driving through England

[…] nothing can bring back the hour
Of splendor in the grass, of glory in the flower”

England flowers

Hi guys! It’s, um, been a while. I just kept putting off writing for the blog until I thought I’d never post again, and then I ended up writing a report for a newsletter and decided to write this post after all. It’s a bit of a whopper, and I’m going to come right out here and say that after this I’m going relapse into being a terrible blogger again. But if you’ve borne with me for this long, you might as well stick around (and I am grateful for it!).

So, the last week I was in Cambridge (I’m not going to say when that was, because then it will become so apparent how long I’ve waited to do this- but alright, it was mid-June), I spent mostly preparing to go back to Berlin, which included sorting out items to donate or sell, trying to sell those items (the bike being a biggie and the biggest failure), trying to gather the remaining research and figure out how to pack it all or digitize it to spare suitcase space. My suitcase still ended up four pounds overweight, but that somehow got ignored during check-in (thankfully), and I came back to Berlin with most of my stuff, an hour of jetlag, and a lot of memories.

I used my 5 hour layover in Cologne to write my official reports about my experiences for Erasmus and my Uni, and here is a redacted version, plus the recap of my England trip with my parents.

As I’ve posted already, running around Cambridge has introduced me to a lot of the surrounding countryside: Grantchester, Waterbeach, Horning Sea, and Lode, with these explorations ending on the day before the trip home with a 23 miles round-trip visit to Anglesey Abbey. Anglesey Abbey is a country house, formerly a priory, in the village of Lode, and the beautiful house and grounds are owned by the National Trust. I wish I had planned more time to visit, but it was a good experience for my last day in England.

Anglesey Abbey

But traveling beyond Cambridgeshire all through England has given me deeper insight into the political, literary and social history of the country, and being near London allowed me to visit thrice, two times for research and once for fun. I had used running a marathon in Blackpool as an excuse to visit a friend in Newcastle, and gotten to know a little of England’s north. I learned even more by going back a second time and seeing more of it, this time with my parents.

For the end of May, a week after my parents landed in Europe, my parents and I had planned for a trip together that was to start in Edinburgh and end in Cambridge. Originally, we were going to spend one night in Edinburgh, two nights in Windermere, one night in Nottingham, one night in Bath, two nights in Looe, one night in Brighton, and two nights in Cambridge. We ended up skipping Brighton and spent the night in Shrewsbury instead of Nottingham, skipping the Peak District (driving through the hills/mountains of the Lake District was harrowing enough!), and spent the extra night we saved from skipping Brighton in Cambridge. It was a whirlwind of a tour, and very literary (both my mother and I are English Lit majors, so you know we visited all the places we could).

I wish I could give the rundown of the trip in a way that is both detailed and entertaining, but I’m going to settle with “complete.”

Edinburgh gave my family a taste of Scotland, and driving down to England allowed us to see the lowlands, take a stop in a quaint Scottish town, and also see Hadrian’s Wall, which, as I’ve mentioned before, was built by the Romans to keep the northern Ancient Brits out of their lands.

The first stop of our journey was Windermere, which is the name of the town on the largest lake in England (it’s not very large looking on a map, but its length makes it pretty big). Getting there was quite an adventure, as Scotland and northern England are very hilly, and the Lake District especially so, and the roads there are very narrow. Add to all that the fact that my father was driving on the left-hand side of the road, something he hadn’t done in thirty years, and you can imagine the rate of all the hearts in the car.

Windermere is a lovely town (filled, of course, with tourists) that was near Beatrix Potter’s (author of the lovable Peter Rabbit, Jemima Puddle-Duck, and other tales) home across the lake in Hawkshead, but also to the famous Romantic poet William Wordsworth and his sister, who was a poet in her own right. We missed a few of the attractions in the area, such as Dove Cottage and his grave in Grasmere, but we didn’t miss Rydal Mount and the walk to Ambleside, which was also William and Dorothy’s favorite walk.

After spending a pleasant non-driving day in the Lake District, it was time to drive down to Nottingham. Except my parents decided they’d rather drive less than more, so we drove more directly south to Shrewsbury, which was a beautiful little town that was also home to Charles Darwin at one point (he was born there). Our stay there also marked the first of many days in English rain. On the way to Shrewsbury, we decided to stop in South Port, which, as it turns out, is just within sight of Blackpool. My parents weren’t that impressed with South Port, but maybe because they compared it too much to our north German sea-side cities.

Dorothea and Shakespeare

Dorothea and Shakespeare

Shrewsbury put us about in the middle of west England, and Day Four was going to be a long day of traveling, driving over Stratford-upon-Avon through the Cotswolds (absolutely beautiful! one of many tips for this trip from Mike at Alittlebitoutoffocus) to Gloucester (not so much), through the Forests of Dean (again, beautiful) to Tintern which, you should know, is home to Tintern Abbey (there are no words, or perhaps 1229 of them, this poem). I don’t think it’s an overstatement to say that seeing the abbey in the stone was one of the highlights of this trip.

Tintern Abbey 3

That long day of traveling ended in Bath.

Bath, named after the site of ancient Roman Baths and also home to Jane Austen, at one point, was worth a visit and we enjoyed our morning there.

But we were anxious to settle into our next multi-night home, so we booked it through south west England through Exeter, which was another pleasant surprise (and my only exposure to a non-Oxbridge university in England) to Cornwall. Cornwall!


Cathedral Church of Saint Peter in Exeter

My mother and I were really excited about Cornwall, since it is supposed to have some of the most beautiful sites in the UK. But it turns out that Cornwall is very big, and the beautiful cliffs, blue skies and green grasses that Cornwall is famous for aren’t on all sides of Cornwall. But they are easy enough to find. And Looe, as an old fishing port had a charm that was all its own.


But while Looe was not an Area of Outstanding Natural beauty, AONBs were within a few hours’ drive, and having had Tintagel recommended to us by the nice landlady of our B&B, that’s where we went. (I forgot to mention this earlier, but we had a wonderful time in B&Bs… the only hotel was the one in Windermere, since that had been a bank holiday and it was all that was left, and my parents stayed for cheap in one of my college’s guest rooms in Cambridge.)

Tintagel is the purported birthplace of Arthur, yes the King Arthur of all the legends, and it is beautiful place to hail from, to be sure.

Walks and delicious meals filled our time in Cornwall, until it was time to leave, heading for Cambridge as we had decided when we all decided we wanted a few days of rest and no driving.

So after a day of driving through the parts of south west England we hadn’t seen before, as well as those we had (stopping again in Exeter), we barely missed the cut-off time to stop in Amesbury to see Stonehenge, which was – other than a lot of rain days, the only real disappointment of our trip (for the record, the cut-off to visit is two hours before closing time, which is 5pm), but we still made it to Cambridge before it got too terribly late.

And then it was two glorious, sun-filled days of showing my parents around Cambridge. I showed them the famous library in Trinity College–the Wren Library, home to Winnie the Pooh rare editions, Newtonian notes and poet manuscripts– the University Library (of course), my working spaces, King’s College and its chapel, the whole of town, part of the Grantchester Meadows walk, Ludwig Wittgenstein’s grave, Jesus Green, and we heard evening mass in St. John’s College, as well as a lot more that I’m sure I’ve forgotten.

In fact, you can be sure there’s a lot I’ve left out of this report, but you’ve now got the general gist. It was 10 days of English, Scottish, and Welsh history, culture, literature… a trip of a lifetime for not only me, but my parents as well, and it was really special to also share it with them.

p.s. While being a goof off the web, WordPress celebrated my fifth year of blogging. I guess that’s a bit of a milestone!

Tradition! or things I only got to know about Cambridge by living here (end of year edition)

When I was first telling people that I’d be in Cambridge Spring 2019, people who didn’t really know Cambridge usually said, “oh, how nice” thinking of an old  village with beautiful sites and the university. People who did know the university told me it would be a great time, but most important was that I keep an open mind and embrace the opportunity to learn about its customs and traditions, even if I found them weird.

So here we are, 5 months later, and I’ve found a lot weird but mostly had a good time. I have decided that the danger of being in a place long enough is that you forget how to look at things with wonder, but thankfully I wasn’t here long enough for that to happen. I can still appreciate the way tourists scramble all over the sidewalk to get shots of the iconic architecture (even if they are sometimes too many and quite annoying), like the way the sun shines on the neo-gothic tower of the St. John’s chapel just so after a rain shower, or I smile at the cow that ambles over the field it shares with runners, revelers, picnickers and small children playing.


and I can really appreciate the way the English roses bloom in June. I’ve never seen anything like it! And I thought Germany was a rose paradise

I also like learning new things about the colleges and the town every day, and I tried to take advantage of opportunities as they presented themselves. Most of the time, however, I was working (which is a very good thing! and I credit a productive atmosphere for that), and I have to say that I wasn’t nearly as productive with my own work these last five years as I have in the last 5 months.

I was here for the Lent and Easter terms, which are the second and third terms in the Cambridge trimester system. Each term is 8 weeks with a month or more between the terms for  study, internships, and vacation. Here’s a breakdown for the 2018/19 school year:

Michaelmas Start
Michaelmas End
Lent Start
Lent End
Easter Start
Easter End
2018/19 2 Oct 2018 30 Nov 2018 15 Jan 2019 15 Mar 2019 23 Apr 2019 14 Jun 2019

However, while supervisions (the tutor/fellow and a few students class sessions) occur year round, lectures only happen during the Michaelmas and Lent terms. Easter term is primarily for exam preparation (or revision, as they say here) and/or paper writing and/or dissertation writing (which is the same thing as a thesis [like an MA thesis]. I don’t know why the English switched these two terms around). However, since PhD students are just expected to get done what we need to get done by a certain date with our own schedule (or that of our supervisor), we don’t abide by the term schedule or really get breaks. This means that for us, the end of the term isn’t as special as for the undergrads or master’s students.

But let me tell you, while Cambridge students know how to work hard, they can also play hard.

Exhibit A: ‘trashing’

trashing by the lawyers

view from the graduate office at the newly minted law-examined

This tradition entails friends/fellow students spraying students coming out of their exams with champagne or other fizzy alcoholic (and sometimes non-alcoholic) beverages. Often glitter (or other sticking items) are tossed at the soaking student and it creates a mess that the poor custodial crew have to pressure-clean away (you can see them already set-up here). Let’s not forget also how it generates a lot of noise that the poor PhD students and those studying for other exams/writing papers have to live with as well. For these reasons, the university actually tried banning this practice, but it seems the students don’t mind a £ 175 fine in exchange for whatever joy they get out of this. And I do not begrudge them their fun, since the exams are difficult and the months preceding them are intense for the students. I swear, you could cut through the anxiety/stress atmosphere with a knife the week before exams started.

In order to wind-down after this period, a host of events are held for students, such as a wine-and-cheese night with the college’s Barbershop septet and their female counterparts, the Sirens novem.

As the term came to an end and most of my deadlines were met, I’ve had more time this past week to partake in the social and other events happening at Cambridge: the wine and cheese and listening thing, formals, May Bumps, and garden parties. I learned a few new things along the way that I wanted to share, as they may interest you or just come in handy during trivia pursuit someday.

As readers may recall, I visited a formal during my first weeks at Cambridge. It was the welcoming formal and included an aperitif aka pre-drinks, the meal with wine served, and post-drinks brandy, fruit, coffee and tea. Apparently, that was a special formal. Most formals are just fancy-set, served meals. If you want wine, you bring it yourself. You still dress up and wear your Harry Potter gown, but it is not compulsory and the whole affair is a bit more relaxed. Not knowing the thing about the wine caused me unwittingly to ask my neighbor to pass me their wine. Oops. Not that I’ll be in that situation again anytime soon, but it’s good to know.

Another fun thing to know is the history about May Balls. As with many other things in Cambridge (remember blazers?), this tradition also originated with rowing.

May Balls

The first May Ball ever held was actually a rowdy celebration in a bar after the first and third boats of Trinity’s rowing team won their races in the May Bumps (more about the May Bumps below). The next year, the boat team decided to rent a place to have a party, and it continued every year to turn in to the event known today as the May Ball, with the other colleges catching on and hosting their own balls with details that make them unique and the tickets for those college May Balls in demand.

With tickets costing anywhere from £85 to £320 for an individual, often having a compulsory +1 option, May Balls are fancy-dress parties held at over 10 of the colleges (some colleges will host one every two years) that are pretty exclusive affairs (yes, even more exclusive than Cambridge is in general) and involve night-long food and drink options–sometimes punt boats filled with ice and champagne– music performances by world class performers, fireworks, and even hot-air balloon rides. It’s a bit like prom, but much more elaborate and for adults.

preparations part ii

Here’s a view of the north bank of Trinity Hall’s gardens and the set-up for the 2019 May Ball

The balls operate a strict dress code. Magdalene and Peterhouse Colleges insist on white tie (basically what you would wear for a state dinner with the Queen), which is recommended but not required at Trinity, while all the others are only black tie. Asides from the cost of the ticket, I imagine the personal budget to attend a ball to be at least £300 pounds, if not more. Considering I debate if it’s worth getting the more expensive item on a dinner menu, hate having to get dressed up, and generally am not much of a party person anyway, it’s a good thing there are alternatives to these balls like June Events and Garden Parties. In fact, Fitzwilliam College’s Garden Party is free for students and I’m curious to see what is offered.

All these events (as the name of the June Events tells you) are all held in the middle of June. This is because colleges wait until after exams to host the parties. It used to be that the May Bumps and the subsequent May Balls were held in May, before exams, but clearly someone realized it was a terrible idea to have these kinds of events when students were losing their hair (and maybe minds) over exams. The name was retained even after the date move because, you know, tradition.

May Bumps

As for the history of May Bumps, it’s the pinnacle intercollegiate race at Cambridge. Most of the Cambridge colleges have at least one rowing team, if not three, and these rowers will race against each other in a series of four races called bumps during Bumps week, which is the week before May Week (for the reason explained above).

The basic gist is that boat teams are ranked within their divisions, and they need to prove that they can beat the team ahead of them in the division. This involves lining all the boats up against the bank of the river and firing a canon (literally- a lot of smoke is generated). The boats start off and the goal is to pull away from the team behind you and catch up to the one ahead of you. Boats aren’t actually supposed to bump, but come level enough with the boat in front of them for the cox (the person in the back of the boat directing their rowers, who can’t see anything because they are facing away from the direction they are going) to notice them and put up their arms.

The further details are a bit too complicated (and boring, even for me), but the fun part is that if a team bumped another boat, they have won their race and get to row down the rest of the stretch of the river with bits of shrubbery (bank grass) in their hair, like laurels, with everyone lined up along the banks applauding them, of course with those team supporters cheering the loudest.

If a team bumps on all four days of the races, they get an even greater honor: they row down the river with their flag. And they get blades. Literally, they get a rowing blade with their school’s colors and all the names of the team written on the blade. These are displayed in conspicuous spaces in the college (Fitzwilliam has theirs above the bar) and individuals can also buy a blade for something like £ 250. Still too much for me, but apparently it’s quite coveted.

Pimm's Party

Here’s the bank side of the viewing party, put on by the Fitzbillies, the Fitzwilliam Boating Society. Our mascot, obviously, is a billy goat.



This was the first rowing event I attended. Throughout my time at Cambridge, I’ve seen the teams up at 6am, when I was out for my run, getting the boats in the water. I’ve raced a few along the bank, and a lot of my housemates are involved with the rowing teams- in fact, the men’s and former women’s captains are my neighbors, so I was bound to at least visit the May Bumps. And since it involved unlimited Pimm’s (a gin-based fruit cup that many consider a liqueur. One mixes it with soda water, orange and cucumber slices, and mint leaves. , I ended up having an even better time than expected.

The Sunday after Maybumps is also traditionally a cardboard regatta race. Here, students make boats out of cardboard and race them on the Cam along Jesus Green. It almost seemed like more people came out to watch this than Bumps. Of course, given the inevitable falling into water, that’s part of the entertainment. The name for this Sunday is a bit controversial: Suicide Sunday, based on the double marker of a) having survived exams without causing any self-harm and b) describing the very real danger of people succumbing to the anxiety of not knowing the results. I agree with those who want to call it something else, but unfortunately this is another tradition that sticks, even though one could very well get rid of it.

Still, the race was fun. One can tell that these students knew what they were doing. Some of these boats were legit with four (or more!) people in the boat!

suicide sunday cardboard regatta

As for the rest of my week here, I already mentioned the garden party. I still have one more academic obligation- a meeting with my supervisor, and ideally I’d get to copy the notes from the library books I still have in my possession. I want to visit the Fitzwilliam Museum, either St. Ives or Anglesey Abbey, and just enjoy the rest of my time here, but it will be a bit tight and I still have to pack and wrap-up selling my bike.

Oh well, more soon, probably, especially since I still have an 8-day trip through England with my parents to recap. Stay tuned!

Hope life is treating you well,


p.s. if there’s something that you could do while at Cambridge, what do you think  that would be?

Blackpool Marathon recap

After a week of talking to people who really didn’t want to know ALL the details about my latest marathon (you know how it is, once they ask, it’s kind of hard to stop adding things), I decided to take my Blackpool Marathon recap to the interwebs. I closed my running site months ago, but since this was my first destination race, and in England, it also fits in nicely here in my wandering blog. Now, I’d like to warn you that I wrote quite a bit for this recap and most of it is really just interesting to me. You may want to stop a few paragraphs from now, where I summarize my race, or skip ahead to the breakdown of the miles closer to the end.

As I showed in my last post, Blackpool is a town on the north-west side of English coastline, looking out over the Irish Sea. We got to see a lot of this sea while running, which I think was my favorite part of the race. That being said, being on the sea, it was also very windy [stress factor #1] which I didn’t really take seriously enough until it was facing me, or I was facing into it, so to speak.


As far as marathons go, this was a slightly-better-than mediocre performance. I went in thinking I had a shot at 3:25 and I came out with 3:35:13, which I guess only looks sad to me because I had such a high goal to begin with. In retrospect, I think I wanted to show the Cambridge University Hounds and Hares that I could run a little closer to their level, impress them in some small way, but realistically, given some over-training symptoms the week before, some Achilles pain, and a bit of stress the week/day before the race, I probably should have aimed for the sub 3:30 and left it at that. Though, I also still think I may have had a chance at 3:25 if I had known the course a little better and started off more moderately.

Anyhoo, race preparation started Friday evening, as I had big travel plans and wasn’t planning on getting into Blackpool until around 9 PM on Saturday. Friday evening, after an important presentation for my PhD [stress factor #2], I packed everything I thought I would need. Thankfully, I have a lot of practice packing from traveling in general, and I’d been collecting all the things I needed for this marathon for about a week in the same drawer: bib belt, gels, socks, sports bra, two options for running tops, two pairs of shorts- one for during and one for post-race, and three 20 pence pieces- since those would be my access to toilets on-course. I’ll explain more about the amenities (or lack thereof) at this race later. The shoes [stress factor #3] were the most difficult part of the packing process as I’d only recently noticed that the shoes that I’d been using throughout the whole training cycle were hurting me- specifically the Achilles. So when packing on Friday, I had both my Dynaflyte-2s and Nimbus-19s, both from the ASICS Gel line, out ready to pack in their shoe bag. I ended up spontaneously going with the Nimbus-19s, which had seemed too rigid in previous runs in them, but had felt the most comfortable in the week leading up to this race.

After a short, but deep rest, I woke up early on the Saturday to get a quick run in. This turned into two quick runs when I realized after getting back to the house that I’d left my key inside. I then sort of half-sprinted over to the Porter’s Lodge to get a replacement, which was a pretty simple affair. I like to think that this last-minute running was part of my preparation for the race, and locking myself out once already a few months ago was preparation for locking myself out this time, as I would not have known what to do so swiftly otherwise. I’m lucky it all went so smoothly, given that at 6:10, when I was standing at the counter waiting for the paperwork for a replacement key to be filed, I had 40 minutes to get home, showered, on the bike and to the train station. I ended up making it to the station with just enough time to grab a coffee, and thus began my journey to Newcastle-upon-Tyne. It was a pretty active day- but a super cool visit, as my post about that shows.

However, despite making it out of Newcastle alright, I was stuck in Preston for too long. It’s sort of ironically funny that after months of living in England and using the public transportation fairly frequently, the day before my marathon is when the (supposedly) notorious transportation quality made an appearance for the worse. This means that traveling to Newcastle, and then traveling to Blackpool wasn’t the most stressful part- it was having a train- and all the trains after that for the evening- fall out on the track from Preston to Blackpool and waiting around a chilly station for 1.5 hours [stress factor #4: even if I wouldn’t feel sick before the run, I was sure I’d contracted a virus that was activated by this cold, and it would start affecting me after the race with my weakened immune system]. And then sitting in the bus for an hour, worried for the first 15 minutes, until I could maneuver it elsewhere, that the heavy backpack on my lap was weakening my legs for the next day [stress factor #5]. And then arriving in the dark in an unknown city in continuing drizzle and cold gusts and having to find the hotel, which is really never any fun, even in the best of situations.

Still, as one fellow traveler mentioned in our conversations (standing around train stations can lead to a lot of sharing), perhaps being put through so much extra stress would make me more tired and then it would easier to fall asleep. I think that was partially true as I can’t really remember much after getting to the hotel.

The next morning, race morning at 6:30am to be precise, I was excited to find a hot water cooker in the room as well as multiple coffee options, including the one I’d brought with me, which was nice, since the breakfast room wouldn’t be open until 8:30. This meant I also had enough time to write in my journal, reflect on my goals for the race, eat a honey waffle and drink my two cups of coffee. I packed my race bag with a bottle of water, some Emergen-C, a change of clothes, watch, MP3 and headphones, my 3 x 20 cents, my 6 gels, and the bib belt. 15 minutes in the breakfast room added a banana and an apple, and I shared the room with a bowl of cocoa puffs and another cup of coffee, and a few people with hangovers, before I had to meander over to the race. I like to think that the stress of travel the night before was worth it for being less than 3/4s of a mile from the race start.

Now, a few details about this race: the Blackpool Marathon was part of the Blackpool Festival of Running that stretched out over the whole weekend, included a 2k, 5k, 10k, half and full marathon, and was hosted by the Flyde Coast Runners (more about the Flyde Coast in the last post). The shorter distances were done on Saturday and the half and full-marathons on the Sunday- which ended up being perfect as the weather was absolutely awful on Saturday and amazing on Sunday- except for the wind, of course. There were 494 people who finished the full and 753 who finished the half marathons, which means there were about 1,247+ people walking around the starting area- and it was surprisingly manageable. I was able to show up at around 9 AM and still pick up my number and shirt without trouble, drop-off (more like toss) my bag in the bag collection area, and even make it to the restroom multiple times. It reminded me why I really like smaller races.


That being said, the only services offered on course were water-bottle aid stations and marshalling by the local police and volunteers. Everything else, including money for the toilets, I needed to provide for myself. Hence the running belt for the gels, which I didn’t actually have a chance to test before the race and while it was supposed to be meant for any gels, including Gus, I ended up losing 1 Gu in the first mile and another at mile 13 [stress factor #6]. I felt like I may need to go to the restroom for the first miles [stress factor #7], but that feeling went away by mile 8- whether starting dehydration or just going away, I don’t know. The good thing is, after realizing I’d lost a gel, I started looking for lost gels, and managed to scrounge three throughout the rest of the race- all taken before mile 22. I don’t know if that was the best judgement… but I decided I’d rather contract some weird disease from the ground than bonk during this race. Logic just doesn’t work during a marathon.

Blackpool Race Course

The course itself was great. Here’s an interactive map, for those who are especially curious. If it hadn’t been for the wind, it would have been a nice out-and back course done twice with doable mini-hills and a wonderful view of the coast. The sharp incline shortly before the finish was a bit of a bummer, but even that was easily overcome.

The half-marathoners and full marathoners started off at the same time heading in opposite directions, converging, and then diverging again. The split, however, was stress factor #8, as I forgot to check this the morning of the race and forgot where the split was supposed to occur… meaning I stressed about it for the entire first half of the race. The race website now says it in these words: “Please note: Just before 13 miles, marathon runners split away from half marathon runners. Marathon runners need to keep left to proceed onto the second lap. There are marshals and signs to assist you, but please make yourself aware of the split point before competing to avoid any confusion on the day.” I was so sure, though, that this was different last I checked. When I checked in the week before the race, it was more like: “there will be marshals, but it is the racer’s responsibility to know where to split off.” Though maybe I confused the split point snippet with this one: “YOU MUST ENSURE YOU ARE IN THE CORRECT START LANE – THIS IS YOUR RESPONSIBILITY.” Either way, I was a bit (read: very) nervous that I would get it wrong.

Turns out, I could have just watched the mile-signs (no timers on course) and seen that the marathon signs (in red) were still steadily ticking towards 26 miles like they should. But for an anxious person like me, even the evidence doesn’t really serve to reassure me as much as someone with authority looking at my bib and making sure I was in the correct lane for my race, and telling me that better well get in it if I wanted to continue on the marathon course, gosh-darnnit.

If you got bored a while ago, you may want to restart here. I think I’ve set the scene for the race and all that remains is to quickly recap how the race went:

Mile 1-6 were with the wind, and I ticked down the miles pretty quickly with sub 7:45 mpms. For some reason, because of the wind-turbines being turned in the opposite direction of what I’m used to, I thought that I was running fast into a wind, and therefore wasn’t concerned until we reached the first turn-around and I remembered what running into the wind really feels like. I reached the first 10km at about 47:30, which I knew was too fast, but I was still delusional at that point. I think I took my first gel around mile 6.

Miles 6-13 I stopped being delusional, first with the wind being turned on and then around mile 9 when I started actually feeling tired- which in a 26.2-mile race is never a good point to feel tired [stress factor #8]. Yet the legs still had a good turn-over in them and it helped that around mile 10 we turned back around and had the tail-wind, but it was already a concern. As for turning back with the wind, I kid you not- it was as though someone had turned off the fan on a warm April day in south Florida; the sun, which had made an appearance shortly after 10 AM already, became too warm and the pace suddenly felt much easier. I took another gel at mile 11.5 or so with the next water bottle that crossed my path. I had skipped the first water station, but with the sun, it was starting to feel warm and the first station was the only one I skipped. Indeed, shortly before mile 13 for the half marathoners (but after mile 13 for the marathoners), the divergence point came and with that, back on the main promenade.

Miles 13-17 on the promenade were much less interesting the second time around with less support- a lot of it had been for the half-marathoners who were by now walking back to their homes/cars/hotels. One of these runners offered me his water, and I took the bottle without thinking about whether he was offering a sip or the whole rest of the bottle… The bottle incident at mile 14 or 15 were another sign that things were getting difficult- I’m normally super iffy on germs and who knows what kind of conditions that guy could have… but again, marathon logic. But just because there were no longer people really cheering, there were more than enough people walking along the course, enjoying the promenade and Pleasure Beach. To be honest, it was actually a little more demoralizing than running with no spectators at all would have been (and I’ve done those, too).I did the first half in 1:41:20, which incidentally is also 3rd place overall for women for that segment on Strava, and it’s, of course, a great time for a marathon.

Elevation_Half split_Blackpool

However, not something I could expect to repeat. I sort of managed to keep a steady pace before the turn-around back into the wind, picking up dropped two gels  (these made up for the two I’d lost up to that point), taking one of them at mile 14, because I was feeling tired and worried that I would run out of steam, which reflects a bit in the splits during this part; they were pretty varied: 7:45, 7:57, 7:36, 7:57, 8:01. These reflect that I already took my first walking break at mile 15.5, and another one at 16.8, which is even before we turned back into the wind.

Miles 17-23 were tough. We turned back into the wind close to mile 18 and I think I was so demoralized that I just took a walking break to get over the difficult stretch I knew was up ahead. Also, while I definitely had enough gels in my system at this point, I didn’t have enough fluid and this meant I started  cramping mile 20 or so, which is the first time I’ve cramped in a longer race. It was mostly the hamstrings- and they weren’t full-on cramps. They would just tighten, force me check my pace a bit, and then release. This wasn’t helped by the fact that the mini rolling hills appeared again. So yeah, fun stuff. Paces: 8:54, 9:08, 9:07, 9:16, 9:23.

Miles 22-26 were redeemed by the fact that we had a bit of a downhill, another flat stretch, and were out of the wind again. Also, it was almost the end. However, I knew that the last water stop was coming up close to mile 24 and had taken the last gel around mile 22… so I was yearning for some water and could easily have drunk the whole 500mL they gave us there. However, the easier conditions meant I could keep myself moving and even avoided walking anymore. The cramps had also subsided and the only thing hindering me were my slowly failing quads. Still, I was faster those last three miles than the three before that: 9:01, 8:47, 8:29.

Last 0.2 miles were me thinking “I’m so over this… just get me to the end.” Even though there was a little hill at mile 26, it was a nice little 8:28mpm pace… I’m also amazed at how much better I looked than I felt the last mile.

As I approached the finish line, I saw that I was at 3:35 something on the clock, so I just made it my mission to keep it under 3:36. That didn’t stop someone from sprinting past me those last meters (seriously?! How?)

So, at which point did I give up my 3:25 goal? Probably around mile 9 when I first started feeling tired. A little surer when I walked mile 14. Definitely when I had several 9+mpm after mile 19. I thought mile 19 I may still get sub 3:30, but unlike my last marathon where I had something to fight for the whole race, this time I think I let go of my focus on most of my time goals and it just became a matter of finishing as quickly as possible, regardless of the time. That is, I no longer had a specific time goal to meet, just whatever time I could manage after the cramps, walking breaks and tiredness.

The race in numbers
Date: 28 April 2019, 5 months and 1 week since the last marathon
Cost of race: £35 + travel/hotel money; savings: 60 pence on a toilet on the route
Hours of sleep the night before: 6:06
Temperature at race start/end: 10 degrees Celsius, overcast/12 degrees Celsius,  sunny
Gels consumed: 2 Gus and 5 Iso gels
Number of times I wondered if the turn-around should have happened by now: 5
10km: 47:30
Half-marathon time: 1:41:20
30km: 2:26:06 (PR!)
Official chip time: 3:35:13
Placing: 87/494 overall;  6th woman overall; 3rd woman age group 18-30

The experience after the race was really mellow. I thought there was a chance I could have placed in something, so I hung around, used the time to change, refuel with my protein bar, their mini Cadbury chocolate bar, my water, their water, and my banana. I walked a bit too, covering about 2 miles afterwards- anything to keep the legs moving.

Once 14:30 came around and the awards weren’t being done yet, I let go of my glimmer of hope and figured if I won anything, I’d hear about it later. I shuffled up the promenade in the trail of the families of a few marathoners and got a bit of fish n’chips and a coffee at the North Pier. Walked around a bit more, and then headed back to the hotel. I wasn’t quite sure how to get back, but thankfully I recognized things pretty quickly and found the B&B in time for a shower, nap, and then still found some energy to hunt down a beer and a real meal.

More about post-race in my other post, but after a poor night’s sleep and 5 hour journey, I finally made it back to Cambridge, slowly rode up the hill home, and was glad to just lounge about and do home office a few days.

I was so tired this past week- more tired I think than I’ve ever been except after an intense surgical procedure in the fifth grade involving arteries and skin grafts…, yeah. Possibly, this fatigue was the result of having been fatigued before the run and just wiping myself out on that course. It could also have been the combined efforts of travel and racing (I have so much more respect for people who do destination races). It could also have been the combination of PMS and post-marathon recovery, which reminds me that listening to the body as a woman means extra things to listen to. Finally, it could also just have been post-race blues from having not met my expectations for this race. Or maybe it was all four. However, ultimately, it was Marathon #7 and I did it! I’m also feeling much better as of publishing this post and looking forward to getting a bit faster in the shorter distances again.

Sorry about this ultra-long post. Again, I think it’s more for my benefit than any potential reader’s. I can recommend Blackpool as a PR course on a less windy day, and in general, despite so few perks, the Flyde Coast Runners put on a great event- and I love the medal and the shirt! It’s also my first, and maybe only marathon in England, so it will always have a special place in my heart.

medal Blackpool

you can see just a bit of the famous North Pier there. Also, quite surprisingly, I got sunburn in my face. That will teach me to put on sunscreen, no matter how overcast it is before a race!

p.s. As of this afternoon, right before this post was scheduled to be published, I received an email saying I was reimbursed for my ticket Newcastle to Blackpool, which means I’m 51 pounds richer and therefore can remember that part of the journey a tad more positively. Thank you Northern!

north of the south, continued: Blackpool

Mind you, traveling to Blackpool happened on the same day as my trip to Newcastle, so it was a long day. I describe the journey there in detail in my next post, but suffice to say- the transport system failed me for the first time since arriving in England and I arrived in Blackpool 2 hours later than planned, and I wasn’t very happy.

However, the following day’s marathon and a bit of sight-seeing made up for it.

By coming to Blackpool, I manage to become a bit acquainted with the Flyde Peninsula.

The Flyde is a coastal plain in western Lancashire and considered a peninsula, though it doesn’t completely look like one to me. However, the fact that it was on the Irish Sea was unmistakeable and I felt right at home with the seagulls and and beachside vibe, which included more B&Bs than hotels, which I quite enjoyed.

Blackpool is an interesting city. At its height during the 19th and first half of the 20th Century, it was a fashionable sea-resort to which wealthy Englishmen would travel to “take the cure.” Now it’s a popular tourist destination for its major attractions and promises of fun.

However, I have to say, being there in late April when the weather wasn’t that great was a little demoralizing. It was very empty and perhaps, dare I say it, a bit depressing. I wasn’t that surprised to learn in preparing for this post that Blackpool had the fourth highest rate of antidepressant prescription in England in the 2017 national health survey.

Still, I saw how people were having a lot of fun on the promenade as I was running along it during the marathon and saw Blackpool Tower, Madame Tussaud’s, the old-fashioned roller coaster in Pleasure Beach (no, not what you think- it’s an amusement park and actually the most popular in England) and post-marathon meal scrounging meant I got to see a little more of the area I was in, though it was admittedly far away from all the main sites. Perhaps quite alright though.

Immediately after the race I still managed to walk up and down the North Pier. According to all the information plaques along the walkway, the North Pier is one of three piers in Blackpool, but it was the first one and it’s also the longest. It credits theaters and bars to its attractions and while there wasn’t a lot going on at 14:00 on a Sunday, I could see how it would be busy and fun at another time of day and year.

Later, after a shower and a nap, I hung out in a popular local bar, Churchill’s and also did some karaoke, which is only the second time I’ve done it in public and first time without a support group, which tells you a little about my “idgaf” attitude post-marathon. It was a bar full of locales, though, and it was kind of nice to be part of a group enjoying a regular Sunday afternoon.

Then, in search of a proper meal (the fish and chips post-race having long been exhausted), I found this plaza and this beautiful church- St. John’s. The street leading out from the plaza looked pretty interesting as well, but I was done exploring.

The next morning, I did make it to the coast again for my streak mile, and while the first run the day after a marathon is never really any fun, the view was worth it now that the tide had come in.


I was also rewarded with a full English breakfast after getting back to the B&B. But then I was off, headed back south again to London, and then Cambridge.

I obviously did not really get more than a bare impression of Blackpool and if I went again, I’d find a place to stay closer to Blackpool central station, which is closer to all the attractions like Pleasure Beach, Blackpool Tower, and the Zoo. The only reason I was near Blackpool North was to be close to the race venue (though, I was clearly in a strongly LGBTQ+ friendly sector, so that’s be an argument to return there). I’d also likely come in July or August.

Given that I was limited on time and energy, and it’s my own fault I came at the wrong time of year, I’m not disappointed at all.

Question: Have you ever visited somewhere in that place’s off-season and enjoyed it anyway? Or regretted it?

north of the south

As a kind-of-joke (but possibly a legitimate suggestion), someone in the audience of the “Lessons of Brexit” event I attended at the end of March (I talk about it in my last post) asked during the Q&A whether moving Parliament out of London to Leeds, Manchester, or somewhere up north would address some of the demands of the “leave” voters. A lot of people who voted for leaving the EU were motivated by their day-to-day realities and a feeling that EU funds, just like national funds, continued to end up in or around London, which is where the seat of the British Parliament is located. This point about the distribution of wealth in the UK is clear, even to an outside observer: health services are less available, bus services much less frequent and more irregular, etc.

There also seems to be a general kind of snobbery in the south of England towards the north, especially by people in London and Cambridge. When I told people I would be visiting Newcastle upon Tyne and Blackpool for the weekend, I was asked why I would want to go up there…. several times. It was done in a joking manner of course (even by a girl who comes from Manchester), but the fact that the south is seen as the sophisticated, cultured region while the north was good for the Industrial Revolution, walking tours and farming, but very little otherwise, is a seemingly pervasive stereotype.

Not one to be dissuaded, not least because I was running a marathon in Blackpool and knew someone in Newcastle, I headed out on my three-day journey Saturday before last and had quite a good time, I must say. The people I met were friendly, the landscape beautiful, and there was more than enough to do.

It started with a ride through the heart of England with a stop in Peterbough, which I didn’t see much of, because, well, you know, I had another train to catch. I arrived in Newcastle mid-morning and found my friend J., a virtual running teammate, waiting for me. He has a car and was born and raised in Newcastle–aka a bona fide Geordie–, so I was lucky that he had time and wanted to show me all the sights– not to mention that I could get to know him a little better as this was our first time meeting in-person.

Newcastle Map

a map of Newcastle upon Tyne and its surrounding Buroughs. Wallsend refers to the Hadrian Wall whose ruins run through the north of England (originally a Roman defensive wall) and end here.


St. Mary’s Cathedral /first thing you see when you leave the station

These already began with St. Mary’s Cathedral immediately outside the central station. We then proceeded to drive through the boroughs of Newcastle, with J. pointing everything out along the way and happy to stop whenever I wanted to see something more closely. And I wanted to see a lot up closely, a lot because of what he had said about it. Take for example the relatively newly renovated Tynmouth Station. It’s glass roof and intricate rafters made for a beautiful space to host a weekly flea market that featured regular and nomadic sellers. It’s not far from  the ruins of the Priory and Tynmouth Castle, which were the most fortified area in England since they had to protect the headland at the North Sea Coast.

We then drove on bit further north to Whitley Bay where I could see the St. Mary’s Lighthouse and smell the North Sea coastline. I could swear it was the same as the German side. The day was a bit overcast and windy, but thankfully dry and I was enjoying what I saw so far- a lot of water and a lot of green, which is just how I like it.

After checking off the North Sea, it was time to get to know the River Tyne a little more. Newcastle benefitted throughout history as being one of the northernmost ports in England and the city developed from being important for wool trade in the 14th century, its port and shipyards in the 16th century, and of course its coal mining extending from the 15th to its important role in the Industrial Revolution to its height in the early 20th century.  In fact, the shipyards a little further down the river was amongst the largest shipbuilding and ship-repair centers in the world.

Being on a river, there are of course several bridges joining Newcastle and Gateshead on the other side, and these are world famous.

Especially the Millennium Bridge. It’s one of three tilt-bridges in the world and perhaps even more famous than its older partner, the Tyne Bridge, that you can see in the background in the photos above. The Millennium Bridge will be rotated several times a day for tourists and extended periods of time for special events. Unfortunately, I wasn’t in town long enough to see the bridge, but you can watch the bridge tilt here. 

J. showed me a few other things on the river- the Sage and the Baltic Mills cultural and arts museum, which also had a few great viewing platforms, before we sat down for lunch. Unfortunately it was not fish and chips, which would have been ideal here, since I was running a marathon the next day, but he did know a delicious Italian restaurant that was in one of the busiest restaurant and bar streets in the city- and also up a pretty steep hill, which I concluded would have been easier to walk up if not sober.

After that, we saw a little more of the city center. It was pretty busy, being a Saturday afternoon and a lot at once! I really should have paid more attention when J. was telling me everything!

Finally, after seeing so many amazing things (not included here: St. James’ Stadium) and having a lot of fun chatting with J.,  it was almost time to get back to the train station. However, he made sure I also got to see the one thing I had mentioned before coming to Newcastle that I’d be interested in seeing: Newcastle’s namesake. Of course it’s named after a castle and I’d read online that one could visit it. J. was surprised when I mentioned it, as apparently Newcastlians kind of ignore it, but this also meant he was just as curious as I was to see it.


very castle-y. The Castle Keep

He found the place where it must be, and we both got out and ooh’d and ah’d, and then he brought me to the station and I was on the next leg of my journey. It is only in writing this post that I realize that the Castle was built on the site of a fortress, and the fortress is the city’s namesake. Also, the only remaining structures of the Castle were the Castle Keep, a Tower and a Gateshouse (with the imposing name of Black Gate). Turns out, we were able to see the Castle Keep, which I still find impressive. You can still see what is old and new here.

However, onto Blackpool. I’m going to actually do this in a separate post, since WordPress is complaining about how much I’m trying to squeeze into this one. See you again soon!