swimathon 2017

It’s not often I compare myself to Serena Williams, but I’ve got to say I felt a like her BFF when I heard her when I heard the news about her winning the Australian Open while pregnant. While not quite a major grand slam tournament, I had just squeezed into my swimsuit and completed the 1.5k Swimathon.

I was late to sign up for swimathon this year mostly because it wasn’t taking place at my favourite London Fields Lido due to construction closures. I couldn’t get excited about swimming laps in any old pool and was flying to Canada Friday evening anyway.

But, the Wednesday before swimathon saw me open an email with a last minute discount code, looking up pools that had an early Friday start time, and messaging my trusted swim buddy Josie “Last minute swimathon Friday morning at Kings Hall Pool in Hackney?”

Probably due to our late sign up, we didn’t receive any information about the event and only had the rough hours of the pool from the (poorly designed) swimathon website. Thinking we had a leisurely 4 hours to complete the 1.5k we planned to meet mid morning and Josie even took an unplanned walking tour of Hackney round and around the leisure centre. Being the first swim in a while for both of us we needed some extra time in general I forgot my 20p and Josie forgot her bra, but eventually we made it to the pool deck!

At the poolside we caught the swimathon staff cleaning up and they let us know we were 2 hours late to start. Oops. But being generally awesome swimmer people they took one look at us and said, “oh well, let’s get you ladies a lane.” We had to promise we’d count our own laps and not cheat while the organiser went out to get a croissant, but it was the perfect set up with Josie and I swimming American style (just me who calls it that?) up and down a side of our own lane.

I hadn’t been swimming much in the past few months so started feeling it after 500m, but kept going at my slow and steady pace with a few breaks to high five Josie when we met at the ends. With 100m to go my trusty 4 year old goggles finally broke down the middle after an especially strong push off (come on we all do it) with the end in sight. My hero Josie had already finished so she waded out and tossed me her goggles to finish the last few laps.

We finished, grabbed our medals from the box and let ourselves out.

Debriefing over PB toast at a cafe across the street we decided the Kings Hall pool was lovely, if only a bit warm and in need of a bit of TLC to really bring out its unique architecture. Swimathon is always a lovely event and even without being there for ours, the staff go above and beyond to make sure you have a good experience in the water.

Berlin half marathon

Last weekend I went to Berlin for a reason, to cheer on my friends running the Berlin Half and drink all the free Erdinger Weisbier Alkoholfrie I could get my hands on.

A few of us signed up for the race weekend away last fall but since then and now I’ve been running less and getting pregnant more so racing a half marathon came off my weekend to-do list.  Still, there is nothing better than a weekend in Berlin and cheering on friends in a great race so off to Berlin we all went.

Right before the trip Karkoa luggage sent me an email to see if I wanted one of their runners travel bags to try out in exchange for a review of it. I have a tried and tested pully bag that I can pack for a race weekend in my sleep and still have room for duty free chocolates at the end, so I checked if Alex wanted to test it out and he was keen. We got the Sport Bag 40 which was the perfect size for our 4 day trip.

Arriving in Berlin we saw the familiar green lines on the race route and started our trip with a sandwich from an all vegan food truck outside our hotel. We didn’t realise it was all vegan until we got to the front of the line but it was so good. I’ll happily be tricked out of meat anytime.

Then we made our way to the expo to pick up race packs and some beers.

My top tip would be to read every single instruction on every email the race sends you. They were pretty serious about everyone having their race pass and photo ID, even not letting one of our friends in until he could locate some ID. After our race bracelets were attached we were given our numbers, luggage bags, a gel , some shower soap, deodorant, and some waterproof kit wash and sent out to the expo for all our sample and neon euro kit needs.

Alex and I found our old friend Fraudolin Fink and then set up at the inexpo beer garden to wait for the others.

We discussed race/spectating strategies and bartered goodybag items (“I’ll trade you a gel and the deodorant for your protein infused post-run shower soap?”) After half the group went to watch the football and the rest of us to eat all the brauhaus specialities.

   

The next day we did some sightseeing around central Berlin. This was our third trip we knew what we wanted to see and since it was such a hot and sunny day we took advantage of all the open patios for much needed sitting and drinking.

More food and drinks as we met up for a great dinner at the amazing Meisterstueck.

Race morning we were up and out of the hotel and walking the racers to the start before finding our first cheer point at the Brandenburg Gate. Laura and I planned our own 3 mile spectating run to try to catch our friends at a few places before the finish line. The Berlin Half marathon is huge with 30,000ish runners and we did our best to cheer most of them on, especially the ones in British running club vests.

After Brandenburg Gate we headed to Potsdamer Platz to see our friend Katie flying past at the 17km mark and then hopped on the u-bahn to the finish near Alexanderplatz.

There were a lot of smiles at the finish line and with the weather still warm we rounded up a big group and headed to a beer garden for a recover metre of fresh beer.

Alex and I capped off the day with dinner at our favourite restaurant in Europe Henne. That potato salad is so so so good!

The next day we took it easy at the hotel and walked around to find one more great Berlin meal at BurgerAMT. Trust them and try the peanut sauce.

Fed and recovered it was a great weekend in Berlin with some running, all our friends, and as always the most food and drink possible.

(Photos: Thanks to Laura & Katie for their excellent selfie taking abilities)

Altura: made by women for women

When I was sent the A/W kit to test out from Alutra, one of the labels caught my eye,

“Made for Women by Women”

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I ripped the tag off but kept thinking about it, who are these women making cycling kit? I wanted to know more about them and their process for making kit for women. I don’t know about everyone, but before this I associated Alutra with those big bulky neon cycling jackets that 1 in every 5 commuters seems to wear. So, what’s changed now ?

Emma & Sophie from Alutra both kindly took some time out and answered my questions about being product designers for Altura.

Emma Robertson: Product Line Manager for Altura
Sophie Laliberte: Product Creation Manager for Altura

Cycling hasn’t been the most welcoming industry towards women in the past. How did you get into the cycling industry and what would you recommend for women wanting to break in as well?

Emma: While at university my direction was always sportswear and when I graduated I was looking for roles that allowed me to enter the sportswear industry. Fortunately a few months after graduating a cycling brand was recruiting and I got the job!! I really wanted to have a job that works with my lifestyle, we spend so much time at work, why not spend some of that on the bike too. I have now been working in the cycling industry for 5 years and love it so much. I think you should always be true to yourself if you have a passion for cycling what ever the discipline let people know, shout out about it on your Linked in page or cv that’s what I did.

Sophie: I have always been active and participated in various sports growing up. I studied fashion design and I always wanted to work in Fashion, for some reason I ended up working for a sports brand.
I was introduced to the cycling industry working with a cycling brand on the west coast of Canada many many moons ago. While working with the cycling brand in Canada I started to cycle with other people so I could have a better understanding of the product and how to evolve the collections.
You don’t need to be the best and the fastest (as I’m usually the last/slowest) but it is important to have an understanding of the sport and the product that you are creating.
Don’t be afraid, always try and never give up. Believe there is a place for you in the industry and you can make a difference.

Now that “shrink it and pink it” is firmly behind us (for the most part), what are you and Altura actually doing to provide technical cycling kit to the wide range of women out there? What kind of research, measurements, etc.?

Emma:We have female designers and developers that firstly do not want to “shrink it and pink it”, that’s the best part about our team, we want product for us. If we don’t want to wear it on our weekly ride, then we start again.

We also work with WGSN to ensure we are following global trends across Womens lifestyle/fitness not just the cycling industry, and have worked closely with Alvanon for our fit blocks and have fit mannequins. They have conducted extensive research across gender body types to determine an average fit form for their mannequins. We have custom made Alvanon Mannequins in the Product Creation Space to ensure that the fit is correct for the rider. We also conduct weekly fit sessions on various riders/ body shapes to ensure we are catering for various female riders.

Sophie: All of our colours in the range are bases on trends, we refer to the WGSN trend forecasts to understand the global trends. Yes the thinking of “shrink it and pink it” is not our philosophy, although if you find something pink in our range, it’s based on Colour Trend!

We work with specialists in the industry that provide global standard measurements that we use when developing all of our styles. We use universal fit Mannequins in the office, these provide standard body measurements . We also conduct fit sessions on real female riders to give feedback on comfort and technical points that a mannequin can’t provide.

What do you think is the next big advancement in women’s sport/fitness kit?

Emma: This is definitely the ‘Golden Ticket’, isn’t it? We have found that, what you describe as a ‘big advancement’, is generally stumbled upon during design and research stages. Sure we set out to achieve a goal, but often the direction changes along the way and we arrive at a more exciting and productive result. Take the development of our women’s cycling pads as an example. We knew that we needed a gender specific pad and, after researching women’s skeletal hip measurements and ischium pressure points, we developed our new Altura ProGel Pad and went into sampling. During test riding we found that we had done it wrong and had to go back to the drawing board because of pinching to female riders tender areas. The design team got together and we arrived at researching the design and shaping of sanitary pads – as we all felt this was the best example of comfort. Our new Altura ProGel Pad draws design cues from these and I can honestly say that it is the most comfortable pad that I’ve ever ridden. This an example of how small changes to a project can affect big change and advancement in design.

Sophie: Women are very educated on sports apparel. Women are influenced by a lot more elements then just the PERFORMANCE side of the product. Women want more from their apparel… they expect performance, but also want beauty. Women like to shop, it’s a lot more appealing for women to buy clothing then a wheel. Technical innovation comes with style these two factors are very important. The fit and fabric used on the product is key too, women want style, fit and function.

If Altura gave you unlimited budget and resources to work on women’s cycling kit what would you design?

Emma: This has never been a restriction for Altura – We always approach a project based on what is right for the rider and how we can improve their riding experience. So, we are already working on new and exciting projects for female riders that mirror the successes we are experiencing across our other riding categories. We have a great Product Creation Team of female riders who are all super passionate about what they do and are always bring new ideas to the table.
The 2018 season is going to be exciting for Altura.

Sophie: Umm, it’s coming soon, you will see in the future collection!

Huge thanks to Emma & Sophie at Altura for their time answering these questions. And I think we can all agree that the more women designing cycling kit for women the better!

altura A/W womens cycling kit review

Altura cycling sent me some of their A/W kit to test out on my daily commutes. 

When Altura Cycling sent me an email asking if I’d like to try out their AW range of kit. The first thing I did was check their website to check if there were any images of women on the landing page.

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Sadly there are none. There are pictures of women when you navigate to their women’s section but none on their home page including the instagram and twitter widgets when I checked.

It’s one of those little things that I like to logic test with brands. I don’t think there should be quotas, but I’d like to think that the people behind brands would think to put up images of women in their kit, especially on their homepage. Unfortunately, not much of the cycling industry passes this test.

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So, in a “you can’t influence change without being a part of it” mood I agreed to test out their new Women’s A/W kit and get a few images out there of women who cycle in quality made-for-women kit.

WOMEN’S SPORTIVE TEAM LONG SLEEVE JERSEY

My only caveat for the testing kit was, NO PINK, so they kindly sent me a selection of their black & blue kit.  This jersey wasn’t something I thought I needed for cycling (short sleeve jersey and a jacket is fine for commuting) but it’s the thing I’ve worn the most since the weather turned from the hot hot humid summer. It’s a really nice not-too-baggy-fit but still looks sleek on. It has a bit of a lined insulation inside but is still breathable when I work up a sweat passing other cyclists Amwell Hill 🙂 I have found it’s the perfect thing to wear with bib shorts (and fancy socks) autumn when it’s not raining. It also keeps to my most important rule – not too much faff. I know it will be inevitable, but I want to avoid wearing loads of layers when commuting as it’s only 30 minutes and the faff of changing in/out of so much kit every day is just annoying.

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WOMEN’S SYNCHRO WATERPROOF JACKET

I had been wearing my vintage (2 year old) pink Aldi jacket for cycling and didn’t see any need to upgrade, except to get away from the pink. This Altura jacket is a lovely shade of blue and so so so light. It’s like wearing a feather. When I get out on longer weekend cycles this will always be in my back pocket.  I love that when I’m wearing it the sleeves are long enough that there is no pull on my arms and the thick cuffs hold gloves well so there’s no wrist gap on chilly mornings. It’s a very slim fit so I can only wear it on cycling only days (ie. if I’m going to coach or run after work I wear a different jacket that can layer up)

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WOMEN’S SYNCHRO PROGEL BIBTIGHTS

Oh my god. These are lush. It hasn’t been especially cold so far, and I held onto shorts as long as I could, but as soon as I put these on I knew I was a bib tight convert. They are lined with soft fleecy fabric so it is like a warm, cuddly hug for your legs each morning. My only gripe is they’re just a bit too short for my long legs so I have to make sure my socks match.

Again, having a bib just makes life so much easier. There’s no “is my shirt riding up” worry (ahem, I’ve cycled behind enough men to know this is something they SHOULD be worrying about) and no wind gets in those little spaces between trousers & top. They’ve got reflecty-bits on them too so I feel safer now that it’s going to be dark for my commutes for what seems like forever more.

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THERMOCOOL LONG SLEEVE BASELAYER

At first I was like, who needs a base layer? And now I answer myself, “people who are cycle commuting when there is frost on the roads will really enjoy base layers” If I wake up and hear people scraping their windshields outside my window I know it’s base layer time. This one from Altura is really nice. It’s tight but not compression squeezy tight, fits under my bib tights nicely, and looks pretty cool and sleek when I’m wandering around my flat in a hungry daze post-commute. I wore it with the long sleeved jersey and jacket on the especially chilly days, but often just wear it under the jacket for normal London weather commutes.

So there you go. Hopefully, some honest, real reviews of kit I have now worn for 2 months commuting daily. It’s reasonably priced for what I think is pretty nice looking women’s cycling kit so chuck it on your Christmas list and hope that Santa is nice to us cyclists.

As mentioned above Altura sent me this section of their
autumn/winter cycling kit for free to test out and share on my blog. 

it’s cross country season!

I just realised I’ve run 3 cross country races this year and haven’t posted about them yet! Cross country is my favourite running season and one of the main reasons I love Serpentine Run Club, aka the best club in London.

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The first race of the season is always the opening race of the Met League. Out at Claybury the end of the Central Line, it’s usually warm, dry and sunny which is a nice way to ease into the wet, muddy, and cold reality of cross country in England.

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No matter what the weather though it’s always hard. There’s a whole different energy system needed for cross country running. It’s hard to explain but you have to run fast, steady, pick your feet up, turn your legs over, power up hills, fly downhills, and somehow balance the few times your feet touch the always uneven ground.

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At Claybury the women’s race ran a 1 small loop and then 2 big loops of the course and I did the classic “run faster than your mile PB” start around the small loop realising that I had to keep that up along the narrow trails or get trampled. At the start of the big loop the trail opened up so I could move to the side and slow down *a bit* (xc rule #3401 you can slow down but don’t stop) Not an ideal race strategy I tried to hold on for the next 5k. I felt like almost everyone passed me, especially on the sharp/steep hill in the forest, but did pass one woman on the last downhill and managed to hang on in front of her all the way to the uphill finish chute.

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There is no better drug than the feeling you get walking through that cross country finishing chute. It’s pure elation at being finished and exhausted.

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The next weekend was the North of the Thames /Liddiard Championship, so it was another suburban tube stop and trying to figure out who the other runners were and hope they were walking the right way to the field. A smaller race than the Met League, the Women’s race sped off at such a pace I again had about 10 steps before I realised I needed to be smarter about racing and let the field run on while I kept it steady.

There was a massive hill and an amazing single track section on the course so I just hung on trying not to look at my pace and picking up women in front of me to try to pass. I caught up to one woman eventually on a big hill and just ran beside her for a bit, she looked over and I had to say “sorry I’d go ahead but my legs wont go any faster.”

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Running past the start area to the cheers from the rest of the Serpie team (again, best club in London hands down) and into the finishing chute. They were giving out tshirts at this race, which is unheard of in cross country. There are no finishers medals or even timing slips. In fact you’re usually asked to leave the mud on the course and not even take that home.  They were your standard one-size-mens-cut shirt but a nice touch nonetheless. Since the women race before the men it turned out that they ran out of shirts to give to the last half of the men’s race. The irony of giving all their mens-one-size-fits-all finishers shirts to the women is not lost on me.

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Last Saturday was Met League race #2 in Stevenage. Stevenage has a reputation for bad weather, and this weekend wasn’t going to be any different. Wet, wet, and more wet made even the well drained Stevenage course pretty soggy.

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In my usual daze of not knowing where to go off the train, I luckily ran into my friend Claire running her first cross country race for her new club. We chanced the local busses and safely made it to the field with only a small detour around the local neighbourhoods. Our club was wearing black ribbons in memory of the Lucy & Stacey Aldershot, Farnham & District AC women who were killed by a drunk driver while out running last week.

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The course at Stevenage is pretty flat with a few sharp up & downhills so after a conservative start on the small lap I pushed the pace for the rest. The downhills were the best as it wasn’t too muddy so my spikes could do most of the work of keeping me upright. I passed 3-4 women each downhill only holding back on the one that went directly into a sharp left turn, not sure barrelling into the spectators would have been the right end to my race.

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A few women in front of me misjudged the finish line and slowed down with 300m to go, gaining a few more spots I took the last downhill at speed and ran right into the finishing chutes feeling super chuffed. I wasn’t so exhausted I couldn’t move another step, but was proud of how strong I ran the whole race.

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Post race we all layered back up before watching the men’s race, my legs weren’t as muddy as I would have liked but we’re getting there. Parliament Hill next week for the London Championships should be a nice mud introduction for the season.

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running in Kraków

Continuing my theme of running a bit while on holiday (but mostly eating) I was in Kraków for the weekend and packed my running kit in case I could find an hour or so between vodka drinking and vodka hangovers for a little run.

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Again, the google machine didn’t have much on suggestions for routes, but there is a river and a lovely park surrounding the old town and with some creative google street viewing I figured I could do a 5ish km jog one morning.

Poland: All kielbasa all the time

Poland: All kielbasa all the time

Then, out of google magic I found out there was not only a parkrun in Kraków , but it was 1km from our airbnb! I packed my barcode and figured if the vodka gods were good to me, I’d try to make it to the Saturday 9am start.

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I don’t parkrun enough, this is only my 7th (+4 volunteering) even though there are two within one mile of my house. But, when I do get out of bed on a Saturday I love the parkrun community (and the running isn’t usually so bad either).

6 shots of vodka, 5km to run, 4 hours of sleeeeeeeeeep

6 shots of vodka, 5km to run, 4 hours of sleeeeeeeeeep

Saturday morning saw the sun shining and a minimal vodka still in my system so I grabbed my kit, apartment keys, some zloty, my phone and my barcode and headed out the door for the quick jog to the start. Nearing the park I saw the familiar neon look of Decathlon-clad European runners (you know what I mean if you’ve ran any race in Europe before) and a couple high vis parkrun volunteer vests.

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It was a pretty cold morning so I brought a sweater and a bin bag to put it in to hopefully stash behind a tree since I wasn’t too sure about the bag situation. A few people were leaving their kit on a bench, so I added mine and watched as a woman came by with some Ikea blue bags and loaded it all up. I was pretty sure she was taking it to some safe keeping place for the end but the fun of running in a new country is… WHO KNOWS?

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There was a short introduction in Polish and then we were off. The park was a 2 mile triangle with big wide paths so the hundred or so of us had lots of room. About a mile in there was a photographer (!!) and then we passed the finish chute so at least I knew where to run back to.

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The mist off the park and the cathedral in the distance were beautiful and I smiled at everyone I passed. It was just so nice! The photographer was there again at the finish and lots of other runners gathered around the chute. I grabbed my token and while catching my breath joined the queue for some hot tea provided by one of the local running clubs.

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Barcode and token scanned and I cheered in a few more runners before jogging the 2km back to the apartment with an all important stop to pick up some obwarzanek krakowski (don’t call them a bagel!) for breakfast. By the time I got back to the apartment the other girls were just getting up and it was perfect time for breakfast.

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Thanks parkrun Kraków for a great run, I loved getting my results all in Polish!

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Turns out the vodka gods were not so kind on Sunday morning so I didn’t get out for that river route run, but I’m pretty sure dancing until 4am was enough cardio.

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When my sister booked a trip that came through London last weekend I immediately looked for a race for us to do. I conveniently forgot that small detail that she had just come from running the Budapest Marathon 30k the week before. Sorry legs!

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The Serpentine 10 mile Club Championship race was the Cabbage Patch 10, and seeing it’s route went along the river in Twickenham I figured it would be a nice 10 mile sightseeing route if nothing else.

I signed us all up for this popular race before it sold out and set out researching recipes for cabbage in case we won one of the trophies.

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It was easier than I expected to get to Twickenham for the Sunday 9:30am start (thank you 24-hour Victoria Line) and we made it in plenty of time to set up in the corner of the pub near the cucumber water (!!) while the rain poured down outside. A quick trip up to the nightclub to leave our bags and use one of the many toilets made available for us, we walked the 5 minutes to the holding street start line.

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The race isn’t on closed roads so it’s a bit of a mass hurry-up-and-wait start until the volunteers lead you out to the busy road to start. I thought of it more as a parade and cheerfully waved at everyone out on their Sunday drive.

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Having the sidewalk and 1 lane to run in for the first few miles was fine and it wasn’t too crowded where we were running. I saw lots of friendly faces from Serpentine and especially enjoyed the speed limit warning signs giving us the 🙂 when we were “only” running 7 miles per hour.

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We ran through the lovely suburbs of Teddington, through Hampton Wick, across the river to Kingston and then through Ham even running down the avenue I helped clear back in 2015!

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From there it was along the river past Richmond Park, across one more bridge and back Twickenham. I was pretty happy to be only 2 miles from the finish.

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There were tasty flapjacks at the water stations and just after mile 9 some kids were on the side of the path telling us, “this is about to be the best day of your life….” around the corner was the Fullers Beer team giving out shots of beer and full cans if we wanted to run with them.

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The last mile went by pretty quickly (the opposite of last week’s Oxford Half) and before I knew it we were on the home straight running down the bus lane into a park to the finish line.  A quick cheers with my sister before we turned around just in time to see Helen finish super strong with her can of beer safely stowed in her race vest. Alex was right behind her and with his can of beer already open!

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At the finish we dipped into the buckets of mars bars and grabbed finishers shirts (lots of sizes left but all male style & sizing).

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We walked back to the pub with our drinks while the sun came out and hung out in the sunny beer garden for a while waiting for the prize cabbage giving. Previous winner, Mo Farah, wasn’t entered this year but this year’s winners were just as fast and deserving of their cabbages.

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We found another sunny beer garden to grab post-race burgers and shandys (holding on to summer!) and finally made our way back to North London after a little siesta when we accidentally got on the long train back to Waterloo.

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The great race photographers (gotta love one who is ready for a jumping photo)  made their photos available for £3.95 after the race. The memes of mine have already started in a few WhatsApp groups…

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