Friday, April 29, 2005

MarathonMum Election Special

That’s right sports fans, we’re talking politics today. But before you switch to another channel, or worse, to another blog, please give me a minute or two of your valuable time. You all know how I love a good political discussion.

Here in the United Kingdom, voters will go to their local polling stations on Thursday for the national general election. The national general election in the United Kingdom is similar to the U.S. presidential election, but it’s not the same. It’s like the language here, it’s the same but different.

First and foremost, as a voter, you don’t elect Tony Blair to be your prime minister. You vote for your local MP—that’s Member of Parliament, not military police. When the election is over, they tally up the number of MPs from each of the three parties—Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat. The leader of the party with the most members in the House of Commons becomes Prime Minister.

So while some American commentators would like to make the U.K. general election like a presidential election, it’s just not. This is also why it doesn’t matter AT ALL, nor is it newsworthy, that Bill Clinton endorsed Tony Blair. (A piece of news I learned from my father-in-law, despite reading two newspapers and listening to two news radio shows a day). Nobody gets to vote for or against Tony Blair. It’s just not how it’s done.

This is why I find it so curious that the Conservative party is now trying to shape the election into a “character issue” about Tony Blair, mainly, about why he decided to send British troops to Iraq when such an action may have been illegal. First, the Conservatives were never against the war, so it’s like they’d like to have it both ways: support the war effort, but at the same time, question Blair’s judgment about sending in troops. Second, it’s not as if anyone who opposed the war would suddenly decide to vote Conservative—I just don’t think there are that many single-issue voters out there.

Finally, and most importantly, I find using the “character issue” in an election just plain lazy. It’s the sort of thing that makes people uncomfortable and makes them think about possibly changing their mind, but it’s just so low. I would be far more impressed if they actually stuck to the issues and said, “Vote for Us because of X, Y, and Z” rather than “Vote against Tony Blair because you just can’t trust him.”

The Conservative’s election slogan is “Are you thinking what we’re thinking?” My answer is No.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

My Marathon, My Hometown

A few days after I finished the London Marathon—and yes, I was still hobbling—a Canadian friend of mine stopped me in the playground and said to me, “Now that you’ve done the marathon, London really is your hometown, isn’t it?”

After more than six years of living here, I had to agree.

To put this into context, it’s important to understand that I really hated London when we moved here. Now it’s not really in my nature to hate anything, and people may be surprised to learn that I was deeply miserable when we relocated here, but it’s true.

I hated everything here. I hated that the language was the same, but different. I hated feeling stupid most of the time, because I had to relearn how to do everything. I hated not working and yearned for my old newspaper job in Chicago. I hated not knowing anyone. I hated how expensive everything was. I hated hunting around to find simple food ingredients.

To make matters more complicated, I discovered I was pregnant with Andrew while unpacking our moving boxes. So while it would be difficult enough to navigate living in a foreign country, I had to figure out how to have a baby here too. And let me tell you, as an American, it was incredibly shocking that my baby would be delivered not by a doctor, but by a midwife. (Though, as it happens, a doctor had to come in the end anyway, given Andrew’s stubbornness in entering the world.)

Tim couldn’t really understand why I was unhappy. “But it’s London!” he would say. “It’s not like I made you move to some backwater!” Whenever we would watch a film or TV series filmed in Chicago, my heart would leap as if I’d seen a lover. “Look! Chicago! The city we love!!” I would say.

Chicago, in some ways, was like my first love. I grew up just outside of New York City, and in many ways, that city was like a benevolent uncle to me. In fact, My Most Excellent Uncle Phil lived there, and one of my fondest childhood memories is spending the weekend in Manhattan, where I rode in a taxi and got to see “Star Wars” (not necessarily in that order). I went to university in Philadelphia, but I tend to gloss over that city because it didn’t have the hold on me Chicago did.

Chicago, My Kind of Town, like Sinatra sings, is the place where I set out to make myself in graduate school at Northwestern University. It’s the place that cemented (pun intended) my love of architecture. It’s the place with such a colourful history, they’re STILL arresting gangsters there. It’s the place where I met and fell in love with my husband. When we moved here in 1998, in my mind, no city, even one as great as London, could beat Chicago.

But London, much like British men themselves, was a patient suitor. It wasn’t obvious or showy. The city, and the people who live here, slowly revealed itself to me over time. I learned to love its regal history and short buildings. I became enamoured of the Thames River. I learned the lingo. I made lifelong friends.

If I didn’t realize it before, the London Marathon showed me that the city had become mine. Before the race, I had countless friends and neighbours in Greenwich ask me about my training and wish me luck. On the day itself, dozens of friends lined the streets to cheer me to the finish. The route itself took me past important places in my life: In the 5th mile, I ran by the hospital where Andrew was born, and in the 25th mile, I ran close to the hospital where Nicholas was born. Strangers cheered me on by saying, “Come on Mo! You can do it, love!” A woman in the 20th mile offered to swap her Stella Artois for my Lucozade (“Tempting,” I told her. “But I think it’ll make me sick.”) When I could name the bridges along the Embankment to myself and could calculate how far I had to run before I turned right in front of Big Ben, I realized I was home.

So yes, London is now my hometown. It took more than six years to come around, but I have fallen in love.

P.S. But you know what they say: You never forget your first love.

Thursday, April 21, 2005


“Aftermath” is just the way to describe the time after the race, given its physical, mental and emotional toll. I honestly have moments of complete mental disconnect when I can’t believe that I actually ran 26 miles and finished with a smile on my face. In many ways, it reminds me of the days after giving birth for the first time, when I couldn’t believe that I actually had a baby, but would look down, see the absent bump, and know that I had. For the past couple of days, I’ve looked out our back windows at the skyscrapers at Canary Wharf and then over to the London Eye and said to myself, “I ran from there to there and then some. That’s a long way!” Then I go over to the mantle and look at my medal for the 257th time.

At Day 4 post-marathon, I’m thrilled to announce that I now can walk down the stairs without having to go backward! I think I may have switched into my regular shoes prematurely—my feet are still a sight you wouldn’t want to behold—but at least I can walk.

I also no longer ache everywhere, but the pain has become more localized. Unfortunately, my left hip has resumed whining and complaining, which probably means a return trip to the physiotherapist. Today, when I tried to run to school (shockingly, I was a bit late), my hip hurt so much I began to wonder how it was that I managed to do a whole marathon with it like that. It’s a mystery.

Once I crossed the finish line, I needed to attend to some race administration. First, they removed ChampionChip, a computer chip attached to my shoe, which recorded by time and splits. Then it was time to have my medal hung around my neck (it’s heavy!). Finally, I picked up my bag and started heading to the repatriation area to look for my family.

At this point, though, I was so overcome with emotion that a very nice woman asked me if I was okay. “I just” [sob] “can’t believe” [sob] “that I finished!” [sob sob sob] “It’s your first, isn’t it,” she said. When I nodded, she then asked, “You have people to meet you right?” as if I had just survived some sort of war and wouldn’t possibly have it together enough to make it home in one piece.

I finally found my Incredible family. Yeah! Yeah! Yeah! They had been patiently waiting for more than an hour because the ever-optimistic Tim thought that I would beat my predicted time. Actually, that wasn’t such a crazy thought, given that I was bang on schedule when I saw them last in Greenwich. But they were happy for me, Tim had tears in his eyes and Andrew kept asking to wear my medal. In a moment that is sure to be remembered as a highpoint of my motherhood career, I told him no. (I did finally let him wear it for about two minutes, but I quickly took it back.)

By the time we got home, it was time for some champagne (Nytimber, for those wine snobs among you) and calls to friends and family. It took me about an hour to work up the courage to take off my socks and inspect the damage. (It wasn’t as bad as I feared, but it sure wasn’t pretty.)

Will I do it again? On Sunday night, I swore, “Never again.” On Monday, I decided I was disappointed with my time, so I wanted to improve it by doing another marathon. By Tuesday, I wasn’t sure, and I’m still not. I suspect that it might be like childbirth in that I may soon forget all the pain and agony and give it another go. Watch this space.

Monday, April 18, 2005

My London Marathon

London Marathon Day started with a big bright sun in the sky. Some forecasts predicted showers in the afternoon, so my goal was to finish the race before the rain. As I got dressed, our thermometer showed that it was 5 degrees Celsius, so I added an extra layer under my race shirt. However, once I got outside in the sunshine I decided the long-sleeves were unnecessary, and I realized we’d be running in Mo-Optimal Conditions. [Regular readers of this site know that Mo-Optimal Conditions would be sunny with some clouds, and the temperature between 10 and 12 degrees Celsius.] While some people thought it was too hot, I thought it was perfect, as it never got hotter than 12 degrees. “Bang on the sweet spot,” Tim said.

The atmosphere at the start line was electric, and reflected how I felt: giddy mixed with nervousness and fear. Would all the training I did be enough? A year ago, I was only running maybe once a week for 20 minutes, and I only started thinking seriously about the marathon in September. But then I would think about all the snowy, rainy, cold, foggy days that Nicholas and I set forth to run and I decided I did all that I could to be ready. I looked around to take it all in and try to relax. Children walked around the runners offering up bottles of Lucozade. Hot air balloons were tethered on the Heath next to the start. The BBC helicopters hovered overhead. I did some stretching and checked my bag, which, in a feat of logistics, would be waiting for me at the finish.

With more than 30,000 people registered to run, the runners are divided into three starts, and then divided into pens, just like cattle, so the start will be somewhat orderly. The green start off a side road is for runners with a good-for-age time and “celebrities” (a term sometimes loosely applied). The red start in Greenwich Park, otherwise known as the mass start, is where the charity runners and most people in fancy dress go. The blue start from the Heath, where I was, is for the elite men and women racers (not me, obviously) and those lucky enough to get a spot in the lottery (me). The pen you are assigned reflects the predicted time on your application, but as my predicted time was far off what I knew I was going to do, I moved back so I wouldn’t get in the way of the faster runners.

We were off! Thousands of runners, all pursuing the same goal: to run 26.2 miles. I saw people of all ages, shapes and sizes. I waved at the BBC camera hoping that my Mom in the U.S. would see me, as she had awoken in the middle of the night to watch the web cast. Other than my hip flaring up in mile 2 (bummer!) I honestly didn’t even notice running the first four miles, such was the excitement and group sense of mission.

By the fourth mile, I saw my first spectator friend of the day: Mollie, Andrew and Nicholas’ swim teacher, who was so excited to see me she just kept jumping and shouting, “Go Mo! Go Mo!” From then on, I saw friend after friend after friend. Zoe on top of someone shoulders screaming, “You look brilliant!” Kate handing out water by the Arches. Fellow runner Liz catching up with me momentarily, then speeding ahead. Roisin jumping up and down in front of the Maritime Museum. Xanthe waving on Norman Road. Then, the best part: my incredible family waiting with their Mr. Incredible balloon on Creek Road bridge. (I stopped to give them all kisses). At that point, I didn’t even feel tired due to the rush of the crowd in Greenwich.

After spotting two more friends (Marie and family in Deptford and Leslie a little further on), it was back to plodding along. This was when the hard work began. I still had 20 or so miles to go and I wasn’t going to see any friends or family again until maybe mile 18. When the euphoria wore off, my hip started becoming excruciatingly painful. But then I remembered the emergency pain relief I had brought with me—three different kinds based on the severity of the discomfort—and I took some. By mile 10, I was just under my 11-minute-mile pace goal, but then I decided I could either try to stay on the pace, possibly injure myself and have to drop out, or slow down and enjoy myself, and finish with a smile on my face. I, much to my mother’s relief, picked the latter.

But even with the crowd shouting, “Come on Mo! You can do it!” (I put my name on the front of my shirt), it still was very hard work. Then, as I was drinking some much needed water and thinking that I’d never get to the halfway point, we turned a corner and there it was: the beautiful Tower Bridge, made all the more gorgeous knowing that I was nearly halfway.

The absolute worst part (with the second-worst part the stretch between Surrey Quays at mile 10 and Tower Bridge) were miles 14 to 18. First, you see the much faster runners on the opposite side of the road running their final four miles. (“****![Insert favourite swear word here] Why can’t that be me!” or “****! I really am slow!”) Second, you know you still have 12 miles to go, and that might as well be a million miles at this point. But I asked myself, “Do I feel worse than on the day I did 19 miles in the terrible heat?” and the answer was always no, so on I plodded. I kept repeating to myself, “Pain is temporary, pride is forever.” I also kept looking down at my left hand, where I had written 121 in black permanent marker, representing the money I raised to send that many African girls to primary school. [It’s not too late to increase this number! Go to]

The crowds throughout the day were incredible. They estimated more than 500,000 people came out to support the runners, and if I could, I’d personally thank everyone who yelled an encouraging “Go Mo!” during the race. I decided early on I was going to smile and give a thumbs up whenever anyone shouted my name. I didn’t want to be a miserable runner on such an incredible day. Pubs set up DJ booths. Bands played. People danced. Kids held out their hands, looking for high fives. People held out boxes of candy, to help runners increase their glucose levels. At the mile 17 water stop, I hesitated to take a jelly baby, remembering my mother’s advice to never take candy from a stranger, but I so wanted a sugar rush I took one anyway. (I had my own supply of jelly babies, but the plan was not to eat them until mile 18).

By the time I hit mile 20, I FINALLY felt good. The hard work was behind me and now it was a more or less straight shot to the finish along the Thames. I wanted to pick up the pace, but the problem was most of the people around me were walking, so it was very difficult to dodge around them to run.

The rest of the race is a blur—running past the Tower of London, running under the Millennium Bridge, running past Embankment (To see Marie and family for the third time! Hooray for them!), then Big Ben getting larger and larger as we approached. Finally, it was a right turn in front of Parliament for the last mile of the race. I took off my iPod Shuffle so I could bask in the adulation of the crowd. I felt like an Olympian. I could see other runners with their finishing medals around their necks and I thought, “I’m going to have one soon! I’m going to finish the marathon!”

One final turn by Buckingham Palace, and I was at the finish line, with a smile on my face, my arms jubilantly up in the air, and tears running down my cheeks, as predicted.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Nicholas tries to lay claim to my medal, which he earned too.  Posted by Hello

I Did It!!!! I Did It!!!

I am thrilled, estatic, chuffed and psyched to announced that I FINISHED the 25th annual Flora London Marathon!!!! My feet will never be the same (I will spare you a picture), my back and hip are still in pain despite copious amounts of pain relief and I think even my hair hurts, but I don't care. I've done yet! As I've already enjoyed some champagne and now am awaiting my dinner, I will stop here and write more tomorrow. But I did it! I did it!! I've said it before, and I'll say it again (today especially): I TOTALLY ROCK!

Congratulations to everyone who finished today, but especially my friend Liz, my friend Sam and my fellow blogger Laura, who I got to run with for a little bit on the Isle of Dogs. Well done everyone!

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Happy Marathon Eve!

Well, this is it. My gear for tomorrow is organized, I’m updating my iPod as I type this, I’ve pinned my number on the front of my shirt and I’ve calculated the final tally of the number of girls I’ll help send to school when I finish the marathon.

The total, as of 9:57 p.m., is (drum roll, please) 121 girls will get to go to primary school for one year in Africa! I am thrilled beyond belief. More donations are set to come in, [and if you haven’t donated yet, you should] but that’s the definite number I’ve got for tomorrow. I plan to write 121 on my left hand to remind myself when the going gets tough the good that will come of this experience. My left hand is the same place I would write down my workouts, so I’m used to looking there in the middle of a run.

Thank you very, very, much to everyone who sponsored me. I am deeply touched by everyone’s generosity. You have made someone else’s life better, for which you should be proud. You should drink champagne tomorrow too! I certainly will be drinking copious amounts of it.

I’d really like to write more tonight, but I should shoot off to bed now and try to get a good night’s sleep. I’m hoping I won’t have the same nightmares I had last night, when I dreamt that a robber came in and stole… only my running shoes and race number.

Watch this space tomorrow to see how I did.

Thanks again for all of your love and support. It made this task much easier.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

The Greenwich Advantage

With less than three days to go before the marathon, I am officially freaking out. My feelings bounce from excitement to nervousness to pride to outright fear, and sometimes it’s a combination of all four.

One of the things I’m most looking forward to on race day will be the advantage of waking up in my own bed, getting ready in my own house and walking up the hill with my family to the start. It certainly makes me more relaxed knowing that the world-class sporting event I’m participating in is just a short walk away. It really does give me a distinct advantage over the other competitors, though given my speed (very slow) it’s not as if it’s going to help me win the race.

Another advantage of living in Greenwich is I’ve spent the last six months running on the course. I’ve never run it from start to finish (I’m saving that for Sunday), but in the course of training, I’ve run about 21 miles of it. I haven’t run the last five miles, again I’m saving that for Sunday, but I do think it will really help me. I’ve got the course memorized, and I’ve even run what they say is the worst part—miles 14 to 22—so I know what to expect.

The other advantage of living in Greenwich will be all the friends who will be looking out for me between miles five and eight and on the Isle of Dogs. I know from watching in the past that it might be hard to spot people you know, but my friends are already telling me where to look for them, so that should help. (For those friends looking for me later on in the course, I’m asking that they bring some spare Nurofen with them.) It'll be like I'm a famous athlete, with all these people cheering my name! Well, at least I can pretend just once.

I know it’s slightly unfair that I’ve been able to practice on the course whenever I wanted, but it doesn’t really matter, as I’ll hardly be up in the front, running head-to-head with Paula Radcliffe. The way I see it, any advantage that will help me cross the finish line with a smile on my face is one I should exploit.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Queen Elizabeth II and Me

I saw the Queen! I saw the Queen!!

There’s no point in burying the lede, because that’s the most exciting thing that happened to me today. My friend Liz, who is running the marathon for Cancer Research UK, and I went to pick up our race numbers and goodie bags. As we were walking into the Expo Hall, Liz said to me, “Look! There’s the Queen!”

“Oh Wow!” I said, thinking that I’d finally spotted Her Royal Highness after living here for six years. But then I got suspicious. She had no minders, guardsmen or ladies-in-waiting with her. She seemed to be wearing the same outfit she wore to Charles and Camilla’s wedding on Saturday. And no one was curtsying.

“That’s not really her, is it,” I asked, my voice deflating with every word.

“You didn’t really think that it was, did you? Liz asked. Well of COURSE I did. Why wouldn’t the Queen be there to greet me at the Expo on the day I picked up my race number in fulfilment of a lifelong dream? Besides, what do I know? I’m an American living in London.

Once I realized the error, the Expo was a bit of a letdown. The Expo is like a trade show for all the marathon runners where you pick up your number and championship chip (which electronically records your time when you cross mats at the start and finish) and also get to see all sorts of running-related merchandise. You can taste powerbars and gels—I think they’re gross. You can try on running shoes. You can buy running gear.

In my reporting career I’ve covered dozens of trade shows ranging from the fun to the downright dull. The best trade show ever was the Candy Show 1998 at McCormick Place in Chicago where U.S. candy manufacturers showed their new products. The highlight was The Sample Room where they handed you a bag at the entrance and you crammed it full of everything that appealed to you for free. Wasn’t I the most popular reporter in the newsroom with a bag of candy next to my desk? The less said about the downright dull trade shows the better, but I think the names say it all: The Steel Manufacturers Equipment Show, The Manufacturing Expo, The Textiles Show. I am a veteran of looking interested when someone is explaining ISO 2000 standards or fabric trends.

The Marathon Expo was great only because you got to see what some of your fellow competitors looked like and everyone kept wishing me luck. When I picked up my number, the man asked me if it was my first marathon and it took a GREAT DEAL of self control not to burst into tears right there and then. (As regular readers of this journal know, I am somewhat emotional at the moment, given that even the Porta-Loos set me off).

Oh, am I excited. I’m going to do this! I’m running the marathon! I can do it! Look for number 9985 with a red cap (pictured below), fluorescent yellow shirt and (most likely) tears running down my face as I cross the finish line.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

An Ode to My Personal Trainer

Training for the London Marathon on a beautiful morning, I breathlessly ascend a near-perpendicular hill in Greenwich Park. Upon reaching the top, I stop, doubled over, gulping fresh air, trying to stop the spots appearing before my eyes. My personal trainer is having none of it—he quickly complains about my rest and wants to run again immediately. My trainer’s personal skills leave something to be desired, and he expresses his displeasure with a shocking lack of eloquence. His demands are relentless, and his expressions can be described as monosyllabic at best and guttural at worst. I’d fire him if I could.

Unfortunately, I’m locked into a lifetime contract. My trainer is my 22-month-old son.

With less than a week to go until the race on April 17, my son Nicholas has been with me nearly every step of the way. There is no doubting that he is my personal trainer, of a sort, as he sits in his jogging buggy while I push him around Greenwich and Blackheath. He complains with a high-pitched whine when I stop, even if I have a good excuse, like an untied shoelace. He claps victoriously when we speed downhill. If he thinks we ought to be moving faster, he rocks forward and backward. He even occasionally says, “Go!” during sprints.

We certainly do attract our share of attention. Usually the comments are of the “Well done” or “Better you than me” variety. One gorgeous morning, when it was raining/snowing/windy, we were running along the Thames when I heard someone behind me. The path was narrow, so the bicyclist had to coast along until the path got wider. When he passed us, he asked, “Are you training for the baby buggy marathon or something?”

I said, “Well, I am training for the London marathon.”

He gave me a good, long look—or as long as one could be when perched atop a bicycle—and said with a great deal of incredulousness, “Really?”

That’s exactly how I feel most days.

Some of my personal trainer’s workouts are sessions that even the mighty Paula Radcliffe would not dare undertake. I am certain that of the 30,000 runners lining up on April 17, I am the only one who has read the classic tome, “Shrek 2: Opposites” while doing sprints. One rainy day he was so miserable, I tried to cheer him up by singing “Five Little Ducks,” while we finished our fifth mile. More times than I can count I’ve had to stop to provide water, offer up a raisin box or find another book for him to peruse.

Nicholas may have made my training more difficult, but there’s no denying he’s made me stronger. Sometimes-- OK, many times-- I feel as though I’m the only person who’s got such a small training partner for the marathon. I logged on to a Runner’s World forum posting a question about training for the race with a child, hoping there was someone out there as mad as me. I became convinced I was stuffed when the first few replies were, “Blimey! Good for you!” and “Very impressive.” Finally the thread did generate an answer—but from only one person and I suspect he’s running with a child only on the weekends.

I’m hoping my personal trainer will have helped me get around the course in a decent time. Ideally, I’d like to beat the course record for the runner dressed as a Panto horse (4:37) or Oprah Winfrey’s marathon time (4:29). At this point, though, any finishing time will make me very proud and happy.

On marathon day, there will be thousands of runners with inspiring stories to tell—those who overcame illness or injury, those who want to honour a friend’s memory or those who never ran a step until they started training. I don’t think my story is particularly inspiring, but I’d like to think that my effort honours the work of every mother who’s doing the best job she can, while letting her dreams coexist with the needs of her family.

Amputees sometimes sense a phantom limb, where they feel things in the appendage that no longer exists. I’m wondering if after the hundreds of miles I’ve pushed my trainer in pursuit of my goal, I will start pushing a “phantom buggy” if I start hallucinating in the latter part of the race. If you happen to see a woman crossing the finish line singing “Five Little Ducks” pushing a buggy that isn’t there, you’ll know the answer.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Hats! Hats! Hats!

The Prince of Wales finally married his long-time love Camilla Parker Bowles on Saturday. Here in England, you could feel a real sense of… ambivalence about the ceremony.

I don’t know if the event was overshadowed by the Pope’s funeral on Friday, or the upcoming general election May 5 (more on that in a later post), but no one I knew seemed to care about the event. Not one of my British friends raised the subject with me. My friend Anna and I spent most of our Friday lunch discussing celebrity gossip, including the new post-birth procedure called “Mend it Like Beckham”, which involves a tummy tuck, liposuction and the reinsertion of breast implants, but the wedding never came up.

My friend Anne, a fellow American, and I turned on the BBC on Saturday, waiting mostly to see what Camilla would wear. As all the papers said on Sunday, Camilla scrubbed up well. Her first suit, which she wore to the registry office, was pretty and dull, but not pretty dull. Her second dress, which she wore to the church blessing, was of an indeterminate color (we finally decided on grey, but later learned it was porcelain blue), but moved beautifully in the breeze.

But let’s talk about the hats! Now anyone who knows me well, knows I love a good hat. One of the reasons why I love this country so much is they still embrace the hat thing. Sadly my life is somewhat bereft of occasions that call for formal hats, but what can you do. Camilla’s first hat was beautiful and looked great. Her second hat was a more curious choice—sometimes it looked as though her hair had just gotten out of control—but up close I’m sure (or I hope) it looked better.

The guest’s hats were also great. Some of the American stories I read about the day seemed befuddled by all the hats in attendance, but clearly, they don’t know much about this country. Just look at Queen Elizabeth. The woman is NEVER without a hat. In fact, I don’t know that I’ve ever seen her hair.

The Sunday papers were far from effusive about the occasion. The headline on two of the tabloids was, “At Last!” It’s hardly the sort of reaction you’d like to have to your new marriage, but then again, Camilla and Charles probably don’t care.

Friday, April 08, 2005

A Plot Twist!

“Rocky” wouldn’t have been nearly as good a film if Rocky wasn’t such a loser at the beginning. He was a failed boxer, the only thing that loved him was his dog and the only exercise equipment he could afford was the Philadelphia Art Museum steps. The story, now imitated innumerable times, showed how he overcame adversity to win both the fight and the heart of the girl he loved.

Every great story needs a conflict, plot twist or turning point. Even mine.

That’s right, sports fans, we now have adversity in my own marathon story. I am injured with just over one week to go before the race.

After some very painful runs, I finally saw a physiotherapist (physical therapist) yesterday. The news was both bad and good. The bad news was that I have definitely strained some muscles around my left hip. The good news is that my physio definitely thought I’d be able to fix it before next Sunday.

As I told him, “Just get me well enough to run 22 miles. I can run the last 4 miles on sheer will alone.” He laughed, but I was deadly serious. There is no way that I will have gotten 99 percent of the training done only to have to pull out a week before the gun sounds.

I am also adamant that I will not be a DNF (Did Not Finish). In my book, DNF equals complete and utter failure. Even if it takes me seven days, like the guy in the Victorian diving suit, I will finish.

When I was about 11, I decided that I was going to qualify for Lake Rickabear’s Mile Swim Club. Every summer, lifeguards at our lake would put out buoys in the middle of the lake. After you had swum around the buoys four times, you would have swum a mile. I spent the entire summer swimming countless laps from dock to dock to train. On the day I was to swim it, my older brother Mike and a friend (I can’t remember who) rowed the boat to be my official referee. Now Mike, who I couldn’t love more, was a supportive older brother for the first lap or so, but by the third lap, his own kind of encouragement really kicked in.

“How much longer is it going to take you?” he’d ask.
“Man, you are SO SLOW,” he’d say to lift my spirits.
“I really have other things to do, you know,” he’d say, as he would wave to some girls on the shore.

Undeterred and with an abundance of tenacity, I swam on and finished my one mile. I didn’t care that it took most of the afternoon. I had spent the whole summer training and I was going to do it, even if my brother was mocking me from the boat.

Believe me when I say that my experience that summer will prove handy next week.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

The Royal Wedding

It is every host's worst nightmare: What happens if you pick a date for your event, only to have something more important occur on the same date drawing your most esteemed guests to the competing event?

Alas, that very problem has occurred to our own Prince Charles. He is, if you haven't heard the news, finally marrying his longtime paramour, Camilla Parker Bowles. The arrangements have been a bit slapdash-- to say the least-- apparently owing to the fact that one newspaper was about to report the scoop before all the details had been nailed down.

One problem after another has emerged related to the wedding. The biggest problem, until yesterday, had been the choice of the wedding's location. They wanted to get married at Windsor Castle, but if they did that meant The Great Unwashed (read: the general public) could get married there for the next three years, so they moved the ceremony. Now they're getting married in Windsor Town Hall, a location the Queen reportedly feels is beneath her, so she won't be attending. ("Not a snub!" the palace insists. Yeah, right.)

Now the Vatican announced Monday that Pope John Paul's funeral will be on Friday, the Prince's wedding day. Tony Blair immediately said that he'd be going to Rome, rather than Windsor, as did the Archbishop of Canterbury. Reportedly, Charles is said to have whined, "Why do I have do this?" when royal officials (and possibly his own mother) said it would be best to move the date of his wedding.

Charles capitulated and now the wedding will be on Saturday. It seems to me that only the most stalwart of Royal fans have been excited about the pending nuptials, but many more people are amused by all of the fiascos leading up to the big day. The British press gleefully reports every snafu and gives them another opportunity to run photos of a virginal Princess Diana and not-a-virgin Prince Charles on their wedding day. (In my opinion, that was the best royal wedding EVER. Even if they did become hopelessly unhappy soon thereafter. It looked great, though.) Today's editions feature such headlines like, "No Wedding and a Funeral" (The Mirror), "JINXED-Queen's Dispair at Charles' Curse" (The Sun), "Black Day for Charles and Camilla's Jinxed Wedding" (The Scotsman).

While I disagreed with some Pope John Paul's opinions, he was, at his core, a very good man. He advocated peace, justice, the end of Communism and improved lives for everyone. It's great that his final act put Prince Charles, who's never advocated any of the above, in his place.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

The Day the Porta-Loos Made Me Cry

I made quite a spectacle of myself in Greenwich Park on Friday. I was trying to not pay too much attention to the excruciating pain emanating from my hip when I spotted them: The Porta-Loos for the Marathon.

"They set them up already?" I thought to myself. "Is the race really that soon?" Then I started to cry. I tried to pull myself together, but then I started to cry even harder. Luckily, everyone around me was wrapped up in Spring hoopla, so no one noticed me. I finally got it together and started to limp down the hill.

Now anyone who knows me well knows that I'm not really the crying type. I didn't even cry at my own wedding, for goodness sake. I think my reaction was along the lines of "Oh, F***! This is really going to happen, isn't it?" rather than a reflection of how I think the Porta-Loos sully the beautiful Royal Park that is my family's playground. It didn't help that at that moment I was having a difficult time running without grimacing and/or swearing, due to my hip.

The hip problem is a new and unwelcome development. In the past six months training for the race, one part of my body from my head to my toes has been sore every day. I've suffered from headache, sunburn, chest problems, stomach ailments, sore thighs, dodgy knees, aching Achilles tendon and black toenails. But I've been lucky in that none of those ailments lingered for more than a day or two (or I got used to the pain).

The one thing I've been most concerned about while training is avoiding injury. It seems as though everyone else I know planning to run has been beset by a major ailment. I really counted myself lucky that I was able to stay relatively injury free. Until Friday. My hip started to hurt in the last miles of my 20-mile run last weekend, but I didn't think much of it until I was finishing up my workout on Friday and it suddenly became painful to walk, let alone run.

I have been religiously icing it ever since. I skipped my planned 11-mile run today, given that I ran about 10 steps before the pain became excruciating, and I know at this point rest is more important that miles. I'm still sure that I'll be at the start line IN TWO WEEKS!!!! (yes, I'm shouting, but at least I'm not crying at the sight of some Loos in the park).

Friday, April 01, 2005

48 Hours in Prague

Tim and I took advantage of our in-house staff-- my Mom and Dad are visiting from the U.S.-- to leave the boys behind and visit Prague in the Czech Republic. Prague, or Praha as they say there, has always been on our list of European cities we wanted to visit. It's a beautiful city, which I say despite the fact that a pickpocket tried (and failed) to lighten my load less than two hours after we arrived there.

We had a wonderful time, but I can't say for sure if that's due to the absence of the kids or a reflection of the city (probably both). I can see why so many movies are filmed there, as it easily stands in as Generic European City. It seems as though time stopped around 1910, as the city is filled with perfectly preserved Art Nouveau buildings. The beauty of some of these places literally stops you in your tracks. At least the Communists had the good sense to leave well enough alone.

In fact, I was somewhat disappointed not to find more reminders of Communism. On our last day, we saw a fascinating exhibit called "Propaganda" featuring Communist Party posters of the 1950s and 1960s used in both Czechoslovakia and the U.S.S.R. It shed some light on what it was like under Communist rule. Artistically, the graphics and fonts were really interesting and beautiful in their own way. We could have gone to the National Art Gallery to see some Impressionists, but we've seen all those painters before in one country or another. This was the first, and possibly only time we'll be able to see something like this.

The food is heavily oriented toward cheese, which made me very happy. For our first meal (dinner), I had fried camerbert for a starter. For our second meal (breakfast), I had some cheese with bread. For our third meal (lunch), I had cheese on top of a filet steak. I almost had to break the cheese habit because the restaurant didn't have any steak, but the waiter ran up the hill and got a fresh filet from the restaurant next door. For our fourth meal (dinner), I had marinated cheese as a starter. For our fifth meal (breakfast), I had cheese with bread again. The desserts were also delicious. Yum. Yum. Yum.

The city was filled with tourists, many of them American and British (the fact that I could understand what they were saying gave it away). If I could just take a moment to rant-- and what's an online journal for if not to complain every once in a while-- I'd like to talk about some of the sartorial choices these tourists made. Now I understand that I was basically on a three-day date with my husband so I made a bit of an effort (The Skirt Initiative was in full force). But if you're eating breakfast in a five-star hotel wearing ratty old jeans and a stained sweatshirt, I wonder-- what do you wear when you're cleaning the house? A little bit of effort goes a long way.
I had every intention of running while I was there. In fact, I brought two days worth of gear to do so. But when given a choice of having a lazy morning with Tim or going out to pound the streets, I wisely chose the former. (However, I did do Pilates both mornings while Tim was in the shower. So I wasn't completely negligent in my preparation for the race.