31 May 2011


Tomorrow is National Running Day! So strap on a pair of trainers, grab a buddy, and go out for a run!

29 May 2011

Running on the Sun (Or in Maryland during the summer)

Here is the post that I know everyone (aka Alex) has been eagerly awaiting: my tips for running in summer.

**Disclaimer: I am not a doctor (obviously), licensed professional, gym trainer, etc. of any kind. (Although the sheer amount of Discovery Health channel (RIP) programming that I watched while in undergrad might suggest otherwise.) The advice I provide derives from my own personal experiences and, let's face it, is pretty commonsensical. Just covering my bases here.**

Having spent the past year training in the cold/mild weather of the UK, it was something of a rude shock to come back to Maryland, where both the temperature and humidity levels have been rising ever higher over the past few weeks. While last year I was able to escape the heat by moving to Edinburgh for the summer (where a 'intolerably hot day' is considered 75F or above), I am going to have to muddle through it this year. Since it does me no good to spend all of my time complaining about the weather, I've decided to share some of my favorite tips for running in the heat. They have helped me in the past and I hope that they will be of use to others. (Don't get me wrong though, I am still going to complain about the heat.)

  • It takes roughly 2-3 weeks to acclimatize to hot weather. Re-adjust your personal goals and times accordingly. 
  • Slow down! As noted above, it takes 2-3 weeks to adjust to hotter weather. Even then, many runners fall into the trap of starting off too fast (i.e. at a 'normal' pace) too soon. Even if it does not feel 'too hot' outside when you start your run, once your core temperature rises due to physical exertion it will feel much warmer. Starting off your run at a slower pace will allow your body to adjust and prevent you from exhausting yourself too soon. 
  • Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate!!!! I can't stress this enough. It seems like common sense, but when push comes to shove, many runners forget to bring adequate fluids (water, sports drinks, etc.) to support their summer runs. I run into this problem all of the time because many times it seems cool enough outside that I will be able to 'make do' on whatever fluids I imbibed prior to running. Once I get a few miles into the run, however, I almost always regret this decision. How do you combat this problem? Most sports physicians recommend drinking adequate fluid (8-16oz) 30-45 minutes prior to exercise and then 6-8ozs every 10-15 minutes while running. If you absolutely cannot tolerate carrying a water bottle, try a hydration backpack or pre-position water bottles around your running route.
  • Learn to recognize the early signs of dehydration and heat exhaustion. These include: nausea, chills, dizziness, cessation of sweating, disorientation, hallucination. If you experience any of these symptoms, stop immediately, seek a shady area, drink cold water, and rest. Pushing through these symptoms could lead to heat stroke (a condition that requires emergency medical attention). No run (training or race) is worth risking that.
  • Run early or late. These are the times of the day when the temperature and humidity levels are likely to be lower, thus making for a more pleasant run. It also decreases your chances of heat stroke and sunburn. If you must run during the day, try to run along shady routes. 
  • Wear light-colored, moisture-wicking running clothes. Avoid cotton clothing, which soaks up sweat. If you can tolerate it, wear a hat. 
  • Don't forget sunscreen
  • Try alternative forms of exercise to running. Go pool running. Hop on a treadmill. Cross train.
  • Be sensible. If the weather channel has issued a heat advisory (which they usually do for a good reason), don't go for a run. To sound horribly cliche, it is better to be safe than sorry.

**The title of this post refers to the documentary by the same name. It covers the 1999 Badwater Ultramarathon, a 135-mile summer race through Death Valley that ends on a mountain. I highly recommend it!**

Several things:

1. I've applied for another job. I must not like freedom or something. I told myself (and everyone else) that I would RELAX this summer and enjoy my last bit of 'me' time before plunging into the real world. That lasted all of about a week before I submitted my first job application. I'd really really like to get this job, so I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

2. Being back in Maryland and in the brief 'off' period before I start training for my next marathon, I've been able to get back into barefoot running. It has made me realize just how much I missed running in my Vibrams

3. I experienced the wonder that is the Georgetown Cupcake bakery yesterday. I went down to DC to have dinner/happy hour with my friend Brad and he bought me a cupcake from this famous bakery! (It has it's own show on TLC - the true measure of success). I got a chocolate cupcake with chocolate ganache. Delicious.

4.  Alex and I went to Great Sage restaurant in Clarksville, one of Maryland's best vegetarian establishments. I highly recommend it as it was absolutely wonderful. We also saw the Hangover 2. Considering that I hadn't seen Hangover 1, I felt like I missed out on some of the jokes. However, it was not a bad movie, all things considered.

5. Tomorrow I am heading up to Catonsville to run the Patapsco Trail race. The race organizers describe it as 'difficult'. I would consider it 'hellish'. Last year, I finished the race crying due to the sheer number of steep uphills in the 7 mile race. If I don't finish in the same state tomorrow, I'll consider it a success.

Hot weather running tips coming tomorrow! Also: does anyone know what is the easiest/cheapest way to travel around in Canada?

Edit: Just realized that I am seriously going to have to start proof-reading these things. I seem to have developed the annoying habit of picking a word and then reusing it at every possible opportunity. This needs to change ASAP. 

26 May 2011

Since when did Maryland get so hot?

I went for a run around Centennial Lake this morning and almost began to experience complications from the heat halfway through the first 2.5 mile lap. I guess that living in the UK for the past year or so has made me soft. :( They say that it takes about 3 weeks to properly acclimatize to the heat, so I imagine that the next few weeks of running are going to be quite rough indeed. In lieu of this realization, I've decided to refrain from racing in the next few weeks. I'll run the Patapsco Trail Run on Sunday, but that's it. No sense in pushing myself in this heat.

Need some tips for running in the heat? Look for my next post!

Saw this on Pinterest and though it was relevant:


25 May 2011

O' Canada

For much of my life, I've been accused of being a 'secret' Canadian. I'm not, of course, but I take this as a huge compliment. There are not many people who actually dislike the Canadians, except, perhaps the Russians and First Peoples (Don't even get them started on the topic of the Arctic).

I remember one distinct occasion in high school when, in the middle of an audition for the madrigals, the director stopped and asked when I had moved to the US. 'Er...at birth?' I replied, confused as to what exactly he meant. 'Are your parents Canadian then? Because you've got quite the Canadian accent.' Cue awkward pause after I told him that they were not and that I had never been to Canada. To confirm: I've never been to Canada. Neither of my parents are from Canada. I don't have any friends from Canada. I don't watch large amounts of Canadian television. Nope, my 'Canadian' accent has developed on its own accord. Who knows where it comes from? Such scenarios have been the norm throughout most of my adolescence and have occurred even as recently as this past April.

Of course, the accent isn't quite as strong as it used to be, no doubt from having been diffused during my time living abroad. I pick up accents quite easily and occasionally slip into different accents depending on my mood. In fact, on one memorable occasion in senior year of college, I slipped into a Scottish accent without knowing it while giving a presentation. I became increasingly flustered as I watched my classmates expressions change into ones of confusion, believing it to be due to some mistake on my part. It was only later after the class had ended that a friend approached me and asked if my change in accent had been intentional (I was discussing a 14th century plague outbreak in Scotland, after all) that I discovered what had happened. Thankfully, this only happened a few times when I was in Edinburgh in April and not when I was in London since it would have proven quite embarrassing for me. I don't do it on purpose, I swear!

Anyway, a few of you may be aware that I have been studying Scottish Gaelic since my senior year of high school when my Dad and I visited Oban. I fell in love with the language and, despite the fact that my progress is limited at best, have been trying to learn it. I actively began studying it again last summer while in Edinburgh and was able to have a few (basic) conversations with people when I was on Mull and Iona in August. Attending grad school this past year meant that my skills dropped off considerably. However, since my mission this summer is to learn how to relax again, I've decided to pick it up again. (Side note: How can someone forget how to relax? Is that even possible? Well, apparently it is possible since I've spent the past week at home not being able to simply sit down and enjoy life. My idea of relaxing has been to go running, which isn't actually all that relaxing. Go figure.)

So what is the purpose of this post? Mainly to announce my intention to go to Cape Breton, Nova Scotia this summer, home of the largest number of Scots Gaelic speakers in North America. I spent my 22nd birthday (my best birthday ever) in Edinburgh, Scotland and so it is only fitting that I spend birthday number 23 in the 'Scotland of North America' - Cape Breton Island. What does Cape Breton have to offer? An entire fiddle school (omg!), native gaelic speakers, hiking, cycling, ceilidhs, and scenery like this:

Is that awesome or what? I think I'm sold. All that's left is to pick a date, find a way to get up there, and figure out where on earth my camping gear has gone. (I've a sneaking suspicion that it may have been 'borrowed' by my Dad's Boy Scout troop...in which case I will never see it again.)

22 May 2011

I'm back in the US. Life is going.

Friday was really, really rough. History repeated itself and I literally felt like I was experiencing some horrific form of deja vu.

Anyway, life will return to normal eventually. What doesn't kill us only makes us stronger and I have become adept at forgetting the past. I'm currently distracting myself by studying for the Foreign Service Officer Test. I'll be taking it on June 7th at the community college in Catonsville. We will see how it goes this time around.

More later.

EDIT: On Sunday, May 29th I'm running the Patapsco Trail Race in Catonsville. It is a '6-7 mile trail run' that involves fording a river, crossing a swinging bridge, climbing mountains (not really but the hills are killer), and traversing train tracks. I finished crying last year. BUT...it's fun, really. Anyone want to tag along? Or if anyone wants to join for the May 30th Remembrance Run in Columbia...

16 May 2011

The Hardest Part of Ending is Starting All Again

Less than 24 hours to go before I make the 3000 mile journey back to the US. (Such a figure would probably be more impressive if I were making the journey in, say, a covered wagon as opposed to a British Airways plane.) As I sit here in my tiny room, surrounded by my piles of luggage, I can't help but reflect on the year that I've spent here. Indeed, it has been almost a year since I moved to the UK to spend the summer in my favorite place, Edinburgh, working for the Dept. of State. I moved to London in September and here I have remained ever since. And now it is time to say my goodbyes for the last time, at least for the foreseeable future.

Will I miss the UK?

Yes and no.

It has been a challenging year for me, both academically and personally. Academics-wise, King's (and the UK higher educational system in general) is more rigorous than my undergrad university was. I was forced to stretch my abilities further than ever before just to make ends meet here. I expected this, of course, having studied previously in Oxford and Edinburgh, but I was surprised by just how difficult KCL turned out to be. It was the most challenging (and stressful) educational experience that I've had in the UK. (Wish I could say that it was over but, alas, I still have a dissertation to write over the summer. But I am going to de-stress for a week or so before even attempting to tackle that.)

Personally, life changed too. My relationship ended as a result of my time abroad. I lost contact with friends. A close friend fell ill and almost died and another was killed in a tragic car accident. I was hit by a car. My grandmother was (and is) in hospice. I earned 'merits' on my coursework. I competed in the British Universities & Colleges Cross Country Championships for the University of London. I ran a marathon.

I will not miss the buses, the masses on Oxford street, the weekly shootings and murders that occur here in Southwark. I will not miss having to dodge tourists whilst running. I won't miss the apathy that one develops from living in a large, impersonal city. (I have the same complaint about DC). Most importantly, I won't miss the ridiculous exchange rate (currently $1.65 to the pound) which means that my Diet Coke addiction habit is too expensive to rationally justify. (I still indulge anyway. If it is my consumption of aspartame that ultimately kills me, so be it.)

 Still, I will miss the people, for it is the individuals that I have met and the friends I've made that have truly made this a worthwhile experience.I will miss heading out to random parks in London to run ridiculously muddy/hilly/snowy races with the KCL cross country team. I can guarantee that I won't be running '8-10 miles' on a Wednesday or receiving the same caliber of nutritional advice as that I received from Des - :) . I'll miss walking over the Millennium Bridge as the sun sets and being able to see St. Paul's Cathedral on the north bank, Shakespeare's Globe on the south, and the Tower of London to the east. I'll miss running over Tower Bridge with the early morning commuters and seeing the sun rise over the Thames. And I'll miss buying my 'veg' at Elsey & Brent's in Borough Market (who knew me by name due to my frequent visits there). I won't get these same experiences back in Maryland. (Running over the small Bollman Truss Bridge in Savage doesn't quite generate the same thrill as Tower Bridge, I'm afraid.)

Despite this, it is time to return to the US. They say that you never can fully appreciate what you have until you no longer possess it. I find that the same holds true in regards to one's opinion about one's country. I've always been aware of the US's faults and, believe me, I still have my apprehensions in returning to a country where Sarah Palin is taken seriously as a politician and the Tea Party has a following. In the past, I couldn't wait to leave Maryland for somewhere new. And yet my experiences this past year have shown me that the US and Maryland have their merits. I look back fondly on my time at St. Mary's College now that I have my experience at King's to compare it to. Oddly enough, I find myself eager to return to Howard County and experience a more permanent lifestyle for a change. Perhaps this is simply because I've matured. Or perhaps it is because the personal costs of living abroad have become all too evident over the course of the past year. As to which it is, I am not sure. All I know is that I am entering a new chapter of life, which is both exciting and terrifying.

Either way, if I get 'homesick' for London I can always pop down to Harris Teeters market in Fulton and grab a box of Weetabix or a can of Heinz beans.Or watch Are You Being Served? or Father Ted on television. And, of course, there is always my graduation in January and the London Marathon in April that might bring me back...

To my team-mates, course mates, friends, family, blog readers, and any other category of individual that I may have omitted: thanks for supporting me, putting up with my ridiculousness, and reading this blog over the past year. It's been a hell of an experience and one that I will never forget.
Veronica and me at CMRS, Oxford in March when we annoyed caught up with Dr. Philpott and generally were creepers in St. Michael's Hall. Definitely freaked out a few undergrads when burst into the JCR and began taking pictures.

I said that I was going to post two days ago, but, well, life happens. Besides, I was back in 'exam stress' mode and dealing with some familial issues that are waiting for me when I come home in...1 DAY!

So, I had my first exam, Theories of International Relations, on Thursday. Yeah, an exam for the class that ended back in December. I was nervous going into it, nervous taking it, and then positively fried afterwards. In fact, I think I could safely classify myself as 'pretty pathetic' afterward considering that I was sick and then went to Westminster Abbey and cried for 45 minutes. Yeah, it was that bad. (I've attended weekly services at the Abbey since September and so the staff recognizes me. I think this is probably the only reason that I didn't get thrown out because, let's face it, 45 minutes is a ridiculous amount of time to spend crying.) And today I had my second (and last ever!) exam, which turned out a little better than the first, mainly because I had predicted that there would be a question on Hardt & Negri's 'Empire' and I was right. 

By Friday evening, I had recovered from my post-exam 'funk' enough to drag myself out of my flat and up to Finsbury Park where my friend Natasha made me my first (vegetarian) Shepherd's Pie. It was absolutely delicious and I fully plan on recreating this (albeit probably not as nicely) at home in the future.

Afterward, we headed down to Covent Garden to Foundations Bar, a new underground venue that opened in February, for a final cross country get-together before I left. From the website description, I was expecting something a bit quaint. The reality was a huge surprise: graffiti (intentional) on the walls, Lego doors and tables, nice music remixes. It had a great vibe and I was a bit bummed that I hadn't heard of the place earlier. Over the course of the night, I got to say goodbye to Francesca, Frankie, Emily, Penny, Natasha, and Tom from the cross country team. It was these people who helped make my running experience so great this year. Not all running groups are so welcoming (as I myself have experienced in the past) or supportive. I will really miss them.

I was incredibly touched that everyone came down to say goodbye! It's exam time and so everyone is super-stressed (I know that I am), and I know how hard it is to find time in the schedule to get out. I really appreciate it and it was an absolutely lovely evening. (If anyone fancies a visit to Washington DC, simply drop me a message! I'd be more than happy to have you!)

I also had one of the best cocktails I've ever tasted. Now, I'm not a heavy drinker, by any mean. But when I do drink, I tend to stick to what I am comfortable with: cider, whisky, and rum. (Yes, my drink preferences are more characteristic of an 80-year old man. I refuse to recognize that there is a problem with this until the moment comes when I start carrying a hip flask.) I don't really do cocktails. But the drink options on the Foundation's menu sounded intriguing (especially as they come served in jam jars and teapots), and so I opted for the Fortune Tea (Gin with peach, lemon, and Earl Grey tea) and the Eternal Flower (Hibiscus Syrup and Prosecco).The Eternal Flower was merely ok, but the Fortune Tea was wonderful. It combined the best elements of well-made Jungle Juice - it did not taste like alcohol and was an intriguing color - without being served in a sketchy plastic bucket (as Jungle Juice typically is). 

It was a wonderful night and really helped lift my spirits up in advance of my second exam. A great way to spend one of my final nights in London. Thanks everyone!

(All photos taken by Natasha)
Natasha, Francesca, and Me

Francesca, Tom, and Tom's friend Ben

14 May 2011

A Message to the Class of 2011

I know I said that I was taking a blogging hiatus until Monday, but a) I'm a liar, b) I've sufficiently recovered from crying about my first exam that I can type, c) I had a wonderful send-off from my cross country team last night that I wish to write about, and d) I am bored.All of the aforementioned will be discussed in my post later on.

First, I wish to acknowledge an event that is taking place at this very moment 3000 miles away. In rural Southern Maryland, the St. Mary's College of Maryland Class of 2011 is getting ready to graduate. Not only does this ceremony mark a wonderful achievement on their part, but it officially pushes me from 'recent grad' into the category of 'creepy older alumni' the next time I visit SMCM. Seriously. I now have no friends left attending St. Mary's and thus will have to find sufficient reasons to justify my presence on campus for fear of being hauled off by Public Safety.

Although my participation in the 'real world' is questionable at best since I am a graduate student and, therefore, exist in the limbo that is the stage between undergrad and full-time employment, I wish to pass on a few lessons that I have learned in this past year.

1. You must wear shoes out in public. Yes, SMCM was a special place where you could go to class without shoes, but the real world is much less forgiving. Indeed, I can only imagine the looks that I would have gotten had I attempted such a stunt here at King's.

2. Starting forest fires is not cool. Ever. (I am referring to the Point fire that occurred on the evening of the 13th. Not cool guys, not cool.)

3. Nostalgia sets in quickly. I did not have the ideal undergrad experience and, indeed, for the first 2 years at SMCM I was pretty miserable. Yet now I look back on my four years of college with fondness and, come next week, will find myself back down on the river for a visit.

4. Keeping friendships takes work. In college, especially at one as compact as St. Mary's, maintaining friendships was relatively easy. You saw people every day around campus, at the Great Room, at parties, in your apartment/suite/townhouse. Once you graduate, people disperse across the state, country, and globe. Work schedules prevent get-togethers and real life quickly gets in the way. Before you know it, a whole year has passed and you find yourself realizing that you have only talked to some of your closest friends from undergrad maybe once or twice. Keeping in touch requires an effort - on both sides. But it is worth it, believe me.

5. Grades are not the most important thing - and never were. Despite what your teachers and parents told you for the past 15 years of your life, grades are not the most important thing. A single bad grade in undergrad, while upsetting, is not the end of the world - although it seems like it at the time. Once you get out of undergrad, you realize that these things no longer have importance. While good grades in undergrad can get you into a good grad school or possibly earn you a job interview, they no longer matter in the grand scheme. No one asks if you graduated 'cum laude' or not. 

6. 'Jungle Juice' does not exist outside of college. Now that you're 'grown up' you either have to stick with beer/wine or order an actual cocktail. (Likewise, you will probably never experience the mixture of excitement and apprehension that comes from attending a party and scooping your drink out of a large tubberware bucket containing said Jungle Juice. Such scenarios in the 'real world' occur only in cult gatherings.)

7. Your friends are going to start getting married and having children. This will be depressing and possibly frightening, especially if you are not involved in a relationship. It may seem like everyone around you is growing up and becoming responsible, but this is not entirely true. You will always have one friend/acquaintance who remains single well into their sixties (i.e. most likely me).

8. It's never to late to redefine yourself. Your family, friends, and graduation cards are going to inform you that this is 'your' time. This is not just a Hallmark gimmick, but is actually based in truth. You've just graduated and the whole world is yours. With no ties to bind you (other than, perhaps, paying off ridiculous student loans), you can go wherever and be whomever you want. Travel. Go to graduate/law/medical school. Take up a new hobby. Pursue a lifelong dream. Run a marathon ( :) ). Once you start full-time work, enter a serious relationship, get married, have kids...it becomes a bit harder (although I refuse to believe impossible) to do this. Even if it is just for a week, take some time to yourself to enjoy your freedom. 

9. Great Room food was never as bad as you made it out to be. Seriously. While it is entirely possible that you can cook a better tasting meal than Bon Appetite, it is unlikely that you, upon coming home from grad school/work, you are going to want to cook pizza/lasagna/hamburgers/chicken dishes/etc. Especially if you are cooking for just yourself. I could probably rustle up a pretty good vegetarian lasagna - certainly better than anything the Great Room ever prepared - but I just don't have the time or the inclination. Usually my go-to meal is couscous with vegetables. This is why, over the course of the past year, I've always relished a trip down to SMCM since I know that it will mean a trip to the Great Room and an acceptable quality (and variety) of food. (Note: Obviously this does not apply for anyone graduating and going on to culinary school. If this is the case, get in touch! My diet of couscous is getting mighty old these days.)

10. Enjoy life. I'm not going to lie, it's going to be tough. I've only been graduated for a year and I've already seen what challenges the future might bring. Still, as a friend recently told me, 'Life is not a dress rehearsal'. I'd heard this saying before but, at this particular time in my life, it has really hit home. This is it. This is life. It is most likely going to be more challenging than rewarding, but isn't that the point in the end? Without the challenges, you can never really appreciate the rewarding bits, at least not fully. Experiencing difficulty makes the times of 'smooth sailing' all the sweeter. And it is in the process of overcoming these challenges that we ultimately help define who we are. It shows us that we are tougher than we ever thought.

By the way, this post is dedicated to Chris 'Ingrahammer' Ingraham, recent SMCM graduate and the only man who knows how to properly push a lime in a Corona. Congrats Chris!

11 May 2011

A Brief Hiatus


It's that time of year again! Exams! Which means that the stress levels are through the roof, my tolerance levels are zilch, and my daily interactions with other humans has been limited to the person operating the til at Elsey & Brent when I buy my daily veg. The atmosphere of tension and misery is palpable when you enter my room. In sum: I'm currently not much fun to be around, not for myself and most definitely not for other people.

Thankfully, this is the last time that I have to go through an exam period. Unfortunately, the 2 exams that I will be sitting within the next 5 days each count for 50% of my core module grades. So there is a lot at stake at the moment. The pressure is intense and, to be honest, I am just doing everything that I can to make it through the next week in a reasonable physical and emotional state. (Current success status: dismal.)

Since I don't assume that any of you particularly want to hear about how I fluctuate between indifference and freaking out that I am going to fail, I've decided to take a brief hiatus from blogging until Monday night when I've finished both exams. If I don't return by the middle of next week then it is safe to assume that the stress was too much and I simply imploded.

Ok...feeling incredibly guilty for having taken the time to even write this. Back to reading about Foucalt and Habermas. (Gag)

09 May 2011

This is Not the End, This is Not the Beginning (Race Report for the Shakespeare Marathon)

The marathon is over. My minimum goal was survival. That met, I hoped to finish somewhere around the 4 hour mark. Suffice it to say, I did not finish in 4 hours.


I finished in 3 hours, 37 minutes, and 15 seconds!

Let's rewind...I arrived in Stratford-upon-Avon on Friday afternoon. After catching a bite to eat at McKechnie's Cafe, I headed to Henley Street to take the tour of Shakespeare's birthplace. It was a bit awkward walking round this tiny Tudor home carrying my huge duffel race bag, but I enjoyed the visit. I always find it interesting to see how the curators interpret these sites. Having worked at Historic St. Mary's City and gone through the Museum Studies curriculum, I am well-versed in the meticulous planning that goes into site interpretation and exhibit planning. Still, it amuses me when Tudor-era homes, especially smaller ones such as the Shakespeare house, are portrayed as being light and airy. With 5-6 inhabitants living and working (John Shakespeare's glove workshop was located in the home) in that relatively confined space, it would have been anything but. Still, it is easier to promote a nostalgic view of the past as opposed to one that is grimmer and smellier, albeit more accurate.

Shakespeare's birthplace
Historic buildings in the town center
River Avon
Afterward, I checked in to my B&B, located a convenient 5 minutes walk from the town center, and went off to get my hair cut. The prices in London for a standard cut are so high that I have spent the past six months defiantly holding out until I returned to Maryland. However, with the weather getting warmer, it was simply too much to bear and so I caved. Unfortunately, 'take 3 inches off' to me apparently wasn't the same for the hairdresser. The result isn't bad, but not certainly not what I had anticipated. My hair looks nice when it's straightened. Too bad that it is naturally curly and so, once left to its own devices, it immediately bunches up into Shirley Temple-esque ringlets. I feel like a poodle.
It looks good now, but just wait 5 minutes
After a carbo-loading dinner of insalata di pasta at Carluccio's, I spent an hour walking in the countryside along the River Avon. It was pleasant, especially since at some points I was the only person around. It made for a nice change after the hustle and bustle that has dominated by life in London this past year.
I find nothing more enjoyable than walking in the countryside. I guess my aunt was right - I'm just a country girl at heart.
River Avon
The next morning it was off to Anne Hathaway's house, where Shakespeare courted her prior to their marriage. Lovely.

Next stop was the Holy Trinity Church, burial spot of Shakespeare.

Holy Trinity
That night, I met up with Francesca from my cross country team, who was running the marathon (also her first) with her boyfriend's brother. We ate one final carbo-loaded (ugh) dinner at Pizza Express. Not having had pizza in about 2 years, it was marvelous. But perhaps not the wisest pre-race decision I have made. Still, the company was lovely and it helped to set some of my fears at ease regarding the next day.

Race day dawned bright and (not-so) early. Since the race started at 9:30, I was able to have a bit of a lie-in, which was unusual since I am used to heading off to 7AM race starts. It was a nice change. Baggage check was at the finish across the river and before I knew it, it was time to make my way to the start. Marathoners and half marathoners lined up together on Bridge Street and I soon found myself in the middle of 3000 runners. The anticipation was almost palpable as the countdown to the start began. Next thing I knew, the firing gun went off and, 2 minutes later, I was crossing the start mat. First thought? '26.2 miles. Let's rock and roll.' (I think some of the cheesiest things some times.)

Mile 1 around the town center was a bit frustrating as the narrow streets meant that runners were crowded together and there was minimal passing space. To add to my frustration, I began to get a cramp in my side about a half mile in, which is never a particularly welcoming sign when one has 26 miles left to run. Thankfully, by the time the field had thinned some, about mile 3, it had subsided. As we left Stratford-upon-Avon behind and headed towards the 'undulating' landscape of the countryside, I managed to get my pace (and nerves) under control. The scenery was beautiful, although the appearance of some rather prolonged hills was a bit unwelcome, especially since those of us running the full marathon would encounter this part of the course again on the second lap. The nastiest hill came at mile 7 of the first lap. It wasn't terribly steep, but it felt like it went on forever. And it was a bit disheartening to know that however difficult it felt at that point, it would be soo much worse when we came to it again at mile 18. 

I had to stop at mile 15 to use the loo (once again, pizza was not the best idea for a pre-race dinner), but carried on steadily until mile 20. It was at that point that things began to get a bit shaky. Physically, I knew that I could carry on for the remaining 6.2 miles. Psychologically, my mind was like 'Hold up. The furthest you've ever run is 20 miles. Stop now.' As I passed the 20-mile marker, I entered into the mysterious zone that is 'the 6.2' - a realm of the unknown where anything can happen. At 'anything' did. At mile 23, I hit the infamous 'wall'. One second things were going just swell and the next...well...they were most definitely not going at all. My vision blurred and my legs came to a halt after I grabbed a cup at the water station. I downed the water, but was unable to get my body to take another step. It felt as if someone were physically holding me down, and my mind began to panic with the realization that perhaps I had reached my limit.

Looking back, I blame this on inadequate fueling. In my training, I was never able to tolerate the energy gels. (My digestive system, finicky at best, seems to be of the mind that running and eating are two activities that are not to be combined.) I had achieved some success with caffeinated sports jelly beans, but these turned out not to be enough when it came to the actual race. They provided short bursts of energy, but by mile 23 could no longer keep me going. When some people hit the wall, they fear that they will not finish the race. I can't say that I experienced this problem as I knew that I would finish the remaining 3.2 miles even if I had to drag myself along. Still, it took no small amount of pep-talking (and, failing that, cursing) to myself in order to pick up the pace once again. The last 6.2 miles of the race were along the historic tramway path known as the Greenway. It was flat and scenic, but felt like it stretched on forever. With few landmarks to go by, I kept myself motivated by setting attainable interim goals. 'Just get to the next water station or mile marker' became my immediate task. If I felt like I was crashing again when I reached my goal, I would walk for a few seconds before picking the pace up again.

Words cannot express how relieved I was to come to the familiar stretch that I knew marked the remaining half mile. It was the precise path that I had walked after dinner on Friday evening and it was seeing the River Avon that made me fully realize that I had done it. I was going to finish my first marathon. Equally cheering was the fact that as I came to the 26-mile marker, I was cheered on by Francesca, who had finished some ten minutes earlier in a amazingly fast 3:27. This provided me with the last spurt of motivation that I needed and I sprinted (although it can't have been that fast considering how I felt at the time) to the finish. I was crying as the official placed my medal over my neck, partly out of a mixture of pain and relief, and partly because I was in shock at my time. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would do so well. Never.

Afterward, I collapsed on the ground for a while, nursing the bottle of water and banana that I received upon finishing. After I had managed to convince myself that it would not kill me to get up and walk around, I joined Francesca, her boyfriend's brother, and his parents for lunch at a cafe in the town center. Then Francesca and I hopped on the train back to London where it took me roughly an hour (ok...this is a bit of an overstatement, but it felt like it) to hobble my way down the street to where I live.

The one thing I was looking forward to when I came back to London was getting some sleep. I was extremely sore and the idea of passing out for 8 hours seemed particularly appealing. Moreover, I hoped that having run a marathon would have thoroughly exhausted me to the point where I would drift off to sleep (as opposed to enduring my typical insomniac routine of laying in bed for hours before falling asleep). 'You're going to sleep like a log!' everyone told me. No go. Despite getting into bed around 11:30, it took me until nearly 2 to finally fall asleep because my leg muscles never seemed to have gotten the message that the race was over. I woke up at 6:30am and was unable to fall back asleep. I can't say that I felt completely rested...mostly since it felt like my upper body had been hit by a truck. My legs, somewhat surprisingly, felt ok.

Will I ever run another marathon? Had you asked me yesterday as I lay on the ground clutching my aching calves, I would have said no. But now...I am not so sure. I am considering the NCR Trail Marathon in November. It is held in Maryland, which means that my family would be able to come out to support me (if they feel so inclined). (My poor mother is probably at home reading this and going 'WHAT!?!') Still, I reserve the right to change my mind. Who is to say how I will feel in a month or two? After all, the marathon is like a relationship. Marathon training is similar to the dating period - most of the time (say 85% or so) it is enjoyable, 10% of the time it is neutral, and 5% of the time is rather unpleasant. The marathon itself is like the breakup - a painful experience where you feel like you are walking through hell and back. Immediately afterward, you swear never to do it again. But as time passes, the mind forgets the pain, nostalgia sets in, and you begin to consider trying it again.

Ok...so who wants to sign up for an ultra-marathon with me? Badwater here I come! (I kid, Mum! I kid!)

For your viewing pleasure: This is in no way indicative of my marathon experience, but it is absolutely hilarious.

The Final Countdown (in the style of Europe): 

2...exams left to sit
8...days left before I move back to MD
29...days until I sit the Foreign Service Test (for the 2nd time) at CCBC (I am hoping that Catonsville will be a friendlier test site than Howard Univ. was. I arrived at the test a bloody mess after being shoved down an escalator and completely freaked out the examiner. Hoping not to repeat this situation.)
40...articles left to read in preparation for exams
3500...miles left to traverse before I arrive at home
countless...pre-exam freak outs left to be had

05 May 2011

I'm Going the Distance

In the course of the past few months, I may have mentioned once or twice (ok...in every single post) that I have been training for a marathon. I signed up for the Shakespeare Marathon in Stratford-upon-Avon last October and an announcement of my intentions appeared shortly thereafter on this blog. To post my intention to run was a huge decision for me since once I have made something public, I intend to follow through with it. Telling everyone that I was going to train for and run a marathon meant that I had to do it. There would be no backing out.

16 weeks ago I kicked off my training my running 10 miles in Centennial Park. It was miserable, but mostly because it was freezing, the thigh high socks I was wearing underneath my running tights for added warmth kept slipping, and my boyfriend had broken up with me only the previous day. After it was over, as I stood on top of a snow-covered hill overlooking the lake, I remember wondering how on earth I would ever be able to finish 20 miles, let alone an entire marathon. At that point, the longest I had ever run was 14 miles and that had largely been by mistake. But before I knew it the months had passed and my long run mileage had crept steadily upwards until, at long last, I was running the dreaded 20 miles. Even more surprising was the fact that I made it through alive. And not just once, but twice! Indeed, the 18- and 20-milers were far less painful that I had imagined that they would be. Much more painful were some of 10- and 15-milers that I ran on the 'easy' weeks, some of which left me in tears on the way back.

Tomorrow I leave for Stratford-upon-Avon, the birthplace of William Shakespeare, to run my first marathon on Sunday. I haven't been this excited/nervous since I tested for my black belt in Tang Soo Do at age 13. Even my first half marathon last August did not evoke such a strong mixture of emotions. Perhaps it was because my Mum accompanied me to the race? Who knows? Either way, I am terrified. I've been listening to upbeat songs all day (I won't be running with my ipod during the race) and looking at inspiring quotes. My favorite: 'If you are going through hell, keep going' -Winston Churchill.

I do not know how well I will do on Sunday. I have promised my Mum that I won't ruin her Mother's Day by requiring hospitalization or dying, so survival seems to be my baseline goal for the day. I would ideally like to do a bit better than that, but I'll take what I can get. What I do know, however, is that there are several people without whose support I would not have made it this far.

My parents: I may complain a lot about running/the marathon a lot on this blog, but, believe me, my parents hear about it a lot more. It would have been so easy to tell me to shut up or to quit if it was so tough (which, to be fair, they did say once or twice), but the majority of the time they kept things in perspective for me and provided the necessary motivation that I needed to get out and run again. Neither of my parents quite understands why I would want to do this since they are not runners, but they have continued to support me through some of my lowest points, especially this past semester. Moreover, they have plied me repeatedly with Jif peanut butter, without which I would never have been able to make it through this. (Seriously.) Thank you. (And I'll try not to die!)

Granddad and Nana: My grandparents read this blog more frequently than anyone else, my own parents included. Their support has been unconditional and this has meant the world to me.

Alex: I've said it once and I'll say it again - Alex rocks. Perhaps the most modest person I know, he has been there for me on numerous occasions, providing a listening ear when I needed to vent or offering much-needed advice. Words cannot sress how much I've appreciated this. (And, let's face it, I've been something of an emotional mess this past semester after all that has happened.) I know that a blog shout-out doesn't exactly carry the same weight as a Facebook one, but I hope my gratitude comes across. (And thanks for not going off to the Air Force until we have time to have a movie marathon and run in the Rebel Race - where you are not going to die!)

My cross country team-mates: (Who I am pretty sure don't actually read this, but whom I will thank anyway): The first running group that I have ever actually been a part, I would never have trained as hard as I did without the help of these lovely individuals. Thank you for the hard training sessions, pushing me during races, and helping me to achieve some of my personal bests. Oh, and for eating the food that I cooked. :)

My blog readers: To everyone who stops by my little corner of the internet(s) and reads whatever nonsense I have posted that day - thank you. It is always encouraging to see my 'visitor counter' increase over the course of a day. I know that much of what I post isn't all that interesting to the majority of the world, but thank you for stopping by all the same.

Last, but not least, Drew: (Also pretty sure that he does not read this blog, but I figure that the message will get passed along somehow): Even though things definitely did not turn out how I expected or would have liked, I cannot discount the role that he has played in getting me to this point. When I first met my runner ex-boyfriend in the fall of 2009, I had only ever run one race and didn't really intend to run another. I ran, yes, but on the treadmill at the gym. But after meeting him and seeing how hard he trained, how passionate he was about running, I decided to try another race. And then another. Although it was a long time before we ever ran together, he came out to races to support me and put up with the myriad of injuries (and the moaning that accompanied them) that occurred along the way. When I announced my intention to run a half marathon (and, later, the marathon) he never once told me that I couldn't do it. Indeed his faith in me was always, strangely, absolute. He was, and continues to be, a source of inspiration. Over the time that we dated, I saw how hard he worked, how devoted he was to his team and training, and how he muscled through even the toughest races with little complaint. When times have gotten tough during my own training, I've remembered the fortitude that he displayed and seek to emulate it (often unsuccessfully - I complain far too much.) And so, even though we are no longer together, I must express my thanks to him. Without his support..I couldn't have done this. I wish him all the best in his future.

Anyway, that is it for me until Sunday night/Monday, depending on how my physical state of being is when I return to London. I'll be back at Marylebone station by 6pm on Sunday, but I'm allowing myself 2 hours to get from the train station to the Tube station. I think it's only a matter of going down a few flights of steps, but since I haven't timed my speed whilst crawling (don't particularly imagine that the legs are going to want to work by that point), I am going to be generous in my estimations. And then there is the matter of walking the quarter mile from Borough tube station to my flat...ouch.

The next time I write, I'll be a marathoner! (Biggest perk: being able to stick a 26.2 sticker on my car when I come home in 12 days.)


04 May 2011

Soaking Up The Sun (or: Seville - In Pictures)

As many of you are aware, last week was the Royal Wedding here in London, an event for which thousands of people descended upon London. Since me and crowds do not mix well at all, I decided to preserve my sanity by heading off on vacation (part 2) to Seville, Spain. My cousin lives there and since I haven't seen him since 2008 I thought this would be a nice time to catch up. Unfortunately, I picked a horrible time for him since this week was one of his busiest weeks at work, culminating in his departure for the US on Friday night. Still, I got to see him for a few hours, which was nice. Hopefully it won't be three years before I see him again. (Next cousin to visit will have to be Ken in Burkina Faso!)

Indian Archives in the renaissance Merchants' Exchange
My trip to Seville started bright and early on Monday, April 25th when I left my flat to catch the bus at 2AM. I never got to sleep on Sunday night since I had been working on my last paper for grad school and didn't finish until 11pm, at which point there was no point in even attempting to go to sleep. By the time I arrived in Seville at 9:30AM, I was exhausted. My cousin picked me up from the airport, drove me to his apartment where I would be staying for the week, and then left to go to work. I didn't see him again until Thursday night. Despite being exhausted, I tried my best to go sight-seeing. I made my way to the city center, grabbed some lunch (where it became readily apparent that my Spanish skills, unused for three years, were not going to help me at all), and headed to the Archivo General de Indias (Indian Archives), containing Spain's extensive collection of records pertaining to its exploratory and colonial activities in the Americas. Located in the 16th century Casa Lonja de Mercaderes (Merchants' Exchange), the collection is of incredible historical importance. They had a fascinating exhibition on piracy in the Atlantic.

Orange trees: things we do not have in London
 Immediately across from the Indian Archives was the Seville Cathedral. From the late 15th to mid 17th centuries, Seville was the center of trade with the New World. Merchants from around the world sold their wares along the banks of the Rio Guadalquivir running through the city. Originally, the merchants meeting place was on the steps of the Cathedral but, following the complaints of church officials, they moved their activities to the newly built Merchants' Exchange. The Cathedral itself dates from the 15th century and is extremely impressive architecturally. I've been to many cathedrals in my day (literally dozens) and this was one of the most beautiful, both internally and externally, that I have seen. Dominating the Cathedral is La Giralda, the bell tower. The bottom 2/3rds of the tower was formerly the minaret of the Moorish mosque that formerly occupied the site. Hence La Giralda's Moorish-inspired appearance.

The impressive Seville Cathedral
Seville Cathedral and La Giralda

Since the line to enter the Cathedral stretched around the plaza, I decided to come back on another day. Instead I returned to the river and walked west until I reached the Plaza de Toros, Seville's bullfighting ring and the oldest in Spain. The bullfighting season had begun the day before and would continue until the end of September, so the area around the stadium was full of activity as staff prepared for that night's fight. As I learned on the tour that I took of the ring, each fight features three toreros who fight two bulls each. The fight ends when the bulls are killed. The body is dragged from the ring by a team of mules and the meat is distributed to area butchers. (Bull meat is widely available around Seville.) There was a fight scheduled for 6:30 that night, but I decided to pass on attending. Even though I understand the cultural significance that bullfighting has in Spain, it was a bit too barbaric for my sensitive vegetarian American sensibilities.
Entrance to the bullfighting ring

Interior of the bullfighting ring

Afterward, I walked across town, passing the Palace of San Telmo, with the intent of visiting the Plaza de Espana, a massive courtyard build in 1929 for the Ibero-American Exposition. Unfortunately, I was so tired by this point (having been awake since 7am the previous day), that I stopped less than a 1/4th of a mile away and returned to my cousin's for a nap. That night his girlfriend took me on a tour of Triana, an area of Seville known for its ceramic workshops, and treated me to tapas. Delicious.
Palace of San Telmo
Day 2 started bright and early with a 6 mile run along the river. Even at 8:30am it was around 80 degrees and the run was so tough. I've always considered myself a decent hot weather runner since my area of Maryland stays in the 90s with high humidity for much of the summer, but living in London and Edinburgh for the past year has really weakened my tolerance. I am not looking forward to having to acclimatize to the hot weather when I return home this summer! My first destination of the day was Seville Cathedral. I joined the queue, which was already lengthy half an hour before the opening time, and passed the time taking pictures of the magnificent architecture. Once inside, I was overwhelmed by the Cathedral's majesty. Every single chapel and altar was richly adorned and the artistic decorations were simply magnificent.
Interior of Seville Cathedral
Main altar

I climbed to the top of La Giralda to get a better view of the Seville cityscape. Beautiful.
Bells in La Giralda
The view from La Giralda was amazing

Next it was off to the Royal Alcazar, the royal palace in Seville. It is known for its mudejar architectural style. (Mudejar architecture combines the Moorish style with Iberian influences.) I roamed around the palace for a while before heading out into its extensive gardens. These stretched seemingly forever! I also spend an unreasonable amount of time watching a kitten stalk one of the palace's peacocks that was perched on a fence and squawking loudly. (Fun fact: My undergraduate institution, St. Mary's College of Maryland, used to have several resident peacocks. Several disappeared the year before I arrived, but one was relocated to a farm just off campus. Those of us who had to park in Guam (the furthest parking lot on campus) could often hear it squawking late at night. We often told freshman that it was the St. Mary's pterodactyl since it made such an un-godly racket.)
Mudejar architecture in the Alcazar

My favorite picture: if you look closely next to the fence, you can see a kitten stalking the peacock. The hunt was unsuccessful.
Torre del Oro
Monument to Columbus
On my way across town to the Plaza de Espana (which I was determined to visit for real this time), I passed by the Torre del Oro, a Berber watchtower built in the 13th century in order to control access to the river. It now houses the Maritime Museum. I walked through the scenic Santa Cruz district (the former Jewish Quarter) to a small area just outside the Parque de Maria Luisa so that I could see the monument to Christopher Columbus. His attempt to reach the Indies and subsequent re-discovery of the Americas was initiated from Seville. Then, at long last, I reached the Plaza de Espana. It was absolutely stunning. A man-made lake runs around half of the plaza and tourists could rent row boats in which to enjoy the view from another spectrum. Horse-drawn carriages (of which there were many in Seville) frequently made rounds of the interior of the plaza so that the drivers could describe the plaza's history to their passengers.
Plaza de Espana
I finished off the evening by cooking dinner and then heading off for a stroll around the city center, taking in the magnificent sights of the city in the golden evening light. It's amazing what a difference a few hours can make on the appearance of buildings.
View of the Rio Guadalquivir in the evening
Puenta de Isabel II designed by Eiffel
Grand staircase at the Casa de Condesa de Lebrija
Day 3 saw me off to the Casa Palacio de Condesa de Lebrija (Palace house of the Countess of Lebrija). A wealthy collector, she was known for bringing entire Roman mosaic floors to her house in order to decorate it. Countless display cabinets lined the walls boasting priceless statues, paintings, and trinkets. Even the stairway, immaculately tiled with a Roman mosaic floor, was impressive!

View of the Cathedral and Giralda by night
Later that evening, my cousin's girlfriend took me out on another tour of the city. We went to dinner at an Italian restaurant located in a former Moorish bath house where I had the best salad of my life: spinach salad with goat cheese and a honey balsamic vinaigrette. Absolutely delicious! She then showed me several of the 'hidden gem' spots located within the city center, including a small plaza just off the Cathedral square that was completely deserted every time I visited. Seville certainly knows how to impress, even by night. Many of the city's most iconic buildings are splendidly lit up, providing a different perspective and, in my opinion, highlighting their best features. The best view of the Cathedral and Giralda came from the Courtyard of the Orange Trees in the Real Alcazar.

Unfortunately, I have run out of time to describe the rest of my visit. :( Exams are not far off and I've spent far too long writing this as it is. So, a briefer rundown:

Day 4:
- Iglesia de San Salvador, the second most important church in Seville after the cathedral
-Fell asleep in the Parque de Maria Luisa and got a wicked suntan
-Tapas (including octopus!) with my cousin and his girlfriend

Iglesia de San Salvador
Main altar at San Salvador

Day 5:
- Visit to the Casa de Pilatos (Pilates' house) - home of the Dukes of Medinaceli - wonderful medieval and renaissance palace displaying mudejar influences
- Saw the brand new (built in March 2011) 'Metrapol Parasol' in Plaza del Encarnacion
- Lunch at my cousin's mother's house where we ate delicious food and watched the tape of the Royal Wedding (Kate's dress was absolutely beautiful - just saying)
Casa Palacio de Pilatos

Interior courtyard of Pilatos' house
The 'Parasol' in Plaza del Encarnacion built in March 2011
Not the KKK! Semana Santa (Holy Week) happened the week before I arrived. These are chocolate novelties mimicking the traditional costumes worn during the celebrations.
Before I knew it, it was Saturday and my trip was over. My cousin's mum drove me to the airport where I found out 20 minutes before my flight was due to take off that it had been delayed. Six hours later and I arrived safely in London. It was a wonderful vacation, but I was glad to be back. In 13 days I will be back at the airport except this time I will be headed home. I'm ready.