Chefchaouen – chasing a dream

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Windows and doors of Chefchauoen

I first heard of Chefchauoen, when I discovered Shannon Kaiser . Shannon is someone who gave up a successful corporate career despite her success as she was desperately unhappy. Unlike most of us she took action, becoming a writer, blogger and lifestyle coach to help others in similar situations. By the time I discovered her, she had written a book ‘Adventures For Your Soul’, and was posting weekly video messages about how you could go about changing things so you could live the life you desire. At the time I was training for the New York marathon, and trying to build a new life, and I used to love waking up early before my long runs on a Saturday and eating my breakfast while watching Shannon’s video messages. Shannon also loves travelling and decided to take 6 months to travel, spending 30 days in each place working remotely. Her first destination was Morocco, and so I spent 30 days living her journey vicariously, and when she got to Chefchaouen I was absolutely blown away, and knew I had to visit this little town with its many hues of cobalt blue.

The worry when you build something up in your mind is that when you actually get to experience it you can be disappointed because your expectations were so heightened. This has happened to me with movies and books, and sometimes with places I have visited. This was definitely not the case with Chefchaouen. The dangers of overblown expectations were there – I was totally blown away by Morocco anyway – Marrakech, the desert, Fes all had captured my heart. Chefchaouen was the reason I had chosen the tour I had, and I was so excited to be going there. Luckily all the hype was justified, and it was well worth the early start, and the very long bus journey from Fes to get there.

Chefchaouen is in the mountains, from Fes you first drive across the plains, and it was interesting watching the people beginning their work days, saddling up donkeys, kids walking or biking to school, adults waiting for buses to take them to work in the nearest town. Eventually you reach the mountains you have previously seen in the distance, and you gradually climb into the hills. The first stop was for a panoramic view. I find these stops a bit frustrating, because I take all my photos on my IPhone, and I can never quite capture what I am seeing in the distance. In addition I expected every building in  Chefchaouen to be blue, and I could see that this wasn’t necessarily the case – while these was indeed a lot of blue, as you can see there were white, terracotta, and plain concrete buildings too. At this stage I was nervous that it wasn’t going to be as good as I thought it was.


Once you got into the town, and particularly the medina, there was the Chefchaouen that I had seen in Shannon’s filming and her photographs and a thousand instagram photos, and it was even better than I had imagined.

We were guided up through the narrow lanes, and through the market. I needn’t have worried as in this part of the town everything was blue, but as this was Morocco, there were other bright colours too. I’m going to let the photos do the talking here because I don’t think my words can quite capture the beauty of this amazing little town.

 

I even got to play at being a model, so for the following photos I have to thank the people on my Traveltalk tour, who obligingly took photos of me.

 

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Morocco adventures – Lost and Found in Fes?

I am a fan of lists, especially of lists of places to go and recommendations of what you should do – I’ve even written a few myself see York and London walks  I have my own unpublished bucket list, which I keep adding to, and Morocco was there pretty near the top. One thing that stuck with me from one of the lists I read was that you should, at least once in your life, find yourself lost in Fes.

We arrived into Fes, in the evening and it was dark. The first stop was at the supermarket to get snacks, water and alcohol. According to our tour guide to purchase these in the hotel would be prohibitively expensive. For me it was a chance to explore a Moroccan supermarket, and as I discovered, it definitely had a Moroccan character to it, with colourful spices and other food on open display, and with alcohol being sold in a different shop, albeit obviously run by the same people.

We checked into the hotel, which was quite luxurious after having had a couple of nights camping/glamping in the desert (Yes, there was wifi! Yes, there was a pool! Yes, there were hot showers and proper beds!), and then headed out for dinner. It was my first experience of eating Puerto Riccan food, albeit with a Moroccan influence, and I have to say it was delicious – cheap, fresh and plentiful.

The next day we got to spend some time exploring Fes. We started off visiting the Royal Palace with its magnificent mosaic facade/entry – unfortunately you can’t go to into the palace itself. Because of its sheer size, at 80 hectares, this was disappointing- one can only imagine the grandeur of the gardens and courtyards inside.

There are two medinas in Fes, and from here we walked through the smaller of the two, which helped us to get into the Fes vibe, without the intensity of the larger more vibrant medina – Fes-el-Bali, which we were due to visit later in the day. We wandered past small traditional shops – quite different from the supermarket, but still selling many of the same products – for instance we were shown a traditional olive/honey soap scrub (see the photo of the pink bucket below) that we were to see many times again in every market we went to in Morocco.

At the end of our stroll  we were picked up by the bus on the other side of the medina and driven to a view point overlooking Fes-el-Bali, so we could get a sense of its size and scale.

From here we were taken to a pottery “factory” (a misnomer as everything was made by hand by skilled craftsmen in the traditional manner). We were shown the clay used – this was not the red terracotta coloured clay we were expecting, but a grey clay that is first sun dried and then heated to very high temperatures – apparently it is unique to Fes and its more hardy and less likely to chip and break than terracotta. We saw the clay being thrown, the complex mosaic design and execution process, as well as platters and tagine dishes being hand painted with very complex and delicate designs.

Not surprisingly at the end of our visit there was plenty of opportunity to buy. There was so much choice – we could have purchased bathroom vanities, tiled tables, and mosaic fountains, not to mention thousands of platters, tagine dishes and bowls. I could have spent a fortune, but of course any purchases would have to be lugged by moi for the rest of the trip, not to mention the need to store it in the already limited space I have in my London flat. Instead I settled for a small ceramic container, which was expertly wrapped for me. As for those additional non-breakable properties I mentioned earlier? Time will tell, but I can confirm that it has made it back to London in one piece!

It was now time to explore the famed Fes medina, and perhaps that opportunity to lose myself in Fes. However, there was no way our tour guides were going to let that happen. They explained just how easy it was to get lost, and how nearly impossible it would be for us to find our way out – google maps would be useless here. As we wound our way through narrow alleyways with their random twists and snakelike turns, through what appeared to be doorways that were in fact covered alleyways, you quickly lost all sense of direction. While I didn’t feel particulalry unsafe, I knew if I got lost, first because of the language barriers, and second that there would be no taxis to jump into (this medina is one of the largest pedestrian zones in the world) should this happen I really wouldn’t be ale to find my way out. Therefore I knew that it was important to keep my awareness of where the tour guide was at any one time to the fore.

From wandering quiet, twisty laneways, all of a sudden we were out in the open and in the noisy bustling marketplace. We dived in and once agin we were twisting and turning, but this time we were in a place where the sounds, sights and smells all caught your attention. We saw food stalls where women were doing their daily shop, the dyeing souks where men’s hands were stained with dark coloured dyes, and all means of other products – copper, leather, traditional clothing, bridal accessories (including bridal thrones!), even coffins (which apparently are only for women to maintain their modesty even in death).

In the middle of this was a most magnificent mosque, where people were called to prayer. We were led to a restaurant for lunch in the middle of all this, and up through the most magnificently mosaic decorated stairways and into a private dining room. I got to try Pastilla a traditional chicken, almond and cinnamon pie – unusual but delicious, and a break from the tagine we were having at nearly every meal.

After lunch we were taken to the leather tanneries, and a lot of those on the tour reacted to the smells and sites here, but again being a farmer’s daughter who had seen sheepskins being cured as a child, this didn’t particularly bother me.

That night we got to experience a traditional Moroccan dinner/music/cultural performance. It was held in a magnificent room covered in the mosaics Morroco is known for. As for the entertainment, I was glad I went, but it did feel very “we’re doing this for the tourists” – we got to see a traditional music group perform traditional music/dance, belly dancing, a magician and then  traditional wedding was staged. All of these had tourist participation as part of their performance, and I was glad not to be chosen.

This effectively ended our time in Fes, as early the next morning we headed for Chefchaouen and didn’t return until after dark, and then we parted for good early the next morning. So, did I mange to get lost in Fes? Not really, as while I didn’t know where I was for a lot of the time, I knew that our tour guide who had grown up in the medina definitely knew we were. However, one day it would be good to return and to properly experience getting lost in this amazing medina.

 

What a difference a day makes…

This post was supposed to be a travel one about Morocco, as my trip there was so amazing that I want people to know what an awe inspiring country it is to visit, and the places they could go to/things that they could do there. That changed last night when I had my fortnightly coaching session with my coach Bevan, and instead I’m writing about running.

 

 

 Chefchaouen – a magic place I’ve yet to blog about

In the last part of my training for the Urban Rush 15 Mile race, I was experiencing a bit of pain in my right heel. I’ve had plantar fasciitis before, but this didn’t feel the same. Previously my heel felt like I had stood on a really sharp stone, whereas this time it feels like a bruise on the inside of my heel. I had been managing it as it just hurt at the beginning of my runs and then later on in the day. I was doing calf stretching and using a spiky ball to massage the heel, and I felt I could get through the race, and that the two weeks rest I had planned afterwards would allow it to settle.

When I came back from Morocco and started to run again,  I was feeling it a little at the start of a run, but it would dissipate quite quickly. Last Saturday I took part in a 5km ParkRun and was thrilled to get a personal best time without really pushing things.

 

 

That afternoon I went on a woodland walk near Enfield and enjoyed a fantastic pub lunch (I’m becoming quite the fan of pub roasts). But later in the afternoon I really began to feel that damned heel again, and again on Sunday. I only ran 3 kms on Monday, had the day off on Tuesday – it felt a bit better, and on Wednesday I ran just over 7 kms, and while the running felt good I was hobbling the rest of the day.

 

 

At our coaching session on Wednesday evening, which was meant to be about setting me a programme to train for a half marathon early in the new year, Bevan called me on it, and I knew that there was no point in ignoring this any further – it just wasn’t worth it. So we have decided I’ll go and see Eion at Harmonised Muscles about it, and get him to assess what’s actually going on, and that for the next couple of weeks or so – no running.

This is very frustrating, not to mention disappointing, but I have decided that actually I need to reframe what is happening. I do need to develop strength and to focus on stretching ahead of building the running mileage again and it is badly needed. It also gives me the opportunity to put on some of the weight I lost when I was doing all those long runs, and working so hard that really I wasn’t eating enough food to fuel my body. These things will give me a better base to work from when I start to build the mileage again. I also have a trip booked to Russia, and it takes the pressure off me running while I’m away. The strength programme Bevan has devised for me means I can do it anywhere/anytime. It also gives me a chance to try Pilates (which I haven’t ever done) and to do some yoga to counteract the stiffness brought on by the running. When I feel a yearning to run, or I see others out running, I will just have to keep reminding myself of these benefits which will allow me to run better and stronger in the longer term.

Morocco Adventures: Diving into Life in the Desert

One of the attractions  for me of the Traveltalk tour I went on, was being able to experience life in the desert, and to ride a camel. The desert is quite some distance from Marrakech where I spent my first day, so the first day of the tour proper, was a long drive through and over the Atlas, and then the Anti Atlas, mountains. Luckily we were able to break the journey in several places, which distracted and compensated for the amount of sitting time  on the bus.

Our first stop was as we neared the top of the climb into the Atlas Mountains and afforded magnificent views back towards Marrakech, and equally important I was able to get surprisingly good coffee!

From here the road continued its twisty way higher, and about an hour later we got to stop at a village, which was having its weekly market. People arrive from miles around on foot, by donkey and small trucks that serve as buses. This market in many ways reminded me of the markets I visited in China in terms of the strange food on sale and the smell, and yet it was so different – you could not forget that you were in Africa.

We were guided around and through the market, and I’m not sure what all the locals thought about having forty tourists wander through, as there was a bit of finger wagging when I attempted to take  photos.  But at least some enjoyed the showmanship aspects of it and the opportunity to interact with us, but to be fair their interest was on the young women in the group. The guys shoeing the donkey in the photo below  were quite keen to demonstrate what they were doing on humans, but shooed away any guy, preferring to handle any shorts-clad young woman they could interest.

We wandered past many stalls, and to the market’s tagine restaurant. In this village if you want to eat at the restaurant you purchase the meat and vegetables you wanted at the market and then take it to the restaurant stall to have it cooked for you. The restaurant benefited by not having any left over food, and the patrons from having a cheaper meal.

We then climbed back on the bus and headed through the final part of the mountain range before stopping for our own tagine lunch where we didn’t have to provide the ingredients. The village we stopped in, Ait Benhaddu, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site, was also where Game of Thrones scenes  of Yunkai the yellow city were filmed, and we got to explore the ancient fortified village, and enjoy the view over the surrounding countryside before we headed into the desert.

I’m one of the small number of people in this world who hasn’t even watched a single episode of Game of Thrones, but I have both family and friends who are massive fans, and I know would have loved this village for this reason alone. For me I loved the landscape, and the fact that this ancient village was built on a hill that affords views for many miles. In many ways the village reminded me of ancient Maori pa sites in New Zealand – this village had its own water supply and could be strategically defended, both in being able to see any approaching enemy, but also in protecting the village itself.

It was dark by the time we reached our destination, and we had a 5-10 minute walk in the desert sand  before we reached our campsite in what appeared to be the middle of nowhere – I was very glad I had my torch with me, as my phone battery was running low and there would be no chance of charging it at this destination.

The standard of accommodation was better than I was expecting. Each hut had four beds and sheets/blankets and opened into a communal area. The only slightly perturbing thing was the distance you had to walk in the middle of the night should you wish to avail yourself of a toilet – there were no en-suite facilities here. We were provided with dinner not long after our arrival, and it was traditional Moroccan fare – soup, tagine and fresh fruit. We then sat outside under the stars and a campfire was lit. I was one of the those who retired relatively early, and it was interesting to listen from the tent as the evening developed for those who chose to stay up as I drifted in and out of sleep. Some even pulled an all nighter so they could stay up for the sunrise. However I was able to do this too, but with the benefit of sleep! It was interesting to venture out the next morning to see where we were camped – something we hadn’t been able to do with our arrival in the dark.

After breakfast it was time to pack up our belongings and head out on our camel ride. I didn’t find this particularly hard or uncomfortable, something to do with years of horse riding I suspect, but it did look like some camels had some particularly strangely placed humps, and this might have had something to do with the uncomfortableness being felt by many in our party. The camels appeared to be well looked after, and I was impressed when the attendants noticed one camel in a bit of discomfort, and when they removed the saddle I could see a saddle sore developing – they immediately added an additional saddle blanket to relieve the symptoms of discomfort.

From the camel riding, we headed back to the bus and had a reasonably long drive to the Sahara desert proper, where we were taken to see some traditional music and dancing, before our four-wheel drive adventure.

This was fun, and our driver took great pleasure in swinging the vehicle around in the loose sand, with fast paced tradional music playing loudly. We first stopped at a nomad village, where the people were either very friendly, or simply ignored us getting on with their daily tasks.

 

We were then taken up into the sand dunes, where we witnessed the beginning of the sunset. The vehicle I was in struck a bit of trouble at this stage as the driver took it a bit slowly and couldn’t manoeuvre over the lip of the hill. In the meantime all the other vehicles had disappeared and our driver seemed to drive round in circles making countless unsuccessful attempts to get over the hill, all the while getting more and more angry at himself. Eventually one of the other drivers returned got in the vehicle and easily gunned it up and over the problem hill in his first attempt.

By the time we arrived at our destination where we were ‘glamping’ outside a hotel (it qualified as glamping because we could use the hotel’s facilities and there was power and wifi).  This time we were sleeping on mattresses on carpets, and with only canvas between us and the next room.

Again it was lovely to wake up to witness not only the sunrise, but also the awe inspiring surroundings we found ourselves in – it was truly magic.

I really enjoyed my visit to Morocco’s desert country and would recommend including the desert in any trip to Morocco. The way of life here is simple and quite traditional, and oh so different from our western existence but also, as I was to discover, so different from that in Morroco’s cities.

 

 

 

 

 

Marrakech – Don’t miss Le Jardin Majorelle

 

I have a confession to make, I was so fixated on visiting Morocco itself, and Cefchaouen in particular, that once I had ensured that the Traveltalk tour I was going on visited there, I really didn’t put the time and effort into researching where I wanted to visit within Morocco, yet alone Marrakech. This is quite unlike me, and I think partly to do with being so busy with work and running.

There were 5 of us from the tour who arrived the night before, and we decided that the next day we would use the free shuttle offered by the hotel to head into town and explore.  This was fine in theory, but as we discovered when we were dropped off  the shuttle did not actually go to the ciy centre but rather to the central railway station, a 1.7 mile walk from the city centre and about 1.7 miles in the other direction to the Jardin Majorelle. On the basis that we could only fit in one destination in the time we had, and the tour had us going to the market and medina at the end of the tour anyway, we decided to head to the gardens.

I was so glad we got to visit the gardens as they were mind-blowingly brilliant.  The first clue that we were onto something special was the people, hawkers and tourists milling around in the Rue Saint Laurent (what’s with the name of this street I thought, but I was soon to find out!), and then the long queue to get in. It was a very hot day and the sprays of mist that kept the waiting queue cool were most welcome. I still didn’t really know what I was in for, but the minute I paid my 70 dirham and stepped inside I was entranced.

 

The gardens were the life-time achievement of French painter Jacques Majorelle, who purchased the land in the early part of the twentieth century, and then spent the next forty years creating and developing them. These gardens are more than just a garden they are a work of art, and to me almost like a series of brightly coloured paintings with Majorelle using plants (cacti, water lilies, palm trees to name but a few of the many species he collected on his travels) but also structural elements -pagodas, buildings, and even a fish pond, which he then combined with the most fabulous use of strongly intense colours, using light and shadow to emphasise these. I gather the gardens were once much larger, but at two and a half acres they still provide a really welcome quiet and tranquil space in the middle of a very busy and bustling city.

The gardens have become a mecca  for Instagrammers, with so many stunning backgrounds, resulting in the need to queue to get your photo taken in some of the more popular spots. I watched with amusement as one young woman spent nearly thirty minutes setting up the perfect selfie – her hair, makeup and outfit carefully chosen to provide the perfect foil to the background she had chosen.

Majorelle died in the 1960s, with the gardens eventually being purchased by Yves St Laurent and his partner Pierre Berge in the 1980s. Hence the reason for that street name. Yves St Laurent’s ashes are scattered here, there is a memorial to him and a room displaying some of his art work. Frustratingly the day after we visited a museum was being opened in his honour.

These gardens push the boundaries of garden design, and what actually constitutes a  garden, and should be on everyone’s must see list for Marrakech. I’m so glad I got the opportunity to visit.

Fast and Furious – the last few weeks of my London life away from running

My last two posts have focussed on running, but I was doing a lot more than running over those weeks so this update focuses on the other aspects of my life during that period.

While I was living and working in London, back home in New  Zealand there was a general election to keep people occupied, it was an actioned pack lead up to the election, with resignations from prominent politicians, and a new leader of the opposition in quick succession. Suddenly the main topic of conversation for New Zealanders was the election. This impacted on me because I was working on the London end of the election at the polling booth that operated for nearly three weeks leading up to the actual election date – 23 September. There were some very long and busy days, with lengthy queues especially around the middle of the day – meaning we often had very late, or on one day no, lunch breaks. Still it was good to meet so many kiwis – who knew there were so many living or visiting London?

During this busy period there were many NZ friends in town, so not only was I busy work and running wise, I was also quite busy socially. I got to try out new places in Soho with Carol and Dave, get to the Ancorage pub across the river by London Bridge with Susan, go to Wicked with Sue and Alan (another bucket list item ticked off), catch up for lunch with Prue and Jim, and to have drinks and dinner with Rob, and also to try Jamie’s Italian with Vicky, not to mention dinner in Dulwich with Nicki and Hugh. It was so good to catch up with everyone, but has made me realise how much I am missing all my New Zealand based friends and family – a definite downside to a middle aged gap year.

With all the running, and with working,  I hadn’t been able to do the walks with the Walks by Water group that I had previously, so when I found there was a trip to the Cotswolds on a Sunday (Sunday’s are generally running rest days for me) I was quick to put my name down. Stephen the organiser had hired a coach for this trip, which departed from Victoria Station. We headed first for Bibury, a quaint little village on the river Coln, walking along this river until we reached the village of Coln Saint Aldwyns for lunch before getting back on the coach and walking to and between Upper and Lower Slaughter. Rain had been forecast, and by mid afternoon the rain really set in, and while it wasn’t cold it was definitely uncomfortable. Still it’s hard to complain when you were walking through such beautiful countryside. I would have liked to have spent my time here in a more leisurely fashion, but we needed to get back to London, and by the time we did it was after eight. Given that I had left home at eight a.m. it was a long day!

I have also been to a couple more shows, as mentioned above I went to Wicked, which I knew from hearing ‘Gravity’ on Glee but not much more. I enjoyed the backstory to the Wicked Witch from the Wizard of Oz, and the production values – the costuming and sets were superb and I enjoyed the sheer theatricality of it all. I also got to see Queen Anne at the Haymarket theatre across the road from NZ House. This was more of a play, despite having some singing in it, and had political scheming underpinned by a feminist theme with the added bonus of history thrown in. On the Monday before I left for Morocco, I scored a £15 front row seat (turns out I was nearly on the stage!) to Apologia, a play starring Stockard Channing (of Grease and Westwing fame) and Laura Carmichael (Lady Edith in Downton Abbey). This was a brilliant play, superbly written and acted, about family dynamics. An added bonus was getting to meet some of the cast afterwards, although to be fair Stockard doesnt look overly impressed in this photo, so I’m not sure I’d do this again!

Finally the week before I left for Morocco, as work wound down and finished I was  able to spend time with Janine, showing her Brixton, and then the next day walking to Notting Hill, before heading to Chelsea to watch Victoria and Abdul (a recommend from me if you haven’t already seen it).

Sometimes I think that I’m not doing enough with my time in London, and it’s not until I sit down to write a piece like this I realise this isn’t true, and in fact the opposite might be true – maybe I’m doing too much and I need to slow down and relax in to London life a little. I suspect this feeling of not doing enough is directly related to the fact that I have been missing my family an friends in NZ, and thinking if I’m going to be away from them, then the experiences I’m having had better be worth it.

Conquering Urban Rush – 15 miles of running London

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Just before the start at Olympic Park, Stratford

Yesterday I completed the Urban Rush 15 mile race. It feels good to write that because its been quite the week with a left glute/hip injury that threatened to derail my attempt. However, thanks to some additional non-running recovery time, and some treatment from Eion, my massage/functional movement guy, and me icing/heating the injured area, I made it to the start line.

Getting to the start line, meant setting the alarm for 5.45 (remember this was a Sunday!), and leaving the flat just before seven. As the race start was in East London, it was a bit of a journey getting there – walking to Brixton station where it felt like the night revellers had only just left –  in fact a couple still hadn’t and were still dressed in their clubbing attire – before catching the Victoria line to Oxford Circus.

From here it was a change to the Central line to Stratford. When I trialled my route earlier in the week Citymapper had me walking through the ginormous Westfield shopping centre, but as I discovered to my cost this wasn’t such a good idea at 8 a.m. on a Sunday morning. Still at least I knew where I was going, and after my Motatapu (see https://livinglifeonmyownterms.wordpress.com/2017/03/09/one-marathon-two-stories/ ) getting to the start line debacle I had added in extra time. This race was different in three aspects from those I had run before – it was 15 miles and a distance I hadn’t run before, the roads were open to traffic, and everyone wore the same red shelter t shirts. The toilets were also the flashest I’ve experienced in my running career, which admittedly isn’t very long, and a benefit of starting in a large modern cafe complex.

The race started on time at 9 a.m. with competitors being let go in waves to spread the field. The first part of the race was a circuit around the Olympic Park/canal area, which involved a few unexpected but familiar sets of steps  that I could remember  from when I ran out here while staying in Mile End in January. There were a couple of road crossings in this area, but as the traffic was pretty light these didn’t slow me down. I found it hard to settle into a pace at this stage of the race, as I tried to follow the 5:55 – 6 mins pace for 17 kms plan that Bevan and I had devised. However I eventually found the sweet spot I should be running in.

From Olympic Park the route takes you through Hackney Wick following the canal, and then Victoria Park before crossing the top end of Mile End Park and onto Roman Road where I had my first SIS gel. Again this was familiar running territory from my Christmas visit, my daughter lives in Roman Road and the sea of red shirts flowed right past her flat. From here it was a straight road through to Bethnall Green Rd with a few tricky road crossings, a market and lots of pedestrians to contend with.

Soon we were running through Shoreditch, past Boxpark (where I had shopped pre Christmas) and then between the 7 and 8 km mark we seemed to start twisting and turning between tall office blocks (playing havoc with my Garmin watch)  before running up to, through and around the Barbican centre. I was running on my own at this stage, and I momentarily lost sight of the guy 20 metres ahead who I was tracking and had a slight panic when I couldn’t locate a route marker.  Luckily I saw one of the many security guys directing runners along the route and all was well. We then headed to and around St Paul’s, navigating some tricky road crossings, before heading to the river. They had set up a kind of cheering point at the water stand here, and it was quite cool to run down the steps towards the river and the very vocal cheering squad.

From here the next bit of the race was all about the river, we ran across the millennium bridge towards the Tate Modern, along the Southbank and through Jubilee Park before tracking the river through to Vauxhall Bridge where we crossed back to the other side again. I struggled with my time goal towards the latter part of this section, but I wasn’t the only one. That guy I had been tracking since before the Barbican, suddenly started walking and I caught him. I told him that I had been tracking him, that he could do this and not to give up now. He started to run again, and when I passed him over Vauxhall Bridge, he thanked me for my encouragement. From then on I was on my own!

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Me at the Millenium Bridge on an earlier training run

The course then followed the river initially along to Chelsea Bridge. There were new challenges to face in this section, the first being a large number of walkers who were obviously doing a charity walk for Diabetes UK in the opposite direction; they dominated the footpath and I had to constantly swerve to avoid them. Then there were the busy intersections and roundabouts to be negotiated, which interrupted my running rhythm. At this stage it was feeling really hard, and I was running a lot slower than I would have liked, so I hauled out my headphones and ran with music for the rest of the way.

From Chelsea docks onwards it was tough, I was hurting, and my legs felt heavy, and I had to keep telling myself that I was getting ever closer to that elusive finish line. I knew others were feeling it too, I had a bit of a battle with a guy who looked like he was in so much pain and he was running like a cowboy who’d lost his horse. I passed him but he hung on tenaciously for quite while, always on my shoulder, before eventually I was able to find a little more speed and finally leave him behind.

Suddenly I was in Putney, and the ‘you’ve got this’  and ‘you’re so close’ and ‘only a few steps to go’ signs appeared. There was no sprint to the finish in this race – I was totally spent. It had taken me 2 hours 26 minutes and 48 seconds.

                         The river at Putney from an earlier training run

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Me enjoying having finished and my finisher’s medal

Tomorrow’s Challenge – how deep will I need to dig?

If you have been reading my blogs over the last few months you will know that I have a major challenge tomorrow – the Urban Rush 15 mile race. This time last week I was feeling supremely confident that not only would I complete the course, but I could probably equal or even beat my personal best for the half marathon part of the race (remembering that this race at 24.16 kms is around 3 km longer than a half marathon).

My training had been going well, and last weekend I completed my 14 km run, with the last 7 km well under the 6 min per km that I had been set, so I had some justification for my confidence.

 

On Sunday, I planned a relaxing day for myself, a trip to Cambridge and a walk to Grantchester with a friend, with my main aim being to have a substantial pub lunch! It was a beautiful autumn day and I enjoyed the train trip to Cambridge (a very reasonable £16 return trip on a Sunday), and a delightful walk along the river Cam to Grantchester, where I got to have my pub lunch – and yes it was substantial!

 

My friend was particularly keen to visit Granchester as she had really enjoyed the TV series of the same name which was filmed in the town. Grantchester has several additional claims to fame, apparently it has the world’s highest concentration of Nobel prize winners, and the poet Rupert Brooke lived here and wrote about it in  his poem  ‘The Old Vicarage Grantchester’. The Vicarage is now owned by Jeffrey and Mary Archer, the author and scientist respectively. They have a number of pretty cool sculptures around the property, including one of Brooke in front of the house.

 

Heading back to Cambridge, we had a brief look around, but as I had visited only in January (see https://livinglifeonmyownterms.wordpress.com/2017/01/08/three-more-days-in-london  to  read about that visit) we headed to The Eagle, the bar favoured by American airmen during World War 2. This bar is decorated by memorabilia from that time, and you could easily imagine how it would have been in those days.

 

So on Sunday night, while I felt rather tired I still felt I was on track. Monday morning saw me get up early to do a 40 minute speed interval run in the rain – again at the end of that run I still felt good.

Monday afternoon that begin to change – I felt a twinge in my left glute/hip area that got steadily worse. I wasn’t that worried because I knew Tuesday was a rest day, which I hoped would allow things to settle. This, however, wasn’t the case. On Wednesday when I had decided that I would go out to the race start and do my easy 45 minute run so I would know exactly where to go, I knew things were not good. I could barely walk pain-free and running was completely out of the question.

 

It was quite clear to me that whatever was happening required intervention. Luckily my masseuse/functional movement guy was able to fit me in on Thursday evening, and was able to treat me. The trouble is we don’t know what the primary cause is, but he worked on all the trouble spots and this has given me some release. He advised not running before the race and to treat the problem area with a heat/ice regime and I’ve been doing that.

At this stage I’m confident that I’ll be able to start the race, and I’ll just have to judge it from there. Hopefully I can complete the race, but I know it’s not worth risking permanent damage, so I have to go into the race with the mindset that if necessary I will need to pull out,  digging deep while making sure I make wise decisions. It will be a hard ask I suspect, but I’m prepared for it.

I’m nearing my fundraising target, and for anyone who wants to donate to Shelter  http://www.shelter.org.uk who do amazing work to prevent homelessness and help me reach my target here is the link to do so https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/karin-dalgleish

 

 

 

Life – you’ve been tying me up in knots…

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I’m now nearly 4 months into my middle aged gap year, and this  last month has been pretty full on. I’ve been so busy that I have hardly had time to think, and over the last week it all caught up with me and I found myself with a heavy head cold, that just added to the feeling that I was close to unravelling/being tied up in an impossible knot.

So what have I been up to? First of all after not working for three months, I found myself a job. It’s a temporary role helping out at the New Zealand High Commission, here in London. They needed someone, as they were short staffed and as I have plenty of NZ public sector experience I was able to step straight in. I have enjoyed being back at work, and working with New Zealanders. The office is in New Zealand House at the bottom of Haymarket and I have really enjoyed working in this area of town – its very handy to many of London’s iconic sights, and to the West End and Soho which means I have interesting lunch time walks, as well as enjoying my daily walks to and from Green Park Park tube station.

 

Then there are the views from the top of New Zealand House, which are breath-taking, and allow you to see the London skyline from a different perspective.

 

This all changed when I began working on the NZ Election. Special voting in London for New Zealanders started on 6 September, and finishes this Friday at 4 pm. This has meant really busy days and long hours, including working last Saturday, when I also had my longest run scheduled. I also had New Zealand friends visiting, who I was very keen to catch up with, as well as my running training programme reaching its peak, meaning that I had an awful lot on my plate. I wasn’t surprised when I developed a cold.

Why is she doing so much running then I hear you ask? It is because I have entered a 15 mile race on 1 October called Urban Rush, which goes from Stratford Olympic Park to Putney Bridge, and for those of you, who like me, find it hard to think in miles –  its 24.14 kilometres (between a half and full marathon). It’s a charity race and is in support of Shelter http://www.shelter.org.uk/  a really great British Charity that works to prevent homelessness. I decided to raise money for them because of the numbers of beggars I see on the streets here, and because of incidents like the Grenfell Tower fire – a lot of those families are still suffering and Shelter help these and other families facing homelessness. I also want to give back to the city that has taken me in.

So as well as running, I have been busy baking and selling cookies to fundraise. I made my mother’s gingernuts (a great favourite of her grandchildren) as well as Jo Seagar’s oat chocolate cookies. I have sold these at work, and then took and sold another batch on a coach trip I did to the Cotswolds, and have managed to make just over 50 pounds so far, I have also had a couple of on-line donations, but I definitely need more donations because I’m still short of what I’m expected to fundraise as a condition of my entry into the race, so would really appreciate it if you could visit my Just Giving page and make a donation. Should you wish to support me  the link is here https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/Karin-Dalgleish?utm_medium=email&utm_source=ExactTarget&utm_campaign=20170902_58631

My running programme has been quite tough over the last few weeks – I have been doing pyramid sprints on Mondays, which see me running for 8 minutes at a certain speed, then 2 minutes break, then 6 minutes at a faster speed with a minute’s rest, then 4 minutes faster still, then 30 seconds rest, then 2 minutes even faster, 30 seconds rest and then a minute as fast as I can go, then going back up again. By the end of this session I’m dead on my feet! It’s hard mentally too, as my mind keeps telling me I can’t do it, and I have to convince myself that I can! On Wednesday’s I have been catching a bus at 5.40 a.m. to Crystal Palace where I do hill repeats, for 50 minutes before catching the bus back to Brixton, where I shower and change and then rush to work.

 

I have a session with my personal trainer on a Thursday, run again on Friday mornings, before work in both cases. On Saturdays I have been doing my long runs, and over the last few weeks I have gone from 17 kms to last weekend’s 22 kms.

 

Somehow, I’ve managed to make it through this busy period in one piece, and I can see the  end in sight. The Elections end on Friday, and I’m now tapering for my race which means the running pressure will reduce (although I’ve still got to run 14 kms this weekend, and then there’s still the small matter of that 15 mile race next weekend!), so really its mainly the fundraising pressure, as I keep working towards that fundraising goal.

Despite all of this I’m feeling really settled in London and am really enjoying being here. I count my blessings every day, and will continue to make the most of the opportunities that living in this great city offer.

Exploring London through my running

I have entered Urban Rush a 15 mile race from Stratford Olympic Park to Putney, which is a fundraiser for Shelter, a charity that helps prevent homelessness in the UK, and Bevan, my coach https://livinglifeonmyownterms.wordpress.com/2017/04/ , and I have come up with a plan for getting me fit enough to do this. So my running routine, means Saturday mornings are the time for my long runs. I am happy with the routine of Saturday morning runs, but I did realise that where I was running for these was in danger of becoming mindlessly routine. Two Saturdays ago for my 12 km long run I went to what has become my go to route – around Brockwell Park, up Herne Hill to Dulwich Park, popping out at the top of this Park and finding Sydenham rise and running through Sydenham Hill Wood and Dulwich Wood, which was an amazing bush trail run, that I really enjoyed.

After writing my Groundhog Day Blog  last week https://livinglifeonmyownterms.wordpress.com/2017/08/19/groundhog-day-some-easy-ways-to-avoid-it/  about how we crave routine, on Saturday I found myself thinking for my 14 km run, I’d run the same route and tack a couple of kilometres onto the end. However I realsed that I was actually resorting to mindless routine and the comfort of knowing the route and not having to face the fear of getting lost, so I made myself do some research and come up with a different route and thus ran to Greenwich Park.

This proved to be a good decision, as I got to explore a whole new part of London. My route did have some of the familiar though, as the first part of the route included running around Brockwell Park, but hey I had to get through my neighbourhood to go further afield, and it is such a beautiful park to run through.

I popped out at Herne Hill and ran up Half Moon Lane (gotta love these London Street names) and through East Dulwich and its leafy homes, before eventually finding myself cutting through Peckham Rye Park.

By now I was in completely new territory, and before I knew it I was in Nunnhead and then Lewisham (this makes it sound oh so easy but it got harder the longer I went on) and then I found myself running down to Greenwich.

Unfortunately or fortunately depending on your fame of mind, I reached Greenwich with a couple of kilometres to spare, which meant I got to run around Greenwich Park, with its hills and fine views over the modern parts of the city.

It then took me 75 minutes using public transport to get back to Brixton, it was a long morning but a thoroughly enjoyable one, and I felt so pleased that I had taken myself out of my comfort zone, and run somewhere new.