such a part of our lives for such a long time that it is ingrained in the way we think, and really hard to shake off.

All I do know is what an important role we play as mothers to remind our children (especially our girls) how wonderful they are and that their bodies or how they look does not define this.

It makes me feel so angry, so sad, so helpless that so many millions of women all over the world spend so much of their lives focussing on food and getting to their ideal weight, most may I add never achieving this. So much time, energy and money wasted, believing life will start when they have an acceptable body, only feeling worthy when they are no longer fat.

It is NEVER acceptable to put your daughter on a diet…or to comment on their body in a way that is likely to make them feel bad about themselves. All you do in this is tell them that they are no good as they are, and encourage them to have secretive behaviors around food….shaming never works it just encourages women to be more secretive.

Tweak the whole families eating for sure, introduce more exercise for everyone…but focussing on a child’s body size and explicitly trying to make them conform is just not on.

I am not a dietician nor an expert on childhood obesity but what I do know is that if you feed your kids proper foods in sensible portions most of the time, and get them involved in activities that they enjoy, then their body (you know that thing which is super clever?) will somehow manage to regulate hunger and the likes by itself.

Obviously, when they are adults they can make their own choices about lifestyle, but most of this will be informed by their experiences growing up anyway, so focus on your own behaviors rather than fixating on their thinness.

The most important thing to feed your kids though is buckets and buckets full of love, self-acceptance and confidence in their bodies…because boy oh boy are they going to need it as they journey into adulthood.

Join the debate over on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram…I’d love to know about your stories and experiences on this subject.

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The runner of the month feature has always brought me enormous joy, being able to showcase runners from all over the place. When I get to showcase an awesome runner who I have been lucky enough to meet in the flesh it makes me even happier. So this month we welcome 38 year old Jo Wilkison from East London who has been participating in our Sport England funded Too Fat to Run programme in Barking & Dagenham.

When did you start running and why? 

January 2017 – I would like to get fitter and lose weight, I also wanted to do something that I wasn’t naturally good at. My issue last year, until the TFTR Barking project was launched – and after I joined The Clubhouse – was consistency which I feel I have improved. Mainly because I find other people’s stories inspiring.

Did you run a lot when you were younger?  Absolutely not! I hated it and avoided it always.

What do you love and hate about the sport of running?

I love the fact that it’s open to a wide pool of people from different abilities and classes. It can be expensive but it doesn’t have to be. There’s also something quite freeing about moving quickly and you always feel good at the end of a run, even if you didn’t want to go out and you absolutely hated it.

How often do you run?  I’m trying to get 3 consistent runs in per week.

What kind of distances do you run in training?  5k with a mix of running and walking

Do you parkrun? Yes, Barking Parkrun (I have run with Jo there!!!)

Have you had any negative experiences whilst out running?

Not really but I’ve always got headphones on so it’s quite possible people are shouting out stuff behind my back – says more about them than me, right?

What are your biggest fears or hangups about being a plus sized runner?

I don’t really have any – my issue is I can be lazy more than that I’m fearful about going out. I would say that if I have any concern, it’s just that I really carve out time in 2018 to improve at running and build my distances up.

What is your ultimate running goal and what is stopping you from getting there?

I would like to run a marathon – eventually. That might be something for 2019 really. At this stage, it’s a far-off dream! This year is about 5k and 10k and then I’ll see what happens after those.

What’s more important to you and why? Frequency, running or distance of running?

Both. Frequency to build up the distance.

What could the government, local authorities, sports clubs etc do to encourage more people to take up running and sport, especially overweight and inactive women?

Make it free to use public spaces. More initiatives like TFTR Barking – at which I’ve met some really great women who all live near me. Things like Our Parks and Parkrun are great too. Don’t sell our parks off!!!!!! Connect different services, too. I’ve asked for advice and help for my weight – and was rejected from the eating disorders service but the GP and Nurses I met, never mentioned the “New Me” project in Barking, Our Parks or Parkrun. This seems disingenuous when Barking is the local authority with the highest rates of obesity and a high number of people who can’t afford to go privately to mental health professionals, which is what they advised me.

https://www.lbbd.gov.uk/residents/health-and-social-care/health-and-wellbeing/new-me/new-me/

What are the biggest barriers for plus sized women?

A lot of people I’ve spoken to – plus sized or not – have said they can’t run. They probably can but don’t realise it. Sports is rubbish at schools and often does more to put people off than inspire people. I personally had an issue with getting out of breath/sweaty and didn’t realise that you just have to live in that state! Recovery too needs to be something people expect to have to do – muscles will ache but it’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Lastly, there’s a dearth of high-street shops that sell plus-sized running kit. They just don’t. Primark is where I buy a lot of my stuff from – and it doesn’t always fit and/or is poor quality but your JD sports, Nike, Adidas etc. are really bad at catering to plus sized women.

I’m sure a lot of people are also put off by a lack of community.

What would you say to other runners just starting out?

Be consistent and make sure you put your runs into your diary before everything else! Make a good playlist with some fast songs, and some fun songs and/or get some audio books – Overdrive run a free app which you can use to download books as long as you have a local library membership.

What have you learned about yourself through running?

I can do more than I thought I could!

How has being a member of the Clubhouse helped you in any way, if so how?

Yes, I find it really inspiring to see what other people are doing. And what they’re going through – most of the problems or challenges I’ve had are also things that the other members are finding a challenge too.

Well done Jo.

If you know someone who deserves to be celebrated in our runner of the month feature drop me a line at help@toofattorun.co.uk

If you would like to meet other like minded women and build on your confidence, consistency and enjoyment in the sport of running, then why not join The Clubhouse? I have brought the price right down, and am introducing a pay what you can afford system, with memberships starting from as little as £5 per month.

Come on see what its all about…you might like it.

Find out more here

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This time of year is always a bit grim in the UK right?…and I always long for a bit of winter sun, a break…a couple of days away from the big smoke to re-energise myself…it’s not so much the cold as the lack of sun.

What can I say? I am a sunshine and margaritas kind of girl…well until I gave up the booze that was. Sigh!!!

Anyway, I mustn’t grumble because I had a lovely break just before Xmas to Bluestone Resort in Pembrokeshire, and I can’t believe it was a whole month since my return.

Time to write up my review I guess.

It’s funny, I always convince myself I am not very outdoorsy…you know being a city girl and all of that. But the fact is I love to be outside. I love a bit of mud. I love getting away from the concrete jungle that is London. So when Bluestone National Park Resorts offered me the chance to spend 4 nights at their resort with my family I was delighted…even if we were to be going in December.

It was perfect timing actually.

In the lead up to Xmas, I had been extremely busy launching a new business. I had also just found out that I had a place for the London Marathon in the spring, and needed to refocus my running efforts and find my mojo again. So my plan for this mini break was to run every morning, and just be as active as I could…which is hardly a problem at a place like Bluestone.

We arrived in Pembrokeshire, Wales to the most spectacular of sunsets…we had headed out of London just after rush hour in the morning, so it had been quite some journey what with multiple toilet breaks at service stations. Me, my sister Jennie and our two kids Rio 9 and Rosie 4 and a half all ready for a winter adventure.

Driving through Bluestone was pretty magical as we tried to locate our lodge. We were staying in a Gateholm Lodge 3 bed, 2 bathroom lodge in the Templars Court section of the resort. There was so much space…at least we wouldn’t annoy our neighbors ha ha.

The kids were so excited as they explored the topsyturvy lodge, with its communal area upstairs and bedrooms downstairs, both kids announcing that this was the kind of house they wanted to live in “in real life”.

As my sister unpacked our provisions, I drove the car back to the main carpark and hiked the mile back. Problem was I hadn’t really familiarised myself with the site, and got lost twice. I ended up covering 12K steps and by the time I got back to the lodge dinner was ready…so all was not lost really.

We opted for an early night as we were all pretty tired.

The next morning I was a bit eager and got up so early it was still pitch black. I knew the trails would be quiet and I would have to be brave to face them, but even I am not that brave, headtorch or no headtorch. so I made myself a cup of tea and just enjoyed the peace and quiet while I waited for the sun to rise a bit. I headed out at 8.20 with the aim of running 5 miles.

Wow, wow, wow…I loved running on the trails outlined on the Bluestone Map, I didn’t really have a plan, I just intuitively went where I fancied and ended up running though Caniston Woods, which was beautiful and scary in equal measure. For the first hour, I didn’t see a single other person, although I di have a little dalliance with a bird who decided to run along the path in front of me for a few minutes…it was quite funny actually.

Once out of the woods I found myself on a country lane and just picked a direction and went for it, my speed was a little bit lacking, but my fitness felt good. I have always had a bit of an adventurous spirit like this, as a kid I would purposefully get lost so I could find my way home again.

At one point I came across a forest that seriously looked like it had been there for a million years…the trees were like 100 foot tall, or at least they felt like they were.

After about 90 minutes I headed back the way I came, ready for breakfast, a shower and whatever the day could throw at me.

The rest of the day was spent exploring the site. It drizzled all day, but we were dressed for the weather and nobody seemed to mind. We walked around the village, explored the trails, and went swimming in the BEST swimming pool EVER. Heading from the heated pool out into the cold drizzle of the outside lazy river was strangely refreshing…the kids had a blast.

Everything about this holiday park was designed with kids in tow…quite literally, later in the week we hired bikes, me with a trailer pulling Rose along as I went. Rio loved the freedom of biking along the trails through the mud and down the hills…much to the horror of his mum who is anything but a dare devil.

On what became known as “Mountain Bike Day” we spent the day whizzing around the camp, popping back briefly for lunch and then heading out again.

Jennie who stupidly come out in white pumps soon realised what a mistake she made when she almost lost a shoe. We came off the trails at one point and headed towards a track leading up to a farm, it was so muddy that by the time we realised it was a bad move we were too far invested and couldn’t turn back so we headed up a hill which was fine for Rio, fine for Jennie…but me with Rose on the back..let’s just say I got my work out that day.

I was literally stuck in the mud…scared that if I let go of the bike or slipped Rose would be heading for an adventure all of her own…I was sweating so much it looked like it had been raining.

Jennie thought it was hilarious and started filming me…but karma got her back and she fell over on her arse, mud all over her backside. Too damn funny.

We still laugh about it now, a month later.

The whole trip was about doing things as a family we might not do otherwise and making memories, we did that for sure…

Rios,

This is the best holiday ever comment says it all really

We headed out of camp one day to nearby Tenby, we hid in caves, searched for sea creatures, drew messages in the sand and generally just had a relaxing day…no moaning from the kids at all.

We had the beach to ourselves pretty much, and then warmed up in a local cafe.

There were lots of interesting day trips to be had, but to be quite honest there was also enough to do at Bluestone…so we mainly stayed on site.

Rio loved the freedom of being able to take his bike and explore the traffic-free site by himself.

We went into the village one night and enjoyed the switching on of the lights, and another we took part in the pub quiz which was a fun, family-friendly affair.

I ran every day that we were there covering 17 miles. One morning I simply did laps of the site, which may sound boring but was in fact brilliant. The views are spectacular and plenty of other runners were out that morning too. The hills though…gosh the hills. We didn’t hire a gold buggy as I was determined to be active…but on reflection that was quite challenging with Rose refusing to walk at some points. Though, there was a bus service which ran circles around the site which we used to come back from swimming and the indoor activity centre…which was very well used during our stay.

We had booked a visit to the Kingdom of the Elfs, an interactive winter themed show which led us through a series of rooms telling us the story of the elves and the snow queen. It was brilliant. The kids got elf onsies and we all got rosy cheek make up. The actors were hilarious, and the activities really well thought through.

We had such a wonderful time, and it was a perfect antidote to the madness that is the build up to Christmas in London. I loved that I was able to prioritise my training without compromising my family time, one morning for example I headed to the trails and did shuttle runs up a winding ramp in a part of the camp called Steep Ravine (figures right) catching my breath at Camp Smokeys.

I left Wales feeling reenergised and strong.

We often think that family holidays have to be all ice cream and chips by the sea, or super stressful with passports and luggage allowances, but this was a real eye opener to me about a different type of family break.

…and a perfect excuse to train somewhere different from your normal routes.

This trip was gifted to me by Bluestone National Park Resort as part of their blogger programme in exchange for an honest review. I would like to say a massive thank you to them. Our stay was perfect, and I will be raving about our stay in Wales for a while…as will Rio and Rose.

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I am a proud Londoner.

One of those rare people that have actually lived here their whole life, coming from parents who had too.

I know, I know…we do exist ha ha

So, yeah I am a proud Londoner and I ADORE the London Marathon.

It hasn’t always been the case though because for a large period of my life I didn’t even know it existed.

The marathon was first held in 1981, when I was just two and half years old, yet it was probably close to 20 years later before it played any part in my life because growing up I simply didn’t know any runners, and I didn’t come from a sporting family so even if it was on the TV one Sunday, it would have probably been switched over pretty sharpish.

The first time I watched the Marathon on the box would have been at some point in my mid-twenties, probably recovering from a horrific hangover on the sofa too ill to change the channel. I wouldn’t have been inspired by it much either because the running world was all so alien to me back then and any running I had done in the past was either away from trouble or towards the sweet shop.

That all changed a few years later when I found myself working for Newham Council as their volunteer coordinator, and I supported a team of young runners to take part in the London Mini Marathon…it was EPIC, the sight of thousands of kids in shorts and t-shirts from all over the country congregating in a dark underpass at 8am in the morning was mind-blowing. Waiting for our kids to finish at the mall even more so, and the following year I headed to the marathon as a spectator just for the heck of it.

I started my own running journey around that time too. I was working on the bid phase of the London 2012 Games, encouraging local people to get active and get involved…I was hardly the poster girl for good health though and decided it was time to get fit.

I took part in a local race, didn’t train, got heckled by some kids, came last, died of embarresment…and in that moment decided I needed something massive to kick my arse into gear and keep up my desire to run.

I knew it was the London Marathon….which was flipping ridiculous.

I was a size 20, couldn’t run for more than 30 seconds at a time…and didn’t even own a proper sports bra.

But back in 2005 the seed was sown, and I knew that one way or another in 2012 I would be running 26.2 miles around London.

And I did…and it changed everything.

The journey towards running that race taught me so much, as did the race…my love for London that day was cemented, having your name screamed in support by thousands of people will do that to you. Knowing that hundreds of people have got out of their bed at crazy o’clock to volunteer at the event is truly humbling, and knowing that you are joining an exclusive club of incredible people that can look back and say,

Yeah, I’ve run London

In 2015 I got the chance to run London again…my prep hadn’t gone so well this time, I managed to fall down the stairs of a night bus two weeks before in fact and it took me an hour longer to get around the 26.2 miles. This time I ran (ok ran walked) the whole way with one of the ladies from my online running club, and we got to really see the heartwarming stuff that happens at the back end of a marathon….we also got interviewed on Tower Brisge which was pretty exciting.

Now I know how incredibly lucky I am to have run London even once, so to run it twice is super lucky right?…but to run it 3 times?

Well yep…that is kind of what is happening.

On Friday just gone I stood with a couple of hundred members of the press and various celebrities and VIPs at the annual London Marathon Media Lunch where the theme for this years, plus the line up of the elites taking part were announced.

This year is going to be EPIC.

Because the theme for 2018 is the #spiritoflondon

Hugh Brasher the Event Director for the London Marathon said in his announcements,

Running the Virgin London Marathon is described by so many as a lifechanging experience with extrordinary camaraderie among runners, volunteers, spectators and everyone involved in the worlds greatest marathon. Our #spiritoflondon campaign will unite everyone running on Sunday 22nd April and the greater London Marathon family of more than one million finishers

Whenever people say I am crazy for running marathons, or think I am obsessed about the sport of running I feel sorry that they haven’t experienced the pure unadulterated joy that this sport can bring, and I never tire of this…even as I sit here dreading the long cold runs I see in my future as I head towards race day.

One of the ladies in my online running club the wonder woman that is Liza Vallance summed it up in a video she made for this years group of women training for marathons, she said,

I always remind myself that to train and run a marathon is a privilege, not a punishment

And she is oh so right.

So many people are unable to run, their bodies won’t allow them, and there are folks out there that are too afraid or have simply never been motivated enough to give it a go.

On Friday I sat across the table from Charlie Guenigault the off-duty police officer who was stabbed four times because he ran towards the terrorist attack near London Bridge to help others as people ran away from the danger.

I briefly met Swansea Harrier Matthew Rees the runner who became a hero on the mall last year as he sacrificed his race time to help fellow runner David Wyeth to finish his race when he found himself in trouble.

And there will be a team of firefighters who so bravely tackled the Grenfell blaze also taking part this year.

But the guest who I was most touched by on Friday was Baroness Lawrence, mother of murdered Stephen Lawrence, who is supporting a team of 10 runners taking part in the marathon this year to mark the 25th anniversary of his death. As I interviewed her she told me proudly about the time Stephen aged 14 took part in the mini marathon coming 134th and raising money for Great Ormond Street.

Murdered on the streets of London just 4 years later he never got the chance to run the full distance if he had ever wanted to, never got the chance to experience the wonderful architecture (a subject he was passionate about) of London seen in the most unusual of ways.

As team captain for the runners raising money for the Stephen Lawrence Trust which supports young people interested in becoming architects, I asked Baroness Lawrence how she will be encouraging them, and what mindset tips will she be giving them,

I will be encouraging them to think about WHY they are running the race in the first place, and no matter what happens remembering what is being achieved in Stephen name.

Most of the team have been recipients of bursaries from the trust, I met two of the runners who had nothing but praise for the tireless work of Stephens mother and the trust and were looking forward to being able to pay it forward by running in April.

Baroness Lawrence said finally in her interview with me,

I want London as a whole to remember Stephen

And I for one will be thinking of him as I make my way around the streets of London.

There is no doubt about it, the London Marathon changes lives. It helps us reflect on our lives. It forces us to make sense of the world we live in somehow.

The founders of the race Chris Brasher and John Disley right the way back in the 80s knew that running events like this have an extraordinary power to unify people, and one of the founding principles of the event was and still is,

To have fun and provide some happiness and a sense of achievement in a troubled world

There are just 12 weeks until I line up with 40,000 or so other runners. The event on Friday was just what I needed. A reminder of how lucky I am to have a place. How lucky I am to be able to run. What a privilege it is.

It was also a reminder to get a shifty on with my training, dodgy feet and a brief chest infection have thrown me off my training plan over the last couple of weeks, but I have a run tomorrow, one on Monday and my first race of the year on Sunday.

I also plan to test out the first part of the route as I take part in The Big Half in March too.

So I am going to leave you with a video which really shows what happened between Matthew Rees and David Wyeth, without the BBC commentary…if this doesn’t warm your heart I don’t know what will….might also put you off EVER running a marathon too…sorry about that ha ha.

You can read about my 2012 race here, and my 2015 race here…luckily I don’t hit the wall in either…probably because I take three times as long to get round as these guys….and eat ALL the jellybabies!!!

LONDON MARATHON 2017 - MAN COLLAPSES FROM EXHAUSTION (SO SAD) - YouTube

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Like many people I know…I HATE FEET…especially other peoples, with the exception of small children that is.

I don’t like looking at them, I don’t like thinking about them…and heck I sure as hell don’t like touching them, which is why I go for a monthly pedicure.

But even then I dismay at the fact that another human being is willing to go anywhere near my feet.

As runners we know that having manky feet kind of comes with the territory, especially when you start reaching the higher distances.

You never forget the first time you forgot to cut your toenails before a race, just like you will never forget the shock of losing your first toenail after a big race or wondering whether to pop or leave a blister.

To some extent we use these toejuries…which of course is not quite as funny as the term mingerys…as a badge of honor.

Or is it just me?

Looking after our feet though, no matter what distance we are running should be up there in terms of importance with stretching after a run, wearing a good sports bra and staying hydrated, yet so often we completely ignore our feet until they start giving us grief and then we realise just how crucial they are to this whole running malarky.

So here are my top 8 ways to look after your feet….and a few things to buy just in case it all goes wrong….which trust me it will at some point.

Tip 1

Wear the right trainers. Do not go for the cheapest pair in the shop or the most expensive, cost is not always the best indicator of whether they are right for you. Get your feet assessed by a professional, and then, by all means, shop online to pick up a bargain if you must. Get new shoes every 300 to 500 miles, but keep an eye on this and look out for telltale signs they need replacing.

Look after your trainers…don’t wear your running ones for the Gym or for cycling in, and if you can rotate them with a second pair as this will preserve their life. Also, remember you need to go up a shoe size in running trainers to allow room for your feet to swell…often missing toenails are a result of shoes that are a bit too small.

Tip 2

Wear decent sports socks. Make sure you put them on properly too. A badly placed seam can cause havoc. I like these ones from Features, and also quite like these funky ones from Stance. I have two sets of socks though, cheaper ones for distances up to 5K and more expensive ones for the longer runs…oh and just so you know, running socks are more annoying than normal socks, they like to dissapear, so you will be replacing them often.

Tip 3

Keep your toenails short…no even shorter than that!!! Check them before every run. If you can’t get to your own toenails to cut them, have regular appointments with a podiatrist or get a loved one to do it for you (Just don’t EVER ask me to do it ha ha)

Tip 4

Keep your feet moisturised. Dry feet is what often causes blisters. Make sure to use moisturiser on your feet after every bath and shower, this will help avoid dry cracked feet and also dare I say it forces you to have a bit of a relationship with those things which are at the end of your legs.

On race days try smothering your feet with lubricant. I always do this for marathons, and have managed on the whole to never get really bad blisters like I hear reported so often. Vaseline does the job quite nicely, but I know a lot of people use specialist lubes (ooooh I say)

Tip 5 

Strengthen your feet by exercising them regularly and no I don’t mean by taking them for a run. Use a tennis ball under your feet in circular movements on the ball of your feet, the arch and the heel. Stretch your calves and mobilise your ankles (which are kind of attached to your feet) by stretching while standing on the edge of a step or stair. Here are some brilliant exercises given to me by my local foot doctor…AKA a podiatrist

And on that note…

Tip 6

Seek professional help ASAP if you have any issues…DO NOT WAIT AND HOPE FOR THE BEST. Two weeks ago  at the end of a 5 miler I started to feel a slight pain in the arch of my foot, the following day at parkrun there was no denying it…I had a problem.

It was a sign I needed new trainers…but I had left it just a little bit too late and by Saturday evening I was in real pain in both arches no matter what shoes I was wearing or not wearing. The following day I went to my local foot clinic to see a professional podiatrist. He reassured me it wasn’t plantar fasciitis which is what I feared it was, and he gave me some exercises to do at home and made the suggestion I went to see an osteopath or sports physio for some manual maneuvering to relax the muscles.

Two weeks, an osteopathy appointment, daily exercises, and new trainers later and the pain is fully gone and I am ready to continue with my marathon training. Phew!!!

Tip 7

Avoid dodgy everyday shoes. Heels and flats are not your friend while training sadly, especially when training for a big race. Flats can bring on plantar fasciitis…so ditch the flip flops and converse pumps, and heels can stretch the arches…and if you are as clumsy as me lead to all kinds of other injuries if you are not steady on your feet.

In the lead up to a big race where sensible shoes which support your arch, won’t give you blisters and allow your feet to breathe…failing that just walk around in your runners.

Tip 8

Use heat and ice where needed. As long as you don’t have any circulatory troubles dip your feet in a bucket with water and ice for at least 15-minutes after a hard run. If you can’t tolerate the cold for too long, run cold water over them instead.

And if you have inflammation of any sort or just tired feet, a nice foot bath with warm water will give you some relief too. Get into the habit of looking after your feet, experiment with some essential oils…we call this self care ha ha

So obviously prevention is way way better than cure, just like being able to anticipate problems just in case you get caught out. Here are a few products which have been a godsend during my 2 weeks of foot pain, and my 10 years of just about managing to look after my trotters.

Please share this blog and look after your feet…whatever you do though, DO NOT SEND ME PICTURES OF YOUR DODGEY FEET, I have enough to deal with my own thanks.

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I have always enjoyed swimming, went a lot as a kid at school and during the summer holidays. Was never a strong swimmer but just reasonably confident in the water….and loved the hot toast afterwards (anyone else get hot buttery toast after swimming or was it just an East End thing?)

During my twenties when my weight really started to creep up I would often go to my local pool and swim lengths. Mainly breaststroke as my front crawl was useless…I could never get the breathing right.

In 2006 though I had the bright idea to sign up to a Triathlon…and I decided to get some adult swimming lessons as the thought of swimming breaststroke in the docks with a million spectators felt a little bit scary.

The lessons were great, I learned to breathe, did some stuff on technique and my fitness improved too. Most importantly though I did not die during the race. But that was 10 years ago…and I now swim in a 50-meter pool not a 25-meter pool…and boy does that make a difference.

I live like 5 minutes away from the London Aquatic Centre…the awesome pool which was used during the London 2012 Olympics & Paralympics…in fact in my work on the games I got to see the early architectural plans for the pool, and I went to a number of the test events…so it feels wonderful to swim there.

I have got out of the habit though and haven’t trained properly for ages, so when Swimathon approached me and asked if I would be interested in becoming an Ambassador for this years challenge…I was like YES I WOULD.

Swimming is such a great compliment to running, and I am training for the London Marathon which takes place the weekend before Swimathon so the timing couldn’t be better.

So what is swimathon?

Swimathon is the world’s biggest annual fundraising swim. In 2018 Swimathon aims to reach the milestone of raising £50 million for charity. In the 30 years since it began Swimathon has raised a staggering £48 million, for 36 different charities.

The event is set to take place over 3 days from the 27th– 29th April. To help attract more people to take part and get into the pool, for the first time Swimathon will include a 400m (16 lengths) challenge and virtual MySwimathon challenge, giving swimmers more options and greater flexibility to be part of the Swimathon experience however they want.

Swimathon began in 1986 with a London-only initiative, organised by the Guild of London Bath Managers to encourage pools to get more people swimming. The launch of the annual event was in 1988 and since then Swimathon has since seen almost 700,000 participants at over 1000…this year welcomes Marie Curie and Cancer Research UK as its primary charity partners.

You can find out more and sign up here

Why might you think about entering?

But also, swimming is in many ways an ideal form of physical activity, accessible to many for whom other forms of physical activity are not possible and great to compliment running.

This is because it can be easier on joints, and the water can make it easier for some people to move and support their body weight…and I find it great for stretching out my body and perfect for keeping up my fitness if I am carrying injuries or niggles.

Plus you can fundraise for two brilliant charities while you are at it.

So where am I with my training?

Well on Saturday just gone I got to meet Olympic swimming legend and MBE Duncan Goodhue who won Gold at the 1980’s games in Moscow and also Keri Anne Payne Double World Champion and Olympic Silver medalist in open water swimming…what a treat.

We had some theory stuff around breathing and body positioning, and then we were straight in the pool to practice what we learned. At first I found the rotating of my body on every stroke really hard as it felt so alien (plus I was exhausted from parkrun that morning) but towards the end of the session, I could see how with practice this could really help.

Well…boy oh boy did it.

I went for a swim yesterday to see where I was at. I have committed to the 1500 meter swim and wanted to see how easy or hard that was going to be.

I have never been able to swim more than 1 length of the 50 meter pool front crawl without having to stop to take a breather…sometimes I am unable to make it the whole way. But yesterday I managed 3 consecutive lengths at one point. I covered 1000 meters in total in 42 minutes of swimming 50% front crawl and 50% breaststroke which I am chuffed with.

I am considering upping my challenge distance to 2500…and setting myself a challenge of being able to complete it all in 90 minutes.

I can’t wait to get back in the pool…and will be heading off there tonight.

So the big question is are you going to join me? Not at training tonight obvs, but doing Swimathon?

Here is the link you need to sign up

And here is the link to the TFTR training group page where I will be posting ideas for training sessions, all of the theory stuff Keri Anne shared with me, and just general encouragement. Plus we get to celebrate together at the end of April.

Look, obviously I am passionate about getting women running, but actually, I am just passionate more generally about helping women take part in any sport or physical activity that supports their health and happiness, so please get involved.

Please share this blog, encourage your friends and family to take part, and jump on social media Facebook, Twitter and Instagram using the #swimforall hashtag and let’s use Swimathon 2018 to get more women active 

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The irony of a very slow runner reviewing food which is marketed to help you go faster is not lost on me, however I came across Kate Percy at a conference a few years ago and she was so passionate about her product, it always stuck with me as a brand, and it has been brilliant watching it grow from afar.

Just before Xmas I was scouting around for prizes for my Countdown to Xmas challenge and I thought of Go Faster Foods again, knowing their little balls of goodness (and that’s not a phrase I’ve used in a while) would be perfect to send out through the post to my ladies.

So I agreed to do a review or the treats and Kates book “Go Faster Food for your Active Family”

Now I have tasted a wide variety of energy balls over the years, I have even made my own and so I know how convenient they can be as a snack, whether with a cup of tea instead of a biscuit or while on the go…like literally while out training.

My only concern with products like this is that they can be so delicious I literally can’t have them in the house.

I was sent a variety of the flavors…enough to last me a couple of weeks, so before I could be tempted I packaged up a bunch ready to be sent off to my competition winners, which is just as well because I would have eaten them all otherwise.

Talk about tasty…but strangely enough not overly morish.

I think the fact there are 3 in a packet, totaling less than 150 calories it kind of doesn’t matter if you have 1, 2 or all 3, one pack was always enough though…even if it did turn into a daily treat, almost a bit of a ritual you might say.

So, the reasons I like these bites

  • They are a UK brand
  • They are a sensible snacking option if you are watching calories or other nutritional markers
  • They are filling and tasty
  • Easy to buy in bulk and have them to hand to grab or store in your car or gym bag
  • Vegan…yep that is me these days
  • 1 of your 5 a day

Oh and…

10% of profits go towards the #eatlikeanathlete education programme which runs workshops in schools.

So what about the book?

It is a brilliant book, “Go Faster Foods for an Active Family” I loved it.

I have a 5 year old and I am always conscious of what she’s putting in her mouth. Luckily she loves healthy foods and isn’t a fussy eater…she will try most things, and is happy with fruit or nuts as snacks rather than the alternatives.

Although like most children if there are sweet treats around she will indulge given half the chance.

She tasted the Go Faster Bites and liked them…not enough to ask me for more though…I think she kind of knew they were my treats, so she knew to leave well enough alone ha ha.

I am lucky that my daughters school is on the ball when it comes to healthy eating…Rose comes home and tells me what we should and shouldn’t be eating, and the kids get rewarded at school for choosing the healthier options at lunch, and there is always fruit available in the classrooms for snacking on.

I think this book will be even more useful as Rose grows older, particularly if she gets more into sport.

She proudly announced “I don’t like running” last year when I took her along to junior parkrun…although she did take part in a race at EuroDisney race weekend in September.

She has just started Gymnastics though and is loving it and we have started talking about food being a way of helping her muscles grow strong so she can jump higher and balance better.

I try not to make too much of a thing of it though. It is a delicate balance with kids, particularly girls.

I would absolutely recommend this book for parents with older children and maybe more than one child, there are some great family recipes…many of them tempting me back (almost) to eating meat.

There is some really sound non-shaming advice around the whole family using food as fuel, and ways to involve your kids in the sourcing or ingredients and the preparation of meals.

A quick flick through again last night reminded me to put some walnuts and some agave syrup on my porridge this morning instead of having it plain, and tomorrow I am going to test out the butternut squash risotto with maple syrup almonds which sounds lovely.

Just by a stroke of luck I bumped into Kate at the National Running Show yesterday…and I even managed to nab another lot of Go Faster Balls for the train journey home.

Happy Days.

So I guess you want to know where you can get yours?

Well there are a range of stockists now which is great, you can of course order them direct from www.gofasterfoods.com, pop them into your Amazon basket, or even head to Holland and Barrots on the high street.

A massive thank you to Kate and her team at Go Faster Foods for making this collaboration happen…any time you fancy sending me another batch of your super tasty balls, I’d happily take them off your hands….mind you saying that seeing the interest you had at your stall at the NEC yesterday looks like I am not the only one who would be willing to be your official taster.

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