Monday, 31 December 2012

Looking Back.....

In most walks of life, we are encouraged to keep looking forward, driving towards the future, and not to look back........but in some situations it can be beneficial.

The Festive Period, for most people (even if, like me, you only have the Public Holidays off work) gives you the chance to step back from the pressures of work, spend time with family and friends, eat, drink and sleep well, and think about the year that has passed as well as looking forward to what is to come.

Gateshead Event Director pointing out the course

I managed all of these, from going to a local parkrun (Gateshead parkrun in Saltwell Park) with my dad on Christmas morning (though admittedly it was more about enjoying the mulled wine, mince pies and chocolate brownies afterwards than it was about the run) to discussing (with my 4 year old nephew) the differences between him trying to run "farrrst" (long southern vowels) and me trying to run "fast" (short northern vowels) to learning about "Superworm" from my 2 year old niece, to eating all 4 different types of cake that my mum made (both Polish and English).

Vests of the year

Whilst catching up with friends old and new, I took the time to reflect back on 2012, which was a very beneficial experience. If you'd asked me what I remembered of my year in running, the initial things that sprang to mind were quite negative........developing plantar fasciitis and struggling with it for several months, forcing me to pull out of target races.......then some tendinitis interrupting training......and a "far from ideal" 50k.......but on thinking more deeply I have actually had a year that I can rightly be proud of.

I've travelled and raced well overseas (including in Warsaw with my family there) proudly worn several different vests (Dumfries Running Club, Nedbank International, Scotland, and the Scottish Vet Harriers), lowered several PBs, won some odd prizes, recovered from significant injury, but far and above it all......I've enjoyed my running and made many new friends! If 2013 has even half of these features, it'll be a great year and I look forward to meeting it head on!

Monday, 24 December 2012


Wigilia is the traditional Christmas Eve vigil supper in Poland, held on December 24. The word "Wigilia" derives from the Latin verb vigilare, "to watch", and literally means 'eve'. The feasting traditionally begins once the First Star has been sighted in the heavens at dusk (around 4-5p.m.) although we started slightly later than this as I had to drive over to Durham after finishing work.

A bundle of hay is placed under the tablecloth to symbolise the fact that Jesus was born in a manger. As a game, pieces of straw are drawn out from under the tablecloth to tell your fortune for the upcoming year, eg growing strongly, branching out, fruitful (though my mother is the best at turning her piece round to "help" predict her fortune! 

Another tradition is to leave one extra place-setting for an "unexpected guest". This is to celebrate the tradition of hospitality and inclusion. The empty seat is left open just in case a traveler, family member, or a friend knocks on the door, so there would be a place for them to join in the celebrations..........which our neighbours have learnt and profited from over the years!

The wafer
Our celebrations begin with a glass of vodka (modern technology is amazing as skype let us share this with family and friends in Scotland and Poland) and the breaking of the Christmas wafer (opłatek - a rectangular unleavened wafer, blessed by a priest, embossed with Christmas images to symbolise the bread eaten daily) and wishing each other good fortune in the upcoming new year. The opłatek is broken by the eldest and the youngest and pieces are given to everyone, who then break off a piece of their opłatek, and share it with everyone else, wishing them luck, joy and good fortune in the upcoming year (finalising the wish by a kiss on the cheek).

Barszcz with uszka
The awesome salmon
A traditional Christmas meal in Poland starts with czerwony barszcz (beetroot soup) and uszka (ravioli). Fish provides a main component of the Christmas Eve meal across Poland as Wigilia is observed as a Black Fast (meaning that most Poles abstain from eating meat on this day). Traditionally the fish is carp, but in the Zakrzewscy household we tend to prefer salmon. My mother excelled herself this year, and had the nicest salmon dish I think I've ever had......full of flavour and so moist. Other dishes include the compulsory sauerkraut and cabbage (kapusta), and walnut/potato croquettes.  
For dessert, there's makowiec (poppy seed roll), babka (panettone), piernik (honey-spiced cake), fruit compote and pierniczki (gingerbread cookies). 
The number of country courses is traditionally established to be twelve (symbolic of the number of months in the year as well as to celebrate the twelve disciples) in a similar manner to the British tradition of eating 12 mince pies over the festive season, so if we've not yet got to twelve, we make it up with dried fruit, nuts and chocolates!!

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Running for Fun

Lovely new snow!

This is a great time of the, not for the weather.....or for the fact that it's the season of overeating and overdrinking......but for the fact that for most people the race season has come to a close! Instead of hard training and worrying about times and distances, you can kick back, reflect on the year gone by, start to plan for the year ahead.....and just run for the love of it!

For me, it has meant a chance to get out on the hills without worrying about injury, a chance to play in the snow without worrying about slipping, and also a chance to enjoy catching up with friends on nights out.

Running past the neighbours

My "prize"

Starting the Christmas handicap
I have just kept my running ticking over.....when I want to (especially nice to run easy in the crunchy new snow), and where I want to (out in the countryside or the woods)......though the club Christmas handicap was a bit of a shock to the sytem. We all run a 5 mile route (almost the course of the Holywood Stroll) , but start times are staggered according to our race results over the past 6 months. Everybody brings an anonymous present worth about a fiver, and then people choose one in the order they cross the finish line (except that the winner gets last choice as they also get a trophy). It was nice to see everyone.....but my aim was to get back as quickly as possibly in order to get a present that looked like it might be chocolatey. I started 4th from the back but managed to work my way up to finish 11th out of the 30 runners, though my plan failed as the prize I chose turned out to be a box of crackers that may just have come out of the Ark! Still, I made up for it with a mincepie fest and a trip to see The Hobbit afterwards (though sitting still in a cinema seat for 3 hours was almost more painful than the 5 mile effort)!!

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Hexham Hobble - a fell race or an ice skate?

Trying to stay upright on the driveway

I am sure that I am not the only person who feels that they ought to show their appreciation for their parents more often, so it was nice to go across to Durham this weekend and spend some time with them. My parents seem to realise that a weekend without any type of running makes me poor company, so my mother did wake me up on Saturday morning by asking if I was going to go down to the local parkrun. Not wanting to run it hard, I thought it would be a good opportunity to give something back to the local running scene by going to volunteer. Luckily, I found out just before leaving the house that it was cancelled due to sheet ice....which was just as well, as I couldn't even get down the driveway in an upright position (and the driveway is rutted to help in icy conditions).

Sunday dawned clear and sunny but very I did wonder what on earth had possessed me to go and take in a fell race  (the Hexhamshire Hobble) on the way back home, as it was bound to be colder higher up in the hills. True to my prediction, the temperature gauge dropped to -3 as I drove to a friend's house so we could go to the race together. He had done the race several times before and so explained the course to me - road sections at the start and finish, with bits of rough fell and runnable wider trails in the middle. We headed off up round the route backwards as a warm up, so that I got a chance to see the run into the finish. It was incredibly icy just crossing the carpark to the grass, and a lot of care had to be taken to avoid slippy patches running down the road, which was a  real shame, as I had thought that the final road section would be my secret weapon.

Route and course profile

As we headed back, it seemed unnaturally quiet, and we realised with a shock that everyone was gathered at the start a full 5minutes early. We had a slight panic, hurdled a stone wall, skidded across the ice back to the car to ditch our jackets and pick up our bumbags containing the FRA (Fell Running Association) compulsory kit (full body waterproof cover, map, compass, whistle and emergency food) and made it to the start just in time. Well, when I say just in time, I was still bent double tying my laces when the gun went off! After leaving the field, the first mile and a half were on road - initially slightly downhill and then a steep climb up onto the fells. I knew that this would be a strong section for me, but the ice on the road meant that it was difficult to pass people safely.
When the marshall directed us off the road onto the fells, that was when the fun really started. It was a beautiful, sunny day, crisp and clear with great views (though I couldn't really appreciate it as I had to spend most of the time looking at my feet to avoid the ice). The snow from a couple of nights prior to the race had almost melted, and what was left had frozen, along with the bogs due to the flooding and rain of the week before. I actually found myself sitting on my backside in the middle of a 2m stretch of sheet ice at the 3 mile mark, but managed to get up and start running again without really noticing. I managed to catch up with the 2 men in front of me on a lovely stretch of wide runnable trail, but they moved ahead again as we queued up to have our numbers stamped before turning back onto the rutted icy rough moorland. This section was a long one and so several of the true fellrunners shot past me in their shorts (!). I actually really appreciated that, as it meant I could follow their line rather than try to pick out the best route, and hence avoided crashing through  more frozen puddles to soak my feet. I recognised their vests and so knew they had local knowledge, regularly training on those fells, so I tried to keep them in sight.

"Keep" trophy as I had to give the large gold one back!

Another road section meant I soon caught them up again and we then had a bit of friendly banter negotiating ice and they encouraged me to push on away from them. The last push up off the road and across the icy tops flew by as one of the marshals had told me that I was the first lady and also that there was cake and tea at the finish........I certainly wasn't keen to let anyone get at the cake before me!
Our recce of the finishing mile was brilliant as it meant that I could speed down that last bit of tarmac, knowing exactly which bits of road to avoid. I felt great, and flew into the finish at my road 10K pace, though did wait to cheer my friend in before hitting the cake.
Not being a natural hill runner, I was amazed to see the results and find out that I had finished in 12th position overall, over 7 minutes ahead of the 2nd lady, and only 2 minutes slower than Angela Mudge's 15 year old course record........though at the prizegiving, the announcer gave up and didn't even attempt to pronounce my name!