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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!


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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.

 

50th Parkrun

It has taken me almost 5 years, but I’ve finally done it: I’ve run 50 parkruns! Remember when I ran my first parkrun in April 2013? That run is still one of my fastest parkrun times (ignorance is bliss when you don’t know about the hills on the course). I ran parkrun occasionally but not consistently for the first 4 years, but when I started getting into the 30s last summer/autumn, I resolved to make it to 50 parkruns by early 2018.

Post-50th parkrun email. In the 50 Club!

I would’ve hit 50 before this weekend if I hadn’t gotten a bad cold over Christmas – I had plans to run 2-3 parkruns over the holidays! – but here we are on 17th March 2018 and my goal has been achieved.

When you look at how many people have run upwards of 100 and even 250 parkruns, 50 doesn’t seem like much, but it still takes commitment to get up for a 9am run on a Saturday. For me, it helps that F gets up over two hours earlier (!) than me on Saturdays to cycle in Regent’s Park, so my 7:50am alarm doesn’t seem too bad compared to his wake-up time.

In celebration of my impending 50th parkrun, I baked these oatmeal raisin cookies to share around afterwards. Fellow Heathsider Shaan was running his 25th and Hannah was running her 30th parkrun, so they provided some millionaire’s shortbread (yum). Gabi mustered a few other Heathsiders to join us at Finsbury Park, and it was fun to be cheered on my milestone before the start.

Some Heathsiders post-parkrun

Did I mention it was snowing and blowing this morning? You can see bits of snow on the grass in the photo above. After a balmy week of 10+C temperatures, the mercury dropped on Friday night and Saturday morning was a brisk 2C with some gently falling snow that the wind subsequently whipped around up the backside of the Finsbury parkrun course. But we braved the elements and felt extra virtuous for it. I had a busy week and felt tired so decided to run a steady Z3/4 parkrun and came in at 24:02. Not so speedy, but a solid time and a good up-tempo run for me.

My 50th parkrun stats

Now that I have reached my 50 parkruns milestone, let’s take a moment to look at my parkrun history. While a lot of people try to run as many different parkruns as possible – dubbed ‘parkrun tourism’ – I’m a creature of habit and usually run at Finsbury Park or Ally Pally due to their proximity to my flat. I have run Hampstead Heath parkrun once and F and I even ran a parkrun in Liverpool when we were up visiting friends a few weeks ago.

I love parkrun because you can run it however you want. When I feel like testing my fitness, I’ll go to Finsbury park and hammer it (did that last weekend, hence this week’s steadier run). If I’m up for a scenic run on mainly trails, I’ll go to Ally Pally and sometimes push it but sometimes run at social pace with Gabi or Jo. I’ve volunteered twice and need to do more of that to give back to such an amazing community.

Now that I’ve reached 50 parkruns, what’s next? In general running goals, I have a number of 10k races coming up over the spring and summer so I am working on building my endurance and long run distance. Maybe I’ll try to do Hampstead Heath parkrun more often and build that into my weekly long run. We shall see. For now, I’ll rest on my small laurels and enjoy the weekend!

Parkrun tourism at Princes parkrun, Liverpool!


Race Recap: Regent’s Park 10k, Feb 2018

I’m trying a new race recap format below – let me know what you think!

Post-race Heathsiders

Background: Jo, Gabi and I were supposed to run last month’s Regent’s Park 10k but illness & other things struck so we all deferred our entries to the February edition of the monthly race series. I had a cold/cough over Christmas, which meant two to three weeks of much less exercise and thus a decline in fitness, so I’m not anywhere near PB shape. I have, however, started going back to Heathside’s Tuesday track workouts (“started going back” translates to having done two workouts in January) to regain some speed and fitness.

Goal: Given my current fitness (and not having run over about 9km in a month or more), I set a modest goal of running under 50:00 and an ambitious goal of around 48:00. That meant averaging 5:00/km or faster. As the race is 3 laps, I needed to run between 16 and 17 minutes for each lap to be on target.

Race strategy: Run a conservative first 5k and then try to negative split. Get to 8 or 9km and then push.

Weather & outfit: Overcast and quite cold at about 3C (37F), with light wind. As usual, I hemmed and hawed about what to wear but decided on long tights and a thinnish long-sleeved merino base layer under my Heathside vest. I was on the fence about gloves and ended up starting with them but took them off halfway around. Post-race note: I didn’t need the gloves but the rest of the outfit was spot-on.

Post-race with J

The race: Jo and I didn’t really warm up, as we were staying cozy inside (and queuing for the loo). We dropped our bags at 8:55am and then walk-jogged to the start, where we huddled together with Gabi and Emilia before the gun went off. As the start is always congested at this race – those narrow Regent’s Park paths – we positioned ourselves relatively close to the front. Gabi and I set off more or less together and I went through the first kilometer in 4:39; we traded off pulling each other along for the next kilometer or two.

I was pleased to go through the first lap in just under 16:00, so knew if I could hold that pace I’d be able to run 48 minutes. However, I told myself not to get too eager as we still had more than half the race left. There was a woman in a grey jacket who flip-flopped with me for a good chunk of the race; it was helpful to know she was of a similar pace and, whether or not she knows it, she helped keep me going.

My fifth kilometer was the slowest – be patient, I told myself – but I went through 5k in 24:13. I can still negative split, I thought, but wait until the last lap to start pushing. I always enjoy running by part of the Regent’s Park Zoo, and the dromedaries were out munching their breakfast, so I sent them a mental “hello” to distract myself.

My second lap was about 30 seconds slower than the first – 16:19 – so I wasn’t sure I could hold on for 48 minutes but just kept running to see what I had left. As I went towards the little switchback loop around 8.5km, Emilia was running back the other way and shouted encouragement to me. That helped a lot, and I picked the pace up. At 9km I dug in and pushed to the finish, squeezing out a little kick and even pipping someone at the line!

The result: Official time of 47:43 (4:46/km, 7:42/mi average pace)! Really pleased to be under 48:00 and wasn’t sure I had it in me. I was 112th of 331 finishers and 18th of 147 women. I think my fitness is in a good place and I am signed up for about a race a month going into spring, so it will be nice to have regular fitness markers as I continue getting back into track workouts and hopefully doing some longer runs.

Post-race: Tea in the Hub cafe with Karina, Gabi, Jo and a tri clubber. I’d made this chocolate beetroot cake – F’s self-professed “favorite chocolate cake” – and shared it around for refueling purposes. Yum!


Year in Review: 2017

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

I haven’t written a “year in review” since the end of 2014, but this year I felt the desire to do so as 2017 becomes 2018. While there are plenty of awful things that happened globally in 2017 – politically, environmentally, etc. – I would like to focus on the more personal positives in this post.

Running and fitness in 2017:

On the way to a 5-mile PB at the Perivale 5, Dec 2017. Photo credit: Bespoke Photos.

  • Distance run: Strava tells me that in 2017 I ran 973.1km =  604.66mi. This is about 39 more miles than in 2016, so I’ll take that as a slight improvement.
  • The first half of the running year wasn’t great, as I had a really nasty virus over the Christmas holidays so had a slow return to fitness in early 2017. I had a brief return to the track in the summer before developing some plantar fasciitis. Since then, I’ve focused on building up my fitness base with tempo work and longer runs. That has seemed to work, as in fall/winter I ran my fastest 10k since 2015 and a 5-mile PR/PB!
  • In 2017 I discovered how much I love trail running/racing. Now that I have invested in trail shoes, I hope to do more trail running in 2018. I ran in Trent Park for the first time and loved it.
  • Racing (running):
  • Distance cycled: 2,760.3km = 1,715.17mi of commuting to/from work in London. About 200km/124mi more than in 2016.

Favorite books read in 2017:

  • In 2017 I read about 21 books. I didn’t love everything I read but here are some books that have stuck with me after finishing them:
  • Tracy Chevalier, At the Edge of the Orchard. I’ve loved Chevalier’s writing ever since reading Girl with a Pearl Earring as a teenager. Chevalier also happens to be an Oberlin graduate and I was fortunate to see her speak when I was in college. At the Edge of the Orchard is a historical novel of migration to the American West during the Gold Rush in the 1840s and ’50s. The human characters are interesting but much of the novel is actually about trees: apple orchards and then California’s redwoods and giant sequoias. It has really stuck with me and I’ve recommended it to a number of people.
    • I also read Chevalier’s newest novel, New Boy, this year. It’s a chilling retelling of Shakespeare’s Othello set on a school playground and I’d recommend it to any English teachers for their students to read alongside the original play.
  • Somehow in all my study of English literature, I had never read Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White. My parents recommended it to me after reading it for their book club a couple of years ago, and I was impressed with this early detective novel. It has all the good stuff – missed messages, mistaken identities, charming villains – while remaining accessible even for those who aren’t used to reading 19th-century novels.
  • I absolutely love Laurie R. King’s Mary Russell-Sherlock Holmes series (the first one is called The Beekeeper’s Apprentice) and this year I read the seventh and eighth books back to back. Every time I open a Russell-Holmes novel, it feels like coming home. Something about King’s writing style just sits well with me. The novels are at once historically dense, character-driven, and detailed but not slow-moving. My dad first got hooked on the series years ago, and I would recommend it to anyone who, to use Netflix-speak, enjoys “historical novels with a strong female lead”. There’s also plenty of mystery and detective work involved!
  • I loved Robin Hobb’s 4-book series, The Rain Wild Chronicles, recommended by a fellow choir singer. Hobb creates a fascinating and robust fantasy world – realist but with touches of the magic and mythical – and tells a good story.
  • Rachel Sieffert, A Boy in Winter. A poignant WWII novel set in a small Ukrainian town. Sad but beautifully written and worth reading for a slightly different perspective.
  • Darragh McKeon, All that is Solid Melts into Air. Wow was this good. A close family friend – my Belgian “aunt” – recommended it and I loved it. It’s set in Soviet Ukraine/Russia/Belarus in the late 1980s around the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. The shifting perspectives never felt jarring and it’s quite timely, despite being a historical novel. Highly recommended.
  • F and I finished reading Walter Moers’ Die 13 1/2 Leben des Käpt’n Blaubär, an epic fantasy-type novel that we took turns reading aloud. It helped my German a lot and was good fun! I also finished a book of short stories in German – Karen Köhler’s Wir Haben Raketen Geangelt – that were almost all depressing but I loved the writing style and it was accessible enough for me to understand most of what was going on.

Other highlights & achievements, in no particular order:

  • Singing Bach’s St John Passion in English with the Crouch End Festival Chorus and Bach Camerata at St John Smith’s Square in central London.
  • Visiting my close friend Hannah in Bulgaria, where she’s working as a Fulbright ETA.
  • Spending a lovely long weekend with F in Bath.
  • Family and friends descending on London for our post-wedding celebration in July. It was lovely to have a casual party in a local pub and that so many people made the effort to come from near and far.
  • Spending a week walking in the Cotswolds with F. We stayed in a little AirBnB in the village of Longborough and spent each day walking a different loop, stopping for pub lunches and enjoying our escape from big city life.
  • After three years teaching ESOL to migrant women at a charity in Tower Hamlets, I got a new job at a charity in Hackney. I’m still teaching ESOL mainly in Tower Hamlets but also learning about and sharpening my skills in project management and partnerships. It was hard to leave my old team – a close-knit group of amazing women – but it was the right move to make and I’m enjoying my new role. It’s also interesting to see how two charities in the same sector operate quite differently.

Cotswolds walking

I’m not big on resolutions but my main intention for 2018 is, as usual, to find a healthy balance between work, exercise, time with F, and other things. We hope to travel a bit more this year and I’d like to build up my running mileage to 10-mile or even half marathon fitness.

In some blog-related reflecting, here is a listicle of of my top posts via views in 2017:

Wishing you all a happy, healthy, and successful 2018

Festive Cookie Party!

This year, Thanksgiving crept up on us before we were able to organize a friendly get-together, as we have done for the past couple of years. So instead, partly inspired by this NY Times feature and partly by remembering that my mom has hosted cookie decorating parties, F and I decided to host a festive afternoon Plätzchenbackparty (“cookie-bake-party”) in early December.

A bit of festive decor

So we chose a date, sent out WhatsApp invites to friends, searched for cookie recipes, and calculated how much mulled wine to make. I got my upper body strength training by using our handheld mixer to make loads of cookie dough the night before, and we stocked up on icing (powdered) sugar and food coloring.

On Saturday, friends came and went throughout the afternoon. Many cookies were baked: I made basic sugar cookies and chocolate cookies, and others contributed Scottish caraway biscuits, Lebkuchen, and shortbread. Once the icings were made – simple powdered sugar + milk, and F made this royal icing – people got down to some serious decorating business. There were plenty of drinks to go around, holiday tunes played in the background, and the atmosphere was warm, cozy, and festive. Highlights included Shana’s Shakespeare cookie cutter (and the creativity that those cookies engendered) and the ever-elusive Christmas jellyfish…photos below!

Race Recap: Perivale 5, 2017. A PB!

This is the fifth year in a row that I laced up on the first Sunday of December for the Perivale 5, my favorite suburban road race of an unusual distance! Running conditions were ideal: about 48F/9C and overcast with a hint of misty drizzle. I toyed with the idea of wearing gloves, but after heating up quickly in my warmup mile, I opted to go without. (Post-race note: wardrobe choice of shorts and Heathside vest was spot-on.)

Most Heathsiders post-race. Photo from Nilesh’s phone.

Having been a bit off my peak form for the past couple of years, I wanted to run a good time at this year’s Perivale 5 to prove that my fitness is coming back. I thus set the following goals for myself (always good to have a stretch goal and “backup” goal, in case things don’t go to plan):

Stretch goal: run a PB, which would be under 35:44 (my time in the 2013 edition of this race).

More realistic goal: run under 37:00 – probably doable given a recent parkrun (5k) of 22:05.

I wanted to get a good starting position, as after the first 300 meters the course turns onto a narrow sidewalk along a busy road. I snuck my way towards the front, and after a few words from the announcer – no Santa pacers this year! – we were off.

After the initial rush and right turn, Eilidh glided effortlessly past me as I greeted her and worked on settling into my own rhythm. To finish in 36:00 I needed to average about 4:28/km (I know, the race was in miles, but I’m used to pacing in kilometers these days. Plus, 5 miles is almost exactly 8 kilometers, so it wasn’t hard to work out what pace to run). I clocked 4:22 for the first kilometer and then told myself it was still very early – don’t get overeager.

6:58 for the first mile felt quick but more or less maintainable. Nilesh had gone out fast, helping me keep moving along with my eye on him. I caught him at the 2-mile marker and we checked in briefly before returning to our respective racing zones.

The first lap of the course reminded me that, although it’s flat, there are quite a lot of twists and turns. I vowed on the second lap to really use the long straight section along the busy road to make up any time lost in the twisty bits.

I had a bit of a dip in kilometer 4 (4:35), but after that I dug in and picked it up. Through 3 miles in 21:35 or so, and through 5k a minute later, I knew I could run under 36:00 if I kept up my pace. Easier said than done in the second half of a race. As planned, I tried to use kilometers 6 and 7 along the straight road to make up some time: 4:22 and 4:22, just 1km to go. Through the park and once around the track. You can do this, I told myself.

Post-race Heathsiders, take 2. Photo from Nilesh’s phone.

Cheered onto the track by the supportive marshals, my watch ticked over to 34:00. Come on, you can run 400m in less than 2 minutes. Go for the PB! Striding down the back straight, I gave it all I had (final kilometer in 4:15) to finish in 35:41 (7:08/mi, 4:26/km average pace), a PR/PB by 3 seconds! I am really pleased with the result. I finished 104th overall out of 326, 11th woman, and even ended up running a negative split:

Perivale 5 splits

Next up: possibly some more cross country, Christmastime parkruns, and a 10k in early January. Stay tuned!


Race Recap: Sunday League XC – Trent Park

In cross country, sometimes the biggest hazard is other runners.

That’s the thought that went through my mind in the second kilometer of today’s Sunday League XC race at Trent Park, as I weaved through a number of runners slip-sliding down a muddy descent. Stay in your own space and don’t run too close to anyone else, I reminded myself.

Just two weeks after an undulating run at Cheshunt, the Sunday League XC was back in action, this time at Trent Park, a massive park and woodlands in north London. While Heathside has a regular Saturday hill/trail workout at Trent Park, it’s far enough from where we live that I ran there for the first time this past summer, at the Triffic Trail 10k.

Autumnal Trent Park. Beautiful.

As do many XC races, this Sunday League course covered varying terrain: muddy grass (“grud?” “murass?”), firm and a little bit gravelly trails through the woods, and an extra muddy uphill at the end, for good measure.

The weather, while sunny, was brisk (around 6C/43F) and windy, especially in the open field where we started. I was glad to have opted for capris, and ended up wearing arm warmers and gloves with my Heathside vest. I know this violates all of the cross country purist rules, but I’d rather be a comfortable temperature than freezing! I did take my gloves off around 5km but was very glad to have my arm warmers and my new trail shoes, which were brilliantly grippy on the sticky, slippery course.

Heathsiders pre-race. Photo credit: Steve Woolf.

As with the last Sunday League, I didn’t have any particular expectations or goals so decided to run by feel and see how it went. I also had no idea what the course would be like. After a couple of kilometers weaving around a muddy field, we entered the woods, where we climbed gradually until the terrain leveled off. There were even a few gentle descents in the woods that helped make up time lost on the uphills. I was pulled through kilometers 2-4 or so by fellow Heathsider E. I passed her on a descent but knew she wasn’t far behind me. She flew by me at 5km and I tried my best to keep her within reach. It’s always helpful to have a teammate to flip-flop with on a tough course.

Early on, tucked behind Caroline. Photo credit: Marco M.

We ended up running the woods loop twice. After a quick fifth kilometer, I slowed a bit for the sixth but then dug in to try and keep E in my sights and push towards the finish, which I knew should be around 8km. I used the downhill out of the woods and tried to lift my knees and just keep running. One steep, muddy descent later, and we were in the home straight with a headwind, trying to kick on an uneven, grassy surface. It worked well for Alun, who sped by me towards the finish, but all I could do was hold on and try not get passed. Luckily, the course was short at 7.8km (4.85 miles). Not sure I could’ve held on for much longer!

Not a flattering shot at all, but this is what (XC) running really looks like! Photo credit: Steve Woolf.

I don’t have the official time yet, but my Garmin has me at 38:55 for the 4.85 miles (8:01/mi or  4:59/km average pace). Not particularly fast, but I’m happy with it, given the challenging course (one of our coaches rates it as a 6/10 on his XC difficulty scale, with Parliament Hill being a 9/10). Trent Park is beautiful, and when the race got tough, I kept reminding myself to look around at what a glorious piece of nature we were running in.


Race Recap: Sunday League Cross Country – Cheshunt

It’s autumn, which to many a runner might be synonymous with cross country season! It has certainly become so for me over the past few years. I’ve traditionally taken part in the competitive Met League Cross Country (XC) series with my club: men and women run separately (and the men’s race is longer than the women’s – grr), runners score points so the faster you are the better, and there’s an enthusiastic rabbling atmosphere.

Heathsiders getting ready to run XC at Chestnut. Bobble hats at the ready!

Today I ran in another XC league that my club participates in: the slightly lower-key Sunday League. Here, men and women run a 5-mile course together (gasp!), there’s significantly less rabbling, and you don’t even need a race number.

This was my first Sunday League XC race and I loved it. While I do enjoy the raucous, hyped-up Met League, the Sunday League – at least this particular race around some fields in Cheshunt (don’t ask me where that is) – felt much more like a “regular” trail race. Everyone runs together, and there’s good marshaling but not so much spectator action on the course, making some sections quite peaceful.

Pre-race Heathside contingent. Photo credit: Marco M.

I’ve always heard that the Sunday League is more inclusive than the Met League, and now that I can compare the two, I’d tend to agree. That said, I’ve never felt too slow for the Met League, just a bit more pressure to really race.

I had no such expectations today and decided to run by feel and enjoy myself. J and I set off together and used the first kilometer to warm up and try to settle into a rhythm on the crowded trails. Once the pack of runners thinned out, we were able to pick up the pace and run the next couple of kilometers under 5:00/km pace. I was surprised how comfortable the faster pace felt – I think the long runs and semi-regular hill workouts have helped my fitness – but reminded myself that we still had a ways to go.

The course was three undulating laps on grassy trails. Luckily, it was dry so I was fine running in my regular trainers (I ordered trail shoes to arrive on the Friday before, but they never came!). There were a couple of spots where we had to run over rounded furrows – we dubbed them “moguls,” and they were quite tricky to navigate while maintaining a rhythm.

J and I caught up with C towards the end of the second lap and C and I ran together for a few kilometers. I was pleased to go through 5km in under 25:00, although C passed me and stayed ahead for the rest of the race (no hard feelings! She’s an incredible runner). I started to feel my legs and concentration waning in the past couple of kilometers, but tried to stay steady and push to the finish. As the finish line came into view, I dug in and was able to sprint past two or three runners to finish just two spots behind C, who had a great race. I don’t have the official time yet, but my watch read 40:14 for the 5.08 miles (7:55/mi or 4:55/km average pace). Very pleased with that.

There was plenty of cake to go around after the race, and I contributed these salted chocolate chunk cookies (thanks, smitten kitchen!), which another runner joked were good for refueling because the salt would help replenish electrolytes. But of course!

I thoroughly enjoyed my first Sunday XC League outing and am already looking forward to the next one at Trent Park in a couple of weeks. Maybe my trail shoes will have arrived by then… I’ve really enjoyed doing more trail races in the past few months, at Trent Park and on the Ridgeway trails. It’s remarkable how much opportunity there is for trail racing in and around such a metropolis as London. We are fortunate to live in north London, with Hampstead Heath just a couple of miles away.


Baking with Hot Bread Kitchen: Tortillas de Tiesto

Welcome back to my casual series, “Baking with Hot Bread Kitchen.” It has been a while and I have no good excuses other than “life”. Last time, it was Easter and we made cardamom-laced hot cross buns.. Today I ventured back into the flatbreads of Latin America and made tortillas de tiesto. Read on for the experience…

Baking with Hot Bread Kitchen #8: Tortillas de Tiesto

This recipe comes from The Hot Bread Kitchen Cookbook‘s section titled “Filled Doughs from Around the World”. The last time we were in this territory, I made baked Albanian cheese triangles (those were good!). There are many mouth-watering recipes in this section: knishes, empanadas, Tibetan momos, and more (but no Cornish pasties! Too bad). Honestly, who doesn’t love filled dough? It’s basically dumplings on steroids, and I love how most cultures seem to have their own version(s) of filled dough or dumpling-like creations. Anyway, we are told that tortillas de tiesto are an Ecuadorean street food, traditionally cooked in a tiesto, “a flat clay put traditionally used in Ecuadorean cooking” (225). Well, I don’t have one of those but a heavy-bottomed skillet seemed to do the trick for my feta-stuffed tortillas.

The tortillas de tiesto recipe looked quick and straightforward: it uses an enriched dough with egg, milk, and butter and a 2:1 whole wheat to white flour ratio. Unfortunately, I didn’t have enough whole wheat flour so my ratio ended up being reversed…oops! The traditional recipe would probably use queso fresco, but that’s hard to find in London so I stuck with feta cheese, which the book said would work well.

As you may know, I am a fan of making flatbreads (see naanchapati, etc.), as they’re generally not too time consuming and don’t require any crazy tools. They do, however, require a close eye and some patience while cooking them in a hot skillet.

The tortillas de tiesto dough, once mixed and rested, is soft and pliable yet strong. It was not difficult to flatten them (I used my newly-acquired mini rolling pin – such fun!), add feta, pinch into a ball, then flatten and roll out again. It took a few tries to get the skillet’s heat right so the tortillas would cook through without charring too much, but they turned out well, if a bit darker than the picture in the book. The salty feta complements the slightly sweet dough well, and the tortillas de tiesto make for a hearty snack.

Have you ever made a stuffed flatbread like this? what’s your favorite hand-held street food nibble?

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Race Recap: Ridgeway Run (15k trail race)

Not bad for a Sunday run

I was on my club‘s 10am Sunday long run a month or so ago, chatting to a fellow runner about our training and upcoming races (as one does on long group runs). She mentioned that she was signed up for the Ridgeway Run, a 15km trail race, in October. She raved about the scenery enough that I went home and registered for it. Having done a 15km long run the week before, I was feeling confident about the distance.

As the Ridgeway Run approached, I did one or two more 12-15km long runs but nothing crazy; plus, my knees started acting up. I decided to treat Ridgeway as a training run and extra-long preparation for cross country season. Given recent niggles and being two weeks into a new job, my goals were to enjoy the run and finish without too much knee or foot pain.

The course near Tring consisted of one big loop with a little out-and-back tail at the beginning and end. I knew it would be hilly and was warned that the last couple of kilometers on the road felt endless.

Single-file at the beginning

Ten o’clock came and we were off onto the trails! As you can see from the photo above, the early stages were on narrow trails, where we had to go single file. The line of runners moved along well, though. I was pleased to go through the first kilometer in 5:10, but I told myself to take it easy, as there were still many kilometers to go. Soon, we came out and paralleled a golf course for a while (see photo at the top) before re-entering the trees and starting a gradual but longish climb. I did keep running, but not particularly fast (see kilometer 5 – 6:52 and my slowest of the race).

Through 5km in around 29:00, I decided to keep enjoying the run but to try to finish under 1.5 hours. Kilometers 6 to 8 went through a lovely wooded section, and just around 9km we emerged onto the race’s namesake: the ridge (see above). The view was absolutely stunning. Sky for miles, autumnal trees, green grass…oh, to live in the countryside!

A gradual descent led us to a photographer, a water stop, and a short, steep uphill. I walked up the hill while sipping my water and having a bit of gel. No shame — I was running for enjoyment and fitness, not time.

After the steep ascent, it was pretty much downhill for the last 4-5 kilometers. I enjoyed the quick descent through the woods and emerged back onto the paved road with some spring in my step. My knees hurt but I gritted my teeth and pushed through for a few quick kilometers — they did feel endless! — to finish in 1:25:07 (5:40/km, 9:22/mi). Not my fastest, but highly enjoyable and a good pace for a longer training run. I was 246th out of 536 finishers, and the 46th of 215 women who finished. Post-race, I shared around my lemon cornmeal cake, which was well-received by the Heathside contingent.

Heathsiders post-race.

In sum, the Ridgeway Run was a well-organized event with a low entry fee, lots of marshals and support along the course, technical t-shirts (they even had size XS), on-demand chip times, and free race photos. I would highly recommend it!

Race Recap: Middlesex 10k, 2017 edition

Photo credit: Noelle O’R.

I can hardly believe this was my fifth year in a row running the Middlesex 10k in Victoria Park. Always a big draw for competitive club runners, this year’s event was no different, and loads of Heathsiders turned up for it. This race always feels like a harbinger of autumn, and it’s a great way to test the road legs before diving into cross country season. For variety’s sake, I’m changing up my usual race recap narrative format in favor of a snappy bullet-point version:

  • Background: I did a month or two of track workouts back in the early summer, but unfortunately got a bit too eager in early July and developed some plantar fasciitis. I had to stop doing speed work and start doing lots of calf stretching, foot rolling, and toe raising. Not being allowed to do track workouts meant I decided to refocus my efforts on building up my endurance base, and I’m pleased to have put in a few 13-15km long runs (“long” is relative, marathoners!) over the past month and a half. All of that is a long-winded way of saying I felt like I could run a pretty good Middlesex 10k but not a PR/PB. Which brings us to the next bullet point…
  • Goal: I decided on a goal time of 48:00. In the past year I’ve run a couple of 10k races in just over that time, and recent parkrun times have indicated that I could probably manage that in this race. I aimed to try and average 4:45/km to give myself a bit of wiggle room if I slowed down in the second half.
  • Weather: coolish (~60F/15C) and overcast (good) but very humid (not so good). A nice breeze while running (good).
  • The race: It went by in a bit of a blur and was relatively uneventful. I ran alongside Caroline for the first couple of kilometers, trailing Nilesh and Tom. I caught up with the latter two around 5km, which I went through in a pleasingly quick 23:38. Tom and I then stuck together for the entire second half of the race, alternating between running side-by-side and swapping small leads (he claims I pulled him along, but I think it was mutual). With a couple of kilometers to go, I knew we could make it under 48:00. At 9km and onto the final straight, we picked up the pace. I dug deep to push past another runner and even managed a bit of a kick to finish in 46:46 (7:32/mile, 4:40/km) – my fastest 10k since 2015!

Photo credit: Noelle O’R.

  • Fun facts:
    • I hadn’t run a 10k under 48:00 since 2015 (at this very race). I think the long runs have helped my endurance a lot, as I didn’t feel like I was struggling to complete the distance.
    • This was probably one of the most evenly-paced 10k races I’ve ever run. It helped massively to run with Tom for the second half. Thanks for the pacing, Tom!
    • As per tradition, I baked in exchange for a lift to the race. I made this Scandinavian almond cake, which got rave reviews and which has become part of my regular baking rotation (if my erratic baking can be called a “regular rotation” at all).

For me, this is remarkably even pacing.

And that concludes my recap of this year’s Middlesex 10k. A quick and efficient race, as usual, in one of my favourite London parks. Next up, hitting the trails and XC courses!


Race Recap: Triffic Trail 10k, Trent Park

Following closely on the heels of Thursday’s Golden Stag Mile, on Sunday I took part in the Triffic Trail 10k in Trent Park. I had heard good things about this race from fellow Heathsiders so was looking forward to it. Remembering how F enjoyed last September’s trail 10k on the Heath, I convinced him to sign up and join me. What a good sport! He returned from a work trip to Boston the day before and, despite his jet lag, gamely got up with me on Sunday morning for a bit of trail running.

Gazing towards the greenery

I’d never been to Trent Park, and it is a treat: undulating terrain varying from grassy to gravelly to woodsy with a bit of pavement thrown in. Rolling hills and loads of space to enjoy some peace and quiet. As we started the race, I registered how much quieter it was than a road race — there was hardly any external noise of cars, sirens, etc. Just a few hundred runners peacefully enjoying the trails, with the occasional cheering marshal or group of supporters.

Pre-race with Alice and Tom

I find trail races to be less stressful than road races, in part because I don’t run them as often (with the exception of cross country). Plus, trail race times can’t really be compared with road races times — much less pressure! I was hoping to enjoy the race and push a bit if I felt good.

F and I set off together and ran the first kilometer in a brisk 4:38. Tom, a fellow Heathsider, joined our mini pack and we ran alongside each other for the second kilometer. For the next few kilometers, Tom and I swapped places and kept each other going: he’d pass me on uphills, I’d catch him on the downhills. Through the 5k in 24:48, fatigue started setting in as I realized there were still 5k to go! I couldn’t keep up with Tom on the next uphill, so let him go.

My 6th kilometer was the slowest of the race at 5:37, but I managed to run through the slump and make up some time on the downhills. F was not more than a few steps behind me for most of the race, which really motivated me to keep running! I was tiring at 8km but F pushed me up the last gradual uphill and then there was only 1km to go. The last 800m or so was a long, grassy straight with uneven footing that, with a headwind, felt endless. I didn’t have much at all to kick but managed to come in under 50:00, in a chip time of 49:44 (8:01/mile, 4:58/km) — very pleased with that!

Heathsiders post-race. Photo credit: Satu’s phone

There was a good contingent of Heathsiders at the Triffic Trail 10k and some great results. The weather was partly cloudy and not too warm, and the goody bags and t-shirts were solid (except for those weird cinnamon soft drinks…). All in all, a great event and highly recommended!