16 miles through London

I had an amazing long run this morning. I’m in London this week for work and my marathon training plan called for a 16 mile run. I have to admit I wasn’t looking forward to this run at all: it is the longest run I’ve had yet this training cycle, I’ve never run that long by myself before, and the idea of trying to run 16 miles through a city I don’t know all that well felt pretty daunting. I’ve been contemplating a few different routes for a few weeks (loop around Hyde Park, Green Park, and St. James parks or loop around Regent’s and Hampstead Heath) but then I had an idea this week of running to a bunch of different landmarks. Here’s the route I *think* I took [I forgot to bring the thing that syncs my Garmin online]:

16 miles through London

I got up around 6 am and managed to leave the hotel a bit after 7:30 am. I had my hydration pack with me so I was able to take my phone, cash/cards, and my camera pretty easily. It was a gloomy gray Sunday morning. I started at Piccadilly Circus:

It was crazy to see it so devoid of people. No really, NO ONE was around.

From there, it was a short run to Trafalgar Square.

And then Big Ben.

From Parliament Square I then ran through St. James Park to Buckingham Palace.

And then through Green Park to the Bomber Memorial and the Wellington Arch.

From there, I ran on Brompton Road through Knightsbridge to the Kensington Museums. Brompton Road was also empty of tourists at that time in the morning.

I ran into Hyde Park because I wanted to see Kensington Palace (which I don’t think I’ve ever seen before today) and see the Diana Memorial Fountain again. I didn’t get a chance to see the fountain because there was some sort of cycling race (it might have been a triathlon since I also saw runners in tri gear) and I couldn’t figure out a way to cross the course to get to the fountain.

I’m always struck by how beautiful Hyde Park is. From the park, I ran to Paddington Station to see the Paddington Bear statue. Even though I’ve been to Paddington a few times, I never had a chance to find the Paddington Bear statue.

I tried to use the bathroom when I was at the station but you had to pay 30 pence to get in and I didn’t have any change so I decided to skip it. When I had run into the station, it started lightly raining. By the time, I left the station, it was pouring. It was annoying at first but then I just got used to it.

From there, I decided to head to Regent’s Park. At this point, I really needed to use the bathroom so I found a park map and ran to the nearest bathroom. Thankfully I picked the bathroom next to a cafe because when I got there, this bathroom also required paying 20 pence (hey I saved 10 pence by waiting!). I really didn’t want to break my flow by stopping to buy something from the cafe just to break my 20 pounds so that I can get 20 pence. I was tempted to just crawl under the little saloon like door thing but thankfully I came to my senses and just went to the cafe. I ended up taking a break and getting a blueberry muffin and a bottle of water. At this point I had run over 8 miles so that blueberry muffin tasted like it was the best blueberry muffin I have ever eaten in my life.

Honestly at this point Regent’s Park didn’t seem that eventful or scenic (I don’t know maybe because I just came from Hyde Park or maybe because I had been running for so long) so I just decided to run across it and then head to Hampstead Heath. As I existed the park, I noticed a sign for Primrose Hill, which sounded vaguely familiar, so I figured I’d give it a shot. I’m glad I did because even on a cloudy day, it was a beautiful view of the city.

The run to Hampstead Heath was pretty quiet and through a beautiful [and posh] part of the city. My goal was to run to Parliament Hill since I heard it had such great views of London. By the time I got there, the view was OK [I think it was better on Primrose Hill].

There were plenty of dogs in all 3 parks [the English seem to have an amazing ability to have their dogs go off leash yet still manage to get them to come back to them]. At the top of Parliament Hill, I saw a rottie [possibly a mix and with a full tail!] that reminded me of Layla but he/she ran off too quickly for me to snap a photo. At this point, I think I had run about 12 miles and thankfully the hotel was about 4 miles away. The last 4 miles were the least scenic and least amazing of the run. I ran through Kentish Town and Camden Town, not because I wanted to visit either but because they were along the route that Google Maps sent me. They were pretty grimy. This was the nicest thing I found to take a photo of:

At one point, I managed to make it back to the Regent’s Park area. I got a bit turned around at this point because my phone ran out of battery. I only had about 1.5 miles left at this point and I sort of knew where I needed to go. I knew I needed to get to Regent Street and then back to Piccadilly Circus. I somehow managed to stumble upon Regent Street, which at this point was crazy crazy busy (I think it was after noon or 1 pm at this point). To make matters worse, there was also a special Magnum event where they had the street blocked off and were giving away ice cream. I barely did any running during the last half mile, mostly just trying to make my way through the crowds. I was hoping to pass by Oxford Circus and take some photos but I totally missed it. I may have technically ran by it but missed it due to all the craziness.

Overall, it was a really awesome run and I felt pretty good most of the way. It took me over 5 hours to run the 16 miles, which is really slow even for me. But I was stopping pretty frequently to either take photos or figure out where I was going. This was the most fun I’ve had running in a long long time.

After the run, I headed back to my hotel room to stretch, foam roll, and get cleaned up. A few days ago, I booked myself an afternoon tea service at Claridge’s. It was a really nice treat after such an awesome run. It was totally relaxing and fun. I drank 3 different teas: Rare Earl Grey, Emperor’s Breakfast, and Second Flush Muscatel Darjeeling. The Earl Grey was my favorite of the three.

It was a great Sunday fun day (run day?). :)

starting over

Week 1
Days to the 2015 SF Marathon: 238
Weekly Total: -3 (a bit inflated since I was using 2 different scales this week)

The past two years have been pretty dismal for my weight loss goals – instead of reaching my goal weight, I ended up gaining back some of the weight I’ve lost. I have a hard enough time losing weight so trying to lose weight I’ve already lost (2? 3? times, maybe more) is annoying, disappointing, and disheartening. I wish I could say that the past 2 years have been a joyride of excess and laziness but they have not (had that been the case, that would have made it far less heartbreaking). I ran a freaking marathon last year and 5 half marathons this year. I’ve been regularly working out a few times a week and for the most part, eating pretty healthy. For a lot of reasons that I’m not going to go into here, I haven’t been able to be as vigilant as I was in 2012 when I was blogging regularly about my progress. For me to maintain my weight loss and continue to lose weight, I have to be nearly perfect. I need to workout 5-6 times a week, plan and make my own meals of unprocessed foods (lots of veggies, fruits, whole grains, & lean protein), drink lots of water, get a lot of sleep, and be accountable to myself by blogging. And it is no surprise that I have to be nearly perfect, I’ve got a lot of things going against me: I’ve never been thin (the research shows that if you’re a fat kid, you’re pretty much doomed to be a fat adult), I might be genetically disposed to being fat (I don’t know this for sure but judging by how hard I have to work to lose weight and the number of people in my immediate and extended family who struggle with their weight, I’m guessing this may be the case), and I’ve already lost a lot of weight which means I actually need to consume less calories than someone who’s at my current weight and hasn’t lost any weight. I’ve tried numerous times in the past 2 years to kickstart things but they’ve backfired every time. I think a huge part of my failures has been trying to count points or calories. Given my long history of trying to lose weight, anything that involves restricting my food and trying to be within a certain limit is a bad idea for me. I usually see really fast results at first but I get so irrationally obsessed (e.g. if I’m actually physically hungry but out of points/calories, I get super stressed out about having to go over my limit or try really hard to not eat anything even though I’m physically hungry) with trying to be within the prescribed limit that I end up feeling so deprived that I go off the rails. I lost 80 pounds the first time around by not counting calories or points – I worked out regularly and ate whatever I wanted (that was healthy) and followed my intuitions around my hunger. It wasn’t fast but it worked before and I think it can work again.

OK, so now that all that negative emotional baggage is out of the way, here’s to a fresh start. I’m using the 2015 SF Marathon as a good goal to work towards. If I have any chance of completing that marathon in under the 6 hour time limit, there are some things I need to work on in the next 7-8 months:

  • lose a significant amount of weight. It’s pretty simple, the leaner you are, the better of a runner you get (you’re faster and you won’t hit the wall as fast). My goal is to lose between 40 – 60 pounds by the time race day comes. Needless to say, that’s really really aggressive for me but I have to at least try (because honestly any progress is good progress).
  • improve my cardio endurance. This means doing other types of cardio, other than running. Over the past 2 years, I’ve been pretty bad about getting any other cardio in other than running. I recently bought an erg (indoor rower), which I absolutely love. I love being able to work out at home, how freaking hard it is, that it works out your whole body, and that it is low impact. After about a month of regular rowing, I’ve finally managed to work my way up to rowing for a whole hour. I’m super super proud of that.
  • get stronger. Other than my weekly workout with my trainer, I’ve been neglecting resistance/strength training. I want to make sure that I’m getting 2-3 sessions a week of strength training, specifically focusing on things that will improve my running (like planks, squats, lunges).
  • get less tight. I haven’t been very good about stretching and foam rolling every day (I’m usually pretty good about doing that after running). I don’t have a runner’s body and I’m injury-prone so neglecting the daily stretching/foam rolling means that I’m super super tight. I’m actually taking the next month off from running and going to be spending more time on the rower & stretching.

So that’s the plan going forward, onto to week 1. I was at home visiting my parents most of the week for Thanksgiving. I brought along my travel scale, which I used for my first weigh-in on Monday morning. I really like the convenience of having that scale with me when I travel (it is nice to have something to be accountable to) but it tends to be a few pounds heavier than my bathroom scale. So I really have no idea if I actually lost 3 pounds this past week or if I just maintained my weight. Given that I was traveling, visiting my parents, and it was Thanksgiving week, I’m pretty happy with this week’s progress (even if I really didn’t lose any weight because I typically gain 3-5 pounds when I travel). Overall, I thought I did pretty well this week. I tried to eat mostly healthy stuff all week (except for eating dessert on Thanksgiving eve and Thanksgiving day) and I worked out 4 times:

  • Monday – resistance training at my parents’ house (and with no equipment!). I did planks, side planks, burpees, mountain climbers, crunches, lunges, side lunges, squats, and jumping jacks.
  • Wednesday – same resistance training workout as Monday
  • Thursday – 5K turkey trot race
  • Sunday – another resistance training workout at home (pretty similar to Monday & Wednesday but added some upper body weight training)

I’m really happy that I managed to get 3 strength training workouts but I wish I had a chance when to row this week. But there’s always next week!

Number Eight.

I’m going to be running my eighth half marathon this Sunday – the first half of the SF Marathon.  This will be my second time running the 1st half and my third year in a row running an SF Marathon half marathon. Of all the local races I’ve run, the SF Marathon is my favorite (Chicago is my absolute all time favorite but SF comes in second on that list).  More than any SF race, the SF Marathon (even at the half marathon distance) feels like  a REAL race.  Everything from race communication prior to the race to the expo to the actual race itself is super super well organized.  The course (especially in the first half and the five/six miles through Golden Gate Park) is stunningly gorgeous.  And with all those hills and a super early morning start time (around 5:30 am to 6:30 am depending on your wave), it is a hard course.  It just feels hard core – a serious effort that’s worth doing and celebrating.

I’m really excited about this weekend’s race but I’m also a bit nervous.  I don’t feel like this training cycle has been all that great – I’ve missed far more runs than I’d like and I haven’t done much cardio cross-training (partially due to being in Europe for two weekends and partially due to time management/stress).  I do think I’m more prepared for the hills this year than I was back in 2012 when I ran it the first time.  I’m going to run this race without my trusty Garmin (I’ve never run anything longer than a 5K without my Garmin) and run the race by feel.  I’m really curious to see what that feels like but I’m also somewhat worried about not knowing at any particular moment how I’m doing (but that’s kind of the point).

But more than anything, I’m using this weekend’s race as an opportunity to keep me inspired and to kick start a few things:

  1. I want a half marathon PR at the San Jose Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon in October.  I’ve run this race before and the course is flat flat flat.  If there’s one course where I can run a half marathon in under 2:30, this is it.
  2. I want to run the full San Francisco Marathon next year.  Having run both halves of the marathon and seen how difficult each one is on its own, running the full SF Marathon is kind of scary BUT also super exciting.  I really want to be able to say that I’ve done it.  And I’ve got a whole year to train.
  3. I want to run the Chicago Marathon next year, raising funds for the PCRF.  Running the Chicago Marathon last year was amazing and I want to relive that experience (and improve my time).  I learned about the PCRF last year at the Chicago Marathon – they help kids from Palestine and Syria get medical treatment abroad.  It is a really great organization that’s non-political.  I can’t think of a better or more important way to run the Chicago Marathon than to do so while helping these kids that the world has seemingly forgot.
  4. I want to get an erg (indoor rowing machine).  I was most consistent with my cardio cross-training when I lived in an apartment complex with a gym.  Even though we’ve got some awesome gyms at work, I’ve never really gotten into the habit of going there consistently.  I’ve found that there are some logistical constraints for me personally that make this hard (e.g. getting ready at work, having a hard time separating my time vs. work time, finding the right machine when they’re all taken during peak times, etc).  I know if I had something in my place I would totally use it.  I have a love/hate relationship with the erg.  It is an AWESOME workout and unlike the elliptical, feels hardcore.  And it would be a nice complement to my running.  But it can also be really hard to pass the time on it (because it is so hard).  I’ve been pondering this possibility for a week and I’m still pretty excited about it so this is most likely going to happen!
  5. Eating better.  I’ve really struggled with this since joining Google.  The reality is that when you’ve lost a lot of weight and you’re trying to maintain that, you just have to be way way more careful than the average person.  And when somebody else is preparing food for you, you really have no idea what’s in it and it just makes it that much harder.  I’ve been trying to bring my own lunch and snacks (yes, this does sound and look as funny as you’d expect when you work in a place that offers free food) like I used to do before I joined Google.  Doing so has been pretty effective for me, it is just easier to each healthier when I’ve already packed things that I like that are healthy.  It just takes the guesswork out of it.
  6. Being more consistent about blogging my progress.  There’s something about writing (and writing when you think you just might possibly have an audience) that helps keep me going and helps me stay on track.

All of these things are getting me pretty excited about the next year.  If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the past few years of losing and maintaining is that I need to be working towards new goals and trying new things.  The more that I feel like an athlete training for an event, the more that I treat my body like a tool that needs to be properly fueled and maintained (drinking enough water, getting enough sleep, stretching, massage, etc).  I think numbers #1 through #4 on that list will really help put me in that frame of mind.

As is running my EIGHTH half marathon (!!!!). In the most beautiful city in the world. On a course that even marathoners fear.

Let’s go!

Chicago Marathon!

I. Ran.  The.  Chicago.  Marathon.

It’s been a week since the Chicago Marathon and I still can’t believe that I ran a marathon (all 26.2 miles).  Going into the race, I had a lot of doubts about my ability to complete it.  In retrospect, it probably wasn’t a good idea to train for a marathon during my first year at Google (hindsight is always 20/20).  Even though I’ve trained for and ran 5 half marathons before Chicago, the training cycle leading up to Chicago was probably the hardest.  Every long run past 12 miles was hard, really really hard.  Heat was a consistent issue throughout the summer and I hit my breaking point a few times.  I wanted to cry during at least one run and I hit a wall at mile 18 during our 20 mile run, our last and longest run before the marathon.  I was starting to dread the long runs and running wasn’t fun anymore.  Running and completing the marathon felt like yet another stressor in my life, as opposed to the thing that melted my stress away.

The week before the race I tried to really focus on managing my stress, getting enough sleep, hydrating, dialing in my nutrition, and stretching & foam rolling.  And I think doing so really helped focus my priorities.  I stopped caring so much about what my time might be and more about making sure that I did everything I could so that I wouldn’t hit a wall during the marathon.  And to really enjoy the experience and celebrate how far I’ve come.  By the time I got on the plane to Chicago, I was feeling excited (albeit a bit nervous) and joyous.  Marathon weekend was finally here and I really was going to run my first marathon.  A large number of people on our plane were heading to Chicago for the marathon so that also helped set the mood.

Once we got to Chicago, checked into our hotel (which was an awesome hotel for marathon weekend — yay to free stays thanks to my Starpoints!), and had lunch, we headed to McCormick Place for the expo.  And what an expo it was!  It was HUGE!  Every possible running product you could possibly think of was represented, as were all the major athletic brands.  Nike had the best selection of Chicago Marathon shirts so I picked up one of their Chicago Marathon Milers.

Chicago Marathon Expo

As we were walking around the expo, I got emotional a few times.  I kept thinking about where I’ve been and how far I’ve come.  And not just with my body or weight loss but my whole life story.  From my family losing everything literally overnight to me winding up in a classroom surrounded by a language I don’t understand to managing to get paid to go to college to finding my way to the University of Michigan and Silicon Valley, what an amazing and incredible life I’ve been blessed with.  In those dark dark days of the 1990s, the only thing that kept me going were my dreams.  And in my wildest dreams, I wouldn’t have imagined any of this.

After the expo, we headed back to the hotel.  Other than a crazy awesome cab driver (he played for us several rap songs he had composed and performed, all while pimping his YouTube channel), we had a pretty uneventful evening of room service pasta, stretching, and foam rolling.  Saturday was equally chill — we ran a quick 2 mile shakeout run, checked out the bean, got some race day shopping done (bananas, bagels, Gatorade, water), stretched, foam rolled, ice bathed, and ate more pasta at Osteria Via Stato (which by the way is worth a trip to Chicago by itself — so good that we ate there the next night to celebrate finishing the marathon!).  Throughout the day, I made sure to drink a lot of water (I think I had about 200 oz, which is about double what I usually drink in a day).  I was really worried about getting dehydrated and I really didn’t want a repeat of San Diego.

I managed to get some sleep Saturday night, more so than I usually do the night before a big race.  As I was getting ready, I was also pretty relaxed.  I was planning on eating a bagel, banana, and a cup of cereal for breakfast but I could only stomach the bagel and half a banana.  I got a little bit of Diet Pepsi for caffeine and some Gatorade and water for hydration.  We left the hotel a little later than I would have liked and by the time we got through security and found our corral, I really needed to use the bathroom again (perhaps drinking 200 oz of water the night before wasn’t such a great idea) and the line to the port-a-potties was super super long.  Chicago has this policy of closing the corrals 15 minutes before the wave is supposed to start so because we had to wait about 30 minutes for the port-a-potties, we ended up missing our corral and having to start the marathon all the way in the back.  This was pretty annoying because we now had to weave through all the walkers and all the people who were even slower than us.  I was pretty mad at this point but I managed to let it go after a few minutes.  Since we were all the way in the back, it took a really long time before we got to the start line.  But before we knew it, we were off!

Chicago Marathon

My goals for the race were to finish (ideally around 5:30), not hit a wall, not get injured, and have fun.  I knew if I kept us running around a 12/12:30 minute/mile pace that we’d be able to finish the race.  I was worried that if we ran any faster than that we wouldn’t be able to finish.  As we were running, I also tried really really hard not to think about how far we’ve gone or how many more miles we had to run.  I knew thinking that way would be counterproductive — I really just wanted to enjoy the atmosphere, the city, and its people.  I knew I was going to be out there for at least 5 or 6 hours so I might as well enjoy it.  I planned to Gu every 4 miles and make sure that I drank some water and Gatorade every mile.  We kept pace with the 5:45 pace group, even though they started before us.  Around the 3.5 mile mark, I needed to use the bathroom again (over-hydrating the night before was starting to catch up with me).  We found some port-a-potties but the line was yet again really really long and we ended up waiting around 10 minutes.  After our break, I tried to run as fast as I could.  When we hit the four mile mark, I looked down at my watch and our pace for that mile was a little over 19 minutes – so despite running my hardest for that half mile after the break, we still lost 7 minutes.  I continued to run mile 5 pretty hard, trying to figure out if it was worth trying to make up those lost 7 minutes.  The more I thought about it, the more I realized it would be pretty risky.  Trying to recover those 7 minutes meant running 11/11:30 minute miles for the next 7 miles.  That’s the sort of pace I’m pretty comfortable with for a half marathon but I really didn’t want to blow my legs, hit a wall, or do anything so early to risk finishing the marathon.  After finishing mile 5, I decided to let it go and go back to my planned 12/12:30 pace.  We ended up taking another potty break around the half marathon point but that one was much faster (no line!).  Overall, I felt great running most of the marathon.  My Gu/hydration plan worked really well – I didn’t hit a wall at all (even after 20 miles).  For the most part, I didn’t really walk much (mostly towards the last few miles and usually around the water stops).  The last 3 miles were the hardest.  My legs and feet were pretty spent, although I was feeling pretty good in terms of my cardiovascular fitness and emotional state.  It was a bit frustrating since some of that was beyond my control (if I only I had been born with longer, speedier legs! Or a not so wonky gait!).

Noor running

It didn’t take long into the race to realize why so many people love the Chicago Marathon and run it every single year.  The people of Chicago really come out in droves for the marathon.  We had cheering crowds supporting us almost 100% of the course.  It was an amazing, incredible experience.  I’ve never run a race where so many people were out there cheering you on.  And these folks were genuinely excited for you and they weren’t there just for the elites.  They could have easily gone home after a couple of hours but no, Chicago was out supporting you six hours into the race.  The course itself was awesome, weaving you through all of Chicago’s major neighborhoods.  It was neat to run through all the different ethnic neighborhoods and see people of every ethnicity cheering you on.  The entire marathon was a celebration of humanity and that human spirit that brings us all together – that drive that makes us do what seems impossible.  Even though these people didn’t know you and didn’t look like you, they were cheering you on because you were just as human as them.  At one point, we saw some Palestinians cheering runners while waving a Palestinian flag.  At another point, we saw some South Koreans waving South Korean flags with Gangnam Style blaring.  In another neighborhood, a woman stood in the middle of the course high-fiveing runners and declaring at the top of her lungs, “YOU A CHAMPION! YOU A CHAMPION! YOU A CHAMPION!” to every runner that passed by her.  Chinatown was probably my favorite neighborhood to run through.  We were past 20 miles into the race and the energy was incredible.  They were playing Applause and I couldn’t help myself from singing along and that’s when I knew I was feeling great and having a great time.

There was a point a few miles past the half marathon point (it might have been mile 15 or 16) where I thought, “I don’t know that I need to run another marathon again,” but that all changed when I ran across the finish line.  Even though the last 3 miles were tough, I really committed to myself to run them (even if I was running pretty slowly) and not stop or walk.  Once I got to the last mile, I was able to push a bit harder and once I saw that finish line, I sprinted as fast as I could.  Nothing, nothing beats that feeling of running through that finish line and of finishing what once seemed absolutely impossible.  I got pretty emotional at that point (and I still get emotional every now and then when I think about the marathon).  I DID IT!  And it was fun!  What an amazing, incredible experience – what an amazing, incredible life I’ve been blessed with.

Sometimes it’s easy to forget where I once was and where I am today.  Running the Chicago Marathon was a great reminder.  I’ve been on a high since then.  It’s rekindled my passion for running and being healthy.  In some ways, I almost feel reborn.

She is tossed by the waves but does not sink.

April 21, 2013 photo food journal

Accidentally deleted two photos from this morning . . .

breakfast: weekend oatmeal (1 cup dry oatmeal, skim, 1 tablespoon maple syrup, handful walnuts), 1 cup fruits
mid morning snack: 1 small banana, 1 container yogurt

sandwiches at work – turkey, portobello mushroom
1 oh yeah bar, 2 pieces of chocolate
2 cups mangos
2 cups salad & dressing, 1 cup sweet potatoes, 1 burger with cheddar cheese on a whole wheat bun, 2 tablespoons ketchup
Greek yogurt
2 cups grapes