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.
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