Author Archives: taplatt

Race Recap: Trent Park Triffic Trail 2018

Some Heathsiders pre-race. Photo credit: Sif S.

Background: F and I ran the Triffic Trail in Trent Park last year and enjoyed the change of scene from the usual road runs, so I signed us up again this year. Unfortunately, F came down with a bad virus mid-week, so he wasn’t able to run. I’d run the Adidas City Runs 1 Hour the weekend before and had a busy week leading up to the Triffic Trail but decided to go along anyway.

Goal: My speedwork has been lacking recently, but having raced for an hour the previous weekend I knew I could finish 10k in a decent time. I had run last year’s Triffic Trail in 49:44, so my general goal was to beat that time. I wasn’t really in a “racing” mood but pledged to enjoy running somewhere different, and on trails.

Race strategy: Go out steady, around 5:00/km (50-minute 10k pace), then try to negative split. My usual 10k strategy! I remembered the course as undulating with a few long, gradual uphill sections, so I was prepared to throw my strategy out the window and run by feel instead of pace.

Weather & outfit: Warm and sunny, around 20C/68F. I wore shorts and my Heathside vest with sunglasses and sunscreen. I was on the fence about what shoes to wear, but in the end went for my trail shoes – it was a trail race, after all! I probably didn’t need them as it was so dry – most people ran in regular trainers – but was glad to have them for a bit of extra stability on the gravelly sections.

Post-race. Photo credit: Sif S.

The race: I’m getting more comfortable running a faster first 1-2km and then settling into a steadier pace. Perhaps it’s not the most even pacing strategy, but a swift start gets my legs working and gets me into race mode. On this course, it also helped that the first 2km were mainly flat and downhill. Use the flat parts while you can, I told myself, remembering that there would be plenty of uphills to come.

After a slow third kilometer (climbing), I picked it up for the next 2km and reached 5km in 24:40, just as we emerged into the grassy, exposed section of the course. It was bright and hot but I saw Caroline not far ahead and gradually caught up with her. Kilometer 6 was uphill again, which didn’t help the mid-race slump, but I told myself to be patient and wait a bit longer before pushing too hard.

The 7th and 8th kilometers were my favorite part of the race: flattish and then downhill, with a refreshing water stop in the middle. Come on, use this downhill – remember that the last 2km will be mostly uphill so bank some time while you can. My 8th kilometer was my fastest of the race, at 4:38. The next to last kilometer was the hardest: uphill and almost but not quite there. I squeaked through in 4:58.

One kilometer to go. Seeing Nilesh up ahead, I dug in and willed my legs to keep moving and my heart and lungs to keep working. Almost there.

Turning on to the brutally long final stretch – a straight 500m on grass – I passed Nilesh and tried not to slow down. It felt like running through molasses (treacle, for the UK-speakers). Only with about 10 meters to go did I squeeze out a tiny kick to stay ahead of the man sprinting up behind me. Finished!

Not a bad goody bag! (Iced coffee not included)

The result: Chip time of 48:46 (7:52/mile, 4:53/km). A small negative split, and almost a minute faster than last year. The conditions were tough out there, and the course is not easy (according to Strava, I spent 17:34 climbing; that’s 36% of the race). The shady bits in the woods were lovely, but there was hardly any breeze and it was dry and dusty, especially on the gravelly parts of the course.

I came 103rd out of 481 finishers, was 16th woman out of 184 and the 15th Heathsider of 23.

Post-race: Enjoyed a slice of watermelon, posed for some Heathside pictures, picked up my t-shirt and goody bag. Sif shared some delicious chocolate covered raisins on the way back, and I treated myself to an iced coffee upon returning to Crouch End.

Next up: A 5k on the track in a couple of weeks…better get some speedwork in before that!


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Race Recap: Adidas City Runs – 1 Hour #takechargeLDN

…in which I see how far I can run in exactly 1 hour.

Background: A few months ago, fellow Heathsider Liam posted a link to the Adidas City Runs – 1 Hour event, a race in which you run for exactly 1 hour and see how far you can go. Intrigued, I checked my calendar and, despite the steepish entry fee of £40, decided to enter. When else would I get the chance to run a time-based rather than distance-based race, and in flat central London? It also gave me a goal to train for and a good reason to keep upping my long run distance to make sure I could run strongly for the hour.

Goal: I was confident that I could hold 5-minute kilometers to run 12km, so I set my goal as more than 12km, with a stretch goal of 8 miles or 13km. The course was a convenient 1-mile loop, so that meant the closer I got to finishing 8 laps, the closer I’d get to my goal.

Race strategy: Not to go out too fast! If I went out at 10k pace I’d crash and burn before the hour would be up. I decided to try and run the first half (30 minutes) in 5:00/km pace, then gradually increase pace in the second half of the race to run a negative split. I planned to take in a gel at 45 minutes to give me a spark of energy for the last 15 minutes.

Weather & outfit: Relatively cool at around 15C/59F. The morning was drizzly but the rain stopped before my wave started at 10:15am. I wore shorts and the race t-shirt that everyone was required to wear. (Your race number was conveniently printed on the shirt; it was nice not to have a flappy paper number.) I ended up going without sunglasses, as the clouds were patchy. This I somewhat regretted, but once racing I didn’t think about it too much.

The race: I got swept up in the energy of the start and went out a tad faster than planned, running my first 2km in 4:45 and 4:42 and my first lap/mile in 7:43. Be patient, take it easy. Next two kilometers: 5:05 and 5:12. I hit 5km in 24:38 and bided my time until the halfway mark at 30 minutes, which I reached at 6.06km (3.77mi). Here I decided to throw in a 1k surge to get my legs turning over and push for a negative split: 7th kilometer in 4:42.

The energy on the course was brilliant – I loved the steel drum band at the first corner of the loop, and there were a couple of other spots blasting upbeat music. It did help! I decided to grab a sip of water every two laps – to keep my mouth from getting too dry, if nothing else. I should’ve used the toilet once more before starting, though…

But I digress. Where were we? My 7th kilometer surge helped me pick up the pace, and my 8th kilometer was almost as fast as the 7th. At 9km I gave another push but made myself wait until 45 minutes to take my gel, which I tore open as I completed my 6th lap of the course. Reaching 10k in 48:25, I knew 12km was in sight but wasn’t sure I could make it to 13km by the end.

Ten minutes to go – you can do this. Did I push too hard, too soon? Possibly, but as I finished lap/mile 7 with less than 7 minutes to go, I dug deep: Come on, see how close you can get to 8 miles in this last lap. Wow, my feet hurt. Just keep running – you’re almost there!

Four minutes to go. Twelfth kilometer in 4:28 – swift!

Two minutes to go. Keep breathing.

One minute to go. Come on, less than 400 meters! You can do this.

A woman in grey shorts sprints past me. I keep her in my sights but can’t quite keep up. Crossing the 7.9mi timing mat, I grit my teeth and push towards home.

The horn sounds, ending the 1 hour.

The result: Almost 8 miles! My official result is 7.9 miles in 1 hour, as Adidas takes the distance from the last timing mat you cross. In my mind, I actually did more like 7.95 miles (although my Garmin had me at just 12.49km/7.76km, probably from cutting corners. I prefer the Adidas-calculated distance). So my official distance of 7.9 miles gives me an average pace of 7:35/mile (4:43/km). I’m pleased with that, and also to have run a negative split: 3.77 miles in the first 30 minutes and 4.13 miles in the second half.

Apparently I came 29th woman out of 413, and was 353rd overall out of 1303 finishers.

Post-race: Snapped a few photos with Liam then hopped on the bus home. Compression socks on and feet up for the afternoon!

Next up: Triffic Trail 10k next weekend! I ran this Trent Park trail race last year for the first time and enjoyed it, so signed F and myself up again this year.


Race Recap: Regent’s Park 10k – June 2018

…in which I go out too fast and gradually crash and burn on a sunny morning in Regent’s Park.

Some Heathsiders post-race.

Background: I ran a strong Crouch End 10k two weeks ago – my fastest 10k since 2015. I haven’t run much since then, due to recovery and travel, and most of that running has been quite easy and slow. I did have a couple of days off work this week so thought my legs might be fresher than usual. However, it has been warm and humid and I felt quite sluggish in the few days before the race. Part of that sluggishness could have been from the sports massage I had on Thursday evening, but generally I felt well-rested, well-hydrated, and well-fueled in the couple of days before the race.

Goal: Given my Crouch End 10k time of 46:18 on a hilly course, I thought I could definitely run under 46:00 in flattish Regent’s Park. I set myself a stretch goal of 45:00.

Race strategy: Try to run 15 minutes per lap on the convenient 3-lap course. Reach 5km in 23:00 or less and then push to the end.

Weather & outfit: Warmish – at least 20C/68F – with strong sun (hello, June!) that made it feel at least 2-4C warmer than it was. I wore shorts, vest, and sunglasses with a good slathering of sunscreen.

Awkward photo just after finishing. Credit: The Race Organiser Facebook

The race: I positioned myself close to the front of the narrow start and went out quite fast, coming through the first lap in about 15:00 – on target for my goal time of under 46 minutes. My fourth kilometer was a swift 4:34 but then I started to feel the effects of the heat and speed. Seeing runners dropping to a walk and receiving medical attention on the side of the course did not give me a confidence boost and reminded me how warm it was in the sun. Perhaps I got a bit too anxious, but my legs and lungs were working hard and I didn’t have the mental strength to keep pushing as hard as I’d gone out.

Thus started a downward spiral of splits… Andrew passed my between 4 and 5km, looking strong. We kept each other going at the VP5 a couple of months ago, but today was not my day. I let him go and reached 5km in 23:17. For the second half of the race, I tried to stay steady and keep running. I even took a very brief walk break at the water stop after lap two…unusual for me.

Nilesh passed me on the third lap and I just didn’t have the mental grit to try and stay with him. Kilometers 7, 8, and 9 got gradually slower (5:04, 5:09. 5:15). With 1km to go, I gritted my teeth, picked up my knees, and pushed to the finish. Shouts of ‘come on, Heathside’ and ‘go, Tammela’ got me down the last couple hundred meters with a mini-kick.

NOT the way to pace a 10k…

The result: This was one of the poorest race performances I have had in a while. I never really settled into a rhythm – Nilesh said he had the same experience – and mentally I was not up for pushing. I was pleased to run my last kilometer in 4:35, but overall it was not a great race. My net time was 48:04 (4:48/km, 7:45/mi average pace). My pacing was in the “how not to run a 10k” category: Lap 1 – 14:56, lap 2 – 16:16, lap 3 – 16:50. Oops! I was 131st out of 760 finishers and the 19th woman overall out of 388, so in the grand scheme of things, this is not so bad.

This was a tough race and I did not particularly enjoy it. It was hot, I had no rhythm, and I felt a bit off. I have had quite a good past 6 months of racing, so I’m not particularly bothered by my poor race today. I’ve got a few more coming up! What I need to do is get back to the track and in the gym with some heavier weights to build my leg strength, speed, and stamina.

Post-race: Coconut water and the traditional RP10k flapjack. Chatted with fellow Heathsiders and shared around the chocolate raspberry cake that I made from our newly-acquired Vegetarian Athlete’s Cookbook(The recipe is called “brownies” but it is definitely more cake-like. It’s still tasty, though, and relatively healthy with a protein boost from ground almonds.)

Next up: A different kind of challenge with the Adidas City Run 1 hour in two weeks. It’s a timed 1-hour race on a 1-mile loop. I’m not quite sure how to pace it but it will be fun to do something a little out-of-the-ordinary!


Race Recap: YMCA N London / Crouch End 10k (2018)

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Background: Another year, another YMCA North London Fun Run & Festival featuring the Crouch End 10k! I do love having a well-organized, well-supported, chip-timed 10k on my doorstep. It’s a 4-minute jog to the start in Priory Park: you can’t get better than that and there’s no excuse not to enter. And Heathsiders who don’t run are encouraged to marshal, which I did a few years ago. My running volume has been pretty high (for me) over the past month or two, as I’ve been increasing my long runs: I’m up to almost 10 miles again and feeling pretty good, although my Achilles tendons have felt tight/sore on and off for a while. (Tips for curing this more than welcome!)

Goal: Last year in this race I ran a course PB of 48:02. I know I’m in better shape now than I was then (thank you, long runs and a bit of), so I set a goal of running under 48:00.

Race strategy: Be okay with a fast first kilometer if I get swept up in the crowd. Settle into a rhythm and run a steady first 5km, ideally around 24:00 (I know I can negative split a 10k if I don’t go out too fast). Stay steady up the hill in Wood Green on the second lap (kilometer 7) and wait until entering Ally Pally for the second time (8km) before pushing. Use the downhills to make up time and run a strong last kilometer down Priory Road and back into the park.

Clubmate Alun, who I often run with at Finsbury parkrun, was also aiming for under 48:00, so I decided to keep him in my sights as well.

Weather & outfit: A little bit cool – around 15C (60F) – and sunny with not a cloud in the sky. Luckily, London has had incredible May weather this year, so I am used to running in the sun. I wore shorts, vest, and sunglasses with sunscreen a must.

Post-race. Knackered! Love my Goodr running sunglasses.

The race: I know this course quite well, having run it 3 or 4 times before. It’s two laps with a biggish hill to climb but also plenty of gradual downhill sections. I made sure to start close to the front, as the narrow Priory Park paths make for a congested first kilometer.

I got out of the park well and was pleased to run a 4:37 first kilometer – not too fast. I’d forgotten the second kilometer, through the neighborhood along the bottom of Ally Pally, was net downhill: 4:27. I knew kilometer 3 was uphill and told myself to stay steady and not push too hard up the hill, as I could make up time on the downhills later on. I went through 3km in about 14 minutes and knew I’d hit my target for 5k even if I ran the next two kilometers in 5 minutes each. Jo cheered/marshaled me down the slope into the park – a nice boost and a bit of shade before we emerged into the bright sun along the gradual uphill that’s part of the Ally Pally parkrun course. Somewhere around here, I passed Nilesh and then Alun passed me with a cheery “good morning”!

We reached 5km – “halfway!” I gasped to the runners around me – around 23:20. Well under my goal for 5km. I just hoped I hadn’t gone out too fast. The group blasting “YMCA” was out in full force, as usual, and that gave me a great boost. Stay steady, I told myself, just get around and up the hill a second time before you try to push. My feet hurt and the sun was bright. I tried to ignore it and just keep running. Calls of “Come on, Heathside” from marshals and spectators really helped.

I started to drag a little in the 7th and 8th kilometers (my slowest, at 4:51 and 4:59). But I had time to make it up and, hitting 8km at about 37:30, knew I could run two 5-minute kilometers and still finish under my goal of 48:00. I caught up with Alun around 8km – “good morning again!” – and told myself to try and stick with him. I know he has a good kick but I also know we’re of similar pace.

We slogged through Ally Pally for the second time, into the sun and slightly uphill. Rounding the bend down onto Priory Road, I gritted my teeth and said “1k to go – think of the track.” F was there cheering me on as Alun and I sped down the wide, smooth road on a slight descent. A big shout of, “Tammela Platt, you look amazing!” (or something like that) from marshaling Amy was brilliant. This is a long stretch but I willed my legs to keep turning over and willed myself to stick with Alun. We finally entered Priory Park with 500m to go. Just a few twists and turns to navigate, then we’re there. We turned the last corner with 50-100m to go and I dug in to kick to the finish. Alun pipped me by 1 second but gasped “where did your kick come from?!”. 4:09 for the last kilometer – a strong finish.

The result: Chip time of 46:18 (4:38/km, 7:28/mi average pace): this is my fastest 10k since 2015, an improvement on the 46:46 I ran at last October’s Middlesex 10k, and my best time on the Crouch End 10k course. I was 185th out of 1006 finishers and the 11th woman overall out of 413.

I wouldn’t have run such a strong finish if it hadn’t been for Alun’s company over the last two kilometers – thank you, Alun, and great job! Personalized cheers all along the course help so much; this event has such a good community atmosphere that, despite the difficulty of the course, it is always fun to run. Heathside had good turnout, with 74 runners finishing: I was 42nd of those 74 and 4th of the Heathside women who ran.

Post-race: F met me at the finish and took some photos. I chatted with a few other Heathsiders finishing but didn’t stick around too long, as it was warm and I wanted a nice, cool shower!

Next up: Regent’s Park 10k in two weeks. Let’s see if I can improve on today’s time on the much flatter course…


Race Recap: Victoria Park Open 5 – an unexpected PB

Sunshine in Victoria Park. Photo credit: Neil Cook

Background: I hadn’t run the Victoria Park Open 5 (VP5), a flat and fast 5-mile race in east London, since 2014. I think the race was cancelled in 2015 and I’m not sure why I missed the 2016 and 2017 editions of the race. Maybe it was the weekend of my wedding in 2016, and maybe F and I were away in Bath last year. Anyway, I didn’t want to miss this year’s cheap-to-enter, quick race with a slightly random 2:30pm start time, and luckily Gabi was going, too.

Goal: Last week I pushed myself at parkrun and ran 22:29 for 5km at Ally Pally, a relatively hilly course. Given that average pace of 7:15/mile, I thought I was in shape to run VP5 in 7:30/mi pace, which would bring me in at 37:30 for 5 miles. Looking back at this race in 2014, I finished in 37:00, which I thought I might be able to manage this year, but I didn’t think I’d be close to my 5-mile PB of 35:41 from this past December’s Perivale 5.

Race strategy: 5 miles is quite a bit longer than 5k, so my main strategy was not to go out too fast and keep my kilometer splits under 4:39 – but also not panic if I found myself running faster. (It’s surprisingly easy to freak out a bit if you find yourself running faster than planned and it takes practice to be comfortable with that.) On race day, club-mate Andrew said he was aiming to run 37:00 or faster, so I decided to try and stick with him while still running my own race and saving some energy for the last mile.

Weather & outfit: Warm – around 20C (68F) – and partly sunny, partly hazy. It was the warmest day we’ve had this spring after a long, cold, grey London winter. The afternoon start time meant the sun and temperature would be at their highest – no morning chill to keep things cool. This was definitely shorts and vest weather, and I’m glad I wore my sunglasses, too.

Heathsiders post-race. Photo from Sue.

The race: Gabi and I arrived nice and early, with time for a banana, a chat with fellow Heathsiders, and a 10-minute warmup to acclimate. After a few leg swings, we were ushered into a rather narrow starting chute and the race started bang-on at 2:30pm. Andrew and I set out together and ran side by side for the first mile, which was of course a bit too fast at 6:53. I let Andrew surge ahead for the second mile as I tried to settle into a comfortably fast pace. There were four more miles, after all! I wanted to stay steady through 5km and then push if I had anything left. I was pleased to see my first two kilometer splits under 4:30/km and reminded myself not to panic – I felt pretty good.

Around 2.5km, we swung around to the far side of the two-lap figure-eight course, and I glanced at my watch to see that my pace had slowed to 4:50/km. Oops! Come on, pick it up, I said to myself after this mental blip. (There was a sneaky little uphill on that far side of the course – I blame the blip on that.) Two miles went by in 14:08 or so; I did some mental math to calculate that if I could keep that pace up, I’d run well under 37:00. Keep pushing. Stay steady. Still three miles to go.

We came back towards the start for our second lap of the figure-eight. At this point I wished there was a proper water station – my lips were dry and I was parched! You’ll be fine, it’s only 5 miles, just keep running, I told myself. I can’t remember where Andrew was at this point – we traded the lead a few times throughout the race, and having him around really helped me keep going as I knew he was keeping up a good pace.

My watched buzzed at 5km around 22:17 – my fastest 5k since November – and my kilometer splits had been pretty consistently under 4:30. I did some more mental math and thought that by this point I could even aim for sub-36:00. Should I try for a PB? There are still two miles to go, but I could be close. Just keep running.

My tank felt almost empty as we turned left into the uphill bit on the final loop of the figure-eight. The 4-mile marker came up: 28:53 on my watch. The rest of the race took a lot of mental strength. My feet hurt, my legs were tingling, my face was boiling in the sunshine. Can I run the last mile in under 7 minutes? I’m not sure. This feels really hard. What if I just stopped pushing right now? I could just stop. Okay, but I probably wouldn’t be happy with myself if I did that. Come on, dig deep! Remember Marie’s piece on mental toughness and the marathon that you read this morning. You can do it. 

Those thoughts and more went through my mind in the last mile. I set myself mini goals to keep chipping away: Stay steady until that final turn, then push with all you have. You will be really close to a PB. Come on! Having to weave in and out of pedestrian traffic – all of London comes out when the sun shines – helped keep my mind from dwelling on the exhaustion.

I didn’t have much of kick but gave it my all and managed a swifter last kilometer at 4:13. A lovely club-mate was there at the finish to hand me a much-needed cup of water (thanks, Leigh!).

Nice coaster as race swag!

The result: Chip net time of 35:33 (4:25/km, 7:07/mi average pace): this is a new 5-mile PB by 8 seconds! I was 66th out of 133 finishers and the 9th woman. I surprised myself with my performance – guess I am in pretty good shape, after all, and my mental toughness is improving. I was pleased to run remarkably even splits and have just enough left to pick it up for the last kilometer.

A good number of Heathsiders raced VP5, with some good results including a win from Tom. Well done to all!

Post-race: Heathsiders swapped race experiences, I passed around this banana bread, and some people bought generous slices of cake from the post-race spread. We got a “Team Heathside” photo and that was that!


A few days in Provence

Tired of the long, grey London winter, F and I decided to go somewhere sunnier and warmer for a few days over Easter. We first considered an island like Mallorca but quickly became overwhelmed with how to find somewhere accessible but non-touristy. F then suggested going to Provence and I agreed!

While searching for a place to stay, I stumbled upon La Bastide Perchée, a B&B (“guest house “) in a small town a 30-minute drive from Marseille Airport and not far from Aix-en-Provence (in Provence you will want a car, rental or otherwise). La Bastide Perchée is a family home with four uniquely designed guest rooms and it seemed like a good choice for a peaceful getaway. Fanny and Ronan were wonderful hosts, providing recommendations for places to go and food to eat – even offering to make restaurant reservations for us. We enjoyed all of the restaurants that they recommended in Venelles and Aix-en-Provence. La Bastide Perchée’s breakfast timing was flexible and the food was good – a highlight was Fanny’s homemade yogurt. I couldn’t recommend more La Bastide Perchée for a few nights of peaceful relaxation.

Did I mention the view we had from our room? Nestled into the hillside above Venelles, La Bastide Perchée provides a glorious view of the Montagne Sainte Victoire across the valley. We could even see the snow-capped Alps on a clear morning. But lest you think we just gazed out the window for four days – and we did do a lot of that – let me tell you about what else we got up to in Provence…

Bibémus Plateau & Barrage Zola

Our first full day was bright and sunny; our hosts recommended walking near the Montagne St Victoire and pointed us in the right direction. We drove for about 25 minutes to a free parking area and walked up until we reached the Bibémus Plateau. (Apparently this is an area where Cézanne loved to paint.) We walked a little loop at the top and enjoyed the view while snacking on baguette and Camembert (when in France…).

Montagne St Victoire from Bibémus Plateau

F suggested we return to the plateau the next morning for a pre-breakfast trail run, so we arose with the sun and got into the car – pre-coffee! We decided to do a 5km loop to the Barrage Zola, a big dam/lake in a valley that we had seen from above the day before. Off we went, running to keep warm but pausing a number of times to take in the magnificent views. Down we descended into the valley, and up we climbed back to the top (we had to walk part, as it was quite steep and rocky – see the elevation profile below). The morning light and fog were amazing, and breakfast tasted extra good when we got back.

Lourmarin

We spent a pleasant afternoon in the ancient village of Lourmarin, which our hosts had again recommended (are you sensing a trend here?). The chateau/castle was closed when we got there in the early afternoon (apparently people in Provence take a long break from about 12:30-2:30pm – most shops close and not much happens), but we wandered the narrow streets, admired the pretty buildings, and had a nice outdoor lunch on a little plaza.

Aix-en-Provence

We went into Aix-en-Provence twice: once for dinner and again on our last day before driving to the airport. It’s a lovely little city, with picturesque winding streets and pretty buildings. We didn’t take much time to dive into the city’s history or culture, as we so much enjoyed not being in a city on this trip! Living in London means we prefer to escape to quieter places these days. But here are a few shots of Aix:

Our trip to Provence was wonderful and we would definitely go back, as there is a lot in the region that we did not explore.

 

50th Parkrun

It has taken me almost 5 years, but I’ve finally done it: I’ve run 50 parkruns! Remember when I ran my first parkrun in April 2013? That run is still one of my fastest parkrun times (ignorance is bliss when you don’t know about the hills on the course). I ran parkrun occasionally but not consistently for the first 4 years, but when I started getting into the 30s last summer/autumn, I resolved to make it to 50 parkruns by early 2018.

Post-50th parkrun email. In the 50 Club!

I would’ve hit 50 before this weekend if I hadn’t gotten a bad cold over Christmas – I had plans to run 2-3 parkruns over the holidays! – but here we are on 17th March 2018 and my goal has been achieved.

When you look at how many people have run upwards of 100 and even 250 parkruns, 50 doesn’t seem like much, but it still takes commitment to get up for a 9am run on a Saturday. For me, it helps that F gets up over two hours earlier (!) than me on Saturdays to cycle in Regent’s Park, so my 7:50am alarm doesn’t seem too bad compared to his wake-up time.

In celebration of my impending 50th parkrun, I baked these oatmeal raisin cookies to share around afterwards. Fellow Heathsider Shaan was running his 25th and Hannah was running her 30th parkrun, so they provided some millionaire’s shortbread (yum). Gabi mustered a few other Heathsiders to join us at Finsbury Park, and it was fun to be cheered on my milestone before the start.

Some Heathsiders post-parkrun

Did I mention it was snowing and blowing this morning? You can see bits of snow on the grass in the photo above. After a balmy week of 10+C temperatures, the mercury dropped on Friday night and Saturday morning was a brisk 2C with some gently falling snow that the wind subsequently whipped around up the backside of the Finsbury parkrun course. But we braved the elements and felt extra virtuous for it. I had a busy week and felt tired so decided to run a steady Z3/4 parkrun and came in at 24:02. Not so speedy, but a solid time and a good up-tempo run for me.

My 50th parkrun stats

Now that I have reached my 50 parkruns milestone, let’s take a moment to look at my parkrun history. While a lot of people try to run as many different parkruns as possible – dubbed ‘parkrun tourism’ – I’m a creature of habit and usually run at Finsbury Park or Ally Pally due to their proximity to my flat. I have run Hampstead Heath parkrun once and F and I even ran a parkrun in Liverpool when we were up visiting friends a few weeks ago.

I love parkrun because you can run it however you want. When I feel like testing my fitness, I’ll go to Finsbury park and hammer it (did that last weekend, hence this week’s steadier run). If I’m up for a scenic run on mainly trails, I’ll go to Ally Pally and sometimes push it but sometimes run at social pace with Gabi or Jo. I’ve volunteered twice and need to do more of that to give back to such an amazing community.

Now that I’ve reached 50 parkruns, what’s next? In general running goals, I have a number of 10k races coming up over the spring and summer so I am working on building my endurance and long run distance. Maybe I’ll try to do Hampstead Heath parkrun more often and build that into my weekly long run. We shall see. For now, I’ll rest on my small laurels and enjoy the weekend!

Parkrun tourism at Princes parkrun, Liverpool!


Race Recap: Regent’s Park 10k, Feb 2018

I’m trying a new race recap format below – let me know what you think!

Post-race Heathsiders

Background: Jo, Gabi and I were supposed to run last month’s Regent’s Park 10k but illness & other things struck so we all deferred our entries to the February edition of the monthly race series. I had a cold/cough over Christmas, which meant two to three weeks of much less exercise and thus a decline in fitness, so I’m not anywhere near PB shape. I have, however, started going back to Heathside’s Tuesday track workouts (“started going back” translates to having done two workouts in January) to regain some speed and fitness.

Goal: Given my current fitness (and not having run over about 9km in a month or more), I set a modest goal of running under 50:00 and an ambitious goal of around 48:00. That meant averaging 5:00/km or faster. As the race is 3 laps, I needed to run between 16 and 17 minutes for each lap to be on target.

Race strategy: Run a conservative first 5k and then try to negative split. Get to 8 or 9km and then push.

Weather & outfit: Overcast and quite cold at about 3C (37F), with light wind. As usual, I hemmed and hawed about what to wear but decided on long tights and a thinnish long-sleeved merino base layer under my Heathside vest. I was on the fence about gloves and ended up starting with them but took them off halfway around. Post-race note: I didn’t need the gloves but the rest of the outfit was spot-on.

Post-race with J

The race: Jo and I didn’t really warm up, as we were staying cozy inside (and queuing for the loo). We dropped our bags at 8:55am and then walk-jogged to the start, where we huddled together with Gabi and Emilia before the gun went off. As the start is always congested at this race – those narrow Regent’s Park paths – we positioned ourselves relatively close to the front. Gabi and I set off more or less together and I went through the first kilometer in 4:39; we traded off pulling each other along for the next kilometer or two.

I was pleased to go through the first lap in just under 16:00, so knew if I could hold that pace I’d be able to run 48 minutes. However, I told myself not to get too eager as we still had more than half the race left. There was a woman in a grey jacket who flip-flopped with me for a good chunk of the race; it was helpful to know she was of a similar pace and, whether or not she knows it, she helped keep me going.

My fifth kilometer was the slowest – be patient, I told myself – but I went through 5k in 24:13. I can still negative split, I thought, but wait until the last lap to start pushing. I always enjoy running by part of the Regent’s Park Zoo, and the dromedaries were out munching their breakfast, so I sent them a mental “hello” to distract myself.

My second lap was about 30 seconds slower than the first – 16:19 – so I wasn’t sure I could hold on for 48 minutes but just kept running to see what I had left. As I went towards the little switchback loop around 8.5km, Emilia was running back the other way and shouted encouragement to me. That helped a lot, and I picked the pace up. At 9km I dug in and pushed to the finish, squeezing out a little kick and even pipping someone at the line!

The result: Official time of 47:43 (4:46/km, 7:42/mi average pace)! Really pleased to be under 48:00 and wasn’t sure I had it in me. I was 112th of 331 finishers and 18th of 147 women. I think my fitness is in a good place and I am signed up for about a race a month going into spring, so it will be nice to have regular fitness markers as I continue getting back into track workouts and hopefully doing some longer runs.

Post-race: Tea in the Hub cafe with Karina, Gabi, Jo and a tri clubber. I’d made this chocolate beetroot cake – F’s self-professed “favorite chocolate cake” – and shared it around for refueling purposes. Yum!


Year in Review: 2017

Happy New Year! Frohes neues Jahr! З Новим Роком!

I haven’t written a “year in review” since the end of 2014, but this year I felt the desire to do so as 2017 becomes 2018. While there are plenty of awful things that happened globally in 2017 – politically, environmentally, etc. – I would like to focus on the more personal positives in this post.

Running and fitness in 2017:

On the way to a 5-mile PB at the Perivale 5, Dec 2017. Photo credit: Bespoke Photos.

  • Distance run: Strava tells me that in 2017 I ran 973.1km =  604.66mi. This is about 39 more miles than in 2016, so I’ll take that as a slight improvement.
  • The first half of the running year wasn’t great, as I had a really nasty virus over the Christmas holidays so had a slow return to fitness in early 2017. I had a brief return to the track in the summer before developing some plantar fasciitis. Since then, I’ve focused on building up my fitness base with tempo work and longer runs. That has seemed to work, as in fall/winter I ran my fastest 10k since 2015 and a 5-mile PR/PB!
  • In 2017 I discovered how much I love trail running/racing. Now that I have invested in trail shoes, I hope to do more trail running in 2018. I ran in Trent Park for the first time and loved it.
  • Racing (running):
  • Distance cycled: 2,760.3km = 1,715.17mi of commuting to/from work in London. About 200km/124mi more than in 2016.

Favorite books read in 2017:

  • In 2017 I read about 21 books. I didn’t love everything I read but here are some books that have stuck with me after finishing them:
  • Tracy Chevalier, At the Edge of the Orchard. I’ve loved Chevalier’s writing ever since reading Girl with a Pearl Earring as a teenager. Chevalier also happens to be an Oberlin graduate and I was fortunate to see her speak when I was in college. At the Edge of the Orchard is a historical novel of migration to the American West during the Gold Rush in the 1840s and ’50s. The human characters are interesting but much of the novel is actually about trees: apple orchards and then California’s redwoods and giant sequoias. It has really stuck with me and I’ve recommended it to a number of people.
    • I also read Chevalier’s newest novel, New Boy, this year. It’s a chilling retelling of Shakespeare’s Othello set on a school playground and I’d recommend it to any English teachers for their students to read alongside the original play.
  • Somehow in all my study of English literature, I had never read Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White. My parents recommended it to me after reading it for their book club a couple of years ago, and I was impressed with this early detective novel. It has all the good stuff – missed messages, mistaken identities, charming villains – while remaining accessible even for those who aren’t used to reading 19th-century novels.
  • I absolutely love Laurie R. King’s Mary Russell-Sherlock Holmes series (the first one is called The Beekeeper’s Apprentice) and this year I read the seventh and eighth books back to back. Every time I open a Russell-Holmes novel, it feels like coming home. Something about King’s writing style just sits well with me. The novels are at once historically dense, character-driven, and detailed but not slow-moving. My dad first got hooked on the series years ago, and I would recommend it to anyone who, to use Netflix-speak, enjoys “historical novels with a strong female lead”. There’s also plenty of mystery and detective work involved!
  • I loved Robin Hobb’s 4-book series, The Rain Wild Chronicles, recommended by a fellow choir singer. Hobb creates a fascinating and robust fantasy world – realist but with touches of the magic and mythical – and tells a good story.
  • Rachel Sieffert, A Boy in Winter. A poignant WWII novel set in a small Ukrainian town. Sad but beautifully written and worth reading for a slightly different perspective.
  • Darragh McKeon, All that is Solid Melts into Air. Wow was this good. A close family friend – my Belgian “aunt” – recommended it and I loved it. It’s set in Soviet Ukraine/Russia/Belarus in the late 1980s around the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. The shifting perspectives never felt jarring and it’s quite timely, despite being a historical novel. Highly recommended.
  • F and I finished reading Walter Moers’ Die 13 1/2 Leben des Käpt’n Blaubär, an epic fantasy-type novel that we took turns reading aloud. It helped my German a lot and was good fun! I also finished a book of short stories in German – Karen Köhler’s Wir Haben Raketen Geangelt – that were almost all depressing but I loved the writing style and it was accessible enough for me to understand most of what was going on.

Other highlights & achievements, in no particular order:

  • Singing Bach’s St John Passion in English with the Crouch End Festival Chorus and Bach Camerata at St John Smith’s Square in central London.
  • Visiting my close friend Hannah in Bulgaria, where she’s working as a Fulbright ETA.
  • Spending a lovely long weekend with F in Bath.
  • Family and friends descending on London for our post-wedding celebration in July. It was lovely to have a casual party in a local pub and that so many people made the effort to come from near and far.
  • Spending a week walking in the Cotswolds with F. We stayed in a little AirBnB in the village of Longborough and spent each day walking a different loop, stopping for pub lunches and enjoying our escape from big city life.
  • After three years teaching ESOL to migrant women at a charity in Tower Hamlets, I got a new job at a charity in Hackney. I’m still teaching ESOL mainly in Tower Hamlets but also learning about and sharpening my skills in project management and partnerships. It was hard to leave my old team – a close-knit group of amazing women – but it was the right move to make and I’m enjoying my new role. It’s also interesting to see how two charities in the same sector operate quite differently.

Cotswolds walking

I’m not big on resolutions but my main intention for 2018 is, as usual, to find a healthy balance between work, exercise, time with F, and other things. We hope to travel a bit more this year and I’d like to build up my running mileage to 10-mile or even half marathon fitness.

In some blog-related reflecting, here is a listicle of of my top posts via views in 2017:

Wishing you all a happy, healthy, and successful 2018

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!

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.