More Podcast Goodness For Your Ears
It's a little over a year since I published my first non-beer related article, which listed my favorite podcasts at the time. Since a whole year has passed, and I've listened to countless new podcasts since then, I thought it was time to update this list. So in this post I'm going to run through some of my favorites from the last year
Up And Vanished (Season 2)
In the Dark (S2)
Monster - The Zodiac Killer
Now, for something of a lighter tone, with my non-true crime recommendations.
Complete Load of Podcast
Creative Me Aberdeen
So, that's it for now. I hope you have enjoyed reading, and maybe even found a new podcast to listen to. Do you have any recommendations for me? If so, leave them in the comments below.
I'll try and not leave it so long until my next list of podcasts...
Guess Who's Back...
Well, after four weeks without running following my calf injury, combined with slowly expanding over the Xmas period from all the food, chocolate, and beer - my marathon training seems to be finally back on track.
I've been back running for around two weeks now, and I'm feeling pretty great overall. Sure, I don't quite think I'm at the level I was at pre-injury, but I'm slowly getting there. I've made the decision not to follow the initial plan I was following, which seen me running four times a week. I think that this was a little bit too much for me, and I was worried the additional strain could see a re-occurrence of the injury. So, I decided to take it down to three times a week, trying to run on a Monday, Wednesday and Saturday.
I started out almost four weeks to the day of my last run, with a planned three mile run with the aim of a pain free run, whilst trying to take it as easy as I could. Before starting I gave my calf a spray with some deep freeze, put on my calf compression socks and had a decent warm up with a bunch of dynamic stretches. I was pretty nervous when I set off - the thought of pulling up after a mile or so was playing on my mind constantly but I soon hit my stride and the realisation came to me that this injury might actually be gone. Thrilled by that prospect, I pushed on and successfully completed the run, with an average pace of 08:53/mile. I was elated. There was some slight pain in my joints, but that was expected due to lack of exercise, combined with the cold - but there was absolutely zero pain in the calf. When I got back in, I was taking no risks, and immediately began to warm down with stretching and foam rolling, and later that evening I kept my calf on ice, as a matter of precaution.
Buoyed by the successful run on Monday, I set out on a planned five mile run on the Wednesday, again planning to take it as easy as I could. Again, I managed to make it through the run pain free (in the calf at least!). Delighted with my progress, I pushed myself even further on the following Saturday, with a 7.5 mile run which proved to be my third pain free run of the week. I'd even managed to pick up the pace slightly, finishing that run with an average pace of 08:32/mile. It finally felt that my injury problems were behind me, and I really could get my marathon training back on track which was great as the marathon was only around eight weeks away!
The second week began with another three mile run on Monday, during which I tried to up the pace as much as possible, finishing the run with an average of 07:30/mile. Now, that may not seem fast to some runners, but to me - that is speedy! I kept this going on the Wednesday by doubling the distance, whilst trying to maintain the pace, successfully finishing a 6.2 mile run at 07:52/mile. I really was feeling good about my running again. Sure, I wasn't running along, pain free with a constant smile on my face, but running has never been that for me - it's always a struggle to some extent, and there's always some sort of niggling pain, whether that's in my shins, knees or stomach cramps. But, it was starting to feel normal again, at least.
So this takes me to Saturday, yesterday at the time of writing, and I decided to push myself even further with ten miles. Ten miles would be the furthest I'd run since the Crathes Half Marathon in September. It was a daunting prospect, but one that I felt that I could manage. I didn't exactly pick the best of days for a long run with it being cold, wet, foggy and windy - but I didn't let that put me off and I set out on my run. It really took me a while to get going on this run and around two miles in I was struggling to see how I was going to finish it but I kept pushing, and I soon hit a decent stride. For this run, I'd chosen to run from Elrick, along to dual carriageway to Hazlehead and back again, and at when I reached the half way point to turn around, I was struggling for motivation - but that's my own fault for choosing a quite mundane route to run. Anyway, I sucked it up and got on with it and before I knew it, I was back in Westhill and the end was in sight. The final mile was a struggle, and I really had to push to get through it - I'm not going to lie, I was so happy when it was over, and it even ended up being 10.5 miles. I was really feeling it in my legs after this run, I still do feel it as I write this and I don't think I'll be running on Monday next week, most likely Tuesday, or Wednesday. But I was delighted that I managed to do it, I even finished with a pretty respectable average pace of 08:23/mile!
So with exactly seven weeks until marathon day, it really is time to push on with my training. My plan is to step up the long Saturday runs, building towards 20/21 miles in 4/5 weeks time and then start to taper back down. Next Saturday, I plan to complete a half marathon (13.1 miles), which will hopefully go to plan. Apologies for my rambles but getting back running was quite a big deal for me! Anyway, thanks for reading, and I'm sure you'll hear from me again once more before the big day.
Things Aren't Quite Going To Plan...
I'm now four weeks in to my training plan for the 2019 Cyprus Marathon in March, and my training so far hasn't exactly gone as I had hoped. I originally planned on posting this blog at the end of my fourth (successful) week of training, but unfortunately that's not the case. Not even remotely...
During week one, I decided to cancel my second run due to "Storm Diana". Excellent start. Seriously the weather was so bad that day, I really didn't think it was worth taking any risks. That day aside, the rest of week one went pretty well, with three pretty good, fast paced runs, with me clocking up an average pace of 07:26/mile over the three runs. Come the end of that week, I was feeling good, relatively happy with myself, and more than ready for week two.
Week two started much the same as the first week finished off, with me continuing my runs at a pretty good pace. I also decided that inserting a lunch time run in to my schedule was a good idea, to get some daylight, so that I'm not almost constantly running in darkness. This week was also the first time that I had ran three consecutive days in a row for as long as I can remember, and although they were all relatively short distances, I definitely felt it in my legs, and shins. However, after a day or so rest, they felt good to go on Saturday morning (the 10+ pints on the Friday evening, however, are another matter altogether!), and I headed out on a planned nine mile run - which would incidentally have been my longest run since Crathes Hall Marathon in September. All was going well, I even headed out on an un-opened section of the AWPR and had the whole dual carriageway to myself for a while, and then around the five mile mark, I felt my left calf go...OUCH.
Shortly after I'd turned to make my way back, I slipped on the slight verge between the edge of the road and the grass and was immediately met by a sharp shooting pain in my calf. I could still run, barely, but it hurt. Being out on the (un-opened) AWPR meant that I was around 1.5 miles from traffic, which meant I would need to limp my way back to civilization in order to be rescued from Kerry in the car. That mile and a half of running/limping was an extremely deflating experience - knowing that I was only two weeks in to my training, and I'd gone and hurt myself was incredibly frustrating. So, unfortunately I missed the whole of week three. My calf did start to feel slightly better by the end of of the week, but I didn't want to risk anything, so I decided against running and concentrated on stretching/foam rolling in order to ensure I was good to go for week four.
Week four came around and my calf was feeling good - the pain was still there, although it didn't really hurt. Tuesday was my scheduled day to run, and there just so happened to be a world ending storm on that day - great. Anyway, I got home from work, and thankfully the weather had started to ease up so I got changed, stretched and got ready to head out for a three mile run. For the first mile, everything was going to plan; I had my headphones in, there was no pain, I was feeling good and enjoying myself. But as I got closer to 1.5 miles, I felt it, my calf was starting to hurt...I knew what was coming. The pain came fast and sharp - not as bad as the first time, but enough to make me stop in my tracks, stop my watch, turn around and immediately start walking home. It was incredibly frustrating - I knew I'd rushed it, but I was so eager to get back out there. I really want to give a good account of myself on this marathon, and was so determined to get back on track with my training that I left no where near enough time for the injury to heal. Deflated, I limped the 1.5 miles home (coincidentally the same distance I had to limp my way back after the first time), in the rain, contemplating my next move.
I've decided that I'm going to give this injury some serious time to heal - at least four weeks I think, then I'm going to reassess the situation, and try and make the most of what training time I have left...and if it takes longer than that to heal, then so be it. I can't risk hurting myself again - I'm DETERMINED to run this marathon, and run it well.
I want to finish off by saying that running through winter is gruelling; the dark nights along with the cold winds, and rain make it really hard to stay motivated day after day. But as gruelling as it was, I'm gutted at the fact I can't get out there. So, hopefully if all goes to plan, then I'll be back, some time in January with an update for you all. In the mean time, wish me luck.
The Road To Cyprus
Starting tomorrow, November 27th, I will be embarking on a 16-week training schedule that will hopefully see me through to the finish line of the 21st Logicom Cyprus Marathon, on Sunday 17th March, 2019. So, I thought it would be good for me to document the struggles, and hopefully successes, every few weeks as I embark on this journey.
I did a bit of researching online, and combined a training plans from a few places that were recommended for someone of my level and ability. I was a bit sceptical when looking at it to begin with, as there's a fair amount of short 3/4/5 mile runs on there where, in my mind initially I was thinking this sort of training should focus on long runs. However these short runs should be really beneficial when it comes to building on my pace, and maintaining it at a decent level. So I'm certainly hopeful that I'll get some sort of benefit out of it.
This training plan will see me run almost 400 miles in 4 months as I prepare to take on the elusive 26.2 in Cyprus in March. It's going to be challenging, I am almost certainly going to hate it at times and want to give up - but I'm going to have to stick to it (providing I don't hurt myself). Sure there will be days where I don't stick to the plan - it has me running on Xmas Day, Boxing Day and New Years Day for example. That's not to say I won't run on those days, but I have to allow myself to relax the schedule and not get too caught up in trying to catch up.
I am under no illusion of how challenging this is going to be for me, especially for my legs – I actually think I’m dreading this more than the race itself. This training schedule will see me running four times a week, with three of those days in succession. Now, I am not used to running that frequently, I often struggle with runs on a Monday then a Wednesday, so running three days on the trot (albeit relatively short distances) should be quite challenging, at least in the beginning.
One of the challenges (I think it’s a challenge?) I’m going to face, is that I am effectively training through winter in near freezing cold temperatures for a race in roughly 20ºC heat. I’m unsure how my body will react to that, but I’m hoping I’ll be fine. Although, maybe I’m looking at it the wrong way. Just think how good it’s going to feel (who am I kidding?!), running along the beautiful Cyprus coastline with the breeze from the sea in my face after those gruelling 16-weeks of dark, cold and wet nights.
I also took advantage of the Black Friday sales, and managed to pick up a Garmin Forerunner 235 at a great price - so no more relying on just my phone to analyse my runs!
So that's it for now, all that's left to do is start running. I'm going to try to check in here at least once a month, and give an update on my progress - hopefully they are going to be positive posts, and not me complaining how much I am hating life! But for now, wish me luck!
Who decided that running a half marathon less than a week after returning from a two-week all-inclusive holiday in Mexico would be a good idea? Well, me apparently...
Having convinced myself it wouldn't be a problem, I signed myself up for Crathes Half Marathon a couple of months ago, knowing fine well it took place less than a week after my holiday. My first race since Stonehaven Half Marathon, Crathes Half Marathon takes place in and around the grounds of the stunning 16th century Crathes Castle, part of Royal Deeside.
I tried to run once on the treadmill in the hotel gym while I was away (the beach was a no-go) but I HATE RUNNING ON A TREADMILL! So I decided just to chance my luck with one 7.5 mile training run on my return, and then just seeing how it went on the day. I was reasonably confident in my levels of fitness, and everything I read about this race assured me that it wasn't too difficult - I was even secretly hoping I could set a new PB...
Race morning arrived, and by the time I climbed out of bed, the conditions were already looking perfect for running. I started the day with a breakfast of a toasted bagel, with peanut butter and banana along with a coffee as well as starting to get myself hydrated with plenty of water.
I got changed into my kit and before long we were on our way to Crathes. The only real differences to my kit this time out were my now standard running headband (it is a lifesaver!) and I was trying out Clif Bloks energy chews, rather than gels, for the first time after reading about them online (more on them later).
We arrived at Crathes Castle estate at around 10.45am with the race due to start at 12.00pm, so we had plenty of time to spare. After getting parked and making our way to the registration area, I collected my race number (#370), technical t-shirt, and surprisingly a new multi-purpose headband which came in extremely handy. We had a bit of time on our hands, so we spent some time watching the kids 1.5km run, which was good fun - it was great to see so many enthusiastic kids involved.
Before long it was our turn and we are all lined up at the starting line ready to go. The race started with an ever so slight incline up and out the grounds of the castle. The race was pretty congested for the first couple of miles, and it took some time before we could really spread out and get going. These first few miles were reasonably flat, and I started to going at a reasonably decent pace now that we'd opened up - at one point I checked Strava and I was averaging sub 8-minute miles. It was soon time for the first water stop at the 4-mile mark, and I was definitely ready for it, the day had turned out to be far warmer than expected, and my mouth was starting to dry up and I was in desperate need of a drink.
Around the 5 mile mark, we hit the first "off-road" section of the run, and I really didn't enjoy this; the uneven nature of the road, complete with loose rocks made for some really uncomfortable running, along with a couple of nervy moments where I nearly lost my footing completely. I also started to feel some discomfort in my left foot - the blister was back, I knew it. On just about every long distance run I do, I almost always get a blister on the inside bottom of my left foot, now I'm not sure if it's down to my running form, or shoes - but it always seems to come back. I did try to take some preventative action before the run, by pre-applying a blister plaster and some zinc oxide tape, but it didn't seem to work. Anyway, I gritted my teeth, and pushed through it and before long we were finally back on some flat road.
We soon reached another water stop at around the 7-mile mark and the sun was also taking no prisoners at this point, so I took advantage of this by having a much-needed drink and soaking my back in water to cool down. I also had the first of my Clif Blok energy chews and I was certainly impressed with them - they tasted so much better than my usual SIS energy gels, they were easy to chew and swallow and provided a great instant sugar kick along with a dose of caffeine.
There was another off-road section between miles 9-10, and much like the first, I really didn't enjoy this. The loose rocks were causing havoc with the blister on my foot but I pushed through the pain, and before I knew it the 10-mile marker was in sight. Mentally this was a huge boost - knowing there was only 3 miles to go, which equated to around 25 minutes more running, or about 8 more songs on my Spotify playlist. I also took a quick look at Strava and checked my time...a new PB was within grasp.
A few more minutes running followed, and I arrived at the final water stop at the 10.5-mile marker, so I quickly fuelled up with water and one more energy chew and I was on my way to the home stretch. Or so I thought. After the joy of passing the 10-mile mark, and thinking that the end would soon be in sight - there was of course one final sting in the tail. I found myself on a long straight, with the slightest of inclines, but enough of an incline to make it really not enjoyable. It also seemed to go on forever!
Mile 12 eventually arrived and I knew I was nearly there. My legs were feeling rather tired by this point, and I really wasn't able to pick up the pace for the final mile as I'd originally planned - however, I soldiered on! Before I knew it, we were back inside the castle grounds, and the end was actually in sight! I took my headphones out, stepped on the gas and made my way past the cheering crowd towards the finish line - I even managed to spot Kerry in the crowds, ready to catch me finishing on camera. Crossing the finish line was a mixture of joy and relief, I was handed my medal (how good is the medal?!) and I made my way over to the finishers tent where I picked up water, a banana and a Tunnock's Wafer - all of which were consumed within record speed! I found Kerry, where she congratulated me on my efforts before I checked Strava, and confirmed that I had indeed secured a new PB. Yas!
Whilst it wasn't totally accurate at the time, I knew that I'd finished at around 1:53ish - which was around 3 minutes quicker than my previous best. Amazing! I eventually found out that my official time was 1:53:27, officially 2 minutes and 47 seconds faster than my previous PB. We didn't hang around after the finish too long, and before I knew it, I was recovering in a salt bath with a cold beer - bliss!
Overall, I am absolutely delighted with how the run went as a whole. Taking my lack of training over the last three weeks into account and the fact I managed to beat my previous PB by around three minutes - I think I did rather well. It gives me confidence for the next one (any suggestions?) that with the right training behind me, I could potentially shave even more off this time.
As for Crathes Half Marathon as a whole - I think this is a great event. It was extremely well organised, along with a mostly enjoyable route and some awesome scenery, it is definitely a run I'd recommend to seasoned or first time half marathon runners and it's certainly one I'd be interested in running again. As always, thanks to everyone behind organising the event, all the volunteers, the locals who cheered us on and of course Kerry for her support and unrivalled photography skills. I'd also like to thank Compeed for making live-saving blister plasters - they are going to be part of my running kit from this day forward!
As always, thanks for reading, and thanks for your support. Until the next one!
Two Weeks In Paradise
Sometimes you just need two weeks of lying in the sun, by the pool, drinking cocktails all day. That's exactly what me and Kerry have recently returned from - a two week break in absolute paradise, otherwise known as Mexico. Most of that two weeks were spent relaxing in a luxury all-inclusive resort, with the odd excursion here and there to break the holiday up. We had the most amazing time, in which we saw some stunning scenery, sampled some incredible food and drink, met some great people, and of course - relaxed.
During our trip to Mexico, we stayed at the Royalton Riviera Cancun Resort & Spa - a huge, luxury all-inclusive resort, serving up a whopping twelve restaurants, twelve bars and seven outdoor pools. It is a place where there really is something for everyone.
We fell in love with it pretty much as soon as we found it online, and it didn't take us too long after that to book our trip there. We booked with TUI, flying from Glasgow for two weeks between the end of August/beginning of September.
Check out the resort overview video below.
First off, this place is MASSIVE. It literally takes over ten minutes to walk from one end to the other, and probably thirty plus to walk around it in its entirety. It is split into three sections; the "main/family" section, Hideaway (adults only) and Diamond Club (an exclusive area for those who upgrade to DC), with each of these sections having their own pools, bars and restaurants etc.
The main area of the hotel is huge. It has a long, sprawling pool, flanked by dining areas, bars and sun loungers. This alone is bigger than most holiday resorts that I've visited in the past! There is a smaller infinity pool down to one end, and further afield there is another huge splash pool for kids, that is filled with slides. Just off the decking area by the main pool, it leads inside to the lower main hotel lobby that has more bars and restaurants and some welcome shelter from the sun. There is a set of stairs that lead up to the sports bar and nightclub (yes, there is a nightclub on the resort) and an escalator that takes you up to the huge upper lobby that houses the reception areas, the spa/gym, more bars, coffee/ice cream cafe, several shops and the rep offices.
We booked to stay in the adults only section, known as Hideaway - with this you get access to the Hideaway section of the resort, along with one exclusive restaurant and everything in the main section of the resort. The only thing that is off-limits is anything relating to Diamond Club, which is an exclusive upgrade package.
The Hideaway pool area was great - it was always relatively quiet in the morning prior to the bar opening at 10am meaning that there was usually sun loungers available in a decent location. Most days we opted for the "in pool" sun loungers which made it extremely easy to jump in the pool to cool off (which was pretty often). The swim up bar was a particular highlight of the Hideaway pool area with the barmen all usually extremely friendly (especially Henry & Jorge) and occasionally they would put on a bit of a show with a "shot train" or float some coconut cocktails around the pool on a lilo. On our final Friday, there was a "bar show" where two guys came in and put on a show, throwing cocktail shakers, glasses and flaming bottles around - it was absolutely crazy but amazing to watch.
Down on the beach, Hideaway guests have their own "private" section of the beach, and there is also a Hideaway Beach Bar, that is a great place to catch the last of the sun and relax with a cocktail or two.
Entertainment wise, there was always loads on. The Vibe entertainment Team were on hand every day with loads of activities around the pool and beach ranging from pool volleyball, beach volleyball, beach football and table tennis. Each day there was also a "crazy challenge" that usually involved a mixture of physical challenges and alcohol...all good fun! Ivan from the Vibe Team, in particular, was a real highlight - he was so upbeat and could always manage to get people involved. He was also extremely friendly which made a real difference.
There would usually be a mixture of entertainment each evening in the main pool area, and also the Hideaway pool area. The entertainment in the main area would always be family friendly and range from light shows, gymnastics, live music, magicians and discos. Whereas the entertainment in the Hideaway section would usually be aimed more at adults, with silent discos, chocolate parties and a rock show all particular highlights.
When you are staying somewhere for two weeks, your room needs to be as comfortable as possible, and that certainly was not an issue at the Royalton. We stayed in a luxury junior suite (it's not as fancy as it sounds), with a mangrove view (which is also not that bad either). The room was 559 Sqft in size and has a rather comfortable king size bed, a jacuzzi bathtub, double rain shower and ample storage. It also has all your usual amenities such as iron (and board), safe, kettle, coffee maker and mini bar. We certainly didn't have any complaints about our room during our stay - the air con (which is excellent) did break down once, but that was a hotel-wide issue, and was resolved reasonably quickly.
Food & Drink
As I mentioned earlier the Royalton offers a huge amount of dining and drinking options with twelve restaurants and twelve bars scattered throughout the resort.
There really is a huge amount of dining options, with something for everyone:
We tried our best to get around all the restaurants but unfortunately, we didn't manage. A combination of us visiting our favourites more than once, and just not fancying a couple of the menus meant that we didn't visit OPA, Agave, C/X or Dorado (although we had breakfast there once). Particular highlights for me were Hunter, Armadillo, Grazie and Zen, we visited all these restaurants twice. Hunter delivers an absolutely fantastic steak - I had a fillet on my first visit, and a New York Steak on the second, and both were cooked to perfection (although the steak in Ocean Point is arguably better). Armadillo served up a huge range of Tex-Mex options with me going for ribs on my first visit, and chicken fajitas on my second with both being absolutely top quality. If you are visiting the Royalton, then you absolutely must visit Zen, not just to sample the à la carte menu, but also to witness the live Teppanyaki show - it is amazing. You have to book this in advance, you also need to queue up to make that booking (I queued for about 45 minutes) but it is 100% worth it. I can't even begin to explain how good the fried rice was, and it is such a fun experience overall.
For more casual dining/snacks there are plenty of options available dotted throughout the resort with options such as a food truck, pizza oven snack bars and Score Sports Bar offering plenty of choices. Score is defiantly worth checking out for the Poutine Fries alone (basically chips, cheese and gravy) and they also offer things such as burgers, dogs, grilled cheese and wings - they are also open until 6am! The Gourmet Marché buffet is pretty incredible. It is huge! They have just about anything you could want in there for breakfast, lunch and dinner. and they also have plenty of vegetarian, vegan, gluten free and children's options available.
Drinks wise, there is a full range of "top-shelf" spirits available with vodkas such as Grey Goose, Belvedere and Absolute, Havana Club and Bacardi rum, Tanqueray and Bombay Sapphire gin and tequilas such as Don Julio and 1800. There is a never-ending list of cocktails too with each bar having a cocktail menu as well as a whole bunch of "off menu" offerings. Particular highlights for me included the "Pineapple Mojito" and the "Melon Colada" which were both extremely refreshing.
As for beer, there wasn't too much to satisfy a craft beer fanatic like me, with only Dos Equis XX, Heineken, and Sol available on draught throughout the resort. But don't get me wrong, I'm not a snob and I was happy to drink what was available - at the end of the day, a cold beer is as refreshing as any other on a melting hot day. I was led to believe that there was local craft beer available in the Sports Bar at $8 a pop, however, I didn't actually see this advertised anywhere inside the resort.
The mini bar in your room also gets re-stocked every day with a selection of beer, soft drinks, water and crisps. It's not the most extensive selection, but it makes a difference and there are times you are extremely grateful for that ice cold bottle of water, or can of coke.
I can't talk about this resort without talking about the beach. Now, after we booked our stay at the Royalton we joined a Facebook group regarding the resort and the initial thing that struck us was the number of negative comments - most of which stemmed around the beach.
For those who are unaware, there seems to be a bit of an issue with certain parts of the South American coast that sees large amounts of seaweed gather on the beachfront. This seemed to gather a lot of attention from people who have visited or were planning to visit the hotel and thus generate a lot of negative comments. Now, I understand that the beach may be an important aspect of many peoples holidays - but bashing the hotel, and potentially putting others off isn't the way to go about it.
In all honesty, when I was there, it really wasn't that bad. Although I don't really go on holiday to go to the beach, and I also don't particularly like sea water - so I guess it was never really going to bother me that much. The hotel seemed to be doing what they could though - there was a tractor on the beach every day trying to clear the seaweed, and it seems the Mexican government are trying to do their part too by installing barriers along the coast.
I'm sure if you take a look at my pictures, you'll agree with me that it doesn't actually look that bad?!
One final thing I want to say regarding the Facebook group if you are planning to join it - be careful not to get too sucked into what you read. For the most part, it is a great place to get holiday tips, get excited about your holiday and even get a hold of something you've forgotten after you arrive. However, it can be filled with so much negativity and people bashing the resort! We actually spoke to some people there who said the group almost caused them to change their hotel.
While we were there, we did three excursions away from the hotel - two through TUI, and one through the in hotel company, Nexus. Through TUI we booked Xel-Ha, a water-themed adventure park and the world famous Coco Bongos show/nightclub. All of these excursions were basically "all-inclusive", with all transport, and pretty much all food and drink included on them.
First up we had Xel-Ha, which is a water adventure park in the heart of the Riviera Maya and regarded as one of the worlds most spectacular natural wonders. It is filled with water-based activities such as a lazy river, cliff jumping, zip slides, snorkelling and cenotes to explore. We had a bus collect us from the hotel in the morning where a tour guide explained what we'd be able to get up to at the park. When we arrived and made our way inside, we were left to our own devices to explore the park for the day. Firstly, this park is beautiful - the blue water set against the lush green jungle is a spectacular sight. We spent our day exploring the jungle area (complete with big ass lizards), working our way down the lazy river whilst basking in the sun and taking part in some of the available activities. Whilst in the park, all food and drinks are all inclusive so we spent some time in a couple of the buffet style restaurants and of course, indulged in some cocktails in the on-site bars before it was time to get back on the bus back to the hotel.
I would 100% recommend Xel-Ha to anyone visiting Mexico, it is a great way to spend a day, especially if it is sunny!
We also did a TUI evening excursion to Coco Bongos along with a bunch of other people from the resort. We had a mini-bus pick us up at 9pm to take us to central Cancun and drop us at Coco Bongos. After entering the club and being extremely fortunate to get great seats, we had a waiter take our drinks orders, who would then continue to keep us topped up all night - along with the occasional shot! The show itself was amazing, and the levels of production on the show were as good as any stage show I've ever seen. The show went on until around 3am where our mini-bus then returned to collect us and take us back to the resort.
I would recommend Coco Bongos to anyone visiting Cancun - it is an absolute must do in my eyes and well worth your money. I didn't save too many photos from the night but check out my Mexico Instagram highlights for a taster of the show.
Our final excursion of the holiday was to the beautiful Isla Mujeres, and this was always one of the main excursions we wanted to do when coming to Mexico. Isla Mujeres is a relatively small island around 6km off the coast of Cancun, and we booked our excursion through the Nexus travel company which has an office in the hotel lobby. Our excursion included a late morning pick up from the hotel, where we were taken to a boatyard and boarded a luxury catamaran. This would be our transport to and from Isla Mujeres and lunch and drinks were all inclusive on board the boat. En route to the island, we made a couple of stops for snorkelling, swimming and a chance to enjoy a drink in the sun and take in the crystal clear waters. When we arrived at Isla Mujeres we were given three hours to explore the island and do as we pleased - we opted to hire a golf buggy for most of that time and try to explore most of the island, which was great fun (despite the odd bump or two on the road!). The island itself is beautiful; a mixture of an idyllic paradise with white sands, crystal clear blue waters and an authentic Mexican town with the locals going about their every day lives - the local children were actually trying to hitch a lift on the golf buggy!
If you want to get out the resort and spend some time with beautiful beaches in what feels like "the real Mexico", then I highly recommend a trip to Isla Mujeres. There is absolutely loads to do that we never got round to, such as swim with dolphins, an Ice Bar and not to mention the numerous shops, restaurants and bars scattered throughout the island.
Overall, I had one of the most relaxing, and enjoyable holidays of my life and I would recommend the Royalton to anyone looking to visit Mexico - you will not be disappointed. I would also like to thank the Royalton and all the staff there for making us feel so welcome during our stay, it is one that I will never forget, it is, without doubt, one place I would 100% visit again.
Not Just Any Old Marathon...
I've done it! I've finally taken the plunge and entered a marathon! Not just any old marathon either - the 21st Logicom Cyprus Marathon in Paphos. Taking place on 17th March 2019, this will be my first marathon, and the longest distance I have ran (to date) by five miles.
Why Paphos you may ask? Well it's a place I've visited several times over the years, my in-laws have an apartment there (they actually suggested the run to me), it's a beautiful island, oh...and I got married there too. So it's safe to say Paphos is a special place to me - it's even tattooed on my arm! So when the chance came up to take part in a run there, I did not hesitate. I've never taken part in a race outside Scotland before so I thought this was the perfect opportunity to bag my first 26.2 miles.
Thankfully, Cyprus isn't too hot in March with the temperatures probably even cooler than what we've been seeing here in Aberdeen over the summer. Also, as you can see from the course map below - there is water every 3km, as well as a combination of electrolyte drinks, energy gels, bananas and sponges, so I should be able to keep myself reasonably hydrated.
The real test is gonna come from my legs though. They've never ran that far before, and as I experienced during the BrewDog Run, they gave me some problems after the 15 mile mark. However, if I can get that under control (I suspect new shoes will be required before then), I'm fairly confident I'll be able to give a reasonably good account of myself in the marathon.
So now the training starts. It all kicks off with the PIM Crathes Half Marathon on September 15th and then I'll have a long winter of training ahead of me.
If anyone has any training suggestions; plans, podcasts, videos or anything along those lines then please feel free to pass them on in the comments below.
But first...I have a two week holiday in Mexico to look enjoy 🍻
The Punk Rock Kings Of Philly
I'm not very adventurous when it comes to new music. I'm usually pretty set in my ways; listening to the same artists, the same playlists & the same songs. However every now and then, one of those artists will lead me to discover a new one. And that's exactly what happened a couple of years back.
It all started with Springsteen.
My obsession with The Boss that has lasted for most of my adult life, steered me in the direction of exploring Springsteen's New Jersey routes. This led me to The Gaslight Anthem and they, in turn, led me to guys like Dave Hause and Chuck Ragan. Spending most of my time listening to these guys, who still remain a staple of my everyday listening, Spotify would start suggesting new bands to me such as The Bouncing Souls, Against Me! and The Menzingers. Now, while I'd heard of The Menzingers before, I'd never actually listened to them. So after a quick listen of their most popular tracks on Spotify, I sat up, and slowly began to take notice of this band. Before long, I'd listened to everything that was available on Spotify - but what really grabbed my attention was 2012's On The Impossible Past.
On The Impossible Past
The Menzingers 3rd studio album, On The Impossible Past, is where this band really got their hooks in me. Now, I came to this album four years late, so I'm not really sure what kind of hype there was surrounding it at the time. But for me, it's hard to imagine that it didn't blow everyone away on release, because I think if I were to create a list of my favourite albums of all time, this would easily be in the top five, probably even my top three.
The album opens so strongly with three catchy, high energy tracks in Good Things, Burn After Writing and singalong anthem The Obituaries before slowing things right down with Gates - four tracks that really set the bar for the quality of this record. The real high points of the album for me are the tracks Mexican Guitars & Casey, which are still two of my most favourite Menzingers songs to date. Mexican Guitars is a nostalgia-heavy song that seems to deal with the loss of an old friend, and looking back to better times when they were learning guitar on their Mexican Stratocaster's together:
"I'm on cruise control and the radio was on
They were playing that song
That we both learned on our Mexican guitars"
This song instantly hooked me - the passion in Greg Barnett's voice was so clear on the first listen, that I knew this was going to be a favourite. Similar can be said for Casey - another track that seems to deal with nostalgic memories of an old friend:
"Me and Casey
We used to get drunk before we did the dishes
Oh, every evening
Me and Casey
Used to get high and listen to our boredom"
Again, Greg's vocal delivery is so powerful and combined with the catchy lyrics - Casey became an instant favourite for me. These are then followed up by I Can't Seem To Tell, and Freedom Bridge - two tracks that round the record off perfectly.
For me, this is the perfect punk rock album; the ultimate mash-up of energetic, aggressive pure punk & singalong, hooky melodies full of raw emotion. It is easy to see why this is one of the most critically acclaimed punk albums of all time.
The follow up to On The Impossible Past, Rented World, doesn't quite hit the same heights of its predecessor for me. It was always going to be a huge task for The Menzingers to deliver a follow-up record of such high quality - but don't get me wrong, it does have its moments. The opening track I Don't Wanna Be An Asshole Anymore, which is my favourite track on the album, is absolutely incredible. It's an extremely dark & powerful opening track, and the emotion in Barnett's voice is there for all to see:
"I won't lie no more about where I've been
And I won't pry no more
Over the people that you're hanging with
You're the only lover that I ever missed
Ever been hopelessly in love with
Look at this tangle of thorns
I don't wanna be an asshole anymore"
The album hits a few other highs with tracks such Rodent, Where Your Heartache Exists, The Talk & Hearts Unknown - all of which wouldn't look out of place on On The Impossible Past. Whilst Rented World doesn't quite hit the heights of its predecessor it is still a pretty damn good record overall.
Lookers & After The Party
Lookers is still a mainstay of my everyday listening and has a place in several of my Spotify playlists. And despite On The Impossible Past being my favourite Menzingers record overall, I think Lookers is my favourite track. Check out the video for it below.
With the release of Lookers came the promise of a new album, and that's exactly what came next. On October 27, 2016, The Menzingers announced their fifth studio album, titled After The Party would be released on February 3, 2017.
Now, if On The Impossible Past was nostalgia-heavy, then After The Party takes it up a notch. The incredible opening track Tellin' Lies sets the tone for the album as a whole, repeatedly asking the question "Where are we gonna go now that our twenties are over?" The first five tracks on this record make for really strong listening with the incredible Lookers, along with Midwestern States and Charlie's Army being particular highlights.
This continues with House On Fire, Boy Blue and Bad Catholics but things really step up again with the tenth track, Your Wild Years.
The second last song on the album is the title track, After The Party, a track that just about pips Lookers to my favourite overall Menzingers track. After The Party works as a follow up to the record's opening track, Tellin' Lies and tells the story of a couple who are struggling to figure out where to go after their college years. But despite the troubles the face, when the partying is done, and it's time to grow up - they stick together.
"Everybody wants to get famous
But you just want to dance in a basement
You don't care if anyone is watching
Just as long as you stay in motion
We put miles on these old jean jackets
Got caught up in the drunk conversations
But after the party, it's me and you
After the party, it's me and you"
It's hard to listen to this song and not get drawn into it. I used to think that Brian Fallon (The Gaslight Anthem) was my favourite vocalist out there but the sheer amount of pure, raw, emotion that Greg Barnett can get across in his vocal delivery is incredible. Just as I do with Your Wild Years, I get chills every time I listen to this track. It even has an awesome video - check it out below.
For me the album is a real return to form for The Menzingers and the heights of On The Impossible Past - it's a sort of spiritual sequel to it with a return of the nostalgia-heavy hooky melodies and catchy singalong lyrics. And whilst After The Party may not be as strong overall as On The Impossible Past, it is a record that would easily have a spot in my top ten list.
I think it's clear from this that I'm a sucker for nostalgia, and it's true; I love old movies, I love old video games and I love old music, so naturally, I was going to connect with a bunch of these songs on some level. I think it speaks volumes, that for a band that I'd only discovered a few years ago - two of their albums would make my top ten of all time list. If you want to hear for yourself just why I love The Menzingers so much, then check out my Menzingers playlist on Spotify.
I can't wait to see what they do next ?
Watch this. Seriously, Watch It.
Sometimes you watch a documentary series and it just blows you away; Making a Murderer, Wild Country & The Staircase - it happened with all of them for me. I've just finished watching another, The Defiant Ones, and I think that it may be just as good, if not better than any documentary I've seen before.
The Defiant Ones is a HBO series (available on Netflix in the UK) that documents the careers of Jimmy Iovine and Dr. Dre in parallel, culminating in them selling "Beats By Dr. Dre" to Apple for three billion dollars in 2014. Check out the trailer below:
The documentary kicks off with both of these guys at the beginning of their careers; Dre is working as DJ at a local club in Compton where he soon becomes a member of the popular hip-hop group World Class Wreckin' Cru. Meanwhile, Jimmy is just starting out learning his trade by sweeping the floors at a recording studio in NYC. Things move quite quickly for the pair and Dre soon becomes acquainted with a certain local drug dealer by the name of Eazy E, and aspiring rapper Ice Cube. Jimmy, with a stroke of luck, is asked to help out recording following an engineer being on holiday - it just so happens that a certain John Lennon was in the studio that day.
We soon see early flashes of genius from Dre as the foundations for rap group NWA are laid. During a recording session, he manages to convince a reluctant Eazy E to start rapping - and we all know how that turned out. Just listen to any track by him, or NWA and you can see how talented he is, he has such a unique voice. He'd never been much of a rapper before he met Dr. Dre, but Dre spotted the talent and knew exactly what he could do - and the rest they say, is history.
I found the NWA chapter of this documentary extremely fascinating, as I didn't really know the full story behind one of rap's most controversial groups. One of the more interesting stories was how the track "Fuck Tha Police" came to be. Following being on the receiving end of some unwarranted harassment from the local police, Ice Cube penned the track in retaliation and after some initial reluctance from Dre (the track actually spend some time in the trash!) the group recorded one of the most controversial, yet iconic, rap songs of all time. The song caused quite a cultural movement at the time and actually resulted in a letter from the FBI being sent to the group asking them to stop performing the track!
The documentary doesn't shy away from controversy either and highlights some of the more troubling times that the group and its members faced. During the times where both Eazy E and Ice Cube had gone their separate ways f, Dr. Dre violently assaulted Fox television presenter Dee Barnes as he was upset at how she had covered the acrimonious split of the group. While this was an extremely horrible and cowardly act, you see how remorseful Dre is regarding it, and how these events helped shaped his future.
Whilst NWA was busy causing controversy Jimmy was busy working his own genius, whilst learning from another. Jimmy got the opportunity to work with The Boss himself, Bruce Springsteen, on his legendary (and potentially the greatest rock record of all time) album Born To Run. I am a MASSIVE Springsteen fan, so anytime he is on film, I will sit up and take notice. When you look back at the documentary as a whole after finishing, you can really pinpoint this as a turning point in Jimmy's career where he learns a whole new work ethic from an absolute master of the art. Jimmy credits Bruce with teaching him a whole new way of working - but it works both ways, Bruce realised that Jimmy is going above and beyond and credits his commitment.
We also see earlier flashes of Jimmy's genius business mind at work. Whilst working with Patti Smith - he realised the need for her to have a huge hit single, and luckily he knew just the song. Following his work with Springsteen, he knew of a song that would be a perfect fit for Patti, so he tapped up The Boss to see if he would hand it over. Bruce being Bruce agreed to it no problem and the song in question; Because The Night - a track that ended up being more successful than any song of Springsteen's by that point.
“There are two kinds of guys that you’ll run into. One kind wanted to go home at 5 and their interest in what you were doing didn’t exceed the demands of the day for them. They never lasted. When you’re trying to push the boundaries and explore new frontiers you need to be surrounded by people who believe in what you’re doing”
Over the course of his career, Jimmy works with some of the biggest names in the music industry such as Tom Petty, U2, Stevie Nicks and Dire Straits and it quickly becomes apparent how just how smart a guy he really was. Fed up of waiting for artists to seek out his help, he decided to go it alone and be the one to seek out the new artists, and in 1990 Interscope Records was founded.
Interscope Records quickly became one of the biggest labels in the music business and was responsible for launching the careers of artists such as Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch, Tupac Shakur and No Doubt. We also see Jimmy's genius business brain at work yet again as he manages to sign one of the hottest bands of the moment - Trent Reznor fronted Nine Inch Nails. We see interviews with some of these artists and those around him and it's clear from these conversations just how well respected Jimmy is and his worth ethic to get business done.
We soon reach the point where the careers of Dre and Jimmy start to come together. In 1992 Jimmy and Interscope Records joined forces with Dr. Dre and Suge Knight to finance and distribute their record label Death Row Records. Many record labels had already passed on Dre's debut solo album The Chronic due to a combination of existing contracts and some other controversial goings on - but Jimmy being Jimmy was so impressed by the record, he made things happen.
As dedicated to greatness Dre is, he also knows when to give up. Following his hugely successful second album 2001, and his work producing records for other artists such as Eminem, 50 Cent, The Game, D.O.C and Eve, Dre's third solo album, titled Detox was scheduled for release in 2007. Over the years that followed, there was still no sign of the record, and as the years passed the anticipation grew. In media interviews, growing increasingly frustrated, Dre would state that the album "wasn't finished", and he "was working on it", and it "would be ready when it's ready".
“They’re the enemy of creativity. You never know when you’re going to be inspired and what’s going to inspire you. You can’t put a time limit on creativity. We’re artists. We’re just being creative, man. Shut the fuck up and let us do our job.”
Unashamed to admit that he suffered from "social anxiety" and was having trouble finishing the album as he strove for perfection, Detox was shelved. Instead, Dre decided to release a compilation album titled Compton, to be released alongside 2016's NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton. Dre confirmed that Compton would be his final album, and Detox would indeed, never be released. You have to admire Dre for knowing when to walk away from a project. Despite being in production for around 15 years, he knew he couldn't achieve the levels of quality that he wanted on Detox, so he knew that it would be better to not release it than release something he wouldn't be happy with.
In the final episode, we meet Eminem - perhaps rap's most controversial figure since the days of NWA and we learn the backstory of how he first met Dr. Dre and Jimmy. I don't want to spoil things too much, but the retelling of Dre & Eminem's first studio session, and how the track "My Name Is" came to be was a standout moment for me. Eminem talks quite strongly about his feelings for Dre & Jimmy, and how much he owes his career, and success to them - something that nearly never happened and took a lot of convincing execs to make happen.
By the end, the series comes full circle and we see the invention of Beats By Dr. Dre - the brainchild of Jimmy & Dre following several unsuccessful attempts by sneaker companies to try and get Dre to endorse their products. Unsurprisingly, it was Jimmy who came up with the suggestion that made most business sense - speakers and headphones. We are then given a glimpse in to the marketing strategy that turned Beats By Dr. Dre into perhaps the most successful and recognisable headphone brand in the world. Following their domination of the speaker world, the company moved in to the world of digital music and Beats Music was born. This venture proved to be not quite as successful as the headphones initially - until of course, Apple got involved. Wanting to make the company as profitable as possible, Jimmy as always knew what to do - he convinced Apple to splash three billion dollars to purchase the company in 2014, a deal that turned out to be the largest acquisition in Apple's history. Even in the latter stages of his career, Jimmy proves that he is still one of the smartest, most respected guys in the industry.
Along with just how purely interesting, and engaging this documentary is, it has been filmed absolutely incredibly. The cinematography on series really is top class. I think that's also part of the reason why it kept me so hooked. It's often the hallmark of a good documentary and occasionally you will switch one on that looks a bit rubbish, and before you know it you have switched it off again.
The series may clock in at around five hours, but that didn't stop me binging it all in one sitting - it was that engrossing, and the story of these guys careers is so interesting that it makes it 100% worth the investment. The Defiant Ones also teaches an extremely valuable lesson about work ethic and commitment to excellence. These guys are the best in the industry for a reason and they didn't get there by chance; it took years of hard work, dedication and a work ethic like no other.
I can't recommend The Defiant Ones enough. If you have any sort of interest in hip-hop, or even just the music industry in general - then this is absolutely worth your time. The interviews are eye-opening and insightful, it doesn't shy away from controversy and it is shot absolutely beautifully. I came out of this knowing a hell of a lot more than I did before I watched it. Do yourself a favour and watch it for yourself.
The Defiant Ones gets 5 out of 5 from me.
Sun, Sweat & Hills
Following my successful completion of the epic 21 mile run from, BrewDog to BrewDog, I want to start using this blog to start sharing more of my running stories - especially since I'm now hopefully on track to running a full marathon.
For my next run, I was going to attempt the Stonehaven Half Marathon. Everything that I'd read, and heard about Stonehaven Half Marathon had me slightly worried about it; "it's hills for the entire first half"..."up for 8, down for 5"..."one of the hardest half marathons in the UK"...This caused me to slightly delay my entry until I was entirely sure I could handle it. This turned out to be 4 days before the actual run. However, I was feeling good about myself, and feeling good about my running - so pending a total blazing heatwave on the day, I was sure I could get through it.
Race day arrived and by the time I got out my bed around 7.30am, it was already feeling worryingly warm. I made the decision then that I was going to carry water with me in my Camelbak to combat the sun.
I started the day with my usual race morning breakfast of porridge with blueberries and honey with coffee as well as starting to load up on water. The race started at 10.00am, so by the time I was finished breakfast and got all my kit sorted - it was soon time to leave.
We arrived in Stonehaven with roughly 30 mins until race time, which just left me with enough time to cover myself in sun cream, get down to the registration tent to collect my number, get suitably watered and a quick trip to the toilet. Before I knew it, I was queued up at the start line with the other runners listening to the pre-race briefing - and then we were off!
When I was told that this run was hilly...it was no lie, less than a mile into the run and we were already climbing! This continued gradually as we made our way through Stonehaven for the first couple of miles, and by the time we were completely out of the town, the climbing became constant - yikes! Before we'd even got to the 4-mile marker, I felt myself starting to struggle. The heat was certainly playing a huge part in this but my legs were already beginning to feel quite heavy on the hills. It was also starting to get blisteringly hot with temperatures of around 21ºC and little to no clouds in the sky.
I grit my teeth and pushed through it and before I knew it, I heard the faint sound of bagpipes through my headphones. Bingo. I knew from previous reading, that this signalled the end of the constant climbing - at least for now. So when I saw the piper in all his glory at the 4-mile marker, this was a welcome relief. There was a water stop shortly after this point also, so this gave me the chance to significantly cool myself down by emptying cups of water over my head and down my back.
Miles 5 to 7 were slightly less challenging than the previous, with much fewer hills to conquer and I was able to start to regain my pace. There was a shared water stop between miles 5.5/6.5 as we did a nice flat loop and I was briefly joined by a friendly face, which offered me some much-needed encouragement. I took advantage of this stop by having a drink and again soaking myself on both passes. Little did I know, that this water stop was a prelude to the dreaded mile 8...
"His palms are sweaty, knees weak, arms are heavy, there's vomit on his sweater already, mom's spaghetti..."
Mile 8, or as I quickly renamed it in my head - the mile from hell. Now, I don't know for sure if this hill was as particularly challenging as I found it to be, or if it was just such a shock to my legs after enjoying a good spell of reasonably flat running. But whatever the reason, I really struggled with it. I struggled so much, that I probably walked the majority of this mile. But, I just got on with it and plodded away until I finally I was back on flat ground.
From here - it became a completely different race. Miles 9, 10 & 11 resulted in my best running of the day to the point where I was running sub 8-minute miles (7:32 at one point!). Obviously running downhill played a huge part in this, but it felt like such a relief to be no longer struggling uphill and I was really able to kick it up a gear and started to massively enjoy it. I was also finally able to appreciate the awesome scenery we were running in, as I was able to concentrate on something other than making it to the top of the next hill.
Before I knew it we were back in the town, however, by the time I reached the mile 11 marker I had hit a wall - I was really starting to struggle again. Although we were basically running on flat/downhill for the final couple of miles through Stonehaven, I was struggling to find the energy to get me through the final miles. Following a couple of pauses, lots of encouragement and high fives from the crowds, I was able to pull myself together and power through it! I was totally gutted by this though, as I had just come off the back of some great running and this had more than likely just added 3/4 minutes on to my finishing time.
Finally, I found myself making my way down the Slug Road, past Mackie Academy towards Minerallwell Park. Thankfully, as I came down and out through the trees my supporters were there waiting for me to cheer me on, and this gave me the much-needed boost to kick on for the final few hundred meters and cross the finish line.
It's safe to say that it was a bit of a mixture of emotions when I finally crossed the finish line; relief that I no longer had to run anymore and the sheer joy and elation of knowing that I'd made it to the end. People often ask me why I enjoy running, and I quite often find it hard to come up with an adequate response, but I think this run has finally made it a bit easier to answer. No matter how much I struggle and how heavy and hurting my legs are, that is completely outweighed by the elation of crossing the finishing line with your supporters cheering you on - and finally, getting that medal around your neck. It really makes it all worth it.
Overall, I'm fairly satisfied with my finishing time considering the conditions - I'm just kicking myself that I couldn't keep up the pace for the final 2 miles as it would have made a huge difference to my time. I guess in hindsight I should have maybe done a little extra homework on the route, and crammed in some extra hill training in preparation. But I'm glad I did it because if I want to keep challenging and pushing myself more with my running, then this is the type of races I need to do.
A huge thank you to my supporters for coming out and enduring the sun to cheer me on, it really made a huge difference. A massive thank you also to the organisers for putting on such a great event and of course, thank you to all the volunteers on the day - events like this wouldn't be possible without these people (the food at the end was a particularly welcome surprise).
It's time for a well earned few days rest from running (I'm not quite at the level where I can just get up and go the next day yet) while I plan my next run. I'm not signed up for anything else yet, but considering the Metro Dyce half marathon in August and the Crathes half marathon in September. Any suggestions?