Londoning around

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Last week there was a brief Spring sunshine interlude, sandwiched between bouts of wind chill and snow ( in London at least ), so after six months of observing and contemplating – not to mention working out the run/ shower/ workwear logistics – I attempted my first run commute.

It’s not the full commute – as ‘door to door’ the eight-mile distance is a mile or four too far for me to cover before work, even if my understanding of London geography was street perfect which it is not.

Instead, I ran to the station, jumped on an early train then from Paddington, ran through Hyde Park, skirted Green Park gave a nod to Buckingham Palace, through St James’s  Park and over and back across the Thames – arriving at Somerset House full of early morning joie de vivre and a just a tiny bit of a smug glow.

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Somerset House

 

London life – rekindling a love of reading

It’s a sad admission but I think that come the end of this month I may have read more books in January 2018 than I did in the whole of 2017.

My rediscovery of books has undoubtedly been helped by me having a 4 and half hour commute twice weekly between Edinburgh and London, not to mention a couple of nights in hotels where I am that lone diner trying to perfect the pose of nonchalant reader and eater ( whilst really not reading anything but earwigging on the conversations around me).

Late to the party I was given a Kindle for Christmas, and although I love proper books and everything about them – the paper, the cover, the typography, the smell, the craft, the mystery- my new electronic library has got me ticking off an oft-stated but rarely achieved new year’s resolution to read more, and managing it with aplomb and joy over endurance and forbearance.

Like a child in a sweet shop, I am dangerously addicted to the ‘1- click’ ordering and immediacy of Kindle downloads.

And alongside my newfound love of digital over analogue books,  I am slowly mastering the art of vertical reading in close proximity to many others – reading while commuting on the London Underground.

Here the Kindle comes into its own- as even while standing and swaying, I can hold it in one hand and turn pages with the gentlest inflection of my thumb. Rattling through pages as the Central line rattles through London.

I feel so modern

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I am not a fast reader but so far my 2018 reading list has included: Ann Cleeves – The Seagull ( crime drama featuring detective Vera Stanhope), Catherine Gray – The unexpected Joy of being sober ( true life account of reformed drinker – uplifting & enjoyable read from the self-help genre), Bernard MacLaverty – Midwinter Break, (poignant and beautifully observed tale of a long marriage). 

Now switching between Dr Rangan Chattergee – the 4 Pillar Plan ( prescription for balance and health and importance of relaxation ) and Tina Brown’s the Vanity Fair Diaries ( enjoyable page-turner telling the story of her time as editor of Vanity Fair ) 

 

Days 4 to 7 – the London runs and the solidarity of runners

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I am working in London at the moment mid week, travelling from Edinburgh and this means an early start to get me there on a Monday or Tuesday and a late finish on Thursday.

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Knowing I would be in London throughout December is one reason I was a bit tentative about committing to the marcothon – where the challenge rules say 25 minutes or 3 miles running each day of December.  I am following the spirit of marcothon , but unlike in other years I am not running 3 miles every single day.

I am enjoying my time working in London but the weekly commute from Edinburgh then the daily commute from where I stay to the office makes for a long day,  so to allow me to tick off year 6 of December running I have adapted the challenge to be –  run 100 miles in the month and this to include a minimum of 1 mile run each day.

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All these daily exercise challenges are somewhat arbitrary – but the underlying theme is about making a commitment to movement – and perhaps recognising how easy it is to kick exercise off the daily menu when you have competing demands on your time.

 

While my family find my December running habit a bit irritating – I try to reassure them by suggesting how unbearable I might be to live with if I did not exercise – and without the nudge of this challenge, it would be very easy for me to take a day off.

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Anyhow – this makes me sound a bit of a swotty herbert on the running front and truth is – last week, in particular, I was more of the class dunce and would very happily have taken a day off when the run ahead was a cold, early morning venture into the dark suburban streets of Ealing.

These midwinter morning or evening runs are the ones that are tough to start but joyous to accomplish.

 

 

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On Tuesday by way of variety, I ran after work before catching the tube home. This run was a loop along the river from Waterloo Bridge to Vauxhall Bridge with lots of  London landmarks to pass by and nighttime lights to enjoy – topped off by Tate Britain’s neon 70s style Christmas decorations.

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I had seen this from the other side of the river like a beacon of tackiness, and close up it was quite magical.

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A fellow runner stopped to take pictures and we chatted for a bit. One thing I have found pretty much wherever I run is the friendliness of fellow runners. Sometimes this manifests itself as an imperceptible nod in passing – but occasionally you stop and chat and in a few minutes can swiftly exchange run goals /history and race experiences before heading off with a ‘enjoy your run ‘ salutation.

 

Roving round London, keeping left on escalators and back home running

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With both shock and relief the temperatures dropped this week making London commuting much nicer for me and many others I am sure. I have not quite got into a rhythm of running or proper exercise when I am in London mostly because I can’t seem to get out of bed early enough to fit in a decent run before work and don’t always have time ( or the inclination ) in the evening.

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heading south
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early in Ealing

So exercise when in London is walking and walking and stair climbing and stepping briskly up and down escalators on the LEFT-HAND SIDE – yes I conquered that small fear – Bravo to me!

I have also perfected the technique of trolley bag running   – safer than running with scissors –  except perhaps for those on my path. An essential when cutting it fine to catch the train home.

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lunchtime walk

Last night on the return journey north I got chatting to a fellow passenger and runner and she gave me some run routes to try when I am next back in London and encouraged me to embrace run commuting. Giving me insider tips on routes to minimise road crossings, slow walking crowds and parks to try even when dark ( turns out they have the lights on ).

That will be for next week- today I was back in Edinburgh running on home turf with regular run companion Alison. Beautiful day for running – cold, clear air, sun and blue skies.

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And breathe

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Small confessions of mild obsessions.

Mary Somerville £ 10 note Mary Somerville

Towards the tail end of October, I got caught up in one of my recurring running obsessions – chasing a target mileage for the month . Although October is blessed with 31 days in which to run, come the last week I was ruing my slacker behaviour of the preceding October weeks when I realised how far behind I was in miles covered to date.
But with five days of October remaining, all was not lost. I had covered a fairly respectable 60 + miles so was confident that I would at least manage to reach a total of more miles than previous months 64 and 70 miles respectively.

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Although not currently training for anything – I am trying to keep up a decent amount of mileage each month because I don’t seem to be managing to fit in any other exercise at the moment. Is very easy to talk myself out of doing any exercise (even when I know how much better I feel when I do), without some sort of way of being accountable.

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And having set off at the beginning of the year with big monthly numbers, I am motivated to keep running and recording miles as I am on track to reach an annual total of 1000 miles by the end of November ( barring injury ) – a whole month earlier than I did in 2017.

So that is a target of sorts.

I know there are lots of naysayers around tracking exercise, league tables, wearable devices and the like – but my view is that on balance, it is mostly a force for good creating as it does for me anyway, a positive reason to keep going when it may seem pointless otherwise.

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Runners often have stated and secret goals usually where races are concerned  – (aka the backup plan when the shit hits the fan) and so it is for me and my ambitions around exercise –  I have a stated start of the month goal and as the month progresses and life intervenes I revert to my  back up or secret plan of what will ‘do’ for the month.

Throughout the year my graph of exercise ambition would be a jaggy profile characterised each month by an early peak of optimism usually around the first day and then as the month progresses a few more high spots coinciding mostly with weekend days when post-run, I am filled with euphoria and misplaced waves of invincibility.

The contrasting troughs of run reality and dips in the graph would be plotted next to those weekday work mornings when I opt out of a pre-work run in darkness, trading it for more time under the covers and telling myself that I will just run longer at the weekend.

( if I was not so shit at creating graphs – I would ‘insert diagram here’ – but instead here is a nice pic )

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Back to October mileage. For as long as I have been kind of seriously running, and it being  my hobby of choice –  I have recorded my runs on the Nike+ app. Like other running communities, you can opt to have friends who you share the details of your running achievements with. With Nike+ there is a leaderboard including the stats of your chosen friends – and this provides a degree of competitive edge and encouragement, as I monitor my run chums and their mileage totals.

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While it is not really a contest I do check to see where I am in the standing of my own small league and yes I confess I have sometimes gone out running just to get ahead of a Nike+ ‘friend’ and wallow in the warm glow of satisfaction when I am top of the leaderboard.

So come the last week of October – I set myself the first goal of reaching 90 miles -more than the past 2 months and higher than any month since April. Then on Monday 30th I was at 87 and a bit  miles so if I ran 5 or 6 miles my 90 mile target would be comfortably achieved, and anything more a bonus.

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Monday morning and with a flash of inspiration I realised I could combine the objective of reaching 90 + miles in October with the workaday task of taking clothes back to Zara. So in one swift move combine two of my running loves – ‘running with a purpose’ and ‘running a set number of miles in a month’ – how lovely is that?

As I was running I was thinking about how to achieve one of the following mileage number – 90, 93, 95, 99.

So the run story goes like this – I did the run into town and got myself to Zara and exchanged the clothes – at that point by my calculations I was on track to do 95 miles.

After a meander round Zara – I set off to run far enough for 95 miles then after a run up to Calton Hill and down again and not quite knowing where I was mileage wise –  my phone battery died. I just guessed that I was most likely at around 95 miles and that was fine by me.

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Once I was on the bus home and had fired up my phone with back up battery  – I discovered my Oct mileage total was at 98.4 – so from a happy with 95 miles I saw that a tantalising 1.6 miles would take me to the magic 100 for the month and while I ‘could’ have done this extra bit the day after- I reckoned getting this done and dusted on this day was the better answer.

I got off the bus 3 stops early and ran the remaining distance home – wishing as I often do that I did not live on top of a hill.

Anyhow – my end of Oct total was 100.1 miles. the running was not always pretty but I did it with a day to spare. And thanks as always to my running challengers for spurring me on 🙂

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Runspotting

More by accident than by design – I have spent much of September visiting different cities throughout the land, and as is my habit – have taken my running shoes with me on these travels.

I don’t do much by way of proper running on these trips – but fitting in a run is the closest I get to being a collector, or to the satisfaction of ticking off a list, ‘trainspotter-like’.

Yes, I confess I am a runspotter !

With apologies to trainspotters – but I am guessing based on casual observation (given that I do spend a shit load of time at train stations) that you guys & gals like to collect numbers and tick off lists – just as  I do by running in different places.

So running somewhere unknown is a good way to get a feel for a place, to satisfy my curiosity and sometimes find the places worth returning to for a proper visit. It is quicker than walking and cheaper than an open-topped bus –  and of course, helps to offset the effects of wining and dining excess that often goes with travels.

Alas the weather on most of these runs was not great and skies are often Pantone cool grey 5 with drizzle – but although the photos may look a tad sombre, rest assured I was having a darn good time.

September London

Have been in London quite a bit this month and fitted in a few runs along various stretches of the Thames. London is a nice city to run in with always something to see although it can be hard underfoot. Those golden pavements are tough on my creaky knees.

Sept 24 Inverness

Took a birl round my home town ( city ) to blow away the cobwebs the morning after my sister in law’s very enjoyable 60th birthday party. Was the day of the Loch Ness marathon and I was delighted to not be running a marathon – or any other race, although I did accidentally get caught up in a family fun run.

Sept 26 Belfast

A first proper visit to Belfast for me so managed to get a bit lost despite some good directions from a native. Early morning run taking in some of Belfast’s art trail and checking out some of the very splendid municipal buildings and high spots.

Sept 29 Edinburgh

Not really exploring a new city as Edinburgh is my home turf – I should really make more of an effort to run the sights of Auld Reekie, but sometimes getting back to running on familiar trails makes a comforting change after taking in the tourist spots.

 

 

 

Autumn

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I just saw a post from one of my favourite bloggers Materfamilias writes – a wordless Wednesday tour of mural art in her Vancouver neighbourhood. Truth is – it is not really wordless as she takes you on a descriptive tour and her observations are always thoughtful.

I have been doing a bit of touring and observing recently at home and in London, so thought I might try a word ‘lite’ post to try and jump start my writing habit.
Maybe a kind of a writing warm up.

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Short London run with art bonus

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Last week in London I slept so well in my hotel room that I almost ran out of time to run, but having trundled running shoes in my trolley bag through underground stations and pavements – it would have annoyed me to not take them out for a spin.

My biggest challenge when running in London, or in any new destination I find myself in for that matter, is my rubbish sense of direction. This can result in a planned 30 minute 3 miler taking almost twice that time to complete,  time keeping not helped by my tendency to easy distraction and to scurrying  down lanes to take a picture of this or that, of crossing roads to look closely at something or other, and  of generally deviating from my planned route.

Sharing these tales of how I always seem to get lost wherever I go with a friend, he told me to just keep turning right (or at least I think that was the instruction). I guess the idea being that you should eventually return to where you started, something I accidentally achieved on a previous London visit when trying and failing to find the River Thames.  I know that I passed the same  group of  Chinese tourist visitors on  three different occasions at roughly the same spot.

I just hope I made the cut for their London holiday movies  !

So back to this run –  destined to be short and sweet as having overslept I did not have much time to spare before the start of day two of the conference I was in town for. Fortunately I was staying in Covent Garden – so even a short run would provide lots of interest and require just enough effort from me to kick start the day, get the heart rate up and make the carrying of running kit worthwhile.

From the hotel, a run down Drury lane and then a right turn into the Strand took me close to a landmark I know – Somerset House. From there I crossed Waterloo bridge to the South bank so I could run both across and alongside the Thames. The light was grey and sky was flat, a palette that suits the London landscape and murky river. I crossed Blackfriars bridge then looped back along the embankment to Somerset House.

I did not have much time to linger, but time enough to check out the exhibition in the courtyard -a collection of figures standing as sentinel, part of the 1:54 Contemporary African art fair . Then after a short view and a few snaps I retraced my route without diversion or digression to be  back in time for breakfast.

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