Race report: We Own The Night Amsterdam 2014

Running has felt very up and down since the marathon. I was absolutely loving it for about a month, but since my 10k PB at We Own The Night in London, it’s all gone a bit lacklustre.

So I went into this race with absolutely no expectations – I was in Amsterdam for the weekend to enjoy myself, I wasn’t going to hold back on what I ate, drank or did in favour of a better race. But this was a thoroughly enjoyable race (despite me being in a massive grump about my time afterwards and Charlie having to tell me off).

Myself, Charlie and Laureen were all running, with Laureen’s sister Alice also along as support. We knew very little about the race before we got there, the route map was in typically minimalist Nike style – with us knowing nothing about the layout of the city, it gave very little away.

We were also completely unaware that the race began at 22:30 until the day we arrived in the city. This was a bit annoying to start with, as I’d hoped to experience some Amsterdam nightlife, and such a late race was eating into this, but it was so hot during the day that a late start was appreciated.

After sitting down for dinner at pretty much the same time we were running the London race (that felt very odd!), we made our way out to the Olympic Stadium via bus. On the way we saw so many girls in their turquoise shirts travelling there by bike. I was very jealous of the ease and elegance of just jumping on a Dutch bike to go run a 10k.

As we got to the stadium, it completely clouded over and started to rain (I’d just bought some new sandals about 3 hours earlier as it was so hot. Typical). This did nothing to dampen the brilliant vibe in the stadium and we managed to easily while away the time before the race start by visiting the portaloos, playing around in the Vogue Nederland photo booth and having our picture taken by their photographer, finding our names on the WOTN wall and meeting up with the girls from Running Junkies.

In fact, we got a bit carried away, and before we knew it, pretty much everyone else was in their pens ready for the start. I’d told a very small sub-50 fib when picking up my wristband so I could be in the same pen as Charlie (who wasn’t telling any lies when she said she could run a sub-50). We jumped a fence to get into our pen, but accidentally found ourselves in the one for VIPs… in front of pen 1. OOPS!!

The atmosphere in the starting pens was the best I’ve ever experienced at a race. The DJ was awesome and the music was actually LOUD. I’m sure the time of the evening also helped, but we were RAVING at that start line and ready to GO! And then it all went silent, a bloke came on stage and wittered on in Dutch for a bit, before the DJ came back on and pretty much had to recreate the previous 15-20 minutes.

The race didn’t actually get going until nearly 23:00, by which time I have to admit, I was definitely in the ‘let’s just get this over with, shall we?’ mindset. I lost the other girls almost immediately, and didn’t have any music, Nike+ or Garmin with me (shocking, I know), so had no choice but to take in and enjoy what was going on around me.

I thought that running in London we have a lot of ‘street furniture’ to contend with. HELL NO. This course took in big bollards, wide bollards, and worst of all, shin height bollards. As well as steps, cobbles, low hanging trees and of course, bikes. Some parts were very dark and very uneven. There were street parts, but a large chunk of the course took place in Vondelpark.

Also along the course was a giant little up arch with music pumping and dancers (much more impactful that the light tunnels at the London race, I thought), quite a few cheering crowds (most drinking!) and topless guys on light up podiums (not sure that would’ve gone down in London…?!) I think 10k continues to be my favourite distance – long enough to earn a medal, not so long that it turns into a slog.

Finishing in the Olympic Stadium was pretty cool, we ran through and onto the track to be handed the usual coconut water, brown paper goody bag and necklace medal, designed by The Boyscouts.

Other than the annoyingly delayed start, I had a brilliant time at this race, and in Amsterdam. Obviously you have to get there and pay for accommodation, but this race was only €20 to enter – an absolute steal for an event like this. The flight over is super short (less than an hour) and pretty cheap, and I’m sure we could’ve got a better deal on a hotel if we’d booked a bit more in advance. Would I travel abroad for ‘just’ a 10k again? Absolutely!

Read Charlie’s absolutely brilliant race recap here too.

Whole30: week one

I’m through seven whole days of my first Whole30. Phew!

I sort-of (read: massively) ignored Leah’s wise advice not go on a massive pre-Whole30 binge (whoops!) and spent Day 0 eating all my favourite things, like this from Pret (Italian Prosciutto on Artisan, in case you’re wondering).


Lots of rubbish happily consumed beforehand, here’s how the first week went down…

Day 1

I am so PUMPED! LET’S DO THIS! This is going to be AMAZING etc, etc.

I had spent a great deal of the previous evening doing a mega cook up after a mega Ocado delivery. I was ready, I was prepared, I had snacks and determination galore.


The first day was actually pretty smooth sailing. Well, it would’ve been a bit embarrassing for it not to be…


Breakfast: Scrambled egg, avo, homemade chunky salsa

Lunch: Chicken breast, roasted sweet potato and carrot, steamed broccoli, cherry tomatoes

Dinner: Homemade meatballs, courghetti, cherry tomatoes, avocado

Day 2

A similar feeling for day 2. I was up early for a workout before work, so had to prepare breakfast the night before, but managed to take it all in my stride.


Breakfast: Boiled egg, avo, homemade chunky salsa

Lunch: Chicken breast, roasted sweet potato and carrot, steamed broccoli, cherry tomatoes

Dinner: Baked haddock with garlic & herbs topped with homemade chunky salsa, courghetti, cherry tomatoes, steamed broccoli

Day 3

THIS IS THE WORST DAY EVER. I have never been so headachy, so nauseous and so god damn TIRED all at the same time (without alcohol being involved).

The day started off well, I worked out, was drinking loads of water, had my breakfast. By mid morning I had a headache, by lunchtime I felt dreadful. I sat and ate my lunch outside and returned to my desk THE TIREDEST I HAVE EVER BEEN. From 2pm it was a constant battle to keep my eyes open. I also found myself having to buy a big tray of fruit and a coffee in the afternoon to try and keep me going (it didn’t really help). I left work dead on time, and couldn’t even manage the walk home – so I instead fell asleep on the back seat of the bus. Thankfully I woke up in time for my stop, going straight to bed for another hour’s kip.

Thank goodness my wife Clare was staying with me this week – she cooked me dinner, as well as doing some of my other house chores, whilst I just sat on the sofa. It was an odd feeling – like being struck down with flu without any of the cold symptoms.


Breakfast: Boiled egg, avo, homemade chunky salsa

Lunch: Homemade meatballs, roasted sweet potato and carrot, cucumber, cherry tomatoes

Dinner: Baked cod topped with tomato puree & mixed herbs, courghetti, sugar snap peas

Day 4

Okay, I feel much better today. Plus, it’s Friday! *yawn*… *yawn*… 

Day 4 did actually find me feeling much, much better than the day before, but I was definitely more tired than usual. So staying up until 1am watching the World Cup definitely wasn’t that smart (idiot).

I also ventured for my first meal out. It had been planned for a couple of weeks – Steph had been brilliant at doing lots of menu research and finding somewhere that (with a few substitutions) I’d be able to make compliant. Four of us headed to Tramshed in Shoreditch, which I’d wanted to try for a while anyway. As well as me needing to be super specific with ordering, I also had Clare still staying with me, who’s a non-wheat eating pescartarian. In a chicken and steak restaurant.

Thankfully, our waiter was patient and helpful and suitably tongue in cheek about our fussiness. I ordered the 250g rib steak (£20), subbed the chips for grilled mushrooms with garlic, and ordered lettuce heart salad (£3.95) on the side. The steak and mushrooms were delicious and succulent, but I was disappointed that the ‘salad’ was literally a bowl of leaves (admittedly I requested no dressing, but even with it, almost £4 felt like a lot). I drank soda water with fresh lime, and was bought a mini carafe of lime juice. Overall, a dining out success!


Breakfast: Cooked salmon, avocado, cherry tomatoes

Lunch: Homemade meatballs, roasted sweet potato and carrot, cucumber, cherry tomatoes

Dinner: Rib steak, grilled mushrooms with garlic, lettuce heart salad

Day 5

IT IS WHAT TIME?!

After my (stupid) late night, I slept like a log for eleven hours (eleven!) and I woke up well past midday. Wow. This clean eating thing makes you really tired. Alright, it might not just be that. The average 6 hours sleep a night I get might also have something to do with it. But still, I’m pretty sure this pretty dramatic change in my diet isn’t helping.
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Breakfast: Cooked salmon, scrambled eggs, avocado, cucumber

Lunch: Homemade meatballs with a tomato purée sauce, courghetti, sugar snaps

Dinner: Asparagus guacamole with crudités

Day 6

Why am I still so tired?!

I had planned to make up for the laziness of my Saturday with a super productive Sunday… go to the gym, maybe a little bike ride. But nope. My body was t.i.r.e.d. So I succumbed to another day on the sofa and made myself a rather good (if I may say so myself) Whole30 Sunday brunch AND roast dinner.

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Breakfast: Chillied scrambled eggs, sautéed mushrooms and tomatoes, smoked salmon, avocado

Lunch: Lots of fruit

Dinner: Roasted garlic and herb chicken breasts, roasted sweet potato mush (not quite mash!), roasted veg (red pepper, green pepper, carrot, red onion, mushroom, cherry tomato)

Day 7

Today is a good day!

With all the free time I had over the weekend, I went into Monday all prepped up and ready to go again.

I surprised myself by looking forward to steak (which I’d had the foresight to defrost – prep is key!) all day at work and when I ate it, along with the side dish of a medley of sautéed veg, it turned out to be my favourite meal of Whole30 so far.

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Breakfast: Chillied scrambled eggs, smoked salmon, avocado, cherry tomatoes

Lunch: Leftover roast dinner from the day before

Dinner: Steak! With a side of courghetti, asparagus, cherry tomatoes and sugar snaps

The snacks

I would be being a bit disingenuous if I pretended all those photos above were everything that I ate in the last week. As well as all those delish meals, I also had the following:

  • a banana every morning – either before working out or with my main breakfast
  • 2 clementines every day – either with my main breakfast (if I’d already eaten the banana earlier) or as a mid morning snack
  • every working day – a small tub containing a handful of mixed nuts (almonds, pecans and walnuts), 3 dried apricots and 1 medjool date. I usually ate the nuts in the morning and the fruit in the afternoon
  • on Day 5 I also made a fruit bowl of mashed banana, strawberries, coconut flakes and pecans
  • I discovered Meridian almond butter. I am not exaggerating when I say it is divine. Paired with jazz apples from Waitrose which are clearly in season as they are so delicious, and I have *almost* not been missing chocolate

Now, I’m not too sure on how ‘in keeping’ with Whole30 all of the above are. Sure, they are all completely compliant foods, but I am really wary of not just replacing a chocolate/cake/biscuit sugar habit with a fruit one instead. I’m happy with the amount of fruit it is, but next week I’m going to focus on incorporating fruit as much into actual meals as possible.

So how do I feel?

Other than the horrendous day 3, the last week has been relatively manageable. I’ve found it fairly easy to turn down snacks and overall at work there wasn’t anywhere near as much food as usual hanging around near my desk, which really helped.

I’ve felt really, really tired for most of this week, and I have to admit I’m yet to feel ‘the magic’. Some days, I’ve definitely felt less bloated, but other days just as bloated as before.

For week two, I’m going to try out some new recipes, vary the salads I’m eating for lunch and definitely eat more steak. After swearing it is something I ‘just don’t eat’, beef has been somewhat of a revelation already.

I’m posting LOADS about my Whole30 over on Instagram – follow me for updates!

Eat, drink, explore: Amsterdam

When I’m only in a city for a couple of days, I like to know I’m making the most of my time, so I’ve found tips from locals or those that have visited are really useful in ensuring I’m hitting up all the best places. Amsterdam seems like one of those cities that almost everyone I had spoken to has visited at some point, so I had quite a few tips for places to visit.

So, I’ve decided to share some of these tips on here, as a nice departure from the constant running chat. Some were recommendations from friends, some from locals and some just stumbled upon – the perfect combination. I might even go back to some of the other trips I’ve made recently and round up the best places from each of those too.

EAT

In general, I didn’t love Amsterdam for the food. We stayed in a very touristy, very central part of the city and the food was more ‘Spanish resort’ than I had anticipated. Proper, good main meals were tricky to find, but we quickly discovered that if you’ve got a sweet tooth, the city is amazing.

Pancakes! Amsterdam

This place was recommended to us by Harry, but we also found it mentioned in my pocket Lonely Planet guide as “popular with locals”. It might have been at one point, but it certainly isn’t now – the place was full of Brits, Americans and Canadians! We arrived just before 10am on Saturday morning, with a queue already having formed down the street. Once the doors opened, the queue moved inside as the tables filled, and although we weren’t lucky enough to secure a first sitting, we were at the front and managed to get a table outside in the sun after about a half hour wait.

I shared my breakfast with Charlie – we went for one savoury option (smoked salmon, crème fraîche, guacamole & dill – €12.50) and one sweet (muesli pancakes with yogurt and fruit, a breakfast option that also comes with tea or coffee and orange juice – €10.50). Both were delicious, generous portions and really hit the spot. We ended up spending quite a while sat enjoying the vast range of teas and soaking up the morning rays. I’d definitely recommend here for the food, if not the authentic Dutch clientele. But get there early!

De Laatste Kruimel

This place was a beautiful little find during our final few hours in the city. We were wandering back in the direction of our hotel to pick up our luggage and the two windows – one full of cakes, the other full of savoury tarts – stopped us in our tracks as we passed by.



We had to go in and between me and Charlie we shared a giant slab of apple tart over coffees. The place had the cutest, tiny little balcony overlooking the canal where we sat and watched all the boats pass by enjoying the Sunday afternoon heat.

De Taart van m’n Tante

Another recommendation from Harry was De Taart van m’n Tante, which Google translate helpfully tells me means ‘The Cake of my Aunt’. It was a quirky cake shop with mis-match furniture and huge, elaborated decorated cakes in the window and on the tables as centerpieces. It definitely had a bit of a rough-round-the-edges feel. We cycled over to this place specifically, and due to our hire time rapidly running out, we didn’t have long to sit and relax, but we did have time for cake and tea each.

My decision was quick and easy – as soon as I saw pecan pie in the fridge I didn’t need to look any further. I had a cup of my current favourite tea – rooibos. So unnecessary, but yum, yum, yum.

The Lobby at Hotel V Nesplein

Finally! Some really rather excellent savoury food. Another place we just happened to pass, we were so, so happy with the food, ambiance and service at The Lobby. Attached to the also rather lovely looking Hotel V, we had a quick late lunch (around 4pm) here on our final day.

After a lot of cake, a really scrummy, fresh meal was exactly what we were after, and the interesting menu didn’t disappoint. I had a ‘Famous Flammkuchen’ (a thin crust pizza spread with crème fraîche – €10) along with a glass of rosé (around €5.50).

I want to go back here again, to eat and to stay.

DRINK

Cafe Restaurant In de Buurt

A cosy restaurant with a lot of exposed brickwork and super friendly staff who treated us to exactly what we needed (huge glasses of fresh mint tea and a plug for some iPhone charge) on our first night. I wish we’d had time to go back again for food and some (harder) drinks.

Café Kiebêrt

Cool bar with a super relaxed vibe out nearby the Olympic Stadium. We went there post We Own The Night to meet up with the Running Junkies and have some post race beers (okay, we had one beer, two bowls of nuts and went back to our hotel. We were tired, okay?)

EXPLORE

Macbike

You kinda have to hire a bike whilst in Amsterdam, right?! Annoyingly, we ended up hiring them from one of the most chain-y places, which meant a) our bikes were bright red and branded so it was super obvious we were tourists and b) we probably paid more than necessary for the hire. But it was fun. I rode at the front of our four person peloton, iPhone clamped in hand the whole time as I navigated us (still badly) around the city.

I love how bike friendly Amsterdam is (although I still think I felt safer on a bike in Copenhagen), with it’s wide, obvious cycle lanes and just bikes just generally being EVERYWHERE. I really wish it was more like that in London.

 Canal Bus

As well as a bike, it’s pretty necessary to get on the canals too. On our final day, we bought a hop-on hop-off Canal Bus ticket to get around the city, and specifically to the further out parts we were yet to visit.

I always love going on guided bus or boat tours in new cities, I think they’re a great way to see loads of the city and to help get your bearings.

Science Center NEMO

Again, we just happened to pass by this place – you must Google it, I didn’t get a good photo of the building itself, but it’s completely sloped on one side, so you can walk up the side of the building from the ground to the top. Up there is a café, outdoor games and paddling pool for children. We just sat for a bit and took in this view. I do love a good view.

What did we miss? What are you top tips for next time I’m in Amsterdam? (There’s definitely going to be a next time!)

A weekend in pictures: running adventures in Amsterdam

Last weekend I spent a flying 48 hours in Amsterdam – for some running, obviously! More on that to come, but for now, some snaps of what we got up to…

The Great Whole30 Experiment

Bear with me here, folks…

I haven’t really ever spoken about food or nutrition on here (other than the odd cake picture), and for good reason. I feel I have nothing to offer. I really, really enjoy eating out and have a to-visit list as long as my arm of ‘London food spots’ that just keeps on growing. But when it comes to feeding myself, I’m pretty rubbish.

When I lived with my (evil) ex, meal planning and food shopping was easy. We planned the meals we were going to eat each week based around where we were going to be. It’s a lot easier cooking for two – it’s more likely someone’s going to be at home to prepare food and it’s just plain simpler to cook double portion sizes. Prior to that, I lived with my best friend Clare for four years and we cooked everything together – doing regular Ocado shops was the norm. So, in short, until the beginning of this year I hadn’t really had to cook solo on a daily basis since I was at university.

One of my fave photos of me and Clare

Since January, I’ve had two food phases – the not eating phase and the eating everything phase. One coincided with the break up from aforementioned (evil) ex (at the time, Steph and Cara had to remind me to actually eat dinner… thanks guys!) and the other with marathon training. I am not in either of those places right now, so my diet doesn’t need to be either.

Since running the marathon eight weeks ago, I’ve gained a stone in weight. I’m not complaining about that per se, in fact it probably needed to happen. What I’m unhappy about is how it has happened and how it has made me FEEL. I’ve gained it through cake, chips, cocktails and chocolate. A LOT of chocolate. My marathon appetite has in no way abated and at the same time, I seem to have developed an insatiable sweet tooth. I can’t carry on this way.

This *was* a pretty healthy lunch… and then the cake table happened

I can’t put my finger on what it is exactly, but what I am eating at the moment just isn’t doing it for me. I’ve had several instances recently where I’ve experienced massive, shaky-handed sugar crashes. The kind where you feel you need to eat something because you’re shaking, but you’re in no way hungry. I can’t get through an afternoon in the office with a root through my snack drawer or a trip upstairs to the café. Every night when I get home from work I snack through dinner decision making and preparation. This could well be normal for a lot of people, but I am bored of it.

So, I’m doing something drastic. I’m doing something that every time I’ve ever looked at it in the past, I’ve thought is ridiculous. I’m taking on a massive challenge – I’m going to do my first Whole30. (You can read the short-ish version of what this means here.)

This came about thanks to Ashley’s post featuring her sister-in-law Meg, who had been following a Paleo diet (by the way, I really hate the word ‘diet’ – it has so many negative connotations. I literally mean “the kind of foods that a person habitually eats”). I looked at her ‘FML Diet’ list and thought it looked doable. Then I remembered the Whole30. Leah is currently on her fourth round and has nothing but praise for it’s benefits. I re-read a load of the posts on her blog, then I text her saying I was thinking about it. Her immediate encouragement and enthusiasm planted the seed further.

Sure, there’s things about it I am VERY sceptical of, and sure, it’s VERY American and VERY preppy (just read this post from a British Whole30-er on the amusing differences between UK and US restaurant service), but I still want to give it a go. I’m generally an all or nothing kind of person with things like this (I gave up alcohol for about three months before my first half), and once I’ve decided I want to do something, it’s usually too late to be dissuaded.

There are some things I really like about the idea of the Whole30:

  • I thought it would preach about food just being fuel, but in fact it’s the opposite. I encourages you to take time out for meals, properly taste and enjoy them, not just “inhale lunch at your desk, or mindlessly shovel in dinner while watching TV”, both of which I do on a fairly regular basis.
  • It encourages you to challenge the emotional connection you have with food. This is not about weight loss, or getting a ‘bikini body’. It’s about understanding why and when you eat certain things, knowing how certain foods make you feel and knowing how much you actually need to eat to feel full.

So friends, family, blog readers, coworkers and all round lovely people of the internet, here are my things I’d like you to know (because it’s going to be hard enough surviving without brownie, gin and muesli for a month as it is):

I AM NOT DOING THIS TO LOSE WEIGHT

Yes, I know I’m skinny. But fortunately this is down to my genetic make up and relatively fast metabolism. Yes, I know I exercise a fair amount too, but trust me, I eat enough. Just look at the size of the cake below. The Whole30 encourages you to eat enough so that you are full and satisfied. It’s not about portion control or calorie counting.

IT IS ONLY 30 DAYS

I’m going to remind myself of this too. I mean really, what’s a month in the grand scheme of things?!

IT DOESN’T REALLY AFFECT YOU, DOES IT?!

I’m not asking you do it. I’m just doing this myself, for myself. *stern face*

Okay, well unless you’re one of the handful of people who’ve already been trying (really hard – it’s hard!) to find a Whole30 compliant restaurant in London for when we will be going for dinner over the course of the 30 days, you won’t really be that bothered (other than being subjected to A LOT of posts on social meedjah, obvs).

I AM ACTUALLY QUITE EXCITED ABOUT IT

The other day at work, as well as eating my relatively wholesome breakfast and lunch, I ate a chocolate croissant, a chocolate cupcake and a 75g bag of Scottie dog shortbreads. I am constantly surrounded by food and have no concept of moderation. I am looking forward to experiencing the feeling of leaving the office not feeling bloated, sluggish and on a sugar low and/or high depending on when my last snack was.

A Whole30 practice breakfast

So there you have it, from 10th June to 9th July, this is happening. It might do me good, or I might be in a 30 day grump. It might do both. But I’ve read enough and prepped enough already to know this is something I want to give a shot and I’m very interested to see what happens…

I will be posting updates here on the blog, as well as on my InstagramTwitter and Tumblr. Join me for Whole30 fun!