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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.


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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.


A Tale of Two (Afternoon) Teas

I have had the pleasure of experiencing two very different afternoon teas in London this spring (sorry-not-sorry for the cheesy post title). Read on to find out what they were like.

NB: I was not paid or enticed by anyone to write this post – I merely do so for my own and your enjoyment. Who doesn’t love a little afternoon tea?

First up, a classic afternoon tea at Fortnum & Mason, the iconic London department store near Piccadilly Circus. R and I hadn’t caught up in a while and decided to spoil ourselves with a slightly touristy afternoon tea experience in F&M’s Diamond Jubilee Tea Salon. I didn’t really know what to expect, but actually it was pretty amazing. We had one of the first reservations so it was peaceful when we arrived, sound dampened by the soft carpets and nerves soothed by the pastel colors.

The service was excellent and we were encouraged to try two different afternoon tea menus so that we could share. We went for one classic afternoon tea and one savo(u)ry afternoon tea. Highlights that I can recall were the savory and regular scones, the finger sandwiches and the slices of cake.  I can’t remember which actual teas R and I had, but they were lovely and I even bought a box of loose leaf Earl Grey on our way out, which I’ve been enjoying on a regular basis.

For the price, you get your tower of afternoon tea delicacies that are essentially bottomless: you can ask for seconds (thirds, etc) of anything on your tower. You get as much tea as you want, of course, and also proper slices of cake! We were too full to eat the cake there, but they kindly box it up for you, and our server also threw in extra pots of the jam and lemon curd that came with the scones. So although it’s not the cheapest afternoon tea, you get a lot for the money.

Completely different mood

Afternoon tea number two was a Moroccan afternoon tea at Momo off Regent Street, which I was invited to for a former colleague’s birthday. Tucked away behind the busy shopping thoroughfare, Momo’s terrace offers a leafy entry to the dim, low-tabled lounge.

First, we were poured traditional mint tea from a great height. It was delicious, although quite sweet. I was excited when the date scones arrived, still warm from the oven. They were delicious and, along with the savory goodies, the highlight of the menu.

Delicious date scones

Both afternoon teas were unique experiences that I would recommend if you want to treat yourself!


Race Recap: Trent Park Triffic Trail 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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Post-race. Photo credit: Sif S.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Race Recap: Adidas City Runs – 1 Hour #takechargeLDN

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Two minutes to go. Keep breathing.

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

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

The horn sounds, ending the 1 hour.

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

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

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

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


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

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

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Some Heathsiders post-race.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RP10k Jun18 splits

NOT the way to pace a 10k…

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Race Recap: Victoria Park Open 5 – an unexpected PB

Sunshine in Victoria Park. Photo credit: Neil Cook

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

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

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

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

Heathsiders post-race. Photo from Sue.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nice coaster as race swag!

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

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

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


A few days in Provence

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

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

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

Bibémus Plateau & Barrage Zola

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

Montagne St Victoire from Bibémus Plateau

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

Lourmarin

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

Aix-en-Provence

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

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