Marathon training week 2

With two weeks of marathon training under my belt, I entered Barcelona marathon. Now it’s official – I have to keep going. But the training last week went really well – running is awesome I love running. I know there’ll be bad weeks too but for now I’m happy to commit to this.

Run 1: the tempo run, on a sunny morning into work. It was meant to be six miles, 2 slow, 2 tempo, 2 slow, but as the boiler man had been round I was a bit late leaving home and had to cut the last mile short to make it to work on time! My garmin gave up on me meaning the tempo miles had to be entirely by feel (checking my phone to see the distance) – I’ve never tried to run to a specific pace before (except on a treadmill!) so I had no idea how that would play out. Turned out well. I was aiming for 9.16 a mile and ended up with 9.01 and 8.41 so I was happy.

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Run 2: treadmill intervals while watching David Attenborough. Not much to say about them – they were fine. 1 min fast, 2 mins slow. Next week I have to hold my “fast” pace for 3 minutes……

Run 3: the long run – 9 miles.
This was the only one that was mentally slightly difficult to get done – I’m always busy with a million and one things to do on a Saturday and I value my weekend lie-ins so getting up early to get it done first thing wasn’t for me. I went out for brunch with some friends and then spent almost an hour once I got home faffing around in trying to get ready. I also couldn’t help comparing it to my last long run in Spain the week before – running through South London on a grey, rainy November day is incomparable.

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But it never rained heavily and the drizzle stopped me getting too hot. And there is beauty even in south London it turns out!

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I had to run at 6:27 per km and I kept all almost 15 of my kilometres under that except one – I was running an out and back and at the turnaround I took a walk break for a minute which made that km slower. I felt strong, I felt happy, I felt as if I could keep running. Which is good seeing as I have to run a mile further this week and then almost 3 times as much for the actual marathon!

My cross-training involved one long sprint swim session that left me starving and exhausted, and 2 strength sessions. Cycling is really taking a back seat at the moment :/

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It was a wonderful “London” weekend, brunch with one set of friends on Saturday morning, an incredible dinner at a friend’s house on Saturday evening (including scallops, homemade macarons and homemade profiteroles),

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brunch AGAIN on Sunday morning and getting my nails done with a friend.

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This is now my last week working at Liberty doing human rights law before I return to my commercial law firm so I am going to make the most of it!

A very special bike ride

Every cyclist will have a few rides in their lives that are unforgettable. The reasons may vary, beautiful scenery, extremely difficult, something amazing happens or something awful happens. But when you cycle a lot, although many rides begin to merge into one, there are a few you will always remember. I think I’ve had four of these in my first two years of cycling! Undoubtedly some of the memories will fade as other rides become unforgettable but for now, I have four very special rides.

The first was Mount Ventoux in June this year – for the beauty of the mountain, the sheer scale of the challenge, the feeling of pride when we had conquered it – and for doing it with my sister.

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The second was an 80 mile cycle around the Isle of Mull – for the emptiness of the winding roads, the incredible headwinds, the most isolated climb I’ve done and again, the beauty of the island – and for spending a day cycling with my boyfriend. Even if he did keep cycling too close to me and refuse to drag me along the worst of the headwind.

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The third was my first 100 miler – for how incredibly difficult it was, the mental challenge of just keeping the legs turning, overcoming my fear of not being able to complete it, and how ridiculously happy I was when I had finally managed it – and for my uncle and cousins in making it a great day out.

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Finally – 50km half on and half off road in Andalucia last week. This one will stand out for the amazing views, more stunning and beautiful than any I’ve seen while on a bike, the challenge of a bumpy descent on a mountain bike, the huge plate of goat’s cheese we had at the end, and spending the day on a bike with my mum.

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It had been years since I cycled a bike with flat pedals and for the first half an hour of our ride I kept trying to clip out! We rented the bikes from our hotel, Casa Olea, for EUR15 for the day – they were in good condition, not hardcore mountain bikes but good enough for our paths, and to be cycled on the road as well. Brakes and gears worked perfectly. We set off along the road at first, heading from our little hotel to Luque, no clouds in the blue sky overhead and the November sun beating down hard. Within minutes the jacket came off as we worked our way gradually uphill through rolling olive fields and valleys towards Luque. Hot in mid-November, I can’t imagine what it’s like cycling up a hill in Andalucia in the summer – unbearable I imagine!

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After just over an hour, though only 10km (mountain bikes are slow on the road!) we freewheeled down a short hill into Luque, a pueblo blanco set on the steep slopes of a hill with its castle perched on a rocky outcrop at the top. We had to cycle up a very steep and narrow road through the centre of town – where I met a bus driver coming down while looking at his phone so I very quickly jumped my bike and myself onto the pavement whilst he passed! At the top of Luque we manouvered our way past the end of a running race and we were on the Buitreras Path – an 18k path over the top of the hill/mountain running from Luque to Carcabuey.

IMG_5336The road surface was sand/gravel and the path began on a gentle slope, winding its way along the side of a hill away from Luque. Soon we had stunning views back to the town, with the plains rolling away beyond it as far as the eye can see.

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After a few gently kilometres the path began to climb more steeply with a series of switch-backs – we spotted a very steep path in front of us and for a moment had a panic that we had to go up it but luckily this was just a farm track!

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The path flattened out at the top and we went past a small farm before reaching the other side of the mountain (I’ve now decided to call it a mountain as it went up to around 1500m).

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We now had views across the plains to Priego de Cordoba and the mountains of the Sierra Nevada. The sun however was casting a hazy glow over the scenery so it was not quite as spectacular as the other side.

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It was very cold as we started to descend, jackets were back on and I was glad of my short-fingered gloves, first for the cold and also for the vibrations. I went very slowly downhill, having never done it before offroad… and being pretty slow onroad as well! We dropped quickly down the back of the hill into another valley with an olive farm, a group of birdwatchers and a guy walking a huge dog.

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We curved around the hill and came out onto the plains, to cycle through an olive farm which reminded me of vineyards in southern France.

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We were getting closer to our lunch stop at Zagrilla Alta and had been told it was “pretty much” all downhill from here – so we were not impressed to be faced with a 15% climb! Luckily it had a few switchbacks and then was all over, we were traversing the side of the mountain into Zagrilla Alta which was visible in the distance.

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A wonderful lunch later including a huge plate of goat’s cheese, and we had just 10k to do to home. We were thinking it might take an hour given our average speed up to that point, but it turned out the rest truly was downhill and we sped home! To arrive after almost four and a half hours of cycling, 47km and 1000m of climbing, exhausted and happy. A ride to remember.

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If that wasn’t enough… we then set off (by car!) to explore Priego de Cordoba, a town that we were not overwhelmed with it as one of it’s main selling points is the great view – we had just had the same view but better all day! However we were looking for a cafe for a hot chocolate, and ended up finding one bustling with Spaniards that had a whole separate hot chocolate menu. One chocolate orange hot chocolate with whipped cream later I was about ready for my bed!

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Córdoba

Driving to Córdoba from the Sierra Subettica, the rows of olive groves gave way to rolling fields, usually full of cereal crops, harvested by November. The road soared up a hill and then Córdoba was visible before us, spread out along the Río Guadalquivir, with high, forested hills and dark black clouds behind.

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We drove straight into the city and parked in the first car park we came to, before walking into the old town through a Roman gate in the city walls.

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Córdoba, like much of Andalucia, has an incredibly long and rich history, much of which is still visible today. It was first an important town in the Roman ages as the capital of ‘Hispania Ulterior’.

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It was then conquered by the Visigoths during the disintegration of the Roman Empire, and then became the capital of the Umayyad Islamic Emirate in the 8th century. It was an Islamic city until the Reconquista in 1236. It was a very important city throughout the world in these days, perhaps the biggest in the world in the 10th century and one of the most advanced, known for religious toleration.IMG_5296

The old town is now a UNESCO world heritage site and history is visible wherever you turn. The streets are narrow and cobbled, the houses white with iron balustrades dressed in colourful flowers. Here and there a wooden door is open, allowing a peak into a blue tiled foyer and through into a bright and colourful courtyard. We wandered along to the river bank, an area recently restored, and crossed the old Roman bridge, gazing down at the rushing water beneath us and back to the immediate skyline of Córdoba – a Roman gate and the Mezquita. It had been raining and everything was sparkling, blue sky beginning to show through the dark clouds.

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We spent most of the day just wandering through the streets of old Córdoba, with a trip to the archaeological museum to see the remains of the Roman theatre and learn about the city’s history, and then out to the food market – a bright, airy building filled with different food stalls, selling meat, wine, bocadillos (sandwiches) filled with cheese, ham, tuna. All wonderfully fresh and displayed really attractively. However, we decided we wanted a more relaxed, longer lunch and walked back through the city to Bodegos Campos. The restaurant here is apparently very posh and expensive – the type of place the celebrities go when they come to Córdoba. But the bar is dark and cosy – and completely empty at 1pm as they didn’t start serving lunch until 1.30pm. We sat in a little corner, had a glass of house red each (delicious and only €2.50) and read our books until lunch time. Lunch was a plate of jamón bellota, fried aubergines with honey (these were so light and non-greasy we could barely believe they were the fried aubergines – crunchy and incredibly tasty), a huge plate of soft potatoes mixed with ground chorizo and topped with a fried egg, and wonderful ham croquettes – when cut open the inside oozed onto the plate. Needless to say we were very happy – especially with a bill of less than €45 including tip, 3 glasses of wine and 1 diet coke!

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It had been raining again whilst we’d had lunch but the sun was now out in earnest and it was really warm. Time for the Mezquita – an incredible building, once one of the most important centres of worship in the Islamic Spanish empire, later a Cathedral.

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Here is the architectural evidence of the mingling and intersections of the religions that has had such an important influence on Spanish history, here, in one (pretty large) building are the Romans, the Moors, the Reconquistas. And the building is also a manifestation of Spain’s difficulties in coming to terms with such a varied, and non-Catholic history (Muslims are still not allowed to worship here despite many formal requests and campaigns).

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We entered through old walls and incredibly ornate arches into a wide courtyard filled with orange trees, we bought our tickets and then entered the cool exterior, into the oldest part of the building.

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Immediately we caught our breath – beautiful red and white pillars almost as far as the eye can see, part of the floor covered over with glass at one point to reveal a Roman mosaic, ornate arches, Islamic azulejos (blue ceramic tiles) and Quranic inscriptions, and then the ornate gold decorations of a Catholic cathedral right in the middle.

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The mosque was converted into a Catholic cathedral after the Reconquista, for example turning the minaret of the mosque into the bell tower of the Cathedral.  Some say it has ruined the unique beauty of the mosque, the Cathedral being similar to one that can be found anywhere in the world (even the Emperor Charles V said this!) Others point out that perhaps the Cathedral prevented the building from being destroyed during the Inquisition.

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Either way, the contradiction between the two makes for a spectactular building and a beautiful and peaceful place to spend some time, no matter your religion. We stepped out, blinking into the light, marvelling over the beauty and ostentatiousness of religious buildings…. and returned back to Casa Olea for a nap. Sightseeing is tiring.

Running a marathon if you’re a triathlete (week 1)

I am training for a marathon. I haven’t actually entered a marathon. I might not enter a marathon. But I’m training for one none-the-less. I have in mind the Barcelona marathon for the following reasons:

1- it’s two weeks after I move to Spain so makes sense to do one in Spain
2- as it’s the middle of March it leaves plenty of time for recovery and then a July triathlon
3- I don’t really have a third reason.

Why am I thinking about running a marathon?

1 – I read so many blogs where people run them that it got me inspired
2 – I need something to make me run over the winter. I am so bad at skipping workouts if I’m not actually training for something.
3 – my run is my weak spot. Even though marathon training isn’t normally recommended for triathletes, I can’t possibly see how running three times a week, including endurance runs, tempo and intervals won’t improve my running!
4 – I’d just quite like to.

So there you have it – not very well thought-out reasons I admit! I have chosen to use the FIRST running plan – I came across this when Amanda on the Run to the Finish blog did a really interesting series profiling the different marathon training methods – here is her article on the FIRST plan. I immediately liked it because it means I only (ha!) have to run three times a week, and I have to cross-train. As a triathlete who will want to keep up biking and swimming at slightly lower levels throughout marathon training, that appeals a lot.

I’m using this plan as I liked how it is based on my 10k time / planned marathon pace. I’m hoping to run in under 4 and a half hours. I want a good time but I’m willing to admit I’m not really sure what that is. I thought 4 hours, but then so many bloggers see 4 hours as the “holy grail” and try and try to get to that so I thought it might be a bit premature to aim there for my first marathon! Having never run longer than 8 miles, I really have no idea what speeds I’ll be able to hold.

So this week was my first week of marathon trainingIt was also a week in which I went to Andalucia in Spain with my mum for some running, biking and hiking. More blogs will be coming on that subject but the first, on a lovely run and a hike, is up here. Lovely pictures as well, not because I’m great at taking them but just because the scenery was so absolutely incredible.

Due to our holiday, I did 12 and a half hours of training – and it was all wonderful.

1) first marathon training run – an intervals run on the treadmill. 10 min warm up, 6×4 mins (1 min fast (12km/hr), 3 mins slow), 10 min cool down. I enjoyed this – I had David Attenborough on my ipad, the fast was hard but only for a minute and I always felt like I could manage it.

2) Strength training session with a trainer at the gym. He is focussing on my muscle imbalances that I have as a result of minor scoliosis in my teens. Really hoping his exercises will stop my knee pain!

3) second marathon training run – meant to be a tempo run but the tempo part of it ended up just being trying not to slow down too much on the big hills I was running up!

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4) long hike up over the mountains

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5) 5 hr off-road cycle ride through the mountains

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6) third marathon training run – the long run! The programme starts with an 8 mile run, perfect as it was just about the furthest I’ve ever run. I’ll blog about this in detail as it was just so beautiful but for now – we kept just under a 6min/km pace. We had really really tired legs after the long and hilly cycle ride the previous day and I was moaning by the end, but we managed it. So who knows how fast I could go on fresh legs?!! Positive outlook :D

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We also did lots of sightseeing in various Andalucian villages and towns – Zuheros, Priego de Cordoba, Cordoba, Antequera… more on that coming in future blogs!

Running and hiking in Andalucia

On a mid-November morning in Andalucia the clouds hang grey over the hills and mountains. The roads are lined with olive trees, their branches hanging low, laden with the black fruit. It is the beginning of the olive harvest and every now and then groups of men surround a tree, lay a net out on the ground to catch the olives, and begin the arduous process of harvesting. Despite the grey skies, it is a warm day – temperatures can reach over 20C at this time of year – and we are going for a run.

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We are staying in Casa Olea, in the Sierra Subettica, a national park in Andalucia in between Malaga, Córdoba, and Grenada. We are here to run, walk, cycle, eat incredible foods and drink delicious wine and we couldn’t be staying anywhere better to tick all of those things off our list. I went slightly overboard at breakfast and helped myself to a few spoonfuls of melon topped with pomegranate seeds, a boiled egg, a slice of chorizo, a slice of manchego cheese, and TWO homemade muffins. An hour later I felt all this had finally gone down and we set out for our run!

We were running a roughly 11k loop from Casa Olea and through two tiny villages called El Tarajal and Fuente Alhama – the second a little more than a pig farm! It was a beautiful run in which we kept catching our breath to exclaim either about how lovely the scenery was, or if we were really going to have to run up that road in the distance which seemed to be almost vertical… (The answer was almost always yes). The olive trees were ever present as far as the eye could see, along with wild Orange trees, almond trees and pomegranate trees. Only the olives are “farmed”, as they have been in this region since the Roman trees.

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The road took a steep uphill, a lovely fast downhill, and then a long slog uphill with several switchbacks. I was planning on involving two tempo miles in this run, but with the long climbs I decided to just try my hardest not to slow down too much! It was the perfect temperature for running, not too horribly hot but in no way cold. It was lovely. In the end we managed 11k at an average pace of 6.15min/km with 214m climbing.

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Back at Casa Olea, we showered & jumped in the car for a 20 minute drive to Zuheros, a “pueblo blanco” nestled on the hillside by a gorge and some rocky crags. Pueblos Blancos are exactly that… White villages. And they are beautiful.

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Especially as the sun had now burned off the clouds leaving behind clear blue skies and a view for miles.

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This one had a castle and an open square over looking the olive plains below so we stopped for a lunch of croquettes.

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How lovely to be sat outside in November!

Post-lunch we set out on a four hour hike, beginning through the Zuheros gorge. It’s an incredible walk although almost all uphill!

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First steeply, then more gently as we wound our way up the gorge, crossing over the “spring” several times – in inverted commas as it was still dry in mid-November! There are numerous caves set into the limestone rock face including one with the skeleton of a deer – obviously had been there a long time as only the bones were left.

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At the top of the gorge we walked up through a forest and then came out onto a wide open grassy slope, with views of miles and miles of hills.

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On upwards past a sheep farm and a ruined old cortijo and by this time the clouds were starting to congregate again. It was noticeably colder ad I was getting slightly worried as I was wearing jeans and had stupidly forgotten a waterproof.

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We were pretty near the top of a craggy rock face by now and soon started descending down a rugged sandy track, meeting a jeep filled with hay-bales for the sheep, bouncing it’s way up. 

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We made it back onto a road just as it started to rain. The road curved down the mountain side away from us, but despite thinking we were relatively near to Zuheros, there was no sign of the village. We broke into a little trot down the hill but soon stepped as it levelled out – walking boots caked in mud are not conducive to running! This little run had brought us out of the rain though…..  But still no sign of Zuheros.

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We were slightly worried as we were sure we had started around the mountain to the left, but the road was twisting around the road to the right. How much further was it going to be? We came to a layby and looked over one side. Maybe that was the gorge where we’d started? But where was Zuheros? A few more steps to the other side of the layby and there it was, lying right beneath us!

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We were almost home. The rain had just caught up with us as we walked through the deserted cobbled streets back to the car. Home for a large glass of wine and a huge plate of paella, cooked by a local chef who cooks paella for the entire local village during festivals. And VERY early to bed after walking 16k and running 11k in one day!

Week in Review – dragging myself to the pool

Swimming is my best time for thinking up blog posts. There’s not much else to concentrate on other than the monotonous repetition of elbow high, catch, rotate, breathe, keep staring at the bottom of the pool, how many lengths is that now? Obviously I completely forget everything I was thinking about writing as soon as I’m out of the pool……..

Work gave me a task on Friday which meant I didn’t have to go into the office but instead had to do a lot of driving around London. As a result I had more time to myself in the morning than usual. Here are my thought processes over the last few days:

Friday 7am – alarm goes off, time to swim. I don’t want to, I’m tired, I’m not sure how much time I have this morning, I really don’t want to get out of bed. I’ll do it later in the morning.

Friday 11am – I really have to swim now if I’m going to have time to do it, but what am I going to do in the pool? My legs are tired so anything involving kicking won’t work. Hmmmm I need to hang the washing out. And read this magazine… About Tri training. Oh. Now it’s too late to swim. Damn, I really wanted to go swimming!

Saturday 8am – time to get up for park run. My mouth feels a bit dry from that white wine last night. I’m a little bit tired. Oh well, out of bed….. It’s really grey and windy. I just don’t want to run. I don’t need to. This is meant to be fun. No one can make me do it. I’m going back to bed to read about training instead.

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All of Saturday afternoon – I really should go for a swim. I’ll go in a minute. The latest I can possibly leave the house if I’m going to have time is 5.30pm. Oh it’s pouring with rain. I don’t want to get soaked on my way to…. Swim….. Now I’m just being pathetic. I should go. But it’s raining so hard. It’s 5.40pm… Is there time? GO SWIMMING ALICE.

So I went swimming. For half an hour. My aim had been to time myself for a non-stop 1500m – a test at the beginning of the offseason that I could then repeat later on. Annoyingly I didn’t leave myself enough time for that so the test turned into how far I could swim in 30 minutes. 1350m it turned out – just 150m shy of the 1500m.

I think it’s quite a good swim session to do when you don’t have time, when either you’re really busy, or really lazy (like me). It’s hard mentally. I spent most of the session making excuses up as to why I should stop earlier. But while my mind was thinking of those excuses, my arms and legs were powering me through the water and occasionally I managed to bring my thoughts back to my technique. More work to be done……

The week itself involved a not-too-embarrassing amount of exercise (almost 5 and a half hours) & a whole load of socialising.

Monday was a hill session on the gym bike, Tuesday was post-work strength training, Wednesday morning some more strength training, a short run to work on Thursday, the above swim on Saturday and a 18 mile cycle on Sunday.

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The cycle was with a family friend who’s a very good cyclist. He cycled beside me the whole way at about my top speed, chatting the whole way without ever sounding out of breath as I gasped out my answers trying desperately to sound nonchalant!

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James went off to Chicago on Wednesday for a philosophy conference but luckily I ended up without a moment to get lonely. Lambeth fireworks on Wednesday night at Brockwell Park were wonderful, a huge bonfire, cups of hot cider & brilliant fireworks.

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IMG_5115Then I went out for dinner on Thursday with my dad and his wife to Baku, an Azerbaijani restaurant in Chelsea. The food was delicious, especially Shah Plov – a dish of meat and rice in a pastry-type case.

Drinks & chocolate cake at a friend’s house on Friday night, and then on Saturday we went to the Joint in Brixton for huge pulled pork burgers (review in this post), then onto Shrub & Shutter for cocktails (full review here). A word of warning – don’t pick the cocktail involving chicken stock & chicken skin! It was good for my cold as it was quite spicy but not particularly tasty……..

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And then I spent Sunday afternoon playing with a toddler and chatting to her parents. A lovely way to round off a weekend!

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The end of October

I love sitting in a taxi speeding through London late at night, eyes blurring with sleep, a memory on every street. It is Halloween and the pavements are busy – it’s over 20 degrees on the 31st October and London is bathing in the late warmth, drunk zombies, nurses, vampires, Cowboys…. And fireworks going off into the sky.

I can’t believe we are in November now – it might get dark before I leave work, and the streets might be orange-brown from fallen leaves, but the blue skies and the warmth have made it still feel like summer! Just over the weekend the temperature has plummeted  and today is a gorgeous winter’s day.

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October was a busy month for socialising but not so much for exercise…..

So in October I….

Cycled just over 232km – thank god for that one 100 mile cycle as other than that, cycling to work and the occasional spin class I have done very little cycling!

Ran 24.4km in 4 runs – one run home from work, two loops around the Serpentine in my lunch break, and one run around Brockwell Park. I meant to do Park Run every Saturday this month but failed every time, snuggling back under the duvet with my book when the alarm went off! Oh well.

Swam 6300m in 4 swims – one a week will do for me in the off-season!

I also read SO many books after a few months of reading very little:

Dervla Murphy – Full Tilt: Ireland to India with a bicycle – This book is FANTASTIC and I would really, really recommend it

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – FeminismNot sure this can really be counted as a book as it’s just a short written down version of a lecture Adichie gave, but it’s really good, especially on the issues of race and feminism.

Chrissie Wellington – A life without limits – A link to my review below, I LOVED this book, Chrissie is incredible and again I would hugely recommend this.

Dervla Murphy – Wheels within wheels – Dervla Murphy’s autobiography of life growing up in rural Ireland, caring for her disabled mother for around 17 years. A really interesting, searingly honest depiction of the impact of a religious upbringing, a love of books and the outdoors, growing discovery of sexuality, and the difficulties of caring for a loved one. The end of the book is incredibly sad as Dervla hides nothing in describing the toll that giving up her youth to care for her mother had on their relationship, and on Dervla’s mental health.

Jane Shemilt – DaughterI was really gripped by this book and finished it in a day – while I found the end disappointing and slightly rushed, overall I enjoyed it. The main character is a mum, a busy GP, who’s teenage daughter disappears. The story switches back and forth between the current day, around a year after the disappearance, and the time immediately leading up to and after the disappearance. Like all of these stories, nothing is quite as it seems. Just a shame that the last 1/4 let the book down.

On the blog there were…..

A lament for the days of open water swimming with some tips for keeping the swimotivation in the off-season

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Followed by …. Swim sets! A long one, a fast one, and a technique set (body rotation and using fins)

A description of my first 100 mile cycle around the South Downs

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Book reviews! 10 reasons to love Chrissie Wellington after reading her autobiography, A Life Without Limits, Dervla Murphy’s story of cycling alone from Ireland to India

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My best moment in October is again a toss-up between:

1) finishing my first 100mile cycle and the ginormous sense of achievement that brought. I couldn’t help but remember how much I had struggled around 45 miles just two years ago and how far I’ve come since then. I shed a little tear of pride and tiredness as I drove back up to London that night; and

2) some wonderful opportunities at work, meaning I haven’t been able to stop smiling whenever thinking or talking about work all month. I am so incredibly lucky currently to be getting paid to do work that a) is so interesting, b) means so much to me, and c) is with such inspirational people.

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Right now I am….

Reading – more Dervla Murphy! In this book she is hiking through Ethiopia. I am not enjoying it quite as much as the Ireland to India book – it is slightly later in her career, but before she became really passionate about politics, and so there are quite a few dry historical passages that seem to have been mainly taken out of a guidebook. But as always, her dry comments on her physical state and need for a beer/cigarette after a day of hard walking always have me smiling, together with her no-holds barred comments on Ethiopian people and culture.

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Excited about:

- bonfire night! James is away so I’m going with some friends to Brockwell Park fireworks show. Time for hot mulled cider held between gloved hands and pulling a hat close down over my ears. Although given the current weather it could be a bonfire night in shorts and t-shirts!!

- a holiday to Spain with mum. We’re going for five days to the mountains in Andalucia, between Córdoba, Granada and Madrid. We’re staying in a lovely, tiny boutique hotel and plan on hill walking and trail running, perhaps with some open water swims if the water’s warm enough. Oh and lots of tapas and sangria of course.