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Getting back in the saddle, then wiping out

25 May

After nearly a month off from running, I finally decided it was time to get back out there on April 29. I took it slow, which was easy to do, because after a month off, my body had nearly forgotten how to run. It wasn’t my foot that was bothering me, it was everything else — my lungs, my heart, my calves. It was frustrating not being able to just jump back in to the fitness level I was at post-half marathon. Cherry was certainly happy to have me back in my running shoes, and took me for a few celebratory laps around our neighbor’s yard. She had a serious case of the zoomies and was absolutely loving it! I’d never seen her so happy.

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As my parents talked to their neighbor, I chased Cherry around the yard. She zoomed from one end to the other, then made a sharp turn towards the backyard. I kept up with her, but didn’t anticipate the dip in the grass, and suddenly I was on the ground. I had completely wiped out right in front of my parents and the neighbor. I wish I could tell you Cherry sensed something was wrong and came to my rescue, but in reality she took one look at me, then took off running again. Thanks, pup. Thankfully because I fell on grass instead of pavement, I came out unscathed save for some grass stains on my jeans. It was hard not to take it as a omen that I shouldn’t be running yet, though!

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That was nearly a month ago and I’ve been slowly building my speed back up. Because of the heat I haven’t run farther than 5 miles, but I’ve been focusing on running 5K. I know I have zero chance of breaking 25 minutes at the Hunger Walk 5K on Monday like I had originally dreamed, but that’s a goal I can continue to work towards. For now I’d be happy if I finished in the top 50 women again and got a medal… and if it weren’t oppressively hot or raining. Here’s hoping!

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Cincinnati to London Wow Air review

16 Jul

I remember when they first announced that Wow Air was going to offer low-cost flights from Cincinnati to Europe. According to my mom, everyone was talking about it.

“Do you think all the American riff-raff will go to Europe now that it’s cheap?” my mom asked.

“Have you been to Piccadilly Circus or Oxford Street?” I replied. “The American riff-raff is already here.”

Wow Air describes itself as low-cost, which we all know means no-frills and this:

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“It’ll be like riding Easyjet or Ryanair long-haul!” I said. “Do I really want to fly for six hours with no food or movies?”

The answer, I soon found out, was “maybe… when I have no other options.” Because last month I had no other options.

I had planned to fly to London using United miles, but it turns out Saver awards are hard to come by in the summer, especially when you wait until the last minute. BA and Virgin also had no mileage flights, so I decided to give Wow Air a go.

wow air cincinnati to london

These prices are for another date, I just wanted to show the different ticket categories

My one-way ticket from Cincinnati to London Gatwick cost $378. I opted for the Wow Plus ticket because it came with a personal item, carry on bag, and checked bag, plus I got to select my seat. Had I chosen Wow Basic I think I would have paid something like $269, which is stupidly cheap, but it comes with only an under-the-seat personal item. So if you’re one of those people who backpack around Europe with an actual school backpack that fits under an airplane seat, you can really get a deal with Wow!

The Wow Air flight from Cincinnati to Reykjavik leaves at 12:50am, which is tricky, because it means you have to head to the airport the date before your flight. Wow sends multiple text messages and emails to remind you of this. CVG airport is an eerie place at 11 at night — everything is shut down except McDonalds. I mean everything — even the machines that whisk your luggage away at check-in, so they were just stacking the bags up and a guy was loading them onto a cart to take them to the plane.

Even though the airport was dead, Wow check-in was busy. They only have one flight a day, so we were all on the same flight. I read online that they weigh your carry-on and hand luggage, which made packing a stressful experience for me. My carry-on was exactly at the allowed 12kg/26lb and my checked bag was really riding the line of the 20kg/44lb limit. They did not ask me to weigh my wheeled carry on, but they did make me put it in the size gauge, which made me nervous, because I knew it was a half inch off the 22x18x10in limit. It fit, but barely — it actually got stuck and I knocked the entire gauge guide over when I tried to remove it. I placed my checked bag on the scale and it weighed in at 20.8kg. Perhaps because she was nice, or because the queue was so long she wanted to get me through, or because it’s not technically overweight until it hits 21kg, the check-in lady didn’t say anything and merely slapped a tag on it. Wow Air’s policy is to charge an extra $19 per kilo that your bag is overweight, which is better than United’s flat $100 for an overweight bag, but I’m still happy I didn’t have to pay it.

I got to the gate only to find the flight was delayed. This was not a surprise to me, as I had checked flightradar24.com before I left and saw that the flight had not left on time all week. I had a 4-hour layover in Reykjavik so I was in no rush. The plane finally arrived, we boarded relatively quickly, and were off the ground about an hour after they said we would be.

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The seating arrangement is three by three with no TV screens

Normally I can’t sleep sitting up, especially on planes, but because it was two hours past my bedtime already, I immediately passed out and faded in and out of consciousness the entire 6-hour flight. It was by no means good sleep — I kept waking up because my neck hurt or because I could feel my mouth drooping open, but it made the time go by quickly, which was great considering there are no TV screens or free food or beverages.  I didn’t even hear the cart come by with food for purchase or duty free items. When I did get up to go to the bathroom, all the flight attendants were in the back giggling amongst themselves and speaking Icelandic. The red-eye must be an easy flight for them!

When we touched down at Keflavik Airport, the signs pointing towards passport control weren’t very clear, so I ended up queuing at a gate and almost boarded a flight to Edinburgh, but other than that, the arrival process was easy. I got an Iceland stamp in my passport even though I was only there for 4 hours.

That is one of the downsides of taking Wow Air from Cincinnati to London — you have to kill 4 hours at Keflavik Airport. Though as far as airports go, it’s one of the nicest I’ve ever been to. The whole place has a Nordic vibe like it was designed by IKEA (which of course means most of the seating looks nice but isn’t very comfortable). I got a vegan sandwich from Mathus along with a cup of skyr Icelandic yogurt. As much as I’m trying to reduce my dairy consumption, I couldn’t come to Iceland and not try authentic skyr! And I’m so glad I did, it was 10 times better than the Arla brand skyr I used to buy in the UK. I grabbed a table and used the free WiFi to get some work done.

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I wish I had bought this candy!

Another perk of Keflavik Airport — the best-tasting tap water I’ve ever had!

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The time actually went by pretty quickly and before I knew it, it was time to board my flight to London Gatwick. The flight from Reykjavik to London Gatwick takes about 3 hours, and goes by quickly if you pass out, listen to good music, and play on your iPad. I did a combination of the three. We landed around 8pm, but by the time I got through immigration, took the Gatwick Express to Victoria, then took a bus to my flat, I got home around 10pm London time.

Now that I wrote entirely way too much, I’ll try to sum it up with some pros and cons:

Pros:
-It’s the cheapest way to fly to Europe
-You arrive in London in the evening so you can immediately pass out. Most other airlines’ flights arrive early in the morning so you have to struggle the whole day to stay awake (or take a 4-hour nap like I usually do and be jetlagged for a week)
-The Icelandic flight crew are very friendly and begin every announcement with “Dear guests,” which while proper English, always sounds funny. They’re also good looking, or at least they were on my flights, if that kind of thing is important to you
-If you have to have a layover, Keflavik Airport is a nice airport to spend time in, with free WiFi and lots of healthy food options
-My flight from Cincinnati to Reykjavik had a power outlet so I could charge my phone (though there wasn’t one on the flight to London)
-The tap water at Keflavik Airport comes from a glacier and is the best tasting water you’ll ever have
-Wow Air has a sense of humor!
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Cons:
-No free food — you have to pay for everything, even drinks
-No movies or entertainment. This may not be a problem with the Cincinnati to Reykjavik red-eye, but could be on the return trip, which leaves London at 11:40am
-Your flight is probably going to be delayed
-The seats barely recline and you don’t have much leg room
-Bags cost extra, only an under-seat bag is free
-Checked bag weight limit is 20kg/44lb, while every other airline is 23kg/50lb
-You have to kill 4 hours at the airport if you’re traveling on to London
-The flight might be cheap, but Iceland is one of the most expensive countries to visit
-You waste an entire day of traveling, though that’s hard to avoid since there are no direct trans-Atlantic flights out of Cincinnati

Now the important question: would I take it again?

Maybe. While I had a good experience, the bag weight limit could be a deal breaker. I did not go crazy shopping this visit and thought I did not have much stuff, but I was still slightly over the limit. In the winter when I have heavier clothing and am carrying Christmas presents, getting my bag under 44 lbs would be nearly impossible. I’m glad Wow Air is an option, though, and I really would like to actually see Reykjavik beyond its airport sometime!

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Seen in the in-flight magazine. All the reason to visit Iceland!

3 things that are surprisingly more expensive in the US than in London

30 May

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London is expensive. That’s often the first thing people mention when I tell them I live there. Things like housing, petrol/gas, and movie theatre tickets cost way more than they do in Chicago or New York, yet alone suburban Kentucky. But on this recent visit back to the states, I’ve realized there are three things that are surprisingly expensive in America compared to London.

Groceries, especially produce

I first went to Aldi in the UK a few years ago. Produce is generally cheap at Tesco (a major supermarket chain), but produce at Aldi is a whole ‘nother level of cheap. I raved about Aldi so much I inspired my mom to check out the Aldi in northern Kentucky. She agreed that the produce deals couldn’t be beat. But it was only when I went to the Kentucky Aldi that I realized we had different definitions of “cheap produce.” For example, a stalk of broccoli at Aldi UK costs 39p, approximately 50 cents. At Aldi KY it’s $1.99. At Tesco I can get organic mushrooms for £1 ($1.33). At Kroger that would be $3.99. At Tesco a red bell pepper is 55p (73 cents). At Kroger it’s $1.50. The U.S. prices don’t even include sales tax, so they’re actually even higher! I’m comparing the most expensive city in the UK to one of the cheaper cities in the U.S., too. I recently read an article on Business Insider comparing London supermarkets with New York.  London’s Tesco Express won by a landslide! Who would have thought Tesco would be one thing I’d miss when I’m back in the U.S.?

Toilet paper

I never realized I was a toilet paper snob until now. In London there aren’t many options, so I just buy Tesco Luxury Soft Toilet Tissue, which always seems to be on sale 2 for £6 (that’s two nine-roll packs for £6, so 18 rolls for $8). It’s generic for Andrex, which is British for Cottonelle. But it turns out that even though they both use cute puppies in their ads, British Cottonelle is very different from American Cottonelle, which I recently discovered is the worst toilet paper ever created. My mom bought it because it was on sale and she had coupons, and even then it wasn’t that cheap. Without any coupons, a 6-roll pack of Cottonelle costs $8! In the UK, I get 3 times as much TP for that, and it is not the worst toilet paper ever created. I’m lucky enough that I don’t have to buy my own toilet paper when I’m visiting my parents, which is probably why I forgot how much American toilet paper costs, but I hated the Cottonelle so much I decided to buy my own 4-pack of a different brand, thinking it’d be like $2, since a 4-pack in London is £1.75. A 6-pack of Charmin still set me back $5 (it was on sale too and I had a $1 off coupon – normally that 6-pack would be $9.49!) and it’s only marginally better than the Cottonelle. I’d still prefer the generic Tesco tissue. Considering Americans are known for their horrible eating habits which inevitably leads to horrible bowel issues, you’d think they’d have the toilet paper game down. Or maybe that’s exactly why it costs so much. All I know is I’m tempted to throw a 9-pack of Tesco TP in my suitcase for my next visit!

Theatre tickets

I’m going to New York next week to meet up with Stephen. While he’s in meetings, I figured I’d take in a Broadway show. So I started looking at shows on the TodayTix app to decide which one I wanted to see, and I realized something: Broadway shows are freaking expensive! That should seem obvious (it’s Broadway!) but I’m so used to seeing West End shows for so cheap. Thanks to day seats and the TodayTix app, I rarely pay more than £25 ($33) for a ticket. TodayTix seems to function differently in New York and has way less lotteries and rush tickets than they do in London. They mostly just give 30 to 50% off, which means the tickets usually still cost more than $100. I’d really like to see Come From Away, a musical about the small Newfoundland town that took in 7,000 stranded passengers on 9/11, but a matinee ticket on TodayTix is $227. I could try the TKTS booth when I get there, which is what every tourist seems to do, but there’s a chance they won’t have that show, and even if they do, a ticket will likely still set me back more than $100. It’s not just Broadway shows that are pricy, either. Part of the reason I think I wasn’t enamored with Hamilton when I saw it in Chicago last year was because I kept thinking about how expensive it was (and we got the cheapest seats possible!). Even seeing the Nutcracker in Milwaukee set me back more than a West End show. London theatre scene, you’ve truly spoiled me!

Despite my papercuts (cheeky Hello Internet reference there!), I’m having a lovely time visiting friends and family back home. It’s oppressively hot which has made running and basically everything else outdoors miserable, but I’m trying to keep my weather-related complaints to a minimum of 8 times a day.

A look back on 2017

5 Jan

And just like that, it’s 2018. 2017 really flew by, so I figured I’d pull myself out of this jetlag fog to remember all the things I did last year.

-I became an expert in cholesterol and became obsessed with lowering mine, only to find its genetic and there’s not much I can do
-I got to meet Cherry, my parents’ new Chihuahua-corgi rescue, and promptly fell in love with her (The amount of photos of her butt alone that I have on my phone is probably cause for concern)
-I got to see my Chicago and Milwaukee friends twice
-I ran a 5K race in under 30 minutes and completely wiped out in a 10K race and still finished in under an hour
-I got to see my favorite band Over the Rhine twice, once at their farm and once in Over the Rhine
-I saw Jim Steinman’s Bat Out of Hell the Musical twice from the front row
-I finally visited Greenwich
-Stephen and I had an epic holiday in Prague, Budapest and Tuscany
-We finally visited the Buckingham Palace state rooms
-I road a camel
-I got to meet my best friend’s daughter at the hospital a day after she was born
-I reached level 38 in Pokemon Go and still continue to play every day
-I saw Hamilton in Chicago
-I saw 16 West End shows, smashing previous years’ record of 9
-I became pescetarian in September and kept with it aside from a bit of turkey on Thanksgiving
-We rang in the New Year with new friends and a killer fireworks display in London

I don’t like to make formal New Year’s Resolutions, but there are some things I’d like to focus on in 2018. I’d like to continue my pescetarian diet at least until my next cholesterol test, just to see if it’s making any difference. Though to be honest, I don’t really miss meat that much. I think I’d also like to have another go at a half marathon this year, either the Flying Pig in Cincinnati or the Royal Parks Half in London (if I can manage to secure a ballot spot! Third time’s the charm, right?). On the hobby front, I’d like to pursue calligraphy and lettering more. I got into it a bit last year, but I got some nice pens and paper for my birthday this year that make me want to do it more. They say you should have at least 3 hobbies — one to keep you healthy, one that allows you to be creative, and one that makes you money. At least I’ve got the first two down! (Does writing and editing count as a money-making hobby if it’s your job?)

Here’s to a great 2018 — may I not spend the entirety of it jet lagged! (I’ve been back in London 6 days now and it’s starting to feel like I just might)

doug the pug new year

Wipeout deja vu

9 Dec

Lately I’ve been entertaining the thought of running another half marathon. Heck, I even let the thought of running a full marathon enter my mind. My hip and knee injuries from the Thanksgiving Day Race have all but healed. I’ve even been keeping up with my running in the treacherous weather. This morning I did what all the running blogs and magazines say to do and laid out my kit the night before. I got dressed the minute I woke up, before I had a chance to talk myself out of it. It was freezing outside — literally, the temperature was in the 20s. Even Pokemon Go warned me that it was extreme weather conditions and I should be careful. But I still ran. I was actually feeling pretty good given the conditions. I ran a decent mile. And then my headphones battery died. And then my fingers started to go numb through my two pairs of gloves.

And then I wiped out.

Again.

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In the very same manner I did in the race, ripping open the very same wound on my knee that was finally getting better. I laid back on the sidewalk and actually screamed out “Really?! Again?!” It didn’t seem possible, but the pain in my knee was very real and all too familiar. I contemplated how long I could lay there before one of my parents’ neighbors would see me. When I finally stood up I noticed the woman across the street getting into her car — did she witness the whole thing? If she did she didn’t seem at all concerned. I thought about shaking it off and running home, but I wasn’t in a race anymore. Instead of an adrenaline rush I was feeling anger and frustration. How did this happen? Does cold weather somehow change my gait? Did I step on a sidewalk crack and mess up my knee instead of my mother’s back? Was it because I was wearing the same shirt and socks I did during the race, and hadn’t worn since? That last one is a bit ridiculous. But I can’t help but wonder what’s going on considering I went a good three years in between running wipeouts, and suddenly I have two within weeks.

I know one thing’s for sure — I need to take some time off from running to let my knee heal (again). I have a lot of work to do before I go to Chicago and Milwaukee next weekend, and I want to be able to focus on spending time with my friends instead of racking up the miles. I’m pretty sure my knee is just skinned and bruised, so hopefully I can get back to running (without falling!) in a week or two.

2017 Thanksgiving Day Race recap

4 Dec

2017 thanksgiving day race.jpgI did not have high expectations for this year’s Thanksgiving Day Race. Thanks to Pokemon Go, I hadn’t trained as hard as previous years. My A goal was a PR, but I would settle for a B goal of finishing in under an hour. And after I did a 2-mile shakeout run the day before to test my new trainers and thermal compression shirt, a C goal of just finishing seemed more attainable. I was used to running on the flat park paths of London in 50-degree weather. The forecast for 9am on race day was 26 degrees Fahrenheit (-3 C).

In the past we’ve always gotten to the race too early with nothing to do but stand around and shiver, so we left later this year, only to find they really do close the roads at 8am, so it was nearly impossible to find parking. My parents dropped me off near the stadium while they searched for a spot. I had just enough time to queue for the loo (can I say that in America?) before I walked to the start. I was feeling ambitious and lined up with the 9-minute mile crew. I took two puffs of my inhaler and soon we were off.

The problem with the Thanksgiving Day Race (and a lot of other races that aren’t serious marathons) is that no one takes the timing corrals seriously. Immediately after I crossed the starting line I was boxed in by a crew of walkers, only to get around them and encounter slow runners. All my runs on tourist-infested Regent Street and Piccadilly Circus prepared me for this, so I maneuvered around them effortlessly, hopping up on the sidewalk, then down on the road, then back on the sidewalk. I was feeling good. I had my music blasting, my two pairs of gloves were keeping my hands warm, my new thermal compression top was doing its job, and I let myself think that maybe — just maybe — I had a personal best in me after all.

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And then I was on the ground. It happened so suddenly, but at the same time felt like slow motion. I could feel myself falling, but couldn’t do anything to stop it. My right knee and left hip hit the sidewalk hard and my brand new iPhone went flying. (The fact that it didn’t get damaged is a testament to my Speck case!) Runners around me stopped to make sure I was OK. I quickly got up and gave a little kick to make sure my leg wasn’t seriously injured. I was so close to the starting line that I could easily have called it quits and walked back. I decided I would try running for a minute and if it didn’t hurt, I’d continue on. I quickly discovered that a pain-masking adrenaline rush is a very real thing, and I felt faster and stronger than ever. It was also so cold out that it probably had the same effect as icing my knee. So when Britney came through my headphones and told me to “get to work,” I took off, as if the spectacular wipe out never happened.

I ever started to get cocky around mile 3. I opened Pokemon Go and started spinning stops for items as I ran. I even placed a Pokemon in a gym along the course. MapMyRun was telling me my pace was around 9 minutes a mile, which I knew wasn’t right, but I still felt like maybe my shot at a PR wasn’t lost. And then the final bridge came. I didn’t walk it, but it definitely slowed me down. The last mile of a race always seems to go on forever. I sprinted the last bit, but it wasn’t enough. I crossed the finish line in under an hour, but a minute slower than my time from two years ago. Not too shabby considering I wiped out in the first mile and almost didn’t continue.

By the time I met up with my parents and Cherry and collected my swag, the reality of my injuries started to kick in and really hurt. Blood was seeping through my two layers of pants. My hip didn’t begin to hurt until days later, but my knee was extraordinarily bruised and beat up. I spent the rest of the morning icing it while watching the parade. It’s now 11 days later and it’s still bruised and scabbed. I’m quite fortunate that I wasn’t seriously injured and that it only hurts now when Cherry jumps up on me or I forget and slam a cabinet shut with my knee. My hip was really bothering me last week to the point that I almost went to the doctor, but I tried some stretches I read about online and it really made a difference.This whole week I’ve felt 30 going on 70 complaining about my hip and knee pain. Getting old is the worst. I thought running was supposed to keep me young and healthy?

My mildly convenient superpower

7 Jun

I remember reading an AskReddit thread once about mildly convenient superpowers. I never really thought about what mildly convenient superpower I might want, until it occurred to me the other day that I might already have one.

Almost every time I fly or travel on a Megabus, I never have to sit next to a stranger. There’s always an empty seat next to me.

I thought it was just a fluke at first. It used to happen on my frequent Chicago-Cincinnati Megabus trips when the bus was only half full. But then there was a time the bus was completely full save for one empty seat, which just so happened to be next to me. It began feeling like a superpower.

It’s been so long since I’ve had someone sit next to me on a trans-Atlantic flight that I don’t even know where I would put my headphones or water bottle if they couldn’t go on the empty seat next to me. I flew back to London last week and made sure to select an aisle seat next to an empty middle seat. I almost got ambitious and selected a row with two empty seats (maybe I could actually stretch out and sleep?!), but knew that was too much of a risk. Some couple could come along and choose those two seats. I checked the seat map on the Virgin app every hour or so during my 5-hour layover in Boston and figured I was golden — the middle seat next to me remained empty. But then I checked one last time while waiting to board, only to see a little X on the empty seat — as well as on every single seat on the plane. It was a fully booked flight. My superpower had met its match.

A few minutes after I sat down, uncomfortably holding my giant headphones, toiletry bag and water bottle until I could figure out where to store them, a young man came and motioned to the empty seat.

“I’m seated there, but my girlfriend is in 55E — would you mind switching with her?” he asked. Stephen and I have asked people to do this many times and I was happy to pay it forward. Until I asked them to confirm the seat.

“55E? Is that a middle seat?” I asked. It was. I felt like a horrible person, but I had to turn down their request. Being stuck for 6+ hours with your knees touching one person is bad enough, there was no way I was going to do it crammed between two people.

“It’s no problem, we understand,” the girlfriend said, waved goodbye to her boyfriend, and headed back a few rows. The boyfriend immediately put on headphones and closed his eyes while I tried not to bump his legs digging for my iPad in my bag. It seemed my superpower was no more and I was going to have to suck it up, just like everyone else seated in economy. But then they closed the cabin doors and I felt a presence next to me. It was the girlfriend.

“Hey!” she said to her boyfriend. “There’s no one sitting next to me, come on back!”

And that’s how I knew I truly have a mildly convenient superpower.

super corgi