Tag Archives: London

Race Recap: Met League XC – Ally Pally 2019

Photo Credit: Tom Hosking Photography

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

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

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

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

Terrifyingly long spikes. Worth it!

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

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

Lap 1. Photo credit: F

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

Photo Credit: Tom Hosking Photography

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

Photo Credit: Tom Hosking Photography

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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At the National Theatre: “Hadestown”

Back in November, my parents flew over to London for the long Thanksgiving weekend. They were keen to go see a show while in town, and Monday night was the most convenient for going out. A musical called Hadestown was on at the National Theatre and it sounded quirky: jazz-folk music, based on two Greek myths, written and directed by women. As both shows F and I have seen at the National Theatre were excellent, I thought we’d give it a go!

“Hadestown” set at the National Theatre

And we were glad we did.

Intertwining the Orpheus/Eurydice and Hades/Persephone myths, Hadestown brings us to the modern-day industrial in what could be a southern railway town / New Orleans piano bar. In addition to the four protagonists, other characters from Greek myth are in attendance: Hermes, messenger god, narrates much of the story; and the Fates ever weave around the characters, cajoling and tempting them.

Speaking of the Fates, I think they get some of the best music in the show, with hints of Bossa Nova and tight, edgy but round harmonies. Check this one out:

In other music, the song “Why We Build The Wall,” set as a kind of call-and-response reminiscent of the Old South, is powerful and chillingly relevant to today’s politics. Eva Noblezada, as Eurydice, has a great voice. I was less impressed by Orpheus’ solos, but I think that’s because the character’s musical style is quite different from the rest of the show. It’s more folksy, and reminds me of the music from Once, contrasting – probably on purpose – with the jazzier ensemble pieces.

Final verdict: Hadestown, while sometimes jumpy in narrative, is a fantastic show. The music is jazzy, bluesy, folksy, and above all, catchy. Some tunes and themes resonate heavily with today’s political environment. It was also great to see such a diverse cast, with plenty of talent to go around. Highly recommended!

Of course, an evening out on the Southbank isn’t complete without taking in the London lights from Waterloo Bridge. London really is a magical place.

 


Race Recap: XC “Dirty Double”

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

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

Race 1 – Saturday: Met League Cross Country in Uxbridge

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

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

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

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

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

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

First time through the river crossing…

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

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

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

Most Heathsiders before Sunday League in Trent Park

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

Back in action less than 24 hours later…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Thanksgiving in London, 2018

After skipping Thanksgiving last year (and hosting a festive cookie party instead), F and I were keen to put on a Thanksgiving celebration this year. As a bonus, my parents flew over to London for the long weekend! We planned the usual feasting on the Saturday following Thanksgiving, but this time we added a twist: F and I reversed the traditional Thanksgiving order! Around 3pm we enjoyed all the desserts with coffee/tea — German Kaffee und Kuchen style. A few hours later, we devoured the savory feast. Everyone agreed that the reverse order worked really well, because we had time to socialise in between while the turkey roasted, and we weren’t too full after dinner. Here’s what we cooked for 9 people, and what we did with the leftover turkey:

  • Dessert:
    • Our favorite family cranberry upside-down cake.
    • Smitten Kitchen’s pumpkin pie with pecan praline sauce. I made the crust, F made the pie, S made the sauce and it was very nice.
    • J&C brought a lovely apple crumble to complete the trio of desserts.
    • Plenty of freshly whipped cream and custard (do you like yours hot or cold?).
  • Dinner:
    • Turkey! We ordered an 11-pound turkey from our favorite local butcher in Crouch End. F stuffed it with apples and thyme, generously salted, peppered, and buttered the skin, and roasted it for a few hours. It tasted great.
    • Gravy: F made a meaty gravy and a vegetarian gravy, and both were silky smooth and delicious.
    • Stuffing: I made the same stuffing/dressing (what is the difference?) that I have for the past few Thanksgivings: this classic sage and onion bread dressing from The Kitchn. I think it turned out the best this year because I used enough broth to keep it moist.
    • Sweet potato casserolemy mom’s/grandma’s recipe that’s been a staple at our family Thanksgivings since I can remember.
    • Brussels sprout and tomato salad: another family recipe.
    • C&W brought some very nice garlicky green beans.
    • Don’t forget the cranberry sauce!
  • Leftovers:
    • There weren’t very many! What we made fed the 9 of us comfortably, and could have fed 10 people. We mostly had turkey leftover, so on Sunday I made a turkey version of my chicken and dumplings, minus the dumplings (we had bread).

We had quite an international group this year: four Brits (all hailing from different regions), two Germans (S was down from Liverpool for a few days), and three Americans. It was the first Thanksgiving for a few people, and I always enjoy introducing my favorite holiday to others. It was also so nice to have my parents around and to share our style of Thanksgiving with them – and how many of my mom’s family recipes we use!


Race Recap: 2018 London Cross Country Championships, Parliament Hill

Photo credit: Andrew W

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

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

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

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

The start. Photo by Andrew W.

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

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

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

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

Heathside women post-race. Photo from Emily R.

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

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

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

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


Race Recap: Middlesex 10k, 2018 edition

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

Photo credit: Bea V.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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.


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.

TP QE10k Sep18 a

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.


#BecauseESOL

I don’t share a lot on this blog about my job as an ESOL teacher for migrant adults in London. This post, though, hits home in how accurately it encapsulates the ups and downs of what it’s like to be an ESOL professional. It’s not an easy job, but most of the time it’s worth it. I hope Sam’s post gives you some insight into what I do most days at work!

Sam Shepherd

I started using this hashtag on twitter a while ago as a bit of fun. You’d be discussing something with someone from outside ESOL and they’d ask why. And, this being Twitter, you’d have no short explanation, except a virtual shrug and “because ESOL.”

So this is the long explanation, for which I apologise, as I’ve been here before, but it never hurts to remind people.

Because Language

ESOL generally occurs in an English language environment, unlike, say, international EFL which can occur in all sorts of contexts.

This means that ESOL is judged on the same terms as, say, hairdressing, or Access to HE, despite being profoundly different in one crucial regard: the students and the teacher don’t share a common first language. Some of them might, but not all of them. So you can forget your learning outcomes, differentiated according to Bloom’s (entirely language dependent, and balls to…

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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.