Category Archives: climate

USA Trip 2018: San Francisco

Greetings! This is the second post in my mini ‘USA Trip 2018’ series, documenting the two-week vacation (holiday, in UK-speak) that F and I took this August. After a weekend in NYC, we spent the rest of our time in California. San Francisco was our first stop. Read on to see what we got up to. (NB: none of this is sponsored – all of the following are my personal opinions and I write for fun!)

California feels a bit like home to me: my mom grew up in the Sacramento area, so my childhood was punctuated by regular visits to see family on the west coast. My family also lived in Berkeley for a year when I was 9 (ah, the memories of collecting Beanie Babies and seeing Spiceworld in the cinema!). I hadn’t been to San Francisco since 2010, so was excited to get reacquainted with the city and introduce it to F.

Flying over the Sierras

Day 1: Monday evening

We landed at SFO in the late afternoon and made our way into the city via BART. After settling into our hotel near Union Square, we went out in search of dinner. Hungry and thus somewhat indecisive, we eventually settled on Tacorea, a clever Mexican-Korean hybrid featuring burritos in various flavors. F had the kimchi burrito and I had a more classic California-style burrito. It hit the spot! After eating, we went for a long wander up and down the nearby hills until falling jet-lagged into bed.

Day 2: Tuesday

I convinced F to get up early for a run down along the Embarcadero. It was a grayish, foggy morning – typical San Francisco summer – and we got a good calf workout running up and over the ridge to the Embarcadero. Once on flat ground, we settled into a nice pace and stopped for the occasional photo. The best part of our run was the 15-minute break to watch the sea lions at Pier 39! It was shortly after 8am so hardly anyone was out: I told F that if we had tried to see the sea lions during the middle of the day, the area would be packed with tourists. After our run, we found the nearest Blue Bottle Coffee to rehydrate and fuel up for the day. Very nice coffee and delicious oatmeal.

Post-coffee, we spent a great 2.5 hours at SFMOMA, one of my favorite museums. They had a fantastic Magritte exhibition on. We had seen a Magritte exhibition in Brussels a few years ago and the art had not really spoken to me; SFMOMA’s show changed my mind. The exhibition focused on Magritte’s “Fifth Season” – his late works – and displayed how varied his style was: much more than just pipes and hats. After Magritte, we covered most of the rest of the museum. Saturated with art, we stopped for a BLT lunch at The Grove nearby. A spot of Levi’s shopping brought us to dinnertime, when we met my cousins K and A for a Burmese feast at B Star.

Day 3: Wednesday

Another nice day in San Francisco! Breakfast and coffee at Sculleryfancy PB&J and tasty coffee (do you sense a trend? Much coffee was sampled throughout our trip…America does do a good drip (aka filter) coffee).

We then met one of my aunts, a cousin, one of my uncles, and my grandma at the Legion of Honor Museum for lunch and the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood exhibition. It was great to catch up with some of my family, who I hadn’t seen since my grandma’s 80th birthday celebration/reunion four years ago.

Dinner was delicious quinoa-lentil and roasted cauliflower tacos with watermelon-feta-mint salad at Liv and Iain’s place! They were wonderful hosts and we had a lovely, relaxing evening with them. They also gave us a lot of suggestions for the next two stops of our trip: Point Reyes and Nevada City. Stay tuned!


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USA Trip 2018: New York City

Greetings! This is the first in a mini series of posts about the two-week USA trip that F and I took this August. I’m writing one post for each short ‘stage’ of the trip we had. While we spent the majority of the time in California (stay tuned for these posts!), we started off with a weekend in Manhattan, NYC. Read on to see what we got up to. (NB: none of this is sponsored – all of the following are my personal opinions and I write for fun!)

Although I grew up in New York State, this was only my fourth time ever in New York City (yes – believe it or not, New York State is about a lot more than NYC). I’ve never loved NYC but was open to my opinion changing after 5.5 years living in London.

Day 1: Saturday

The stars aligned and Emma was in NYC this week with her sister! They generously stayed a couple of extra days so that we could have brunch together on Saturday morning. We darted through the summer downpour to Supper (yes, brunch at Supper) on the Lower East Side. The French toast was delicious, and it was wonderful to spend a couple of hours catching up with Emma and meeting her sister. A good start to the trip!

Brief Emma reunion! Photo credit: Dea

Later, we procured some bagels with cream cheese – had to have a bagel in New York! – and took them up to Central Park, where we munched while people-watching in the sunshine. Then we strolled up to the Guggenheim Museum (F had never been) to see an interesting Giacometti exhibition.

Did I mention it was HOT in New York? Ah, the East Coast summers: 90F/32C+ with 90% humidity…I do not miss this.

Day 2: Sunday

After a good sleep, F and I got up early to go for a run in Central Park. It was already hot and humid, but the park was beautiful and we managed 10.4km. I was glad there were so many drinking fountains throughout the park – that is something the US does well that Europe could do a better job with. Afterwards we treated ourselves to a delicious diner brunch at John’s Coffee Shop (2nd Ave). (Diners are a must while in the US! We tried a few over the course of our trip.)

In the afternoon, we took the metro down to the Brooklyn Bridge to see the 9/11 memorial and 1 World Trade Center. The outdoor memorial is quite moving. We then walked up through Chinatown and Little Italy to find Rice to Riches, a brilliant concept cafe that serves rice pudding in various flavors. My manager at work had recommended it, and it was a tasty afternoon pick-me-up.

Dinner was at Raku, a cozy udon noodle spot in the East Village recommended by one of F’s colleagues. It was outstanding. The menu was simple, the service was good, and the udon noodles were so fresh. F was in foodie heaven. It was also one of our most inexpensive dinners of the trip. Highly recommended!

Udon noodles at Raku. Wow. Photo by F.

And that was our weekend in NYC. While I enjoyed exploring Manhattan with F, I was not overwhelmed with love for the city. I much prefer London, and our next stop: San Francisco!


Recipe(s): Summer Smoothies

Apparently this blog has just turned eight – crazy! That means that eight years ago, I’d just received my Peace Corps nomination and decided to spend 2+ years in Ukraine. How time flies.

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Post-run smoothie. Glorious.

We have had an unusually good summer in London: about six weeks of mostly sunshine and temperatures 80F/25C or hotter. While this is the first time since F and I have lived in the UK that it has felt properly summery, I can’t help but be concerned about climate change and global warming: the grass is yellow and dry, and the nights are warming, too.

While the lack of rain is concerning, the hot summery days in London have given me ample opportunity for smoothie-making! Most weekends, F and I have been cycling (him) and running (me) on both Saturday and Sunday mornings, returning to the flat hot, sweaty, and with thirst in need of quenching. I think smoothies are an optimum way to rehydrate and take in some calories immediately after a workout to maximize recovery and help prevent massive cravings from hitting later on. In case you needed more convincing, F calls my smoothies “extremely delicious”!

I’ve developed a pretty standard smoothie base of banana (fresh or frozen) and plain yogurt, to which I add various things depending on what we have and what flavors I’m in the mood for. I usually use frozen fruit but you’re welcome to use fresh. Here are some ideas for flavor/ingredient combinations (I don’t measure ingredient amounts but have estimated below):

Berry Smoothie (makes 2 smoothies)

  • 2 bananas, fresh or frozen
  • ~1 cup plain yogurt (I use full fat)
  • ~1 cup fresh/frozen raspberries OR blueberries OR a mixture of both
  • Splash of orange juice
  • 1 tbsp honey (leave out if you like)
  • Optional: sprinkle of cinnamon
  • Optional: 1 tbsp ground flaxseeds

Cherry-Almond Smoothie (makes 2 smoothies)

  • 2 bananas, fresh or frozen
  • ~1 cup plain yogurt
  • 1-1.5 cups fresh/frozen cherries
  • 1-2 tbsp almond butter
  • Splash of non-dairy milk (I use soy or almond) or regular milk
  • 1 tbsp honey (leave out if you like)

The technique for smoothie-making? Put everything in a blender or whiz it up with a hand mixer. So simple, so good.


Race Recap: Trent Park Triffic Trail 2018

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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.

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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!


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.

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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.

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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.

RP10k Jun18 splits

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!


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: 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.

My official time was 39:09 for the 4.85 miles (8:07/mi or 5:01/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.


Race Recap: XC Met League – Ally Pally

Yesterday was the final fixture of the Met League Cross Country League season. A nasty virus kept me out of commission for almost a month over the holidays, so I missed the January XC race and was eager to lace up my spikes and put on my Heathside vest again this month. Even better, this fixture was at Alexandra Palace — Ally Pally, to us locals — which is a 12-minute jog from my flat. Can’t beat that!

The weather was cold — about 2C/36F — and a bit windy. A few snowflakes flurried around in the air. I debated all morning about what to wear and settled on capris, gloves, and a long sleeve top under my vest. I had memories of running the Ally Pally Met League a few years ago, when the bottom part of the course was so waterlogged it was lake-like. This year, there was lots of thick, sticky mud and many squidgy puddles of ice cold water.

My goal for the race was to run steadily, not walk, not fall, and just finish. Having been off for so long in December/January meant that I lost a lot of cardiovascular fitness, and it has been slow to come back as I have deliberately taken a gradual approach to running again.

After all of us women jogged down to the swampy start, we huddled together for warmth and then the gun went off. Gabi and I ran together for the first lap, letting our ankles get used to running in spikes and stabilizing on the uneven terrain. By the second lap, I had lost Gabi but kept thinking she’d catch me, as our amazing Heathside rabblers would cheer me on and then immediately cheer her on! Going down the big hill for the second time, I gritted my teeth and wished I had gotten some longer spikes for this race — my 9mm ones weren’t cutting it, as I worked hard to keep my footing.

Everyone always dreads having to run up the long, steep Ally Pally hill. While it was hard, I actually felt strong running uphill. I think it’s largely thanks to the core class that F and I have been attending once or twice a week at the gym. I was able to keep my body upright, lift my knees, and keep my arms pumping to propel me up the hill little by little. I wasn’t fast, but I must’ve been relatively efficient, as I did pass a number of runners on the uphills. That said, I then needed the flat “backstretch” of the course to recover from all the ups, downs, and ditch hurdling!

I was knackered by the end of the race and was glad it didn’t end up being a full 6km — it was only 5.3km. I didn’t have anything left for a kick, so a couple of runners sprinted past me to the finish, but I did hold one off at the last second (sorry, Laura, I think that was you! Love your blog). My official time was 29:58 (a sedate 9:03/mile, 5:38/km pace), putting me 126th of 170 women finishing. Pretty far back in the pack, but I’ll get my fitness back eventually.

As usual, the Heathside support was incredible. Lots of our runners were marshaling, as it was our home turf, so it was motivating to be cheered on all the way around. The cowbell-ringing and yelling crowd at the bottom of the hill was amazing. Well done to everyone on a great cross country season!


Race Recap: Perivale 5, for the fourth time

It’s the first weekend of December, and you know what that means? Time for the annual Perivale 5 — a flat, suburban race that is always well-organized by Ealing Southall and Middlesex AC (water, banana, a t-shirt, and a Twix bar after the race? Yes, please!).

It was a glorious day for a road race: a chilly 3-4 degrees C, but bright and sunny with little wind. Some of us were hemming and hawing about what to wear given the cold, but once we warmed up I was glad of my wardrobe choice: thicker capris, a t-shirt under my vest, and gloves (which I even pulled off in the last mile). I hadn’t really run since the previous weekend, as I had a bit of a stomach virus during the week. It didn’t keep me from work but definitely kept me from doing any extra physical activity. I thought I still might be able to manage finishing in 38 minutes but felt quite nervous so decided to see how it went and listen to my body.

The start was slowish, with lots of runners bunched up on a narrow sidewalk, but I managed a 4:54 first kilometer and once it thinned out was able to settle into a pace of just under 5:00/km. I knew I wasn’t on pace for 38 minutes so readjusted my goal to aim for under 39.

My second and third kilometers were 4:49 and 4:51 and I was starting to warm up and get into a good rhythm while steadily passing a runner here and there. I faded a little in the fourth kilometer — my slowest, as you can see from my Strava race analysis below — but was buoyed by making it to the halfway point. You can do it. Just 2 miles to go, I thought as I passed the 3-mile marker.

It helped to pass another Heathsider just after 3 miles — he told me that Gabi was just up ahead, so I made it my goal to try and catch up with her before the end of the race (thanks/sorry, Gabi!). That was enough motivation to make my sixth kilometer my fastest, at 4:37, as I caught up to Gabi near the 4-mile marker and pushed on towards the finish. Once on the track for the last 350 meters, I tried to quicken my pace as much as my legs would let me, and had a good last lap to finish in 38:37 (7:43/mi, 4:49/km pace) — not brilliant (and nowhere close to my PB from three years ago), but a bit faster than I’ve run Perivale for the past two years, and a negative split! I’ll take that as an achievement. I was knackered at the end and glad to share these cookies and H&S’s delicious banana cake with the rest of the Heathside contingent.

In case any nerds are interested in my race analysis, courtesy of Strava.

In case any nerds are interested in my race analysis, courtesy of Strava.


Race Recap: XC Met League – Stevenage 2016

Last time I ran a cross country race was almost exactly a year ago, at the Start Fitness Met League Stevenage race — same time, same place. I looked forward to lacing up my spikes again for this season, having missed last month’s Met League race due to illness. The weather report for Saturday looked grim all week, and it didn’t disappoint: cool, grey, and raining. Now that’s proper cross country weather! Fortunately, the morning’s downpour had slowed to a steady, misty drizzle by the time J, C, L, and I arrived at the Stevenage field for the 1:55pm race.

Uphill. Photo credit: Noëlle O'R.

Uphill. Photo credit: Noëlle O’R.

The course was similar to last year’s, without the woods we used to enjoy but with one mini-lap added before the two larger laps. I like half of the Stevenage course: the undulating, curvy first part is enjoyable, but the flat backside of the route is long, straight, and dull. I didn’t have many expectations for my own race, it being my first XC outing of the year and my not having done much speedwork recently. My goal was to enjoy it and embrace the wet weather and possibility of mud.

The mud ended up being less prevalent than we thought, which meant the grassy terrain was actually quite grippy and nice to run on. The start was quick, and I got swept up in it to tick off my first two kilometers in 4:34 and 4:31, respectively. Slow down a bit and stay steady — you still have almost 2 laps to go, I reminded myself. You can pick people off in the second lap if you feel good.

I felt really strong down and up the hills; I don’t chalk that up to my running mileage, but rather to the 20-minute core class that F and I have been doing at the gym twice a week for the past month or so. I felt like I had a lot more body control and could hold my form better on the hills.

Around the final bend. Photo credit: Noëlle O'R.

Around the final bend. Arms out for balance! Photo credit: Noëlle O’R.

As I settled into my rhythm and warmed up a bit, I occasionally overtook other runners as I made my way towards the finish. I couldn’t quite catch two women in front of me on the final straight, but I finished with a much quicker average pace than any recent race I’ve run, so was quite pleased about that. The fitness is somewhere inside me! To compare, my pace was 4:48/km for last month’s Regent’s Park 10k, and I finished this 6.25km race with an average pace of 4:39/km. Not bad! My final time was 29:12 (7:32/mi pace), good for 120th of 182 in the women’s race and 22nd Heathsider of 29 ladies running — just outside of scoring. No matter! I like to think I helped our faster runners to better finishes by beating people from other clubs.

We capped off a damp afternoon of XC the only proper way: with tea and banana bread at the car:

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Race Recap: Perivale 5, 2015 edition

Post-race. Photo credit: Bruce L. https://www.flickr.com/photos/76479355@N07/

Post-race. Photo credit: Bruce L. https://www.flickr.com/photos/76479355@N07/

I almost pulled out of this year’s Perivale 5 race at the last minute; work has been stressful and I haven’t been very keen on running in the past few weeks. But then I thought it would be nice to get out with my running friends for the low-key 5 mile race, so I baked some banana bread on Saturday and jumped into the car with Gabi, Caroline, and Sandra on Sunday morning. The weather was dull and grey with unseasonably warm temperatures and blustery wind.

The usual crowd of runners club and non huddled out of the wind in the Perivale track clubhouse until time forced us to run a few warmup laps. When it was time to race, Gabi and I decided to stick with the 40-minute pacer — dressed in a Santa suit, as were the other pacers — for the first couple of miles, as both of us were aiming to run under 40 minutes. We settled into a comfortable, just under 8:00/mile pace alongside a very trim Santa. My Garmin clocked 7:55 for the first mile — right on target. I stuck with Santa for the next mile, which was a slightly faster 7:44.

As we wended our way towards the halfway point and second loop of the course, I finally started to feel properly warmed up and began pulling away from 40-minute Santa. Running alone for much of the third mile, I managed to keep my pace even and clocked a slightly faster 7:42 third mile.

The fourth mile was the toughest: a long straightaway along a busy road with a headwind. Just keep running, you’ve got a good rhythm. Hands low. Entering the small park — by far the most interesting  part of the course — at mile 4, I was pleased to see 7:39 flash on my Garmin and an overall time of under 32:00. Okay, I know I’ll be under 40:00 but let’s see if I can squeeze in under 39:00, I thought.

Passing 35-minute Santa in the park — he was way off pace, poor thing — I swept past a couple of men as we emerged onto the track for the last lap. I love how this race finishes on a track; it feels a bit like home to me. I felt springy as I stepped my way around and had a decent kick to finish in 38:54 (7:47/mile pace), with a last mile of 7:08. A perfect negative-split race — but 1 second slower than last year! I ran comfortably hard but was glad not to overdo it; I haven’t had the desire to push so hard recently. Gabi also said we could definitely blame slower times on the wind!

Perivale 5 is always a well-organized event with good marshaling and a relaxed but competitive feel. Sandra, Caroline, and Gabi ran well, along with a few other Heathsiders who turned up.

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