Race Recap: XC Met League – Ally Pally

Yesterday was the final fixture of the Met League Cross Country League season. A nasty virus kept me out of commission for almost a month over the holidays, so I missed the January XC race and was eager to lace up my spikes and put on my Heathside vest again this month. Even better, this fixture was at Alexandra Palace — Ally Pally, to us locals — which is a 12-minute jog from my flat. Can’t beat that!

The weather was cold — about 2C/36F — and a bit windy. A few snowflakes flurried around in the air. I debated all morning about what to wear and settled on capris, gloves, and a long sleeve top under my vest. I had memories of running the Ally Pally Met League a few years ago, when the bottom part of the course was so waterlogged it was lake-like. This year, there was lots of thick, sticky mud and many squidgy puddles of ice cold water.

My goal for the race was to run steadily, not walk, not fall, and just finish. Having been off for so long in December/January meant that I lost a lot of cardiovascular fitness, and it has been slow to come back as I have deliberately taken a gradual approach to running again.

After all of us women jogged down to the swampy start, we huddled together for warmth and then the gun went off. Gabi and I ran together for the first lap, letting our ankles get used to running in spikes and stabilizing on the uneven terrain. By the second lap, I had lost Gabi but kept thinking she’d catch me, as our amazing Heathside rabblers would cheer me on and then immediately cheer her on! Going down the big hill for the second time, I gritted my teeth and wished I had gotten some longer spikes for this race — my 9mm ones weren’t cutting it, as I worked hard to keep my footing.

Everyone always dreads having to run up the long, steep Ally Pally hill. While it was hard, I actually felt strong running uphill. I think it’s largely thanks to the core class that F and I have been attending once or twice a week at the gym. I was able to keep my body upright, lift my knees, and keep my arms pumping to propel me up the hill little by little. I wasn’t fast, but I must’ve been relatively efficient, as I did pass a number of runners on the uphills. That said, I then needed the flat “backstretch” of the course to recover from all the ups, downs, and ditch hurdling!

I was knackered by the end of the race and was glad it didn’t end up being a full 6km — it was only 5.3km. I didn’t have anything left for a kick, so a couple of runners sprinted past me to the finish, but I did hold one off at the last second (sorry, Laura, I think that was you! Love your blog). My official time was 29:58 (a sedate 9:03/mile, 5:38/km pace), putting me 126th of 170 women finishing. Pretty far back in the pack, but I’ll get my fitness back eventually.

As usual, the Heathside support was incredible. Lots of our runners were marshaling, as it was our home turf, so it was motivating to be cheered on all the way around. The cowbell-ringing and yelling crowd at the bottom of the hill was amazing. Well done to everyone on a great cross country season!


Race Recap: Perivale 5, for the fourth time

It’s the first weekend of December, and you know what that means? Time for the annual Perivale 5 — a flat, suburban race that is always well-organized by Ealing Southall and Middlesex AC (water, banana, a t-shirt, and a Twix bar after the race? Yes, please!).

It was a glorious day for a road race: a chilly 3-4 degrees C, but bright and sunny with little wind. Some of us were hemming and hawing about what to wear given the cold, but once we warmed up I was glad of my wardrobe choice: thicker capris, a t-shirt under my vest, and gloves (which I even pulled off in the last mile). I hadn’t really run since the previous weekend, as I had a bit of a stomach virus during the week. It didn’t keep me from work but definitely kept me from doing any extra physical activity. I thought I still might be able to manage finishing in 38 minutes but felt quite nervous so decided to see how it went and listen to my body.

The start was slowish, with lots of runners bunched up on a narrow sidewalk, but I managed a 4:54 first kilometer and once it thinned out was able to settle into a pace of just under 5:00/km. I knew I wasn’t on pace for 38 minutes so readjusted my goal to aim for under 39.

My second and third kilometers were 4:49 and 4:51 and I was starting to warm up and get into a good rhythm while steadily passing a runner here and there. I faded a little in the fourth kilometer — my slowest, as you can see from my Strava race analysis below — but was buoyed by making it to the halfway point. You can do it. Just 2 miles to go, I thought as I passed the 3-mile marker.

It helped to pass another Heathsider just after 3 miles — he told me that Gabi was just up ahead, so I made it my goal to try and catch up with her before the end of the race (thanks/sorry, Gabi!). That was enough motivation to make my sixth kilometer my fastest, at 4:37, as I caught up to Gabi near the 4-mile marker and pushed on towards the finish. Once on the track for the last 350 meters, I tried to quicken my pace as much as my legs would let me, and had a good last lap to finish in 38:37 (7:43/mi, 4:49/km pace) — not brilliant (and nowhere close to my PB from three years ago), but a bit faster than I’ve run Perivale for the past two years, and a negative split! I’ll take that as an achievement. I was knackered at the end and glad to share these cookies and H&S’s delicious banana cake with the rest of the Heathside contingent.

In case any nerds are interested in my race analysis, courtesy of Strava.

In case any nerds are interested in my race analysis, courtesy of Strava.


Thanksgiving (in London) 2016 – what we cooked

F and I hosted our second (or third? I can’t remember) Thanksgiving celebration in London on the Saturday following the real holiday (a bit hard to take a random Thursday off when it’s not a public holiday where you live). F’s parents were visiting, too, so they got to experience their first Thanksgiving, and a few friends joined us as well. Here’s what we cooked for 8 people (plus a 10-month-old) — recipe links below the pictures:

  • Turkey! We ordered a 5.2kg bird from one of the local butchers in Crouch End. F stuffed it with apples and thyme, generously salted, peppered, and buttered the skin, and roasted it for 3.5 hours. It came out super moist and delicious.
  • Gravy: F made this one from Serious Eats, using the neck and innards from the turkey but not using soy sauce.
  • Stuffing: I made this classic sage and onion bread dressing from The Kitchn; same as last year. It turned out well and got a number of compliments
  • Sweet potato casserole: my 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
  • Cranberry sauce: this is my favorite recipe. It’s super easy and always turns out well.
  • My (American) friend S brought a lovely green bean dish and a pumpkin pie.
  • Our friends H&S brought a nice apple crumble.
  • Cranberry cake: in my mind, it’s not Thanksgiving without this cranberry upside-down cake, another one that my mom/grandma always make. It’s one of my top 3 favorite cakes ever.
  • Freshly whipped cream. Need I say more?

It was a lovely and relaxing evening all around, with plenty of entertainment provided by 10-month-old H. And despite the horrific political year it’s been, there is still plenty to be thankful for.

Race Recap: XC Met League – Stevenage 2016

Last time I ran a cross country race was almost exactly a year ago, at the Start Fitness Met League Stevenage race — same time, same place. I looked forward to lacing up my spikes again for this season, having missed last month’s Met League race due to illness. The weather report for Saturday looked grim all week, and it didn’t disappoint: cool, grey, and raining. Now that’s proper cross country weather! Fortunately, the morning’s downpour had slowed to a steady, misty drizzle by the time J, C, L, and I arrived at the Stevenage field for the 1:55pm race.

Uphill. Photo credit: Noëlle O'R.

Uphill. Photo credit: Noëlle O’R.

The course was similar to last year’s, without the woods we used to enjoy but with one mini-lap added before the two larger laps. I like half of the Stevenage course: the undulating, curvy first part is enjoyable, but the flat backside of the route is long, straight, and dull. I didn’t have many expectations for my own race, it being my first XC outing of the year and my not having done much speedwork recently. My goal was to enjoy it and embrace the wet weather and possibility of mud.

The mud ended up being less prevalent than we thought, which meant the grassy terrain was actually quite grippy and nice to run on. The start was quick, and I got swept up in it to tick off my first two kilometers in 4:34 and 4:31, respectively. Slow down a bit and stay steady — you still have almost 2 laps to go, I reminded myself. You can pick people off in the second lap if you feel good.

I felt really strong down and up the hills; I don’t chalk that up to my running mileage, but rather to the 20-minute core class that F and I have been doing at the gym twice a week for the past month or so. I felt like I had a lot more body control and could hold my form better on the hills.

Around the final bend. Photo credit: Noëlle O'R.

Around the final bend. Arms out for balance! Photo credit: Noëlle O’R.

As I settled into my rhythm and warmed up a bit, I occasionally overtook other runners as I made my way towards the finish. I couldn’t quite catch two women in front of me on the final straight, but I finished with a much quicker average pace than any recent race I’ve run, so was quite pleased about that. The fitness is somewhere inside me! To compare, my pace was 4:48/km for last month’s Regent’s Park 10k, and I finished this 6.25km race with an average pace of 4:39/km. Not bad! My final time was 29:12 (7:32/mi pace), good for 120th of 182 in the women’s race and 22nd Heathsider of 29 ladies running — just outside of scoring. No matter! I like to think I helped our faster runners to better finishes by beating people from other clubs.

We capped off a damp afternoon of XC the only proper way: with tea and banana bread at the car:

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Out & About in London – October 2016

My parents visited F and me in London for five days this month. Luckily, their visit coincided with both a chorus concert and Half Term, which meant no teaching duties for me and so the ability to take a few days off work. It was fun to be a bit of a tourist around London for a few days — I hadn’t done that in a while. Here’s what we got up to, including pictures.

Bletchley Park

A co-worker of mine recommended visiting Bletchley Park as a nice day trip outside of London. My parents wanted to get out of the city for a day, and it turned out that Bletchley Park was an easy train ride away from Euston Station. In case you don’t know, Bletchley Park is where the British Government Code and Cipher School (CG&CS) set up their codebreaking endeavors during World War II. CG&CS recruited bright young minds from Oxford and Cambridge to work machines, translate, and cipher/encipher/decipher enemy codes, the most famous of which being the Enigma code. Alan Turing, perhaps made better known recently by the movie The Imitation Game, led a team in developing the Bombe Machine to help crack the Enigma code.

Bletchley Park is centered around a mansion on lovely grounds surrounded by lots of “huts,” where various teams were set up to work on codebreaking projects. It was a lovely day when we went, which made for pleasant wandering in and out of huts and learning about what went on at Bletchley Park. There’s also a very detailed museum, which we didn’t spend much time in, having already become saturated by the information in the mansion and huts. It was a nice and informative day out and I’d recommend it.

Dinner at Ottolenghi Islington

Eating at Ottolenghi has been near the top of my “to eat in London” list for a while. We’ve got one of Ottolenghi’s cookbooks — Plenty, or Genussvoll vegetarisch in our German version — that I’ve enjoyed using at times. A few friends recommended the Islington restaurant, and my parents, who love trying new restaurants, were game!

Ottolenghi Islington has cold salads and desserts in the front window and operates a bustling (upscale) takeaway business. The restaurant consists of two long, communal tables and a handful of small two-person tables. The decor is more modern than I expected, but I quite liked the simplicity with splashes of color. The menu consists of small plates that are conducive to sharing — I love this kind of eating, because I get to try a few bites of a lot of dishes! We ordered eight dishes for the four of us, which was plenty and allowed us to save room for the delicious desserts. Dinner highlights for me were: the beetroot and cumin mash, the cauliflower, the braised artichoke and fennel, the pork belly, and the octopus. The almond financier cake for dessert was incredible.

National Portrait Gallery

Looking for something to do before afternoon tea (see below), I suggested to my parents that we pop into the National Portrait Gallery for an hour or so. I had never been there before, and to be honest was not sure I’d like it — how interesting can it be to look at a bunch of dead people’s painted portraits? Turns out, it’s fascinating! We stuck to the 19th and 20th century displays, and they did not disappoint. It was cool to see painted portraits of famous historical figures, from statesmen to the first woman admitted to the British Medical Association to authors like Dickens and Hardy. There was a small but powerful photograph of Virginia Woolf’s husband (or maybe father? I can’t remember) in the foreground with an out-of-focus but so obviously Virginia Woolf in the background. Wow.

My favorite part of the Portrait Gallery was a temporary exhibition, “Black Chronicles: Photographic Portraits 1862-1948.” It was incredibly moving to see such dignified, soulful photographs from the early-ish days of photography. There is something much deeper about photographic portraits from 100+ years ago: carefully composed poses and backdrops, and no cheesy smiles, as people had to hold poses for a long time for the exposure. It is a stunning exhibition and highly recommended.

Afternoon Tea at The Delaunay

My mom suggested that we go out for a proper afternoon tea, like we did a couple of years ago when my parents spent time in London. And who am I to refuse afternoon tea? I had The Delaunay on my list as a well-reviewed (but I can’t remember by whom!) and affordable afternoon tea spot. We each ordered the full Afternoon Tea — my dad and I with scones, and my mom with Gugelhupf (remember that from Bake Off last year?).

Two tea towers (what are they actually called?) arrived, chock full with sweets and savories. The tea also came with brilliant straining devices that had solid bottoms to catch drips when you put them back on the table. It’s the little things! I have a big sweet tooth, but surprisingly I ended up preferring the savories at The Delaunay. The smoked duck sandwich had a great blend of flavors, and I could have eaten five of the cheese puff/choux flatbread-like things sandwiched with cream cheese. The fruit scones were deliciously light and balanced. I found most of the cakes a bit too sweet, although the pistachio financier with poppy seeds and orange cream was really nice. The Delaunay’s afternoon tea selection was very generous, and the three of us agreed that next time we’d only get two full tea menus plus a couple of extra scones.

Wicked

In addition to afternoon tea and a day out of London, my parents wanted to see at least one theatre show. We settled on Wicked, the music of which I knew thanks to my Oberlin housemate Claire, who introduced me to the soundtrack in college. But I didn’t know the story that links the songs together (other than that it’s about the Wicked Witch of the West). 

Well, the musical was brilliant. Along with the hits like “Defying Gravity,” “No Good Deed,” and “For Good,” Wicked actually has a relatively complex plot with a good deal of character development and many messages about trust, friendship, love, and self-regard. The cast was great, with Suzie Mathers and Rachel Tucker more than living up to my expectations as Glinda and Elphaba, respectively. They had personality, depth, and great singing voices — I got chills more than a couple of times.


Race Recap: Regent’s Park 10k (winter series #1)

A couple months ago, F and a few of his work colleagues decided to run an autumn 10k together. F asked me if I wanted to join — of course! — and I helped him look for races in October. We settled on the Mornington Chasers Regent’s Park 10k — the first race of their “winter” series. Here’s my recap of the race.

Post-race. The woman taking our photo encouraged us to strike an appropriately celebratory pose!

Post-race. The woman taking our photo encouraged us to strike an appropriately celebratory pose!

I’ve run a couple of 10ks over the past month and am finally starting to do some faster workouts (hello, hill repeats and Heathside roller coaster!), so my goal for this race was to run under 50:00 and ideally around 48:00. Knowing that Regent’s Park is pretty flat — though there are some sneaky inclines along the course! — made me confident that I could probably be close to my goal time. F and I cycled down to the park and met his co-workers, then took off our layers and lined up to start, still a bit chilly in the brisk 50F/10C morning air.

As we started off on the first of three equal laps, F pulled away and I let him go, noticing that my pace was already pretty quick and not wanting to push too early. Sure enough, I went through the first kilometer in 4:31, feeling pretty good but with a small side cramp. I dialed back a bit, knowing that I “only” needed to average around 4:45/km to run 48 minutes. I caught up with F just after the 2km marker, and we ran together until 6km. Running together helped both of us, especially as we realized we’d gone out a bit too fast and had to slow down for the 5th kilometer (5:10).

At 6km, I felt more sprightly than F so started pulling ahead. I managed the next two kilometers just under 5:00 each — the typical mid-race slump — before hitting the third lap and finally feeling like the end was starting to be in sight. Passing Cookie Monster for the last time (yes, there was a marshal dressed in a Cookie Monster costume), I pressed on past the fountain and around towards the zoo (hello, dromedaries!). By the final straightaway, I didn’t have much left for a kick but managed to finish in 48:03 (chip time) — right around where I’d hoped to be. I was 118th/323 and the 26th woman of 122. F came in just over a minute behind me, also under 50:00. Overall, I’m pleased with how the race went and am glad to see my fitness improving.

I like these Regent’s Park 10k races in part because the 3-lap course passing through the finish line helps you divide the race into thirds. I attempted to evenly pace the race by laps. That didn’t go quite to plan, with 15:31, 16:49, and 15:39 laps (there’s that mid-race slump again), but it’s something to aim for. Although some people think the course is too slippery and narrow at points, I quite like running in Regent’s Park and taking in the sights of ducks, dogs, and greenery while running along. Always a fun morning out.


 

 

Race Recap: Jubilee Hall Trust 10k, Hampstead Heath

Ah, Hampstead Heath, you are one of my absolute favorite places in London. Being on the Heath is like being in a different world; you can forget that you live in a metropolis of 8 million+ people. Sheer bliss.

View from Parliament Hill in July 2016.

View from Parliament Hill in July 2016.

And in this case, a bit of healthy pain to go with that bliss. F and I tromped over to Parliament Hill on a gray and windy Saturday morning for the Jubilee Hall Trust “Run for your life” 10k trail race. J ran it last year and convinced me to sign up, then had to miss it due to another commitment, so F was able to run in her place. The group of 100-odd 10k runners had a low-key feel, with only a handful of us wearing club jerseys. It’s nice to run a race with a lot of “normal” runners from the community sometimes — a bit like the Crouch End 10k.

Pre-race

Pre-race

The course started at the bottom of Parliament Hill, near the athletics track. One of the race marshals led a remarkably effective 5-minute warmup just before the start; it did more to warm us up than the slow 4-minute jog F and I took. Then we were off for two 5km laps of Parliament Hill. (Side note: a few of us only had 9.3km on our Garmins after the race, so we’re not sure it was a full 10km long.) Distance discrepancies aside, it was a tough course: undulating, uneven terrain — mostly trails — up and around the Heath. Luckily the ground was dry, and the cool, breezy weather was actually welcome once we got going.

jubileehalltrust10k-pace

As you can see from my splits, the hills definitely affected the pace. F and I had agreed to run the first 7-8km together — it’s great to have a partner you can be active with! — and then if one of us was feeling good towards the end, (s)he could pick it up. That ended up being F, as I felt pretty knackered after about 7km; I managed to pick my pace up for the last kilometer or so, but it wasn’t quite enough to catch him!

Overall, I’m pleased with my run (50:18) and was happy to treat the race as: 1) a way to spend time with F after a busy week, 2) my “long” run for the week, 3) good general training, and 4) a preview to cross country season! Running on the Heath is one of the great joys of living in north London, and it was F’s first time doing so, which made it extra special to look around and take in the woodland beauty.


 

Summer Singing: “Reflections” in St. James’s Church, Piccadilly

IMG_3038And just like that, another year singing with the Crouch End Festival Chorus has gone by. We wrapped up the regular concert season this weekend with a varied a cappella programme in St. James’s Church, Piccadilly. St. James’s Church was a new venue for us and, though it doesn’t look like much from the outside (despite being designed by Sir Christopher Wren, best known for St. Paul’s Cathedral), it offers a lovely open space inside with a great acoustic. The theme for this summer’s concert was “reflections”: each piece we sang had some sort of reflective element (water, mirrors, a double choir, or simply a sense of internal reflection).

We started off the evening with Eric Whitacre’s Water Night. I’ve been a Whitacre fan for a while, but this was the first time I’ve had the pleasure of singing one of his pieces. It is magical, the way the dense chord clusters and harmonies melt together and shimmer. After a brief piano interlude (see below), we sang Mirror Suite, a contemporary piece written by composer Alan Charlton and set to poems by Spanish poet Federico García Lorca. This was a quirky, four-movement piece with various elements of reflection embedded within it: double (and triple) choirs, canons, inverted figures, birdsong, and fugues. I didn’t fall in love with the piece, but I did enjoy singing in Spanish and experiencing the different effects of the reflective elements. F liked the imitation of birdsong (a small group of soloists) in the second movement, Réplica.

Photo courtesy of FZ

Photo courtesy of FZ

The longest piece in the concert was Josef Rheinberger’s Mass in Eb Major. Have you ever heard of Rheinberger? Neither had I, until we started rehearsing his mass. Rheinberger lived right through the middle and end of the 19th century, and elements of his mass conjure composers as diverse as Mozart, Bruckner, Mendelssohn and Bach. It was an enjoyable mass to sing, and I think we gave it a good performance. My friend A, who attended the concert, said the church’s acoustics worked especially well for the piece’s double choir and rich harmonics.

We ended the concert with two short pieces: Stanford’s pure and beautiful The Blue Bird and a fun arrangement of Michael Jackson’s Man in the Mirror. Here is the Stellenbosch University Choir singing it:

A unique part of this summer’s concert was that we were treated to instrumental interludes for piano and cello. Our very own accompanist, Peter Jaekel, played some lovely solo Debussy, and he was joined by cellist Joely Koos for Arvo Pärt’s Spiegel im Spiegel and Saint-Saëns’ The Swan. The Pärt performance was a highlight for me and other audience members, being at once contemplative, reflective, and sorrowful yet healing and uplifting.

I always enjoy our summer programs, as we get to sing a variety of shorter, unaccompanied pieces in beautiful churches and chapels: Southwark Cathedral; St. John’s College Chapel, Cambridge; Waltham Abbey. Rather than having our usual summer break now, the choir is singing in a BBC Prom at the end of July and recording Bach’s St. John Passion in September. I’m not doing all of it but am looking forward to Brahms’s Ein deutsches Requiem in October. We hope you’ll join us in the audience.


Birthday Wisdom 2016

Another year older, another birthday reflection post! I turned 28 this week and F baked me the best cake anyone has ever made me:

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Last year I wrote about completing an MA and DELTA and starting a new full-time job. I offered a word of wisdom on prioritizing and finding balance. This past year has tested those words of wisdom on more than one occasion, but I like to think I tried my best to stick to them.

Looking back on this year, I’m coming up on two years as an ESOL and Functional Skills English teacher to migrant women in a deprived area of east London. I’ve taken on responsibility as a line manager and am completing a leadership and management course through work to help me develop in those areas. Teaching continues to bring its joys and challenges; switching to a new exam board for our ESOL courses has helped our students’ achievement rates, but there are still kinks to work out. I have an incredible set of colleagues, inspirational women all.

Ready to get married! 8 April 2016. Photo credit: Fotomanufaktur Wessel (www.fotomanufaktur-wessel.de)

Ready to get married! 8 April 2016. Photo credit: Fotomanufaktur Wessel (www.fotomanufaktur-wessel.de)

This year was big because F and I got married! It felt like the right time. He proposed last summer on Cape Cod, a memorable and meaningful spot for my family and for us, with fond memories of cycling, swimming, running, pastry eating, and relaxing. We got married in Germany this April, in a small civil ceremony with parents by our sides.

This past year has also seen a good deal of choral singing, with highlights being Rachmaninov’s Vespers at St. John’s College Chapel, Cambridge; Mozart’s Mass in C minor; Bach’s Mass in B minor; and even recording a Christmas CD. F and I saw Steven Isserlis in a solo recital and we attended a few other concerts, theatre and musical theatre productions. We must take advantage of London cultural life while we can!

Running and sport(s) have been up and down. I did run a 5k PR/PB last September  but slowed down after that, due to busyness and stress in other aspects of life. I’m currently focusing on rebuilding my running fitness base and starting to incorporate speedwork again. I also did my first multisport event this past year: a team duathlon! It was a blast and I could see myself doing more run-bike-run events in the future.

Recent political events in the UK/EU and the USA made me gravitate towards the following quote as my word of wisdom for this year:

We all have a responsibility to now seek to heal the divisions that have emerged throughout this campaign – and to focus on what unites us, rather than that which divides us.

-Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London, after the ‘Brexit’ vote

With that, I wish you all a tolerant year of unity.

Race Recap: 2016 YMCA North London / Crouch End 10k

My running has not been spectacular for the past 6-8 months. After a 5k PR/PB in September, life got busy and stressful. Rather than enjoying running as a stress reliever, as I always have, running became a struggle. Burnout? I don’t think so. Doing too much in all aspects of my life? Possibly. Anyway, I backed off the running for a while. Only in the past few months have I become consistent again, trying to get out for three runs a week without the pressure of track workouts or races. I wanted to start enjoying running again — and I am getting there! It helps to have supportive and understanding running friends. Here’s a recap of my first race since December.

Post race. Photo credit: Tom Hosking Photography (https://www.facebook.com/TomHoskingPhotography/)

Post race group of friendly Heathsiders. Photo credit: Tom Hosking Photography (https://www.facebook.com/TomHoskingPhotography/)

I last ran the YMCA North London / Crouch End 10k two years ago, on a miserably hot day, and marshaled last year on another hot day. Today’s weather was sunny but not too warm (~50F/10C) — much more pleasant for tackling the infamous hills around Ally Pally that make up part of the 2-lap course. Since I have not been doing any speedwork or long runs, my approach to today’s race was very much about using it as a training run and getting back into slightly longer distances. I set myself an achievable goal of finishing this year’s race under 1 hour. And it would’ve been silly not to take up the opportunity of running an organized race that starts less than a mile from home!

As always, the Crouch End 10k has a fantastic atmosphere. I loved arriving to see the crowd being led in the traditional aerobics warm up by an enthusiastic instructor. I found some fellow Heathsiders, congratulated them on recent marathon and half marathon times, and lined up for the start. In a way this is Heathside’s home race, so lots of club members were out running, marshaling, and supporting.

Aerobics warm up for the Crouch End 10k

Aerobics warm up for the Crouch End 10k

I’ll spare you the details of each kilometer, but it was fun to navigate the twists and turns of Crouch End neighborhoods with over 1,000 other runners. There is always so much support along the course, and this year was no different. I loved seeing lots of young people and families outside to cheer on the runners. It was great to be recognized by many of the marshals (most of them being fellow Heathside runners) and being egged on by shouts of, “Come on, Heathside!”, thanks to my club vest (“vest” is UK-speak for singlet or sleeveless top). The highlights for me were running across Ally Pally park — although there’s that sneaky gradual uphill section partway along — and running past the house blaring “YMCA” just before the 5k mark.

I went through 5k in a comfortable 27:33, so knew I could finish under an hour. My pace wasn’t fast but it was maintainable, so I kept chugging along and reminding myself that this was a training run and there was no pressure to race. It can be hard to hold back in a race situation, as the atmosphere and other runners can have you chomping at the bit, but I was happy to run along at my own pace and smile at the crowds, other runners, and beautiful weather. It was just great to be out celebrating fitness and life in the springtime!

I finished in 56:06, probably my slowest recorded 10k race, but I am okay with that. I am glad to have done it and gained the confidence that I can still run longer distances (I know, a 10k is no marathon, but distance is relative to the runner and his/her baseline). Now I can focus on getting some speed back and building up my long runs. Great job to all runners and especially Heathsiders! The race organisation was great and the marshaling was top notch.


At the National Theatre: Shakespeare’s “As You Like It”

On a recent Wednesday evening, F and I took a weeknight out to see Shakespeare’s As You Like It at the National Theatre (NT). I had never been to the National Theatre but when I found out that they have £15 tickets to most shows — practically a steal in London — I jumped at the opportunity.

Aside from knowing the NT’s As You Like It production had gotten good reviews, I didn’t know what to expect of their production (would it be modern? Period?). I read As You Like It years ago so briefly refreshed my memory of the plot before the play started: essentially, the Duke gets overthrown and exiled, then his daughter Rosalind gets banished and so does young Orlando. Everyone ends up in a forest, there is some crossdressing and foolery, and all turns out well in the end.

The National Theatre’s production included an open office with computers, modern-leaning-corporate dress, and a brilliant set design to create the forest for the second half: the tables and chairs were attached in groups and lifted up into the rafters on cables to create obstacles and hiding places in the forest. Real people sat in high up in swings and the wings to create “live” forest sounds: hoots, howls, wind blowing, and more. There were also some great sheep.

As You Like It was such fun to experience. Seeing Shakespeare live brings so much more life to his words than just reading them on the page, and the actors did a wonderful job emphasizing the precision of Shakespeare’s language and turns of phrase. Rosalie Craig made feisty and fun Rosalind and was balanced by Patsy Ferran‘s Celia.

Although Rosalind and Celia shoulder much of the play’s plot, As You Like It is really an ensemble piece. There are plenty of laughs to be had thanks to Touchstone and Audrey, Silvius and Phoebe. There’s a bit of melancholy from Jacques. And there’s music! I had forgotten how much music is incorporated into Shakespeare’s comedies. The NT’s production of As You Like It did a wonderful job with the forest ballads, sung by an actor with a lovely, lilting tenor voice. The final scene was also largely sung and made for an enjoyable and happy end to a thought-provoking comedy.

I would highly recommend the National Theatre’s production of As You Like It. There is nothing like seeing Shakespeare performed live, and the comedies are accessible and fun for all. There is not a bad seat in the NT’s Olivier Theatre — our seats were in the very last row but because the theatre is sloped so steeply, we could see the entire stage without any heads blocking the view.

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Concert Review: Steven Isserlis at Wigmore Hall

F and I got £5 tickets — if you’re under 35, check out the scheme — to see cellist Steven Isserlis at Wigmore Hall in London last week. I had seen Isserlis, a fellow Oberlin graduate, perform in the Oberlin Artist Recital Series back in 2008 or so. It remains one of the most memorable concerts I attended during my four years at Oberlin — and I went to a lot of concerts — so I jumped at the chance to see Isserlis perform again. Here is my review of his concert at Wigmore Hall.

Isserlis’ program at Wigmore Hall included three of J.S. Bach’s Cello Suites — No. 1 in G major (BWV1007), No. 5 in C minor (BWV1011), and No. 4 in Eb major (BWV1010) — interspersed with Signs, Games and Messages — short, fragmentary pieces by 90-year-old Hungarian composer György Kurtág.

Bach’s Cello Suite No. 1 is probably the best-known of the cello suites, especially its characteristic Prelude. Isserlis opened the concert with this suite, although he played it a bit fast for my taste and it felt rushed. He followed this with two movements from Kurtág’s Signs, Games and Messages before flowing directly into Bach’s Cello Suite No. 5. The Kurtág pieces were short, fun, and playful; they reminded me of Penderecki solo string pieces, such as the Divertimento for cello. Bach’s Cello Suite No. 5 is one of my favorites — I’m a sucker for C minor — and Isserlis gave a gorgeous and moving performance of it, drawing a rich tone from his cello’s gut strings and letting the music dance in the faster movements.

After the interval, Isserlis played three more short Kurtág pieces — one of which drew a laugh from the audience as Isserlis glanced up with his characteristic impish look — before transitioning immediately into Bach’s Cello Suite No. 4. The audience was rapt by the time Isserlis got to the slow Sarabande, which he played with such feeling and emotional depth that even he seemed to tear up. The Sarabande’s gravity contrasted well with the playful last movement (Gigue).

Isserlis took three or four bows before settling down for an encore with another joyful movement from another Bach Cello Suites. Isserlis is a great performer to watch, as he so clearly feels the music and adapts his character to it without being distracting. He played all three Bach Cello Suites from memory and with such poise that the music seemed to flow out of him. He periodically glances at the audience with a half-smile, as if letting us in on a private joke.

It was a stunning concert. If you ever get the chance to see Isserlis play, do it. F said it’s the best classical music concert he has ever been to; his mind was sufficiently boggled. We talked about Bach’s genius: his music sounds so simple but is actually very difficult to play or sing (as I know well from recently tackling the Mass in B minor) and requires flawless technique and command.

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Singing Bach’s “Mass in B Minor”

Design: John Featherstone. Copy: Rachel Yarham

Design: John Featherstone. Copy: Rachel Yarham

It was a long, hard slog to the Barbican Hall to perform J.S. Bach’s Mass in B minor (BWV 232) as part of the Crouch End Festival Chorus. The Mass in B minor (completed in 1749) is a piece of epic proportions — it’s almost two hours long and requires the utmost concentration to keep up with the tricky rhythms, runs, and fugues.

Although I had never sung Bach’s Mass in B minor before, I was familiar with bits of it from listening to recordings over the years. It is a glorious piece. When you listen, it doesn’t sound all that complex because the melodies and harmonies are so pleasing and hummable; however, singing it is another matter! I was forewarned, as my good friend Emma sang the piece with her choir in Boston last year and told me how difficult it was. What I wasn’t prepared for was the non-logical placement of words and syllables on unexpected beats. Learning Bach, I soon figured out, requires the ability to quickly recognize patterns and repeat them at different pitches. Once I understood that, it made many bits of the music easier to learn (multiple sectional rehearsals to “note bash” were also helpful).

To add another degree of complexity (particularly for those singers with perfect pitch), we sang our Mass in B minor in Baroque pitch, which is half a step lower than today’s standard pitch used by most orchestras. Our orchestra for the Mass in B minor, though, was the Bach Camerata, a period instrument ensemble complete with strings, old-school oboes, wooden flutes (they sound beautiful — sort of a cross between a modern flute and a recorder), and horns with no keys (amazing that the musicians can control all the pitches with their embouchures).

Concert day brought the usual marathon afternoon rehearsal, which is always brightened by the fact that it’s the first time we (the chorus) get to see the orchestra and soloists. They did not disappoint. I was captivated from the first duet, “Christe eleison,” between soprano Mary Bevan (whom F and I saw in the ENO’s Mikado last fall) and mezzo-soprano Diana Moore. Moore’s “Agnus Dei” at the end of the piece was also breathtaking. Callum Thorpe delivered resonant bass solos and Ben Johnson‘s tenor was in good form. The Bach Camerata was a joy to listen to and sing with; I was particularly impressed by the two flute players and the accuracy and articulation of the entire ensemble.

By many audience accounts, we pulled off a great performance. The Mass in B minor is exhausting to perform — and probably to listen to — but early reviews and comments point to a success. Our director, DT, certainly seemed really pleased after the first half. It a great experience to learn Bach’s Mass in B minor; I’m glad to have done it, but as a fellow singer pointed out, also glad to move onto the next challenge.

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