Tag Archives: Met League

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.


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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: 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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Race Recap: XC Met League #2 – Stevenage

Saturday 7 November saw the arrival of the second Start Fitness Met League Cross Country fixture of the season, in Stevenage. The course used to have a lovely section through the woods — many were dismayed to learn that this year the woods had been taken out (something about permissions for using the area and the woods getting too torn up by XC runners…what, us?!).

So this year the course at Stevenage was run solely around the undulating grassy field — two laps for the women and three for the men — with some snaking back and forth to keep things interesting. Although the women’s course was advertised at 5.8km (3.6mi), it ended up being 6.6km (4.1mi) according to my and others’ Garmin watches. I believe the men’s course was also longer than usual.

Post-race. Photo credit: Ken T.

Post-race. Photo credit: Ken T.

The most interesting part of the race had to have been the weather: windy, wet, but oddly warm for November. Proper cross country weather, some called it. There was plenty of mud to slog through and water to slosh into spikes, not to mention a brutal headwind over half the course. The Heathside ladies’ contingent stood shivering together after taking off our layers and waiting for the start, but once we started running it was quite warm.

The first bit of the course’s large lap had some ups and downs with muddy corners — spikes were a necessity — before it flattened out along the backside of the loop. When my Garmin ticked off 3km just as we finished the first lap, I knew the course would be longer than advertised. No matter, I thought, just keep running. I didn’t feel particularly energetic after a busy week with no running and not much to eat the evening before, so I didn’t push very hard but tried to run steadily and notched pretty consistent splits per kilometer: 4:42, 4:41, 4:32, 4:53, 4:43, and 4:20 pace for the last .6km to the finish. I came well back in the results, at 133rd of 218 women and the 27th of 37 Heathside ladies finishing, but am pleased and in retrospect enjoyed it.

We certainly looked a bit bedraggled and wet-rat-like after the race (see photo above), but we also felt tough and virtuous after braving the less-than-ideal conditions. Well done, Team Heathside!

Next up: Perivale 5 road race in early December

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Race Recap: Return to Cross Country! Met League #1 (Claybury)

Ah, Autumn. Crisp, (ideally) sunny mornings, warmish days, and cool evenings. I love this time of year, as it evokes thoughts of warm, comforting vegetable dishes (sweet potatoes, squash, you know), sweet apple desserts, and of course cross country running! After taking part in a bunch of cross country (XC) races two years ago, I missed all of last season due to working full time while doing a DELTA course. Needless to say, my new spikes and I were keen to get back to the muddy, hilly trails. Here’s my recap of this season’s first Start Fitness Met League cross country race:

Heathside ladies out in full force (photo credit: Cathy J.)

Heathside ladies out in full force (photo credit: Cathy J.)

The first Met League XC race took place at Claybury Park in north London. Two years ago, I ran in regular running shoes (or “trainers” for you UK readers) on what I recalled to be quite a muddy afternoon. The course was much drier this year, so some people even opted to keep their trainers on, but I was excited to don my spikes — and am glad I did.

One could only describe the Claybury course as undulating. There’s one long, steep uphill in the woods that we had to tackle twice — the downhill is equally as steep, and uneven enough to merit caution while descending. As you can see from my splits below (click the image to enlarge), the kilometers including the steep hill were my slowest two of the race.

ClayburyXCsplits-10.10.15

The start of the race was much too crowded: a mass of women running downhill through a narrow passage between the trees. There was a good deal of jostling and trying not to step on other runners. After the first half kilometer or so, though, the field spread out enough to settle into a consistent pace.

Blurry me in the foreground (photo credit: Dulce)

Blurry me in the foreground (photo credit: Dulce)

I wasn’t sure what to expect from my body after racing twice in the past few weeks, but the change of terrain and atmosphere seemed to be good and I was pleased with my pace throughout. I ended up alternating leading and chasing another Heathside runner for the second half of the race; she would bound effortlessly up the hills and I would catch up with her on the flat sections. We used great teamwork in the last couple of kilometers to gain on non-Heathsiders and she encouraged me up the last hill to the finish, where she just edged me out. I was pleased with my time of 27:03 (7:15/mi or 4:31/km pace) for the 6km/3.73mi course and felt good. My ankles needs to get used to running in spikes again, though!

Loads of Heathsiders turned up to run for the club; I think at least 30 women and even more men came out. Everyone ran well, and in cross country each person scores points, so the more that show up the more points we take away from other teams! I was 83rd out of 198 ladies but just missed out on scoring for Heathside’s C team because so many fast women came out to run. I’m already looking forward to the next XC outing.

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Recipe: Smitten Kitchen’s Chewy Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

Since I cannot contribute driving to cross country and road races, I’ve taken it upon myself to provide post-race treats for the club-mates who generously let me snag a spot in their cars. So far this season, I’ve shared my granola and easy energy bars, both of which received praise and recipe requests. For last weekend’s post-Met League cross country treat, I decided to make some sweet-yet-relatively-healthy oatmeal raisin cookies (if you want über-healthy, make these banana-oat snack “cookies” instead). Of the few recipes I had bookmarked, the smitten kitchen one looked the best, and I fortunately had all of the ingredients on hand — not to mention that smitten kitchen recipes almost always turn out amazingly well, so I knew it’d be hard to mess these up.

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I didn’t make too many adjustments to Deb’s already perfect recipe. My cookies didn’t turn out as thick as hers, despite the fact that I chilled the dough for half an hour before baking the cookies. I used big, juicy “flame raisins” (they’d been the cheapest at Tesco) and all the walnuts I had around — feel free to use more or fewer, or leave them out, depending on your preferences.

 

The cookies turned out beautifully: crisp edges, chewy insides. Divine — and addicting. They got rave reviews from my running club-mates (glad you all liked them!). Now, what to make for the next race…

What are your favorite post-race or post-exercise refueling treats?

Smitten Kitchen’s Chewy Oatmeal Raisin Cookies (very slightly adapted from smitten kitchen; makes 16-18 medium cookies)

Ingredients

  • 115g (1/2 cup = 1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
  • 125g (2/3 cup) brown sugar, packed (I used dark brown)
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 95g (3/4 cup) plain/all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 – 1/2 tsp salt
  • 120g (1.5 cups) rolled oats
  • 120g (1 cup) raisins
  • optional: 45-60g (1/2 – 3/4 cup) walnuts, chopped

Procedure

  • In a large bowl, use an electric mixer to cream the butter, sugar, egg, and vanilla until smooth.
  • In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt. Stir this into the wet mixture, then add the oats, raisins, and walnuts and stir until just combined.
  • Optional: Chill the dough for 20-40 minutes in the fridge.
  • When the dough is done chilling, preheat the oven to 175C (350F).
  • Place tablespoon-sized balls of dough on a parchment-lined cookie sheet, then bake for 9-12 minutes or until the edges are golden-brown. Let cool for 5 minutes on the cookie sheet before transferring.

Enjoy!

Race Recap: Met League #4, Horsenden Hill

Saturday’s Met League cross country race at Horsenden Hill was the toughest yet. Though the hills weren’t as steep as at Ally Pally, the mud was thicker and deeper and the terrain was more uneven: there were lots of little bumps and divots, which were tough on the feet and ankles. I was grateful for my strong legs and good balance on the slick and uneven course.

This is what the entire race terrain was like. Photo credit: ESM

This is what the entire race terrain was like. (Those are my legs in the foreground. Clearly I need to work on my foot-knee tracking — ugh!) Photo credit: ESM

Luckily, the crisp, sunny conditions made the sopping terrain a bit more bearable. Everyone was caked in mud up to and past their knees at the end — some all the way up to the face, thanks to a crowded start and narrow trails. I rinsed my spikes, socks, and capris in multiple buckets of water before hanging them up to dry.

Post-race: note the mud-covered legs. Photo credit: Caroline W

Post-race: note the mud-covered legs. Photo credit: Caroline W

The race itself went well for me. I tried to go out a little faster than usual and was able to consistently pick people off throughout the race. The last third of the final hill was really tough, as I slogged through deep mud that threatened to suck off my spikes at every step and wondered where exactly the finish was. I almost caught CB at the end but she held me off by just two seconds! If the race had been 100 meters longer, I may have caught her…but she ran a great race, despite claiming to have gone out too fast — clearly it worked in her favor.

The rabbling from the men was great, as usual — someone kept yelling to me, “You’re not even trying!” That made me laugh and helped me dig in and keep pushing.

There was a great Heathside women’s turnout, with 24 of us and many strong performances. As usual, I finished about in the middle of the Heathsiders (13th/24, same as at Ally Pally) and of the race as a whole — actually it was my best overall finish in cross country so far this season: I was 75th/152 women finishing. Times don’t mean much in cross country, especially with the course conditions, but I finished the 6km (3.73mi) race in 28:53 (7:45/mile).

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Next up, I have four races in the next four weeks (crazy? Possibly): Fred Hughes (10mi), Southern XC Champs (8km), Watford Half Marathon (13.1mi), Met League cross country #5 (6km).

Met League, previously: Met League #1Met League #2Met League #3

Race Recap: Met League #3, Ally Pally

With rain on and off all week, buildup to Saturday’s Met League race at Ally Pally (Alexandra Palace) — my club’s “home turf” — was filled with speculation about how muddy and lake-like the course might be. “Heavy rain” was forecast for Saturday; it would probably be a messy one.

It didn’t end up raining too much during the race, but the day was gray and windy. We had a massive headwind during much of the second half of the race; the wind drove the misting rain into our faces as we battled up the big hill for the second time. Luckily, it wasn’t actually too cold — about 10C (50F) — so I opted for shorts and a long-sleeved base layer under my Heathside vest.

Standing and waiting for the start, all of a sudden I got nervous. “Let’s just get this over with,” I said to J. But as soon as we were off through the mud, a huge smile came to my face as I realized the absurdity of 152 women slogging across muddy grass for 6km. Laughing must’ve relaxed me, as well as thinking we’re going to be wet and muddy anyway, so I might as well enjoy this!

J and I stuck together, looping around the pond twice — while passing people pretty consistently — before heading up the dreaded Ally Pally hill for the first time. We caught C and C at the bottom of the hill and started up: “Just pretend it’s the roller coaster,” I breathed to J. (NB: The “roller coaster” is the hilly tempo run we do every other Thursday evening, adding five minutes every month.) Small steps and big arms going downhill, I reminded myself as we reached the top and plunged downwards. I lost J at some point here and ended up running the rest of the race pretty much on my own.

We had one more loop of the pond, then up and down the hill to the finish. Stay steady here, I reminded myself on the last loop of the pond, you’ve still got to get up the big hill again. Tip-toeing through the small bogs that had formed, so as not to lose my shoes, I rounded the pond and headed into the wind and rain for the last ascent and final downhill. Another silly grin spread over my face as the rain hit me. You’ve run in worse conditions than this, TammelaYou love running in the rain. It’s true — the wind I could’ve done without, but I do love a good cleansing run in the rain.

The last run up the hill was pretty brutal — baby steps, I told myself — yet I still managed to pass a few people on the ascent. “Now stay focused,” I said out loud to myself when starting downhill. The last few minutes of the race can be the toughest, especially in cross country when your concentration begins to wane. Do not fall. Across the fields on a slight decline, the finish was in sight as I kicked it into high gear for the last push. That paid off, as I passed three women right before the finish.

Final result: I ran 28:23 for the muddy 6km/3.73mi course (7:36/mile pace). I was the 79th woman of 152 and the 13th Heathsider of 24 running.

Overall, I am really pleased with my race. Despite the pre-start nerves, once on course I felt relaxed and strong. It was thrilling to splash through water and mud — “This is real cross country,” I said to J afterwards. It makes you feel alive. As always, the rabbling from the Heathside men and other Heathside-affiliated spectators was fantastic — it definitely helped me keep going and chasing people in front of me. Thanks, everyone, and great running all!

Next up: a couple of easy weeks over the holidays, then ramping up in January for four race weekends in a row: cross country, 10 miler, cross country, half marathon. Should be a fun and busy running month.

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Race Recap: XC Met League #2, Stevenage

Saturday 9 November dawned gray and rainy. It’ll be a wet cross country race, I thought. Luckily, it didn’t actually rain much during our race, but it was a nippy 46F (7-8C) with the characteristic damp London chill in the air. I decided to race in capris with a long sleeved base layer under my Heathside singlet and almost wore gloves.

Despite the less-than-inviting conditions, the second Met League cross country race at Stevenage was good fun. The course consisted of two nearly identical laps: around the undulating perimeter of a grassy open field, with a roughly 1km section through the woods, which had some nice mud holes by the time the women’s race went off.

The women’s field of runners seemed bigger than last month’s Claybury fixture. It seemed faster, too, as evidenced by our (Heathside’s) top runner finishing a mere 14th after coming in 5th in Claybury. To be fair, this course was also much less hilly — you really can’t compare cross country times on different courses, since each race has such different terrain.

photo credit: Sarah G.

Post-race. Photo credit: Sarah G.

My race was much more enjoyable this time around, in large part thanks to an old pair of cross country spikes that a fellow Heathsider generously gave me. It was really nice not to have to worry as much about slipping; I could be a lot more aggressive with the added security of spikes. I pushed pretty hard and was definitely feeling it by the last kilometer; even so, I had a good short kick and even passed a woman right before the finish.

Funnily enough, I finished in the exact same place as last month, both for the whole race (85th, but 165 rather than 152 at Claybury) and among the Heathside women (10th, of 20). I ran over two minutes faster this month: 27:17 for 6km (3.73mi), which makes for an average pace of 7:19/mi. A satisfying race and result; my physical and mental game came together well.

As always, it was fantastic to have the Heathside men “rabbling” (i.e., cheering us on) at key points around the course. Thanks, guys! I’m already looking forward to the next one…

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Race Recap: Cross Country! Met League #1, Claybury

As I’ve mentioned before, my running club is very active in the London-area road racing and track and field scene. Add cross country to that, too! Throughout the fall (autumn, here) and winter, there are competitive cross country leagues for clubs around London. There’s an enthusiastic core of serious XC runners in my club; they attempt to recruit the rest of us, particularly for the monthly Met League races. Apparently the scoring is such that merely having tons of runners in the race can boost the overall team result, regardless of how fast the runners finish — each person scores points.

Since some of the people I regularly train with also participate in cross country season, I decided to give it a go. Why not? There’s no entry fee, as long as you’re a member of a club. Each Met League race is held at a different park in the London area; it’s a good opportunity to run on new territory (and terrain!).

So off I went to Claybury Park with J, G, and B on Saturday around noon, for our 1:55pm 6km (3.73mi) cross country race. After a short warmup, we gathered with our fellow Heathside women at the start line, the horn went off, and away we ran!

photo by George S.

photo credit: George S.

The course for us was one small loop and the two (identical) big loops. Since I’d never run cross country before this, I wasn’t sure what to expect in terms of terrain but assumed there’d be grass and mud and hills. There were, and said mud made me wish I had XC spikes, as I decided to run this first race in my regular running shoes (known as “trainers” here in the UK). Once we finished one big loop, I knew what to expect and where the terrain would be dry/flat enough for me to push my pace in my non-spiked shoes: a few sections of paved paths, a couple of flat grassy stretches, and the big up and down through the woods. (At least our Thursday hill training club sessions seem to be paying off — I definitely passed people going uphill.)

With 1 or 2km to go, I felt my focus fading and had to really grit my teeth to stay on track — cross country running takes much more mental focus than road running, since the terrain is uneven/hilly/slippery. You have to pay attention if you don’t want to fall! Keeping that in mind, 6km felt like a lot more than 6km, and I was happy to finish under 30 minutes (29:22, which is 7:52/mile pace), as the 85th woman (of 152) and the 10th Heathside woman (of 19 in our race).

Overall, I enjoyed my first experience of cross country. My favorite part — aside from running on pretty wooded trails — was the great team atmosphere. Since the men raced after us, they were ever-present on key parts of the course to cheer us on and ring their cowbells! That certainly helped keep me going. Hopefully I’ll get my hands on some spikes soon, so I’ll run faster at the next fixture.

Next up on my racing calendar: Met League #2 in November, and a 5-mile road race in December.

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