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Tuesday, 10 May 2016

RUN FOREST, RUN


I ran a half marathon on Sunday. To be honest, I never had any intention or desire for that matter to do one. I’m a regular runner, but at my age, I know what feels good to me and what my limits are (and that’s not 13 miles by any stretch of the imagination). But, as it always seems to happen, a friend of mine planted the seed in my head about completing a half (which let's be honest, sounds much better than a full marathon) and well, long story short, I ended up by her side on race day in a throng of 16,000 people in 27 degree heat wondering what the heck I was thinking.

The run up to the race was a strategic mental position of denial. I did a bit of training which translated to, I just kept running when I was up to running, and otherwise told myself that I always had an out. I am a woman that’s all about the exit strategy even though I won’t necessarily use it. Call it a bit of a reverse psychology. Even on the morning of the race I woke up feeling dire. I told my husband that my energy was nonexistent and I wasn’t sure I could run the race. He of course smiled (half asleep) and said, ‘ok, don’t do it.’ Which of course meant, I know you’re going to do it, so I’ll see you at the finish line.

The lead up to the start of the race is an anxiety inducer at best. There were literally thousands of us suited up in running gear crammed onto an overground train heading to the runner’s village, as they call it. This is the time you find yourself looking around and what people are wearing, carrying, etc. and you can’t help but think, sh*t, am I prepared enough for this thing?! "She has a protein goo, should I have a protein goo? She looks rested? Am I rested enough?" Then it dawns on you that what is actually getting you over that finish line is sheer will and sheer will alone (ok, training matters, but at the end of the day, you have to want to get over that finish line). And some tell me I have that in spades (there are days I definitely doubt this fact, but hey), so I figured I'd somehow get through this.

So there I found myself, at the runner’s village, nervous and wanting this thing over with; which of course meant that I had to pee every two seconds. After a visit to the forest, ten minutes of stretching and a strategic think of where to stuff my protein bar (it went in my sports bra which was a big mistake as it had chocolate in it, unbeknownst to me, and melted all over the place once I opened it), we lined up in the pack of eager runners. We were realistic about our finishing time so headed far from those who were determined to finish the race in an hour! Then the wait began. I had obsessed over making the perfect playlist that would last me the entire run and of course as they left us standing there for ages, I had to keep starting it and restarting it in fear that my songs would run out during the run. It was so long in fact, that my friends and I ended up jumping the fence and hightailing it to the forest - looking like prisoners fleeing incarceration - to pee yet again before the race started. 

Finally, when the heat had decided it was just HOT enough to be obnoxious, off we went, and at that point all I could think of was, ‘there is no turning back now.’ Now, any one that knows me is that I’m not a crowd person. So running with that many people around me, all jockeying for a spot is NOT something I’m comfortable with. But we were all determined to keep together, especially my friend and I that trained together, so I just told myself, keep her in your sights and pretend every one else is not here. And to be honest, after awhile people begin to find their pace and the fray weeds down to a comfortable pack. Then of course you find ‘those people’ that your eye always seems to go to and sticks with through the race. For me it was a woman dressed as a banana (you couldn't really miss her) and a man who had 13.1 printing in large letters on the back of his shirt. I deemed him my ‘mantra man.’ Coupled with that, I had written my inspirational people on my hand for those miles when I needed to be reminded of why the hell I was doing this.

For the first few miles you’re just trying to find a pace, not be in your head too much, and figure out how the hell to get rid of the side stitch that keeps reappearing. AND of course NOT stare at the mile boards when they appear. There is nothing more disconcerting than thinking you’ve gone pretty far, and you’re only at mile 3. The biggest obstacle, aside from my melting protein bar (which was soon abandoned upon opening it and getting chocolate everywhere) and the blistering heat that had us all running for the shade, were the medics on the side of the road tending to other runners. And we’re not talking a few sprained ankles. The heat had rendered many runners to utter pavement-eating zombies. One woman had thrown up, a few men looked to be in convulsions, others on oxygen, it ran the terrifying gamut. And of course every time you passed this you wanted to cover your eyes and run screaming away from the sight of what could potentially happen to you. This of course provoked me to literally take a sip of something every thirty seconds as I was determined not to dehydrate. At one point, I had a bottle in each hand. One to drink and one to pour over my head.

By the time I saw my husband and son at mile 10 (I told him strategically where I needed him) I literally wanted to lie down and bathe in a cold bath of ice cream. I think I shouted ‘foooood’ as I approached them, and my husband knowing me all too well, had a protein bar ripped open and waiting for me. I kissed the King, shoved the protein bar in my mouth and off I ran…or limped. I’m not sure at that point. The other thing that dawns on you during race other than why why why, is the power of the people shouting in your face as you run by. Half of them you don’t even see as you’re kind of in this runner’s fog, and the others you’re so thankful for as you truly feel like they’re pulling you forward with their funny signs and gifts of candy and water. One woman shone like a flipping beacon on the side of the road as she held out a bag of ice. I swear to you, I almost kissed her. My friend and I grabbed the ice and shoved it in our sports bras (or perhaps that was just me) and I have never been happier. 

By mile 11 I truly thought I was going to have to crawl over the finish line. I just kept saying to my friend, “I’m not sure I can do this, can I do this? Where is the god d#*@()#m finish line?!!” And thank god for her, she just kept telling me to keep our pace and we’d get there. And well, get there we did. Seeing that finish line literally made me want to burst into tears. My friend and I held hands and ran right over that thing and I have to say, it felt pretty darn amazing…..for about three seconds, then I thought I might puke.

Needless to say, our cheering sections were waiting for us with supplies (the King tried to take most of the snacks in my goodie bag. Typical) and by the time I collapsed on the grass, I contemplated just spending the night there. Funny enough, with a few days have gone by, running 13.1 miles kind of feels like child labor. I know it hurt. I know it hurt a lot, but I have forgotten the pain. And I may just even be dumb enough to do it again. Then again…I could always stand on the side of the road next time with a bag of ice and make someone’s day next time. Somehow I think that might feel a helluva lot better. 

Tuesday, 3 May 2016

SAY CHEESE


Recently, a 15-year-old boy in India shot himself while taking a selfie with his father’s gun. There is so much wrong with that sentence, I’m not sure where to start. Firstly, how horribly sad when anyone dies, especially when it is a totally senseless death. Apparently this young boy was posing with his father’s 32-caliber pistol (which ONCE again was unlocked and available for a teen to play 'let's take a photo' with) when he accidentally shot himself. Clearly no one in his household hammered home that a) playing with guns is irretrievably stupid and b) put the damn safety on the gun.

This recent death put India at the top of the list for selfie related deaths, bringing the total to 49 deaths in 3 years. Honestly, I had no clue there was even such a statistic and the fact that there is one makes me want to weep. This fatality has now sparked concern with the Mumbai police and they are on the lookout to impose non-selfie zones. (OMG people, is this what the world has come to??! Non selfie zones?!) So clearly, we as a people are so desperate to take photos of ourselves doing ridiculous stuff that we are now risking our lives to do so.

Other countries have also taken action against unsafe selfies by issuing brochures that remind people that there are certain situations in which taking selfies are not a good idea. The brochure is almost comical if it weren’t so darn sad that people need reminding that taking photos of themselves in dumb places is just….well, dumb. Some of the bad selfie locations are on a railway track (really? when has that ever been a good idea) on or near power lines, posing with weapons, on water in a boat, on the roofs of buildings and with large, dangerous animals. To be honest, if you are posing on a high building, next to a lion, holding a gun, hanging from a power line, you deserve your fate.  

Have I taken a selfie before? Sure, now and then I fall prey to the moment and snap a photo of myself and the King, or the husband and I at a concert, and voila, I’m guilty as charged. Do I own a selfie stick? Never, not on your life. It takes all the patience that I have in the world to pass someone posing with a selfie stick and not beat them over the head with it. I think it’s narcissism run amuck and it scares the life out of me. So, those of you that are desperate to take selflies 24-7, I have an idea…next time you want to pose with a gun, go get a fake one (they sell them at toy stores), and ask your friend to take the photo of you. You’ll still look super cool on Instagram, I promise you.

Friday, 29 April 2016

LOOK OUT, I'M ON THE ROADS PEOPLE!


I passed my driving test today. Those of you that regularly read my blog know that I have been driving for a very long time, 28 years in fact (yes, yes, I’m old). Granted, most of that time was in the United States, but regardless, I’ve been on the road for a very long time and I’ve yet to run a car into a living room window (I’m saving that up till I’m super old and they can’t hold me accountable). As I live in the United Kingdom – and eventually we want to a get a car one day soon - I had to take lessons, study like a demon and take my practical exam all over again. So today was the practical exam, and as expected I was nervous as hell. That’s the funny thing, no matter how long one has been driving if you tell them they are going to have an exceedingly grumpy stickler beside them with a clipboard judging your every move, well, nerves are bound to be a factor. Coupled with that, the pass rate in this country is extremely low and it’s getting lower all the time. The infuriating part is that there doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to it (when you talk to the instructors who teach driving). Some examiners are known to be hardcore when it comes to the rules (and will fail you for the most minute of discretions) and some are more relaxed and well, human about the whole thing. I don’t have to tell you how hard I was praying for someone with Valium running through his or her veins.

So for anyone that has not taken this exam for decades, you get to the test center and you sit in this little room with really bad wall color and wait for your examiner to come out. The instructors (who come with you as you can use your driving instructor’s car to take the test) all look calm and sit on their phones joyfully knowing that no one is going to judge them in the next 40 minutes. In my case, my instructor – god love him - was literally selling stuff on eBay as we sat there. The prospective victims – that’s us driving students – on the contrary all looked positively ill. As each person in front of me got called and their examiner came out, I of course was trying to judge who looked the most human and understanding. And trust me, this isn’t easy, as this polite blond woman I was hoping to get turned out to be a real stickler and someone I wanted to stay as far away from as possible.

So alas, after far too many minutes of pacing the room, telling myself to be calm and wise like a driving Yoda, my instructor came out. She was an elderly lady who at first seemed kind of stern. Trust me, I was reading her body language in hopes of getting any clue I could. But after she forgot something and kind of laughed it off, I took it as a good sign. Then again, I was taking the fact that it hadn’t rained and I still had a pulse as a good sign. We went outside and the first thing they do is ask you to read a license plate kind of far off in the distance. I of course went into panic mode as heck, a 5 can certainly look like an S to my 44 year old eyes. Thankfully they didn’t fail me and we walked to the car (which my instructor and I had strategically parked so that no one could park in front of me and I had an easy exit) and low and behold, some shmuck and sandwiched me in to the point that no amount of car grease was getting this car out of the space. After finding the guy and making him move the car, we got in and started the test.

At this point all you’re thinking of is, STAY CALM and remember every sodding thing the instructor told you to do in your lessons (even though I had been driving for decades, there are things they want you to do over here in the test that just seem, well, pointless). The other thing that passes through your head is please don’t let this be the day when people are diving into the road trying to off themselves cause I really wouldn’t know how to handle that. Needless to say, after answering a few ‘inside car’ questions (how do you tell the power steering is working bla bla bla), we set off. I was warned by my husband (who I quizzed within an inch of his life) that the examiner will not make chit chat and it’s to be 40 minutes spent in silence. Which, considering I’m supposed to be concentrating is a good thing. I swear, I’ve never looked in my mirrors more diligently in my life (center mirror, side mirror, signal, ebrake…). I felt like I had eyeball Tourette’s as I glanced in my mirrors, to my blind spot, back to my mirrors, don’t forget your blind spot! Ahhhhhhhhh!

All was going fine until my examiner asked me what I did for a living. My first thought was that she was challenging my concentration skills to see if I could talk and chat. Then when she then started asking me 20 questions about the minutiae of writing, I started to wonder if I had already failed and she was now just in it for the conversation. Or, in fact, if the inner writer in her was dying to get out and being a driving examiner was not her life’s quest. It got to the point where she was so curious (and talkative!) I was starting to ponder asking her to button it so I could focus on parallel parking.
Trying to lean on the positive side of the street, I told her that only the extremely persistent (who are great drivers!) are crazy enough to take on screenwriting as we spun around mini roundabout after roundabout until low and behold we were making our way back to the test center (definitely the most nerve wracking 40 minutes of the last year).

By the time we parked up, I’m pretty sure I had broken out in hives on my face from the sheer adrenaline of following directions for forty long minutes. Then of course you have that moment where they toy with you, and they pause….before telling you if you passed or failed. I won’t lie, when she said the word PASS I about hugged her talkative little body. And then you realize, OH MY GOD I don’t have to do this again until I’m so old and grey that I probably won’t want to drive anyway (taxi!!). 

Gooooood riddance and give me that license lady!



Friday, 22 April 2016

THIS IS WHAT IT SOUNDS LIKE WHEN DOVES CRY


I have written many times before about icons and how much it affects us when one dies. And of course, yesterday the world sadly learned that yet again we lost another true artist who went by the name of Prince (my son immediately remarked that this man had a really cool name). For those of us that were fans (or devotees...who are we kidding) it’s hard to encapsulate why the passing of someone you did not know is so hard to digest. Funny enough, I’ve often seen this with my own father over the years. If your parent is a public figure in any fashion, people feel a kinship with them for their own personal reasons, be it through their art, their service to the community, their ideals, what have you. And despite the fact that we in fact do not know this person, through their art, we can't help but feel like we do (or we tell ourselves that we know a part of them, the part that they clearly share with the world).

The loss of Prince for many is almost too hard to digest (I realize in the scope of what goes in the world today, loss is a perpetual thing and no one loss is more important than another, but hell, the man wrote some of the most memorable songs out there) because of what it represents. Without sitting here and listing Prince's very long list of accolades and accomplishments, because that would take me all day, it is enough to say that generations of people identified with him because of what he represented, the boundaries he pushed, and the talent he possessed in one little finger. Like the Bowie's of this world, Prince beat to his own proverbial drum. Hell, he played his own drums along with every other instrument out there (in his own studio I might add). As he always said, he learned quickly that if he became a proficient musician across the board, he could control his own vision. And that is the loss right there in a nutshell. He wasn’t packaged. He wasn’t manufactured. He wasn’t a ‘just (just a this, or just a that). He was an artist that was an everything - a composer, a musician, a dancer, a performer and a visionary. Like or hate his music, his albums were a true tutelage in what it means to be a complete artist.

As I sat there yesterday (once again) getting teary-eyed listening to Purple Rain (I loved thinking that I was amongst millions doing this exact same thing), it dawned on me that aside from losing one of our most accomplished artists of my generation (far too young I might add), for someone my age, it starts to become apparent that all of our great icons are either going, or are going to go soon. And that is simply terrifying (and mind boggling when you think someone like Keith Richards is still standing!) And of course, I frantically look around and think who the heck is going to be my son’s icon, and what does that even mean in today’s music marketplace? (I refuse to accept that Justin Bieber will be a musical icon. I just refuse). I am someone who is deeply affected by art in any form, especially music. I (like many out there) listen to music so I can weep, dance, sing till my lungs burst…feel. That is the power and beauty of music. And this man that set the world alight in hues of purple, well, he made one feel on so many different levels and that is something to which most artists can only aspire.

The King sweetly asked me if we were going to play Prince all day (the child knows me well) and welcomed the chance to hear his music booming from the speakers as I made breakfast and he danced with a dish towel on his head. I’m sure the neighbors love it when someone passes, as our flat turns into a music retrospective. I suppose it’s times like these when it also dawns on me that we should be dancing round the house much more often than we do – although to be honest, the King and I do pretty well on that score. 

So now, we mourn. We mourn another artistic loss, we mourn the loss of a what was said to be a very kind, humorous, insightful man. We go back through our memories shelves and remember the first time we saw him live, the first song of his that brought tears to our eyes, the first time we felt sheer awe at a man's prodigious talent. I suppose this is the best reverence that we can show a man like Prince. RIP. 

Thursday, 7 April 2016

MOVE IT, MOVE IT


The Chief Executive of the Royal Society for Public Health has recently said that food labels in Britain should state how long it would take to burn off that particular food or drink in order to fight the increasing obesity epidemic. Her explanation came on the back of a poll where over 50% of people said that they found food labels confusing and if they could see things spelled out more clearly it would affect their choices (I’m still not convinced of this, but I’ll give the benefit of the doubt).

With obesity rates climbing at an alarming level (by 2025 40% of the population will be obese according to statistics), I’m all for doing whatever we can to combat this frightening health epidemic; be it educating the masses, writing things on labels, or putting up large neon signs in the supermarket that say ‘IF you eat this you will regret it!’ I will however admit that I still find it baffling that people are so unaware of how their food choices affect them. This poll went on to highlight that not only do people not really understand what it takes to burn off a candy bar, but that they have very little idea when it comes to portion control. In essence, when they scoff down a giant Indian takeaway four nights a week and then put on weight they are baffled they do not look like Giselle. Okay fine, I’m being a tad harsh, but the way I see it, it’s always been very simple math. What we take in, vs. what we burn off - give or take. If you eat too much and move too little you’re going to get fatter. And furthermore (for those of you that are still confused), if think your 35-year-old body can ingest copious amounts of Snickers bars like your 18-year-old body, you’re going to have problems squeezing into those skinny jeans.

Recently we went to a restaurant where calories were on the menu beside every single dish. And trust me, it was sobering at best and made you reconsider what you ordered, or at least gasp in amazement at the tables that didn’t give a hoot and ordered half the menu anyway. Whereas I don’t always want to live by the site of a calorie count and believe a certain amount of indulgence is necessary, it is interesting how a calorie labeled menu influences your choices. Suddenly the taramasalata isn’t such a must when you can opt for hummus instead. Like anything in life, it’s about choice and the choice is up to you, scary as that sounds.

The bigger issue at play, in my opinion, is that we are not only a short cut culture – wanting things easy and fast – but we simply don’t want to have to work that hard to stay in shape. People that look athletic and fit are, well, athletic and fit. They exercise and choose what goes into their body with careful precision. Don’t get me wrong, you don’t have to live like a church mouse and eat crackers that taste like carpet (although funny enough, being Californian, I’ve always liked crackers that taste like cardboard), but you do have to choose your moments and grasp the concept of moderation.

My advice to anyone that cares enough about their body and what goes into it is try it for a week, total up the calorie count of what you eat without taking anything out and see how much you are eating (and drinking!). Then try not to pass out from shock. Then in the next few weeks make small substitutions for things you can simply live without out. Not to mention, it is a big world out there in the food department and often humans get stuck on a myopic gastronomical path. Branch out, try something new and for god sakes, MOVE. You might surprise yourself and actually enjoy it.


Copyright © 2014 Anthea Anka - Delighted And Disturbed