Now Hiring SignNow that we are settled in our new flat, I decided it was finally time to find a new gym. Our shipment from Canada arrived, and with it, our scale. I was sad (though not surprised) to see that all our eating and drinking contributed to some extra squishiness. I tried to be balanced in my first 6 weeks in London, but I failed. There are just too many great places to go out here!  But the arrival of the scale was just the motivation I needed to find a local gym and get back into a routine.

Finding a new gym is like conducting job interviews. I first searched for eligible candidates on Google and found that there were three reasonable options within walking distance from our new flat. Next, I set up some interviews to evaluate them in person.

My first candidate didn’t pass the pre-screen. The Gym  was the definition of a no-frills facility, and while totally adequate, and the best monthly price, it really didn’t offer what I needed.  On to the next one.

My first interview was Fitness First. I was toured around by a nice personal trainer who showed me the facility and let me stay for a class to try it out.  The class I did was a tough 30 minute circuit rotating through 5 different exercises. After a bit of hiatus on strength training, I was beat. The instructor was fun and energetic and overall, the gym was decent. The only downside was that the main area of the gym was in the basement and well, it kind of felt like a basement. I realize that space in London is not exactly at a premium, but it did leave a bit to be desired.  The monthly membership also only allowed access to that specific gym which is a bit a bummer, though not a deal breaker. Fitness First was definitely in the running.

My next interview was Virgin Active. At a higher monthly price point, I was pretty convinced when I walked in that I was going with Fitness First.  I don’t need to pay hundreds of pounds more per year for some fancy facilities I’ll never use. I arrived for my appointment only to discover that the person I was set to meet was not there. Bad start. If you’re trying to get the job, you should probably show up to the interview.

After multiple emails, I rescheduled my visit. It was going to take a lot to convince me that they were the right candidate for me especially after our bad start. However, they won me over. After years of settling for a below average gym in Toronto, I was wowed by the lovely facility, the spacious studios, the plentiful cardio equipment, the onsite cafe and of course, the spa area. Seriously, the spa. This area has a giant hot tub with waterfalls and large lounge chairs to relax in. Having access to this as part of my membership was it for me.  The gym also has a great pool. While I am not really into swimming, it is nice to have the option, especially if a triathlon is ever a possibility.

I played hardball for 24 hours and went back the next day to officially become a member. I managed to get myself a bit of a deal too because when it comes to hiring my local gym, I’m a tough negotiator.

Since joining, I’ve tried three different classes and in addition to some new ones, I’m also exceedingly pleased to see they offer the Les Mills classes I was doing in Toronto. The familiarity is nice, especially being new.

So to The Gym and Fitness First, thank you for applying, but I’ve decided to move forward with another candidate. To Virgin Active, congratulations. I look forward to a successful year together.

A hangover or post 5K glow. You decide.

A hangover or post 5K glow. You decide.

My first race of 2015 was a memorable one. In addition to it being my most hungover race to date, the St. Patrick’s Day Festival 5K was also my first race in the lovely city of Dublin.

While the race organizers generously made the start time of this race 12 noon, it still felt like an early wake-up call. After a festive day visiting many pubs in the Temple Bar area, I did realize this might be a struggle, but I was determined to run this race. Not only would it be an epic start to the 2015 race season, it would be a great way to see some of Dublin given our short weekend visit. And besides, it was just 5K.

I have to say, I was feeling remarkably fresh on Sunday morning despite the day of drinking we had. I woke up in a panic at 8 am, totally convinced that I had forgotten to take my contacts out and not set an alarm. Instead, I woke up to discover that I had not only taken my contacts out, I had washed my face, laid out my race clothes, plugged in my phone and set my alarm. Relieved at my drunken planning, I went back to sleep for several more hours.

When the time finally came to wake up, I was feeling alright. My husband probably would have liked to have done anything but run a 5K but he very kindly got up and headed to the starting line with me.

We decided to walk the 2K from our hotel to the starting line in search of food. We found a place selling nice sausage breakfast sandwiches – exactly what we needed before our run.

We arrived at the starting area and it was rather quiet. I was starting to think that many people had the same idea we did and decided to bail at the last minute. We got to the Round Room in Mansion House, the building where you picked up your race bibs, and discovered hundreds of people milling around waiting for the race to start. There was a nice little Irish quartet complete with harpist welcoming people to race day – exactly as you’d expect on St. Patrick’s Day in Dublin.

Oddly, race participants were encouraged to pick up their race bags and shirt before the race. I had to kindly decline the various treats, since I had nowhere to store them, but decided I’d grab a souvenir shirt and tie it around my waist. Running with a bag of popcorn in hand would have been more of a challenge.

Pre-race information boasted enthusiastic spectators along the race route. In reality, there were very few. Like three. I think they accidentally stumbled upon the race on their way home from the previous night’s pub crawl. Very few people seemed to care about the race!

That said, there were more than 1,500 participants in Sunday’s race. It was won by a guy named John Coughlin who ran the 5K in a blazing 14:32. He was clearly not out drinking the night before.

The race route was pretty and the weather was mild – perfect running conditions actually. There were lots of serious runners, and some not-so-serious ones wearing silly St. Patrick’s Day inspired costumes. It was clear that some people were just there for a casual run, and others were really trying hard. It was a nice mix.

Despite our hangovers, we ran at a respectable pace. Fuelled by race-day adrenaline, we became determined to finish in under 30 minutes. With a big push at the end, we just made it. Graham finished with a time of 29:26, and I finished in 29:28.  Not our finest performance, but given the conditions, I’m pretty proud of us.

We celebrated by – you guessed it! Going back to another pub! But this time for lunch… and water.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

 

Just look at her perky, smiling face.

Just look at that perky, smiling face.

We just moved into our new flat in London. Luckily, it is furnished so we don’t have to buy loads of new stuff. In addition to useful things like knives and forks, there was also a lot of miscellaneous things left in our flat, including a nice set of workout DVDs. I immediately assumed they were super lame. The box looked like it was from the 90s and the names of the workouts were just trying a little too hard. “Burn it Up,” “Slim and Limber.” I mean, seriously. These could be titles of porn movies. But before I put them in the box of items to return to the landlord, I decided I might as well give one a try.

I greatly underestimated these workout DVDs. Turns out, Debbie Siebers, a “leading wellness expert,” produced this BeachBody series in 2012 and they are KILLER. Perhaps I was a bit arrogant. I skipped right over “Start it Up” and “Ramp it Up” and went straight for the “Burn it Up” DVD. I’m fit. I run. Who needs to start it up, I thought. Ooph. I’ll never underestimate the power of the workout DVD again.

It was a humbling experience. I thought it would be ultra-lame and easy and if nothing else, maybe I’d have a bit of a laugh about it. Instead, it was an hour and ten minutes of intense exercises, all of which left me sore and breathless.

At one point during the routine, the ultra-ripped and bouncy Debbie Siebers claimed she was “pushing 50.” She looks 25. It was both inspiring and infuriating. On top of that, her website boasts that sales of her “Slim in 6” program has grossed over $200 million worldwide. In. My. Face. So far all this blog has got me is a few complimentary race entries and some free electrolyte pills!

Halfway through – just when I thought this perky woman was going to offer a much needed water break – she suggested we pick up some hand weights for our strength training portion of the routine. Alas, I was unprepared and had no exercise equipment in sight. I quickly improvised. I grabbed the first thing I could hold in one hand that offered any sort of weight: a bottle of wine. In case you wanted to know, a full bottle of wine weighs approximately three pounds. I Googled it after.

Finally the workout ended, and instead of a nice relaxing cool-down, we did 10 minutes of yoga poses. I was exhausted.

I inspected the box the DVDs came in afterward and discovered that the program is designed to begin and ramp up over the course of 6 weeks. There’s also a corresponding diet plan which includes some questionable diets consisting of all protein and no water (???). It actually says, “You should not stay on this plan for more than 3 days as it doesn’t supply enough calories for your continued survival.” What the f*ck?! How did this one sneak past the lawyers?

Anyway, I have absolutely no doubt that if you followed this workout plan for 6 dedicated weeks and ate a proper diet, you would be totally ripped. That BeachBody that Debbie describes could be yours. But let’s be serious. Who has the willpower and motivation to workout at home, every day for 6 weeks and go on random crash diets. I much prefer eating what I want and running a lot.

eating and drinking

bus sculptures at Olympic Park

Things tourists do: pose by super British bus sculptures at Olympic Park.

Running in a new city is a lot of fun. Every route is new and interesting and there’s a lot to discover in a city like London. In addition to some exciting urban landscapes, there’s also parks, trails and canals to run along all across the city. Run tourism, or “sight-running” as it is sometimes called, is quickly becoming my new favourite pastime. It’s the perfect combination of running and sightseeing, and to be honest, a much needed activity to compensate for all the great food and wine I’ve been consuming lately!

I guess I still feel a little bit like I’m on vacation. While I’ve been in London for more than a month, I still don’t totally feel like I live here yet. As a result, it’s very easy to let shopping, eating, exploring and drinking take priority over a workout. However, run tourism seems to be a winning compromise!

The other positive benefit of run tourism is that I seem to be a lot more likely to convince my husband Graham to come running with me if there is a cool touristy landmark or some sort of new destination to find. Last weekend, we decided we would go from our flat to Olympic Park – straight through the heart of East London. There were some really lovely parts along the way, and some not so lovely parts, but it was very satisfying when we actually found our destination. Being new to the city, we get lost a lot.  We arrived at our destination having run more than 7K so we decided to be ambitious and run around Olympic Park to make it a solid 10K. With lots to look at, the run seemed to fly by.

Yes, I'm wearing a tank top. Sorry Canada.

Yes, I’m wearing a tank top. Sorry Canada.

Our run ended, coincidentally, right in front of the Nike store at the Westfield Shopping Centre. It was pretty cool to be back there considering when we visited for the Olympics in 2012, we didn’t think we would ever see it again. While there, we also learned about the latest plans for the area. The city is turning the existing stadium into a multi-use space anticipated to be complete in 2016. The stadium, once upgraded, will have an 84 metre retractable roof – the largest of its kind in the world!

This past weekend, we moved to our permanent flat which is very close to Regent’s Canal. I couldn’t wait to check it out and the warm, spring-like temperatures made the prospect of more run tourism a very alluring idea (Sorry Canada!) The canal is lovely. Traffic free for 18 miles, it’s the perfect spot for a peaceful jog. Though it can be quite busy and the trail is narrow. You have to pay attention or you’ll end up adding a swim to your afternoon jog.

Following our run, we capped off with a Sunday roast at a local pub. Absolute perfection. I can definitely see myself making this a habit.

A picture midway through my first run in London.

A picture midway through my first run in London. That’s Tower Bridge in the background.

Running in London is different. For starters, pedestrians do NOT have the right of way. Ever. Aside from the fact that I am continually looking the wrong way at every intersection, cars will rarely yield to you. Step out in front of a moving car, you will probably be hit. Every intersection presents a scary, potential death trap. Adding further complication is the fact that all the roads are curly so I’m continually lost. For someone with a generally poor sense of direction, this is a tough city to navigate. That handy grid system that most North American cities seem to have does not apply here. GPS is my friend.

Despite the obstacles, I have managed a few pleasurable runs so far. On Sunday, we decided we’d run south to Tower Bridge and circle back along London Bridge. It sounded good. We could take in some touristy sites while getting a bit of exercise at the same time. Turns out, this wasn’t an original weekend idea. Running on these bridges on a Sunday afternoon was more akin to agility training with all the people strolling along. While it afforded lots of picturesque photo ops, it was definitely hard to get a consistent pace going. Regardless, still a nice 6.5K run to start my running adventures here in London.

On Monday night, I joined the Adidas 26rs, the run club that runs daily from the London Marathon Store. I discovered this group a few weeks ago and was thrilled to find out that they have a nightly run from the store. Only 4 other runners joined for the weekly 5K. The run leader blamed the “winter” weather for deterring people. I find it comical that no matter where you are, winter deters people from outdoor activity even if a blustery winter night here in London is still 5C. Sorry Toronto.

Coincidentally, the route planned for Monday’s run was very similar to my bridge run except the reversed direction. I was pleased to see that the crowds we encountered Sunday afternoon were greatly diminished on a Monday night.

With a nice slow pace, I was really able to appreciate my surroundings. The bridges looked so beautiful at night, and it was nice to be able to appreciate the atmosphere since I had a group to follow. It was also good motivation to keep up with the group. Stay with the group, or be lost forever in London. With a nice, comfortable pace, I was able to chat with the run leader and grill him on the best places to run in London. He was a wealth of information recommending various parks and trails around the city. I’m excited to explore some less populated areas for running.

I’m thankful there’s a thriving running community in this city, and there’s a seemingly endless number of races to run. This is a very good thing, because the other awesome thing about London is the abundant places to eat and drink. This reputation about the food in London being bad is really, really, wrong. I need to run to compensate for all the increased eating and drinking. Thankfully, there’s a lot of opportunities to do that.

In other news, I made a logo for Thoughts and Pavement.  I think I will put it on a tshirt and wear it to races. #ShamelessSelfPromotion

thoughts and pavement-logo - pink

Seriously, how good does  this look?

Seriously, how good does this look? Grilled salmon with lentil tabbouleh…with white wine and water out of my Runners World water bottle, of course!

I’m not very good at cooking. I have a few things I make reasonably well but I’m not very adventurous in the kitchen. I do love eating so making a concerted effort to learn to cook is really in my best interest, especially because microwavable meals are becoming pretty uninspiring.

For Christmas, my lovely sister-in-law gave me The Runner’s World Cookbook. This cookbook has 150 awesome recipes perfectly designed for runners –whether you’re looking to fuel-up, slim down or recover, it has tons of delicious and reasonably easy recipes. Inspired by a free night with no agenda, I decided I would give something a try. My first pick: grilled salmon with lentil tabbouleh.

This recipe uses green lentils which are carb, protein and fiber rich – the perfect base for a delicious piece of grilled salmon loaded with inflammation reducing omega-3 fatty acids. These kinds of details are included alongside every recipe so you can pick the perfect dish whether you’re training for a marathon or looking to refuel after a run.

Aside from the fact that my tiny flat smells like fish, the recipe was a HUGE success. Not only was It easy to make, it was totally delicious and only took about 25 minutes from start to finish.

I’m honestly so pleased with myself. I’m not a big take-a-picture-of-my-food kind of girl, but I had to document this feast. I seriously don’t think anyone would believe me if I didn’t. It looks exactly like the picture in the cookbook! I feel like I could serve this to people. Like at a dinner party. It was that good.

This recipe was listed under the “Recovery” category which would be great if I actually went for a run today. I’m being wimpy in my new city. I know London is full of great places to run, but running alone in a strange city is a bit scary to me. BUT the good news is that I may have found a running group near my new place. I stumbled upon The London Marathon store yesterday and they have run groups every night of the week! Hooray!

So perhaps I will join them tomorrow for their Monday night 5K and come home and enjoy the leftovers of this grilled salmon and tabbouleh feast!

Runners World Cookbook

Last Toronto run

Last Toronto run

Life is complicated. It becomes exceedingly more complicated when you decide to move to another country.

Back in November, I announced I was moving to London, England in the New Year. 2+ months later, I am now FINALLY on my way. We were under the stunningly stupid assumption that the Government would operate quickly, especially over the holidays, and as a result, it took many more weeks than anticipated to get my visa.  Eight actually. But who’s counting?

During this time, I spent a lot of time feeling sorry for myself. My house was packed up and empty. My husband had already left for London. The holidays were over and I was ready to start my new life in London. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the necessary paperwork.

This was definitely not the triumphant start to 2015 that I had envisioned.

No matter where I was, I kind of felt out of place. I had already said bye to all my friends so seeing them again was like that awkward moment where you say bye to someone and then get into the same elevator. I felt out of place at the office because I wasn’t supposed to be there anymore, and I felt out of place at my house because it no longer felt like home.  The only place I felt somewhat normal was when I was running.

Whenever I was feeling particularly low, I forced myself to go for a run, banking on the runner’s high to help pull me through my slump.

It always worked.

This experiment destroyed any doubt I had about the positive effects of running on mental health. Typically, people who report feeling a runner’s high say they feel totally relaxed, happy, energetic and satisfied with themselves. And honestly, it’s not total BS. After a run, I felt happier. Level headed and optimistic.

Running releases serotonin which is a natural mood lifter. It helps with things like depression, stress and lethargy – all of which I had in high doses over the last eight weeks. Running is a great way to naturally lift your spirits and alleviate some negative energy associated with feelings of sadness. In fact, some research shows that running may actually remodel the brain, making it calmer and more stress-resistant!

Science aside, the bottom line for me – and I suspect many runners out there – is that running makes me feel better. That alone is a pretty good reason to always keep running.

I’m looking forward to many more mood-lifting runs on the other side of the pond.