Archive | May, 2013

If the shoe fits…

30 May

baby giraffe running

Yesterday I bought the final piece for my running kit: new shoes.

(Side note: I enjoy the British word “kit,” as in “Neil has forgotten his PE kit and is forced to run about in his pants.” (“Pants” meaning “underwear,” of course) and “Stella McCartney unveiled her design for the Team GB Olympic kit.” I think the closest American English word is “uniform” or “outfit.”)

I went to Runners Need, a specialist shop in Camden, and did something I’ve never done before — I shopped without looking at prices. In the past I only bought trainers from a discount store, and only if there was an additional sale. Fit didn’t matter as much as price and color. The last pair I bought are white with light blue so as to draw the least amount of attention. They have to be at least five years old, so after experiencing some lower back and heel pain on my last run, I decided I needed an upgrade.

I went to Runners Need because they offer free gait analysis to see whether you need a neutral, stability or motion control shoe. Those words don’t mean anything to me, so I definitely needed to see the experts. The manager, Sam, was incredibly friendly and helpful. He videotaped me running on a treadmill to observe the way my ankles move and how I hit the pavement. He gave me stride tips and brought out shoe after shoe for me to try. I ended up going with a pair of Asics that are bright purplish magenta with neon yellow laces. So much for shoes that don’t stand out. I chose them based solely on fit and comfort, but cringed when I finally asked him the price. They are the most expensive shoes I’ve ever bought aside from my Tory Burch flats. But I decided to look at them as an investment in my health (and also I’m less likely to crap out on running if I’ve already spent a substantial amount of money on my kit. I also bought some running shirts and a jacket the other day).

“You’re a better runner than you think you are,” Sam assured me. “You should breeze through Couch to 5K.” His passion for running exuded from him and was contagious. By the time I left the shop I was convinced I could conquer a 5K or more. Why not a 10K? Or a half marathon!

… I was obviously forgetting about my inner 300-pound fat man who smokes. I started Week 2 of Couch to 5K in my new shoes that afternoon, which involved running for 90 second intervals, an upgrade from Week 1’s 60 seconds. I couldn’t do it. It was the longest 90 seconds I’ve ever experienced. Feeling a bit defeated, I decided to give it another go this morning. I had to “run” back to the store because I found my shoes cheaper online and they offer a price match guarantee. I made it through each 90 seconds this time, but barely. When I wanted to stop, I thought about Sam, the store manager who doesn’t really know me yet believes in me, the fat guy running ahead of me who never stopped, and giraffes. Not because giraffes are good runners (are they?), but because I always end my run by the zoo so I can peek at the giraffes and zebras through the fence. It’s going to take some time and effort to get my inner fat man into shape, but I just have to keep at it — if anything because I bought the kit.

(I saw this on Reddit yesterday and can completely relate. This was the caption: “My sister decided the Couch to 5k program. This was day 1.”)

c25k day 1

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Queen Mary’s Gardens

28 May

London weather is such a tease. This past bank holiday weekend was gorgeous — sunny, blue sky, perfect convertible weather. I’m sure all those who came to London for the weekend went away thinking the locals just make up stories about constant rain to keep the tourists out (oh, if only…) But today the London I know is back — grey, foggy, cold and wet.
I’m glad I took full advantage of the nice weather while it lasted. On Sunday I took my camera to Queen Mary’s Gardens. My friend told me about the beautiful rose gardens there. I had never been to nor heard of Queen Mary’s Gardens, so I decided to look up where they were.

Regent’s Park.

I walk through Regent’s Park at least once a week and yet never saw them. I “ran” near them on my treacherous 5K last weekend, so this time I decided to walk there with my camera.

Unfortunately the roses were not in bloom yet (Google says early June, so I was a week or two too early!), but I managed to see some other beautiful flowers and birds.

london tulips

Found this little duck family hanging out in the middle of the pond:

london duckling

…and this odd statue:

duck boy statue

Then I found a little butterfly and experimented with my photography:

london flowers

purple flower butterfly

butterfly bee

I don’t know what these birds are called, but they’re everywhere and have funny-looking feet:

queen marys garden bird

Now some final flower/garden pics:

queen marys garden

regents park garden

regents park flowers

The Time I Tried Couch to 5K Literally

26 May

pug work outThe past week I’ve had a hard time getting out of bed. I mean that in the most literal sense because I’m so sore — I also have a hard time shuffling to the kitchen and sitting on the toilet. It’s all because it’s that time of year again: when I think running will be a good idea.

This time I decided I was going to take it more seriously. I bought some new running shorts and capris with pockets (because where are your house keys supposed to go in pocketless pants?) and asked Stephen to go with me last weekend. He’s a much more experienced runner so I figured he could motivate me. The morning of our run he mapped out a route around Regent’s Park. He kept making it longer and longer. “You know I’m a complete beginner, right?” I told him, but he assured me it was “just 5K” and it shouldn’t take more than 30 minutes.

We did some stretching in the parking lot, then he was off, me trailing behind. “We’re running already?!” I puffed. OK, it wasn’t really running, it was a light jog.  After a few minutes I felt that desire to crap out. My legs were aching, my nose was running, and I could barely breathe. I slowed to a walk. Stephen couldn’t believe I was stopping already and tried to encourage me.  He tried to get me to run five minutes straight without walking. I tried. “Has it been five minutes?!” I asked, wheezing away. “That was 30 seconds,” he said. I was hopeless. I kept trying to resume a jogging pace, but my lungs weren’t having it.

“Puhhhhhh,” I managed to get out at one point in between gasping for breath.
“What?” Stephen asked.
“Puh! Puh!” I stammered.

Then he saw the pug walk by. I saw three different pugs on our “run,” which was the only good thing about it. Our 5K that was supposed to take a half hour took almost an hour. Even hours after we finished I was having a hard time breathing and could barely move my legs.

That’s when I knew I had to face my fear: I had to go see a UK doctor. If I wanted to run again, I needed to get an inhaler.

I don’t know why I’ve been avoiding doctors in the UK. My insurance is international. I just feel more comfortable going to my doctors in the US, even if they overcharge me. Scheduling an appointment with a GP (general practitioner) meant I was truly an expat. I found the private GP office in my neighborhood and gave them a call.

“Do you have a GP?” the woman on the phone asked. I told her no. “Really? No GP?” I was making an appointment with a GP, why would I have one? The woman at the counter checking me in at the office expressed the same concern. “You don’t have a GP?”

“Isn’t that why I’m here, I’m getting a GP?” I wanted to reply.

Is it really that strange to not have a designated doctor? I vaguely remember seeing “Find GP” on the top of some expat list of things to do immediately after you arrive, but I never saw the point. Going to the doctor is always an absolute last resort for me. Even though I’ve outgrown my fear of shots, the whole hospital and doctor’s office environment still makes me feel uneasy. Instead of “Is this going to hurt?” I wonder “How much is this gonna cost me?”

My doctor was incredibly friendly and helpful, which is probably why he charges the big bucks for a consultation. He only asked me once if I had a GP before addressing my issues. He confirmed my exercise-induced asthma suspicion and wrote me a prescription for an inhaler. I tested it out twice this past week and can report that I felt like I was going to die slightly less than last time, which is an improvement. That may also be because I downloaded the Coach to 5K podcasts. I think I did that program quite too literally last time — I went from sitting on my butt all day to trying to run 5K. This time I started with Week 1: Run a minute, walk 90 seconds, repeat for 30 minutes. If I keep with it I should be able to run 5K non-stop in nine weeks. I’m thinking that may take a lot of inhaler puffs and pug sightings, but we’ll see.

Arrested Development Bluth Banana Stand in London!

15 May

“There’s always money in the banana stand!”

Since I was busy with my parents’ visit for two weeks, I missed a lot of what was happening on Reddit and Facebook. My brother, who got me hooked on “Arrested Development” several years ago, posted a photo of the Bluth banana stand in London on my Facebook timeline with the note, “Please get one, for me.” Apparently the stand has been popping up in various places across London and New York to promote the new season on Netflix. I read horror stories about the queues for free bananas and photos in NYC, but I decided I would brave the crowds in London — for my brother (and, OK, a new Facebook profile picture and blog post material). I read on Twitter this morning that the stand was going to be by the London Eye, so I set off.

On the Tube to Waterloo I imagined the creative photos I would take of the queue — busting out the panoramic setting, perhaps — and thought about the maximum amount of time I would be willing to wait. 30 minutes? An hour?

As I saw the London Eye looming in the distance, I caught my first glimpse of the big yellow joint:

london banana standThere was no one there but a pigeon. No one. The guy in the green shirt works there.

london eye banana stand

I started taking photos like crazy until the guy in the green shirt approached me.

bluth banana stand

“Are you an Arrested Development fan?” he asked me, obviously happy that someone was showing interest in the banana stand. I said I was and he offered to take my photo (profile picture, check!). I told him about my friends in New York and asked where the queue was.

“Oh, it’ll get busier during lunch hour, everyone is just busy at work,” he said, making the motion of someone sleeping on his desk. I asked him if they were giving out frozen bananas, because obviously if there was free food there would be a queue.

“Of course!” he said. I can’t say the banana was disappointing because it was delicious and free, but it was half the size I expected it to be.

bluth frozen banana

frozen banana london

Here’s my little banana with the London Eye. I’d say maybe the weather scared people away, but if that were true, no one would go anywhere in London ever.

banana london eye

After I ate my banana I took more close up photos of the stand, since no one was in the way.

netflix arrested development

banana stand menu

I wonder if people were turned off because they thought the menu prices were real — although this is less believable in London since they’re in dollars, not pounds.

bluth banana stand menu

The whole time I was there the guy in the green shirt kept shouting, “There’s always money in the banana stand! Free frozen bananas!” As people walked by he asked them if they were “Arrested Development” fans. Most said they were, but when he asked if they wanted a free banana or a photo with the stand, they said no. All I could think of was Cartman’s reaction when he told his amusement park security guard he could ride any rides without any lines as his payment.

"But... you can get a free banana and a picture and you don't have to wait in line. Are you from Mars or something?!"

“But… you can get a free banana and a picture and you don’t have to wait in line. Are you from Mars or something?!”

Maybe they weren’t really fans of the show and were too polite to admit it. When asked if she liked Arrested Development, this woman replied, “Where’s Waterloo Bridge?”

banana stand directions

So green shirt guy ended up giving directions. That’s how not crowded it was. I bet that didn’t happen in NYC.

Finally, a customer!

bluths frozen banana

The blue sky also finally started to peak through:

banana stand london eye

I thought about hanging around longer, but I took all the photos I wanted, and it looked like it was going to rain any minute. Plus, it was almost lunch hour and I didn’t want to be stampeded by the crowds! (*Cricket, cricket*)

One last photo as I walked back to the Tube. The stand seems so tiny in comparison to the Eye!

arrested devlopment london

The time I saw the queen’s corgis at Windsor Castle and my life was complete

13 May

On Wednesday my parents and I visited Windsor Castle, which has been a royal residence for over 900 years. Allegedly the queen considers Buckingham Palace her office and Windsor her home. So naturally I kept thinking about corgis. I got so worked up about it on the train over that I convinced my mom that there was an actual corgi courtyard. Every time we passed an open field of grass she asked me if it was it.

If they have a Pug Yard, why not a Corgi Courtyard? (No pugs were spotted in said yard. Misleading title.)

If they have a Pug Yard, why not a Corgi Courtyard? (No pugs were spotted in said yard. Misleading.)

"Do the corgis play in the waterfalls?"

“Do the corgis play in the waterfalls?”

We wandered around the castle grounds, audio guide to ear like full-blown tourists, before we entered the staterooms, where photography is strictly prohibited. My bag was heavy, every room was starting to look the same and I had tuned out my audio guide, when my mom called me over to the window that looked out into a courtyard.

“Renee!” she shouted. “Come here! Look! The corgis! They’re out there!”

Now let me pause here and say my mom has a bad habit of falsely crying corgi. It must have happened a good five times over the course of her visit, and every time it was a border collie or some other dog that in no way resembles a corgi. Plus we had been joking about the corgis all afternoon, so I was quite skeptical, but still hurried to the window.

And that’s when I saw them — three white and tan corgis and a black and tan dorgi running into a side door. They were visible for maybe five seconds — too quick to photograph, and I was afraid a guard would stop me if I got out my camera inside.

“Do you think those were the queen’s actual corgis?!” My mom asked while I was still spazzing. We decided we needed confirmation, so I approached a guard who was speaking to another guard (and thus neither would likely have seen me take out my camera, crap!)

“Excuse me,” I said. “We just saw some corgis run by — could they have been the queen’s?”

The guard, who was just minutes ago joking around with the other guy, turned serious.

“Where did you seen them?” he drilled me. I walked him over to the window and pointed.

“How many were there? What did they look like? How long ago did you see them?”

I was getting interrogated about the corgis. Is this a common problem — tourists falsely claiming they see corgis? Or are there always corgis roaming the castle who don’t belong to the queen?

After some consideration he gave me an answer — yes, they were the queen’s corgis! Her Majesty just arrived at the castle 20 minutes ago and her corgis come separately in their own van.

After that we zoomed through the rest of the rooms and went back outside hoping to get another glimpse. Here is a photo I took of the courtyard from outside. (Yes, had we been outside instead of in the staterooms when the corgis ran by I could have taken a photo, but I don’t like to think about that.)

windsor castle courtyard

And here is the same photo with the path of the corgis drawn — we’re not sure if they got out of that car or if they came from a car parked in the gate on the right. They ran into the door where the arrow is pointing and that was the last we saw of them.

windsor castle corgis

I know it is impossible to top a royal corgi sighting, but in keeping with the Windsor Castle theme, here are some other photos I took during our visit:

Does this apply to royal corgis?

Does this apply to royal corgis?

Of course I had to take some shallow depth of field shots with the flowers:

windsor tulip

windsor castle tower

windsor flowers