oxford half marathon

It’s the Higher Education league table you didn’t know you needed. Cambridge vs. Oxford: Who hosts the better half marathon? Running both this year, I consider myself highly educated and confident to present the following dissertation as an expert in the field.

The Oxford Half Marathon didn’t have the best start. Train tickets to Oxford aren’t cheap, so after getting a spot in the race from Brooks Running I quickly booked advance tickets for £6. The first train from London was scheduled to arrive at 9:12am which I took as perfect.

The race organisers then decided to put the race village (with bag drop) at a different location from the start. I had to make a choice a) jog to the start and run the race with a small pack and make it in time to get into my starting pen or, b) jog to the bag drop, hope it was still open and then jog to the race start joining the back of the starters. Because I was going for a time goal I wanted to be in the right pen and and hoped I’d find the promised 1:50 pacer (there wasn’t one, only 1:45 – race brochure lied) to stick with. I’m used to running with a big pack run commuting so my little race vest wasn’t a problem.

Another bummer of Oxford is you have to take a train from Paddington (Cambridge departs from the always convenient and now on the 24 hour Victoria line Finsbury Park). Paddington is close to nothing and impossible to get to without 3 tube changes. Luckily early on a Sunday morning, it’s a quick 40 minute cycle along the empty canal, which turned out to be one of my favourite parts of the day.

On the train with a few other time-confident runners who chose to ignore the race organisers warning of delayed trains. The one hour train ride was the perfect amount of time to eat, drink and use the toilet before arriving and jogging the 1 mile to the start as a warm up.

made it to the start!

made it to the start!

I made it into my pen with 2 whole minutes to spare, and then waited another few while the start was slightly delayed. Starting right in the city centre was beautiful and there were loads of people out cheering the runners on.

Right away I turned my watch off the pace screen. I knew I was going to have to push the pace to get to my goal, but for the first two miles I wanted to run at a sustainable effort and not start worrying about pace right away – that would make it a long long two hours. The first few miles felt fast but eventually I passed the two hour pacer (who was running very fast 8:45s to start) group and finally felt settled in to the effort pace. Being the first time I’ve raced in a while I got used to the “This is hard but I’ve got to keep going” feeling. I used a mental tip from my friend Laura to say to myself a few times, “You can slow down but you can’t stop”

I passed the 10k in 53:21, a bit fast but knowing I didn’t have the endurance base from consistent training this year I was happy for the bit of a time buffer in the second half.  I kept slowing down a little bit when it all got a bit too hard, and then pushing again when I felt OK (confession: or decided to pick someone off ahead of me!)

Just after 9 miles though after a long out and back that felt uphill both ways I didn’t need to look at my watch to know my pace had slipped down while my effort was still sky high. I think at that point I quietly accepted I wouldn’t get my goal but also felt OK (just the normal hard effort tired) so would keep pushing to the finish to see how close I could get to my goal.

The course went through lots of lovely neighbourhoods of Oxford and surrounding villages, and then the last 2 miles were through a park. The dirt path was welcome to my pavement weary feet, but it did get quite narrow and being a solid mid-pack runner this meant that it was almost impossible to push ahead even when I felt like it. The route snaked around the park too which, at this point in the race, you couldn’t help but feel like, “Ohmygod another cut back loop to here?”

I saw this guy at the end of the race. If I could have caught up to him I would have had some choice words about his interpretation of 400m

I saw this guy at the end of the race. If I could have caught up to him I would have had some choice words about his interpretation of 400m

Once out of the park it was half a mile to the finish but about 5 or 6 turns on to different streets. Again, since it’s been a while since I raced a race I forgot how badly you just want to see that finish line (no matter what your watch says). I had a few choice words for the 400m to go sign that was at least 800m from the finish (!!!) but made it to the finish without anything left for a sprint.

img_20161009_113949866

After the finish we got our medals, race t-shirts, and a goody bag. All you can carry bananas and lucozade too. Wrapped in the foil cape I shuffled out past all the spectators and found a sunny patch to de-race and get some dry and warm clothes on. The goody bag had a wet wipe in it which was ace. I love actually useful items you need post-race.

img_20161009_123944515

Suitably wet-wipped, my friend Katie took me to the most amazing brunch after at Malmaison. I almost want to keep it a secret for myself but I’ll just say that an all you can eat brunch buffet is EXACTLY what I needed before my train back to London. Cycle > Train > Run > Brunch > Train > Cycle and I was home with my legs up the wall by 4pm. It was a great half-marathon day trip from London if the organisers can figure out the train situation.

img_20161009_152849449

So, even with an all-you-can-eat brunch right at the end trying to sway me, I have to say that Cambridge wins top spot in the 2016 Half Marathon League Table. Oxford Half was a great race and I don’t have anything bad to say about it at all. The only thing is that as another Vitality race it all seems a bit samey-same. The same branding, similar t shirt design, almost identical medals across the series. It just doesn’t entice me to go all the way to Oxford to run a race when it will be super similar to the Hackney Half in my neighborhood. Cambridge was a great race, great organisation, great course, massive unique medal, and overall just that much better.

img_20160228_122644249 img_20161009_143241

Brooks UK gave me entry to the Oxford Half Marathon, these leggings above and a sports bra to wear for the race. It was too warm for the leggings but I wore the sports bra and loved it so much bought a black version as soon as I got home.  

 

Advertisements

performance kitchen

A few Saturdays ago I woke up and began the epic journey from NE London to SW by bike. Not something I normally do on a Saturday but I was invited down to Clapham Studios to watch a morning of filming of Performance Kitchen. Only 2 stops (one for coffee and one for directions, Battersea roundabouts you are HUGE) later I made it to the kitchen studio.

David emailed me a month ago via twitter with a really nice invitation to come down and see the behind the scenes of their great project. I say great because it actually is a great idea. They film elite athletes cooking the food they actually make and eat for themselves during training. None of this “you should eat, you shouldn’t eat.” Nope. Just what actually gets made by athletes who are tired, hungry, and need their bodies to perform to the best of their ability.

img_20160917_102054050

I arrived just as they were setting up the first guest, Katy Sexton MBE was setting up her kitchen. Katy was the first Brit to win a swimming world championship medal, so I was ready to take notes for my next pre swim race meal.

img_20160917_104002976

Katy made a delicious pasta bake while chatting with the host about all things Olympics and training. What I liked most about her was that it was a really simple recipe. Pasta, chicke breasts, bacon, frozen corn & peas, and a can of chicken soup. It doesn’t have to be fancy macro this or spelty that.

img_20160917_103111679

The filming was mostly continuous just taking a few breaks to get an instagram shot or two, and a bit of editing to avoid all that oven baking time. After the glamour shots of the food were done we got to dig in.

img_20160917_113311933

img_20160917_113240139

Katy’s episode isn’t live yet, so I don’t want to give it all away, but you can check out the other videos on the Performance Kitchen YouTube channel in the meantime.

Performance Kitchen didn’t ask that I write or share anything about the day, they genuinely just invited me down to see what it was all about. I’m sharing about it because I think it’s a great resource in a sea of rubbish online nutritional advice. I also didn’t get any freebies save for a few (big!) scoops of Katy Sexton’s pasta bake. 

 

trying is hard

In 10 days I’m running the Oxford Half marathon (a free entry from Brooks).

Brooks make good running shoes and cup holders.

Brooks make good running shoes and cup holders.

I think the race’s official hashtag puts it best, #OH!

I don’t think I’ve blogged about this yet, but if you follow me on Strava* you’ve seen that I’ve been training for this race. Training for a 1:49 half marathon. I still haven’t run a sub-1:50 half marathon and after 2 failed attempts in 2014 I picked some other goals to train for and left my half marathon PB at 1:52 and a bit.

img-20160919-wa0002

I wrote myself a 9 week training plan, my first training plan as an England Athletics coach (no better test subject than myself I guess), that focused on improving my pace from what I was running at that time, a comfortable 10:00min/mile, to 8:15 – 8:30min/miles. This is the goal and not a guarantee.

The many faces of a tough speed workout

The many faces of a tough speed workout

To run a 1:49 half marathon I have to maintain a 8:19min/mile pace for 13.1 miles. I think it’s important to get a lot of race-pace practice in during training, in tempo runs and in short bursts during long runs. When writing the training plan I worked that pace into the sessions and included some faster & shorter sessions to get my legs used to quick turnovers.

img_20160924_153256802

I’ve learned a few things during these 9 weeks from having such a great training plan written by such a great coach (ahem).

  1. Setting a goal is easy, trying is hard. Trying to do some of the sessions and hit the paces set out for me has been hard. I started off thinking that I just couldn’t run that fast, but through the weeks I’ve realised that it’s just the trying that is hard. It’s hard to keep trying to push yourself and your efforts. Not to be all inspirational quote-y but if you are trying to achieve something it’s supposed to be hard.
  2. Running fast is hard, running easy is hard. I hear a lot of complaints about how hard it is to hit x-pace during a speed workout, but then the next day it’s OK to run easy efforts faster than planned “because it felt good”. HUH? Stick to the paces set out in your training plan to see the benefits of your training. Don’t run your race before the race! Trust the training! My easy run today is supposed to be around 9:45/10:00min/mile pace, I feel great and it’s sunny so it’s super tempting to cruise around the 3 miles in 8:00min/miles, but this isn’t the plan.
  3. Play the long game. I’ve loved the last 9 weeks of training getting back into speedier paces, and setting a time goal for this race helped that. But, I’m not expecting miracles, I haven’t focused on running since the Rome Marathon last April and know that consistency is key when it comes to getting faster or running further. I’m not going to turn off my training after this race (goal achieved or not) and have planned out some long-term goals that step up accordingly.

Looking back at my training I’m not sure I have done the work necessary to reach my time goal on race day. I’ve tried, and it’s been hard, but being realistic I know that it’s going to be a stretch to run a 1:49 half. I still want to go for it, if only to give myself a benchmark for the next training session. Even if I don’t reach my time goal for this race I think my legs and head have learned enough to count this as a successful training period.

*My strava account is private, if I don’t know you in real life you can’t see it, sorry. The creepo-weirdos on there have ruined it for everyone.

run and swim and repeat all weekend

It’s the summer of swimming.

IMG_20160903_093143115

I can’t get enough. From my first dip in the chilly Kings Cross Pond back in May to yesterday swimming in all the ponds and lido on Hampstead Heath, I think I’ve jumped in almost all the available bodies of water in London this summer.

IMG_20160903_075122971

On Saturday morning I joined 11 other members of my running club at the Serpentine Lido to compete in the annual Serpentine biathlon. Hosted by the Serpentine Swim Club it was started to bring the people in the two clubs together. Going for 33 years now (I could be the trophy!) at the beginning it was always won by the Swim Club, runners didn’t stand a chance in the water, but with the rise of triathlons more and more runners were able to at least float, and started winning the odd year.

IMG_20160903_085416537

The race is a 2.1 mile clockwise lap of the Serpentine and then an 880yrd skins-no-wetsuit swim (2 laps of the members-area lido). There were a few people like me who had never done the event before, a few swimmers who hadn’t run since last year’s event, and even a speedy runner using this in his Kona training. Even at 8am the sun was out in full force so we were looking ahead to the swim.

With no transition to speak of I ran in my cozzie and shorts and kept a quick tempo pace on the run to try to stay ahead of (most of) the swimmers. Made it back to the lido, kicked off my shoes, grabed my cap and goggles, walked out on the dock and jumped in the water. The first 50 metres I think I was kicking like I was still running 8:00 min/miles. Oops. Exhausted I tried to calm down a bit for the rest of the swim. If you’ve swam on a sunny morning in the Serpentine you know it’s like trying to sight into the sun. So, I kept mostly a straight line and did extra long arms in case someone coming towards me came too close.

Winner of oldest finisher :)

Winner of oldest finisher 🙂

Finishing as a respectable 3rd female (out of the 3 ladies competing, also coming second last in the entire field) I enjoyed the post race cuppa and jaffa cakes provided by the amazing Serps hospitality. The award ceremony quickly followed my exit with the Serpentine Run Club winning the team, male, and female trophies and a box of jaffa cakes to top it all off.

IMG_20160904_092147131

Sunday saw a few of us meet up in the morning at Parliament Hill Lido for the Hampstead Heath Pondathon (now more professionally titled Duathlon, but I prefer it’s original incarnation). With £10 cash clutched in our hands ready to register we followed our trusty captain Helen who magically made it on the email list to register us in this mysterious event with no internet presence.

Crf2CTwXEAALOZW

It was a bit of a hurry-up-and-wait style start, but eventually we were lined up at the edge of the lido for the start in our wave 1. A quiet “go” and we were off to lots of cheers. A few seconds in I was already behind everyone else by a few lengths which would have been disheartening if it was the Olympics, but this is the PONDATHON. The only way to lose is to take it too seriously.

Crf3kC-W8AAGH6u

3 laps of the Lido and we were out trying to slip trainers on to our soggy feet and run up the Heath toward the men’s pond. Being soaked head-to-toe running across the Heath reminded me of cross country Nationals, but then I realised I had my swim cap and goggles on, probably wont bring those come January.

Everyone and their dog gave us funny looks as we ran by. I can’t blame them. Shoes off, into the men’s pond and while doing a lap I was passed by a lot of the faster swimmers from wave 2. They might have been fast, but had no idea about swimming etiquette and swimming over someone during a pondathon is not the way to win. Out of the men’s pond and running up to the Ladies’ pond I was excited since it’s undisputed as the best pond on the Heath.

Jumping off the lovely new ladies’ pond deck and into the water was properly refreshing and the lap too short. Out again, soggy trainers back on and I said hi to all the runners on their way down to the ladies pond. The run to the mixed pond was the longest with all the hills of the heath incorporated into the route. Finally, down to the mixed pond dock and an enjoyable lap done (“Let me stay in and do it twice??” I asked the lifeguard) I found my shoes and had a little laugh at the guy standing there barefoot because “Someone took my shoes, this is going to cost me 3-4 minutes” HA. Poor guy, no world record pondathon for him.

IMG_20160904_132710

Downhill from the mixed pond to the athletics track and a quick 100m sprint to the finish to meet the rest of my speedy Dizzy Dolphins team. We quickly showered the pond gunk off and then set up picnic shop right by the awards ceremony and post-race food spread. Top marks for the patisseries and sausage rolls race organisers!

IMG_20160904_113333892

The Dizzy Dolphins didn’t win any awards but we did have the most post-race food so it was a successful race for everyone.

Great Scottish Swim & Trip

Is there a more romantic Valentine’s Day present than jumping in a Scottish Loch and swimming for a mile?

greatswimwin

NOPE! Back in February I won two entries to a Great Swim event thanks to this fish face gif tweet. Looking at our schedules we decided to make a trip out of the Great Scottish Swim and spend 4 days in Scotland over the August bank holiday weekend.

IMG_20160826_191051836_HDR (2)

We arrived just as the sun was setting at our little Farmhouse B&B in Balloch and the last of the 10k swim finishers were getting out of the Loch. We met Josie down at the shores and she pointed out all the important parts of the course before we walked into town to find carbs (pasta with chips and a side of garlic bread anyone?) and beers for dinner.

IMG_20160826_193333378_HDR IMG_20160826_193349630_HDR IMG_20160826_193331379_HDR

Our 1 mile wave started at 12:00 so we had a huge farmhouse breakfast and then went down to Loch Lomond Shores to watch for Josie & Katy finishing their earlier races.

IMG_fi7kkm

The sun started to break through the clouds just in time for our wave. The event was so well organised we were in the start pen for 11:30 with lots of time to get in the water to acclimatise (a brisk Scottish 14*C wasn’t quite the 20ish this southerner was used to) and do an awkward jazzercise style warmup.

I loved the land start to the race and even with a pretty narrow start most people had spread out so there was lots of room to find your pace. It feels kinda weird to talk about a “route” in a 1 mile lap but it was a nice out-and-back-and-a-bit which I liked as you could look at the different shores on each breath and let’s be honest, the scenery was worth a few extra seconds of race time.

IMG-20160827-WA0027

I slapped the finish gantry (Rio inspired) even though there was still about 20m to go to the beach exit. The exit was too shallow to swim but a bit too far to take many confident steps, but a lovely volunteer came out to help me up to the sandy beach.

IMG-20160827-WA0015

I swam for about 45 minutes and would have gone out to do another lap if Josie & Katy would have waited that long for a pint. After a quick change in the tents we parked ourselves on the patio of one of the shores pubs and toasted some Tennents shandys to a perfect day.

IMG-20160827-WA0024

IMG_20160827_152153329

After the swim we drove up the Loch to visit Balmaha and do a quick hike up to Conic Hill summit before another pub dinner.

IMG_20160827_184220653_HDR

We were given cotton finisher race t shirts, WHICH ARE AWESOME! I’ve already worn this one more than any other 2016 race tshirt. Booo technical tshirts. Bring back cotton t-shirts!!!

IMG_20160828_135803928

IMG_20160828_145810349_HDR

We spent the rest of our time in Scotland eating lunches by lochs, eating cake in scenic places, climbing up hills and finding shelter from the one brief rain storm in a re-purposed bothy.

IMG_20160828_172204409_HDR

IMG_20160828_144947334_HDR

IMG_qhp9b0

IMG_20160828_182017257_HDR

We snuck in one big hike on our last day before flying out of Glasgow at 5pm. We hiked up Ben Arthur in the Arrochar Alps.

IMG_20160829_111130691_HDR-PANO

IMG_-txml10

IMG_20160829_103741800_HDR

Scotland you were fantastic on both land and in water.

6 months of yoga

Earlier this year I moved. Same neighborhood, but now I’m closer to my favourite running route, the best sandwich shop in the UK, and a yoga studio that is across the street from good coffee & tasty burritos.  I started going to a few classes and really liked the vibe of the studio (literally just a room, no swishy reception, no expensive clothes on sale, just yoga mats in a room with the buses going by the giant window outside. It’s called More Yoga.

IMG_20160329_091623332

A friend had to move away from North London and offered to sell me her unlimited yoga pass for the rest of the 6 months on her contract. The studio said it was fine, and it was such a good deal (she got in before the studio opened with a Founders Membership for £49.99/month) I couldn’t say no. So, there I was with 6 months to do as much yoga as I wanted.

It’s no secret I love yoga. I do some jasyoga meditation/yoga every day and do an Ashtanga class every Friday at lunch. I think the best part of yoga is the opportunity to move in different ways from your everyday movement. Taking the time to hold some poses, move sideways, upside down, and just be in your body rather than asking it to be doing something for you.

So, how much yoga did I do?

I averaged 2.7 classes per week in addition to my other yoga stuff. One of those was always a restorative/yin/meditation class, and the others were a range of yoga styles. I tried lots of new-to-me yoga classes (Forrest!) and found I got along with some teachers way more than others. Let’s just say I didn’t go back to the class where the teacher was militant about our pigeon poses. I went to one class that STARTED off with handstands and turned into a proper circus by the end. One class was full of American Football players from nearby Finsbury Park. I went to a challenging Asana flow class one week and couldn’t keep up on the first sun salutation, but afterwards found myself beaming and booking into that class every week.

I didn’t see this as a challenge but as a part of my life. Yoga every day was never going to work for me (even if it is a hashtag someone added the word damn to make it cool), nor was a rigid schedule. It wasn’t even about having a specific goal like stretching more or developing strength. Having unlimited access to a studio did allow me do more yoga than usual and I found myself checking the schedule if I had unexpected free time.  It didn’t hurt that I even learned you can order a burrito across the street from Street N4 before class and they’ll have it fresh and ready for you post class.

I’ve cancelled my membership for the end of this month even though I really enjoyed it. Yoga classes, pool & lake admissions, races & events all add up, and liking something doesn’t mean I have to do it all the time. I see a lot of people online trying to live up to an identity they’ve created rather than living their actual right now life. Everything has to be a big goal, a series of blogs, updates, highs and lows. I’m hoping that this can be a voice in the obsessive-wilderness of the internet that says just trying is OK. Doing something for a little while is OK. You don’t have to be the “most person to do the thing ever”. Writing a blog to talk about the yoga I’ve done might seem like just that that, but I still think there is value in sharing beyond bragging. I found a good studio, tried out how it felt to add more yoga classes to my lifestyle, and ended up feeling better for it overall.

real women in sport

I have only seen two truthful images of everyday women in sport in the media.

  1. The moment in the This Girl Can commercial where the swimmer adjusts her bathing suit over her butt. Nothing is more familiar to a woman in a swimsuit than this adjustment.thisgirlcan
  2. The photo of the sweaty neck on the cover of Eat Sweat Play by Anna Kessel. Everyone who has ever sweat knows the feeling of bits of hair sticking to your neck drenched in sweat.

9781509808090Eat Sweat Play

That’s not to say I haven’t seen images of professional women in sport in the media, but when it comes to real women doing real sport and exercise, these two images have nailed it.

I bought Eat Sweat Play after going to a talk by Anna Kessel at the Stoke Newington Literary Festival (I ran 10 miles to get there so had my own authentic sweaty neck to meet dress code) and after hearing Anna read the chapter about getting changed after gym class as a teenager I was hooked. The book does such a good job balancing speaking the truth about what it is like to be an active girl and woman and highlight how far we still have to go. Most importantly I think it points out that while it’s popular and trendy to be seen as active and #fitfam (ugh) on Instagram and in glossy magazines decked out in Net-A-Sporter high end kit, there is still a lot of less glamorous work to do to get all women comfortable sweating and playing.

Her chapter on periods is the best. YOU GUYS THERE IS ALMOST NO ACTUAL RESEARCH ON HOW SOMETHING THAT WOMEN EXPERIENCE EVERY 21 DAYS EFFECTS THEIR PHYSICAL PERFORMANCE IN SPORT. Like not even with elite athletes! I’m not a huge fan of the way sport tends to do things for elites then filters it down to the rest of the population, but wouldn’t UKA or British Cycling want to know a bit more what happens to their gold medal athletes bodies and how they can tailor the training to it? Forget marginal gains, we’d be talking menstruation gains!

To steal a great quote in the book from Caroline CriadoPerez, “Luckily I’m old enough and feminist enough to ignore the cat callers.” I feel the same way. The barriers to women doing sport bother me but I get more angry about their effect on women as a population rather than me, hence why my comebacks tend to include a lecture on misogyny and their male privilege (tough when you’re out of breath running the other direction…). I don’t think it’s fair for every woman to have to grow a thick skin if they want to be active and Anna does a great job dissecting what this actually means for the general population.

When I read a book I fold over the page when there is an especially awesome quote I think I’d like to go back to.  Eat Sweat Play has more than any other book I’ve read recently. Thanks Anna for writing it and thanks to the women out there eating, playing and sweating,