Saturday, October 27, 2012

Crystal Palace Park Run

This morning, I pulled myself out of bed nice and early to do a little race-- a 5K run that doubled as a start-of-season run test to establish training paces and heart rate zones. Or, as I knew it would be....a reality check, showing me just how far I have to go.

I didn't have the greatest of expectations for this 5K. I'll be honest, in the past three weeks, while trying to adjust to living abroad, I haven't done a great job with the little things. I've been living a pretty spartan existence in a basement apartment with just a microwave and a coffee maker. I spent a couple weeks eating a lot of Tesco pre-made meals.... not quite performance food. The sodium and preservatives and all that stuff finally caught up to me earlier this week, when I started absolutely craving quinoa and kale. I know, I know, craving quinoa and kale? When has that ever happened to me? Answer: never, and I think it's a huge indication that my body actually needed some real nutrition. So on Wednesday, I looked up the London Whole Foods locations, plotted myself an hour+, three-change Overground train/ Tube journey (during rush hour, good thinking, Amanda) and headed into Kensington, desparately seeking quinoa (and also keeping an eye out for Will and Kate, no luck on that one).

I desparately needed this meal
I also stopped in at Harrod's the famous department store. Did not buy anything-- spent all my $$ at Whole Foods!
Aside from crap food, there's been beer. Probably (definitely) too much beer. I have very noble plans to cut the alcohol, and soon, but it just hasn't happened yet. Part of it is due to, unfortunately, straight up loneliness. Living in my basement apartment, and not knowing a soul in this town (OTG headed back to the States last week), means that sometimes I just need to be around people. So I head to the pubs, so as to not be alone. The pubs here truly are neighborhood gathering places for people of all ages and backgrounds. They're friendly and fun and have events (trivia, poker, live bands, etc.) planned every night. It'd be a huge faux paus to be in a pub without a beer (seriously, I saw a pregnant woman the other day with a pint of beer and a glass of wine). So, I sit in the pub, sometimes with a book, sometimes with my iPad, sometimes I talk to people, sometimes I don't, but I always have my beer. It's good for happiness. Bad for 5K performance.
 I also just wander a lot and find things. Like these stone dinosaurs in the local park

And really, British pubs are quite a lot of fun. I have met some very interesting people. On Thursday night, I hung out in a local pub that I knew had a very rousing game of pub trivia. I was adopted by one of the teams, comprised of two British gentlemen in their early 60s, when I started offering up help on some of the American questions. Paul and Stephan ended up being two of the most interesting individuals I've met so far. Friends from university, they were both well-dressed, incredibly smart, but also very funny. Paul was actually on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire 10 years ago, losing on the 64,000 pound question (about Michael J. Fox movies) when he refused to use his lifelines. The pair of them could speak more intelligently about American politics (and even Chicago politics!) than 99% of Americans. And their occupations? Paul drives a tram [cable car]. Stephan drives a bus. I think these are both post-retirement jobs, but was a fascinating view of a different culture where people are not defined by their careers. You can be incredibly intelligent and educated and drive a bus...and be happy with that. I like it. I also liked the several beers they bought me....again perhaps not the best prep for a race in 36 hours.

Anyway, this was supposed to be a race report. So London has this amazing thing going called Park Runs. On Saturday mornings, in dozens of parks around the city, there are FREE 5K races. They're well-organized, electronically-timed and generally awesome. I went to the one in Crystal Palace Park but there were about 5 others within 5 miles that I could have tried. These races are incredibly popular. There were maybe 100 people at this race, with one guy doing his 100th race (and a few others doing their 50th). Tons of people had on kits from their local running clubs (running clubs mean something and are actually competitive here). They all looked really fit. I wish there were things like this in the U.S. I remember a similar event in Cambridge, Massachusetts, a weekly 2.5 mile race around Fresh Pond that has been going, non-stop, since 1973 (I did it once when I lived there). But I've never heard of anything like it in Chicago and that's a shame.

The finish chute and some of the finishers
So how much can you really say about a 5k? I woke up, bundled up (temperatures were in the mid-30s) and headed over to the race. I'd scoped out the course the day before, confirming what I'd suspected after running in this park a few times.... it was hills, hills, and hills. No flat, at all. Starting with a 3/4 mile climb. Ouch. But I warmed up and reminded myself over and over and over again not to overdo that first mile.

I took this picture of the sun because I hadn't seen it in three weeks. Don't worry, it clouded up and rained a couple hours later.

More typical London weather. But a cool view of London from my 'hood.
At the start line, I got a little round of applause for being the only person in the crowd doing my first Park Run, and then we were off. A very fast-looking woman darted to the front, and I let her go, trying to conserve energy for the first, uphill mile. Another, even faster-looking woman passed a half-mile in, and she was hauling. I let her go, too, trying not to let myself get worked up about it. And then we hit the 1 mile split, and it was slow.

A little secret....I'm scared of 5Ks. There's a HUGE mental block, I think stemming from my first ever 5K, during high school cross-country, when physically something very bad happened (still somewhat of a mystery) and I ended up doing a Julie Moss-style, run-but-kind-of-move-backwards stagger for the last 200 meters, collapsing across the finish line, and wavering in and out of consciousness for a good hour afterwards. I was never the same after. It doesn't take too much for me to mentally check out in a 5K. Something so little as a girl passing me like I'm standing still at a half mile in, or seeing a one-mile split that's slower than I want, consistently makes me throw in the towel and have myself a little pity party for the rest of the race. It's happened time and time and time again. Even as recently as last spring.

But, both of those things (getting passed, having a bad 1 mile split) happened today, and I didn't throw in the towel. Instead, I stayed rational, focused, and engaged in this moment, telling myself that negative thoughts weren't productive and instead, I needed to figure out what to do to start moving quicker.

In the end, I did start moving quicker. Each mile was faster than the mile before it. I've never done that in a 5K before. Granted, the terrain of the course helped a bit, but still. It's growth. Mentally, I held it together. No mid-race temper tantrums or pouting. And, I kept pushing, and racing (with a guy pushing his kid in a stroller, I killed him on the uphills, he smoked me on the downhills) all the way to the end. These things all seem minor, but for me, they're huge.

I maintained third place woman, overall. My time ended up being nothing to write home about, but not horrible. Pretty in-line with how I usually do when I haven't done a 5K in a while and am rounding into shape, but not doing a good job of taking the little things seriously. So now, it's time to start focusing on the little things... eating decently, drinking less, prioritizing recovery. This stuff is hard when I'm home, even more difficult now, when I'm moving from place to place, not able to cook, and having a hard time establishing a routine. But I didn't sign up for this trip, while concurrently training for an Ironman, because it was going be easy. I just gotta do it, no more excuses!
I scoped out the course the day before and found this random little maze. I have NO sense of direction but thought it'd be fun.
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood....
Mo Farah's a legitimate celebrity here. As are the Brownlees. This pleases me.
This sign (seen it everywhere) also pleases me.


  1. I love all the photos!!! I've got some 5ks and such coming up...oh am I ever dreading them! Those things hurt! Great job on the race and getting back to training!

  2. Not sure how I found your blog, but enjoyed reading it.
    I also did Crystal Palace Parkrun yesterday, you are right, there are many many different Parkruns around here for you to choose from, Bromley or Dulwich Park are where people tend to go if they want to run faster times, I would say that Crystal Palace is my favourite Parkrun though, its no good for speed, but if you are working on strength it is a very very good place to do a specific workout, the Park & the course have a lot of character IMO.