Thursday, 23 December 2010

A run (or more) in the snow

Today was the fourth time this week that I went out to run in the snow. 

After the serious snowfall of last Saturday and my Pisa marathon plans falling apart at the same time, I am taking these couple of weeks easy (it is the holidays after all!) . But I am  trying to run often, to keep my fitness levels up and be able to start strong with my new running goals! 

This week it meant running in the snow every single day, without worrying about speed and distance travelled. I just wanted to enjoy running again and to take in as much of Oxford's parks as I could. I went to University Parks, Headington Park and South Parks.  Through Mesopotamia... To Port Meadow. All white, frozen, beautiful, serene... 


The weir.

River Cherwell.

University Parks.

University Parks.

Port Meadow.

My goal was to run safely and have fun listening to the dance music in my MP3 as Lisa, my regular running companion these days, plunged into the deeper snow patches with utmost joy.

My friend Angelike who comes from Vermont and is used to running in the snow when she goes back home, had told me to start by taking small short steps. I followed her advice. 

Before venturing out, either in my trail (Salomon XT Wings) or cross country (Adidas Kanadia 2) shoes to provide a better grip, I also read a couple of internet posts out there, containing relevant info. I was prepared!

One was blogger Arun Shambag's post from a couple of years ago with tips for running on snow and ice ( He offers precious advice coming from a very experienced man! 

"If there is any amount of snow or ice on the roads or trails", Arun says, "Run Slow! Speed work can stay for another day. For the long run, just plan on clocking the miles and making it back without getting hurt!" Very wise words, especially when like today the snow trails are really slippery and running feels like ice skating a bit! 

And then a web only article on the Running Times website, which I read a few days ago, also made my day and inspired me to just go out there and run! It was so spot-on on the psychological benefit of not giving up under challenging weather conditions, that you just had to go and do it! RUN! 

"It isn’t a physical hardiness that separates the winter runners from non-runners," says Running Times writer Joel Wolbert, "but more of a mindset. Winter is not an affliction; it can be a welcome challenge. Those of us who run outside during all four seasons have adopted strategies for coping with hardships. They can be purely practical ways to keep motivated, but they can also be romantic: finding beauty within the pain". 

If you are looking for some inspiration to keep on running through deep winter, please read the rest of this great article at

And then just go and RUN!

Have a very Merry Christmas, everyone!

Monday, 20 December 2010

No Pisa no marathon

So, the Arctic winter in Europe meant I couldn't run my Pisa marathon in the end.

We were never able to even leave England. We arrived in Stansted on Friday evening and went through passport control and security without any problems. And then we looked at the screens to find out our gate, only to discover that our Ryanair flight to Pisa had just been cancelled. 

I am OK writing about it now, but I can tell you this. It was sheer shock, what I felt on Friday. Not a good day for me. Tears and more tears as the realisation of my recent bad marathon luck (in Athens the flu, this time the bad weather) hit home. I wouldn't be able to run a good marathon any time soon.

We looked for other flights to get to Italy, from other UK airports and to other Italian destinations. We had no luck. Pisa had just had the worse snowfall of the past 30 years, we were told, over 30 cm of snow, and the tiny airport 'Galileo Galilei' had succumbed to tons of the white stuff. We considered getting to Milan, Florence, Bologna, Rome, even Naples... Either all flights were booked by Italian students going home for Xmas, or the only one flight we could find was so expensive and near the time of the race start (arriving in Bologna Saturday evening, which meant I wouldn't get to Pisa before 10 at night) that it made no sense booking it. I would be so tired even if we did manage to get to Pisa on time... Tears and more tears... 

The way back home to Oxford was a nightmare as the snow seemed to have arrived for good not only in Italy but in England as well. It is hard enough fighting the weather on the one end of the travel itinerary, let alone on two. It took us two hours to drive a mile and a half on the A34 due to an incident on the road. 
Trapped in Oxfordshire's A34 on Saturday afternoon.

Eventually we got back exhausted but happy we were safe at home. You don't want to be outside when conditions are so extreme. We were in desperate need of a drink, so we immediately hit the pub! That would have been my race night and here I was gulping mulled wine and trying to walk across Oxford in deep snow! 

Our street in Oxford upon arrival.
Let's escape to the pub!

The race was in the back of my mind a lot and I felt with a mixture of sadness, dissapointment and  yes, some self-doubt too. Did I do everything I could to get to Pisa or did I give up too easily? Should I have paid the 700 pounds of the British Airways Saturday evening flight to Bologna? 

Well, any doubts I might have had quickly evaporated later on Saturday night when I received the following text message on my mobile: "Due to very bad weather conditions and to avoid personal injuries we are forced to cancel Pisa Marathon (42K and 21 K). For info visit". 

So there was to be no race at all! The race itself was never to happen!  There would be no start in Pontedera on Sunday morning!

Well, this had never happened to me before! But everything was beyond mine and Colin's control. So even though I am deeply dissapointed, at the same time I am also glad we never went to Italy and we were never stranded in any airport like the thousands of travelers we are now watching on the news. Leaving Stansted swiftly was a good decision, in retrospect. 

I am feeling very sorry for the race organisers (shout out to you, Andrea Maggini!) in Pisa who had given so much of their personal dedication and time to lay out a fast and safe race through Tuscany. It must surely be so horrible to see your race being cancelled (by the police, for safety reasons) at the very last minute - after the marathon expo and after all the runners have received their bips and chips and have already moved on to the pasta party. I suspect the threat of ice must have been really severe in Pisa, just as it is in Oxford at the moment. 

A walk along the beautiful and very frozen Oxford canal.

Playing with the snow in Port Meadow.
After all these disuptions, I took the entire weekend off running. Yesterday we played in the snow with Lisa and had a grand wintry pub lunch with close friends to celebrate Colin's birthday. Today I am ready to run through the snow to get to the gym and hit the treadmill. Soon I will have to reavaluate my running plans.

Monday, 13 December 2010

Cramming for a marathon?

Do you remember the days when we were at school and we had a test the next day and of course we had to put in an all-nighter because we hadn't prepared well enough during the whole semester? Fortunately I did not have to do many of these, I was one of the diligent ones, but those that I did were so traumatic that I will never forget them!
The fatigue, the stress, the overcaffeinated body... Not for me, thank you very much.
So, why did I get that horrible feeling of cramming when I was doing one of my last runs before Pisa marathon today? I only had to run for 50 mins and on these final sessions I don't even have to keep the pace, they are free runs as much as that is possible.
But there I was, running through the foggy and freezing University Parks, my lovely and faithful Lisa following me around when she wasn't busy chasing squirrels. And all I was doing was to remember my cramming days at school.
"Am I supposed to be feeling light and in top form now?" I was thinking. 
Because I don't think I felt like that. I felt a bit heavy, a bit struggling with myself and the cold. And all I could think was that my running schedule for the past few weeks has been less than smooth. The necessary rest after the Athens marathon, then the seriously freezing temperatures in Oxford, the snow, then another bout of the flu, the skiing weekend, the long run on the treadmill last week that endowed me with a huge toe blister... All these obstructed my running and made it much more difficult than I like to.
Less than ideal preparation for a marathon, I am sure.

But what is done is done. I don't think that these next few running sessions are going to contribute much to my physical conditioning anyway. Hopefully they can contribute to my self-confidence, though? That would be really something!
I need some good running for the rest of the week. Really! I am running a MARATHON on Sunday!

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Photo of the week

South Parks is one of my favorite places for running in Oxford. Here is what it looked like on Tuesday afternoon. Frosty, frosty, frosty! But so beautiful, too! Ah, those dreamy sunset colours...

Yeah, yeah, I know it was supposed to be  just one photo but I just can't choose among them. I like them all! Please help me choose! Which one do you prefer?

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

What I learned from a skiing weekend in Passo Tonale, Italy

So (another) mini break from the marathon training was inevitable, as Colin had booked  for us ages ago (long before we even knew I would go for the Pisa marathon) a skiing weekend in Italy. A chance to meet up with good friends and have some fun (on the slopes though not without a bit of guilt for leaving my long runs behind). What can you do? Just enjoy!

Passo del Tonale

 We are back in Oxford now and this is what I got back with me from lovely (and very cold!) Passo Tonale in the Dolomites:
1. Skiing is hard work, but not as much as running. Runners are really well, well ummm equipped, to deal with the hardships of skiing - with stronger than average buttocks  quadriceps and knees. No getting stiff from skiing for this runner! 
2. Opt for blues rather than reds or blacks if you are planning to race soon and want to stay injury-free. 
3. Running a 12k on the hotel's treadmill and then hitting the slopes is as good a workout as you can get at 1600m altitude. 
View from the treadmill room
4. A chilly -7oC just outside the Sport Hotel Vittoria, where we stayed, and even less than that up on the mountain is great excuse for a hearty lunch like scallopines with thick mushroom sauce at the rifugio. Delicious!
5. Nothing like a Cafe Marochino (with Baileys, chocolate, coffee and milk) to keep the windchill factor at bay. 
6. Snow tyres are a must for getting there and back, and in terms of equipment, if you go this early in the season, you might just get lucky and manage to rent a brand new pair of ski boots and skis at a very good price.
The slopes
7. Running is so much hassle-free compared to skiing - you do appreciate more being able to just get up and go! Oh, and running shoes are so much more comfortable than ski boots!
8. Should finally try out cross-country and snowshoeing next time we go (in early February, most probably). 
9. I am not a natural born runner (everything I achieve requires very hard work and effort from my part), but even more so I am not a natural born skier! Never mind, though! The joy of being on the mountain is enough to keep me going! 
10. Staying safe on the slope and on the run (especially in conditions of ice and low viz) is absolute must for maximum enjoyment. Mission achieved!

Me, freezing!

Thursday, 2 December 2010

How to boost immunity

Τhis is not exactly a how-to post, despite its title. I mean I really don't know how to avoid those dreadful winter colds. That is my conclusion from the past month. I am currently recovering from the second cold in less than 30 days. 

I am not sure if this is related to the unprecedented bad weather casting its spell over England at the moment, or the fact that I am Mediterranean, definitely not used to this kind of weather for more than 2-3 days a year, if at all, be it here or anywhere else in the world. But if I want to survive through this English winter and be able to train at the same time, I really ought to do something asap to stay healthy for longer periods of time.

This is obviously a vast subject. On which, I repeat, I am clearly not an expert! Fortunately, while attending a Nutrition workshop organised by Oxfordshire Sports Partnership yesterday, I posed the question to certified Sports nutritionist Gavin Allinson of ( and (

Being an active athlete himself, he offered some personal as well as professional advice on what keeps him healthy before a race: "Start taking all the immune supplements ahead of time, combined with a low background anti-inflamattory diet" he said.

Gavin speaks from experience. He is a rower and recently felt sick right before competing for the British Indoor Rowing Championships. He told us that the battle for immunity requires a concerted as well as timely effort. "I now start boosting my immune system about three weeks before an important race. I have decided to be more proactive".

And, perhaps, so should I!

Short video
Gavin even made a video speaking about his recent experience, which you can find on the first page of the Sports Nutrition Vlog. Or you can watch it here:

Gavin's Immunity boosting strategy
1. Increase doses of Vit C and echinacea (4-5 times a day, up to bowel tolerance, then back off by 1000mg).
2. Elevate uptake of Glutamine (10grams three times per day).
3. Increase use of colostrum, the first and extremely nutritional cow's milk. 
4. Incorporate Manuka honey, widely thought to have antibiotic properties, in daily diet. 
5. Chicken broth daily, ideally with tom yum spices. 

On travel 
The above also come high in the recommendations' list of Matt Lovel, Gavin's colleague, who is the nutritionist of England Rugby Team as well as of reknown distance runner Mo Farah. 
Elsewhere in their website ( Matt also recommends the following in case of travel:
- Take glutamine every day that you are away, starting the last week before you leave.
- Take zinc and vitamin C losenges before and during the flight.
- Take some hardcore immune boosters with your 1st aid kit for holiday (by hard core he means an immune vitamin pack or some Chinese herbs).

That reminds me. Have I packed my zinc supplements for our  skiing trip tο Ιtaly tomorrow? I don't think so! See you later!

Friday, 26 November 2010

Season not over yet

So, it is official. The marathon season has been now extended until December 19. I am giving it another go, having already booked flights and hotel, and securing my bip number for the Pisa marathon.
I was so bummed I got sick on the week of the Athens Classic Marathon I just had to give it another go. Luckily we managed to find some dead cheap Ryanair tickets to Italy and so, Pisa here we come!

How do I feel about this extension to my marathon preparation? Well, feelings are mixed, I have to admit. It is getting more and more difficult every day to follow a marathon training schedule here in Oxford, as winter has already established its firm foothold.
It was minus two degrees Celsius here today and I was supposed to do one of my last long runs, a 25K. Did I do it? No, because I have a sore throat and after the Athens marathon fiasco, everytime I get even a slight hint of a cold, I just cool off and take it easy. I just don't want to take any risks.
So, it is me at home today, together with my losenges and my lemsips. I am having a rest day and being busy by arranging my books in the white Ikea Billy bookcase that Colin just put up by the house entrance. Quite a project by itself that, I don't think it is finishing anytime soon!
If I am feeling better by tomorrow I will go to the gym for a bit of interval training (8x1200m). The 25k is postponed till Monday. Hopefully the temperature might rise somewhat by then.

It is also getting dark earlier, and it is just so hard to motivate myself to go and run in the cold after it has gotten dark. I am finding it harder to wake up in the mornings, too. And I fall asleep ridiculously early, for me anway.
You could say perhaps that my body is ready to go into hibernation mode. And it is only the Pisa project that at present time is getting in the way! Luckily the days are passing fast, and I am sure that before we know it we will be ready to board that plane.

Let's see what happens...

Saturday, 6 November 2010

Six days later...

... the only thing that remains to remind me that I was indeed sick and exactly how bad my pre-marathon flu was is a nagging chesty cough that simply won't go away. I can't believe I still haven't fully recovered, but then I knew that running a marathon with a flu still there is not the wisest thing to do.
And as I am now slowly taking up courses towards a coaching license here in the UK, if an athlete of mine wanted to do what I did last Sunday, it would definitely be a no-no. Simply too risky and bound to take a heavy toll on the body. I mean you already have no hope of a good performance anyway, so what's the point?
Yes, I know that it is a great dissapointment, especially when you have invested four or five months of your training and some of the rest of your life too, in preparing for this particular race. And when you have worked so hard towards a PB and all. Yes, I know. But life is tough and s''' happens. And when it does you just have to deal with it the best way that you can.

So, I definitely would not have entered the marathon race in Athens had it not been for the 2500 years from the Battle of Marathon anniversary. It was a commemorative edition and I simply had to be there. The week before the race was a nightmare in terms of how bad I was feeling because of the cold and also in terms of how stressed I was about whether I would make it to the start line or not. The truth is race week was a battle against the clock in itself. I think that mentally when I started the marathon I was completely exhausted. That's why today I don't recall running a marathon last Sunday, I was so tuned off rather in tune with my body. Just getting to the finish line was all that I wanted.

Luckily I managed to reach it without any major mishaps. I stopped and walked three times, just making sure that I got some rest to keep me going. After the 5th km I stopped looking at my stopwatch more or less, and just kept on moving. A lovely volunteer gave me her cap at the 10th km when I had started to feel the sun hitting me hard. My breathing was just barely controlled but even worse were my legs on the uphill sections. That's when I realised how much the flu has taken out of me, how weak I was. I slowed down considerably after that, perhaps even more than I really needed just to be on the safe side.

Reaching the Panathinaikon Stadium (for the fourth time so far in my life!), was a hugely exhilarating moment. It is one of these things that you have to live at least once in your lifetime. The only reason perhaps why I would recommend to anyone to try running a marathon at least once. This time round, I had no worries for time so I celebrated running to the finish line by waving my arms to the amazing crowds, jumping up and down and doing all sorts of crazy stuff, like a child!

It was all over, I had managed to get to the finish line, about 35 minutes later that I had originally hoped for, but managed to do it nonetheless.

The medal, all shiny and gold and huge, truly a commemorative one, rightly has gone to my Mom, who did everything she could to "revive" me when I landed in Athens on Wednesday evening so weak that I could not even drive home. Four days of chicken soup, hot baths with eukaluptus oil, alcohol rubbing, sitting by the fireplace, drinking fresh pomegranate and orange juice, gulping huge amounts of vit c, echinacea, ginseng, tonotil, and what have you, did quite a good job, considering.

Now that I am back in Oxford I can't help feeling a bit of dissapointment at the outcome of this marathon preparation, and I still feel that I have a bit of an unfinished business with the marathon. This was going to be the last one for a while, but now I think there is room for one more, provided it is not too far away in the future. So, maybe another race may be coming up soon which would hopefully capitalise on my existing fitness and the aerobic boost of running a slow marathon that was in essence a longer long run.

We shall see.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Pre-race tips and more

So, Athens is over. With a bang. I will write more about it in my next blog post, for now suffice it to say that my body simply crashed about a week before the race. A mild cold from Oxford was worsened during the flight to Athens on Wednesday and that was the end of any PB expectations despite a brilliant preparation. I did manage to finish the marathon, though. I think that was a PB in itself, how I managed in three days to make myself fit enough to get to the starting and then the finish line.

But more on that soon. During the pre-race week, I was thinking that I should gather somewhere all the little things that I do to prepare myself before the race - practical and mental tips that conciously or unconciously have become part of my pre-marathon routine after completing 10 of them by now!

So, in the middle of my illness, observing myself as much as I could, here are some of my pre-race habits that made my list:

1. A pedicure and foot bath, followed by applying lots of softening foot creme especially on my blisters. The legs have so much hard work to do in the race that I try to really pamper in the days before, so that they hang in there when the going gets tough!

2. Along the same lines, I had a careful look inside my racing shoes. Also underneath the insoles, which I take out to give the inside of my shoes a good dusting with a piece of clothing and a lint roller. I try to remove any threads, grass, pebbles that might have creeped in there and might be extremely annoying during the race!

3. New socks. I will stick to my tried and tested model (for me it is the Daily Mile compression socks) but I will choose a new (or very recent) pair if I can help it, so that it is smooth and soft, without any signs of wear. I figure is is the least I can do in my anti-blister campaign.I also wear the compression socks during the flight as they help my feet not swell so much.

4. Up my vitamin intake. OK It didnt work this time, as I still got the flu, but I had upped my Vit C to 1500 units daily, and I was also taking another multi-vitamin, magnesium, folic acid, iron, and Neurobion. That's it I think. I also took about 15 grams of glutamine daily in the last week.

5. In the two weeks before the race I switch to my favourite breakfast option pre-race, the Greek dish Spanakorizo. It is a mixture of spinach and rice, sometimes cooked in tomato sauce, sometimes plain. I find it is extremely tasty and keeps me strong for the rest of the day, giving me a good and constant supply of energy.

6. I choose at least two race outfits and pack the other essentials, such as a cap, sunglasses, arm warmers, mp3, any old tshirts (that I can wear at the start and then throw away), my very useful North Face wristband with pocket ( where i can carry some money in case of an emergency), my gels (this time I really liked the light taste and instant boost of High5 Orange Plus and Lemon), post race warm clothing etc. The other energy booster that really worked for me this timewas plain and simple jelly beans, which I carried in my pocket and would have one every 5km to reward myself. They taste so good!

7. I do not want to undermine the importance of sleep and rest by lumping them together. I don't remember who it was who said that the easiest way to improve your running times is to start sleeping ten-hour sessions! Of course this is not easy for most people to do, but if you can increase your sleep even by just one hour per day, that will surely help! This time round I slept loads but only because of the flu, I am not sure it helped in the marathon taper itself at all. But it sure helped me recover from the cold.

8. Pomegranate juice. It is another one of my personal superfood favorites and i am lucky enough to have pomegranates in our garden in Nea Makri. My Mom gave me loads of that juice, as part of our flu recovery plan, after squeezing it like an orange, the traditional way. I am not sure how nutritious it is exactly, I could look it up and list the loads of vitamins, etc. that it must have, without any doubt. I just know that I feel so good everytime I have it, and that is good enough for me!

9. Have a massage or two. In my book a massage is one of the utmost luxuries in life and as far as running is concerned a life-saver. In May I could hardly run a 10K after being out for about a year due to a painful piriformis syndrome. And then when I started training for this marathon a few experts (namely Christos Sotiropoulos in Athens and Denise Thomas in Oxford) helped me relax my painful right glute (and left ankle, due to a bad ankle sprain on Imittos last Christmas) about once a week. Towards the end of the praparation, I tried to arrange the massage immediately after a long run or hard session and it worked well. During the marathon my body was fresh and my right glute never even as much as twinged! Post-race, now that the major stiffness is gone, I am ready to book my first appointment with Denise again. She has also promised to give me a reflexology session one of these days, I have never had one and am curious to see what it feels like.

10. Go mental! I am kidding, of course, just to make a point! During the pre-race week, I always reserve some minutes for introspection and positive thinking. I recall my most difficult sessions and how I hammered them, what I learned even from the not so successful ones, how I managed to overcome all sorts of difficulties during my preparation, and how I can do this during the race as well. I visualise myself flowing smoothly along various points on the marathon course: I am still fresh at the 10th km, going strong at the 20th, tired but pushing through at the 30th, and 'almost there, run natasha run! hurry!' at the 40th! My toughest session this time round was probably the 4 x 5km interval. I try to see the marathon as another interval, this time a very long 4 x 10 km one, and  this is a session that I can do, too! I adopt some mottos, which I keep repeating to myself before and throughout the race. This time, it was "Keep calm and carry on" and "You can do it, girl" and "Pick your battles". My battle this time, due to illness, was just to finish, no point in aiming for a PB as the heat and the illness made it an impossible task right from the start.

Knowing what it is exactly you are fighting for every time is, to my mind, a cornestone for success. And this is a lesson I learned well during my 4th Athens Classic Marathon last Sunday!

P.S. Do you have any other things that you do during the pre marathon week? I would love to hear about them!

Thursday, 21 October 2010

A new reality

OK. I know it's been forever since I last wrote anything or uploaded anything on my blog. It is not that I did not care or it has not been in my mind.

But as it turns out I am a private person. Who has to make sense of what is happening in her life before I am ready or able to share it with others. Whether in blog form, or in chats with friends, or whatever.

And the past, OK, let's see, gulp!, almost six months, have seen my life turn upside down in ways I would not have thought possible a few years ago. Quitting my job, leaving my hometown, closing my flat, saying goodbye to friends and family (well, I do see them every couple of months luckily!), moving to another country with - as I was shocked to find out - a hugely different culture than that of Greece, moving in with my great boyfriend, trying out what living together feels like (it's all good, folks!), moving homes a couple of times in three months, looking for a job, buying a car and learning to drive on the right, taking up cooking (yes me, unbelievable, I know!). Well, basically starting out all over again.

I hope you will appreciate that I was at a bit of a loss to write anything.

I mean, what to say and what to think and what to feel? Did I mention everything is different here (here being the U.K. of course!) than in Greece? Which at the present time is definitely not a bad thing, still it does take time to adjust to the new circumstances. Like, passersby actually smiling and saying hello when I am walking Lisa in the nearby Marston, Oxford paths, and yes, having to stick to established processes and procedures a whole lot more than in Greece, where everyone just seems to be busy trying to find a way to bypass them.

Running has been one of the few carefully selected things that I have kept intact in my new life and has actually served as a welcome link between this new life and the old one. Getting my new life in balance is still a work in progress, like finding a job in Oxford at the moment is a bit of a sticky subject although I am still happy pursuing my freelance writing assignments.

Fortunately running never fails to do wonders for me as my most precious hour of meditation and connecting with my inner self, when I can just clear my head from all outside distractions and images and thoughts. That's why I almost religiously followed my marathon training programme all through the summer, even when I knew we were moving to a new house and had no bed to sleep in (or any other furniture for that matter) and we would have to get one asap or else sleep on the floor or at best on the air mattress (ouch! my back hurts just thinking of this as an option)!

This season's daily marathon programme provided a much needed sense of stability and continuity, and for this, regardless of how I actually do in the race which is coming up next Sunday (I am talking about the Athens Classic Marathon), I consider it the most succesful and meaningful marathon preparation that I have ever completed.

A big thanks to Colin for being there, for the understanding and for sticking through my long sessions and picking me up from the Iffley Road track when I was too tired to cycle home after tough sessions, and to Lisa the dog, who was my most enthusiastic and bubbliest of running partners during my easy runs. Also, big thanks are due to the Coach (Dimitris Theodorides) for his attention and breaking my stress with humour when necessary, to Denise Thomas of Peak Sporting Performance for the  much-needed sport massages, and to the Headington Road Runners for making me feel at home in my new running milieu. 

I feel blessed and grateful. 

The Oxford University Iffley Road track, where I did most of my interval training. Very inspiring surroundings, since it is here that Sir Roger Banister ran the first sub-4 minute mile.

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

walk the world and end hunger

My friend Diane Shugart invited me on Facebook to join the Walk the World initiative on June 6th. I didn't really know much about this annual event, organised by the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) in cooperation with its global partners TNT, Unilever and DSM.
I found out that last year alone 360,000 people walked in 210 locations around the world, raising enough money through their donations to provide school meals for one year to more than 20 thousand children in the world's poorest countries.
Since its inception in 2003, Walk the World has grown to become a global event, bringing together over 2 million participants and raising millions of US dollars to feed poor children in school.

There are 1.02 billion undernourished people in the world today. That means one in nearly six people do not get enough food to be healthy and lead an active life. Hunger and malnutrition are in fact the number one risk to the health worldwide — greater than AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined.

In places like Athens, where as Diane points out on the Facebook page of the event, with no walk 
currently set up and no time to organise one, it is possible to join the Virtual Walk, donate online and upload your photo on the event's wall (
So, on June 6th I will make sure that after I run my scheduled kilometres for the day, I will then cool down by virtually walking on this website to support the fight against hunger!

To access the Walk the World website, you can click on the following link:
Walk the World on June 6th!

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

This is not a blog about running!

First, let me make one thing clear.
This is not a blog about running. Running is an important part of my life, and at some point I would like to explore in more detail this special affinity. I like the endorphins of course, post-exercise, but I also like the discipline and the test of patience. Yes, I am one of those people who actually like discipline and perhaps even routine!

So, I have posts coming up which are not running related, I already have them half-written mentally, kicking to get out, though we will all have to wait a bit longer before we can read them on the computer screen!

But today I want to talk about morning runs and in particular this morning's run.
Now I am not really a morning person and I always have a tough time running in the morning. It takes about twice as long for the body to wake up as it does in an evening workout. For me, at least. But I also remember Meseret Defar, who is very sweet and easy-going, giving exactly the same answer when I briefly interviewed her post-race for the IAAF World Cup in Athens in 2006. She said, I celarly remember, that the morning workouts are always the toughest for her.

Today, my motivation for the morning run came from a promise. Some time ago I promised a friend from Barcelona, Daniel Justribo, an avid runner who also likes writing, that I would send him a few pictures of the Stelios Kyriakides statue in the suburb of Filothei.

Daniel had written an article on the life of Kyriakides, and I thought it would nicely complement his post. So, today, I ran with a mission. Starting from home, in Aghia Paraskevi, and running all the way to Filothei, to take some pictures and then head back. Distance unknown, I estimated it would be something like 7km, although in the end it ended up being slightly longer, at 10.6km.
The weather was perfect, a cool sunny day, in the morning hours just before it starts getting hot in the city. The pavements were a hassle, I had to watch every step, pavements are so dangerous in Athens, in some places completely falling apart. Some mayors need to look more closely into this issue!
But when I reached Filothei, the shade of the acaceas, the tranquillity, the empty streets lined with pretty houses, the carefree joggers on the Filothei track, the lingering stream behind the Stelios Kyriakides stadium, and finally the beautiful statue of Kyriakides himself on the outside of the small luscious square perfectly rewarded my inspiration and kick-started my day!
The digital camera in hand, I took my photos and then headed back happy, and satisfied! Here is one of them, the rest you can find soon in Daniel's link below! 

Daniel Justribo's article on the life of Stelios Kyriakides (for the Catalan speaking friends out there!) can be found by clicking on the link

Saturday, 22 May 2010

a year for firsts

An important first step towards getting to know my bearings in Oxford is getting familiar with the local running scene. The Charlgrove 10K Running Festival, which took place on May 3rd at the village of Chalgrove in south Oxfordshire, was, I realised later, the first official race - well, fun run, was more like it - that I had ever run in the UK!

For this bank holiday, the organisers had designed a 10K single lap race course through local villages and the surrounding South Oxfordshire countryside, with the start and finish at the Chalgrove Village Festival ground.
There were about 220 runners participating in this first edition, and after the race, most stayed on for a chance to enjoy the Chalgrove Festival atmosphere. Dog show, kids' activities, arena displays, funfair, beer tent, food, helicopter rides, vintage cars and steam trains, rides, penalty shoot-out, craft stalls and many other attractions were there to enjoy!

 At first a sudden hail seemed likely to ruin everything. Well, this is England, after all, I thought, trying to ascertain how it would be possible to run in these conditions! But then the rain miraculously stopped just minutes before the start and we all re-emerged from under the tents and were faced with a glorious sunshine!

As I was running and trying to maintain an under 5 min/km pace throughout, I could not help but admire the
vast expanses of bright green fields around me, a sight that for dryland Greece is not the norm.
Flat and green, great, I thought! And then, at the 6th km mark, a hill that made my legs burn, baby, burn!
Fortunately it was over soon, and then it got flat-out again as we re-entered the small quaint village to finish in about 50 min in front of the palyground's inflatable yellow castle!

Heath Bampton (Bristol and West) won the first ever race in 34 minutes and 56 seconds and Sue Street (Tipton Harriers) was the leading lady in 40 minutes and 30 seconds.

The second race is scheduled for 13.30pm on Bank Holiday Monday, May 2nd 2011. Hopefully ma and Colin can make it again!


P.S. Loved the color of the race T-shirt, a bright acqua blue. A keeper, even if these t-shirts are usually too big for me to wear except as nightshirts!

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

the IMF lands in Athens

Are they here already? They should be by now!
Most Greeks consider the IMF some sort of monster that will from now on dictate their lives, axe their life savings and pensions, make them work till they drop, and permanently taint their children's future with black ink.
The irony of the EU/IMF delegation arriving for talks in Athens the same date as the Greek junta back in 1967 is not lost on anyone either.
But what I find most interesting is that at the moment Greeks, regardless of who is to blame or why, are living in a situation of extreme stress and insecurity, treading on murky waters and dominated by a sense of doom, a sense that the worse is yet to come.
How about some examples from other countries that in the past found themselves in or close to bankruptsy and were forced to also deal with massive collective anxiety? I found a very good article from the Guardian back in 2001 referring to the Argentinian case.
I will quote from the start of the article by Sophia Arie.
"Andrea Pena is 33 but she wears a brace. So does her partner. Otherwise their teeth would not fit the moulded gadgets Argentine dentists provide to stop the grinding that was keeping them awake at night. 'I am lucky this is the only physical symptom I have because of stress,' said Andrea, a graphic designer at a Buenos Aires bank. 'Other people have gastritis, hypertension, panic attacks, whatever. Everyone is living in permanent fear because no one knows what the future will be.'
Ha! I think we all recognize some of these symptoms don't we? A friend was telling me the other day that she could not sleep at night because she was worried about the future, another one is ready to flee the country. For the 30something generation this sort of behaviour is virtually unheard of.
To continue quoting from that 2001 article story. "Nobody knows if they will have a job tomorrow or when they will be paid. People are almost paralysed by fear and a sense of impotence. There is a sense that the country is in free fall,' said Jacquie Lejbowicz, a psychologist in Buenos Aires."
Why does this continue to sound familiar? How much are we all aware of this constant stress that we have all had to live under for the past 6 months?

I want to end this today on a positive note. What can we do as individuals to protect ourselves against bankruptsy stress and collective anxiety? Well, we can talk about it, rather than suffer in silence. Protest, if that helps. Reflect on what has happened and learn from our mistakes. Acknowledge that this situation is painful and that this era for many Greeks means the end of innocence - and with a bang.
For me, running, reading, writing, they all help. People around me, family, friends and colleagues, people who care for my well-being, they all help.
Is this enough? Frankly, I don't know. The pessimist in me suspects it is not. But it is good enough for today.

The IMF: Change we can believe in? (Bretton Woods Project)

The IMF: Change we can believe in? (Bretton Woods Project)

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Greek bail-out teams face hard balancing act - Financial Times, - Yahoo! Buzz

A taste of things to come? 

This FT analysis includes a helpful comparison between Greece and Argentina, which in 2001 succumbed to the largest sovereign default in history.

Greek bail-out teams
face hard balancing act - Financial Times, - Yahoo! Buzz

how to be creative today

At work, in life, at home, in the track (for the runners among us!) and in the office, the secret to living life to the fullest is simply finding your own voice, your own niche and working from there to expand your space and scale of influence to the rest of the world.
Albert Einstein was the one who noticed it first."The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift".
So what are we doing to discover, savor and protect the gift? What are you going to do today?

Abraham Maslow, the sociologist who descibed our pyramid of needs, put it eloquently.
The key question isn't "What fosters creativity?" But it is why in God's name isn't everyone creative? Where was the human potential lost? How was it crippled? I think therefore a good question might be not why do people create? But why do people not create or innovate? We have got to abandon that sense of amazement in the face of creativity, as if it were a miracle if anybody created anything. 
So, how to be creative in our life and live it to the fullest? Starting today. From the small things. Get an idea or something you want to accomplish and start working towards this today. One step at a time. Ignore outside fastors as much as you can.
Try thinking outside of the box in any given circumstance, questioning yourself at any given point whether you are thinking outside of yourself or not. Be grateful you have been given this chance at life; just ask people who have been given a second chance at life themselves (heart attack sufferers, or survivors from airplane crashes) how their approach changed after their near-death experiences. They are perhaps good examples to follow.
What can I do to change anything today? For me, simply starting this blog is a way to discover my own voice, and to overcome my fears that I don't have one!I will try to overcome my inertia, which wins out sometimes, and open my senses to the world more.

Today is perhaps the day when this country, Greece, goes to the IMF, and the morale of the nation as at its lowest since I remember. This is the fight that we have to give. We need to make little steps towards improving outselves, a sign of not giving up.
Today I will make my yoga exercises to overcome my lingering injuries, I will start on another job application, I will sleep better, I will smile more, I will stop questioning the route my life is taking me, I will be content.
I hope you will be, too. 

Remembering my 2007 trip to Rwanda, a period in my life when I was alert, content and creative. Try to recreate this feeling today!