Just when you think you’re a decent runner…

…the trails remind you that you’re pretty mediocre, really!

Last Friday’s unexpected 11 miler at Windy Hill was a lot of fun.  I came away pretty chuffed with myself. I’d climbed over 2,000 feet, I’d done two big climbs and I felt pretty strong. I spent that weekend searching for trail half marathons and found a good one in November with a lot of climbing. Yes, I thought. I can handle that. I’ve got actual trail running shoes, I’m a proper trail runner now.

See? Proper trail shoes.

See? Proper trail shoes.

Enter Redwood Regional Park.

This Saturday, I drove over to Redwood Regional Park in Oakland for the latest trail exploration with Jen. This time, we were joined by LOADS of other local running bloggers and twitterers. It was SO good to see everyone – it was lovely to have a big group together. We split into two groups – the runners and the hikers.

Jen Marjorie Kristen Layla

The Hikers… Milfhiker, Jen, Kristen and Laya

Jess Caitlin Margot Kate

The runners…Jess, Roserunner, Faster Bunny, me, Kate, Huyen and Jenn

Off we set. There were 7 runners and fairly quickly we fell into mini-groups with others at our pace but there was a fair amount of stopping and regrouping so we got to see everyone quite often. I ended up running with Jess. She and I are running Ragnar Napa Valley this weekend so we had a lot to chat about.

The trails were beautiful. Really lovely. Wooded, foresty trails which, every now and again, opened up to show expansive vistas over to Mt Diablo. However we were plunging downwards. The running was effortless at this point, but I thought about the climb back.

Redwood Regional Park

Gorgeous foresty trails…

 

redwood regional

Soon enough, we started climbing again. The climb was so steep and technical that for a lot of it we hiked. My thighs were screaming, it was a really tough workout. Once the trail had levelled out, we started running again and Jess went flying, landing on her knee. Girl down. She recovered and we ran on.

This doesn't even begin to show how steep it was

This doesn’t even begin to show how steep it was

There was a very surreal moment. We were running through the forest and a guy ran towards us. He was dressed in a very dapper outfit – a nice shirt with a tucked-in tie, a fedora on his head. ‘Good morning ladies’, he said as he ran past us. We were all too surprised to reply. Where he came from, where he was going we had no idea.

The turnaround point was the Sibley Staging Area. A couple of runners headed back – four of us ran on another mile. This mile was all downhill. So when we turned around, we had a long uphill to drag ourselves up. Just past Sibley, as we ran down the little lane to the trail entrance, it was MY turn to go flying. I twisted my old bad ankle and crashed down. It was nowhere near as bad as last November – I knew I’d be able to go on and fairly quickly, we were running fairly delicately back down the trails. At one point, we got lost (the signage wasn’t great and the park map was atrocious) but with some luck, we were heading back to the car park.

redwood regional

By this point, I was struggling. The trails had been very steep, both up and down, and my legs were drained. I hadn’t fuelled properly – I’d made some apple pecan oat bites from Feedzone Portables and whilst delicious, they didn’t give me the calories I needed. I was desperate for a good old-fashioned Gu by the end. By the time Jess and I jogged down the final trail to the car park, I was spent.

It was a humbling run. We only covered 7.4 mils but I was utterly done for. I could not have done much more. I definitely couldn’t have done a half-marathon. It was a good reminder not to get too cocky as a runner – the trails always humble us. Having said that, Redwood Park is BEAUTIFUL! Really gorgeous.

Despite the relatively low mileage, I was RAVENOUS at the end. We retired to the Montclair Egg Shop where I inhaled french toast. When I got home, I had a second lunch.

I ate all of this. No guilt.

I ate all of this. No guilt.

I’d planned to run a few extra miles on Sunday but my ankle ached still so I ditched that plan. A wise move…I was in no discomfort by Sunday evening.

This week is all about NOT getting injured for Ragnar. Our team doesn’t seem to be the ‘luckiest’ so far but I’ve been blown away by how everyone has pulled together and supported each other and we haven’t even started running yet. If you’d like to be part of this, we have two spaces in our van and we would LOVE you to join us :)

Posted in Uncategorized | 14 Comments

Running and cycling and climbing, oh my!

This week, I’ve been thoroughly enjoying a little free time with the Dude in school five mornings a week. I need to get my bottom into gear and start applying for my work permit but I’ve decided to do that after Ragnar next week.

Talking of Ragnar, we are a runner down for our team so if you are local and want to spontaneously run with a bunch of really nice strangers from the internet, drop me a note at myheartscontentblog@hotmail.com. Seriously…we’re getting a little desperate! You’d need to run 10 miles split between 3 runs so you don’t have to be an ultra-runner!

This is what I got up to this week.  Along with running, I actually did a bit of cross-training this week, which is very rare for me!

Friday: 11.7 mile trail run at Windy Hill

Monday: 5.75 mile tempo run

This was a bit of a disaster. At Mile 2, my right foot started going numb and it spread up to my calf. By Mile 4, it was like running on a wooden stump (I imagine) so I stopped, got some feeling back and jogged home. This has happened before, a long time ago. I seem to remember it was either that my shoe was tied too tightly or the cushioning had worn down and the shoes need to be replaced, which could well be the cause. It could also be a sign of cardiovascular disease. I genuinely don’t think this is the case (due to it having happened before and being fixed by sorting my shoe situation) but with my heart condition, I headed off to get my cholesterol checked this morning.

Tuesday:  Cycled 4.8 miles to and fro the climbing wall + an hour’s bouldering

I roped my friend Louise into checking out Planet Granite. I’d bouldered once, she had never done it before. Thus we were both rubbish but both loved it. We’re considering going on an introductory course so we get slightly less rubbish. The upper body workout is fantastic – neither of us could take our bras off comfortably the next day!

climbing bouldering

Hanging on for dear life

climbing bouldering louise

Post bouldering grins

Wednesday: 3.7 mile hike

Two friends and I headed off for a morning’s hike up Sneath Lane to Sweeney Ridge. We’ve hiked there before but this time we took a different route. The views weren’t as good this time but the company was excellent, the scones at the top were delicious and it was fun.

sweeney ridge

The views of the Pacifica Mountains

IMG_8736

Crystal Springs shining in the morning sunshine

Thursday: 6 mile Tempo Run

I tried again at the tempo run with more success. My foot didn’t go numb, although my hamstrings felt tight and there was some sensitivity in my calf. I ran: M1 – warm up, M2,3,4 – tempo, M5 – recovery, M6 – tempo. Tempo miles averaged 8.35 which I was pretty happy with.

So all in all, a good week and a fun week! This weekend, I’m going trail running with a load of Bay Area bloggers and twitterers which I’m really looking forward to. I’m planning to make THIS energy bar – I made it once before and it was not only easy but also delicious, nutritious and kept me running!!

Have a great weekend, everyone.

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Windy Hill

On Friday morning, I got to run trails again! I ran with my friend Bergen. We’ve never managed to run together before! I found a route in a hiking book (a great source of trail run ideas) at Windy Hill – one of the open spaces along Skyline Boulevard, which is basically the San Andreas Fault!

The plan was to start at the bottom of the hill in swanky Portola Valley. We’d follow Eagle Trail to Razorback Ridge, climb up to the top, take Lost Trail along the top and then plunge down Hamms Gulch Trail to the car again. We met up at 8.45 and set off cheerfully. We ran along the link trail to Eagle Trail and fairly soon came out on a road. Now my guidebook had said that Eagle Trail paralleled Alpine Road a little and sometimes there were stretches on the road so, both confident we saw a sign pointing us right, we set off, looking out for the trail off to the right.

windy hill

It never came. We climbed and climbed and climbed. Once, we stopped to check our map and our phones but the map was too basic and the phones were useless. We thought we were on Alpine Road and knew that if we followed it to the top, we’d hit Skyline and we could rejoin the park there. Unfortunately, we weren’t on Alpine Road. (Back at home, I compared Garmin data with Google Maps and cannot find any trace of the road we took so I’m still clueless). We got to the top and came to a dead end with some grand houses and some grander dogs barking, so we turned tail and plunged all the way back down the hill.

windy hill

When we got back to the trail, we decided to head up Hamms Gulch which was clearly signposted and do an up-and-down. So we started climbing again. Our legs protested but fairly soon they stopped moaning and we just worked our way up. There was more walking on this climb – each climb was about 1,100 ft so fairly significant. The trails were beautiful…really lovely. A nice gradient so very runnable and we wove through tree lined trails and open stretches of meadow and some lovely cool (cold) dells lined with damp ferns and with wet floors despite the drought!  We were both VERY sweaty – the sweat collected charmingly under my chin. Most classy.

IMG_5147

The views on the way up

The views on the way up

me

This top shows quite how delightfully sweaty my core got!

 

We got to the top and ran a short out-and-back to see the view. We felt we deserved the view.

me windy hill trails

Photo by Bergen. Climb by Me. View by God.

The descent back down Hamms Gulch was gorgeous. I was very impressed with how far we’d run, to be honest! We discussed cake at great length as we plummeted downwards. Back at the bottom, we got back on the link trail back to the car park but the signposting let us down again and we ended up taking a mile-long diversion to Sursal Pond (small, green, unimpressive pond) and having to run/walk another mile back to the car. We were utterly shattered when we got back to the car.

I’d lured Bergen with the promise of 8 miles and one climb to Skyline. In the end, we ran 11.7 miles with two Skyline Climbs totaling 2,200 ft. I’m flipping lucky she didn’t hit me and even said she’d run again with me in the future! The trails were beautiful but fairly empty and remote, I wouldn’t run there alone so was hugely grateful for her company!

A quick aside…I wore my new Salomon trail shoes today. I thought 8 miles was a good testing distance. Luckily 11.7 miles was also fine. I like them. I can’t say I felt dramatically different to my road shoes but they were fine! Just as well….they’re well too dusty and dirty to send back!

Salomon XR Missions So far, so good.

Salomon XR Missions
So far, so good.

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , | 4 Comments

Running Happy

Last week felt like I was starting to get my running mojo back. This week, that feeling has grown. I’ve been enjoying running so much more. I may not be much faster than I was but I’m much happier!

Monday0.8 mile disaster run

At the end of a fun but unhealthy weekend, I decided I really should make an effort to run. I had a 6 mile tempo run on the cards so I set off at 4pm to do it. Right from the start, I felt rough. My belly was too full of water from the hot car ride home, my legs felt like lead. It took less than half a mile for me to decide to turn back and try again in the morning.

Tuesday: 6 mile tempo run at 8.44 pace

6am. Pitch black. Running. Yesterday’s failed tempo run went really well. I repeated last week’s routine: M1 – warm up, M2 & 3 – tempo, M4 – recovery, M5 & 6 – tempo. My tempo miles averaged about 8.35 so faster than last week and it felt a lot smoother. I was buzzing for the rest of the day!

Wednesday: 12 mile long run at 9.52 pace

My car had to go in for a service today down in Palo Alto so I took advantage of some new roads to run. I ran a great route down into Palo Alto, through Stanford University, past some swanky frat houses. I’d never seen frat houses before apart from in the movies, so that tickled me. From there, I ran up to the Dish – a hiking park that belongs to the uni. It’s super hilly and super exposed, so I got pretty hot but the views were great. And then I returned through pretty neighbourhoods to the garage. This wasn’t a speedy run but it was good to run somewhere new.

Stanford looking clever! The sun breaking through the cloud behind it

Stanford looking clever! The sun breaking through the cloud behind it

dish

View from the Dish over the hills

dish

Le Dish

 

Thursday: 9 miles bike ride, 1 mile crazy run and 1.2 mile walk

With the Dude in school, I’ve wanted to cycle more so I used my bike to get around today. It was all going swimmingly – it’s SO nice to cycle without a child trailer, a child seat or a weehoo. Cycling feels like flying and I was loving it. I was pelting back towards school for pick up, I had about 10 minutes for the final mile…and suddenly my chain jammed. I couldn’t pedal. I used my minimal bike repair skills and got nowhere, so I found myself running through town, wheeling my bike next to me with my backpack banging away. I made it to school just in time (pouring sweat and looking like a dog’s dinner) but I got my son on time (ish) and made the poor child walk the final mile home!

Later that day, I headed into SF for the Ragnar Team Captain’s meeting. I am officially the captain of our relay team ( just because I’ve been organizing it). I mentioned to my parents that I was the captain and they roared with laughter as I wasn’t a sporty child! I took my bike as the meeting was at Sports Basement and the mechanics there very kindly fixed the problem for me. The meeting was good! Brianna came along to keep me company –  I’m starting to get really excited about it now!

Team Captain's Meeting

Team Captain’s Meeting

My cheap but ugly trail shoes arrived this week – they’re much prettier than expected, so now they’re just cheap trail shoes. I’m testing them out over the weekend! Wish me luck!

Happy Weekend, everyone!

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 8 Comments

Western States Fan-girling

This weekend we went ‘camping’. Kind of. We booked a cabin at the KOA near Placerville, one of our favourite parts of California. When we were booking, we had to choose between a simple cabin and a ‘fancy’ cabin with a fridge, a microwave and a TV. My boys’ eyes LIT UP at the TV (we don’t have cable TV at home) so I relented and we booked our fancy cabin.

Every cabin needs these additions :)

Every cabin needs these additions :)

I didn’t run at all this weekend. I had cramps, I was all bloated and sore, I felt rough…does any girl really want to run during those few days?  So I kicked back and enjoyed my time with my boys.

On Saturday, we went to Apple Hill – like Wine Country for apples. It’s full of orchards where you can pick your own apples, eat apple pie, drink apple cider and pretend that you’re basically Tess of the d’Urbervilles with apples instead of cows.

IMG_5038

I’d like big boobs and I cannot lie (well, bigger)

IMG_5042

IMG_5057

Our favourite orchard is up for sale $800,000 for all this – less than the price of a parking space in the Bay Area! SO tempted!

On Sunday though, we made a ‘pilgrimage’ to Auburn – the end point of the Western States 100. Like many of us, I’m an armchair groupie of ultra-running and the Western States 100 is trail-running’s Wimbledon, World Cup Final and Superbowl. Our first stop was No Hands Bridge – the famous little bridge 3 miles from the finish line. We ran across it pretending to be ultra runners and hiked a tiny way up the trails.  I kind of felt like a footie fan stepping on the hallowed turf at Wembley…it was a lot of fun.

IMG_5106

The Dude heads down the WS trails

IMG_5100

The lead female heads across No Hands Bridge!

The lead female heads across No Hands Bridge!

In the window of the Auburn Running Company store were a number of WS trophies – we kind of drooled over the glass at them.

Later that night, Alisyn and her boyfriend Matt came over to our little cabin for a BBQ. We last saw them in June – since then, the Husband did his Ironman and Matt ran Western States. He very kindly brought his silver buckle to show us…we were hugely impressed! (To read his race report, click here!)

One of us scrubs up well! One of us is living in a cabin.

One of us scrubs up well! One of us is living in a cabin. Photo credit: Alisyn

We were wondering about what’s harder – the Ironman or the Western States. (In a nice way, not an obnoxious way, honestly). The general consensus online was that a 100-mile ultra is harder. It’s longer, you get more tired and it’s the same sport all the time so it taxes your body enormously. The Ironman is a massive challenge too, but you use different muscles at different times which must help a little. We did find a very neat little comparison of the two though which made us giggle.

‘A 100-mile ultra race is an enormous test of your endurance. The Ironman is more a test of your spouse’s endurance’. 

Hehe.

So hugely impressed by these two dudes!

So hugely impressed by these two dudes!

Our peaceful Sunday night BBQ was ‘disturbed’ when the campsite set up a karaoke competition bang opposite our little cabin. Matt and Alisyn were great sports about the whole thing. We fuelled up (with wine and beer to give us courage) and then headed over. The Dude charmed the crowd with ‘Twinkle Twinkle’ and ‘The ABC song’. I gave a British version of Dolly Parton’s ‘9 to 5′ and then Alisyn wowed them all with some super-fast show-tunes number!! Once a drunken group got up to do ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ we knew it was time to retire to our fancy cabin!

IMG_5122 IMG_5130

Jump in the shower and the blood starts pumpin'.

Jump in the shower and the blood starts pumpin’             Photo credit: Alisyn

One of the things I most love about running is that we ‘normal people’ get to run exactly the same roads and trails as the elites. No tennis fan will get to knock a ball about in Centre Court. Few footie players will kick a ball into the net at Wembley.  But the Western States trails and the Boston Marathon roads are also there for us, the armchair groupies who run our 25 miles a week. This sport is so cool, I do love it!

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , | 7 Comments

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 , , , | 9 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