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!