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 😀

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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.

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Running Injuries: Light at the End of the Tunnel

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I know you all must be just dying to know how my foot injuries are progressing – it is such an exciting topic, I fully understand. No, it’s really not. I’m bored talking about it, telling people about it, explaining why I can’t run, what happened (or didn’t happen- because like most running injuries, there isn’t just one big kablam moment where the injury occurs…) etc, etc. However, given that this is a running blog (kinda 😉 ) and that I’ve talked about the injuries quite a bit on here, I feel for the continuity sake, I should pop an update up.

Having seen two physios, my GP, two orthopaedic surgeons and ran multiple blood tests, MRI and xrays, my most recent visit was to a rheumatologist. It had been suggested to me that a possible cause of my ongoing foot pain (along the base of both feet and around the lateral parts and under the toe areas) could perhaps be a rheumatological issue. In particular, it was speculated that I could have rheumatoid arthritis.

The Good News!

Rheumatologist said I most likely do NOT have rheumatoid arthritis. Yay! Of course being a doctor, he wouldn’t say that I definitely did not have it, but he ruled it out for the moment, which I’ll take and run to the hills with as fast as I can.

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His view was that the likely cause of my foot pain was due to the mechanics of my feet -which is what the last orthopaedic surgeon thought AND also what my new physio has said too.

The Boring Details

Essentially, I have a bad bunion on my left foot which has caused my big toe to lean so far inwards that it has rendered the big toe essentially ineffective in terms of the running motion. When the foot hits the ground, the normal movement is for the foot to roll from heel through the foot and then push off from the big toe. My big toe is turned so far inward that the foot basically is not rolling off the toe, but rather off the bunion. The other toes on that foot are also doing more work than they should be and taking more of the impact than they should be as a result of the redundant big toe. This too has caused the lateral arch running beneath the toes to collapse somewhat (explaining the pain in that area). The joints have also become more angled as a result of the constant impact of running.

Blah blah blah… to sum up? Bad foot biomechanics.

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These are not my feet- but no one wants to look at those. Dog feet every time.

The Bad News

All those aforementioned experts voiced the opinion that running marathons is probably too much for my feet given the fundamental limitations of their structure. They can’t take the constant pounding that feet with good structure and mechanics can – it’s simply too much. The physio that I’m seeing now has worked with athletes for many years and her opinion is that i should stick to triathlons and runs up to the distance of a half-marathon.

I’m not going to lie to you, while I know what she is saying makes complete sense, I have not completely accepted this. At least, not yet. There are so many marathon races around the world that I would love, love, LOVE to do (Boston, NYC, London, Berlin…how are ya?) that I’m not quite ready to let all that go. I’ve dreamed about these for years and you only live once. (Or at least, I can only remember living one lifetime!) In my head, I know they’re right but in my heart, this is too far a leap just at the moment. This is something that will take a while for me to come around to.

The Best News

Despite what I just said, the best news IN THE WORLD is that with more rest, careful rehabilitation and oodles of patience, there is no reason why I will not be able to run again. I also don’t (touching all the wood) have rheumatoid arthritis or any other lifelong horrible limiting condition that I have to live with, which I am so grateful for. These two things are without doubt, the greatest news and the relief and hope I feel right now is pure awesome.

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I got some new orthotics custom made by the new physio (thank you Eileen) and am currently breaking these in, as well as doing the exercises and stretches she has prescribed.

I am also one with my bike at the moment, despite the crappy weather and multiple named storms that have swept our not-so-green island the last few weeks. Biking to work some days, biking at the weekend and oh how wet all that gear can get…

Alas, a good excuse to buy more gear because hey, I need a second string of clothes while the others are drying 😀

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!

December 1st: Christmas Running Movies

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HAPPY 1st DECEMBER one and all!!! Welcome to my running advent calendar and countdown to Christmas, where I plan on celebrating everything great about running and Christmas combined.

Confused? Not to worry. If you like running and like Christmas, you’ll enjoy this.

Basically, everyday of Advent, you can pop on here and enjoy some running-Christmas fun (and nonsense 😉 ), in a similar manner to opening a window on the Advent calendar each day of Advent.

And for the 1st day of December…

I love Christmas movies and I also happen to love running movies and while it may not be popular enough its own regard to occupy its own shelf space in HMV, I think the Christmas/Running feature film has the potential to be a strong new genre.

Without further ado (or general babble), I give you my shortlist of Christmas/Running movies for you to enjoy over the Christmas period (or just today, if you have time 😉 ):

1. Forrest Gump – This is the quintessential family film. It’s happy, it’s sad, it’s heartwarming and utterly heartbreaking… and yes, there is some Christmas in there too. It’s the perfect movie to sit down and watch with family or friends and have a good quality laugh and cry. To add to this, there is the whole running section of his life for all the runners of the world to enjoy. Usually on at some stage on TV over the holidays and absolutely worth putting it in your diary to sit down and watch.

2. Unbroken – Not as well known as the last movie, this stars one of my favourite actors at the moment, Jack O’Connell, and tells the incredible story of US Olympian Louie Zamperini, a 5000m runner whose plane is shot down during the Second World War and is taken as a prisoner of war in a Japanese prison camp. This is a brilliant, brilliant movie, if tough and sad at times. A story of resilience and strength, if ever there was one.

3. Chariots of Fire – A classic, in every sense. This movie was made for sitting by the fire with the grandparents.

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4. The Four Minute Mile – Lesser known but thoroughly enjoyable for the 4 minute miler inside you (deep, deep inside me…not outside me unfortunately). It’s a heartwarming film about a teenager Drew who is struggling to improve on the track, before he teams up with a new coach, Richard Jenkins, who sets him on his way. Think Rocky but with a teenager and running instead of boxing. Nice way to pass an afternoon after a run!

5. The Great Escape – A classic Christmas movie, with plenty of running… even if it is in the unconventional sense! If you haven’t watched this movie from start to finish, do it this year. The Great Escape defines the meaning of “must-see”. I’m watching this as soon as I get the chance. Again.

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5. If I Had Wings – a blind teenager with a talent for running teams up with another rebellious teenager, also with a talent for running. Queue lots of heartwarming moments and feel-good running vibes. A good, uplifting family feature for a cold, dark evening.

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.

Sunday-ness

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Happy Sunday one and all! If you too are in full-throttle Sunday mode, chilling out, feet up and looking for further validation that it is in fact okay to do this once a week, then look no further.

I’ve had a good old fashioned chill weekend, full of long bike rides, rugby matches, a little bit of reading, a fair bit of baking (once you start…) and nice chunk of Netflix.

My Mom headed off to Oman on Friday for a week of meetings so I’m home alone with menfolk for the next 7 days. To kick things off, I headed to the Ireland v Canada rugby match in the Aviva stadium in Dublin last night, which despite the massive scoreline of 54-21 (or something like that!), it was actually quite an entertaining game, with the Canadians making the Irish lads work for their win.

Good weather and a fun crowd in the Aviva made for a very nice way to spend the evening with my Paps.

I headed out early this morning for a long ride from Naas to Clane, then on to Carbury, Edenderry and home via Rathangan, bringing the total distance up to nearly 97km. Although the roads were pretty wet, it stayed dry throughout the ride and there was little wind. Happy days. A bit miffed though when you cycle 97km… and it’s JUST shy of 100km. Last week I did that demented thing of riding up and down the road until my watch registered the 100km, but this week I couldn’t be arsed.

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The remains of a long bike ride… carnage

I’ve been trying out different energy bars and foodie bits on the bike for energy over the longer rides and I’m really liking the Powerbar energy bars at the moment. I nabbed about a dozen of them at the Dublin Marathon expo a few weeks ago for a bargain price and have been trying out lots of different flavours. When I first tried the mango flavour, I thought it was just weird but then I came around to it and now quite like it. The Salty Peanut flavour is really good too.

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A good tip is to cut the bars in half before you head out, so you don’t have to be messing around with wrappers, trying to open them with your teeth as you also try to keep from crashing your bike. Then they’re ready to go when you are. I do this with bananas too.

I’m also trying out different recovery drinks at the moment. I like to make my own recovery smoothies and play around with different flavours but sometimes it’s just so handy to have something pre-made when you’re too exhausted to care about making your own flavours.

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One that I’m really enjoying at the moment is Avonmore Protein Milk, a 500ml carton of low fat milk with extra protein and flavoured with vanilla. It tastes like a vanilla milkshake but with the consistency of milk. Delicious and nutritious with over 100% of your daily calcium needs in there, along with vitamin D and 27g of protein. It’s also considerably cheaper than any protein milkshake or drink you can buy off the shelf.

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Upbeat strawberry protein drink was on sale for half-price in Tesco this week at 1.49 euro so I picked up a bottle to try. Tastes like a Yop or other yogurty drink of the same ilk and contains 20g of protein. I thought it was very nice and I’d happily have it again.

If you’re looking for a good novel to read at the moment, I’ve just finished Tony & Susan and wrote a review over on my other blog here, which I highly recommend. You may also know it by the title Nocturnal Animals, which has also recently been released in the cinema.

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Netflix. I get a bit lazy sometimes when it comes to Netflix, easily giving it to browsing fatigue when I fail to find something I want to watch within the first 5 minutes of scrolling. But I’m eager to break this nasty cycle in the belief that there must be a cave of hidden gems in there that I’m flippantly skipping over in my haste. What I’m watching at the moment are:

The Crown. A dramatised series following the current British Queen Elizabeth in her early days, starting off from her wedding to Prince Philip. I’ve only watched one episode but so far, so captivating.

Narcos. Okay, so who isn’t watching Narcos at the moment? It’s really very good though, in a Colombian The Sopranos, funny but oh-so-horrible and violent kind of way.

Until next Sunday, have a good week!