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Palace Half Marathon Recap

18 Mar

There are a lot of decisions to be made before a big race. What do I eat? What do I wear? And, perhaps most importantly, what time do I leave?

To get to Hampton Court Palace from Waterloo Station I had two options: the 7:27am train, which would arrive at 8:03am, or the 7:57am, which would arrive at 8:33am. The race officially starts at 9am, but my wave, wave 4, wasn’t set to start until 9:12am. Did I want to get there too early and stand around, or get a little extra sleep and risk rushing to drop off my bag and use the loo before the start? Based on my experience with the Thanksgiving Day Race, it’s better to be early than late, so I decided I’d catch the 7:27 train.

I woke up at 6:05am and ate my usual race day breakfast of overnight oats with dark chocolate and peanut butter. I got dressed, braided my hair, packed my backpack and promptly realized it takes me longer to eat and get ready than I thought. I was already running late for being early. I only had to take the Tube one stop, so as I ran to the station at 7:10, I figured I could still be on time. Except I forgot one minor detail — it was 7am on a Sunday morning. Nobody takes the Tube at 7am on a Sunday morning, so the trains only run every 15 minutes or so. I hurried to the Northern line platform, only to find not even an estimate of when the next train was coming. So I ran to the Bakerloo platform. And that’s when I met Chloe.

“Are you going to Waterloo?” she asked.

“Yes,” I replied. She was dressed in running gear, so I took a wild guess:

“Hampton Court Palace Half?” I asked her.

“Yes,” she replied.

Just then the screen lit up. The next Bakerloo train was coming in 15 minutes. We didn’t have 15 minutes. So we decided to give the Northern Line another chance, and raced up the escalator and down the corridor, burning precious energy we were meant to be saving for our impending 13.1-mile run. We could hear the sound of a train approaching, so we gunned it down the stairs and made it just in time to board. We rode for one stop to Waterloo Station.

“I’m following you!” Chloe said.
“OK, but I’m just following the signs!” I replied. Chloe laughed.

We walked quickly through the long passageways until we emerged in the middle of Waterloo Station. At 7:28am. One minute after the train left. That’s one more reason to aim for the earlier train — if you miss it, you have a fallback option. Chloe and I stood and talked while we waited. She told me this was her second half marathon, as she had run the Great North Run 8 years ago. That’s where she is from — “up north.” She didn’t tell me the exact town, which is just as well, because there was a 97% chance my American brain had never heard of it. She had stayed in London for the night with her family, who would be joining her later at the palace. We talked the entire train ride to Hampton Court, mostly about running. She had a charming laugh and laughed at almost everything I said. I remember my mom commenting that I was talking a lot during our drive to the Hunger Walk 5K last May, so I guess I’m a bit of a nervous talker before a race.

When the train arrived at Hampton Court, we joined the massive herd of runners heading for the exit. We crossed the bridge to the palace, which was hard to miss, and made our way to the event village at the finish line, which is where the bag drop and toilets were located. The map made it seem like the start and finish were close to each other, but it was definitely deceiving. By the time I actually made it to the start, I had racked up 5,000 Fitbit steps already.

“I’m in wave 5, do you think they’d mind if I ran with you in wave 4?” Chloe asked. I told her it probably didn’t matter, as there wasn’t even a clear marker of our wave on our bib.

“I don’t want to slow you down, so we can just start together,” she said. We queued our way through the bag drop and toilets, then started walking towards the start. That’s when we heard the announcement. “Wave 5 is starting, wave 6 and all remaining runners report to the start line.”

Not only had I missed my wave, Chloe had also missed hers, so we had to start with the last wave, full of those intending to run-walk and barely finish under the 3 hour maximum, and I’m guessing a few stragglers who missed the train and took too long to drop off their bag and pee, like us. The only thing good about the whole ordeal was that I was distracted. I was too busy talking to my new friend and going through the motions to fully realize what I was about to do. I was about to run 13.1 miles after only recovering from the flu a week ago. I quickly synced my Fitbit, opened up the MapMyRun app, and before I had a chance to question my sanity, we were off.

palace half map.jpg

We left the palace and turned onto the tow path along the Thames. The weather was absolutely gorgeous for a race — 48 degrees F (9C), sunny, blue sky — but it had rained the night before, so the path was laden with mud-filled puddles. The narrow width of the path already made it difficult to pass people, but the added puddle obstacles made it nearly impossible. Chloe and I chugged along, noting the inspirational signs that were clearly meant for when we circled back on this path for miles 8 through 11, but we took them to heart none the less.

“Mile one!” Chloe announced.

“What’s our pace?” I asked. I had MayMyRun running, but my headphones weren’t on so I didn’t get the audio notification.

“11:05,” she said. Crap. I knew we were taking it slow, but that was really slow. Too slow. I tried not to have a goal for this race besides finishing it, but a part of me wanted to beat my previous time of 2:16, so I was hoping to maintain around a 10 min/mile pace.

I believe I said something like “I need to kick it up,” and hopped up on the grass to get around the guy in front of me. I picked up the pace a little and turned to Chloe to let her know I was going to go ahead, but she wasn’t next to me anymore. I kept looking back while dodging puddles and other runners, but by the time I finally caught a glimpse of her, she was too far back.  I still feel bad about how I left things with her — I wish I had said a proper goodbye and thanked her for the companionship. I even tried to look her up on Facebook to message her, but I couldn’t find her.

I was on my own now. And quickly realized I was… bored. I thought about listening to music, but music is for when I need to feel pumped up to set a 5K or 10K record. I didn’t need speed now, I needed a distraction. When I do a long run on the treadmill, I watch The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, but when I do a long run outside, I listen to the My Favorite Murder podcast. So I opened up the podcast app, and suddenly I was running through the streets of Thames Ditton listening to how Dr. Harold Shipman likely murdered 250 of his patients. We were no longer on the muddy tow path, which was good, but now we were on the pavement (“sidewalk” to you Americans) running alongside traffic, which, again, made it difficult to pass anyone. The podcast kept my mind occupied, but by mile 7 my body was already starting to feel it. I popped a Jelly Baby candy and reminded myself that I was already half finished.

By mile 9 the path was starting to feel less crowded, and I was able to settle into a groove. We looped back onto the original path by the starting line, and got a boost from the crowds cheering from above. But I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t struggling. One by one the people around me stopped to walk, while I powered on. I was doing the math in my head and knew I was on track for a PR, as long as I didn’t stop. At mile 11 there was a tiny hill, then we turned onto a grass path that led back to the palace. The home stretch! And the worst part of the course yet. Mentally and physically I was actually doing fine — much better than I had been at this stage during my first half. But the muddy grass path prevented me from kicking it into high gear, as all my focus went into not slipping or falling. Finally we leveled out onto more even terrain and I knew the finish line was just around the corner. I paused my music so I could feel the full effect of the crowds. Instead of putting your number in big font on the front of your bib like most races do, the Palace Half puts your name, so as I barrelled towards the finish line, perfect strangers in the crowds shouted “You’ve got this, Renee!” and “Go, Renee!” I was already a bit delirious at this point, so it nearly brought tears to my eyes. The Jelly Baby I ate at mile 12 had kicked in and suddenly I had all the energy in the world to sprint to the finish. It was in stark contrast to my Richmond Half finish, when I took my one and only walking break right before the finish line.

After 2 hours and 14 minutes of running, I crossed the finish line triumphantly, put my medal around my neck, and grabbed my swag bag. I’ve only done a handful of races, but I have to say this one had the best swag set up. Instead of making you file through the line and grab every item until your arms overfloweth, they had tables labeled by shirt size, so you got a bag containing your correct shirt size plus snacks and other goodies.

It was hard to think clearly at this point. I knew from reading “how to recover after a half marathon” articles that I had to keep walking after I finished, but I also knew I had to drink something. And eat something. There was some kind of homemade flapjack (an oat bar in American English) in my swag bag, so I ate that as I stumbled over to the bag drop area. I’m not sure I’ve ever had a proper flapjack in my life, but in that moment that gooey, oaty, golden syrupy sugar bomb was the best thing I had ever tasted. I picked up my backpack and dropped a High Five Zero electrolyte tablet in one of the water bottles I picked up at the finish line. I had been sipping water throughout the entire race, but I knew to recover properly I had to rehydrate more. I also put on the sweatshirt I threw into my bag at the last minute because suddenly I was really cold. While I was running I had thought about waiting around the finish line for Chloe to finish, but now that I was done, all I wanted to do was get home and shower. So I took some selfies with my medal in front of the palace, then followed the herd towards the train station. My legs were sore at this point, but walking wasn’t painful. But then I sat on the train for 20 minutes waiting for it to depart, then sat for 30 minutes on the journey to Waterloo.

Then I stood up. Or, rather, attempted to stand up. If I may quote some Jim Steinman lyrics, “Every muscle in rebellion, every nerve is on edge.” The full weight of what I had just accomplished had set in and my hips, knees and legs cried out with each movement. “Just one Tube stop” neglects to mention the stairs, escalators, and ridiculously long, dear god why are they so long?!, passageways that connect the underground to the above ground world.

sore legs.gif

But I finally made it home.

“Good afternoon, madam,” the porter greeted me. I normally just smile or wave back, but this time I couldn’t help myself.

“I just ran a half marathon!” I told him. “And I am definitely going to take the lift instead of the stairs.”

I know 2:14 is a decent half marathon time for someone with sports-induced asthma recovering from the flu, but I can’t help but wonder if my time would have been better had I started in my correct wave. The tow paths still would have felt crowded, but I would have been stuck behind people aiming for a time between 2 hours and 2:20, not people walking. But maybe it would have caused me to go out too fast and then I would have blown up halfway through? Who knows. I checked Chloe’s time online and saw that she finished 30 minutes after me, so it was probably good I didn’t try to wait around. At least I did set a new personal best, and now I have a higher chance of getting another PB the next time I do a half… whenever that may be.

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Half marathon training update

9 Mar

So my half marathon training was going well. Note my use of the past tense.

But it really was going well. Despite a busy work schedule and hectic bedroom renovation drama, I stuck with my training plan. There was only a handful of times that I questioned why I chose Higdon’s intermediate plan instead of the beginner, but I ticked off every long run, even when it got up to two long runs a week.

I was in week 10 of the 12-week program when I could feel the beginnings of a cold coming on. I had a bit of a cough and itchy eyes. Despite having never had a cough from allergies in the past, I convinced myself it was allergies and that my new pack of allergy pills just weren’t working. Despite not feeling 100%, I still went to the gym for my 11-mile long run. And surprisingly, it was one of my best runs yet! The time flew by (relatively), and I took minimal walking breaks. I felt like I glided home afterward, I was on cloud nine. I wasn’t even sore the next day — I went out and ran 5 miles.

And then it hit me that night. Fever, congestion, chills, cough.

cartman cough.gif

I didn’t have allergies. I had the flu.

I can’t remember the last time I got the flu. I always considered myself low risk since I work from home and lead a healthy lifestyle. I never bothered to get a flu shot or jab. But this one hit me hard. Forget running, I couldn’t even work the day I had it worst. (And I can work from my bed, so that’s really saying something)

It’s been over a week now, so I’m definitely feeling better, but I still have this cough. This all-consuming cough that won’t let me go 5 minutes without reminding me that it’s here. I tried cough syrup for dry coughs. I tried cough syrup for chesty coughs. I tried taking both at the same time. I tried googling “what is the best cough syrup?” only to find out that no cough syrups really work and you just have to give a cough time.

zoolander black lung.gif

Except that’s not really something I have now, time. The half marathon is in 8 days. I already took 8 days off from running. I went for an easy run on the treadmill a couple days ago just to see how I would fare. For the most part I was fine, but the cough was still there. This morning Stephen and I did our usual 4-mile route. I forgot to use my inhaler before I left, so I’m not sure how much of my struggle was from my sports-induced asthma or the cough. I survived though, and it wasn’t as rough as I feared it would be.

I’ve googled every combination of “cough running sick” and found a common theme: runners are crazy. I probably didn’t need to tell you that. I found everything from “running while sick is actually good for you” to “if you run while sick, you will die.” The general rule of thumb is that if your symptoms are above the neck — a runny nose, stuffiness, or sneezing — you can still run, but if they’re below the neck, you should rest. I knew I needed rest when I had a fever and aches, but now I feel fine except for this cough. It’s not one of those deep “oh god, there’s so much mucus, I am definitely sick” cough, but rather one or two productive coughs followed by “hey, we heard we were into coughing now, so let’s make a habit of it and do it every 5 minutes even if there isn’t anything to cough up” coughs. Which worries me because I know my coughing is irritating my airways, which in turn is making me cough more, and I don’t want to be stuck in this vicious cycle.

But now I’m not sure what to do. I’m pretty sure jumping back into my training plan and attempting to tackle a 12 miler would not be wise. But should I continue to try easy runs? Sit out from running completely until this cough is gone, knowing that could be weeks, meaning I’d miss the half? Or just rest until the half and attempt the race after not having run for two+ weeks?

I know I should follow the most common advice I read: listen to your body. Take things one day at a time. I think my plan will be to attempt some easy runs next week and continue to monitor how I feel. I would hate to have done all this training and paid the money and not be able to run the half, but I would hate it even more if I hurt myself attempting it because my body wasn’t up to it. Runners are crazy, but I’m not that crazy!

I caved and joined a gym

23 Jan

I resisted for a while. “Why should I pay to run on a treadmill when running in London’s gorgeous parks is free?” I always thought. But the one thing I didn’t think about when I signed up for a half marathon in March is that my training would take place in January and February, the coldest months of the year. While London’s “cold” is nowhere near Midwest and East Coast America cold, I still didn’t want to do my long runs in 30-degree weather. That, and we are finally starting renovations on the master bedroom next week (something we’ve been talking about for more than 2 years now), and I don’t want to run and shower while the builder is here, and don’t want to run when it’s dark after he leaves.

So I joined a gym.

I chose the gym nearest to me, which also happens to be the cheapest. It’s cheap because it’s no frills — there’s no pool or sauna, there’s not even someone to check you in. When you sign up online they email you a code, and you type that code into a keypad before you enter the glass chamber that permits you entrance to The Gym. That wasn’t a Trumpsque bout of random capitalization syndrome, that’s its actual name — The Gym.

I made my first visit to The Gym yesterday as a bit of a trial run before my 8-mile long run today. I am in week 5 of the Hidgon Half Marathon plan, which means my long run this week needs to be 8 miles. I didn’t want to just hop on a treadmill and bang it out, I wanted to ease myself into treadmill running, so I thought I’d knock off the easy 3-mile run in this week’s plan. I successfully entered The Gym through the almost claustrophobic chamber and immediately hopped on the first treadmill I saw. I didn’t want to be seen wandering with that newbie look in my eyes, I wanted it to seem like I belonged there. I started walking as a warmup and put on my new favorite podcast to run to, My Favorite Murder. It got me through last week’s 7-mile long run, so I figured it would make these 3 miles blow by.

I didn’t want my walking time to affect my distance and pace measurements, so I started a new session when I was ready to run. I figured I’d start at a 10-min mile pace, then slowly increase and bang out these 3 miles in less than 30 minutes. I set the distance to miles and the pace to 6. I started running, allowing Karen and Georgia to regale me with the tale of Rebecca Zahau’s murder… except it wasn’t working.

I watched the boxing class happening in front of me. I watched the people walking by outside through the window. But mostly I just watched the numbers on the screen in front of me.

Has it really only been 2 minutes? I wondered.

Then my thoughts began to wander. I needed to pick up mushrooms at the store on my way home. Maybe I should get broccoli too. I wonder who convinced the sheriff that Rebecca Zahau’s death was a suicide when she was so clearly murdered? Why do people tamper with dead bodies instead of immediately calling the police? I bet broccoli would be good in my new air fryer. I bet it’s been at least 5 minutes now.

14 seconds had passed.

I had forgotten how mind-numbly boring treadmill running was. Outside it was so easy to escape into my podcast or music and Pokemon Go, but here I couldn’t stop obsessing over the time and distance. Which, by the way, I realized suddenly wasn’t adding up. 10 minutes had passed and I hadn’t run 1 mile yet — not even close. I slowly increased my speed of 6 to 8.5. It said my pace was 7 something. “I am really flying!” I thought. “Treadmill running is easier than I thought! Now the miles will really fly by!”

Except they didn’t. I was still running slower than a 10-min mile pace. I googled treadmill pace cheat sheets and couldn’t figure out why my numbers weren’t lining up. What unit of measurement was 6 or 8.5 if not mph? Just “speed”?

30 speed

I could think of only one reason why the distance wasn’t displaying correctly — the treadmill was broken! It was a cheap gym with cheap machines that were obviously not calibrated correctly. After the treadmill clock hit 30 minutes I started the cool down. I had probably run 3 miles even if the display didn’t show it. I hopped off and decided to explore downstairs, which I just discovered existed.

It was a lot more crowded than the upstairs, so I reasoned that was where the good machines were. I would do my 8 miles on a treadmill down here tomorrow.

The next day (today), I headed straight downstairs. I knew podcasts and music weren’t going to cut it for essentially an hour and 20 minutes of running in place, so I came armed with my iPad loaded with Netflix shows. I hopped on a treadmill that reeked slightly of body odor, so it had been used recently and at least wasn’t broken, and decided to do a little experiment. This thought occurred to me yesterday while I was running, but it didn’t seem right so I didn’t test it out. What if the distance was in miles, but the speed was actually in kilometers? So if I wanted to run 6 mph, I had to set the speed to 10 kmph. I tried it for 10 minutes, and sure enough my distance was 1 mile. Which meant that whole time I thought I was running fast yesterday, I was actually running really slowly. I knew it felt a little too easy, but I chalked it up to all my training. I settled in at 10 kmph, which is slower than I was hoping to run the half, yet still somehow felt strenuous. Man, I hate treadmill running. My iPad at least covered the screen so I couldn’t watch the time and miles tick by, even though I lifted it up to check every 5 or 2 minutes. I watched the first episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, which I was hoping could become my new favorite running show, but I didn’t love the musical aspect of it (and I love Broadway and West End musicals, I know). It helped me kill 45 minutes though, and then I switched to The Great British Bake Off. I’m still deciding if watching a show about delicious desserts while you’re burning calories is the best or worst idea ever, but it helped distract me so I could power through. I ate Jelly Babies for fuel at miles 5 and 7 and pretended they were made of Victoria Sponge and not just cornstarch-dusted glucose. And I did it. I ran 8 miles on a treadmill!

The iPad definitely helped, but I still think treadmill running is the worst, especially on a treadmill that measures distance in miles and speed in kmph. Next week the long run on the schedule is only 6 miles, which I’ll be doing outdoors racing the London Winter Run. I run a 10K on Thanksgiving in Cincinnati every year, but I’ve never actually raced a 10K in London. I’m actually a little excited for it and pray the weather holds up. There’s no iPad and treadmill option for races!

How not to make peanut butter in a Vitamix

14 Jan

Longtime readers will know I have longed for a Vitamix blender since I became obsessed with smoothies at least 10 years ago. Who can forget the famous blender blowout of 2013?

blender explosion

I almost pulled the Vitamix trigger back then, but just couldn’t justify the expense. Instead I found a cheaper high-powered blender, which served me well… until it broke. And then I found another high-powered blender, this one claiming to be on par with Vitamix for 25% of the price. I even wrote a glowing review it here on the blog.  But lately I could tell it was starting to struggle to blend my smoothies, especially when I used melon or other large chunks of fruit. So when Stephen asked me what I wanted for my birthday, I told him I didn’t need any more shoes, purses or clothes.

I needed a Vitamix.

I ordered a certified reconditioned model on Boxing Day, so I got a great deal on it. I read reviews that said certified reconditioned models are often unopened returns, so they’re basically brand new. Plus if anything were to go wrong, it comes with a 5-year warranty.

I felt like a kid on Christmas morning when it was delivered, and made a delicious smoothie that day. I could immediately tell there was something about Vitamix that sets it apart from other high-speed blenders, especially my old Electriq iQMix. I could add ice to my smoothies again without worry! I even used it to make soup. But there was one thing I was particularly excited to try: making peanut butter.

I have a borderline obsession with nut butter. For a while I was buying it in individual portions because I couldn’t be trusted not to eat an entire container in two days. I’m trying to work on eating it in moderation, though, for my health, but also because good, pure nut butter is expensive! And according to the internet, homemade tastes even better.

I bought a kilo of raw peanuts in Chinatown and toasted them myself. I obsessively read recipes and blogs about how to make nut butter in your Vitamix. The top tips were to toast your nuts, which releases their oils, thus making them turn into peanut butter instead of peanut flour, and to allow them to cool fully before blending, as blending will heat them up as well and you don’t want to melt your Vitamix container. (Yes, apparently that can happen!)

I went into my peanut butter-making experience knowing all this… but I was also impatient. I decided to start the process less than an hour before I was scheduled to Facetime with my mom. I let the nuts cool on the tray, then put them in the refrigerator for a few minutes. They weren’t by any means hot anymore, but they weren’t chilled, which was another tip I had read — use chilled, toasted nuts. I was running out of time, though, so I decided the nuts were cool enough. I put the nuts into my blender, slowly increased the speed, then flipped the switch to high. The Vitamix started making noises as the blogs warned me it would, and I used the tamper stick to constantly push the nuts down the sides and into the blades. One blog said the whole process would take 1 minute, so when I didn’t have smooth peanut butter after a minute, I worried something was wrong. I stopped the blender and checked on the peanuts. They were more the consistency of cookie dough, not smooth peanut butter. They were also certainly hot, but my container didn’t feel like it was melting, so I went back to blending. And blending. And blending. Something felt wrong. The almighty Vitamix should not be struggling like it was, I thought. I opened the container once again and noticed some black specks in my peanut “dough,” almost like chocolate chips. But I definitely didn’t add any chocolate chips. Then I pulled out the tamper and was about to lick the end of it, when I saw this:

melted vitamix tamper.png

“Oh no!” I thought. I had done it. I had melted my tamper stick by not using chilled nuts. I poured my peanut dough into a bowl and starting picking out the chunks of plastic.

peanut butter plastic chunks.png

I texted my Vitamix-loving friend to show her what I had done. She told me to email Vitamix customer service since there’s no way that should happen.

I left the kitchen in a state of chaos, lamented to my mom about my peanut butter catastrophe, then spent the night sifting out pieces of plastic because there was no way I was just going to throw out an entire batch of what could be — might be! Should be! — perfectly good peanut butter.

Then I sat down to email Vitamix. But as I was writing about how there was no way the damage to the tamper could have been caused by the blade because the tamper can’t touch the blade when the lid is on, a thought occurred to me: I did briefly run the blender with the lid off. And I used the tamper. I thought the hole in the lid was somehow restricting the movement of my tamper.

That’s when I had a proverbial face palm moment. My peanut butter disaster wasn’t Vitamix’s fault. It was mine.

Looking back at the photos, it’s obvious the damage was caused by a blade and not by heat. I guess I just didn’t want to admit it at the time.

damaged vitamix tamper.png

As embarrassed and frustrated with myself as I was, the good news was that my Vitamix wasn’t broken. And because my old blender was a Vitamix wannabe, its tamper is a perfect fit. I put my peanut dough in the fridge overnight and gave homemade peanut butter another go the next day.

And it worked!

vitamix peanut butter

peanut butter vitamiix

I made delicious, homemade peanut butter, completely smooth save for the odd black plastic speck. Now that I know what to do (and what NOT to do!), I can’t wait to experiment with other nut combinations!

A look back on 2018

7 Jan

It’s that time of year again, friends. That time when I reflect on the past year and completely ignore the fact that I’ve neglected the blog for the majority of it.

As an adult I’ve come to realize days, weeks, months, and years all tend to melt together, but I have to say 2018 was a pretty great year. I kept two of my resolutions — I didn’t eat meat at all in 2018 (aside from fish) and I learned calligraphy. I didn’t manage to run a half marathon in 2018, but I just registered for a half marathon in March, so that’s my 2018 resolution sorted in 2019.

A look back on 2018:

-We renovated our living room, a project we’d been talking about for over a year and finally got done. It took approximately three months even though it was supposed to take 2 weeks, but we feel like we’re living in a palace now.
-I fell head over heels in love with calligraphy, particularly brush lettering and pointed pen. I amassed over 1,200 followers on my calligraphy Instagram account. I am by no means a calligraphy master, but my work looks a lot better than it did on day one!
-I got to visit my friends in Chicago and Milwaukee not once, but twice!
-I attended Milwaukee Pug Fest with my best friend
-I got really into skincare and spent a small fortune on it, but I was able to reduce some of the sun damage on my face caused by running outside. Always wear sunscreen, kids! Even in England in the winter.
-I ran a 5K race with Cherry in 90+ degree heat (well, I ran it, she walked it)
-I voted in my first U.S. primary and midterm elections and vowed to never not vote again
-I went to New York City and saw two Broadway shows (Come From Away and The Donna Summer Musical)
-I was in the studio audience for a taping of The Daily Show
-I survived the worst heat wave in UK history, but not without complaining every 5 minutes about it
-I reached level 40 on Pokemon Go, which is the highest level. I wish I could say I quit the game then, but I still play daily, though not as obsessively
-We traveled to Croatia, where we fed wild peacocks and bunnies, explored Game of Thrones filming locations, and learned the hard way that we are not cut out for sea kayaking
-I went home for Halloween and made Cherry a Wonder Bread costume
-I got a 10K personal best in the Thanksgiving Day Race
-We traveled to Tenerife in the Canary Islands where we fed monkeys and guinea pigs, saw dolphins and whales, and went on an epic buggy safari through Teide National Park
-I got a Vitamix blender for my birthday, something I should have done years ago
-I saw 9 West End shows, which was not a record, but still an impressive and enjoyable feat

2019 is already starting on the right foot. We spent New Year’s Day stripping wallpaper in preparation for our bedroom renovation. I pray once we get the builders in the job really does only take two weeks! Then maybe we can focus on the kitchen, which started as “Let’s just repaint and add some more cupboards” but has evolved to “let’s just completely gut it!” Gulp. Meanwhile I just finished week 2 of my half marathon training plan and crushed my 5-mile “long run,” so at least that’s going well. Ask me again once the long runs get longer than 6 miles though! I’m also still working on my calligraphy and want to try new things like iPad digital art with Procreate and making process videos. Maybe this will be the year I get off the proverbial bench and start selling my work and services(!). Addressing all 30 of our Christmas cards made me think I might be able to do envelopes and place cards for a wedding one day… a small wedding, at least!

doug the pug 2019

Image courtesy Doug the Pug

Here’s to 2019!

The heatwave that never ends

26 Jul

When does a heatwave stop being a heatwave and just become the weather? This is the fifth week of this heatwave. Is this oppressive heat just what English summer is now?

English summer used to be 2 or 3 days — it didn’t even have to occur during the proper summer, it could happen in April, July, or October. The sun would come out, the temperatures would soar into the 80s, half of the population would flock to the park or beach to sunbathe, and the other half of us closed the curtains, cranked up the fan, and got on social media to complain about their face melting. Then it went back to 60s or low 70s and overcast and all was well.

I miss that summer! I do not like this new summer one bit. It is 96 out there right now. 96! That’s 36C. Someone posted this on Reddit:

london summer heatwave

Yesterday I went to see a matinee solely because I wanted to sit in an air conditioned theatre for two hours. But I got so sweaty walking to and from the theatre that it all felt in vain (except, of course, I thoroughly enjoyed the show, Fun Home). This weather is taking a toll on me both mentally and physically. I hate everyone and everything and have no energy to do anything. After weeks of suffering in my unairconditioned flat, I have come up with a solution: water. Not drinking it or swimming it, but covering myself with it. The minute my hair starts to dry after I take a shower, I wet it again. Whenever I wash my hands, I splash water on my arms and neck. I look ridiculous, but working from home has its perks. Then I sit 6 inches from the fan and wait for this whole heatwave to blow over.

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Except it’s not, because this isn’t a heatwave, this is summer now, and deargodimgoingtodiecanistartsummeringiniceland?sdajfksdja kldsfjaksldfjaklsd

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!