Our epic bike trip

The post below is a repost of something I wrote back in 2012, just after I started the blog when basically only my Mum was reading it. A few of you may have read it since (in which case, come back later this week) but for some people it may be new. It was one of my biggest adventures and definitely one of the best things I did in my entire life, so I’m taking a chance of annoying you and republishing it!!! Hope you enjoy it!!

2008.

Before we had a baby, before we had a cat, before we lived in California, we took a month off work and cycled across Europe. This had been a long-term dream of mine – and was the one thing I absolutely had to do before we started a family. I had been planning the route for about a year on a mammoth spreadsheet, investigating roads, accommodation, things to see. I’m one of those people for whom planning is as much a joy as the trip itself,

We left in the May. However, in the January, I broke my leg skiing. My physiotherapist and I worked so hard to get ready and I have never been so flipping focused on anything in my life. So, come May, even though I couldn’t walk very well, we put our bikes on the plane and headed off.

When you break your leg, be sure to get your companion to take loads of photographs of the rescue operation.

We were just kids! Leaving Toulouse airport at the start of our trip

We started in lovely Toulouse, the pink city, in the South West of France, and cycled the gorgeous Canal du Midi, visited the amazing castle at Carcassonne and the Roman Arena in Arles before finishing in beautiful Aix-en-Provence, where, in my youth,  I spent six months as a student!!

Day One down the Canal du Midi

Amazing Carcassonne

Beautiful Arles

Market in Aix-en-Provence

Clock Tower in Aix

From Aix we entered the hill country so life got tougher but SO much more beautiful. We crossed the Luberon, saw Mont Ventoux, cycled up 4 ‘cols’ (mountain passes) and through the amazing Vercors National Park before plummeting like stones into the cool, Alpine University city of Grenoble.

Gobsmacking rock formations near the village of Remuzat

Me at my happiest, climbing the Col de Rousset

From Grenoble, it was lake-tastic. We started with beautiful, lakeside Aix-les-Bains and then cycled along Lake Geneva before spending an incredible day in the idyllic Alpine countryside along Interlaken. We then had a wonderful rest-day in the car-free, fairytale village of Muerren.

Paraglider outside Grenoble – alas it wasn’t me.

Lake Geneva

Lovely wooden bridge outside Interlaken

Breathtaking Lauterbrunnen

Muerren chalet

Our next leg crossed over the Brunig Pass to Luzern and its lovely lake, and then on to Rapperswil, a little lakeside town where frankly I could have stayed for the rest of my life! And then, in one day, we had breakfast in Switzerland, lunch in Liechtenstein and dinner in Austria! We then slogged slowly up the Arlberg Pass and along the Inn river in the rain to damp but beautiful Innsbruck.

Lake steamer outside Interlaken

My much adored bike Liesl by the SarnerSee

Walensee, Switzerland

Made it to Liechtenstein (Also…I remember that pre-child waist)

Our final leg followed the River Inn for a day or so before veering briefly into Germany for a night and then somehow we made it to Salzburg and our trip’s end.

Golden Roof in Innsbruck

1187 miles down and we finally made Salzburg

Because the Husband hadn’t carried enough weight during the past month…

My favourite place on earth – Salzburg

1200 miles in four weeks. I look back on those days and all we remember is the freedom and the happiness. Yes, we had tough days, our legs ached, we squabbled about map-reading, I had awful hay-fever, we got wet some days. But years later, all we remember is freedom. The freedom to choose the only clean clothes you have in your panniers. The freedom of the road, where map-reading is the only issue you face. The freedom to feel the rain in your face and the sun on your back. There is nothing like the buzz I got from the morning ritual of putting panniers on racks, swinging my leg over the crossbar and heading out into a new world. Just writing this makes me ache for that freedom. I totally don’t regret having our little man, but those happy days cycle-touring are the one thing I ache for.That season will come again before I know it, but for now, I miss it.

There’s a MUCH longer write-up of this trip HERE at crazyguyonabike.com – a fantastic cycle-touring website where hundreds of cyclists write the journals of their epic bike trips around the world. It’s quite addictive and inspirational…proceed with caution.

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A kick up the bottom

I have a confession to make.

I did VERY little exercise last week.

I know I don’t ‘owe’ you an apology but one of the things I love about blogging is that it makes me somewhat accountable and often, I need your virtual eyes on me to motivate me to run. Jen blogged last week about struggling with motivation as her job situation has changed – I’m sure you’ve noticed that since I started studying, my motivation has wavered, I’m in the same boat as she is, to some respects. What I gained from running, I’m now largely gaining from another place and busyness has increased dramatically.

The issue is not so much not having the time to exercise as prioritising it. The fact I took all of Friday morning off to go cycling shows that I DO have the time – I just need to plan my work/life balance better during the week. In the mornings when I study, I need to have the self-discipline to say ‘Enough for today, go and run’, knowing that I’m still on track to get my work done throughout the week.

ramage angela 1

Back when my running mojo was in full flight :)

 

Last week looked like this. I snuck my long run in on Monday and managed 9 miles at 9.41 pace. I actually really enjoyed it, it’s not that I’m not enjoying running. But then I couldn’t motivate myself to get out and run again. Then I went for my bike ride on Friday.

margarita

At the weekend, I did nothing, exercise-wise. I did a lot of checking of Instagram to see people’s Bay to Breakers photos, which was fun but wouldn’t get me healthier.

It’s just not enough exercise. It’s not good for my health to have so many ‘rest days’ and it’s definitely not good for my spirit. I find myself getting lethargic and lazy. It has to stop.

So therefore, this week, I hereby commit to these things.

  • I will exercise every day. Even if it’s just for half an hour. I want to run three times, cycle twice and swim  once. But if it all goes tits up, I will do half an hour of a video workout or I’ll do one of those living-room circuits that are all over pinterest. I will definitely do half an hour each day, if not more.
  • I hereby commit to stop eating all the cr*p. I may have been exercising less recently but I have continued to eat like I’m training for the UTMB. I am not. So I commit to be looking at portion sizes, health bang 4 buck and trying to see food as fuel, not reward.
Has anyone seen that scarf? I lost it and I miss it so much.

Has anyone seen that scarf? I lost it and I miss it so much.

  • I hereby commit to drink loads more water. I was good at water for a while but I am not any longer.
  • I hereby commit to post back at the end of the week with an update. This may not be interesting for you guys (sorry) but it’s a good motivational tool for me to stick with my goal.

I developed a nasty little cold over the weekend, which will make things less fun but I have to start afresh, snot or no snot. Wish me luck, people!!

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Adventures with Margarita

By Friday, I had got enough study done to be able to take the morning off. I was planning to go for a run, but then I realized what I  really wanted to do was cycle. My lovely birthday bike, Margarita has been sorely underused and I’ve been dying to do a decent ride lately.

So on Friday morning, the Dude and I cycled to school together, he went into his classroom and I set off on my epic ride.

A deeply flattering shot of both of us on the ride to school

A deeply flattering shot of both of us on the ride to school

 

For me, it was epic. I cycled from Foster City to Woodside. It was about 15 miles each way and involved one giant hill. I climbed up it on the way and shot down it on the way back. It actually wasn’t too bad – long but steady, I climbed the whole thing fairly easily (if not quickly). Then, I had 8 blissful miles along Canada Road – a local cycling mecca. The road is straight, gently undulating and fairly car-free and it ends in Woodside at one of my favourite cafés where  I celebrated the half-way point with a totally unnecessary giant almond croissant and hot chocolate.

cycling margarita

The ride back was equally fun although shooting down Ralston Hill was pretty terrifying.

Crystal Springs on a chilly, grey, blustery morning

All in all, I did 32 miles. Now I know that this is hardly ‘epic’ but for me, it was a big deal. I haven’t ridden 32 miles since the Dude was born. One of my New Year Resolutions was to do a Century Ride. Layla’s recap of her century lit a fire in me earlier in the week and Friday’s ride kind of fanned it into flames. All the local century rides seem to include copious amounts of giant hills but THIS ONE in October in Sacramento is pretty flat and I’m pretty confident this is going to be it. The Husband also wants to do it, we need to work out how we both train for it without sacrificing enormous amounts of family time.

Riding Margarita is VERY different to riding Liesl, my touring bike. Things I’ve noticed are:

  •  Climbing hills is much MUCH easier.
  • Going downhill is terrifying.
  • Road saddles are nowhere near as kind on your nether regions as touring saddles.
  • I feel a little insecure not carrying much ‘stuff’. On Margarita, I only have a little saddle bag. It doesn’t store as many things as I like to take with me.
  • I may need to buy one of those ugly cycling jerseys with enormous pockets in the back.
  • I probably need to learn to clip into my pedals.
  • Road cyclists are not as friendly as touring cyclists.
  • Just because you have a swanky bike and clip-in shoes does not mean you can look down on me, mate!

I do realise that 32 miles isn’t exactly Tour de France stuff and I don’t want to make too big a deal of it…but I had fun. It was great, just what I wanted, and I’m excited about starting to train for Autumn’s big ride!

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Edgewood exploits

It’s been a long time since I ran at Edgewood, my favourite local park! Actually it was August last year. AUGUST, LAST YEAR!!!! How did that happen? I drive past it on my way to college twice a week, just as the evening light is perfect. I see runners head up into the park and cyclists speeding down Canada Road and  even though I’m very happy to be going to college, I grumble inwardly and the desire to run at Edgewood has been eating away at me!

On Saturday, I finally got to scratch that itch. We went to the birthday party of one of the Dude’s little friends, they live just down the road from Edgewood. (Not at all jealous of the redwood in their garden!) So I spent the afternoon hydrating with champagne (and water, honest guv’nor!) and fueling with pizza (and tacos) and then we drove up to Edgewood. My boys went hiking and I set off up the trails.

edgewood trails

Holy macaroni, it was so much harder than I remember! It’s a hilly little park and I frequently had to stop to ‘take photographs’. But despite the tired legs, the ‘full belly’ and the puffing and panting, it was just gorgeous. It’s still fairly green, the wildflowers were out in profusion and it was just really pretty.

edgewood trails

This is what California describes as ‘green’

 

edgewood trails

edgewood trails

The other thing that struck me was how flipping badass I used to be! Because two years ago, my friend Juli and I flipping pushed strollers around Edgewood. Twice!  The trails I slogged up today, we slogged up pushing strollers. She pushed a DOUBLE STROLLER. I mentally high-fived my 38-year old self!!

stroller trails edgewood

juli stroller trails edgewood

I’d hoped to do 6 miles but I’d arranged to meet the boys at the car-park at 4.30 and I just ran out of time. 5.2 miles in the books. No worries – it was just pretty gorgeous! Made me happy.

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Running, lately

One of the downsides of having a running blog is that sometimes, your running is totally ordinary and non spectacular and so there’s nothing to write about which is why I haven’t blogged for a week or so. But I miss blogging so I thought I’d try and pull something together.

I’ve basically been trying to shake it up a little over the past few weeks.

I tried running on a track

I’ve never run on a proper running track before. My school track was a lush green field with chalk lanes painted on. Not complaining, I like lush green fields, but whenever I hear  Americans reminiscing about their high-school track-running exploits, I have no idea what that was like. I’ve also never really fancied running on tracks. Why would you run in circles like a hamster where you could run on trails or run through streets smelling the early morning jasmine? But the other week, I headed out for an easy 4 miler, somehow found myself diverting onto the track at my nearby park and decided to play.

Because this was unplanned, I had no idea quite what I should do on a track. There were several elderly people walking around it so I couldn’t do entire laps. So I did this very strange, ad-hoc session when I sprinted up one straight side of the track, jogged to the next side, waited for the oldies to move along and sprinted down there. It was very disorganised, but actually quite fun.

Three things I noticed. 1) If you run on a track, you automatically feel like an Olympian.   2) You can also pretend to be an Olympian. 3) If you sprint, you see 6s on your watch (my 0.7 mile sprints were between 6.00 and 6.45 pace) and I have never seen 6s on my watch before. Bearing in mind  some of my online buddies had just run Boston with several/many miles in the 6s, my jubilation was a little excessive.

The time I won an Olympic medal

The time I won an Olympic medal

I’ve upped the pace on my tempo runs

After ‘winning the silver medal’ in Livermore, I’m determined to PR at the 5k and the 10k and this basically means holding an 8.00 pace for a long time, so I’ve started blitzing my tempo miles, aiming for 8.00 instead of 8.15 – 8.25 where they usually are. So far, when I’ve run single tempo miles, I’m pulling it off…they’re in the late 7s or very early 8s. But when I tried to link two blitzing miles together, they were a disappointing 8.25 and 8.17.  But I shall carry on regardless.

I did some hill repeats

I live in the flattest town in California (probably) but managed to get some hill repeats in by running repeatedly up and down the footbridge near the Dude’s school. It was a blisteringly hot day and I was running at midday so not the wisest but in the end it was quite fun. 10 repeats of about 0.6 miles up and then back down. My legs felt it the next day.

I gave up on a long run

The day after Hill Repeat Day, I went out for my long run. I was aiming for 10 miles. It was hot, the route was hilly, my legs still ached from the hills. At 7 miles, I decided I wasn’t having any fun and I had a load of studying to do, so I went home and only ran 9 miles. I felt slightly guilty but it didn’t last that long.

I did some intervals. They were fine.

I did a swim workout. In fact, I did two. 

For a while now, I’ve been meaning to swim. One of my New Year Resolutions was to learn to swim properly and the time is coming when I’ll need to actually do it. So I decided I needed to get my swim fitness up a little beforehand so that I’m not dying on each lap during my lesson.

In addition, it hasn’t escaped my notice that when some of my runner friends venture into the dark world of triathlon, their running improves dramatically. Aleks and Amanda are literally flying at the moment, and they both swear that triathlon training has been influential. I want their speed. So I thought I’d suck up my hate of the swim and try it.

Therefore, TWICE this week, I have got myself into the pool in our apartment complex and swum some laps. The pool is about 15 metros long (it’s 0.01 of a mile) which isn’t ideal but it does the job. The first time, I swam 22 laps. The second time, I swam 26 laps – that’s about 450 yards. That’s basically nothing, but I’m proud of myself anyway. I do feel like an elderly lady at  country club pool as I breast-stroke along with my head poked high above the water. I have a lot to do.

senior-lady-in-blue-flower-swim-cap-smiling-in-pool_Banners

Basically, me

 

This is a very unimpressive blog post. I’m sorry. But basically, I’m still running, I’m rather enjoying it but it’s not very exciting for you guys! Hopefully things will perk up soon!!

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April favourites

I WILL be posting about running soon – I feel like I haven’t posted a daily running-related post for a while. I HAVE been running, I HAVE been enjoying it but there haven’t been any particularly remarkable or exciting runs to tell you about lately. But hopefully that’ll be changing soon!!!

In the meantime, as it’s the last day of April, I thought I’d share some of my April favourites! April was good – and unlike March, it didn’t feel like it flew by. Mainly because I didn’t go to Hawaii or Vegas. No, instead I was here and I studied my socks off.

As ever, there are NO affiliate links in the post. No-one pays me to blog. I do it because otherwise I’d drive my husband crazy.

Studying

Studying was fab this month – I just love it. I get so excited. Even when it’s 11pm and I’m still working, it makes me so happy. What a gift, eh? I got my grades for my mid-terms. Lots of A’s. This makes me ridiculously chuffed. This month I learned about the development of kids from 6 – 11 and I particularly loved the bit about how the brain processes reading. Did you know there is no specific section of the brain that handles reading, because it’s not an instinctual skill? That bowled me over!

I presented with my group about the benefits of teaching maths to preschoolers and we’ve started working with a local non-profit that provides free preschool to low-income families. We’re making a very short promotional video about them and one of their families. This kind of thing honestly rocks my world. I feel very VERY lucky to be doing this. Like I can’t quite believe my luck.

Reading

Despite the crazy workload, I managed 3 books this month.

Skin Cleanse, by Adina Grigore, was my favourite. I finished it at the very end of March waited about a month to write about it here because my skin is ‘hormonal’ and I wanted to go a whole cycle before I raved or not. Basically, I’ve had rubbish skin for months now, maybe for over a year. This book looks at skin from a biological perspective and cuts through the crap of the beauty industry. I realised that I’d been using soap, twice a day, on my skin for ages now because I love how it feels, but in reality it was dehydrating my skin to death and my skin was making gallons of extra oil to compensate. On the book’s recommendation I started using olive oil as a cleanser and grapeseed oil as a moisturiser. I would love to say ‘…AND I HAVEN’T HAD A SINGLE SPOT SINCE’. That’s not true, but my skin is about 90% better than it was and I am so incredibly happy about that!! (Top tip – if you get a spot, make up a paste of baking soda and water and put it on the spot. Leave it to dry, leave it on all night if you want. And boom…it’s gone in the morning. I kid you not, it was nothing short of miraculous!!).

The Pursuit of God by AW Tozer is a Christian book (obviously?). I don’t read many Christian books because I generally find they start out amazingly and get boring. This was (alas) no exception. The first two chapters were wonderful and changed my views on some things and challenged my faith on others. And then it got dull.

I also read Jessica Ennis’s autobiography ‘Unbelievable‘. Jessica Ennis is a British Heptathlete who won Olympic Gold in London. She was the poster girl for London 2012 and I think she’s pretty fab! Alas, her book was a little dull. She sounds like such a nice girl, I would love to be her friend…but it wasn’t the most exciting book to read. I mentioned that Kilian’s book was pretty dull too – I wonder which sports autobiographies are actually GOOD READS!! So far, I only think Chrissie Wellington’s book has been great!

Surfing

I wasted more time on the interwebs this month than I should have – flicking through things as light relief when I was tired of studying. Inspired by ‘Skin Cleanse’, the one good site I found was the Environmental Working Group, which rate all skincare products based on their ingredients and their toxicity/effects. That was quite eye-opening. Based on their work, I’ve replaced my shampoo, conditioner, sunscreen and even my blusher! Great website.

2015 seems to have brought a lot of death into my world and this month, some friends suffered an enormous loss than caused everyone that knows them much heartache. I found this article on the web and shared it via FB. I was surprised at how many people re-shared or commented how useful it was for them at that time. Whilst I was glad it was useful, I’m so sad so many people were in that position. So I’ll share it here too in case it helps anyone else.

Watching

GAME OF THRONES IS BACK AND IT DESERVES ALL CAPITALS. DRAGONS!! CERSEI!! TYRION!! Also, the female nudity seems to have been toned down and there are some male bottoms on screen now, which seems much fairer.

game-thrones-season-5

Seriously! How does anything else on TV compete with Drogon? Source

 

We half-watched a lot of Orphan Black as we studied/worked in the evenings. It was fun at first but then got boring.

Listening

I may have found my song of the year…‘Fight song’ by Rachel Platten is just cool and it makes me want to fight. Great running song, and it’s very funny when my son sings it. The Dude discovered ‘Don’t stop me now’ by Queen this month and there is NOTHING funnier than a five year old shout-singing ‘That’s why they call me Mister Fahrenheit’!!

Cooking

My lovely friend Hari and I used to work together about 10 years ago in the marketing department of a big UK retailer. She left about a year ago to set up her own Indian cookery school and got ‘discovered’ by a digital marketing agency and she’s now some kind of future Celebrity Chef. I had MANY amazing dinners cooked by Hari in my yoof and this month I finally got round to trying one of her recipes. This kale and chickpea curry was nothing short of spectacular! Do check out her site if you fancy some Indian cooking – she does meat and veggies.

Scrum.

Scrum.

I also finally tried the recipe to Julia’s Banana Bread which I shared in another post. I’ve made it twice so far and both times it’s been fantastic! My boys keep nagging me to make it again, but I’m concerned about the speed with which we’re eating it!

Obsessed with

Succulents! Our trip to a lavender farm in Maui inspired the Dude to want to grow lavender on our balcony so we traipsed off to Flora Grubb, the super-fancy, hipster garden centre in SF. We purchased lavender, rosemary, some tiny little succulents and some seeds, and then bought cheapo pots at Home Depot! Four weeks in, our seedlings are growing, the other plants are all still alive and our balcony has been named ‘High Garden’ after the home of House Tyrell. (Game of Thrones). Calling some pots on a balcony ‘High Garden’ tickles me enormously.

high garden

Hey, let’s have dinner in High Garden tonight.

 

Looking forward to

For Memorial Day we’re heading down to San Luis Obispo to meet Marjolaine and her Gentleman for the weekend. This is a new part of California for us, so I’m excited about that. We’re running a race, cycling around, eating lots of vegetables…should be fantastic.

Finishing this semester. My classes finish at the end of May. I have some exams, some final assignments, lots of work to do. I’m looking forward to having a break over the summer.

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#thankyoupaula

On Sunday, it’s the London Marathon. It’s kind of special to me for a few reasons. I’m British. I lived in London for seven awesome years. Many of my friends have run it and I’ve spent fantastic days cheering them on. And mainly because it’s my one and only marathon. (A hugely late race report is here).

London Bridge Source

London Bridge
(Photo from the interwebs)

This year, it’s particularly special to me because Paula Radcliffe is running it and it will be her last marathon.

I’m not one for celebrity running heroines although I am TOTALLY inspired by Emelie Forsberg and Stevie Kremer and may (MAY) pretend to be Emelie when I’m running trails. But I am more inspired by people like you – my running friends IRL or online who do amazing things and inspire me to want to run better. Cheesy I know, but totally true. But road marathon runners just don’t inspire me – it’s just not my thing.

Paula is the exception.

I started running in 2001, 14 years ago. I was living in Muswell Hill, in North London, with my two best friends in a house in a primary school. I had this awful boyfriend who dumped me one Spring. It was the best thing that ever happened to me, but obviously it didn’t feel like that at the time. I remember very clearly thinking I could either eat chocolate or I could start running. I chose running and I never really looked back.

Me, so long ago.

Me (and my gorgeous friend) so long ago.

As I started running, Paula reached the peak period of her career winning the London Marathon in 2002, 2003 and later in 2005. She won New York in 2004. She set her first marathon world record of 2.17.18 in Chicago in 2002 and then, in London in 2003, she broke it again and set it at 2.15.25. It was a pretty heady time to be a British runner. It felt like we were winning everything, it was just so exciting to be part of this running phenomenon.

I never met Paula but I think I ran past her at a 5k in Battersea Park once – she was starting the race clearly, thus she was stood still. Injury has dogged a lot of her later career and I was pretty gutted for her when she failed to win Olympic medals. But it’s been amazing career.

 

In the UK, this week, the hashtag #thankyoupaula has started trending in preparation for Sunday’s big race, which I believe she will run as more a lap of honour than a balls-to-the-wall effort. I love this – I love that the British running community is publicly thanking their greatest ever female runner, someone who inspired so many people to run faster and harder and longer.

Check out the Evening Standard’s amazing front cover.

Seriously…Brits don’t get this sentimental about nothing!

Nike did it perfectly, as usual. Darn them and their awesome marketing.

I wanted to be part of it too and to pay tribute to a running heroine.  So here’s my bit.

Thanks for representing Great Britain and British sport so well. Thanks for inspiring millions of women around the world to try harder and to get into running and sport. Thanks for standing against drugs. But most of all…thank you Paula for inspiring this slightly overweight, newly dumped, total rookie to start running, to run a marathon and to fall madly in love with this wonderful sport. 

#thankyoupaula

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Race Recap: Pace for Peace 5k

I hardly know where to start with this race recap.

I signed up initially for the 10k, as part of my Spring of 10k’s. And then, last week, it occurred to me that I knew I wasn’t in shape to PR the 10k (or even get close) but I could potentially PR the 5k. My 5k PR of 26.15 is two years old and I know I am faster now than I was then. All the 5k’s I’ve done since have been pushing the Dude. And I found myself getting SUPER-EXCITED about racing a 5k! So I emailed the organizer, she happily switched me and I started planning.

I had two goals for this race. My A goal was to come in under 25 minutes, something I’ve wanted to do for a while. This would mean I needed to run 8.02 pace, which I thought was possible. My New Year’s Day 10k pace was 8.11 – I know I’m not as fit as I was then but maybe I could hold 8.02 for 25 minutes? My B goal was just to PR, and if I couldn’t beat 26.14,  I would be pretty heartbroken.

My son is ‘taking a break from running 5k’s’ so I was the only one who drove out to Livermore early Saturday morning. I allowed too much time as usual – it took about 45 minutes at 7am! I got there quickly and found the race being set up. It was a really lovely event – a tiny, community race to support a non-profit helping women who have suffered sexual violence. I felt pretty moved to be part of it. I got my number, used the loo (actual loos in their building) and went back to my car to do myself a little playlist and keep warm. It was surprisingly chilly at that time.

livermore

The start line at dawn

 

At about 7.30 I went for a little warm-up jog, just one mile along the course. I’m glad I did – the course was marked by  arrows on yellow pieces of paper, taped to the ground. They weren’t that easy to see – having them standing upright would be easier. A quick reconnoitre helped.

livermore vineyards wine

Livermore has vineyards basically in the town centre. I could live here.

livermore vineyards wine

My future place of work?

 

The staging area was busier now and the queue for the loos was much longer – 2 bathrooms for 150 or so people wasn’t quite enough. But soon enough we were lining up. I positioned myself somewhat uncomfortably near the front – I thought I was in the right place, looking around, but I’m not used to being at the front. And the klaxon (?) sounded and we were off.

It was the weirdest thing. I was in the lead. (For the women, obviously. The men dashed off). I ran along, waiting to be passed (and going too fast) but was in the lead. It was kind of awesome. I ran on and still no girl passed me. I was running hard, I have to admit but I got to the turnaround point at halfway and somehow I was still in the lead. As I turned back, I didn’t really look at the girls coming the opposite way – I was trying to focus on things I could control. My running, my breathing, my race. ‘Focus on the PR’ I kept telling myself. But I was in the lead. I admit it, I felt like an Olympian.

The problem was…I had no idea how to play this game. I have never been in this situation before. I had no experience of race strategy. I had no plan about ‘racing’ this race. I was a total rookie and I had no idea what I should be doing. So I just kept running.

The way back felt very long. I ploughed along…still in the lead. A woman still heading ‘out’ whooped for me and yelled ‘First woman’. (HAHA, THAT’S ME!). I kept running but I was struggling now. I was running too fast. With about a mile to go, we had to turn sharp right. I turned, and glanced over…and saw a girl just behind me. My heart sank. I kept running.

With about half a mile to go, the inevitable happened. She passed me, looking pretty much effortless, and she ran steadily into the distance. I was disappointed but kept telling myself ‘Focus on the PR’ and just kept pushing. Eventually I turned into the home straight, the balloon arch was there and I may have accelerated a tiny bit…and I crossed the line and stopped my watch.

pace peace me 5k

FLYING to the finish line Photo Credit: Layla!

pace peace 5k me

The hordes at the finish line went wild Photo Credit: Layla

 

24.23! I hadn’t won but I’d got my goal time!

Once I’d caught my breath, Layla came over. She was out cycling for the day and stopped to cheer me over the line. This girl is an amazing team player – she can’t run much at the moment but she’s always out cheering for her friends. I hugely appreciated seeing her and giving her a delightful sweaty hug. Less fun was when I saw the course was short, I’d run 2.99 miles instead of 3.1 and when I extrapolated that pace up, my 5k time would have been 25.19.

So I lost the only race I’m ever likely to win and I didn’t get my goal time.

I shook hands and had a chat with the winner, who paid me the great compliment of saying she had to work  hard to catch me and that I ran a great race (le sigh). A while later, I saw her go up to get her prize, so I sidled up to get my second female prize. I envisaged a giant trophy. Gold, with a plinth and a female runner on top. Oh the Dude would be so impressed. Or maybe a plaque declaring ‘2nd woman’. But somehow… no. There were only prizes for the first three overall runners, which mean that I didn’t get a prize…and more significantly, the female winner didn’t get a prize either! I was actually pretty shocked for her. Bearing in mind, TriValley Haven is a women’s nonprofit, this was pretty ironic. They did have a fantastic buffet spread so I claimed a doughnut as my prize once Layla had cycled on and I could pig out in secret :) There was also a good raffle, but I didn’t win anything.

layla livermore

My awesome cheering squad of one (and her swanky new bike)

 

I have some (genuinely constructive) criticisms of this race, which I’ll mention below but frankly, none of them are important. This race raises money for women who have undergone great trauma and it raised over $10,000 for their work. So NONE OF THESE THINGS MATTER! But because I hope this review might help future runners, these things need pointing out.

  • They need more bathrooms. 2 isn’t enough.
  • The course was short. This isn’t the first time I’ve run a short course and it’s so disheartening. You run your guts out and find that your time isn’t really valid. Checking and double-checking the distance is crucial. I’d rather overrun slightly than run short.
  • You HAVE to have prizes for the top three women. You don’t need age-group awards, nice though they are but the top three women need prizes. The female winner DEFINITELY needs a prize. The girl who won looked like me, like she doesn’t win races every day, and I felt bad for her.
  • Chip timing. This doesn’t actually bother me at all but it’s worth saying this race didn’t have chip timing.

TriValley Haven are organising a race in October and I believe it WILL have chip timing, a certified course and age-group prizes. So I may well be back to try again!

livermore

My returning has NOTHING to do with the doughnuts they provided, obviously!

 

But as I said – it’s not important. This month, I’ve been reminded again of what IS important and what isn’t. Running is awesome, but helping other people is what really matters.

Personally, I have really mixed views about my performance and I haven’t quite worked them out yet. On the positive side…I PR’d and that is always a fantastic achievement and one that should be celebrated. I also placed overall for the first time ever! 2nd woman is pretty awesome! I thought about how I chatted with the winner and how I’ve NEVER had that kind of discussion before. I thought about the male winner coming over, congratulating me and asking if I’d been first female. No-one has EVER asked me that question before. I know this was a tiny race, but this whole experience made me feel like a runner more than anything ever has before!

On the negative side…I didn’t run my goal pace. That is genuinely disappointing. I also lost the race. I could smell my first ever win and I lost. Pretty gutting. Most materialistically, I also think that if I had won ‘something’ as second female, I wouldn’t actually be bothered about losing the race. (That’s kind of embarrassing). So overall, I feel a bit flat.

I’ll tell you something though…I feel flipping FIRED UP! Sub-25 is within sniffing distance for the 5k. Sub-50 is within sight for the 10k. Today’s not-winning experience has filled me with fire and the desire to run fast and achieve those goals. I may or may not have spent the rest of the weekend planning!!! More on that later this week.

Here endeth the world’s longest, most navel-gazing recap of a Saturday morning’s 3 mile run

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Humbled by the trails…again!

Sometimes, the opportunity to run comes up and it’s so good that you have to say yes, despite the fact that you know you’re not in shape to do the run justice. This happened to me earlier this week. On Tuesday mornings, you’ll usually find me at the dining room table, with the computer, studying away. Not this week. I bunked off my studies, dropped the Dude at school and drove into the city.

My running buddy for the day was Marjolaine. I met Marjolaine online and interviewed her last year for Running the World: France. We met up once last year and have become solid interweb friends. She was up in SF with visiting family, got permission to have a few hours away to run and we organised a time and a date.

I mapped out a route up in the Marin Headlands. I’d run a fair portion of it with Jen a year or so ago, but there were some new trails. I knew it would be hilly, but whatever, I’d survive. I picked Marjolaine up from her hotel and we sped over the bridge, up the hill and parked by the little loo next to the roundabout. The day was bright, sparklingly clear, warm but not hot and we were excited.

We started by running downhill along Coastal Trail for a mile or so. We were chatting away non-stop, the running was easy and we were having fun. We got to the road at the bottom and ran to the link trail which would take us to Miwok only to find that it was closed for maintenance so we had to divert, running along the road to Rodeo Lagoon. It didn’t add on much distance. Eventually, we got to the Miwok trailhead and started up.

marjolaine trails headlands marin

Marjolaine heads down Coastal

rodeo lagoon marin headlands

Rodeo Lagoon looking pretty much like an infinity pool

 

Miwok is a beast. We basically ran  over a mile solidly uphill and whilst it’s technically ‘runnable’, it was tough and I ended up walk/jogging. At the bottom, I told Marjolaine to run ahead, to not feel obliged to run with me. She is MUCH faster than me, and as I started puffing and panting, she literally sprang away with a kick of her heels and scampered up the hill. I choose my words carefully – the girl just scampered up Miwok. Hmmmph. (Seriously – Marjolaine is a fantastic runner and it was actually really lovely to watch her run today!)

miwok marin headlands trail

Miwok – one of the flatter moments

miwok marin headlands

We started a mile away at the bottom, in the valley.

 

She was waiting for me at the junction with Wolf Ridge trail, our next trail. I’d not run Wolf Ridge before and as we gazed at it, looming up pretty much vertically, my heart sank. We ran along the flat bit and got to the steep bit. I haven’t seen a much steeper trail in my life – but my companion skipped up it. We emerged off Wolf Ridge at the ocean whilst a massive vulture flew low overhead. That was pretty magical.

wolf ridge marin headlands trail

Wolf Ridge trail looming up into the distance That dog-leg on the left was insanely steep!

marjolaine marin headlands wolf ridge trail

Marjolaine making it look effortless

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The views that made it all worthwhile

marjolane me selfie

But first, let me take a selfie

 

We got a little lost here and ran downhill for a bit before we realised we needed to head back (uphill, boo) and take a different trail. We then scrambled down a crazy steep downhill section of Wolf Ridge trail which had me descending on my bottom whilst Marjolaine skipped down like Kilian. And eventually we hit Tennessee Valley trail which is a very gentle upward climb to the car park.

wolf ridge trail marin headlands

Me on a flat section of the trail before we plunged downwards

 

From there, I knew the trails back, which helped, but I had forgotten how long and steep Marincello is. At one point, a guy passed us and I said to Marjolaine ‘Go, get him’. I was dying quietly at that point but she immediately bounded into life and chased him down. It was kind of like running with a young puppy. (I said this to her and she said it wasn’t the first time the super-excited dog analogy has been applied to her, so I don’t think she’ll mind me posting this). Basically today, I was like this:

…and she was like this.

 

I’m being funny….but it’s also the truth. :)

marjolaine marincello deer trail running

Our exciting wildlife sighting of the day. A deer.

 

Life got easier at the top of Marincello, and we ran through the merciful flats of the eucalyptus trees on Alta trail before going onto SCA trail. SCA is my favourite trail in the Headlands. It’s beautiful and winds it way downhill with the Golden Gate Bridge and the city in the distance. It’s  the Marin trails at their finest. I sent Marjolaine ahead to enjoy it and I slogged along. I have to be honest, I was so tired at this point that I could hardly enjoy its beauty. Finally we got to the last tiny incline, which I climbed like a dying swan, and eventually we turned up back at the car.

me marin headlands trail eucalyptus

A moment of peace on Alta trail

SCA marin headlands trail GGB

The best view in the world, maybe.

marjolaine marin headlands SCA GGB

She STILL had energy to jump :)

 

We ran 13 miles at about 14 min mile pace (ha) and with 2,300 ft of climbing. I never quite understand what that means in reality but basically it’s two times up Kings Mountain, my local ‘hill’ which makes me feel better about the dead legs!!

I can’t deny that this run was super hard for me and revealed to me quite how much fitness I’ve lost since Kaiser. This is mainly due to my starting studying and I knew it would happen but it’s been quite motivating to get training properly again. I need to work hard and get fit again. I really want to run ‘fast’ again. I want to feel like a runner again. I need to get myself into a routine.

Despite how tough I found it, today’s run was magic. The Headlands are really beautiful and the weather was spectacular today. It was lovely to run with Marjolaine and to get to know her better, and there is nothing quite like running green trails to make my heart glad. It was a pretty awesome morning.

My quads the next day? Oh the pain :)

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Spectating the HITS Napa Valley Triathlon

On Saturday, the Husband did a half-ironman distance triathlon. I wanted to blog about it because 1) it was a good day and 2)it may help any people racing it next year who find this post via google!

I have to admit, this was the last prepared we have ever been for a race.I mentioned the ‘minimal’ training the Husband has done for this race. I don’t think its minimum-ness can be underestimated. Apart from a few runs in the past month (!) he was basically relying on residual fitness from Ironman Canada to get him round.

We stayed in a hotel in Fairfield the night before. There are NO hotels within about an hour of the race, which makes life tricky – I’ll talk a little about that below. The Hilton Garden Inn was pretty much perfect. Unfortunately there are no healthy places to eat the night before, so his pre-race meal was a Chipotle burrito and a giant Cold Stone Creamery ice-cream. Not ideal.

We left the hotel about 10 minutes late, at about 4.55am. It was about an hour’s drive on windy roads to the staging area at Lake Beryessa. The lake is pretty big but the race would take place right at the top of the west shore, which just requires a lot of driving to get there. Once we arrived, there was plenty of parking near the race area and plentiful portaloos. We didn’t have THAT much time to get set up so it was a little rushed, but not unbearably so. Packet pick-up was incredibly quick and easy, and for that we were grateful.

It was still dark when we arrived and not particularly light when the swimmers started heading for the lake before the 7am start. As the Husband got ready, we somehow bumped into Danielle who I know via social media – it was lovely to meet her at last. She was super grinny and excited to go! The Husband was a little less keen. But we all shuffled down to the water’s edge, we kissed him, I told him not to die and he went off to join the blue swimming hats.

triathlon HITS

Morning breaks over Lake Beryessa

(HITS later posted a little video on twitter and somehow, the Dude, Danielle and I are on it!)

I think there were about 250 athletes doing the half iron distance and maybe 30 or so doing the full ‘Ironman’. There was a countdown and the swimmers set off. The Husband clearly wasn’t feeling that nervous as he waved quite hilariously to us as he was swimming. I wasn’t quite sure if he was waving or drowning (this is our ‘HELP ME’ signal for the Dude when he swims) but he kept swimming so I guess he was okay.

It was cold, so we went and huddled in the car whilst he swam but before too long we saw the speedsters heading out on their bikes so we went back to the lake and fairly soon, we saw the Husband coming out the water, still alive. He’d done it in 55 mins which was better than we’d expected. He was very chilly, the water was much colder than anticipated and he’d struggled to deal with the cold!  Everyone looked pretty arctic, coming out the water. We saw him off on the bike with waves and cheers.

husband triathlon HITS

Still alive

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Off on the bike stage

The course is not at all spectator friendly and we knew he would be many hours, so the Dude and I went for a day out to the ‘nearby’ town of Davis. Here, our lack of planning showed itself again. Davis and Napa look more or less equidistant on a map – but due to the windy roads round the lake, it took about an hour and a half to get to Davis, much longer than I’d expected. (For UK readers, Davis is the home to one of the campuses of the University of California, it’s apparently a small, bike-friendly town and we’d fancied popping in for years but had never made it).

The Dude and I had a fantastic day out. We rented bikes at Ken’s Bikes and Skis ($13/hour which is a bargain) and cycled through the town to the car-free campus. We stopped for coffee and breakfast (the 4am wakeup call was getting to me) and then cycled round the uni, especially the lovely arboretum – a gorgeous bike path edged with various California trees. REALLY pretty. The whole campus was full of prospective students visiting for  tours and I felt like I was on the set of Pitch Perfect! We stopped in a second-hand book shop and then a toy shop and pretty quickly it was time to drive back. Three hours driving for three hours there. Oh well.

davis dude cycling

The Dude on campus

me cycling

Every campus should have its own redwood grove

We got back to the triathlon at about 1.50. I was expecting the husband between 2 and 3pm. We sat in the shade and cheered on all the incoming athletes. Amanda and Matt turned up, picking up their bibs for Sunday’s sprint distance – their first triathlons! – so we hung out with them and they inadvertently taught my son some ‘new words’. Danielle arrived, having done a good, solid race! And just after 3pm, we saw a very tired but unbroken Husband running down the road towards us. He’d done it, in about 8.08.

husband triathlon HITS

Still smiling :)

This wasn’t a PR for him and it won’t break any records but frankly, I was astonished that he managed a 1.2 mile swim, a 56 mile bike ride and a 13.1 mile run on pretty much no training. I’m secretly quite impressed…don’t tell him.

We hung round for a bit afterwards and I spotted Kimra volunteering at the finish line. We ended up ‘volunteering’ too (aka chatting) for about ten minutes whilst the Husband recovered. I was a rubbish volunteer. Whilst my son seriously handed out water to finishing athletes, I just got all emotional every time they crossed the finish line and was no good to anyone :)

For future HITS racers, here are some things you might like to know.

  • This is a really well-organized race. We were really impressed. Plenty of parking, plenty of loos, great volunteers. Nice medal, great vibe.
  • The Husband felt that the aid stations were a little too far apart on the bike course but was full of praise for the quantity and quality of those on the run course.
  • The run course, despite what they say in the blurb, is NOT shady.
  • Both the bike and run courses were much harder than anticipated. They were constantly up and down.
  • The water was COLD. And the morning itself was cold. Bring PLENTY of warm clothes for before the race, I wish I’d had a hat. Consider neoprene swim socks.
  • The race is pretty remote. Napa is slightly closer for hotels but Napa Valley hotels are VERY expensive and often require two night minimums at weekends. The Hilton Garden Inn in Fairfax was pretty much the best in terms of value/location. In retrospect, I wish we’d rented a VW camper/RV and parked up somewhere nearby!
  • There’s no crowd support at all. No cheering. If you know that, you can be prepared for it. This isn’t so bad for the half but if you’re doing the full Ironman distance, we both felt it would be really tough psychologically, especially on that second cycle lap and for the run. You’d have to dig pretty deep. My respect for those exhausted full-distance people we saw late in the afternoon was boundless.
  • That Napa/Solano County border is SO beautiful. We had no idea how lovely it was, especially when green.

A day or so later, the Husband has mixed feelings about his performance. He thought he would automatically PR because his first half-ironman was SO TOUGH but he missed it by about 20 minutes. It was a reminder of quite how fit he was last summer. He’s talking about doing another one later in the year, we’ll see. He’s also muttering about another Ironman next year…hmmm, we’ll see, eh?

HITS triathlon

Ice-bath!

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