Getting it done in the UK

I had grand plans to keep a frequent diary of this trip — one that would be coherent. That’s not going to happen; neither the frequency nor the coherence.

I arrived and met up with the rest of Team Endure roughly a week ago. Since then I’ve been doing doing doing doing doing. I’ve had a few breaks of some hours, but it’s never been truly leisurely because I’ve been aware of needing to do do do do do again for the evening performance, starting at around 4:30 and wrapping up around midnight (we have a post-show chat, drink and chew with audience members, typically).

For the first few days I was occupied with squaring away some of our marketing details, such as making sure print materials were getting to the right parties and then getting distributed. I also had a great deal of shopping to do, as well as photocopying forms, media kits, etc. Plus — oh, right — there was learning how to crew the show and rehearsals. I’d seen the show several times. But I’d never crewed it. Yoiks.

Tuesday I was off on my own running around Hammersmith doing doing doing. Then on Wednesday I was able to join the rest of the team and work on the show in earnest. That was good because we opened on Thursday. First we had a morning performance for the Alberta Minister of Culture (who gave the show a boatload of money). Although it was challenging to be ready by 9:30am, it was also a great way to get acclimated to the park and crewing. That show, which was a dress rehearsal of sorts, went very well. Then we had our premiere that evening at 7:00pm, and for that I had family in the audience (my brothers in law — it’s complicated). After that we had three more performances, the last of which was last night.

Some highlights of the past few days:

Mary has dealt with two insane, belligerent elderly people now, one of them drunk. The encounters were back to back, and I got to witness them from a slight distance. I’ll just say that if you want to see grace under pressure (in this case, a stream of verbal abuse, all of it nonsensical), Mary Cavett is your model.

The London Lady Cops are the real deal. They are in your face if you’re a young man misbehaving, such as kicking over trash bins. The Lady Park Police ride around on huge horses and wear helmets, jodhpurs and knee-high leather boots. They are badass.

There are parrots in Ravenscourt Park, where we performed.

We saw Eddie Izzard (also in Ravenscourt, where he used the loo and then bought a popsicle). We invited him (he runs marathons), but he didn’t take us up on it.

Executive Producer Jess Baker saw Kathrine Switzer walking by the theatre, looking at our poster, with husband Roger Robinson in tow. We also invited them. They did not show. Damn, these celebrities.

Endure’s composer, Christine Owman, came into town to see the show — with her parents, who have not seen it and were nice people. I got to hang out with a musical genius for awhile. I also got an autographed copy of her Throwing Knives CD.

The timing of our post-show sips and bites worked out perfectly so that I arrived in the bar just minutes before both the women’s and men’s 10,000m finals. I also got to watch the men’s 3000m steeplechase and the 100m final.

But that was just on television. I got to see the women’s marathon too. Live. On the street. I went alone because others on the team were either too busy or too tired (although Mary headed out a bit after me and ended up talking to a fascinating lady marathoner who is in her 60s).

So I went alone to St. Paul’s/Cheapside area and put up my flag and waited. The women came through about 10 minutes later. I cheered for all of them and was surprised by who I saw in the field, having had no time beforehand to read up on the race participants. I waited as they came through the loop another two times and then ran down to mile 24 to watch them go by one last time.

Watching the marathon was a very moving experience. I don’t know how many times I’ll get to see an Olympic marathon. But it’s not just that. It’s that the marathon has so dominated so many aspects of my life over the past 5 years. But it’s also not just that. The marathon is not only a metaphor used in the show I’m involved with — it’s a thread that’s connected everything I’ve being doing recently: getting over my social anxiety; pursuing  journalism work; expanding my pool of friends; learning to face reality and modify goals in response; appreciating the value of small successes and big failures; taking my own creative work seriously; and embracing other new challenges and adventures — basically, moving toward the things that scare the living daylights out of me. This trip is the culmination and amalgamation of all of those things. So it shouldn’t have surprised me when, walking through St. Paul’s afterwards, having listened to both towers’ pealing bells for several hours, I burst into tears.

Training is Priority #17

This is a running blog. So you’ve probably come to expect posts about running. Here, instead, is a post about perspective and priorities.

My running has been touch and go lately, so I haven’t had much to post. I seem to be chronically injured with one problem or another. I’ve had plantar and achilles issues on my right side since March. Then I screwed my back up last month and couldn’t run at all for over a week. Now I’ve pulled something in my right hamstring.

So, basically, I’m unable to train consistently because I’m always injured. I’m doing about one serious workout every 10-14 days. That’s not going to help me do much at all from a competitive standpoint. Still, I try. But I’m also realistic. Between these ongoing setbacks and a three week trip to the UK during which training is going to be about 17th on the priority list, I’m no longer taking the Fifth Avenue Mile all that seriously. It may not be the year to do so.

And that is okay.

Really. It’s okay.

That race isn’t going anywhere, and neither am I.

My body is simply not cooperating, or when it is it’s doing so only grudgingly. I have to respect that. For whatever reason, serious training isn’t happening right now. So I’ll let it not happen for awhile.

I leave for London/Edinburgh in under three weeks. I will try to run most days, and I will endeavor to not advance from the mildly injured state I’m in right now to a seriously injured one. I hope to do some scenic runs while in Edinburgh. If I can do some harder runs, that’ll be great. But if I can’t, I can’t. I just want to have fun. I want to enjoy my time there. I want to watch the Women’s Olympic Marathon in London. I want to work hard, see a lot of shows, hang out with my cohorts and drink good beer.

Fun: Priority 1. Working Hard: Priority 2. Training: Priority 17. And that’s fine. Seriously.

In which I engage in something resembling training

In the three or so weeks since my last post I’ve started to “train” somewhat more consistently. I’m not ready to get rid of those qualifying quotations just yet, but I’m ready to start saying I’m “training” because some things happened in the last week especially that make me feel more comfortable with the term.

For one thing, I’ve finally moved from doing one workout every week to two workouts every week. Well, heck, that’s something right there. I’ve also done two track sessions: sets of 800s and 600s at something around current 5K race pace. I also ran a 5K race last weekend, which would probably have you thinking that I would know what my 5K race pace is. But you’d be wrong! Because I’ve apparently forgotten how to race 5Ks. I ambled through that race and retardedly thought I’d missed my 5K PR by three seconds only to realize that I’d missed it by a minute and three seconds. Big difference, Jule. No wonder I felt so great and it didn’t seem painful. I wasn’t running hard enough.

Summer’s here and I’ve been struggling to acclimate. I did a very humid run in Van Cortlandt Park on Thursday morning (where I spotted a fast Kenyan — they’re all fast — running on Vault Hill). Today I headed to Bronxville HS track for my 600 repeats. I was scheduled to do 10 but bailed after 7 when I could feel that I was verging on the kind of Metabolic Fry Pan Workout that’s screwed me for weeks in the past. I need to (finally) get smart about these things this year.

My “training” “plan” — such as it is — is not complicated. For now I’m just doing two hard runs a week: one hilly run (for strength) either in Central or Van Cortlandt Park and one track workout (for speed), always at 5K effort (if I can eventually remember what that is). I’m running between 30-40 mpw. I will throw in some races for fun, as alternatives to the workouts and to see how things are going. Possibilities include Tuesday Icahn races on June 12 and 26, and July 10 and 24; the Van Cortlandt Park 2×2 Relay on July 5 (which I hope to run with Amy Cooper so that I am guaranteed baked goods, or at least to have someone to make fun of other people with), and the Women’s Distance Festival 5K at Rockland Lake (where I ran my “I forgot how to run a 5K race” race last weekend).

I will probably skip the Mini 10K because it doesn’t work with my schedule. I won’t have time to go interview the elites this year either, which is too bad.

Sometime around July 29 I’ll go from quasi-5K basebuilding into mile-specific training. This is, coincidentally, the day I leave for three weeks to do my Ian Faith impression in London and Edinburgh. Flexibility will be the order of the day over these weeks. I’m not expecting to get any real training done in London, such will be the jet lag and chaos. Edinburgh might be a little more stable, and I have three days “off” (more qualifier quotes). Nevertheless, I’ve located tracks within running distance in both locations, plus I was watching an Edinburgh episode of “House Hunters” recently and that somebitch looks hilly. So I can always put together a hill workout in a pinch.

I will pack my spikes. Because you never know where a little race might pop up.

Follow your heart, wherever it leads you

This post is about listening to that little, insistent voice that tells you where you should go. And also one other thing.

Last summer I was pulling out of a year-long tailspin that included (not necessarily in order of importance): race failures, a horrible running injury, my coach moving away, a bad bout of major depression and a truly alarming series of medical crises in my family. It sucked. It really, really sucked.

Things had started to look up in June and, as part of my “let’s get back to life” strategy I was forcing myself to go do things. If a social or cultural opportunity came my way, I told myself, I was going to take it. So when an invitation to see the world premiere of this show landed in my inbox in early July, I was open to it. But then immediately I closed myself off to it.

I almost didn’t go for a variety of reasons: I would have to drive all the way to Brooklyn; it was going to be hot that day; and I didn’t even like theatre all that much (at the time). But mostly it was because the words “one person show” strike fear into my heart. When it goes wrong, it goes terribly wrong. I didn’t want to spend an entire afternoon pretending to like someone else’s navel-gazing piece of garbage and, empathetic person that I tend to be, also suffering the vicarious sadness of watching her creative dream go down in flames.

I almost didn’t go. But something told me I should go. So I went.

I loved the show. I hung around afterwards. Then I asked the creator and star out to lunch about a week later. We became good friends. She gave me a ton of encouragement. Over the coming months, I changed. I got interested in doing something with my own writing. Then I got interested in performing. That led to a storytelling class and, now, an acting class. In the meantime, I helped out with the one woman show’s fall run, helping to promote the thing and get other people to go see it. For many months I existed in a kind of weird limbo: half fan and half unofficial team member. I didn’t have any idea where any of this was going. It didn’t matter. I just went with it.

Now it’s nearly a year later and I’m fully in the vortex that is ENDURE: A Run Woman Show. And, you know, I still have no idea where this is going. But it doesn’t matter. I’m still feeling like I should go. So I’m going.

Where am I going? Well, actually, I’m going to London and Scotland. With this show. This summer. I have a title (Associate Producer), which I am totally unqualified to hold, probably, except that I seem to be pretty good at what I’ve been asked to do so far. I’m project managing the tour. I’ll be doing other things at the actual shows, all of them unglamorous. I can’t wait.

The tour is almost paid for. But not quite. The point of this post wasn’t to ask you for money. It was to tell you to pay attention to your instincts and honor the things that engage you, no matter how foreign, nebulous or terrifying.

But as long as I have your attention, I may as well ask you for money. Can we please have some money?

This show is the real deal. Please support it, so we can bring it to you, wherever you are, eventually.

And now for my next disaster…

Four years ago I watched the women’s 2008 Olympic Marathon Trials race on television and, noting that a few of them were over the age of 40, thought maybe. Maybe. About six months later, when I ran a 3:19, I again thought maybe. Maybe. I embarked on the pursuit of a 2:46 marathon time, believing there was some outside chance I could run that fast one day, despite all evidence to the contrary. I went through two coaches, about 9,000 miles, lots of shoes, and bouts of overtraining and injury. I finally gave up in May.

Over the years this pursuit turned into a chronicling of expectations that have gradually lowered over time. Scratch one race, target another one in six months. Hope I come back from injury. Okay, so I wouldn’t run a qualifying time at all. But maybe I could get the first masters award in the 5K race in Houston that weekend. At least I could go interview some professional elites. But I got turned down for a media pass. Okay, so maybe I’ll just interview some of the amateur elite runners I know who will be there. Or at least meet them for dinner. Drinks? Anything? Okay, if not, I’ll just go watch the Trials then.

In the meantime, my partner in running, travel and life was beset by his own injuries and setbacks. A rock placed in his path by some mischievous running valkyrie on a 20 miler resulted in a sprained ankle mid-training cycle, then a compensatory injury in his quad. This was on top of years of injuries. So rather than running the stellar comeback marathon he’d planned, his sights were on just running a halfway decent pace and finishing in one piece.

We got to Houston on Thursday the 12th. Had dinner. Slept. Got up. Had breakfast in the hotel restaurant. Went out to buy groceries, $92 worth of food and drink for a long racing weekend. We even bought extra beer to host people with, just in case. Entering our hotel room, I saw the red message light blinking on the room phone. I figured it was hotel management pushing room service or something, but it was a terse message from my sister to call her as soon as possible. I put down the phone and said to Jonathan, “Something terrible has happened. I am about to get some bad news. You need to prepare yourself.”

And I did indeed get bad news, on Friday the 13th. My father had been killed in a car accident near his home on Long Island while we were out buying $92 worth of groceries.

I won’t go into all of that here.

We left immediately to come back east and spend the long weekend closer to home, with family and family friends. On Tuesday afternoon we got back to our house in Yonkers. That evening, in a daze, I watched the Marathon Trials coverage, dutifully recorded for us by Tivo. I looked for my Houston Hopefuls, the runners whom I’d interviewed (or just meant to interview),  the handful of women who had both carried and achieved the dream. I didn’t see them, but that didn’t surprise me because they wouldn’t be in the front of the pack. Then I looked at Jaymee Marty’s blog post about the Trials. Jaymee (whom I had so hoped to meet up with in Houston) finished last, and she ran most of the way with Susan Loken, who had also been hobbled by injuries. Both started the race with Ruth Perkins, who was running with a sacral stress fracture, the same injury I had in 2010. Perkins would drop out early.

Marty, Loken and Perkins

These two women, Loken and Marty, bookended my experience as a Trials wannabe. Susan was the first masters runner whom I followed, as the face of the now-defunct More Marathon, the late-starter masters runner, someone who took up jogging in her thirties to get in shape, who went on to run in the 2004 Trials (at the age of 40) and 2008 Trials and win multiple masters championship titles. Jaymee was the second masters runner I followed and my first Houston Hopefuls interview — the woman who inspired the series, really. I have followed Jaymee’s running career for at least three years and was elated when she qualified for the trials in Chicago in 2010, the third-oldest first time qualifier in history (sorry, Jaymee; that’s not a backhanded compliment, just a fact). Not only did both of these women make the Trials, but they are also both phenomenal runners when they are running well. But now, here they both had been, struggling just to finish.

And, you know, I’m really proud of them both for running and finishing. But at the same time the whole thing — marathoning, the Trials, setting goals — it just seems like such a giant cosmic joke. You can make all the plans you want, but in the end life is going to happen. And just when you thought you’d lowered your expectations as much as you possibly could — “I’ll just race the 5K and watch the Trials…” — you end up having to lower them even more.

Why do we strive? Why do we set goals? Fate laughs at them sometimes, reminds us of how temporary we all are, and renders our grand plans totally trivial. But what else are we to do?

Houston in January: Let’s put the “social” back in “social media”

It’s come to my attention that a lot of people whom I kind of — but don’t really, but would like to — know are going to be descending upon Houston over Olympic Marathon Trials weekend. Since I just got turned down for a media credential, plus I’m only racing the 5K (although I will have my semi-hysterial pre-marathon SO in tow, which means gettng there early to minimize travel stress), I’ll have free time on my hands.

Chances are good that I’ll arrive late Thursday and leave early in the day on Monday. Unless I decide to skulk around outside of the press events, which means I’ll probably be arrested for harrassment and/or loitering and thrown into jail, I should be fairly footloose and fancy free. I can’t get drunk, though. At least not after Friday night.

I would like to meet you if I can. Maybe even assemble in a group to watch the Trials with — I will be cheering for several actual people I sort of know. Or for the full/half marathon, if you’re not running those — after I race the 5K I’ll be out cheering for lots of people in those races too. Or have someone to say “Hi” to at the finish of the 5K — or perhaps even at the start. Dinner, drinks, brunch. Pom-poms. Making fun of Houston. The possibilities are truly endless.

If you’re going to be there and want to try to arrange a meetup or two, please let me know with a comment and/or email. I can’t keep track of who’s going and who’s running what when. I think I need to start building a spreadsheet or something.

Training: Aug 28-Sept 3

This is my 800th post.

It was a big week for training, the effects of which snuck up on me. Sunday was a day off owing to a hurricane (but mostly because it was a lot more fun to read, eat, nap and talk with my cohorts Amy and TK at the latter’s country digs in Pennsylvania than it was to run).

Fully recovered from the previous day’s hangover, TK and I headed out on Monday morning — which featured cool, dry post-hurricane weather — for what we thought would be a 12 mile run. (Amy is, alas, injured and can’t run; but, boy, can she still swim.) That turned into 14.6 after we missed a turnoff. Oh, well. At an average pace of 9:30, it was no slouch of a run. And encouraging for us both since we were able to converse easily for 2+ hours at that pace. I have not run this far in well over a year.

On Tuesday, as I could have predicted, my legs were shot. But I nevertheless was running at 8:40 pace. What gives?

On Wednesday I headed to the track and noticed undeniable progress.

On Thursday I did another quickish recovery run. In fact, all of my recovery runs (save for the long one on Monday) were sub-9:00.

On Friday I did another quick recovery run, again on tired legs, so I skipped the strides. Then a faster 7 miles again on Friday (8:47) in high humidity. Ho hum. This is getting boring.

On Saturday I tried a new track in Edgemont and found my training limits at the moment. I was running like poo for the longer stuff, although the shorter bits were still okay. I remembered that this was the third big workout in just 6 days, plus it was warm, very humid and I was running in full sun. Did I mention that there was a stiff wind too? So I am not going to worry about it.

I have been a good girl with regard to doing weight work and core work. Booya. I also did some foam rolling in there because I can feel my legs starting to knot up and that’s never a good sign.

I really should get a massage, but I’m afraid to. The last time I went to my massage person it had (like now) been months since my last visit and there was a lot of damage for her to undo. Fewer than 12 hours after the first damage control session my back went into spasm and I was in semi-agony for three days (she went out of town). Then she finished the job and that went away. But I don’t want to go now and risk another spasming right before a bunch of races. I think I’ll take my chances and get a massage after the Fifth Avenue Mile.

How much tighter can I possibly get in three weeks? Don’t answer that.

This morning I got up and was dog tired. Plus both hamstrings were engaged in mild grumbling. So I took the day off from all exercise. I’m scheduled for an early morning track session tomorrow but I will bag it if I still feel tired or out of sorts in terms of my hamstrings.

Oh, but these have been hard lessons.

And this little piggy went whee, whee, whee all the way home…

Race Report or whatever: the Brooklyn Half

A three hour tour. A THREE HOUR TOUR!!!

No, it didn’t take me three hours to run a half marathon (I came in a shade under two hours), but it did take me three hours to get home. And that was too damned long.

The actual race was the least interesting part of today. So let’s start with the pre-race goings on. I stayed overnight at my dad’s place on the Upper West Side and, as I usually do before any race, even those I don’t give a shit about, I could not sleep properly. Fake Ambien let me down and at 3:30 a car alarm woke me up for good, well in advance of my 4:30 alarm. I was running on around five hours of sleep.

Fortified by strong coffee and Mini Wheats, I dashed down to where a van the New York Harriers had rented was stationed on 85th and Broadway. There, I met up with a few people I knew already, but most whom I didn’t. The highlight of that standing around experience was when a drunk young man stumbled upon our group, with a seemingly sober woman in tow, and declared, swaying, heavy-lidded and rubbery-lipped, “My wife is pregnant!” The woman he was with looked a little horrified and said, “I’m not pregnant!”

Then, looking at our shirts, Drunk Guy said, “What are the New York Harriers?”

Since no one answered him I jumped in and said, “We are a cult!” That got me a few laughs and a few odd looks, and in this fashion I was able to quickly and efficiently determine who I should talk to post-race. Just kidding. Sort of.

At 5:45 sharp we clambered into the van and wended our way down to Prospect Park in Brooklyn. A bunch of Harriers dashed out and started running…somewhere. When I see people running fast before a race, and I have no idea where baggage or the start are, I tend to get panicky and just follow them. So I was tearing along and it was at that point that I got a sense of how humid it was. It was 96% humidity this morning, according to NYRR. That’s pretty fucking humid. I am a terrible hot weather runner, especially early in the summer season, and the wisdom of my plan to run a slowish long run today was becoming more and more evident by the minute.

Even though I had a red bib I lined up a corral back, at the very back of the yellow-bibbed group. That turned out to be perfect as I was running 8:30 or so to start and would run in that range for the next 9 miles or so. Prospect Park is very pretty and I liked the nature of its hills. Unlike Central Park’s they are very long and gradual. With two loops of the park making up slightly more than half the race, I got very familiar with those hills and had fun running them. I was also glad for the 7:00 am start because the sun was still low and as such the run was, up until the last 2.5 miles or so, almost completely shaded. That helped on a day like today, in which we had horrible humidity and full sun.

A virtual friend from LetsRun.com (and now Facebook) who goes by the moniker Humbled (and who lives in Detroit, but visits Brooklyn often to visit her significant other) had noted that she’d be in town spectating the race today. I looked for her along Ocean Parkway, but didn’t spot her. Much as I would like to meet her eventually, I was sort of glad about that because in the last few miles I was getting pretty cranky and I’m sure I smelled like a barn.

I had no goal for the race going in other than to just do a regular long run. But as I trundled along I decided that I’d try to come in under two hours. I gave up some time in the last few miles due to stopping and taking lots of water. But my average pace was 9:04 and I came in a shade under 1:59. Numbers are stupid on days like today. But I still care about them.

In the last couple of miles people were struggling with the weather. I saw a few runners down along the side of the road, and a few wobbling along the boardwalk. The med tent at the finish was very busy. Had I actually raced today, I’m pretty sure I would have been among its visitors given how I felt in the last few miles.

The post-race meetup was the best part of the day, although the effect of the weather, dehydration and beer took me by surprise. After a week of hardening myself in England with concoctions like Twickenham Naked Ladies, Samuel Smith’s Nut Brown Ale and Bertie’s Snuff Film Lager (okay, I made that one up), I’d thought I’d be fine having a drink at 9:30 in the morning. We met up at something called Beer Island, which made me think of the song “Beer Picnic,” written by my friend Carolyn (Lengel) Enright for her 1980′s band Bad Tuna Experience. Just about any title that starts with “beer” is bound to sound festive.

Schmaltz Brewery's Human Blockhead: delicious but also dangerous. It's 10% alcohol -- more drunk for your buck!

Anyway, at Beer Island I became enamored of their Coney Island Human Blockhead, the label of which features Coney Island Sideshow master of ceremonies (and person who can hammer a nail into his nose, among other fantastic talents) Donny Vomit. Unfortunately, Human Blockhead only comes in 650ml bottles, or slightly less than twice the amount of beer you’ll typically get in a bottle.

Dehydrated and on a more or less empty stomach, even sipping the stuff I was wobbly myself after half a bottle. At noon I realized I would have trouble walking without embarrassing myself. So I hung out for awhile longer, finished it up and, at 1:30 realized that I could put off the ordeal of making my way home no longer. Walking was still a slight challenge, especially on sand, but whatever. I wanted to make it home before The Rapture, which was scheduled for 6:00 pm.

I said my goodbyes to all the nice Harriers (I know many more of them now, and none of them are assholes) and headed over to Nathan’s because I had to put something in my stomach. I have no idea why, but I went with the softshell crab sandwich, of which I could only eat the crab. After wolfing that down I was ready for the subway, which would take at least 90 minutes, plus I had to stop off at my dad’s place first before making my way up to where my car was parked on 108th Street. I’d have plenty of time to sober up!

Did you know that there are 381 stops in Brooklyn on the Q train from Stillwell Avenue? I slept through them all, waking up at Canal Street in Manhattan. Then the Q driver announced we were local. So I snoozed up to 42nd Street, where I hoped to transfer to the 2/3 express. But those were not running, so I had another tedious set of local stops up to 96th Street on the 1.

Anyway, it took me three hours to get from Beer Island to my house. That’s too long. I’m not running Brooklyn again. It’s far easier to get wasted post-race in Manhattan.

Houston, we have a plan

I had pretty solid plans to go to Houston in January whatever happened in terms of my own Olympic Trial dreams. There will just be too many interesting people there to miss it. Plus, there’s the Trials! For awhile I was thinking I’d skip it, since I thought it might just be too depressing to go now that I’ve regained sanity and given up on my own quest for a qualifier.

But that would be silly. I’m not upset about it now, so I’m doubtful that I will be eight months from now. Besides, as more and more people whom I’d like to meet are coming out of the woodwork and posting “I’m going to be in Houston!” on Facebook, I get more and more excited about the prospect. Not only do a have a slew of Houston Hopefuls to meet, but a whole lot of people whom I have only known virtually will be there, as will my friend Pigtails Flying. And, I hope, Coach Sandra and her star athlete, Khalid Khannouchi.

So here’s what I’m going to do: I’m going to register for the 5K race they run in conjunction with the half and full (open, not Trials) marathon races on marathon weekend. I hope to be a specialist at shorter distances by then, and much faster than I am now. The first masters female last year ran a 22:46. Pfft. I can beat that easily now. At my current level I could crack the top 10. Maybe I’ll make it a goal to place in the top 5. Yeah, that would be fun. And perhaps even possible. See? It’s all about picking the right race.

By doing a 5K, I can relax and watch the Trials, and not worry about running around talking to people, or going out and having a beer or two the evening before my race. I can even bail on the 5K altogether without it being a big deal. But I don’t think I will unless I’m injured or something.

Yes. This sounds like a good plan.

Lights! Camera! Travel!

Two weeks without a post. Dearie me.

It’s been one heck of a spring so far, primarily consisting of familial highs and lows, and mostly just lows for running. First, my stepmother nearly died after surgery complications. That was three weeks ago. She’s still in the ICU, clawing her way back to normality. So that’s completely sucked. But I did learn a lot about my family and myself in terms of our personal strengths and weaknesses and how we all cope with disaster. That was interesting and useful.

Then I blew up in the Long Island Half and declared that marathons were dead to me. My feelings have not changed.

This photo needs no caption.

I spent the last week in England with Jonathan’s family, and that was a great time, although, like all travel and concentrated social time, kind of exhausting too. J.’s brother and his husband live in southwest London, while his mother and her husband live in the western cape of South Africa. We try to convene in one of our locales at least every 18-36 months. I hadn’t been to the UK since 2006. It’s changed in some ways but not in others. For example, while cars (and people) are getting bigger, their streets and parking spaces are not. This makes riding in a car a harrowing experience. I spent a lot of time with my eyes closed, worrying about my inlaws’ paint job and side mirrors.

Out and about...

We are active tourists. I think it’s really stupid to travel to a place and sit around inside, which is part of why I don’t care where I stay, usually, as long as it’s not diseased or dangerous. Fortunately, J.’s family is also up for lots of walking, tube-riding and ticket-buying, so our days and evenings were filled with interesting things to do. Highlights include:

A guided walk with London Walks, which has become a kind of tradition when we go there. This time around we did a square mile tour of the city’s center, getting a history of, among other things, Roman London, the Black Death, the births of the Stock Exchange and Lloyd’s of London, and too many buildings designed by Christopher Wren (the Michael Caine of historical London architecture) to count.

A memorial to victims of the plague.

War Horse, which has been playing in London for quite awhile but just opened in Lincoln Center and has gotten a shitload of Tony nominations. As previously noted, I’m not a theatre person, but I appreciate a creatively conceived and executed production in any media, and this delivered. Skilled puppeteers steered giant horses (and a tank) around a stage for two hours. The play’s a little long and overly sentimental (but that’s par for the course in almost any English treatment of WW1 and WW2 — that’s my sweeping, culturally insensitive opinion; go ahead and flame away!), but it was nevertheless impressive. The casting director gets Most Creative Casting award for putting a black man into the role of an embittered SS Captain. Not since seeing Charlton Heston playing a Mexican narc in Touch of Evil have I had to work so hard to suspend my disbelief.

Also, I noted that at play intermissions, English people rush out to the lobby to buy tiny containers of ice cream, which they bring back to their seatmates in huge stacks. Then they all sit there and eat it together, looking supremely happy and satisfied. This was a spectacle so utterly charming and weird that I was beside myself.

In one of a dozen pubs visited.

A massive Joan Miro retrospective at the Tate Modern, which I dragged J.’s family to, although I did not hear complaints. But they were probably being polite. There were 13 rooms of works spanning his career, organized chronologically and placed within the context of the Spanish Civil War and Franco’s Spain, which I admit to having known absolutely nothing about. Now I know almost nothing about those periods of history.

Sadly, I did not get to drink Piddle while there.

A long weekend in County Dorset, to the southwest of London, which is on the southern coast. J. spent most of his childhood and his early teens in this area and it’s incredibly beautiful. Friends of his brother’s have an apartment right on the beach in Sandbanks that they let us use. We had two memorable lunches: the first to reconnect with Jonathan’s stepfather, who we’d last seen circa 1993; the second to celebrate a major milestone birthday for his mother. We visited too many pubs to recall.

Saw lots of these...

The cultural highlight of that last venue was viewing the Eurovision Song Contest, an annual televised music competition that drew 125 million viewers this year. Each European nation puts forth its “best” song and performer(s) in a bid to win the votes of its peers (you can’t vote for your own country, nor are larger nations allowed to skew the numbers — everyone gets the same number of votes). If you have never seen Eurovision, it’s difficult grasp its level of sheer gaudy absurdity. The event goes on for hours, and it’s kind of like Star Search meets Top of the Pops meets Solid Gold. Fortunately, we have YouTube (see below).

...and lots of these.

Singers from nation after nation take the stage, usually with lots of non-singing dancers in tow, against a backdrop of often stunning visual effects. Then the voting begins and at that point you’re glad you’ve been drinking because it goes on for about an hour and half, with each nation’s vote doler outer (usually a tarted up woman, probably a local television personality) struggling to chatter coyly in broken English (Ha! Ha! Foreigners are so funny when they try to speak proper English!). The winning nation gets the dubious prize of hosting next year’s Eurovision, which is presumably a massively expensive proposition, so we found ourselves wondering if Portugal, Iceland and Greece might be sandbagging. Winning performers rarely go on to stardom, the exception being Abba, who won in 1974 with “Waterloo.”

I think my favorite part of watching Eurovision is the spontaneous reactions we all have. We can’t stop ourselves from saying things like:

“God, is everyone in Iceland that fat?”

“Wait a minute. Her name’s Kati? But that’s a man!”

“What is wrong with the French?”

You also get a real sense of what people in the various countries find sexy and stylish. It’s rarely what I find sexy and stylish.

I have never correctly guessed who will win. I’m never even close. This year’s winners were Azerbaijan’s Ell/Nikki, with an anemic, schmaltzy duet called “Running Scared.” I was banking on either Ireland, with its bizarre, poppy entry from twin brothers (and big fans of epaulets, hair gel and Devo) Jedward. Or Serbia’s Nina, who rocked the final with a stylish sixties vibe and, as a chunky-legged girl from peasant stock like myself, proved exteme bravery in wearing white tights on international television. But, no, all the bands I hated made the top 10. Special mention goes to Moldova, for its entry, “So Lucky,” which embodies the sort of demented eye- and ear-raping that you expect of Eurovision.

Azerbaijan: Cream-colored bland FTW.

Ireland: We don’t care if we win. We’ll charge it!

Serbia: Don’t worry, if we don’t win we can always get jobs at Target.

Moldova: Coneheads and unicycles! Thank you!

Jonathan procures pork pies at Borough Market.

Clearly, given the length of my Eurovision report, this was my favorite part of the trip. But I sampled a lot of English culinary staples this time around: black pudding, Scotch eggs, pork pies and my ritual fish and chips/mushy peas, this time from a decades-old childhood chippy that Jonathan was amazed to find still bustling despite everything around it having changed.

Fifty years later, while entire streets and buildings are gone, the humble chip shop still stands.

Unfortunately, since J. got the bright idea that we should all drink absinthe during this musical ordeal, I had a mild hangover the next morning and, while stumbling out for a walk along the beach, managed to bash my left foot on a gate. I’ve done something to it because after an eight mile run the next day my left hip flexor and adductor were iffy. My foot still hurts when I flex it. Kids, don’t drink and run.

Branksome Chine, where we did part of a longish run.

With the foot issue, travel stress and terrible nutrition (and almost no running) of the past week, I plan to jog rather than race the Brooklyn Half this weekend, mostly to collect my 10 points for internal New York Harrier scoring. I’m hoping I can redeem them for pistachio nuts or bobby pins or something at the end of the year.

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