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Pretty in Parga

I know it’s been a while since I blogged here, but I’ll fill you in on why another time.
I’m on my travels again and this always inspires me to tell you about these incredible places I get to visit.
I’m in Parga, which you can see from any Greek tourist board photos is incredibly pretty. But those photos never seem real, do they? How can the sea be that colour, the houses that pretty and the hillsides so green. Parga doesn’t disappoint, it delights and the photos don’t do it justice. The sea isn’t just that blue, it’s bluer. In fact, it’s an ever-changing palette of blue-turquoise-green and every spectrum in between.
Valtos Beach, Parga
Valtos Beach, Parga
I love the quaint atmosphere of the picturesque harbourfront and the random collection of stylish cafes, and the ones that haven’t had a facelift or a menu change since the 80’s. There is a beach here in the town and you can swim over to the churches on the little islets opposite, or lazily enjoy watching others do it. There is also a vast stretch of beach called Valtos on the other side which you can easily walk to if you find walking easy, but I’m guessing it’s more fun to take the water taxi.
Parga
Parga town
My absolute favourite bit though has to be the fortress. It has a real magical air about it, quite difficult to put into words. As you sit up there it’s an oasis of calm. As I write this I’m looking down onto the three benches which enjoy a beautiful vantage point. There is a couple on each bench and each person is completely lost in their own thoughts, slightly turning their heads from time to time to take in a different angle. It’s incredibly peaceful with only a distant background of birds chatter and the gentle roll of the sea below. But the absolute best part is freely exploring the fortress itself.
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At the entrance, a sign welcomes you to ‘explore the citadel at your own risk’. And that’s it’s joy, the complete freedom to wander the old stone paths or trails, stumbling across parts of ruined buildings and sometimes stumbling into them. The natural wilderness is incredible, foliage and trees provide a habitat for birds and butterflies and that’s about all I came across during my forage into the ruins. I’m not sure if it’s the freedom to explore or the wild beauty, but the place has a really peaceful, and quite wonderful atmosphere. Apart from the stone paths, there is no organized routes, no signage, no roped off areas, just me accompanied by my sense of adventure. I feel like I’ve stumbled across this incredible ruin like I’m the first person to see it after hundreds of years.
The fortress is Venetian, but then fell to the Ottomans, then back into the hands of the Venetians before the British felt they had the right to sell the whole of the Ioannina province to Ali Pasha, who did some pretty terrible things (read my post here about the dancing women) so there must have been a fair amount of bloodshed and violence up here, I’ve been to other places with similar violent histories and sometimes that seems to be so ingrained into the stone that it’s still tangible. But I don’t feel that here, just a soothing sense of peace and tranquillity. And I wonder if all the incredible trees and plants have somehow cleansed the area and made it serene? Who knows. But I can tell you that it’s worth exploring and spending a few minutes sitting on one of those benches and feeling happy to be alive.
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Barefoot

This year I set myself some pretty lofty running goals. Although it’s not the actual goals themselves that are lofty, more the timing. My bad, as ever.

Obviously after the whole ‘almost marathon’ thing, one of these goals is to actually complete the whole 42km’s. I’ve entered the ballot for the London marathon, but I think I will be more excited to not get in as my wee Scottish BFF, Karen, has PROMISED to run the Roads to Rhodes marathon with me! But even before that event I had resolved to fix my running technique so as too run injury free and curb my dependency on kinesio tape. So I am taking on barefoot running. And the other one is run the Athens marathon in 2017. If you know me and hills, you will understand why this is such a big deal.

One of the few disadvantages of living on a Greek island is that I can’t pop along to my local running club (there isn’t one) and find a coach to guide me through the transition from running in gel numbus to nothing at all. So I’m winging it. I’ve read stuff on line and I’m working my way through ‘Born to run’ and ‘Running with the kenyans’. I do have a very sympathetic physiotherapist who is also a runner and a barefoot one at that.

The theory behind the barefoot thing is this. When running unencumbered by great big, clod hopping, eye wateringly expensive trainers, the front of your foot hits the ground first. Because your body is biomechanically designed to run this way, there is less strain on all of your kinetic chain, but especially shins and knees – the place where runners are most likely to experience injuries. When you run in aforementioned trainers, most people are likely to land on the heel of the foot, an impact which jars your legs. The heel strike, as it is called, also means that your foot is landing ahead of your body when the preferred position is under your centre of gravity, again to lessen the impact on your joints. If you try and land on the front of your foot with a long stride its pretty damn impossible. Trust me, I tried it. Also the action of running ‘on your toes’ builds up strength in your feet and your calves. Important places to be strong when you are running.

It seems to be a bit divided as to whether you have to fully embrace the barefoot thing to the exclusion of ever wearing evil trainers again, or whether you can combine both. I have taken the opinion that even if I do only one barefoot training run a week I will be helping my running technique and strengthening crucial muscles.

At the moment I wear Asics Gel Nimbus with a custom inner sole and I did all my marathon training in these. Admittedly I already had the beginnings of problems with my lower legs before I took on these shoes, but I went on to develop shin splints. I’m not saying the shoes are to blame, but I am saying they didn’t help.   I’m going to put the original soles back in for now and try to move on to flatter, less chunky trainers. If all goes well with the barefoot thing I suppose I will end up with a pair of vibram five fingers. But they are just so damned ugly!!

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…!

I may joke about all this, but I really am taking it seriously. And it’s a big commitment. By going down the barefoot route I will have to re-educate my body to run in this style. It might be the body’s natural way to run, but I have just spent the last 2 years training my body to run a different way. So it’s really like starting all over again. Short runs at first and VERY slowly building up to more time on my naked feet. I honestly haven’t figured it all out yet, but I believe it’s worth a try.

Today was my first bash at it. I warmed up with a 10 minute run around the road, with my trainers on. Then I kicked them off and squelched my toes in the sand for just under 2 kilometers – about 8.30 minutes a kilometer. It’s hard running on the sand, but oh the joy! And the excitement when the sea washed over my feet a couple of times was ridiculous. I can tell you, it’s true what they say. Running barefoot really does make you run ‘on your toes’! I also felt really light and concentrated on short, staccato strides. Towards the end of the 2nd kilometer my feet started to land heavier and more flat footed. As they did, I felt my legs jar at each footfall. I recognized that this was a result of my legs tiring and my form subsequently deteriorating – already! But ok, it’s the first day and I knew it wouldn’t be easy. An added bonus was being able to stand my legs in the sea afterwards, but I cursed myself for not bring a swimming costume.

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That awkward moment when you try to take a selfie pretending that you are not…

And about that timing thing? I’ve sort of signed up for a half marathon in October. Actually, there is no ‘sort of’ about it. I have. So I’ve got 4 months to get on top of 21km’s in minimal footwear and new running technique.

Gulp.

 

 

All aboard the weight loss train – next stop ‘Marathon’

Fat, unfit and caught in the limbo land between christmas and New year, I donned a pair of cheap trainers and downloaded the ‘Couch to 5k’ app.  I was desperate.  I mean, I must have been.  No-one takes up running for fun.  They do it to lose weight or win medals, or just keep weight off.  I never for a moment imagined that I would actually be able to run 5km, but i figured that if i could run for 30 minutes, 3 times a week it would help me lose weight.

I’m almost two years, two 5 km races, one 10k and one half-marathon into this running thing now.  Have i lost weight?  Um, not a huge, significant amount.  But its changed me in so many other ways, given me so much more than a drop in the number on the scales could ever have.  It’s changed my body shape, given me amazing muscles (some still blanketed in fat) but the biggest change has undoubtedly come from the inside and reached much, much deeper than owning a pair of size 10 skinny jeans could ever do.

Self knowledge, self belief, determination, organisation, focus, self love, success, achievement,

Now I know that people don’t just run to lose weight, keep weight off or break world records.  The running world is full of people of all ages, shapes and sizes and they run because they just love running.  Yes really, its a thing.  When I see someone out running these days i feel like pumping my fist in the air and have to restrain myself from shouting encouragement.  And the weirdest thing, I feel jealous.  If people ask me why I run, I want to ask them why they don’t.

Despite a nagging doubt that I would never be able to run for 30 minutes without walking, I’m not going to pretend humility and say that I never envisaged myself running a marathon and losing 20 kilos.  It was the first thing that entered my mind when I laced up those trainers and jogged for 1 minute/walked for 11/2 for 20 minutes.  Because that’s me;  take an acorn and see an oak tree. Just like that.  See the end result and wake up one morning and be there.  Never mind what it takes to reach Oak tree status.  Not see the green shoot push through the earth.  Not see the storms that bend and threaten to snap your early days.  You get the picture.  But training and completing my first half-marathon taught me patience, opened my eyes to the planning, diligence and commitment needed to grow, to improve, to achieve.  And that there are no quick fixes, no shortcuts.

Back to the weight loss thing.  So now I am training for a marathon.  But here is the irony.  I am still trying to lose weight.  But I am not running to lose weight anymore, I’m losing weight to run.  Faster, further and healthier. A whole 42 and a bit kilometres faster, further and healthier.  I’m going to document my progress as a personal record for myself and  as a very unscientific experiment to see what changes marathon training will do to my 44 year old body.  I’m not going on a diet, but but I will be eating healthily and mindfully of what my running body needs.  I will find a way to work wine, cheese and biscuits and hobnobs into this because otherwise whats the point in life.  My training plan includes running three times a week and cross training on the other days with TRX, Pilates, Yoga and Greek dancing (yes, really)  I will photograph myself once a month and record my weight, body fat and measurements for the next five months leading up to the ‘Roads to Rhodes Marathon’.

And I will publish the results here.  Proceed with caution, once seen, these images can never be unseen.

The backside that leaves the room 10 minutes after me...
The backside that leaves the room 10 minutes after me…

7 Greek wine’s to put on your shopping list

I love wine. I mean, what 40 something year old woman doesen’t? But I mean I LOVE wine. Especially Greek wine. I would probably love wines of other countries too, but living in Greece it would be stupid to not cultivate a little knowledge of what’s produced here. At this point you need to remove all taste memories of retsina and the jugs of wine from that ‘authentic Greek night’ you might have enjoyed. Because Greece is producing some pretty amazing wines and they don’t need to push you into an overdraft either. So the next time you are here on holiday, or if you are lucky enough to live here, like me (does a little dance inside) these are my recommendations. Don’t worry, they have been thoroughly tried and tested.

You are welcome.

I am not an expert and I don’t have a particularly sophisticated palate. Wines I like only have to satisfy 3 basic criteria. Continue reading “7 Greek wine’s to put on your shopping list”

Feeling the fear…(Part 2)

I thought I had a sleepless night, but I am recalling some weird dreams. One involved my mum holding a glass of wine for me with a straw in it. ‘I told you not to over do it’ she says. Obviously the paralysis from my leg has spread to my arms too.

The weird feeling in my bum and leg is still there. This has completely taken over from the fear about my lower legs.   I have to face this and deal with it. I call the physiotherapist. They have an appointment today or tomorrow. I can’t get it together to get there today. I take tomorrows appointment reluctantly. I want this over with, I just need to have my self diagnosis confirmed. I tearfully push my trolley round the supermarket. I’ve done something. Irreversibly damaged myself by this ridiculous notion that I could possibly run 21 kilometres. I’ve brought this on myself. Continue reading “Feeling the fear…(Part 2)”

No-one is leaving.

If you ever needed examples of the complex, colourful and resourceful nature of the Greek character, you wouldn’t need to look much further than events from this week; Continue reading “No-one is leaving.”

Rebooting…

Pah! That’s easy. Is my reaction to my first challenge as a ‘Too fat to run’ blogger. I have to schedule 3 days in this first week of September to:

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Oh. Well, this doesn’t really apply to me as I am in week 7 of a 12 week half marathon training (puffs out chest, looks smug). So what do I do? Continue reading “Rebooting…”

10 Questions with TBG Featured Member, Elizabeth Cass-Kanti

I’ve just joined up with Travel Bloggers Greece! Here’s my Q&A with them.

Travel Bloggers Greece

bio pic TBGI came to Greece in my gap year before university.  It turned into a 27 year long gap.  After my liver thanked me for ending my party years as a holiday rep, I went on to teach English to Greek teenagers.  This part of my career was what is commonly known as  a ‘flash in the pan’.  If you have ever sat in an enclosed space with 15 Greek teenagers you will understand why.  Ironically after this, I went on to start my own noisy Greek family and started a villa rental business alongside.  Today I am the proud mother (but not English teacher) to two teenagers and continue to give a personal touch to my villa rental business.

A love of writing and reporting led me to find several outlets.  I write my business blog (http://blog.boutiquegreece.com) as well as a more personal blog about my life in Greece (http://ourbigfatgreeklife.com)…

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I’ve become very attached to this old boy.  A lovely old ‘Pappou’ with his head back, snoring.  I call him ‘O Rochalitos’ – the Snorer.  I see him from all my happy places – on the home stretch from my run, from the beach where I swim and from my house.

The snorer - seen from the home stretch of my run
The snorer – seen from the home stretch of my run
home rochalitos
The snorer – as seen from my garden
The snorer - as seen from my swimming beach
The snorer – as seen from my swimming beach

Can you see him?

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