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.


Thanksgiving (in London) 2016 – what we cooked

F and I hosted our second (or third? I can’t remember) Thanksgiving celebration in London on the Saturday following the real holiday (a bit hard to take a random Thursday off when it’s not a public holiday where you live). F’s parents were visiting, too, so they got to experience their first Thanksgiving, and a few friends joined us as well. Here’s what we cooked for 8 people (plus a 10-month-old) — recipe links below the pictures:

  • Turkey! We ordered a 5.2kg bird from one of the local butchers in Crouch End. F stuffed it with apples and thyme, generously salted, peppered, and buttered the skin, and roasted it for 3.5 hours. It came out super moist and delicious.
  • Gravy: F made this one from Serious Eats, using the neck and innards from the turkey but not using soy sauce.
  • Stuffing: I made this classic sage and onion bread dressing from The Kitchn; same as last year. It turned out well and got a number of compliments
  • Sweet potato casserole: my mom’s/grandma’s recipe that’s been a staple at our family Thanksgivings since I can remember.
  • Brussels sprout and tomato salad: another family recipe
  • Cranberry sauce: this is my favorite recipe. It’s super easy and always turns out well.
  • My (American) friend S brought a lovely green bean dish and a pumpkin pie.
  • Our friends H&S brought a nice apple crumble.
  • Cranberry cake: in my mind, it’s not Thanksgiving without this cranberry upside-down cake, another one that my mom/grandma always make. It’s one of my top 3 favorite cakes ever.
  • Freshly whipped cream. Need I say more?

It was a lovely and relaxing evening all around, with plenty of entertainment provided by 10-month-old H. And despite the horrific political year it’s been, there is still plenty to be thankful for.

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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Out & About in London – October 2016

My parents visited F and me in London for five days this month. Luckily, their visit coincided with both a chorus concert and Half Term, which meant no teaching duties for me and so the ability to take a few days off work. It was fun to be a bit of a tourist around London for a few days — I hadn’t done that in a while. Here’s what we got up to, including pictures.

Bletchley Park

A co-worker of mine recommended visiting Bletchley Park as a nice day trip outside of London. My parents wanted to get out of the city for a day, and it turned out that Bletchley Park was an easy train ride away from Euston Station. In case you don’t know, Bletchley Park is where the British Government Code and Cipher School (CG&CS) set up their codebreaking endeavors during World War II. CG&CS recruited bright young minds from Oxford and Cambridge to work machines, translate, and cipher/encipher/decipher enemy codes, the most famous of which being the Enigma code. Alan Turing, perhaps made better known recently by the movie The Imitation Game, led a team in developing the Bombe Machine to help crack the Enigma code.

Bletchley Park is centered around a mansion on lovely grounds surrounded by lots of “huts,” where various teams were set up to work on codebreaking projects. It was a lovely day when we went, which made for pleasant wandering in and out of huts and learning about what went on at Bletchley Park. There’s also a very detailed museum, which we didn’t spend much time in, having already become saturated by the information in the mansion and huts. It was a nice and informative day out and I’d recommend it.

Dinner at Ottolenghi Islington

Eating at Ottolenghi has been near the top of my “to eat in London” list for a while. We’ve got one of Ottolenghi’s cookbooks — Plenty, or Genussvoll vegetarisch in our German version — that I’ve enjoyed using at times. A few friends recommended the Islington restaurant, and my parents, who love trying new restaurants, were game!

Ottolenghi Islington has cold salads and desserts in the front window and operates a bustling (upscale) takeaway business. The restaurant consists of two long, communal tables and a handful of small two-person tables. The decor is more modern than I expected, but I quite liked the simplicity with splashes of color. The menu consists of small plates that are conducive to sharing — I love this kind of eating, because I get to try a few bites of a lot of dishes! We ordered eight dishes for the four of us, which was plenty and allowed us to save room for the delicious desserts. Dinner highlights for me were: the beetroot and cumin mash, the cauliflower, the braised artichoke and fennel, the pork belly, and the octopus. The almond financier cake for dessert was incredible.

National Portrait Gallery

Looking for something to do before afternoon tea (see below), I suggested to my parents that we pop into the National Portrait Gallery for an hour or so. I had never been there before, and to be honest was not sure I’d like it — how interesting can it be to look at a bunch of dead people’s painted portraits? Turns out, it’s fascinating! We stuck to the 19th and 20th century displays, and they did not disappoint. It was cool to see painted portraits of famous historical figures, from statesmen to the first woman admitted to the British Medical Association to authors like Dickens and Hardy. There was a small but powerful photograph of Virginia Woolf’s husband (or maybe father? I can’t remember) in the foreground with an out-of-focus but so obviously Virginia Woolf in the background. Wow.

My favorite part of the Portrait Gallery was a temporary exhibition, “Black Chronicles: Photographic Portraits 1862-1948.” It was incredibly moving to see such dignified, soulful photographs from the early-ish days of photography. There is something much deeper about photographic portraits from 100+ years ago: carefully composed poses and backdrops, and no cheesy smiles, as people had to hold poses for a long time for the exposure. It is a stunning exhibition and highly recommended.

Afternoon Tea at The Delaunay

My mom suggested that we go out for a proper afternoon tea, like we did a couple of years ago when my parents spent time in London. And who am I to refuse afternoon tea? I had The Delaunay on my list as a well-reviewed (but I can’t remember by whom!) and affordable afternoon tea spot. We each ordered the full Afternoon Tea — my dad and I with scones, and my mom with Gugelhupf (remember that from Bake Off last year?).

Two tea towers (what are they actually called?) arrived, chock full with sweets and savories. The tea also came with brilliant straining devices that had solid bottoms to catch drips when you put them back on the table. It’s the little things! I have a big sweet tooth, but surprisingly I ended up preferring the savories at The Delaunay. The smoked duck sandwich had a great blend of flavors, and I could have eaten five of the cheese puff/choux flatbread-like things sandwiched with cream cheese. The fruit scones were deliciously light and balanced. I found most of the cakes a bit too sweet, although the pistachio financier with poppy seeds and orange cream was really nice. The Delaunay’s afternoon tea selection was very generous, and the three of us agreed that next time we’d only get two full tea menus plus a couple of extra scones.

Wicked

In addition to afternoon tea and a day out of London, my parents wanted to see at least one theatre show. We settled on Wicked, the music of which I knew thanks to my Oberlin housemate Claire, who introduced me to the soundtrack in college. But I didn’t know the story that links the songs together (other than that it’s about the Wicked Witch of the West). 

Well, the musical was brilliant. Along with the hits like “Defying Gravity,” “No Good Deed,” and “For Good,” Wicked actually has a relatively complex plot with a good deal of character development and many messages about trust, friendship, love, and self-regard. The cast was great, with Suzie Mathers and Rachel Tucker more than living up to my expectations as Glinda and Elphaba, respectively. They had personality, depth, and great singing voices — I got chills more than a couple of times.


Singing Brahms at the Barbican: “Ein deutsches Requiem”

It’s October again, which in my world means singing in the first Crouch End Festival Chorus concert of the new season! Last year, we sang Mozart’s Mass in C minor with the London Mozart Players (LMP). This year, we were lucky to be joined by LMP again, back at the Barbican for Johannes Brahms’ Ein deutsches Requiem (“A German requiem”). Soprano Erica Eloff sang Strauss’ Vier letzte Lieder (Four Last Songs) to open the concert, as well as the soprano solos in the Brahms. Baritone Benjamin Appl took on the male solos in the Brahms. Brahms’s requiem is unique in that it is not set to the traditional Latin mass, but rather Brahms chose selections of German text from the Luther Bible. Even for a non-believer like myself, parts of the libretto are quite moving.

Didn't get any pictures during rehearsal, so here's a City of London shot on my way to the Barbican.

Didn’t get any pictures during rehearsal, so here’s a City of London shot on my way to the Barbican.

Now I’m not sure you you feel about Brahms, but I’ve had mixed feelings about his music ever since first hearing and attempting to learn his clarinet sonatas back in high school. It took me ages to understand what seemed to be a lack of melody and get used to the irregular, dancelike rhythms. A track teammate at Oberlin introduced me to Brahms’s symphonies, numbers 1 and 4 of which grew on me. His piano concertos are great fun to listen to. But I’ve never felt quite the same connection with Brahms as I have with composers like Beethoven, Mozart, and Bach (what can I say? I like the traditional stuff). While I did go through a period of enjoying sweeping, Romantic-era orchestral music, I’ve always come back to my three favorites for their melodiousness and simple complexity (is that a thing?).

All of the above goes to say that I looked forward to singing Brahms’ Ein deutsches Requiem, but it didn’t enrapture me as much as it does some, including our chorus director (DT) and many fellow singers. But the piece grew on me, and I loved singing the rich, dark moments — like those in the second movement — where I could let out my inner mezzo soprano:

I also enjoyed singing in German, and we had a good language coach to help smooth out the choir’s tendency towards English diphthongs. Fellow soprano SG, also a German speaker, and I shared a few chuckles about how selige Toten (“blessed dead”) came out a bit like selige Torten (“blessed cakes”) at times! Overall, our hard work on the German paid off and the choir received many compliments on the clarity of our words — although F pointed out that we still had trouble with the “ch” sound, pronouncing Stachel more like “stackel.”

The performance went well. The LMP were incredible, as usual; Eloff’s singing was lovely (despite not having great German diction); and Appl’s diction was impeccable — it helps that he’s actually German — although he made a few mistakes, which I’m willing to forgive after seeing his busy event schedule. DT was very pleased, given the email he sent around to the choir afterwards, and I enjoyed finally getting a sense of the requiem’s story and drama when we sang it in full with the orchestra and soloists. My parents had come over to London for a week, in part to see the concert, and they loved it. A few current and former choir members in the audience were equally impressed. I’d say we pulled it off!

Next up: Sing Christmas! 2016 at St. Michael’s Highgate. Get your tickets now!


Race Recap: Regent’s Park 10k (winter series #1)

A couple months ago, F and a few of his work colleagues decided to run an autumn 10k together. F asked me if I wanted to join — of course! — and I helped him look for races in October. We settled on the Mornington Chasers Regent’s Park 10k — the first race of their “winter” series. Here’s my recap of the race.

Post-race. The woman taking our photo encouraged us to strike an appropriately celebratory pose!

Post-race. The woman taking our photo encouraged us to strike an appropriately celebratory pose!

I’ve run a couple of 10ks over the past month and am finally starting to do some faster workouts (hello, hill repeats and Heathside roller coaster!), so my goal for this race was to run under 50:00 and ideally around 48:00. Knowing that Regent’s Park is pretty flat — though there are some sneaky inclines along the course! — made me confident that I could probably be close to my goal time. F and I cycled down to the park and met his co-workers, then took off our layers and lined up to start, still a bit chilly in the brisk 50F/10C morning air.

As we started off on the first of three equal laps, F pulled away and I let him go, noticing that my pace was already pretty quick and not wanting to push too early. Sure enough, I went through the first kilometer in 4:31, feeling pretty good but with a small side cramp. I dialed back a bit, knowing that I “only” needed to average around 4:45/km to run 48 minutes. I caught up with F just after the 2km marker, and we ran together until 6km. Running together helped both of us, especially as we realized we’d gone out a bit too fast and had to slow down for the 5th kilometer (5:10).

At 6km, I felt more sprightly than F so started pulling ahead. I managed the next two kilometers just under 5:00 each — the typical mid-race slump — before hitting the third lap and finally feeling like the end was starting to be in sight. Passing Cookie Monster for the last time (yes, there was a marshal dressed in a Cookie Monster costume), I pressed on past the fountain and around towards the zoo (hello, dromedaries!). By the final straightaway, I didn’t have much left for a kick but managed to finish in 48:03 (chip time) — right around where I’d hoped to be. I was 118th/323 and the 26th woman of 122. F came in just over a minute behind me, also under 50:00. Overall, I’m pleased with how the race went and am glad to see my fitness improving.

I like these Regent’s Park 10k races in part because the 3-lap course passing through the finish line helps you divide the race into thirds. I attempted to evenly pace the race by laps. That didn’t go quite to plan, with 15:31, 16:49, and 15:39 laps (there’s that mid-race slump again), but it’s something to aim for. Although some people think the course is too slippery and narrow at points, I quite like running in Regent’s Park and taking in the sights of ducks, dogs, and greenery while running along. Always a fun morning out.


 

 

Race Recap: Jubilee Hall Trust 10k, Hampstead Heath

Ah, Hampstead Heath, you are one of my absolute favorite places in London. Being on the Heath is like being in a different world; you can forget that you live in a metropolis of 8 million+ people. Sheer bliss.

View from Parliament Hill in July 2016.

View from Parliament Hill in July 2016.

And in this case, a bit of healthy pain to go with that bliss. F and I tromped over to Parliament Hill on a gray and windy Saturday morning for the Jubilee Hall Trust “Run for your life” 10k trail race. J ran it last year and convinced me to sign up, then had to miss it due to another commitment, so F was able to run in her place. The group of 100-odd 10k runners had a low-key feel, with only a handful of us wearing club jerseys. It’s nice to run a race with a lot of “normal” runners from the community sometimes — a bit like the Crouch End 10k.

Pre-race

Pre-race

The course started at the bottom of Parliament Hill, near the athletics track. One of the race marshals led a remarkably effective 5-minute warmup just before the start; it did more to warm us up than the slow 4-minute jog F and I took. Then we were off for two 5km laps of Parliament Hill. (Side note: a few of us only had 9.3km on our Garmins after the race, so we’re not sure it was a full 10km long.) Distance discrepancies aside, it was a tough course: undulating, uneven terrain — mostly trails — up and around the Heath. Luckily the ground was dry, and the cool, breezy weather was actually welcome once we got going.

jubileehalltrust10k-pace

As you can see from my splits, the hills definitely affected the pace. F and I had agreed to run the first 7-8km together — it’s great to have a partner you can be active with! — and then if one of us was feeling good towards the end, (s)he could pick it up. That ended up being F, as I felt pretty knackered after about 7km; I managed to pick my pace up for the last kilometer or so, but it wasn’t quite enough to catch him!

Overall, I’m pleased with my run (50:18) and was happy to treat the race as: 1) a way to spend time with F after a busy week, 2) my “long” run for the week, 3) good general training, and 4) a preview to cross country season! Running on the Heath is one of the great joys of living in north London, and it was F’s first time doing so, which made it extra special to look around and take in the woodland beauty.


 

Race Recap: Middlesex 10k 2016

It’s September and the transition from summer training to autumn racing has begun (can’t you hear the call of the cross country cowbell?). It kicked off this weekend with one of my favorite London road races, the Middlesex 10k, in one of my favorite locations, Victoria Park. Conditions were almost ideal for a road race: around 68F/20C and cloudy with a breeze.

As usual, droves of Heathsiders and other club runners turned out for this flat, fast, competitive race. I am just starting to get back into speed/interval training and longer runs after a fallow period (can “fallow” be applied to running?), so I had modest goals for this race: finish in around 50:00 and run at a comfortably hard pace that I could maintain for the whole 10 kilometers without completely bonking at the end. I’ve got a couple more 10k races coming up in the next month, so this race was a good way to see where my fitness currently stands.

Victoria Park (not on race day).

Victoria Park (in May or June, not on race day)

At 10:28am, runners crowded into the start area, someone gave a few inaudible announcements over a megaphone, we clapped, the starting gun went off abruptly, and about 250 somewhat surprised runners broke into a run.

After letting plenty of runners stream past me, including J and C, I settled into a comfortable pace and greeted fellow Heathsider A as he ran up alongside me. We spent the first kilometer or so catching up on race goals and recent training, and I was pleasantly surprised to go through 1km in 4:42. I told A not to hang back for me and he pulled ahead, leaving me more or less on my own for the rest of the first lap. I told myself to keep running steadily and not get carried away chasing people in the first third of the race. My second kilometer was 5:07 but I was still on track to run around 50:00.

I caught up with A again around the 4km marker and we ran together for the second lap of the race, keeping each other going and marveling at the fast lads lapping us on their way to the finish. We hit 5km in about 25:30, a bit off our goal pace, but I had planned to run primarily by feel rather than time so wasn’t too bothered. A was chomping at the bit, so he pulled away at the beginning of the last lap. My pacing was a bit up and down — I blame it on the head/crosswind down the outside of the loop! — but I managed to pick it up for the last 1.5km or so and dip under 5:00 for the last kilometer.

Some (not all!) Heathsiders post-race. Photo credit: Jess W./Satu H.

Some (not all!) Heathsiders post race. Photo credit: Jess W./Satu H.

My official time was 50:49 (average 8:11/mile, 5:05/km) and I am pleased. Now I know that I can maintain almost 5:00 kilometers for 10k, despite not having done much speedwork in recent months. I feel ready to get back to the track as well as ramp up my long run distance; doing both of those should help get me back under 50:00 for a 10k and should whip me into shape for cross country season. Lots of Heathsiders ran good times — some PRs/PBs, too — and I shared around my banana bread as a well-deserved post-race treat.


Birthday Wisdom 2016

Another year older, another birthday reflection post! I turned 28 this week and F baked me the best cake anyone has ever made me:

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Last year I wrote about completing an MA and DELTA and starting a new full-time job. I offered a word of wisdom on prioritizing and finding balance. This past year has tested those words of wisdom on more than one occasion, but I like to think I tried my best to stick to them.

Looking back on this year, I’m coming up on two years as an ESOL and Functional Skills English teacher to migrant women in a deprived area of east London. I’ve taken on responsibility as a line manager and am completing a leadership and management course through work to help me develop in those areas. Teaching continues to bring its joys and challenges; switching to a new exam board for our ESOL courses has helped our students’ achievement rates, but there are still kinks to work out. I have an incredible set of colleagues, inspirational women all.

Ready to get married! 8 April 2016. Photo credit: Fotomanufaktur Wessel (www.fotomanufaktur-wessel.de)

Ready to get married! 8 April 2016. Photo credit: Fotomanufaktur Wessel (www.fotomanufaktur-wessel.de)

This year was big because F and I got married! It felt like the right time. He proposed last summer on Cape Cod, a memorable and meaningful spot for my family and for us, with fond memories of cycling, swimming, running, pastry eating, and relaxing. We got married in Germany this April, in a small civil ceremony with parents by our sides.

This past year has also seen a good deal of choral singing, with highlights being Rachmaninov’s Vespers at St. John’s College Chapel, Cambridge; Mozart’s Mass in C minor; Bach’s Mass in B minor; and even recording a Christmas CD. F and I saw Steven Isserlis in a solo recital and we attended a few other concerts, theatre and musical theatre productions. We must take advantage of London cultural life while we can!

Running and sport(s) have been up and down. I did run a 5k PR/PB last September  but slowed down after that, due to busyness and stress in other aspects of life. I’m currently focusing on rebuilding my running fitness base and starting to incorporate speedwork again. I also did my first multisport event this past year: a team duathlon! It was a blast and I could see myself doing more run-bike-run events in the future.

Recent political events in the UK/EU and the USA made me gravitate towards the following quote as my word of wisdom for this year:

We all have a responsibility to now seek to heal the divisions that have emerged throughout this campaign – and to focus on what unites us, rather than that which divides us.

-Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London, after the ‘Brexit’ vote

With that, I wish you all a tolerant year of unity.

Race Recap: 2016 YMCA North London / Crouch End 10k

My running has not been spectacular for the past 6-8 months. After a 5k PR/PB in September, life got busy and stressful. Rather than enjoying running as a stress reliever, as I always have, running became a struggle. Burnout? I don’t think so. Doing too much in all aspects of my life? Possibly. Anyway, I backed off the running for a while. Only in the past few months have I become consistent again, trying to get out for three runs a week without the pressure of track workouts or races. I wanted to start enjoying running again — and I am getting there! It helps to have supportive and understanding running friends. Here’s a recap of my first race since December.

Post race. Photo credit: Tom Hosking Photography (https://www.facebook.com/TomHoskingPhotography/)

Post race group of friendly Heathsiders. Photo credit: Tom Hosking Photography (https://www.facebook.com/TomHoskingPhotography/)

I last ran the YMCA North London / Crouch End 10k two years ago, on a miserably hot day, and marshaled last year on another hot day. Today’s weather was sunny but not too warm (~50F/10C) — much more pleasant for tackling the infamous hills around Ally Pally that make up part of the 2-lap course. Since I have not been doing any speedwork or long runs, my approach to today’s race was very much about using it as a training run and getting back into slightly longer distances. I set myself an achievable goal of finishing this year’s race under 1 hour. And it would’ve been silly not to take up the opportunity of running an organized race that starts less than a mile from home!

As always, the Crouch End 10k has a fantastic atmosphere. I loved arriving to see the crowd being led in the traditional aerobics warm up by an enthusiastic instructor. I found some fellow Heathsiders, congratulated them on recent marathon and half marathon times, and lined up for the start. In a way this is Heathside’s home race, so lots of club members were out running, marshaling, and supporting.

Aerobics warm up for the Crouch End 10k

Aerobics warm up for the Crouch End 10k

I’ll spare you the details of each kilometer, but it was fun to navigate the twists and turns of Crouch End neighborhoods with over 1,000 other runners. There is always so much support along the course, and this year was no different. I loved seeing lots of young people and families outside to cheer on the runners. It was great to be recognized by many of the marshals (most of them being fellow Heathside runners) and being egged on by shouts of, “Come on, Heathside!”, thanks to my club vest (“vest” is UK-speak for singlet or sleeveless top). The highlights for me were running across Ally Pally park — although there’s that sneaky gradual uphill section partway along — and running past the house blaring “YMCA” just before the 5k mark.

I went through 5k in a comfortable 27:33, so knew I could finish under an hour. My pace wasn’t fast but it was maintainable, so I kept chugging along and reminding myself that this was a training run and there was no pressure to race. It can be hard to hold back in a race situation, as the atmosphere and other runners can have you chomping at the bit, but I was happy to run along at my own pace and smile at the crowds, other runners, and beautiful weather. It was just great to be out celebrating fitness and life in the springtime!

I finished in 56:06, probably my slowest recorded 10k race, but I am okay with that. I am glad to have done it and gained the confidence that I can still run longer distances (I know, a 10k is no marathon, but distance is relative to the runner and his/her baseline). Now I can focus on getting some speed back and building up my long runs. Great job to all runners and especially Heathsiders! The race organisation was great and the marshaling was top notch.


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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Race Recap: XC Met League #2 – Stevenage

Saturday 7 November saw the arrival of the second Start Fitness Met League Cross Country fixture of the season, in Stevenage. The course used to have a lovely section through the woods — many were dismayed to learn that this year the woods had been taken out (something about permissions for using the area and the woods getting too torn up by XC runners…what, us?!).

So this year the course at Stevenage was run solely around the undulating grassy field — two laps for the women and three for the men — with some snaking back and forth to keep things interesting. Although the women’s course was advertised at 5.8km (3.6mi), it ended up being 6.6km (4.1mi) according to my and others’ Garmin watches. I believe the men’s course was also longer than usual.

Post-race. Photo credit: Ken T.

Post-race. Photo credit: Ken T.

The most interesting part of the race had to have been the weather: windy, wet, but oddly warm for November. Proper cross country weather, some called it. There was plenty of mud to slog through and water to slosh into spikes, not to mention a brutal headwind over half the course. The Heathside ladies’ contingent stood shivering together after taking off our layers and waiting for the start, but once we started running it was quite warm.

The first bit of the course’s large lap had some ups and downs with muddy corners — spikes were a necessity — before it flattened out along the backside of the loop. When my Garmin ticked off 3km just as we finished the first lap, I knew the course would be longer than advertised. No matter, I thought, just keep running. I didn’t feel particularly energetic after a busy week with no running and not much to eat the evening before, so I didn’t push very hard but tried to run steadily and notched pretty consistent splits per kilometer: 4:42, 4:41, 4:32, 4:53, 4:43, and 4:20 pace for the last .6km to the finish. I came well back in the results, at 133rd of 218 women and the 27th of 37 Heathside ladies finishing, but am pleased and in retrospect enjoyed it.

We certainly looked a bit bedraggled and wet-rat-like after the race (see photo above), but we also felt tough and virtuous after braving the less-than-ideal conditions. Well done, Team Heathside!

Next up: Perivale 5 road race in early December

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