Riding Around (this wee country)

Riding Around

There are lots of reasons to like cycling. Exercise, fresh air, environmentally-friendly way to travel, genuine tanning opportunity and people tend to think you’re pretty hardy. I’ve also mentioned the coffee stops too and the inevitable accompanying piece of cake. But the best bit about cycling, for me anyways, is speed. That feeling of whizzing through the air, preferably down a hill, wind bellowing past your ears and bringing tears to your eyes as you soar through space feeling like a superhero.

It’s utterly childish and utterly wonderful.

One of my most vivid childhood memories is taking my bike out for a ride one afternoon after school and homework had been completed (I’m nearly sure it was a Thursday afternoon and I reckon I was 10-11 years old). It was hammering rain outside and I just suddenly got the urge to get on my bike. My Dad, you see, was very liberal in his child-rearing views so he wouldn’t have objected to my apparent lunacy of going for bike ride when it was pouring rain outside. What I remember is pedalling, standing up on the pedals and going absolute full throttle down the road from my house, no rain jacket, no helmet (wouldn’t advise this now, mind you!), rain spitting up from the road and coming down from the sky and it felt amazing.

Pure unadulterated, unrestrained freedom.

I felt free, I felt invincible and I felt I could do absolutely anything.

I don’t do stupid things like cycle about without a helmet anymore, but I do still have moments of speeding down hills as fast I can go on my bike, big stupid smile across my face and feeling thoroughly heroic. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

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I’ve also taken to being more adventurous with my cycle routes in the last few months – trying out different areas and even driving to a start point a bit further away so that I can explore new areas and unexplored territory. Not gonna lie, it hasn’t always proved a roaring success and there have been some not so good road surfaces and just predominantly boring areas of Ireland that I would quite happily not miss ever seeing again. But mostly, it’s been great seeing new parts of the country and enjoying different landscape and towns of our fair green isle.

 

Sitka spruce and lodgepole pine dominate most of the coniferous woodlands of the Slieve Blooms, the largest cover of forestry in Ireland

Today, I took a venture around County Laois. I started from Monasterevin in Co. Kildare and headed towards Emo (because I always wanted to visit this place with it’s very cool name…), then Mountmellick ¬†and on to Clonaslee and the Slieve Bloom mountains. I passed through quite a few small towns and villages along the way. Most of these towns were old, delapidated, small towns with not more than the usual old pub, shop, church and great looking GAA club. I was hoping there might be a coffee shop somewhere along the way but if there was, I didn’t see one.

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I like seeing these small towns, as there is something reassuring in the way there are so many towns around Ireland that are exactly how they were 30 years ago. Sure, the cities are modern and progressive with all their fancy dancy wifi, frappuccinos and chic male haircuts, but take a short ride out to the countryside and let you be in no doubt whatsoever – you won’t be getting no fancy wifi down here.

Lest you be getting notions about yourself ūüėČ

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This is Rosenallis, not far from the Slieve Bloom mountains. Quaint, you might say.

It was nice to see rural Laois and they did have some lovely cows and friendly locals, but some of the roads weren’t the best (poor road surface makes for gritty cycling…), the scenery was not special and the towns were disappointing. I probably wouldn’t return here again unless there was a cycle race in the area. Rather, I think I’ll be trying out another area the next time.

The good news? It didn’t rain, I didn’t get lost and I had a little weekend adventure – and that’s good enough for me to feel just a little bit heroic for the rest of the day.

Happy weekend!

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Making Your World Bigger

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I live in a small world.

I get up, put my cycling gear on and head out the door to work in Dublin. I do my work day, mostly in the office in the city centre and sometimes out and about around the country. At the end of the day, it’s back into the cycling gear, train home, make dinner, watch some TV and bed. Gym one or two evenings a week and I also venture out to the Dublin suburbs to stay with my Grandad one or two evenings too.

At weekends, I’m also pretty boring – long cycles around Kildare, Meath, Laois or out towards the Wicklow mountains. Then it’s food, meeting up with friends for coffee around Kildare or doing something nice with my cousin and my little goddaughter. I drink about 5 times a year and go out on the town even less than that. I love a good night out and getting my dance on, but the opportunities are few and far between these days with most of my friends (who I would do these things with!) having moved away or emigrated.

But I’m also the kind of person who is quite happy in myself and mostly content in my own company – reading, cooking, going to the cinema, following sports, whatever. I’ve always been good at keeping myself entertained and finding something to do.

I love my little world. It reassures me in many ways and I feel lucky to have somewhere I feel safe and somewhere I can call home.

But lately, I have started to feel like my world is too small and I have this itch to break out and blow it wide open – run in every direction and see where it takes me – let it tear me down, re-design me and build me back up, one foreign brick at a time.

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Breaking Out

I was lucky enough to be given a last minute opportunity at work to go to Scotland for a week to take part in a work-related course. I jumped at it – to my surprise more than anyone else’s… I am such a person of routine – I make the same things for dinners, for lunches and supper – I do much the same things every day of the week – but when given the opportunity to drop it all and have a whole week of newness and the unknown, I didn’t even hesitate.

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Funky building in a park in Hamilton where I went for a wee walk

I had a great week in Scotland, despite a wee bit of rain ūüėČ

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Big building in Hamilton, Scotland where I was for the week

I met loads of great people with incredible experience, who were a joy to meet and get to know.

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I didn’t take any pics as I was driving, but this cool looking island could be seen all along the coastal drive and it was amazing looking!

I saw a whole new country with stunningly beautiful scenery.

I felt free.

This trip reminded me of what life is about and what my soul really wants. I forget this. I forget because the day-to-day needs and foggery gets in the way, clouds my view and makes me forget. It forces my soul to submit, conform and behave.

But I don’t want to conform anymore.

I want to be bold, break out and live in the big, big world around me.

Tomrrow, I go to the south of France to see the Tour de France in person. First stop Biarritz, then on to Pau, Toulouse and Rodez. I can’t wait. Sun, tiny villages in the south of France, pro cyclists up close (and hopefully personal) and pure unadulterated freedom.

Freedom to roam, freedom to discover and freedom to just be me. Away from everything I know, all the crap and away from my little world into a much, much bigger one.

Going Further

Going further

In running, there are certain distances you become accustomed to. 5km, 10km, 10 mile, half marathon, marathon etc. These are milestones every runner grows to know intimately – you learn to recognise how you feel at certain distances and what to expect physically and mentally at different points, the result being that you develop a kind of mental store and psychological toughness that helps you be better the next time. But when you’ve ran enough races, you also learn to know how you can expect to feel at the end of certain distances. For example, even though I haven’t run for over a year, I can remember exactly how I would feel after a 5km parkrun Vs. how my body feels after a half-marathon race Vs. after a marathon.

With Cycling, I find it a lot less clear cut. I could cycle an 80km today and be in bits tomorrow. Or I might cycle 100km today and be up for cycling another 70km tomorrow, no bother. There have been some days recently when cycling 37km to work on back to back days has just knackered my legs. But where is the sense, I ask you?

Apart from being able to draw the obvious conclusion that the harder the ride and more effort you put in, the more it will take out of your body and the slower it will be to repair and refresh. And the hillier the cycle, the tougher it is – also going to tire you out more.

But generally for cycling Vs. running,¬†there are no milestone distances to focus on – or maybe there are and I’m just out of the loop! Oh well…

Some cyclists seem to work with time, rather than distance. You cycle for an hour a few days during the week and then go for a three hour ride at the weekend, for example. I don’t work that way. I like to map out a ride beforehand and then see how long it takes me. Next time, I try do it faster. That’s what motivates me. I’m less good with a “three hour ride” because for me that’s just a licence to sit on my ass and flooter away three hours coasting along at my ease.

So I stick with distance. Up to this year, I’d never ridden over 100km, with the longest cycle I’d have competed being around 91km. So I cracked out mapmyride and mapped a few 100km -ish cycles and worked my way up to them. Then I did a race a few weeks ago which involved a 105km spin around Carlow and over Mount Leinster. I loved it.

Today I took a spin from Naas to Kilkenny, travelling through Athy, Carlow, lovely Leighlinbridge and Bagenalstown along the way. The weather was a bit crap to be honest with dark clouds, some rain and a headwind most of the way… but I was happy out just to find I could actually make it all the way to Kilkenny. Needless to say when I arrived in Kilkenny 3 hours 41 minutes later, I was delighted with life and Kilkenny was buzzing with people, despite the rain.

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I had booked to get the train back from Kilkenny to Sallins and had a bit of time before my train was due. I knew exactly how to spend that time.

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What is cycling, if not really good coffee and cake?

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After all, it’s the worst kept secret in cycling that the only real reason cyclists actually cycle is for the coffee and cake. And it’s worth it every time ūüėÄ

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After wandering around trying to find a coffee shop that I could safely leave my bike outside without fear of it being pinched, I came across the Pantry on Kieran St., which was exactly what I was looking for. Really good coffee and a good selection of homemade baked goods, as well as soup, sandwiches and hot lunch options too. I really just wanted somewhere to sit down and rest my weary bones for an hour, while indulging in a much looked-forward to pick me up.

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Nice design and good, friendly atmosphere, you can’t go wrong.

The staff were lovely, the coffee was excellent and my cupcake was just grand. The bun could have been fresher and the icing was a bit over-sweet, but I was starvers so it tasted great anyway. Good spot and I’ll be back again.

Next Up.¬†Now that I’ve gotten past the 100km mark, I’d like to build on that and be able for greater distances. There’s a clatter of 200km events in Ireland that look fab but I’m a long way from being able to remain upright for 200k. But it gives me something to aim for – oh, you know how it goes… citius, altius, fortius… better.

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!

A Toast to 2017…

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I’m not one for looking back or for dwelling over what might have been. Time spent wondering about¬†things that are done, in the past and forever unchangeable has always seemed to me to be a pointless exercise… as well as an instrument of self-torture.

You cannot change what has happened so don’t bother wasting more time trying to.¬†

I’m inherently optimistic. So if something bad or unexpected happens or things just don’t turn out how you hoped they would, my approach is always to see what good can be taken from it and move forward, constructively and better. Just like a wise man once said:

“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” (Samuel Beckett)

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Dublin city in NYE is always good craic.

In short, 2016 has been a long year for me, full of adventure, new people and new experiences. I have loved all (with one or 2 exceptions ūüėČ – Is it ever any other way?) the new people I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and the many new friends I’ve made through work, clubs, races, etc. Not without its sad moments however, 2016 ushered in a few sad goodbyes too.

I am very excited about 2017 and I cannot wait to get cracking.

I start a new job in January and I’m proper excited to get stuck into a new, challenging role. Travel, holidays to new places, new races and the possibility of my first ever home of my own… I can’t wait for it all.

What I Want Out of 2017 (maybe…)

  • Sit the NY Bar exam (Will they ever approve my foreign qualifications? Please?)
  • Get my own place (if the above doesn’t happen!)
  • Take a road trip in USA. Stay in motels. Eat ribs and grits.
  • Get strong. I have zero upper body strength or any strength in general. I could run and cycle all day but ask me to do a single press-up and I can’t get off the floor.
  • Explore my own country.¬†I’ve been to so many places around Ireland but there are just so many other places yet to be explored. It’s shameful. 2017 is going to involve at a minimum, trips to Derry, Belfast, Killarney and more mountain climbing everywhere.

 

Be kind to yourself tomorrow as you ring in the New Year, wherever you are and whatever you’re doing. Don’t beat yourself up or get stuck on the “what-might-have-beens”.

We are none of us perfect, without flaws or free from moments we wish we should have done better.

We will not be at our best every moment, of every day.

We will not always say the right thing or do the correct things.

We will say stupid things when tired and make wrong decisions because we think it will help someone else.

We will be misunderstood, misunderestimated and mistaken all the time.

Accept this and remember it in your kindness to others.¬†Without getting too heavy here, I just think if people were all a bit more considerate, tolerant and kinder to each other, the world would be a much nicer place to live in. It doesn’t take much and it can mean the world of difference to someone else.

And you know, as Helen Mirren recently said in the Hollywood blockbuster¬†Collateral Beauty…

Just be sure to notice the collateral beauty.”

Happy new year, enjoy the celebrations whatever you’re doing and just be sure that whatever you do in 2017, however small or grand your plans are, don’t forget to take notice of the… ūüėČ

Autumnal Bliss

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Life is full of big, beautiful – free – gifts. Most of the time we walk around, head down, lost in thought or glued to a screen of some variety or other and fail to notice these gifts. Or if you’re a glass half-empty sort or the moanie type, you probably… well, you probably moan.

Let’s talk Autumn – I L.O.V.E Autumn. Others don’t take to it so well, preferring to view it as the end of summer, stealer of the long, balmy evenings and thief of days spent sipping wine by the beach. The slow march into dark, cold winter.

While these things are true, I can’t resist the warm glow of autumn – the occasional warm, sunny spell, reminders of the summer just gone and the gradual change in the colour of the leaves, letting the gold, orange and burnt red colours take centre stage.

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Autumn marks the beginning of cross-country season too. Mad fun altogether!

And let’s not forget, October marks the build up to pumpkin season – ie. official licence to eat as much squash and pumpkin as I like. In fact, not to do so would be wasteful and environmentally unfriendly and an all-round social injustice to not adhere to eating in-season vegetables. It does one good to prepare one’s arguments ahead of remarks such as “Butternut squash again? Are you not sick of it?” No, I am never sick of it, silly person.

Autumn on the bike is a new experience for me, as usually at this time of the year I’m at the height of marathon training for the Dublin marathon (in exactly 4 weeks time – not that I’m counting or anything ūüėČ ) Cycling at the moment is a real treat when you get a pleasant sunny, dry day. The temperatures are definitely coming down but it’s the nicest thing to be cycling along in the autumn sun along tree-lined roads, watching the changing colours in the trees and bushes… and saying hello to all the sheep and cows too (obvs).

The weather is not always that cooperative but when you do get those days, it’s bliss.

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Two Things:¬†Dressing correctly¬†for cycling in autumn (or winter for that matter) is a minefield. I am braced for a plethora of days of cooked Fifi on a bike due to ridiculous over-dressing and over-dousing of layers… and freezing Fifi due to fear of the former occurring and the resulting under-dressing and under-layering debacle. Secondly, the days are WAY shorter already so early morning cycles and evening cycles before or after work are now out. Sorry autumn but you do lose a point for that.

Dark evenings may be about to strip me of a long evening cycle to wind down after a day, but autumn, in all its glorious good nature, transforms these into an irresistible, seductive gift. A proper excuse to light a fire, wrap up in a big fluffy dressing gown, spend a ridiculous amount of time in a hot bath walled in by candles and bubbles or just curl up on the sofa with a movie.

Squash

Food Glorious Food. October marks the start line for that time of year when salad for dinner starts to feel all wrong. Move over salad, hello soup, stews, curries and squash cooked every which way from Sunday. Orange coloured food everywhere. Beautiful.

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And… some roast butternut squash on the side cuz I’m an addict. Duh.

I am ready for October – and when I say ready – what I actually mean is I’ve been waiting for autumn since the beginning of the summer. I know autumn actually technically starts in August but real autumn doesn’t begin for me until the temperatures start to fall, the leaves start to turn and the days begin to close in. ¬†Their time is now.

Let the joy commence!

P.S Countdown to Halloween is ON… what are your plans?

Late Birthday Celebrations & Days Off

LATE BIRTHDAYCELEBRATIONS &DAYS OFF

I would be the first to confess to being overly strict when in training for a big event like a marathon or triathlon. Watching what I eat, being careful about the quality of the food going into my body and trying to keep my weight at a place where I feel comfortable running and cycling. You should know though, I’m not obsessive and I have no desires to be “skinny” – rather, I train and perform better when I feel comfortable in my own skin and for me that means feeling trim and strong.

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I’ve no elite toned body shape going on but for me this is as trim as it gets! Dont think it’s too bad for someone who used to carry an extra 2.5 stone.

I’ve come to believe though that it’s not good to be at that point all year round – to be at what some call your “racing weight”. Apart from the possibility that it might not actually be good for your body in the long run to keep your weight lower than is healthy, it also creates too much pressure and stress for your mind. It’s like trying to be perfect ALL of the time. Not sustainable and will make you go crazy.

So how do you balance these two competing issues?¬†I’m no expert but in the last couple of years I’ve found that works for me is allowing myself to train hard and focus coming up to a big race and then celebrate and enjoy a more relaxed time for a while afterwards. That way, I feel ready to go again for the next training period.

What does that garble actually equate to in reality?¬†It means I take a few days of doing no training except for maybe a gentle cycle or swim, lots of bubble baths and sitting around with my legs up. Then there’s all the food. Chinese takeaways, ice-cream, M&M’s, confectionery coming out my ears and a few nice lunches or dinners out with friends and family. Lots of crap, in other words.¬†I’d generally stay away from this kind of food when I’m in training simply because while it tastes good going down, it makes my body feel gross. It’s not the type of food that makes me feel good from the inside and if I don’t feel good, I don’t perform good. Very simple.

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I eat fish at least 4 times a week, cuz yeah it’s good for me but I also just love it. Clean, environmentally friendly eating… are you loving all the goodness going on here yet?

A few days indulging in rubbish is kiddy-like fun but then I quickly have enough and find I want to get back to eating well and training again.

Ironman 70.3 Dublin last weekend¬†was one such big event for me. The legs were useless for Monday and Tuesday and stairs were a non-runner (pardon the pun). It was also my birthday last weekend so this week was always going to be a chill-out week. A few easy cycles in the last few days helped to ease residual tightness and fatigue in my legs, readily aided by a few long bubble baths ūüėČ

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Ironmanned and done, done, done.

Today I met my cousin and 4 year old godchild for lunch in Avoca¬†along with my Mum and her friend. The food in Avoca is legendary and today’s offerings of confit duck salad with blood oranges, lentils, feta cheese and green beans finished with a lemon posset dessert was no exception. Scrumdiddly. I never pick confit of duck ordinarily but thought I’d live dangerously today and was so glad I did, it was very, very good.

I also picked up a few bits and bobs in the shop, as one cannot avoid doing when in Avoca…

Avocado Mix

Best Ever Granola¬†from Avoca is something I’ve gotten really into lately. Apricots, big ass brazil nuts and pumpkin seeds all knockin around in there with an undertone of a funky orange oil… goes very well with some greek yogurt and berry compote, which has been my breakfast, supper and anytime snack really…

Cranberries, apricot, brazils, almonds, orangey goodness.

This Cake¬†– look I honestly don’t know what it’s called but it was bloody wonderful. Maybe it’s because I eat cake all of probably twice a year that it tasted that good, but it was really very, very good. Think carrot cake meets bakewell tart. Cream cheese icing on top of a carrot cake middle, on top of a layer of jam on a pastry base. Fresh as a daisy and light as anything. C’est super.

No.1 cake spot goes to this lady here. #BeatThat
No.1 cake spot goes to this lady here. #BeatThat

White chocolate biscuit cake –¬†Understand this is not all for me, I’m not that bad. I got this to give to other people but obviously had to taste it in the interests of reviewing it for you fine people ūüėČ This was disappointing to be honest. Very non-descript taste. I imagined it was going to have a strong white chocolate hit to it, given that it’s pretty much a solid lump of white chocolate with bits of biscuit, marshmallow and raspberries. Alas, it did not. Thumbs down from me.

So pretty...eh looks better than it tastes. 3/10
So pretty…eh looks better than it tastes. 3/10

Before you come to the conclusion (though I would understand if you had already gotten there!) that I am indeed a savage, I am saving the rest of my Avoca loot for another time. So you shall have to wait for my review of Avoca’s raw health food brownie and similarly raw and health foody caramel slice.

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Pancakes and Birthday Cake¬†are on the menu for tonight’s supper, along with family time, the original¬†Blair Witch Project,¬†and the main event… cheering on Mo Farah in the Olympic final of the Men’s 5000m race.

On Monday, I’ll be drawing up a training plan for the next few months and cracking into good eating again. I love my down time and I love my up time. But as with any seesaw, the trick in it is not letting yourself go too far up or too far down.

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After all, you don’t wanna fall off.