I’m coming for you, Silverstone.

Posted in Running with tags , , on January 27, 2015 by cmerritt42

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

Posted in Running with tags , , on October 13, 2014 by cmerritt42

Before you read this go sign up to get notified of the next ballot.

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.

Posted in Running with tags , , on October 12, 2014 by cmerritt42

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:


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.










Toddler Burning Man

Posted in English Living with tags , , , , on October 10, 2014 by cmerritt42

While not the official title of the holiday week I’ve just returned from (I’m sure there was copyright infringement on the idea, as well as other such as  Toddlerpaloza, Toddle Fair, and Toddlerbury) I have witnessed my child party himself so hard that, on the last night, he tried with every once of strength to figure out how to sleep in the tub.  I need to note this was a full bath with bubbles and his floating duck.

Welcome to Toddler Burning Man.  Okay, Just for Tots, but the theme of love, peace, and dancing yourself into a hypnotic frenzy still counts.

I had a lot of flack thrown at me about Butlins, which was a concept thought up by a fellow named Billy Butlin back in the 1930s about the regular English family being able to go out and afford a holiday.  Things have sort of changed since then, with cheap air travel abundant and the Euro waving at us as a sort of 10% off Europe coupon at all times.  Going to the English seaside is what people call “naff.”  I don’t really know how to translate it other than equate it to the word “icky.”  When I chose Butlins I did so because the idea of traversing a huge distance with a toddler, no matter how low the price, had a very high chance attached to it that I might lose my sanity for the sake of a beach.

SIDEBAR: Toddlers are like living with manic depressives.

Now I do not want to discount mental illness here, but when you have a toddler aggressive mood swings are the norm.  You may be bopping along, singing Old MacDonald for the 5,002 time that day when suddenly, “NO COWS.”  You even hint that there may be a large animal with spots on it and a total screaming, raging, hitting meltdown occurs.  It’s like the old metal bands of the late 80s and 90s smashing guitars onstage and then going on a bender: tipping over your toy fire engine, tossing all your stuffed toys, and then laying face down in a puddle of milk and whimpering for a half hour. (Please note that I’m sure that this is exactly what a metal bender of the 80s and 90s must have been like.)  Then, like a phoenix emerging from crayon shavings they are up and singing about cows again.  Cows were fine, cows were great, cows were… ooh Mr. Tumble is on!  Who is up for a fresh glass of milk and a peanut butter and jam sandwich?

The main thing that drew me to Just for Tots was the idea that I would be surrounded by lots of other families who had ticking time bombs just like my son.  It was sort of like joining an impromptu support group where we would all band together to let our little ones and their 15 minute attention span rule the roost for four glorious days.  It was also my sort of hope that Butlins would harken back to my days of working at Miracle Strip Amusement Park (now being reborn).  As a former resident of the Redneck Rivera the whole idea of going somewhere that may be a bit shabby but had a lot of nice people who genuinely enjoyed their work seemed like a grand plan.

And I’m pleased to say Butlins delivered.

The whole week being catered to tiny people was fabulous, and I was dead right about the impromptu support groups that formed in little pockets as kids rode the same rides a million times over, or needed help up in the soft play or playground.  The ride operators and staff around were kind and helpful (if not fascinated that a clutch of Americans would even visit them).  We had dinner staff who, when witnessing the start of a mood swing rush packed food for my husband and then rang over to the hotel to give him some food vouchers if that wasn’t enough.  We had a maintenance man dash across the promenade to take a photo of us on little motor scooters because he thought we looked lovely together.  And while my son happily smeared chocolate cake over a seat we had a cafe person just smile and wave him on as “we were on holiday.” (P.S. – I did attempt to clean that chair due to their kindness!)

Apparently there were shows and art projects and all sorts of activities, but as my son is more the kind to move over sit still we pretty much bounced between indoor fairground, outdoor fairground, two playgrounds, two play fountains and the hallowed water park, which he referred to simply as “THE BIG FOUNTAIN.”  He let us rent a Dino Bike for a half hour (a four person buggy where two people peddled and one steered) and we whisked ourselves around the site, discovering pieces and parts we didn’t know about and noted things we would do “when we came back.”

For those wanting a bit of the breakdown of what I chose in terms of things I read a million reviews stating The Wave Hotel was the best, so I booked it and haven’t been disappointed.  I also learned, after my son locked himself in the bathroom, that a towel over the door stops that sort of thing and metal spoons can be used to unlock said door.  (Thank you maintenance lady!)  The rooms are funky with the kids room being an underwater theme.  There is piles of storage and we set up a library and toy shelf for his cars as well as stocked the mini fridge with food he would eat if he didn’t like what the restaurant had.

And as for food I didn’t skimp and got the Premium Dining Plan which came with swap vouchers for dinner elsewhere, so we had Turner’s one night and Papa John’s (hey, pizza is a kid food group) another.  Both didn’t disappoint and the main restaurant we ate at had the whole gamut of perfectly healthy to fully fried toast.

Finally I did book a half day spa day at the Ocean Hotel and wasn’t at all disappointed.  They have a big central whirlpool with “bubble loungers,” sauna, steam room, ice room, and two showers encased in mirrors and lights.  There was an outdoor whirlpool facing the fairground and plenty of loungers for people who wanted to read or just sleep.  I ended the day with a should, neck, and back massage and felt it was just enough amount of time.

So if you are considering a holiday that won’t break the bank and will fully appeal to tiny feet – Butlins.  Seriously, Butlins.

I’ve booked to go again next year.

How NOT to get a PB

Posted in Running with tags , , , on October 10, 2014 by cmerritt42


10676335_10152506221504302_4453761935098913294_nOn Sunday, October 5, 2014 I scored a personal best in 10k and Blenheim Palace.

For those regular readers the PB should mean that chicken that trounced me a few months back would have been eating MY feathers… if I had feathers.

It all started out lazy enough.  As the 10k was listed as starting at 11:00 AM I foolishly decided that if I was on the bus by 9:30 AM all would be fine.

It’s as if my brain forgot that I’ve been living in a medieval city for 6 years.

The traffic backed up pretty far as the half marathon and wheel chairs were being let go at 10 and 10:30 AM, respectively.  My nerves at the max I jumped off the stop about a half mile from the palace and expended my nervous energy running up to the entrance… only to see the bus I was on pull up at the same time.

By the time I dropped off my bag they were lining up to set people on their way.  If they had not accidentally put people at the wrong start I would have been throwing my bag and running across the start line.  I laughed, because of my luck and because I was foolish.  Because shortly after the laughing I remembered:

Blenheim’s course is STEEP.

You circle around the man-made lake (because everyone needs one) and find yourself plummeting downward.  Of course plummeting downward means one thing: YOU HAVE TO COME BACK UP.

Had I trained for these kind of hills?  No.  I am running a flat race for the Royal Parks.  “But,” I thought to myself, “I can handle this.  It’s only six miles.”  Seeing as that I had never run this race before I didn’t realise that at one point the super fast half marathon folk, who also likely trained for hills, merged with us.  There was also a point where the not so super fast half marathoners merged with us, and when they were supposed to go one way many went another and found themselves turning around and running smack into the 10k runners.  So for points I had a mixture of gazelle like creatures with perfectly formed muscles gliding past me like a cool summer breeze and then a bunch of red-faced, confused and annoyed runners in my face.

The only thing that helped, however, was all the drama delayed the inevitable thing: Going back up the hills.

Okay, I’ll admit this: I walked up some of the hills.  I did, okay, there, I did.  It’s out there – I’ve said it – I walked.

But I still broke my PB.  How?

Well, you get to go back downhill, now don’t you?  By the time I got “to the part of the race I knew from the 7k” I knew I was in a primarily gradual decline and that according to the soothing female voice in my ear I would be at 1:11.  So I dug deep and made it across in 1:11:31.

1:11:31.  With hills.  AND WALKING.

I was thrilled beyond words and even went to have my medal engraved because this was a momentous occasion.  I then wandered into the changing tent, snapped a picture, got immediately out of cold clothes and took a moment to bask in glory.  I even ran into a co-worker who happily congratulated me as she and her sister headed past to enjoy the crowds and the palace.  I was great.  I was awesome.

I forgot to pack food.

I forgot Blenheim doesn’t really give out much except water and I needed food.

I thought – foolishly – that I could survive the bus ride back to Oxford.  I did, but by the time I got there a pain had developed behind my right eye and a migraine was shortly to follow. I wandered, partially blind, to the nearest food location and nibbled a plate of rice.  I decided to take a taxi home to speed my way.

Only it was move-in weekend for Oxford University.  There were no taxis.  I would have to bus.

I practically crawled onto the first bus, only to exit at High Street and vomit up the rice I had eaten earlier.  I then walked slowly to a park bus stop and waited for a half hour until the next one arrived.

Slowly, carefully, in twice the time it took me to transverse 6 miles I made it the whole 5 mile journey home.

I crawled inside onto the couch and slept for two hours.  Waking up I consumed the rest of the rice only to head straight to bed shortly thereafter.

It was a bittersweet victory.

Shortly after fully recovering I ordered far more food then necessary for Sunday’s race.  That ain’t happening again.

So, there you have it: How NOT to get a PB.  Prepare properly for your races, people.  Even experienced silly people like me forget to do that and it can cost you!



Verch Blerch

Posted in Fundraising, Running with tags , , on September 14, 2014 by cmerritt42



Feast your eyes, people.

So awhile back I mentioned that I was struggling with my training.  A bunch of crummy things had happened, and, being a fool I just tossed the shoes to the side and played the “sad little clown” card.  What snapped me out of it was a donation to my cause (now at goal, thankyouverymuch… but please feel free to donate on behalf of any beloved motorway in England… give me some love A426 and the A4303!) and then…

The Blerch called.  In a good way.

Turns out that The Oatmeal managed to turn his demon into an entire run.  In Washington.  Which is not in the UK.  Yet.  I don’t know what will happen if Scotland leaves, maybe we can take Washington?  Like a sort of swapsies?

Any way, Washington is a bit far for travelling, and the race apparently sold out insanely fast. Thus stepped in the Virtual Blerch run, which I call the Verch Blerch.  Basically you order a packet and promise you’ll run either a 10k, half marathon, or marathon virtually.  Thus earning a fat little fairy medal, which everyone should have.  This apparently sold out stupid fast as well.  My husband, being of the pure online geekery breed, pounced on this like an internet cheetah and surprised me with it.

Ah, he knows me so well.

While the official race is next weekend I have :

1. An actual holiday coming up at a place with unlimited ice cream (seriously)

2. An 8 mile training run to achieve.  Yes, I know you purists who cry, “It’s not any of the distances promised!” But, it’s definitely not LESS than any of the distances promised, now is it?

So I thought that this weekend would be my weekend to make that Blerch my b*tch.

And I did, oh yeah, I did.

1:38 for 8 miles which included all stops for crosswalks (to all you fools who “have to keep it going” I just could not imagine giving my life for 10 more seconds per mile) and my rather dumb mistake of inserting a hill at mile 7.

But, girl gotta earn her snacks.

Now, if you don’t mind me I’ve got a soft serve ice cream machine to put my head under.  Because I earned it.


Join an Improv Troupe

Posted in Change with tags on August 30, 2014 by cmerritt42



The Sunday Group









(That’s me with the Sunday Group.  Sandwiched between two handsome gentlemen in the midst of growing my hair out. Please note, everyone in this photo is now wildly successful in their own right.) 

If there is one piece of advice I can offer any freshman entering college or university it is this: Join an Improv Troupe.

Find one. Join one.

Improv was, for me, the most useful thing I ever did at college.  Okay, okay, the theory and structure and hard work and “being on your own and taking care of yourself” stuff was good too.

But when it comes to the most useful thing I ever did for both life and my career it was joining Theatre Strike Force at the University of Florida.

I was 18.  I was a musical drama nerd and certified character actress.  I could do all the funny voices.  I was also in a terrible state and didn’t know why, for reasons unknown, I would suddenly collapse into a tearful heap and not be able to function for days.  When a loud fellow in bright purple shorts recommended I join I decided I would.  Almost everyone I knew had gone to Florida State or elsewhere.  I had done improv once, in a workshop, and it was fun.  I went upstairs to the Constans Theatre, my poor choice of chopping off all my hair frizzing around me.  I saw the guy in the bright purple shorts, I waved.  He ignored me, running to greet friends.  So I sat down next to an odd looking character in cords and a fedora and said hello.

It was the best day of my life.

Joining an improv troupe, especially the one I joined in 1996, was magic.  We played games, yes, but the directors we had pushed constantly and neverendingly for truth.  Truth was funny.  Truth was the funniest thing on Earth over bad penis jokes and degrading women.  When you were there in that moment it was all about building up with your partner or team.  It was about saying yes to whatever reality you were creating in that moment, and whatever that reality was it was truth.

We read Truth in Comedy, a lot.

We experimented with this thing called long form, a whole play that came from a suggestion.  It failed, a lot.  A lot, lot.  I still to this day recall a moment where it was going so well.  In the scene one of the characters was dying.  She was being cradled in the arms of her love, and they were saying goodbye.  She started to sing, it was so beautiful… and then one of the team stepped in and shattered that reality with a bad joke.  I remember seeing the notebook our director carried fly.  Fly straight across the upper lobby of the Constans Theatre which was a long, long way, and hit the back of the wall where we were performing.  I still remember Heather, yelling with frustration.  No words, just pure frustration.

But that is life, isn’t it?  Life doesn’t perform like a perfectly written play.  Life doesn’t hand you the perfect ending.  Sometimes people step in with a bad joke.  Other times, for reasons unknown, it works perfectly.  Standing onstage in Austin in front of a massive crowd and pulling off a long form based on the suggestion of “pants.”  I was a minor character, but I made a suggestion that created a scene by the ones who took the lead that was so beautiful I was proud to have been part.

And that is life too, isn’t it?  Sometimes you play a small part but the end result is amazing.  To remember one of the people who had created the festival come find us and say, “Nobody messes with the TSF,” those words… those words meant that we… the team… the troupe… had succeeded.  No matter how small the part.

Of course there is also that guy in the fedora.  The one I sat down next too all those years ago.  The one who, when I got to play the lead with him, created one of the funniest and most sincere long forms ever – one where two kids, so determined to not be separated by Summer holidays, packed one into a suitcase to take on a trip with them.  I still remember him popping up out of his imaginary suitcase and saying, “All I had to survive on was this bottle of maple syrup.”

Close to 20 years late (eep!) it is still custom to exchange maple syrup when we realise one of us has run out.

That guy in the purple shorts proposed to me at the Main Stage in a moment that was accidentally created via a dance put together by a woman who had no idea she had created that moment.  It just happened.

My last time onstage was with a group of women so talented that I’ll still to this day start laughing at some of the sketches we created as a team.  I still remember after one performance one of our TSF members coming up and saying, “Wow, this was so good.  I thought this would be a man bashing show.”

The idea of doing that never crossed our minds.

Joining an improv troupe, especially mine, was joining someplace safe.  Someplace where we could laugh or cry as hard as we wanted, and no one would ever judge you.  We had our moments, but what we also had was a lot of people hell bent on seeing everyone else succeed.  What I learned in improv was not about cutting someone off, going for something cheap, or seeing how much ‘funnier’ you can be by the other guy.  I learned to build people up, that the hard way is worth it, and that you can’t force funny.

A few years after one of our directors came back to visit and she talked about how improv was life.  You don’t wake up and get your script and know how things are going to pan out that day.  You may have had a few suggestions, but detours can happen, surprises can crop up, and how you deal with them wasn’t pre-planned by a team of writers.  What you have to remember is you have a choice in how you act and react.  Through three very intense years of my life I learned how to play off people with the specific goal of volleying them up, to make the “strong choice.”  It has served me well in all aspects of my life.

So as the TSF celebrates 25 years of wonderful I just wanted to extend that troupe a thank you.  Thank you for existing, and for continuing to exist.  For being a place for people like me, for people like my husband, for people like my dearest friend.  For people like my directors, Heather and Kerensa.  For women who get together to just play and write and have fun.  For those who want to act for a living, for those who just want to just want to live.  For those out there who know that there is a story to tell, but sometimes you don’t need a script to tell it.

Join an improv troupe.


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