As some of you may remember, I visited a good friend of mine in London a few weeks ago. It was my first visit and I was so excited to jam as much sightseeing, tea drinking, pub crawling, and fit crashing as was possible into the few days we were in town.
Let’s just say I did much more of the first part of that list and much less the latter. I only snuck in two workouts over a total of six days, and this post is about one of them. I could make all sorts of excuses, but the reality of the situation was that we were so busy sightseeing and enjoying ourselves that stopping to workout each day just didn’t fit into the agenda.
But there was one excuse that kept popping up each day. It was freezing cold while we were there. Not kind of nippy or a bit breezy…full on arctic blasts from Old Man Winter himself.
So cold we were forced to shop for cute mittens, hats, and scarves. Shoot! But the real tragedy? My visions of waking up early each morning for a jaunt through Hyde Park were quickly smashed when I realized I packed only one pair of long running tights and only one lightweight pullover. I needed fleece…and lots of it. Thankfully Jenny was way more prepared and shared a pair of gloves and a pullover.
Unfortunately, we couldn’t figure out a logical way to run with this sweater, so we had to leave it behind. So, after much contemplation, logistical planning about how much cold we could technically stand without being miserable, and map studying so we wouldn’t get lost…Jenny and I headed out one morning for the one and only dedicated run we did on our trip. We stayed in the local neighborhood of Queen’s Park and settled on a three mile loop. We didn’t have international 3G on our phones, so we had to do it the old fashioned way and hope we didn’t lose our way. #firstworldproblems
The farthest part of our loop was Queen’s Park itself, a beautiful public park complete with a playground, running trail, “quiet” garden (no dogs allowed), pitching mound, and goats.
You read that right: goats. I wish I could tell you why, but it seems Queen’s Park decided to build a little petting zoo area with a bunch of kid goats. They were free to roam in their pen and gathered at the gate to check out the crazy runners. I can’t figure out who was more surprised by who. Let’s just say the feeling was mutual.
The run was a much needed sweat after a few days of eating and sightseeing. Despite the freezing temperatures, we were glad we mustered up the nerve to head out and felt much better when we returned to the warm apartment. And we didn’t get lost! Running is such an awesome way to get your bearings when traveling, and looking back, I wish I had wherewithal to do a bit more while in London. But next time, I’ll be sure to pack my warmest running duds to stave off the London gloom!
What are some of your favorite international runs?
It’s been three weeks since I last blogged about a crash and I am so excited to share what I’ve been up to. Every Saturday and Sunday in April and part of May, I am crashing the Learn to Row program with the Capital Rowing Club. I always regretted not joining the hordes of freshman who tried out for the Georgetown team in college. Mostly because I love being on the water, but also because I’m a sucker for early morning practices, endurance sports, and awkward tan lines.
Since then, every time I run, bike, or drive by the Potomac and see boats on the water, I think, “huh, that looks fun. Too bad I missed my shot.”
Well my friends…turns out I didn’t miss my shot after all.
See the chick in the white hat? The one who looks like she’s trying not to freak out about the boat tipping over into the Anacostia river? That’s me! But before I share the excitement about rowing with real oars in a real boat on a real river, let’s start at the beginning of the class.
The first weekend of class focused on two things: (1) familiarization with the boathouse and equipment and (2) learning proper rowing technique. That translates roughly into (1) learning how to not break all of the expensive things hanging in the boathouse and (2) learning to love the erg.
The first day of class, we learned all the basic ins and outs of the rowing stroke. The powerful catch, strong finish, and slow recovery. There was a lot of lingo and technique thrown at us at once, but as with anything, the best way to learn is to just do. And do we did.
We were lucky to have a volunteer coach set up his machine in front of ours so we could follow along and mimic his movements. Some of the students had never been on an erg before and were getting used to the awkward pulling/sliding/whirling of the machine. Others had some familiarity, but were learning to incorporate all of the new details. It definitely took a lot of concentration to break the stroke down and then fit the pieces back together. Let’s just say I’m three weeks into the class and still struggling to smooth things out.
For the second half of class, we each grabbed an oar and headed down to the dock. The oars are made of carbon fiber and extremely light. This is great when you have to carry a few at a time.
This is not great when holding them upright like in this picture and then a big gust of wind comes. Hilarity and panic ensued. Lesson learned!
These big, funny looking boats are called barges – the training wheel equivalent for rowers. They’re enormously stable and allow newbies like us to get a feel for being in a boat and using oars without the risk of tipping. I have to admit, I couldn’t have cared less if these weren’t real rowing boats. To actually be on the water on the first day of class was a huge win in my book. Sure we were tethered to the dock, but we were floating!
We spent the second day building off of what we learned on the first. My Learn to Row class has about 30 people in it, so we often have to break into groups and rotate stations. I started off on the erg doing some drills and practicing my technique. It was an absolutely beautiful, sunny day and I felt so lucky to be out in the fresh air and on the water.
Next, I moved down to the dock to learn now to successfully navigate a rowing shell. This included practicing how to place the oars in the oar locks (without falling into the water), figuring out where you can and cannot stand on the boat, and bending like a pretzel to delicately plop down into the seat.
The boat is much narrower than I had anticipated and lacks the stability of the barge. In other words, it rocks in the water and felt like it would tip over at any minute. So leaning across the boat to hook up the oars for the first time was something I did while holding my breath. *omgpleasedon’tflipover* And getting in that tiny boat? Well, that took mustering some nerve, closing my eyes, and praying that all the hundreds of squats I’ve done in my lifetime would somehow help me land gently into my tiny seat.
Not pictured: practicing how to get the boat out of the water and back into the boathouse. If I thought getting in and out of the boat itself was nerve wracking, this was sedation-worthy. Here we were, day two, a pack of total novices…being trusted with carrying thousands of dollars worth of equipment over our heads. Mercy me.
Day two ended with a session in the barge. This time we actually pushed off from the dock and took some real strokes. It was organized chaos as everyone tried to translate what we learned on the erg. And then we had to figure out how to do that in sync with everyone else in the boat.
Did we go very far? No, in fact, we went in circles. Did we look like complete novices and something out of a bad summer camp movie? Absolutely. But it was enormously fun and we were having a great time.
And that was our first week! It was a firehose of information, but we had a lot of time to practice and really were making strides by day two. An enormous thank you and Fit Crasher shout out to the volunteers and coaches who come out each weekend to help with the beginner rowing program. They have the patience of a saint and really take the time to teach us everything we need to know.
Stay tuned for more adventures from weekend two!
Hello friends! Apologies for the radio silence over the past few weeks. I was overseas for one, preparing for an apartment move for the other, and am now in my new digs sans internet (which makes blogging a tad difficult). I hope to be back soon with new stories and fit crashing adventures.
But to be totally honest with you, I haven’t felt much like blogging this week. I haven’t felt much at all. Sure I’ve been hauling furniture, painting rooms, and unpacking boxes. But really, what happened at the Boston Marathon on Monday took the wind right out of my sails. A deep, aching numbness I still can’t shake. I’m dazed, sad, angry. I’ve spent the hours since trying to process the how and the why. Mostly the why.
Like so many others, I was lucky enough to run across that very same finish line three years ago (my gosh, has it really been that long?). My family members and friends came to cheer me on, standing along that very same route you see on tv. The one that looks like a war zone. Among them my mother, herself a Boston Marathon veteran. She fought the crowds and chaos to see me repeat history and fulfill a dream. I can close my eyes and still smell the gatorade and cold concrete. Hear the roar of the finish line VIP seats. The boom of the announcer. The crinkle of the mylar blankets.
It was one of the proudest accomplishments of my life. I wore my medal to the bar for a celebratory beer that night. Clung to it on the flight home. Even zipped up that horrendously garish teal and neon yellow jacket and wore it into work with pride. So what if it wasn’t casual Friday.
I could wax on forever about my experience as a marathoner and as a Boston finisher. I could add to the many, many eloquent blog posts out there paying tribute to those maimed, injured, and killed. I could share with you the cyclone of thoughts and emotions I’ve been working through since Monday. And at some point, I would love to.
But at the moment, I still need time. Time to analyze. Time to heal. Time to lace up my shoes and find comfort in the rhythm of my feet, the nod of a stranger, the sweat on my face.
Until then, I leave you with this: a beautiful essay from a long-time running buddy of mine. She sent it to me on Monday evening, hours after the attacks. “This is something I wrote after my run today while trying to process,” she said. I read it and cried. My heart ached for the marathon, for Boston, and for those who lost their lives, limbs, and sense of security. My heart ached for the sport and for all of us who love it so much.
I ran that evening too, in my Boston Marathon shirt, trying to alleviate my heavy heart with swift feet. Her words encapsulate so much of what I felt Monday evening…as a runner, as a Boston Marathoner, as a human being. I hope it resonates with you as well.
Be kind to one another. Run fiercely and without fear. Send your strength to those who need it right now. And know that everything will be okay.
When I first became a runner, my mother bought me reflective bands for my ankles and a blinking light to attach to my running shorts, and warned me to watch out for cars. When I crashed my bike and broke my wrist, she sewed my race kit back together and warned me to watch out for gravel. Before I slipped into the water at my first Ironman, she traced a blessing on my forehead and warned me to “be safe.” When I finished, she cried as she held me, thankful that her once-broken girl had been transformed safely – oh, so safely – into an Ironman.
My mother never warned me to watch out for bombs at the finish line.
By 3:45 pm today, my Facebook news feed was flooded with updates. This runner was safe, that one had crossed the line and left the area before the explosions, a friend had taken her sister back to the hotel, two spectators were out of the area. It took several hours to find two friends — one of whom crossed the finish line 30 seconds before the explosion.
Since I began taking sports seriously, I have turned to running when I am sad, angry, and upset. There is a comfort in the feeling of your own two feet, the pounding of your heart, and the raggedness of your breath. And so today, several states away and helpless, I went out the door for a run.
I saw more runners than usual this afternoon; runners of all kinds. A pair of tall, lanky men in USNA athletic shorts passed by, keeping pace with each other and not speaking. We looked at each other silently. The younger man’s eyes were shocked. Another pair, middle-aged women who look like they normally walk. But today, they were running. A girl my age — light, straight hair falling from a ponytail. Each time we passed, I looked at these runners. They all looked back, silently.
Usually runners say hi. Or they nod. Something. But today, nothing. Today every eye I met was full of shock, full of horror. We didn’t have words for what we felt.
I stopped at a crosswalk near the Pentagon. An Air Force Captain, my age, with a runner’s body underneath his carefully pressed blues, stood next to me. Without speaking, he turned and held out his hand. I took it, and we held the handshake until the light changed. We didn’t have words for what we, as runners, were feeling. But we needed the solace that someone else knew and understood.
Runners live to run the Boston Marathon. Every runner on that course toed the line with miles and miles behind them. Miles of hard work, mornings of getting up early to practice the lonely craft of breath and footfalls, evenings spent stretching and tending to tiny hurts that promised to escalate if not tended to. Every spectator that lined the course stood on the street to cheer themselves hoarse for someone they loved — someone they’d watched dedicate themselves to the training, to the lifestyle, to the dream of “Running the Boston Marathon.” The 23,000 runners and tens of thousands of spectators were bound together by this dream, each came to the starting line, the edge of the course, willingly, and with love.
There will be other Boston Marathons. With each marathon, the community of runners will grow, and the community of people who love and support runners will grow. Eventually the pain will dull and we will feel like we can run and race safely. But that pain needs time. And dizzied by the pain, we need to be reminded, breathless as a runner at Mile 26, of how fragile our love is.
My fingers floated over my iPod, looking for something to accompany me. And as I ran, as shocked as all of my fellow runners and fellow lovers of runners and fellow human beings, Adam Duritz’s voice floated somewhere behind my feet.
I am ready — I am ready — I am ready — I am fine.
Apologies for the radio silence yesterday. I have been feeling too “plugged in” lately and decided to take 24 hours to detox a bit from blogging and feeding the social media monster. Nom nom nom. Thanks for understanding and hanging in with me. I wanted to share a few photos from my run yesterday, the first since the half-marathon. And boy oh boy, was that obvious. My legs felt like the Tin Man as I jerked forward across Memorial Bridge. I could almost hear them clanking and creaking with each step. I only went about three miles, but it was enough.
It was an incredibly blustery and gray day, definitely not the kind of day you wish for when running across bridges. But something about the short loop from Iwo Jima to the Lincoln Memorial just gets me every time. It’s intoxicating. Hits me in the gut in the best way possible. Reminds me why I love this city and how lucky I am to run all over it.
I don’t know if I’ve ever been so enamored by gray, cold concrete as I was yesterday. Perhaps I was feeling particularly artsy. Or just lucky to be out there soaking it all in.
It’s so easy to get caught up in the distance, the pace, the tempo, or heart rate. But sometimes, you just have to run from the heart. Plain and simple.
Enjoy every step. Take it easy, stop and walk, breathe in deep, and give thanks for the gift. At least that’s how I felt yesterday.
I’ll be flying to London this evening for an adventure. What adventure is that? Oh, any old adventure will do, but I hope it’s a good one. I can’t wait to share the runs, the workout classes, the sightseeing, the icky airplane food, the corgi chasing, and everything else with you all when I return next Monday. Until then, I’m taking the week off to soak in each moment and embrace the vacation.