Shameful motivation for running long

The London Marathon is happening this weekend, and you can bet I’m going to be there staking out my place to see Paula Radcliffe running her final race. I wish I was running this weekend’s marathon, but I settled for a run down the Mall yesterday, pretending I was crossing the finish line.

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I’ve been finding it difficult to up my mileage into the double digits. As muscle fatigue started to set in towards the end of my run yesterday, I remembered the shameful motivation that has propelled me through other long runs.

I began distance running motivated almost solely by the fact that I have a friend, who is quite remarkably unfit, who managed to complete a half marathon. I would never tell him this, but it is the memory of his sweaty face and heaving bulk that keeps my feet moving when I am ready to sit down and cry by the side of the road. “If he can do it, there’s no way I can’t do it.” Believe me when I say that I am not proud of this at all. It disgusts me that I must rely on the memory of someone else’s weakness to gain strength. But there it is.

The Fear

I sincerely apologise to the readers of my blog for my absence.

In hindsight, typing in the plural form may have been grossly exaggerated.

I started this blog largely because I wanted to force myself to write. Where writing used to mean half-formed thoughts scribbled in a fake moleskin, I wanted to bring my writing kicking and screaming into the light of the internet public.

The truth is that my sporadic posts are symptomatic of something I think of as The Fear.

The Fear is the dark vapour that hovers permanently in the area between my stomach and my breastbone. It is a permanent icy feeling of inexplicable dread. It generates thoughts of inadequacy, self-doubt and a general sense of nausea.

The Fear doesn’t just affect blog posts. It hinders other writing projects. And keeps me from singing in an open mic night. And generally affects normal social interaction. (I have a huge problem with speaking to real people)

I have not yet found a way to dispel The Fear. But I have resolved to at least try to soldier through its numbing effects on my blog, one post at a time.

Barcelona: Part 2

Although we were only in Barcelona for four days, we managed to develop some morning rituals for the three mornings we spent there. Flaky pastries and an inky black espresso while watching Bear Grylls on the Discovery Channel (one of three English networks). The pastries we bought from the cosy little bakery just around the corner from our hotel which sold three butter croissants / pain au chocolat for €1. For the record, I’d highly recommend the hotel we stayed at (hotel details below). It was exactly what a boutique hotel should be: clean, friendly, free Nespresso coffee and quirky interior design so you know you’re not in a Hilton.

Dream wall of books
Dream wall of books

After our football pilgrimage the day before, we spent half the next day roaming the Gothic quarter on a free walking tour. I first started doing these tours as a broke student, and quickly learned that this is one of the best ways to get oriented in a new city. I can think of no better way to learn about a city than to walk around and listen to interesting stories. Here are some of the stories we heard:

The palm trees that give Barcelona such a holiday-feel are not native to the land and werecitrus mostly imported in from the Middle East for the Olympics. As a native of the tropics, I have to say I was more interested in the novelty of seeing lemons within picking range right on the street.

The highest point in Barcelona city is Mont Taber at a whopping 16.9 m above sea level. (No, I did not misplace that decimal point)

La Sagrada Familia – arguably the most important landmark in Barcelona – is sometimes referred to as ‘that sangria church’ by clueless tourists.

The Spanish Civil War was a veritable conference of despots, with Hitler, Mussolini and Stalin all pitching in to help Franco’s Nationalists – while conveniently testing out their weapons as a ‘dress rehearsal’ for WWII.

kidsThe highlight of the tour for me was at Plaça Sant Felip Neri. After Franco died, Spain accomplished the smoothest transition to democracy of any country in the world. They came up with the Pact of Forgetting, which allowed a blanket amnesty for all those formerly associated with Franco’s regime. The nation’s collective amnesia was effectuated by the absence of any memorials associated with the war. That’s why you won’t see any statues or monuments at Plaça Sant Felip Neri which was hit by fascist bombs in the 1930s. 42 people lost their lives, mainly children who were taking shelter at the church. The church with the tragic history is now a school. The children who play under the acacia trees are a living memorial to those who lost their lives so many years ago.

After the walking history lesson, we needed to find food to refuel. Unfortunately, the area near La Ramblas is probably the worst place to go if you’re even remotely discerning about what goes into your gob. The Mercado de La Bocqueria we thought, was our best bet. We ended up having cold, fried carbohydrates in a cone and cold, deep-fried carbohydrates in paper. I couldn’t tell you what meat was in either without a full lab test.

Thank goodness for a new friend we met during the tour. He invited us to dinner at whatanchovy turned out to be the best place we ate at the entire trip. Cerveceria Catalana more than made up for the disappointing tapas and other unsavoury street food we’d been eating throughout the day. Octopus tentacles with just the right balance of crunch and chew. Perfectly fried, non-greasy small anchovies. Open face sandwiches of tender artichoke and thin red slices of ham. Potato strings mixed with runny fried eggs.

I’ll have to end this here because now I’m hungry!

Where we stayed

Praktik Garden Hotel

Where we ate

Cerveseria Catalana

A Tribute to Terry

I had originally planned a post on our weekend in Barcelona – had already drafted something light and colourful like the city itself. But one of my heroes passed away this week and I needed to write about him first.

I started reading the Discworld novels when I was in my early teens. They were introduced to me by a friend of mine. She was older than me by a couple of years, and immeasurably cool because she read smart books and spoke like an adult. If she was reading Terry Pratchett books, I wanted to be reading them too.

discworldI started borrowing his books from a sleepy book-rental shop in my hometown. His books were bright patches on a dusty bookshelf lined by Joan Collins and John Grisham. Each book warranted at least three reads before they were returned. The first reading was done quickly, so desperate was I to read through to the end and find out whodunnit. The second and third readings were much slower, to savour all the footnotes and jokes I had missed the first time round.

As I grew older, my tastes changed. I stopped wearing those hideous baggy jeans circa 1998 and drinking fluorescent Slurpees from 7-11. But I never stopped being a part of the Discworld. Terry’s books, with their joyful Josh Kirby covers were my constant companion in every new home, on every dorm bookshelf and in different cities. When I moved to the UK, I scoured each Oxfam I passed, always searching for more Discworld books to add to my hoard.

Why did the Discworld books mean so much to me and so many others? I could say that it is because they were so cleverly written. All his books were a reflection of reality, made more palatable because they were seen through his irreverent, comic eyes. I could also say that it is because they were so funny, Terry never steered clear of a fart joke and the Discworld is a much better place for it. I could say that every character he created made you care, because you saw yourself in their idiosyncrasies. These are all true, but most of all, the Discworld books did what all books aspire to – they transported us outside ourselves, however briefly, and made us smile.

Doubtless many others are writing similar tributes to the man. That’s because Terry embodied some of the best parts of human nature – bravery, creativity and sensitivity. When he was knighted, he smelted his own sword with iron ore and meteorite. Towards the end, he dealt with Alzheimer’s the same way he wrote – with grace and humour.

Thank you, Terry. You’ll be missed.

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“It is said that your life flashes before your eyes just before you die. That is true, it’s called Life.”

Terry Pratchett, The Last Continent

Barcelona: Part 1

barcelonaWe spent four sun-soaked days in Barcelona over the weekend. Ironically, after a few weeks of battling really cold winds in London, the newspaper headlines just before we left were “London to be hotter than Barcelona at 17C!”

As an aside. I think the Brits’ obsession with their weather to be one of their most endearing qualities. Every weather fluctuation is hyperbolic… “It’s the COLDEST winter we’ve seen yet, we’ll have temperatures lower than in the Artic circle!” or “This weekend, London will be hotter than EGYPT!”

I’ve been to Barcelona before, but it’s a first time for my husband. Although I wanted to smugly be able to completely assimilate like a local, and show him how its done in Spain…my woeful sense of direction and memory meant that I was almost as clueless about where things were and how things operated. The three Spanish classes I took that one semester during grad school had only equipped me to order “un cervesa, por favor” and to know that ‘jamon y queso‘ is the most common sandwich you’ll find.

I do like to think that my natural lisp helped me blend in a bit with the locals, who charmingly pronounce their ‘s’ sounds as ‘th’.

Barcelona’s appeal is a combination of good weather, friendly people and surreal architecture. It can be slightly unnerving to turn up on a Sunday, when most shops are closed, to find hordes of equally confused tourists milling around wondering what to do with themselves in the absence of places to spend their foreign money. But hang in there, it gets better.

We were lucky to escape the Sunday-long siesta by spending half a day at the FC Barcelona stadium, Camp Nou. It was a pilgrimage for my football-mad husband, who insisted we get there three hours early to soak in the atmosphere. I’d actually highly recommend going at least two hours early for a match. You get to see happy families out in matching jerseys and indulge in extreme football consumerism at the Nike store (i.e. doggie football jerseys and player endorsed snacks). But expect to only get non-alcoholic beers at the stadium (or pack your own).


Being a complete football noob, I have to admit that Spanish football really does look beautiful on the field. Every shot on the goal is a strategic dance. Every defensive move a well-coordinated block. We had a lot of fun. The sun was shining, FC Barcelona scored 6 goals to 1, and we were part of a Mexican wave – twice.

The only downside to our Barcelona trip was the food. Sure, Spanish food can be magnificent. I love grazing, so little plates of tapas is pretty much my idea of a perfect meal. BUT, when food is bad in Barcelona, it can be disgusting. A wrong turn into a dingy diner turned our vision of delightful little plates of tapas into a microwaved portion of unappetizing (and oddly pink) meatballs as well as an uninspired wedge of Spanish omelette.  As in all cities, beware of the tourist traps. Specifically, La Rambla, in this case. Even the main market there, La Boqueria, was dissapointing. What should have been tasty street food ended up being overpriced, over-fried and non-too fresh meat.

We did however, find a gem of a place if you’re in need of some affordable and really good tapas. But I need more material so I’ll save that for the next post…

10 Miles

greysundayThere are runs that make you feel strong and confident. Like you’re flying along on winged feet and could go on forever.

This was not one of those runs.

I’d been dreading this long run since I saw it on my RunKeeper schedule last week. It didn’t help that the weather forecast said ‘light rain’.

I started off in the direction of Hyde Park and almost immediately felt a stitch in my side which persisted for the next 2 miles. As if to confirm that it was a bad day to run, I found myself constantly running into a headwind. It didn’t seem to matter which way I turned, the wind was always there, blowing dirt in my face, pushing me backwards and beating me into submission.

I’ve started this running strategy which I credit for finishing this particular run and not heading home to my coffee éclair. I generally try and get far enough away from the house to make the walk back too tedious. Then I leave my Oyster card at home so I can’t hop on the tube.

It started pouring at about Mile 7. So much for the light rain. I spent the remaining three miles trudging stoically through the downpour, not even noticing the puddles after a while because the puddles were IN my shoes.

The best thing I can say about the run is that I completed it. Which is enough to get me back onto the road for the next run.