Blistering Sunshine, Biblical Downpours and Irish Summers

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I write this from a position from which I confess I may not be able to move from for quite some time. In a very supportive, yet comforting sitting room chair, sheltering from the biblical rains that continue to pummel down from an overwhelmingly pessimistic sky. To cut a long story short, I went for a long ride this morning and got soaked.

It rains a lot in Ireland.

This is not a new concept to me. I’m Irish, I get it.  In fact, I’m quite sure my Irishness makes me part human, part rain. However, the last few weeks in Ireland have been nothing short of stunning with absolute clear blue skies and tear-inducing sunshine that occasionally shines on our fair green isle as a kind of tease, to remind us of the weather we could be having all the time, if it weren’t so prone to the wet stuff.

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This was the sky from my garden at 7.30pm one weekday evening.

Take yesterday, for example. Hottest day of the year so far at a balmy 26 degrees celsius – beautiful. Today, not so much. This morning it was lightly raining, with the weather forecast lady promising “rains will clear”. No Lady, the rains did not clear. As I cycled my way up to Dunshaughlin, Ratoath and did a wee tour of Meath this morning, the rains in fact got significantly heavier and steadily worked their way up to being what I would class as an out-and-out solid downpour.

It’s almost as if the universe was having bit of craic with us today – See here now Irish people, a few days of sunshine and here ye were, getting all cocky and carried away with yourselves thinking ye be living the life of Reilly. Now, let’s be putting ye back in your place!

I was like Forrest Gump walking around Vietnam.

First, the rain came the front, like teeny darts to the face, despite the extra peaked cap I had added to my headwear this morning. Then the rain seemed to come from the side. And then, there were times when the rain seemed to jump up from the ground. Mushy socks and swimming pool shorts soon became the dress du jour.

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Apologies, I don’t mean to moan.

Really, I don’t mind rain that much, as I said, I’m well used to it at this stage. And sure once you’re wet, you’re wet. What was a real kicker though, was when I picked up a puncture 50km from home and it was yes, still spilling down. It’s tricky enough to change a puncture by the side of the road, but when your hands are soaking and you’re trying to fiddle with little nuts and bolts, it’s not funny. And you just know the people driving by are thinking “Who is that crazy girl messing with her bike on a day like today?”

Irish summers are typically temperamental and utterly unpredictable. Once you reconcile yourself to this fact, you’ll never stress again over Irish weather. Me, I am at peace with this fact but I’m also an inherent optimist so despite my intimate acquaintance with the facts about Irish rain, I will always ALWAYS believe that maybe the weather forecast peeps have got it wrong and maybe the sun WILL come out tomorrow.

My country, I love you. But enough with the rain already.

Good Pains in Strange Places

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I’ve started going to the gym and for the first time in a long time, I’m bringing back strength and conditioning sessions in a big way. But boy, it does hurt so good.

Strength and conditioning is an area I confess to having neglected in all my years running. Lifting dumbbells, doing squats and squeezing out a few press-ups are all the types of exercise I would typically hate. I always felt they were boring exercises- like sport without any of the joy. Coming up to marathon training time, I’d resolve to make sure I did at least one proper session per week and then also including a few exercises in my everyday post-run routine, such as heel lifts, wall-sits and planks.

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But in all honesty, I probably have not been doing as much as I should have been doing and now that I’m out of (temporarily!) the running game and sitting on the sidelines, injured for the foreseeable, I can’t help but wonder if I had been more diligent about my strength and conditioning training, I might not be injured right now. I might still be running about blissfully ignorant and injury-free.

I’m not a shoulda, coulda, woulda person though, so I bring this up as topic not to dwell on the past but to learn, plan and build for the future. I want to be stronger, I want to be faster and I always want to be better. (I don’t need to be higher 😉 )

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…and I always want to eat scones.

What’s the Plan?

Joined a gym, had a personal consultation and have a training plan. 2-3 days a week, I’ll be doing an hour of strength work, mixed with a short interval of cardio. In addition to that, I’ll be out on the bike at weekends and as the days start to get longer, I hope to get out a few mornings or evenings before or after work. I hope to get in one or two swims during the week too.

My program consists of:

  • Chest presses
  • Leg presses
  • Step-ups
  • Planks
  • Russian Twists
  • Face Pulls
  • Bicep curls
  • Tricep Dips
  • 15-20 minutes cardio (I’m having a go at rowing to try something different…)

Nothing revolutionary here – and if you’re a runner, you’ll probably be very familiar with most of these exercises. What I like particularly about this program is that it aims to build a basic level of strength and it also incorporate specific exercises that will be good for running, when I start back.

Leg presses will help develop the quad muscles as well as the glutes – also excellent for cycling (and my butt!)

Step-ups are a simple but excellent strengthening exercise that every runner should be including in their daily routine –  as well as the exercise helping to work the glutes, quads and your core, this move also helps to develop good balance and running form. I quite like doing these too.

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Planks and Russian Twists – work your core/ abs mostly but planks are an overall excellent strength exercise.

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I did the full program for the first time during the week and while I enjoyed doing that night… oh my sweet Lord, did it hurt the next day. I know since not being able to run for 10 months, my arms, abs (and general upper body) have just gone to flop. You just don’t use your arms that much on the bike and your entire upper body is more or less stationary for the entire ride – you don’t use it at all the way you do when running. So right now, I have NO upper body strength. It’s pathetic.

I could not lift my arms above waist height on Thursday after my weights session on Wednesday night. And there were aches and tendernesses in back muscles and shoulder places I have never felt before. Have you ever seen a person trying to massage their own back muscles? Not an attractive look. I cared not!

So onward and strong-ward! If you are also someone who has been avoiding strength work because you too find it boring and tedious, please PLEASE heed my advice and just do it anyway. Find a way to get it into your week – if you’re not someone who enjoys lifting dumbbells or churning out squats, then go to a class like bodypump or bootcamp. Ignore this element of your training and it could end up costing you dearly – both literally or figuratively.

Let me put to you this way – would you rather spend your hard earned wages on physiotherapy, MRI scans, doctor’s appointments, blood tests and consultant visits (still with no diagnosis or end in sight…) OR on the entry fee to the Boston Marathon?

Easy, right?

 

January On The Bike – The End is Nigh

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When I first started this cycling in the winter malarky last November-ish, I was a little shell-shocked, I have no problem admitting. Before then, I’d only ever taken the bike out of the shed between the months of June-October on days in between running days to get in some light cross-training. Come the end of October, I’d typically have packed in the bike after running the Dublin Marathon until starting running training properly again in Spring.

Alas, times have changed. Having not been able to run since last April, I’ve been on the bike 3-4 times a week and have pedalled on through the winter months. It’s been cold, it’s been wet and yes, it’s been emotional.

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Some great views from the Wicklow mountains, even in gloomy weather.

Depending on how you just read that, it could sound bleak. It’s not. Heading out early on a winter Sunday morning into a winter fog, trees frozen white and the fields hugging a low white fog… it’s nothing short of religious. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not going to over-romanticise it either – those mornings also involve freezing fingers despite wearing two pairs of gloves and numb feet (particularly the left one for some reason…) And on particularly cold days, it has also meant a very cold head.

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Rainy day winter gear – all the layers!

Cycling in the winter months undoubtedly makes you tougher and more resilient as a cyclist. You don’t look out the winter and think “Nah, it’s too wet/ cold/ windy”. You don’t decide to turn back home just because the wind is kicking your ass after the first hour and you still have 2 more hours to go. If you can be soaked to the skin (wearing 2 jackets…), the wind blowing you backwards and take ANOTHER wrong turn and STILL keep going forward, that’s progress.

It might not feel like it at the time – in fact, it really doesn’t feel like it at the time – but that’s how you grow as a cyclist. It’s a lot like running that way – it’s all in your head. Your mentality is everything both in running and in cycling. Mental toughness is at least half of what makes up the essential ingredients for success.

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One layer, two layer, three potato…four!

Cycling this winter has been a revelation for me and also a kind consolation for not being able to run. It’s given me something to do when I couldn’t pop on my running shoes like I normally would every day. It’s given me the head space and time out I need on a daily basis. And it’s given me something fun to play around with while I wait for my feet to heal.

Having said that… I’m looking forward to the days getting longer and warmer, when I can head up into the Wicklow mountains without any fear of wet roads and, dear God, for those days when I don’t have to wear 3 layers of clothes on the bike! I can’t believe I used to just wear a short-sleeve cycling jersey, shorts and one pair of light socks… shocking.

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The professional cycling season is about to get underway in earnest in next few months with the roll out of the Spring classics and I’m genuinely excited to see how it’s going to unfold. I may not be as tough as those guys, but cycling through these recent winter months, I could at least pretend to be for a few hours 😉

Happy January, roll on February!!

Let’s Talk About Feet (again)

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Full disclosure-these are not my feet but I love this picture. Happy feet or what?!

I’ve talked about my feet so many times on this blog that I’m starting to feel they have more of a presence than I have on here. In fairness, their drama, trips, days out, dates and life in general has been far more exciting than my own of late…

For those who don’t know (and have been saved that pedi-saga) I injured both feet in the run-up to the Paris marathon 2016, in or about March last year, which has resulted in me being benched from running for nearly 10 months now. Since then, I’ve seen numerous physiotherapists, a GP, a chiropodist and two orthopaedic surgeons who specialise in feet – all of whom have given me a different diagnosis in terms of the source of the pain in my feet. The first physio told me it was soft tissue damage, “just a battering” from all the marathon training. The second physio (from the same clinic) told me it was NOT a soft tissue injury at all, rather it was more likely a rheumatological condition, possibly rheumatoid arthritis.

On foot of what physio no.2 said, I visited my GP who ran blood tests which confirmed no inflammatory markers in my bloods. So, she ruled out the possibility that the cause of my foot pain was rheumatoidal. She referred me on to an orthopaedic specialist who specialises in foot problems on the basis that the pain could be a result of a stress fracture. On inspection of my feet, this orthopaedic surgeon was of the opinion that indeed the source of my foot pain was most likely a result of a stress fracture – 90% sure it was a stress fracture in the 5th metatarsal – to be precise.

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Went for an MRI… went back to Mr. Ortho… no stress fracture, anywhere in my feet. He then promptly informed me that he could do nothing further for me given that the problem did not appear to be a bone problem nor could he offer any opinion on what was wrong with my feet.

At this point, I cried.

It had been 9 months of different experts, with wildly different views on what is wrong with my damn feet. And here I was, after spending a chunk of money on all these guys and having not been able to go for a run in so long standing in a car park outside a hospital thinking I’m never going to be able to run again…. and not one person can tell me what is wrong with me. So I cried. With my Dad (who had kindly come with me to the appointment) looking at me like I was crazytown.

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This week I went to see another orthopaedic (foot) surgeon for a second opinion, which if nothing else, was hilarious. What my mother calls a good old-fashioned surgeon- glasses, dicky bow, abrupt, utterly unsympathetic, impatient and entirely forthright and opinionated – I loved it. After examining my feet, he took the view that I have basically bad feet. I have splayed, wide feet, with bunions, swelling in the forefoot and collapsed arches – basically, all these factors combined mean that the mechanics of my feet is all off. He told me that the custom orthotics I had made many years ago were useless on their own and that they would not be effective without accompanying exercises to make them work.

So what did he decide should be the next step? A physio! No, but not just anyone, he specifically recommended a Dublin physio who has worked with Athletics Ireland specialising in sports injuries with good experience. Given that this glowing referral came from a man who strikes me as exceptionally hard to impress, I’m expecting great things. I’m honestly very excited and feeling more positive about this than I have in months.

I have an appointment in 2 weeks time and I can’t wait. In the meantime, I also have an appointment to see a rheumatologist to investigate my Reynaud’s and just to rule out any rheumatoidal cause of my foot pain.

For the moment, I am still cycling away at weekend and early mornings before work, when I can. The mornings are slowly getting brighter earlier and the days are starting to stretch out and I can’t wait for those long Summer days… I also just joined a gym to action my new year’s resolution to get stronger this year. Strength and conditioning is an area I’ve neglected for a long time and I’m hoping if I can work on it, it might help with my feet/ knee/other injuries going forward.

Injuries suck, no doubt. I miss running massively. Word. But for the first time in a long time, I’m starting to feel like there’s hope that maybe some day in the near (ish) future, one of these experts will tell me it’s time to run again.

And what a wonderful day that will be. Happy running folks, enjoy!

Running Advent Calendar

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Ho ho ho…my fellow runners. December is but a day away and with it will come a slew of shopping lists, party invites, household tidying and cleaning tasks and a gazillion other demands on your time for the next 25 days…

Fun, right?

The run up to Christmas can be hectic and free time to do the things you want to do can rapidly be hoovered up. Time you may have had before to go for a walk with you friends or a hike up the mountains can so easily be swallowed up by to-do-lists, present-buying and a whole host of other things that seem more important.

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With all the extra demands on you in the few weeks before Christmas, things can get pretty stressful. It’s for exactly this reason I think it’s just as important, if not MORE important to make sure to take a chunk of time for yourself everyday and go for your run – or your walk – or your cycle – or whatever it is that you do that centres you.

If I don’t get out for a run, I start to feel trapped, very quickly. I get ratty, short-tempered and intolerant. I like to think of it as some kind of inherent human, self-preservation characteristic that needs regular exposure to fresh air as a reassurance that if necessary, I can and will escape 😉

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Smiley, happy people.

Or maybe it’s more simply that I like to get outdoors into the fresh air and blow off some steam, whether that’s running the roads for an hour or two, or cycling away the miles for the morning.

Either way, I know how important making the time to get out and exercise is for my mental state. I used to feel like this was a very selfish thing to do, making sure that I carved out some time in the day for my run. I don’t anymore. If I don’t get out for my run, I don’t feel like me AND If I don’t feel right in myself, I’ll be off-balance and my mood will be all wrong WHICH won’t make me a great person to be around. I want to be in a good mood and enjoy people and everything that goes with Christmas – this makes it very simple for me.

For your own good and for the sake of those around you in the next few weeks, it’s important to make sure you do you. Don’t stop running in the next few weeks because all of sudden “you don’t have time”.

Make the time.

Get up an hour earlier. Run at lunchtime. Hit the gym in the evening. Whatever and whenever you can manage.

Don’t lose you in the Christmas chaos.

Because if you’re anything like me, if you start giving up your daily run to Christmas shopping, errands and cleaning the kitchen presses (and other riveting household cleaning tasks…), you will very quickly find yourself sitting in the corner, rocking back and forth, wondering how you ever got there… Okay that hasn’t actually happened yet but it has come close many times!

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Obligatory pic of Macauley Culkin freaking out

For the Next 25 Days… I’m going to help keep you all in the mood for running and remind you how great it can be to have running at this time of year.

Watch out for my posts and excited to get cracking into December!

Winter Cycling: Not For Wimps

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I’m a cycling novice, having only really committed to regular training on the bike in the last 6 months. Prior to that, it was just heading out whenever I felt like it on irregular occasions and for irregular lengths of time. No plan. Nowadays, I’m on the bike 5 days a week with structured short and long sessions for specific days. However, I have to admit that I’m still not overly fussed about being too strict about how far I should go for a cycle in any session, preferring to leave it up to how I feel on the day. I’d rather not suck all the joy out of cycling.

As a novice, winter cycling is new to me. Of course I have cycled in winter before (it would be weird if at the age of 30 I had not…) but in previous years where running has always been my priority, deciding not to bother with a recovery cycle just because the weather was horrid was not a big deal.

Not anymore.

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Got to test these overshoes out for the first time today. I was glad of them for sure!

Now that running had been put on hold for the foreseeable future (breaking my heart in the process but let’s not get morbid!) my cycling mentality has temporarily taken over my running mentality. This means if there is a session for today scheduled, then it’s get up and out, get it done. Doesn’t matter what the weather is doing, doesn’t matter if I’m “not in the mood”. Up, out, get it done.

This was tested today.

On a Sunday in Ireland, where a thick white frost covered the fields for as far as I could see, leaves on trees and bushes frozen in place like tiny statues, and a constant white fog hung in the air, there was no mistaking that winter had indeed arrived on our not-so-green-today island.

I deliberately waited to later in the morning to head out on the bike in the vain hope that temperatures might increase as the morning progressed, but in fact, they never got about 0 degrees. Cloud hung low in the sky, blocking out the sun and preventing it from shining through and creating a smidgen of heat.

I love a good, solid, unmistakably winter morning but today’s conditions were simply freezing. Armed with two pairs of gloves, two pairs of socks, overshoes and solid layering on top, I was all set to test my cycling resolve!

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See how my pale Irish skin just grabs all the light in the room. Complements the flattering cycle gear, don’t you think?

I headed out in the direction of Kilcock, feeling better than I expected to and happy that I had got the whole layering thing right. Not too cold and not cooked either. After passing through Clane, I continued on the Kilcock road before turning off for Donadea, where main roads gave way to country fields on either side and an accompanying deep white fog. I quickly realised I should have equipped my bike with lights today as although it was daytime, visibility would be seriously affected by the fog.

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Deep pockets of fog on country roads, very eerie…

I then continued to Timahoe, from where I turned right for Cloughrinka, making way through bog country and farm areas, all appearing as though the White Witch had just past through turning everything she touched to winter. Bushes, trees, leaves on the ground, the grass verges… all encased in white. The fog ever-present as I pushed on, with me wherever I went. My fingers started to numb despite the two sets of gloves because even though it was dry, the moisture from the fog was such that it was starting to settle on my clothes and hands and soak in. You wouldn’t think it, but I could see the moisture drops forming on my bike and starting to roll off my helmet.

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From Cloughrinka, I made a left toward Edenderry and from there, I motored on to Clonbulloge village, on to Rathangan and then straight home to Naas. I hardly drank or ate anything on the bike today, despite the 94km distance. Partly because I was too cold to notice where I was thirsty or hungry, but mostly because my hands were too cold to pick up my bottle. It just seemed like too much effort to route around my back pockets to dig out an energy bar or wrestle with the bottle from its cage. At one point, I dropped one of my bottles on the road after losing my grip on it due to my numb fingers… and having to turn back when you’re cold and tired is a killer. I tried to drink more towards the end though.

I was happy to get in a good long cycle today and it’s always good practice to cycle in challenging conditions. I have to admit that reading George Hincapie’s biography at the moment and his stories about training in freezing conditions for hours on end is inspiring me to be a tougher cyclist. OBVIOUSLY my cycling expeditions are on a whole other level to George’s but he has really made me aware of just how hard pro riders actually train and the extent of the effort and discipline involved in the unglamorous, unforgiving daily life of a cyclist.

George was in my mind today I spun through the chilly conditions and although it was a long spin, I felt brilliant when I got home. Well, more specifically, I felt brilliant after I had defrosted, had a hot shower and changed into warm, dry clothes… and clung to a radiator for a while.

Running or cycling. I always feel brilliant afterwards. It may be winter out there, dark, cold and forbidding and oh-so-tempting to stay in your warm bed, but it’s always worth it to get outside.

So go forth folks and embrace your inner winter demon!

You can always  go back to bed then.

Sheep Are Like Dogs

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One of the great benefits of working a job that comprises of 12 hour shifts means that I have lots of days off and there’s nothing I enjoy doing more on days off than grabbing my bike and heading off into the countryside for a few hours. Relaxes me out no end.

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Look at that blue sky, I’ll defo have some of that, thanking you!

There have been a few times (just a few 😉 …shhh) when I’ve bitched and moaned up here about the wet, windy, temperamental, changeable and wildly unpredictable Irish weather so I thought it would be rather unfair if I didn’t also mention the days when the world decides to shine a light on the emerald green and make it glow. When the sun shines in Ireland, there is nowhere else in the world I would rather be. Period.

Today and yesterday were such days. Blue skies, hot as you like and a warm wind. Let me say that again just in case you didn’t catch the bold in that sentence. A WARM wind. The type of nice breeze that greets you as you step off a plane on the runway in Italy, France or Spain, to let you know that yes, you are now on your holidays. This is a big deal here guys, hence why it’s getting an entire paragraph dedicated to it 😉 We do not get warm air here, ever. Cold, freezing, wet, gales and gusts, yes – but rarely a gently warm breeze. Just lovely 😀

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A pit-stop at Starbucks for a nice coffee & binge reading Procyclist is a must.

I’m loving cycling these days and have been out every day the last few weeks that I haven’t been working. Fresh air, spinning the legs and soaking up the views, the countryside and the many sheep who I meet out and about on the roads every day. I used to think I didn’t like sheep – no personality, boring and a bit ugly to be honest. But I now think I was being very unfair to our woolly friends and I’ve come to rather love them lately.

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As I was riding by the Curragh plains in the last few weeks, there are sheep on either side of the road, unfenced and free to roam wherever. As sheep are wont to do, every now and again, one sheep will stop nibbling on the grass on the verge by the side of the road, look over (you can actually read the entire thought process as you approach them coming up the road) and decide he likes the look of the grass on the other side of the road better (so many cliches in here but it’s actually true for the poor buggers) and … off he goes wandering across the road to the other side, completely ignoring the oncoming traffic, cars, cyclists, you name it. There is no dog like sense to look left and right before crossing.

I’m sad to say that this is where sheep have failed to do their rep any favours because what happens next is ridiculous. As the adventurous sheep makes his little way across the road, his previously contented mates all stop nibbling on their patch of grass, look up to see where their friend has gone and … yep, you got it. They follow him across the road, also not paying a blind bit of attention to the mounting dangers coming either side of them.

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Ummm. Uh oh.

If I’m coming along my bike, I ring my bell to warn them so I don’t suddenly crash into them if they suddenly decide to make a break for it just as I’m passing by but it’s also to discourage any such feats, period, for their own safety. In the words of a wise man, stupid is as stupid does.

When they’re not playing the kamikaze daredevil on the roads, my sheep are lovely. This morning as I was pedalling away, most of them were lying down on the grass, eating their bit of grass (they are always, always chewing, geniuses in how to keep their metabolism up 🙂 ) heads up in the air, enjoying the breeze and the sunshine on their faces. Chilled, cool out and enjoying their day. Much like how dogs sit and enjoy the sun on a nice day. Very cute. Fancy getting a few sheep now, so I do.

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Chilling out, looking cool.

Stuff you should know – Until I can get a few sheep, I have to content myself with cycling and adventures on my bike. I’ve had my Carrera for a few years now and while it has served me very well as a beginner cyclist, I feel I’m ready to step it up a gear and make a bigger investment so I’ve been bike shopping. Just a few more Ts to cross and Is to dot and I’ll be all set to tell you all about the new 2 wheeler. CANNOT WAIT.

Speaking of spending money and bikes, I’ve also ordered a turbo trainer in advance of autumn/winter and the upcoming change of weather, as well as daylight hours. I reckon I’ll get a lot of use out of it, though I hope to still be able to do most of my cycling outdoors as much as possible. My review of the Tacx Vortex Smart will be coming up soon.

As if I haven’t spent enough money yet… I’m also shopping around for a little holiday at the moment but as ever, I want to go everywhere and cannot decide where to go. If you have any ideas, please let me know!

Happy Thursday!