Category Archives: health

Recipe: Best Bircher Muesli

Have I really not posted a standalone recipe in over two years? It’s not like I stopped cooking; we have just developed a good rotation of favorites and I haven’t done as much improvisational/original cooking or baking. I’ve also spent some time updating older recipes as I refine them and take better pictures of the end results.

That said, when I make a recipe regularly enough that I’ve almost memorized it, I think that’s a sign it should go up here on the blog. That’s what has happened with this bircher muesli (aka “overnight oats” to the youngsters), which I’ve been making on and off for a couple of years now. It’s a nice change from the usual dry muesli, granola, or oatmeal/porridge that are my usual breakfast staples.

F also likes this bircher muesli, even though he isn’t normally a porridge/muesli/cereal person. It’s neither too sweet nor too gloopy, which I find can sometimes be the case with bircher mueslis. Texture comes from the oats and grated apple, and I usually add almonds or walnuts on top right before serving.

It may not be the prettiest dish, but it’s what I like in a recipe: delicious, nutritious, and flexible/forgiving if you don’t feel like measuring exactly or don’t quite have the same ingredients on hand. The recipe below makes enough for two people for two to three days; if you don’t want that much, just halve or quarter the amounts below,

Best Bircher Muesli (adapted from here; makes 4 generous or 6 smaller portions – enough for 2-3 mornings of breakfast)

Ingredients

  • 3.5-4 cups plain yogurt (I use either full-fat or low-fat, or a combination)
  • 2 cups oats (I’ve used both porridge/quick-cooking and whole rolled oats – both work well and it’s up to you)
  • juice of 4 oranges
  • 4 Granny Smith apples, grated (peeling optional – I like to leave the skin on for fiber and texture)
  • 2 tbsp honey
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • optional: 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg

Procedure

  • The night before you want to eat the muesli: Combine all ingredients together in a large bowl or Tupperware. Mix well to distribute everything evenly.
  • Cover tightly and store in the fridge (it keeps well for 2-3 days).
  • To serve, portion into bowl(s) and top with your choice of nuts and/or additional fruit.

Enjoy!


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What’s Been Cooking? “First month in Münster” edition

Hello there! Long time no blog, I know. My excuse is that F and I were moving countries. After a wonderful 6.5 years in London, we decided it was time for new adventures in a smaller place with a less hectic pace of life, so we moved to Münster, Germany at the end of May. It was hard to leave our friends and communities in London but we are glad to be in Münster, where we already have a good network thanks to F’s friends from his university days.

Part of moving into a new flat in Germany required buying and installing a kitchen. No, not just the appliances – an entire kitchen. Apparently it’s a thing in Germany. Kitchens are seen as “furniture,” and most flats come unfurnished, so…no kitchens! (Or at least they aren’t a guarantee.) Once a kitchen is installed in a flat or house, if those tenants move out they can either take the kitchen with them (yes, people do that) or they can sell it to the new people moving in.

Anyway, designing and buying a kitchen was a new experience for both of us. They are not cheap, but ideally we’ll be in this flat for the next 5-10 years so it’s a worthy investment and we both enjoy cooking and baking. We ended up at KüchenTreff Münster and had a great experience from designing through installation. I’d recommend them if you’re in the Münster area and in the market for a kitchen.

All that was a long-winded way of getting to the point of this post: what F and I have been cooking (and baking) in our new kitchen over the past month! Here goes, in no particular order:

I made our favorite Käsekuchen (German cheesecake) for F’s birthday in mid-June. He returned the favor for my birthday two weeks later by making our now go-to cherry pie from Stella Parks at Serious Eats.

June was Spargel-Saison in northwestern Germany. Spargel is white asparagus, which I never came across until visiting western Germany and Belgium in May/June. It’s a thing, and for many – like F – it’s something to be enjoyed in multitudes for a short time every year. It tastes completely different from green asparagus – milder and sweeter, to me. Peel it, then wrap it in a foil packet with butter and salt and roast it in a 200C/400F oven for 45-60 minutes. Yum.

Back to baking, the first thing I made in our new oven was a batch of my go-to granola. Needless to say, more batches have followed.

Anita Bean’s lentil-stuffed peppers from her Vegetarian Athlete’s Cookbook made for a tasty and light dinner on a warm summery evening.

We don’t usually celebrate the Fourth of July (American Independence Day), but F wanted to have friends over for a barbecue and he asked if flag cakes are actually a thing. I wasn’t sure, but I checked smitten kitchen and – lo and behold – she had a recipe for one. A classic yellow cake base (it stayed quite moist, maybe thanks to buttermilk) is slathered with cream cheese frosting and topped with berries in the shape of the American flag. I think it’s one of the most patriotic things I’ve ever done or made… It was a hit with our German friends and I’d definitely make the cake again, with or without the flag design.

What have you been cooking recently?

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Race Recap: Crouch End 10k (2019)

Two of the best London running friends I could ask for

Background: It’s May again, which means time for the annual YMCA North London Fun Run & Festival featuring the Crouch End 10k (with a detour this year, bringing the course to a slightly longer 10.268km). It’s the closest thing Heathside gets to a home race, and I love the combination of local and club support around the course. My running volume hasn’t been very high over the past few months – I haven’t run over 10k since mid-March and speedwork has been limited – so I wasn’t looking for any spectacular times. This would also be a somewhat special race for me, though: my last London race before moving to Germany at the end of the month (surprise!).

Goal: No major time goal, no pressure.

Race strategy: Run steadily with Jo and see how we feel. Enjoy it!

Weather & outfit: A coolish but muggy 12C/55F at the start and mainly overcast with hints of sun peeking through. Good running weather, although a bit humid. I wore shorts, my club vest, and my Saucony Kinvara 8s, my standard racing shoes. I decided to carry a running water bottle, which I’m glad I had.

Runners warming up for the race

The race: Jo and I started in the middle of the first wave and set off at a steady pace. We weren’t too bothered about streaking off at the start, so we settled into a rhythm and waved at Heathside marshals as we ran by.

The detour that lengthened the course this year actually missed out the steepest part of the hill on Station Road. Fine with me! We were warm by the time we descended into Ally Pally for the first time and opted to pour cups of water over our heads – that was a good choice and something we repeated at the next two water stations.

I wasn’t paying too much attention to my splits and was instead enjoying the atmosphere and chatting with Jo as we ran along. I did notice that we came through 5k in just about 27:00 – not super fast but a good, steady pace. Heathside marshals continued to shout their support (thanks Eilidh, Amy, Satu and others!) as we entered the second lap. The hill was hard the second time, but coming down into Ally Pally felt like we were almost there.

With 1km to go, we picked it up a bit down the long straight on Priory Road, before dipping back into Priory Park for some final twists and turns. Jo pushed me in that last kilometer (a 4:51) and we came through the line pretty much together.

Tom & Alice masquerading as Dunns runners

The result: I finished the 10km race in 53:45 (5:22/km = 8:40/mi)I came 357th/869 and was the 58th woman of the 341 who finished. I’m pleased with my time given recent (lack of) training and other life things taking up my energy. Plus, it was not actually my slowest CE10k time so I’m happy with that!

Post-race: Jo and I picked up our Dunns jelly donuts (probably the only time in the year when I eat a donut – yum). We chatted with Tom and Alice, who were sneakily running for “Team Dunns,” then found Caroline to exchange race stories and snap a few photos before I wandered home. It was a lovely way to say a sort of goodbye to the north London running community that has been such a big part of my life for the past six and a half years. Who knows – maybe I’ll fly in next year just for this race!

Next up: Stay tuned, but it may well be a July 10k in our new home of Münster.


Race Recap: Heathside Club 5-miler, Finsbury Park

Photo by Lenny Martin

Background: My running club, London Heathside, hasn’t had its own road race for a number of years. (It used to be the Hampstead 10k, the final iteration of which I ran as my first race with the club back in 2013.) A few of the club committee have been pushing for a while to revive a Heathside-run road race in our local area. The club plays a large part in the Crouch End 10k, but that’s actually the YMCA’s race. We also have an intra-club 5km handicap race in Highgate Woods in the summer, but that’s a different sort of event. This intra-club 5-miler in Finsbury Park was a good start to hopefully bringing back an annual Heathside-run road race.

Goal: I ran an unexpectedly fast Finsbury parkrun two weeks ago so thought I could run a pretty good time in this 5-miler, although grappling with “the hill” three times would not be easy. I didn’t think I could improve on last year’s 5-mile PB but wanted to run under 37:00.

Race strategy: I was feeling pretty sluggish in the morning so, on Gabi’s advice, decided to take it steadier on the first lap (of three), then try to pick up the pace if I felt good.

Weather & outfit: A warmish 9C/49F and cloudy with a bit of drizzle. Good running weather, actually. I wore shorts, a technical t-shirt (some people wore their club vests but it was a casual event so I opted for a regular tee), and my Saucony Kinvara 8s, which I usually race in.

Photo by Lenny Martin

The race: The course was a variation on the Finsbury parkrun course, which I know very well, having run it over 30 times. We started with one lap of the track, which helped me clock a swift 4:21 first kilometre. I know I can run strongly down the long descent and up the long, gradual incline on the far side of the park, so I tried to use the terrain to my advantage and ran the second kilometre in 4:24. Somewhere in there, I passed the 1-mile marker at just 7:00. Keep this up if you can, I thought to myself, you could be on track to run under 36′.

Then came the first time up the notorious parkrun hill. I’ve learned that I do better when I take it slow and steady up the hill, then come off it fast onto the flatter ground. This means I usually get passed up the hill but I try not to let it bother me.

A slower third kilometre, as expected: 4:51. I tried to use the downhill again on the second lap, but the headwind didn’t make it easy. Jessica and I were trading off leading each other at this point, and I made it my mission not to let her get too far ahead of me. My splits were slowing but I was still on pace to run under 37′.

Up the steep hill a second time, and my legs were starting to feel it. I didn’t have much fuel in the tank, either, but Jessica’s presence helped keep me going through the last lap. My 6th kilometre was the slowest of the race, but on the other side of it I gritted my teeth and calculated that I could run just over 36′ if I kept it up. J and I kept pace up the long back straight. My hamstrings and ankles were feeling it at this point. Come on, you’re almost there. Tackling the hill for the last time, I surged onto the track for the last 200m and tried to muster some sort of kick down to the finish line.

The result: I finished the 5 mile race in 36:15 (4:31/km = 7:15/mi)I came 17th in the small field of 33 and was the 4th woman of the 13 who ran.

This was a hard race, but as Eilidh pointed out, it was a nice way to mix things up: 5 miles instead of the 5k of a parkrun, and doing a hard effort instead of a long slow run on a Sunday (although a bunch of Heathsiders that are marathon training added many miles onto this club race).

Post-race: An easy jog down Parkland Walk with Eilidh, catching up on the latest and shaking out our legs a bit. By the time I got home, I had clocked up almost 8 miles, so could count it as a race and a longish run.

Next up: I’m entered for the Victoria Park Open 5 Mile race next month. Today’s race helped me see where I am in terms of 5-mile fitness, so I know what I should work on before VP5 (more speed & tempo!).


Recipe: Winter Salad Variations

It’s nice to spend the cold, dark months of the year cooking and eating hearty comfort foods like stews, soups and roasted vegetables. But sometimes I am in the mood for something fresh and crunchy to lighten things up: enter the winter salad!

Fennel, green apple, kohlrabi salad

There are number of robust winter vegetables that, when paired with a zesty dressing, make for a delicious salad. Adding something sweet and something salty to the bowl brings the flavors together and balances things out. I’ll list some of my favorite ingredients below, followed by my lemon-dijon dressing recipe and a few suggested salad combinations.

Ingredient ideas:

  • Carrots
  • Chicory
  • Kohlrabi
  • Radicchio
  • Granny Smith apples
  • Oranges
  • Dried cranberries
  • Feta cheese
  • Goat cheese
  • Lentils (green and brown hold up best in salads)
  • Chickpeas
  • White beans
  • Walnuts or other nut of choice

Lemon-Dijon Dressing (a classic I learned from my mom)

  • Whisk together (I usually do it straight into the bottom of the salad bowl) the following ingredients, to taste: freshly squeezed lemon juiceolive oildijon mustardsalt/pepper. You can add some white wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar for extra zing, or if you don’t have enough lemons around.

Salad Variation 1: Fennel, green apple, & kohlrabi with orange

  • Thinly slice 1 fennel bulb, 1 green apple, and 1 kohlrabi bulb. Peel and cut an orange into bite-sized chunks. Add some white beans (butter/cannelloni) for protein. Don’t forget the dressing!

Salad Variation 2: Chicory & radicchio with dried cranberries & green lentils

  • Cook some green lentils in salted water with 1 bayleaf. Drain and set aside.
  • Thinly slice 1 chicory head (bulb?) and 1 radicchio. Add to the salad bowl with dressing, then add in lentils and a handful of dried cranberries.

Salad Variation 3: Grated kohlrabi, carrot, & apple

  • Instead of thinly slicing, you can grate kohlrabi, carrots, and apple straight into the salad bowl. Toss with dressing and enjoy!

Or make up your own combination. Happy salad making!


Race Recap: Met League XC – Ally Pally 2019

Photo Credit: Tom Hosking Photography

Background: It’s the tail end of the cross country season here in the UK. I joined in a few times back in November and December but took break from XC in January to focus on longer road stuff: the Fred Hughes 10 and the Watford Half Marathon. The former went well and the latter got cancelled, so I was excited to lace up my spikes again for a very local cross country race just up the road at Ally Pally!

Goal: Is it really possible to set a time goal for a cross country race? Not for an average runner like me. Every course is different, and the same course varies year to year depending on the weather the week before the race. My glutes were sore on Saturday from the many 1-leg squat variations prescribed by the physio, but I made a couple of general goals for myself: 1) Don’t turn an ankle/trip/fall/get spiked, and 2) Expect mud, embrace the mud, and enjoy it.

Race strategy: None, really (see above), but I did decide to treat it like a very muddy parkrun, have some fun, and try to save some energy for the finish.

Weather & outfit: A warmish 9C/49F but very windy. It rained a lot in the week leading up to the race, so mud would definitely be on the agenda. I wore shorts, Heathside vest, and my cross country spikes (15mm for the expected mud levels). No need for any extra layers, even with the wind.

Terrifyingly long spikes. Worth it!

The race: I’m glad I had reread my race recap from the last time I ran this course, two years ago. According to that, the course was quite a bit short of 6km. That said, the start this year seemed further back than I remembered, so I mentally prepared for the race to be at least 6k (there’s nothing like assuming a course will be short and then having to run further than anticipated!).

I knew the first long straight would be gradually uphill and into the wind, so as we set off I went with the flow and used the time to test the terrain and warm up my calves and ankles. I found myself in touch with Jen and Alice, so breathed encouragement to them and pushed on. Short strides up the hill. Use your arms, I reminded myself as we were tested by the first short rise. Alice and I rounded a corner and had a brief respite from running uphill.

Lap 1. Photo credit: F

Then we crossed the paved path, hurdled a ditch, and dug in up the long, steep hill for the first time. This three-stage hill is killer: a longish steep section, a turn left onto a slightly more gradual (but still very much uphill) section, then a right up a short, sharp bit to the top. This hill alone made me really glad I’d put 15mm spikes in my shoes. The long spikes gave me enough traction to maintain control while clawing my way slowly up and up and up…

Photo Credit: Tom Hosking Photography

Then the descent started. The course wound around some trees until plunging back down the first section that we’d run up. Another ditch and paved path later, we were back on firmer, slightly downhill terrain. Behind the cricket pitch, it got sloppy: thick, soupy mud with a few more ditches to cross. I enjoyed hurdling the ditches – it reminded me of my track days from university and distracted me from the exertion.

Photo Credit: Tom Hosking Photography

Soon it was back out to the long straight for the second and final lap. I was tiring, but the cheers from the Heathside supporters as we ran between the club camps – Come on, Heathside! Go Tammela! – were amazing and helped me summon some extra energy. A fellow Heathsider kept passing me on the uphills (impressive!) but I tried to keep her within range. Tackling the long, staged hill for the second time slowed me a lot, but I reminded myself to raise my knees and keep putting one foot in front of the other.

Back down the hill and over the ditch, I knew it was only 1-2km to the finish and the course would, indeed, be shorter than 6km. I passed a few runners in the boggy section behind the cricket pitch, including a couple of fellow Heathsiders. Come on, we’re almost there, I encouraged them. Surprised to catch one of our speedy vets, S, I knew she’d probably respond to my challenge and stick with me.

A marshal called out that we had 800m to go. You can do this! Just a few more minutes, I said to myself. My legs felt so heavy and I felt a bit sick. S caught me up and we pushed each other through the final 500m, passing a couple of other runners along the way. A yell from F, who had come to watch, helped me find a tiny kick to the finish, just in front of S.

Heathside women. Met League Champs for the 2nd year in a row!

The result: I finished the 5.37km/3.34mi race in an official time of 25:33 (4:45/km = 7:39/mi)I came 78th of 244 women finishers and ran my fastest time on this particular cross country course.

And by coming 16th of 35 Heathside women finishers, I actually scored for the C team!

Cross country scoring can be baffling, so here’s how one of our club coaches explains it:

The first 6 women to finish score for the A team, the next 6 for the B team and the 5 after that for the C team.  Additional finishers count towards the C team: although they don’t score, they can push back members of other teams, making the points for the team more valuable.

I don’t think I’ve scored for Heathside in a Met League XC race in over five years, so I am chuffed to have squeaked into the C team! I felt strong and was mentally in the mood to race.

As an added bonus, the Heathside women’s A team were crowned the Met League Champions for the second year in a row. Amazing running, ladies!

Post-race: A women’s team photo, catching up with Gabi, Caroline, Jo & co, then walking back home with F to de-mud my spikes and take a hot shower.

Next up: I think I’ll go back to some shorter, sharper running now that my long goal races are out of the way. I’ll try to keep doing a longish run most weekends, but I want to make sure my knee/ITBS pain settles before ramping up the distance again


Race Recap: Fred Hughes 10 (2019)

Background: Back in September, J persuaded me to enter the Fred Hughes 10 in mid-January as a goal for us to work towards. Having run this race once before, then entering in subsequent years but bailing due to illness or injury, I was keen to get it back on my racing calendar and hoped to actually make it to the start this time! So I signed up and have been dutifully ticking off Sunday long runs with my clubmates. I did a number of 10-11 mile training runs in November and December so I could finish the distance for Fred Hughes. It was the speed I was concerned about!

Goal: Given my lack of speedwork in recent months, I set a goal to finish under 1:20:00. I ran this race five years ago in 1:16:17 but wasn’t sure I would have the speed for that kind of time. This was also my longest race since 2015 – and my first 10-mile race since then. I wanted to finish without too much right knee pain (it has been bothering me on my longer runs).

Race strategy: Start steady and try to average around 5:00/km until the halfway point (5mi/8km). Don’t panic if my pace ends up being a bit slower or faster – listen to my body. Slowly increase my pace from 5-8mi/8-13km. Take a gel after 55-60 minutes. Start pushing towards home with 2mi/3km to go. Use the downhills and think about my form on the uphills. Also, enjoy it!

Weather & outfit: A brisk 0C/32F or so in the morning, with a promise to ‘warm up’ to about 3C/38F by the time the race started. I went back and forth on what to wear, but settled on the following: capri leggings (quite thin), my Craft thermal long-sleeve baselayer under my Heathside vest, light gloves, and a fleece running headband. It was cold at the start, but the sun was out and I warmed up quickly once we started running. The outfit choice worked. I even shed my headband at 5km and my gloves at 8km.

Mile 5. Photo by New Pixels Photography

The race: A narrow first half kilometre meant keeping the pace steady until the road widened and the runners spread out. My watch read 5:01 for the first kilometre – right on track. The next two kilometres had some nice downhills, which I used to gain some time early on: 4:41, 4:42. That’s okay – it’s quick but you feel good. Stay steady.

M, a runner I know through J, caught up to me around 3km and chattered away, pulling me along at a good clip for the next 2.5km (thanks, M – that helped a lot!). We went through 3 miles at 22:30, and 5km at just over 23:00. (Yes, I think in both miles and kilometres when training and racing. Maybe it’s a waste of brain energy but I like doing both!) If I can keep this up, I’ll definitely run under 1:20:00, I thought. But we still have a ways to go. Be patient.

M pulled away around 5.5km and I let her go, preferring to stick to my game plan. My next few kilometres were all under 5:00. I enjoyed the dappled sunlight and quiet country lanes, focusing on my surroundings to distract myself from how hard I was working. A woman in a St Albans Striders vest complimented my running form and ran alongside me for a little while; it was nice to have some company/motivation.

I hit the halfway mark at 37:53. I can run the second half in 40 minutes and still beat my goal for today. That gave me a confidence boost, especially when the 10th kilometre ended up being a long slog uphill. It was one of those hills where you don’t really feel like you’re running uphill until you look at your watch and realize your pace has slowed massively. It was by far my slowest split of the race (5:27), but I still went through 10km in around 48 minutes.

Running through the countryside. Glorious!

Just 6km to go. You can do this. Two kilometres and then you can have your gel. I picked up the pace for kilometres 11 and 12, to shake off the long climb and to inject my legs with a bit of energy. 4:20, 4:30. I ripped open my gel and started focusing on runners to pick off up ahead.

Between the gel and an uphill, kilometre 13 was not swift – 5:08 – but I kept my eyes on clubmate Holly and the guy in orange and red who had passed me earlier on. You can catch them. Just 3km to go. Despite feeling a bit sick at this point, I pressed on and focused on my form up the hills. The orange-and-red guy kept passing me, then slowing down enough for me to pass him back. I think I finally dropped him with less than a mile to go. Looking at my watch, I calculated that I could probably make it home in under 1:16:00 – it wouldn’t be a PB, but it could be a best time for this course. With 400m to go, I picked up my legs, pumped my arms, used the downhill and pushed up the rise to the finish.

The result: I finished the race in a 1:15:33 chip time (7:33/mi = 4:42/km). I came 230th of 840 finishers and was the 43rd woman of 412. I was the 11th of 17 Heathsiders running, and the 3rd of our 7 women who finished.

This was also a course PB for me. Sure, I’ve only run this race twice, but still – I ran it faster than 5 years ago! I’m also really pleased to have run almost 5 minutes faster than my goal time of 1:20:00, and to have run a small negative split. Guess I do have a bit of speed in these legs, despite the lack of speedwork. The crisp, sunny weather was glorious and the country lanes were peaceful. I was really happy I ran.

Post-race: Picking up my t-shirt (I love how Fred Hughes does a women’s specific technical top), gathering for a Heathside photo, jogging back to the race HQ for a quick change, sharing these brownies that I made, then getting in the car for the drive home.

Next up: The Watford Half Marathon in two weeks. My longest training run has only been 11 miles, so I will definitely be treating the half as more of a training run than a race. Plus, I’ve heard it is very hilly…


Year in Review: 2018

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

It’s hard to believe another year has gone by. Time flies. As we enter 2019, here are some reflections on my 2018.

Running and fitness in 2018:

  • Distance run: Strava tells me that in 2018 I ran 1,271.3km =  789.95mi, which is 298.2km/185.29mi more than in 2017 – I’m really pleased with that!
  • Overall, it was a good running year. I refocused on building my endurance base with Sunday long runs, did a lot of Saturday morning parkruns, and even got in a smattering of speedwork in the warmer, lighter months. I also did some run-commuting to or from work.
  • I ran my 50th parkrun in March 2018! This had been a major goal of mine and I was excited to achieve it (the t-shirt is great, too). My parkrun total currently stands at 63, with more to come in 2019.
  • Racing (running):
  • Distance cycled: 2,054.6km = 1,276.67mi of commuting to/from work in London. Fewer than 2017 because my commute is now shorter. More energy for running!

Favorite books read in 2018:

  • In 2018 I read about 22 books. There were quite a few that I didn’t particularly enjoy, but to balance those out there were some gems:
  • Jennifer Egan, Manhattan Beach. I really liked Egan’s A Visit From the Goon Squad, and Manhattan Beach was a very different sort of novel but did not disappoint. I loved the 1930s-40s dockside setting as well as the strong female protagonist and a bit of intrigue. Great writing, too.
  • I don’t usually read much non-fiction, but Dave Eggers’ narrative non-fiction book The Monk of Mokha reads like a story, which makes its reality all the more interesting. I learned a lot about coffee and Yemen – apt, given the current situation there.
  • I am a sucker for historical fiction, and Ken Follett is one of my favorites. In 2018, I read A Column of Fire, the third book in Follett’s “Kingsbridge series” that starts with Pillars of the Earth. Just so good.
  • One of my best friends recommended Tamora Pierce‘s Song of the Lioness quartet, which I raced through. Nothing like a good young adult series with a strong female lead and a bit of magic and mystery!
  • Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is brilliant, and I read her first novel, Half of a Yellow Sun, last year. It was not quite what I expected but I couldn’t put it down and her writing is excellent.

Other highlights of 2018, in no particular order:

  • F and I wanted to travel more in 2018, and we certainly achieved that goal. Here’s where we went:
    • A snap weekend in Zürich with my parents. What a nice city!
    • A lovely trip to Provence in early spring (that post has somehow been lost! Sad. If you go, stay at the La Bastide Perchée guest house in Venelles).
    • A few days in the Ardennes at C’s family farmhouse, with both sets of parents.
    • An amazing two-week holiday in California in August, plus a couple of days in NYC (including seeing Emma!).
    • A long weekend with friends in Münster in October, followed closely by a weekend in Düsseldorf with friends and F’s sister.
    • Almost two weeks in Germany over Christmas/New Year, with the in-laws and friends. Good food, good running, great people, and relaxation.
  • Seeing friends regularly over the year for lunches, dinners, drinks, coffees, and board gaming (game highlights: Seven Wonders, Quacksalber von Quedlinburg, Schnapp die Robbe!).
  • Having my parents and five friends with us for our Thanksgiving-in-London celebration.
  • Continuing to enjoy cooking and baking, both new recipes and old favorites. F and I have become more mindful with how much meat we eat and where we get it, plus we’ve been focusing on fuelling ourselves well for our respective cycling and running.

I’m not big on resolutions but my main intention for 2019 is, as usual, to find a healthy balance between work, exercise, time with F, and other things.

In some blog-related reflecting, here is a listicle of of my top posts via views in 2018:

Wishing you all a happy, healthy, and successful 2019.

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.


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.


Vegetarian Month

After enjoying many a burger on our USA trip this summer, F suggested we eat vegetarian for a month after getting home. We didn’t eat much meat to begin with, and I rarely cook meat for myself when F isn’t around. In the past couple of years we’ve been thinking more about the ethics and environmental impact of eating meat. We thought a vegetarian month would expand our recipe repertoire and be a fun challenge. Read on to see what dinners we made…

Anita Bean stir fry with tofu

Week 1

  • A variation of this baked ziti for two
  • Salad Niçoise without tuna: lettuce, green beans, boiled eggs, random other veg
  • Three recipes from Anita Bean’s The Vegetarian Athlete’s Cookbook (a newish favorite)
    • Potatoes with spinach & chickpeas
    • Dhal with almonds, plus rice: this has entered the semi-regular dinner rotation
    • Tofu & veg stir fry (photo above)
  • Sweet potato & black bean tacos: a lazy variation of my enchiladas. Anything with sweet potatoes and black beans is okay by me!

Week 2

Kimchi soup

  • Cauliflower fettuccine Alfredo (adapted from this Serious Eats recipe): this was already in the regular rotation. It’s delicious, especially if you like cauliflower, pasta, and creamy foods.
  • Vegetarian kimchi soup with tofu (adapted from Bon Appétit): pictured above. Not the most photogenic, but still quite tasty.
  • Store-bought veggie burgers on Dunn’s brioche buns with roast potatoes
  • My soba noodle salad with peanut sauce and Quorn pieces
  • Vegetarian bolognese with Quorn mince: F made this from scratch. Didn’t miss the meat!

Week 3

Colorful salad + gruyere-melted-baguette

  • Homemade falafel with yogurt sauce, tomatoes, and pita
  • Pan-fried halloumi-portobello-zucchini “burgers” on Dunn’s brioche buns (man, those buns are good!)
  • Colorful salad with boiled eggs and gruyère-melted toast (pictured above)
  • Tofu, greens, beans, and rice bowls from The Full Helping: hearty and healthy but a bit bland, even after I doubled the spice amounts.
  • Takeaway (vegetarian) pizza from Sacro Cuore, our favorite place across the street

Week 4

Veg, beautiful veg!

  • Roast tomato and garlic pasta, à la Joy the Baker: we’ve made this a number of times before and it’s always nice.
  • Pie and mash! Vegetarian Pieminister pies, homemade mash, peas, gravy.
  • Baked sweet potatoes (1 hour in the oven, 400F/200C) with baked beans (Heinz) and peas. There was probably some grated cheese action, too.
  • A BBC Good Food lentil bolognese at Joe and Ciara’s
  • Pancakes & Pflaumenkuchen on the weekend!

Bonus Recipes (I can’t remember when we made these)

The verdict

Our vegetarian month went well and neither of us craved meat. The most difficult part, I found, was finding good veggie options while out and about: Tesco has limited vegetarian options in their lunchtime meal deals… We tried a bunch of new recipes and some will definitely become part of our regular rotation.

We like a bit of meat in our diets for the iron and protein (and taste), but ethically and environmentally it makes sense to cut down quite a bit on our meat consumption. So we’ve decided to keep eating mostly vegetarian but allow up to two dinners per week to be cooked with some kind of animal protein (chicken, fish, pork, beef, etc) that we buy from our local butcher (much happier chickens!). We can also be flexible when eating out.

What has your experience been with eating vegetarian (or not)? If you are a vegetarian, I applaud you!