Sunday, 26 April 2015

Braving the London Marathon


As I jumped on the train this morning I was greeted by a man in a pink spandex squid costume, 
with a number emblazoned across his chest. In London, this sight usually means one thing - yes indeed, its London Marathon day again!

One year ago that was me (minus pink spandex outfit), clutching my kit bag and feeling a growing sense of panic that in a matter of hours I would be running 26.2miles, past some of the most iconic sights in the city. For someone who had struggled running even half a mile when I signed up to do the race, I had come a long way. The 6 months in between had involved more blisters, sickly sports drinks and laps around Victoria Park than I care to remember.

In honour of my marathon training days I decided to revisit part of my training route around the park (see pictures below).







So what was it like to run one of the world's most well-known races? For me, it was a rollercoaster of emotions. For the first 9 miles I felt on top of the world, we were running through Greenwich, the crowd was cheering, I was thinking -"Wow this is incredible! I’m Queen of the World!!

In true Titanic style I crashed bigtime! Yes, despite months of training and 20mile training runs,
at just mile 10 the heat hit me like a ton of bricks and my muscles started to seize up. I
desperately wanted to stop and walk, but I knew as soon as I did that it would all be over. One
thought kept me going "If you don't complete this race, then you will just need to do another
one.” Somehow that did the trick




Running across Tower Bridge at mile 13 was simply indescribable, a tunnel of noise and colour that gave me just the boost I needed.


By mile 20 I felt like I had been run over by a herd of elephants. Then I spotted my charity cheer 
squad and started screaming like a maniac. Suddenly I had another much-needed boost of 
energy.

My energy boost unfortunately didn’t last for long, and by mile 22 I was flagging again and so 
tired I was on the verge of tears. Then I bumped into my training buddy just at the point I needed
her most! We ran the next few miles together, side-by-side, cheering each other on.


By mile 25 the end was in sight and my family were there with a big 'Go Betsy Go’ sign leading to a mass of people chanting my name - amazing!

At last there was just 200metres to go. I decide to sprint it, determined not to finish behind the
man in the panda costume. I crossed the finish line arms in the air, deliriously happy that it was
over and I have survived.





One year on, have I suddenly discovered a newfound love of running? The answer would be a definitive no. I can count on one hand the number of runs I have done in the last 12months and yet my appetite for carbs remains as insatiable as ever.



But despite this I can’t stress enough what a fantastic, memorable part of my London experience the marathon has been. Nothing quite compares to the knowledge that I have been in the same race as Olympic athletes like Mo Farah and the feeling of running past iconic sights like Big Ben being cheered on by thousands of people


So congratulations to everyone who ran the marathon today – enjoy a well-earned rest. And for those of you who are reading this and have ‘run a marathon’ on your bucket list – DO IT - sign up to do the London Marathon in 2016 – you won’t regret it!

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Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Best parks in London - I 'deer' you to say otherwise!

Those gorgeous Spring days when the sun finally comes out of hibernation for an entire twelve hour stretch are always a cause for celebration – an ideal reason to forgo Winter activities such as binge-watching ‘House of Cards’, to descend en masse to any available green space to soak up the sun.



Thankfully London is blessed with many, many green spaces to choose from. While each has its charms, for me those in the London Borough of Richmond (Richmond Park & Bushy Park) win hands down because of their wild, untamed beauty and magical feel.

Richmond Park
The sense of solitude which comes from the fact that some days you are as likely to meet one of the 600+ wild deer which roam freely through the grounds than another human, makes it almost inconcievable you are just a tube ride away from the City. If Central London can feel like life on overdrive, in Richmond they have definitely found the pause button. Add in family, friends, a picnic and a ridiculously cute and friendly miniature labradoodle called Wilbur and you pretty much have my idea of a perfect weekend afternoon.





I unfortunately got so distracted by this view and by taking pictures of Wilbur (he's just too adorable!) and feeding him the contents of the picnic basket (turns out that dog will literally eat everything), that I completely lost track of time. I therefore had to enlist the help of my fellow picnic-ers as we made a mad dash around Richmond Park in the car to find and photograph some of its famous inhabitants before closing time.
Just as we were about to give up, we spotted these the two stags! It was completely spellbinding to watch these graceful creatures. It was only when one of the stags started advancing ominously towards me that I decided I had probably overstayed my welcome.

On our drive back we also saw a an entire herd congregating for what I can only assume is the deer equivalent of a house-party but I had no time to stop and take photos as we made it back to the main gate just seconds before being locked in for the night (phew!)



If you are a bit more organised than me, and leave yourself more than half an hour to visit the park, you will find there is plenty to do. Richmond Park is seriously big (three times the size of Central Park in NYC) and during Autumn you can witness the spectacle of the stags battling each other for mating rights. You should also make sure to visit the Isabella Plantation (a woodland garden which is filled with exotic plants) and King Henry’s Mound (where you can get a gorgeous panorama view).


Bushy Park
If Richmond Park hasn't completely satisfied your deer fix, Bushy Park definitely will. Established as a hunting ground by Henry VIII, just as in Richmond the deer in this park run free. But these deer are far from shy, and as long as you maintain a respectful distance you will be rewarded by some incredible sights which prove the perfect way to recharge your batteries after a manic week in the City. 












Beautiful, peaceful and ethereal, both Richmond Park and Bushy Park prove that there really is much more to London than first meets the eye.


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Saturday, 18 April 2015

Wonderland at Waterloo Vaults




As a fan of the random and absurd, on hearing Wonderland was being recreated in all its nonsensical glory in the Vaults (a cavernous, subterranean arts space below Waterloo Station) to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the book, I obviously had to go and investigate.

The result is nothing short of magical. The experience starts with you literally stepping through the looking glass and through a corridor lined with pages of the book. You are soon greeted by the White Rabbit who offers  you a choice – EAT and  you magically grow several inches (as a result of a sweet little optical allusion) and enter Wonderland through the giant door on your right or choose to DRINK you’ll shrink so small that you can steal through the tiny door on the opposite side. But choose carefully as this decision will have a big influence on your experience thereafter.

Over the course of the next hour my friends and I were immersed in Wonderland as we met its curious inhabitants who entertained us through a mix of music, puppetry, acrobatics and nonsense. As you walk through umbrella tree forests to get from one room to a next you feel a million miles away from the bustling streets of Waterloo. Unfortunately no photography was allowed during the performance. The above shots are from the web (see properties for source). Below are the only shots I was able to capture after the show (so hopefully your imagination can fill in the gaps!)

Temporary Suit Permit idenitfying your suit


Personal highlights of mine were the shisha-smoking Caterpillar’s psychedelic lair where you sit on cushions as he relates the story of Alice’s visit to Wonderland (I could have happily stayed there all day) and being recruited into the Wonderland Resistance Movement. And of course no visit to Wonderland would be complete without the Mad Hatter’s Tea party (by far the most surreal tea party I have ever been to!)

Wonderland visa



The show ends in a court room as the Red Queen tries to ascertain which of the groups (Diamonds, Hearts, Clubs or Spades) ate her tarts. I was part of the group responsible for the ‘Great Tart Heist’ – no excuse other than it was as a result of a moment of jam-fuelled madness. However just before we lost our heads Alice smashed through the Looking Glass and saved the day leading us into the bar where we whiled away our time wandering aimlessly around the hedge maze, meeting a whole host of other strange characters and playing flamingo croquet – a perfect end to a wonderfully random evening.


Wierd and wonderful creatures in the Wonderland Bar


Post-show fun in the Flamingo Bar
“Alice: Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?
The Cheshire Cat: That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.
Alice: I don't much care where.
The Cheshire Cat: Then it doesn't much matter which way you go.
Alice: ...So long as I get somewhere.
The Cheshire Cat: Oh, you're sure to do that, if only you walk long enough.”
- Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland


NOTE: Alice’s Adventure Underground runs from April 9th – May 30th at The Vaults -  http://www.alice-underground.com/

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