Category Archives: exercise

Race Recap: XC “Dirty Double”

Background: I was supposed to run the Perivale 5 road race this Sunday – it has been an annual sojourn for my group of running friends for the past five years. However, this year not many Heathsiders signed up, and I didn’t fancy spending three hours on public transport to get to and from the race. So I decided on option 2: the arguably more challenging “dirty double” of Met League cross country on Saturday afternoon, and Sunday League cross country on Sunday morning. After a long week with minimal exercise due to evening work commitments, I was keen to try my hand at the double, and decided to combine my race reports for a bumper post! Read on to see if I regretted my decision…

Heathside ladies after Met League XC. Some missing. Photo from Emma W.

Race 1 – Saturday: Met League Cross Country in Uxbridge

Why pay £50 for a Tough Mudder when you can do this for free?

Goal: It was my first Met League XC race since February 2017, and I’d never run the Uxbridge course before, so I settled on my usual “under 30 minutes” goal for the 6km race. Also, after seeing the juniors tanking it in the river crossing (check this out if you don’t believe me!), I decided to focus on not falling over in the river, and generally not turning an ankle or getting spiked.

Race strategy: Run by feel and use the downhills. Be smart but not overly cautious in the river crossing. Breathe!

Weather & outfit: It had rained all night and morning and was grey and misting at the start of the race. At least it wasn’t too cold – probably about 12C/54F. I wore shorts, Heathside vest, and cross country spikes (9mm, but 12s might have been better).

The race: We set off on a flat, muddy grass field. This isn’t too bad, I thought. It’s not as wet as the Ridgeway Run was! Pretty soon we started up a long, gradual slope. There were two of those in this race, and we ran two laps so faced the long hills four times. At least they were followed by long descents. I particularly enjoyed making up time on the descent after the short, steep “ski slope” hill.

Yes, this course had a ski slope and a river crossing that we had to contend with. Twice.

First time through the river crossing…

But back to the running. It passed in a bit of a blur. I felt anxious about the river crossing the first time, but managed not to fall over and got out of it well. As we neared the river again on the second lap, I estimated the course would be longer than 6km, especially as coach J called out around 5k that I had six more minutes to run. I’d been keeping half an eye on my splits but didn’t pay them too much attention since the course undulated so much. I did want to keep my average pace under 5:00/km, so that kept me going on tired legs.

I got through the river the second time and was soaked to the waist but I didn’t face-plant! After a few more twists and turns, the finish line was finally in sight and I gave the best kick I could. Unfortunately for me, a long-legged Ealing runner responded to my challenge and just nipped me at the line.

The result: I finished the longer-than-6km (my Garmin showed 6.67km/4.14mi) in 32:09 (7:46/mi, 4:49/km). I was 102nd of 215 female finishers – pleased to be in the top half of the field – and the 21st of 27 Heathside women.

Most Heathsiders before Sunday League in Trent Park

Race 2 – Sunday: Sunday League Cross Country in Trent Park

Back in action less than 24 hours later…

Goal: 1) Finish this race and complete the “dirty double”! 2) Run faster than I did last year on this course, which would mean mean averaging under 5:00/km and beating 39:09 total. After the Met League, I wasn’t so sure, but thought I could probably manage it.

Race strategy: Go out hard and try to keep going. Use the downhills to make up time. Try to pick people off one by one.

Weather & outfit: Even warmer than Saturday, at about 57F/14C. A hint of sun peeking through the clouds, but also some lightly misting rain during the race. I wore shorts, Heathside vest (yes I washed it in between races!), compression socks (placebo or real effect to support tired calves?), and my XC spikes. A lot of people wore trail shoes but I remembered slippery, sticky mud from last year so opted for the spikes.

Sunday League, Trent Park. Photo credit: Andrew W.

The race: I set off well and was glad to have spikes on for the first two kilometers, as we looped up and down a grassy, muddy field. 4:26 and 4:45 for the first 2k – not bad. Entering the woods, I was less satisfied with my footwear choice: my spikes grated on the gravelly paths. I tried to stay near the edges on softer, leafier ground.

The third, uphill kilometer was my slowest at 5:14, but I tried to make the most of the downhills in the next 2k to pick it up. I set a goal to keep clubmate Sif in range, and caught up to her around the 5k mark. I didn’t have enough in the tank to pass her or stay with her, though, as we started climbing again on the second lap and my legs complained about yesterday’s Met League race.

With less than 2km to go, I managed to pick my legs up and surge down the descent, although the final steep, muddy (spikes were useless at this point) hill nearly defeated me. My glutes screamed and it was all I could do to hold my position. I did somehow find a mini kick to pass one man just before the finish.

Last hill. Shattered legs. Photo credit: Andrew W.

The result: My Garmin had me at 36:47 for the 4.75mi/7.65km course (7:44/mi, 4:48/km). Somehow slightly faster than the previous day’s Met League race, even though the Sunday League course was longer! Either I didn’t run hard enough yesterday, or the river crossing really slowed me down. In any case, I was pleased to run this Trent Park course much faster than last year, and with a small negative split despite my tired legs. I was 169th out of 445 finishers, 23rd woman out of 171, 23rd/37 Heathsiders, and 7th of 14 Heathside women who finished.

Post-race: Cakes all around! A Sunday League tradition. I enjoyed one of Emilia’s delicious peanut butter swirl brownies. A latte and some yoga upon arriving home helped jumpstart my recovery.

Next up: I must get in a long run next weekend, then I’ll probably run the next Sunday League in two weeks’ time.


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Race Recap: 2018 London Cross Country Championships, Parliament Hill

Photo credit: Andrew W

Background: When planning my autumn racing calendar, I knew I’d miss the first Met League and Sunday League cross country races (let’s call it XC to save words) in October and November due to travel. So I impulsively signed up to run the London Cross Country Championships on Parliament Hill as part of Heathside’s women’s team. It’s hard to say “no” to such a local race, but it would also be my first XC race in a year, and in a fast field – I was one of the slowest Heathside women on the roster. Upon perusing my blog archives, I also realized that I hadn’t run this particular race since 2013! It was high time to rectify that.

Goal: Not having run cross country in a year, I set modest expectations for myself: not to be the last Heathsider to finish, and to run under 30 minutes (I did this race in 28:08 five years ago).

Race strategy: Run by feel and use the downhills. Don’t trip or fall and don’t worry too much about time. Try to enjoy it!

Weather & outfit: It was a sunny autumn day and relatively warm for the season. The temperature was about 12C/54F – maybe warmer in the sun. I wore shorts, Heathside vest, and dusted off my cross country spikes for the occasion.

The start. Photo by Andrew W.

The race: It had been pretty dry in London so the course consisted of “very firm ground with lots of holes,” as fellow Heathsider D put it on his Strava description of the race. That’s not to say the lack of mud made it easier. If anything, the hard ground was less forgiving on my thinly shod feet – I could feel every hump and bump in the terrain and had to work hard to balance myself and not turn an ankle. I definitely wobbled a number of times. But that’s the challenge of cross country for you! Time to do some more core work…

The Parliament Hill XC course famously starts by running straight up the long, south-facing slope of – you guessed it – Parliament Hill. The first kilometer felt endless, although I was pleased to go through it in 5:01. It doesn’t get any easier after the long hill: the course undulates up and down grassy fields, through pockets of woods and across some paved paths. There is never a step on perfectly flat ground. It is relentless.

Nevertheless, I had committed to it, so I kept running. My second and third kilometers were faster than the first. Clubmate A passed me at 3.5km as I was struggling up a steep hill for the second time. We’re over halfway, I breathed to her. That fourth kilometer was the hardest. I felt a bit sick – it’s hard to fuel properly for midday/afternoon races – and my legs had lost the spring they had in the first lap. Just relax, keep breathing, be patient, I told myself.

Knowing the last kilometer was mostly downhill, I resolved to save my energy until then for the final push to the finish. I picked it up for a swift final kilometer – 3:55 – but didn’t quite have the kick to catch anyone at the end.

Heathside women post-race. Photo from Emily R.

The result: I finished the race in 28:04 (7:31/mi = 4:41/kmand came 123rd of 311 women finishers. I was the 15th of 20 Heathside women running, and ran this course 4 seconds faster than I did five years ago. Not much, but I’ll take it. The best news is that our leading quartet of women combined to win and become the London XC champs 2018! Brilliant running, Heathsiders.

This was a hard race. I struggled to get in a racing mindset and didn’t respond well to challenges from other runners. I forgot how hard cross country running is on your feet, ankles, and calves. Time for some stretching and rolling! But I’m glad I did it and now know I need to do some more hilly trail training.

Post-race: Women’s team photo the home to a hot shower and F’s freshly-baked sausage rolls. Yum!

Next up: Probably Perivale 5 in a couple of weeks, although I may trade it in for a Sunday League XC race. I’ll see how I feel.


Race Recap: Ridgeway Run 2018

…in which I traverse the trails of Tring for 15 kilometers in the pouring rain.

Some Heathsiders, pre-race. Still dry at this point. Photo credit: Louise C.

Background: The Ridgeway Run 15km trail race has been my goal race for a few months. I ran it last year as a training run and decided that this year, I wanted to be fit enough to race it. So I dutifully built up up my long run distance with Sunday club runs in August and September, and I’ve raced regularly over the past month and a half (maybe too regularly?). I’ve tried to incorporate hill/interval/speed workouts into my training and get in the gym for strength sessions. Two weeks ago, I ran my second-fastest 10k ever in Victoria Park. That gave me some confidence going into this race.

Goal: After the Middlesex 10k, I thought I could push for 1:15:00. As the elation of a fast (road) 10k wore off, I revised my goal to a time range: 1h15m to 1h20m should be realistic. On the day before the race, I was feeling tired and sluggish, not really in the mood for a long race in the forecast rain. So I revised my goal again, to: “faster than last year” (1:25:07).

Race strategy: It’s almost impossible to evenly pace a hilly trail race, so I decided to run by feel and use the flat stretches and downhills to make up time lost on the climbs.

Weather & outfit: The forecast was for 13C/55F and rain. Not just a chance of rain, but 99%-guaranteed autumnal British rain. I wasn’t sure how to dress but remembered it being cool up on the ridge last year and really didn’t want to get chilled due to the rain. I wore shorts, a t-shirt under my Heathside vest, thin arm warmers, and my trail shoes (Salomon Speedcross 4, in case anyone’s wondering. I love how cushiony they are, although they’re a tad narrow in the forefoot for me). The arm warmers were a last-minute addition and definitely the right choice. I’m also really glad I wore my trail shoes, as some people raced in regular running shoes and struggled on the slippery ups and downs.

The race: The rain seemed to be letting up as we walk-jogged to the start. Just kidding, the weather gods seemed to say, as it started raining harder as we were briefed and sent off up the lane promptly at 10:00. The first 1.5km are on paved lanes and I was pleased to tick off a 4:54 first kilometer. I tried to leap around the big, deep puddles for a few minutes, but eventually they were hard to avoid and I was pretty much soaked through already, so what difference would wet feet really make?

We entered the woods after crossing a road and that’s where the trails started. An ascent in the third kilometer meant I slowed right down to 5:42 pace (see elevation profile below). We emerged onto the edge of a golf course and it started raining harder: all I could do was laugh joyously and think of the scene in the rain from Pride and Prejudice. I’m not sure how that popped into my mind, but maybe being out in the countryside put me in a Jane Austen frame of mind.

But back to the race: I had a swift fourth kilometer, net downhill in the pouring rain. A man passed me at some point and warned of a steep hill coming up. I had forgotten how long and painful that fourth-kilometer hill was last year, but ouch. 6:36. I was pleased to run the first 5km in 27:15, though, about two minutes faster than last year.

Kilometers 5-9 are my favorite part of the Ridgeway Run. They go through the woods on wide trails, and it’s relatively flat all along. I had a Serpentine runner and two Leighton Fun Runners pushing me along on this section. The motivation helped, especially as we passed the halfway point: kilometers 8 and 9 in 4:52 and 4:59.

Emerging onto the exposed ridge (think sideways driving rain), the 10th kilometer felt so hard. I took a gel around this time but my legs felt leaden slogging up the steep, grassy hill and into the mist on top. My energy flagged until we entered the woods, when I had to refocus in order to avoid tripping over roots and slipping on leaves. My 13th kilometer was the fastest of the race – 4:33 – in part because a heavily-treading man was right on my heels for the entire narrow descent. It was somewhat annoying, but it did push me to keep going!

The last section of the race is a seemingly endless two kilometers back to the clubhouse on paved roads. My glutes and lower back were not happy, and it was all I could do to stay under 5:00/km pace. Come on, you can make it under 1:20:00. Use your arms. Breathe. You’re almost there. I had to pause briefly before crossing the road, then picked it up for the final grassy stretch of 100m or so to the finish.

Not an easy elevation profile!

The result: I finished the 15k trail race in a chip time of 1:19:04 (8:28/mi, 5:19/km), coming 23rd woman of 209 and 128th overall of 473 finishers. I’m really pleased with my time: it was faster than last year and within my goal time range despite the conditions. As a bonus, I was part of the first three Heathside women (after Emily and Louisa) that won first women’s team prize! Two other women also bagged age group prizes. Overall, not a bad performance for the Heathside contingent.

The Ridgeway Run reminded me that there is something magical about trail running. It was absolutely glorious to be out in the middle of nature, not a house in sight, with intrepid, like-minded people running the race or out walking their dogs in spite of the weather. During the race, I reflected on how remarkable it is that we can travel so far on our two feet. We are fortunate, indeed.

Post-race: I collected my race shirt then headed to the changing rooms to peel off my soaked running clothes, wash the mud off my legs, and attempt to dry off enough to put clean clothes on. Caroline and I got tea and I shared these flapjacks (without chocolate this time) around before we headed home.

Next up: I’m not actually sure! This was my goal race for this training cycle. I think I’ll take it easy for a few weeks then think about what’s next…maybe some cross-country?


Race Recap: Middlesex 10k, 2018 edition

…in which I run my second-swiftest 10k ever!

Photo credit: Bea V.

Background: I ran a good 10k in the Olympic Park last month. Training has been going well since then, with a handful of solid long runs (13-16km) and a smattering of tempo/hill/speed sessions. I thought I was in good enough shape to run faster than I did in the Olympic Park. Unfortunately, I came down with a head cold on the Wednesday/Thursday before the race… I promptly took two days off of exercise in the hopes that my cold would clear, and luckily by Saturday I was feeling better. Sunday morning, I woke up slightly congested and with a small cough, but physically felt okay.

Goal: Given my cold and a stressful week at work, I wasn’t sure how I’d perform. I thus set myself a series of goals for this race (is that a cheeky way of making sure not to disappoint myself?): 1) Under 46:00, 2) Under 46:18 (my fastest time this year), 3) Under 47:30.

Race strategy: Run by feel, not look at my watch too often, and not put too much pressure on myself. I wanted to average under 4:45/km but decided to keep my watch on the timer-only screen to allow myself to focus on how my body felt rather than be a slave to my splits.

Weather & outfit: Sunny and cool – around 10C/50F, maybe a tad warmer in the sun – with a slight breeze. Near-perfect racing conditions. I wore shorts, Heathside vest, and sunglasses.

Heathsiders pre-race. Photo credit: Jim C’s phone

The race: After an 11-minute warmup job, some leg swings, and a Heathside photo, we bunched up at the start and were sent off promptly at 10:30am. As usual, I let the flow of runners carry me along for the first kilometer: 4:22, swift. Andrew and I exchanged greetings and race goals – we both planned to run by feel rather than goal time.

Alun came up alongside me soon after and then pulled ahead. My second and third kilometers were 4:43 and 4:44. Not bad, but can you run faster?, I challenged myself. I think Andrew passed me somewhere in here and ran alongside Alun up ahead. That motivated me to surge to keep in touch with them. I caught Nilesh around 4km and he pulled me through to the 5km mark: 23:16. It might be a stretch to run 46:00 now, but let’s see what you can do. You know how to run a negative split.

Kilometers 6 and 7 are often my slowest in a 10k: my mind wanders as I get tired and my pace often dips as a consequence.

Not so today! With Andrew and Alun up ahead, I knew I had to try and catch them soon, otherwise they would be out of my sights by 8km. So I picked my knees up and reminded myself to use my arms. I can’t remember when I caught up with A&A but they certainly helped me pick up the pace: 4:36 and 4:34 for kilometers 6 and 7.

One lap to go, I breathed to myself, you can do this. With 2km to go, I gave a push over the very slight downhill section and around the tight corner for the last long straightaway. A 4:28 ninth kilometer at 41:35 on my watch: It’s going to be tight, but maybe you can just squeak under 46:00. Come on! I gave it my all in the final 400 meters, nipping along at 4:10/km pace, and almost caught clubmate Emilia on the line.

The result: I finished the 10k in 45:06 (7:16/mi or 4:31/km) and came 35th woman of 90 in this competitive club race. This was my second fastest 10k ever, and 21 seconds off my PR/PB from back in 2015. I am really pleased and wasn’t quite sure I had it in me, especially having a bit of a cold. But the morning was beautiful and I was fortunate to have clubmates of similar speed to pull/push me along during the race (thanks, Nilesh, Alun, and Andrew!). It all came together.

Post-race: Staggering around for a few minutes to catch my breath, acquiring a delicious apple-cinnamon energy ball from Tom, sharing my flapjacks, and trading race stories.

Next up: My goal race for this training cycle: the Ridgeway Run 15k. I ran it last year as an easy training run but hope to be in good enough form to give it a proper go this year.


USA Trip 2018: Nevada City & Sacramento Valley

Greetings! This is the fourth and final 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 NYCa few days in San Francisco, and time exploring the Point Reyes National Seashore, we journeyed to the foothills of the Sierras then into the Sacramento Valley for the remainder of our trip. 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!)

Day 1: Sunday

Out of the fog and into the heat: that sums up the drive from Point Reyes across the Sacramento Valley and into the Sierra foothills. Not complete without a stop at California institution In-N-Out Burger, of course!

Upon arrival in Nevada City, we strolled through the cute, hippie, old west town center before splashing in the Outside Inn pool and relaxing in the heat with the New York Times. We had a delicious dinner at the New Moon Cafe (recommended by J&E) then called it an early night.

Day 2: Monday

I knew nothing about Nevada City before this trip. Why did we choose it? Well, we had originally considered Lake Tahoe but then realized it would be jammed with tourists and vacationers in August. As an alternative, a number of friends had recommended a stop in Nevada City, one of the first Gold Rush towns in the Sierra foothills.

Monday was a kind of rest day for us. We slept in then had a delicious brunch at Ike’s Quarter Cafe (thanks for the recommendation, Liv!) and lounged around in the 90F+ heat. Later, we roused ourselves enough to drive to Edward’s Crossing and take a dip in the Yuba River (another spot-on recommendation from Liv). The sun was hot, the water was cool, all was well. And luckily we didn’t come across any rattlesnakes. Smoothies and wraps from Fudenjüce (good tip from B) rounded off the day.

Day 3: Tuesday

We spent a leisurely morning writing postcards, then made our way out of the foothills and into the Sacramento Valley. First stop: Folsom, home of the eponymous Folsom Prison made famous by a Johnny Cash song, but also home to family friends (and avid athletes) J&E, who generously hosted us for two nights. After we arrived and admired their fleet of bikes and rowing shells, E took F and me on an easy 8-mile cycle on the paved “Johnny Cash Trail” to stretch our legs before dinner. It was also a test-ride on their “guest fleet” bikes for the next day’s adventure…

Day 4: Wednesday

…a 30-mile cycle from Folsom to Old Sacramento, almost all on paved paths along the American River and including a mini pace line to help the miles pass. It was fantastic to ride so far and not encounter any cars. We enjoyed lunch on the classic Delta King riverboat and then strolled through Old Sac before taking the light rail back to Folsom.

Cycling to Old Sac. Photo by E.

Day 5: Thursday

E took F out for a final cycle – faster this time, since I wasn’t there to hold them back – while I went for a run. We all met at Karen’s Bakery for a post-workout coffee. It was a nice end our stay with J&E – they treated us well and E was an excellent cycle tour guide! In the early afternoon we drove to my grandmother’s house in Roseville, where we caught up on the family news, showed off our holiday photos, and met Uncle K for dinner.

Day 6: Friday

F and I got up early with Grandma; she did her regular 2-mile walk and we went for a short run. After breakfast, we drove back to San Francisco, returned the rental car, and flew back to London and reality. We had an amazing trip. I enjoyed introducing F to the west coast while revisiting some of my favorite places and sharing many new experiences with him. We’ll be back, California!


Race Recap: Jubilee Hall Trust 5k Trail Race

Ready to run

Background: In retrospect, I’m not really sure why I entered this 5k trail race in the Parliament Hill area of Hampstead Heath. I could have just run Hampstead Heath parkrun…for free. But I had pleasant memories of running the Jubilee Hall Trust 10k a couple of years ago, and the entry fee went towards the British Heart Foundation and the Jubilee Hall Trust‘s work to help people improve their heart health, so why not? I also thought this race would be good hill training and preparation for cross country season (although again, I could’ve just done HH parkrun).

Goal: I had a full-on workweek leading up to the Saturday morning race, so didn’t have high expectations for my run. However, based on my 10k a couple of weeks ago, I thought I could aim for 23:00 or under. My stretch goal was to aim for close to 22:00, but knowing how hilly the course was, I knew it would be difficult.

Race strategy: Run by feel and use the downhills. See what happens.

Weather & outfit: A beautiful late summer/early autumn morning: warm in the sun and cool in the shade. Around 20C/68F. I wore shorts, Heathside vest, and sunglasses. Although this was a trail race, the weather has been dry and part of the race was on paved paths, so I didn’t wear my trail shoes but instead went for my new Brooks Ghost 11 trainers (I’m a fan!).

Photo by Phil Rumbelow

Photo credit: Phil Rumbelow

The race: F and I jogged the 2 miles down to Parliament Hill together but of course were mega-early so I collected my number and hung around for longer than ideal. I was not warm anymore by the time the race started. I was one of the only people in a club vest; this was very much a local charity race, which gave it a low-key feel. The small field of 31 5k runners lined up first, and off we went up and over the grassy knoll and down to the paved paths by the ponds.

Only one other woman was in front of me but she was way ahead so I tried to settle into my own rhythm. My legs felt heavy and I was disappointed when the first kilometer went by in 4:34. There goes my 22:00 goal, I thought. Oh well, just do your best. These hills are killer. Around past the Ladies’ Pond and into the wooded part of the course. Mostly uphill. Second kilometer: 5:12. Ugh. Just keep running. Use the downhills in the second half of the course. With two kilometers to go, we finally had some reprieve from climbing. I pumped my arms and tried to work my legs as fast as they could go. My fourth kilometer was 4:11 and I brought it home in 4:06 pace, glad to finish and not have to run another lap like the 10k runners. I ended up running the entire race pretty much on my own, which didn’t make it any easier.

Photo by Phil Rumbelow

Finishing. Photo credit: Phil Rumbelow.

The result: I finished the race in a 21:46 chip time (7:29/mi = 4:39/kmand came 6th of 31 5k finishers and 2nd woman of 18. Although my time looks fast, the course was actually 4.68km rather than 5k, so I was actually on track for about a 23:15 finish time.

This was not a particularly fun race. I was happy that the course was short. My legs felt sluggish and the hills were hard. I’m glad I did it, though, and it definitely counts as a good hill/XC training run if nothing else!

Post-race: Slow jog home with goody bag, including a decent technical t-shirt in navy – a color I didn’t have yet!

Next up: The annual Middlesex 10k in two weeks. It’s flat, so hopefully I can run a good time. I think I need to incorporate more speedwork, though, as I’ve struggled to average under 4:38/km in recent races and workouts. I need a bit of a boost to get under that threshold.


USA Trip 2018: Point Reyes National Seashore

Greetings! This is the third 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 and a few days in San Francisco, we drove across the foggy Golden Gate Bridge to the Point Reyes National Seashore. 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!)

Do you associate smells with places? I have two strong smell-place associations: the damp sea air of Cape Cod, and the dry, earthy, eucalyptus-tinged smell of golden northern California. The latter is what Point Reyes smelled like and it was glorious.

Smells aside, you’ve probably gathered that the next stage of our USA trip was on the Point Reyes National Seashore. We had found a cute-looking AirBnB in Point Reyes Station to set up our base for the next few days and planned to see some big trees, walk/hike, and relax. (The “tiny house” AirBnB was perfect: comfortable bed, great outdoor shower, porch, fridge, and coffee maker. I’d stay there again.)

Day 1: Thursday

After renting a car from SFO, we drove back up through the city and across the Golden Gate Bridge, stopping at the vista point for some great views of the fog rolling over the San Francisco Bay. Another hour or so in the car brought us to the cute little town of Point Reyes Station. We spent part of the afternoon exploring the town and bought two delicious cheeses from the Cowgirl Creamery, which at least four people had recommended to us! I wanted to go for a run, so F suggested we drive 10 minutes to the Bear Valley Trail parking area and get in a short jog before dinner. We ran a 5km out-and-back on a sneakily uphill trail to the Divide Valley. It was beautiful and peaceful.

Day 2: Friday

Muir Woods was a non-negotiable activity on this trip; it’s one of my favorite places from childhood and F loves trees, so I knew he’d enjoy it. Luckily, a few people had tipped us off to the fact that you now have to book tickets and parking in advance, so we reserved the earliest possible parking spot for Friday morning. We rolled out of bed at 6:20am, made coffee and PB&Js in our tiny house, and drove down to Muir Woods via foggy Highway 1. We got there at 8:20am and it was really peaceful in the woods until about 9:45, at which point we were on the way out anyway. It was totally worth going early to beat the crowds and enjoy the redwoods in their natural, peaceful magnificence.

On the way back to Point Reyes Station, we stopped at Stinson Beach; it was still a grayish day but there were plenty of people out. We cooled – more like chilled! – our toes in the Pacific waters and enjoyed a beach walk before grabbing hot dogs for lunch. Back in town, we browsed in Point Reyes Books and then drove up the road to Inverness for a delicious dinner of fish tacos and sweet potato fries at The Tap Room. Fast and fresh!

Day 3: Saturday

Our main activity for this day was to hike the Tomales Point Trail, a 10-mile out-and-back hike to the end of Tomales Point, promising to feature Tule Elk and other wildlife. We made a leisurely start and got to the trailhead around 10am. It was cool and breezy when we set off, but we warmed up fast in the bright sunshine. The hike was 2/3 easy walking on well-trodden dirt trails, and 1/3 on loose sand. It was a beautiful hike, with the Pacific Ocean on one side and Tomales Bay on the other. The Tule Elk were out in force and many California Condors were circling overhead. Stunning.

Day 4: Sunday

Before checking out of our AirBnB, we drove to the Bear Valley Trail area again and did the same out-and-back run that we did the first night. It was good to shake out the legs before we got in the car to drive to our next stop: Nevada City.


Race Recap: Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park 10k

…in which I run my second-swiftest 10k of this year.

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Heathsiders post-race. Photo credit: Nilesh G.

Background: I must have been feeling ambitious earlier this summer, because I entered four races falling every other weekend from September to mid-October. The Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park (QEOP) 10k was the first of those, and one of two counting towards my club’s “club champs” road race series. I hadn’t raced since June (except for the club handicap 5k) so wanted to use this 10k as a test of my current fitness. In August, I was away on vacation (holiday, for you UK readers) for two weeks. Although F and I were pretty active on our trip, I didn’t rack up much training volume in August. As I said to Gavin before the start of the race, “That either means I’ve lost fitness or am very well-rested!”

Goal: The usual “under 48:00” that I use as a benchmark for my fitness. In my mind, I actually had ambitions to run close to 47:00.

Race strategy: Run by feel, not look at my watch too often, and not put too much pressure on myself. I had rough time goals in my mind – 16:00 or under for each of the three laps – but decided to relax and enjoy racing in a new place. (I had never run in the Olympic Park before, except for a duathlon in the VeloPark a few years ago.) The course looked to be three skinny figure-eight laps, mainly on the narrow-ish river paths, so I had to get myself in a good starting position so as not to get stuck in a funnel.

Weather & outfit: Brightly sunny but not too warm – around 18C/64F. Pretty good racing weather, although the sun was strong. I wore my new navy shorts, the usual Heathside vest, and sunglasses.

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Photo credit: Basil Thornton Photography

The race: After a warmup with some fellow Heathsiders, we lined up and were sent off promptly at 9:30am. I set off with the pack and let the flow of the start take me through the first kilometer, a swift 4:28. Settling down, my next three kilometers were between 4:30 and 4:40. Not bad, I thought. Let’s see where I am at 5k.

22:55 at the halfway mark. Wow, I didn’t expect to be under 23:00. Keep up this pace and you can run under 47:00. Just get through this lap and then you can think about picking up the pace.

As usual, my middle kilometers were the slowest, but I tried to maintain a steady rhythm and didn’t allow myself to take panicked looks at my watch every two minutes. Through the second lap, most of the water cup I grabbed went down my front (I’ve never gotten the hang of drinking from a cup while running…but I also didn’t mind the cooling splash on my chest and legs).

With two kilometers to go, I could see that I was slowly closing my gap with Nilesh up ahead. Stay steady, you can probably catch him. Be patient. At 9km, I said “hi” to Nilesh and kept on pushing. Pick your knees up on the gradual inclines, come on. The finish line in sight, I gave a final kick to pass two other club-mates and cross the line.

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Homestretch! Photo credit: Basil Thornton Photography

The result: I finished the 10k in a 46:32 chip time (7:30/mi or 4:39/km) and came 7th woman of 158. I was the 75th of 374 overall finishers. This was my second fastest 10k this year, just 14 seconds off my Crouch End 10k time in May.

I enjoyed this race! I got into a good rhythm. The slight undulations, occasional bollard, cute bridge, and twists and turns kept the course interesting and kept me focused. What also helped me in this race was not panicking at my pace and not looking too often at my watch. Instead, I tried to pay close attention to my body and focused on keeping my breathing even and my legs moving in a good rhythm.

Some days, everything comes together more easily, and this was one of those races: I felt calm and relaxed while still running hard. I’m really pleased with the time and with my pacing, which wasn’t not perfectly even but was pretty good for me (my lap times were 15:19, 15:47, 15:30).

Post-race: Water, meeting some newer Heathsiders, and group photos. Then home to a cool shower!

Next up: A 5km trail race in the Parliament Hill area of Hampstead Heath. I didn’t enter the 10k because I’d like to run to/from the race so will rack up a few extra miles on top of the race itself.


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!


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.