Festive Cookie Party!

This year, Thanksgiving crept up on us before we were able to organize a friendly get-together, as we have done for the past couple of years. So instead, partly inspired by this NY Times feature and partly by remembering that my mom has hosted cookie decorating parties, F and I decided to host a festive afternoon Plätzchenbackparty (“cookie-bake-party”) in early December.

A bit of festive decor

So we chose a date, sent out WhatsApp invites to friends, searched for cookie recipes, and calculated how much mulled wine to make. I got my upper body strength training by using our handheld mixer to make loads of cookie dough the night before, and we stocked up on icing (powdered) sugar and food coloring.

On Saturday, friends came and went throughout the afternoon. Many cookies were baked: I made basic sugar cookies and chocolate cookies, and others contributed Scottish caraway biscuits, Lebkuchen, and shortbread. Once the icings were made – simple powdered sugar + milk, and F made this royal icing – people got down to some serious decorating business. There were plenty of drinks to go around, holiday tunes played in the background, and the atmosphere was warm, cozy, and festive. Highlights included Shana’s Shakespeare cookie cutter (and the creativity that those cookies engendered) and the ever-elusive Christmas jellyfish…photos below!

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Race Recap: Perivale 5, 2017. A PB!

This is the fifth year in a row that I laced up on the first Sunday of December for the Perivale 5, my favorite suburban road race of an unusual distance! Running conditions were ideal: about 48F/9C and overcast with a hint of misty drizzle. I toyed with the idea of wearing gloves, but after heating up quickly in my warmup mile, I opted to go without. (Post-race note: wardrobe choice of shorts and Heathside vest was spot-on.)

Most Heathsiders post-race. Photo from Nilesh’s phone.

Having been a bit off my peak form for the past couple of years, I wanted to run a good time at this year’s Perivale 5 to prove that my fitness is coming back. I thus set the following goals for myself (always good to have a stretch goal and “backup” goal, in case things don’t go to plan):

Stretch goal: run a PB, which would be under 35:44 (my time in the 2013 edition of this race).

More realistic goal: run under 37:00 – probably doable given a recent parkrun (5k) of 22:05.

I wanted to get a good starting position, as after the first 300 meters the course turns onto a narrow sidewalk along a busy road. I snuck my way towards the front, and after a few words from the announcer – no Santa pacers this year! – we were off.

After the initial rush and right turn, Eilidh glided effortlessly past me as I greeted her and worked on settling into my own rhythm. To finish in 36:00 I needed to average about 4:28/km (I know, the race was in miles, but I’m used to pacing in kilometers these days. Plus, 5 miles is almost exactly 8 kilometers, so it wasn’t hard to work out what pace to run). I clocked 4:22 for the first kilometer and then told myself it was still very early – don’t get overeager.

6:58 for the first mile felt quick but more or less maintainable. Nilesh had gone out fast, helping me keep moving along with my eye on him. I caught him at the 2-mile marker and we checked in briefly before returning to our respective racing zones.

The first lap of the course reminded me that, although it’s flat, there are quite a lot of twists and turns. I vowed on the second lap to really use the long straight section along the busy road to make up any time lost in the twisty bits.

I had a bit of a dip in kilometer 4 (4:35), but after that I dug in and picked it up. Through 3 miles in 21:35 or so, and through 5k a minute later, I knew I could run under 36:00 if I kept up my pace. Easier said than done in the second half of a race. As planned, I tried to use kilometers 6 and 7 along the straight road to make up some time: 4:22 and 4:22, just 1km to go. Through the park and once around the track. You can do this, I told myself.

Post-race Heathsiders, take 2. Photo from Nilesh’s phone.

Cheered onto the track by the supportive marshals, my watch ticked over to 34:00. Come on, you can run 400m in less than 2 minutes. Go for the PB! Striding down the back straight, I gave it all I had (final kilometer in 4:15) to finish in 35:41 (7:08/mi, 4:26/km average pace), a PR/PB by 3 seconds! I am really pleased with the result. I finished 104th overall out of 326, 11th woman, and even ended up running a negative split:

Perivale 5 splits

Next up: possibly some more cross country, Christmastime parkruns, and a 10k in early January. Stay tuned!


Race Recap: Sunday League XC – Trent Park

In cross country, sometimes the biggest hazard is other runners.

That’s the thought that went through my mind in the second kilometer of today’s Sunday League XC race at Trent Park, as I weaved through a number of runners slip-sliding down a muddy descent. Stay in your own space and don’t run too close to anyone else, I reminded myself.

Just two weeks after an undulating run at Cheshunt, the Sunday League XC was back in action, this time at Trent Park, a massive park and woodlands in north London. While Heathside has a regular Saturday hill/trail workout at Trent Park, it’s far enough from where we live that I ran there for the first time this past summer, at the Triffic Trail 10k.

Autumnal Trent Park. Beautiful.

As do many XC races, this Sunday League course covered varying terrain: muddy grass (“grud?” “murass?”), firm and a little bit gravelly trails through the woods, and an extra muddy uphill at the end, for good measure.

The weather, while sunny, was brisk (around 6C/43F) and windy, especially in the open field where we started. I was glad to have opted for capris, and ended up wearing arm warmers and gloves with my Heathside vest. I know this violates all of the cross country purist rules, but I’d rather be a comfortable temperature than freezing! I did take my gloves off around 5km but was very glad to have my arm warmers and my new trail shoes, which were brilliantly grippy on the sticky, slippery course.

Heathsiders pre-race. Photo credit: Steve Woolf.

As with the last Sunday League, I didn’t have any particular expectations or goals so decided to run by feel and see how it went. I also had no idea what the course would be like. After a couple of kilometers weaving around a muddy field, we entered the woods, where we climbed gradually until the terrain leveled off. There were even a few gentle descents in the woods that helped make up time lost on the uphills. I was pulled through kilometers 2-4 or so by fellow Heathsider E. I passed her on a descent but knew she wasn’t far behind me. She flew by me at 5km and I tried my best to keep her within reach. It’s always helpful to have a teammate to flip-flop with on a tough course.

Early on, tucked behind Caroline. Photo credit: Marco M.

We ended up running the woods loop twice. After a quick fifth kilometer, I slowed a bit for the sixth but then dug in to try and keep E in my sights and push towards the finish, which I knew should be around 8km. I used the downhill out of the woods and tried to lift my knees and just keep running. One steep, muddy descent later, and we were in the home straight with a headwind, trying to kick on an uneven, grassy surface. It worked well for Alun, who sped by me towards the finish, but all I could do was hold on and try not get passed. Luckily, the course was short at 7.8km (4.85 miles). Not sure I could’ve held on for much longer!

Not a flattering shot at all, but this is what (XC) running really looks like! Photo credit: Steve Woolf.

I don’t have the official time yet, but my Garmin has me at 38:55 for the 4.85 miles (8:01/mi or  4:59/km average pace). Not particularly fast, but I’m happy with it, given the challenging course (one of our coaches rates it as a 6/10 on his XC difficulty scale, with Parliament Hill being a 9/10). Trent Park is beautiful, and when the race got tough, I kept reminding myself to look around at what a glorious piece of nature we were running in.


Race Recap: Sunday League Cross Country – Cheshunt

It’s autumn, which to many a runner might be synonymous with cross country season! It has certainly become so for me over the past few years. I’ve traditionally taken part in the competitive Met League Cross Country (XC) series with my club: men and women run separately (and the men’s race is longer than the women’s – grr), runners score points so the faster you are the better, and there’s an enthusiastic rabbling atmosphere.

Heathsiders getting ready to run XC at Chestnut. Bobble hats at the ready!

Today I ran in another XC league that my club participates in: the slightly lower-key Sunday League. Here, men and women run a 5-mile course together (gasp!), there’s significantly less rabbling, and you don’t even need a race number.

This was my first Sunday League XC race and I loved it. While I do enjoy the raucous, hyped-up Met League, the Sunday League – at least this particular race around some fields in Cheshunt (don’t ask me where that is) – felt much more like a “regular” trail race. Everyone runs together, and there’s good marshaling but not so much spectator action on the course, making some sections quite peaceful.

Pre-race Heathside contingent. Photo credit: Marco M.

I’ve always heard that the Sunday League is more inclusive than the Met League, and now that I can compare the two, I’d tend to agree. That said, I’ve never felt too slow for the Met League, just a bit more pressure to really race.

I had no such expectations today and decided to run by feel and enjoy myself. J and I set off together and used the first kilometer to warm up and try to settle into a rhythm on the crowded trails. Once the pack of runners thinned out, we were able to pick up the pace and run the next couple of kilometers under 5:00/km pace. I was surprised how comfortable the faster pace felt – I think the long runs and semi-regular hill workouts have helped my fitness – but reminded myself that we still had a ways to go.

The course was three undulating laps on grassy trails. Luckily, it was dry so I was fine running in my regular trainers (I ordered trail shoes to arrive on the Friday before, but they never came!). There were a couple of spots where we had to run over rounded furrows – we dubbed them “moguls,” and they were quite tricky to navigate while maintaining a rhythm.

J and I caught up with C towards the end of the second lap and C and I ran together for a few kilometers. I was pleased to go through 5km in under 25:00, although C passed me and stayed ahead for the rest of the race (no hard feelings! She’s an incredible runner). I started to feel my legs and concentration waning in the past couple of kilometers, but tried to stay steady and push to the finish. As the finish line came into view, I dug in and was able to sprint past two or three runners to finish just two spots behind C, who had a great race. I don’t have the official time yet, but my watch read 40:14 for the 5.08 miles (7:55/mi or 4:55/km average pace). Very pleased with that.

There was plenty of cake to go around after the race, and I contributed these salted chocolate chunk cookies (thanks, smitten kitchen!), which another runner joked were good for refueling because the salt would help replenish electrolytes. But of course!

I thoroughly enjoyed my first Sunday XC League outing and am already looking forward to the next one at Trent Park in a couple of weeks. Maybe my trail shoes will have arrived by then… I’ve really enjoyed doing more trail races in the past few months, at Trent Park and on the Ridgeway trails. It’s remarkable how much opportunity there is for trail racing in and around such a metropolis as London. We are fortunate to live in north London, with Hampstead Heath just a couple of miles away.


Baking with Hot Bread Kitchen: Tortillas de Tiesto

Welcome back to my casual series, “Baking with Hot Bread Kitchen.” It has been a while and I have no good excuses other than “life”. Last time, it was Easter and we made cardamom-laced hot cross buns.. Today I ventured back into the flatbreads of Latin America and made tortillas de tiesto. Read on for the experience…

Baking with Hot Bread Kitchen #8: Tortillas de Tiesto

This recipe comes from The Hot Bread Kitchen Cookbook‘s section titled “Filled Doughs from Around the World”. The last time we were in this territory, I made baked Albanian cheese triangles (those were good!). There are many mouth-watering recipes in this section: knishes, empanadas, Tibetan momos, and more (but no Cornish pasties! Too bad). Honestly, who doesn’t love filled dough? It’s basically dumplings on steroids, and I love how most cultures seem to have their own version(s) of filled dough or dumpling-like creations. Anyway, we are told that tortillas de tiesto are an Ecuadorean street food, traditionally cooked in a tiesto, “a flat clay put traditionally used in Ecuadorean cooking” (225). Well, I don’t have one of those but a heavy-bottomed skillet seemed to do the trick for my feta-stuffed tortillas.

The tortillas de tiesto recipe looked quick and straightforward: it uses an enriched dough with egg, milk, and butter and a 2:1 whole wheat to white flour ratio. Unfortunately, I didn’t have enough whole wheat flour so my ratio ended up being reversed…oops! The traditional recipe would probably use queso fresco, but that’s hard to find in London so I stuck with feta cheese, which the book said would work well.

As you may know, I am a fan of making flatbreads (see naanchapati, etc.), as they’re generally not too time consuming and don’t require any crazy tools. They do, however, require a close eye and some patience while cooking them in a hot skillet.

The tortillas de tiesto dough, once mixed and rested, is soft and pliable yet strong. It was not difficult to flatten them (I used my newly-acquired mini rolling pin – such fun!), add feta, pinch into a ball, then flatten and roll out again. It took a few tries to get the skillet’s heat right so the tortillas would cook through without charring too much, but they turned out well, if a bit darker than the picture in the book. The salty feta complements the slightly sweet dough well, and the tortillas de tiesto make for a hearty snack.

Have you ever made a stuffed flatbread like this? what’s your favorite hand-held street food nibble?

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Race Recap: Ridgeway Run (15k trail race)

Not bad for a Sunday run

I was on my club‘s 10am Sunday long run a month or so ago, chatting to a fellow runner about our training and upcoming races (as one does on long group runs). She mentioned that she was signed up for the Ridgeway Run, a 15km trail race, in October. She raved about the scenery enough that I went home and registered for it. Having done a 15km long run the week before, I was feeling confident about the distance.

As the Ridgeway Run approached, I did one or two more 12-15km long runs but nothing crazy; plus, my knees started acting up. I decided to treat Ridgeway as a training run and extra-long preparation for cross country season. Given recent niggles and being two weeks into a new job, my goals were to enjoy the run and finish without too much knee or foot pain.

The course near Tring consisted of one big loop with a little out-and-back tail at the beginning and end. I knew it would be hilly and was warned that the last couple of kilometers on the road felt endless.

Single-file at the beginning

Ten o’clock came and we were off onto the trails! As you can see from the photo above, the early stages were on narrow trails, where we had to go single file. The line of runners moved along well, though. I was pleased to go through the first kilometer in 5:10, but I told myself to take it easy, as there were still many kilometers to go. Soon, we came out and paralleled a golf course for a while (see photo at the top) before re-entering the trees and starting a gradual but longish climb. I did keep running, but not particularly fast (see kilometer 5 – 6:52 and my slowest of the race).

Through 5km in around 29:00, I decided to keep enjoying the run but to try to finish under 1.5 hours. Kilometers 6 to 8 went through a lovely wooded section, and just around 9km we emerged onto the race’s namesake: the ridge (see above). The view was absolutely stunning. Sky for miles, autumnal trees, green grass…oh, to live in the countryside!

A gradual descent led us to a photographer, a water stop, and a short, steep uphill. I walked up the hill while sipping my water and having a bit of gel. No shame — I was running for enjoyment and fitness, not time.

After the steep ascent, it was pretty much downhill for the last 4-5 kilometers. I enjoyed the quick descent through the woods and emerged back onto the paved road with some spring in my step. My knees hurt but I gritted my teeth and pushed through for a few quick kilometers — they did feel endless! — to finish in 1:25:07 (5:40/km, 9:22/mi). Not my fastest, but highly enjoyable and a good pace for a longer training run. I was 246th out of 536 finishers, and the 46th of 215 women who finished. Post-race, I shared around my lemon cornmeal cake, which was well-received by the Heathside contingent.

Heathsiders post-race.

In sum, the Ridgeway Run was a well-organized event with a low entry fee, lots of marshals and support along the course, technical t-shirts (they even had size XS), on-demand chip times, and free race photos. I would highly recommend it!

Race Recap: Middlesex 10k, 2017 edition

Photo credit: Noelle O’R.

I can hardly believe this was my fifth year in a row running the Middlesex 10k in Victoria Park. Always a big draw for competitive club runners, this year’s event was no different, and loads of Heathsiders turned up for it. This race always feels like a harbinger of autumn, and it’s a great way to test the road legs before diving into cross country season. For variety’s sake, I’m changing up my usual race recap narrative format in favor of a snappy bullet-point version:

  • Background: I did a month or two of track workouts back in the early summer, but unfortunately got a bit too eager in early July and developed some plantar fasciitis. I had to stop doing speed work and start doing lots of calf stretching, foot rolling, and toe raising. Not being allowed to do track workouts meant I decided to refocus my efforts on building up my endurance base, and I’m pleased to have put in a few 13-15km long runs (“long” is relative, marathoners!) over the past month and a half. All of that is a long-winded way of saying I felt like I could run a pretty good Middlesex 10k but not a PR/PB. Which brings us to the next bullet point…
  • Goal: I decided on a goal time of 48:00. In the past year I’ve run a couple of 10k races in just over that time, and recent parkrun times have indicated that I could probably manage that in this race. I aimed to try and average 4:45/km to give myself a bit of wiggle room if I slowed down in the second half.
  • Weather: coolish (~60F/15C) and overcast (good) but very humid (not so good). A nice breeze while running (good).
  • The race: It went by in a bit of a blur and was relatively uneventful. I ran alongside Caroline for the first couple of kilometers, trailing Nilesh and Tom. I caught up with the latter two around 5km, which I went through in a pleasingly quick 23:38. Tom and I then stuck together for the entire second half of the race, alternating between running side-by-side and swapping small leads (he claims I pulled him along, but I think it was mutual). With a couple of kilometers to go, I knew we could make it under 48:00. At 9km and onto the final straight, we picked up the pace. I dug deep to push past another runner and even managed a bit of a kick to finish in 46:46 (7:32/mile, 4:40/km) – my fastest 10k since 2015!

Photo credit: Noelle O’R.

  • Fun facts:
    • I hadn’t run a 10k under 48:00 since 2015 (at this very race). I think the long runs have helped my endurance a lot, as I didn’t feel like I was struggling to complete the distance.
    • This was probably one of the most evenly-paced 10k races I’ve ever run. It helped massively to run with Tom for the second half. Thanks for the pacing, Tom!
    • As per tradition, I baked in exchange for a lift to the race. I made this Scandinavian almond cake, which got rave reviews and which has become part of my regular baking rotation (if my erratic baking can be called a “regular rotation” at all).

For me, this is remarkably even pacing.

And that concludes my recap of this year’s Middlesex 10k. A quick and efficient race, as usual, in one of my favourite London parks. Next up, hitting the trails and XC courses!


Race Recap: Triffic Trail 10k, Trent Park

Following closely on the heels of Thursday’s Golden Stag Mile, on Sunday I took part in the Triffic Trail 10k in Trent Park. I had heard good things about this race from fellow Heathsiders so was looking forward to it. Remembering how F enjoyed last September’s trail 10k on the Heath, I convinced him to sign up and join me. What a good sport! He returned from a work trip to Boston the day before and, despite his jet lag, gamely got up with me on Sunday morning for a bit of trail running.

Gazing towards the greenery

I’d never been to Trent Park, and it is a treat: undulating terrain varying from grassy to gravelly to woodsy with a bit of pavement thrown in. Rolling hills and loads of space to enjoy some peace and quiet. As we started the race, I registered how much quieter it was than a road race — there was hardly any external noise of cars, sirens, etc. Just a few hundred runners peacefully enjoying the trails, with the occasional cheering marshal or group of supporters.

Pre-race with Alice and Tom

I find trail races to be less stressful than road races, in part because I don’t run them as often (with the exception of cross country). Plus, trail race times can’t really be compared with road races times — much less pressure! I was hoping to enjoy the race and push a bit if I felt good.

F and I set off together and ran the first kilometer in a brisk 4:38. Tom, a fellow Heathsider, joined our mini pack and we ran alongside each other for the second kilometer. For the next few kilometers, Tom and I swapped places and kept each other going: he’d pass me on uphills, I’d catch him on the downhills. Through the 5k in 24:48, fatigue started setting in as I realized there were still 5k to go! I couldn’t keep up with Tom on the next uphill, so let him go.

My 6th kilometer was the slowest of the race at 5:37, but I managed to run through the slump and make up some time on the downhills. F was not more than a few steps behind me for most of the race, which really motivated me to keep running! I was tiring at 8km but F pushed me up the last gradual uphill and then there was only 1km to go. The last 800m or so was a long, grassy straight with uneven footing that, with a headwind, felt endless. I didn’t have much at all to kick but managed to come in under 50:00, in a chip time of 49:44 (8:01/mile, 4:58/km) — very pleased with that!

Heathsiders post-race. Photo credit: Satu’s phone

There was a good contingent of Heathsiders at the Triffic Trail 10k and some great results. The weather was partly cloudy and not too warm, and the goody bags and t-shirts were solid (except for those weird cinnamon soft drinks…). All in all, a great event and highly recommended!

Race Recap: Golden Stag Mile (#MyMile)

I ran a mile this week. So what? you say. A mile is no big deal.

What I mean to say is I raced a mile this week — on the track. Now that’s serious stuff!

The stars aligned this month as Strava (the social network for athletes) put on a 1 mile initiative, encouraging people to run a mile hard, record it, then tag it and share it with a #MyMile hashtag. Coincidentally, a north London running club was putting on the Golden Stag Mile event at Finsbury Park track, which is home base for my club‘s training sessions. A short jog from home and only £4 to enter and test my fitness with a mile on the track? Yes, please!

I have started getting back to speedwork in the past couple of months but have only managed to get to the track about once every two weeks. Not being in top speed form, I put my estimated finish time down as 6:30 and hoped to finish under that.

Luckily, I was put in a race with a few other Heathsiders whose speeds I’m somewhat familiar with. I knew if I could keep Esti and Hannah in my sights, I could run a good time. I talked strategy with a few other Heathsiders while warming up — turns out, there are conflicting views on how to pace a 1-mile race. Do you go all out and just try to finish? Do you save some for a final kick? Pace it like a 400m or 800m race (go out hard, steady, push, finish)? One guy said he breaks the mile up into 1000m, 400m, and 200m and recommended trying to stay with anyone near me, letting other runners pull me along. I liked that suggestion and decided to try and stay with people as long as I could.

Well, that worked for the first two laps of my race. I got out fast and Esti soon pulled up alongside me. We stayed more or less together for the first lap and were in a nice pack with Hannah and a couple others. They pulled away and I set my sights on staying near the man in the yellow shirt; I passed him towards the end of the second lap.

That’s when things got tough: I was in no-man’s-land with no one near me for the last 800m of the race. Not ideal. There was a guy 5 seconds ahead of me and someone 5 seconds behind me. There was no time to look at my watch — I just had to run by feel and try to keep going. My mouth was dry and my legs were tired, but I pushed as much as I could, had a little bit left to kick, and finished in an official time of 6:20.1 — an automatic PR/PB, since I’d never raced a mile before, and under my goal time! It was very hard but I felt accomplished afterwards. Heathside had a great showing and the event was really well-organized by Barnet and District AC. Looking forward to next year!


Bits of Bulgaria

My good friend Hannah has been living in Bulgaria this year, teaching English in a secondary school. Since I never got around to visiting Hannah while she was doing Peace Corps in Georgia, I decided it was high time I visit her in Bulgaria. She’s finishing up her first year and will stay on next year to work with the BEST (Bulgarian English Speech and Debate Tournaments) Foundation, which organizes speech and debate tournaments — modeled on the American format that some of you may have taken part in during high school — around Bulgaria. Anyway, I spent a lovely few days with Hannah both in Sofia, the capital, and in Pravets, the town she’s been living in. What follows are a few cultural observations and a number of photos of my trip.

I didn’t know much about Bulgaria before traveling, other than a few tidbits I gleaned from reading the Wikipedia page and that I have a Bulgarian learner at work. My expectations were based mainly on my experiences living in Ukraine; I wondered how Bulgaria would feel in comparison, especially as it has been part of the EU for 10 years (and Ukraine has not).

Firstly, language: Bulgarian, like Ukrainian, is a Slavic language and written in the Cyrillic alphabet. I felt strangely at home wandering the streets of Sofia and being able to read signs both in Cyrillic and Latin script. I picked up a number of Bulgarian phrases in my few days there and could understand some, too, thanks to my background in Ukrainian. Hannah’s Bulgarian sounds really good after only ten months there.

Sofia felt both like a Ukrainian city — corner shops selling a random assortment of snacks and alcohol, a good deal of chunky Soviet-style architecture — and much more western — an Asian noodle restaurant, many signs in English, and most cafe/restaurant staff speaking English. It was a fascinating contrast for me.

In terms of food, there’s a good deal of international cuisine in Sofia. Bulgarian cuisine features banitsa, a tasty cheese-stuffed filo pastry snack; lots of yogurt; ayran (a salty kefir-like drink); and fresh, colorful salads (that are not covered in mayonnaise!).

Pravets, the town Hannah lives in, is about 60km north of Sofia and has a cozy population of 4,500. Hannah teaches at the language high school, which draws students from around the region. There’s also a big hotel and golf course that bring in some tourism. It’s in a valley and is surrounded by beautiful green mountains. A peaceful spot.


YMCA North London / Crouch End 10k – 2017 edition

Another May is here: time for the annual (26th, to be exact) YMCA North London Fun Run & Festival, featuring the Crouch End 10k road race. I’ve taken part in this great local event for the past few years: I’ve run (2014 — it was so hot), marshaled (2015), run (last year — slowly), and run again this year. Here’s my recap of the 2017 race:

I arrived in Priory Park — a very short jog from home — as the traditional aerobics warmup was beginning. I didn’t join in, but wandered around finding fellow Heathsiders to chat with, while swinging my arms and shaking my legs out to loosen things up. This year was warmer than last year but not as hot as 2014. The weather was partly sunny — I’m glad I wore my sunglasses, as the sun got strong on the second lap — and about 59F/15C with a light breeze. Not quite perfect running conditions, but not too bad considering what it could have been like.

Traditional photo of the aerobics warmup. Pretty sure I got almost the exact same shot last year.

I have finally started to feel properly fit again after my longish layoff over the Christmas holidays: I’ve done a number of “long” (it’s all relative) 11-12km runs in the past month or two, though speedwork has been lacking. I did return to the track the other week for the first time in a while and hope to make it a more regular occurrence throughout the rest of the spring and summer. All of that is a long-winded way of saying I’m in pretty-good-but-not-PB-shape. My goal for this year’s Crouch End 10k was to run under 50 minutes, with an ideal time of around 48 minutes.

My rough plan for the race was to run the first 5km steady, between 24 and 25 minutes, then negative split (run a faster second half) with whatever I had left. I knew the first kilometer might be quick with the excitement of the start and getting swept along in the flow of runners, so I allowed for that and decided to settle into a steadier pace once the pack thinned out. I’ve been throwing kilometer surges into my longer runs, so I also knew that I could finish strong with a fast final kilometer.

The race went more or less to plan. I ran alongside a fellow Heathsider for part of the first kilometer, and was pleased to go through 1km in 4:42. I was surprised that my second kilometer was even quicker, at 4:36, although looking at the elevation profile it was slightly net downhill. Alun caught me up around then; we had a brief chat about goal times and then he sped ahead.

Photo credit: Maz St H.

After the slog uphill, we descended into Ally Pally park and along the newly paved section that was lined with cheering families. This bit is sneakily uphill — I’m glad I re-read my previous race recaps before running this year, as they reminded me of that fact. We wheeled down and around onto Priory Road, where I gave a wave to Chris, a fellow CEFC singer who was spectating (there were a few other singers running — or is it “running singers”?).

Marc Gardner photography: Adult 10K &emdash; IMG_6576

Photo credit: Marc Gardner Photography.

Passing my favorite part of the course — the group blasting “YMCA” — around halfway gave me a boost: I went through 5km in 24:15, right around my target. My 6th kilometer was also quick (4:40), which allowed me to ease off a bit going up the big hill for the second time. When I entered Ally Pally park again with 2km to go, I spotted Caroline up ahead and made it my goal to catch her (sorry, Caroline, I can’t help it!). I was definitely struggling by this point but dug in and repeated my mantra: I’m strong, I’m healthy, and I’m fit. If I could get to 9km, I could pick it up for one more kilometer.

Marc Gardner photography: Adult 10K &emdash; IMG_7187

Believe it or not, I am actually running in this photo! Photo credit: Marc Gardner Photography.

So that’s what I did. As soon as I got onto Priory Road for the final straight before curving back into the park, I lifted my knees, pumped my arms, and turned it up a notch. Perhaps it was a bit early, but I stayed strong and even had a bit left for a brief kick to the finish, pipping a couple of guys right before the line. I finished in a gun time of 48:08 and chip time of 48:02 (I’m going with the chip time — that’s 4:49/km or 7:45/mile pace). I was the 32nd woman out of 472 and finished 243rd out of 1,100 runners. I’m really pleased with my time — it’s just about what I expected I could do based on my current fitness levels, and it’s my quickest time on this course. Can’t complain about that!

For you stat nerds out there interested in my splits. It’s not the best course for even pacing. Click to enlarge.

The 3rd and 7th kilometers (6.5-7.5km, to be exact) are the hardest in this race, heading uphill parallel to the train tracks and past Alexandra Palace Station. Those were my slowest splits of the race — hard on the second lap, when my energy levels naturally dip around 7km. It helped to have a woman in a Trent Park vest in my sights for a large part of the race, and we flip flopped a couple of times. It’s always nice to have another runner to keep an eye on, and there were plenty of other Heathsiders around to encourage as they passed me or as I passed them.

The Crouch End 10k course is notorious for its difficulty. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a single runner say they actually enjoy the twists, turns, and hills. At least it gives us something to bond over! And the odd bollard, sharp turn, and cutting on and off the pavement certainly keep you on your toes. The support around the course can’t be beat, and it’s always great to have loads of Heathsiders marshaling, too, for that extra special personalized support of “Come on, Heathside” and “Go, Tammela”!


Spas & Skylines: Exploring Bath

It was the week after Easter, and in addition to enjoying the 4-day weekend (thanks to two Bank Holidays), F and I took a couple of extra days off so that we could get out of London for a short refresher. We chose to visit Bath, as it’s not too far away and had been on my list of places to see, perhaps due to my fond memories of reading/studying Jane Austen in university. Also, one of my colleagues comes from Bath and gave us some recommendations for what to see/do/eat.

Bath didn’t disappoint. It’s a lovely small city with the prettiest Georgian architecture in Bath Stone (a type of limestone) — simple and grand, yet elegant:

Bath is very walkable and lovely to stroll around. The weather was glorious, so we did a lot of walking — and some cafe sitting/tea and coffee drinking/scone and cake sampling to rest our legs, of course. We also spent a lovely couple of hours relaxing in the Thermae Bath Spa, which takes advantage of the city’s natural hot springs and apparently is Britain’s only natural thermal spa. It felt wonderful to relax in the warm pools, steam rooms, and sauna… Our skin was so soft afterwards!

However nice the spa was, the highlight for F and me was doing the Bath Skyline walk after a good night’s sleep at Abbey Rise B&B (lovely proprietress, comfortable bed, and good food). The National Trust-curated Bath Skyline walk is a 6-mile (9.6-kilometer) loop around the river basin that Bath lies in. After about a mile of exposed uphill clamber, the terrain flattens out and the trail travels across meadows and through woods, parallel to old stone fences, and alongside cows and sheep in their pastures. You also get some great glimpses of the walk’s namesake, the Bath skyline.

The Bath Skyline walk was reminiscent of the walking trip we did with my parents in the Cotswolds two years ago (not surprising, as Bath is actually at the very end of the Cotswold Way). We got nerdy and recorded the walk on Strava, in case you’re interested in having a look. I’d highly recommend doing the Bath Skyline walk if you find yourself in the city for a day or two. It was so nice to get away from civilization and into nature for a few hours. We both came back to London refreshed and ready for the rest of the spring — but also ready for the next opportunity to escape the city!


Baking with Hot Bread Kitchen: Hot Cross Buns

Welcome back to my casual series, “Baking with Hot Bread Kitchen.” Last time we got sticky making pita bread. Today, we’re making cardamom-laced hot cross buns in celebration of springtime and a four-day weekend over Easter. 

Baking with Hot Bread Kitchen #7: Hot Cross Buns

This recipe comes from The Hot Bread Kitchen Cookbook‘s section titled “Short and Sweet: Quick Breads and Holiday Breads”. This includes classics like banana bread but also special occasion breads like Stollen, a bread for Día de los Muertos, and these hot cross buns. The chapter’s introduction notes that the holiday breads are “recipes passed from generation to generation, often scribbled on note cards…rooted in old traditions and sure to inspire new ones)” (232). Well, I didn’t grow up eating hot cross buns, but they are abundant in UK shops around Easter-time and F and I both enjoy them as an afternoon treat with coffee or tea, so I decided to try my hand at homemade ones.

Hello, my beauties!

The hot cross bun recipe looked pretty straightforward: it uses an enriched dough with egg and milk, as well as some sugar and both raisins and currants. The bonus ingredient is cardamom, which adds a lovely scent and flavor to the buns. You could leave the cardamom out if you’re not a fan, but I would recommend keeping it in.

You don’t need to know much about bread-making to create these hot cross buns. The dough gets mixed until the gluten is developed — this always gives me a good arm workout, as we don’t have a stand mixer — and then rested for an hour. To form the little round buns, you’ll need to practice your boule-making technique of folding, pinching, and tension-building. I found this less fussy than making sourdough bread: the dense hot cross bun dough is easier to work with than looser sourdough bread dough.

After lining up the little buns on a baking tray, you rest them for another hour before you brush them with egg wash (I could’ve been more generous with my egg washing) and bake them for 30 minutes. (Use the non-convection setting on your oven.) Unfortunately, I thought I’d started my timer when the buns went in the oven, but realized after perhaps 10-15 minutes that my timer had been inadvertently paused! I therefore had to estimate how long the buns had been in and may have overdone them by a few minutes. Despite that, the hot cross buns turned out really well, sweetened just a bit by the icing crosses (I left out the cardamom — pure laziness) and delicious with salted butter. The whole process took about four hours (not including cooling time). F approved and we were both happy!

How do you like your hot cross buns – with butter? Jam? Marmalade?Have you ever made them yourself?

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