Charmander mania in Green Park

25 Oct

Remember Pokemon Go, that augmented reality mobile game everyone was really into 3 months ago? It seems the majority of PokeTrainers have thrown in the towel, but I am still into Pokemon Go — like really, really into it, to an almost embarrassing extent. Stephen came home from work the other day and asked me why I was so happy.

“There’s been a nest migration,” I told him. “Green Park is teeming with Charmanders. I can’t wait to go tomorrow!”

He laughed. “I wish I had something that made me as happy as Pokemon Go makes you,” he said. Yes, it is embarrassing that I am a grown woman running around catching imaginary monsters on her phone, but it makes me happy. And I think Stephen secretly likes the game too. He downloaded it when it first came out, but never got into it. Now every night he asks me to see my Pokemon and asks me how many more candies I need to get a Charizard and Dragonite. Perhaps he’s just being nice and acting interested in my interests, but even if that’s the case, that’s nice too.

This past weekend we went to lunch in Soho, then walked up to Tottenham Court Road to go sofa shopping. When we left the store I asked how we were getting home.

“We can walk a little bit,” he said. “You have to get more Charmanders, right?” So we walked all the way from Oxford Street through St. James Park to Green Park. To those of you who don’t know London, that’s about 3 miles of walking (after we had already walked a mile to the furniture store and ran 4 miles in the morning). As we got closer to Green Park, I opened up Go Radar for the first time. For over 3 months now I have been playing Pokemon Go without the help of any trackers or radars — it felt like cheating and I heard you could get banned for using some of them. But then I was in Jubilee Gardens the other day and a wild Snorlax appeared (a very, very rare, very, very good Pokemon), but it disappeared before I got a chance to click on it. I couldn’t let that happen again. I also need to up my roster if I’m going to have a chance in the Pokemon gym scene. So I downloaded the radar app, which tells you where and when certain Pokemon spawn, but it only seems to work in a very small area of London, so I don’t feel too bad about cheating since most of the time I’m still playing the game blind. The radar app told me there were 5 Charmander in Green Park. Even Stephen got a little excited when I caught the first one. But after 20 minutes of chasing little red dinosaurs up and down the park, he was done. I caught 7 Charmanders before we made our way to the bus stop.

“Next time you’re coming by yourself,” Stephen said.

And so I did. This afternoon I ran to Green Park again, because it’s not a childish waste of your time if you’re getting exercise whilst doing it, right? And just as the park was teeming with Charmanders, it was teeming with Pokemon Go players of all ages. I saw everyone from parents playing with their children to businessmen on their lunch break. It was the most crowded I’ve seen Green Park, the wimpiest of the Royal Parks, in years. This Charmander nest is bringing in people from all over the UK and getting everyone out and active. Well done, whoever is in charge of Pokemon nest migration!


I ran around the park for a half hour until I caught 14 Charmander and had enough candy to evolve one into a Charizard. Starting tomorrow, Pokemon Go is having a Halloween promotion where you get extra candy for every Pokemon you catch or hatch. That probably doesn’t make sense to anyone who doesn’t play (in fact if you don’t play, I’m impressed you made it this far in this post), but it’s a really big deal. If Green Park was crowded today, I can’t imagine what it’ll be like tomorrow. I guess I’ll just have to see, because of course I’m going to have to go back, there’s no such thing as too many Charmanders!

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(Remember Pokemon Snap?)


The Fitbit superglue conundrum

10 Oct

The other day my Fitbit Charge HR fell to bits. It’s been hanging on by a thread for the past few months, but it finally said “enough!” when I tried to plug it in to charge it.

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I had planned to spend the afternoon working and was feeling particularly productive. But when I could not charge my Fitbit nor press the side button because it had fallen off, everything else took a backseat. One of my previous Fitbits had fallen apart before and I was able to salvage it with superglue. I rummaged through my cabinets, only to find the superglue had dried up. I switched my sweatpants for jeans and hurried next door to the little overpriced hardware store that had somehow replaced the always-crowded laundromat where I used to wash my duvet. I even took the lift down instead of the stairs, because why take the stairs and get exercise when your Fitbit isn’t counting it? I still swung my arm on the walk there out of habit though. Overpriced superglue in hand, I went back to finish my mission. I carefully practiced how I would place the tiny bits of plastic, then applied the glue. Mindful not to superglue my fingers together or to the plastic, I held the pieces in place for a few seconds. Success! I thought. I still need to buy a new Fitbit, but I could wait another month and have my parents bring me one from the US.

I placed my Charge HR back on my wrist, ready to get back to work, only to remember I got into this whole debacle because it needed to be charged. So I went back to my computer and tried to plug it in. The charging cable would not connect.

I had filled the charging hole with superglue.

I googled “how to remove superglue,” which was a purple link because I had obviously searched this before. The answer was acetone. So I got out my nail polish remover, some cotton buds, and a needle and frantically started scraping at the hole. Slowly bits of glue came off, but no matter how much I scraped, I couldn’t get the cable to connect. I had fixed my Fitbit, but it would only work for another day or so on low battery. After more time than I’d like to admit, I was able to get the cable to connect, but it would only charge if I held it in with both hands.

The next thing I googled: “Where to buy Charge 2 UK.”

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Fitbit Charge HR on the left, Fitbit Charge 2 on the right

The only thing good that came out of this time-wasting situation is that I got the cool new Fitbit Charge 2 the next day, and thanks to the falling value of the pound, I paid about the same as I would if I bought it in the US.

And I learned never to underestimate the watery nature of superglue.

China Impressions: Road Trip Snacks

5 Oct

My first Chinese road trip occurred during my first trip to China back in 2009. Stephen’s family drove us to Chengdu so I could achieve my panda dream. This was also my first experience with Chinese road trip snacks. When we got in the car, Stephen’s cousin passed us a bag of snacks, which consisted entirely of fruit — mini bananas, pears, lychee and mangosteen. Some of my favorite fruit, but not the easiest to eat in the car. Growing up, my dad always took pride in our cars. It was the greatest compliment when my friends would get in and tell him our years-old van still looked and smelled brand new. Fresh lychee is not readily available in the U.S., but if it were, we would never be allowed to take it in the car. I can hear my dad’s voice now — “It’s sticky and you’ll get shells and seeds all over!” But that, in a nutshell, seems to be the requirement for Chinese road trip snacks: sticky, shells and seeds.

This month we were in China briefly for a friend’s wedding. The ceremony and reception were held at a resort in a quiet mountain town about 3 hours outside of Shanghai, so the bride and groom kindly rented a big bus to take all their out-of-town guests there. I was prepared to “hold it” the whole way — it was a previous Chinese road trip that enabled me to set my 7 hours “hold it” record (I do not recommend this). I have taken many Chinese road trips, but since I assumed there’d be nothing but squatters, I have never been inside a Chinese rest stop. Until now.

I was pleased to find one handicap sit-down toilet in a sea of squatters (did I set that 7-hour record for nothing?!). While I was in the loo, Stephen hit up the fruit stall — that’s what they have at Chinese rest stops, fruit stalls. When I emerged, he greeted me with a bag of bananas and lotus pods. Members of our group gathered round as I broke the pod open and popped a seed into my mouth.

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“Oh god, this is horrible!” I said through muffled attempts to spit it out. Turns out you’re supposed to remove the bitter green shell before you eat it. If you do that the seeds are actually tasty.

Just then the bride came over and handed me what I thought was a souvenir relic from the Ming dynasty.


“Try it,” she said. “It’s good, it tastes like a potato.”

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It was indeed good and potato-like, but I had no idea what it was. I meant to google “Chinese fruit or vegetable that looks like Satan’s mustache” when I got home, but I didn’t need to. An image of one happened to pop up on Reddit the other day. Turns out it’s a water caltrop, a type of water chestnut — those crunchy bits you see in tins or at the stir fry bar. Who knew they had such ominous exteriors.


Stephen returned to our little group with a bag of freshly roasted chestnuts (cue The Christmas Song). I’m not sure I’ve ever had freshly roasted chestnuts, but they were delicious, and in true Chinese road trip food form, difficult to open and sticky. At least the stall gave us an extra bag to put the shells.

Once back on the bus, everyone shared some of their treasures. One guy went down the aisle passing out sweet potatoes — piping hot, gooey, delicious whole sweet potatoes.

“Why did you buy a whole bag of sweet potatoes?” I asked him.

“Because sweet potatoes are awesome!” he replied. Touche.

So if you’re keeping tally, my Chinese rest stop road trip snacks consisted of a banana, lotus seeds, chestnuts, water chestnuts and a sweet potato.

When we couldn’t possibly eat another chestnut, we passed the bag through the bus, while other snacks came to us. I passed on the bag of dried squid, but grabbed a handful of the next thing that came by.

“Ooo, are these prawn crisps?” I asked.

“Did you just say prawn crisps?” the guy across from me asked, faking an English accent. “They’re obviously shrimp chips!”

My accent might say “American,” but apparently I’ve become more British than I thought.

On our way back to Shanghai 2 days later our bus stopped at the same rest stop. It was around 7pm, so instead of just snacks, we needed to eat something more substantial and dinner-like.

“So tell us, what can we eat here that won’t give us diarrhea?” one of the American guys whispered to Stephen. His advice was to get something hot and cooked, preferably not with meat. There were stalls selling rice balls filled with pork and salty egg, all kinds of tofu, ice cream, corn on the cob, and crepe-like sandwiches. We settled on the crepe-like thing filled with egg, spam and ketchup. It was surprisingly delicious despite how I described it, and we didn’t get sick from it either. On the way out we popped into the only store somewhat reminiscent of an American rest stop filled with packaged snacks like chips and candy. A bag of honey-flavored potato chips caught my eye because I remembered reading an article about Korean honey chip hysteria. I was so excited to try them. They were just OK — better if you thought of them as really thin biscuits/cookies instead of potato chips since they were so sweet. I later realized the popular chips are “honey butter” flavored, not just honey, so I probably bought some cheap rip off Korean chip. I guess I’ll have to go to Korea someday to try the real thing.

Though Chinese road trip snacks are some of the most inconvenient things to eat with their sticky shells, seeds and skins, they are also some of the healthiest. While I don’t see sweet potatoes, lotus and chestnuts coming to an American Flying J truck stop soon, it would be nice to have some options besides McDonalds, chips and candy on my next Megabus ride.

For more in my China Impressions series, click here.

Half marathon aftermath

28 Sep

If the shiny new medal and T-shirt didn’t give it away, you could easily tell who just ran the Richmond Marathon or Half by the way they were climbing the Tube stairs. I should have anticipated it, but nobody told me just how much running a half HURTS. Not so much during — I’m actually surprised by my lack of blisters — but after. Oh, after. It didn’t really hit me until after I got home, took a shower, went to Chinatown to stuff my face with dim sum, then came back and took a nap. When I woke up from that nap I couldn’t move. Everything hurt. It hurt to stand up, to walk, to sit on the toilet, to bend my knees, to straighten them.

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“My knees hurt so bad,” I remember some girl saying right after the race. “Oh my god, is this what it feels like to be old?” If that’s true, I am not looking forward to it one bit. Stephen couldn’t help but laugh at the way I was hobbling around.

“I can’t even complain,” I said. “I totally did this to myself.”

The best way I can describe the pain is jetlag mixed with the flu — the kind of flu where your whole body just aches. I felt tired and exhausted, but not sleepy. I just laid in bed staring into space. I didn’t have the energy to work or even to browse Facebook on my phone. It took everything I had just to put frozen chicken wings into the oven for dinner. And about that — I’m realizing now that I probably should have taken post-run nutrition a little more seriously. I went the “I just burned 1,200 calories and am gonna eat all the bad things!” route instead of “I’m going to fill my body up with goods things to help it heal.” The dim sum, chicken wings, and cake could have been another reason I felt like crap. Eventually I was able to pass out and after 9 hours of sleep I felt much better. I was still sore, but it was a functioning sore. I definitely took the bus to my hair appointment instead of walking 2 miles though.

We went to China a couple days later, because there’s nothing better for sore knees than cramming them in an economy plane seat for 12 hours. Though I was feeling better by then. We were only there for a few days for a friend’s wedding. It’s funny that pre-race me was debating whether I wanted to bring my running gear on the trip. It didn’t even occur to me that I’d be too sore to even think about hopping on a treadmill! Today was my first day back running after 9 days off. I took it slow with lots of walking and Pokemon breaks, but it felt good. Though it’s nice to have a goal you’re training towards, it’s also nice just to run for the sake of running (and hatching Pokemon eggs, of course).

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Richmond Runfest Richmond Half Marathon recap

19 Sep

I stood by the baggage drop van taking last minute puffs of my inhaler.

“Um, are you OK to run 13 miles?” The nice lady manning the van asked me, genuine concern in her voice.

“Yeah, of course,” I replied, much more confidently than I felt. I was about to run the Richmond Half through Kew Gardens — my first half marathon.

During my training runs I questioned why I was doing this, but when my alarm went off at 6:30am, I really started to doubt my silly before-I-turn-30 goal. But I suited up, downed my overnight oats, and hopped on the tube to Richmond. The train was filled with other runners boasting their half or 10K bibs. And like true sheeple, when we got off at the Kew Gardens stop, each of thought “I’ll just follow the other runners, they’ll know where they’re going,” and we all started walking in the complete opposite direction of Kew Gardens, despite the fact that we all had GPS on our phones. After a couple blocks the runner in front pulled out the map and realized we were going the wrong way. Just what I wanted to do before running 13.1 miles — walk an extra mile. It was good warm up I guess. I still arrived with plenty of time to use the loo, and then immediately join the queue for the loo again because there was no way I was stopping along the course to use a porta-potty. I dropped off my bag and made my way to the start just as they were calling for my wave. Could not have timed it better.

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We all started in a giant group, which made it hard to pick up speed or pass anyone. We moved as a giant amoeba through the scenic garden.

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Then before I knew it, I was on my own — where had the rest of my amoeba gone?

The thing I love about running is that it can be either a solo or group sport. I was surprised to see more runners running the race by themselves than with groups of friends. Yet there was this subtle “we’re all in this together” spirit in the air as we powered towards the same finish line. At times running can be lonely though. At mile 5 we were back in the woods dodging sticks, rocks and whatever a pothole is called when it’s in the woods. To get the full experience (and because I read they were banned) I ran without headphones, so I only had the jukebox in my head. Which for some inexplicable reason was playing Jim Steinman’s Left in the Dark on repeat. It’s a sad song about an unfaithful lover. It is the furthest thing from a pump up running song. But I went with it. The only thing I had to focus on was not tripping, and even that wasn’t going well — I tried to dodge a rock and almost wiped out, but luckily caught myself without getting injured.

Around mile 5.5 we went through a cheering tunnel, which was encouraging. I felt ready to sprint towards the finish. But then I realized the cheering was meant for those doubling back on mile 11.5. There were people already 6 miles ahead of me. I still had 7.5 miles to go. I ate a Jelly Baby and buckled down for the long haul.

I always assumed I would walk a portion of the race. Besides my 10K race last November, I never run non-stop. There are always stoplights and stop signs along my routes, and even when I’m only doing 4 miles, I often have to take a walking break just to blow my nose and catch my breath (and most recently, catch a Pokemon). So it was just a matter of when my walking break would be. Around mile 7 my knee started to hurt. Just make it to mile 8, I told myself. That’s a respectable, even number. You can say you ran 8 miles non-stop. But then at mile 8 I ate a Jelly Baby and didn’t feel a desire to stop. So I pushed on. Slowly, mind you, but at a pace faster than walking. “You only have 5K left!” I told myself, then quickly realized it was 5 miles, not 5K (3 miles). Bollocks. Cue more Left in the Dark.

At mile 9 something weird came over me. I expected to be feeling like death, alternating a minute of walking with a minute of running. But instead this inner voice piped up: “What if you did it? What if you actually ran this entire half marathon? You only have 4 miles left. That’s a literal walk (run) in the park.” So I ran, getting a little boost each time I passed a runner who had thrown in the towel and started walking.

At mile 10 I decided to reward myself. Since I had made it 10 whole miles without a walking break, I opened up Pokemon Go and hatched my 10K egg (which was at 9.1K so I only had to run 0.9K). (I got a Pinsir in case you were wondering. I did not have him. It made me momentarily happy, which is what I hoped it would do). At mile 11.5 I ran through the cheering tunnel again and got a boost from all the charity volunteers. I was actually doing this! I was running — RUNNING — a half marathon! And I only had 2 miles left! At mile 12 volunteers rang bells and cheered us on. “One more mile!” They shouted. I spotted a photographer and gave him a thumbs up — thumbs up at mile 12. Who am I?

And then I remembered what I overheard a runner say around mile 10: “I hate the finish line of this race. You get into the park and everyone’s cheering and then you think you’re done, but they make you weave around.”

She was right. I was hurting, sure, but I had this fire inside me and was ready to finish. I ran into the park, high-fiving the crowds of supporters. I was on cloud nine! I could see the finish line! I looked at MapMyRun and saw my time — 2 hours and 10 minutes. I said I didn’t have a goal for this half aside from finishing, but my farfetched goal was 2:15. I couldn’t believe there was a chance I could attain that. I just had to go 100m, turn right, and sprint towards the finish. …but then I realized there was a sign after that 100m. “Half Marathon turn left, 10K turn right.” Turning right took you right to the finish. Turning left took you alllll around the park. I wanted to cry. I suddenly was emotionally and physically drained. It was the longest half mile of my life. Every runner around me was either walking or making “I want to die” huffing noises. There were no supporters around us — just grass, barriers and runners running out of gas.

I want to say I powered through, dug deep, gave an inspirational speech to those around me, and shot towards the finish. But I feel like I need to be honest with you, dear readers. I walked. Only for about 10 seconds, just to blow my nose, but at mile 12.8 of my first half marathon I took my first walking break. “You don’t get near the finish line and stop!” Jillian Michaels used to scream at me while I did her exercise DVDs. Well, apparently I do.

But this part happened for real — when I rounded the bend and saw the finish line straight ahead, I dug deep. I sprinted like it was a 200m race. I like to think the other runners plodding along gazed on in amazement as I shot past them. And then, like a scene from a cheesy movie, I actually threw my arms up in the air and crossed the finish line in that pose, victorious. (I can’t wait to see the photo, though I doubt it’s as magnificent as it is in my head). A volunteer handed me a medal, I put it on and held it up proudly for the photographer, and then my eyes started to water as the mental and physical exhaustion started to hit me. I ran a half marathon. And I actually RAN it, aside from that tiny infraction close to the finish line that we won’t talk about. My time ended up being 2:16 — 1 minute from my goal. By no means fast, but a solid first effort.

When I texted my runner friend the news she asked me if I was ready for a full now. As I write this Jim Steinman’s What Part of My Body Hurts the Most is playing in my head, so the thought of putting my body through 26.2 miles seems insane. I think I’d rather focus on improving my 5K, 10K and (maybe) half times. But then again, when I finished my first 10K race I thought there was no way I could run twice that distance, so in the words of (ugh) Justin Bieber — never say never.

The time is nigh

16 Sep

Last night as I was planning my tube journey to Kew Gardens and researching tapering, it happened. Amidst the panic and fear, I felt a pang of excitement for this half marathon. Of course it was fleeting and I went right back to “What if the train is delayed? What if my knee or hip starts hurting in the middle of the race? How am I going to get up at 6:30, I’m going to be so tired!” — but it was there. I hope it comes back when I’m standing at the start line.

There’s not much I can do now though. I’m not even sure I tapered correctly — maybe doing my longest run ever only 6 days before the race wasn’t the best plan? I think I’ve had enough time to recover. Nobody seems to agree about tapering though. Some sites say you don’t even need to taper for a half. Some say don’t run at all 2 days before the race. Others say do a short “shake out” run either the day before or 2 days before. I did a Pokerun yesterday and walked a bit today, but I’m on the fence about whether I want to do my usual 4-mile run tomorrow. I’m leaning towards no, since I want to be as fresh and not-sore as possible Sunday morning, but I also know it’s sometimes hard to do a long run after too many days off. The struggle, man, the struggle.

Since this is my first half marathon, I haven’t set a time goal for myself. My primary goal is just to finish and not take too many walking breaks. I want to be able to say I ran a half marathon, not just that I finished one. I’m a little concerned about the running 13.1 miles nonstop bit though — my 10 miles I ran earlier this week was punctuated with stoplight breather breaks. I really wish they had those during races. Hopefully the excitement will carry me through!

Here’s to 13.1 and before-I-turn-30 goals that seemed like a good idea at the time!

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Walking, running and catching Pidgeys in the park

11 Sep

I think I’ve been walking too much lately. And that’s really saying something because I walk a lot on a regular basis. I made it my goal this year to walk at least 10,000 steps a day. So far the only 2 days I haven’t met that goal were the days I lost while traveling to China, which involved waking up at 5am, sitting on a plane for 14 hours, then all of a sudden realizing it’s dinner time the next day and almost two entire days of my life were gone. Shower thought I had while jetlagged last month: if you moved to China from the U.S. and for whatever reason never went back to the U.S. to visit, you would lose 12 hours of your life (from the time change, not the plane ride. Though the plane ride could be seen as a waste of life too). Although on the flip side, if a Chinese person moved to America they’d be adding 12 hours to their life (13 if it wasn’t daylight savings time).

I was talking about walking, wasn’t I? Earlier this year I was averaging about 15,000 steps a day, but lately I’ve been doing 19,000 or 20,000. It’s a combination of half marathon training, Pokemon Go hunting, and just general weekend nice weather post-lunch strolling. I keep telling myself to take it easy so I can be at my best for my long runs, but there are a plethora of Pidgeys to be caught! (Another side note: I often find myself singing “Catching Pidgeys, catching Pidgeys in the park” to the tune of Spunge’s song Kicking Pigeons.  If I were better at singing, songwriting and Youtubing I could probably be making bank off this spoof song)

This half marathon has really snuck up on me! It hasn’t fully hit me that it’s a week from now. I did a 9-mile long run last week, my longest run to date, which was filled with excitement when I hit Constitution Hill and was told by a police officer to run through Green Park because there was an active crime scene ahead. When I came upon Buckingham Palace I saw an air ambulance helicopter!

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I can’t imagine the tourist hubbub when that landed. People were speculating about the health of the royals (obviously not remembering that the queen isn’t there in the summer, which is why the state rooms are open to tourists). It turns out there was a collision between a taxi and cyclist on Constitution Hill and the cyclist was being treated for life-threatening injuries. I don’t think they took him away in the helicopter though because it was still there when I circled back 30 minutes later. My 9 miles were relatively slow thanks to the hubbub and resulting “buckingham palace helicopter” googling (and OK, I may have also played a bit of Pokemon), but I did it! And I wasn’t too sore the next day either — I think I walked 18,000 steps. Today was supposed to be my last long run before the race, but I’m probably one of the few runners who doesn’t do her long runs on the weekend, so it’s 10 miles tomorrow. Then it’s grocery shopping and complaining about the heat on Tuesday (seriously, how is the high for Tuesday 88 F/ 31 C, it’s September, London!) and generally taking it easy until Sunday, September 18 (which in all likelihood means walking too much trying to hatch Pokemon eggs). Wish me luck!