No Sleep 'Til Brooklyn
The 2019 TCS New York City Marathon had 53,627 finishers. I was one of them.
In what will likely be my most memorable ever running experience, I ran 26.2 miles through the five boroughs of the greatest city on the planet - and while everything didn't quite go as I'd planned, it is certainly an experience I'll never forget.
I applied for the 2019 NYC Marathon ballot on January 17th, without ever thinking I would actually get in. 41 days later, on February 27th, I received an email with the subject "Greg, Get Ready to Run the Streets of New York City!" Wait...what?! Fast forward a few hours later that day, and flights were booked (thanks Kerry!) We were actually going back to New York. I really was going to run the New York City Marathon!
As well as giving a race report of the run itself, I'll also use this post to talk about the marathon expo too, because it's a huge part of the overall race experience and really adds to the excitement of it all.
I spent the weeks and months in the run up to the race reading other peoples blogs, and watching vlogs all about the run, so I'm super excited to share this post with you all, and I hope that maybe in preparation for future NYC Marathons, someone somewhere will find this useful.
The Marathon Expo
The first thing I had to do was get along to the marathon expo and pick up my race number and shirt, so we headed to Manhattan on Friday morning and got along to stand in line before it opened at 10am. The expo takes place at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center (it is HUGE), which is in the Hudson Yards area of the city, so it's pretty easy to get to. We got there at around 9.30am and I'm so glad we did because the line just kept getting bigger by the minute.
When the doors eventually opened there was a huge cheer from the crowds and the volunteers and we (the runners) were clapped into the exhibition hall by the volunteers, which I thought was a real nice touch. We were quite near the front, so there was almost no line at all to pick up my number and shirt which was a relief as I'd read beforehand that the queues can get pretty crazy! With my number collected, we then had a wander around the rest of the convention and the first part you get to is the official New Balance marathon store that is absolutely huge, and filled with all sorts of official marathon gear. There is so much cool stuff in there and it would be easy to spend a fortune - but I knew what I wanted (new shorts) so we didn't spend too much time in there.
Once I'd paid for the shorts, we were then through into what could be described as the main expo hall - I guess if you're used to running these big marathons then you'd be used to this sort of stuff, but the only thing I could really relate it to is the Offshore Europe expo that happens here in Aberdeen every other year. There were a ton of different exhibitors each offering all sorts of different thing - you could literally come here and pick up your entire running kit; headphones, watch, sunglasses, underwear and shoes! Just as with the NB store, it would be so easy to spend so much money. So we had a wander round, stopped at a few different stalls and bought a few different bits and pieces as will as grabbing a bunch of samples. I'd definitely recommend picking up some Biofreeze samples - those little sachets can be invaluable when you're in a tough spot during a race!
One of the cool things about the marathon expo is the name wall. It's a huge wall displaying the names of the five boroughs of New York and also displays the name of every runner. It's all sorted alphabetically by surname, and it's easy enough to find your name, so it's a pretty cool photo to get! It really does make you realise the enormity of the whole thing, when you see all those other names surrounding yours. It was quite a humbling moment for me.
Another cool photo opportunity (you are running the NYC Marathon after all - you are entitled to millions of photos!) is getting your picture in front of the giant medal, whilst holding your race number. There was a short line here, but it was worth the wait because it is a really cool photo and absolutely one for your Instagram!
And with that, we were done and it was time to explore Manhattan. We made our way out of the expo hall and to our amazement, there was still a line of people waiting to get in! I really can't state how important it is to get there early to avoid these queues!
The one thing I have always been pretty nervous about with the NYC marathon is race morning. Everything I'd read made it seem like such a journey to get yourself on the starting line. I already knew that I had to get an Uber, to get on a ferry, to then get on a bus - it all seemed pretty overwhelming, coupled with the fact my alarm was set for 04.45!
However, by the time I'd made it to the ferry terminal, I definitely began to feel a lot less nervous. There were so many people there! I had around 40mins to kill before my ferry, so I grabbed some water, and took a seat to wait it out.
We then boarded the ferry and I grabbed a seat, and took in the incredible sunrise views of Manhattan as we made our way to Staten Island. The ferry only took around 25mins, and we were there in no time. From there, it was off the ferry, and a short 10min walk to make our way to queue for the busses. By the time I eventually got on a bus, there was no seats left, so I had so stand for the journey to the start village at Fort Wadsworth. I think the journey took around 30mins, but it felt like forever because I was standing, and it was super hot on the bus too!
Finally, we made to Fort Wadsworth, and after a quick security check, we were finally in the start village, which was already absolutely packed with people. I was assigned Orange Wave 2, with a 10.10 start time, so I made my way to the orange area in search of some hot coffee, something to eat, and a seat. Thankfully, in the start village, there is plenty going on; Dunkin' Donuts are there providing coffee, bagels (and hats - make sure to grab one as they are super warm!), Honey Stinger were handing out crackers, you could also get bananas water & Gatorade.
With coffee and a bagel firmly in my grasp, I took a seat on the ground and took some time to relax - it was still around 1.5 hours away from start time. I got chatting to some of the people around me, which definitely helped not only pass the time, but it was good to talk to someone who had some experience of this race. There was still so much time to kill, but that was easily sorted by standing in line to use the toilet. There was hundreds of them, but the lines were still so long! I’ve come to accept that it seems to be pretty standard at every race on the planet now…
Eventually, the time came to make my way to the starting corrals. After so long waiting around in the cold, it was good to get up and around and get the legs moving! It was a short 10min walk over a field where it splits everyone up by their assigned coral. There was also another opportunity to grab a cool photo, so of course, I took it.
I arrived at the corral, and after waiting around for another 10mins or so, it was soon time to walk to the starting line. There was music playing over the speakers, the sun was shining, everyone was buzzing – the atmosphere was electric! After a short walk, here we were at the start line on the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge - after months of excitement, I was finally here! I was BUZZING!
There was a DJ getting everyone pumped up, playing tunes to get us in the mood, before it was then time for the national anthem. The American runners all joined in with the singing, whilst I just looked around and took it all in. The girl who sang the anthem was also due to take part in the race itself, starting in a later wave, which I thought was pretty cool.
Then the countdown started...10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1...
BOOM! The cannon fired, and we were off. I hit play on my headphones and that ever familiar drum solo that kicks off Born To Run by The Boss, Bruce Springsteen filled my ears, with his hometown of Freehold, New Jersey only a stone throw away.
"...In the day, we sweat it out on the streets of a runaway American dream..."
I knew it was going to be a long, slow climb at the start as we made our way over the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, which was around 2 miles, so I tried my best to take my time. But I'd be lying if I said I didn't get caught up in it all - the atmosphere was electric, and it was hard not to get a little boost from the energy of it all. I couldn't stop smiling. I'd only been running for about 2mins and already couldn't believe how amazing it was!
For it being a steady incline over around 2 miles, I really didn’t notice it at all, and before I knew it, we had arrived in Brooklyn – and the crowds started to appear. As we made our way into the area of Bay Ridge, and 4th Avenue, which would be our home for the next 5 miles or so – the noise from the crowds became electric.
These crowds were unlike anything I’ve ever seen in a run before. For the first couple of miles, it was just incredible; people lining every single inch of both sides of the street, bands playing loud on every other street corner, and people holding up some of the most hilarious, and inspiring signs I’ve ever seen! For this stretch of the run, I really didn't need my music, so I had it turned down pretty low, only ever turning it back up when one of those songs would come on. These crowds would continue to be as crazy right through until around mile 10, where we entered the more traditional Jewish area of South Williamsburg, where it got a little quieter for a couple miles.
I was still feeling good at this point too - my legs were feeling strong, I was making good pace, and I wasn't getting too tired either. I'd be lying if I said the crowd didn't have some sort of effect on me though, it really did make those 10 miles fly by. There is also an abundance of water stations on the route, with water & Gatorade available near enough every mile. Honestly, this race had everything - during this stretch of the run, I punched an inflatable Donald Trump, rattled a tambourine, hit a Super Mario mushroom power up, all on top of countless high fives. The was even a guy with "Springsteen" on the back of his shirt, so naturally, I gave him a "BRRUUUUUCCCCEEEEE" as I ran past.
Somewhere between miles 11 & 12, I managed to spot Kerry, who had been waiting for me at the side of the street. It was a much needed boost for me at this time in the run, as my legs had actually began to tire, and I had started to feel some pain in my feet. So I grabbed a quick hug, and I was on my way again, heading for the halfway mark.
Here's where the problems started...
Much like the Cyprus Marathon earlier this year, as I approached the half way mark, my feet began to hurt like hell. The soles of my feet were seriously sore, and it started slowing me down significantly. I went from running between 8/9 min miles over the first 12 miles to somewhere between 10/12 min miles - which was not ideal, but it couldn't be helped as every step was pretty much hurting. I trained for a sub-4 hour marathon, I set off with a sub-4 hour finish in mind, but now I knew that was out the window. It was incredibly frustrating as nothing like this had happened over the course of my training, but I just tried to put it out my mind and push myself on, albeit at a much slower pace.
The next few miles were pretty challenging, as I made my way towards the 14/15 mile mark, and the dreaded Queensborough Bridge - a section of the race that I knew was already going to be tough. My legs were already incredibly heavy, and a long, slow climb was the last thing I needed - but alas, you just have to get on with it, and of course, what goes up, must come down! I can't tell you how relieved I was when I reached the peak of that bridge, and was on my way downhill, and touch down in Manhattan.
For the next 4 miles I'd be running up First Avenue, towards The Bronx, and another incredibly challenging section of the course. Again, it was another slow, gradual climb, but mentally, it was just a case of taking it mile by mile and water stop by water stop - and I knew I'd get through it. It wasn't just my feet that were hurting now either, pretty much every muscle in my legs were taking it in turns to hurt! It was manageable though, and the crowds absolutely buzzing again, which was a welcome relief, after a rather eery, silent spell on the bridge. Honestly, the energy and support from the crowds really can dig you out from some dark places and get you going again - I swear, at the right moment, a high five from a little kid can be as effective as a week in the hospital!
First Avenue came to an end, and it was then time for two bridges in quick succession. First up was the Willis Avenue Bridge, before being followed by the Madison Avenue Bridge, which took us over mile 20 & 21 and into Harlem. Thankfully, neither of these bridges were anywhere near as challenging as the last and just as I touched down in Harlem, and the Biofreeze relief zone was in sight! I took the opportunity to get my quads, thighs and calves absolutely lathered in Biofreeze for the final 5 mile stretch. The cooling sensation was an unbelievable relief!
I was now on Fifth Avenue, and well and truly on the home straight! It wasn't long before I was running parallel to central park, and the excitement and relief were both starting to ramp up. I was basically running on empty over these last few miles, and if not for the crowds, I really think it would have been much, much, more of a struggle.
Mile 24 took us into Central Park itself, and at this point I got a second wind - I forgot about the pain in my legs, and just tried my best to enjoy the crowds, and run these last couple of miles with a smile on my face... plus, I was running downhill again! To make things even better, I spotted Kerry again just after the mile 25 marker! I was delighted to know that she's made it from Brooklyn to Central Park. With one mile to go, this was exactly what I needed.
The end was in sight, and it was time for one last push. It must have been a combination of the adrenaline and the buzz from the crowd, but over the final mile, I actually recorded my fastest split since mile 11! I passed through the grandstand area, and gave one final push to get myself across the finish line - I DID IT! There was such a mixture of emotions when I crossed the like - sheer joy, utter relief and pure amazement... I'd just completed the New York City Marathon! I stepped over the finish line with a time of 04:30:22 - not quite what I was hoping for, but it was a new PB by 22 seconds, and at the end of the day, a PB is a PB.
After running 26.2 miles, you'd think it would be nice to be able to, you know, grab a seat, and rest for a minute... but that wasn't to be the case! Once we crossed the finish like, we had to walk a bit further to pick up our medal, then we had to walk a bit more to get our heat sheet, then walk just a bit more to get our recovery bags, at that point the line split into two depending on the finishing option you selected, where I then had to walk even further to pick up my post race poncho. All in all, we probably had to walk over a mile after finishing the race, which wasn't very fun - I found it a little ridiculous and probably was my only gripe with the whole experience. One thing I would say about the post race is experience is that almost everyone is super friendly - just about every single person I walked past would congratulate me in some sort of way, which is awesome, and really helped hit home what I'd just achieved.
The post race poncho is a pretty cool souvenir, and it does a great job of keeping you warm. I would definitely recommend going for this option if you don't really need a bag of stuff at the end. Eventually, probably around 30mins after finishing, I was finally able to meet up with Kerry and get a much needed hug! I know it's probably needed for security, etc in these big races, but waiting so long to see someone you actually know after you finish can be quite draining! It was then time to make our way back to Brooklyn, which was a whole adventure in itself - the last thing you need after finishing a marathon is to wander around from subway stop to subway stop because the one you need is closed!
After arriving back at the hotel, and collapsing in a heap on the bed, I quickly came to the realisation that I was in no fit state to go anywhere that evening. So it was time for takeaway from Joe's Pizza and a much needed beer!
I'm gonna finish this post here - I apologise for the length of this post, but I had a lot to cover! Thanks for reading, and I hope you enjoyed it. Before I go, I'd like to finish this post with some important thank you's:
I RAN A MARATHON!
Did you know that only 1% of the world's population will run a marathon in their lifetime? Well, I can now proudly say that I have joined that 1%.
If you are a regular reader of this blog, then you will know that since October, I'd been trying my best to get in best possible shape to run my first ever marathon - the 21st Logicom Cyprus Marathon. Unfortunately, my training didn't quite go to plan, and during my second week of training I sustained an injury that caused me to miss five weeks of training. But I managed to recover, and cram as much training in to what time I had left as I possibly could.
Before I knew it, we were on the flight to Paphos - luckily I had a few days of relaxation ahead of me before the big day, which was exactly what I needed. Also, thanks to my in-laws having a car, I even got the chance to check out parts of the route beforehand, giving me some idea of what was in store.
Race day arrived and I was ready to take my place as one of the 3,500 running across all races in Paphos that day. The marathon was due to start at 7.30am, so that meant a particularly early start, and getting up at 5am! I started the day off with a bowl of oats, a banana and some peanut butter to get my energy levels up, as I had a feeling I was going to need it later. I also started getting plenty of water inside me, without overdoing it as I didn't want my bladder going out of control in the early stages of the race! And with that, I was showered, changed into my race kit and ready to go.
We hopped in the car, and my father in-law drove us out to the starting point at Aphrodite's Rock, which was around a 40min drive from our apartment. When we arrived, the starting area was already buzzing with excitement - there were people everywhere, warming up, taking photos and there was even a live DJ to get us in the mood. There was still around 40mins to the start of the race, so I used this opportunity to get in the already long queue for a final toilet break. This is probably where my only gripe with the organisation with the race comes in, and it's something that I see too often - there was maybe only around six portable toilets for all the runners, which was nowhere near enough in my opinion. I queued for around 30mins, and by the time I got to the front, they were in a pretty poor state, with no paper or hand wash left.
Anyway, enough of the negativity, and back to the buzzing starting area. I made the most of the final few minutes to take some photos, do some final stretches and receive my good luck wishes from my family. Then, before I knew it, I'd taken my place at the starting line, and we were off!
I had a 4-hour goal in mind, so I had a plan worked out in my head how I needed the first half of the run to go. I also decided not to take photos during this run, as this was my first marathon, and I wanted to try and achieve the best possible finishing time.
Things started quite well, and despite some hills early on, I managed to navigate my way through the first few miles at a reasonably brisk pace, whilst taking in the stunning scenery. The bright start continued, as we worked our way inland, further away from the coast on our approach to the 10km point. I was feeling good and averaging around 8:30/mile which was the required pace I needed to cover the first half of the run. I was also starting to take advantage of the many water stops that were on offer, with one every 3k, which was perfect as it was already starting to heat up.
The good start continued as we passed mile 8, and turned down the long three mile stretch of road towards the airport, where we would eventually double back on ourselves at the bottom. This was the part of the race I was least looking forward to, as I had learned from parts of my training that running back and forth along the same stretch of road is incredibly mentally draining. On the way down this road, we passed the half way point, which was on the other side of the road, where I also spotted the eventual winner on his way back up, way ahead of the pack. I'm not too sure if this was encouraging, or depressing, but at least I knew I was only six miles behind the leader! It was a long slog down the road to the airport, and we made our way past two water stops on the way, which was a welcome reprieve as the temperature had started creeping closer to 20°C, and we were quite exposed to the sun here. Everything was still going to plan as I closed in on mile 10, and I was still feeling good, maintaining a decent pace along the way. Now, I don't know if you can sense it or not, but there's one big but coming up...
Just before I reached the turning point at the bottom of the road, on mile 11, I felt a sharp pain in the arch of my left foot, resulting in sudden tightness, and causing me to start limping. I could still run, but not very fast, or gracefully. I spent a few minutes wishfully thinking I'd be able to shake it off, but it didn't seem to be going anywhere soon. In our race pack, we were given a sachet of Bio-Freeze gel, which I'd packed in my Flipbelt - so I made the decision to stop at the side of the road and apply this. I removed my shoe, and sock, then applied the gel before giving my foot a bit of a stretch and putting my gear back on. I was soon off again, and I'd actually managed to regain some sort of pace, and even managed to find the 4-hour pacer and keep up with him for around a mile. This didn't last too long, however, and the pain was back, causing me to slow down significantly.
Now, this was a sucker punch of the highest proportions. I can't really describe the feeling - it's hard to put into words, just how mentally draining the feeling of sustaining an injury at that point in the race was for me. I was so hyped for the marathon. I'd trained so hard. I was feeling great. And then this happened. It took so much out of me at the time, but I knew I couldn't let it get the better of me - I could still run, not quite as normal, but I could still run. I knew it could get through it, I just had to take my time. So I slowed it right down, and was running between 10:00-12:00/mile, a pace which lasted pretty much for the rest of the race. For the next few miles, I was trying to manage the pain by running for as long as I could, before giving myself a brief walking break through the water stops to let the pain subside.
Eventually, the sharpness of the pain went away, and I stopped taking any real notice of it. But by that point, the race had taken its toll on my legs, and they were feeling really heavy, and I couldn't really pick up the pace. However, at least I was starting to enjoy myself again and when my watch alerted me that I'd reached mile 17 - I even had a slight smile on my face... we were down to single figures. This continued through the following miles, and as we reached the main roads, crowds of people were starting to appear, offering some much needed encouragement along with live DJ's, and more refreshment stops. Around mile 23, I also took full advantage of a Bio-Free stop, where I was able to get the gel applied to my calves and thighs, to help me with the final push - I can't state enough, just how much of a relief on my legs that was!
I was soon back in familiar territory, making my way along the main strip of hotels in Paphos, with cheering tourists and locals all round. Now, while this was all very encouraging, it also felt a bit daunting as I knew I still had around 2.5 miles of running to go before I reached the finish line. As I made my way towards mile 26, I passed the hotel where we got married, The Annabelle, and it gave me the right amount of inspiration needed to pick up the pace for the final push. The crowds really picked along the home stretch on the harbour front, and by this point, I'd taken out my headphones so that I could soak up the atmosphere - I even managed my first sub 10:00/mile since I picked up the injury!
The finish line was in sight, but there was one final sting in the tail, with an ever so slight hill to traverse before the home straight - I'm fairly certain I let out a curse at that point! But I got to the top, and as I made my way round the final corner, the crowds were roaring, and I managed to spot my cheering family, which gave me everything I needed to push for the finish line.
I DID IT!
Crossing the finish line is a bit of a blur. There were so many thoughts and emotions running through my head, that I can't really remember it fully. I do know, however, that the sense of relief, happiness, and most of all, achievement, that I felt when I crossed the finish line is unlike anything I've ever felt. It was incredible. One of the volunteers put my medal around my neck, and then I think I picked up a banana and a bottle of water as I made my way through the crowds trying to find everyone. I know that I soon found myself in the queue for beer, as I eventually spotted Kerry, whilst I was trying to phone her. I was greeted with huge congratulations along with a big kiss and a hug, and my mother and father in law wasn't too far behind, offering their congratulations too.
We then took a much needed seat, and enjoyed the FREE BEER that was on offer, as we watched the prize giving ceremony, celebrating the runners and their achievements. I really was in awe at what some of the other runners had achieved, especially the older runners - it really was amazing.
Overall, despite the slight setback that I suffered, I am absolutely delighted the way things went. The fact that I was able to suck it up and get through over half the race, whilst carrying an injury left me extremely proud of myself. It may have not been the sub 4-hour marathon that I'd hoped for, but it gives me something more respectable to beat in New York in November. Oh, in case you didn't already know... I'M RUNNING THE NEW YORK MARATHON!
As for the Cyprus Marathon itself, I would 100% recommend this race to other runners. It is such a well organised event that caters for all levels of ability, whilst set against the stunning backdrop of Cyprus - I can guarantee you would enjoy it. All that's left for me to do is thank the organizers and volunteers for putting on such a great event, and most of all, thank everyone for their support - especially those that were there waiting for me at the finish line - it really meant a lot to me.
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 🍻
My Tips For A Few Days In The City
We recently took a trip to Paris as part of my wife Kerry's 30th birthday celebrations. I'd never been there before and Kerry had only been to Disneyland and having visited other large cities like New York & Barcelona last year, it was something we were really looking forward to. In this post, I'm going to share some of the things we got up to, and my tips to make the most of a few days in the French capital.
Walk, Walk, Walk
Paris is a large & sprawling beautiful city, and much like New York it is entirely walk-able. Sure, it may take a couple of hours to get from one end to the other, but the architecture, the quirky neighbourhoods & the unique bars and coffee shops you will find along the way make it completely worth it. So if you have the time, I would suggest walking pretty much everywhere you can.
Obviously this is all weather dependent & the first couple of days, we found ourselves getting an Uber pretty much everywhere. While Uber is an extremely convenient way of getting around, the traffic in Paris can be such a nightmare, a 2-3km journey can take up to half an hour! If you are wanting to get somewhere quick, then the metro is the way to go. There are stops everywhere, and it is just as straight forward as it is in London & New York.
Head Up The Eiffel Tower (On A Sunny Day)
You don't need me to tell you that if you are visiting Paris for the first time that you need to go up the Eiffel tower. It is iconic and something I would definitely recommend. The architecture and level craftsmanship is absolutely stunning, and unlike anything I have ever seen in person.
My number one tip for going up the Eiffel Tower would be...try and make sure you go up on a sunny day! I had arranged tickets for a tour beforehand that gave us priority entry to the second floor as part of a group. Unfortunately on the day of our tour, which also happened to be Kerry's birthday, was absolutely miserable; freezing cold, pouring rain and rather windy. Since the tickets were already bought and the tour was booked we didn't really have a choice but to go along. Also, if you've booked a tour - make sure you are not late! I ended up misjudging the traffic which caused us to miss the start of our tour and in turn we ended up in a Spanish language group - not ideal, but at least we still got to skip the queues. It was all quite hilarious as the tour guide didn't realise that we couldn't understand him, and we just happily nodded along with the odd "Si".
If you decide to go up the tower, make sure you make your way to the very top. It makes for some spectacular views of the city - even on a rainy day!
Go On A Dinner Cruise
Get Up Early To Explore
Trying to get good photos of some of the more popular landmarks in Paris can be an absolute nightmare, especially with the amount of other tourists around.
On our final day in Paris, I decided to get up early (7am) and head out for a run. It was a great run through the city, along the bank of the Seine, through the Jardin des Tuileries and finally past the Louvre. Whilst the streets were packed with runners along the river, when I broke off through the tourist spots, I found that there was hardly anyone around. This was a great opportunity to take a quick break & snap a few photos and I was able to capture some stunning, unobstructed shots of the ferris wheel & the Louvre pyramid.
So my advice would be - if you really want that perfect shot, get up early and go and get it
Hunt Around For The Coolest Bars
There are loads of places to have a drink in Paris. However, a lot of them are quite generic looking restaurants/bars on street corners with similar looking menus. My main piece of advice for this is to do a bit of research beforehand and you can find all the coolest spots to visit.
Right next door to our hotel was a cocktail bar called Bisou which had no menu, and only made drinks based on what you like. So for example - you could tell the bartender that you liked bourbon, something sweet & smokey and then he would go off and make your drink. He would then let you try it, and then come back and explain what it was and how he came up with the idea - it was a really could place and I would definitely recommend checking it out of you are ever in Paris
There are places like that to be found everywhere. A five minute walk from our hotel took us to a bar called Wynwood that was a funky little spot. Serving up cocktails, craft beer and tacos. There were cool neon lighting, awesome artwork on the walls and even a Nintendo tucked away in the corner running Mario Kart! It was a shame that this place wasn't very busy whilst we were there as it was such a cool spot, one that I wish we'd discovered earlier in the holiday as I would have definitely paid it another visit.
You Don't Need To Eat Out All the Time
Have A Picnic In Champ De Mars
There are some beautiful parks all over Paris. One of these parks, Champ De Mars is the perfect place to have a relaxing picnic on a sunny day, underneath the stunning backdrop of the Eiffel Tower. Get along to a supermarket or a bakery, pick up some bread, meat, some beers or wine and spend a few hours chilling in the sun. That's what we did and it was the ideal way to wind down on our final day in the city.
So there you have it. My tips for getting the most out of Paris. Obviously there was so much more we could have taken in whilst we there; we didn't visit any museums, we didn't visit all the major tourist attractions, we didn't take in a show and we didn't eat out every night. But the reality is - Paris is a really expensive place, and coupled with the time factor, we couldn't realistically do everything. However, we did what we wanted to do, and I think that we had a great time.
Have you been to Paris? What did you get up to? Is there anything you would have done differently? Let me know in the comments below.