How the Bay Area has changed me

Next week, we move away from the Bay Area after nearly 7 years of living here. I am dreading this week…I finish my college course, I say goodbye to my beloved preschoolers, my darling cat flies home alone, we have our leaving picnic and I have my final Sunday at the church I love. I honestly want this week to be over already.

Our Californian days have very definitely been the best years of our lives. They have also been an incredibly formative period and I thought it was worth documenting those changes. This may be slightly self-indulgent and naval-gazing but I’m in a reflective state of mind at the moment. Both reflective and slightly unhinged, let’s be honest. This is going to be a tough week!!

Anyway…this is how the Bay Area has changed me and my family.

I became a runner. I’d been a runner for an 18 month period in the UK but when we moved here, I was very much a cyclist at heart. Within days of moving here, I’d been inspired by the tanned, long-legged, swingy-pony-tailed girls I saw running around San Mateo and I wanted to run again. Since we’ve lived here, running has become my addiction of choice. It’s brought me so much joy, so much self-esteem and so many friends. I’m looking forward to cycling more on the quieter UK roads but I’m super-excited to become a UK runner and to check out the UK running scene for realz.


I became a trail runner. – In all my UK running, it never ever occurred to me to run off-road. Never. Weird. Especially because we were BIG hikers. But we moved here and at the time there were plenty of wonderful running blogs set here in the Bay Area and of course many of them were on trails. I was intrigued. So one fateful day, I persuaded my boys to go to Huddart Park and hike whilst I tried running. It was literally life-changing and the trail obsession began. When we move back to the UK, investigating and joining the UK trail community is something that is getting me really excited.

Marin Trails Me

Being outdoors became part of us. – I feel like we were fairly outdoorsy in the UK. We camped (which in the UK is a sign of being seriously tough). We hiked. We cycled everywhere. But the weather here is so wonderful that it became part of our identity as a family and I really hope we continue this in the UK. We’ll need some new gear (yay), we’ll need to toughen up our backbones and face the delightful British weather but I think that this is who our family is now, and that’s wonderful.

us hiking windy

I became a cook – Let’s not lie, I’m still far from a great cook. But when we moved here I was truly awful. But I discovered food blogs, I discovered new ingredients, I discovered a couple of good, simple cookbooks and worked my way quietly through them and bit by bit, I learned to cook. There are still some dishes that I present to my family with apologies and promises not to make them again (we still have to eat them) but those nights are few and far between. Also, our diet has completely changed. Thanks to blogs like 101cookbooks or Minimalist Baker, our style of eating is totally different to how it used to be and I’m determined not to give this up when we move home.

I became a vegetarian – (Actually, an occasional pescatarian). Vegetarianism in the UK is hard. It’s a very meat-and-carbs centred diet and previous to moving here, I had NO desire to give up meat. It wasn’t even an option. The Husband and I used to give thanks that we’d not married vegetarians. But here, so many people ARE veggie and most other people don’t blink if you present them with a vegetable main course so, bit by bit, my perceptions changed. It became attractive to me and one Lent, I gave meat up as a trial and I never looked back. The Husband, a confirmed carnivore, was more than willing to cut back drastically on his meat and he eats the veggie food I serve him willingly. I am DEFINITELY not going back on this!

Tomatoes vegetables market

I became a preschool teacher. – When we moved here, I was on maternity leave from an office job working in marketing for a BIG company. Whilst I enjoyed my role and LOVED my colleagues, I knew that this didn’t make my heart happy, but I was trapped by the great wages and the perks. After five very happy years of mothering, I was ready to go back to work when the Dude started school. Two interviews later, I knew I wasn’t going back into the office. So I finally fulfilled a life-long secret hankering to teach. I went back to college a few days before my 40th birthday and nine months later I started teaching preschool. It has without doubt been the very best change to my life that California has given me. There’s such peace in finally doing the job God made me to do – and I’m grateful that the Husband earns enough for me to be able to do it, as you don’t teach preschool for the money. I won’t be teaching immediately in the UK – I want to settle the Dude into his new life for a few months – but come January 2018, I’m back in the classroom doing the job I love.

I became closer to God. – When we moved here, my life-long faith was a little fragile. I’d wandered away from God in my 20s and was just in the process of building my faith up again. This move has been amazing for my faith. I found the very best church in the world, full of lovely people who don’t judge but just welcome and love. It shaped me and built me up. Being a Christian in the UK is pretty tough – as a country, it’s very anti-faith, anti-God – and it will be a shock after the acceptance I’ve found here, but I’m ready to represent when we get back.

I became a leftie – Politically, I’ve always been pretty central, maybe slightly right of centre. But when you live in America if you believe in free healthcare for all, in a woman’s right to choose and in gun-control you’re pretty much socialist. I’ve been surrounded here by wonderful liberal friends who have made me think hard about what I believe politically. I don’t agree with them on all things but I’m definitely more passionate about political things than I was and I’m definitely a Guardian reader these days. I’ve been reluctant to get too much into the political situation here  in the US. I’m a guest here and I have not been comfortable criticizing TOO MUCH the country that has welcomed me. Once we get back, I feel much more empowered to get politically involved, particularly given the delights of Brexit. So, my future MP, get ready for this California Leftie arriving on your doorstep with banana bread and lots to talk about.

I became a blogger. – D’oh. Here we are. This blog has also been one of the best things I did in California because I met you guys. And I’m so grateful.

I became nicer. – In the UK, we’re much more guarded towards people we don’t know. We hunt in packs, outsiders are not welcome until we know them well or unless we’re all drunk together. I think I was always the outlier, I’ve always been friendlier and more welcoming than the average Brit, but within a week of living here, I realized that I wasn’t as welcoming as I liked to think. I’m planning to take that wonderful California attitude of welcome back to the UK.

I became more sober – Talking of alcohol…we drink too much in the UK. We don’t drink anywhere near as much in the US. It was quite a shock when I arrived. Whilst I still love wine, the Husband and I are nervous of returning to the British drinking culture – I know I can be easily swayed so I need to be wary.

me danville wine

We became more American – we’re so Californian now. We give high-fives, we use words like ‘dude’, we stay inside if it’s cloudy, we only camp if it’s sunny, we hate sarcasm and teasing because it offends people…we’re in for a shock.

The Husband became #Ironballz – Triathlon is now a thing in our family. Ironman is now a thing in our family. I’m working on the Husband to do Ironman Austria because it looks wonderful and because we get another cat if he does.

rich husband ironman vine man

We have a cat – Best. Gift. Ever.


Totally gratuitous photo of my favourite ginger

We raised a Californian – We brought a fat British baby with us. We take home a tall, lanky Californian with an impeccable British accent. One thing I’m grateful for is the wonderful childhood the Golden State has given him. Endless sunshine. Swimming on hot days in icy snow-melt rivers. Cycling on warm evenings on pelican-studded trails by the water. Holding injured hummingbirds in his hands. Kissing agapanthus flowers and hiking through redwoods. I’m also grateful that he’s had a childhood with such diversity. In his class of 24, he’s one of 3 caucasian kids. This won’t be the case in rural England. I hope his nonchalant approach to diversity remains.

dude hiking edgewood

Seriously! Preschoolers are the best!

So there we go…lots of changes.Lots of things to be grateful for and lots of things to be careful don’t get rubbed away by the grey skies, grumpy people and excellent sausages.

One more week. Let’s do this.

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My Bay Area recommendations

Several times now, British friends who are coming to the Bay Area have asked me for my recommendations of places to go, places to eat and things to do. I LOVE helping people plan trips so I’m only too happy to write LONG emails listing things I think they’d like. Then it occurred to me that this would make a great blog post and then, in the future, I could just email them this link with a few modifications.

Bear in mind I wrote this in April 2017 – things change. Cafes and restaurants go out of business. New things open, some things close. But hopefully this is useful stuff if you’re coming to the Bay Area!

For running recommendations, click HERE. 

San Francisco

My favourite thing to do with visitors is to rent bikes and cycle along the waterfront to the Golden Gate Bridge, over the bridge, down to Sausalito and get the ferry back. It’s about 11 miles, it’s pretty flat (although there are a few hills, I can’t lie). But the views are amazing. DO take layers – the bridge is ALWAYS freezing but people NEVER realise it and so they have a miserable experience. Also be sure to check ferry times in advance and get there in plenty of time at weekends and on holidays. Half way round, just under the bridge is my favourite cafe, the Warming Hut. Amazing views, excellent coffee, good cake a wonderful gift shop and nice (hot) hipster guys. Rent bikes with ‘Bike the Bridge’.

Babby's Bridge Fog Cycling


Sausalito is lovely, I love to wander around and people-watch. There is excellent ice-cream (Lappert’s) and one of my fave restaurants (Salito’s) is on the waterfront there. It’s not too expensive and you can have a glass of wine on the water.

Golden Gate Park is good for a day. The California Academy of Sciences is excellent (good cafe) and worth the entrance fee. At Stow  Lake you can rent rowing boats and pedalo boats which is nice on a sunny day. Also good pierogis at the cafe. Further down the park is a field of bison and where the park meets the ocean is a lovely cafe/restaurant called the Beach Chalet. In the park, the best playground is the Koret’s Children’s Corner which is a great play park if you have kids.

Stow Lake

Stow Lake on a sunnier day than today

Ocean Beach is beautiful but LETHAL. DO NOT let your kids in the water there, people are killed all the time. I don’t let my son play in the ocean at all, the coastline is really dangerous. But the beach is pretty to play on. Further north, if you have a car, is Baker Beach which is also really lovely, it has amazing beach views of the bridge so it gives the best photo opps in the city, I think.

Alcatraz is good and kids should enjoy it. If you want to do it, book it NOW…it books up solidly the whole summer.

Th Exploratorium science museum is on the Embarcadero (waterfront) and it’s excellent. Not cheap but really good. I’m not even science-y and I like it.

There’s a parkrun on Crissy Field near the bridge at 9am on a Saturday. Coffee and doughnuts afterwards.

parkrun me sf GGB

You too can look like death in your parkrun photos with a view

Get a car, drive over the bridge and head up Hawk Hill for the very best views of the bridge, they’re amazing! Come off at Alexander Ave, turn left back under the 101, take the first right and start climbing. That whole area, the Marin headlands  is gorgeous and excellent for hiking and good views!

Golden Gate Bridge GGB



SGA trails headlands GGB

SCA trail in the Marin headlands

In the Marin Headlands is the Nike Missile Site! Check opening times before you go but it’s REALLY good! Gives you the cold war shivers!


Also north of the bridge, in Marin County, is Muir Woods where there’s a forest of redwood trees. Redwood trees are my obsession here, they’re the most amazing, tall, beautiful trees in the world. I love them. I recommend visiting and I recommend the cheese/onion scones at the cafe. If you have a car, I actually prefer the redwoods in Huddart Park, 20 miles south of the city in Woodside. MUCH quieter, you have them to yourselves, and you can eat at my favourite restaurant, Alice’s, at the junction of 84 and Skyline!!


There are some lovely parks in the city. I like Dolores Park in the Mission (the parking is a shocker, though). The views are amazing and the play park is the best in the city. There are some excellent cafes nearby…the Dolores Park Cafe on the bottom corner is really nice and just round the corner is Tartine, a bakery which does the best croissants/almond croissants/pastries in the city. Also nearby is Bi-Rite ice-cream which people love. My fave ice-cream place is Smitten – their ice-cream is some of the best I’ve ever had, they have four locations around the city so google which is the closest. You shouldn’t leave SF without having Smitten.

People love Fisherman’s Wharf. It’s a total tourist trap (kind of like Leicester Square where no local actually goes) but people do love it. The Ghiradelli Chocolate factory is well worth a visit, their sundaes are enormous. Nearby is the Buena Vista Cafe and they do amazing Irish Coffees as well as good brunch food.

Teens will prob like the Go Car rental which I have always wanted to do, but it’s too grown up for my little one.

Also on the Embarcadero is the Ferry Building, which I love. It’s a lovely old building filled with nice food stores and cafes. You’ll like it!! There’s good coffee there (Blue Bottle coffee). The line takes FOREVER but the coffee is good.

SF Ferry Building

The Ferry Building

The best hiking (and trail running) is on Mt Tamalpais (Mt Tam) in Marin County. You can drive to the top and the views are amazing. The best hikes (IMHO) start from Pantoll Ranger Station – Steep Ravine is my favourite trail but it’s called Steep for a reason.

steep ravine trails tam

My favourite beach is Stinson Beach which is also up on Mt Tam. It’s a long drive but totally worth it. The beach is lovely, the ocean is FAIRLY safe as long as you’re careful and we’ve had great days out there.


Teens might like Dogpatch Boulders to do some rock climbing. There’s good ice cream next door at Mr & Mrs Miscellaneous.

We really like Half Moon Bay, about 20 miles down the coast from SF. Just north, at Moss Beach Harbor, is a fantastic locals-only beach off West Point Ave which is totally safe for the kids as it’s on the harbor so there are no waves. You can kayak there or SUP and there are plenty of places to eat nearby. Downtown HMB is lovely – very sweet. DO NOT go to the British pub – it’s rubbish and they do bangers & mash with packeted potato! Sam’s Chowder House, near the harbor, is wonderful – it’s a little pricey and there are super-long queues at the weekend but it’s great.

Half Moon Bay HMB Fog

An old photo but I never get tired of this view!

My favourite museum is in Oakland – the Oakland Museum of California. It’s wonderful!

In terms of sports, it’s worth seeing a baseball or football game if you’ve not done that before. We really loved watching the San Jose Sharks ice-hockey too.

Things to bear in mind:

  • I think SF is very safe but be careful as ever. One particularly dodgy area is the junction of 6th and Market and around there, plus the whole Tenderloin area. Steer clear.
  • Bring all the layers. You NEVER know what it will be like and the climate changes dramatically around the city.
  • This sounds petty but don’t call it San Fran. It really bugs locals. Call it San Francisco, SF or ‘the city’ Don’t call it Frisco.
  • Download Uber or Lyft and use them a lot. But you’ll need a car seat for your little one! The law is tight on this one. Or rent a car.
  • Parking is a shocker but driving is easy. I think drivers are more generous than in the UK.
  • I’ve mentioned a lot of my favourite cafes and restaurants. They’re all kid friendly. I’d recommend downloading the YELP app – people basically yelp anything they’re looking for, and I’d trust their cafe recommendations etc. A few more places I love are:

– the Stable Cafe in the Mission. Excellent brunch. EXCELLENT cafe au lait.

– I like Absinthe Bistro in Hayes Valley (basically downtown). It’s a little fancy (date night?) but lovely and there’s a Smitten ice-cream opposite for dessert.

– There’s an amazing second-hand book shop in the top left corner of the city, called Green Apple Books. If you like books, it’s worth the drive out there and there are excellent eateries around the shop!

– We love Live Sushi in Potrero Hill – great sushi, reasonable prices. Follow this up with cocktails at Epic Steakhouse or Waterfront Bar on the Embarcadero for great Bay Bridge views.

– There are some great shopping/cafe/people-watching areas I’d recommend. 1) Union St between Octavia & Pierce, 2) Fillmore St between Clay and Bush and 3) Hayes St between Gough and Webster. Fantastic parts of the city!

Away from the city…

Personally I’d always recommend Lake Tahoe, which is my favourite place!  4-5 hours away from SF, it’s the most gorgeous place. Skiing in winter, hiking or cycling in the summer plus kayaking, SUP-ing, hanging’s wonderful. I prefer the north shore – I love Tahoe City and Rosie’s Cafe! My favourite town in the whole of California is Truckee, just north of the lake. I’d move there forever if I could.


Santa Barbara is wonderful. It’s a good 5 hour drive without stops but it’s a lovely lovely city. If you go there, I can recommend a very good airbnb with a cat.

santa barbara palm

Yosemite is also wonderful but in a different way. If you go and can’t get lodging in the valley, stay in Groveland or Mariposa.


This place is incredible.

People rave about Monterey, it doesn’t rock my world but I may be wrong. It’s about 2 hours away. There’s an excellent aquarium (one of the best) and the coast road is pretty but I’m more a mountain girl than an ocean girl so I’m biased. South of Monterey is Big Sur which is a wonderful coast road – do stop at Nepenthe restaurant. There’s an expensive part but also a very reasonable cafe part with a terrace with the best view!

Nepenthe Big Sur

The view from the Nepenthe terrace is pretty wonderful

Also consider the Russian River – about 2 hour north of SF. Drive up the 101 to Santa Rosa then turn left and stay in Guerneville. We discovered this area last year and we love it. Kayaking, hiking in redwoods (running!), gorgeous coastline (Bodega Bay, Point Reyes) and nice wineries. We went back about 5 times in one year.

kayaking russian river

Wine Country is lovely but not ideal with kids. My favourite wineries are in Napa – we love Artesa to start with – buy a glass of sparkles to drink on the terrace. We like Frog’s Leap for the lovely garden and the lazy cat, and Sterling for the cable-car ride up to the winery and the incredible views from the terrace.

So there you go…our favourite things after 7 happy years of living here!!! Hope this is helpful.

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The Ultimate San Francisco Bike Ride

A few Sundays ago, I did something I’d never done before…I bunked off church. I’ve missed church many times in the past but always for planned events or reasons. However this particular weekend, the Dude had a sleepover until 5pm on Sunday afternoon and so I bunked off church and went cycling with the Husband. It felt naughty and awesome.

Our route was a ride I’d wanted to do ever since we moved here but had never got round to doing. It’s amazing how a deadline can motivate you to do stuff you’ve meant to do for ages! We loaded the bikes into my much-loved Honda Fit (does anyone want to buy it?) and drove into the city, parking at the little car park on Lincoln Avenue, near the bridge.

It’s a classic SF route. Over the Golden Gate Bridge to the Headlands. Up Hawk Hill, down the drop-off and back round the loop, finishing with a trip back over the bridge. That loop is about 15 miles, more or less. We considered continuing on to Sausalito or Tiburon but the bike ride was the day after the Husband did his Spartan race and he was still rather ‘sore’ post-battle.


The ride was gorgeous. It’s always wonderful to cycle over the bridge, dodging the tourists. I was nervous about the climb – the bottom section of Hawk Hill is steep and I was worried I’d be so slow that, clipped in, I’d just keel over…but I didn’t fall. We worked steadily and without too much trouble reached the top and the views made it all worth it.


We’re going up there!


At the top

The road then narrows to a one-way street and drops precipitously over the side. It’s steep, winding and honestly looks like you’re dropping off the edge of the world. I freaked out, stopped, unclipped and walked my bike shamelessly for half a mile or so until the gradient became less terrifying. A cyclist flew past me and asked if I was okay. ‘Yes, just scared.’ I yelled back. ‘Me too’, he told me, which I appreciated even if he was whizzing fearlessly into the distance.


See the road snaking down the hill? It was scarier than it looks!

Back on flatter roads, we bowled along happily for the next few miles until the detour climb back up to Conzelman Road. The climb was solid but not brutal and before long we were whizzing back down Hawk Hill, stopping at the wonderful lookout point for photos.


Beardy Wierdy, happy me, Karl the Fog

The fog was rolling in now and the Husband’s Spartan-trashed legs were aching, so we cycled back over the bridge. It was freezing in that deathlike Karl the Fog way but before long we were back at the car.

Clearly this isn’t an epic tale of endurance and fortitude – it’s a tale of a delightful ride on an iconic SF route. I’m so glad we did it before we left. A week or so later, Lexi Miller, who make the most wonderful cycling clothes that I can’t afford, did a 4-minute video of one of their ladies cycling the same route. It’s inspiring (even if she didn’t have to walk the scary bit) so get your cup of tea and have a watch! I know I’ll be watching it when we’re back in the UK and getting all homesick for the city by the bay.

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Aroo aroo aroo

Last Saturday, I went to spectate my first Spartan race. I didn’t race it – obstacle racing is not my thing – but my boys did and it was fascinating!! Like a whole new world.

First up, Spartan San Jose is nowhere near San Jose – it’s in the middle of the Central Valley in this crazy place called Diablo Grande. Basically you take the motorway out to Tracy, head south for a bit and then turn onto this road which winds its way through emerald green canyons for 20 minutes with NOTHING out there at all and you end up in this brand new golf-resort town miles from anywhere. It was bizarre. Parking took a long time and cost $10 but eventually we were parked up and walked the 15 minute walk to the race venue. Glad we allowed plenty of time for getting there!)

Spartan races are not cheap. I think the Husband paid about $150 for his 8 mile race. I don’t remember what we paid for the Dude’s race but I do know that because HE raced, I got in for free – otherwise spectators have to pay $20 which is pretty scandalous, AND spectators have to sign a waiver so I suspect the fee is for insurance purposes.

Having not been to an obstacle course type race before, there were immediate notable differences from what I’m used to.  The bodies were SUPER different to running races. There were muscles everywhere, 6-packs everywhere, rippling quads everywhere! Many of the women wore a lot of make-up, most people had really made an effort to look good! Many people were clearly running in packs with matching outfits. Lots of people wore black, which appears to be ‘the Spartan look’. There were a lot of bare-chested gentlemen. It was notably more diverse than most of the running races I’ve been to, which was good to see.  Best of all, many of the men were wearing VERY tight lycra shorts or even tights…I saw more willy outlines in one morning than I have in years 🙂 So basically Spartan is full of taut, muscly eye-candy! I also got much more of a ‘testosterone-y’ vibe than I do in running races.

The race ran throughout the whole day, starting in waves of about 100 people every 15 minutes. The Husband’s race started at 9.15 – even with an early start it got hot towards the end, I can’t imagine starting my race in the afternoon! To get into the starting corral, you have to climb over a 5-ft wall..basically I couldn’t even have made it to the start line. The Husband lined up with the one person he knew running this. He had done very little training so was basically out for some fun.


This is how I’d fail to even get to the start line!

The announcer then briefed the Spartans and then asked them ‘Spartans, what is your profession?’ to which they all shouted ‘Aroo, aroo, aroo’.  I have no idea what ‘aroo’ is and it makes no grammatical sense but I heard a lot of aroos throughout the morning. And before we knew it, they were off.

It’s not easy to spectate a Spartan race because its so spread out but Spartan did a decent job of enabling supporters to cheer on their people. The first obstacle is visible from the spectator area and then you can see your Spartan starting to climb the most enormous giant steep hill. Seriously, I’ve never seen a hill like it and according to the Husband it went on for miles – and they had to carry sandbags on their shoulders at the steepest part at the top.

Then at about mile 4, the racers loop back to the staging area and there are three obstacles we could watch. There was a giant wall that sloped away from the racers that they needed to climb over, then a massive A-frame with ropes and then finally a terrifying monkey bar set-up. Those monkey bars were super-high, wide apart and at different heights. We watched people doing it for ages, it was amazing, and we cheered the few that completed it! I was surprised at the lack of crowd support – people cheered on their own racers but the Dude and I cheered for anyone who completed the monkey bars, and we got some stranger looks!  If anyone fails an obstacle they have to do 25 burpees before they can move on.


Oh a trail race, I could do that!

The Husband came through Mile 4 in over an hour and he looked exhausted!!! He managed the inverted wall and the A-frame but totally failed the monkey bars and had to do the burpees. We went over to cheer him on and he looked so exhausted and battered that I actually reminded him he could drop out now and come and get a sandwich. I wasn’t trying to discourage him, just remind him that he could legitimately stop this race if it was too awful and we’d still love him. But he shook his head and plodded away. I was actually quite concerned about him at this point.


British Ninja Warrior

We got food from the food trucks (limited veggie options, no surprise) and went to watch the final three obstacles which are also near the staging area. There’s a spear toss into a hay-man, a rope-wall and then finally a mud-bath – you slip down a mud chute into revoltingly muddy water and then you have to duck right under some wooden planks to the other side. It looked horrible!

We waited for the Husband for a long time and he didn’t come…and we had to leave and go to the Dude’s kid race. This looked like much more fun – a half-mile of trails to run with some super-cool obstacles. The Dude was desperate to race and he absolutely crushed it, flying along and have a blast. He particularly loved the mud pits, throwing himself into the muddy water. I collected him at the end and he was glowing and wanted to race the next event in half an hour – apparently you can do as many kid races as you want, which makes it much better value.


We found the Husband who had just finished – he was beaten to a pulp but smiling and rightfully proud of himself. He got to watch the Dude do his second race, over a mile, which he loved again! They both took advantage of the ‘shower’ area (hoses) to clean off the mud and put on clean clothes and then we crawled slowly back to the car to go home.


This race brought it home to both the Husband and I that our fitness is kind of limited. We have decent cardio fitness but we have no upper body strength and I’ve become aware recently that I have no core strength either. It’s hard to muster up the drive to fix those weaknesses but it’s definitely worthwhile to have better all-round fitness. Something for us to think about.

It was a fascinating morning for me, spectating the Spartan Race. This is not a world I’ve ever been in before – I came to the conclusion that Spartan is basically CrossFit at the Races! It’s an entirely alien world to me and not one that attracts me at all but I am full of genuine admiration for the ladies and gentlemen who did today’s race! I could not have done this race, not at all, so I take my cap off to you. You’re all crazy but you’re crazy impressive!

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A last blast of cold air

Last week was Spring Break and we went up to the mountains. Our friends lent us their wonderful cabin to stay in, up in Arnold. We love it there! The weather wasn’t ideal – overcast and rainy, then snowy and then finally, on the very last day, sunshine! But we packed in some great stuff.

arnold reading

Like reading…

On Friday, it was raining pretty steadily. I logged a few wet miles running and then in the afternoon we went hiking along the Arnold Rim Trail. The ART is a 12-mile trail through the wilderness that snakes down the mountain to Avery. We planned a 5.5 mile loop to San Antonio Falls. We put on all our waterproof clothes and set out hiking.

I have to be honest, I am not comfortable in the wilderness but I know it’s good to be out of my comfort zone. As we hiked deeper and deeper into the forest, I tried not to think of Mama Bears who might be out of hibernation and looking for food for their babies. We whistled a lot, sang a lot and made a lot of noise. The trail was indeed beautiful – no real views except gorgeous trees everywhere. Our planned loop was curtailed when it became apparent that we needed to cross what is currently a fairly fast-flowing river so we retraced our steps back home and made it out of the forest with no ursine sightings. Only later did my husband tell me that he was pretty edgy too about bears and wished we’d had bear spray. That might have been wise!



On Saturday, we finally made it up to Bear Valley to cross-country ski. I did this for the first time a few weeks ago and LOVED it…this time I’d be taking my boys. The people at Bear Valley XC were super-kind and helpful and before long we were out on the pistes. The sky was grey but the overnight snowfall made it incredibly beautiful. We got into our groove fairly quickly and swooshed around the trails, before getting lunch and hot drinks in the gorgeous A-frame cabin. We headed out towards a meadow but the weather closed in quickly and we hightailed it out of there. Visibility got very poor and I was a little scared, got to be honest, (visions of the Donner party) but eventually we made it safely back to the trailhead. I really love cross-country skiing…it’s so peaceful and beautiful. The Husband liked it but his heart definitely belongs to downhill. The Dude adored it…he sang the whole way round and kept saying ‘This is awesome, Mummy’. I somehow seem to have unexpectedly got myself a ski-buddy!




These were the rather terrifying conditions we nearly got lost in

And then, on Friday….there was a skiing miracle.

Not joking.

After 13 years of skiing…13 years of fear, frustration, rude words, tears and broken bones I FINALLY learned to do parallel turns. Now clearly most people learn this on day 3 of ski school in their very first week. However I have never ever been able to do it, despite weeks of ski-school, pizza-wedging my way down the slopes with screaming quads and little control. Before we left that morning, the Husband got me to watch a few videos and I learned two little nuggets that changed my world.

1 – I needed to start my turn much earlier than I was currently starting it. By the time I’d start turning, it was already too late.

2 – I needed to lean into the mountain as I turned.

It was a glorious day. I won’t ski in bad weather but Sunday was perfect. We set off on the green slopes. I started my turns early. I chanted ‘Lean IN to the mountain’ every single turn and somehow I was turning. I glanced down at my skis. Parallel. I turned again. Parallel. I’d done it.


Blue skies and parallel turns!

I have NEVER enjoyed skiing as much in my entire life. My legs didn’t hurt, I wasn’t scared, it was like flying. I tested my new skills on harder greens. Yep, still parallel. So we went onto a blue and boom, I was still parallel! We did those runs over and over again but the mental difference was incredible. I flipping loved skiing! I was finally a skier.


I know you might still be marveling that it took me 13 years to master something so basic and I know I’m making too much of this but seriously, I don’t care. I am thrilled and beside myself with pride and relief!  It’s ironic that skiing clicked for me on the very last day of our California skiing life. Skiing for Brits entails a flight to Europe, it’s not just a long drive in the car to Tahoe, so it’ll be harder to ski in the future but I am honestly stoked to finally be able to do this and to be able to test my skills in the Alps next winter.

Thanks, California for the unexpected winter gift!

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Review: Brooks LSD jacket

A few weeks ago, one Monday evening, I joined in a Twitter chat organised by Salty Running. It was my first time doing such a strange thing but it was fun. At the end of the chat session, there was a prize draw and somehow I won. NO idea how but clearly I was delighted. My prize was a running jacket – the Brooks LSD running jacket. LSD sounds like a…psychedelic (?) name for a jacket but alas it means Long Slow Distance.

I sent Salty Running my size, my preferred colour and my address and a few days later, my jacket arrived. Choosing a colour was fun. The LSD comes in various colours which range from slinky black to my beloved neon and a couple of truly dreadful options. After much indecision, I plumped for black. I could wear my GoVivo reflective vest over the top for night-time running but I’d still look ninja-esque the rest of the time.

I’ve worn it a number of times now so feel like I’m able to review it fairly.

Basically I REALLY like it.


Kate Moss never gets photo-bombed!

It’s super-light. It weighs literally nothing. This makes it perfect for taking along on runs when the weather looks a bit iffy – when you think you might need an extra layer but aren’t entirely sure. This is so lightweight that taking it is a no-brainer.

Taking it along is very easy due to two things.

1 – It packs up into its own pocket and then zips into a tiny pouch.This is fun to do, I find this exciting every time I do it.


Going, going…



Attached to the pouch is an elastic arm-band. You basically zip the jacket into its pocket, stick it on your upper arm and you’re good. The elastic is tight enough to not fall down my arm as I run. I haven’t even noticed it when I’ve run wearing it on my arm.


It’s pretty snuggly. It’s excellently wind-proof and keeps me pretty toasty. This is a good thing at times (chilly mornings) but it can get a bit too heated on warmer occasions.

Brooks never claim the jacket’s waterproof – it says water ‘resistant’ and that’s pretty spot-on. It’s good against a shower or a sprinkle but when I wore it in a downpour on Mt Tam I was soaked to the skin and wishing I’d worn my actual water-proof jacket. My mistake.


Not at all awkward…

This is a really versatile little jacket. Because it zips up so light and small, I carry it with me wherever I think I might need an extra layer. I’ve put it in my bag to wear to the cinema because I’m always cold in the cinema. I’ve stashed it in my back pocket on bike rides as a windproof layer. I slept in it when we went camping last weekend and it kept me warm. It even doubles up as a ball for bored kids on ferries.


Spot the ball/LSD jacket

The black is flattering enough that I’d wear it in the city without flinching (although I’m not very cool, so bear that in mind). I’ve become VERY fond of my LSD.

me brooks lsd soul cycle

I know. I should be a model!

Clearly when you win stuff or get it for free you’re more inclined to like it but seriously, I like this lots. In all honesty, I don’t think I’d pay $100 for it but I’m a cheapskate runner and I find it hard to spend that much on anything except shoes.

All in all, this was a fantastic addition to my running (and general life) wardrobe. I think it will be incredibly useful once we move back to the UK.  Thanks Salty Running for picking me!

(Totally unsponsored blogpost. I wasn’t asked to write a review by Salty Running or Brooks when I won the jacket. I just like it.)

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Angel Island Camping

For my birthday back in February, the Husband booked me a night camping on Angel Island. Angel Island is (durr) an island in the San Francisco Bay, moored between SF, Tiburon and Sausalito. We’ve hiked there once, I’ve raced there once but I’d always wanted to camp. It’s hard to reserve a spot – you have to reserve well in advance – but we snagged a spot on a Monday night during the Dude’s Spring Break. We roped in Lisa and her people to come with us and off we went.

Angel Island

This was our first ever backpacking trip. We usually car camp but this time, we’d have to take a ferry to the island and then hike about 1.5 miles up to our spot. I envisaged us all cool and backpackery, like Instagram cool people, but alas we turned up at the ferry looking like two homeless families. Lisa and her gang were lugging a cooler filled with tents and sleeping mats. We had dug out an ancient, dusty stroller holding a horrible packing bag full of pillows, a duvet and an air-mattress and pump. My Husband was not prepared to rough it. We enviously eyed up the beautiful couple also camping out, equipped with a backpack and a sleeping mat. That was how to do it. Despite our disheveled appearance, we were in VERY high spirits on the ferry over and as we staggered off the boat, onto the island, we waved to all the people on the boat back to SF. We assumed they were just jealous of our adventures – they were probably just relieved we were gone.


We checked in with the delightful park ranger and started the hike up to our campsite. Immediately it was awesome. It was so surreal to be basically alone on the island after the last ferry. It felt like an Enid Blyton adventure. We tried the short-cut up the steps but that proved too awful with the stroller so we ended up walking up the paved road around the island. This proved much easier and after a final 10 minutes on trail, we got to our site.


Our site was #8 in the ‘Sunrise Campsite’ on a clearing overlooking the East Bay. It had space for 3 pitches and one other pitch was taken by two families with young kids, so I didn’t feel bad at disturbing other campers with our rabble. Each pitch had a picnic table and a BBQ grill and I believe each campsite has a pit toilet and drinkable water. Our pit toilet smelt badly but was pretty clean. No spiders.  No complaints.


You can see our tents in the middle, just below the empty old buildings – they were part of an immigration station!!

We pitched our tents, ate hot-dogs, made s’mores and drank wine as it got darker. As dusk came, the lights came on in the East Bay and the sparkles lit up on the Bay Bridge, it was so pretty. Our spot was definitely sheltered – I believe the western spots overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge get VERY windy – but it still grew chilly so by 8.30pm we were all hunkered down in our tents and asleep.


Photo: Lisa



We woke the next morning at 6.15 and by 6.30 we were silently (kind of) hiking out of our site to go and watch the sunrise from the top of the ‘mountain’ on the island – Mt Livermore, at 733 ft. It was about a mile from our site and climbed all the way but the growing sunrise was lovely. We made it to the top and had the whole place to ourselves as we watched the sun burn through the haze!



We took a different route back, along North Ridge Trail and the fire road back to our site. It was further than it looked on the map but ridiculously pretty and just so very surreal to have this whole place to ourselves. We saw one other hiker – apart from that it was us, the flowers, the deer and the gorgeous views.




Back at camp, we had breakfast, dismantled the tents, packed up and hiked the 1.7 miles back to the dock for the 10.25 ferry. It was easier hiking down and soon we were at the harbour. There were a number of other campers there waiting for the ferry which somehow took us by surprise, but soon enough we were on the ferry, sailing away and back to reality.


This might be one of my favourite all-time camping trips. It felt so magical, like such a big adventure. A ferry ride, an island basically to ourselves, sunrise hiking without fear of mountain lions…it was wonderful. We felt like excellent parents, watching our kids’ excitement about the whole thing, and we were all pretty darn excited ourselves. We were all a bit giddy.


Photo; Lisa

On a practical note – this trip was more straightforward than we’d expected. We’d advise you pack as lightly as you can – we had a good uphill 1.7 miles to hike to our site. Take a first aid kid. There is mobile phone reception on the island in case of emergency and also there are rangers who live there who can help quickly if needed. Bring all the warm layers, as it gets chilly, but seriously…just come and camp here. It was wonderful.

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Endorphin overdosing!

On Friday, I ticked a big thing off my Bay Area bucket list – running Coastal Trail on Mt Tam. You may remember that I tried to run it a few weeks ago with a gaggle of awesome ladies but the revolting weather proved tougher than we were. We had a load of fun anyway but Coastal remained elusive and I definitely wanted to run it before we moved away.

On Friday, I snuck out of work an hour earlier, met Lisa and we drove up to Tam. Jen was joining us but she got bogged down in the grim Bay Area traffic and had to drop. Our roads were clearer and we got to Pantoll at about 2pm. We were lucky to get a parking space but before long we were heading out onto Matt Davis trail towards Coastal. It was a seriously gorgeous day – bright sunshine, warm temperatures but a cool breeze (wind) to stop us overheating.


It was beautiful from the start. It’s a fairly flat trail which winds its way through woodland. It was cool and lovely, we jumped over streams and dodged fallen trees. The trails were soft and smooth. Delicious.


Before too long we came out of the woods and the world opened up before us. Emerald green hills with red dirt trails slashed into them. Beautiful sparkling ocean before us. Orange California poppies dotting the fields. There was a LOT of squealing from sheer beauty and lots of photos and singing. We were out to break no records, just to have fun and the endorphins were raging already.



Matt Davis and Coastal intersect after about a mile and a half and we set off up this long-awaited trail. It did not didsappoint. It was gorgeous. The colours, the views, the warm sunshine, the stretches of open, ocean-view trails and the pockets of woodland to cool us down – bliss. Coastal climbed fairly steadily – it was very runnable but we were working hard to climb – we stopped fairly often to take photos and catch our breath and wallow in the views. It was wonderful.


The junction of Matt Davis and Coastal



Didn’t expect to see this on a trail



Lisa is available for all your trail photography needs

At about the three mile point, we hit the Willow Creek Fire Road which was our place to turn right, off the trail. We were legitimately sad to leave this magical trail but excited to see what was next. We crossed the road and plunged back onto trail on the Laurel Dell Fire Road. We started descending into the cool forest.



The plan was to take Cataract Trail, turning right after the stream. We didn’t expect the stream to be actually pretty wide and flowing with water – people had placed little logs across the stream but I still managed to stumble and get one very wet foot! We turned onto Cataract Trail and there was a very audible squelch every time my right foot hit the ground, but it was rather nice and cool, to be honest.


Cataract Trail was lovely. It was flat, apart from the small ups and downs every trail has, and wound through the wood following a stream. The trails were gnarled with rocks and roots, we had to focus on our footsteps, but it was still beautiful.


Eventually we came out the woods at the Mountain Theatre area, where we’d got lost last time. It’s amazing how much easier it is to navigate in good weather than it is in a downpour…we found our way easily onto Old Mine.

We’d run Old Mine last time in the cold, wet fog. The difference this time was incredible. The views of the city in the distance were breathtaking, we stopped several times to gawp and exclaim at how flipping lucky we were to live here and be here right now on this beautiful day. Photos do not do the views justice – the hills rolling down, the city, Sausalito harbour sparkling in the sunshine, oh my word it was amazing.

We had an amusing incident when a wild turkey gobbled at us just off the trail – Lisa is scared of big birds and she let out the most enormous scream and the turkey ran off gobbling as I doubled over laughing. It was highly entertaining at the time!




All too soon we were back at the car. We’d run the princely total of 6 miles at a very slow pace but I can honestly say that this was one of the best runs I have ever had. The gorgeous weather, the beautiful trails, the excellent company…seriously, this goes down as one of the best ever!

I’d hugely recommend this route as an intro to running on Tam. It’s fairly easy to navigate, the trails are beautiful and it’s not particularly hilly as Tam goes. The route we took is on this link!

We drove home through grim traffic with Equator Coffee to keep us going. The endorphins lasted a long time. I’m so grateful we got to run this today. What an afternoon!

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My top ten races everrrrr!

One of my favourite podcasts is the very new Ali on the Run show. I enjoy the longer Thursday episodes (last week’s interview with transgender athlete Chris Mosier was helpful, educational and really moving) but I also like the short twenty-minute Tuesday Top Tens that she does. This week’s episode was about Ali’s top ten races and it got me thinking about what mine were! So I came home, scrolled through my Races page (thank goodness for having a blog, eh?) and picked my top…twelve.

I know.

Without further ado…

12. London Marathon

My one and only marathon, back in 2004. I can’t even find my sole marathon photo from it and my race report was 7 years late. But bearing in mind it’ll probably be my only lifetime marathon, it was a cracker and I’m so glad I did it. From the downhill start to running over Tower Bridge all the way to running up the Mall it was amazing and I loved every minute! Report HERE.

london bridge

London Bridge

11. Woodside Ramble 10k

Frankly any run in Huddart Park is a joy but I’ve run the winter 10k twice now and have enjoyed it so much. It’s tough but just as you decide you don’t want to climb any more, you’re done and you can scream downhill! There are redwoods, there’s an after-race buffet, there are generally friends to see…it’s a great winter race! Race reports HERE and HERE.

woodside trails jen me

10. The San Francisco Marathon (half-marathon distance)

The SF Marathon does a genius thing in that it runs two concurrent half-marathons. You can run the first half, starting at 5am, crossing the bridge and wallowing in the views or you can run the second half, starting later in Golden Gate Park and standing a chance of PR-ing due to its flatter profile. Both races are great and fun and it’s lovely to be part of a marathon as a non-marathoner. Race reports HERE and HERE.

Me SF Half

9. Redwood City Parade Run

I ran this in 2014 and loved every minute. It’s a small, local 5k on July 4th but it was notable for the depth of its stroller prizes. Top 3 male and female single stroller, top 3 male and female double stroller. Seriously, who is THAT generous? I ran it with my little boy when he was small and cute. We placed second, we were ridiculously proud of ourselves and we loved every second. It’s three laps of downtown so the views aren’t stellar but the atmosphere was awesome and then there was a very American parade! Race report HERE.

rwc2 dude me stroller

8. Kaiser Half Marathon and 5k

Kaiser’s a great race – I listed exactly why HERE. I’ve raced it three times, twice the half, once the 5k. It’s slickly put on, the course is great, support is great, medals are great and so many local friends run it you’re bound to bump into someone. Can’t fault it. Race reports HERE, HERE and HERE (5k).

us family kaiser

7. Red Rock Canyon Half Marathon

I ran this with my friend Nic in 2015. We had no time goals, just joy goals, and we smashed them. It was like a trail race on road. Spectacular scenery, a great course and BBQ at the end PLUS the obligatory trip to Vegas. I recommend running it with someone who smuggles champagne into her race pack for proper post-race rehydrating. Race report HERE.

me nic red rock

6. Crissy Field parkrun 

I’m such a fan of parkrun and I’m really excited to run squillions of them in the UK when we move back. I’ve only run this one a few times as it’s a pain getting to the city on a Saturday morning at 9am but each time I’ve run it, I’ve loved the atmosphere, the community, the visiting British people, the flat course, the coffee and doughnuts afterwards. It was my first sub-25 5k, the views are amazing. It’s on every single Saturday AND IT’S FREE!!! Race report HERE.


5. Ayala Cove 10 miler

I LOVED this race on Angel Island. I loved the ferry trip over in the morning and the concept of running on an island. I felt awesome throughout this whole race – really strong. I still look back on it as one of the times I felt most fit and most strong. I loved the climbs, the views and I loved the lethal stairs we had to descend on both laps. Usually I’m super-cautious but the endorphins were strong and in my head I was Emelie Forsberg. I placed in my age-group and it was one of the best mornings ever. Race report HERE.

angel island louise

4. Apple Hill Blossom 10k

I don’t think this race is run any more but it was wonderful. Up in Apple Hill, in the foothills, it was a two-lap course through apple orchards. I ran it with the Dude in the stroller and it was just so much fun. Even though I had to stop and catch my breath on both laps as it was TOUGH, I just felt so strong and so flipping badass the whole time! The other notable moment was the Husband’s surprising AG win with his very unremarkable time…and then us discovering a few hours later that they’d read the results wrongly and he was pretty much last in his AG. Fantastic family memories here. Race report HERE.

dude stroller apple hill trail race

3. Ragnar Napa Valley

Such mixed views on this race but I loved it. I was in Van 1 and had a great time – Van 2 had much harsher feedback for the race organisers. But it was a fantastic weekend of running with wonderful people in a tiny van! I just remember laughing the whole time. My legs were fantastic (my runs, not my actual limbs), I got to chase a bride through the foggy Santa Rosa night which was fantastically creepy and it finished with an exhausted dance party in Calistoga. Poor organization, a rubbish course but AMAZING PEOPLE, lots of food and a bit of sleep. I still feel the buzz. Race report HERE.

ragnar van 1

2. Oakland Marathon Relay.

Oakland does a great running festival. I’ve run the half, the 5k and the marathon relay and the relay was seriously one of the best races I ever did. I ran in a team with Jen, Jess and Kate – and running with those girls would make any race one of my best ever. We had the best team shirts, we team-built in a cat cafe and I experienced running in a team for the first time ever. The motivation of pushing hard to do your best for your friends…that’s pretty special. I loved this whole experience. Race report HERE.

cattitude oakland jen jess kate

Love these girls!

  1. Healdsburg Half Marathon 2012 

Once in a  lifetime, you get The Magical Race Day and this was it for me. I’d trained so hard to go sub-two for the first time and I thought I could do it. I got to meet Jen and Angela for the first time ever. The course was beautiful. My playlist was amazing. My Husband and my adorable small child cycled round the course cheering for me at every single mile marker. The running felt effortless the whole time. I just remember being so incredibly happy throughout. I’ll never forget running down that final hill past the cheerleaders (CHEERLEADERS!) and seeing 1.55 on the clock as I finished. Beyond my wildest dreams. I went back for more of that magic last year and alas the magic was gone but I will always cherish this day as my Best Day of Racing Ever In My Entire Life. If I never get the magic again, this will be enough. Read it all HERE.

me healdsburg

Seriously…just proof-reading this post made me genuinely start crying. So many wonderful memories of so many great races and so many gorgeous people. How flipping lucky I feel to have lived here so long and to have run in these places and with these friends.

Okay. Stop me crying. Distract me. Tell me YOUR top 10. Or top 3 if you’re in a rush.



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Weekend trails

We’ve had my in-laws to stay for the past two weeks – they left on Friday and so we’ve cracked on with packing up our world, ready for our move back to the UK. It’s a funny balance to find – we want to get loads done but there are still 6 more weeks to go and we don’t want to feel like we’re camping for that long.

Someone asked me recently what races I had signed up for before we leave – and the answer is none. There are no races I’m hankering to do – instead I’m just full of desire to run as many trails as I can with as many friends as I can for the next few weeks.

group friends tam

This was a LOT of friends

In addition, one of the ramifications of our 4-month travel plans is that I’m not going to be training for most of 2017. I can’t envisage me desperately trying to find a track in darkest Alabama so I can run the 400m repeats I have on my plan. I don’t want to be stressing about running 12 miles with 6 at goal pace whilst I’m melting in the humid heat of a July Texas weekend. So my goal until the end of August is to just run for the sheer joy of it. Once back in the UK, I’m looking forward to getting back into training hard and doing some races in our new hometown.

I want to keep up a decent weekly distance of at least 25 miles and to run at least four times weekly (if not more, I’d prefer five!). I want to run in all the places we go to, to explore new towns and trails. There will be the odd race of course (the Reykjavik 10k, a parkrun or two in Australia and in DC) but training-focussed running won’t be happening for a long while.

I’m not sure how that will translate onto the blog. There’s a danger that all my posts are ‘We went here, it was really nice. I went for a run, here are some photos’.  I suspect that the majority of most posts between May and September WILL be like that. If that’s not your thing, please don’t feel obliged to keep reading but personally I always like reading people’s travel-and-running posts (as long as they’re not smug) so I hope you’ll enjoy it too. (Please feel free to give feedback if I veer into Smug territory).

So…running lately.

I’m LOVING running at the moment. Since I stepped away from structured training in January and just started running for fun and especially since I started trying really hard to fit trails into my world at least once a week my stokeometre has gone sky-high. I’m excited to run every time – although since the clocks changed and the mornings got DARK again, I’m not excited any more to run in the dark!

night running


Anyway…at the weekend, I got in an excellent run and an excellent hike. On Saturday  I met Lisa and Lety at nearby Water Dog Park. I run there a lot but always the same trail as I feel safe there. This time, we had a route planned to explore further in the park. I had no idea what to expect.

It was gorgeous! It was wild. We turned a corner away from the bits I knew and we were deep in the middle of nowhere, even though we were still in darkest suburbia. We were faced with steep uphills, beautiful muddy wooden trails and…really poor sign-posting. As such we went slightly off the planned route but we knew roughly where we were and where we were heading and it was gorgeous. The loveliest trail we ran was Chaparral Trail – a ridge trail covered with low brush which had wonderful views over the Bay, which was hazy in the early morning.


Deep in the woods


Gorgeous light on Chaparral Trail

We eventually came out on Hallmark Drive as planned and we crossed over and did a loop of the Crystal Springs Cross-Country course. The trails there are wide so we got to run together. Everything was muddy though after the recent rains – basically Lisa needs trail shoes 🙂




We were short on time so we ditched the planned long loop home and ran down the more direct trail back to the cars. We ended up with about 7 miles in the legs but a disproportionate amount of endorphins!


Then on Sunday, my boys and I escaped the lure of packing boxes and the sofa and drove over to Pacifica to San Pedro Valley Country Park. I’ve run there a few times (here and here) but this was the boys’ first time. The skies threatened rain so we ended up doing a short loop along Valley View Trail but it was enough to get fresh air in our lungs and to give us pink cheeks. We hiked up the hill and then all ran down. I love running with my boys so that was a real treat!






Six more weeks of Bay Area life. Lots to pack in.


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