6 months of yoga

Earlier this year I moved. Same neighborhood, but now I’m closer to my favourite running route, the best sandwich shop in the UK, and a yoga studio that is across the street from good coffee & tasty burritos.  I started going to a few classes and really liked the vibe of the studio (literally just a room, no swishy reception, no expensive clothes on sale, just yoga mats in a room with the buses going by the giant window outside. It’s called More Yoga.

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A friend had to move away from North London and offered to sell me her unlimited yoga pass for the rest of the 6 months on her contract. The studio said it was fine, and it was such a good deal (she got in before the studio opened with a Founders Membership for £49.99/month) I couldn’t say no. So, there I was with 6 months to do as much yoga as I wanted.

It’s no secret I love yoga. I do some jasyoga meditation/yoga every day and do an Ashtanga class every Friday at lunch. I think the best part of yoga is the opportunity to move in different ways from your everyday movement. Taking the time to hold some poses, move sideways, upside down, and just be in your body rather than asking it to be doing something for you.

So, how much yoga did I do?

I averaged 2.7 classes per week in addition to my other yoga stuff. One of those was always a restorative/yin/meditation class, and the others were a range of yoga styles. I tried lots of new-to-me yoga classes (Forrest!) and found I got along with some teachers way more than others. Let’s just say I didn’t go back to the class where the teacher was militant about our pigeon poses. I went to one class that STARTED off with handstands and turned into a proper circus by the end. One class was full of American Football players from nearby Finsbury Park. I went to a challenging Asana flow class one week and couldn’t keep up on the first sun salutation, but afterwards found myself beaming and booking into that class every week.

I didn’t see this as a challenge but as a part of my life. Yoga every day was never going to work for me (even if it is a hashtag someone added the word damn to make it cool), nor was a rigid schedule. It wasn’t even about having a specific goal like stretching more or developing strength. Having unlimited access to a studio did allow me do more yoga than usual and I found myself checking the schedule if I had unexpected free time.  It didn’t hurt that I even learned you can order a burrito across the street from Street N4 before class and they’ll have it fresh and ready for you post class.

I’ve cancelled my membership for the end of this month even though I really enjoyed it. Yoga classes, pool & lake admissions, races & events all add up, and liking something doesn’t mean I have to do it all the time. I see a lot of people online trying to live up to an identity they’ve created rather than living their actual right now life. Everything has to be a big goal, a series of blogs, updates, highs and lows. I’m hoping that this can be a voice in the obsessive-wilderness of the internet that says just trying is OK. Doing something for a little while is OK. You don’t have to be the “most person to do the thing ever”. Writing a blog to talk about the yoga I’ve done might seem like just that that, but I still think there is value in sharing beyond bragging. I found a good studio, tried out how it felt to add more yoga classes to my lifestyle, and ended up feeling better for it overall.

real women in sport

I have only seen two truthful images of everyday women in sport in the media.

  1. The moment in the This Girl Can commercial where the swimmer adjusts her bathing suit over her butt. Nothing is more familiar to a woman in a swimsuit than this adjustment.thisgirlcan
  2. The photo of the sweaty neck on the cover of Eat Sweat Play by Anna Kessel. Everyone who has ever sweat knows the feeling of bits of hair sticking to your neck drenched in sweat.

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That’s not to say I haven’t seen images of professional women in sport in the media, but when it comes to real women doing real sport and exercise, these two images have nailed it.

I bought Eat Sweat Play after going to a talk by Anna Kessel at the Stoke Newington Literary Festival (I ran 10 miles to get there so had my own authentic sweaty neck to meet dress code) and after hearing Anna read the chapter about getting changed after gym class as a teenager I was hooked. The book does such a good job balancing speaking the truth about what it is like to be an active girl and woman and highlight how far we still have to go. Most importantly I think it points out that while it’s popular and trendy to be seen as active and #fitfam (ugh) on Instagram and in glossy magazines decked out in Net-A-Sporter high end kit, there is still a lot of less glamorous work to do to get all women comfortable sweating and playing.

Her chapter on periods is the best. YOU GUYS THERE IS ALMOST NO ACTUAL RESEARCH ON HOW SOMETHING THAT WOMEN EXPERIENCE EVERY 21 DAYS EFFECTS THEIR PHYSICAL PERFORMANCE IN SPORT. Like not even with elite athletes! I’m not a huge fan of the way sport tends to do things for elites then filters it down to the rest of the population, but wouldn’t UKA or British Cycling want to know a bit more what happens to their gold medal athletes bodies and how they can tailor the training to it? Forget marginal gains, we’d be talking menstruation gains!

To steal a great quote in the book from Caroline CriadoPerez, “Luckily I’m old enough and feminist enough to ignore the cat callers.” I feel the same way. The barriers to women doing sport bother me but I get more angry about their effect on women as a population rather than me, hence why my comebacks tend to include a lecture on misogyny and their male privilege (tough when you’re out of breath running the other direction…). I don’t think it’s fair for every woman to have to grow a thick skin if they want to be active and Anna does a great job dissecting what this actually means for the general population.

When I read a book I fold over the page when there is an especially awesome quote I think I’d like to go back to.  Eat Sweat Play has more than any other book I’ve read recently. Thanks Anna for writing it and thanks to the women out there eating, playing and sweating,

ride london 46

I have never said the number 46 more in my life than in the past 2 weeks. “Oh! Are you doing the 100 mile cycle?” “Nope, the 46” “There’s a 46? Why not 50?” “Not sure, only a 46”

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Ride London has put on the 100 mile sportive for a few years now, as with all big events it’s a ballot and as with all ballots I always enter *just to test my luck.* Keeping with tradition I always get the Hey Loser! magazine on my doorstep each year and don’t really think too much about it.

This year after my Hey Loser! magazine came they announced they’d be putting on a shorter 46 mile sportive on the same closed roads essentially missing out the Surrey Hills. My friend Emma, who has in the past also convinced me to enter the London Brighton Night Ride and London Duathlon, was keen so we entered the ballot for the 46. I say ballot but I think it was like the Paris marathon ballot in which everyone gets in, lucky us. Paying for a 46 mile sportive isn’t usually something I’d budget especially for, but being a part of the bigger event and the chance to cycle on closed roads convinced me it would be worth it.

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I found myself googling cycle superhighways to the ExCel centre on Friday after work trying to get to the expo to pick up my race pack. I was pretty grumpy about having to go all the way out east to pick up a race pack for a 46 mile sportive until my friend Helen suggested we make an evening out of it and after sampling the best free food the expo has on offer, jump in the water at the Royal Docks OWS for a few laps in the sun. Suddenly it was the perfect Friday night.

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Race morning saw my friend Emma and I furiously checking googlemaps and the unhelpful photo map on the Ride London website as to where our wave was to start. Ride London PLEASE create an interactive map for next year. Stratford is massive and no one wants to be cycling around in circles all morning. We ballparked it and cruised down the canal for 7 miles to our green start. Having to be “in” our pen an hour before our wave start was a bit hurry-up-and-wait but it was sunny so couldn’t complain.

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A lot of slow-stop-start-cycling lead us eventually into a start funnel. We had chose at sign up to start in Women’s Wave 1 which was awesome as we were surrounded by awesome women with the nicest bikes and coolest kit ever. The only disappointment was that Ride London didn’t mention it or even do anything to acknowledge it. At the start the announcer even said we were the Teach First charity wave and spent a few minutes congratulating the CEO for being at the start. BORING. A major opportunity to promote women’s cycling missed AGAIN (but who’s counting… just me).

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The riders at the front got to choose our start music and even though we were hoping for Katy Perry, We Will Rock You was chosen and it was actually awesome. The almost-all-male wave beside us was totally jealous. The first bit through East London was pretty fun. Getting to cycle fast (not like really fast, but fast for a city commuter like me) was great and Emma and I couldn’t stop smiling. The route followed big roads for cars so it was almost like seeing a new part of London. The novelty of no-cars didn’t wear off the whole time, it was glorious to cycle without worrying about who was coming up behind you, if they’d cut you off before the next parked car, would that parked car open it’s door, or sticking like glue to the left curb.

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We started just after 9 so there weren’t many people out as we cycled through Central London but the ones who were had cowbells and were really sweet cheering everyone on. Emma and I got a lot of “Yeah go girls!” cheers amid the sea of lycra’d men. Unfortunately, from the start we saw a lot of accidents. More than I expected to see, especially at the social end of the 46 mile event. Staying safe ourselves we kept chatting all the way as we headed out west trying to figure out where we were (Hammersmith Flyover? What? People who drive know so many different places in London!) The sun was out and we were keeping up a decent speed and really enjoying the riding. Out of nowhere we entered Richmond Park, which was beautiful as always. Again, with no cars it is literally the perfect place to be on a weekend. Sawyers Hill was lined with spectators doing their best TdF impressions (major kudos to the guy with the massive cow bell) to help us up the hill.

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A few miles after Richmond we pulled into the first Hub stop. It was so well organised with bike parking, lots of toilets and loads of water/electrolytes and FOOD! I had at least 3 fig rolls and 2 loafs of banana soreen (with a few extra in my pockets #justincase). Probably overeating for the final 20 miles but it was tasty… We slightly dawdled at the Hub enjoying the sun and a brief break for our bottoms since we weren’t in a hurry or close to the sweeper-van time. Back on our bikes we found our legs again and endured the uneven road through Thames Ditton (ugh) back through Kingston and then on the road back to London. The speedy Ride 100 riders were with us at this point and made for some exciting whizzzz-whizzzz peletons speeding by, we contemplated how long we’d be able to keep up with one but considering they were going at least double our pace we weren’t sure we even had the gears to make it possible. Most people were pretty good with the fast groups organised into peleton groups sticking to the right to pass and the rest of us on the left. The only problem came when fast solo riders who were not in a group for whatever reason (I could say so many things) were riding fast and weaving in/out of the slower riders. But, I always remember that these people are dicks in all aspects of their life, not just cycling.

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Riding over Putney Bridge and back along the Northbank into Central London was great. Emma and I had been chatting the whole time and couldn’t stop smiling. My legs were tired, and I was glad I wasn’t doing the 100 (not like I’d trained for it though). We decided the 46 was the best event for having fun but also pushing yourself more than you probably would. Plus. Closed Roads. I can’t say it enough. They just make cycling SO MUCH BETTER.

We turned into Trafalgar Square and down the mall (opposite way of the marathon!) and I managed some no-handed celebrating (no one passed me champagne though – Chris Froome is really lucky) before we cruised over the finish line.

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After collecting our goodybags and bag check we found some grass in St. James park and met our friends for a much needed lie down and picnic. I finally had my glass of prosecco (thanks Matt!) and a McDonalds cheeseburger. Recovery of champions!

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Overall I give 10/10 to Ride 46 for a great event. I’m not a competitive cyclist, nor do I want to be, and this event was the perfect balance of challenge and fun to get out and do a longer ride than I usually would have.

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kit review: Skins cycling bib shorts

*Edit! Guys the bib shorts are on sale now for £62.50! That’s a steal*

A few months ago Skins got in touch to ask if they could send me a piece of their kit. I’ve been a fan of Skins since buying their RY recovery tights for my first marathon (I think of the most important parts of the training plans first) 3 years ago. I’m not convinced on the science of compression kit, but damn it feels good to have a leg-hug after a long day.

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I noticed Skins make cycling kit now, and asked if I could try their women’s bib shorts for my commutes and training for Ride London 46. They said yes and sent them over that week agreeing to let me try them out for a few months before reviewing them. I had never worn bib shorts before for a few reasons, mostly because I hate carrying multiple outfits. On a normal day I cycle to work, either run or do a skip fit/yoga class at lunch, then after work maybe go to track to coach Serpentine Runners, or while the long summer nights are here go swimming at the reservoir. Oh yeah, and I have to remember clothes to work in too. Most days I wear a hybrid of kit that can do most of these activities and bib shorts are not the most flexible of pieces. Even when coaching track, I often do a lap or two of warm up with the runners and no one likes bike short chammy laps. No one.

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Embarrassing window selfie just to show the bib shorts length.

But, all my cycling friends swear by bibs and after one too many “ugh these tops are too short for my tall body” moments I figured why not try the body sausage-fit of a bib short.

Ok, enough about my kit hangups. The Skins bib shorts looked great out of the box with a giant green chamois, long legs, and nice thick (about 3″) rubber cuffs to avoid riding up. When I put them on they fit great which is never guaranteed when a piece of kit has shoulder straps & a crotch (us tall people know the true meaning of wedgie). The top of the bib was soft breathable but still provided enough coverage to wear solo with a sports bra around the house but probably not in public (but that’s just because of the velominati).

On the bike they are perfect. Finding bib shorts or a chamois that works is different for everyone and every bike, so I’m not sure how valuable this recommendation will be for most people, but damn, my undercarriage is so much happier on my daily commutes. I notice it when I have a mutli-use uniform day and don’t wear the bib shorts. The compresion-ness of them makes the inevitable sausage leg less than other bike shorts I’ve tried and in general keeps everything in that nice compression-hug I love so much.

Bib shorts in action!

Bib shorts in action!

So, all in all I give these a 10/10 as a reviewer who got them for free. I don’t see myself cycling enough to wear them out and need to buy a new pair, but if that does happen I would buy them with my own money. I always feel weird giving a review of kit I get for free since, duh, it was free so if it works I like it. Bike kit can get expensive and like I said above most people don’t need specialised kit like bib shorts, but if you are a woman and do, try these!

Me, with inevitable sausage-leg eating a cheeseburger post-Ride London 46. Best kit photo ever?

Me, with inevitable sausage-leg and helmet hair eating a cheeseburger post-Ride London 46. Best kit photo ever?

Henley Swim: Club to Pub

I started to write this blog yesterday but the words were not coming out as fast as the leftover Thames water in my belly from Saturday. Yes, I was finally initiated to the dreaded Thames Tummy and while it wasn’t a pretty 24 hours, I still think the Henley Swim Club to Pub was a great event!

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I signed us up for this race last year as a Christmas present and it resulted in Alex getting swim cap #2! No pressure then. Being a swim to the pub we knew it was one of the more relaxed Henley Swim events and looked forward floating to the pub.

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We took an early train out to Henley and explored town a bit before registering and setting up on the bank of the rowing club at the start. We found Claire who had cycled from London and debated the pros and cons of wearing a wetsuit for the swim. Pros – speed and floaty-ness Con – putting a wetsuit on in a 35* tent. I decided to brave the wetsuit and worked with my sweat to get into it, while Claire went for the skins option.

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After a quick safety briefing the men set off up stream for 400m before turning around some buoys and an island and joining the downstream pull back to the pub. After watching the men go off (and Claire sneaking in the last half of her sandwich!) we realised the flip flop bucket had been packed up without ours. Luckily the event director saw our confusion and tossed our flip flops into the back of the leaving van – he saved our toes at the finish thank you!

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As we got in for our Women’s Open Start wave we started to float back with the flow of the river, which was disconcerting especially when the start was delayed so a row boat on what could only be an urgent sundowners mission absolutely needed to get past the hundred or so of us.  Once we started I felt pretty good but was clearly putting a lot of effort into swimming, knowing my sustainable pace wasn’t quite that high I tried to slow down a bit but the up flow was strong enough to make me swim harder than usual.

Used with permission © 2016 AWOL Adventure Ltd.

Used with permission © 2016 AWOL Adventure Ltd.

I’m not going to lie, I was exhausted by the time I go to the buoys. The only thing that kept me going was knowing the rest was downstream. I love downstream swimming. You feel like you are FLYYYYING with every stroke. Trying to keep my breathing in check and steady I started counting to one hundred strokes while taking some time each stroke to peak at the people on their boats watching us swim by.

Used with permission © 2016 AWOL Adventure Ltd.

Used with permission © 2016 AWOL Adventure Ltd.

With some nice open water as I approached the pub finish line, swam under the gantry, and walked up the stairs to be given my medal and a bottle of bespoke beer before I could even unzip my wetsuit. After a quick squirt of sanitizer on the hands I found Alex and we made our way over to the river taxi to get back to the start where our bags were waiting.

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You could hang out at the pub in your wetsuit as long as you wanted and/or walk back to the club but for £2.50 we appreciated the quick lift.

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Using the bottle opener medal I opened the beer for the walk back to the pub. Over burgers in the riverside beer garden we ran into other swimming friends and spent the rest of the night chatting until having to catch the (almost) last train back to London. The endurance version of this race might be called the Club to Pub to Off licence to Train as lots of people continued the theme all the way back to London.

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It was such a great Saturday night just enough out of London to enjoy some wide-open space and water. The entry fee is a bit pricey for a 1.5k race, but it’s more about the entire day/night as an event rather than just the swim. If you’re looking for a special swim (or one that doesn’t start at the crack of dawn like most) I highly recommend the Henley Swim Club to Pub.

run a mile in my shoes

“OK Listen up, Women come over here, let’s say sub-6 to the left. Come on, you’re going to race tonight so get moving a bit quicker”

80 or so Serpies gathered around our trusty Athletics committee member waiting to be sorted into groups of 12 or so to run a mile in the annual Club Championships. (There’s a sorting hat reference in here somewhere but, confession, I still haven’t read any HP books). Apparently there is a correlation between the faster men in the club and their ability to arrive to a race on time, so room was left in the A race for the tardy runners.

The track was closed to the public and set up to race. Volunteer officials and timekeepers out with their clipboards, the track lap counter & bell placed just so, and finish line marked (as if we’d miss it). Even though I’ve done hundreds, if not thousands, of laps around this track it felt like these 4 and a bit laps would special.

As the first few junior & men’s races started the rest of us were milling around the infield doing half-hearted warmups and snapchats (just me?). There’s something about racing a mile that fills everyone with dread and brings out the best in excuses. I personally had a stressful and busy week at work, was on my period with a surprising migraine, and was dealing with a bum/knee niggle picked up from cycling with my seat too high. Armed with all these excuses I still found myself stood around in my shorts and vest waiting for our race.

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Photo © Anne Bennet

The women’s B race was called to the start and the nerves peaked. As I lined up with 10 other friendly faces, some from our Monday night track sessions, we smiled as we fiddled with our watches and kept an eye on the start gun.

*bang*

I love starting a track race. The first few strides feel absolutely effortless like you are running on clouds. This took me to the front of the race for the first 100m which, wasn’t exactly my plan, but I quickly tucked in behind the second woman on the backstraight and focused on running strong.

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Photo © Anne Bennet

Around the last bend of the first lap my breathing started to catch up to me and the heavyness of running a mile set in to my whole body. I heard the first lap split and was right on pace for my planned PB and felt good.

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Photo © Anne Bennet

The goal of the second lap was to hang on. Not let the 2 women in front of me get too far ahead. They both looked strong so I wrapped that imaginary rope around them and held on for dear life. Each time we passed the start/finish everyone was cheering for us and it was great to have that support to push you into that next lap. The third lap was a predictable blur. Part pain part looking forward to just hearing the last lap bell. I snuck a quick look at my watch and wasn’t too happy with the time so knew I had to keep pushing right to the finish.

*ding ding ding ding*

The last lap bell is a godsend in a mile race, 400m to go. In a road mile this is where I pick up to my semi-sprint finish but 1 lap seems so much further on a track. I kept running pushing though and ran as strong as I could pushing the track away with each step.

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Rounding the last bend with 100m to go the sprint was well and truly on. It’s not a coincidence that on Monday nights we practice our strides along this exact stretch, it felt natural to run strong through the finish and double over to catch my breath.

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As I stopped my watch I caught a look at the numbers and they weren’t the PB I was hoping for but I also wasn’t wrecked. I had run about the same pace for 6 x 400 repeats the week before and could barely breathe after each one. This was an improvement and a confidence boost to run “comfortably uncomfortable” 6:52 mile.

All the runners in our race congratulated each other and after a few seconds everyone was smiling. The dreaded mile race over for another year, but actually, it wasn’t that bad….

homeward round VII

Friends, hills, vistas, sheep, seaside, chips, and ice cream. Count me in.

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Rich kindly invited us all down to his place last weekend for a run to the seaside, Homeward Round VII as it’s called these days, was planned to take a scenic (read: hilly) route from Hassocks to Hove with the usual amounts of new friends, old friends, and haribo.

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As were waiting for our GPS signals it started to pour rain, even though we all had rain kit, we all chose to wait out the shower in the garage like sensible people.

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After winding up and around the town we hit the trails and open skies.

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I’m not going to lie, even at the social pace I wasn’t telling many long winded stories as we jogged up the hills (which is probably a good thing for everyone else) and used the trick “So, what was your last race like?” to keep the other people talking more than me. (seriously, runners love to talk about their past races and they wont notice you’re barely keeping up!) But overall it was a great run with lots of stops for stiles and bramble avoidance.

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At the top of the first hill we took a few photos and then everyone absolutely bombed it down the hill. I mean, I thought I’d have a hard time keeping up on the uphills but wow, these were the real mountain goat deals I was running with. We all let loose and just flew down the path thinking for 0.00000001 second where to put your foot before trusting it and moving on to the next. It. Was. Awesome.

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After some mud (it wouldn’t be the South Downs if there wasn’t) and a climb up Devil’s Dyke we could see the sea and headed straight for it.

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Rich is not only a wonderful route planner, but also gives every passing runner and cyclist a hello and thumbs up, which just melts my crusty London heart.

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A quick pitstop to say hello to Twitter friend Kurt at the Run Store, we spilled into Ramsbottoms making it just in time for the weekend happy hour fish special. Our table was quickly filled with fish, chips, mushy peas, buttered bread, tea, and fantas and we finally stopped talking for 30 seconds to take it all in.

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The perfect meal

The perfect meal

Part to help the massive meal settle, and part because it was such a nice day, we all walked down to the seaside for one more indulgence at Marrocco’s.

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With 3 scoops for £4.50 it wasn’t much of a question how much, just what 3 of the amazing flavours to have.

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Peanut Butter Banana and Chocolate was my personal winner and would 10/10 get it again.  Proof is in the blurry selfies I tried to take but couldn’t be bothered to wait long enough for it to focus since it was melting before I could eat it!

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Summer running for the win!