26 February 2011

The Space Between

What a week! It has been long, stressful, and exhausting -- not much different than any other week. It started off pleasant enough, but quickly deteriorated to the point where it stands at the moment. At least tomorrow is Sunday and the week is essentially over.

In additional to regular work, I've spent the past few evenings giving private lessons to a new client, which is always a stressful experience for me since it means having to get used to a new personality and learning style.The fact that I am not exactly 'Miss Outgoing' adds an extra challenge since my natural response to feeling nervous is to fall quiet, which I can't exactly do if someone is paying me to teach them martial arts. It is a dilemma, to be sure. On the plus side, my regular students have been improving rapidly. As much as it alarms me to admit this, I will miss them when I leave in a few months time. I am almost certain that the youngest boy will transition into a regular academy, and so I've spent a fair bit of time researching schools in the area. 

After enjoying my time off on Presidents' Day by going to the Science Museum to see the History of Medicine exhibits (which I've seen on three previous occasions and never changes, but I still enjoy), I spent the rest of the weekend running and essaying with a bit of eating and sleeping thrown in for kicks. In fact, I spent most of the week in essay crisis where the words just would not flow from my mind to the paper (er...computer) and everything that emerged seemed like utter crap. This was compounded by the fact that I had to make the very hard decision not to sign up for the 2011 Marine Corps Marathon on Wednesday. (I would have to start training the week after the Stratford Marathon -- and I just don't think I could handle that). After completing my essay on Friday (and finding out that a class had been cancelled), I ran my first 17-mile training run. To say that it was hard would not adequately describe how I felt while doing it. Due to various reasons, I have gotten even less sleep than normal this week, culminating in Thursday night's essay-writing frenzy. I was tired when I set out and the feeling only got stronger as time wore on. My stomach decided to act up in the middle and my legs began to feel like lead. I was forced to alternate running and walking for the last 3.5 miles, and spent most of it pep-talking/cursing myself to finish. Miserable.

Wednesday was the final London Colleges League cross country race at Brunel in Uxbridge. After taking the Tube for an hour (and fretting over whether or not we were actually going to make the race), we walked through Uxbridge to the race course, which consisted of a serious of football (soccer) pitches in a residential area. Since the race was so far out of the way, there was a low turnout for the race - King's brought only 8 runners (a far cry from our first race when we (seemingly) had dozens!).

After warming up, we ran the 2 mile course. For the women this meant running around the rugby pitch (where rugby practice was in full swing), detouring into the center of the field through a muddy bit that I suspect was added to satisfy the 'cross country' element, around a smelly mound that was very suspect, and then round the backside of the football pitch until we reached the start. We did 2 laps of this for a race of somewhere around 2 miles. The walk to the course was longer than the entire race! Anyway, I was apparently having a good day because I was able to maintain a quick pace throughout the entire race, finishing 15th at 12:40. Afterward, we headed to the Brunel Sports Centre for the LCL awards ceremony. As we waited for the race secretary to calculate the results, we snacked on the various biscuits (cookies) and cakes (muffins, cupcakes) that we managed to produce. Apparently we seemed to think that an army of KCL runners were going to turn up because there were 2 types of absolutely fab cookies, a batch of delicious cupcakes, and my muffins (Very Culinary's Brown Butter Mixed Berry Muffins).Considering that we managed to demolish everything amongst the 9 of us (a guy from UCL joined us), I'd say that the sweets were well-received!
Our semi-coordinated plan to bring sweets resulted in enough cakes and biscuits (muffins and cookies) to feed an army, not just the KCL runners who turned up.
King's Ladies I team placed 3rd in the London Colleges League
After an hour's wait, the proceedings began, but were immediately interrupted by a fire alarm triggered by the steam from the centre's showers. The collected mass of runners headed outside and re-assembled near the tennis courts where the race secretary Mike Baggs began his year-end report of the race results and the finances of the League. Once we returned to the sports centre, there was a presentation to commemorate Bagg's 32 years of service to the League (he is retiring), and then the awards presentation began. It came as little surprise that the St. Mary's Ladies I and Ladies II team's took 1st and 2nd as they are a sports-focused university. I was quite pleased to hear that the King's Ladies I team took 3rd.

Attending the awards ceremony at Brunel was a bittersweet moment for me as it marks the end of my final (and only) cross country season. The sport is not popular beyond the university level in the United States and I don't see myself having the time or organizational skills to attempt to start up a mini-league in HoCo. (Can you imagine? We would have to run at the Rocky Gorge reservoir and make the runners wear neon colors so as not to be mistaken for deer during hunting season!) In the past, the sports that I have participated in have mostly been individually-focused. Karate and horseback riding certainly are. My one experience with a team sport, rowing, was not entirely pleasant due to the cattiness that ultimately emerged amongst the team members. But my cross country experience at King's seemed to be the perfect mix of both worlds. Running is an individual sport, but it is nice to have the support of a team, to be able to push yourself in order to assist your team. And it certainly helped that the people on the KCL team were so lovely!

The season started in late October with the Parliament Hill race. I was terribly nervous and dead certain that I was going to finish last. This feeling was heightened by the fact that there were several hundred runners in attendance (of which KCL contributed 2 dozen or so), it was my first time racing cross country, I was in the throes of Achilles tendonitis, and I was not used to running a race (non-chip-timed) with men and women. I was so nervous that I almost missed (actually, I did miss) the starting call. I went from talking with a team-mate to 'It's started! Hell!' and frantically attempting to make up the time I had lost. I never quite recovered from that 'oh shit!' feeling of being taken by surprise and spent most of the race in a daze, with lungs burning from the cold air. In the end, all of that worry was for nothing, as I finished 28th of 90 women. Next on the agenda was the Richmond Park race. I had been warned that there were deer in residence, but these things were more like moose with huge antlers! The race itself was tough and I turned my ankle in the last quarter mile, but was spurred on to the finish by our team president.

The third race at Wimbledon Common was, in my opinion, the best. At 2.8 miles, it was the longest and involved proper cross country elements - mud, hills, water. Brilliant. I had a great time running this course and sometimes felt like I was flying as I ran down the hills. Other runners did not enjoy it so much. Several got lost (it is through the woods), many fell in the mud, and one managed to do a complete forward roll in front of me when we were going down one of the hills. Afterward, we headed to a quaint pub for a well-deserved cup of tea and some brownies.

The final race of last term was held at Hackney Marshes, which is destined to be an Olympic car park by this time next year. It had snowed the day before and I spent the morning of the race hoping that it would be cancelled. No luck. After a long Tube journey, our team trekked along the icy road through the outskirts of Hackney. It felt like we walked forever and the surroundings were incredibly dodgy as we passed through industrial yards and along train tracks. When we arrived at the course, we huddled for shelter in an open-sided, tin-roofed hut, and 'manned up' to relieve ourselves in the woods. Cross country truly is a glamorous sport, I swear! The race itself was tough. It was so cold that I was never able to adequately convince myself to strip down to my running vest, and so ended up racing in my hoodie and gloves. The ground was frozen and I never regained (or, indeed, ever truly possessed) full feeling of my feet. I was soo glad for the cupcakes that one of my teammates made and for the long hot shower that I enjoyed when I finally returned home.

This term kicked off with the race at Prospect Park in Reading. It was unremarkable other than the fact that the only large hill of the race had a charming pub at the top, which was motivation enough for me to head towards it. (Oh for a cold pint of cider!) And the season ended with Wednesday's race at Brunel. But this does not mean that racing is over just yet. KCL turned out a team at today's Hyde Park Relays. It was cold and rainy, but good fun. I ran the 4th 2.2 mile lap for the KCL Women's I team and managed to maintain a strong pace despite yesterday's 17-miler. And we will head to Oxford in 2 weeks time for the Teddy Hall Relays, which I am really looking forward to. Should be good fun!

 That's all from me for a bit. Just wanted to post to let friends/family/strangers know that I am still alive since I do have a tendency to seemingly drop off the face of the earth otherwise.

A few pictures from today's Borough Market trip:
Flour Power City Bakery at the Borough Market

The Middle Market at Borough Market

Fresh fish. Very fresh.

Squid, mussels, and an unknown fish

Two of my favorite foods: tomatoes and garlic.

Cathedral Street entrance to Green Market

Chilies at Brindisa

This one is for John: multiple types of baklava

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