Home.

When you are an ex-pat you wind up creating a sort of makeshift family in your new home so far away from your real ones.  They form out of randomness.  You meet at work, or at a club or group you joined.

Or, in my case: Twitter.

I can think of two people who came into my life because of Twitter.  Two people who unlocked more people who helped me, then so new to the UK, make the UK become home.  One of whom, when I attended his wedding, I got to say proudly after a mess of people talked about how in-depth and long they knew him for that I met by accident via 140-characters. (And I got to go on a group outing that was his second date with his now glorious wife.)

But for the other one, the other one came via food and the love of my homeland.  A random request that my husband responded to.

And it turned into something so beautiful and brilliant.

I got to watch the full ascendance of something. The complete rise of a small idea into a full celebration of that idea.  I got to witness a culture form, a rabid and loving culture to boot.  I got to meet people who shared that vision, who were full of joy about a concept so simple that to lots of people it wouldn’t appear to be rocket science.

Turns out that science needed to be Atomic.

The first time I met him we were sat outside. This was before the picnic tables that now sit silent. He was talking about his trip to America as a child. Of being this “fat little kid in a cowboy hat” wanting everything to do with America. That mane of blonde hair. The smile. The gestures. I see that meeting in my mind, distant but pulsing with energy and delight. His nirvana-like state as he drew up pictures and plans and waxed lyrical about burgers of all things.

Burgers.

I was lucky to link my life with this moment of his.  Of being pregnant and crammed into their restaurant about to open, watching him and his business partner confused about why the attendance for preview night was over capacity.  (Because they are awesome, that is why.) Returning to that restaurant with a newborn and realising, after the fact, that our first family portrait was in front of Han Solo frozen in carbonite.   Of celebrating said newborns 1-year birthday there and receiving (as one should) a baby Yoda outfit and hot sauce as gifts.

Every day I have the privilege of cycling past his Oxford creations. Every day I look into the windows to see the people eating and laughing and I silently cheer at their success. When I knew they were moving their original place I managed to rugby tackle his business partner off my bike and plead to see the space before others, and he generously welcomed me in. And I was home.

Home.

That’s what he was, and what he is. For me, he was home.

This past weekend he left us.

A light, brilliant and glorious, dispersed now. Not gone, no. He’s still here. He will forever be in the eyes of his children, in the heart of his wife. He will walk alongside his business partner and best friend, whispering ideas and encouragement. Telling them to grow, telling them to take risks. Reminding them to not take things too seriously, because who would ever take bacon shakes seriously?

As I sit here, I sit here grateful. I sit here with tears in my eyes but a smile on my face. I was so lucky. So terribly and wonderfully lucky to have known a man like him.

As Dr. Seuss so rightfully said, “Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.”

Thank you for ‘happening,’ Martin. Thank you so very much.

I forgot to tell you.

So, here in the midst of all my training for my vendetta race I realised some silly that all my 20 rapt-attention readers might be asking: How much was raised for your last race (Royal Parks)?

You know, that race that you ran for your uncle and your friend?

Firstly, the medal is on my nightstand.  I haven’t afforded any other space like that save for my marathon medals that now have prominent displays in the living room.

I also have, since the race, dreamed more about both of them.  I’m happy to report those dreams are positive and beautiful.  Lots of Uncle Steve hugs and laughs with Mike.

The race coordinators contacted the team a few months back.

We raised £20,000.00 as a group, of which £1,000.00 was from all my awesome friends, family, and crazy cool big donors whose names are unknown to me.

I think, in terms of honouring my family and friends, that is pretty darn fabulous.

So thanks, everyone.  Thanks so much.  And thank you all for my continued support.  I run to challenge myself, but this past time was particularly special because I went beyond myself.  Did something I love (and loathe and love and yeah… you get it) for people who really mattered to me.

Roll on Silverstone.

Ridiculous Training (that works for me)

This is not me. I look far more awesome.

On Saturday I get up at 4:00 AM.

Go with me here.

As I said, on a perfectly good weekend day I get up at 4:00 AM.  I have to because I need to eat accordingly and make sure, as I approach my long run time, no “surprises” make themselves known in my gastrointestinal system.

This is likely because I am old.  

At about 6:00 AM I start my run.  My goal is to run whatever mileage I’m suppose to run and wind up at the gym before an 8:30 AM yoga class.

And then… get this… I do one and a half hours of Hatha Yoga.

I run whatever crazy goal distance and then I do yoga.

And the next day, guess what?

I’m not in pain.  I’m maybe only a little stiff.

The run I do at the hour I do it is so peaceful.  Ridiculously peaceful.  When I get to the gym the parking lot is barely full.  By the time class finishes the sun has just come up and we’re meditating.

Soon, the Body Combat people will rampage into the studio.  The gym will be teeming with all sorts.  Kids going swimming, people eating in the cafe, the parking lot so full cars are on the pavement.

The streets are busy with traffic. People everywhere.  Stores full.

But this crazy training I’m doing?  It appears to be working for me.  Sure, because I’m racing Silverstone and Silverstone and I have “issues” all my training has involved snow, ice, rain, and wind (rendering my times sub-par but still reasonable) there are some drawbacks but…

But…

This whole idea of a good solid run followed by gentle stretching and just taking care of yourself… Who knew?

Also, why did it take me more than ten years of running to finally figure this out?

I’m coming for you, Silverstone.

It’s March 18, 2007.

I stand on a track.  It’s a race track, but usually for fined tuned F1 vehicles.

Around me is a 90% male race attendance.  It was so full of men that there were lines for the men’s restrooms… and no lines for the women.

I’m freezing.  Proper freezing.

I had bought a jacket and gloves at the race expo.  Paid an epic fortune for them.  It’s blustery, grey, and around me chatter radiates from all sorts of people.

I’m at my very first race abroad, because at the time I lived in Texas.  I had bused up with a mess of people from London.  On an odd chance I wound up sitting next to another American.  He had come to the UK to visit his brother who was stationed here.  We thought it was funny we wound up sitting next to one another.

I had never been so cold.  I had been training in hot, muggy weather.

The start gun sounds and off we went.  The screaming started shortly thereafter.

I was about to run through my first ice storm.

By the time I limped through the finish I would run through two.

My rewards for completing the race?

  1. A small medal.
  2. An extra large men’s t-shirt.
  3. And a vendetta.

I’ve run a total of 13 half marathons, and that race… that race… I have a desire to re-run that race.  It might have been the terrible weather or the fact I was beaten handily by a man dressed as the Stig. Maybe it is my pride. I don’t know what it is but…

Here I am, eight years later, holding the longest grudge I have ever held ever against 13.1 miles.

One of my colleagues took up running last year, and just so happens to be a massive F1 fan.  On a whim we both signed up to run Silverstone this year.

Him with his love of F1.

Me with this epic desire to finish the race with hands that aren’t bright red from the repeat pounding of shards of ice which cut like a thousand small knives.

When we made this pact to sign up I asked him, no, I begged him to pick a cause to run for.  A purpose to channel what can amount to a deep and festering desire to pummel every Stig impersonator (or not) and scream, “I will beat you!” over and over again.

He chose Cancer Research UK.

The race is March 15, 2015.

I intend to leave with a small medal, a tech t-shirt, and as much money as possible for a good cause.

Let’s put this thing to rest, Silverstone.

I’m coming for you.

A Proper Review: The Royal Parks Half Marathon

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That should, in sum, make up my entire review of the race – because it was amazing.

Yes, okay, I became a blubbering, coughing, hacking mess – but now that I’ve had some sleep and have quietly and methodically looked at every square inch of my very cool medal I can sit and tell you the good and bad about this race.

And there was very little bad.

As I’m slow I ended up with the only bit of bad: Waiting to go.

Here’s the thing: I get why it took so long.  The course winds through narrow, beautiful park paths and some of the most beautiful parts of London.  They have safety in mind.  So, for those who are going to run this next year and are slow – just show patience.  They do little warm-ups, and security monitor a few gaps in case you find yourself needing to go to the bathroom quickly before the race starts.

Now the good, because that is my only bit of bad:

  • The course is flat and beautiful: I had very little problem traversing the course or distracting myself with scenery which kept me on pace.  We ran some of the most popular streets – past the Eye, Buckingham Palace, Horse Guards, and of course the parks whose leaves are changing.
  • The course is well marshalled: Because we are running some beautiful places you do run into tourists who find themselves dismayed that they are encountering a bunch of runners.  I want to thank the marshalls who did their best to keep the throngs back and safely crossing.
  • The course is crammed with support: The charity support was incredible – they all lined certain areas of the course (almost strategically) so that just when you felt like you were a bit alone huge screams and cheers went up.  I recommend anyone who runs raise money.  Not only are you supporting a great cause you get huge screams from your charity plus others.  I recall a man who was a supporter midway through the race yelling, “I support Parkinson’s Research – I support everyone who cares about a cause – remember why you are running!”
  • Lots of water and sport drink stations: So many I didn’t need to stop at every one.
  • Lots of person to person support: As my health wasn’t the best and I had to slow the last 3 miles I found myself with others who were limping, coughing, and crying.  We all kept saying to each other – we’re finishing.  Time doesn’t matter – we’re finishing.
  • The announcers at the end of the race and all the people at the end of the race: As anyone who is moving over 2:30 will tell you – usually support is thin for us back half racers.  Not so this one!  Great support in the last mile and announcers trying to pick out everyone who was working their way through the finish line.
  • The medal: Is recycled wood from the parks.  RECYCLED WOOD.  It is, by far, the most unusual and interesting medal I’ve ever gotten.  Whoever thought that up was insanely smart.  I love having “my piece of the parks.”
  • The goodies and post race treatment: I had awesome high-fives from the medical team at the finish.  Then they crammed you with water, bananas, and hand you a bag which then fills up with all sorts of healthy treats from the food festival vendors.  My whole breakfast this morning was on behalf of the food vendors.  Oh, and I have a tech t-shirt!  I love that tech t-shirts are becoming common for races – I will wear it was pride.

So, there you have it.  Run Royal Parks.  The end.

 

Ugly Win.

So there is something I didn’t want to admit to anyone that I write this blog to. In fact, I didn’t want to admit this to myself.  After Blenheim and the glory and pain that was a personal best I managed to come down with a nasty cough and cold.  As the day for the Royal Parks got closer I downed medicine religiously and did every mental calming exercise I could think of.

By Friday the cough had reduced enough that I felt comfortable.  On Saturday I Boris biked over to the packet pick-up and settled into the flat where I pretty much coughed through the night.

I woke up in a rough state Sunday morning.  But, as the British say, my face was on the tea towels. (Okay, so you have to be a Royal to get your face on tea towels, but you get the idea.)

I went over and got my team photo with the JDRF.  I wished everyone luck.  I queued, because we love that sort of thing.  I stood hopefully with the 2:40:00 pace maker.  The gun went.  We waited. It took so long to get to the start I actually was able to go to the bathroom and line back up again.

Then the gun really went.

For close to 9 miles I stayed neatly between 2:30 and 2:40 pacemaker.  The course is magnificent.  All the pretty parts of London.

After seeing the cheering crew at mile 9 the coughing started.  It got so bad I briefly pulled to the side to hack it out.  Volunteers approached.  I became scared.  Really scared.

But then I thought not of my grand personal best.  In fact, when pace maker 2:40 passed me I was almost relieved.  There was, instead, two people who entered my mind: Uncle Steve and Mike.  I found myself asking out loud if they would please help me finish.

And then I started walking.

I cried a lot, and coughed, and hugged my husband, son, and friend at mile 11.  And then I kept walking.  And crying.  And walking.

And I finished in under 3 hours. 2:57 in fact.  Believe it or not it wasn’t a bad time for me.

On the way I thought of all the anonymous donations.  All the motorways and people with weird senses of humour like me.  I want to thank everyone who believed in me.  Who still believe in me.  Who thought of me, who sent their love or tossed a few pounds at an awesome cause.

As I approached the end people were yelling and cheering my name.  I waved and cried and swore up and down I saw Uncle Steve and Mike in the crowd waving and screaming for me to get across the finish line.  I have never run in memory of anyone before.  It was truly a powerful experience.

I got my medal, a pile of goodies, and a good sit with the JDRF fundraisers.  Here is my photo:

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When the trees shed wood they collect it and make it into medals.  Sort of a fitting theme to this whole experience.  You take the bad, and you make it good.

And I did good.