Boom!

‘Boom’ may be an over-exaggeration of how awesome my running has been this week, but it’s been a darn sight better than last week. I’ve been a lot more energetic and positive about running this week and my mindset has shifted a lot…so BOOM!!

Monday: Tempo run. 6 miles at 8.50 pace  

I started the week with an early morning tempo run before the Husband went away for the week again with work. I worked flipping hard and although my tempo miles averaged about 8.35  which is hardly spectacular, I was actually really pleased with how it went and how I felt throughout. I felt like I was WORKING and that feels really good after a few weeks of lacking focus!

Tuesday: Brunch

On Tuesday, the Dude and I headed over to Oakland to have brunch with Jen and with Amy and Aaron who were visiting from New Mexico to run the Santa Rosa Marathon. It was great to meet them and I fuelled up.

Jen brunch amy lavendar

Brunch is my favourite meal of the day

Wednesday: Long run. 12 miles at 10.06 pace

On Wednesday, the Dude started school. I totally expected to be cool about this – HE was very excited and I was excited about getting some structure back to our lives. So I was unprepared for the wave of emotion that swept over me on Tuesday night and Wednesday morning. I dropped him off, kissed him too many times and watched as he happily went into the classroom. Then I put on sunglasses and went and ran 12 miles, which may have been a little weepy.

I ran 12 very hilly miles. Miles 3 – 8 were all uphill, sometimes quite steeply so. As such, the final few miles were fairly rough but I ploughed through it and was pretty happy with the overall pace, given the elevation profile!

Friday: Trail Run. 6.3 miles at 11.05 pace

I’ve not been on the trails since June. That is too long for my soul. I talked last week about losing some desire for running and I think the lack of trails (for hiking and running) has contributed, as several of you suggested. So today I hit up Edgewood Park for 6 sunny miles. I need to pull up my big girl pants and run some trails alone – Edgewood is a great, safe place to start. I came away GRINNING LIKE A CRAZY GIRL so yes, it worked.

edgewood

I fully admit to a couple of breather stops on the way up!

edgewood

Pretty trails

IMG_8606

Ridge Trail – my favourite

At one point, I heard a rattlesnake rattle. It was some distance off my trail and was behind me so I wasn’t concerned for my safety, but I tell you what – it chilled me to the core!

I’m planning to run trails more regularly and I have made some purchases in preparation for these forthcoming runs. Firstly, some trail shoes. Zazi.com had a sale of Salomon trial shoes. I’ve worn their shoes for hiking for YEARS and I love the brand, so I secured some trail shoes for the princely sum of $44/30 GBP. The pretty colours were $110. The nice colours were $65. The black and pink ones were $44. I went black and pink! I can do pink if it’s cheap.

Next week, I’m hoping to start adding some cross training. I am applying for a work permit, which apparently is quite straight forward with my visa type, but in the meantime, I really want to do some cycling, some bouldering and (aaaagggghhh) a little yoga!

This weekend, we’re off to Apple Hill. Somehow it’s technically Autumn and the apple season is open. I have an apple pie at Grandpa’s Cellar calling my name. See you next week!

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Running The World: Egypt

This week’s Running The World comes from Egypt. Egypt is the largest country in the Middle East – it’s 390,000 sq miles and has 89,000 inhabitants. The majority of its people live in a corridor along the Nile River but the Sahara Desert makes up the majority of its actual land. Egypt has incredible history but is currently going through a very difficult, turbulent political situation.

I found today’s interviewee, Jaida, though the Cairo Runners running club who I contacted through Facebook. And this is what we talked about.

Tell us a little about yourself.

My name is Jaida Lasheen. I am Egyptian and at the moment I work at a bank in the corporate department, I’ve always been interested in travelling around the world exploring different places.  The most interesting place I’ve been to is Kenya – seeing the wildlife was spectacular.

How did you get into running?

I started to run when I decided I wanted to lose weight and live a healthy lifestyle,  especially when I lost interest in gyms. I lost 17 kilos and I’ve  never stopped running since then – partly because I want to maintain my weight but also because I realized running always lifted my mood and spirit. I’ve been running for 4 years now and can’t imagine my life without it.

Running became more than just trying to lose weight, it changed my strength (mind and body), my endurance and my personal power. First I was only running at the track- about 4k –  twice a week but now I can easily run 10k three times a week.

Later on,  I was introduced to Cairo Runners an organization that organizes weekly runs which, every week in a different location. I thought this was perfect as I enjoy the changing scenery. What’s more, the spirit, energy and companionship of perfect strangers is amazing.

The start of this year's Cairo Half Marathon. Source: Cairo Runners FB

The start of this year’s Cairo Half Marathon.
Source: Cairo Runners FB

How popular is running in Egypt these days. Is it growing in popularity?

Running has definitely been getting bigger recently. Over the past two years,  Cairo Runners has successfully organized a  half marathon. Last year, 2,000 runners participated whilst this year over 5,000 runners participated.

Do you have any idea about running’s popularity in different parts of the country?

All I know is that after Cairo Runners started up,  we’ve been seeing similar organized runs in different cities.

How do Egyptian runners handle the heat?

They tend to run either very early in the morning like Cairo Runners or late at night with lots of water.

How popular is running amongst Egyptian women?

Definitely now, women are much more confident about running than before. I see as many women as I see men during my Friday runs with Cairo Runners.

How safe do you feel when you run?

Individual running in the street is still not safe as we have been dealing and fighting several sexual harassment cases  – that’s why I’d much rather run as a group where I feel completely safe.

The Kids Games in Cairo Source: Cairo Runners FB page

The Kids Games in Cairo
Source: Cairo Runners FB page

Which are the most popular races in Egypt?

This year The 22nd Egyptian Marathon will take place in Luxor City on January 16th 2015, the 14th 100Km Pharaonic Race will take place in Cairo City on 21st November 2014 and the 6th Sharm El Sheikh Half Marathon on next March.The Marathon is an international event with over 36 nationalities participating and it is the only A I M S (Association of international Marathons and Road Races) certified marathon in the country. There will also be Cairo Runners’ annual Half Marathon although the date has yet to be announced

Which is your favourite race?

I haven’t done any races yet but my goal is to train for the Triathlon which happens in Gouna, Hurghada every year, mostly because I will be combining three different sports in one race. I find that an exciting challenge. Not only that but, with the multi-functional training that is required, I’d be exercising and training my whole body.

The start of the St Catherine race Source: Cairo Runners FB page

The start of the St Catherine race
Source: Cairo Runners FB page

What do Egyptian runners use to eat or drink whilst running?

In order to keep your energy levels steady during a run particularly a long one, we at Cairo runners always recommend to refuel with carbs through sports drinks as they are easier to digest. They can be found in popular super markets like Metro and Alfa Market –  brands like Gatorade and Vitamin water

How expensive are races, compared to average salaries? Are they something that most people can afford to do or are they too expensive?

On average, they are usually pretty reasonable compared to international races. When races are organised,  the average salary is usually considered before the final price is set.

What brands are popular in Egypt?

Activ is a popular Egyptian brand. They sponsor many football teams, young champions and local championships. Not only football but they are also sponsors of basketball, tennis and the Olympics delegations too. However you can still purchase some of the international brands at our malls.

What is the best thing about running in Egypt

There are so many cities and different places around Egypt you can run and explore –  for example around the Red Sea,  the Mediterranean Sea and the River Nile. However it does require a bit of travelling.

The beautiful Sinai peninsula, scene of the St Catherine race Source: Cairo Runners FB page

The beautiful Sinai peninsula, scene of the St Catherine race
Source: Cairo Runners FB page

What is the worst thing/biggest challenges?

Road races in Cairo can be challenging because of the lack of sidewalks and chaotic traffic!

Jaida, thank you so much for your time. You can follow Jaida on Instagram HERE.

For more Running The World interviews, click HERE.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Ready, set, go…

This is potentially a very haphazard blog post. Last week was a funny week – I’ve been trying to think of an adjective for it but have so far failed. The best I’ve come up with is ‘draggy’. It felt like a long, drawn-out week.  I was flying solo as regards parenting – the Husband was away in China until late Friday night. In addition, I was dog-sitting my friend’s wonderful black lab Sarge. So it felt like ‘real life’ was kind of on hold until Sarge departed and the Husband came home.

I love this shot...

I love this shot…

Running was kind of a non-starter the whole week. On Monday, I ran 3 miles with the dog on the leash and the child on the bike. We did it but it wasn’t enormous fun. So after that we resorted to walking. SO MUCH WALKING. Black labs like walking. We walked for hours and hours, mainly with the Dude on his bike. The best walk we did was at Fort Funston, a state park just outside San Francisco which is entirely off-leash for dogs. Sarge had an utter blast running around and we really loved our blustery walk. We ended up down on the beach and obviously Sarge was in the ocean in a wag of his tail! Smelly ;)

fort funston

Fort Funston

fort funston

Selfie…

IMG_8576

The Husband got back on Friday night (yay) and on Saturday morning, I got out for a run. I had 12 miles on the plan but I didn’t really have the appetite for it, so I just ran 6 and really loved them. It was so nice to run unencumbered by a stroller or a dog – I just ran and was happy and managed 6.6 miles at a 9.01 pace. I really loved it, I felt so free and happy and chilled.

In the afternoon, the majority of our Napa Valley Ragnar team came over for pizza and planning. We managed not to take any photos (such poor bloggers) but had a lot of fun and it got me really excited about this race!

Talking of Napa Valley…early on Sunday morning we had the Napa Earthquake. We are about 60 miles south of the epicenter at American Canyon, about an hour by car. Yet still we felt it. I woke up at the first big tremor and made the Husband go and bring the Dude into our bed as the house swayed. It was over fairly quickly here and we had no damage but it was pretty unnerving. We were in a much bigger earthquake in Tokyo 18 months ago and that meant I was less shaken up (geddit?) than I would have been otherwise, but it was scary nonetheless. Having said that, the photos of damage up in Napa Valley are quite sobering – it must have been terrifying up there.

I meant to run again on Sunday but we ended up going for a family bike ride. 7 miles up the  Bay Trail to a local park and nearly entirely into a headwind. The Dude was a star and never moaned at all, we were so proud of him. The Husband rode back to get the car (the Dude’s little legs didn’t fancy cycling back) and the boys drove home and I got to ride the 7 miles back myself. It’s been a LONG time since I rode a bike without a Dude or a weehoo or a tagalong or a trailer. It was exhilarating…I flew along grinning for most of it!

IMG_4976

I look so hot in a cycling helmet…

I am very much ready to get back into a routine. The Dude has been off school since the end of May. I LOVE his company and we have had so much fun, but I’m looking forward to structure again.  He starts proper school this week (Transitional Kindergarten at our local elementary school) which is crazy but true. Once he’s back and we’re in some kind of routine, I’m planning to ramp up my training. I’m also hoping to hit the trails at least once a week – ideally I’d love a running buddy for these runs…anyone free on a weekday morning?

I can’t quite decide on my Autumn running goals. Do I want to bust my gut for a PR or to do some trail races and see the world a bit more? Or both? I’ve been planning to run Healdsburg in mid-October with the hope of PRing at the Half-Marathon but I know I’m in no fit shape to do that at the moment. I’m a good 4 – 6 weeks behind where I should be in order to do this. So my plan is to run my heart out for September and then, at the start of October, make a decision whether to race it or not. 

So dithery at the moment. So indecisive and unimpressive.

Personally I’m really excited about the start of this week. A new chapter of our lives begins and I am so excited for it. Bring it on!

Posted in Uncategorized | 12 Comments

Running The World: China

Today’s Running The World comes from the enormous, humongous country of China! It measures 9.6 million square km. With a population of over 1.35 billion people, it’s the most populous country in the world and has an illustrious sporting history.

I never intend each individual interview to sum up a nation’s running scene, that would be impossible. They’re intended more to give a snapshot of  the running community there. This has never been the case more than here, with China. It would be impossible to talk comprehensively about the running scene in China. So instead, settle back and enjoy a tiny glimpse into the life of one Chinese runner.

From what I’d heard, finding an english-speaking, female Chinese runner would be like searching for a needle in a haystack. And somehow, I found that needle. I found Yuxi via a load of googling, which landed me somehow at Heyrobics Beijing. Heyrobics is a Swedish exercise phenomenon but their website also had a tab called Heyrunning. I dropped them an email and asked if they knew anyone who would fit my bill and soon after I had a super-exciting email from Yuxi…and here we go.

Hi! Tell us a little about yourself!

Ahem… My name is Yuxi Liu (a.k.a Diana) and I was born and raised in Beijing, China. I just graduated from high school in BJ and will continue studying at UC Santa Barbara from this September.! I love sport, listening to music, and running on trails, especially exploring mountains by foot.

Yuxi

Yuxi

How did you get into running? 

A year ago, a friend of mine dragged me to a gym to exercise with her. I found nothing to do, but running on a treadmill to wait for her. I’ve never run more than 1K before, but that day, I ran 5k! And I was surprised by myself. Since that day, I started running to challenge myself, wondering how much longer I can run, but gradually, running became an indispensable part of my life.

How popular is running in China, these days?

Running in China is an explosive trend. More people run for health and for fun, more people are turning up at marathons and trail running races. Last year, the Beijing Marathon sold out after one day. And some popular small trail races also sell out after a few hours. It’s becoming easier to run into another runner on a street or a mountain trail. Many friends of mine have even started their own running club or running organization to help people get into running.

Is this a recent thing or does China have a history of running?

To be honest, China does have a lot of history of running, showed on documentary records, legends, and paintings, but it’s only got really popular in recent years.

China is a big country – do you have any idea about running’s popularity in different parts of the country?

Even though the data shows that the number of Chinese runners has been growing tremendously quickly recently, there is still a big difference in different parts of country. It depends on the geography (high altitude), weather (extremely hot or cold) and tradition.

How does running’s popularity differ in the rural areas versus the cities?

Running is far more popular in cities than in rural areas, since cities are more populated and have a lot of parks. People like to find a nearby place to run and relax. Even though some ex-pats are living in the rural areas due to the extremely high price housing in cities, they are too tired after a day’s work to run outside.

What kind of people are running in China, these days?

Nearly everyone is running: kids, older people, men, and women. However, there are always more men than women in every race, no matter whether it’s a marathon, trail running or a race over a shorter distance. There aren’t certain social classes in running here because as long as you have a pair of shoes, shorts, and a shirt, you can run. And the registration fee for marathon is pretty cheap in China, usually about less than 100rmb. (Cat’s note: ‘The renminbi is the official currency of China – 100 rmb is roughly $16 or 9GBP).  If you are running another city’s race, you can choose to take the high-speed railway in China. It’s pretty fast and cheap.

How popular is running amongst Chinese women in particular? 

There are not so many female runners in China. Usually, most mothers are busy taking care of their kids and family after work, most girls are busy studying at and outside school, and some females avoid running to avoid from the pollution.

However, some female who pay more attention to their health and fitness would run, and some housewives would go for a run when they are free during the day.

Speaking of the driving factor, I think it’s the surrounding environment. Friends, health, and fitness are equally important. Friends will convince you to run, health problem will push you to exercise, and beauty will forward you to keep fit by doing aerobics exercise, like running.

How safe do you feel when you run?

It’s pretty safe to run with a friend or a group of people in parks or on street, even if you run by yourself. You can meet a lot of runners at a park where runners usually go. However, it’s not that safe when you run at night alone, girls especially should avoid running on the streets.

Are there any particular issues regarding women running? (cultural, generational)

Most races give fewer rewards to women, whether money or the prizes available.

How popular is racing?

There are about 100 races in China, including the short distances(10k,5k). And if you hesitate when registering for some races, well  there won’t be any spots left for you!

Who organizes the races? 

Most races are held be some big companies, approved by local government. Still, local running clubs organize a few races within the running community. For example, there is a half marathon in Yunnan this year, quite small, but organized by a runner’s family and his running club. They only accept around 500 runners on this race. (Cat’s note: seriously, check that link out. I would LOVE to run there). 

How expensive are they (both in terms of actual prices but also in terms of proportion of income)?

It’s very cheap to run in a marathon. Usually the price is around 100rmb ($16) – the average salary in China is about 7,000rmb  ($1,138). However, some popular races, like the BJ International marathon cost more – (200rmb/$32 for full marathon,120rmb/$19 for half marathon).

What distances are popular?

Half marathon, 10K, Mini marathon (usually about 5K) are popular since a lot of runners have  just started running recently and couldn’t yet tackle the full marathon. What’s more, the half marathon and other short distance are not as ‘torturous’ to people as the full marathons.

Olympic Forest Park

Olympic Forest Park

Which are the most important races in China?

The Beijing International Marathon,  the Shanghai International Marathon, and marathons in Xiamen and Hangzhou.

Which are your own personal favorites?

The Genghis Khan MTB Adventure & Grassland Extreme Marathon is my favorite! Though running on grassland is more difficult than running on road and will cost me more on transportation and accommodation, the marathon and three days cycling there along with the amazing view gave me an unforgettable experience. If I have time next year, I would go again!

 If you could encourage a traveller to do any Chinese race, which would it be?

Definitely the Genghis Khan MTB Adventure & Grassland Extreme Marathon! You can’t imagine how cool it is to run on the grassland under the beautiful blue sky. Along the way, you can even meet a flock of sheep, cows, or the local people riding horse galloping on grasslands! If you are not fully satisfied by the marathon and want to see more view about the amazing grassland, you can choose one, two or three days MTB riding. Cycling over a longer distance to explore deeper into the grassland would give you a new and more invaluable experience of this race!

Yuxi racing on the Full Grassland Marathon

Yuxi racing on the Full Grassland Marathon

What is becoming popular in Chinese running circles?

More training sessions and running camps organized by clubs are coming up within the running community. Some specific sessions and camps are even organized by the race organizer to help runners become well prepared for a particular race. Plus, more people like to find an effective way to improve their speed and decrease the possibility of injury. Also, finding a camp or a club to train with a bunch of new friends would be more interesting than training by themselves.

Is trail running popular in China? Any particular regions?

It’s definitely growing in popularity in China, more races are coming up this year. The races are usually in scenic spots where mountains are located, such as Yunnan, Dalian and Beijing.

Are there any particular dangers/amazing things about running trails in China?

The amazing thing is the gorgeous nature you can see along the trails!! The most dangerous thing about trail running in China is the great temperature difference in some places, and mountains with steep drops, but every runner has to carry the required necessities to ensure their safety.

Do you know anything about the ultra scene there? 

We have a few races here in China. Most are 50k or 100k. The TNF 50/100k in BJ, HK100K, HK168K are the most famous ultra Endurance Races. Compared to marathons, Ultra Endurance Races are rare in China, and usually a normal race would have around 500 runners. Some popular ones would have more on the race.

What clothes/shoes/nutrition/equipment brands are popular?

For marathons, the popular running shoes  are Asics, Mizuno, NB, Adidas, Nike. For trail runs, it’s Salomon, Tecnica). For clothing, Kalenji, X-bionic, Skins and Compressport are popular and as regards nutrition,  PowerBar, GU, Nuun are taking off. Finally, for equipment, it’s all about Salomon, Oakley, Zamst, Garmin, Compressport.

Olympic Forest Park

Olympic Forest Park

Where do people buy their running things?

We usually buy those things except running shoes online. We’ll go directly to a shop to buy those. Each individual brand tends to have its own store – we go there.

Who are the running heroes in China?

Kevin Lin, from Taiwan, spent 111 days successfully crossing the Sahara Desert on foot. After a few years, he did a big run again: running the silk road in 150 days, crossing Istanbul, Turkey and travelling through Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and China.

Penbin Chen, who used to be a fisherman on an island has now almost finished the Seven Continents Ultra Marathon Grand Slam this year (he has one race left: the South Pole 100k Race). If successful, he will be the first person to finish the Seven Continents Ultra Marathon Grand Slam in the world. Even though his background is so simple, he is working so hard on training and has won a lot of awards around the world. (Cat’s note: the link on his name goes to a Vimeo video about his running.)

What do Chinese runners use to fuel when running?

Some professional runner or who know a lot about running usually use Energy gel and Saltstick while running, along with the electrolyte water. Still, some of the runners like to fuel simply, having banana or some Energy Bar provided at the check points, along with sports drinks.

Running in the mountains

Running in the mountains

Any Chinese specialities? 

We like having noodles with some vegetables for several days before a big run, along with some sweet fruits during the day.

Is Twitter/Blogging big within the Chinese running community?

It’s not that big within the Chinese running community, however, we use different media, like Weibo(pretty much like FB), qq/Wechat(an app to chat online), and some specific websites – some running communities are official or sponsored by sports brands, they have their own websites.

Any cool blogs/twitterers that we should follow?

On Instagram, try HeyRunning

What magazines/podcasts are popular?

For magazines: Runner’s World China.

Online – Weibo(a media somehow like FB), qq/Wechat(Apps people can chat in a group and share info about running)

If I landed in your city/country, where would you send me to find out about the local running routes, group runs, and local races?

If you wanted to find a running group, definitely try HeyRunning because it’s the biggest international running community in Beijing and can give you the most fun, effective and simple way of running here. HeyRunning always welcomes visitors, you can stop by any session to join them or ask questions.  Some big running groups have their own websites but they’re mainly in Chinese.

Parks are always the best place to run during the day. Popular parks include Olympic Forest Park, Chaoyang Park and Temple Ofraven Park. Remember not to run on roads in the morning as there are usually traffic jams – the cars and exhausts will make you sick.

Yuxi running trails in the Beijing suburbs!

Yuxi running trails in the Beijing suburbs!

What is the best thing about running in China?

China has abundant resources of mountains, forest parks, which provides runners great places to run and train for races. As running grow more popular in some cities, it’s easier to find a group or a club near where you run. There is a group I know that they now have up to 500 people! And you can apply to be in different groups or clubs, this way you can find all running events around you and choose your favorite one.

What is the worst thing?

For the runner? The pollution is the worst thing. You have to avoid pollution days, otherwise, your health would be affected if you insisted on running outside.

Yuxi, thank you so much for chatting with us and good luck with your big move to Santa Barbara! You can follow Yuxi (aka Diana) on Facebook HERE.

For more Running The World interviews, click HERE.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

My favourite running song in the world…ever!

Thank you for your kind comments about my somewhat heavy, slightly depressing post on Saturday as I tried to process my thoughts about a lot of things. I really appreciated your thoughts and wisdom.

On a lighter note…

In the car today, the Dude asked me: ‘Mummy, what’s your bestest song in the world EVER’. I had so much fun telling, playing it for him and talking him through why it’s special to me that I thought it might be fun to share it and to find out your favourite songs too! Because this is a running blog, my question actually is:’What’s your favourite running song in the world EVER?’ And why?

My favourite song and favourite running song happen to be the same. It’s a very unlikely choice, not a traditional running song at all. It’s ‘Barcelona’ by Freddie Mercury and Montserrat Caballe.

You can watch the video here.  The actual song starts at 1.16.

I love this song SO much. I think it’s just beautiful. I love the dramatic build up  and when the ‘bells’ chime in at the start I get goosebumps every single time. I love Freddie’s voice and how it works so beautifully against Montserrat’s amazing vocals. I love the drama of the song – the quiet against the swell, the lyrics, I love Montserrat’s wonderfully controlled scale at the end…oh I adore this song.

It’s special to me for two reasons. This was the BBC theme song for the 1992 Barcelona Olympics which were the first Olympics I really got into. I used to watch it every night with my Mum and the opening credits played this song with the swirling flamenco girl and the fountains. And now that I live on the other side of the world from my little Mum, every time I play the song I remember so clearly standing in the kitchen with my bare feet on the cold white tiles, cheering on Linford Christie. It makes me miss my Mum so much, but in a nice way. It spirits me home for a moment.

The dancing fountains of Barcelona

The dancing fountains of Barcelona

The second reason I love it is this. When I was four months pregnant, the Husband and I went to Barcelona for the weekend. It’s a beautiful city, you should go! On the first night, we went for cocktails at Boadas (best cocktail bar in the city – they made me the most amazing non-alcoholic mojito) and then went to see the dancing fountains. I was dying to see them ‘dance’ to this song. They played a couple of songs, it was all beautiful and then the lights went out, there was no more music. I was gutted, but we turned away and walked back to the metro station.

And suddenly, ‘Barcelona’ rang out. We spun around and they started playing this gorgeous song with the dancing fountains I remembered. It was such a magical surprise. I was there with my lovely husband in this beautiful city, they were playing ‘my song’ and the fountains were dancing. I was jam-packed full of baby-growing hormones and I just sobbed and sobbed and sobbed. It was one of my favourite memories ever!

The Husband has a great antipathy to nice, smiley, romantic couple-photos

The Husband has a great antipathy to nice, smiley, romantic couple-photos

 

This song is on all of my race playlists. I think the operatic values make it a little special – I don’t listen to much opera so it stands out from the Eminem-type songs that I usually use to gee me up for a race!  It never fails to make me happy. Often, it seems to kick in on a race or just on a run at a really special moment. I don’t usually listen to music on trails but sometimes I put this on as it seems to fit the environment so well. I have so many memories of running along and this song comes on and I’m suddenly just so overwhelmingly happy to be running wherever I am.

So there you go. My favourite running song in the world ever. Please…tell me yours!

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 6 Comments

On running and blogging at the moment.

This is the second time I’ve started this blog post. The original post was basically a big moan about how over the past few weeks, I’ve totally lost my running mojo. I just don’t love running at the moment. I’ve been working towards the Healdsburg Half Marathon in October. Usually I LOVE a goal race. I love putting together a training plan, I love executing the training plan, I love doing the race. It’s normally something that gives me a lot of pleasure.

This August though, nothing is going to plan. There are a few reasons that spring to mind. The Husband has been away on and off, and will be for a few more weeks. This means more stroller running which isn’t a total joy and results in slower times. Also, we’re not in our usual ‘school-year’ routine, which always makes fitting a run into the day a little harder. But when I was out walking our latest canine houseguest today, it kind of struck me WHY I’m not loving running at the moment.

It feels so ridiculously trivial at the moment.

Like all of you without a doubt, the news from the Middle East has caused much sadness. The news always seems to be grim, but these current events in Syria, Gaza and especially Iraq just seem (to me) to be a new level of horror. The news always seems worse when it strikes a chord in our own hearts. We runners were particularly hard hit by the Boston Bombing. We parents (and anyone who loves a child) were particularly hard hit by the Sandy Hook killings. I don’t talk much here about my faith as it would be inappropriate, but as a Christian, the treatment of the Christians and Yazidi in Iraq has felt very personal. It’s left me feeling heart-broken, helpless and that most things in my day-to-day life is shallow, frivolous and silly.

I am sure I’m not the only one feeling this way. Posting on Facebook seems rude when our fellow human-beings are being massacred on the other side of the world. Blogging about running makes me feel very disrespectful. And yet, awful as it is to say, life here goes on relatively unchanged and we continue to run and blog and use social media. I’m as uncomfortable with it as you are.

So I’ve been trying to remember three things.

1) Running is not important but it is good.

I’ve always tried to remember that running isn’t important. It’s a hobby, it’s something I love, but it’s not important in the grand scheme of things. So whilst I struggle with the running doldrums at the moment, I am actually quite comforted to remember this. It isn’t important. I’m NOT going to worry about it.

However running is good. It is good for our bodies. It is good for our minds and souls. It is good for our mental health. It is a means of pushing ourselves and achieving things we didn’t think were possible. It gets us out in the fresh air. It keeps us fit and healthy. Running is GOOD.

Marin Trails Me

Blogging is not important but it is good.

I’ve struggled a little to blog since the horrors of Iraq came to the news. Moaning about not hitting my goal times in a training run suddenly seems SO trivial and so disrespectful to those who are suffering.

However blogging is not a bad thing. My blog is only small but it has been so good to me. I have made so many lovely friends through this blog – either in real life or online. I’ve been inspired and challenged by all your achievements and of other people from blogworld. It has opened up opportunities like the Wild West Relay. It has encouraged me to run faster, to race harder and best of all to run trails. It’s made me feel like part of a running community, even though I run mainly by myself.

We did it!

We did it!

The only blog posts I’ve written that HAVEN’T felt trivial lately have been my Running The World posts. I love doing them because they open the world up to me (and, from your comments, to you as well.) I have loved discovering how running is helping empower women across India and Zimbabwe. I loved hearing about how the Beirut Marathon has helped unite Lebanese runners of different faiths. I was so happy to hear that in France, where women are continuously encouraged to be thin and have no cellulite, women are starting to love being strong and fit. These posts have reminded me how running can be a source for real good! So whilst blogging is narcissistic and trivial  by nature, it can also be good and I am grateful for it.

Racing is not important.

I love racing. I freely admit that my 10k PR in February and my Half-Marathon PR in March brought me ENORMOUS delight and a lingering sense of satisfaction, badassery and pride in a job well done. I love the atmosphere of race day and the ‘race-day magic’ as Angela put it which somehow drives us to speeds we didn’t think we could do. I’ve been really excited about running Healdsburg in October. Racing can be the culmination and prize of all the hard work we put in on a day to day basis. I don’t want to denigrate racing at all – racing  can be AWESOME.

But I’m not going to stress about my October running goals. I’m not going to stress about my splits not showing any real consistent improvement. I’m not going to spend any time wondering if I’m going to PR in October. Because racing isn’t important. It’s the icing on the cake and I thoroughly enjoy cake without icing.

Cake without icing can also be good

Cake without icing can also be good

So what now?

After all these grandiose thoughts, where does this leave my running?

I’m just going to keep on keeping on with my training plan. I shall stick with it as much as possible and, come September when the Dude starts school and we’re back in a routine, I shall try to push harder.I am not even going to register for Healdsburg until nearer the time, and if I am too late and it’s full – then so be it.  I’m also going to try and get on the trails soon because they never fail to refresh the running spirit.

Sara, in Running The World: Sweden put it so beautifully.

I’ve come to the conclusion that running a 10k race 30 second faster, or so, won’t make me happier. But running in beautiful places will. That’s quite an insight which has completely changed the way I run, and made it more fun and more meaningful.         

I knew I’d need to remember that at some point!

 

headlands me

Posted in Uncategorized | 14 Comments

Running The World: Zimbabwe

Running The World is back after a few weeks off for Iron Things and relays, and today’s interview comes from Zimbabwe. I contacted the Harare Athletics Club and asked if they knew anyone I might interview, and shortly afterwards I had an email from Julie offering to help, and offering her friend Nikki as a second perspective! When they sent me their answers, they mentioned that two other people in their running club, Ephraim and Patrick, put a lot of time and effort into helping answer some of the questions so I just want to thank all four of them. I am constantly humbled by the time people take to help me with this project, it blows me away!

This is what they said;

Hi ladies. Tell us a little about yourself.

Julie: I’m Julie, I’m a wife, a mother of  2 little girls.  I work in my friend’s scrapbooking shop. I also scrapbook as a hobby which is probably why I love taking photos as I run and documenting my runs. Reading is also a passion, and I find the more my running  has progressed, the more I have started reading about running.

I got into running when I turned 40, two years ago. I decided I needed to start running to be healthy and was doing little run/walks around my neighbourhood. A friend, Nisha, was also starting to run at that time and was hiring a running coach to motivate her and help her running improve her distances. I started running with her coach, Ephraim, in June, and that got me started. I set myself the goal of running the Kariba half marathon at the beginning of August. That was my first race and it got me hooked on distance running.

My running to date now includes completing a 20 miler, two marathons and the Two Oceans 56km in Cape Town.

Nikki: I’m also a wife and mum of 2 – my boys are 8 and 6. I am a Director of C2 Media, a creative digital agency in Harare and Melbourne. I love to run, read, I work far too much and too hard, but I enjoy time with my family and friends whenever I get a chance.

I began running in London many years ago. I took part in the first Nike series there, and trained with the help of virtual coaches and training runs in Battersea Park. I upped my distance from 5ks to 10ks, and enjoyed many of the charity runs in the Spring and Summer. On moving to Melbourne in 2004, I joined a friend who’d recently started running as part of a weight-loss programme. I bought a Runner’s World which had a 12-week half-marathon training programme in it. There were 10 weeks to go before the Melbourne Half Marathon, so I convinced her and a few others to try out! I stopped running shortly after while I had my kids, and picked it up again when we moved back to Zim in 2010. I ran many half marathons before tackling the 20-miler in December 2012. I struggled through the race, as an old ITB injury flared up at the 15km mark, so I hobbled the remaining 17km, swearing I’d never do that distance again. By Christmas, I’d managed to secure myself a charity entry into the London Marathon! I did a training marathon before London, as I was nervous of the crowds, so wanted to know I could do the distance. It was the single best thing I could have done, as I found out, the hard way, that I can’t tolerate sugars and gels on a run.

zimbabwe

Julie (L) and Nikki (R) at the start of the f 2 Oceans race

How popular is running in Zimbabwe?

Julie:  Running socially in Zimbabwe has increased in popularity over the past few years. In towns, distance running is on the up and the Harare running club, H.A.C., has seen an upsurge in membership numbers this year (in part due to a one-third reduction in its annual subscription rates). Informal running groups are also increasing in popularity. We run with the Hares and Tortoises, and this is a social running group that goes around various routes in Harare.

But, in remote rural areas which generally are poorer, running distances is a necessity and a way of life as children have to run to and from school, often distances of up to 10-15 km each way. And then they have to herd the family livestock too, so they become accustomed to running. In rural areas, training is solo and very competitive, and Zimbabwe has produced some outstanding world class running talent from very humble beginnings. More on that later when I talk about Zimbabwean running stars….

How popular is running amongst women there?

Julie: Running here is very widespread and diverse but we do feel that maybe there are more women runners joining the ranks of distance running here. Cultural backgrounds have played a part in determining the rise of women runners from rural areas.

Before Zimbabwean independence in 1980, very few Zimbabwean women were running. Cultural  beliefs meant that female running was discouraged and there was a lack of understanding of the benefits of running as a sport. However, it is now permissible for women from rural areas to run, and to excel at it.

In town, there is definitely a growing trend amongst middle class women starting to run with the motive of fitness, health, and weight loss.

zimbabwe

Julie and her coach Ephraim

How safe do you feel when you run?

Julie: We do feel very safe when running and even though my distance runs are with coach Ephraim or in a race or with the Hares and Tortoises, I have never once felt threatened or in danger. Zimbabwe is an amazing country with a lot of positives and this is definitely one of them.

Tell us a little about the racing scene in Zimbabwe

Julie: Races in Harare are organised by the running club HAC.  There can be up to 300 people at a race and for Zimbabwe, that is as big as it gets.

With the extremely difficult prevailing economic situation in Zimbabwe, corporate sponsorship is limited and the races are very expensive to organise and can cost up to thousands of US dollars to host, what with police clearance, marshalls and water points, just to name a few expenses.

In terms of prize money, what tends to happen is that private donations are made voluntarily by kind individuals, and these go on prize money. The HAC does sponsor its top runners and race expenses are subsidised, as entry fees (up to US$20) can be disproportionate to incomes.

It ha to be said that there is good private sponsorship for known runners who cannot afford to get to races or pay for race entries.

Old Mutual, as part of its corporate responsibility programme, does sponsor some races in Zimbabwe and keeps the entry very low, to encourage entries. They also offer very good prize money and this does encourage a very good turnout of Zimbabwe’s finest elite runners.

zimbabwe

At the end of Two Oceans, with their friend Amina

What races are the most popular?

In terms of distance popularity, entry numbers at races show that the 10km is most popular, followed by the 5km, the 21km, the ultra then the 42km marathon distance.

The HAC flagship race is the Europcar Dendairy 20 miler, held at the beginning of December. It is a prestigious run, but not an important one. The important races are the two marathons, the Peter Gradwell and then the Roger Brackley, held in March. These runs give us qualifying times for the Two Oceans and the Comrades runs later on in the year in South Africa. As international entries, strictly speaking we don’t have to qualify for these two runs, but physically and mentally, it is a huge deal to do a marathon, and in under five hours.

Charity races are also very important on Zimbabwe’s running calendar. The Spar Family Fun Run attracts thousands of entrants and little children on bicycles and mums pushing prams are all part of the fun. But, money raised goes towards helping Child Line.

zimbabwe

Julie’s girls greet her at the end of her first ever marathon

Which are your favourites?

Julie: My personal favourite is the Kariba half marathon. It’s has sentimental value as it was my first race, but in terms of atmosphere and scenery, it is the one for me! We run over the Kariba dam wall and through the African bush. It is awesome! The hills on it are also challenging enough to make that distance a challenge!

Nikki:  For me, Kariba is a firm favourite as well, but I also love the Victoria Falls Marathon. This scenic route takes us over the bridge to Zambia, and the sun rising over the thundering Victoria Falls is breathtaking. We run through the national park, along the Zambezi, with local and international entrants alike, and the atmosphere and support is amazing. For anyone travelling to Zimbabwe wanting to do a half-marathon or a full, I highly recommend this one.

Zimbabwe

Nikki during the Victoria Falls Marathon

Do you know anything about the ultra scene in Zimbabwe?

Julie: There are various races around Zimbabwe but only one ultra, the Matopos Ultra which is a 55km run through the Matopos National park near Bulawayo, in the south west of Zimbabwe. This is one I haven’t done as it sounds too tough for me. Nikki, on the other hand, would love to do it – and it is in fact possibly on the radar for next year, instead of a South African ultra.

If you could encourage a traveller to do one Zimbabwean race, which would it be?

Julie: If I could say come to Zimbabwe and run a race, I would encourage you to run the Kariba Half or the Victoria Falls Half or full marathon. Both venues are tourist destinations that give you a chance to experience for yourself Zimbabwe’s natural beauty and warmth of us people who live here.

How do Zimbabwean weather handle the weather?

Julie: In Zimbabwe, we are accustomed to running in the heat as we have hot, humid summers and cool, dry winters. Our climate is perfect for running and the universal rules of hydration, sunscreen, caps, cool, light clothing and running early mornings or late afternoons apply to us here in Zim.

How popular is Trail Running in Zimbabwe?

Julie: Trail running here is not as big as road running, but in winter the HAC puts on a series of cross country runs at venues close to Harare.

Zimbabwe has a lot of natural beauty and undeveloped scenery which can be experienced on runs and this is a huge thing for me as I want to enjoy my running and sometimes need something to distract me from a big hill in front of me!

Zimbabwe

Nikki on the Zimbabwe trails

Are there any dangers in running there?

Julie: Dangers of running in Harare are open gates with scary big dogs in the yards, and amazingly that is quite a common occurrence, but also careless drivers. Do they not see us runners? Do they deliberately come close to us to frighten us?

Nikki: in addition to the dangers Julie mentioned, we have uneven surfaces on our roads, with many potholes, which can be quite hazardous for any runner. We also don’t have streetlights that work at night, so run with head-torches in groups in the pre-dawn or post-sunset dark.

Where do Zimbabwean runners get their gear from?

Julie: Zimbabwe as a rule, imports running gear from neighbouring South Africa and worldwide. This, of course, makes shoes and clothes and nutritional goods expensive and hard to come by, with very limited choice. Stiff import duties in these “luxuries” can make running in Zim an expensive hobby. I rely on the kindness and suitcase space of my family when they go abroad and have become quite a good Internet browser. I love to spend time looking at “takkies” (running trainers/shoes) on-line!

Nikki: I buy my running shoes online in the UK, and get them sent out here. I run in Kayanos, and these are not imported into Zim, as the end cost to the runner would be in the region of US$350! Old trainers and clothes get passed on here, and nothing goes to waste.

Tell us a little about the running stars of Zimbabwe

Julie: Running stars in Zimbabwe are undoubtedly world class. Stephen Muzhingi has won the Comrades ultra (87 or 89km depending on up or down runs) three times back to back. He also become the second man to win both the Two Oceans and the Comrades ultras in the same year (2012). He is a humble man from humble beginnings, but with a hunger for doing well and is a huge inspiration to both of us. This year, Stephen and Fellow Zimbabwean Prodigal Khumalo, finished in the top ten at Comrades.

The two Zimbabwean men who ran the marathon at the London Olympics last year are Cuthbert Nyasango and William Zhuwao. They made us all so proud.

A female runner in Zim that inspires me is Tabitha Tsatsa. She won the Two Oceans ultra in 2013. That’s 56km in a time of 3.39 at the age of 40.

Constance Nyasango is also a world class runner. I will never ever be able to run that fast but she does inspire me to do better in my own humble endeavours!

zimbabwe

Julie with Olivia Chitate (L) and Constance Nyasango (R) at last weekend’s Kariba Half Marathon. Constance was first woman in a time of 1.18! 1.18!!!!

What do Zimbabwean runners use to hydrate whilst running?

Nikki: Race water stations tend to offer water or coke and water mix. No fancy powerade or similar for us, although, some water points at big events are sponsored,so carry Energade and jelly babies / oranges and bananas, in addition to the standard coke and water. Some of us run with Mazoe, a local cordial, mixed with an electrolyte tablet or two.

What about fuel?

Nikki: In terms of fuel, we tend to keep it very simple here. Most HAC runners use Gu (brought in from outside the country, as there are no local suppliers) or Vooma (which is available locally). I can only tolerate a small amount of sugar when running – and NO gels – so I tend to carry roast butternut and oranges / sliced banana if I can’t drop these off at water points before the race. I have a hydration belt, so am able to carry my special juice, my butternut, and my phone for live-tweeting and Instagramming while I run!

Post race treats are an ice cold beer or tea heavily laced with sugar, chocolate milk, or more Coke. Races usually have egg and bacon rolls on offer at the end, which generally goes down a treat!

zimbabwe

Zimbabwe sunset

How does social media play a role within the Zimbabwean running community?

Nikki:  Twitter is not yet big here – within and without the running community – but I am trying very hard to change this! I spend a lot of time talking to my running tweeps in South Africa, as it’s a much more vibrant landscape there in terms of who is on Twitter, and who tweets their runs. I live-tweet my runs – or, should I say, I live-Instagram them as I can simultaneously post to Facebook and Twitter. Facebook is much bigger here than Twitter, so friends and family, and most of my HAC friends can follow races like Two Oceans and the Vic Falls Marathon, both of which I documented.

This year, the National Healthcare Trust was involved in the Falls Marathon, and they asked me to be part of a panel discussion on health and non-communicable diseases like Diabetes and Obesity. I did this while running 42.2km which was quite an interesting experience! I got great feedback from Zimbabweans in the Diaspora, those at home in Harare, and runners in South Africa, all of whom said they loved seeing my journey and were planning to do the Falls marathon (or half) next year as a result!

Running blogging doesn’t exist here (yet!) – I keep threatening to set up my own blog, but haven’t had the time to do so. We tend to follow South African / US / UK bloggers to get our running fix when we’re not on the road.

zim 2

Nikki, Julie and Amina with 9-times Comrades winner Bruce Fordyce

What are the best things about running in Zimbabwe?


Julie
: The best things about running in Zimbabwe are the weather, the amazing countryside and the friendliness of the running community here. People are always, in my experience, very willing to share their knowledge and advice. I would not have been able to run my first Two Oceans without the support of the running community here and the breathless questions I asked as I plodded along were always answered by fellow runners as we went along. This, for me, is such a big positive about running in Zim.

Nikki: One of the things I love most about running here is the simplicity of it. I love that our races are small – although it is a real buzz when we do attend a big race, with support, goodie bags, music at the start, and so on – but we never have to worry about tripping over anyone, or shuffling to the start 15 minutes after the gun has gone. Our races aren’t always well-marked, so some of us do get lost, and put in a few extra kilometres (I’ve done this on more than one occasion) but that’s part of the fun of it. I know that I could be a faster, leaner, more accomplished runner if I put my mind to it – but I love the journey, I love the adventure of speaking to people along the way, of stopping to take pictures, and of living in the moment.

And the biggest challenges?

Julie: The biggest challenge is undoubtedly lack of awareness of running and lack of big sponsorship but with the way the Zimbabwean economy is at the moment, this is a very difficult issue to tackle.

Julie, Nikki, Ephraim and Patrick…thank you so much for this wonderful glimpse into the Zimbabwean running world! It’s been fascinating and I so appreciate your time and effort in pulling this together.

You can follow Julie on Twitter HERE and on Instagram HERE and Nikki on Twitter HERE and Instagram HERE. Their IG pics are particularly fab.

For more Running The World interviews, click HERE.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 6 Comments

English Ninja Wannabe

It was Jen who first mentioned American Ninja Warrior to me. I had no idea that this horribly addictive, obstacle-course ‘game-show’ existed. But once I’d checked it out, I secretly adored it. And then, a week or two later, a clip did the rounds on the interweb of the first woman to complete the course in the finals…and I was hooked.

If you haven’t seen this clip of Kacy Catanzaro doing the course, you honestly need to take five minutes to watch it. And then you should take five more and watch this, her submission video for the series. My jaw was literally on the floor watching it – this tiny, amazing girl doing these amazing things!So when my friend Lucy asked me if we all fancied going bouldering with her and her husband and daughter at a wall in SF, I nearly bit her hand off. Ninja Warrior arms and abs would be mine in one easy session!

Dogpatch Boulders

Dogpatch Boulders

We went on Saturday. It was my first time bouldering. The Husband and I did a climbing course 6 years ago in the UK which we enjoyed, but didn’t love.  I liked the idea of bouldering a little more – not so much heading straight up a wall but using my weakling arms to get around. Not having my bottom-fat spilling out of a harness would be a bonus too.

climbing

We spent about an hour there and it was a flipping good workout. I didn’t try to climb particularly high – I spent more time trying to climb across, around and along. I liked how climbing kept my mind ticking along too, trying to work out where I should put my hands and feet next! I was also totally inspired by some of the guys and the women climbing there – they were incredible! Our friend Jimmy was pretty awesome as well.

It was like that Tom Cruise bit in Mission Impossible!

It was like that Tom Cruise bit in Mission Impossible!

I have to be honest – climbing made me feel pretty hardcore and badass. I wasn’t particularly great at it, I don’t mean to imply that I was, but every time I hauled myself up onto the wall,  I LOVED how it made me feel!

Full disclosure: The Husband laid on the floor to get these shots. I wasn't so high :)

Full disclosure: The Husband laid on the floor to get these shots. I wasn’t so high :)

climbing

(Yes I was wearing socks. Apparently climbing shoes should be worn without them, but the thought of sweaty rental shoes and bare feet was too much even for this embracer of germs).

The Husband and the Dude had a great time too. The Husband’s height meant that he only needed to climb up a few grips and he could touch the top. The Dude LOVED it – his height and skinniness worked really well in his favour and he found his nose also helped at times!!

climbing

Climbing

Bouldering was pretty humbling. It became clear that I have very little upper body strength and precious little core strength. I definitely fancy bouldering more regularly in order to strengthen those particular areas!! When I finally managed to haul myself up to a hand-hold I’d been aiming for, it was really satisfying, even though I had to stop climbing shortly afterwards when the constant rubbing gauged a hole in my finger. Need to toughen up.

IMG_4872

Do you think I liked it?

IMG_4870

Hand hole…

 

On Sunday, I was up early to get my run in. I needed to run long and hoped for 12 miles but the day was busy so I settled for 10. I alternated ‘normal’ speed miles with ‘faster’ speed miles – not tempo speed but just trying to push the pace a little. The last three miles are wonderful steady, gentle downhill so I made sure I pushed harder on those miles rather than cruise home easily. I felt like I worked really hard so when I got home and saw 10 miles at an average pace of 9.17, I was disappointed. However mile 6 went up an enormous, steep hill which forced me to walk. When I take that mile out of the stats, I ran 9 miles at a 8.57 pace, which I feel better reflects my effort. Is this cheating?? :)

Later that day, we had a party for the Husband, partly to celebrate his birthday last month and partly to celebrate his Ironman. It was a lot of fun!!!

ironman

I won’t give up the day job to be a cake decorator, don’t worry!!

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 10 Comments

The Wild West Relay: Part Two

So there I was, a little British girl decked out in reflective gear and head torches, running (SLOWLY) down an unpaved Colorado road in the middle of nowhere, all by myself, at 8.30pm as the sun was going down. Everything my mum told me not to do. I was sucking in oxygen (at 8,600 feet, there wasn’t much of it out there), running as fast as I could (i.e. very slowly) and had 7.3 miles to cover before I saw my friends again.

wwr me

Setting off…photo: Bean

I had been nervous about the night leg. Actually, it was barely night… 8.30 – 9.30 roughly. Van 2 would literally run through the night. But I have to be honest, it kind of freaked me out. I rarely run in darkness and I never run in the middle of nowhere in darkness. I wasn’t nervous for bears as we were out of bear country, but just was generally twitchy. I felt a bit sick – I wasn’t sure if it was from nerves or altitude or too much energy drink or from motion-sickness from the lurching around of my hand-held torch.

I wasn’t entirely alone. I passed one runner, I was passed by two more. Several vans lingered along the route, lighting the road up for a while, for which I was very grateful. But at times, I was all alone in the darkness and it was a bit freaky. I was very slow, due to the lack of oxygen. My miles were pretty flat, even downhill, with a mile or so of uphill at the end, so it was a relatively easy leg. But it seemed to take forever.

wwr

Goodnight moon…

One thing I was really excited about was running across the border into Wyoming. I’ve never been to Wyoming and the idea of running there was pretty cool. I had visions of a photo for the blog. A selfie with me looking awesome and the ‘Welcome to Wyoming, you amazing runner’ sign in the background. Something just like this, really.

 

Something just like this, really!

But by the time I arrived, it was pitch black. The sign was small and yellow and I was in no mood to pose for a selfie. I wanted to be done. So I snapped my photo and ran on.

wwr

Welcome to Wyoming, you amazing runner!

I was enormously glad to see my vans and to hand over to Leslie. Really glad. I feel a bit rubbish to have not enjoyed my night leg, like the awesome brave girl I want to be. But I did it anyway. Job done.

We handed over to Van 2 at Woods Landing – a tiny little hamlet in Wyoming. Van 2 ran off into the pitch black (freezing) night and we got hot chocolates and spaghetti bolognese in the restaurant there. Sitting at 11pm eating mediocre spag bol and listening to two guys in stetsons singing ‘Country Road’ was one of the most surreal, cool experiences I’ve ever had. I felt  a long way from Wiltshire. Once we’d eaten, we drove the hour or so to Walden High School where we’d meet Van 2 in 5 hours time. Ian kindly put up a little tent and we piled in on the floor. It was very VERY cold but I was asleep in a heartbeat.

wwr

The best bad hot-chocolate in the world

wwr

Country rooooaaaaad, take me hooommmmeeee….

Leg 3

It was still very cold and very dark when Ian uncomplainingly started his third and final leg. We packed up and drove out to the next exchange. When we saw Ian, he was dragging his leg like Igor but refused to swap out and he finished his leg. The sun came up, the road stretched on forever and one by one we ran our legs. Finally, it was my turn to run. I had 4.3 miles to do and I was excited to knock them out.

Oh my word, it was still tough. The altitude is an absolute shocker. I can run 4.3 miles easily but this was once again a long slogfest. I feel like I spent the relay dying to run and spent the runs dying to get back in the van. But I accepted that I was going to be slow and plodded along the road.

Ready to rock my last leg

Ready to rock my last leg

 

wwr

 

wwr

Rocking it…for 0.1 miles at least

We were now in last place and all on our own. Exchanges, which had once been busy and vibrant, now consisted of our van, the volunteer’s car and some portaloos. We were now joined by the Penske van which was sweeping up after us. They’d appear at an exchange as we waited for our runner and then, once he or she arrived, they’d pick up all the cones etc and drive on to the next one. We became quite pally with them. I don’t think any of us were particularly bothered about being last – none of us could have run any faster – and there were rumours of a prize for being last, which was very appealing.

The loneliness of being last

The loneliness of being last

The views were amazing.

wwr

Rabbit Ears Pass

wwr

Kyle…the hottie from Van 22

 

Van 2 took over and we drove the final stretch to Steamboat Springs. We found our campsite and our lovely little cabins by the river and we took amazing, delightful, blessed showers. I had thoroughly embraced being dirty but the shower was amazing. We got food and then rejoined our team for the final legs so we could all finish together.

Most of the team, ready to finish

Most of the team, ready to finish

Ice-baths, Steamboat style

Ice-baths, Steamboat style

Finally, Mellissa, our last runner, ran into view towards the fish line. Much excitement, one last dash up the slope to the finish line and we were done! First to start, last to finish…massive achievement with some wonderful people.

We did it!

We did it!

There WAS a prize for being last. Alas not a cash prize but the race director offloaded boxes of Kind bars and protein bars and sports drink powder! Result! We shared the spoils!

That night, we went to the hot springs where we soaked our aching, tired legs. Then we went to sleep. The next day, we ate a LOT and then drove back to Fort Collins and then back to Denver airport so I could fly home. I was REALLY tired. I can’t decide if my tiredness was due to getting old or it’s just a cumulation of the busyness of the past few weeks, but it’s taken a few good night’s sleep to feel more awake!!

wwr me

The sexiness of the long-distance runner

Hot Springs...amazing for tired bodies

Hot Springs…amazing for tired bodies

I have to say…the relay was a lot of fun. I really enjoyed and I can’t wait to do Ragnar in 6 weeks here in California – to be able to run comfortably and breathe properly whilst doing it. I’m technically the ‘team captain’ for our Ragnar team and I learned SO much from watching Stacey.  I know I’ll do a lot better having seen what a great job she did! It was a lot of fun to run in a team instead of alone and to get to know some really great people. It was amazing to run in such beautiful places. It was a pretty awesome weekend.

Back to reality eh? At least there’s oxygen in reality.

Posted in Uncategorized | 15 Comments

The Wild West Relay: Part One

I’m just back from my first ever relay and have been trying to work out how to blog about it. I feel like the blogosphere is awash with relay recaps and people might just be sick of reading them but there’s just too much to put into one loooonnnng post, so I’m splitting this into two. If you’re done with relay recaps, please feel free to come back next week!

If you’re still reading…

…this was my first ever relay, something I’ve wanted to do for a few years now. The Wild West Relay takes place in my favourite non-Californian state, Colorado. It starts in Fort Collins and stretches 199 miles (come on guys, let’s round it up, I’d have run that extra mile) to Steamboat Springs, where we went skiing last year. I got roped into it via Bean, the stranger from the internet who came to stay last year and who became a dear friend pretty much instantly.  She knew two people pulling a team together, did I want to do it? Yep!

(If perchance you are new to the world of relays…a relay is a long race, generally around 200 miles, which is covered by a team of 12 runners split into two vans of 6 runners. Runners 1 – 6 run a leg each, hand over to runners 7 – 12 who run their legs. Then you do it again, three times in total). 

Thursday

I flew out at 6am on Thursday morning. This was only my second ever trip away from the Dude, and I have to admit, it felt weird to be without my little sidekick and shadow. I missed him desperately…right up until Bean picked me up at Denver airport and said ‘let’s go for lunch’. That was pretty much it. I really loved morphing slowly back into my old self. ADORE my boys, I ADORE my life and wouldn’t change it for an instant but it was kind of like meeting up with an old friend again.

We spent the day in Fort Collins shopping. I never shop these days, I quickly found that I hadn’t lost my skills! We had damn good tacos at Dam Good Tacos and hit up REI for some last minute equipment buying. In the evening, we went into town and met the rest of our team for dinner. In our van, we had Ian and Stacey (the organizers, who were basically the kindest, sweetest people I’ve ever met), Bean, me, Kara and Leslie! Back at the hotel, we did some paperwork and then all sloped off to bed, ready for the very early start the next day!

Hydrating with Bean!

Hydrating with Bean!

Team Bear Bait's last minute preparations.

Team Bear Bait’s last minute preparations.

Leg One

The alarm went off at 3.30, we were loading the vans at 3.50 and at the start area at 4.30. Grim. When you sign up for a relay, you input your expected speed and the organizers give you a start time based on your speed, or lack of! We were given the first start wave, 5am, as we were expected to be one of the slowest teams. Fancy that!

Bleary-eyed and loading the vans

Bleary-eyed and loading the vans

We checked in, made some attempt to decorate our van, and then it was suddenly 5am and Ian was lining up to start the race. There was a count-down and he was off!

wwr

We had a crazy scramble to drive to the next exchange, 4 or so miles down the road. And that was what happened. Ian handed over to Kara, Kara to Stacey, Stacey to Bean and finally Bean to me! I was DYING to run. It was now daylight – Colorado was looking lovely, I had on a fancy new outfit and I wanted to blitz it along the roads and pull my weight for the team. Bean ran towards me, gave me a high-five and it was my turn. I hurtled off down the road to the cheers of my van-mates.

I hurtled for 0.18 miles and suddenly the lack of oxygen in the Colorado air slapped me in the face. We were at 5,000 ft (about 1,500m) elevation. I live at 5’1 elevation. Pretty much instantly, I was crawling along and it was flat! It was a sudden reality check. I was not going to be a running superstar! So I settled into my plod. The road was lovely and as I turned north, it turned lovelier. My garmin beeped every mile and at mile six I started the one big hill of my leg – not too long but pretty steep. I managed to ‘run’ the whole thing and paused at the top to ‘take a photo’ before plunging down the 0.3 mile downhill to the exchange. I turned the corner and saw a field of bison which was pretty awesome. My team was at the exchange, cheering – I was grateful for the downhill so I looked good for them! I high-fived Leslie and then blessedly stood and sucked in air! Leg one…done!

wwr me

The lovely downhill to the finish

wwr

Seen on my run

wwr

So happy to be done

Once Leslie had crushed her leg, we handed over to Van 2. We went to this awesome Western style diner in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by mountains! Then we did a little cheering for Van 2 as they ran and then drove to the next big exchange where we would start our next leg. The sleeping bags went down on the ground, I crawled in, closed my eyes and the next thing I know, I was asleep.

Van One mid-snooze Photo Credit: Bean

Van One mid-snooze
Photo Credit: Bean

Exchanges are a lot of fun. Lots of vans, some of whom you get to know throughout the day. Some teams, like the Ice Queens, were really friendly and supportive, cheering everyone on. Others were pretty obnoxious – their runner passed Stacey and said ‘Bang bang, got you’ – introducing her to the concept of ‘roadkill’, where you pass another runner. Several vans were keeping a tally of their ‘roadkill’ on their  van windows. Frankly, I think that’s nasty. I understand that some people are hugely competitive, but surely graciousness and competitiveness are not mutually exclusive? Oh well.

A typical exchange

A typical exchange

Leg Two

Our second legs started at about lunchtime and marked the point of the big climb of the race. The relay’s slogan is ‘Get your ass over the pass’. The pass in question is Sandcreek Pass at 10,290 feet Ian’s 6 miles were basically uphill, then Kara descended two miles, climbed four to the summit and then ran down two miles to the next exchange. Hers was the ass over the pass. I was enormously grateful that mine got to summit in the van!

wwr

Kara heading down in order to head up

wwr

A gorgeous stag danced across the road for a few seconds. Utterly beautiful.

Stacey then plunged 9 miles downhill through the most beautiful forest. We saw no bears but did see a stunning big old stag, which made our day. Eventually, we left the forest and the world opened up in front of us – this enormous, wide valley between mountain ranges. It was breathtaking in every sense.

wwr

Out of the forest into the plain

wwr

Team Photographer snapping along

IMG_8408 IMG_4724

Stacey was thrilled to have run a personal distance record in the middle of a relay

Stacey was thrilled to have run a personal distance record in the middle of a relay

At about 8.30, it was my turn to run. The sun was beginning to go down behind the mountains. Everyone was kitted up in reflective vests and jackets. I was also wearing a head torch, a red flashing tail light and carrying another head torch to light my way. Bean ran into view, slapped my hand and I turned and ran off into the gathering gloom…

Heading off...

Heading off…Photo: Bean

wwr

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , | 5 Comments