01. November 2016 · Comments Off on Flying high! · Categories: Holidays, Run · Tags: ,

When Eva was 8 weeks old, we ventured on a flight to Toronto to see her grandparents and then onwards to the wedding of our close friends Ben & Travis on Mackinac Island, Michigan.

We were nervous about flying for the first time with Eva. We needn’t have been.  She was a little superstar. The flight to Toronto was 3 hours and she fed, played and slept. Not a problem. Who knew the plane offered an in-flight service of milk on demand?

The trip happily coincided with the arrival of Hurricane Matthew, although Tom was upset not to get to go windsurfing in it….

After a brief stint in Toronto, we flew up to Sault Ste. Marie at the top of Lake Huron, rented a car and drove southwest to St. Ignace, MI, where we then caught a ferry across to Mackinac Island.  Mackinac Island is completely car-free. Bicycles and horses only! A beautiful place, just 8 miles around.

stay_resorts_0

The Grand Hotel, where the wedding took place

We had a couple of days to explore the island, go for some little runs and walks, spend time with the other wedding guests and eat fudge and drink hot chocolate (both sold at nearly every shop along the main street). It was the first time really that we had been out and about all day every day with Eva and it was great for us to see that we could do it.

The wedding itself was fabulous.  Ben looked every bit the beautiful bride and Travis very dashing. We felt honoured to have been invited to the very small and private wedding and to get to meet all of Ben’s family visiting from Switzerland.

img_8885

Mr and Mrs Cardinal!

As for Eva, I fed her quietly at the back throughout the whole ceremony and she never made a peep.  She was still in her pyjamas and was wrapped up in blankets as it was pretty cold (poor Ben in her sleeveless dress!) with a strong wind. Once we headed inside for cocktails, we changed Eva into her party dress. Unashamedly for the photo opportunities!

img_8792

img_9579

img_9578img_8880

We also got to see our friend Angie, who was looking fabulous at 7 months pregnant.

 

 

Once the Cardinals were safely married, we headed back to Canada and immediately drove north to my parents’ cottage on Georgian Bay. The weather varied greatly – some days we were in shorts, other days it was close to freezing. Don’t worry, Eva has ALL the clothes.

 

img_8611

The cardigan was hand-knitted by the fabulously talented Katie Smith in London.

I can’t decide whether I prefer hipster baby or snow baby:

img_8934

Up at the cottage, we enjoyed a number of runs, ate ridiculous amounts of chocolate, walked in the woods and took Eva on her first boat ride.

All in all it was a very successful trip and I loved the cooler weather. It was empowering to see that we could bring Eva to new places and we could all cope.  All part of the road back to normalcy.

07. June 2016 · Comments Off on Spin me right round, baby · Categories: embrace the bike, Holidays, Pregnancy, Yoga · Tags: , ,

I’ve been both charmed and embarrassed by the accolades I received after my last post about running the Toronto Women’s 5k race at 30 weeks pregnant. Thank you very much, readers!

Just to put it into perspective, just remember that Alysia Montaño was still racing track events at 8 months (34 weeks) pregnant….

Or how about my friend Lara? She is 10 weeks ahead of me, which put her at 40 weeks (that’s full term, folks) when she proposed we go do a spin class together the day after the race.  On her due date.

I suggested a nice long walk instead, but no, she was insistent: spin or bust. So yes, on her due date, we could be found at Quad spin studio spinning our legs furiously and being shouted at by a bearded man in spandex. I was tired from the race the day before and was sweating profusely… Lara elegantly maintained her pregnant glow and kept up with the furious pumping while I gave up and sat out a couple rounds, pretending to churn my wheels while secretly setting the bike to the easiest setting possible.

image

Two days later, a now overdue Lara was suggesting an outdoor prenatal yoga session. We found a yoga video online and proceeded mostly to ignore it, instead having too much fun clowning around in the soft sunshine.

This makes me crack up most of all:

image

Lara is now 41 weeks and 1 day and I am wishing her all the best….  as she continues to walk, jump and skip to get that baby out! Good luck Lara! Maybe one last spin class will do it?

 

 

 

We have escaped the heat! That’s a laughable concept when we were living in the UK (where summer begrudgingly arrives for a week or two at best), but Florida is bloody hot and the humidity is strangling. Running an ultramarathon in Iceland was a wonderful way to cool off but it wasn’t long before we were drowning in pools of sweat again.

Evidence that on occasion, we don't wear lycra.

Evidence that on occasion, we don’t wear lycra.

So what did we do, but get in the minivan, loaded up with two TT bikes, a windsurfing board, 2 wetsuits, a duffel bag filled with water bottles, cycling helmets and shoes, and lycra galore, and most importantly of all – our whippet, Haile. And we drove 24 hours north to Canada. The drive really wasn’t that bad. Haile slept in my lap the whole way there, and we listened to Laura Hillenbrand’s biography of Olympic runner Louis Zamperini, Unbroken (it was excellent).

imageThe premise for the trip was to attend an old friend’s wedding in Toronto (hey Alan and Amy, you looked amazing, thanks for having us!). The morning after the nuptials we headed up to my parents’ place on Georgian Bay, namely, The Cottage, otherwise known as Paradise.

The Cottage is where I grew up cross-country skiing in the winter, swimming in the summer; where our first dog is buried; where Tom and I got engaged; where we honeymooned with 20 friends and family after our wedding.  The Cottage is nothing but good memories both in the past and future.

image

Normally at this time of year, The Cottage should be hot and sunny, but at the moment Georgian Bay is having a little autumnal practice session. We don’t mind. It’s been around 16°C (60°F) during the day and much colder at night, but really that is absolutely ideal running weather. I did my first intervals session of the year yesterday where I was actually able to get to my real 5K pace (something I haven’t seen in a long, long time). I jumped in the lake afterwards and that sweet fresh water felt amazing (and yes, I screamed as I dived in. It’s cold).

Ironman training continues. Thanks to the wonderful invention of wetsuits, we’ve also been able to do some proper open water swimming, and the newly resurfaced Twelve Mile Bay road is perfect for cycling intervals – even if we have to hike out to the paved road before we can get going!

It’s supposed to get warmer over the next few days, but it doesn’t really matter if it does. The Cottage is perfect no matter the weather.

I couldn’t stop smiling.

A beautiful summer’s day in the mountains in Iceland.  The snow crunched under our feet as we ran, and the sun warmed our faces as the wind blew across the mountains.  The footing wasn’t easy, so I was looking down a lot.  Every time I looked up around me, my joy was palpable.  The views of the lava fields, the multi-hued mountains, the steam rising from the hot springs, the drapings of snow and ice.  Every look in every direction was just spectacular.

I had found Nirvana in the Laugavegur Trail running the Laugavegur Ultra Marathon.  Trail runners’ paradise.

43-IMG_4296

Midnight Sun

17-IMG_4183

Not yet 4 in the morning!

Race day started with a 3:45 am alarm clock in order to catch the 4:30 am bus from Laugardalur in Reykjavik. But hey, it’s really not hard to get up that early when it’s nearly full daylight outside!

21-IMG_4217With a breakfast stop en-route to Landmannalaugar, we arrived at around 8:20, with our wave scheduled to start at 9:05. This meant a very cold 45 minutes of waiting at the start, marvelling at the hundreds of tents containing runners who opted for an icy night but a leisurely race morning.

20-IMG_4210

Some pre-race acrobatics in the vain hope of warming up

 

Did I mention it was cold?

The Laugavegur Trail starts in Landmannalaugar, going directly up into the mountains with around 600m of climbing to the top at Hrafntinnusker.  It then sharply descends down to Álftavatn, then up again to Emstrur and finally down to Húsadalur in Þórsmörk.  Hikers normally take 4 days to cross the 55km, camping along the way near the mountain huts.  The perfect setting for an ultra marathon!  This year there was the added challenge of unusual amounts of snow for this time of year.

23-IMG_421922-IMG_4218

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Going by the allocated race numbers, there were around 430 runners divided into three waves.  After the usual shuffling and shivering at the start line, our wave was called, and up we went!

Landmannalaugar to Hrafntinnusker ~ 10km with 600m climbing, around 1:40

There was good reason for the wave start – we immediately headed up a single track mountain path, nose to tail.  We had been warned several times by the race organisers to take the whole of the first section very easy, not only because it was steep, but as we climbed higher into the mountains, the snow took over.

Startið

The start of the race – photo thanks to marathon.is (all other photos are ours unless specified)

image

Landmannalaugur – photo by Mattias Klum

In retrospect, I think they perhaps overly emphasised the need to take the first section of the race easy, because it meant that 1/6th of the runners had the devastating consequence of not meeting the cut-offs imposed in the later stages of the race.  Our goal from the beginning was to enjoy the race and to get around it comfortably, without actually racing it.

And enjoy we did.  Tom took a few short videos of me running through the snow, complete with questionable commentary:

I’m originally from Canada so I grew up with snow as an integral part of my life, but I left the country when I was 19 and haven’t lived there since.  I didn’t get into running properly until I was in my 30s, so…. I am most certainly not used to running in snow.  The occasional light dusting in London never meant more than a bit of slippery footing and wet feet, and it never lasted long.  So Iceland was my first real time running, and racing, in the snow.  I loved it.  That crunch!  The bit of slip, the slide!  The views!

No surprise then that this first section was my favourite of the whole race.  As we neared Hrafntinnusker, we crossed around 8km of continuous snow.

40-IMG_4277

The depth of the snow is made evident as some nearby hot springs melt a cavern underneath! (me in black waving at the camera)

44-IMG_4291

After nearly an hour and a half, the mountain huts at Hrafntinnusker came into view – the very first aid station.  A quick loo break and we refilled our water, ate a banana and set off sliding down the snow.

46-IMG_4308

Hrafntinnusker to Álftavatn ~ 12 km, with 180m climbing, 600m descending, 1:35

We continued to climb up into the snow, then slowly down the other side only to find the very best views yet. On one side we had dark mountains with a glacier in the background.

53-IMG_4334On the other side, spectacular sandy mountains with hues of red, orange, and brown and lacings of snow so beautiful and almost so unreal as to look like a painting.

50-IMG_5211

Further along, we could see the lake near Álftavatn, our next aid station and the first checkpoint.  We had to get there within 4 hours in order to be permitted to continue the race.  We began the sharp descent, and the air grew warmer until I was sweating heavily in my waterproof jacket.

And we eventually hit the valley, complete with a glacier-fed stream that we had to cross – the first of many.

We hit the checkpoint with about 50 minutes to spare, although we didn’t think much about it at the time. We refilled with water, sat down in the sunshine for a few minutes to eat another banana, stripped off a layer and headed off again.

Álftavatn to Emstrur ~ 16km, with 220m climbing, 280 descending, around 2:20

This was the hardest section of the race for me, although the terrain was perhaps the easiest.  I enjoyed crossing a few more glacial streams and rivers, and when we reached Bláfjallakvísl, we were able to change our shoes.  Given the heavy snow on the mountains, both Tom and I had opted for very heavy Salomon trail shoes, which did their job perfectly but were feeling pretty heavy on the feet after nearly 4.5 hours.  Mine were waterproof too, which had been great in the snow, but not so good once we started fording all the rivers (water goes into the shoe, but then doesn’t drain out unlike in a normal shoe).  So it was a very welcome to change to put on our minimalist trail shoes and to feel the trails beneath our feet again.  Although the new shoes didn’t stay dry for long!

67-IMG_4526

Soon we were heading across a great expanse of lava fields.  We could still see mountains around us, but the terrain was completely different from before.  The ground underneath was fine lava sand.  A moonscape.  I had read that NASA had come to Iceland to have its astronauts do a simulation moon-walk before they landed on the moon, and I could see why.  Were we really just in the snowy mountains the hour before?

72-IMG_4561

We had spent a good chunk of time at Bláfjallakvísl changing our shoes, and we were stopping frequently for photographs.  When we reached a mini aid station and refilled our water, we heard another runner ask how far it was to the next checkpoint – around 6km, they said.  I looked at my watch and realised that we were cutting it fine.  No more photographs until the checkpoint!  Time to get going!

And so we tried to pick up the pace as we headed across the lava fields, as best we could over 5 hours into a mountain ultra marathon.  We made it with just 15 minutes to spare – and what a huge relief.  I later found out that many runners were forced to retire from the race. I can’t imagine how disappointing that must have been.

74-IMG_4582

Reaching the mountain huts at Emstrur, so relieved to know that we had made the cut off.

Emstrur to Húsadalur in Þórsmörk ~17km with 380m climbing, 645m descending, 2:30

This last section of the race brought us down out of the mountains properly, although with plenty of uphill on the way down.  The pressure was off now that we knew we had made the cut offs and could just enjoy the rest of the race. Would you believe the terrain changed completely again? Suddenly we were running atop a big canyon with waterfalls and views spreading out before us that looked like a scene from the Lord of the Rings (or, New Zealand). Spectacular in a completely different way from the previous miles we had covered, and very hard to capture on my little camera.

How about this? Mountains, glacier, river, and just beyond, a waterfall…..

78-IMG_4703

Down begins to hurt as much as up, or even more, after a while.  As we headed down down down the mountains, we welcomed the occasional up as relief to our poor pounded quads.

We certainly hadn’t run this ultra fast by any stretch of the imagination, but our slow and steady approach meant that we overtook a lot of runners in this last section to Þórsmörk.  But first, more river crossings.

87-IMG_4863

Although not deep, the river had a fierce current and we were holding on for good reason.

86-IMG_4857

We knew the end was within reach.  We had enjoyed this race so much, but we were most definitely tired and ready to stop running.  Just a few more hills to go.  We grabbed some pieces of Snickers bars and gulped some flat Coke from the last aid station, and headed up the last few hills. Up the hills. Up, up, down, up, down, down. The grass grew red alongside us and we could see down into a valley full of nothing but the same short, fine red grass. Then through another river, then a stream, then a short tunnel of foliage that looked like it was straight out of England.

Then suddenly the path was littered with people cheering us on, shouting, and we could hear the finish line. Without comment, our pace increased. We came down the last hill, and we could see all the tents at the finish line. We ran together, as we had done the whole way, and passed through the finish line. Still smiling.

91-IMG_4879Total time: 8:29:07

Total distance:  55km, ~1900m climbing, 2200m descending

We placed 313th – nothing fancy, but we made it to the end, and we loved it from start to finish.

In fact….this was the best race I’ve done to date.  Most scenic, most beautiful, most enjoyable, most fun, most tremendous. If you’re thinking of running it and want more information (what? My thousands of photos here aren’t enough?) or have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me.  I mean that wholeheartedly.

Screen Shot 2015-08-05 at 07.49.35

NB – The 19th edition of the Laugavegur Ultra Marathon took place on July 18, 2015.  The winner, Þorbergur Ingi Jónsson, finished in an unfathomable 3:59:13, setting a new course record!

01. June 2015 · Comments Off on 10 things we did in the UK other than run a marathon · Categories: Holidays, Marathons, Run, Trails · Tags:

We’ve been back from the UK for a couple of weeks now and it already feels like it was a long time ago. We had a wonderful time catching up with friends and family and for the most part, the weather was perfect (a rare statement in that part of the world).

So what did we get up to when not running the London Marathon?

1.  Bluebells

Bluebell season is short – maybe 2 weeks long? You really have to be lucky to be in the right place at the right time.

These were in the Harewood Forest, Hampshire, near Tom’s parents’ house.  The thing about bluebells is that you can never really capture them on camera.  Their beauty lies in their sheer numbers – a flood of colour across the forest floor.  Even the best photography leaves the images somewhat sparse compared to real life.  It was a true fairyland.

2.  Trail running (my favourite thing) and beautiful spring weather 

It was positively joyous to be running in the cold.

3)  The weather wasn’t always perfect.  It is the UK, after all.  But after the rain….

image

4)  Coffee.  Tea.  Yum.

We have yet to discover really good coffee in Wellington (please please local readers, if you know of a good place, and don’t say Starbucks, I am listening!).

5)  Friends

We didn’t get to see half the friends we wanted to – we ran out of time.

6) And family

7) We took the Eurostar to Paris for the day to see our friend Karis!  Karis in Paris!

8)  I got to do one last track session before the marathon with my old club, London Heathside!

image

9)  We spent a lot of time traipsing around southern England and greater London with suitcases in tow, sleeping at various friends’ houses.  The less glamorous side of the trip!  Good thing Tom is very strong!image

10)  And on the day we left, our nephew Finn was born!

 

The holidays have snuck up on us.

What my surroundings do NOT look like.

What with moving to another country, another climate, leaving my old job, getting a puppy, selling a flat, buying a house, starting a business, and training, it has been a busy few months and the time has gone by in a flash of heat haze.

Both Tom and I got hit by a bad cold that we picked up in cool California last weekend, which impacted our training and general joie-de-vivre.  I skipped the group intervals session and long rides and did my own thing instead, which included one of the best brick sessions I’ve ever had, never mind feeling poorly.  But today the cold has slapped me in the face with a big R for rest day, and sometimes it’s best not to argue.

Last week:

Screen Shot 2014-12-22 at 09.45.59

Total:  11h43

Swim: 51 min

Bike: 6h18, 186 km

Run: 2h19, 20 km

This included the Eggnog prediction mile on Wednesday night at the track, where we had to drink a cup of eggnog per 400m and predict what time we’d finish in.  I don’t work well with miles so I took a stab in the dark, going for 10:30, only to finish in 9:19 – but the winner predicted 10:00 and was bang on the dot!  Impressive! (Also, it was the hardest track session I’ve ever done.  20 x 200m?! with 20-30 seconds recovery.  It killed me.)

It also included the “Dog Jogs” which, to be honest, barely count as runs at all.  We’re trying to teach our puppy to run with us… slowly slowly!

image

Jumping for joy after my brick session yesterday. (Note the very holiday-spirit atmosphere.)

I miss winter for the holiday season – nothing like a frosty run, the crack of ice under your feet, the stillness of a cold night and your breath fogging and steam rising off you when you stop running.  But all in all, I’m loving how often I’m getting out on my bike and how much more fun it is when you’re not a coasting icicle on a bicycle (sorry, couldn’t resist).

In other excitement, we have gone from having 8 bikes in a small flat in London, to 4 bikes in a big suburban garage.  It’s pretty awesome.

LONDON:

image image

FLORIDA:

image

Those of you in London, or other major cities, will certainly appreciate this.

What are your holiday seasons looking like?

Do you like eggnog? NO!!!!

20. December 2014 · Comments Off on True tales of hating running in a Caribbean paradise · Categories: Holidays, Run, Sportlight on....

Many years ago, Tom and I spent a year living and working in the British Virgin Islands.  We met a lot of good people out there and I accumulated a lot of freckles.

bvi

Me at Spring Bay Beach, Virgin Gorda, BVI, in 2005

We lived in a very remote location, Biras Creek Resort – boat or helicopter access only.  This was before my triathlon days but I still swam and I tried, begrudgingly, to run.  I was a truly terrible runner.  But my good friend Juliane made me run with her whenever she could drag me out the door.

I couldn’t say it was too hot, because it was hot there every day.  But it was bloody hot, and running hurt, a lot.  I would trail behind Juliane panting and puffing.  I have no idea how far we’d run, but we ran maybe half an hour to 50 minutes max, so I doubt we ever ran more than 4-7km.  We did this maybe once or twice a week.  I hated it.

Juliane loved to run.  She would coax, beg, plead, encourage me – anything it took to get me to flick off my flip-flops and lace up my running shoes.  Sometimes we’d run to the beach, other times up the trails, and once we even took the thick cactus trail over to the neighbouring resort, The Bitter End (which pretty much epitomised how I felt on that run).

I ran because I lived an otherwise sedentary life on this small piece of Caribbean sand, and if I’m not going to waste words – for fear of getting fat.  I wanted to love to run, but I wasn’t there yet.  I was very far from feeling that love.  Ok, I dreaded every run.  I envied Juliane’s desire to get out there and run in circles in the heat.

bvi2

Juliane with Tom & me after getting hit by a big wave, BVI, 2006

So what does it take to learn to love to run?  Because now I love running, love in a way I always aspired to but could never actually believe would happen.  Juliane (who now, as a mother of 3 boys and still living in the BVI, regularly wins races and triathlons) still says to me, “What happened?

I wish I had an easy answer (that I could package up and sell!), but of course it doesn’t work like that.  What happened was I started running for me, not for worries about weight, I started seeing other friends doing it too, and realised that learning to enjoy running was a process, not a black & white yes/no, and I learned about using my own psychology to my advantage – for me this came in the shape of my very first Garmin GPS watch, the Forerunner 110.  Once I started tracking my mileage, I was hooked.  Have I mentioned I’m a geek for numbers?

I went back to the BVI to visit Juliane 18 months ago and we finally got to run together again, this time as equals, up the craggy hills of Peter Island.  It was bliss.

BVI3

 

Juliane, I thank you for never giving up on me!

When did you fall in love with running?

Tom was taking a course this weekend in California, and I got to go along for the ride (run!).  Nothing makes me happier than trail running.  Running in crisp air, leafy mountains?  yes please!  It was every bit as good as I imagined it would be.

Day 1

No running yet – this was a day in San Francisco with Tom, to be enjoyed.  First stop in the pouring rain was breakfast at Dottie’s, then a wander around Union Square and a coffee with friend Mariko at the Market at the Ferry Terminal.  A walk to Fisherman’s Wharf, and we visited a great running shop, Fleet Feet, for me to buy some new trail shoes.  Cuz guess who forgot her trail shoes at home?!

image

image

image

7 hours in San Fran.  Then zoooom in the rental car over the bridge to WALNUT CREEK!  Where Tom’s course was taking place.

 

Day 2

The excitement!  While Tom was learning, I got to play.  I hit the trails early, while the hills were still deeply hidden in dense fog.  It was wonderful.  I ran up and around the Diablo Foothills.  I was so, so happy.  I ran 11.5km through the trees, up the hills, through the mud, through the fog, across the top. See map of my run here, or let the pictures speak for themselves:

image

The new trail shoes!

image

This is me having fun, in case that’s not apparent.

 

image

I was in heaven. Not exaggerating.

 

 

image

 

 

 

 

image

 

 

image

 

 

Yeah, I did get a bit lost up there, but it was amazing.

Then I rushed to Oakland to meet my friend Mariko and her girlfriend Heather, and off we went (via huge breakfast) for some hiking up Mount Tamalpais.  Time for more pictures!

image

Mariko leads the way

image image image image image image image

 

One of the things I love most about trail running is feeling hot in cold climates.  Does that make sense? I’m one of the coldest people you’ll ever meet (hence moving to Florida!), but there is something about being active and working up a sweat when it’s cold outside that I just love.

 

Day 3

Trails again, this time the Redwoods Trail near Oakland, a 13km run up and around a densely wooded canyon and back down again, with 408m of climbing.  I have a thing about loops – I will always prefer to run a loop than an out-and-back.  My run, and some photos:

image image

image

This is running at its best! Through the Redwood trees.

 

I met Mariko and Heather for a coffee in Oakland at their local farmers’ market for a coffee and then headed back to the hotel, only to realise that Tom wouldn’t be done his course for another 4 hours.  Surely I wasn’t going to sit in the room and wait for him, was I, when I was in such a paradise of trails?  So back on went the running kit and my trusty OMM jacket and I headed off to Mount Diablo, the tallest mountain in the area at 3849′.

Mount Diablo, beckoning

Moment of truth:  keeping in mind I’d already done a decent run that day, and darkness would loom in around 3 hours… I didn’t start from the bottom.  Instead I drove up, white knuckled (I hate driving on mountain roads!), parked, and ran up to the summit, just 5km up and down but 307m of climbing in the ~2km up!  See the run here, or admire the view:

image

image

image

An amazing weekend of trails.

Now trying to avoid thinking about the fact that I’m living somewhere with no mountains or hills…..

What’s your favourite type of run?

Weekly Roundup

Screen Shot 2014-12-16 at 16.13.21

Total:  10h22

Swim:  2200 yards

Bike:  80km, 2h40

Run:  52km, 5h30

Ps, did you notice I finally got to the swimming pool this week?  That’s because I’ve signed up for another Half Ironman in January….

image

Ebola.

The deadliest virus you can think of.  The stuff of cinematic nightmares, something so far away and scary that it’s like talking about aliens and the apocalypse.

And now that Ebola is here, stronger than ever, spreading, its wormy tentacles fingerering their way into affluent countries while killing dozens of thousands in West Africa and beyond, it’s become even more of a joke word:

I don’t feel well, I think I have Ebola.”  ”

Stay away from me, I don’t want to catch your Ebola.”

But it’s not funny.

 

Sorry to be so sombre.  In May this year, I was incredibly lucky to be asked by employer Norton Rose Fulbright LLP to run the SIERRA LEONE MARATHON in Makeni, Sierra Leone, in aid of Street Child. In brief, the marathon was backed by the insurance industry and I worked as an insurance lawyer.  What an opportunity!

 

In the lead up to the Sierra Marathon, we kept seeing news of Ebola outbreaks in neighbouring Guinea and Liberia.  Sierra Leone remained safe.  And then of course the inevitable… a few people cropping up with Ebola in Sierra Leone too. Would the Sierra Leone Marathon be cancelled, we wondered?  Would we catch Ebola if we went, we joked? But it was still early days and there seemed little cause for alarm.  My colleagues and co-runners Amy and Natasha and I raised as much money as we could for Street Child, holding chocolate sales and harassing friends and colleagues as much as is politely permitted (or more), and off we went.

 

Street Child works with the children of Sierra Leone, primarily to get them into education for a better future for the whole country, but now its focus has had to shift to helping with the Ebola outbreak.

 

I had competed in Ironman Lanzarote the week before, had a short night in an airport hotel in London and then was back on a plane flying 7 hours to Freetown, Sierra Leone.  Upon arrival in Freetown, we immediately boarded a Street Child minibus heading for Makeni, 3 hours away.

 

political-map-of-Sierra-Leo

 We had two days before the marathon for Street Child to show us what it did in Sierra Leone.  We drove for hours across the country to Masimera Chiefdom where we visited one of five extremely rural villages where Street Child was helping with the children’s education.  The distance was only around 150 km, but the state of the roads meant for slow-going, and crossing a river was an amazing experience:

IMG_4482

The roads

 

 

IMG_4489

Crossing the river by raft

  IMG_4492

When we finally reached the villages, covered head to toe in dust and mud, we were met by the entire village, singing and clapping – an incredible and somewhat uncomfortable experience.

IMG_4502

They showed us their school and we met their teacher.  Sadly, Street Child has since told us that in these small villages in Masimera Chiefdom, there are now 67 orphans following the devastation of Ebola.  You can read Street Child’s update here if you want to know more.  “Sadly, the worst is still yet to come,” they write.

Back in Makeni, Street Child showed us how it helps families be able to afford to keep their children in school by providing small business loans.  My friend James Tarran wrote in his blog about one such business:

It so[on] became clear that this was nothing like small business as we know it in the UK. The first business we went to was on the dusty highway just outside the school; we were told that a lady had established a restaurant.

The ‘restaurant’ was basically one home-made wooden bench at the road’s edge, a crude open frame with a shade and two cooking pots over open fires – one for rice and one with a sort of fish sauce/stew in it. From there she served local farm and construction workers their lunch for a few hundred Leones … Street Child gave her a loan of maybe £20 so she could buy her two cooking pots and her first supply of rice.  They then monitor her closely for 14 weeks to ensure that she understands that she has to sell the food at the right price to ensure that she can buy a further supply of rice, pay back her loan and so sustain her business.

Loans are only given to ‘care-givers’ of children in a Project school.  In reality that means the money goes almost always goes to women.  Once the beneficiary has proved that they can sustain a business after the 14 week trial period they can apply for another micro-loan if they need it.

The largest business loan that Street Child gives is £50.  The sort of money that all of the watching westerners would spend on a night out without turning a hair. In Sierra Leone that amount of money can truly transform the fortunes of a whole family.

(I’d highly recommend reading his whole blog post, here).

 

IMG_4536

A woman selling bras at the Makeni market

 

IMG_4526

A fallen mango serving as breakfast, lunch and dinner

 

 

And then it was the day of the Sierra Leone Marathon.

A 4am wake-up for a 6 am start out of the Wusum Stadium in Makeni:

 

 

IMG_4551

It was VERY dark!

 

The early start was obviously to try to avoid as much of the heat as possible, because have I mentioned that Makeni is absolutely drenchingly sweatingly unrelentlessly hot and humid?  The type of heat that makes you unable to move, to swallow, to think.  A heavy humid cloying heat that smacks you hard and pushes you down.

 

Back to race mode.  As I mentioned previously, this was exactly one week after I had finished Ironman Lanzarote, so I didn’t think I was going to be at the top of my game, but on the other hand, it meant that I was pretty fit.  So I got my race face on and readied for the start.

 

SierraLeone Marathon start

 

 

The runners were a truly mixed lot.  Most were from Sierra Leone, and there was some good prize money going to the winners, so this race was no fun run to them, but a serious race.  There were local runners from Makeni and also the Freetown Fashpack Runners, a serious running club from the capital, Freetown.

 

The race started on roads and then eventually made its way into thicker jungle, only to come out through rural villages before disappearing into the jungle again.  Street Child had done a fantastic job of getting marshalls in place and appropriate water stations, and everywhere I ran I heard enthusiastic children shouting “oporto” (spelling dubious?) which means “white person”.  There were long stretches of jungle where I ran alone for miles, wondering if I had gone off-course, only to eventually come across a marshall.

 

SLMaraphil

Phil Langley running in style! See footnote below for a link to his blog post on the race.*

SL Marathon  SLMarathon

 

I kept the pace slow and even but nonetheless I knew when I came around an out-and-back section that I was actually holding on pretty well.  Others seemed to be suffering more from the heat than I was.  I marvelled at the lush mango trees, the thick jungle, the village children running alongside.  About 5km from the end, a group of children who looked to be around 4 years old ran beside me for a while, and I thought, “Surely it isn’t right that they can keep up with me….”

 

A few kilometres from the end, I overtook the third place lady, a Sierria Leonian who was running barefoot.  As I finally entered back into Makeni, scooters came alongside me and shouted that I was now in third place overall, and was the first international woman.  My Garmin beeped to say I’d finished the marathon, but the finish line was still nearly a very painful hot kilometre away.  I told myself, rule 5, and put the hammer down.  I crossed the finish line at 4:00:47, overjoyed to be finished, and annoyed to have just crossed over the 4 hour mark!

 

I later found out that James, of blogging fame above, was the first international male finisher in a time of 3:42, and his last marathon just one month previously in Manchester was 2:56:32.  So that was some truly serious heat and I was very happy with my time given the conditions!

 

If you’re a stats monkey like me, you can check out my Sierra Leone Marathon on Strava.

 

Visiting Sierra Leone and running the Sierra Leone Marathon was a tremendous experience and I am grateful to my generous employers for not just letting me go, but for asking me to go.

 

IMG_4556

After the marathon with our medals

 

With James after the marathon

With James after the marathon

 

We raised £3021 for Street Child, but Street Child still needs more help.  Unfortunately for us living far away, at the moment that help can only be financial.  If you would like to donate, you can do so at my fundraising page here or through Street Child’s Ebola Appeal directly at their DONATE NOW page.  And to all those readers who already donated in the run up to the race, thank you again!

 

*For another great blog post about the Sierra Leone Marathon, read Phil Langley’s blog here.  I was lucky enough to meet Phil in Sierra Leone and was amazed to hear that it was his third time running it.  And he is running it again in 2016 for the 4th consecutive time!

 

Would you travel somewhere far far away for a race?

We enjoyed our very first American Thanksgiving yesterday!

Thanksgiving isn’t part of the British calendar, so Tom has never experienced one before.  I’m originally from Canada so I did grow up with the holiday, but it’s in September in Canada and takes the back seat as a bit of minor holiday.  I also haven’t lived in Canada since 2003.

We started the day with a wonderful cycle, including a coffee stop (I’ve said it before – the best kind of rides!).  The sun was out, it was warm but not hot, everyone was out being active and enjoying the day off.  We cycled by the lake in Okaheelee and then discovered a bird sanctuary nearby (shhh, it said no bikes but we were only pootling):

 

image  image

 image

 

Have I mentioned how much I am loving this SUNSHINE?!

We then joined my sister and her husband at his parents’ house for our very first full on traditional Thanksgiving meal.  It was amazing!  We ate it so fast we forgot to take a picture, but the table was overflowing with:

  • turkey for the meat-eaters
  • roast salmon
  • cranberry jello pudding !!
  • sweet potato with some sort of cookie crust!
  • cornbread stuffing
  • mashed potato
  • corn on the cob
  • green beans

And coffee, pumpkin pie and chocolate pecan pie for pudding!

AMAZING!

We all went out for an extended family pootle on the bikes after stuffing ourselves:

image

 

 

Today is, I gather, something called BLACK FRIDAY which is all about shopping at ridiculous hours.  We cycled off at 5:30am to do our regular intervals session around the mall (sounds strange, I know, but actually it’s a great 2km track loop that is generally traffic-free at that hour) and it was FREEZING COLD.  There was a lot of car traffic at the mall this morning – who are these crazy people?!

image

Is that a perfect track or what?

 

 

It was 8 C (46 F) and I had to get out all my usual UK winter layers!  Good thing Rapha did a free repair on my winter tights after my crash this year!  We lost feeling in our hands and feet so before heading home we had to warm up with some Black Friday coffee first!

 

Poor bikes didn't get to come inside!

Poor bikes didn’t get to come inside!

 

 

50km later (31 miles), we still hadn’t warmed up. Time for a fire!  Who says winter doesn’t come to Florida?  🙂

BRRRRRR

What are your Thanksgiving traditions? We don’t have any yet, but I suspect a good bike ride and/or run will become a staple!

Do you do Black Friday?  Did you snag any good deals?  Maybe if there had been a bike shop doing a bonanza… !