Category Archives: london

Feet & Toes 👣

As a running coach I’m always hearing from my runners that they want to do more technique drills to improve their running. I’m all for this, especially when it’s a 30*C night on the track.

Last night I made our Serpentine runners take off their shoes and pay attention to what their feet and toes are doing. All too often as runners we stuff our feet into socks and shoes and forget about them as we run. Give those feet the attention they deserve! Your lower legs will thank you.

I’ve compiled some of my favourite drills & stretches below if you want to have a go at them. They’re great to add to your running sessions, or do on the kitchen floor while waiting for the pizza to bake.

Start with bare feet on a solid surface (preferably not soft carpet)

  1. Stand straight with feet hips distance apart
  2. Lift all your toes and place them down one-by-one starting with the outside (pinky!) toes first spreading them out nice and wide.
  3. Lean from the ankles forward/backwards and side to side a few times eventually finding what feels like a comfortable centre.
  4. Big toe presses: Press ONLY your big toe down for 5 seconds x 5
  5. Bit toe lifts: Lift only your big toe x10. Do this 3 times
  6. Alphabet foot: Lift one leg in front of you and write the alphabet with your toe (like a paintbrush!) Repeat with the other foot.
  7. Walk forward on your toes 30 steps
  8. Walk backwards on your toes 30 steps
  9. Walk forward on your heels 30 steps
  10. Walk backwards on your heels 30 steps
  11. With flat feet walk forward with your toes facing out (duck walk) 30 steps *do not lock your knees*
  12. With flat feet walk backward with your toes facing in (pigeon walk) 30 steps *do not lock your knees*
  13. Curl all your toes under your feet and walk forward 15 steps
  14. Point all your toes in the air and walk forward 15 steps
  15. Toe & plantar stretch. Sit down and grab your foot with the opposite hand and try to get each finger in between your toes with the aim to get your knuckles right up touching the toes. Feel the stretch already and then move your hand and toes around in circles (each way) stretching those toes and feeling the movement on the top and bottom of your feet.

Of course, my favourite Jasyoga has a lower leg reset video which is the best out there and great if you want something to follow along to!

Advertisements

pregnancy yoga classes

I haven’t blogged much about being pregnant and pregnancy but when I have spoken up it’s been to remind everyone that pregnant women are still individuals and there is no one piece of advice that should be given by medical professionals, fitness professionals, or well meaning friends and family.

The only advice I will demand you listen to is to buy Birkenstocks. They are the most comfortable things ever.

Just like there is no one-size-fits-all pregnancy, I’ve found there is no one size fits all pregnancy yoga class. Almost everywhere you turn once you get pregnant is advice to practice pregnancy yoga. There are so many benefits to doing yoga while pregnant, relaxation techniques, breathing control, movement, stretching, active recovery, you name it yoga has it. But, the advice “go to a yoga class” is so general and I’ve found there is a huge difference in the types of yoga you can practice while pregnant and the classes offered. Below is a quick review of the classes and styles I’ve practised in the past 6 months to hopefully add a bit more to the conversation and help women make their own choices in a healthy pregnancy.

Obviously the classes I’ve taken have all been in North London and close to home. Above every benefit of doing pregnancy yoga, convenience is key. If the specific classes aren’t relevant to you then hopefully you can take the themes from each one and use them in your search.

Self-led yoga

Fitting in 5 minutes of yoga where and when you can each day is better than any class you can take. These wise words are from my friend Erin and just so true. The early days of pregnancy can be a roller coaster and getting to a yoga class might not be in the cards. Simply putting your legs up the wall for a few minutes or doing one or two of these prenatal yoga poses will help. Personally I have found the side stretch to be a life saver. Anything that finds more space between my hips and my shoulders feels amazing.

Yoga classes can be pricey and while I think it’s money well spent during pregnancy, it’s not always in everyone’s budget so don’t feel like you have to pay for a class to get the benefits.

Triyoga

Speaking of expensive classes, Triyoga is up there with one of the most expensive studios I’ve ever attended. Their Camden location is huge though and I think could stand alone as a self-sufficient yoga city if all else crumbles around it. I had a few recommendations for their pregnancy yoga offerings though so used their £40/30 day introductory offer to try them out.

I started these classes around week 20 due to some travel and life commitments before, but also because I didn’t really feel like I needed pregnancy yoga before that since I was still doing my regular weekly yoga classes, running, and going to the gym.

That said, I learned that of the benefits of pregnancy yoga is meeting other pregnant women and the information shared in the class. Some of that information needs to be taken with a grain of salt, but I found them to be a nice chance to just be pregnant after long days and weeks operating out in the non-pregnant world (if that makes sense!)

Triyoga class 1 – Wednesdays at 6:15pm at the Camden studio

This was my first pregnancy yoga class and after the first class I’m not sure I would have kept attending any pregnancy yoga classes if I didn’t have the 30 day pass. The class started off great with some amazing bolster positioning for maximum relaxing, but then as the class went on there was a lot of unstructured talking and not a lot of moving. Each week we did some very useful breathing exercises (which I still practice today) and some classes did some partner massage practice.

No one yoga teacher is going to be perfect but I saw a warning flag when this teacher said to a student, “I wish you’d reconsider your planned cesarean and at least try a vaginal birth.” Like I said above, expert or not, I think pregnancy should be led by the individual and each choice positively supported by those around her.

Through the classes there was a lot of time to bring up anything that you wanted to talk about and the teacher had so much experience to draw from, but I personally just didn’t gel with it all. I continued to go to this class for the 4 weeks and am glad I did as I enjoyed some of the classes and learned a few things. Overall though it just wasn’t my cup of tea though.

Triyoga class 2 – Saturdays at 11:00am at the Camden studio

A friend recommended this class before I was even pregnant. The teacher, Nadia, is very well known in London as a pregnancy yoga teacher and Doula and a lot of people come from around the city to her classes.

Nadia’s class is everything you could want in a pregnancy yoga class. No nonsense advice, funny anecdotes “Think of it like getting ready to have sex, I know all of you in this room have done that at least once” touching moments of reflection (that even left me crying one day!), and a really really good workout that gets your body moving and feeling so much better than when you walked into class.

Post Saturday morning yoga watermelon became a necessary tradition.

There is a lot of information shared in Nadia’s classes but it is structured in a way so you still are moving and there isn’t any wasted time. It all seems well planned out and the class flows well. For a large class with one teacher she seems to always be there adjusting those who need it and offering advice from her wide network.

Classes are £17 each (£15 if you buy in packs of 5 / £13.50 in packs of 10).

Mindful Movements

For my entire life I thought it would be the worst to be pregnant over the summer. Wrong. It’s the best. Flowy dresses, birkenstock sandals, swimming in lidos and lakes, and outdoor yoga classes make it totally worth the stuffy hot tube rides.

I saw a flyer for Mindful Moments pregnancy yoga classes in Finsbury Park (in the winter they’re indoors at the athletics track) on Saturdays at 11:15am but they clashed with the Triyoga classes above. These classes are closer to my flat and outdoors, so I waited to try them once my Triyoga membership was up.

I went to my first class on Saturday and it’s already my favourite class. The flow of the class is great and we were always moving (not strenuously but stretching, breathing, etc.) and included some nice yoga flows that really got you up and energised. The teacher was really clear and helpful with adjustments for each student since we were such a wide range of weeks. Plus, there was a box of chocolate passed around after savassana. Could life get any better?

Nothing can beat doing yoga under a massive tree on a sunny, warm morning so I might be a bit biased but if you are pregnant during the summer I suggest you take advantage of the weather instead of working against it!

Ashtanga yoga

Not pregnancy yoga, but I have been practicing ashtanga yoga every week for almost 3 years now and once I was pregnant I kept that up. I told my teacher around 11 weeks, and he mentioned that it’s not advised to do ashtanga yoga during the first 12 weeks, oops but I had found it fine and my midwives hadn’t said anything about stopping it. That said do check with your own teacher & medical professionals first!

Right away I was given some modifications to do (no twists, no bandas, shorter stride length, etc. which for the first few weeks felt like I wasn’t even at yoga class. It was SO BORING. But week after week the modified ashtanga class felt harder and harder and I’m at the point now at 27 weeks where I’m modifying the modifications! I still love it though and with the support of my great teacher (he even opens a window just for me on the hot days!) I hope to keep this class up. I’ll need my Chatteranga arm muscles for lifting that baby once it comes.

Don’t be afraid of continuing non-pregnancy yoga classes as long as you have a comfortable and open channel of communication with your teacher.

*Update* I’m still doing a weekly (sometimes twice weekly) Ashtanga practice at 34 weeks and while modifying the sequence more and more (no more upward dog – lots more child’s pose) it’s often the best hour of my week and beats sitting at my desk. Like how yoga benefits running, it gives my body the opportunity to move in different ways than usual and I still definitely feel the benefits.

Couples Yoga – Active Birth Centre

I signed Alex and I up for the 2.5 hour Couples Yoga class at the Active Birth Centre mainly because yoga had become such an important part of my pregnancy I wanted to share that with Alex so when it came to the later stages of pregnancy and labour he would know why I was insisting on being in certain positions and learn a bit about the benefits of yoga overall.

The class is taught by the centre founder Janet Balaskas, who has an impressive history of yoga, pregnancy, birth, and post-natal training. She was one of the first people to campaign the NHS to allow women to move around (and not be required to stay on a bed) during labour. There were about 20 people in the class (in the one I attended it was all pregnant women and their partners but all are welcome with any partner or not) and it took place in the impressively kitted out classroom that had every single yoga prop you could want. Finding a way to be comfortable during this class is not a problem.

The class went through relaxation exercises, yoga positions for labour, and some massage techniques. There was a tea & biscuit break in the middle, and some handouts to take home at the end. Overall I felt it was more of a preparation for labour class than anything yoga-y. We didn’t do any yoga sequences and other than practising a few variations of childs pose, didn’t really even do as much yoga as a normal pregnancy yoga class. I’m never going to complain about relaxing on bolsters and getting massages for 2.5 hours, but it wasn’t what I was expecting. There’s still a gap in the market for a “bring your partner to pregnancy yoga class” class in my opinion.

Alex himself said that after the class he still doesn’t find yoga “relaxing” and would rather go to a spin class (we are complete opposites there) but did enjoy the massage practice (duh) and thought it was good to go to this kind of class together to at least try it out.

The classes are only every 8 weeks and almost always sell out so I recommend booking in to them early if you’re interested. It’s £70 for a couple so not cheap at all either. I love what the Active Birth Centre does and want to support them so was OK with the price but do think it is prohibitively expensive for a lot of people already impacted by the extra costs of pregnancy and childbirth.

So, overall I’d say do some yoga while you’re pregnant, but don’t think you have to go to certain classes just because. There are a lot of options out there and the benefits can be found from just a few minutes of your own practice wherever, and whenever you find the time.

English Cross Country Nationals 2017

This year I competed in the English National Cross Country Championships. It was the perfect race to end a great xc season on, and included a mini road trip to Nottingham with friends to add a bit more fun to the mud.

I caught the bus with my Serpentine team members from London and one service station stop and a few hours later we arrived at Wollaton Park which has a great history of hosting the Nationals.

I met up with Laura & Katie and we wandered around the park to find the excellent cotton race shirts (£12 or *top tip* 2/£12 if you waited until after the race!)  and our team tents.

The spikes for sale indicated the level of mud on the course, clearly it was going to be a minimum 12mm to get any sort of traction through the boggy bits.

As a club we made our way to the start tent and huddled together to keep warm in our vests while the Junior Boys race finished up their laps. The start was classic cross country. A wide start at the bottom of a hill with hundreds of women lined up in colourful vests ready to run full steam ahead.

After the big hill at the start there was a downhill and some flat track before the bogs started. We were warned of water features on the course, but I didn’t realise they’d be so deep and big. It was so fun charging through them and trusting (hopefully) your legs to land on something solid and keep you upright.

After the first bogs it was up a sharp hill to Wollaton Hall and a hairpin turn back down the hill. From here the course was mostly solid and flat so it was a good time to catch my breath and settle into a pace. I ran most of the behind a blind runner and her guide and it was so interesting to hear him describe the terrain the first lap and then how well she remembered it the second lap.

We went through a few more much stickier bogs near the end of the lap before starting up the start hill for another go. There was a lot of support all around the course which was great and you couldn’t help but smile for the cameras as you made your way through the mud.

The finish was up one of the hardest hills I’ve ever run up with large mole hills, tufts of earth and sludgy streams making it almost impossible to find any rhythym let alone solid places for each foot to land. Once up though it was all downhill to the finish and no matter what the race plan was at the beginning a cross country finish straight begs to be sprinted.

I found my friend Katie waiting at the finish and we cheered a few of her club members in before finding our way back to tents, warm jackets, and cake.

For the record I finished in 48:15 good enough for 673rd in the country.

Once the results came out for the English National Cross Country Championships no one did the math and figured out I was 3 months pregnant at the time of running it. In fact no one in the media has reported that I was pregnant for 8 out of the 9 cross country races I ran this season.

At the pub after the race I actually sat on this chair without looking behind me.

That’s because it’s often quite normal and OK for pregnant women to keep doing what they were doing before they got pregnant.

Don’t believe me? The Cut has some anecdotal research on it. Every GP, midwife, osteopath, medical professional I spoke to in my early days of pregnancy said to keep doing what I was comfortable doing in terms of exercise if anything changed come back to reassess. I’ve learned that every single day of pregnancy is different and the only mistake you can make is to plan ahead! By taking everything one day at a time and consulting with my PTs, coaches, and teachers I’ve been quite happy with (what seems to be a shocking revelation to most of the media thanks to Serena Williams) living my normal life while pregnant.

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.

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”

img_20140510_160405-action

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.

altura

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.

img_20161116_100154039

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.

img_20161011_175308579

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)

img-20161013-wa0002

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.

img_20161027_090710377

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.

14718880_10154585915266197_1482014949757129284_n

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.

img_20161015_144615019_hdr

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.

img-20161015-wa0023

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.

img_20161015_155635

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.

img_20161029_135042144

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.”

img_20161029_143905

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.

img_20161112_133636573

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.

img_20161112_143231153

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.

img_20161112_144547774

15042274_10154852432034994_9014411461483178007_o

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.

14990918_10154852406859994_6316584641018367209_o

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.

img_20161112_144731072

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.

img_20161112_143656794