The great half marathon conundrum

5 Feb

Sometime last year a friend and I were talking about a very specific kind of “bucket list” — things we wanted to do before we turned 30.

My friend, who has run half marathons in the past and had a baby in 2014, said she’d like to be done having kids by the time she turns 30. I never really thought much about my before 30 to-do list, but just then it was out of my mouth before I could take it back: “I’d like to run a half marathon.”

I started running in May 2013 with the couch to 5K program. Since then I’ve run two 5K and 3 10K races and got under my goal 10K time, but for the most part I’ve been stuck in a run 3-5 miles 3-5 times a week rut. A half marathon seemed like the perfect goal to work towards. And since London and the Royal Parks have played such a big part in my running journey, I decided the London Royal Parks Foundation Half Marathon would be the perfect first half for me.

I knew training for a half marathon would be hard. I knew running for 13.1 miles would be hard. But I didn’t expect securing a spot in the race to be the hardest part.

I went to the website a few months ago to do some preliminary research and see when registration opened. I thought the course through central London and the royal parks looked amazing — and apparently 100,000some other runners thought so too. It turns out the Royal Parks Foundation Half Marathon is so popular that there is a public ballot to secure a place. A metric crap-ton of runners enter and only 16,000 are chosen. I entered the ballot last week and crossed my fingers.

royal parks half ballot.png

I tried to keep my hopes up — 16,000 is a lot of spots, surely one of them could be mine! — but the more I browsed the half’s official Facebook page, the more I lost hope. People have entered every single year and never won a spot.

At 11:34am today I received an email titled “The Results Are In.” The fact that it didn’t say “Congratulations!” made it feel like a small envelope from a prospective university.
Sure enough, I was right.

royal parks half ballot email.png

I was gutted. This was supposed to be my grand plan for 2016, and just like that it vanished.

The email assured me that charity spots were still up for grabs, so I went to check them out. Maybe I could run for a breast cancer charity in celebration of my mom being cancer-free for 10 years. Or I could join WWF’s Team Panda (!!) which comes with this kit:

wwf half marathon kit.png

There’s just one little issue with claiming a charity spot: it comes at a cost. A big one. You must raise £400. I really, really hate asking my friends and family for money. I get flashbacks to slinging Girl Scout cookies, magazines and wrapping paper as a kid. I spent days canvassing the neighborhood and harassing distant relatives, but in the end my only customers were usually my parents and grandparents. I hate bugging people for money so much that I’d probably just put up all the money myself, which is equivalent to $579 at the current exchange rate. As my cursor hovered around “Get a WWF place,” it hit me — what are you doing?! Are you really going to spend (or beg your friends and family for) $600 so you can fulfill some stupid before-I-turn-30 dream?

If I want to run 13.1 miles before I turn 30, there’s nothing stopping me (well, aside from my exercise-induced asthma and general out-of-shapeness). Doing it on an official course with cheering crowds and a medal at the end would be nice, but it’s definitely not worth £400 (even if that £400 goes to a good cause).

Maybe I’ll try the ballot again next year or time a visit to Cincinnati around one of their half marathons, like the Flying Pig. But until then I guess I’ll save my money and keep hitting the pavement, slowing working my way up to a long run of 13.1.

London Cadbury Creme Egg Cafe review

24 Jan

A couple weeks ago I got a message from a Facebook friend in Kentucky who knows my love of Cadbury eggs. It was a link to this story.

Now like every other person at the beginning of the year, I’m trying to clean up my diet and watch what I eat after overdoing it during the holidays. But if there was ever a place to indulge in white bread and copious amounts of sugar, it would be the Cadbury Creme de la Creme Egg Cafe.

Yes, you read that right — an actual pop-up cafe that serves dishes revolving around that glorious Easter treat.

i want to go to there.gifIn researching the cafe, one theme became apparent: British people are really, really mad that Cadbury changed its recipe from the all-glorious Dairy Milk chocolate to “standard cocoa mix chocolate” last year. For every Facebook comment on Cadbury’s page saying “Brilliant, can’t wait to visit the cafe!” there are 10 posts saying “I won’t be eating another creme egg until you change the recipe back” and (This is a direct quote) “£6 million loss says it all. You can open this, spend millions to advertise it, wrap your eggs in 24 carat gold leaf but they will still be rubbish. Until you change back to the original recipe you will not get any of your lost customers back.”

The general British public isn’t passionate about much, but they are downright passionate about proper chocolate. But if the popularity of the Cadbury Creme Egg Cafe is any sign, some of them are hypocrites who just can’t resist a good Creme Egg gimmick or toastie. Or maybe just Americans like me who know the new British Creme Egg is still better than the ones they’re shilling in the US.

The pop-up cafe is only open Friday-Sunday from 22 January until 6 March. Walk-ins will be accepted, but they highly recommend you book a slot to avoid a long wait.

The morning spots went on sale this past Tuesday I obsessively refreshed the page. It seemed one minute they were not for sale, then the next they were all sold out — except for one spot on Sunday. Though I originally thought I would go with Stephen or a friend, I decided to snap up that solo ticket. I take myself on dates to the theatre all the time — this really wouldn’t be that different, right?

A few hours before my scheduled time at the cafe I checked the event page to confirm the address. It was then that I noticed the small print:

“Individual tickets entitle you to one menu dish only, and you may be sharing a table with others.”

It was not going to be just me, myself and I enjoying a nice Creme Egg toastie. I was going to have to socialize… with strangers. I almost backed out then and there. Why did I think going by myself would be a good idea? Why was I so insistent on booking a seat when I could just get a takeaway toastie for cheaper and avoid human interaction?

But I decided to put on my proverbial big girl panties and suck it up — what’s the worst thing that could happen, I’d be forced to make small talk with fellow Creme Egg lovers? I could handle it.

I strolled up to the cafe on Greek Street 10 minutes before my booked time.

cadbury creme de la creme egg cafe

There was a queue for takeaway and walk-ins and a queue for bookings. At our schedule time they let us in to explore the ground floor, where there was a variety of quirky and nostalgic decor. Continue reading

Winning the Kinky Boots ticket lottery

21 Jan

As much as I love a good day seat queue, I am definitely a fan of the app TodayTix. Yesterday I entered the Kinky Boots ticket lottery with a click of a button while lying in bed, then a couple hours later I got an email that I had won! An A16 (front row center) seat for £25 without standing outside in the cold for hours? I’ll take it!

kinky boots ticket lottery
Since it was a nice sunny day (by winter’s standards), I decided to walk the 3 miles to the theatre (ulterior motive: Fitbit steps!). When I was about 15 minutes away from the theatre, I felt something wet land on my head. “Please be water,” I pleaded to myself, knowing full well that there was no reason for water to be dripping from the sky on a sunny day in a country where people don’t have many window air-conditioner units (and those who do don’t run them in January). I stepped aside and opened my phone’s front-facing camera. Sure enough there was a centimeter-long smidgen of bird poo in my hair. I got out a tissue and tried to remove it, but that’s easier said than done without water or a proper mirror. I power-walked the rest of the way to the theatre and hoped they didn’t refuse me at the door because of their strict no bird poo policy. I made a beeline for the loo and removed the poo as best I could with one-ply toilet paper, water and a comb. The whole time Rodney Ruxin from The League was in my head:

forever unclean gif.gif
My high school drama teacher used to say an actor’s job is to make the audience forget that they are sitting in uncomfortable chairs. Kinky Boots was so good it made me forget that I had remnants of bird poo in my hair. I did immediately shower when I got home though. They say getting pooped on by a bird is good luck. Maybe I’d believe that if it happened before I won the ticket lottery!

Lumiere London: Or, Black Friday-style crowds outside in the cold looking at cool art

16 Jan

In an effort to mix things up and take advantage of this great city we live in, Stephen and I decided to go to Lumiere London. According to the official website, we would get to “experience installations from the world’s most exciting artists working with light” and “see the city transformed into an extraordinary nocturnal delight” — all for free! Cool, right?

Just look at this:

lumiere london oxford st

Neato!

And this:

lumiere london building
Photos courtesy Time Out London

Awesome!

We had to see it! So we hopped on the Tube a little before the event started at 6:30pm. We figured it might be a little crowded, but many of the roads were closed so there’d be plenty of space… right? I downloaded the Lumiere map on my phone and we made a game plan: start at Oxford Circus, then work our way down Regent Street and Carnaby, cut through to Piccadilly, then head over to Trafalgar Square before going back to Chinatown to get some of our beloved roast duck as takeaway for dinner. We honestly thought we’d be able to just speed by each installation and pick up dinner, in the same way my brother and I once thought we could just pick up some other necessities while we just happened to be at Wal-Mart on Black Friday a few years back. Ha! Hahahaha!

Lumiere London is beautiful, I’ll give it that. But Lumiere London is also Black Friday Wal-Mart crowded, which takes away from its beauty a bit. Imagine Black Friday Wal-Mart crowds so thick you can barely push your way through to the next aisle, except those crowds begin at the Oxford Street Tube station and spill out into all of Oxford and Regents streets.

“I immediately regret this decision,” I told Stephen the moment we pushed our way out of the Tube exit, only to be met with hordes of people pointing their phones to the sky.

“I just want to get out of here safely,” he replied. We both innately like to avoid crowds, but in light of recent news events, crowded spaces have become even less desirable.

We moved in the amoeba-like crowd down Regent Street until we were able to break off onto a side street. As we made our way towards Piccadilly, we heard the elephant before we saw it.

lumiere elephant.jpg
Photo courtesy BBC

And then we were once again forced to join the amoeba as we hit a wall of tourists and slow as molasses passed by Piccadilly. Looking down it was quite a sight:

lumiere-london fish.jpg
Photo courtesy Harper’s Bazaar

But we didn’t dare face the crowds and go down the road further.

“I’m done,” Stephen declared.

“I just want to see the dogs,” I said, referring to the glowing wiener dog balloons just down the Strand. “We’ll see the dogs, then hop on the Charring Cross Tube and be done.” At this point getting the duck was out of the question. One can only take so much amoeba crowd traveling in a night, and there was no way we were going to fight against the amoeba to go in the opposite direction.

We passed a real live dog on the side of the street wearing a glowing collar.

“Can he count?” Stephen asked.

“We’re almost there, I just want to see the dogs,” I replied. As we neared the site of the wiener dog balloons I saw a crowd at least 20 people thick. If we did manage to get through, there would be no getting out.

I no longer needed to see the dogs. The real live dog was probably cooler anyway. This online photo would have to suffice.

lumiere london wiener dogs.jpg
Photos courtesy Time Out London

I didn’t take any photos of my own the entire time because I wanted to fully live in the moment and use my brain as a camera. …Actually, that’s a lie. I just didn’t want to be a contributing clog in the artery of Lumiere pedestrian traffic or get my phone stolen. That, and no photo I took would be as good as all the professionals’ I procured for this post.

Although a part of me does wish I had photographed the real live glowing collar dog.

 

In memory of a new killer star

11 Jan

I was just sitting down to get some work done this afternoon after a morning of grocery shopping and sleeping in (darn you, jet lag!), when I got this text from my brother:

A game of Amplitude will be played in David Bowie’s honor.
(Followed, fittingly, by a photo of a sad cat)

I had read about David Bowie’s passing this morning, but in my jetlag haze and anger at my apartment building for turning off the water while I was in the middle of doing laundry, it didn’t really sink in. He’s really gone.

I didn’t discover David Bowie in a traditional manner. I wasn’t even alive during his Ziggy Stardust days. My love for David Bowie began with Amplitude, a 2003 cult classic Playstation 2 game that served as the predecessor to Rock Band and Guitar Hero. If I may steal Wikipedia‘s description, “In Amplitude the player controls a beat blaster ship across a lane of six tracks, each track representing a musical instrument and containing note gems that the player shoots at in time with the music.” My favorite song to play was David Bowie’s Everyone Says Hi, partly because I liked the melody, but mostly because at the end he sings, “And your mum and dad, Everyone says, ‘Hi’, And your big fat dog, Everyone says, Hi,'” and to 2003 Renee and her younger brother, “big fat dog” was hilarious. Eventually I bought David Bowie’s album Heathen because it contained Everyone Says Hi. I listened to it on repeat on my drive to and from high school, so much so that when I hear certain songs from it I can imagine what stretch of road I was on when it played. That next Christmas my brother bought me Best of Bowie and I finally got to hear some of his earlier stuff. During fall exams I played Under Pressure on repeat. I bought his album Reality when it came out in 2003. It was on my iPod on repeat when we had to rush to Cleveland after the sudden and unexpected death of my aunt.

Then 10 years went by and David Bowie released The Next Day. I was in a completely different place in my life, both mentally and physically, but his songs still resonated with me and accompanied me on my walks to the grocery store and runs through the royal parks. And now he’s gifted us Blackstar, his 25th and final album. I’m probably in the minority when I say I prefer his newer stuff, but it’s because I grew up with it and it helped me through difficult times.

It’s hard to believe he’s really gone. For now I choose to believe he just took a trip on a gemini spaceship and is sitting in a tin can far above the world.

“Don’t stay in a bad place / Where they don’t care how you are.”

 

Fun times at the Louisville Zoo

5 Jan

The other day we went down to Louisville to visit the zoo (and my brother). I’ve been to the Cincinnati Zoo countless times so it was nice to get my Fitbit steps and animal fix in a new spot. They had a killer gorilla exhibit (more on that later) as well as some animals Cincinnati Zoo doesn’t have, like wallabies and rock hyraxes.

What’s a rock hyrax? This:

rock hyrax.png

I would have bet money it was a rodent, but according to its little informative sign, its closest living relatives are the elephant and manatee. (How?!) Especially when those teeth just scream rodent (and “Phteven”)

stephen with a ph

Sorry, Tuna the Chihuahua-Dachshund mix cracks me up.

We wandered over to the lion exhibit where Marvin Gaye was playing (not really, but it should have been). The male slowly licked the female’s face before trying to — ahem — “jump over her.” She was not having any of it though and he quickly retreated to his rock to pout. Side note: are lions supposed to be that skinny? I guess I haven’t seen many up close since at most zoos they’re sitting far away so you don’t get a good look at them.

lion love.png

The Louisville Zoo is home to a rare white American alligator named King Louie. My camera didn’t feel like focusing on him.

white alligator louisville.png

The zoo is also home to freedom incarnate.

american eagle.png

And actual Louisville cardinals! Although I don’t think this dude is part of the zoo, he was just hanging out by the parrot exhibit.

louisville cardinal zoo.png

This bird inexplicably decided to sit on this other bird.

birds sitting on each other.png

This bird has killer neck feathers.

bird cool neck.png

We went on the Wallaroo Walkabout which was full of animals too small to be kangaroos and too big to be wallabies, so they’re called wallaroos (I think).

louisville wallaby.png

Apparently I was confusing wallabies with wombats and was disappointed we didn’t see any of those cute koala-beaver-looking things, but wallabies are still cool too.

cute wallaby.png

We also saw this little bird in the Wallaroo Walkabout. I felt bad for him because he was super pumped to see us but couldn’t come through the fence.

australian bird.png

He spent the whole time banging his beak against the fencing in vain until we left.

aussie bird.png

Over at Gorilla Forest it was Helen the gorilla’s 58th birthday! Helen is the fourth oldest known gorilla in the North American population. We arrived a few hours after her celebration, but judging by the state of the decor, it was a raging party.

gorilla party.png

Like most animals (and children) she seemed most interested in the box her present came in.

louisville gorilla birthday.png

NOM NOM box!

louisville gorilla helen.png

I was really impressed with Gorilla Forest, both with the quality of the exhibit and the amount of gorillas they had. I also like this gorilla throwing shade:

gorilla throwing shade.png

I think somebody is regretting eating so much of Helen’s cake. I sent this photo to my friend and captioned it “How I feel after a month of eating ‘Murican food.”

gorilla regret.png

This random lady there was showing a gorilla photos of gorillas on her phone.

gorilla cell phone.png

I think he found a photo he likes!

gorilla scream.png

I didn’t go into Louisville Zoo with high expectations, but I was impressed. The crowds weren’t bad and most of the animals were out. Any day where I get to see and photograph gorillas and rock hyraxes is a good day in my book.

2006 Renee’s thoughts on London and Italy

28 Dec

One of the best parts about being back at my Kentucky home is the treasure trove of nostalgia — from baby photos to my college admission essay to the travel journal I kept on my very first trip abroad in 2006. I have no recollection of it, but apparently I kept a little log of my 8 hours in London and 7 days in Italy. I was in college at the time, but my high school Latin teacher was taking a group of students to Italy and invited me to join them since I had expressed interest in the trip years before. Since it was a classics-centric trip, we took advantage of our 8-hour layover in London and hopped on a bus from Gatwick Airport to the British Museum, saw the Elgin Marbles and other classical pieces, then hopped back on the bus to Gatwick to catch our flight to Naples. This is why when we first moved to London and people asked if I had ever been to London before, my answer was “Yes, but only for 8 hours.”

This is the exact journal entry I wrote on June 7, 2006:

I have transcended time. I no longer know whether I’m tired or wide awake. The line grows thinner by the minute.

Things that make London awesome:
-They have the world’s greatest public restrooms (toilets). Full doors, beautifully scented soap and dryers that literally blow your skin off.
-Very few people wear flip flops. Those who do are probably tourists.

Things I don’t like about London:
-Everything is horribly expensive.
-Food is horrible.

Keep in mind that my only real experience of London was Gatwick and the British Museum, but it cracks me up how accurate my assessment was. In 2006 Dyson Airblade and other high-speed hand dryers weren’t mainstream in the US yet, so the ones in Gatwick may have been my first encounter with them. I’m pretty sure my “Things I don’t like about London” section came solely from my experience of lunch at the airport. I bought some ready-made sandwich which probably cost around £6, but in 2006 the exchange rate was closer to 2 to 1 so it would have been close to $12. I can’t remember what kind of sandwich I got, but my American palate was obviously not used to the gloriousness that is the British ready-made sandwich (or I just chose a bad combination). My memory of what we saw at the British Museum is foggy, but I do remember the horrible weight of jet lag, a feeling that has become all too familiar in recent years.

This is one of the few photos I took in London. My 2006 self found the concept of a 99p store (akin to a dollar store) hilarious:

99p zone.png

My notes from Italy are sporadic and either way too detailed (one night I had pasta with zucchini, breaded fish with lemon and tiramisu for dinner) or vague inside jokes and bits of conversations I don’t remember having, but I obviously thoroughly enjoyed. However, I did compile this list of Things I Learned:

-It’s impossible to eat Italian bread without crumbs
-There’s no such thing as a line
-All road signs are suggestions
-“They’re Italians, they don’t care”
-Sleep is for the weak
-Italian time
-Peeing is a privilege you sometimes have to pay for
-Pope on a rope and popener (pope can opener)
-80s music is cool (didn’t have to tell me that!)
-Don’t remember street names like the computer Dell. They all start with that. (Via del ….)
“Ciao. I’d like a cheeseburger. Grazie.” is perfect Italian
-There is no such thing as too much walking or too many Roman ruins
-Non appoggiarsi does not mean “we are not sorry”*
-Cities are good, but it’s the people you’re with that make it great.

I think I wrote that last line when I was missing Stephen. At the time we had been dating for less than 6 months. When I threw my coin into the Trevi Fountain, I never dreamed I’d be returning to Rome 5 years later with Stephen and my entire family. Or that 4 years and 4 months after eating that dreadful Gatwick sandwich I’d be living in London and happily living off Tesco sandwich meal deals for a full month. Funny how circumstances change and tempus fugit! (That’s Latin for “time flies”)

* “Non appoggiarsi” was written on the doors of the Roman metro. Google translate tells me it means “do not lean,” which makes sense. For some reason the little group I hung out with on the trip thought “non appoggiarsi” was the funniest Italian phrase and pronounced it “non apologarsi,” like an Italianization of “apologize.” After a glass of wine or two we may have bumped into random Italians on the street or on the metro and declared “non apologarsi!” before erupting into a fit of giggles. I like to think I’ve matured over the past 9 1/2 years, but writing “non apologarsi” still made me chuckle a little.

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